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Commons Chamber

Volume 87: debated on Wednesday 27 November 1985

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 27 November 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Trade And Industry

Scotch Whisky


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the European Community's report on discrimination by the Japanese Government against imported Scotch whisky.

The Government welcome and are studying in detail the report published by the European Commission on exports to Japan of wines and liquor, including Scotch whisky. We are working in the Community towards a concerted strategy for resolving the difficulties still faced by those drinks in the Japanese market.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that report confirms what many hon. Members on both sides of the House have been saying for some time—that the Japanese believe in free trade only for the Japanese? Is it not about time that we stopped pussyfooting around and said to the Japanese, "Remove discrimination against British products such as Scotch whisky and insurance within a specified time"—let us say six months. "If you do not, we shall take massive retaliatory action against your exports"? Have the Government not accepted the fact that it is no good talking politely to the Japanese, because they will merely bow and say, "Yes, in one or two years"? The only action they will appreciate is retaliatory action.

What my hon. Friend has said clearly strikes a chord in many parts of the House. We do not want to retaliate against Japanese exports to us. We want to get the Japanese to open up their market to us. That is what we should try to achieve, although we may not be able to. For once, my hon. Friend is slightly less than fair in what he says. A reduction in the tariff on Scotch whisky was included in the Japanese action programme in July. There has been some modest progress on that matter.

Is the Minister aware that, due to the external ownership of the Scotch whisky industry, large quantities of malt have been exported to Japan for blending, thus preventing an opportunity for bottled Scotch to be sold there? Does he believe that it would now be appropriate to ask NEDO to undertake a sectoral inquiry into the future of the whisky industry, especially in view of the takeover bids which are currently in progress?

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's suggestion on the latter point to the attention of my right hon. Friend, who is principally involved with the whisky industry, and I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that every restriction on the export of Scotch whisky has an impact on employment in Scotland, especially in the distilleries in the Highlands? Will he do everything that he can to try to resolve this matter as quickly as possible?

As my hon. Friend points out, the problem is not related only to Japan. We are trying to obtain better access for Scotch whisky in other markets in the world. We are having some success with some of them. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is extremely important that we should remove what barriers we can to the export of Scotch whisky, which is one of our most important exports. If we get a new round of trade talks going, our prime aim will be to bring down those barriers.

We have been trying. This Government are not the only Government who have been trying. The European Commission has recently returned from a visit to Japan. It is about to formulate proposals which will go to the December Foreign Affairs Council. The House will no doubt be interested to hear the results.

Nationalised Industries (Share Flotations)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the ability of the financial markets to absorb a series of large flotations of shares in nationalised industries.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
(Mr. John Butcher)

On the basis of the amounts that have been subscribed for attractive issues, I have no reason to doubt that the capacity of the financial markets will be sufficient.

I am sure the Minister will not be surprised to hear that neither do I doubt that. Does he acknowlege that although his party's objective is wider share ownership, his friends in the City are positively salivating at the possibility of so many blue-chip shares coming to the market? Their energies and the billions of pounds that they control will be directed to blue-chip flotations instead of funding new enterprises which could create new jobs in new industries elsewhere.

The other group of people that will be salivating are the population. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, for example, that arising from the British Telecom flotation, about 2 million subscribers were involved in what I thought was a Liberal principle of wider share ownership. I find the hon. Gentleman's attitude somewhat disconcerting.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the surplus of institutional cash flow over Government sales of gilts and assets during the next financial year will average nearly £2 billion per quarter, so that any suggestion that privatisation will lead to a shortage of investment funds is utter nonsense?

My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. The House may wish to know that in the 1985–86 financial year to date, net funds raised by new share issues totalled £6·5 billion, of which £4·6 billion was raised by the private sector and £1·9 billion by public sector issues.

Will it be possible to stop the fraud that took place at the time of the issue of BT shares? Will the Government take action against those who were fraudulently involved in making applications for shares in the BT flotation?

That is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide on the basis of his investigations. I assure the hon. Gentleman that if there are lessons to be learnt on other aspects of the share issue procedures, we shall fully note those and consider them in future flotations.

Does my hon. Friend recall that prior to the flotation of British Telecom the Jeremiahs in the House and elsewhere said that there was no way in which the City could absorb such a large flotation and that he would need at least three tranches? As they were wrong, does my hon. Friend accept that when we consider further privatisation we can rest assured that there will be no problem from the flotation point of view?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. The BT flotation vindicated all of the Government's hopes, particularly on wider share ownership. Even though the bitter opposition of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) to that measure is obviously still persisting, I hope that he will join me in congratulating the 96 per cent. of BT employees who took advantage of the share issue.

The Minister will be aware that the increase in the price of BT shares in one day showed clearly that the Government had sold them at well below their true value. Has not the privatisation timetable been forced by the need to create a large sum of money to be dispensed in electoral tax bribes in such a way that, once again, important British public assets will be sold at well below their true value, with greater pickings for the City, and to the ultimate public detriment?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, perhaps willfully, misunderstands the working of the market. A fine judgment must always be made about what the market will stand when fixing a price on flotation, and Opposition Members enjoy misinterpreting that process. The advantages of privatisation stand in their own right as a means of obtaining wider share ownership.

Gulf States


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to seek to increase trade with the Gulf states.

Trade with the Gulf states is about £3 billion annually. We are mounting a special programme, in conjunction with British trade associations and chambers of commerce, to increase awareness of export opportunities in Gulf markets, and I shall visit Kuwait, Oman and the Yemen Arab Republic next week.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Gulf states are one of our most important and succesful markets? Will he do all he can to support British business men who want to fight off competition from the Japanese, Italians and Germans?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Gulf co-operation council area is now our third largest trading area after Europe and the United States. It is encouraging to note that Britain's exports to the Gulf are going up at a time when those of many other countries are going down.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent potential exports of Tornadoes to Saudi Arabia and Oman is an indication of the great increase in trade with the Gulf states and that, while we can always improve on it, that is the sort of example that we should be following?

Why cut the export trade mission budget to the British Overseas Trade Board? Surely that has an immediate effect on trade with the Gulf.

I do not think that that is right. The figure for the BOTB has been held broadly constant, and I hope that there will be no effect on trade—[Interruption.] As I said, the figure is broadly constant. There is a small reduction consistent with what I have said. There will be very little effect on the level of our export promotion efforts.

Developing World (Orders)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps the Government are taking to assist British companies to win export orders from the developing world.

In addition to the help given already by my Department, by the commercial services of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and by the Overseas Development Administration, my right hon. and learned Friend announced on 12 November that the Government are introducing, under the aid and trade provision, a soft loan facility.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend's success in producing the soft loan facility, which will put British companies on a more equal footing with their foreign competitors.

Is it not the case that already our aid and trade provision has produced £1,600 million of orders for British companies? What additional impact does my right hon. Friend think the new facility will have?

The figure that my hon. Friend cited for the value of orders that the ATP has secured is broadly accurate. The new soft loan facility announced by my right hon. and learned Friend will increase the potential business that could be won with the ATP from about £250 million a year now to £500 million a year by 1988–89, so it is a substantial increase.

May I emphasise the serious position in the heavy engineering industry, especially the turbine sector, which is trying to make inroads into developing countries, but which is being frustrated by the soft loan facilities introduced by France and other competitors? Is the Minister aware that that industry is losing magnificent opportunities in places such as China? What will he do about it?

I shall do exactly what I have already outlined. We have held discussions with the Chinese authoritities about a soft loan facility, and that is now available in China. I believe that companies in the hon. Gentleman's constituency are already in touch with my Department on that matter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best service that the Government can render to both our exporters and the developing countries is to resist protectionism wherever it arises—whether in Japan, other countries or even this country?

I agree with my hon. Friend, which is why we have welcomed the GATT talks currently taking place in Geneva. I hope that they will lead to a proper round of talks next year.

While we welcome the extended scope of the aid and trade provision, does the Minister recognise how far short the measures announced in the Gracious Speech fall of what industry is requesting? Does not industry want a doubling of the money available under that scheme, with a roll-over provision so that what is not spent in one year can be spent in the following year, and a streamlining of the procedures by which decisions are taken? When will the Minister move on those important points?

I disagree utterly with the hon. Gentleman. Industry has welcomed my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement. We have already carried out streamlining and it is not presenting a problem at the present time. As I said a moment ago, the potential business that could be won with the new soft loan facility will double the effects of the ATP—

What is the difference? The effect is exactly the same—business will be doubled. That is a very substantial step, but it is typical of the Opposition to be grudging and resentful.

British Book Printing


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has had concerning United States trade restrictions affecting British book printing.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
(Mr. Michael Howard)

We have had several approaches from hon. Members expressing concern about a discriminatory element of United States copyright law, the manufacturing clause, which is wholly unjustified.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that encouraging reply. In view of the deep concern felt in Norwich and elsewhere about the rule-breaking by the United States, will he tell us what representations he is making to the United States authorities about that practice? What action does he propose to take if it appears likely that that damaging clause will be extended?

My right hon. and learned Friend visited Washington last month and reminded the United States Administration of our objections to the clause and our expectation that they would work towards its abolition. Earlier this month the European Community sent a formal letter to the United States Government reminding them of their breach of international obligations.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the British publishing industry is equally concerned about piracy, particularly on the part of Taiwan? Will he give an assurance that the Government are apprised of the situation?



asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what privatisation proposals are currently being considered by his Department.

My right hon. and learned Friend plans to return to the private sector as many as possible of the publicly owned enterprises for which he is responsible. They include the remaining warship building yards of British Shipbuilders, Rolls-Royce, British Steel Corporation, and BL.

Will the Minister confirm newspaper reports that the Government intend that a substantial part of the next tranche of Cable and Wireless shares will go to institutional investors? How does that square with the desire to see wider share ownership among the general public?

It would not be right for me to confirm newspaper reports at this stage. In due course the House will be informed of the arrangements for that disposal.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern in my constituency about the future of English Estates, its funding, and its ability to redevelop Chatham dockyard? Will he decide whether to accept the management buy-out proposals as quickly as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be addressing himself to it later.

Is the Minister aware that there is no commercial or industrial justification for the proposed privatisation of Rolls-Royce—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—because the company's viability is entirely dependent on Government contracts, Government aid for civil projects and the Government's purchasing power in relation to military projects? Given that total dependence, there should be public accountability, which can be achieved only while Rolls-Royce is in the public sector. Will the Minister therefore drop that item from his disgraceful shopping list?

No, I will not. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will consider an analogy with British Aerospace, to which the same comments apply. Since 1980, when British Aerospace was once again privatised, its turnover has increased by 73 per cent. and its pre-tax profits have increased by 128 per cent. That is the reason for privatisation.

Economic Growth


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what has been the average annual growth in the economy over the last six years.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade
(Mr. Leon Brittan)

In the six years up to and including the first half of 1985, the annual average growth rate of gross domestic product was 1·25 per cent. Since the first half of 1981, the average growth rate has been 3 per cent.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the annual average increase in output has been less than 1 per cent.? Grim as the national figures are, they actually hide unacceptable regional disparities. Will he confirm that the Welsh share of gross domestic product has fallen faster and to a lower level than that of any other region, with the exception of Northern Ireland, and is now 20 per cent. lower than the national average? Given that regional aid has been cut by £300 million this year, how does the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect regions of Britain to share in any growth that may come?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's general comments about the economy. They are belied by the fact that we are entering our fifth year of uninterrupted growth—[Interruption]—whether or not the hon. Gentleman regards that as a matter of amusement. The right test of regional policy is not simply the amount of money being spent. The changes that we have introduced to relate the amount being spent not just to capital investment, which might have taken place anyway, but to the production of jobs, represent a very sensible change of direction. So far, the results in terms of new jobs are encouraging.

