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Orders Of The Day

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 18 June 1985

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Food And Environment Protection Bill Lords

As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.

Clause 15

Control Of Pesticides Etc

3.46 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

I beg to move amendment No. 21, in page 15, line 14, after 'effect', insert '(a)'

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 22, 26 and 56.

The Committee had a full and detailed debate about the public disclosure of information relating to pesticides during which I explained at some length the Government's intentions. In the drafting of subsections (2) (j) and (5) of clause 15 the Government believed that they had struck the right balance between the public interest in access to information and the protection of the commercial interests of those who supply the information. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) raised this very issue when introducing a few minutes ago his Bill on environmental pollution information. I have no doubt that the balance is weighted in favour of public access, but the feeling in Committee was that more could be done in the Bill to favour the public interest as the Royal Commission recommended.

The Government have reflected carefully and in response have tabled the amendment to the first subsection of clause 15 on the general purposes of this part of the Bill. If accepted, the amendment would have the effect that the following provisions of part III
"would have effect with a view to making information about pesticides available to the public".
This would apply to safety data about chemicals and to other information and to information about the controls exercised over pesticides in the Bill. I believe that this addition to clause 15 further strengthens the presumption in favour of public access. We cannot adopt the Royal Commission's use of the term "unrestricted access" in a legal statute because that would nullify the effect of subsection (5), which protects the legitimate interest of manufacturers. Again, that is an issue to which my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred in introducing his Bill.

We are moving public information into the highest category of purpose of the Bill, which, because of the widespread public concern about pesticides, is the appropriate place. Moreover, we are maintaining the balance between the public interest and the respect for commercial interests in the body of clause 15. That seems to us to be a significant improvement.

Will the Minister explain the difference between summaries and the general principle of far wider access to all the information that is made available? What is the Government's position on that consideration?

We believe that the public's access to information should have a high priority and should be an integral part of these provisions. By moving the relevant provisions to the first part of part III we have highlighted the emphasis that we attach to the principle. The Government believed that they had struck a perfect balance between subsection (2)(j) and subsection (5), but it was made clear in Committee that those considering the Bill felt that something more could be done to emphasise the importance that is attached to public access to information. It is in that spirit that we have moved the emphasis on public access to the beginning of part III to make it the top priority.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for that explanation, which was suitably brief. I am also grateful to the Government for accepting the principle of the three amendments moved in Committee, Nos 98, 99 and 100, which we think were of great significance to the Bill. The Government could easily have reversed the three amendments, and those of us who voted in favour of them in Committee are grateful that they have been retained, more or less as they are. We congratulate the Government on their wisdom.

Clause 15(1) is an important part of the Bill. As the Bill is now, subsection (a) speaks of the need
"to protect the health of human beings".
That can be understood, but my hon. Friend's amendment will mean that there will be two subsections lettered (a). That will serve only to make a complex Bill more complex.

Apart from that, I welcome what my hon. Friend has tried to do. We are grateful to her for preserving the spirit and the quality of amendments tabled in Committee. However, I ask my hon. Friend to give some clarity to the drafting of these amendments.

I always want to be helpful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope that she will think that by tabling amendment No. 56 I am being so. She gave an impressive television performance recently in which, in answer to a journalist, Penny Junor, in a programme on Thames Television, she said that when regulations come out, it is her wish that all the details will be available. I hope that we can move in that direction. I am not suggesting by my amendment that we should have all the details, but we can go a little further in trying to reconcile the interests of the public and those of the manufacturers.

I had a discussion with the director of the British Agrochemicals Association only yesterday. He assured me that he supported my amendment, which goes rather further than that on which my hon. Friend is anxious that the House should agree.

It must be in the interests of the public to be able to see the data submitted by the manufacturer about the safety of the pesticides and their effect on the environment. When I speak of the public, I put in a word for our working farmers, who deal every day with pesticides. There is growing anxiety among them about the pesticides and to what extent they should use certain of them. That anxiety is increased when they read about how other countries forbid the use of the very pesticides that they are using. Therefore, it is right that a small organisation with which I am associated, the Smallfarmers Association, should have access to the data in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and then be able to engage its own scientists to investigate that data to see to what extent the testing has been carried out satisfactorily.

Equally, it is in the interests of the manufacturers that rivals, particularly countries such as Korea and Thailand, which are getting into the pesticide business, should not be guilty of piracy. Therefore, my amendment is couched in such a way as to ensure that there can be no piracy, nor any danger to any manufacturer. I would welcome my hon. Friend's comments on that. That would enable those concerned, either on behalf of farmers or environmental lobbies—even doctors, because many of them are concerned about this—to have access to the data so that they can assess it.

My hon. Friend may say that it is intended to produce monographs on these different pesticides that will give a summary of the data, but that will not be enough. I am sure that she will realise that. They will not recite the methodology or the kinds of tests that have been carried out, nor will they give details of the sorts of animals that have been used.

My hon. Friend knows that the tests on these pesticides are almost entirely carried out on rats and mice. If the pesticide is mutagenic, we must know whether the tests have been carried out for at least two years on three generations of rats and mice. One will not know whether a pesticide is mutagenic unless such data are given.

I understand that what is made available by the Ministry will not include that information. If a pesticide is carcinogenic, the tests must be carried out for a certain time. We must also question whether, if it is carcinogenic in respect of rats or mice, it will be the same on humans. I do not want to repeat the thalidomide story, but that was tested on rats and was perfectly satisfactory, yet we know only too well what the effect was on humans.

There is a question mark over the use of only rats or mice when testing such pesticides. The public should therefore be told what animals are being used so that they can judge the extent to which the tests are valid.

I stress that, because in the United States, as my hon. Friend knows only too well, people are beginning to realise that by themselves tests on rats and mice are not sufficient and that other tests should be carried out. The Minister and I know that a number of pesticides have been called into question in the United States and will now be prohibited, yet their use will still be allowed in this country. Is there a difference in testing between the United States and the United Kingdom? How will we know if all we are to get are monographs? Will they contain the kind of information that will be sufficient to enable people to pass their own independent judgment?

My hon. Friend will be familiar with the name of Professor A. E. M. McLean, who until recently was a member of the scientific sub-committee of the Government's own Advisory Committee on Pesticides. I hope that his views will not be dismissed as those of a crank but will be acknowledged as the views of someone who has had an inside knowledge of the subject. Professor McLean was joint author of a book entitled "Safety Testing of New Drugs. Laboratory Predictions and Clinical Performance", which was published only last year. He said:
"the ordinary criterion of scientific reliability (that the results are reproducible in other laboratories) does not operate".
He added:
"When the methodology of conventional test procedures is discussed it becomes evident that quite small differences in procedure can have large effects on the outcome, and so on the inferences which may be drawn from them".
4 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate, therefore, that the summaries will be useless to the public, to farmers and to the members of environmental groups and others who want to probe these issues unless they have some understanding of the methodology and what led up to the data being provided. Unless that information is forthcoming, we shall not satisfactorily solve the problem.

Let us suppose that the boot were on the other foot and a manufacturer, having produced a new type of pesticide, had to have it tested by an agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Let us suppose that the Ministry then published only a summary of the data, such as that which my hon. Friend has in mind. What, then, would be the feelings of the manufacturer? Say that the new pesticide was condemned by the Ministry and the manufacturer was not permitted to obtain the full data comparable to what I have in mind should be disclosed to the general public. The manufacturer would be in an impossible position.

The United States has its Freedom of Information Act. We have the chance now to go to Washington and find out the full details of how the same pesticides have been tested in that country. Indeed, officers of Friends of the Earth tell me that they have been to America and seen the very data that they will not be allowed to see in Britain.

I fear that the Government's not allowing the same information to be available here—remembering that we are concerned with circumstances in which some pesticides forbidden in the United States will be permitted here—will cause ugly statements to be made, and such a state of affairs will not be helpful to anyone.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give careful consideration to my amendment No. 56 and will agree that, if it is right that people in the US should have this information, it is right for the people of Britain to have it. It is wrong that we should have to cross the Atlantic and go to Washington to get the sort of information that should be available to us here. If it is not made available, the worst suspicions will be aroused, and I fear that we in Parliament will not do well as a result.

I apologise in advance for the fact that I shall have to leave at 4.15 to attend a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, where I wish to deal with an important item on the agenda. I shall then return to the Chamber, but I may miss the Minister's speech in reply to this amendment.

Like the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), I fear that the Bill, in the way in which it will be amended, will not clarify the position and may, instead, disguise the intention of the Government. The result will be that the public will be denied information about pesticides. The Government amendment contains the words
"with a view to making information about pesticides available to the public".
What it does not say, but should say—because that is the intention—is that it will be restricted information. All the information available to the Department will not be made available to the public. In Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary said:
"I assure the Committee that we shall seek to ensure that the public will have every opportunity to judge for themselves whether the Government have reached a reasonable decision about a chemical … information will not be kept under wraps unnecessarily."
Who will decide on what is unnecessarily being kept under wraps? Will it not be the Department? It is unreasonable that those who wish access to information will be denied the right to determine whether something should be made available. A bureaucrat will take the decision.

It was clear from the debate in Committee that there are divisions of opinion about what should constitute information being "kept under wraps unnecessarily." The Government are totally misreading the representations of Campaign for Freedom of Information, the environmental groups and all others interested in these issues. They are demanding that full information be made available.

In Committee, the Minister said:
"it is our intention to ensure that the information released will enable an informed judgment to be made by the public".—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 30 April 1985; c. 334.]
What does the Minister regard as an "informed judgment"? What she regards as an informed judgment may not be what environmental groups and researchers believe it to be. All the time we are leaving subjective judgments to be made by officials who make recommendations to Ministers. The Minister is misreading the sense of environmental outrage that is felt by the public on this issue.

We dealt at length in Committee with the position in America. I pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency there found that IBT—Industrial Biotest Laboratories — had fabricated data. Some of those studies were submitted in the United Kingdom and were accepted by the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, and decisions were taken based on the ACP's recommendations. The same officials will decide to what extent information should be restricted.

The Minister should take on board the American experience and ensure that United Kingdom researchers are given full access to information. After all, often no alternative information about hazards is available.

That information should be available, for example, to those concerned with the effects of pesticides on their employees and to persons affected by spraying. Otherwise, it will be difficult for them to obtain information relevant to the problems with which they must deal and with which doctors are concerned. Indeed, medical practitioners may wish to research into the effects of certain products. They should not be denied information which is available to the Department but which will be under lock and key.

The full disclosure of safety data under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rhodenticide Act in America works well. FIFRA has shown that it is possible to combine full disclosure with the protection of commercial interests. The amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston would not alter a company's indefinite right to the exclusive use of such data.

To deny information on the ground that the public is not competent to make correct use of it is unacceptable. The British Agrochemical Association accepts the principle of "the right to know." Disclosure would increase public confidence, prevent amateur research being carried out by other organisations and, to some extent, prevent the need for duplication of research. Public anxiety increases when people are denied the facts.

Even at this late stage, the Parliamentary Secretary, should heed the substantial representations that are being made by people inside and outside the House. In particular, she should heed the remarks of her hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, who has great knowledge of these matters. He is in contact, through an organisation representing small farmers with which he is associated, with many people in Britain who are involved with the use of pesticides. I am sure that he brings to the House through that association the value of their experience.

All Committee Members received persistent demands from a number of organisations to set up a more open regime with respect to freedom of information. The Parliamentary Secretary must respond to those demands and be fair.

The Government should accept the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). I pay tribute to the Government for responding to pressure and to the other place for having moved forward. They have accepted that there should be a move towards giving people the right to know about pesticides.

The Parliamentary Secretary's words a fortnight ago on television are important because they highlight not only the possible advantages of the Government's amendments but the gap that will exist if we go only as far as the amendments take us. The hon. Lady said:
"The Bill empowers Ministers to make information available to the general public regarding the safety of pesticides."
She went on to say:
"The details will all be available."
Those two statements are not consistent. Government amendment No. 22 states:
"with a view to making information about pesticides available to the public".
The criteria are set out, but the Government retain the right to determine exactly what will or will not be included in that information. If the Parliamentary Secretary is to give the House the assurance that she gave the nation via television—
"The details will all be available"—
she must logically accept the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston. It provides that information will become available automatically and naturally and not simply in a conditional sense because of what the Government's regulations impose.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that my amendment does not go as far as the statement on television by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary? I am only going 90 per cent. of the distance.

Yes. We are constrained by the fact that the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston goes as far as we shall be able to go today. He has imposed a condition too. He has restricted disclosure relating to commercial interests, for reasons that I understand although I may not entirely share them. If the Parliamentary Secretary accepted that premise, we would be making progress. She said that she was satisfied

"that the preponderance is on making information available to the general public."
We must not have battles year after year when Governments always resist and have to be dragged through the hedgerows until they are forced to give a concession. Countries that learned democracy from us have long before us established the right to know. The High Court has decided that councillors have the right to know. That means that not only officials but the people who are concerned with the issues have the right to know. They include farmers, business men, researchers and legislators. I ask the Government to say that those people need to know now.

I give one bizarre and important example which shows how ridiculous the position is. I am told that research is being conducted in London university on lemons sold in shops in London. After they are harvested, a fungicide called hydroxydiphenyl 2 is sprayed on them. That fungicide is governed by World Health Organisation limits, because it is dangerous when used above a certain limit. WHO says that the acceptable limit for that fungicide is 10 parts per million. The fungicide on lemons sold in London shops regularly measures 200 parts per million.

4.15 pm

This is what happens to the lemons. They are harvested and then scrubbed to remove the pesticide. They then look a little withered and as though they will not appeal to the consumer, so they are dipped into a wax fungicide mixture to make them yellow, shiny and appealing. When one washes those lemons there is no problem because the fungicide does not react in any way. The water runs off them because the skin is protected. However, if one regularly dips a lemon into one's gin and tonic, alcohol causes a chemical reaction.

One might need to drink a few gins and tonics in a day for this to have any effect. I may have vices, but that is not one of them, although there may be some hon. Members present who are worried about this information. The chemical reaction dissolves the wax and releases the fungicide into that drink at nearly 20 times the recognised international level.

This research was conducted by an eminent and respected group of people at London university who thought that they should ascertain whether the Ministry knew about this. They telephoned the Ministry and asked about its findings. The answer was, "I am sorry. We cannot tell you. It is governed by the Official Secrets Act." Here were researchers offering the Government information, which may save Conservatives more than any others by protecting them when over-indulging in gin and tonic—yet the Government could not say whether they were researching the same issue.

That is an amusing example, but it is an example of a fundamental point. If science is to be of benefit to our society, it must be of benefit to everyone in our society and not selectively of benefit to those who take unto themselves the rights that go with being in the Civil Service.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give the House an assurance in exactly the same terms as the assurance that she gave on television and consider what the Government would do to go even further than the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston.

Amendment No. 26 provides that, on payment of "reasonable fees", information will be made available. I accept that there must be a reasonable fee, but the Parliamentary Secretary knows that we are again considering the question of definition. What is "reasonable"? It is clear that, since the last stage of this Bill was considered, the Treasury has been at work on it. We are considering several small amendments that quietly emanated from the Treasury and add little money-recouping measures. This is one of them. I do not object to the Treasury suggesting that a reasonable fee is required. Of course we must pay for photocopying and the like, but we cannot have fees that reflect the cost of the work going on and partly pay for the research and the officials. They are there anyway. The officials' time is given in the public service, for which they are paid. Members of the public, who may not be on big salaries paid by the British Agrochemicals Association or any other firm, need to be assured that we are talking about matters of pence, not pounds, and that the fees are reasonable at all stages. If the Government are committed to access and to freedom of information, they must not put up barriers, whether of cost or of bureaucracy.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to think again and ask her—reflecting in the glory that she is partly enjoying by having pulled her Government from resistance to a welcome of freedom of information—to go the whole way and do the job properly.

The hon. Members for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) and for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who spoke in a most amusing fashion, have identified one lacuna. I want to touch briefly on another omission, although I welcome the measure as it is at least a move towards freedom of information. It touches on the question of public confidence and the processes by which we come to decisions on pesticides which are covered in the Bill and which have been established for some time.

I refer in particular to the constitution of the advisory committee. In a written question to the Minister in column 58 of Hansard on 18 June this year, I asked her in what way declarations of interest on the advisory committee are stated. This is relevant because the amendment states that information about pesticides is required to be made available to the public. I point out to the Minister that it is also important to have information about the decision-making process made available to the public. This is a matter of concern to me and, I believe, to other hon. Members, and I hope that the Minister will see fit to touch on it. With regard to the declaration of interests by members of the advisory committee, the members at present are required only to sign a piece of paper which says:
"I have no commercial interest which might make it undesirable for me to receive confidential trade information."
In relation to freedom of information, it seems curious to me that members are not required to make—

Will the hon. Gentleman tell me to which amendment his remarks relate? I find it difficult to see such a link.

It is amendment No. 22,

"with a view to making information about pesticides available to the public".
My case is that this should include information about the way in which the decisions on pesticides are made. It is on that matter that I wish the Minister to comment.

It is difficult to see the relationship between the two that the hon. Gentleman draws.

I ask the Minister to consider accepting as more appropriate amendment No. 56 tabled by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston, which is broader and may well allow for members of the advisory committee on pesticides to nominate their interests in a more specifc fashion. We are dealing with decisions taken in secret about products which could cost £1 million to bring to market. It is important that members of the public should have full confidence in how the decisions are taken. Therefore, a broader declaration of interest would be more appropriate if the Minister is indeed interested in following through full freedom of information effectively in the Bill.

It is necessary to comment only shortly upon the debate, in view of the long discussion on the subject in Committee.

We started from the premise that as full information on pesticides as possible should be available on the basis that public concern relates to the concealment of information. This gives rise to fears which, although they may be groundless to the experts, are nevertheless real because members of the public are unable to comprehend fully.

I welcome amendments Nos. 21 and 22 as a move from what is provided in clause 15(5), dwelling exclusively upon confidentiality and commercial considerations, towards a presumption that full information shall be available.

I understand the fears expressed by hon. Members about the face of the Bill, but we must be clear that the mechanism provided by the Bill on this matter, as on so much else, is little evident on the face of the Bill. Little on the face of the Bill is adequately covered by amendment No. 22. Regulations will follow under clause 15(2)(j) which will provide for the type of information required. I believe that here we must be vigilant to ensure that summaries are not perfunctory and the information provided is not sketchy. We must ensure that the sort of information mentioned by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston is incorporated in those regulations. It will be for us at the stage of consideration of the Government regulations to make sure that that is so.

I am glad that the Government earlier in Committee stated that hon. Members would be involved in the consultation process on the draft regulations and would be able to make the necessary representations. I believe that, if we are not satisfied with the draft regulations, we will make those representations.

What is included on the face of the Bill is a major step forward. For the first time in consideration of the Bill the Government are saying that the provisions shall have the effect of providing information. In my view, that general statement of intent must be followed up by adequate information being provided for in the regulations. Parliament will scrutinise the regulations closely and, if they are inadequate, will be accordingly critical. I believe that the fullest information possible should be available and the exemptions allowing secrecy should be kept to a minimum. The public will be more reassured by information being available than they will by its being hidden.

Secondly, I wish to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). It is one thing to have information available, but it is another if it is available, as some farming booklets are, at a price of approximately £15. Price can be a determinant of how widely knowledge is disseminated. If there is an entry of the type mentioned by one of my hon. Friends in the case of the Environmental Protection Agency in America dealing with particular chemicals, that should be done at as nominal a sum as possible. I underline that, although I am sure that the Government have it in mind. In this way, those who are interested in obtaining the information will have it freely and without undue expense.

I welcome the Government's amendments on this matter as meeting a point that was widely canvassed in Committee as a source of anxiety.

I welcome the acceptance of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) of amendments Nos. 21 and 22 and the motives of the Government in tabling them. The amendments make clear the purpose of the Bill. Concern has been expressed that the purpose should be made clearer, and that the amendments seek to do. I understand that hon. Members will scrutinise the regulations carefully to be sure that they live up to that objective.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). I had intended to refer to amendment No. 26 to try to prevent a misunderstanding of the kind which has arisen in the mind of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I am glad that the hon. Member for Pontypridd understands what we are trying to do.

The amendment to clause 15(2)(j) is a technical one to enable Ministers to recover the costs of copying and postage, if necessary, from those who request information about pesticides. The Government's intention is to provide in part III a measure similar to that already contained in the last three lines of paragraph 13 of part II. Parliamentary counsel have drafted the amendment with some care to ensure that the provision covers only the incidental costs of providing copies of the document. I assure the Committee that this will not have the effect of inhibiting the public's access to information. Equally, we must not run the risk of becoming an unlimited source of free material at public expense.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, who has tried to table an amendment that meets the needs of all concerned with disclosure of information. Amendment No. 56 is admirably drafted, but it has one serious disadvantage from the Government's point of view. The amendment does not provide for the release of raw data, but our advice is that Ministers will be constrained to provide access to raw data to anybody who requests it. I explained in Committee that it would involve great administrative effort and that the advantage would in practice be small. The amendment would prevent the provision of summaries of data.

4.30 pm

I have already explained that summaries have been prepared for the meeting of the advisory committee. They include methodology, details of tests, the different kinds of animals and periods of time. Carcinogenicity, mutagenicity and teratogenicity are described in the summaries, and the questions surrounding pesticides are also listed. Therefore, I assure him that the summaries include all the details that he said are not included. They are lengthy, amounting to about 20 pages.

The Freedom of Information Campaign agrees with the Government that the summaries would satisfy the overwhelming majority of inquiries. The raw data on each approved product stand about 3 ft high. It would be a waste of time and effort to make that information available to everybody. Access to raw data may be of use to those engaged in research, and we are prepared to consider granting access to it if a scientific case can be established. We shall discuss the matter when we consult all the relevant interests about the proposals.

The Bill would not prevent either this Government or any other Government from providing access to raw data. I have explained the problem of providing an extreme degree of public access to raw data. My hon. Friend's amendment constrains Ministers to provide access to raw data to anybody who requests it. I hope that I have reassured him about the contents of the summaries and that he will therefore withdraw his amendment.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey made a serious point about lemons in London. The pesticide residue working group survey found that lemons in London have exceeded the codex limit of 10 parts per million. Between 1981 and 1984 the level occasionally found was 18 ppm. However, hon. Members who consume large quantities of gin and tonic are much more likely to contract cirrhosis of the liver and to be put at risk than they are if they consume lemons.

It appears that research shows that there may be other sale points at which the danger level is much higher. Can the Minister assure the House that it will be provided with that information, whether in the form of raw data or a summary, before the Bill is enacted so that protection may be provided?

We monitor residue levels not only in individual items but in the complete diet. The levels found over many years have been well below the level that is internationally regarded as safe, and the levels are declining. The Bill provides for action to be taken on residue levels.

I appreciate hon. Members' difficulty about understanding how far the Government have moved on this issue. I become a little agitated when I am told that I am being dragged screaming into the 20th century. We have sought to enact a good Bill. The Government are not being dragged into the 20th century. The legisation permits disclosure in full about safety data, but in practice that must be subject to consultation and practical considerations—how long it will take, how much it will cost and how much information is required. We must attempt to reach consensus within the ordinary practical constraints of commercial secrecy. We shall make available all the information that is necessary to reassure the public about the safety of the pesticide in question.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 22, in page 15, line 19, at end insert—

'and (b) with a view to making information about pesticides available to the public;'.—[Mrs. Fenner.]

:I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 15, line 19, at end insert—

'and references in this Part of this Act to the general purposes of this Part of this Act are references to the purposes mentioned in this subsection.'.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 30 and 44.

These are purely drafting amendments. Their effect will be to remove subsection (8) from clause 17 and to insert it at the end of clause 15, to remove superfluous words from subsection (7) in clause 15, and to provide drafting improvements that are consequential upon the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body).

Amendment agreed to.

:I beg to move amendment No. 25, in page 15, line 41, at end insert—

'(ff) provide for the payment of compensation to beekeepers who incur financial loss as a result of the use of pesticides;'.
This amendment tries to create a statutory compensation scheme for beekeepers who incur financial loss by using pesticides. In Committee and on Report we have spent many hours talking about birds. It is perhaps appropriate that we are now talking about bees. They are very much affected by the misuse — I emphasise the word "misuse"—of pesticides.

Bees are a valuable national asset. They provide us with a considerable amount of honey and serve a useful agricultural purpose. It is therefore in the interest of nobody that bees should be killed by pesticides. Nevertheless, there are about 36,000 colonies of bees in this country and according to the Beekeepers Association there are between 100 and 200 incidents each year of bees being affected by pesticides. About 1 per cent. of beehives are affected each year by pesticide poisoning. We ought to try to reduce it and, if it occurs, we ought to be able to offer compensation to the beekeepers. Aerial spraying in particular is responsible for poisoning bees and causing most of the damage.

Another cause for concern is the increase in the cultivation of oilseed rape. If oilseed rape is incorrectly sprayed, many more bees die. We are aware that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issues guidance to both beekeepers and farmers each year and urges the farmers to keep to a code of conduct.

If I heard the hon. Gentleman aright, he was talking about the spraying of oilseed rape and the fact that many bees die. Surely he would acknowledge, though, that the vast acreage of oilseed rape that is now grown is of direct benefit to beekeepers. Indeed, much honey now comes from oilseed rape, although it is not as tasty as honey from lime trees and other sources.

I did make the point that I was talking about the misuse of pesticides. If the hon. Gentleman wants to follow that particular analogy, looking at the benefits to beekeepers of oilseed rape, I would refer him to a very useful article in Farmers Weekly of 12 April by a beekeeper who produces a great amount of honey from oilseed rape. However, without going into the technical aspects, as the hon. Member knows, one should not spray oilseed rape when it is in flower because that is the time when the bees are killed. I am very much aware of the point raised.

It is worrying that bees are killed, but what is perhaps also worrying is the great difficulty that beekeepers have in claiming compensation. I will quote a particular case to the House because it exemplifies the problem very clearly. It concerns a Mr. Houldey of Hartpury in Gloucestershire. I know that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), who is here today and has been of assistance to Mr. Houldey, will not mind my quoting the case because I think he accepts that it raises a very serious point.

Mr. Houldey has had a number of spraying incidents. In 1984 alone, in four separate incidents, he lost 47 hives of bees. He estimates his total financial loss to be about £9,000. The interesting point is that, in spite of the fact that Mr. Houldey received compensation in one case, in one of the other cases the contractor was successfully prosecuted but compensation was still refused by the NFU Mutual Insurance Company, which said to Mr. Houldey, "Sue us." Of course, no small farmer or beekeeper is going to take on a massive insurance company; he just has not got the financial assets to risk. I think it is a matter of shame that the NFU Mutual Insurance Company, which by and large has a very good reputation, is refusing to pay compensation in this case.

I raised that example to show the difficulties that beekeepers face. The difficulties come from two main points: first, the failure of farmers, but mainly of contractors, to give notice and to abide by the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service recommendations and code of conduct; and, secondly, the question of getting compensation even when the claimant is able to bring a successful case for compensation.

We believe that there is need to compensate beekeepers. We emphasise that we wish that the code of practice and the Ministry of Agriculture recommendations were more strictly adhered to by contractors and farmers. However, we accept that accidents will happen and that there will be misuse of pesticides. We believe that in such cases there should be compensation paid to the beekeepers, and that is what we call for in this amendment.

The Government cannot accept this amendment, which singles out one sector of the community for right to compensation in law. Such a provision might prejudice the position of others, if they found themselves in dispute with users of pesticides.

The proper course of action for such grievances is to seek redress in the courts, and I know from a recent case that aggrieved beekeepers have been successful in such actions. The case to which I refer was brought to court before we introduced this legislation to enable Ministers to control use of statute. In finding against the farmer, the judge relied on the considerable advice already made available to users of pesticides both from my Department and from the pesticide manufacturer about the effects of pesticides on bees. I shall explain the action taken by my Department in this area.

4.45 pm

When pesticides intended for use in agriculture are submitted for clearance under the PSPS, information on their toxicity to bees is invariably taken into account. By their very nature most insecticides are toxic to bees to a greater or lesser extent; but an unacceptable level of risk would in itself be sufficient grounds for denying a particular clearance. Such decisions have been taken in the past. The withdrawal of clearance in 1978 for the aerial application of triazophos to oilseed rape was such a case. Cleared products may carry labels with warning phrases, such as "Dangerous/harmful to bees. Do not apply at flowering stage. Keep down flowering weeds."

To back up the warnings on product labels, my Department provides a great deal of advice to farmers and growers about the use of these pesticides. We give warnings on the general incidence of pest attack and the circumstances in which spraying should be, or is unlikely to be, cost-effective. When we advise that spraying is worth while we recommend farmers to use wherever practicable pesticides that are least toxic to bees, to spray early in the morning or late in the evening, when bee activity is minimal, and generally to take care and to think of others when spraying. We issue a considerable amount of publicity' literature. All this is supplemented by advice to individual farmers.

Furthermore, our scientists are ready to investigate any incidents involving the suspected poisoning of bees by pesticides whenever the beekeeper concerned is able to provide a sample of the bees for chemical analysis. The Ministry also arranges meetings at both the national and the local level between representatives of the National Farmers Union, the beekeepers associations and spraying contractors. Our objective is to get the people involved to discuss common problems and to agree on the measures necessary to prevent bee losses from crop spraying. I believe that advice, consultation and communication are the best way to ensure that growers and beekeepers are aware of each other's problems and needs and aware of how to co-exist.

Our legislation will add another dimension. During our consultations on its implementation we shall need to consider very carefully how to protect bees by legal control—for example, by making application at the flowering stage of certain crops an offence. But this is the kind of detailed control on which we must consult all interests affected, so I speak without commitment.

I hope that with this explanation the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw this amendment.

I must admit that I find the last comment from the Minister very helpful and I take the point that she is talking only about the possibility. If the Ministry of Agriculture is about to consider that possibility in the future, that is somewhat reassuring. There has been movement in law and in the case to which the Minister referred—which I think was a case in Sussex where a number of beekeepers combined and were paid damages of about £7,000 for loss of honey crops—the High Court judge did clarify the ruling as to what exactly a bee was, whether a bee was trespassing, and so on. I think that as a result we have moved forward.

I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 26, in page 16, line 21, at end insert

'and to payment of such reasonable fees for furnishing copies as the Ministers may with the consent of the Treasury determine,'.

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in page 17, line 16, leave out

'when consulted in accordance with subsection (9) below, and'
and insert
', either when requested to do so or otherwise,'.

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 29.

These amendments are minor drafting improvements suggested by the parliamentary draftsman to the new subsection 15(7), which was adopted in Committee. My hon. Friend said in Committee that they might be necessary and I hope that the House will accept them.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for tabling this minor amendment and also for her letter to me on this matter. There is certainly no weakening of the Committee's intention in the amendment. The key to the amendments made in Committee was that the advisory committee should offer advice upon matters that concerned it without being asked, and that has been preserved intact. The House regards that as an important point, and it probably deals with some of the points that we discussed earlier about the provision of information and so on. If the advisory committee feels that additional information should be made available, it can proffer advice to the Minister without being asked. Therefore, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she has been able to do.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 29, in page 17, line 18, leave out

'on which it considers it should offer its advice'.

No. 30, in page 17, line 20, leave out

'mentioned in subsection (1) above'.—[Mrs. Fenner.]

:I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 17, line 26, at end insert—

'(aa) as to the extent and implications of resistance to pesticides among pests in Britain;'.
This amendment brings us back to a point that was raised in Committee, but which, for one reason or another, was not responded to in full.

For a long time there has been considerable anxiety that the very objects for which pesticides are designed are developing immunity to them. Therefore, the pesticides which in minute quantities could kill and control the pests, can no longer do so.

The Royal Commission on environmental pollution mentioned that factor, but said that it found it difficult to get an exact picture of both the seriousness and the scope of the problem. Many scientists throughout the world are concerned that constant use of pesticides is developing strains of pests immune to their toxicity. There is anxiety that what I call the first world war mentality—that is, if there is resistance we put forth even more to overcome that resistance, which develops more resistance—should be avoided at all costs.

The Ministry acknowledged the problem but put it on the governmental back burner by saying that, although there was a problem, it would not occur until the end of the century. But, of course, even the end of the century is only 15 years away and we are talking about a development of other sources of pest control that are effective during that short time.

I think that we all agree that pesticides should be used at the minimum level consistent with being effective. Because there is resistance to a certain pesticide, we do not want to engender the philosophy that the farmer should add a little extra in the hope that it will kill the blighters.

The Minister said that there were 25 strains resistant to 28 pesticides. We have also been told that both fungicides and herbicides are finding resistant strains. The Farmers Weekly on 15 March noted:
"Earlier drilling of winter cereal and widespread use of fungicides may lead to a sudden rise in MBC-resistant eyespot."
People are worried because in the ADAS eastern region the resistant strains had risen by 90 per cent. in the year 1984–85. There are similar quantum leaps in resistance in other crops.

The Big Farm Weekly of 11 April said:
"The first signs of herbicide resistance in blackgrass have been recorded by scientists at the Weed Research Organisation, Oxford."
When I was looking at the fairly daunting forecasts for the size of this year's harvest—that is, if we ever get any warm weather—the problem of blackgrass was central to the question of cereals. Blackgrass is now becoming resistant to herbicides, so a major problem is arising.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the Ministry consults the advisory committee about pesticides so that it can express its view on this increasing problem. There is no doubt that a resistance will occur, that it will take different forms, that it will apply to a wider spectrum of crops and that it will cause many problems.

In Committee, a similar amendment was moved as one of a large group. I am sure that that is why the Minister replied to it with less than her usual thoroughness. I counted about six lines in Hansard—and I was being generous—when I read her reply. But such is the importance of the subject that it warrants a reply. The Government should refer the problem to the ACP at the earliest possible opportunity to determine how it may be overcome and what may be done to avoid resistant strains growing. I hope that the Government can reassure me on that.

I tabled the amendment not to make a party political point or even a point of sharp difference, but to try to make the legislation—as the hon. Lady wishes—as good as we can possibly make it.

This amendment is a watered-down version of an amendment tabled in Committee, but it is effective. The amendment tabled in Committee asked for a report to Parliament on resistant pests, but it was negatived.

The most serious problem of pesticides is that they can lose their effectiveness due to the appearance of tolerant strains of pest. The pesticides create selection pressure on pest populations that invariably have a genetic pool of widely differing susceptibility to the poison. Certain strong individuals survive the pesticide to breed the next generation. The tolerant pest strain is so serious because there is a real danger that the appearance of such strains will obstruct the production of effective pesticides. The outcome is that we are led to increase the amount of pesticides used to counter the resistance, and that is at the heart of much of our concern and underlines the need to table the amendment.

If we are to respect the policy of minimising the use of pesticides to a degree compatible with efficient farming, a thorough consideration of the implications of resistance is of the utmost importance. The Minister said in Committee that resistance did not necessarily lead to a breakdown of control because there were alternatives. It would be a necessary function of consultations with the advisory committee to determine — based on an appreciation of the extent of the resistance — the implications for the implementation of alternative measures. It is only within the past 10 years that any progress has been made in collecting the data necessary to formulate strategies to control the spread of resistance. Many opportunities have been missed and research has been largely limited to listing occurrences and investigating inheritance patterns and biochemical mechanisms. That is unsatisfactory. We need to understand all the processes, including the evolutionary ones, that lead to a failure in pest control. If we wait until there is a control failure it will be far too late. The alternative attitude is to assume that resistance will eventually arise everywhere and to treat it with larger and larger doses. Our amendment seeks to avoid such an approach, which would be environmentally and economically unsound. It would certainly be most unpopular and damaging to everything that we hold sacred in the countryside.

5 pm

I support the amendment and endorse the arguments for it. If the amendment is accepted and included in the three specific matters on which the advisory committee should be consulted, the importance of the increasing resistance that exists because of the genetic process of pesticides will be highlighted.

I know that the Minister made a response in Committee. I know she is aware of the problem and I accept that the advisory committee will consider the issue, but the question is whether it will regard the matter as sufficiently important to devote some of its members' time to it.

The most graphic example that I have seen recently—the Minister will have seen it also—is the super-rat, which is resistant to all rat poison and rat removal operations known to local authorities which deal with rodent control. Small rats are difficult and frightening enough to deal with, and we wish to remove them from our communities, but now we have super-rats, which cause great alarm where that species is found.

I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter and incorporate the amendment as a specific task for the committee.

My Department already undertakes a considerable amount of work on resistance to pesticides in agriculture, horticulture and food storage and among houseflies and rodents. I apologise if my response in Committee was brief. I am trying not to be too wordy now, but I feel compelled to inform hon. Members about the work that is carried out.

The Ministry has a small team at Harpenden monitoring crop pest and disease resistance on a regular basis, and at present its work is directed to monitoring eight aphid species of economic importance. As the answers to many questions show, resistance has been confirmed in three of these species. Our regional laboratory at Wye is responsible for monitoring resistance in pests of protected crops for which the problem is most acute, but which have benefited from considerable work on integrated pest control.

Resistance to pesticides for storage pests and houseflies is monitored by the Slough laboratory in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and Ministry advisers. The pests covered include seven species of storage pests, houseflies in poultry houses and in intensive animal-rearing units, beetles in poultry houses and mites in cheese stores. Resistance to malathion has been demonstrated in one grain beetle and resistance to the fumigant phosphine occurs in stored grain beetles. Flies in animal houses developed resistance to a pyrethroid insecticide which was withdrawn, and the laboratory was instrumental in developing alternative controls. Mites in cheese stores are now resistant to available pesticides, and the Slough laboratory is investigating fumigation techniques to achieve control of pesticide-resistant cheese mites.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to resistance in rodents. Work on the extent and implications of anti-coagulant resistance in rodents has mostly been undertaken by the Ministry's agricultural science service, although some studies have been carried out in universities. Monitoring of the extent and incidence of resistance has also been carried out by the Ministry. Staff at the agricultural science service central laboratories are researching two methods of controlling anti-coagulant resistant rodents, alongside work to screen candidates for new rodenticides submitted by the pesticide manufacturers.

I hope that I have given hon. Members some idea of some of the programmes relating to resistance to pesticides. I should say to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey that the advisory committee already considers the problems of resistance to individual pesticides, and with the widening of its terms of reference as a result of this legislation, it will be given powers to examine the extent and implications of resistance to pesticides. Therefore, there is no need for the amendment. We are very conscious of the problem and are already devoting considerable resources to investigating and overcoming it.

I knew that, given a little encouragement, the Minister would give vent to the self-expression which was denied to us in her six-line answer in Committee. I am reassured by her comments on the work that is continuing, and especially by her confirmation that the widening of the terms of reference of the ACP will mean that its task of solving the problems will be far easier. Given her assurance that it is unnecessary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment No. 33, in page 17, line 34, at end insert—

'(10A) Within 12 months of the passing of this Act the Ministers shall jointly review the extent of and necessity for aerial spraying of pesticides and shall report to Parliament with proposals for reducing the use of this method of application.'.

With this, it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 34, in page 17, line 34, at end insert—

'(10A) Within 12 months of the passing of this Act the Ministers shall jointly review the scope for improving techniques of pesticide application and for promoting integrated pest management and shall set out in a report to Parliament a strategy for reducing the use of pesticides to a minimum consistent with efficient food production.'.

The only connecting factor in the two amendments is the fact that they choose the same mechanism—a review by Ministers within 12 months of the passing of the Bill — to deal with two separate matters. The first is aerial spraying. Lest there be any misunderstanding, especially on the part of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who challenged me on this point, I should say that some aerial spraying is necessary, for example, in difficult terrain. The spraying of upland bracken is extremely important, and spraying is important in controlling pests in forests. However, modern technology has already made it less necessary to use aerial spraying in the lowlands than it was some years ago. The development of low-pressure-tyre vehicles means that spraying can now be done by ground-based vehicles in conditions which would have been unthinkable a decade ago, and probably less. Therefore, to some extent, the need for aerial spraying in the lowlands has diminished.

We are asking for a report to be produced with a view to reducing aerial spraying to the minimum necessary. I should set out briefly to the House my reasons for asking for this limitation. One point that was voiced in Committee—it has been voiced by environmental groups and at public meetings—is the tremendous concern about aerial spraying, and about the involvement, accidental or otherwise, of people, animals and flora. There is unresolved public anxiety, which is not reassured by the often well-meaning statements that nothing can happen and that there is no real problem or danger. Many of those incidents are highly frightening and cause a great deal of emotion. We will not be reassured unless MAFF examines the working of the Act and aerial spraying, and reports to the House so that the matter can be publicly aired.

A second reason why the minimisation of aerial spraying should be undertaken — in Committee we considered a few fairly ropey forms of spraying—is that of all forms of spraying, it is probably the most inaccurate. I expect that many members of the Committee will have received a recent memo in which the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reiterates its concern for areas that become affected, although those areas were not due to be sprayed. Two of the examples that it gives are SSSIs and ponds. Spray drift is a particular problem for aerial spraying. It is a problem in itself, and relates to the next reason why I believe that a report is necessary, which is that on occasions aerial contractors spray in unsuitable weather conditions. That climatic problem means that wider areas of land are affected than originally intended. The effect of that on the inhabitants of neighbouring properties is tremendous.

The third reason is that often such spraying is unannounced. The Minister will no doubt reassure me that a formula is laid down under which spraying visits are reported to the nearest police headquarters, and so on but I ask her to accept the evidence, produced on an anecdotal but significant basis by hon. Members, which shows that in practice many people find aircraft spraying crops adjacent to their properties without having had the faintest idea that spraying was to take place that day or that low-flying aircraft would spray at or comparatively near to houses.

Has my hon. Friend seen the report of Friends of the Earth, which has been circulated to hon. Members—copies have been sent to Ministers and to the Prime Minister—which sets out in detail the facts of a number of incidents that have taken place this year when people have not complied with the rules? Do they not show that there is a need to tighten up in this area where there is abuse by many aerial sprayers?

I have seen that report. I was going to refer to it both in that connection and in response to the riposte that the Government may feel obliged to make, which is that the number of incidents reported are small. I contend that there are many more incidents that those that are reported.

I shall return to the point relating to an unannounced visit, with an aircraft flying fairly low and unreasonably close to dwelling houses or other buildings. That has an affect on people. In a letter written to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) I noticed that it said that in Germany, for example, the intention of a contractor to spray aerially must be conveyed to both the police and the local authority. I hope that in the Bill we shall secure, among other things, much more effective communication about where aerial spraying will take place. Those are the reasons why the report is necessary within 12 months to reassure the public. It should be targeted towards the reduction of aerial spraying.

As I have said and as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) pointed out, the number of incidents reported is comparatively low. I believe that it bears only scant relationship to the number of incidents that occur. The Friends of The Earth report suggests that where the public are gathered together at a meeting there is immediate testimony to such incidents by many. That is of much greater significance than the number of reports suggest. That may be due partly to the complexity of the rules of reporting, and partly to a lack of knowledge about how to go about reporting and why it should be done.

5.15 pm

We must also take account of the feeling that the controls are not properly enforced. On 26 April in a Ministry press release I noticed a warning about pesticide spraying and the minimisation of risks. The warning is fairly prominently displayed and says:
"The CAA will prosecute and in serious cases revoke an operator's Aerial Application Certificate if its requirements are not observed."
Would that that were so. It does not seem to be the case, in view of the low number of prosecutions this decade—the average must be about three a year. Although that number started from a low base and has increased to six or seven a year, such a reminder is not likely to strike terror into the hearts of the aerial operators who may undertake the work.

There is a widespread belief among reputable people in the agriculture industry that the CAA does not carry out its duties in this case with the same degree of interest as it devotes to other duties. I ask the Minister to accept that that is the feeling of people in agriculture. That needs to be borne in mind when we consider the preparation of a report and the consideration of aerial spraying generally.

My fourth point is that any admission of departmental responsibility between the Department of Transport and MAFF is blurred. That was referred to on 16 April in Committee when the Minister, reminded of the fact that the Royal Commission on environmental pollution had already drawn attention to the matter, said that a review would be undertaken and a statement made about departmental responsiblity and the relationship between the Department of Transport and MAFF on this subject. Will she tell us when that review and statement can be expected because they are important?

I understand from the farming press that the review of clearances for aerial spraying has already been begun by the advisory committee on pesticides. Will she confirm that, and tell us when the committee is likely to complete its review? As aerial spraying is an important subject and a potentially damaging form of pesticide spraying we should like a separate report on it to consider the aspects of safety and dislocation for those living in the countryside, and to deal with the question of how to reduce that form of spraying to minimum.

Amendment No. 34 deals with the improvement of application technique. It is important and calls for a system of integrated test management. We alluded to it in part when we talked about resistance to pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides of present strains of produce, which will apply in future. We are committed—the Minister was good enough to confirm this—to the use in agriculture of the minimum amount of pesticides, consistent with the effective use of that pesticide to control pests on crops.

We need the most efficient and accurate techniques possible, and well maintained equipment. Those two things do not necessarily automatically follow. Sometimes we have good designs which a few farmers, wanting to reduce their costs, use long after the repair and maintenance of such equipment has been neglected. We sometimes have inefficient systems, which are not as modern as they can be. The result is that there is unnecessary spraying of pesticides.

There are two general methods of spraying which would yield a lower pesticide use—ultra-low volume or controlled droplet application. We examined these two methods in detail earlier, but I refer the Minister to an article in Farmers Weekly of 20 June about low volume spraying. The article claims that low volume spraying minimises the check to the crops that spraying inevitably gives them. It is calculated that the use of ultra-low volume spraying or controlled droplet application is equivalent to a 25 per cent. reduction in the use of the active ingredient in pesticides.

In a report from a conference which appeared in Big Farm Weekly an ADAS representative who is an entomologist said that one third of all insecticide sprays applied to cereals were a waste of money. That must give the farmer and outselves a great deal of food for thought. The representative described revenge spraying. That occurs when the cosmetic damage to the crops leads farmers to want to get rid of the pests merely for the sake of the crops' appearance rather than to improve the quality of the crop.

The Opposition call for an integrated pest control system. Apart from the techniques that we adopt in the spraying of pesticides, there are a number of other steps which would and should be taken, such as crop rotation, the timing of planting, soil management, the use of pest and disease resistant crop varieties and, most importantly, biological controls, which are a growing source of pest control.

Biological control, as a preventive measure, has been discussed in Committee and its most interesting use at present is in the glasshouse cultivation of salad crops. Dr. Payne, and others, have been responsible for developments in that sector. In Farmers Weekly of 14 June there is an article about Doctor Lynch of the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute. He has pioneered techniques which include straw breakdown. The active microbes released through that process will form a pest control. That new development shows the importance of soil surveys in identifying where a turning-in of straw would provide maximum benefit and could be done safely and to the benefit of the soil. I commend to the Minister early-day motion 575 that I have tabled on that subject. It would be to the country's and the farmers' advantage to study it. It will be at least four years before those developments are commercially applicable and viable.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the turning back of straw can create bacteria and soil-borne diseases which are detrimental to the crop. In some cases, a form of chemical application may be necessary to cure those very bugs—if I may use that term—which are engendered by keeping the straw rather than destroying it by burning.

Yes, I understand that, but that is the value of Dr. Lynch's research. It is important. The soil survey would be able to advise whether it would be beneficial to turn straw back or whether it would present the risks of which the hon. Gentleman speaks, in which case one would not expect it to be done.

There is likely to be a spin-off from the work of Dr. Payne and Dr. Lynch within the fairly near future not just for glasshouse crops but for outdoor crops. Farmers Weekly of 7 June talks about microbial techniques and the fact that Microbial Resources Ltd. has pioneered five pesticides based upon the biological method of control. We are talking about the many possibilities that there will be in the future for growing crops.

More importantly, there has been general unease about the use of pesticides on stored crops. That is a facet of the problem that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The use of pesticides on stored crops can be a problem unless they are severely controlled. The use of insect hormones, which is being pioneered instead of pesticides, would provide a safer way of preserving the quality of stored crops.

In the research programme there are exciting possibilities for the biological rather than chemical control of pests. We are asking for an overall strategy, which combines healthy crops with the lowest possible input of chemical pesticides.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 call for the Government to study the results of the control of pesticides after the first year of the Act's operation and to return to Parliament with a report so that we can continue the debate which the Bill has stimulated and which has revealed a degree of unease about the use of chemical pesticides that the House ignores at its peril.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), in his usual charming way, has put forward two reasonably attractive amendments. He will, perhaps, forgive me if I concentrate on amendment No. 33. However, when he spoke about amendment No. 34 he expressed the hope of many within the industry that improved methods will be used and he is correct to point out that more research will need more funds. I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister will take note, and that every encouragement will be given to any such projects so that we might one day be able to move to biological rather than chemical answers to some of our problems for the majority of the time. I am sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman said about amendment No. 34.

One is tempted to go over some of the ground that was extensively debated in Committee in relation to the proposals contained in amendment No. 33. I shall, however, try to confine my comments to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I am not entirely attracted to that amendment because an instruction to the industry to reduce aerial spraying is creeping in. He correctly pointed out that with modern techniques and methods the need for aerial spraying is not as important as it was, but the "necessity" — I use his word — exists. It has been relevant over the past few days and weeks.

It does not need someone who knows much about agriculture to understand that ground conditions are now such that in many parts of the country the ground application of pesticides would be impossible. Judging by the conditions in the part of the world where I live, and on my farm, that will probably be impossible until we harvest the crop some time in August.

The House must not underestimate the tremendous boost and bonus that aerial spraying has brought to crops. Our food production system is efficient and good and we are able to enjoy remarkable cereal crops partly because aerial spraying is available and has been used sensibly by the industry in the last few years.

5.30 pm

I do not want the message to go from the House to the industry that we are intent on reducing aerial spraying so that one day a Government, of whatever colour, might consider legislating to ban it. That would be a sad day. I was pleased with the Opposition's stance in Committee when they said that they would never go down that road. I hope that if they ever become the Government—God forbid—they will remain of that opinion.

I shall deal with some of the arguments by the hon. Member for Pontypridd. He talked about public anxiety. He is right to say that a low-flying aircraft can be frightening, particularly if notice has not been given. However, Opposition Members and some of my hon. Friends agree that scare stories are often put about. Many allegations are unfounded, but just because the number of prosecutions is small does not mean that instances have not occurred.

I was disturbed when the hon. Member for Pontypridd implied that he did not believe the figures. All allegations are investigated thoroughly. The public easily become anxious and there is talk of scaremongering. The reports from the public are no more than allegations. They are always investigated and are often unfounded. However, I acknowledge the anxiety about aerial spraying. It is a dangerous occupation, not only for the pilot but for people on the ground.

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) seems to be trying to minimise the dangers and value of reported incidents. Is he saying that the report by the Friends of the Earth is irrelevant? Is he saying that most of the allegations are empty and do not reflect what happens? Does he understand that only with difficulty can a private citizen successfully secure a prosecution? Will he address himself to that problem?

Of course I have seen the report. I do not minimise the dangers or the allegations. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will have seen the figures put out by the British Agrochemicals Association and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which show that a large number of allegations are found to be unjustified after investigation. That is not to say that members of the public are not expressing an anxiety that anyone would express after seeing a low-flying aircraft near or over his house. Anyone would be anxious about what would happen if he came in the path of the spray. I am saying that not every allegation is found to be justified after investigation.

Accuracy is important. The industry is concerned about it, if only because of the cost of the chemicals. It would be foolish for any farmer or grower to spray a crop in a strong wind—this cannot be done under the code of conduct — because he would probably spray his neighbour's crop instead of his own. The code of conduct lays down strict rules so that no spraying can take place when the wind is above a certain speed. Some drift could occur, but the 200 ft recommendation solves the problem of spray drift, which the hon. Member for Pontypridd over-emphasised.

The hon. Member argued for more effective communication. Most hon. Members would support him in that, as would most people in the industry. The debates on the Floor of the House today and in Committee will have informed the trade that the public needs to be told what is happening. The trade has already responded. It fully realises that the public must be told where spraying is to take place and that it has a duty to people who live in the area. The point has been well taken.

In general, we must be careful not to discourage the aerial spraying industry, which is engaged in an expensive and necessary operation. It is necessary, not only for the large areas of cereal crops in the East Anglia region which I represent but, as the hon. Member said, in the Highlands and overseas. If we lost the technique of aerial spraying and the ability to spray, food production would suffer. The message must go from the House that aerial spraying should continue under the strictest control and with cognisance of the public's anxiety. I do not think that it is the duty of any Government to give instructions to the industry. It will sort itself out in its own way. The market should take its own course. If aerial spraying proves to be an impossible operation for farmers because of its expense or practicalities it will go away. I believe that aerial spraying will be with us for a long time and that it will be of great benefit to agriculture and the community.

I have great sympathy with the two amendments. A reduction in serial spraying is necessary. First, it is necessary to assist conservation. A reduction in aerial spraying will improve our efforts to conserve wild life. Secondly, a reduction in aerial spraying would be welcomed by the public, which regards it as a nuisance. Many people have suffered from it. Thirdly, a reduction in aerial spraying will not be detrimental to farming. We have the techniques to ensure that we can, regardless of the weather, put pesticides on to the crops at the right time.

We must accept that aerial spraying inevitably leads to drift. However skilled the operator, it is almost impossible to avoid some drift in any conditions. It is almost impossible to avoid the spray drifting over hedgerows and into neighbouring areas. There is a clear need for greater controls because the damage that aerial spraying does under any conditions cannot be denied.

There are fewer arguments for aerial spraying than there used to be. We discussed in Committee new developments such as low-pressure tyres which can travel over heavy clay lands, even when they are wet. The tramline system enables a vehicle to go even into an oilseed rape crop. As a farmer growing oilseed rape a few years ago, I had to use aerial spraying at certain times of the year. Those days are gone because we have developed other techniques and machines which can spray crops from the ground. We do not now have the technical need for aerial spraying. Now that we have advanced, aerial spraying should be used only in exceptional circumstances. I doubt whether the Civil Aviation Authority has the right methods to control area spraying. Perhaps in a year's time, under the review, we should look for a system of licences to be issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for those exceptional cases where aerial spraying will take place because other techniques do not exist.

I welcome amendment No. 34. Without any doubt the great increase in the use of chemicals in the countryside has led to increasing damage to the wildlife and to the conservation of our natural heritage. We must put far greater emphasis on the use of techniques and sprays that will minimise this damage.

My hon. Friend the Minister gave a helpful answer during Question Time the other day that explained how the Government are attempting to explore techniques for the better application of sprays. I welcome that but I think we must go further. It is essential that the sprays we use are far more specific. They should attack the problem and should not affect other insects and weeds that are harmless. We need equipment that is more accurate and ensures that the sprays affect only the area that needs spraying and do not drift and vaporise.

I welcome the fact that the amendment advocates integrated pest management. A good example of such management is the research being undertaken by the Game Conservancy. Under this research 6 m is left round the hedgerows which is unsprayed either by pesticides or herbicides. This has had a beneficial effect on the numbers of insects which survive as well as butterflies and hence on birdlife. Indeed it has had a beneficial effect on the whole of wildlife. The evidence shows that yields have not been affected if the system is managed well. This is a good example of integrated pest management without any loss of agricultural production. I ask the Minister to support the scheme and to consider other ways in which we can seek a balance between agriculture and conservation. To achieve this it would be necessary to publish from time to time our findings and our strategy. It is one thing to have vague aspirations but quite another to set down what we have accomplished, what our intentions are and how we are to achieve the goal of a balance between agriculture and conservation.

I hope that the Minister will look with sympathy on these two amendments. I cannot see how they will harm agricultural production and within them are the seeds of benefit.

This is the more controversial part of the Bill, and we spent some time in Committee discussing these matters. It is the part of the Bill on which the public's expectations of Parliament are highest.

We are grateful to Friends of the Earth for its work to identify cases that have been reported to the authorities and those cases that were not. Even as late as today a Mrs. Simmonds contacted Friends of the Earth from Henfield in Sussex because of her concern over aerial spraying which took place this morning in her area. Also today a Mrs. Judy Holder from Totnes, Devon, contacted Friends of the Earth because a helicopter was spraying right over her farmhouse. Friends of the Earth has given me a copy of a letter from Mrs. Slade of Romney Marsh in Kent. She wrote:
"Only last Thursday I was working in the fields when a spray plane suddenly appeared and proceeded to spray the adjacent fields. Luckily the wind was blowing away from me and when I went home it was spraying the fields around our house. The plane was turning right overhead. I was not informed that spraying would take place. I don't know what they were using, there was no smell whatsoever."
The point is that the public do not know what is happening and they are frightened. They are looking to Parliament to deal with this matter. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) was speaking to the House as though there was no problem.

5.45 pm

It is a great problem. I have a copy of the early-day motion which I tabled last year along with two of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. I believe that about 50 to 60 Conservative Members, along with almost the whole of the Labour Party and a few alliance Members, signed the motion. Two hundred and thirty four Members signed the motion calling for

"an effective ban on the aerial spraying of certain arable crops and additionally of specified products and progress towards the introduction of a more effective means of pesticide application: further urges the Government to adopt such a programme as a matter of urgency."
Two hundred and thirty four Members expressed concern about aerial spraying. The Minister should recognise the concern of those who signed the early-day motion and ensure that adequate safeguards are provided in the regulations that are to be published in due course.

Friends of the Earth has produced other information. It appears that in April a farmer sprayed the corner of a Mr. Martin Potter's garden with what the farmer described as a "deadly poison bug killer". That is the statement that was made by a constituent of an hon. Member. I accept that he might have exaggerated what took place, but that is what he said. The fact is that that individual did not know what was happening, and that is what the argument is all about. People do not know what they are being sprayed with because they are given inadequate information.

A Mrs. Betty Clarke of Birchington near Thanet contacted Friends of the Earth in April. She explained that she and a neighbour had suffered seven days of wheezing, swollen glands and bleary eyes as a result of crop spray. I accept that the cause may not have been crop spray, but it may have been. Many people—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) wishes to intervene, I shall be glad to let him do so. Many people find it difficult to establish what has happened. They see an aeroplane and watch it spraying within the vicinity. Afterwards, they are taken ill and they assume that there is a connection between aerial spraying and their illness. If there is a connection, it is often too late to establish it.

The parliamentary private secretary' to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), knows that I have a letter from one of his constituents in which a complaint is made about a spraying incident in his constituency. It is only parliamentary protocol and good manners that prevent me from reading the letter to the House. The hon. Gentleman's constituent states in her letter that she made representations to her Member of Parliament and describes the action that was taken as a result of the representations.