If it is my right hon. and learned Friend's intention to help the regions in this way, what is the point in the Department giving £1 million in grants to English Sewing Limited to create 300 jobs in Scotland, while destroying 300 jobs in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) in Derbyshire?

I shall come to that, but my hon. Friend will be aware that the policy is normally to give assistance only where there is a net increase in jobs. I am advised that his figures are not accurate and that the number of jobs that will be created is substantially larger. However, I will of course look into my hon. Friend's point.

Does the Secretary of State agree that behind those figures lies the devastation of large sections of British manufacturing industry during the past six years? Will he persuade his colleagues that, instead of spending any resources that may be available at the time of the Budget on tax cuts, which will go into consumer expenditure, they should be put into soft loans, as has been done on the ATP scheme, to help British industry at home, and into more education and training, so that industry, particularly high technology industry, is not short of the skilled people it needs?

The hon. Gentleman does less than justice to the fact that output has entered its fifth year of growth and that manufacturing output is 11 per cent. above its 1981 level. The hon. Gentleman is right to identify particular areas of assistance, but the extent to which it can be given is a matter of judgment. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's recommendations for the next Budget.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the essential ingredients for achieving greater economic growth is improved competitiveness, so that we must examine carefully industrial costs under the Government's control? In that context, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a reduction in employers' national insurance contributions would help competitiveness?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will also wish to take into account the fact that the national insurance surcharge has been removed. That was not an easy task, because of its size and the amount of revenue that it raised. My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of improving competitiveness. Those concerned with reaching pay settlements should have that at the forefront of their minds if they wish to improve levels of employment, as we all do.

Has not the pathetic 1¼ per cent. growth in production been achieved entirely through increased North sea production, which was determined even before the Government came to office? Is not manufacturing production, in a year when the country is awash with energy, substantially lower than during the three-day week when electricity supplies were cut off? In view of that, what achievements do the Government have to boast about?

The right hon. Gentleman is living in an unreal world. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Yes, he is, if he thinks that oil should be excluded and does not matter and that the achievement of oil is automatic. That achievement was possible only as a result of private enterprise taking the opportunity to benefit from the oil. The right hon. Gentleman ignores the Budget changes which have facilitated the exploitation of marginal fields which otherwise would not have taken place.

Manufacturing Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he proposes to take to stabilise and improve the future of manufacturing industries in Lancashire.

The best prospects for industrial growth in Lancashire lie in the Government's wider economic policies, which are creating conditions for a sustainable growth in jobs and output.

Does the Minister accept that for the people of Lancashire that answer means nowt? Have not Government policies shown consistently that the Government have no interest in the regions or in manufacturing industry? When will they do something about getting industries on the move again and about looking after the regions?

The hon. Gentleman is comprehensively wrong about regional policy and about the role of manufacturing industry. Since November 1984, about £8 million has been deployed in regional aid assistance to Lancashire.

Does my hon. Friend accept that Lancaster city council, while making the best possible use of such grants as are available, believes that it is the duty of local people to attract industry? Is he aware that, in conjunction with the city council, moderate trade unions and the chambers of commerce, the area is attracting industry and has achieved the best job vacancy ratio in the county? Why do other councils not do likewise?

Inward investors in particular look hard at the calibre, quality and motivation of local authorities and at the attitude in the local community to enterprise when they make their location decisions. The job creation programme, which is home grown and self-induced by local dynamism, does not, perhaps, receive enough attention.

Is it not a fact that the manufacturing sector in the north-west region, which includes Lancashire, has lost more than 300,000 jobs, and has continued to lose jobs every year since the Government took office in 1979? Last year it lost more than 10,000 jobs. Is it not also a fact that the north-west region relies heavily on manufacturing for its economic base, its employment base and for income support, and that it is being crucified by the Government's policies, which are indifferent to manufacturing industry and have done nothing to increase output, which has continued to diminish in real terms since 1979?

I reject entirely the assertion that the Government are indifferent to the interests of the manufacturing sector. The phenomenon that the hon. Gentleman describes of a loss of the share of employment in manufacturing industry within various economies around the world is a common one, and the United Kingdom is not unique in that respect.

Research And Development


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he is satisfied that sufficient priority is given to investment in research and development.

No, I am not satisfied. In addition to a public sector expenditure of £4·2 billion last year, the Government have done a great deal to encourage a higher level of investment in industrial research and development.

Does my hon. Friend agree that adequate expenditure on research and development is essential if we are to remain competitive internationally? Does he further agree that, despite the incentives given by the Government, many of our companies have been falling behind their competitors in the United States, Japan and elsewhere? May I suggest a modest proposal, which might help to focus investment attention on the sublect? It is that companies listed on the Stock Exchange should be required by law to include in their annual report and accounts an assessment of the amount they spend on research and development expenditure as a percentage of sales.

I am interested in my hon. Friend's point. I should have thought that most companies would find it in their own interests to make such a declaration. Frankly, I am surprised that more do not. At this stage, I should not like such a disclosure to be made compulsory, but should prefer it to be encouraged as a form of best practice by bodies, such as the Confederation of British Industry. I understand that the accounting standards committee is reviewing practice at present, and in the light of its recommendations we shall consider what further action might be taken.

Why does the Minister not think it desirable to require companies to publish their research and development figures? Is he aware that Britain is almost the only country that does not offer tax credit or other tax advantages for expenditure on research and development?

I have already explained to the House why I believe that it is not necessary to force companies to declare such figures. Because research and development have a direct impact on the bottom line, if the bottom line is less good than the company would wish it to be, it is in its interests to explain to its shareholders and the City in general the impact that research and development expenditure has had on it. Regarding fiscal incentives, I remind the hon. Gentleman that virtually all current research and development expenditure now qualifies for immediate 100 per cent. relief, as does capital expenditure on scientific research. The 100 per cent. initial allowance for scientific research is being retained, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the midlands lost a motor cycle industry in the mistaken belief that we had perfected the motor cycle, and because of an unwillingness on the part of the management and unions to invest further in research and development?

I take my hon. Friend's point. It is important for all sectors of British industry to consider new products and materials, particularly when their order books are full.

In assessing the priorities given to research, does the Minister agree that far too high a priority is given to defence-related research—more than 50 per cent. and much higher than any other OECD country? Is he aware, for example, that recently the Ministry of Defence has laid aside a further £5 million for basic computer research, provided it is matched by £5 million from the civilian research council? Does he recognise that that will further dry up research resources? Is he aware that the Pentagon is now trying to get its hands on Alvey flagship research for the SDI programme? Is he not worried about that, and what will he do about it?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that many of the fundamental technologies that are of relevance in the defence world are also relevant in the civil sector. He seems to want to have it both ways. He is extolling the Department of Defence in the United States, almost seeming to imply that we should follow that role model. I do not know whether his constituents, who are interested in the helicopter industry, would necessarily want to support a diminution of expenditure on research and development.

Does my hon. Friend agree that unless we invest more in research and development and British microelectronics, we shall end up as a nation of assemblers of Japanese components?

I agree, and it is important that we pay due attention to examples such as Japan, where 75 per cent. of research and development is done by industry itself.

If the situation is as satisfactory as the Minister, in his complacent way, asserts, why is it that every week of this year the head of every research institution and the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science complains so loudly about the Government's cuts in research and development budgets?

As usual, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not doing me the courtesy of listening to what I said. My first words in answering the original question were to the effect that I was not satisfied. I dare say that all research and development establishments and directors will always believe that they could use a larger budget. We have discussed with all these people what the correct priorities might be. We must at times be prepared to do something extremely difficult in research and development, which is to be ready to terminate some programmes which may appear to have run out of steam, and to put extra priority into other programmes with potential.

British Shipbuilders


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is the present position regarding the proposed privatisation of British Shipbuilders' warship building yards.

British Shipbuilders has already sold three of its warship building yards—Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd., Vosper Thornycroft (UK) Ltd. and Brooke Marine Ltd. Negotiations are continuing for the sale of the others—Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. and its subsidiary Cammell Laird Ltd., Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd., and Hall Russell Ltd.

The Minister will have seen the reply given yesterday by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement about the ordering programme for the type 23 frigates, and he will know with what dismay his answer was greeted on Tyneside. Will the Minister confirm that the Government's failure to honour their earlier commitments to Tyneside about the replacement of type 23 frigates at Swan Hunters has set back privatisation for that yard and, further, that the subsequent redundancy notices are being delayed until after the Tyne Bridge by-election?

The recent industrial relations in that yard will not have helped the hon. Gentleman in championing the cause of his constituents, which I know he is anxious to do. The order programme is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who will no doubt note carefully what the hon. Gentleman has said this afternoon.

Will the Minister admit that any further delay in ordering the type 23 frigates not only puts his privatisation timetable in jeopardy, but puts at risk hundreds of jobs at Swan Hunter and in the north generally, which has already lost 219,000 jobs in the past six years? Will he come clean and answer the point put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown)—that his failure to tell us about the jobs at risk at Swan Hunter in the north-east has less to do with concern about the future of the shipbuilding industry and more to do with his concern about the fate of the Conservative candidate in the forthcoming by-election?

I have no doubt that the candidate in the by-election is more than able to look after himself[Interruption]—sorry, herself—and that she will be able to meet that point. I repeat that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister, and will also be observed by the lady who is standing in the by-election.

Industry (Capital Investment)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what are the latest figures for capital investment in industry; and how these compare with the figures for the past two years.

Total capital investment in United Kingdom industry in 1984 reached more than £26·8 billion, the highest level on record and 10 per cent. above the 1983 level of £24·4 billion. In the first half of 1985, total industrial investment was 6 per cent. above that in the corresponding period in 1984.

Those are encouraging figures for the economy, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in the end both investment and jobs depend on the profits made by industry, so it is important that the profitability of British industry is at its highest since 1973 and that prospects for the coming year are good?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. No industry will invest if it cannot afford to do so—hence the importance of profitability. Even with profits, however, no industry will invest unless its prospects appear to it to be good. Therefore, the high figure for investment that I have given shows not only ability to invest but confidence in the future on the part of British industry.

Will the Secretary of State come to the real world and to my constituency in the north-east of Manchester to see what was once a vibrant manufacturing industrial base now in complete isolation, with empty factories standing like tombstones of a once proud past? Does he appreciate that that is what Prince Charles was talking about when he said that we were becoming a fourth-rate nation? Prince Charles and the voters of this country should realise that we are becoming a fourth-rate nation because we have a fourth-rate Government. People cannot live on fraudulent claims and promises. When are we to have real investment?

The hon. Gentleman does less than justice to his constituents by ignoring the fact that assisted area status has been given to Manchester and the figures show that that is being used on a very substantial scale. To talk about investment in the real world while ignoring figures showing the highest level of investment on record does not do justice to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. The confidence of British industry will be best served in the interests of the hon. Gentleman's constituents and their employment if he accepts the improving situation instead of trying to ignore it for political reasons.

I welcome the increased investment and congratulate the Government on achieving it, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the figure is still totally inadequate? Does he further agree that industry will invest and plan for the future only if it believes that the Government are entirely behind it in seeking to create additional jobs, and that that will be achieved only if the Government protect British industry from unfair competition? With regard to the clothing and textile industries, will my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that the Government will take a more robust attitude in defence of British industry in the current multi-fibre arrangement negotiations?