The public are extremely concerned and they look to Parliament to take action. I have a series of letters—I shall not recite them all — which refer to spraying incidents, and it is clear that Parliament is expected to respond to the public's anxiety. Environmental groups such as the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth want a ban to be imposed on aerial spraying of farmland. They say that continued aerial spraying should be permissible only by a special permit for bracken control and forestry purposes.

Although aerial spraying involves only about 2 per cent. of British pesticide application, it has led to an extremely large number of pollution incidents. Much of the problem is due to spray drift. Some incidents are due to the failure of pilots to observe adequate precautions.

In Britain, aerial spraying is controlled by the Civil Aviation Authority under the Department of Transport, so it is distanced from the Ministry and the Department of the Environment. This division of responsibilities may go some way to explaining the problems over the control of aerial spraying in the past.

During the process of listening to the groups that came to us to refer not only to aerial spraying but to other aspects of pesticide legislation, I was told repeatedly that division of responsibility between the Departments was creating confusion, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) commented at length on this in Committee. Division of responsibility has created difficulties in pesticide control.

The National Society for Clean Air is concerned that the notification procedure that should be followed under CAA control has been widely ignored, and I have referred to cases illustrating that point, Mr. Chairman.

Having spent so much time on the Standing Committee of the Finance Bill, I have become used to referring to the person in the Chair as Mr. Chairman. I apologise.

The notification procedure has been widely ignored and, as a result, local residents, schools, beekeepers, hospitals and market gardeners have been unable to take precautionary measures against spray drift.

Pesticides sprayed from the air include a number that are sufficiently toxic to be covered by the 1972 poisons rules or the Health and Safety Executive's poisonous substances regulations requiring special clothing for operators, such as rubber gauntlets and respirators, as the pesticides have such a high acute toxicity. As the pre-notification system has failed in so many instances, it is possible for incidents to occur in which people are sprayed directly by a poisonous substance. They are not wearing rubber gauntlets, respirators or special clothing. They simply do not know what will happen and they have to put up with the results of this abuse.

There is considerable feeling both inside and outside Parliament that the Government do not go far enough in controlling the use of aircraft for the release of pesticides. The public needs to be assured that Ministers have the power to regulate or stop the more distressing features of aerial spraying. The Royal Commission on environmental pollution has called for stricter controls on aerial spraying and the British Crop Protection Council has recommended that it be used in only a few cases.

The amount of spraying could be more effectively controlled if the number of sprays that could be used from the air were reduced. Insecticides applied from the air could be drastically reduced in number because of the increasing success of integrated pest management schemes which utilise only minimal ground application of insecticides in the control of many insect pests.

Research could also be undertaken into the conservation of spray released into the air. There is a need for more rational consideration of the insect target in relation to droplet size and formulation, a point to which the hon. Member for Luton, North referred and on which we agree. Target behaviour is largely unknown and needs to be studied because of the large payoff in spray effectiveness. There is also an urgent need for a scientific analysis of the behaviour of smaller spray droplets to take advantage of their large potential for reducing pollution and costs and providing an understanding and control of drift.

As it stands, the Bill does not give the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food new powers over aerial spray. The ambiguity about whether pesticide regulations cover aircraft, the confusion over this Bill, the large number of spraying incidents connected with this type of spray and the widespread concern that the CAA does not exercise sufficient disciplinary control together provide a strong case for clarifying the extent of, and necessity for, aerial spraying.

I should like to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but it is nearly 6 o'clock and I believe we intend to give the Bill a Third Reading by 7 o'clock.

I welcome these amendments, which are both interesting and well worth consideration. Amendment No. 34 is a good amendment. We are all anxious to see farming problems controlled without the excessive use of pesticide. I shall speak to amendment No. 33, which concerns aerial spraying. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) served a useful purpose in promoting this matter for debate. There are grounds for concern, and it is no use saying that there are not. Some people have behaved badly and affected many people in rural areas, villages, hamlets and isolated houses by their lack of respect for whatever code of practice may exist.

We discussed a similar amendment in Committee and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that the CAA, which controls the performance of aerial spraying, had established much tighter controls and that the regulations would be made available to the House. I hope that my hon. Friend will follow this up. I recognise the need for aerial spraying most of the time, and particularly in weather like this. Nevertheless, the practice badly lacks some good public relations. All neighbours must be informed before aerial spraying takes place. Spraying should be not less than 100 yd from the outside boundary of the area that is being sprayed. Spray should not go within 200 yd of villages and hamlets, as they do in my constituency. However careful one is, and however still the day, there is always a risk of some spray drift affecting a neighbour's property.

I welcome these amendments. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can give some idea of the acreage that is sprayed every year. I reinforce my belief that while we need aerial spraying, there must be a strict code of conduct. People who have not complied with the code of practice are bringing all the aerial spraying industry into disrespect. Therefore, I support the amendments.

I also support the amendments. It is unnecessary to elaborate the concern rightly expressed by the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and others. The Bill gives us an opportunity to put down a marker saying that, rather than allow uncontrolled expansion of this practice, we shall change direction. I welcome the fact that the Government have accepted that. However, we need also to make sure that progress in that direction is continued.

I read the Committee debates on the subject. My view has always been that certain areas such as those quoted by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) need aerial spraying. The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) had an exchange about marginal hill land in Wales. I know that in areas of Snowdonia and the Brecons one cannot gain access to the hillside to spray by other methods. However, for reasons that have been clearly advanced we should be moving towards the principle that aerial spraying is the exception rather than the rule.

Amendment No. 33 is a simple and straightforward amendment to ensure that there is a process of monitoring movement in that direction. It is a well tried and tested device used by the House to make sure that Ministries are responsible to us and report back on the progress that is made. Only if one sets a direction can one, over time, cause production and agricultural machinery and techniques to be adapted to move in that direction. That is why the amendment is important. We do not want the Bill to set a signal that is not followed on by consistent review to ensure that spraying is reduced rather than increased and that the methods and efficiency and accuracy of spraying is improved.

Did the hon. Gentleman or any of his colleagues in the alliance sign the early-day motion in the name of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) calling for an effective ban on aerial spraying?

My recollection is that several alliance Members did sign it, because we are seeking to reduce the amount of aerial spraying. Some of them signed it, but not all. I think that the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) was saying that there is great pressure, as exemplified by the signatures on that motion, from within the House and from people who have written to most hon. Members here and in the other place for a move in this direction.

I am sorry to say it, but it was with great difficulty that I secured the support of some of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends and that some members of the alliance did not support the motion.

6 pm

I cannot enter into a discussion of the reluctance or lack of it to sign the motion. All I know is that during discussions at an early stage between at least one of my colleagues, myself and the hon. Member for Workington, there was an agreement to support that move from the beginning. I know that there was full co-operation from one of my hon. Friends, who is not here today, but who liaises with me on a regular basis. Therefore, in that respect there was enthusiasm and co-operation as opposed to reluctance.

People from different backgrounds and with different jobs will have different views. My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North, who served on the Committee, is a farmer and has seen the need for and practised aerial spraying on difficult farming terrain. I have not said that spraying should not take place, and my support for the amendment is on the basis that it signals a move to reduce and curtail, except when necessary, aerial spraying for all the reasons that have been advanced.

It is important that the House should know whether the alliance supports, as is said in the early-day motion:

"an effective ban on … aerial spraying".
The impression given by the alliance spokesman in Committee was that, for the reason the hon. Gentleman has put forward, spraying should be available to the hilllands and lowlands of Wales. The hon. Gentleman's answer to that point could be of particular relevance to a certain by-election that is taking place in a few days.

The answer has no more relevance to the by-election in Brecon and Radnor than to any other part of the country where aerial spraying is carried out. Since 1967 the Liberal party has sought effective controls on spraying, and it has regularly passed motions to that effect at its assemblies. The motion to which there were signatories from the alliance called for effective control of spraying. It did not say there should be no control; rather that such control should be better. There will be exceptions, and those were canvassed in Committee.

The early-day motion seeks effective control of aerial spraying. That is a view that my hon. Friends unanimously support. It does not mean that aerial spraying should be discontinued if it is impossible to spray by other means. The geography of Britain would make that a ludicrous position, and we have not adopted it.

The other amendment states that there should be a review so that we can ensure that there is integrated pest management. We have seen failures as a result of contradictory methods of pest management in the past. I do not blame the Department for that, or those who have used those different methods. The amendment requires that we look at the application of pesticides.

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has similar concerns about other amendments. This is a continuing process. We are continuing to improve the mechanism and are learning by experience.

The only way of ensuring that a Department does what the amendment requests is to make sure that a review is presented to Parliament in the same way as Royal Commissions present their reports through Ministers to Parliament. In that way we can ensure progress along the line that the Bill intends. That will ensure that intention becomes reality.

I hope that the Minister will reassure us that what is sought by both amendments, supported by Members on both sides of the House, will be responded to positively by the Government. I hope that the Government will report back to the House so that we have the information on which to evaluate the effectiveness of this legislation.

As the Bill has proceeded through Parliament, a great deal of time has been spent discussing aerial spraying — in the other place, during Second Reading, in Committee and again this evening. On the whole, our discussions have been expressive of the concern that we all feel—that this area of pesticide use should be properly regulated. As a result, I feel that we have made progress in our considerations of this issue and I am grateful to all who have contributed.

Let me sum up the Government's position. We are very aware of the irritation and, indeed, distress that can be caused by spray drift from aerial applications. We are sensitive to the concerns and fears of those who live in rural areas and who feel themselves to be at risk from what can be, when it occurs, a gross nuisance. However, there is another side to the coin, and we should not forget it.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) made it clear that he is not talking about a ban on aerial spraying, and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) has put the case for aerial spraying. Many aerial spraying contractors in this country are very aware of their responsibilities to the community and take great care to spray safely. What we have to do, as legislators, is to find a balance—to achieve a situation in which the aerial application of pesticides may continue to be used as an important tool of agriculture and forestry, but without endangering people or the environment.

In earlier debates I have described the ways in which the CAA's control last autumn has been tightened up in respect of distances from houses and roads and the threat of prosecution if operators do not distribute proper notification that aerial sparying is to take place. In response to points put to me in Committee, I have already asked the Advisory Committee on Pesticides to review the list of chemicals cleared for application from the air, and as a result of the concerns expressed in Committee, we have initiated a review of departmental responsibilities in controlling aerial spraying. We expect that in the autumn, because the results of that review will influence our proposals for implementing regulations later this year.

I have also explained that we see the controls provided by this legislation complementing those exerted by the CAA. In particular, it will become a criminal offence to spray from the air any chemical that does not appear on the permitted list. I recognise that some may argue that still further controls may be necessary. I respect their point of view, and to them I say that this Bill provides ample powers for Ministers, by regulations, to place any additional controls on aerial spraying that may, from time to time, be considered necessary. Precisely what controls may be necessary will be discussed in detail in our consultations on the regulations, and we will welcome the views and advice of all those with an interest in the aerial application of pesticides. As we shall be returning to Parliament with our draft regulations within the time envisaged by this amendment, I cannot see the need for a specific requirement to report on this in 12 months' time. I therefore ask the House to reject the amendment, which is unnecessary, given that we shall come before the House within the time specified.

The hon. Lady misunderstands the anxiety on both sides of the House. Regulations will be legalistic. They will reveal the Government's thinking, but not the state of knowledge that has led to that thinking. We would be happier if she could give an undertaking that she will make available the latest results of the CAA investigations into aerial spraying incidents. With respect, it is not sufficient to say that the regulations will take the place of the information and discussion that we want.

I tried to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the draft regulations, which will come before the House within the time during which he would like a report, will give an indication, being the result of consultations, of the review of departmental responsibilities and of any views expressed to us about the aerial application of pesticides. I was asked for information about the tightening up process of the CAA. I will see that a copy of it is placed in the Library.

Amendment No. 34 does not take enough account of the work that the Government already support and finance on techniques of pesticide application and integrated pest management. Furthermore, it implies that the Government's other actions—such as this legislation—have nothing to do with our declared policy of reducing pesticide use to the minimum, consistent with efficient food production.

With the Agriculture and Food Research Council, ADAs has been in the forefront of the development of integrated pest control in the United Kingdom. Programmes based on parasites, predators, selective pesticides and fungal pathogens have been developed to control the major pests of cucumbers and tomatoes, and these techniques are being used on 70 per cent. of cucumbers and 40 per cent. of tomatoes.

We have also developed a supervised control programme for apples, involving close monitoring of the crop and selective, rather than calendar, spraying. Other integrated control programmes are available for the control of potato cyst menatode, the major pest of potatoes. The PSPS has already cleared a number of biological pesticides and an insect virus. Our work at the Boxworth experimental farm to investigate the effects on the flora and fauna of pesticides used on cereals includes an area of cereals under an integrated control system for evaluation. Currently, we have 31 separate commissions with AFRC for integrated control research.

In collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, my Department is investigating the design of field sprayers and the control of spray rates, an issue which particularly concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle). Work is going on to identify the physical factors which affect the formation, transport and deposition of spray droplets and to quantify how these factors affect spray deposit and spray drift.

Information from the analytical and laboratory studies of the design and development of field spraying equipment is made available to engineers for the design of equipment. My Department publishes an annual report on our research and development work which is available from the Stationery Office.

As I said at the beginning of my reply, the legislation in part III of the Bill is a major part of our strategy to ensure pesticide usage consistent with efficient food production.

In the light of all the complaints that hon. Members have received——

I have not read the whole list, but it is clear that innumerable complaints are received daily by Friends of the Earth. In view of that, will the Minister give an undertaking that when the regulations are introduced, she will, in effect, be setting up a regime on aerial spraying of pesticides which will effectively end what is happening now? That would give some assurance to hundreds of thousands of people who live in rural areas of Britain and who are looking to the Minister for reassurances to relieve them of their concerns about the future.

6.15 pm

I reiterate that we are concerned about some aerial spraying and that we believe that it should be regulated. I said that the regulations would come before the House in 12 months' time. For that reason, I said, the amendment was not necessary.

We shall continue to give a high priority to the work that the Government are supporting into alternative and improved methods of pest control. I do not, therefore, see the need for a special report to Parliament on this aspect of pesticide policy, as the whole purpose of the Bill is to support our strategy to ensure pesticide usage consistent with efficient food production. I hope, therefore, that the amendment will be withdrawn.

I was disappointed with the Parliamentary Secretary's reply. While the House is anxious not to go over ground that was trodden in Committee, there are certain aspects that we must consider. For example, there is the question of regulations as against a report, for which the amendment calls.

I would describe regulations as legislative icebergs; they are what emerge into the public's gaze, not the totality of what occurs in their production. About five sixths of the consideration that goes into the framing of legislation never becomes known outside the conferences with advisers about which the Minister will know well.

On subjects of this nature, however, I should have thought that there was every virtue not only in making the regulations known — with their necessarily exact and spare use of English to make them legally enforceable—but for making known to the House, by means of an explanatory memorandum or by some other means, exactly what information impelled the Government to take the course of tabling regulations.

If the Minister would be prepared to do that, we would be reassured about the Government's intentions. I therefore ask the Parliamentary Secretary to accept amendment No. 34 on an integrated strategy for pest control. I have heard much about what is going on in specific projects, but nothing about an overall strategy, whereas we are asking for such a strategy.

Unless the Parliamentary Secretary can, by way of regulations in respect of the aerial spraying issue, reassure the public, their anxiety will not go away. The Government may avoid parliamentary bother—in that they will not have to produce an explanatory memorandum and explain why a hundred and one cases are not apposite or borne out by the facts—but in so doing they will be building up anxiety that many people feel about aerial spraying, either through incidents of which they are aware or of which neighbours have told them.

That anxiety will not disappear if the Government avoid dealing with it now. Thus, when the regulations are being published, I urge the Minister to publish at the same time an explanatory memorandum setting out an analysis of the incidents that have occurred and her conclusions on them.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 17, line 38, leave out from 'of' to 'or' in line 41 and insert

'controlling pesticides in the United Kingdom'.
During our examination in Committee of clause 15(11) the Opposition expressed concern that its present wording may not enable us to collect the information that we need to determine whether an approval should be reviewed, revoked or suspended. I agreed to consider this and, as a result, have decided that this amendment would be appropriate. Although short, it leaves no doubt that the power to require information may be exercised at all stages of pesticide supply and use controlled by part III, so that Ministers can exercise those controls properly. It therefore ensures that the Minister can have both information to approve and information to revoke or suspend pesticides, as the Opposition requested.

I welcome the amendment. We are looking at words that effectively limit the provision to controlling pesticides in the United Kingdom. Page 18 of the Bill refers to complying with international obligations. Do we consider at this stage our obligation with respect to the export of pesticides, which may not be governed simply by our international obligations? I know that these are matters of convention. We are making certain provisions with respect to information from manufacturers and users of pesticides in the United Kingdom. Are we referring also to information that will be available when we export pesticides?

This is one of the underlying issues of the debate. We are ensuring that we do not include within pesticides for export properties that are undesirable, unacceptable or dangerous and which we would not allow to be used here. Will it be possible to deal with that issue in this clause, or will it be dealt with elsewhere?

We have adequate powers under the 1939 Act to deal with all pesticides for export.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 37, in page 18, line 42, leave out 'or preparation' and insert preparation or organism'.

No. 38, in page 19, line 1, leave out from 'for' to 'and' in line 5 and insert 'destroying any pest;'.

No. 39, page 19, line 11, leave out 'or preparation' and insert preparation or organism'.— [Mrs. Fenner.]

Clause 16


Amendments made: No. 40, in page 19, line 24, leave out from 'pesticide' to 'tests' in line 29 and insert

'under this Part of this Act, on making his application, to pay a reasonable fee in respect of the administrative expenses of processing his application.
(2) A Minister may also require an applicant for an approval to pay a further reasonablee fee towards the expenses of carrying out any examinations and.'.

No. 41, in page 19, line 32, at end insert—

'(2A) Where either of the Ministers has given an approval, he may require the payment of reasonable fees from time to time—
  • (a) in respect of the collection of information under section 15(11) above and the processing of information supplied under that subsection;
  • (b) in respect of monitoring the effect of the use of pesticides in the United Kingdom,
  • by such persons as he considers appropriate.

    (2B) Fees under this section shall be determined on principles settled by the Ministers with the consent of the Treasury and after consultation with organisations appearing to the Ministers to represent persons who are likely to apply for approvals.'.— [Mrs. Fenner.]

    Clause 17

    Enforcement Powers

    I beg to move amendment No. 59, in page 19, line 37, after 'Ministers', insert 'or a local authority',

    :With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 60, in clause 22, page 25, line 10, at end insert—

    '"local authority" means—
  • (a) in England and Wales, the council of a district or a London borough, the Common Council of the City of London, the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple and the Under Treasurer of the Middle Temple; and
  • (b) in Scotland, and islands or district council;'.
  • This amendment has been tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and myself. It relates to the enforcement by local authorities of the powers that are provided for in clause 17. As drafted, the Bill provides:

    "Either of the Ministers may authorise any person … to enforce this Part of this Act".
    The other place has debated how much power this provision gives the Government to delegate to for example, local authorities so that they can undertake the enforcement role. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider the practical reasons for specifying that officers of local authorities should be given this job. I hope that she will take in good part the good reasons why my colleagues and I believe that they should be given this job.

    There is a strong case for environmental health officers—each local authority has several of these—taking on the role of enforcement in relation to pesticides. I should like to put out of the way the suggestion that this could be done by trading standards officers. That red herring came up at an earlier stage of the debate, and I want to dispose of it. Trading standards officers are the people who go around Sainsburys to ascertain whether the weight of the cheese is specified correctly. I am concerned about those officers who are more ready to put on their wellington boots and tread out into the mire to deal with matters away from their offices and urban areas.

    Environmental health officers are specifically well equipped to do this job. Indeed, they are necessary if the Parliamentary Secretary is serious about wanting to enforce this legislation. There are between 4,000 and 6,000 environmental health officers in Britain. The Minister said in Committee that this compares with only about 160 inspectors in the Government's agricultural safety inspectorate. The original memorandum to the Bill said that, because of increased work on pesticides, another 18 staff at the Health and Safety Inspectorate and 16 at the Ministry would be required. The Minister said that about 14 of the 18 extra HSE staff would be additional agricultural inspectors. I do not believe that 14 or 18 extra staff will make much difference. Compare a possible 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000 people having the power to do this job with the 160 staff presently in post, to which would be added a mere 14 or 18 extra staff. I would opt for giving these powers specifically to the army of environmental health officers, numbering thousands rather than tens.

    I do not know the number of people in the pesticides branch of MAFF, but I believe that officials at Whitehall place—the Parliamentary Secretary's headquarters—are not likely to be dealing with enforcement on the ground. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary accepts that they will be dealing with the monitoring of information and the efficacy of the regulations. A pathetic number of people employed by the Ministry will be doing the enforcing. The Government have already accepted that they are setting a great task. They have conceded that the number of inspectors is relevant. The fact that they are increasing the staff by 14 clearly shows that they have conceded that it is important to have more inspectors. It follows that 4,000 will be more effective than 14.

    If there are doubts—I share those doubts, although I would be delighted to be proved wrong—about the political will of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to enforce this legislation effectively, I would prefer the power of enforcement to be dispersed to others. One would not then be entirely reliant on the political will of the Parliamentary Secretary's Department, with all the pressures placed on her from other Departments. We have had debates about giving the Ministry an environmental over-duty. This idea was strongly resisted in debates on the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) to amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Government said that they were not willing to take it on because all Departments had a responsibility to look after wildlife, the countryside and the environment and that it would be wrong to allow one Department to be the lead Department. It would be much better to allow all local authorities to have the same responsibility. I trust that there would be greater effectiveness of enforcement in that case than if only one Department were involved.

    To have the Minister decide the priorities of enforcement is clearly not as good—this is no criticism of the Parliamentary Secretary—as having a wide range of local authorities deciding enforcement priorities, given their personnel and resources. Different local authorities in different parts of Britain will have different priorities in terms of the enforcement of pesticide legislation. It depends on the farming, the nature of the terrain and all sorts of things. Therefore, it could be seen, by comparing one with the other, which were the most successful authorities, and the Ministry would have benefit of that experience.

    6.30 pm

    There is also the argument, which my hon. Friend and I always advance, that we believe in strengthening local authorities as against Government Departments. It is an important principle of democratic control that one gives the power to enforce legislation to the people nearest to the ground. That argument for decentralisation applies in this case even though one is depending upon the information coming from research, whether it is the Ministry's research or independent research carried out in the universities.

    Many local authorities are keen to have these powers of enforcement. They know their areas. Many officers live and are brought up in the areas. The best information comes directly from the area. People are more likely to go to the local environmental health officer, the local town hall or the county hall than they are to write to Whitehall, so that the Whitehall machinery would seldom be called upon to deal with these issues.

    As a complementary point, environmental health officers in local authorities are likely to be, as they should be, more responsive to local pressure and concerns because they are in the front line. It would seem illogical for people who go to them on what is clearly an environmental health matter to be told, "I am sorry, we are not the front line agency for dealing with this."

    Whatever the case, it is true that the Ministry is more suited to deal with major problems and national incidents, given all its resources. The Ministry should not have to deal on every level in every farm, field, district and county with the various issues that crop up every day.

    It may also be the case that the Ministry officials, as they are bound by duty to do, start from being pro-farmer rather than pro-environment. They rightly have a duty, because it is their task to ensure that there is an effective agriculture industry, to take into account the concerns of those involved in the industry. It is better that these issues should be looked at with the eye of those who are interested in the environment—the farmer, farm worker, employee, farm resident, rural resident and countryside user. The Ministry has to consider agricultural production and agriculture from its position, but environmental matters should be dealt with by people who have a responsibility for the environment.

    I think that the Minister would agree that environmental health departments and officers are keen to do the job. All the information that I have been given suggests that they are ready and willing. For the Government to hold close to their chest, in a quiet closed department of 14 or 18 officers, the task of doing this job when there is a great army saying, "Please give us this work, we want to help you," seems an ungenerous attitude. I know that the Minister can be generous, and I look to her to give away the workload with which her officials would otherwise be lumbered if she does not accept my arguments.

    I anticipate the Minister saying that to accept the amendment would be inconsistent with the format of the rest of the Bill, which is concerned with establishing structure. The Minister promised us regulations in 12 months, by which I hope she meant within 12 months. The regulations will give us the teeth to fit the mouth of the Bill. I accept that local authorities get little mention in the Bill. That is to be regretted because it reflects a rather centralist view of what can be an effective Bill at all levels. The most effective Bill will be one that allows local authorities to play their part. The debate in the other place included the statement with which I began, that clause 17 gives the Government sufficient powers to authorise local authority officers to carry out this job.

    I have put the arguments and by way of summary of the arguments, I ask the Minister to give a commitment that the Government will authorise, as from the date of the enactment of the legislation or within a short period thereafter, local authority environmental health officers to carry out this job. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was on the right lines, but was found to be defective because the resources were not available to make it effective. If we are endeavouring to protect the environment, we should avail ourselves of resources where they are available.

    The Bill is welcome, but let us hear the Minister make the commitment to give those who wish to do the job the power to enforce the legislation.

    I thank the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for moving the amendment, which I cannot accept.

    The purpose of the Bill is not to give local authorities powers in the control of pesticides. As he rightly pointed out, it is the tool to ensure that Ministers have all the powers they need to effect such control. Before we could give local authorities such power, we would need to consult them and all other interests involved about that proposal. Indeed, we had a consultation meeting with the Association of Local Authorities last week. It is fair to say that on that occasion no clear new area of activity for local authorities was identified that would justify the amendment.

    It may reassure the House to know that Ministers can authorise local authority officers or local authorities as legal persons to undertake an enforcement role. We believe that they will have a part to play in the enforcement of the legislation in future, particularly in relation to pesticide residues. However, that is still some time in the future, and we will be consulting at the appropriate time.

    The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the number of people in the field. As he rightly pointed out, in the Health and Safety Executive there is an agricultural inspectorate of 160. Of the new additional staff quoted in the Bill, two of the London staff will be in the field on wildlife. In the Health and Safety Executive, of the 18 there will be 12 additional inspectors. That is the number requested by the executive to carry out the additional work involved, although there already exists an agricultural inspectorate of 160. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

    The figures that the Minister has given confirm my fears. She did not give the specific commitment for which I asked, that the Government would authorise local authorities. I must therefore request that we should hear the Government refuse to accept the amendments rather than that I should withdraw them.

    Amendment negatived.

    Amendments made: No. 42, in page 20, line 4, after 'being', insert 'or has been'.

    No. 43, in page 20, line 10, after 'being', insert 'or has been'.

    No. 44, in page 21, line 5, leave out subsection (8).— [Mrs. Fenner.]

    Clause 22


    Amendments made: No. 45, in page 24, line 23, at end insert—

    "'escape" is to be construed in accordance with section 1(2) above;'.

    No. 46, in page 25, line 23, at end insert '"pest",'.— [Mrs. Fenner.]

    Clause 23

    Northern Ireland

    Amendments made: No. 47, in page 26, line 39, after ' (k)', insert ' (Codes of practice),'.

    No. 48, in page 26, line 42, after 'each', insert 'or either'.

    No. 49, in page 27, line 6, at end insert—'and

    (f) Section (Codes of practice) (4)(a) is omitted.'.

    No. 50, in page 27, line 12, after 'them', insert

    ', other than the reference in section [Enforcement of Conventions] (1) above,'.

    No. 51, in page 27, line 28, at end insert 'and Schedule 5 to this Act'.— [Mrs. Fenner.]

    Schedule 5

    The Advisory Committee

    I beg to move amendment No. 52, in page 36, line 5, at end insert—

    '(1A.) The Ministers shall, in their appointment of persons as members of the committee, have regard to the general purposes of Part III of this Act, mentioned in section 15(1) above, and review annually the range of expertise required for those purposes.'.
    The purpose of this amendment is to ask the Government to pay regard to the aims of the Bill, as outlined in clause 15(1). We have used the words "have regard" so that the Government may think carefully about the composition of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides. The Bill sets out the Government's aims which lie at the heart of the Bill, but it lacks any specific indication of the Government's intentions. They will probably be included in the regulations. The Government have resisted giving a date for the publication of the regulations which will put into effect the laudable aims of clause 15(1).

    However, we are concerned about a lacuna in the Bill. We want the ACP to be able to put into effect the general aims of clause 15(1). Many believe that the first aim of the Government was to protect not the public but the industry. The mechanism of the pesticides safety precautions scheme has broken down because of the import of cheap pesticides, so we want the Government to fulfil its aims. In the absence of regulations we need to be reassured that the general purpose of clause 15(1) will be fulfilled.

    The composition of the ACP is vital. Will it carry out the Government's intentions? To use the words of clause 15(1), will it provide
    "The continuous development of means—(a) to protect the health of human beings,…(b) to safeguard the environment; and (c) to secure safe, efficient and humane methods of controlling pests."?
    The composition of the committee does not reassure us. Many organisations, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, believe that the committee's expertise is insufficient to protect wildlife, but I wish to concentrate upon human health, one of the aims of clause 15(1).

    Five of the 10 full members of the committee are doctors. However, three of them are pathologists whose expertise relates not to the living but to the dead. The other two doctors are academics. None of the ACP members is currently concerned with the care of living patients. The medical expertise that is available on the advisory panels is related more to the dissection of dead rats on laboratory tables than to dealing with people. It is a pejorative term, but in the medical profession they fall into the category that is roughly known — I use the word "roughly" in both senses of the word—as rat doctors.