The answer to my hon. Friend's question is given in the fact that manufacturing investment rose by 14·5 per cent. in the past year. That shows confidence on the part of British industry in the policies being followed by the Government. As for the multi-fibre arrangement, the Government are committed to negotiating a further arrangement on the terms stated by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade.

The Secretary of State has cited manufacturing industry as an example of the Government's success. Is he aware that the level of manufacturing investment to which he referred is not merely 21 per cent. below the level in 1979, but lower than the levels for 1978, 1977, 1976, 1975 and 1974, and £1 billion lower, than in 1970, when the then Labour Government went out of office, and also lower than 1969? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that he has to go back to 1968 to find a comparably low figure under a Labour Government? Is he proud of those 17 wasted years?

I am proud of the fact that capital investment in United Kingdom industry reached more than £26·8 billion in 1984—the highest level on record. I have given figures showing the improvement for manufacturing industry. The right hon. Gentleman is not doing himself, his party or the country any good by concentrating exclusively on manufacturing industry, at the expense of capital investment.

European Steel Council


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the outcome of the European Steel Council in Luxembourg on 29 and 30 October.

I was extremely pleased by the outcome of the Steel Council on 29 October. Industry Ministers agreed a tough new code on state aids to the steel industry, which should protect all United Kingdom steel firms against the risk of subsidies to their continental competitors. The first steps were also taken towards a return to a free market in steel, with the ending of quotas on coated sheet and reinforcing bar.

In addition, my hon. Friend the Minister of State negotiated an improvement in BSC's quota of 360,000 tonnes. The corporation has had to resort to expensive and uncertain quota purchases over the last two years to maintain its share of the United Kingdom market at a time when the United Kingdom economy was expanding faster than continental economies. This quota increase should consolidate BSC's position after the acquisition of Alphasteel, without the need for more ad hoc deals.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that BSC is now one of the most cost-effective steel producers in Europe, and compares well with Japan and the United States? Does not this welcome increase in quota achieved by my hon. Friend the Minister of State represent an opportunity for BSC to achieve increased viability, which is the only means of securing job security and its long-term future?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The private and public steel industries' achievements have been substantial and are worthy of my hon. Friend's commendation.

What further closures are intended in the engineering steels sector, since the Govenment are to put money into the new private sector company that will take over next April, and since the Council of Ministers has decided that no state aid will be permissible after January unless associated with capacity reductions? Can the House feel confident that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows more about the steel industry than does the Minister of State, who, four weeks ago, assured me and my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) that rumours of further cuts were complete conjecture, at the very moment when BSC' was announcing them in Rotherham?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that our agreement to the completions package does not have any implications for closures such as he has in mind.

Does the Secretary of State accept BSC's prediction in its corporate plan that there will be no increase in demand for steel in the 1990s because of the further decline of British manufacturing industry?

I do not accept the question in the terms that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has employed. BSC has to make its plans. It is entitled to do so. The basis of the Government's decisions in regard to steel were announced in August and have not changed since then.

Industrial Competitiveness

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the implications for the competitiveness of British industry of the change in average unit labour costs between 1982 and the third quarter of 1985.

Internationally comparable figures on unit labour costs in manufacturing are available only for the second quarter of 1985. These show that since 1982 unit labour costs in domestic currency rose by nearly 9 per cent. in the United Kingdom, remained broadly constant in the United States and actually fell in Germany and Japan, and reinforce the need for pay moderation if we are to remain competitive.

Does the Minister not agree that the Chancellor's enthusiasm for high interest and exchange rates can, at best, keep the situation as it is, but is far more likely to make it a great deal worse in the near future? Does he agree that that means that the relative decline of our manufacturing sector must continue?

No, that does not follow at all. It is essential that interest rates are set to maintain the monetary conditions necessary to keep downward pressure on inflation. Unless wage increases are limited and linked to output, today's pay rises will be tomorrow's job losses.

Now that inflation is falling steadily and will probably, in due course, go below 4 per cent., is there any justification for the annual round of pay increases that are not linked to productivity?

My hon. Friend is bringing the House back to the statement made during the CBI annual conference at Harrogate, the essence of which was that there should be no wage increases unless they are linked to output.

Is there not a direct causal connection between the sharp loss of competitiveness that is shown in all the indices and the sudden and unwelcome appearance of a deficit in our trade in manufactures? Why have the Government's policies produced this unfortunate concurrence?

I reject totally the hon. Gentleman's assertion that the deficit has been caused by the Government's policies. He conveniently ignores the fact that the trough of 1981 was directly attributable to the overmanning and low productivity that developed under the Labour Government.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is the current annual deficit on visible trade with Japan.

In the period from November 1984 to October 1985 the United Kingdom had a visible trade deficit of £3,054 million with Japan.

In view of the appallingly high and worsening deficit, is it not time that the British Government urgently convened a conference of all the countries in a similar position to plan concerted action against Japan, which would include specific targets for the reduction of the deficit? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that there is a great difference between free trade and so-called free trade conducted on unfair terms, which is the most evil form of protectionism?

I note my hon. Friend's remarks, and we discussed the matter on an earlier question. I am not sure whether a conference of the countries affected would be appropriate. We must await the Commission's proposals in the light of the visit to Japan. To be fair, in July the Japanese announced an action programme. They should now quantify what they expect to achieve from their import programme.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best method of reducing the trade deficit would be to persuade more British people to buy British goods? Is he aware of the action of the "Think British" campaign, and what will he do to support that campaign?

I strongly believe that people should buy British when British goods are competitive and are the best quality, as they so frequently are. I hope that people will note my hon. Friend's important point.

Is the Minister aware that we are doing precisely what the Japanese want us to do—playing the waiting game and taking no action? Why does the Minister not wake up and recognise that all the Western economies must take some concerted action to deal with the problem? The Japanese must be taught a lesson. They must play the game by the rules followed by all other major manufacturing nations. Why does the Minister not do something as he sits in his office?

The hon. Gentleman is a little unfair. The EC has just sent a mission to Japan—

The United Kingdom's trading policy must be directed through the EC, because it is a member of the Community. The Commission has just sent a mission to Japan, and a report will be published during the next few weeks. We shall discuss the matter in December and make any decisions thereafter.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is his Department's policy on financial support for export contracts to Thailand.

My Department and others have a range of means of assisting United Kingdom companies exporting to Thailand. We shall continue to deploy financial assistance as effectively as possible in support of such exporters.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the gratitude of my constituents who work for Leyland Bus for the efforts that he made on their behalf in relation to the deal to sell buses to the Bangkok mass transit system? In view of the recent lay-offs at Leyland Bus, will my right hon. Friend continue to press the case for that company, especially since it beat world-wide competition to achieve success in that tender? Any further financial support that he can give will be greatly appreciated.

We shall do what we can to help Leyland Bus. We have already offered substantial aid of some £20 million in support of Leyland's bid under the aid and trade Community budget. I have had several discussions with Thai Ministers about the project, and I was pleased that the Thai Foreign Minister recently replied to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary saying that he was confident that his colleagues on the Thai Council of Ministers would continue to give the Leyland consortium every opportunity to present its ideas. That is a good bid, and I hope that some proposal will be successful.

English Estates


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the future role of English Estates.

English Estates will continue to play a vital role in implementing our policies. In particular, the advance factory programme is one of the most effective and responsive instruments of regional policy, to which I attach the greatest importance. English Estates provides the Government with the best available means of carrying out that programme

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he agree that there is concern that if the much-heralded management buy-out were to proceed without strings attached, and without pre-conditions, there would not be enough factory space available in the assisted areas to take up the unprecedented demand that apparently exists for much-needed factory space in those areas? Will my right hon. and learned Friend explore further the possibility of covenant guarantees to ensure that if there were a management buy-out, firms could at least still set up in the assisted areas?

Covenant guarantees have their own problems, but I can assure my hon. Friend that I would not agree to a management buy-out that had the effect that he fears. I would agree to it only if it led to a more responsive and effective advance factory programme of the kind that we want. The objective is clear, and I am not yet satisfied with the proposals put forward.

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to place on record the fact that the Government will ensure that sufficient funds are made available for English Estates to carry out the full development plan for the Chatham dockyard area?

I have already answered questions on the Chatham project that English Estates is undertaking, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I understand his concern.

Is it not standing regional policy on its head to cut back industrial development by English Estates in the counties of Cleveland and Durham, while encouraging English Estates to fund the development of the dockyard in the south-east?

The Chatham aspect was agreed in particular circumstances, but I agree with my hon. Friend that the main thrust of regional policy has to be in the regions. It is in that context that I am looking at the proposals that have been put forward. It is worth pointing out that the new policy, which reaches its anniversary tomorrow, has shown that to mid-October in the west midlands, for example, £17 million of aid has been approved for projects creating or safeguarding nearly 12,000 jobs. That is just one example. I am giving the House and hon. Members further details.

Will the Secretary of State tell his Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the other place that I am delighted to know that he is visiting the Lister high technology park in my constituency, which was built by English Estates? Will he urge his ministerial colleague to travel to Bradford by train, rather than fly, as he proposes, so that he can see for himself the deplorable rail services which my constituents have to endure every day—a matter which I raised on the Adjournment last night—[Interruption.]

If the Secretary of State links expenditure on regional aid to the creation of jobs, does it not automatically follow that a reduction of two thirds in overall expenditure on regional aid since the Government came into office is a major cause of unemployment in the regions?

No, it points to nothing of the sort, because the regional policy in its previous form was not well directed to producing jobs. It was a policy which provided vast sums of money to firms engaged in capital investment, but did not lead to a substantial number of new jobs. The new policy is firmly targeted at new jobs, and the prospects look extremely good. For example, so far regional selective assistance offers of £222 million have been made, and under the new scheme regional development grants of £82 million have been made in the limited time since then. That is far better targeted than the old policy.

Northern Region


asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what has been the reduction in real terms in regional assistance to industry in the northern region since 1978–79.

There was a reduction of 57 per cent. in real terms in regional assistance to industry in the northern region between 1978–79 and 1984–85. One of the reasons for that is that we are directing our assistance more cost-effectively.

Is it not a scandal that the Minister is able to give a figure of that scale to the House in view of the steady, scandalous climb in unemployment in the northern region since the Government came to office? Is not his Government's lack of care for the region illustrated, not only by his and his colleagues' ignorance of what is going on in the region, but by his ignorance of his own party's candidate in the Tyne Bridge by-election?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that, at almost 97 per cent., the north-east remains the region with the highest assisted area coverage. He should also be aware that, under section 7, assistance is demand-led, and the support going into the region under that section depends on the quality and number of applications coming forward.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you advise me on a matter that arises directly out of question No. 10? I asked the Minister about the privatisation of Swan Hunter shipyard in my constituency and he said that that was a matter for the Ministry of Defence. The Table Office will not accept that. Can you advise me to which Department I should address my questions in future and which Minister is responsible?

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. When the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was replying to question No. 10 asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), he referred to the Conservative candidate in Tyne Bridge constituency in the male tense—

The reference to the female candidate in the male tense is not correct. I do not say that the Chair is responsible, but I should like to refer to the official record, which is your responsibility, Mr. Speaker. I am not aware that the person standing as a Conservative candidate in the Tyne Bridge constituency is masquerading—

Order. All this sounds like an Adjournment debate. It is not a matter for me at all. What is the point of order for me—and succinctly, please?