    6.45 pm

    This may have been appropriate in the past. The PSPS was concerned primarily with the clearance of pesticides before use, on the basis of animal test data, rather than with monitoring their effect upon human beings after use. However, the monitoring of the effect of pesticides on human beings is one of the main aims of the Bill. Continuous monitoring after use is part of its purpose. If the Minister is serious about protecting human beings on a continuous basis and about safeguarding the environment, should not more emphasis be placed upon monitoring pesticides by the ACP? Will its composition change to take account of what she seeks to achieve? If monitoring is to take place, where will the expertise be found? It will not be found in the ACP. There should be doctors on the committee who have practical experience of dealing with patients, not with dead rats on the laboratory table. If the Government are serious about providing protection, a true clinical toxicologist, with practical experience of caring for people who have been poisoned, should be appointed to the committee. There is no substitute for such expertise. If the Minister can assure us that the constitution of the ACP will be suitably amended, we may reconsider this amendment, even though we should like it to be incorporated in the Bill.

    Paraquat is a well-known substance for which there is no antidote. Since its introduction, there have been 331 deaths. Those people died in a uniformly horrible way. Some of them, though not necessarily all, died by their own hand. This substance ought to be reconsidered because of its effects upon human beings rather than upon weeds.

    The Black committee investigated the possible increase in the number of deaths in Cumbria from cancer because of Yorkshire Television's allegations about a disproportionately large number of children in the Sellafield area with leukaemia. The numbers were low but the ratio was high. The allegations were taken seriously and led to the appointment of a committee whose report has now been published. The results were largely inconclusive, but the committee said that further research was needed. In reaching those important conclusions the Black committee had the help of two epidemiologists. Is it not precisely this kind of work, relating not to radiation but to pesticides and similar chemicals, upon which the ACP should provide advice? Yet there is no epidemiologist on the committee. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) referred earlier to thalidomide, which had been tested on rats before it was brought into general use. Later it was proved to be dangerous to human beings. That danger would have been established if an epidemiologist had served on the committee.

    Today I received a press release from Friends of the Earth which calls for a ban on the sale or use of all pesticides containing the chemical loxynil. There is evidence to support the theory that it causes a certain number of birth defects. That is unproven, but should not the ACP advise on just such a claim? How could it provide advice if none of its members has the appropriate medical qualifications to form a reasonable judgment? This is not a fanciful point. The suspicion that the high incidence of cancer in farm workers is caused by pesticides is being investigated by the Medical Research Council. Should not the ACP be able to investigate that allegation, too? If the Government wish the health of human beings to be protected on a continuous basis, the ACP must be provided with the necessary means.

    The Bill will have little effect if it becomes an instrument for the continuous clearance of pesticides before use by the study of dead rats instead of monitoring pesticides in use by examining their effect upon living human beings. We ask that the ACP be restructured to take account of the changed needs that result from this Bill and we welcome that change. If the Minister were to accept this extremely limited amendment, it would make sure that in future the ACP reflected, at least in some measure, the Government's concern. This amendment does no more than give effect to that wish, which we hope the Government share. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept it and commend it to the House.

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for his explanation. I hope that he will forgive me if I respond rather predictably by saying that we cannot accept the amendment because it is unnecessary, since clause 15(7), which enables Ministers to establish an advisory committee, makes it absolutely clear that the area of activity of the committee and indeed the reason for its existence are the general purpose of part III of the Bill. That being so, I can assure the House that this Government at least—I venture to say, any Government—would not consider making any appointment to the ACP without having regard to the general purposes of this legislation.

    The hon. Member made some astonishing comments about the members of the ACP. Professor Kilpatrick, the chairman, is concerned with living patients, as is Professor Berry, the chairman of the scientific sub-committee, whose expertise also includes carcinogenicity and teratogenicity. I remind him that pathologists are not solely concerned with the dead but are also greatly concerned with diagnosis of ailments in the living.

    As for the future, I have already said that we shall be reviewing the structure and composition of the ACP and the sub-committee and panels that assist it in the light of the changes which the legislation will bring. We have already had some preliminary discussions with the committee on the implications of extending the pesticides screening system to cover efficacy and humaneness as well as safety, and we are looking at ways of benefiting from user and supplier experience by giving those groups access to formal advisory panels.

    I should, however, make it clear that it is our firm intention to invite the present chairman and members of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides to serve on the statutory committee, and I very much hope that they will agree to do so. This Government and preceding Governments are greatly indebted to the advisory committee and its scientific sub-committee for their meticulous assessment of the risks attached to the use of pesticides and for the sound and unbiased advice that they have given us over many years. That the general public do not always realise just how well they have been protected is a fault of communication on our side, and I am glad to take this opportunity to express our appreciation of the considerable service which the advisory committee provides.

    I am extremely disappointed with the Minister's answer. The phrase that I used—and I have it noted down — was: "None of the ACP members is concerned currently with the care of living patients." There is no provision for a clinical toxicologist or an epidemiologist on the committee.

    I am getting some more advice, and I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman. Professor Knowelden, who is an ACP member, is an epidemiologist.

    I am looking in her answer to me of 12 February 1985 for the name of the learned professor to whom the Minister now refers. Perhaps this is something which has changed since I asked the question, but that was my understanding. In any event, there is not on the ACP at the moment a clinical toxicologist, even if an epidemiologist has now been put on it.

    The Minister has not given the assurances that we have sought in order to ensure that the balance of the committee is corrected. I make no criticism of those who serve on the committee or of the way in which they have served it in the past. I think that the Minister is absolutely right to identify them as people who have shown diligence and care. The point that we make is that the committee needs to be changed so as to reflect the changed nature of its job as a result of this legislation.

    I am disappointed that the Minister felt unable to give a stronger assurance along those lines, and I must ask the House to consider this matter a bit more seriously.

    Amendment negatived.


    Amendments made: No. 53, in line 4, leave out 'a release' and insert 'an escape'.

    No. 54, in line 7, after 'sea', insert

    'to make provision for the control of the deposit of substances and articles under the sea-bed;'.

    No. 55, in line 8, leave out 'and preparations' and insert, 'preparations and organisms'.— [Mrs. Fenner.]

    Order for Third Reading read [Queen's and Prince of Wales's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    6.57 pm

    Now that we are coming to the end of our debates on this Bill I should like, before I go into the specific points raised, to express my appreciation and that of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the way in which hon. Members have responded to these proposals.

    There have been many questions and amendments, some probing the Government's intentions, others seeking to modify or extend one provision or another. But the most striking feature throughout our debates has been the desire shown on all sides of the House to make this a better Bill and to ensure that it deals adequately with the problems which might arise.

    I am glad to say that there has been considerable interest in the the subject matter of the three parts of the Bill and equally widespread support for the principles they contain, which shows that the Government were right to bring forward this legislation now. The result is, indeed, a much clearer Bill than the one we started with three months ago.

    Part I has been generally welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but there have been a number of areas of concern which I think we have gone a long way to resolve during its passage. However, we must remember to keep these concerns in perspective. The powers provided by part I would be used only in exceptional circumstances to ensure the safety of food following an escape or release of harmful substances. To give some idea of the exceptional circumstances, we can envisage only one or two occasions in the past 30 years when they might have been activated.

    In part II there are now two major additions to the area controlled by the Dumping at Sea Act 1974 — marine incineration and deposits under the seabed. The Bill substantially broadens the range of factors which Ministers must take into account when licensing deposits and places a specific duty on them to consider the availability of other methods of disposal. It provides for recovery of the cost of monitoring and enforcement work and for consultation with those who will be paying the new fees. It also reenacts a provision on procedures for the enforcement of the international dumping conventions, whose original omission led, entirely innocently, to some misunderstanding, which has now been removed.

    There is one very important general point which arose at our previous sitting on which I must set the record straight. This is the assertion that the United Kingdom is the greatest contributor to pollution of the North sea. The facts are quite otherwise, and I would recommend the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) to take a closer look at the Royal Commission on environmental pollution's 10th report, which he quoted the other day. This report examined the whole range of pollution issues and included a substantial section on the North sea. It naturally reviewed United Kingdom policy and practice on dumping at sea and I must emphasise that it did not recommend any change in our controls.

    What the report did was to review the scientific evidence. It showed that the main sources of contaminants were the atmosphere and rivers, of which the Elbe, the Rhine and the Meuse were the major contributors. It showed that disposal of sewage sludge and dumping of other wastes accounted for only a tiny percentage — about 3 per cent. — of the heavy metals. The report noted that the effects of contaminants were most pronounced in estuaries and coastal waters. It quoted the Thames as the most notable example of recent improvement and the Wadden sea as an area of particular concern.

    The Royal Commission concluded that there was no substantial threat to the North sea, although more research was needed, and recommended that the United Kingdom should respond positively to international initiatives. That is exactly what we have done. It is quite clear from the Royal Commission report that the United Kingdom is not the major polluter of the North sea; indeed this country has a good record which, on the state of rivers in particular, contrasts favourably with that of some of our neighbours.

    Part III of the Bill has occupied a good deal of our time. We are fortunate in having had the pesticides safety precautions scheme as a stepping stone to part III. That non-statutory scheme has evolved over the years into an effective screening system for the safety of pesticides coming on to the United Kingdom market. But I have no doubt that it was right to seek to replace it with a statute. It was not simply that the restrictive agreement necessary to prevent unlicensed imports was attracting the attention of Brussels — much more fundamentally, with the current priority that is given to health and environmental questions in public debate, the absence of statutory powers left the scheme without the necessary muscle to impose the controls required.

    In our debates we have been able to explain in some detail the good work already done under the PSPS, the working party on pesticide residues, BASIS, the wildlife incident investigation scheme, and so forth, and we have given assurances that that will continue and develop. We have also been able to explain our ideas on how the Bill should be implemented. Finally, but certainly not least, we have been able to hear the views of the House.

    But it has also been equally important for us to hear the views of hon. Members on the future detailed controls to be laid down in regulations. We have taken very careful note of all these views and will take account of them in our consultation paper on the implementation of part III. We shall send a copy of the paper to all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debates and to any others who request it, as well as to all interested organisations, and we shall allow ample time for comment before we prepare the regulations.

    Finally, I should like to emphasise the extent of my Department's commitment to conservation of the countryside and other environmental matters, as witnessed by our concrete achievements. Through ADAS, for example, we advise farmers on how they can build conservation into their farming practices. Under our capital grant schemes, we give particular emphasis to environmentally sympathetic farming operations by paying premium rates. In co-operation with the Countryside Commission, we are operating an experimental scheme designed to help safeguard the unique landscape of the grazing marshes in the broads. And, following the successful efforts of my right hon. Friend to persuade his colleagues in Brussels to include a suitable provision in the agricultural structures regulation, we are now preparing a special scheme to promote environmentally sympathetic farming practices in designated sensitive areas. I commend the improvements to environmental protection in this Bill, to take a worthy place in that list of achievements.

    7.2 pm

    I join the Minister in welcoming the Bill in principle. It is much improved on the Bill that entered the other place many months ago. It spent a long time in Committee, but I do not think that anyone who served on that Committee would deny that it was anything but workmanlike. We graciously acknowledge that the Government were prepared to accept a number of points argued by the Opposition. In a sense, the Bill marks the end of an era. Parliament has recognised the feeling in the country that something should be done about pesticides, and we commend the Government's approach.

    The whole basis of the Bill, especially part III, will be the regulations. We appreciate the Minister's offer that Members of Parliament and others will be consulted about the regulations. As they cannot be amended, it is vital that there is maximum consultation with interested parties. It is by the regulations that the Government's intent will be judged.

    A number of markers about the regulations should be put down immediately. The first arises out of the Minister's television appearance on 11 June. I hope that when the Bill is implemented the EEC will confirm that the regulations about residues will be adhered to. We understand that to be the Government's position and hope that that will be enacted in the Bill.

    We are especially concerned about 2,4,5-T. I do not want to labour the point, but I hope that the Minister will take the Egan incident into account. That case was reported in the Daily Mirror on 13 June and, tragically, involved the termination of a pregnancy. In the mind of the gynaecologist, that was linked with 2,4,5-T.

    Thirdly, the regulations must take into account the pesticides and chemicals that are regarded as not suitable for use, but are nevertheless sold. I am especially thinking of DDT. We must acknowledge the point made by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Friends of the Earth has done a great deal of work in that respect. It has brought out examples which, perhaps, have surprised bureaucracy and surprised us, but we are all the better for knowing about them. I hope that the Government will give an assurance that, under the regulations, it will be illegal to sell pesticides that have been withdrawn.

    I wish to mention also Dieldrin and heron deaths in the river Avon area. We are receiving a great deal of information that pesticides that have been withdrawn are still being sold. We expect the Government to take steps to prevent that. Therefore, we await the regulations with a great deal of interest.

    We do not wish to disagree to any great extent with the Minister about part II, but my reading of the Royal Commission report is considerably different from hers. Part II replaces the Dumping at Sea Act 1974. It tightens the licensing system. We hope and look for Government action on that aspect.

    It may be right that, overall, atmospheric and river pollution adds greatly to the pollution within the oceans, but it is in localities and where the concentrations are greatest that the greatest damage is caused. I sent a document to the Minister's hon. Friend earlier this week which has been compiled by the fishermen of Cullercoats and South Shields. It shows that the dumping that takes place between five and 12 miles off the river Tyne has reduced the catches of fishermen in my constituency by 90 per cent. in 15 years. It is their view that that is due to the fact that chemicals are dumped from Teesport off the river Tyne, and we cannot accept that. I give that merely as an example of the Government action that we expect under Part II to deal with concentrations of dumping.

    We hope that we have converted the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on environmental matters. It is a pity that we could not convert them several weeks ago when we were discussing the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill. We very much welcome the Government's efforts on Halvergate marshes. I wonder whether they will give us the same commitment with Swaveney fens, which are about to be drained with the help of almost £500,000 of Government grant. Many of us do not regard it as satisfactory only to protect small isolated parts of the countryside. We are not happy with having only isolated SSSIs. We want to keep the living rural environment, not just a sterile cereal area. I would welcome a Government statement on that—if not today, in the near future.

    However, I do not wish to end my speech on that note because we have debated a constructive and worthwhile Bill. The key factor is the regulations, and we shall be watching the Government's actions on them with great interest. In principle, we welcome the Bill.

    7.10 pm

    I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on piloting the Bill through Committee and the two and a half days on Report.

    It is a unique Bill in many respects. It replaces the pesticides safety protection scheme, and I hope that the new scheme will work half as well as the old one did. An exceptional feature of the Bill are the many statutory instruments that will be brought before the House for debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will await those instruments anxiously. We may even have a chance to debate a draft statutory instrument before the final statutory instrument is laid before the House. The Bill is unique because so much of it has yet to be decided.

    I hope that there will be a statutory instrument relating to part I, to set up a compensation fund for any destruction of crops or produce that may be ordered, whether or not there has been pollution. The flaw in the Bill is that it is desperately unfair that small producers, small merchants and small growers should suffer from an order to destroy their crops even when no pollution has occurred. I hope that the Government will introduce a statutory instrument to correct that anomaly. Apart from that flaw, I warmly welcome the Bill.

    7.12 pm

    I too, welcome the Bill. It is the lot of Opposition spokesmen to welcome legislation when the country is better run with that legislation than without it, but it is also their lot to say that the Government should have done more. I shall attempt to strike that balance.

    The Liberal party has called for legislation on this subject since 1967. It has taken 18 years to get a response. That is slow, but it is never too late to protect our environment and food from hazards. I hope that the Bill is not a token gesture or an outline, which will not be followed by regulations. We shall watch carefully what the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does during the next 12 months. The hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) said that regulations will be laid before the House. I hope that that will be sooner rather than later and that they will supply the teeth that the Bill needs.

    It worries me that insufficient powers and resources have been allocated to make the Bill effective. If the Government are to honour their commitment, they will have to produce more manpower and resources to ensure that the pollution dangers are overcome. We do not want a repeat of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which did not have sufficient enforcement resources. We watched as, remorselessly, year after year, more of our countryside and wildlife was destroyed. However, we were not powerless to act. The Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is welcome and respected, and will enable us to do something about the problems. Let us not make the same mistakes again.

    It is clear that research is proceeding apace. As the results of research into the effects on health of spraying pesticides become available and researchers have produced more evidence, Parliament may have to respond again, either specifically and quickly or more generally. With increased knowledge of those processes, the Government must be prepared to introduce legislation. I hope that we shall review and debate the matter on a regular basis.

    Some of us are unhappy with the presumption in favour of freedom of information that the Government selected for the Bill. I and many others believe that they have not gone far enough. We should go as far as other countries have, and I hope that the Government will soon realise that they have nothing to fear by allowing people to know what is happening. Only Governments who are afraid, in countries which are not normally democracies, close their doors, batten down the hatches and prevent the widest public participation. I hope that there will be no veto by commerce, bureaucrats or Ministers on the information that everyone has a right to know relating to pesticides and environmental pollution.

    I pay tribute to my colleagues in the other place, especially to my noble Friend Lord Mackie of Benshie, who worked hard on the Bill. I also pay tribute to all those in many parties who have improved the Bill during its passage through the House. The Minister accepts that it has been improved.

    However, looking ahead, I hope that we can improve the legislation in another respect. Although we are establishing a framework for protecting food, improving the control of pollution and preventing unlicensed dumping and regulating the supply and use of pesticides in Britain, we have still not taken up our responsibilities for the Third world. Western Europe exports more than 60 per cent. of the pesticides that it produces to the Third world. If we export them without protection, we export pollution and damage to countries that do not have the knowledge that we have, and that look to us to protect them from the mistakes that we have made. I hope that we shall do more in the future to ensure that the highest standards of control of exports are applied and that we never export products that we are unwilling to use ourselves.

    With those reservations, I welcome the Bill and look forward to the introduction of regulations soon.

    7.17 pm

    I shall make the shortest speech ever on a Third reading. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister for not being here for her opening remarks. I fully support the Bill. The Committee stage was an interesting experience for most of us. The trade has learned from experience, and from the words of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who had altercations with me on various aspects of the Bill. The trade has listened with great interest to what he said and to the anxieties that were expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

    The United Kingdom Agricultural Supply Trade Association is especially delighted by my hon. Friend's appreciation of the BASIS scheme. The trade understands that BASIS is a necessary policing part of the Bill and of the entire industry. We have made some worthwhile contributions on a fairly delicate subject, and agriculture will be the better for the remarks that were made here and in Committee.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

    Northern Ireland Act 1974

    7.19 pm

    I beg to move,

    That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 4th June, be approved.
    I ask the House this evening to renew the provisions by which a number of Governments have administered Northern Ireland for more than a decade. These powers are unusually wide compared with those of other Ministers. I do not mean to rehearse how and why direct rule was imposed because that might be to blow on embers which are perhaps best left to cool. But I need to answer the reasonable question why today for the eleventh time a Secretary of State comes to this Dispatch Box to ask the House that direct rule be continued. It is certainly not because the Government wish to retain the full powers which my colleagues and I now exercise. The record shows otherwise. All my predecessors have tried to find ways of divesting themselves of many of those powers to elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. Neither they nor I desire to continue to take those decisions, many of which are detailed, which are better taken within the Province about, for example, education, housing and industrial development.

    The reason why these almost continuous efforts to devolve power have not so far succeeded are familiar to the House. They are essentially the same reasons for which on other occasions we have asked the House to make special provisions for special efforts to establish the security and maintain the economy of the Province. We are wholly and rightly committed to maintaining the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom so long as a majority of the people there so wish. I see no prospect of the majority changing their views on that matter, but the majority community live city by city, town by town, county by county alongside a minority community, and the future of the two communities is inextricably linked. There is no new line to be drawn, and no ingenious new arrangement which could be devised to separate their futures.

    In many aspects of life that causes few problems. Recently, I visited a thriving factory in an area which has been deeply troubled. There members of the two communities work side by side in complete harmony, so far as I can see. Any Member of the House who visits Northern Ireland for more than an hour or two with a reasonably open mind will know that that is a commonplace experience. In many aspects of human activity there is no difficulty whatever. No one who saw the people of Belfast welcome Barry McGuigan can doubt that fact. But that harmony does not extend into political life or into the search among politicians for institutions which would enable the two communities to form some kind of partnership in the formation or administration of policy.

    In the Northern Ireland Act 1982 Parliament laid down that any system for the devolution of powers must command "widespread acceptance". That was defined in the preceding White Paper as meaning acceptability to both sides of the community. That must be right, and not merely as an expression of political philosophy or idealism. Simple majority rule, as in the past, would leave the minority in perpetual opposition and would not in practice lead to a stable society. A system which did not command such widespread acceptance would simply not survive. Let us make a practical test. If I were to come to the House and propose a new constitutional system for Northern Ireland, and if I then had to add, "By the way, I have to tell the House that this new system will be boycotted or otherwise rejected by the constitutional representatives of one or the other community," I would be laughed out of court, and rightly so. The common sense of hon. Members would lead them to ask, "What on earth is the point of that?" The search for acceptance must continue, and I shall say more about that in a minute. Meanwhile, direct rule must continue.

    The Parliament of the United Kingdom cannot shirk its duty to provide good government for Northern Ireland. Direct rule is a firm and fair framework, and in many ways we should be proud of it. However, it is right that hon. Members should have a regular opportunity to reflect their views on the state of affairs in Northern Ireland, which is far from satisfactory, and to suggest how it might be improved. Therefore, I should give the House a brief but wide-ranging account of our stewardship. The House does not have many opportunities to debate Northern Ireland in general terms, and this is an occasion which we should seize.

    I make no apology for saying again that for the Government security policy must come first. Certainly there is a link, as I have often been told, between security and politics, but no accommodation is possible with the killers. We must drain the support on which the killers depend, but the terrorist paramilitary organisations must be defeated by a robust security policy. I shall say more about that policy when we debate the renewal of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 later this evening, but the essence is simple. We want people in Northern Ireland to be able to go about their everyday pursuits free from the fear of violence.

    The security forces have made substantial progress in recent years in bringing that about. Their skill, patience and bravery call for our gratitude and, more important to them, for our help and co-operation. All of us, especially those of us in public life, have a duty to help in that way. Neither the Government nor the House can be satisfied while terrorists are able to carry out brutal murders such as those of recent years and, indeed, of recent weeks. We must continue to speak out and bring to justice those who have committed these crimes, and to do all that we can to deny them money, weapons, recruits and explosives. That means doing many things, including intensifying co-operation with the Republic of Ireland. No one who knows the facts about security in the Province and who is serious about improving the present position can deny the need for intensified co-operation. The security forces will continue to work impartially within the law to prevent violence. Meanwhile, it is important that a bomb in Newry or in a village in Fermanagh should be regarded by the House as being as important as a bomb in the Rubens hotel because the suffering which can result from it is as great.

    Violence flaws Ireland's image abroad. It deters investors whose talents and resources are needed to complement the inventiveness and skilled application of our people in Northern Ireland. Unemployment, as I come across it week by week, is just under 21 per cent. across the Province and much higher in some areas, and it is a tragic problem. We must understand the personal

    frustration and waste of talent which it causes. But output, investment and the number of people in employment are rising. A record number of new jobs is being created in small businesses as the business climate improves. Shorts, our largest manufacturing employer, has won important orders recently from the Royal Air Force, the United States air force and China. The shipyard Harland and Wolff has a full immediate order book, although much work is needed to improve its finances. There is a battery of special employment training measures for adults and young people. Since 1982 Northern Ireland has had a two-year youth training programme—well ahead of Great Britain.

    Regarding the economy, it is necessary, but not enough, to spend money to mitigate our difficulties. It is not in Northern Ireland's interests to become increasingly dependent on public funds any more than it is in the nation's interests as a whole. That dependence today is somewhat too high. We must therefore work to encourage wealth-creating enterprise and industry. I should like to see an expanding private sector in Northern Ireland because I do not believe that Northern Ireland is exempt from the lessons and experiences of other democratic countries. I am sure that an expanding private sector is the best foundation for prosperity.

    If Northern Ireland is to improve its security and prosper, it must develop links with our closest neighbours and further afield.

    The Republic of Ireland is a member, with us, of the European Community. It is a country with which Northern Ireland shares the same island, and with which it shares many common interests and a common security threat. A significant part of the community in Northern Ireland wishes to see fuller recognition of its Irish identity and to see it reflected in the conduct of relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic. This, as the two Heads of Government agreed at Chequers, must be respected, as must the wish of the majority in Northern Ireland to retain its British identity and to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

    We have maintained a dialogue with the Irish Government. Its basis was clearly spelt out in a communiqué issued after the Chequers summit last November. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach agreed that the identities of the majority and the minority communities in Northern Ireland should be recognised, respected and reflected in the structures and processes of Northern Ireland in ways acceptable to both communities. They reaffirmed that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom would not be changed without the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland. That was a reaffirmation by both Governments, not just by ours.

    There has been speculation recently — I make no complaint about that—about the talks which are going on between the British and Irish Governments. Hon. Members would not expect me to reveal details of discussions which, by their nature, must for the time being remain confidential. The talks are a serious attempt by the two Governments to develop relations within the framework set out in the summit communiqué. The Irish Government have a legitimate interest in what goes on in Northern Ireland, especially in those matters which affect the minority community. We do not know the outcome of the present discussions, or whether they will succeed. If an acceptable basis can be found within the terms of last November's communiqué and within the terms of what was then said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for deepening our relationship with the Irish Republic, it will benefit both communities in Northern Ireland and relations between the two Governments, but it will not be a substitute for developing a sense of partnership within Northern Ireland or for seeking arrangements, in consultation with our political parties, for the better administration of the province.

    I accept that the Government of the Republic have an interest in Northern Ireland, but will my right hon. Friend define what he means by "legitimate"?

    It is natural that Ministers in the south should, as they do from time to time, feel and express views about what happens in the north. My predecessors and I have differed from other hon. Members and some elected representatives in the Province on that point. However, I have already stated the conclusions that the Government have reached on it.

    I have said that, whatever happens to the discussions between London and Dublin about the external track, it will not be a substitute for the search for political and constitutional progress inside Northern Ireland.

    Before the Secretary of State leaves the external track, will he tell us what progress has been made with the United States Administration in recent months, in particular within the context of the treaty arrangements, and to what extent they can contribute to a reduction in threats to security?

    They have, and I have no complaints to make about the degree of co-operation that we have from the present United States Administration; the supplementary treaty to which the hon. Gentleman referred is the latest valuable example of that. It is not just a matter for the Administration. It is a matter for those people in the United States who feel an obligation to do something to help in Northern Ireland. They have too often in the past been tempted to discharge what they see as that obligation by making contributions which go into IRA funds.

    I hope that we have made some progress—during my visit there a few months ago I tried to urge this forward—towards showing that that is a thoroughly dangerous and wicked way of proceeding, and that there are plenty of legitimate ways in which Americans with ties in Ireland can help the progress of the economies and societies of both parts of the island.

    Will the Secretary of State spell out in detail how he feels the southern Government should make representations on behalf of Northern Ireland citizens who find themselves in a minority in the north of Ireland, on the political, constitutional issue? Does he believe that the Ministers of the Dublin Republican Government should have access to him to represent those people and make representations on their behalf? Have they not political representatives elected to this House and elsewhere to make those representations on their behalf? Why should Ministers of a foreign Government have that opportunity over and above that available to other citizens of the United Kingdom?

    Those Ministers have that opportunity now. They will continue to have it unless I were to take a line which I believe most people would regard as strange—that neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Prime Minister should meet representatives of the Irish Republic. Such meetings occur and we read about one another's remarks in the newspapers. Those opportunities exist and are taken. The question is whether the present system is satisfactory and whether it can be improved. That is what the discussions are about.

    I shall now deal with political developments in Northern Ireland. Since taking up office in September last year, I have taken on the task which my predecessor had of trying to determine which form of government would command the widest level of acceptance and respect in Northern Ireland.

    I began to explore with the leaders of the main constitutional political parties the more tolerant tone and recognition of the interests of others which was clearly evident in policy documents published earlier last year. I encouraged them to consider among themselves how they might build on these expressions of intent in a practical way. Recognising the difficulties of negotiating in public, I favoured private, informal discussions without commitment. I am grateful for the way in which the party leaders responded to that and for the frankness which they showed. There were some indications, although tentative, I must confess, first from one then another, that they might be prepared to inch forward. Early this year, the prospect of the May district council elections froze even that slight willingness to move.

    Before the campaigning started in earnest, I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), the Under-Secretary, to talk to each of the parties away from the glare of publicity to establish more precisely the extent of any common ground and their differences. The results of his conversations redefined and clarified the positions. I am now better placed to decide how to take matters forward.

    In considering how best we can make progress, I have to take account of the results of the district council elections on 15 May and to assess their impact and long-term effect on Northern Ireland's political life. As in previous elections, about 60 per cent. of the electorate voted for parties supporting the Union. They used the free elections system which are traditional in the Province to reaffirm support for the Union without ambiguity.

    Within the minority the media have tended to gloss over the steadiness of support for constitutional nationalism shown by the 17·8 per cent. of the electorate which voted for the SDLP. The immediate reaction of commentators emphasised the fact that 11·8 per cent. gave their vote to Sinn Fein—a party which openly supports the use of violence for political ends. Its total vote was lower than in the 1983 general election and in the 1984 European elections. That was partly because our new anti-personation legislation was becoming effective, although many people will not agree with me about that.