I was coming to the point of order, which you must rule on as custodian of the Official Report. I am concerned because, as you know, from time to time Official Reporters have to alter or correct incorrect statements made by right hon. and hon. Members so that the report is factual. Will you give a ruling—here comes the point of order—that the reference to the Conservative candidate in Tyne Bridge constituency as a male be deleted from the official record and a reference to the candidate as a female be inserted? Alternatively, will you rule that the Leader of the House should come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement to verify the gender of the person who is standing as a female?

I think that I have got the drift of the hon. Gentleman's argument. We need not have the official record corrected. The hon. Gentleman has done that.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I say that, whether she is male or female, she is very good anyway?

Pensioners (Hypothermia)

3.34 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, to discuss a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the alarming increase in the number of pensioners dying from cold—415 in the first six months of this year compared with 329 in the whole of 1984—and the Government's failure to ensure that new guidelines for exceptionally severe weather payments are issued."
That failure could mean that needy pensioners will be refused payments by the staff of the Department of Health and Social Security. Hon. Members will know that the scheme in operation last winter had to be abandoned because it was quite unworkable. Indeed, since then it has been declared invalid by the social security commissioner. The Government should ensure that new guidelines are issued at once. The weather is getting colder and more pensioners are at risk of hypothermia. Further deaths can be avoided if the Government act.

Yet the Government's complacency is shown not only by the Prime Minister's disgraceful response at the Dispatch Box yesterday to the hypothermia figures which have just been issued, but by the Government's failure to change the system for exceptionally severe weather payments which was promised as far back as last April. Nothing has been done. Pensioners could die if the Government fail to act.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which she believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the alarming increase in the number of deaths from hypothermia and the Government's failure to bring forward new regulations for payment for heating in exceptional weather conditions."
I have listened with care to what the hon. Lady has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter that she has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10 and, therefore, I cannot submit her application to the House.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Friday 13 December

Members successful in the ballot were:

  • Mr. Roger King
  • Mr. Ivor Stanbrook
  • Mr. Tony Lloyd

Orders Of The Day

Anglo-Irish Agreement

[Second Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question—[26 November]:

That this House approves the Anglo-Irish Agreement (Cmnd. 9657) signed on 15th November by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald.— [The Prime Minister.]

Question again proposed.

Before I call the Secretary of State, may I draw the attention of the House to the fact that I have a long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to take part in the second day of this important debate? We had a number of very long speeches yesterday. I hope that it will be possible to call more hon. Members today.

3.38 pm

As we embark on the second day of the debate, the House will have been struck by the different views on the agreement that are held in different quarters which were expressed on the first day. It is fair to say that it has been generally welcomed in Great Britain and also by the minority community in Northern Ireland. That welcome has been echoed more widely in the United States, among our partners' in the EC and in the Commonwealth. It is seen by the majority, I believe, as a constructive if limited change to try to alleviate the age-old problems of polarisation and to contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland, thus making a real advance in the fight against terrorism. But against that favourable view, broadly reflected in this House, we have seen the strong, indeed passionate, opposition of the Unionist representatives in this House. While I have to say that I think that they have seriously exaggerated the effect and scale of this agreement, I accept that there are serious worries and fears among their constituents. It is precisely those that I wish to address.

First, however, I should like to say something on one criticism that I understand. Negotiations between sovereign Governments need confidentiality. In consequence, we were not able to take people in Northern Ireland into full consultation before the agreement was reached in the way that we would normally wish. That was simply not possible in such negotiations, and I fully understand and sympathise with the frustration that this caused. It has undoubtedly caused resentment and that has not helped the consideration of the agreement itself, an agreement that I believe can offer real benefits to unionist as well as nationalist communities.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a little progress with my speech.

A number of fears have been raised about this agreement and I said that I should like to address them. The first fear is that this agreement is the beginning of some slippery slope to a united Ireland. In fact, the truth is precisely the opposite. In the first article of the agreement the Irish Government join us in affirming, in what we hope will be a binding international agreement, if the House approves it, that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of a majority of the people in the Province. What is more, they have also recognised that the present wish of the majority in Northern Ireland is for no change in its British status.

The British Government have always made it clear that the status of Northern Ireland would not be changed without the consent of a majority in the Province.

I will in a moment. The unionists have often pointed out, however, with justice, that there is no binding international commitment to their rights on the part of the Republic. In this agreement the Republic accepts that commitment as well. As Dr. FitzGerald, the Taoiseach, said:

"It is a commitment that this state will not be a party to any attempt to constrain the people of Northern Ireland, against the will of a majority for any change in the status of Northern Ireland."

The Government's commitment that Northern Ireland will not become part of the Irish Republic unless a majority of the people wish it is well known and has been stated for a long time. What, however, is the Government's view? Do they wish Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom? Do they care whether Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom? Do not the Government mind at all? What is their view? Surely the Government care for their citizens.

Of course. That is why we insisted on article 1, which commits the Republic of Ireland to this position. The Government's view is precisely that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and that the rights of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland must be respected. We fully support and endorse that. On behalf of the Government, I want to make that absolutely clear. May I also make it absolutely clear that the Government wish Northern Ireland to be a part of the United Kingdom.

If the British Government want Northern Ireland to be a part of the United Kingdom, why have they committed themselves in article 1(c) to taking Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom?

The legitimacy of the unionist position, which we fully support, rests upon a democratic, majority vote. That is enshrined in legislation. Consequently, we fully support the view that Northern Ireland should be part of the United Kingdom. If, however, the majority view were to change, the House would have to recognise that fact.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman as he was the first Member to wish to intervene.

The first point that the right hon. Gentleman made was important for the people of Northern Ireland. Does he think that it was right and proper for the Dublin Government to confer with the SDLP whose spokesman said on television that his party leader and party members were informed at every stage about how the negotiations were going? Will he condemn that action by the Dublin Government?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot answer for another Government. These negotiations were conducted by us confidentially. That is the only way that they could be conducted. I cannot comment on the other part of the hon. Gentleman's question.

The fear of a united Ireland has bedevilled life in the Province for far too long. Everyone knows in his heart that it could never happen without consent. Dr. FitzGerald said in the Dail:

"I believe that no sane person would wish to attempt to change the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its people."
That is the reality. It is recognised in the agreement. Unionists now have that reality recognised. I believe that the agreement provides the bulwark that they have always sought.

I hope that that message will be understood by unionists in Northern Ireland. It puts into perspective the other parts of the agreement. In particular, it puts into perspective the new Intergovernmental Conference about which so many misleading stories have been told.

The thinking behind the conference is simple and clear. The facts, as the House knows, on Northern Ireland are that there is a substantial majority which is and sees itself as British and which has every intention of remaining British and of being part of the United Kingdom. We must recognise that there is a minority which believes itself to be Irish and which does not identify with the United Kingdom. That is the reality. We may regret it, but we know that that is the position. Our aim has always been to build greater trust and co-operation between the communities. It is now vital to find a way of reconciling the minority to the institutions and administration of the Province. That is the key role of the conference.

Some people reacted to the announcement of the Intergovernmental Conference as though the Republic of Ireland never made any representations about matters in Northern Ireland. Everyone is familiar with the fact that it has been its regular practice to make representations on a full range of matters. There is no secret about that. The effect of the conference is to formalise that and to use it to strengthen and improve the government of Northern Ireland by giving our consultations a wider dimension. At the same time, we hope to use it to improve co-operation between our two Governments on matters of mutual interest, most notably security. That is all.

I wish to make the following points clear. There is no secret agenda or hidden purpose. The conference will not be an executive body. It will be serviced by a small secretariat. Rumours have been spread about that the secretariat would be a large independent body and would become some kind of complaints commission. None of that is correct. It will be a small secretariat which exists only to service the conference and to prepare agendas and papers.

The conference will have no decision-making powers. Those will remain firmly where they are now—with British Ministers responsible to Parliament—and, as article 2 of the agreement explicitly states, there will be no derogation of sovreignty in either country. We believe that the conference will be a limited though, we hope, effective device to help us improve our administration of Northern Ireland in the interests of all its people.

There have been complaints. One complaint about the original announcement in the agreement is that the agreement deals only with ways for the minority to express its views and makes no mention of the majority. The majority, because it is a majority, already has channels established for putting forward its views. Indeed, as I look around, I see that 15 of the 17 Members of this House are able to use those channels. They are also a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in most of the councils in the Province.

Nothing in the agreement will hinder or supplant these bodies. We shall continue to listen closely and attentively to them, to take their views into account and to try, wherever possible, to accommodate them. The purpose of the conference is to assure the minority that its views will be heard more effectively. But in no sense is it intended to stifle or supersede the views of the majority, which obviously must be respected.

I support what my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister are seeking to do and wish them to succeed. Can my right hon. Friend say that no attempt will be made politically by the conference to lean on the Royal Ulster Constabulary in respect of its administration of the law? He will know that in southern Ireland the Commissioner of Police is subject to a political instruction. That is not the case in Northern Ireland.

Yes, I am happy to give that assurance, and my hon. Friend will know that that is clearly stated in the agreement. Also, there are no operational responsibilities in security.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me to make progress.

I want to deal with the fear that the conference proceedings will be secret or will be hidden from the unionists. That is unfounded as well. The Government fully recognise the need for the people of the Province to be informed about meetings of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Moreover, the Government recognise the need to devise means to keep the House informed of proceedings, and we shall welcome discussions through the usual channels on how that can best be achieved.

Nor do we believe that the agreement will in any sense hinder devolution. Indeed, the Irish Government have specifically committed themselves in the agreement to support that policy, and any matters that have devolved will automatically pass out of the scrutiny of the conference.

I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman shortly.

I also note the comment made yesterday in the House by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume):
"The agreement means that I am prepared to sit down now and determine how we shall administer the affairs of Northern Ireland in a manner that is acceptable to both tradirions."—[Official Report, 26 November 1985; Vol. 87, c. 786]
I say directly to the hon. Gentleman that there is now a clear responsibility on him and his colleagues to do all they can to honour that pledge. Likewise, I hope that the unionists will recognise that the agreement can offer real prospects for devolution.

The Secretary of State said that the Government would consider methods of keeping this House and others informed of the work of the conference. How does he reconcile that with the statement in the communiqué:

"The two Governments envisage that the meetings and agenda of the Conference will not normally be announced"?
If the meetings and the agenda are not made known, what can be?

It will be the proceedings and the matters that have been discussed. It is a question whether announcements are made after the conference is held. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the communiqué sets out the agenda for the first meeting, although that would not normally be announced. It does not deal with the proceedings after that. I hope that the whole House will agree that it is important that there should be as much disclosure as possible, as secrecy would be extremely damaging and would be exploited by those who did not want progress and reconciliation. I hope that the House welcomes my announcement.

It is the Government's objective that the agreement will, in time, help to isolate the men of violence. In the meantime, it will certainly help us to pursue more vigorously the attack against terrorism. Article 9 is most important in that respect because it is devoted to ways in which cross-border security can be improved and to ways of improving intelligence, training and co-operation between the two police forces. Indeed, I understand that the Chief Constable of the RUC and the Commissioner of the Garda are making arrangements to meet in the near future. We are determined to improve and enhance in every way possible cross-border co-operation to defeat terrorism.

The Irish Government have announced their intention to accede to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism, which will make it much easier to extradite terrorist suspects from the South. They have also undertaken to help us to devise a programme to improve relations between the nationalist community and the security forces.

Many people refuse to believe that the Republic really will work more closely with us on security. Anyone who recalls the recent prison escape attempt in the South and the names of some of those detained in that prison will recognise that as a clear reminder of the threat that the IRA represents to the Government of the South as much as to our Government. I do not think that any hon. Member, on either side of the House, need doubt our real determination to defeat the IRA and the men of violence. But nor do I doubt the Irish Government's good faith in that matter. I believe that increased co-operation with them will yield to both sides real benefits in security.