    It is a sad but not new fact that between 80,000 and 100,000 people in Northern Ireland over the years, when given the chance, have voted and will continue to vote for a republicanism which espouses violence.

    I have been urged by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) and others to proscribe Sinn Fein before the elections. I have thought hard about it. I decided not to because such a step would have impaired the freedom of elections in Northern Ireland and the whole basis on which Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It is not as a result of some colonial system but through the free choice of the majority of the people who live there, repeatedly asserted in wholly free elections.

    If I had proscribed before the elections, Sinn Fein and others would certainly have tried to claim that violence was the only course open to them and that they represented the bulk of nationalist voters. We now know that they do not. The 11·8 per cent. does not form a winning hand, unless opponents play into it.

    I repudiate Sinn Fein's undisguised support for the use of violence. As I have said, we shall use every means within the law to distinguish between those in Northern Ireland who believe in and practise constitutional methods to achieve their objectives and those who connive in violence, from whichever part of the community they come. I add that we shall keep under review the effectiveness of the law in these respects.

    Before the elections we knew that a large number of Sinn Fein councillors would create problems for the Government and for other elected councillors. The Government have to sort out such difficulties within the law. Likewise, we expect district councils to act lawfully.

    I understand that feelings inside and outside councils run particularly high in the wake of attacks which murder and injure. If I did not understand that, it would have been pointed out to me many times since May. Elected representatives have every right, and have a duty, to express the revulsion which all decent people feel. They also have a responsibility to defuse tension and to prevent retaliation. The language and behaviour which have marred some council meetings serve only to damage the democratic process and give welcome publicity to Sinn Fein.

    I am surprised at the way in which some opponents of Sinn Fein feel compelled to build up that organisation by their choice of tactics. We should not lose sight of those many councils which have made equitable, sensible arrangements to conduct their business. I read in The Guardian this morning that the presence of Sinn Fein had reduced local government in the Province to a shambles. That is wholly inaccurate. Such a conclusion can be reached only by people who look at the councils in which there has been trouble and ignore the councils in which there has been none. The right way to deal with a repugnant minority within a minority is to outmanoeuvre, outvote and outwit them.

    Faced with the facts that I have outlined, we must continue to search for better political arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland. I have explained the basis on which we wish to do that. Ultimately Parliament must determine the arrangements. We could continue to work through direct rule. I am considering closely a number of measures—as the House has been told—which could be used to remove old irritants to the minority community. I am anxious to ensure the effectiveness of arrangements which underpin equality of opportunity, particularly in employment.

    I know that the present Order in Council procedures of legislation are criticised, particularly on the Unionist Benches. There is, for example, a case for making adjustments to the transferred category by removing matters such as banking, building societies and financial services, where efficiency points to the desirability of United Kingdom-wide legislation and administration by United Kingdom Departments and where the scope for separate legislation or policy initiative by any future devolved administration would be more apparent than real. I am certainly open to argument on adjustments in that direction.

    We should recognise that nearly three quarters of recent Orders in Council cover legislation which, for some reason, is different in substance as between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. On many matters Northern Ireland Members are among the first to stress the need for such differences. One has only to think of the wide range of social legislation to understand that.

    Whatever their differences, Northern Ireland politicians—and Northern Ireland Ministers—cannot escape their responsibility to those who vote for them and to this Parliament to see common ground. I am much clearer about the difficulties than I was some months ago. There are always problems of timing. The atmosphere might be right for one party, but another will produce an insurmountable obstacle to dialogue. People may say that it is better to wait until after the district elections, until after the marching season, until after the outcome of the Anglo-Irish talks—and so on and so on.

    The Government have been and will continue to 5e patient because we recognise the difficulties. However, never-ending excuses to avoid reasoning wear thin after a time, particularly when one considers how Northern Ireland could benefit from an agreement, however modest, between the constitutional representatives of the two parts of the community. I do not think that it is in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, and I am sure that it is not in the interests of the people of the rest of the United Kingdom, that we should be patient for ever. People cannot claim to want political progress if they refuse to co-operate with, or even to talk to, each other.

    The Northern Ireland Assembly still has a part to play. The Assembly's scrutiny of proposed legislation and policy changes has helped my ministerial colleagues, myself and the officials who advise us to tune our policies and proposals more accurately to particular local sensitivities.

    I hope that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) will accept that that is our experience. I wish that I could say that some of the Assembly's plenary debates have been as constructive as the work by some of its committees. Some of the speeches in the plenary Assembly, if read outside the Province, would confirm the worst fears of Northern Ireland's friends.

    This was not the role which Parliament intended. The Assembly was established primarily as a framework in which acceptable arrangements for the return of greater responsibility to locally elected representatives could be developed by those representatives. So far, the Assembly has not met Parliament's intentions, despite the useful work which it has done. We shall have to decide—not now, but early next year—in the light of what happens whether fresh Assembly elections should be held in the autumn of 1986.

    Does the Secretary of State agree that the experience of the Assembly confirms the view of the SDLP—the only party which has had the integrity to take that view publicly—that the Assembly could not provide a framework for agreement? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that view is based on hard experience, not only of what has happened in Northern Ireland but of what the political parties have said in statements, that in no circumstances do they wish to share responsibility with SDLP representatives? That experience has been confirmed and reconfirmed by the attitudes that have been adopted in local councils since the elections. There is no way in which the Assembly will provide a framework for agreement. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the position?

    All the constitutional party leaders and many of their supporters have told me from time to time of their hard experience, which convinces them that it is no good entering into dicussion with their colleagues—

    I am coming to Assemblymen. They say that hard experience has taught them that the other parties are not to be trusted and will not make any real concessions. I have heard this over and over again but I do not believe that that provides an adequate reason for not trying again.

    The disappointment which many of us feel at the way that the Assembly has not so far met the main purpose for which it was created should not blind us to the fact that one of the difficulties has been the decision taken by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues not to have any part in it. It would have been very much easier for the Report Committee of the Assembly in making the progress that I and many others would like to see it make if the hon. Gentleman had at least authorised discussions with it, if not joining it. My conclusion is not the same as that which the hon. Gentleman has drawn.

    The search for agreement, for mutual accommodations, in Northern Ireland must continue whatever the outcome of the Anglo-Irish talks. I am taking stock with the political leaders at present. The scheme of legislative and executive devolution that is in the Northern Ireland Act 1982 is practical and coherent. I am prepared to consider other forms of devolution if their advocates can show that they meet the criterion of widespread acceptance throughout the community. I could imagine, for example, a scheme in which executive power only was devolved in some areas of policy. If new arrangements are to be stable and to benefit the people of Northern Ireland and of Great Britain, the constitutional political parties which represent both parts of the community must be prepared to work these arrangements together. During the coming months we shall have to encourage the parties to address these matters actively and seriously.

    Meanwhile, direct rule must continue. It is often denigrated and receives scant praise. Too little attention is paid to what has been achieved over a decade by successive Governments and the people of Northern Ireland. I pay tribute especially to the public servants. Many tributes are rightly paid to the security forces, but the Northern Ireland civil servants and other civilian public servants of the Province deserve a tribute during the debate. They and the people as a whole have kept cool heads amidst all the tragedy of the terrorism and the hardship in recent years of a severe worldwide economic recession.

    This shows in the combined effort that has been made in the form of resources from the United Kingdom as a whole, the understanding of the House and the performance of the people of Northern Ireland. This shows as we go about the cities and the counties. This shows in the roads, schools, leisure centres, health centres, hospitals and the very high standard of new housing. We shall continue to invest in Northern Ireland for the present and in future. We want the people of Northern Ireland to live in greater safety and prosperity. We are prepared to continue the present substantial effort by the whole country to make this possible. We are not satisfied with the results of that effort so far. We shall continue to do all that we can to eradicate terrorism. We shall continue the search for partnership between the communities.

    Meanwhile, the government of the Province must be carried on efficiently, firmly and fairly. I therefore invite the House to agree to extend the life of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 for a further 12 months.

    7.45 pm

    We are discussing the extension of arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland which, as the Secretary of State recognises, no one would have sought as a first option. Like so many aspects of the history of Ireland, they exist, not because anyone wanted them, or planned them but simply as a consequence of what has gone before, each chapter unfolding with the predestined inevitability of a Shakespearian tragedy.

    The arrangements entail that the people of Northern Ireland can influence only marginally the electoral fortunes of the party which controls the machinery of government, which formulates the policies, and takes the decisions on which their fortunes depend. That is not a healthy situation. Representative government and the politics of electoral choice do not operate for the people of Northern Ireland.

    This morning in Committee the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) observed that the gas industry is the latest example of the casualties which flow from direct rule. It is not the case that the British Government want to run the affairs of Northern Ireland. Those who insist that the Government are clinging to Northern Ireland as a miser clings to his gold are simply wrong. It is not an example of a colonial power reluctant to let go. Indeed, the reverse is true; the British Government do not want to rule Northern Ireland, because it entails finding parliamentary time for matters which they would prefer to be discussed elsewhere. There is no electoral advantage for the Government. Frankly, they do not care about it. Northern Ireland is simply an additional problem, a complicating factor in their work.

    Decisions which, if they concerned any other part of the United Kingdom, would take the form of primary legislation — Second Reading, Committee and Report, with amendments and concessions, all the circumstances and safeguards of parliamentary democracy — are replaced for the people of Northern Ireland by non-amendable orders debated for such time as is available, often an hour and a half at some period in the week which has not been pre-empted for more important business. That may be inevitable until we find an alternative which secures a measure of agreement, but we might have hoped that, understanding the situation, the Government would have shown some sensitivity, some sympathy for the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.

    We are discussing two orders of great importance to the people of Northern Ireland, involving matters on which feelings run high and which evoke strong emotions. If they related to any other part of the United Kingdom, each would have been accorded at least a full day's debate. The Government believe that in the case of Northern Ireland they can crowd both into the same day. I confess at once that when we, the Opposition, were told of this arrangement, we accepted it. Perhaps that was because we are conditioned to accept that Northern Ireland is not accorded the same priorities as other regions. Having achieved that, the Government decided to push matters further. They decided that not only should the two orders share a day, but that they should not even have a day, and they should be discussed after other business.

    The Government gave an undertaking that at least the other business would not proceed beyond 6 o'clock. They said that if it seemed likely to proceed beyond that hour they would report progress. I understand that unforeseen difficulties arise, but the point of a promise is that it is kept even when it is inconvenient.

    The Government's business managers do not normally disregard their promises. What I resent is the attitude that promises on Northern Ireland business do not really matter. No issue of comparable importance relating to other regions would have received such insulting treatment. We have a Government whose business managers simply do not care a tinker's cuss for Northern Ireland or its people.

    We must draw one of two conclusions. Either the Government are not capable of controlling their business managers and the Whips Office tail wags the policy dog, or the importance that the business managers attach to Northern Ireland reflects the importance attached to it by the Government. I absolve the Secretary of State from that allegation and I do not call on him to comment on his colleagues. I believe that their attitude to Northern Ireland business is a cross that he, too, has to bear.

    But two comments have to be made. The business of the House is about the rights of minorities, and part of their sanction is that no party is in a majority for ever. I say to the present Government, as I ventured to say to political leaders on both sides in Northern Ireland, that one good reason for respecting the rights of those with whom we disagree is that those who in one context and at one time are in a majority, in a different situation and a different year are appealing for the rights of minorities. History has a habit of turning every situation on its head. There is no instance in the history books of a dominating group which stayed dominant for ever, and we know that for the Government time is running out.

    Secondly, if daily life in Northern Ireland is to improve and there is to be any redress of its real problems—unemployment, financial hardship and bad living conditions, the problems that we were discussing in Committee this morning—something has to be changed. We all hope for a solution to the constitutional questions which beset Northern Ireland. The solution may come about through a process rather than a single event, but that will be next year or the year after, or some other time in the future. It is now that people are despairing-like the people I visited last week, in the Divis flats, whose afflictions the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) was kind enough to discuss with me today, or the people I hope to visit shortly in some districts of east Belfast.

    If the people of Northern Ireland are to feel confident in constitutional, democratic politics, and if they are to have any expectation from the ballot box, one of two things must happen. Either the Government's managers must take the affairs of Northern Ireland more seriously, even though their electoral fortunes are not dependent on Northern Ireland electors, or if there is no future in that, we must find a way to return a greater share of executive power to elected bodies in Northern Ireland. I take the point by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) that that has to be on the basis that there is some sharing of power.

    We had hoped to hear from the Secretary of State what progress had been made. I appreciate that these things are always difficult, but whatever differences there may be about ultimate objectives, interim solutions or simply the way forward, no one wants to retain the status quo. That is unloved because it is unlovable. It is axiomatic that we all want to find a way forward—however we may differ as to the solution that we favour, no one would choose the status quo as the ideal form of government. No one is enamoured of the economic opportunities lost or the waste of resources following the troubles. So far as I know, there is no one who has not tired of the posturing and the sloganising, and, above all, everyone is sick of the violence and the fear.

    We discovered last year that people on both sides of the sectarian political divide, as the Secretary of State said, were prepared to explore ways of walking together in peace. There are groups who are working assiduously and positively to build bridges, although we do not pay tribute often enough to people such as the Corrymeela community, Women Together, the Ulster People's college, or Lagan college. I hope that one day, history will accord them greater recognition than their own generation has done. But they reflect what many people are saying, although sometimes understandably they hesitate to say it aloud in their own community: "Let us try to live together in harmony, even with those from whom we differ. Let the two traditions not only tolerate each other but enrich each other, and let us offer the next generation of children a better inheritance as a result."

    We had hoped to hear from the Government about the progress of their conversations with the Government of the Republic. Shortly after the summit last year, when the Government were trying to mend the gaping tear in their fences made by the brick that the Prime Minister had let fall at her press conference, we heard of a possible further summit in February and then heard that it might be in April and then probably in September. We heard that the talks were ranging over some practical issues such as a possible Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier and a possible office for officials from the Republic in Belfast to make representations on behalf of those who wanted to seek their aid, although I understand that that is not necessarily welcome to people such as the hon. Member for Antrim North (Rev. Ian Paisley).

    There was talk of a jurisdiction to try terrorist offences on the basis of a common judiciary, and leaks have it that the separation of powers had extended so far that the judiciary was hardly on speaking terms with the Executive. There was talk of a closer liaison between the police, repairing the bridges at the highest level and with a kind of common recruitment policy on a less exalted level, so that, in a phrase I heard the Foreign Minister of the Republic use some months ago, a young Nationalist could join the police without being any the less a Nationalist.

    I understand that we cannot ask the Secretary of State to offer details on such questions while discussions on them are proceeding. I wish not to embarrass the Government but rather to encourage them to pursue those talks in detail, in private rather than public, provided that we are given a progress report when the time is opportune.

    So I am grateful for what the Secretary of State has said, but how long is the time scale likely to be? As he said, this cannot be allowed to drag on for ever. I am grateful, too, for what he said about discussions within Northern Ireland between the Government and the political leaders of the various groups, and I agree that a few months ago there was an atmosphere of tolerance that would not have been possible two or three years earlier. But I should be grateful for a little more information as to whether those talks are still proceeding, because that was not clear from what the Secretary of State said, although I understand what he said about their progress being interrupted by the local elections. Can we expect a report in due course?

    But there is no prospect of agreement unless people are ready to talk together. There can be no resolution of differences unless political leaders will discuss matters with those whom they differ. And if there is one thing which men of violence are anxious to achieve, it is to ensure that that does not happen.

    I hope that the House will forgive me if I repeat what I have said many times before. It may be felt that it does not require repeating, but for the avoidance of misunderstanding, I repeat that we have no sympathy for violence as a means to achieve political ends. Not only do we not believe that the ends justify the means, but we do not believe that worthwhile ends can be achieved by violent means. Murder, and fear and intimidation, cannot give rise to a peaceful and just society. We do not believe that peace and justice can grow in soil that has been soaked with blood.

    We would tell that message to men of violence on both sides of the sectarian divide and we, like the Secretary of State, repudiate Sinn Fein's undisguised support for the use of violence. So if there was a plan to spread injury and death indiscriminately in holiday resorts, and if that plan was frustrated by the vigilance of the police, we all share in the rejoicing. But if it leads to the consequence that people refuse to continue talking together, and if it brings political discussion to a standstill, then the men of violence will have achieved their objective after all.

    Violence in Northern Ireland feeds on three factors. They have all to be tackled simultaneously, because when they are resolved, the men of violence on both sides will be isolated. Until they are resolved, there will always be a reservoir of potential recruits for the paramilitaries, particularly among the young. First, there are the economic and social conditions in which people are living. Unless they believe that the ballot box can offer some redress for their grievances, we must not be surprised if those who speak of alternatives to the ballot box find someone to listen. Secondly, there is the danger that the methods we use to combat violence may be seen as unfair and oppressive, and they may actually contribute to the problem. I will say no more about that as it will be discussed in the next debate.

    In this debate I simply want to make an appeal for a willingness to meet and talk. If that sounds naive, we have no babes or sucklings to say it, and I am convinced that someone has to say it. The Labour party does not believe that meeting people entails agreeing with them, or indicating approval or endorsing their claim to respectability. It means simply what it says, meeting them and listening. If in Northern Ireland I met only those with whom I was already in complete agreement, I would spend a very solitary existence.

    I hesitate to endanger our new alliance with the Ulster Unionist parties which was launched so successfully this morning, but I hope that they will receive my comment in the spirit in which it is intended. I believe that we can differ without rancour, and by ventilating our differences we may go some way towards resolving them.

    A fortnight ago a working group from the National Executive Committee of the Labour party and of the parliamentary Labour party visited Northern Ireland. We wanted to talk to people from as many different view points as possible. There had to be some criterion of whom we invited to meet us, so we invited every party which had a representative elected to a public body. We did not expect to agree with them all.

    In fact, that was impossible because we knew they would be saying inconsistent things, but we believed that if we listened to what they had to say that might help us to understand their point of view and perhaps might even allow us to act as a catalyst in pointing out where the common ground lay. Sinn Fein was within that criterion because it had elected councillors. Sinn Fein agreed to meet us. We did not make it a condition that it modified its views before we met, and Sinn Fein did not impose a condition that we express any sympathy with its position. It was our judgment that we should make no distinction between the parties that fell within our criterion.

    The Unionist parties did not agree with our judgment. That is strange because they are so anxious to see nationalists pursuing their objectives by taking part in constitutional democratic politics, fighting elections, representing their constituents and taking their place in committees that when they do, they will not talk to them.

    If the nationalist parties are not serious about representing their constituents, and if they do not want to promote the work of the councils, why not call their bluff? Why not offer them the opportunity and see whether they take it?

    If terrorists in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency who had murdered people stood for election and were successful, would he talk to them? Would his party enter into talks with such people?

    If anyone in my constituency was known to have committed murder, I would press the authorities to bring him to justice. The law should take its course. That would be the proper way to deal with such people. If there were people who said they believed in murder, I would disagree with them very strongly and would understand those who felt indignant about it, but I would not say that I was not prepared to talk to them, because something may emerge from such talks. Certainly, if they represented the people who had elected them, I would not expect that support to terminate if they were in a position to say that they were not given the chance to carry out their mandate.

    But I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. It is a matter of judgment, and we could have been wrong. We shall have to agree to disagree about it, and in democratic politics there are a number of questions like that. But delegates from the Ulster Unionist party said that they were going further than that. Not only would they not talk to Sinn Fein, they said that they would not talk to anyone who talked to it.

    Because they disagreed with our judgment, they would not talk to us either. So they went off in a sulk and would not meet us. I do not know how far they are prepared to extend this. Perhaps they will not talk to anyone who has talked to anyone who has talked to Sinn Fein, and it will end with no one speaking to anyone else. They would not talk to our working group. That was our misfortune, because the purpose of the whole exercise was to hear what everyone had to say. We may have to reach our conclusions as best we can without hearing the views of the Ulster Unionist party and the people they represent.

    Happily, they do not seem to speak for the whole of the party, which does not uniformly adopt quite so rigid an attitude. Last week, after Mr. Golden, the comptroller of the New York city pension fund—a fair and open-minded man whom I had the pleasure of meeting—had met representatives of Sinn Fein, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) did not think it right to refuse to meet him. I applaud the hon. Gentleman. I think he showed greater vision and wisdom than some of his colleagues.

    If the Government want to see a resolution of the political differences, they too can set the kind of example on which the Secretary of State touched this evening. I appreciate the difficulties which confront the Government, but they seem to recognise that when members of a political party seek election to public office and are returned as councillors at the polls, it is absurd to say that central Government will not discuss council business with them or listen to them when they wish to speak about environmental health, clean food and the prevention of epidemics. The Government recognise that if we condemn people—and rightly so—for putting their trust in the gun rather then the ballot box, it is inconsistent, when such people use the ballot box, to refuse them access to the machinery of constitutional politics.

    But Ministers will not front that operation themselves, although they recognise all that. They leave it to their officials to talk to them. It is neither courageous nor honest to leave officials to do what for any reason they are not prepared to do themselves.

    I do not believe that Lord Whitelaw or the Secretary of State, when a junior Minister, were signifying their agreement with Sinn Fein or with anything it said when they met representatives in July 1972, nor were they endorsing Sinn Fein's view on violence. Possibly they were wiser in their generation than some of their successors.

    If there is ever to be an end to divisions in Northern Ireland, if people are ever to live in peace with their neighbours, and if there is to be any end of the tribalism, the violence, the waste and the tragedy of it all, there must be some arrangement about how people can live together in one island and manage their business and administer their affairs. There is no hope of that unless they can seek agreement through conversations and constitutional processes with those with whom they do not already agree.

    This morning we all urged on the Government the virtues of an open mind. Hon. Members on the Unionist Benches added their voices to ours, and that was greatly appreciated. They did it extremely effectively.

    I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We were grateful, because the Government's record on consultation leaves much to be desired. But in fairness I must accept that if an open mind is a virtue in the Government, it is no less a virtue in the rest of us. So I urge right hon. and hon. Members on other Benches to reflect on a truth of which I must constantly remind myself—that it is not a sign of weakness for any of us to consider it possible that we may be wrong.

    I do not propose to expound the Opposition's views on the ultimate solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. I shall even abstain from enlarging on our interim solutions. I have spoken of them in detail on other occasions, and no doubt some of my hon. Friends will wish to speak about them tonight. I simply want to appeal to all those who for various reasons are tempted to practise the politics of abstention to recognise that, if there is to be a stable settelement, they should be part of it, and that one does not achieve a settlement by refusing to talk and listen.

    We shall not seek to deny the Government their order tonight. For the moment there is no alternative to direct rule, but that is something we should all be seeking to change. I have avoided saying anything which should divide us substantially or dramatically from the Government, because to do so would not be helpful at this stage, but the Government cannot simply wait on events. It is their responsibility to take the lead in seeking a better way of administering the affairs of Northern Ireland.

    8.20 pm

    The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) made a plea for talks and appealed to us all to resolve the problems of Northern Ireland by engaging in talks. He seemed to equate that with what we in the House of Commons regard as consultation and co-operation between different parties and groupings of parties. I must tell him that there is really no true parallel.

    There is no problem in this House in getting Members and groupings to come together. We who represent parties and constituencies in Northern Ireland wish to come together when we consider it to be in the best interests of our people to do so. However, it is a very different matter to expect us to get together around a table and arrive at some improbable constitutional structure. To do that would be utterly unthinkable in this House, even within the normal context of parliamentary democracy as it is generally understood, not only in Britain but in most of the civilised world—including the bits that were formerly civilised—to which we have bequeathed our system of parliamentary democracy.

    The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and the Secretary of State should accept that it is rather unfair to expect party leaders to get together and find an alternative to direct rule. We complain about direct rule. Indeed, the Secretary of Sate came near to chiding us for so complaining. But he is generous enough to take account of the fact that we did not bring about direct rule. That was brought about by a former Conservative Government. Admittedly, the Secretary of State was not a member of that Government, but he was not without influence in that Administration, and I say that in the kindest possible way.

    When the right hon. Gentleman is reflecting on that period, he might let us into a secret. Perhaps he would tell us what alternatives were considered. Surely no Government in their right mind would abolish a system of devolved government, in Northern Ireland or anywhere else, without having a clear idea of what would be put in its place. I do not believe that at that time they addressed their minds to that. However, shortly afterwards they presented what they knew in their heart of hearts was unworkable. I refer to the 1973 Act and all that flowed from it.

    The House of Commons is in danger of making itself look ludicrous, or of permitting the Government to make it look ridiculous, by referring to the words "interim period extension" in the order. That form of words implies that we are dealing with a temporary measure. "Interim" is the sort of word one uses if one's house is being demolished and reconstructed. The occupant may have to live in a caravan as an interim arrangement. The caravan dweller will tolerate such conditions for a month or two. Indeed, he may be able to survive an entire winter under such conditions, as many people are obliged to do.

    Thereafter, he would become extremely impatient, and I fear that his patience would snap totally if, towards the end of the first year, the clerk of works in charge of the building tapped on the aluminium door of the caravan and said, "Sorry, old chap, but we shall have to defer everything for another 12 months." That, incidentally, is the type of well-worn phrase that has been used annually, in June, by successive Secretaries of State of Governments of various complexions in this House in the context of tonight's order.

    One Oxford dictionary defines "interim" as "meanwhile" and gives, as a secondary interpretation,
    "during the time that comes between."
    We are entitled to ask, between what? Is it between one Stormont Government and another? As a description, I suppose that was reasonably accurate from 1972 to 1973 and from 1974 to 1975. However, the phrase was wearing more than a little thin by 1982, which was a watershed year for Northern Ireland. In 1982–10 years after the abolition of Stormont—the Government Made the word "interim" inapplicable, for they introduced the 1982 Act, even though the House of Commons regarded it as unworkable.

    It was an item of legislation which so bewildered the majority of right hon. and hon. Members that they reacted in two different ways. The Opposition could neither speak nor vote, and Government Members excused their support for the measure on the ground—I repeat a comment made to me at the time by many hon. Members—that it would not work anyway. Despite the pleas of those of us who were directed to make it work, the unworkable Act is still with us, and I am afraid that I see no inclination, particularly following the Secretary of State's speech tonight, on the part of the Government to amend it.

    The Secretary of State rightly said that so far we have not applied the test which he thought should be applied to any proposal that might come forward within the meaning of the word "proposal" under the 1982 Act. He suggested as a test that for any structure to be acceptable it would need—I refer to the proposal for the formation of a Government—widespread acceptance. In other words, whether it had widespread acceptance would be the test.

    I am afraid that if the right hon. Gentleman attempted to apply that test here, he would never have a Government, for there could never be a Government with widespread acceptance in this House. If I am told that Northern Ireland is different and that the same sort of problems do not exist in this part of the kingdom, then I must ask, without becoming involved in monetarist arguments, whether the 3 million-plus unemployed in this island do not warrant an experiment in power-sharing, with a coming together of the leaders of the two main parties. In saying that, I do not entirely exclude the Members on the alliance Bench. Surely the 3 million-plus unemployed are entitled to expect the party leaders in this House to get together to try to work out a solution to the serious problem that affects them all.

    Reference is often made to the way in which this island is developing into two nations. What is being done to bridge that gap? Is there not a case for a coalition, or at least an exploration to see how far it is possible to get with the formation of a coalition, to prevent that gulf between the north and south in this island becoming unbridgable?

    Meanwhile, the Report Committee of the Assembly has entered on the second year of its deliberations, frustrated and shackled with a near-impossible task. Nevertheless, the Government insist on the use of the word "interim"—or perhaps they are using it to mean
    "during the time that comes between."
    It is true that Ministers and those who advise them have not been helped by misguided thinking inside and outside the House, because for 15 years there has been a mistaken belief that all political movement has to be designed to placate the terrorists. It is a mistaken belief that terrorism sprang from social, economic or other alleged defects in the democratic system but, in fact, it was the other way round. That is not my opinion; it is proved in an extract from the IRA's manual dated 1968—two years before the IRA was supposed to come into existence as a reaction to majority oppression in Northern Ireland. Who are we to disbelieve the manual, because at least the IRA meant what it said. It stated:
    "Our strategy if it is to succeed must be the perfect blending of Politics and violence … at the most opportune time and under the most favourable circumstances … We will not succeed in winning support for our policy and ideas by mere propaganda publicity. We must at every possible occasion involve ourselves in any agitation or issue that is part of Republican policy, and it should be made known to the public at large that Republicans are involved and helping in the particular cause at issue."
    Some time later, when I was elected to the House, I drew attention in my maiden speech on 15 February 1971 to the real nature and intention of terrorists. My natural modesty prevents me from quoting from the Official Report, but it so happens that afterwards I was furnished with a copy of the Press Association report, giving an indication of what that association made of my remarks. I shall quote a few sentences which sound not so strange in 1985. The report states:
    "The first demonstration of urban guerrilla warfare in Western Europe was being seen in Ulster, the Commons were told tonight. 'Our Army is meeting the onslaught with great courage' said Mr. James Molyneaux. But it had been given 'an impossible task and would be engaged on it for many years to come.' The troops endured a 'deluge of abuse' after every incident. The first page of the Anarchist's textbook apparently said charges of brutality should be made after every incident. It would be futile to get the three governments round a table because the IRA and their anarchist friends were utterly opposed to all governments. Nor could direct rule from Westminster make a scrap of difference to 'the gunmen'. Mr. Molyneaux said the questions of reforms were not relevant to the problem. IRA leaders had said they did not want reforms."
    Such views were not fashionable in 1971, and they have remained largely unfashionable during the intervening 14 years. That is why successive Governments have wrongly believed that any modification of the interim period arrangements had to be considered with one eye on the terrorists in the hope that the terrorists might give tacit approval or in the hope that the changes and concessions might at least take the heat out of the terrorist campaign and somehow, in a magical way, isolate them from the community from which they sprang.