My right hon. Friend referred to the possibility of the Irish Government acceding to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism for the purpose of extradition. However, previously the Republic has claimed that it is impossible to do that because its constitution prevents it from making any such arrangement. Have the Government suddenly overcome their legal scruples, or is the Republic really bound by the agreement, even though it is only between two Governments?

I am not familiar with the point raised by my hon. Friend. I have accepted in good faith the Irish Government's important statement, and I hope that my hon. Friend will not seek to undermine it. I am sure that the whole House realises the benefit that it will bring.

I am amazed by hon. Members who appear determined to decry every element in the agreement. There would be more credibility in the opposition of some hon. Members if they accompanied their criticisms and genuine fears—which this House respects—with a recognition of the achievements represented in the agreement. I find it very depressing to listen to some hon. Members. I started my remarks by accepting that there are real fears. My goodness, I know that as well as any hon. Member. There are genuine concerns about the agreement among many decent moderate unionists in Northern Ireland. I quite accept that. But I am entitled to expect real achievements and improvements to be accepted in the right spirit.

I do not underestimate the fears and worries with which many in the unionist community have received this agreement, but I have tried to show that those fears are seriously exaggerated and misplaced. This agreement offers the prospect of better security and of a return to greater stability and prosperity for them and their children. At the same time, I firmly believe that it buttresses, rather than undermines, their constitutional position.

It is, therefore, with great regret that I hear pledges by Unionist Members in the House, and other unionists, to withdraw co-operation from the Government. I regret the loss of their co-operation, and I regret that I will not have the benefit, I understand, of their views and advice on all the many wide-ranging problems involving Northern Ireland. But, of course, I accept that that is their right, and I respect, as I hope the House does, their decision to opt for the constitutional path of opposition.

I hope that in the coming months all people in the Province will spurn violence or unconstitutional methods, and that, if this agreement is approved tonight by Parliament, that decision will be respected. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and it is right that this matter should be determined by the Parliament of the United Kingom.

If the House decides tonight to endorse the agreement, the Government will, of course, implement its decision. When we do so, we will listen carefully to what all parties in the Province tell us: to what the Assembly tells us, to what local councillors tell us, to what the constitutional nationalists tell us, and now to what the Intergovernmental Conference tells us. We will endeavour to act, in the light of their advice, in a constructive way that will benefit all the people of Northern Ireland.

Of course, no single agreement can solve all the problems of Northern Ireland, but our hope is that this agreement will provide a basis on which to build a better future for the Province—a basis on which we can build greater co-operation and trust between the two communities, and between the United Kingdom and the Republic as well.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) said yesterday, we cannot go on as we are. We must break out of the stalemate of increasing polarisation and the sickening background of terrorism. Those who say no—

Those who will allow no change are saying that the Province can never break out of its cycle of division and despair.

We must give hope, and I believe that tonight the House can give that hope. To those who have made clear their fears, I say, "Give this agreement a chance. Do not prejudge it before you have seen how it works in practice. Because if it can be made to work, all the people of Northern Ireland will be the gainers, and only the terrorists will lose."

That is the ultimate aim of this agreement—an end to terrorism and a return to normality. It is something that the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland crave for, and something that all of us should work for on their behalf.

I commend the agreement to the House.

4.4 pm

Whatever else has been achieved by the events of the last fortnight, it is refreshing and encouraging to see a debate on Northern Ireland so well attended, and to see events in Northern Ireland so widely discussed on this side of the water. It is true that a consensus among the people of Northern Ireland can be achieved only in Northern Ireland and that reconciliation can take place only between those who are divided. But in the past, part of the problem has been the feeling that no one outside Northern Ireland cared about what happened there, that tragic divisions were seen, outside Northern Ireland, simply as a problem of security and that policy consisted of a reaction to successive crises.

I was a little troubled, because I thought that the Secretary of State twice gave the impression that the agreement was simply a reaction to violence. I hope that that was unintentional, and I see from his expression that it was. But now the people of Britain are paying attention. There is an opportunity for the respective groupings to explain their case. Whatever other divisions we may have, I believe that all the people of Britain begin from one common premise. During the past fortnight, people who are not politicians and whose conversations with me are usually on different topics have come to see me and have expressed a concern for Northern Ireland. They may not understand the details of Irish politics, they may not be familiar with the events of Irish history, which the children of Northern Ireland learn at their mother's knee, and they may not understand the conflicting aspirations, but they all know that the people of Northern Ireland have suffered too much. They want to see them enjoy peace, and security and prosperity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said yesterday, they do not see Northern Ireland as a normal part of the United Kingdom. But that does not mean that they are indifferent.

So when the respective spokesmen state their cases, the people of Britain are listening. We have been repeatedly told of the unionist people's determination to have no part in these proposals. I do not doubt the strength of their feeling about that. If I had not grasped the strength of that feeling before last week, it certainly became apparent when my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and I visited Northern Ireland and talked to people about it.

I readily confess that the calm exposition and the logical analysis that are part of the function of the House scarcely belong in the same world as that of the bewildered and anguished people we met over there. But we also met many unionists who were troubled that they had had a bad press on this side of the water. They were aware that they had lost sympathy among the people of Great Britain, and they knew why.

First, those people knew that they had not been well served by the immoderate language employed by some of their spokesmen. I do not include in that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who spoke with such passion in yesterday's debate. He is not the most vitriolic and uncompromising of Unionist representatives—[Interruption.] That was intended as a compliment. But I sense that the hon. Gentleman's contribution to this debate did not persuade the House. No one would doubt his sincerity or the clarity of what he had to say, but I hope I may say without any discourtesy that what was less in evidence was an ability to persuade people who did not already agree with him.

Secondly, it emerged more than once from yesterday's debate that people on this side of the water perceived an inconsistency between a repeated commitment to the Union and a declared intention to frustrate the will of Parliament. In the past fortnight there have been examples of actions which were positively outside the law, and that is not seen as consistent with the repeated denunciations that we have heard of those who seek political ends by unconstitutional means, or with the demands that we have so often heard from the Unionist Benches for more vigorous law enforcement.

I pay tribute to what was said on Saturday and again yesterday by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) in making clear his opposition to violence. If his speech yesterday was, as he said, his last in the House, I should like to seize this opportunity of saying that I have valued his co-operation and personal friendship. We have all been reluctant in this debate to offer personal testimonials in case the recipient should find them embarrassing, but I would be churlish if I did not place that one on the record.

I have described some of the reasons why the unionist people are right to feel that they have lost some sympathy with the British public. I can understand why that has happened. Sometimes the feeling of insecurity leads to actions which increase the insecurity. The future of the unionist people is in danger most if they lose the sympathy of the British people.

Yesterday the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said that our past actions had brought us to where we are. The blame does not lie in any one quarter. In the history of Ireland, people on both sides of the divide have acted as I might have acted in their place. One tragedy leads to the next, with the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean plot.

One of the reasons for that insecurity is the feeling that British proposals cannot always be taken at their face value, and that suggestions which on the surface are unexciting will be used to lead the people of Northern Ireland down a road which is concealed by assurances and fair words. It is not easy in the context of the Irish experience to build up a relationship of trust.

That is why the Opposition believe that straight talking is better than pussyfooting. We have been honest and open with the unionist people about our view of the future. We believe that the future of Ireland should be as one country. We do not delude ourselves that the unionist people agree with us, but disagreeing is better than misleading people.

Having given the unionist people the bad news in plain English, I shall set it in context. We have no intention of imposing unity at gunpoint. If Ireland is one day to enjoy the peace and security which history has always denied it, it must be on the basis of a settlement achieved by consensus.

We do not merely admit, we assert, that the unionist people are entitled to retain their identity in the homes of their forefathers, and to protection for their culture, their religion and their interests, not just as we see them but as they see them.

The Forum report stated that clearly. We would not contemplate anything less. Indeed, we shall seek in time to persuade them to accept what some of us genuinely believe—that their identity, that culture, that religion and interests can survive only in a united Ireland with carefully considered constitutional safeguards and with the old grudges and the open sores consigned to history. They cannot survive in the present atmosphere of perpetual frustration, perpetual uncertainty and perpetual insecurity. I do not believe that they can survive in some hypothetical independent six counties or four counties.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks of persuading the people of Northern Ireland of the wisdom of the Labour party's policy and thought on the subject. Why does not the Labour party go about its task in the normal way as it does on any other matter in any other part of the United Kingdom—enabling people to vote for the Labour party by putting up Labour candidates in Northern Ireland?

That is one example of what my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith discussed last night. Northern Ireland is not perceived by the people of Great Britain as being part of the United Kingdom. None of the major parties here is organised in Northern Ireland. I fear that the right hon. Gentleman must accept that. It is a fact of history.

But this agreement is not about that debate. It is about a framework for discussions; it is about breaking away from the present stalemate; it is about talking and listening. It commits no one to renounce a view in which he believes; it asks no one to resile from any cherished aspiration; it prevents no one from making suggestions or holding conversations with anyone else about any topic. It is not a step down any specific road; it is not the thin end of any wedge; it is not the first raindrop in any deluge.

In this debate, we have heard it argued with passion that the agreement is the first step towards the dissolution of the Union. We have heard it argued with equal intensity by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) that it represents the total abandonment of any aspiration to Irish unity. I do not believe that it is either. I believe that if the people in both traditions are to have a chance of considering the options open to them, and if we are ever to embark on the discussions aimed at persuading one another, we must get away from the sloganising, the posturing and the caricaturing of those from whom we differ and the rejection of offers before they are made.

If we are to perceive the various visions of the future from which to choose, we must clear away the fog. Because I believe that this accord may make a modest contribution towards that process, I shall invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote in the Aye Lobby tonight. Since we all believe in our power to persuade others when the options are all on view, I believe that the Opposition will be able to persuade the people of Northern Ireland to choose the option in which we believe. It is in that sense that I see it as the first step.

I add my tribute to that by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to those who helped to conclude the agreement. I do not believe that they were motivated by any consideration but the hope of contributing to the achievement of peace and co-operation. I pay ungrudging tribute to the Secretary of State, whose accession to his high office was associated at the outset with a readiness to talk and to listen, which has not always been apparent on the Government Benches, and was not apparent in the days following the Forum report and "The Way Forward".

I extend that tribute to Dr. FitzGerald, to Dick Spring and to Peter Barry. For them, this was an act of courage. They agreed to words in the document which represented substantial concessions which were not universally popular in nationalist circles.

There can be no prospect of a consensus unless all those involved are prepared to make concessions. We can all argue for consensus on the basis that other people agree with us. We do not make history just by keeping our heads down. There can be no reconciliation, no meeting of minds, no hope for Northern Ireland, without leaders on both sides of the divide who dare to lead.

One consequence of the unhappy history is that language itself ceases to be a means of communication, or an instrument for understanding one another, and becomes the occasion for misunderstanding and conflict.

There have been long disputations about whether the agreement represents a change of sovereignty. Phrases like "sovereignty", "executive and consultative status" and "constitutional" are terms of art. They are the constitutional lawyers' tools of the trade. As a constitutional lawyer, I warn the House against constitutional lawyers. They should be our servants, not our masters. Their function is to state with precision a consensus which has been reached about how people want to be governed. The time to use their terminology is when that consensus has been achieved. Indeed, they sometimes find that such expressions apply to such a wide range of concepts and are so ambiguous that it is better not to use them even at that stage.

If such words are introduced into the discussion at the outset before there is agreement on what kind of community we want to achieve, they will serve only to occasion misunderstandings, to shorten tempers and to grind discussion to a standstill.

If I may be allowed a personal comment as a constitutional lawyer, I wonder whether those who come after us will understand what the debate was about—not those 300 years from now but 30 years on. I suspect that the terminology of the nation state is most appropriate to a world which is already passing.

Many Governments have a legitimate interest in decisions affecting the internal affairs of another country. They may have the right to-express a view not only about matters which affect their own citizens, but about fair treatment for the citizens of that country.

The international instruments on human rights recognise that the 19th-century concept of sovereignty is outmoded. The present United Kingdom Government have properly pressed for the implementation of the Helsinki accords. I suspect that the assumption that every square foot of the earth's surface must lie within the exclusive jurisdiction of one nation state and that no other Government must presume to intervene may not prove to be appropriate to the way in which the human race wishes to order its affairs in the 21st century.

More than once in the debate it has been argued that the agreement will be seen as having been achieved by violence. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley spoke of it as the next instalment of Danegeld. There will undoubtedly be voices among the paramilitaries and their supporters making that claim, but I am troubled when the claim is echoed and endorsed in more authoritative quarters, for two reasons. First, the argument could be applied to any proposal which is acceptable to nationalist opinion. There is no suggestion, no experiment, no movement away from the status quo and the present stagnation which would not be susceptible to that argument. If that is accepted, there can be no movement, and no hope.

Secondly, I am troubled because I do not believe that the men of violence want the proposal to succeed. Far from acclaiming it as a success, they want to see it fail. If nothing could be embarked upon lest the paramilitaries might claim it as a victory, the paramilitaries might feel that they could bring any policy to a standstill by some act of violence. They would then tell themselves that everyone would rush to say, "We must not do this because it would appear to be responding to violence." Those who do not wish to see a movement towards peace and reconciliation would know that it could be frustrated by the shedding of blood.

There is no guarantee of the success of the conference. That depends on how it is used, and on the good faith and common sense of both Governments. The conference is simply the upturned glass into which its members must pour the practical contents. The British Government will need to show that they are prepared to listen to the representations of the Republic without creating the impression that there is a closed enclave from which everyone else is excluded. To consult the Republic must not be an alternative to consulting anyone else.

The Government of the Republic must use the opportunity, not to settle old scores, but to build bridges, not to reopen wounds, but to heal scars. I give notice that, having supported the Government in the Lobby tonight, we shall give the proposal a break, and that we shall judge it on how it is applied, and what is achieved in practice.

When the Minister replies, will he tell the House a little more about the content and procedure which the Government have in mind for the conference? I do not expect him to tell us in advance what the Irish Government will say before they say it, nor am I seeking a commitment about the Government's response to hypothetical situations. But may I mention some of the topics which many people in Northern Ireland hope will be raised because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, yesterday, they want to see the conference used to improve the condition of daily life. Some of them are less interested in the vocabulary of constitutional discourse than in pragmatic issues of day-to-day living.

The people of Northern Ireland want to see questions raised about those unemployment levels to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) referred yesterday, and some suggestions for renewing the economy and creating jobs. Some measures will obviously entail detailed co-operation between the two parts of Ireland.

A common transport policy would make a great deal of sense, and it would entail some capital projects which could set human beings to work to meet the needs of human beings. When I travel from London to Belfast, or the other way, I have a choice of flights, and when I travel between London and Dublin I have a choice of flights. But last week when I travelled from Belfast to Dublin, there were no scheduled flights between the two cities.

Many people will hope to hear that the conference has discussed the future of the gas industry to see whether 1,000 jobs can be saved, and whether consumers can have the choice of fuel, which is open to citizens of the rest of the United Kingdom and of almost every other part of Europe. They will want to see raised the condition of some of the hospitals which have been the subject of a united protest by people from both traditions.

There are at present people in London who would take a warmer view of the project if it were used to discuss the living conditions of tenants in the Divis flats. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will take the opportunity to visit the exhibition at the Town Planning Institute, which opened yesterday, about life for people in the Divis. And it is not only those on one side of the political divide who wish to hear discussions on housing.

In a recent poll among tenants of the White City complex, only 0·7 per cent. were happy with their treatment by the authorities, and 62 per cent. regarded their treatment as "poor or very poor." Residents of the Divis flats believe that there is no solution to their problems except demolition, but they are not being listened to. Tenants of White City complain that proposals for demolition were sprung on them without consultation. Therefore, there is material for the conference to discuss.

People on both sides of the sectarian divide wish that someone would look closely at the operation of the Payment for Debt Act. They suggest, not that people should not pay their debts, but that it is wrong that payment should be enforced without proper control by the courts and without taking proper account of a family's needs. If the two Governments read that Act, they will see why there is such intense feeling about it.

We have been told that the conference will be used at an early stage to discuss ways of enhancing security co-operation. That is welcome news. It has improved in some respects, but there is still scope for improvement. According to the joint communiqué, the Governments also propose devoting some of their initial meetings to
"seeking measures which would give substantial expression to the aim of underlining the importance of public confidence in the administration of justice."
I doubt whether the literary style of the document will qualify for the Nobel prize for literature, but we can forgive that. I hope that that means that there will be some early discussions on the super-grass trials, and the delays in bringing cases to court. I hope that it will be interpreted widely, and will include the strip searching of women prisoners in Armagh, including those who have not even been convicted. That is causing genuine and deep resentment. I hope that it will be construed widely enough to include the use of plastic bullets.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the implementation of the Baker report. We would prefer to see more radical changes than those suggested by Sir George Baker, but I understand that on 8 November the Committee for the Administration of Justice was told that there were not even proposals to implement the Baker report this Session. Perhaps the conference should discuss that. To put the matter at its lowest, there is room to debate whether some of the existing measures contribute to security, or whether they are counter-productive because they are seen as oppressive and unfair.

I know that the Government would not greatly wish to see those issues placed on the agenda, because they do not agree with the criticisms. But that will be the test of the Government's commitment to making the conference work. It is not whether they will respond to suggestions which they welcome but how they will react to suggestions which they would prefer not to hear that will be the measure of their good faith. If, after a period, there are no changes in those matters, the agreement may well be seen as seeking to legitimise the present position.

While I do not ask for firm guarantees in advance of the discussions, it may help some hon. Members to make up their minds, about the agreement if the Minister assures us that the Government will listen sympathetically to any suggestions which are made on those issues.

Is not part of the problem the fact that the Government appear to have said rather different things to different people, and talked with forked tongues? The House is being told one thing, yet the Irish Minister of Justice, Mr. Noonan, has appeared on American television saying that the Republic has been given a major and substantial role in the day-to-day running of Northern Ireland. How are they to be reconciled? It is dangerous to say different things to different people at the same time about the same subject.

I understand my hon. Friend's anxieties.

Everything will depend on how the agreement is implemented. If it is not implemented in good faith, we cannot expect anything from it, but it offers an opportunity to discuss issues which many of us would like to see discussed. We can only wait to see what the Government's reaction is if those issues are raised.

Will the Minister give the House further information about the way in which the conference is intended to work? In the joint communiqué we were told that the two Governments envisaged that normally neither meetings of the conference nor the agenda would be announced. I understand that that means that we shall not be told about them in advance.

I heard the answer that the Prime Minister gave to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and I heard with interest what the Secretary of State said about that point today. I understand that the proceedings cannot take place wholly in public. There is much to be said for an atmosphere in which words can be exchanged without being subjected to textual analysis in the columns of every newspaper. But if we are not given a full and frank report, suspicions will breed and multiply. Those who were not present will suspect that others are privy to the discussions and have been consulted. Those who are not told what is being discussed will guess, and they will guess the worst. I hope that the Minister will tell us a little more about that when he replies.

How widely or narrowly is it envisaged that the agenda will range? Will the Government of the Republic be able to raise individual questions? I assume that the machinery is not intended to operate as what the Secretary of State calls a complaints commission, but clearly the Government of the Republic will be under pressure to include innumerable individual cases, such as the failure of the Housing Executive to decorate a particular house. The proposals could then founder beneath the sheer weight of the agenda items. However, some individual cases may merit inclusion. Perhaps we could be told a little more about the Government's thinking on that.

If the Republic makes a suggestion and the United Kingdom Government are minded to agree, what happens next? Who else will be consulted? There is a feeling among many parties in Northern Ireland that they will not have an opportunity to comment on the proposals. They are afraid that what promises to be a framework for talking and listening may actually be used to exclude some people from having a voice.

Perhaps the Minister can tell us at what stage the opinion of other parties in Northen Ireland will be canvassed. Will it be done before the proposals are formulated, in such a way that the Government have painted themselves into a corner? Perhaps the same problem will arise about consultations with parties in the House.

We in the Labour party say that the conference should be given a chance. That does not entail a promise to endorse everything which may emerge from it. The conference will be on trial, and it will be by its fruits that we shall know it. But we know the consequences of the status quo and the present stagnation and we do not think it right to reject half a loaf because it is not a feast. History will tell who among us is right and who is mistaken. It will also distinguish between those who tried and those who simply despaired.

4.32 pm

I strongly support the agreement and I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State on having negotiated it. I pay tribute to the predecessors of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who I know did much of the spadework on this agreement, and to the officials from our Government and those from the Government of the Republic of Ireland who have toiled tirelessly to bring it about.

However, I make one point to the Government. I beg of them not to underplay the agreement. It could serve a most useful purpose. The Government will be attacked, as they were in the House, from both sedentary and a standing positions, and they will be unscrupulously misrepresented in the Province, but there is nothing to be gained from underplaying the usefulness of the agreement.

The leader of the Official Unionists said yesterday that there is nothing in the agreement that was not in the Sunningdale agreement, and that is right. There was the recognition by the Government of the Republic that there can be no change without the full consent of the people of Northern Ireland. We put the fact that there can be no change without that consent into the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, and it is firmly there from Parliament as a whole. The fact that the Sunningdale agreement was to be registered as an international treaty is also correct and that point is rightly repeated here. There is nothing to be gained from overplaying the agreement but a great deal to be lost from underplaying it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), in a moving speech, said yesterday that we could not go on as we are. Many of us have felt that deeply for a long time, but it is not necessarily an argument for making a change of this kind. The agreement serves a positive purpose—to bring about a closer relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The useful outcome of that could be a much greater effort to deal with the strife inside the Province. Most of us have long recognised that there can be no purely police or military solution to the problem. If we do not realise it after 16 years, I do not know when we shall. There must be a combination of political action with police and military action. This agreement will allow much closer cooperation along those lines.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) whose integrity we greatly respect, said yesterday that we must try to understand the Protestants of Northern Ireland. I agree, but we have also to try to understand the Catholics in Northern Ireland, particularly after 50 years of one-party rule, which lasted until Stormont was suspended. We have to try to understand the situation in the Republic if we are to have a sound solution.

I have tried to understand these different points of view over a long period going back into the distance when I was Chief Whip here, and Brian Faulkner was in Stormont. I confess that I have always found the Irish, all of them, extremely difficult to understand. Shortly after I became Prime Minister, I held a meeting of the three Prime Ministers at Chequers. It was the first time that the three Prime Ministers in these tiny islands had met for nearly 50 years. It is astonishing that we could carry on in the modern world in such a way.

I was struck forcibly by the fact that the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and the Taoiseach of the Republic spent a great deal of their time reminiscing about their times together, the university to which they went together, their education together, what they had done together and how they were working out everything together. I was the odd man out, and nobody cared about the odd man out because the Northern Ireland Prime Minister and the Taoiseach were working so closely together. It has always been said that we English cannot understand any of the Irish, and one just has to accept that, although we are all part of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It is because we want to work closely together that I so strongly support this agreement.