    Today, in 1985, the terrorist mask has been ripped away. What concessions and administrative changes could influence the evil brotherhood of international terrorists? What softening influence would political considerations exert on minds that planned the hijacking of the American airliner, the bomb at Frankfurt airport, the mass murder on the Indian jumbo jet, the explosion in the baggage section at Tokyo airport or, more recently, the planned slaughter of holidaymakers in England's seaside towns?

    We need not, after the events of the past two weeks, waste any more time on analysing the so-called causes and motivations of this murderous worldwide league. Other debates will be more appropriate for a consideration of how the civilised world can snuff out the terrorist menace, but in this debate we need only resolve that this democratically elected body—the House of Commons—should not be distracted or diverted by terrorist action or threats which conveniently coincide with occasions when decisions are in the offing. In this case, the IRA clearly intends invervening to turn the screw to force the British Government to deliver what is desired by the IRA and those who share its objective of dismantling the United Kingdom.

    How the so-called IRA army council must have cheered when it yesterday heard the leader of the Liberal party unwittingly transmit the signal that it most wanted to hear when he asked the Home Secretary to agree
    "that this would be a good time for the Government to underline yet again their intention to continue the constructive dialogue with the Government of Ireland".—[Official Report, 25 June 1985; Vol. 81, c. 776.]
    The idea was that we should attempt to break the impasse. I believe that those words originated in Paul Johnson's article in The Guardian the day before when he said that blatant efforts were being made to breathe some form of life into the negotiations between London and Dublin. He referred to breaking the "impasse". It is not the impasse in negotiations about many of those worthy items of co-operation to which the Secretary of State and the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West referred. It is not the impasse in negotiations about co-operation on fishing rights, animal health, tourism and all the matters that one would normally expect to be dealt with between two neighbouring friendly nations. It is very different—it is an impasse in the negotiations about starting the process of ending Northern Ireland's existence as part of the United Kingdom. It is that process which the IRA seeks to hasten. That is why the IRA considers this to be a good time for it to underline, in its rather indelicate way, the need for the British negotiators to be given another kick.

    The Secretary of State conceded earlier that in his view the Government of the Irish Republic had a legitimate interest in the affairs of the minority community in Northern Ireland. One would assume that that claim was based in turn on that Government's claim that the minority in Northern Ireland—for all I know, all the citizens in Northern Ireland—are Irish subjects. If so, why do not Dublin Ministers make representations to the Secretary of State or his Cabinet colleagues about the plight of Irish citizens who reside in England, living under the same Government and having to endure the decisions made by the Cabinet of which the right hon. Gentleman is a member? Why is there such a difference in the treatment of—to be blunt about it—Irish Roman Catholics who reside in Belfast and Irish Roman Catholics who reside in Birmingham? I have addressed that question indirectly to members of the Dublin Government and there has been no answer. But as the Secretary of State attaches such great importance to the right to interfere, the right to advise and the right for the Government to concern themselves, perhaps he would attempt to seek clarification and say whether perhaps there ought to be a Minister for Irish affairs sitting in the British Cabinet because that would seem to be logical.

    Coming back to the central point that all of them in Birmingham and Belfast are governed by one and the same Government, it is important to emphasise that in Northern Ireland they are being governed not by a coalition of Unionist parties but by a Government elected by the people of the United Kingdom and a Government who in the final analysis are accountable and responsible for all their actions, be it in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, to the House of Commons. The Dublin Government, before they continue to reassert that claim, must substantiate that claim and they must tell us and the Secretary of State why they seek to interfere, intervene and interest themselves in only one part of the United Kingdom.

    I want to make a point about the discussions going on between London and Dublin which have caused a great deal of suspicion, I think quite unnecessarily, because there should be no problem in Her Majesty's Government taking the House of Commons into their confidence and telling them what it is all about. Because of all this suspicion, because of all the kite-flying and because of all the projections, all the rumour-mongering and all the deliberate leaks, they can hardly blame Loyalists for being a bit suspicious and, if it comes to that, they can hardly blame the IRA for imagining that, if it gets in on the act, it will expedite affairs along the road that it would wish to choose.

    Hundreds of men, women and children with their buckets and spades will die because of the IRA's intention to break the impasse to which I referred earlier. Now that the eyes of all have at least been opened, let us here in this House of Commons, where we have consultation and co-operation and where we can talk to each other, devote our energies to making democracy work. After 13 years in the political trenches, do not expect that all can be put right in a single day. But today at least we can give an indication of our intention to start dismantling the colonial apparatus of direct rule.

    Let no one be deterred by the mistaken notion that our efforts will be resented or resisted by anyone in Northern Ireland who believes in democracy. Who in Northern Ireland would be prepared to defend insensitive legislation by Order in Council and ministerial decree? Who in Northern Ireland can condone a regime which contemplates the passage of legislation for Great Britain only with absolutely identical legislation for Northern Ireland following on anything up to two years later?

    The Secretary of State referred to the high percentage of Orders in Council which come before the House dealing especially with Northern Ireland because of Northern Ireland's special legislative background, but I think that he knows that it would not be too difficult to adapt Great Britain's legislation as it comes forward to suit the needs of Northern Ireland and to fit in with Northern Ireland's existing legislative background. Perhaps he would be good enough to enter into consultations with those who have given a great deal of thought to this process. That process is designed to make direct rule more sensitive, more acceptable, and more efficient, and to operate in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland, given that the present Government and the present House of Commons, in positive ways and sometimes in negative ways, have put on the statute book the Northern Ireland Act 1982 which prevents the restoration of devolved government as long as it remains unamended. We are saying that no time should be lost in making direct rule more acceptable and more efficient in all its workings.

    I hope that the Government and the House will now conclude that 13 years of interim temporary arrangements have been at least 10 years too long and that within the next 12 months we will have introduced arrangements more in line with British democracy as it is understood and admired the world over.

    8.48 pm

    It has already been said that for the 13th year we are discussing direct rule in Northern Ireland, and we do so with a depleted attendance in the Chamber. We in Northern Ireland have been told repeatedly how British we are. We have been told by no less a person than the Prime Minister that we are as British as Finchley. I would venture to suggest that if what is happening on the streets of Northern Ireland were happening in Finchley, if 2,500 people had lost their lives in political violence, 20,000 had been maimed and there were unemployment of 20 per cent. concentrated in the areas from which the violence was emanating, there might be one or two more Members of Parliament present to discuss the matter this evening. It is difficult for me to take seriously the political parties in this island when they tell me that they think we are as British as they are and when there is this sort of attendance in the Chamber to debate what is the most serious human problem facing the peoples of these islands.

    It is difficult for me also, therefore, to take seriously the views expressed by the Government this evening when it is quite clear that the party that supports them does not have any great concern, interest or, indeed, care—I think that is a fair charge to make—bout what is happening in Northern Ireland. There are 12 Members representing Britain and present in the Chamber. Five of them have to be present. I think that is a sufficient commentary on their attitude towards and concern for the problems that we face.

    The Secretary of State's remarks tended to repeat what we have heard so often. The more things change the more they remain the same. The Secretary of State indicated that successive Governments have tried repeatedly to put forward proposals for a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland, again with the implication that they are the harassed arbiters between the warring factions that inhabit the north of Ireland. There was no sign of what I feel would be necessary after 13 years of failure to provide peace and stability. There was no sign of a radical reassessment of attitudes or of approaches.

    The forces that make political progress almost impossible in Northern Ireland today have not changed. They have not changed throughout the 13 years; they have not changed throughout this century; they are identical. The democratic process was interrupted in Ireland, as I have often said in the House, in 1912 when the House, which opposed the rule of law—a rule of law based on the sovereignty of this Parliament—surrendered to threats of Ulster Unionists against the decision to grant home rule to the island of Ireland. Unionists learned from that and they have never forgotten, and they have been repeating in the past week to the Secretary of State that, if one threatens a British Government with the dire consequences of their action, the British Government will back off. Others too learned that if one succeeds by democratic methods the name of the game is changed and physical force is the only answer to our problems.

    Those two forces—those who threaten force and those who use force—had their positions reinforced by the experience of 1974 which still dominates much of the thinking in Northern Ireland today. Those two forces are still the forces that prevent the development of the political and democratic process in Northern Ireland. They feed off one another. In a recent election we witnessed them feeding off one another. We had the spectacle of Members opposite holding an election press conference with sledgehammers over their shoulders saying, "We will smash Sinn Fein." One does not need two political thoughts to rub together in one's head to realise that that kind of approach breeds support for the people that one alleges will be smashed. Extremism breeds extremism. The killing by the Provisional IRA, which is part of Sinn Fein, feeds the fears and the centre tends to fall apart.

    After the elections we found that the same extremists were breeding the same extremism. The recent local government elections results were not unusual. They demonstrated that nothing ever changes in Northern Ireland elections. The election results in my city were identical with the election results in 1933. In 1981 the local government election results showed that 21 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland voted for candidates who were described as "others" and that 17·5 per cent. voted for SDLP candidates. In 1985, 11·8 per cent. of the people voted for Sinn Fein and 9·2 per cent voted for others. The total is exactly 21 per cent. A total of 17·8 per cent. of the people voted for my party. The Sinn Fein vote was slightly less than in recent elections. There is nothing new about the results; have reached the ceiling and we know what it is. It is good to know exactly where one stands.

    The reaction was a propaganda victory. It appeared that Sinn Fein had won the election. Those people say that they speak and act in the name of the people of Ireland, but 11 per cent. of the vote does not give one the right to speak and act in the name of the people of Ireland. And 3 per cent. of the vote this week in the Republic does not give them the right to speak and act in the name of the people of Ireland, particularly when they kill fellow Irishmen in Northern Ireland. Every democrat should stand up and say that, instead of behaving at local council meetings in a way that gives credibility to and provides propaganda for those one claims one wants to smash.

    What do councillors say at local council meetings? They say that they will not recognise the presence of Sinn Fein councillors. There is nothing new about that. Everybody thinks that they say that just because it is Sinn Fein, but they have been saying that to the representatives of the SDLP for years. The Unionists in Northern Ireland have conceded not one iota to SDLP representatives. The deputy leader of my party has been a member of Armagh council for 12 years. During that period he has not even been nominated for membership of a committee; nor has any SDLP councillor held senior office in any council in which the Unionists have a major say. That has to be contrasted with the performance of my party when it had a majority on the council. Not a single committee place on Belfast city council has been given to any representative of the non-Unionist community. Craigavon decided that it would give complete council powers to a council committee. The membership of that committee excludes everybody who is not a Unionist. Talk about democracy!

    Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that many of these instances followed in the wake of council meetings in other districts where a genuine effort was made to bring the SDLP into the work of the council by giving senior posts to them? Will he acknowledge that when the SDLP was told that it would be given the vice-chairmanship of my council it declined to nominate anybody? Does he also acknowledge that we said that one of two posts on a council committee would be filled by the SDLP? The SDLP nominated somebody but when Sinn Fein nominated somebody else the SDLP withdrew, in an effort to force a Sinn Fein nomination upon us. Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that because of decisions like that by the SDLP, as happened when it decided not to fight Fermanagh and South Tyrone, other councils behave in what appears to be an irresponsible manner?

    I intend to deal with the position of the SDLP on all these councils. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's chronology, but I shall deal with that later. Cookstown council acts in the same way as Craigavon council, except that it does it more legally; it delegates its powers to different committees but makes sure that nobody serves on the committees who disagrees with the Unionists. Lisburn council made a mistake. It allowed one member of the SDLP to serve on a committee. Later its leader apologised to the electorate for having allowed an SDLP member to serve on the committee.

    I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will ensure that the imbalance on area education boards is corrected. Not a single representative of the minority communities has been nominated to serve on the area education boards of Armagh, Dungannon, Cookstown and Craigavon councils.

    The SDLP approach was set out before, during and after the election. We fought all corners. In particular, we fought the men of violence. It did not go unnoticed by anybody observing the political scene in Northern Ireland that the party most targeted by the political wing of the IRA was the party that I lead. Mine is the party that it wants to destroy. We fought the political wing of the IRA in every part of Northern Ireland. We fought their violence and their violent actions. We also fought the bigotry that lies at the heart of most of our divisions. We said that because we fight elections under the system of proportional representation we would do as we had done before: once the election was over we would try to ensure that, in every area where we had a major say, proportionality, in terms of membership of committees, would be the order of the day. We carried out that policy. In Northern Ireland, the SDLP has five chairmanships and Sinn Fein two. That is almost identical with their proportional vote. Furthermore, in those areas where we have a major say we have offered positions to representatives of other parties.

    Before somebody tells me that the fact that one supports somebody from a party that one opposes and does not like for the chairmanship of a council or a committee where there is not an overall majority means that one supports what that party stands for, let me say that in that case no local government would work. We put into office in Newry as chairman Mr. Graham. The Secretary of State no doubt recognises the name because yesterday he refused to talk to Mr. Graham.

    Hold on a minute; I am talking about what we do as a political party. We supported for office a member of the party of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. I. Paisley) in an area where we had an overwhelming majority, in pursuit of our policy of partnership, to try to break down the barriers between us—a man whom the Secretary of State will not talk to because he makes his views clear about the sort of violence he would use to achieve his political objectives.

    I do not like what Sinn Fein stands for, any more than I like what the parties that differ from me in the House stand for. I particularly dislike the fact that it decides that the way to unite my country is to kill fellow citizens with whom it disagrees. I do not think that it requires great political intelligence to recognise that that only causes far deeper bitterness and division.

    The nub of the question—this is where the Government come in—is that if we agree that a political poarty has a legal right to stand for election, and that election takes place, we must treat everybody elected in exactly the same way, whether we like them or not.

    That is completely contrary to what happens in this House. This House passed legislation, because Bobby Sands was elected, that ensured that never again would it permit that. So the House took a decision on that issue and the Labour party voted for it.

    :If people want to engage in undemocratic practices in the House or anywhere else, it is no good asking me to defend them. The Government have said and the House has said that it is perfectly legal for members of this political party to stand and—whether one likes it or not, and most people do not—if they are elected they are entitled to be treated exactly the same as everybody else, because if they are not treated the same as everybody else they are given propaganda victories right, left and centre. That is giving one's own definition of democracy, by excluding people who are elected by the people. That is far more dangerous because the erosion of democracy is what gives justification to men of violence.

    The Government have said that they will not talk to these people. How many times in a year is it likely that a deputation from a council that includes members of Sinn Fein would want to talk to a Minster? It would certainly not be very many. What has happened because of all this hullabaloo is that Sinn Fein has been let off the hook of its own contradictions. It is pretending to be working for the welfare of people, jobs and better living conditions, while its military wing is blowing up factories. Everything that intelligent politicians who want to oppose it are trying to do is thwarted by people trying to make political martyrs out of Sinn Fein by refusing to talk to its members. The Government will not talk to Sinn Fein, but their agents will talk to an IRA man or a UVF man who has been guilty of serious offences and they will bribe him to uphold the legal system. It is a policy designed to give propaganda victories to the people whom they claim to want to smash.

    The marching season is upon us again—a time when in Northern Ireland the temperature always seems to rise. If people in Northern Ireland want to keep marching back towards 1690, I do not have any great quarrel with them. They are entitled to march when and where they like provided that their marching is not triumphalist and is not designed to give offence and to go through areas where it gives positive offence. There are some areas in Northern Ireland where the marching is a simple coat-trailing exercise, which is likely to lead to violence. I have raised these matters with the Secretary of State and the Minister and some indications have recently been given that a more common-sense approach to the routes of these marches might be adopted in order to prevent community conflict and to avoid giving the opportunity for men of violence to take advantage of tense situation.

    We hear Opposition Members saying that they will resist with every means at their disposal any decision to re-route, for example, a march at Portadown where the other routes on offer are more direct to their ultimate destination than the coat-trailing one, which goes through a small Catholic area.

    I have gone on at length about recent events, but what is the lesson that we draw from all this? This is very clear to anybody who thinks about it. The political parties in Northern Ireland cannot and will not agree in the context of Northern Ireland. That is the lesson. Nothing has changed electorally during the past 60 years. They cannot possibly agree in that context because the problem is not about relations within Northern Ireland.

    The Secretary of State referred to the fact that my party does not sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have given reasons for that time and time again. Recent events have underlined the integrity of my party's position. This House, through the Government, indicated that it wanted, yet again, to pursue devolution based on cross-community agreement — understood by most people to mean the sharing of power and responsibility between the two communities. My party has never had any objection to that as a form of government. We believe that working together is the only way to break down barriers between people who are deeply divided. The experience of working together for the common good is the only long-term, slow process that will break down the barriers. We have said that repeatedly.

    However, as we know from our experience and the experience of local councils and the Assembly, the two parties in this House which are supposed to share power with us have repeatedly said publicly, honestly, forthrightly and without equivocation that there are no circumstances in which they will share responsibility with My minute intelligence draws a conclusion from that—that I should be wasting my time and a great deal of public money in the Northern Ireland Assembly trying to prove that those parties do not mean what they say. If they want to tell me now—and I will happily give way—that they will share power with the SDLP, I would welcome that; but they will not. Therefore, the conclusion can be only that the Northern Ireland Assembly will not reach agreement. It is costing a great deal of taxpayers' money to keep the Assembly in being. My party could do a smash-and-grab raid tomorrow. It could pop into the Assembly, sign on, collect £750,000 in salaries and allowances and then give it to charity. We do not do that.

    We have said from the beginning that there have been a series of attempts to solve the Irish problem, but they have all been British initiatives. We have had majority rule. If I had been the leader of a party that ruled a piece of earth for 60 years, and ended up in the mess in which Northern Ireland is today, I would not be standing in this House giving anybody advice on how to rule it in future. There have been power-sharing attempts, and the House has heard my comments on that. There has also been direct rule. They have all been British initiatives, and none of them has provided peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

    When we said that the Northern Ireland Assembly would not work, we asked why. Our answer—I invite anyone to challenge it—is that the relationship of conflict is not a relationship between people in an artificial entity called Northern Ireland; it is a relationship of conflict between the people of Ireland and between the people of both islands. It is only in the framework of the problem that we can provide a solution. It involves interlocking relationships.

    Britain and Ireland have failed to sort out their relationships. They pushed them into a corner called Northern Ireland and left them to fester. We are now facing the consequences of that. Until we go back into the wider framework and get fresh air into the situation we will not break down the barriers and build the structures that will allow us to grow together at our own speed.

    The New Ireland Forum was an attempt by one of the parties to reassess its attitude [Laughter.] I say to the laughing hon. Member for Antrim, North that the position in Northern Ireland today obtains because our attitudes have brought us here—his, mine, the IRA's, the British Government's, the Irish Government's and everyone else's. If we do not have the good sense to ask ourselves what in our attitudes has brought us here, and be prepared to reassess those attitudes, we are going nowhere other than to total conflict.

    The hon. Gentleman may sneer at the efforts of the New Ireland Forum, but at least it was an effort by the representatives of 80 per cent. of the people of Ireland. It was the first Irish initiative since partition and it laid on the table our analysis of the problem. We invited people round the table to discuss that analysis with us, but we are still waiting for them to accept. We welcome the fact that the Government took up the offer of the Irish Government to discuss that document. The discussions are continuing. I wish them success, and I believe that that wish would be shared by the vast majority of the people of both Islands. I hear many pessimistic noises these days, but I wish to end with one thought: a series of British initiatives has failed to solve the Irish problem. It is about time that we listened to an Irish initiative.

    9.10 pm

    I comment first on the New Irish Forum, which was so eulogised by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). Unionists and Protestants had every right to examine the report. It told us of the magnanimity of southern Irish Governments to the Protestant population there, and said how well Protestants were treated in the south of Ireland. But where are they? At partition, 10 per cent. of the population was Protestant, but that figure has fallen to less than 3 per cent. In contrast, the Roman Catholic population in the north of Ireland is increasing all the time. There is a great difference between the two forms of rule that were suggested in the New Ireland Forum report.

    The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) accused the Government of going back on the Prime Minister's "Out, out out" statement. He said that the damage caused by the brick that she had thrown was now being repaired by the Government. That is not what the Secretary of State told me and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) only a few days ago. He said that the Government stand by the Prime Minister's "Out, out out" speech. The story told to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is different from the one told to the Unionist representatives who meet the Secretary of State. I hope that when the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) replies, he will comment on the matter, because such mistakes do not help confidence in Northen Ireland.

    The hon. Gentleman cannot have listened to what I said this evening. I made it clear for the umpteenth time that our discussions with the Irish Government are held within the framework of the Chequers communiqué and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said afterwards.

    The Secretary of State has clarified the matter. I do not know what is said behind the Chair, or what little whispers the hon. Member for Foyle has heard, but I know what is said to me. I am expected to believe that and to convey it to my people, but when I come to the House I hear a different story. No wonder there is little confidence in Northern Ireland.

    The hon. Gentleman is obviously trying to tempt me to my feet. I said that the Prime Minister had dropped a brick. I do not resile from that statement, because it is important to consider not only what is said but the timing and the manner in which it is said. It is difficult to imagine anything having been said less graciously than that.

    I shall leave it to the two Front Benches to sort that out. I know what the people of Northern Ireland think, and how the statements from the two Front Benches will be interpreted by them.

    From listening to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) one would think that the SDLP is characterised by a sweet reasonableness. It is strange that in his city his party excluded every Democratic Unionist member from every committee when it first took office in the Londonderry city council. [Interruption.] I am talking not about the present position, but about the position when Democratic Unionists were first elected to that city council. They were excluded by the SDLP from every office in their first term.

    The hon. Gentleman tells us that we should all be talking. The Secretary of State glided or, perhaps, skated over why the talks between the Unionists and the SDLP did not come about. It was a careful bit of scheming. He talked about the elections to come, but it has nothing to do with that. Let me put the record straight. For nine months the Democratic Unionists asked the SDLP to talk. The Official Unionists and the Alliance party asked the SDLP to talk. What happened? We were put off and told that the matter would have to be decided at an executive meeting. We were told this, that and the other. Then, strangely, on a radio interview the hon. Gentleman said that he would like to speak to the IRA army council. He knew perfectly well that if he spoke to it, the people whom I and the Official Unionists represent would not expect us to speak to him.

    I told the hon. Gentleman face to face on Ulster television that if he spoke to the IRA army council, he would close the door to the Unionists. Yet the hon. Gentleman was happy about that. He was glad to close the door, slot the bolt, put on the chains and padlock them because he did not want to talk to the Unionists. Now the hon. Gentleman says that we should all be talking and that we should re-assess the position. He read a homily to me that I should reassess my position.

    The hon. Gentleman was invited to send representatives to the Report Committee. Did he go? If he is invited to Dublin, he can go immediately. If he gets an invitation from the IRA army council, he can make himself conspicuously low key. He can disappear, get some man to drive up in a car, take him here, change cars and so on, and he can tell the Government that if they question him, they will get no information from him about where die army council men are. Yet he could not come to the Report Committee. Nor could Bishop Daley. He makes wonderful statements about us all re-assessing our position. He was invited to the Report Committee but not even he could come to put his point of view. Therefore, for the hon. Gentleman to hold forth in the House and to condemn Unionist representatives for not talking is a fraud and a deceit. We have said that we will talk, and we have asked for talks, but the door has been closed.

    I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West that the Government's attitude is ambivalent on this issue. If Ministers refuse to talk to Sinn Fein, their officials should not be asked to do the dirty work. I want to make that clear in the House. But what has happened? The Government will not talk to Sinn Fein, but we are asked—the Loyalist people of Northern Ireland—to talk to Sinn Fein. I find it strange to hear the hon. Member for Foyle talk about targeting. I do not know of any SDLP councillors who have been shot dead by the IRA. I do not know where the list is. It is the Unionist people who are targeted by the IRA. They are shot dead, but what do we find? We find that the Government refuse to accept the recommendation of the Baker report or to ban Sinn Fein, which is the IRA.

    The idea that the members of Sinn Fein are different from members of the IRA is an atrocious lie. They are one and the same. What is more, the godfathers are now identified. The IRA leaders are now councillors. We know who they are, and what they stand for. They have come out into the open. They have the cheek to say to us, "Recognise us. We are democrats. We want to do the decent thing." Those people have records of crime. They have been engaged in activities against the kith and kin of Unionist Members. We are forced to sit with such people They are out to plan more murders.

    I was in the House when the Birmingham bombing took place. I know what the strong Left-wing Labour Members said. It was all right while the IRA was killing Protestants in Ulster. That did not matter. When they came home and started to kill their kith and kin here, those hon. Members denounced them strongly. They realised what they were.

    The House has asked us to sit down with those people and treat them as councillors, enter into negotiations with them and to sit with them on committees. My party will not do that. What is more, an Act passed by this House gives us the opportunity to set up a committee. If it wants to exclude someone from that committee the council has the right, under the legislation, so to do. Does the hon. Member for Foyle think that we are fools and that we shall not take advantage of the legislation when those murderers are pushed down our throat by a Government who will not talk to them? If he thinks that the Unionist people will have them pushed down our throats he has another think coming. We shall not co-operate with them and we are doing what we can within the law passed by this House to exclude them, and we shall continue to do so.

    I have never listened to such utter nonsense. If one reads the newspapers one will see that the attack now is upon the Democratic Unionist party and upon me. Sinn Fein's best friends are the people who voted it into office—the SDLP men in Enniskillen and Omagh. The hon. Gentleman's party has entered into an agreement with Sinn Fein to put it into office. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. W. McCrea) will be able to explain to the House what has happened in Magherafelt.

    Is it not strange that the only councils where the SDLP and Sinn Fein did not enter into an agreement about high office was in the two councils in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume)? That was in case Sinn Fein demanded his seat in the next election. Any other part of the country could go to Sinn Fein.

    My hon. Friend knows all about it. He is targeted. He has to sit on a council with the men who are planning his destruction and who have told him publicly in the council, "We will get you." The Opposition Front Bench say that we must tolerate that and talk to those people. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) was not part of the Labour party deputation which met Sinn Fein and which was asked whether it rebuked Sinn Fein and denounced its violence. Its answer was that it did not have time to talk about that.

    I presume that the hon. Gentleman saw the story on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph which said that I had not met Sinn Fein but that if I had I should have told it to put aside the Armalite and concentrate on the ballot box, and that violence did no service to any of the people of Northern Ireland.

    I am not suggesting that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough was the person interviewed after the meeting with Sinn Fein. If the person who was interviewed wants to withdraw, I should be happy.

    Northern Ireland is in a very serious state. Some people say that they are always hearing that. If anyone is so blinkered as to think that Northern Ireland is not in a serious state he knows nothing about what is happening. The House had better realise the seriousness of the situation.

    I shall dwell in a moment on the seriousness of the state of morale in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That is an important issue and the House had better consider it. Why is the situation so serious? The Secretary of State does not like the plenary sessions in the Assembly. He seemed to give the impression that he would like to gag the Assembly. I wonder why, because some matters of great import are revealed in that Assembly.

    The House is saying to us tonight "You should all talk. The Protestants should all be happy. Everything is well". Some might say that the Democratic Unionists are bigoted. I find it strange that the Secretary of State could have a meal yesterday with a person to whom he said he would not talk. I find that amusing. I shall return to that and defend Mr. George Graham. The statement in The Irish News had to be withdrawn and The Irish News had to apologise. Perhaps we shall now have the proper statement.

    Mr. Raymond Ferguson is not known to be on the extreme Right wing of the Official Unionist party. He spelt out in the Assembly why there was such a problem among the Protestants of Fermanagh. He said that people thought that Fermanagh had an overwhelming Republican community, but that it had not because the community there is split almost 50:50. At the election the Republican groups gained their majority by only 4 per cent.

    What has happened? In the last 15 years, 74 murders have been committed in County Fermanagh. That is what Mr. Raymond Ferguson told the Assembly. He said:
    "Seven of those murders were carried out by Loyalist organisations"—
    one was carried out by a member of the British Army—
    "and of five out of seven of those seven murders, the culprits have been punished by the courts and are now in gaol. Of the other 67 some people have been apprehended … offences such as conspiracy or involvement at some insignificant level. But I am not aware of one case in which any of the perpetrators of those 67 murders have been brought before the courts, sentenced, and put in gaol for their crimes."
    That was said by a person representing the area. What can he say? I ask hon. Members what, if they represented that area, they would say when a person in their constituency was murdered. Everyone says "Keep calm. Don't do anything. Don't say anything." A constituent who is a member of my party has some strong words to say about Sinn Fein and the IRA but the Secretary of State has said that he can not meet him. Next week he will have to meet him as a member of the Home Affairs and Security Committee of the Assembly. I find that interesting.