In 1961, when I began the negotiations for British membership of the European Community, I went to Belfast to discuss this matter with the Government of Northern Ireland. Lord Brookeborough was then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and I had a meeting with him and his Cabinet. They were on my side, perhaps a little to my surprise. I was told that this was so because the entrance of Britain and the Republic of Ireland into the European Community would enable us to establish a much closer working relationship, which would remove many of the problems that then existed between North and South.

In particular, they believed that it would help to deal with the threat which they felt at the time, that, because of the higher standard of living in the Province, people would always try to move across the border from the Republic into the Province. This was a threat to their organisation of industry and employment and the figures of unemployment. The Republic of Ireland has considerably improved its standard of living in the past 10 years since it became a member of the Community, and that particular threat no longer exists.

Nobody can doubt that the Government of the Republic find great difficulty with some public opinion in taking effective action on security matters. Here, above all, they can help. It is because I believe that the present Government of the Republic has been the most helpful of all the Governments with whom I have had acquaintance that I thought it was right—I said so at the time—that the Government should accept the settlement of the common agricultural policy, which gave a considerable advantage to the Republic. We were helping our friends. Some of the encouragement has borne fruit and will continue to do so. The great threat is violence in Northern Ireland and this agreement can lead to much closer co-operation between the two Governments in dealing with violence. Why should we want to maintain barriers when we are working more closely with such a large part of the world? I fail to understand the outlook of people who want to keep the barriers and indeed to profit from the barriers that exist today.

Before the troubles of 1959 and 1961 so many things were done corporately by North and South in Ireland without anyone questioning them at all. Transport, water supplies, movement of business, the free movement of personnel, were all carried on jointly and everybody accepted them as being a desirable aspect of life in an island. Today, unfortunately, one only has to mention cooperation in one sphere and there are enormous shrieks of horror. Joint action must be encouraged.

One of the advantages of the Sunningdale agreement is that it was negotiated by the parties in the Province, which were then the power-sharing Executive-elect. They had not actually taken up their positions, but they were the power-sharing Executive-elect. They took up their positions as soon as Sunningdale was signed and they worked extraordinarily effectively. The Sunningdale agreement was between the Government of the South and the parties of the North which were about to become an Executive. It meant that the parties in the North knew everything and that they would always know everything in the discussions. Unfortunately, the present agreement does not have that advantage because since the breakdown of the Sunningdale agreement, some of the parties in Northern Ireland have not been prepared, for one reason or another, to co-operate in the political process. I do not blame any particular party for that. There are representatives of those parties here today.

It makes it extremely difficult for any British Government to work out an agreement in which the political parties of the Province take part. I deeply regret that and I hope that progress will be made to a position where those political parties will become involved.

I am slightly worried that the question of devolution will cause certain items to be removed from the agenda of the Intergovernmental Conference. There is a danger that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) will object to that because it will give more power to the Official Unionists in the Province and less power to his friends. I hope that that will not happen but from experience one knows that it can. If it does happen that will make devolving particular functions to the Province—which I believe desirable—far more difficult for the Government to carry out. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his friends will play their part in enabling devolution to take place.

I am in favour of devolution because I believe that only with devolution will there be responsibility in politics, in the press and in public opinion in the Province. Only when the people of the Province themselves are responsible will that happen. With devolution, a more moderate, reasonable and sensible attitude would be taken towards so many problems that exist in the Province. From the bottom of my heart, I wish this agreement well.

4.46 pm

I echo the hope of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that this agreement will succeed. I believe that it is the wish of the vast majority of hon. Members to express to the Prime Minister and to the Taoiseach our heartfelt hope that, working together over the next few months, they will provide a better basis for the understanding of the agreement in our two countries, and particularly in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members are sad and anxious that at present there is little doubt that the agreement does not carry the support, understanding or sympathy of the vast bulk of people in Northern Ireland.

I do not think that the hon. Members who are considering resigning their seats and seeking re-election to the House need do that simply to convince hon. Members that they genuinely speak for the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. If there is a failing in England, it has often been to under-estimate the extent to which the unionist parties authentically speak for very large numbers of people in Northern Ireland. We may not like, and I have often criticised, both the style of their approach and their attitudes, but one does not have to visit Northern Ireland for long to understand that the fears and anxieties that they express in the House are truly representative of their constituents. It may be too late for those hon. Members to reconsider, but I hope that they will not feel it necessary to conduct their own form of referendum on an issue which is not in dispute in the House. We believe that they genuinely speak for the people whom they represent.

If the agreement is to work, its scope must be extended. It is worth reminding ourselves that the background for the agreement is the fact that more than 2,500 of our fellow citizens have lost their lives since 1967 and that nearly 750 of them were members of the security forces. If any hon. Members need a reminder of that terrorism, they need only look underneath the clock in the Chamber and read the memorial to Airey Neave.

It must be in the interests of all to win the confidence of the majority in Northern Ireland and particularly in the interests of the minority and of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and his party. To achieve that, we must immediately have a forum for wider debate about the Intergovernmental Conference. I hope that that will be a prominent part of the Assembly's agenda—there is no reason why it should not be. I urge the SDLP, even if it feels that it cannot return to the Assembly in full, at least to participate and take up its membership for that part of the debate concerned with the Intergovernmental Conference and the agenda, and the decisions and debate that result. That would be a concrete gesture of good will and would address the anxiety of some that, having been helpful in securing the agreement, the SDLP has no incentive to re-enter the Assembly or to involve itself in real devolved government.

The Irish Government and the Irish people have an important stand to take in the Republic by ratifying the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. I hope that they will take that action speedily because that will be a considerable reassurance that they intend to fulfil to the letter all the aspects of the agreement.

The agreement, which is a delicate hinge created between the Republic and the United Kingdom Governments, will stand or fall on the fundamental issue of how we jointly grapple with the problem of terrorism.

The Prime Minister, like most hon. Members, would have liked the Republic to give up that part of its constitution which claims the territory of Northern Ireland. It is undoubtedly sad that it has not felt able to carry that through for reasons connected with a referendum and the Republic's own internal political situation.

The calculation is that it is only within a framework like the agreement that the Republic could involve itself in the practical detailed cross-border arrangements that are absolutely fundamental to halt terrorism. I assume that that is the main calculation on which the Prime Minister, an admitted unionist, felt able to risk putting her signature and the authority of the Government to the agreement and asking the House to endorse it. If that is so, we must see concrete agreements and achievements in that area of security. The right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason), too, in a very effective speech yesterday, made it clear that that was the issue on which he would judge the agreement.

It may be difficult for Ministers to admit this, but we know that so long as terrorists do not have a wall against their backs, so long as they can escape the day-to-day tensions of constant police surveillance and the possibility of being exposed and arraigned before the law by slipping across the border for a fortnight, it will be almost impossible to defeat terrorism and violence. At various times it has been suggested that the border should be sealed, but for political, economic and social reasons, everyone has concluded that that is impossible.

Breaking terrorism is not just a matter of military and security forces. There must also be political, economic and social agreement. All those aspects are covered by the agreement. The fundamental point, however, is that the border must be better patrolled than it is now. There must be more sharing of intelligence, joint action by the British and Irish armies and co-operation between the Garda and the RUC to an extent not seen hitherto and at a consistent and persistent level. There is no reason why there should not be a form of joint patrolling and joint helicopter patrols. Cross-border co-operation must be stepped up in a major way.

I prefer not to give way, as time is short and I wish to be brief.

If cross-border co-operation were stepped up in that way, nothing could begin to give greater confidence to the majority in Northern Ireland.

Certain other developments are also worth considering. I regret that the decision was not taken immediately to set up an Anglo-Irish parliamentary council. If, as I fundamentally believe, this is an agreement between our two Parliaments and our two Governments are to be the executors of that agreement, nothing could be more natural, proper and right than that the House was able to put the actions of the Intergovernmental Conference under parliamentary scrutiny. I believe that that would strengthen confidence in the agreement on the part of the majority in Northern Ireland. Exceptionally, we in Great Britain must accept that in any such council Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies must be given considerable weight. On this occasion we must give up a concept that we have always thought necessary—that of a natural majority for the Government of the day. We must trust Members from Northern Ireland to take the lion's share—that is perhaps too strong an expression, but at any rate a major share—of representation from the United Kingdom in any parliamentary delegation to that council.

I believe, too, that there must be proportional representation of Members from Northern Ireland in this Chamber, as there should be for the United Kingdom as a whole. [Interruption.] There is proportional representation in the Assembly elections for the very sensible purpose of trying to ensure representation of the minority. We should take note of that here. [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not accept that—I realise that such a change will come only with the consent of the British people as a whole, probably through a referendum—they must allow some Members of the Assembly to be represented on the parliamentary council. Otherwise, there will not be the spread of opinion of the parliamentary parties in Northern Ireland which is so critical to the success of the council.

In "The Way Forward", the Official Unionist party advocated a bill of rights and many of us were sad that that did not come out of the agreement. I certainly hope that "The Way Forward" will not go into the dustbin. I do not think that the House took enough notice of the significant steps taken in that report by many unionists to try to convince the minority in the Province that they genuinely wanted a different type of government from that which they had experienced before. I have no doubt at all that devolved government is essential for Northern Ireland. The agreement does not take us much further towards that, and some fear that it has taken us a few steps back from it. We must give the highest priority to achieving that object.

I believe that it will always be easier to persuade people in Northern Ireland to return to devolved government in the context of a constitutional arrangement for the United Kingdom as a whole, covering legislative devolution for Scotland and greater devolution and decentralisation for Wales and the regions of England, but that is for another debate. In the immediate short term, the SDLP has a great responsibility to show by word and action that it wishes to help to create a partnership government in Northern Ireland.

Those are all for the future. I have not mentioned the past because these debates are too often dominated by the past. The agreement is still very fragile. It does not have the whole-hearted consent of the people of Northern Ireland, although I believe that it will be shown today to have the whole-hearted consent of the Westminster Parliament. Unionists who wish to live under the Westminster Parliament must listen to that voice and take note of that decision. They cannot have it both ways. The supremacy of the Westminster Parliament—I prefer that expression to the word "sovereignty"—is an absolute for all our citizens. If the vote goes against unionist Members today, I hope that they will accept that decision and live with the consequences. They can, of course, use all constitutional measures open to them. They can resign their seats to show that they speak for the people, although I am already convinced of that. What they cannot do if they are to remain true to their unionist convictions is try to overturn the decisions of this Parliament by unconstitutional means. It is to the credit of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) that throughout what has been a difficult episode for him personally and for his party, he has made it clear that he intends to take the constitutional route, and he deserves the acclamation of us all for that.

The tone of this debate has been very different from that of Irish debates in the House through the centuries. For that, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), too, deserves some credit, although it is not often given to him. None of us knows what will be the end result of the agreement. I can only say on behalf of the SDP and the Liberal party that we wish it well. But there is much work to be done. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said that the Prime Minister should not underplay the agreement, and I agree with him. It is potentially a very powerful agreement. It is not a modest measure. It could become a very profound and important measure if it received the whole-hearted support of all the people of the United Kingdom. The question is whether that hinge can operate evenly between the Republic and the United Kingdom. It is the responsibility of the House to ensure that the hinge operates evenly and does not discriminate in any way against the majority in Northern Ireland.