    I do not shed any tears when an IRA man is given his just desserts. I shed tears for the people he murdered, for the orphans and the widows. I shed no tears for IRA murderers. Evidently that is a crime. It seems that we are not supposed to say that. I advise hon. Members to read in the Library the report of what the Rev. Ivan Foster said in the Assembly and then to decide whether the Secretary of State should take such a stand.

    I represent Fermanagh in another forum. What do I say to the people of Fermanagh when I visit them? Do I tell them that everything is all right and that the security forces are taking care of everything? What do they say to me? They draw my attention to the murders of Protestants and tell me that no one has been arrested for committing them. They ask, "Are we to sit peacefully by and allow ourselves to be murdered?" That is one issue that is causing serious concern among the people of the border areas and the House needs to think about it and to meditate upon it. If the murderers are not being captured and are not being brought to court, there is no hope for the people living in the border areas. Indeed, a deep hopelessness has set in.

    Three outrageous atrocities have taken place in Mr. Graham's constituency of Newry. What are we to say to the people of Newry? Are we to tell them, "Everything is all right. Everything is wonderful. It is better than it ever was before."? It would be extremely difficult to enter the homes which I have visited to spell out that message. The Secretary of State and his Ministers do not go to the homes of the families who have suffered as a result of the atrocities. They do not face these people. They might send a letter to them, but that is all. They do not hear the message that we receive from them. The hard-pressed Protestants of Northern Ireland are facing atrocities day in and day out.

    I was present when the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) spoke in a debate on Northern Ireland about having an inquiry into what happened at Killeen. It is time that an inquiry was put in train by the Secretary of State. I have had conversations with police officers and they feel that the Killeen incident could have been prevented. They have told me that such events were happening regularly and that there should have been a proper Army cover and presence. We are talking about police officers who went to their deaths. That is the factor that is troubling and worrying the people of Northern Ireland.

    The hon. Member for Foyle said that people should be allowed to walk when and where they like. Having said that, he expressed certain considerations. He should remember that it is councillors and Assembly Members of his party who are saying that people will not walk when and where they like. There are Roman Catholic traditional parades in North Antrim and they include areas that are predominantly Protestant. The parades have taken place for years and no one says anything to those who participate in them. The paraders have always walked through these predominantly Protestant areas and they will continue to do so. That will happen because it has always been the recognised and accepted practice. They walk through Portglenone and other areas in North Antrim that are predominantly Protestant. That is true of the Hibernian parades on 15 August and nothing is said about them. The hon. Member for Foyle spoke about the parade in the Tunnel area. Does he know the Tunnel area? Does he know how many houses are in that area? There are 70 houses in the road that faces the Tunnel area and 26 of them are boarded up. Does he know that? Is he aware that that is an area that Orangemen have processed along for over 100 years?

    Because they have walked along that road. That is why. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that they must be stopped after 100 years of processing along that road? Is that his message to the House? Why are they to be stopped? However loud and powerful is the hon. Gentleman's voice, it is not his voice to which members of the Government Front Bench will listen. Instead they will listen to the voice of Peter Barry, who has been highly exalted by the Government and has the right to speak on behalf of the minority and to make representations on its behalf. I wonder what part of the minority Peter Barry has the right to speak for. He is not speaking for the people of Sinn Fein because they will have nothing to do with him. They would like to bring down his Government as quickly as they would like to bring down this Government. He is putting on the pressure with this procedure.

    The hon. Member for Foyle tells us that the New Irish Forum would give us all peace in Ireland, but the influence in Dublin wants to stop an Orange parade that has been going on for years. I have a straight question to put to the Government: are they going to stop traditional Loyalist parades? If they are, they must stop traditional national and Republican parades. Will they do that? No, they do not want to hear about it. Some of them do not even know that there is such a thing. They think that we are so bigoted in Ulster that we would not allow such a parade to happen.

    What has happened in the areas where there is so much confrontation and talk? Houses have been built and Republicans and Roman Catholics have been housed there. Immediately they get into those areas they say that they will change what happens there. Therefore, Unionist public representatives know that if these people are housed in these areas they will want to change the procedures there. The hon. Member for Foyle must know that that puts public representatives into an impossible position. They must take a stand on this issue.

    There is no need for any talk about re-routing this parade. There is no need to cancel the parade at the Tunnel. There was no need to cancel the parade in Castlewellan. It was cancelled because a Roman Catholic mass was to be held on Saturday night because the Pope had said that the mass could be held then so that they could have a free Sunday. The hon. Member for Foyle should know more about this than I do. As a result, more people were going to mass on Saturday.

    What would have happened if the parade had gone on Friday instead? The people were just told not to go at all. Now they have said that they want to go because it is a traditional parade ground and they have always gone this way. Will the Government listen to Peter Barry or say that they will let the traditional parade go through because they must acknowledge that there are traditional parades in other areas and they must do what is fair for all traditional parades? That is the important issue, and the hon. Member for Foyle must realise how the Loyalists feel about this.

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that any parade in any part of Northern Ireland that is a coat-trailing exercise and gives offence to the people in the area through which it goes should be re-routed?

    I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can say that people going to their church service is a coat-trailing exercise. I do not understand his mentality. He mentioned the Tunnel, which is a parade that goes to a local church every year. The hon. Gentleman is saying that it cannot go the way that it has gone for a 100 years, and must be banned.

    I have told the Secretary of State that he cannot do this to traditional parades. I am talking not about protest parades or instantaneous parades to deal with some matter but about a parade that has gone on for 100 years. The parade in Castlewellan is a traditional one, and we should leave well alone.

    We are told that the police will have difficulties, which is true. However, they have more difficulties when parades are banned. Far more police were brought into Castlewellan when the parade was banned—three times the usual number—than when it was carried out. I must speak up for the police of Northern Ireland. The police cannot live in the areas in which the voters of the hon. Member for Foyle are predominant. They can live only in Protestant and Unionist areas. In fact, at Rasharkin, in my own constituency, they have been driven out by the IRA.

    Every policeman has been driven out of that area and must live among Protestants, yet how can those men live at peace among Protestant people when by a foolish Government act, dictated by Peter Barry, they get involved in confrontation with people who want to walk in traditional parades? This House had better take note of that message, because members of every section of the Northern Ireland community depend upon the police—in fact, they send for them—to protect them.

    The police are being placed in an impossible position. That is unfair, and the Government should have second thoughts about this. It is not as easy as they may think. Traditional parades must be allowed to use the same routes as they have always done. Those who say that they will stop a traditional parade by force must be dealt with. If the Protestants said that they intended to stop the Hibernian march, the police would be sent to deal with them. Let us be fair and even-handed. That is all I ask, and the police deserve it.

    I shall not go into detail about the state of some of the police stations on the border. They are a disgrace. A police representative told me, "We take young men and women from the best homes of Ulster who have volunteered to do the most difficult job that an Ulsterman can do, and we put them into pigsties." It is time that the Government did something about the state of border stations. They should get rid of the portakabins, and should give the policemen something to go home to after a hard day defending the people of Northern Ireland.

    We have not had much joy from the Secretary of State. He told us that there will be no accommodation with killers, yet some of them are sitting in the council chambers of the Province. When we do something about it, he says that he believes that eventually "we will all act normally." One would be abnormal if one sat in a council chamber with a known murderer who says, "I want to kill you."

    The hon. Member for Foyle said that Sinn Fein had a council chairman in Omagh. The Opposition Front Bench tell us that we should talk to that person, yet he said that if any Omagh council employee was shot by the IRA for wearing a police or UDR uniform such an employee was a legitimate target for IRA assassination. Am I being told that I or my party members must sit with that person, work with him in council committees and look up to him as chairman of that council? This House had better get the message — we shall never do it. If we cannot do it lawfully, as I believe we can, it will be up to the Government to take their own action, because the councils will become unworkable.

    I smiled when the Secretary of State told us about councils working normally. Those councils are predominantly controlled by constitutionalists. That is why they are working normally. They are working normally in Ballymena, Ballymoney, Ards, Castlereagh and elsewhere. I support what was done by the Cookstown council. The matter cannot be discussed now as it is in the courts, but we shall see what the court decision is. Let all the councils be taken to court and let the law be tested. Let us see how strong the law is. If we fail, it will be up to the Government either to change the law or to put in commissioners if the councils become unworkable.

    They have been dilly-dallying about that in Londonderry. It is surprising how people can be hoist by their own petard. When the Unionists walked out of Londonderry, Ministers told us that everything was working normally and that we did not need any commissioners. Then, when there was a rumpus, with other councillors causing trouble, the cry was, "We must have commissioners."

    I am wondering whether the Minister will appoint Sinn Fein members to health boards. After all, he has under the Act a way out, and I hope that when the Minister replies we shall be told whether the Government intend to appoint them to health boards. That question should be answered tonight.

    We have heard talk of speculation, but on one aspect there is no speculation. It is clear that the destiny of the people of Northern Ireland has been discussed between Dublin and Northern Ireland. A minority representative in this House knows all about it—because he goes there to be briefed — while the majority of people, including those I represent, know nothing about it. We are left out, yet they expect us, at the end of the day, to accept what they are doing.

    I assure the Government that it will not be accepted. Nor need they tell me that they believe in the sovereignty of this House. Sovereignty involves not only legislating but applying laws. When there is a proposal to dilute the courts of Northern Ireland and to put on the bench there a judge appointed by Dublin, that is the beginning of the end of proper sovereignty over Northern Ireland. We shall have to wait and see what the proposals are, and the sooner we see them, the better.

    If the talks continue in the way that they have been proceeding, if the speculation continues and the killings go on, and if the Government ban traditional parades, we shall be heading for a very serious crisis indeed. The sooner that this House wakes up to that, the better for all concerned.

    9.47 pm

    When the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was talking about policemen being driven out of a village in his constituency, I was surprised that he did not attract the attention of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) to the fact that not one policeman now lives in the west bank area of Londonderry city. I believe that the last policeman to live there, Inspector Duddy, was murdered. When the troubles first exploded, there were nearly 100 members of the RUC living on that side of the river. That says a lot about the area which the hon. Member for Foyle represents.

    With every passing year, we seem to go through tonight's operation more mechanically, even to the extent of hearing much the same words from the Front Benches. As the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) pointed out, we seem to have the impression each year that a massive change will take place in the system of governing Northern Ireland before we reach the same point om a similar date the following year.

    We know perfectly well, of course, that we shall return next year because the Northern Ireland Unionist population will not accept the power-sharing that is being assiduously demanded tonight by the hon. Member for Foyle and the Secretary of State, and as has been demanded over the years.

    The Secretary of State appears before us tonight as "Honest Hurd" because he, more than any Secretary of State in recent years, has stood up and demanded bluntly that the Unionist population should accept a power-sharing set-up in Ulster. Apparently that is the right hon. Gentleman's conception of what constitutes political and constitutional progress. Indeed, he was "Sunningdale Man" in person. We were surprised to note how clearly he revealed himself, because that attitude was carefully concealed by his predecessors and others for many years and was cloaked around with many fair words. Not that that mattered much, for most of us are used to tearing away the veil of nonsense that so often surrounds reality in this House. We are not surprised that unbending demands are being made again.

    The hon. Member for Foyle told us that he wanted political and democratic development. It is a queer concept of democratic development to give a veto to a minority. That is what we are really asked for. No one has yet managed to explain exactly how that development follows any democratic principle. I have puzzled over this matter for many years, and I look forward to the possibility of it being explained to me this evening.

    We are always told that if we accepted power-sharing and gave the SDLP a place in government, the IRA would melt away. I think the Secretary of State said that the support would drain away. That is utter nonsense. If a place is given to the SDLP, the IRA will simply say, "We imposed sufficient pressure to extract that measure from the Unionists." That measure will not be extracted from the Unionists by those means. The Unionist population will not have anything extracted from them by murderers or political pressure, because we are not going down that road. The sooner the Secretary of State and the House recognise that, the sooner political progress will become possible.

    The Government continue trying to buy off people with titbits. That only whets the appetite and makes the position much worse. The sooner the Government realise the truth—perhaps they already do—and act upon it, the better.

    I have always feared giving concessions in the face of violence, because concessions tend to increase the violence and the pressure to strengthen the position of the nationalist population in Ulster. It is not yet generally recognised that the SDLP has managed to get itself into a position where it is driven by the IRA. The hon. Member for Antrim, North drew our attention to what has happened in some councils in Northern Ireland. That certainly should be brought to the attention of hon. Members. The SDLP has simply given a place to Sinn Fein, which has been described not only by itself but by others as the political wing of the IRA—the group that articulates the IRA's political objectives. Sinn Fein has managed to get itself into a position where the SDLP gives support for council posts. The SDLP is so frightened of offending those who support Sinn Fein that it supports the representatives of the gunmen before it supports representatives of democratic, constitutional parties and even before it supports its own SDLP members who, we are told, are members of a constitutional party.

    This is an unusual, damaging and dangerous position for any political party. I see no particular need for me to weep if the hon. Member for Foyle and his party wish to clasp the rattlesnake of the IRA to their breasts. If that means the end of them, I would not regret it. I clearly recall their beginnings and their willingness to lead violent mobs in the streets of Londonderry and elsewhere. I hold no brief for them.

    The hon. Member for Foyle said that all elected representatives should be treated the same.

    I should like to raise one point before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the role of the SDLP and its relationship with Sinn Fein, which he has rightly analysed as being the political supporter of the campaign of murder and violence in Northern Ireland. Is my hon. Friend aware that in county Fermanagh the SDLP, whose leader is, of course, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), rather than accept the nomination for chairmanship of that council or the proposal of the British community represented by the Ulster Unionist party, declined that nomination and preferred to commend, propose and then support a Sinn Fein chairman of that council?

    Yes, of course, and I hoped to return to that point later.

    In fact, the Unionists proposed the four members of the SDLP one after the other, and each and every one of them declined to allow his name to go forward and then supported the Sinn Fein — the representative of the murderers—for the post.

    The hon. Member for Foyle lamented that members of his party did not get much of a showing, and I will come back to that. One of the reasons perhaps is that most members of the Unionist population in Northern Ireland would find it difficult now to get even a razor blade between the attitude displayed by many of the SDLP council and that of the Sinn Fein councillors who sit beside them.

    Is it not a fact that recently in a council committee in the city of Londonderry, an SDLP councillor proposed and an SDLP councillor seconded a motion that the tenancy for the Royal Ulster Constabulary in its premises in the Waterside should be brought to an end, and when Sinn Fein came out of the council meeting, it said, "This is our policy, the SDLP is going our way and this is the way it is going to go"?

    Order. I take great interest in Irish debates, and I have come back specially to listen to this one.

    I apologise again, Mr. Speaker, I am so engrossed in the interruptions that I tend to forget that we are honoured by your presence and that the House is under your control again. I am sorry, Sir, I do go on putting my foot in it.

    We have had explained to us by the hon. Member for Antrim, North the consequences of power-sharing between the SDLP and Sinn Fein, but that should cause us no surprise whatever, because the SDLP has consistently refused to give clear support to members of the security forces in the difficult task that they have.

    The hon. Member for Foyle said that all elected representatives should be treated exactly the same. If elected members demand that they be treated the same, they must also be prepared to operate within the same civilised framework that all other constitutional parties accept. We do not support those who murder those with whom they disagree.

    The plain truth of the matter is that the IRA and Sinn Fein are not two separate organisations. They are exactly the same organisation. If one of my hon. Friends should catch your eye in this or a later debate, Mr. Speaker, I think that he will give a clear instance which will illustrate the truth of what I have just said. Sinn Fein is the political arm of murder. Therefore, it cannot be seen or treated as a normal political party, because it is not a normal political party at all.

    Sinn Fein referred to the cutting edge. Its cutting edge is murder, arson and violence, perpetuated by the IRA not only in Armagh but elsewhere. We are dealing with the renewal of the direct rule legislation for Northern Ireland, a system that has been operating for many years. It has not worked very well. Nobody is willing to say that the Government have made a very good job of it. Let me examine a few of the things that have happened during the last year. I deal first with the legislation governing the attempts to stop personation, carried out primarily by the Sinn Fein electorate at the local government elections and the wonderful claims that have been made since then about its success.

    When the Bill was debated one might have thought that about half of the Sinn Fein vote was personation. I remember pointing out that it would be impossible for any party to organise personation on such a large scale as to personate more than 10,000 or 12,000 people at the maximum in Northern Ireland. I still believe that my assessment was correct. It was also pointed out during the debates that, historically, the Sein Fein vote had varied from 70,000 to 155,000 since the end of the last war. Its vote has now settled at around 100,000. If Sinn Fein had fought in all areas during the local government elections, I have no doubt that its vote would have been 15,000 to 20,000 higher than it was. There has been no drop in the Sinn Fein vote and the Government's claim has been proved to be false. My estimate that the Sinn Fein vote amounted to about 100,000 has been proved to be correct.

    The matter was made worse by, among other things, insistence upon a medical card. The House will recall the long debate on medical cards. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) pointed out that his medical card was about 30 years old and had been signed by a doctor who is now dead. He had also moved house about four times. During the debate he asked whether his medical card was still in order or whether he ought to get a new one. He was told that either would do.

    I have read all the letters that have been sent to me on this subject. I have also read everything that has been said in the House. Both the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Under-Secretary of State, who piloted the Bill through the House, must have a dictionary that is different from mine. The meaning of many words seems to have changed. I should like to have a copy of that dictionary before the introduction of the next Bill so that we on this Bench will be able to understand what the Government's words mean. We should not like to get it wrong again. We should like to know exactly what the words mean.

    During his speech the Secretary of State referred to the meetings between the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and pointed out that they had said that the identities of both communities in Northern Ireland had to be recognised. He also said that it would be necessary to remove some of the problems that irritate the minority. I did not hear him talking about removing irritants to the Protestant majority. Perhaps if he had said that, he could also have been called even-handed in the debate this evening.

    The debate has already attracted some comment on the banning of various Orange parades in Northern Ireland. Of course, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) will be perfectly well aware that the net was originally cast very much wider than Castle Wellan and the Tunnel. A number of other places were looked at, but wiser counsels have prevailed in the vast majority of cases, because 99 per cent. of the parades, by both factions, that take place every year in Northern Ireland pass without incident and in most of the cases where there are incidents they are created by a very small number of people.

    It is equally true, as has already been said, that it is far more difficult to stop a traditonal parade than it is to keep it moving through the area. I have had some experience of controversial processions and parades over the years and I think that I know rather more about such things as far as Northern Ireland is concerned than any hon. Member on the Government Front Bench. My advice is similar to that of the hon. Member for Antrim, North—that a traditional parade should not be stopped. It should be brought together in as orderly and disciplined a fashion as possible and taken as quickly as possible through the area in question. Occasionally there are jams, but they do not happen very often, and it is very much easier to recognise people's right to continue to do what they have been doing for many years than to cause confrontation, which is desire by no one but which will almost certainly result in certain areas.

    I can recall very clearly some difficulties in my own constituency last year. There was a problem, but it was largely overcome by the police keeping things moving in difficult circumstances. I do not believe that even that parade, which does not enjoy a high reputation, could easily be stopped. It is better in the long run to get these things over and done with and everyone away home as soon as possible.

    I read with interest the comments of the Home Secretary yesterday, when he told the House that he was going to get the police to brief hon. Members on the difficulties in their constituencies as a result of IRA activities. I have been a member of the House since 1974 and I do not recall the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State ever asking me and my hon. Friends to come along and be given a detailed brief on the terrorist situation in our constituencies. Of course, I have my own means of finding these things out when I want to, but we have to do our own digging. Perhaps we could be told what is so peculiar about the present situation caused by the IRA bombing campaign in England that makes it necessary that all hon. Members who might possible have an involvement should be given a detailed briefing when it has not been found necessary to do this, in far more difficult circumstances, in Northern Ireland.

    I certainly agree with the comparison that the hon. Member draws. It is especially relevant to the opening speech by the Secretary of State, when he emphasised that a terrorist bomb in a village in Northern Ireland is as important as a bomb in the Rubens hotel in London or a hotel in Brighton or elsewhere.

    Of course, that is not so, as is emphasised by the point being brought out by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East, (Mr. Ross), because the minute we have a bomb, defused as it was, in the Rubens hotel in London the Secretary of State brings in hon. Members for consultations. That has never happened with regard to Northern Ireland after 15 years of bombing. That shows that there is a difference of approach by the Government to terrorist bombs in Northern Ireland compared with their approach to bombs here in Great Britain. None the less, one can understand that, perhaps, the principle that has applied in Northern Ireland would be the better one to apply here in Great Britain because, after all, there are hon. Members, including Front Bench Opposition Members, who enter into private discussions with the political representatives of the terrorists.

    I wonder where the Government obtain their advice. They are certainly not taking advice from hon. Members on these Benches. The advice that they took on electoral law has proved to be wrong. It did not achieve the results that the Government wanted. They are leaving themselves open to pressure from the SDLP, the IRA and Dublin. Instead of listening to advice from those quarters, they should listen to advice from these Benches—they might then find that they have better legislation.

    If we are to improve the governance of Northern Ireland, what advice can we give the Government? They should stop trying to buy off the IRA by giving it concessions. They should stop trying to buy off Dublin. They should stop trying to buy off the SDLP. At the end of the day, they all want the same political and constitutional things. What is given, regardless of reason, will be claimed by each and every one of them for his own purposes.

    The only way to undermine any claims is to ensure that there is no victory to claim. The Government and the Opposition talked at the beginning of the debate — as they have done for many years—as though the people and the politicians in Northern Ireland did not know what each other wanted. The truth is that we do know. On the fundamental points we are poles apart.

    The Government are trying to drive us together and have a power-sharing set-up in Northern Ireland, which simply could not work, and that is leading us into difficulty. If only the Government would realise that we do not have to sit holding hands all the time trying to find out what each other thinks because we already know, we might then get somewhere rather than waste our time in endless jaw-jaw and no action.

    The time is long overdue for Governments of both parties to begin returning power to the people of Northern Ireland. We formerly enjoyed three levels of government—local councils, county councils and Stormont. None of them remain, but a large part could be recreated, without any difficulty and to the great advantage of everyone in Northern Ireland., in a relatively short time.

    If we are to get anywhere, if we are to start down the road that will lead back to control by the people over their own affairs, we should start now — indeed, we should have started long ago. The Secretary of State said that there must be power-sharing. He is trying to get the Assembly to go on talking until there is a power-sharing structure. He will be disappointed because it will not happen. He has said that the Assembly will continue at least until the end of the year, and will probably let it run out its life in October 1986 and not have another election.

    The Secretary of State has managed to keep the Assembly going for two and a half years but, in that time, it has not done the job that it was set up to do — to produce a power-sharing executive. It will clearly not do so, and as long as it remains, he can use it as an excuse for doing nothing. On the evidence that has been presented to us by the events of the past two and a half years, and the words of the Secretary of State tonight, it appears that the sooner he winds it up, the better. Then he can start to make proper decisions. There is no point in continuing the Assembly if he knows that it will not produce the goods that he wants it to produce. Indeed, it will produce the one thing that he says he will not accept.

    The Secretary of State talked about excuses. Although he is not present now, I must say that his excuses for reducing democracy and tougher security have worn right through. The sooner he forgets about making excuses and starts doing something about the problems, the better it will be for all of us.

    10.15 pm

    The job of parliamentary private secretary to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland — I can say this because the present PPS is not in his seat—is rather like playing the part of the fool in Shakespeare's "King Lear". One must do one's best to keep the Secretary of State happy while the complexities, problems and vagaries of Ireland slowly drive him mad. However, a PPS has one unrivalled advantage over Ministers in Northern Ireland, in that he has the opportunity to get to know the parties and their supporters without being surrounded by security.

    As well as making many friends during my time in Northern Ireland, I was left with two certainties. The first was that the Unionist people will not give up their link with the United Kingdom without a fight. I cannot believe that coercion from Britain, the pressure of world opinion, and least of all the terror perpetrated by the IRA will alter that fact. In any event, it is impossible to coerce more than 1 million people against their will and, as the Secretary of State said, it is not an option for the foreseeable future.

    The second certainty was that the vast majority of the Republican people of the North will not give up their dream of a united Ireland in the foreseeable future, and that no amount of civil rights legislation or arguments about the right of the majority to decide who rules will change their minds. It is surprising that members of the Unionist party, including the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who came to the problem as fresh as I did, do not appear to see the self-evident truth of this determination among the Catholic community.

    The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) made an astonishing speech. He spent most of his time attacking the Government's business managers and the rest of the time explaining that he would not talk about Labour party policy because he had discussed it somewhere else on another occasion. Indeed, he was so effective that neither the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) nor the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) stayed to hear him. However, it is evident that, whatever the Labour party might be, it is not integrationist. I repeat that the Irish nationalism that exists in the community will not wither or die. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said, it has been there for the past 60 years and it is likely to remain there for the next 60 years unless we can find a way of providing some form of expression of the Irish identity for that community. I also accept that there will be Catholics who will vote for the right hon. Member for South Down. I know some of them. I also accept that there will be Protestants who will vote for the SDLP. But there will not be many in either case, and they will not matter.

    Although I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point, the fact remains that the vast majority of the Catholic community will stay true to its dream of a united Ireland, whatever the right hon. Gentleman may do in looking after his constituents. I met one of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents only the other day at the Cambridge Union. He was singing the praises of the right hon. Gentleman, but also said that his English student friends did not dare to go into the shops at Warren Point because he could not advise them of their safety. "[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish.

    There is a great danger—it often happens in the press and the media in England—of confusing the term "Catholic" with the term "Republican". Thirty eight per cent. of the voters in Northern Ireland adhere to the Catholic religion, but only 30 per cent. are Irish Republicans. I object to the way in which the hon. Gentleman implies that all Catholics are Republicans. The Alliance party has Catholic leadership, a Catholic Chief Whip and many Catholic members. The Ulster Unionists also have Catholic supporters—they are not all Irish Republicans. That must be emphasised time and again.

    The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that 30 per cent. — the vast majority of the nationalist community—are members of the Catholic Church and the Alliance party make up slightly less than 10 per cent. of the total vote. Obviously I accept that some Catholics vote for the Unionist party. However, I repeat that the numbers are incidental. If the hon. Member for Foyle were present, he would tell the House that considerable numbers of people who are not of his faith or background also support him. Whatever the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) may say, that will not alter the basic truth that the nationalist community in the North will remain, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows.

    My point is that Northern Ireland is one of those situations, not entirely unique but nearly unique, in which it is perfectly possible for both sides to argue their legitimacy and to say that God and justice are at their backs. But, as Dean Swift remarked 300 years ago,
    "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another."
    That has been evident in tonight's debate.

    The real question is, is there any way forward, or must Secretary of State after Secretary of State be driven to madness in his quest for a solution? I still believe that there are grounds for at least believing that the position in the Province need not go on endlessly, as it has.

    The Forum report was not one of the least biased documents that I have read, in terms of its analysis or description of the problem. However, for the first time a fundamental tenet was accepted on behalf of the constitutional parties of the South which is necessary if there is ever to be a solution: the people of the South and their representatives accepted that without the support of the majority of the people of the North there would be no solution of any sort.

    It has surprised me for a long time that the Irish, who are renowned for their charm, wit and powers of seduction, have never made any serious attempt to use those attributes on their northern cousins. Why they believe that the heavy-handed English would be more adept in persuading Unionists to reach agreement with the South is beyond me.

    If it is accepted that the constitutional parties of the South are prepared to look towards an agreement through compromise rather than through threat or fear, in the long-term—not in the short-term—there may be some hope. Hon. Members on the Unionist side have accepted through fair employment and civil rights legislation and through that admirable booklet "The Way Forward" that there is, and must be movement towards an agreement.

    The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) asked why there was no coalition in Britain in view of the unemployment here. That is not the parallel. The parallel is to compare the problems of society in Northern Ireland with what happened here during the last war. If one multiplied the number of deaths, murders and the amount of mayhem that exist in Northern Ireland, the position is very different from the one that exists here. All party political leaders would have to consider carefully whether they should join together to find a solution to an unconstitutional party, such as Sinn Fein-IRA, if it threatened to destroy us. I thought that the right hon. Member made a case for the type of discussions that the Secretary of State said were so important.

    Does the hon. Gentleman accept that recently there was some turmoil in England, Scotland and Wales arising from the miners' strike? There was violence and mayhem, but there was no clear coming together of the Opposition with the Government to try to resolve civil strife. Is it not utterly ludicrous to suggest that when people are killing us we should join hands with them, especially when Sinn Fein now has the open backing of the SDLP, as we thought it had?

    :To draw a parallel between Mr. Scargill and the miners's strike and the number of murders in Northern Ireland is as ridiculous as it is to suggest that the parties should not come together.

    I was not trying to go too far. I was saying that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley cannot compare unemployment here with the problems of Northern Ireland. That is not a fair comparison.

    It is clear that, however well direct rule may have worked—I can understand that in some ways it has—it must be the second-best option for the British Government. I should have hoped that all those who represent the people of Northern Ireland in the House would have had their minds concentrated by the threat of the Provisional IRA and would have tried to find methods of working more closely together than they have in the past.

    I do not believe that that will happen overnight. This evening's debate has clearly shown the difficulties in achieving that. I would sound a note of caution to the hon. Member for Foyle were he here, and to the Irish Government. There is a great deal of talk in southern Ireland at the moment about the possibility of what I might call a great leap forward—a fast move towards a final solution. The problem with exaggerating leaps forward is that they often end up in the dark.

    The hon. Member for Foyle must explain what will happen to the initiative in which he puts so much faith if reasonable men after a reasonable time for good and understandable reasons do not agree that major steps can be taken at the moment which are saleable to both communities. To build up hopes only for them to be shattered plays to the wishes of Sinn Fein as much as have the activities of some councils in the last few weeks. I agree with the hon. Member for Foyle about that.

    The chances of working toward better co-operation between the two sides is more likely to be successful with a step-by-step approach than by pinning too many hopes on some great solution from the two Governments.

    I hope that agreement can be reached by the two Governments, but an arrangement will stick only if it takes into account the two certainties which I mentioned earlier. Those two self-evident truths are that the Unionists will never break their links, and that Irish nationalism in the North will not disappear.

    There is no cross-community support for an agreed solution, but that does not mean that the British Government can fall back on the assumption that direct rule will solve the problem. The Government must continue to do everything that they can to bring about devolution. It is difficult to see how the politicians of the North can exercise power if they are not given responsibility. They do not now have responsibility. It is not possible for British politicians, who are remote from the problems, to appreciate, as Northern Ireland politicians can appreciate, what it is necessary to do.

    The British Government must push equal opportunity into every aspect of life in Northern Ireland. The rules on flags and emblems which cover Northern Ireland, and the regulations on street names and all the other paraphernalia, would be laughed at if they applied to Wales. I appreciate the problems for the Province, but changes must be made. I was unconvinced by what the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said about the need for marches to go down particular roads. Just because something has happened for 100 years does not mean that it must continue for another 100 years. In Britain the routes of marches are decided by the chief constable, taking into account the effects on residents. That should not be impossible in Northern Ireland, particularly amongst people who are proud of their British links.

    I firmly believe also that it is important to build on the ties between the Irish and British Parliaments. The hon. Member for Foyle said that the problems were not about relations within Northern Ireland. What are they about if not about relations within Northern Ireland? A million or more Irish people have lived in Britain and have not needed great assistance from Government about what they do. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Northern Ireland. Equally, many English people have made their homes and lived happily in Eire. The problems of the North will not be solved by some great leap, but they can be solved in time if both communities work together. I was much heartened earlier this year to hear a group of Members from all the constitutional parties of Northern Ireland singing "We shall overcome". I am sure that that can happen, but my message to the House, to the Irish Government and to the hon. Member for Foyle is that we should not expect it to happen all at once.

    The occupants of the Front Benches hope to catch my eye at 11 o'clock. The time is shown by the clock over the Door and not on the digital clocks, which seem to have gone wrong.

    10.35 pm

    :I emerge from these debates feeling more depressed than ever. If we are left with the two major groupings in Northern Ireland, it seems that there is no hope. We shall continue discussing the issue endlessly unless the British people intrude at some stage. Speaking from this side of the water, I feel that I am intruding on a recital of private grief. Listening to those who represent the two major groupings in the House is rather like being transported to Ulster. I should love the British people to listen to these debates. There is a sense of hopelessness and the two sides which have struggled this evening seem to feel that the struggle will continue for ever. They do not produce any plans that are designed to solve the problem.

    I have considerable respect for the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). He delivers his speeches with immense moderation, but his grave underestimate of the forces ranged against Unionists emanated from almost his opening sentence. He suggested that events in Northern Ireland reflect a desire on the part of those engaging in shooting and bombing to be wicked. That implies that they have no cause to do so. Those who are using the bomb and the gun are deeply convinced politicos, and to fail to understand that is to fail to understand their motivation. They will continue to fight because the Ulster Unionists want to return to the old Stormont regime.

    Hon. Members talk about the past and the marching season. They talk about marching through an area—I do not know whether this is true—in the knowledge that it will be an act of sheer provocation for those against whom they are ranged. The marches continue year in and year out. One can visualise the rolled umbrella and the sash which father wore, which was worn by Willy and so on. They parade up and down with the pipes in the obscenity of the marches, but no solution of any kind is forthcoming from them.

    When I used to speak to my constituency party it never wished to discuss the Irish problem, but for the past two years the local party has asked for a report on Northern Ireland. The subject has been asked for. The Northern Irish Members talk to us as if we are foreigners and the Ulster tail wags the Westminster dog. It is time that the British people began to intervene or it is clear that no hope is emanating from the Northern Ireland Unionist parties.

    The political struggle that takes place seems alien to many, and there are those in this place who want to re-enact it all over again. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley told us that the Unionists had never done anything wrong. He knows that they drew a line around an area of Northern Ireland and proceeded to suppress the minority from whom they had taken land. Yet they contend that they did nothing wrong and that all the trouble came from nothing. Hon. Members laugh, but I ask those who do so to offer a solution to the problem. The barreness and the sterility of their argument means that debates such as this will go on eternally. There is never any admission of error.

    If a referendum were held, we would have to come out of Northern Ireland straight away. At least 70 per cent. of the British people would say that it was time that we came out. The British people were ready to intervene, but time has gone on, and a sense of helplessness pervades us.

    :The hon. Gentleman has only just come into the, Chamber, so I shall not give way to him.

    No solutions are supplied, and bigotry is triumphant. The attitude to the minority cannot be accepted easily. More and more people are beginning to see this.

    Recently, I went to Northern Ireland with an official delegation of my party. We went because we have to talk. A childish attitude is shown by those who say that they will never speak to Sinn Fein. I am not new like the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). I have been here a long time, and I have heard it all. Endlessly it was said that Sinn Fein would never go to the people because nobody would vote for it. Somebody has voted for Sinn Fein now, but nobody will speak to Sinn Fein members, and they are not to be allowed in the councils, although large numbers of people have voted for them—what childish nonsense that is. In one breath, it is said that nobody will vote for Sinn Fein, and therefore it is encouraged to enter the elections, but with the other, when people have voted for it, it is said that it will not play any role in the councils and its members should go away and not darken their doorsteps again. That is childish, and the British people will not accept such childishness.

    Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the armed wing of the party to which he is referring has murdered a colleague of mine in the House, an Assembly Member colleague of mine, and three elected councillors in my constituency, and that members of that armed wing are in prison for conspiring to murder me and another member of my family? What advantage would there be for me in speaking to these people?

    The hon. Gentleman, as usual, overlooks the fact that on every occasion on which I have spoken on this subject, I have always admitted that I live here where it is reasonably safe, while the hon. Gentlman and his colleagues live in terrible danger. My heart goes out to them, and I respect them, and anybody else in that position. I know that the killings go in, but terrorists come over here and we know about them. However, we want to end the whole business instead of allowing it to go on for ever more, as it will if it is left to the hon. Members who have been arguing in the debate tonight.

    I do not often quote Churchill, but I am doing so now. He said:
    "To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war."
    Was the great idol speaking rubbish? What he said will have to happen at some time.

    Labour Members have gone across the water and spoken to people there. Unionists Members will not speak to anybody, but at some stage all parties will have to talk to one another because the British people will demand it. There must be a plan that will result in hands reaching across the borders, and the two sides coming nearer together. There is not the slightest sign of that happening, and therefore, our people will try to intervene to see that it does.

    Order. It is clear that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has sat down.

    10.45 pm

    Many people who have witnessed this debate for several years now feel that this exercise is annual repetition and mere ritual. Yet, on behalf of those who sent me to this House, it is important to remind the Government that many people do not accept that direct rule is an acceptable form of Government for Northern Ireland.

    Indeed, this House would do better if it listened to reality rather than to speeches such as that from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has visited one Loyalist home that has suffered loss, followed one Loyalist coffin or stood at one Loyalist grave, as I have done. Since I last spoke in this House, I have stood beside the coffin of a man from my district council area. He was simply a part-time member of the RUC—a sound, solid, honest, hard-working farmer who in the evenings sought to help his country in Her Majesty's forces.

    As Willis Agnew was sitting in his car last weekend dropping off his intended wife at her home, the IRA shot him in the chest. Not satisfied with that his head was then battered in, and although he was dead, the trigger was pulled again. That gunman is the type of person with whom the hon. Member for Hillsborough wants us to enter a courtship.

    On behalf of my constituents and the Loyalists of Ulster, I must tell the hon. Gentleman, "Whatever you demand, the Loyalists of Ulster will never soil the memory of those who have stood between us and the enemy by parleying with that enemy." The British Government faced Hitler and defeated those who stood against freedom. Until the day I die, I shall make no apology for fighting Sinn Fein and the murderers of my people on every corner. I shall never betray the trust of those people, whether or not it is demanded by the hon. Member for Hillsborough.

    The hon. Gentleman can parley with Sinn Fein if he wishes—[Interruption.]] The hon. Gentleman has clearly demonstrated that his sympathy for those hon. Members who face the IRA is nothing more than crocodile tears. He would do far better if he kept his thoughts to himself instead of soiling this House with such hypocritical statements.

    As a representative of this House, which believes in democracy, it is my right to defend those who believe in the right to live, and I defend that right whether my constituents are Roman Catholic or Protestant. I remind the House that many Roman Catholics joined the Protestants of Ulster and went over the top to defend the right of a free people. They faced Hitler and all those who challenged freedom.

    Hon. Members should not speak as though every Roman Catholic is a Republican. Many Catholics in Northern Ireland are committed Ulster British sons and daughters, are proud of their British heritage and have stood shoulder to shoulder with Britain in time of war. The history as described by the hon. Member for Hillsborough was the biggest load of rubbish that I have ever heard. Instead of coming out with Republican propaganda, he should see the reality and tell the true story of the situation in our Province.

    Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) is not now in his place. He spoke of two discoveries that he had made on visiting Northern Ireland. The first was that the Loyalists would not give up their British identity. I am delighted that he learned that, even though he thought the knowledge might result in him losing his head, so to speak.

    The hon. Gentleman said, secondly, that the Republicans in Northern Ireland had a dream. I wish to make it clear that nobody is suggesting that a person in Northern Ireland cannot have a dream. But nobody who dreams of a united Ireland has the right to turn the country into a nightmare and make everybody else go through the mightmare of one coffin after another. Such a Republican dream for the future is not shared by the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

    I have found it strange that it should seem a sin to claim to be British when making speeches in this House. It seems a crime that I should say that I am a British Ulsterman. Crime or not, I am one. I was born into a strong Unionist family, a staunch British home, and I make no apology to anyone, here or across the water, for my Unionism or British standards and principles.

    We are told by the hon. Member for Hillsborough that the people who commit murder are political folk. They are not. They are psychopathic killers. They are whole-hearted murderers with murder in their hearts. They wish to destroy not only Protestants, because the sacrifice made recently in Newry — including one person from my constituency who happened to be in the station when the bombs went off — included several honourable and decent Roman Catholics who had joined the RUC to do their bit to defend the people of Northern Ireland. Let us not have statements that have no foundation.

    I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), whose every word seemed to be swallowed by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who appeared to glance at the hon. Gentleman several times during his speech, as though hoping for an indication of approval. Let us be clear that the SDLP's hand is far from white in the troubles of Northern Ireland.

    I wish that the hon. Member for Foyle was still in his place, because he misled the House. He said that wherever the SDLP was in control in local government, positions were given to members of all die other parties. The SDLP joined Sinn Fein in taking control of Magherafelt, and not one position—not even one of the simplest positions—was given to a Unionist.

    The Unionists offered the SDLP the position of chairman and vice-chairman of the council, but the offer was not accepted. The SDLP had made an agreement with the friends of murderers and would-be murderers and was only too happy to give the vice-chairmanship to a Sinn Feiner who has clearly shown his colours since then. The chairman of Omagh council said that council workmen were legitimate targets. The vice-chairman of Magherafelt district council is on record as having said in the Chamber that he would back to the hilt the IRA when it declared certain people to be legitimate targets for murder.

    The SDLP put the Sinn Fein member into power and joined with Sinn Fein for all other appointments. The only two councils in the Province where the SDLP did not join Sinn Fein were in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle. He knows as well as anyone that he wants to keep his seat safe and ensure the dominance of the SDLP in Foyle. It does not matter what happens in the rest of the Province — let Sinn Fein take the lead. The SDLP's hands are soiled.

    A motion was tabled condemning the vice-chairman of the council for stating that council workers who donned the Queen's uniform were legitimate targets for murder, but the SDLP abstained. It would not condemn its Sinn Fein partners. One can easily prove from the council's records that SDLP members abstained from a vote condemning the murderous intent of the Sinn Feiners on that council.

    SDLP members join the murderers when it suits them, but when it does not, they stand aside. They were offered the position of chairman and vice-chairman on the Fermanagh council, but they would not take those positions because they had entered into an agreement with their Sinn Fein partners.

    The people whom I represent are sick and tired of Ministers trying to paint the SDLP members as constitutionalists. Left, right and centre we are told that the SDLP is a constitutional party. The SDLP's hand is far from clean in these troubles. As the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) said, it was the SDLP that led the parades and the civil unrest at the beginning of the troubles.

    The people of Northern Ireland will not sell their birthright to anyone. We are British and British we shall remain. The hon. Member for Hillsborough said that he would threaten us with a referendum if the rest of the people of the United Kingdom said that they did not want this measure. That does not stop me from being British. By the grace of God, I shall be British until the day I die.

    My constituents want to live in peace and in a place that provides prosperity for their children and to everyone, irrespective of who he is. They do not want to live with the murdering thugs who destroyed their kith and kin. I have carried to the grave two coffins bearing members of my own family circle—a 16-year-old lad, who was not a member of any organisation, and a 21-year-old lassie, who was blown to bits by the IRA. As I said in my maiden speech, I assure the House that I shall never soil their memory or that of any other innocent victim of the troubles by putting my hand to any deal that will be detrimental to our position in the United Kingdom. Direct rule must end. The Northern Ireland people must be given devolved government. The British Government owe it to the long-suffering, patient people of the Province to stop dillydallying and to give properly devolved government to the Northern Ireland people.

    11 pm

    I listen always with great interest to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), as I listen to all hon. Members.

    We are drawing to a close a stimulating and long debate on a subject which does not take up a great deal of time in the House, yet repeats a familiar pattern, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said.

    In a speech which he made in an identical debate on the matter last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) accepted the need for this continuing legislation, and described direct rule as everyone's second favourite option. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster has indicated his favourite option, which is full devolution. Earlier this evening, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) described it as not everyone's first option. He also used the words "a Shakespearean tragedy". Of course, there are many tragic aspects to life in Northern Ireland, and it is with that that all politicians in the House and elsewhere seek to cope in a very genuine fashion.

    We on this side of the House have noted—and I think that the Secretary of State also referred to this—the work of the Assembly in Northern Ireland and the degree of accountability to that Assembly. The Secretary of State said earlier that the Northern Ireland Assembly still has a role to play in the affairs of Northern Ireland. He also said that its deliberations had helped him and his ministerial colleagues. I have read most of the reports on the Northern Ireland Assembly that have come to the House, and the various Committees have shown some diligence in their treatment of a number of complex issues, including those dealing with wildlife and historic churches—not perhaps esoteric subjects, but ones which have been duly analysed and pronounced upon.

    I was saddened, therefore, to note the rather pusillanimous approach that the Assembly took to a proposed draft Gas (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 which came before the Northern Ireland Committee of the House today. That Committee, I am glad to say, took a more robust stance, if I may borrow a phrase of the Secretary of State which he uses in another connection, on the town gas industry of Northern Ireland: the failure of the Government properly to consult; the failure of the Government to involve employers and employees alike in what is after all a participatory democracy; the failure to exercise vision into the future of a gas industry when there is natural gas round these islands and natural gas available from the Republic; and the failure to rise above the nonsense of a monetarist policy and, for a paltry £12 million a year, to retain the gas industry. It is the withdrawal of that £12 million subsidy which will lead to the loss of 1,000 jobs.

    These matters were brought up at the Economic Development Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but in effect, notwithstanding an interesting cross-examination by members of the Committee of the Minister of State, they came to the conclusion,
    "The Committee, having considered the arguments and discussed them with the Minister, is forced to accept that the Government's decision on the matter of closure is irrevocable."
    Nothing is irrevocable in this life except perhaps death and taxes, and certainly not the closure of the town gas industry in Northern Ireland.

    I sincerely hope that the Minister of State, who is not present tonight, for I know that he is in Northern Ireland, will wish to consider carefully the decision of the Northern Ireland Committee not to put the motion on the proposed closure to the House.

    The right hon. Gentleman says that the Minister might resign. I am not going to offer that invitation to the Minister of State. I wish simply that he would reconsider the proposal and keep alive the gas industry and the 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland.

    Last year's debate immediately followed the debate on the All Ireland Forum report, to which the hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) have referred. During the past few months we have not heard a great deal about the All Ireland Forum report. In one sense, this was the result of the press conference that followed the Chequers summit when the Prime Minister made swift and sweeping remarks about the various proposals. But a certain amount of obfuscation surrounds the recommendations of the All Ireland Forum report, because talks have since been held with the Dublin Government. We are not privy to those talks. We are lot sure whether they are talks about talks, or substantive talks, or talks about security, or talks about joint authority—or simply talks.

    As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West said earlier, we were promised a further summit meeting in February 1985 but it was postponed. We had expected a summit conference in June between the Irish Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, but it has not taken place. I do not now believe that there will be a summit until November when the party conference season is over. There are to be talks between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach at the European summit meeting in Milan, but that is not the same as substantive talks with the Republic of Ireland.

    In last year's debate, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), categorised the positive aspects of the report. He described them as a serious examination of nationalist aspiration; emphasis on the importance of consent; unequivocal condemnation of violence; an attempt to understand the Unionist identity; and openness to discuss other views. It was also clear from the former Secretary of State's speech that there had to be firmness in the recognition of the Unionist cause; firmness in the acceptance of minority sensibilities; and firmness in the view that the road to terrorism or the rejection of law and order were no way forward.

    It is in the light of these comments—one year on, so to speak—that we wonder out loud about further cross-border co-operation in the battle against terrorism. We wonder out loud about the creation of a security commission with the aim of enhancing co-operation between the two Governments in their mutual fight against terrorism. We wonder out loud about a British-Irish Parliamentary Council to be established by way of agreement or treaty between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. We wonder out loud why there should not be an increase in the secretariat to be provided for the Anglo-Irish Council.

    It is conceivable that all these measures are on the table in the discussions between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. It may be that we shall not have long to wait to find out, but it is right that this House should tell the Government — and the official Opposition certainly tell the Government — not to slumber on these issues, not to sleep away an opportunity to reach accommodations with the Government of the Republic of Ireland, a Government who are reaching out in order to make substantive settlements to longstanding problems.

    I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North. He asked what would be the policy of the official Opposition. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West has enunciated on several occasions what our policy would be. If it would interest the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North and the House, I shall briefly repeat it. We believe that it must be in the national interest to have on our western flank an Ireland that is united in peace and prosperity but, like the Republic of Ireland, we also accept that without the support of the majority of the north there can be no unity. The question is, how does one achieve this support? What is the strategy that clothes the policy? How does one resolve what the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North has described as two self-evident truths; that Unionism never breaks its links with this country and that nationalism in the north will not disappear?

    We believe, however, that a positive approach, closeness to the Dublin Government — which was acknowledged earlier this evening by the Secretary of State—with time, patience, care and understanding will help to bring the communities together and achieve that peace and prosperity that we all wish to have in that part of our country and of the British Isles.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough, who came in for a great deal of undue, unthought-out criticism from the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, has played a long part in the debates in the House. He has consistently and realistically spoken not only to the country through this House but to party conference and has taken a very sensible approach to the problem of Northern Ireland. He referred briefly tonight to the awakening of conscience within the Labour party and to barrenness and sterility in dealing with the issues that confront us all. He gets from me and from the Opposition the homage that he deserves for facing fully and without fear the issues that are before us.

    Since the hon. Member is speaking for the official Opposition, will he make clear to the House the views of his party on two specific matters? First, does he share the view of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) that we should get out of Northern Ireland? Is that the view of the Labour party? Secondly, does he believe that the Government. Should negotiate with the political representatives of the IRA?

    I thought that I had answered fully the first part of the first question, and I answered the second part earlier when I said that we believe that it is in the national interest to have on our western flank a nation that is at peace with itself, prosperous and a friend of our country, and that we should seek to achieve that unity through consultation with all the people in Ireland.

    In relation to the second question, on negotiating with representatives of the IRA, I made the statement earlier that I had been on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph saying that we would talk with Sinn Fein, and talks mean talks. Talks, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough said, mean full and frank discussion. Had I been at those talks, my full and frank discussion would have involved telling them to set aside the Armalite and concentrate on the ballot box and the ballot paper.

    I reiterate to the House, as we shall continue to do, notwithstanding barbs and asides, our total abhorrence of terrorism and all its works. To be sure, as the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley said earlier, we have seen the brotherhood of international terrorism recently in various events throughout the world. But terrorism is anathema to the very concepts of democracy in which we believe. Terrorism leaves widows and orphans, but does not find political solutions. It is very right and proper that in the debate that is to follow we shall draw proper attention to that. It must be stated very clearly that no members of the Opposition have accepted or accept violence.

    The hon. Member for Antrim, North mentioned earlier 74 murders in County Fermanagh in 15 years. That situation is to be deplored whoever was the cause or the source of the murder.

    The Opposition supports fully the continuation of direct rule. We accept that direct rule is the only option that we have before us tonight. It is essential for the governance of Northern Ireland. But direct rule cannot, nor should it be, used as a constitutional measure through which to discuss all matters which concern the citizens of the north and equally concern the citizens of the south.

    I should like to end with a few lines of poetry:
    "And not by eastern windows only,
    When daylight comes, comes in the light,
    In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
    But westward, look, the land is bright."
    We hope to see the day when the lands to the west of us are indeed bright—bright in prosperity, with peace in the hearts of the people who live there; we hope that that peace will bring about prosperity and the partnership between the communities to which the Secretary of State referred earlier.

    11.15 pm

    :The debate has been wide ranging in subject and, at times, in decibel levels, but neither of those matters should be thought to be a ground for complaint. Any part of the United Kingdom that has suffered as grievously as Northern Ireland in recent years, whose system of government we are discussing today, is bound to arouse strong passions, and it is right that they should be expressed in this forum.

    I have listened carefully to virtually the whole of the debate. After nearly four years as what I might call a creature of direct rule, I am as aware as most of the strengths and weaknesses of the system of direct rule, I believe that, with all the limitations that that system imposes on Ministers, Governments of both parties have sought to ensure that direct rule is as fair, even-handed and efficient as possible in the way that it has sought to bring about improvements in the technical machinery of government over those years.

    Since 1982, as has been mentioned during the debate on more than one occasion, those Ministers who have been part of the system of direct rule have had the benefit of an Assembly in Northern Ireland of locally elected representatives of the people of the Province. They have been able to consult that Assembly on legislation and receive directly the views of the locally elected representatives. That may have made direct rule rather less comfortable than it was before, but it has made it more efficient and responsive to the views of the people of the Province.

    Yet I am aware that, however hard Ministers may have tried, however much the Assembly may have contributed to improving the system of direct rule, it is flawed. That people from this side of the water should be moved across to Northern Ireland and asked to take on responsibility for many of the matters affecting the day-to-day lives of the men, women and children of Northern Ireland is far from the ideal position. As the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said, no one has it as his first choice; but many people — perhaps virtually everyone in Northern Ireland — have it as their second choice. Until it is possible to arrive at a position in which the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland can agree on a first choice that is acceptable, I am afraid that we are lumbered with direct rule. What we must seek is to make that system work in the meantime, while looking all the time for a way of devolving responsibility for day-to-day matters to a locally elected Government in Northern Ireland.

    In asking the House to renew direct rule in this order tonight, I am also committing the Government to search for a better way of governing Northern Ireland — something that will restore to the political representatives of the people of the Province responsibility for those day-to-day decisions that affect the lives of people. That is not hedged around necessarily in total by the 1982 Act, about which I shall say a word or two in a moment. There is only one principle that is immutable—that there should be widespread acceptance of whatever alternative is undertaken. That is not something that is being stubbornly insisted upon by the British Government in any sense from pride of authorship; it is the only basis upon which any stable Government of Northern Ireland can be created.

    The right hon. and learned Gentleman raised a number of points. The first one that I should like to nail is the suggestion that the Government are uncaring and give too low a priority to social programmes in Northern Ireland. Anyone who has seen the progress in housing in Northern Ireland in recent years, and seen the quality and number of houses being built, will recognise that that is one of the major features in Northern Ireland today.

    In education, the expenditure per pupil has been steadily rising in recent years. We introduced the youth training programme a year ahead of its introduction in Great Britain.

    Employment is increasing in Northern Ireland, although, alas, for demographic reasons, unemployment is also increasing. We must run very fast just to stand still. But there is no lack of effort in seeking to overcome the problems of unemployment that bedevil so many towns and cities in Northern Ireland. There is certainly no lack of will and commitment to social programmes. I wish only that the security position would improve to such an extent that some of the resources which, for the time being, must be devoted to the battle against terrorism could be devoted to those social programmes. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) demonstrated the hypocrisy of the men of violence and their supporters, who condemn social deprivation when, to a large extent, their activities are responsible for that deprivation.

    The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the status of the talks between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the political parties in Northern Ireland. Those talks were pursued first by my right hon. Friend and then by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. They were interrupted by the council elections. Recently my right hon. Friend had a stock-taking round of talks with each of the parties in Northern Ireland, and is now considering how best to take the matter forward in the months ahead. However, as I said earlier, we are determined to keep up the momentum in our search for an internal political solution that commands widespread acceptance in Northern Ireland.

    The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) asked the Government not to stumble in their pursuit of that aim or of an agreement between the sovereign Governments of London and Dublin. Our first priority in Northern Ireland is the eradication—I emphasise that word—of terrorism. In pursuing our talks with the Government of the Republic, a priority is to ensure that the border between the two parts of Ireland is not a help to the men of terror. We shall be pursuing those talks vigorously to bring about that result in the immediate future.

    The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said that the 1982 Act is unworkable. The reason why it is unworkable is that people in Northern Ireland are not prepared to work it. He accused the Government of being unwilling to amend the Act. That is not true. If it became clear from the talks with the parties in Northern Ireland that amendments to the 1982 Act were necessary to provide Northern Ireland with a system of internal, devolved Government, there would be no bar to that as long as the principle of widespread acceptance across the community was an inherent part of that agreed way forward.

    The right hon. Gentleman tried to use the analogy of the House of Commons and Government here, but the fact is that the nature of politics in Northern Ireland makes a change of the party in power almost impossible. That is the difference between the system of parliamentary democracy that we enjoy in this House and any system that could endure in Northern Ireland. A system of devolved government that can obtain widespread acceptance is the only stable alternative to direct rule, and the Government will continue to pursue that objective.

    The right hon. Gentleman implied, if I understood him correctly, that the search for social and political progress in Northern Ireland was being undertaken to placate the IRA and its political supporters and advocates. That is a perversion of the truth. The people of Northern Ireland deserve those programmes in their own right. We know that the motive of the IRA is to destroy democracy in the North of Ireland and then to do the same in the Republic. We shall not falter in our determination to defeat those aims. We shall not weary of the task of defeating the IRA, and we must co-operate with our neighbours in the South in achieving our aims.

    The right hon. Gentleman picked out the remarks of the leader of the Liberal party after the Home Secretary's statement about the arrests in Great Britain. Again, I must say that the right hon. Gentleman turns truth on its head. In pursuing the talks for either an internal settlement or agreement between the sovereign Governments in London and Dublin, we are not doing the work of the IRA. Every time there has been a chance of progress, either internally or internationally, the IRA has sought to prevent it and to destroy it. We are not doing their work but seeking to destroy and prevent them from doing their work.

    I hope that my later points will be dealt with in the next debate. I am sure that the Minister will accept that what I said about social and economic problems was the sort of thing that was said 10 years ago, which was that the IRA were in being simply because of economic and social conditions. With regard to the present, I was saying that Governments should not keep one eye on the IRA so that they relate political progress to the IRA's efforts.

    We are certainly determined not to do that. The whole thrust of our policies is to defeat the IRA's aims and to eradicate terrorism from Northern Ireland.

    The hon. Member for Foyle criticised the Government for our policy towards Sinn Fein. I freely accept that this is a matter for political judgment. It would be possible to move from the Government's present position in one of two directions: either towards the prescription of Sinn Fein, which is urged upon us by some people in Northern Ireland, or to give Sinn Fein equality of treatment as elected representatives. For the moment we believe that the policy enunciated by my right hon. Friend—that within the law we seek to draw as firm a distinction as possible between those who advocate constitutional politics and those who advocate violence—is the best way forward. However, I freely accept that it is a matter for political judgment, and that judgment could change from time to time according to the circumstances that prevail.

    The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) raised a number of points. My right hon. Friend will address himself to the question of parades and marches in his opening speech on the next order. If there are any outstanding points, I shall deal with them when I reply to that debate.

    Will my hon. Friend clarify what I understood to be a statement of policy? Did he say that it was possible that the Government would be prepared to speak to Sinn Fein regardless of whether it renounced violence?

    It is utterly clear that Ministers will have no dealings with Sinn Fein unless and until it renounces violence. The present balance is obviously kept under review; it is a matter which could change as circumstances change. Certainly it is rock firm that so long as Sinn Fein advocates violence Ministers will have no dealings with it.

    The hon. Member for Antrim, North spoke about police stations. I know that the position in many of the small police stations by the border is unsatisfactory, but it is unfair of him to castigate the police authority or the Government for not giving a firm commitment to improving those conditi