4.59 pm

This will be my last speech in the House for some time. If the IRA threat conveyed to me by the police comes to fruition, it may be the last time that I address the House at all. That being so, I naturally look back to the first time I addressed the House from this Bench.

I recall that in my maiden speech I quoted the comments of the then newly elected Speaker. He said:

"At the heart of all the tensions that exist, rightly, between free citizens and which rightly divide them, we meet to resolve those tensions by free and fair debate, respecting not only one's own right to hold an opinion but equally the right of the Other man to hold diametrically opposed opinions and to express them equally freely … And at the heart of that heart sits a neutral chairman, favouring neither side, except for his sworn duty to protect minorities".—[Official Report, 29 June 1970; Vol. 803, c. 7–8.]
I wish this debate was taking place in Northern Ireland between the elected representatives of Northern Ireland and on the basis of the principles set out by the Speaker on that occasion. Thus the people of Northern Ireland through their own representatives could perhaps hammer out some agreement that might be helpful in the present crisis and chaos that our Province is experiencing.

Such a debate cannot take place because one party in this House—the SDLP—whose leader, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), lectures us about the sovereignty of this House, refuses to come to an Assembly set up by this House for the purpose of discussing, and finding some solution to, the questions before us.

During the first debate in which I participated, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, then Leader of the Opposition, concurred with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the Prime Minister of the day, in giving a solemn promise, which I repeated in my speech, when I said that the
"people in every section of the community in Northern Ireland, irrespective of their political views and religious beliefs, … were entitled to the same equality of treatment"—[Official Report, 3 July 1970; Vol. 803, c. 227.]
The opposition of all Unionists to the Hillsborough agreement is because that principle is basely violated by this agreement. There is nothing in this agreement for the majority.

The hon. Member for Foyle, when he addressed the House yesterday—he always lectures in absolutes; he would argue for a united Ireland or nothing—said, "There is no other road." I am entitled, representing the people of Northern Ireland, to look down that road which I am asked to travel with the people that I represent.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said that all the parties in Northern Ireland were represented at Sunningdale. That is entirely untrue. The promise was given in the White Paper, that all parties would be represented, but because of the representations from the Dublin Government, three unionist parties in Northern Ireland were rejected from that conference. I refer to the group led by Mr. Harry West, who later led the Official Unionist party, Mr. Craig of the Vanguard unionist party and the party that I have the honour to represent, the Democratic Unionists. They were kept outside the doors of Sunningdale and now the entire unionist family has been kept outside the doors. The Sunningdale agreement did not work when two thirds of the unionists were outside the doors. What will happen now the door is closed to all unionists?

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) more or less read a homily to us about the supremacy of this House, but this House also has an obligation under the laws that it makes to the people of every place in the United Kingdom. There is a solemn obligation passed by this House—in fact I had the honour to move the amendment so that it could become law—that the people of Northern Ireland, if faced with any change in the status of Northern Ireland would have a say. We are not now to have that say. That is the grievance that the people of Northern Ireland have.

The hon. Member for Foyle said there is no other road. I am entitled to ask whence this road comes and whither it goes. Only the foolish would commit themselves to a road without examining it. People may say what they like about unionists and loyalists but the unionists in Northern Ireland include Roman Catholics as well as Protestants. The House should remember that. We know this to be true because the European and Assembly elections are run under the proportional representation system. So we know for certain how localities are voting and what their preferences are.

It might surprise the House to know that thousands of people who put a first vote for the hon. Member for Foyle in the first European election, put their second vote for me. They were not adamant Protestants like myself; they belonged to a different faith. I did not need their votes, because I was elected on the first count but the hon. Member for Foyle needed transfer votes. I needed transfer votes less the last time, although I was told in this House by colleagues that I would never attain the same vote again. I am glad that I more than attained it the next time, as I had a record vote, bigger than any vote given to any candidate at any election in the United Kingdom.

I was told by one colleague that the Government Whips had said that my power in Northern Ireland had waned. I welcome an election. As soon as I can, I will come before the electorate again because I believe that the only discipline in a democracy is the ballot box. I have been defeated in elections, I have won elections, but I have always accepted the ballot box. [Interruption] The hon. Gentleman does not know the hard road by which I came to this House. I did not always have a majority. I saw candidates lose their deposits time and again, but I did not lose faith in the democratic method. The right hon. Member for Devonport said that I do not get much credit for that, but what does it matter? The best thing for a man in this place is to know that his people are for him. The important thing is that the grass roots that I represent know that I represent them the way they should be represented.

This morning the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and I took part in a radio phone-in and Roman Catholics paid tribute to both of us for the way in which we work for both sections of the community. I defy any Member of this House to go to my constituency and show me Roman Catholics that I have not faithfully represented. The Ministers on the Front Bench know that. I represent all the people of my constituency.

This agreement came out of the Forum, which was a proposal of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). It was to be a purely nationalist organisation. Dr. Garret FitzGerald wished to enlarge it, but how could unionists go to something which was planning their destruction? No self-respecting unionist went and consequently we had the Forum report. The Prime Minister had some strong words to say about its recommendations. She said, "Out, out, out." There was no sense of triumphalism in Northern Ireland when she said it. I did not see people marching and saying, "That is great, the Prime Minister is on our side." We just accepted reality. Even Labour spokesmen now say that that was the right stance and that it was not possible to pursue the route offered by the Forum report. Little did we know that, after saying that, the Prime Minister would do a complete turnabout. As the Leader of the Opposition said, she made a change. I should like to consider that change.

The road was engineered for all of the people of Northern Ireland, but the amazing thing is that the majority who must walk it and who feel that it is uphill and a hard path, were not consulted at all whereas the minority who will use it for their own ends were consulted at every turn. On television, Mr. McGrady the SDLP's chief whip, said that at every turn of the consultations his leader and party were consulted. I asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to condemn the Dublin Government's breaking of confidentiality, but he did not see fit to do so. If he is not prepared to do that when we are preparing the structure, what will happen when the structure is complete?

The conference is not between Ministers of the South and Ministers of the North but three ways, between the Republic, the SDLP and Northern Ireland Ministers. That means that the SDLP can go to see Ministers as public representatives and come to the Assembly if they want to—they do not come—and, best of all, they have the ear of the Dublin Government, through which they can put their views. The hon. Member for Foyle then has the cheek to tell me that the agreement is the only road. The Ulster people will not be walking that road. I am not talking about rioting that might take place. That is just what republicans are worried about. There has been no rioting among loyalists.

I read that Garret FitzGerald said in Dublin that when the riots start in Northern Ireland and Mrs. Thatcher calls in the troops and sets the RUC against loyalists, the agreement will stick. Protestant people accept the leadership that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and I are attempting to provide. We will not fall into that trap. There will be no rioting on the streets or civil commotion. We will use democratic principles. I hope that the House respects that. I hope that it will ensure that fair play is given to those who use democratic principles.

If the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley. I and the colleagues around us do not return to the House and the Government have others to deal with, I could dare to prophesy what will happen in Northern Ireland. We shall be going into uncharted waters. Many right hon. and hon. Members have deep feelings on this matter and will defeat us overwhelmingly in the Lobby. We know that we are heading for defeat, but those who will defeat us are not living on the border. They are not following the funeral processions. They are not mothers of policemen. They are not wives of policemen. Nor are they the wives or mothers of UDR men. Those are the people to whom the House had better pay attention. I am trying as best I can to put the case that they have put to me.

The people who made the road are not sure whether it is well made but say that we should take it. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) told us about Mr. Noonan's speech in America. He has a view of the agreement that is entirely different from that put forward by the Government. The Government tell me that nothing is changed, that the UDR will remain under their authority, that there will be no change in the British Army and that security is in the hands of the House and that this House alone is responsible, and that Ministers are responsible to it. When the Taoiseach arrived home from Hillsborough, he had something entirely different to say. He stepped off the plane and said:
"in the future, the UDR will operate differently from the way in which it has operated for the last 12 years … That means that from now on as soon as this can be put into effect"
that is before this Parliament met to discuss the matter—
"the position at present where the UDR can hold people up on the road, stop them, search them, question them, will no longer operate."
The UDR is the only defence of people living on the border. I was in a home on the border the other day. The last time they saw a police officer was four years ago, yet they have suffered the deepest of trial—the husband was taken, hooded and kidnapped for four hours. Their only defence is the UDR.

I am not criticising the police—there are calls for the police which, if answered, would result in their being killed on the way there or on the way back. We are in a very difficult situation. If the UDR cannot stop terrorists and question them and arrest them, we shall be in more serious trouble than ever before. We must face up to that fact.

What is more, the Dublin premier said:
"The question of how security should be organised in Northern Ireland is one for the Conference."
I suggest that it is a matter for this House and Ministers who are answerable to this House, not any conference. I do not trust the information that would be given at a conference as, by various means, it would get into the hands of those who would get it to terrorists. It is hard enough to have security in Northern Ireland without handing it over to an open conference such as that.

Michael Noonan, the Republic's Justice Minister, commented on the Taoiseach's remark that "the first thing that they will do in the Forum is try to curb the paramilitary UDR". The UDR is not a paramilitary group but a regiment of the British army. It is under the authority of the British Army. But here we have an Irish Minister telling us what he will do with a British Army regiment at the conference. If anything should be done with a British Army regiment, it should be done in order in this House and through the Ministers responsible.

I know that things have happened in the police force and in the UDR, but the whole regiment is not condemned because a few people step out of line. Such people were brought into line. They were arrested and put through the courts. Some are serving their sentences. That is how it should be done. Members of other regiments have done dastardly deeds in Northern Ireland and have been dealt with in the same way.

These people are not sure what the road is. They are not sure about the status of their own document. That seriously worries the people of Northern Ireland. They are exceptionally sensitive to any attempt to take them out of the United Kingdom. Anyone who has read history should understand that this did not start in 1920, but goes far back to the days of the plantation settlement and back into the dim and distant past. There have been continued efforts to destroy the British presence in Ireland. Republicans consider me and my supporters as the British garrison. We were told recently that every Brit had to get out. I am proud to be British; I was born British and I shall remain British.

I have no time for UDI. Although people have said that Ulster nationalism has suddenly bloomed, I have not seen any Ulster nationalism. The 200,000 people at city hall were calling not for Ulster nationalism, but for equal rights within the United Kingdom, where they should be allowed to stay without any pressures put upon them.

The agreement has something to say about the status of Northern Ireland. It affirms:
"Any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland".
But nowhere in the document is the status of Northern Ireland defined. What is the status of Northern Ireland? To me and to this Parliament, this is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is not the Republic's position. Articles 2 and 3 of the Republic's constitution claim jurisdiction over that part of the United Kingdom.

In the Sunningdale agreement there was a difference between what the Irish Government said and what the British Government said. I refreshed my memory of this today. I noticed how carefully the communiqué is printed in Hansard and I suggest that every hon. Member reads it. It states:
"The Irish Government fully accepted and solemnly declared that there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland desired a change in that status."
That is no different from what is stated in the new agreement. It is nonsense for the Prime Minister to say that this is the first time, because it happened before.

The communiqué stated:
"The British Government solemnly declared that it was, and would remain, their policy to support the wishes of the majority of people of Northern Ireland. The present status of Northern Ireland is that it is part of the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 10 December 1973; Vol. 866, c. 37.]
The Governments' declarations were different in the Sunningdale agreement. Mr. Boland took the Southern Government to court because of the alleged violation of the Irish constitution. Only when the Prime Minister and those responsible went to court and swore solemnly that it was a political declaration of the fact could they get themselves off the hook.

Everyone agrees that the majority of people of Northern Ireland must have the final say, but what can I say to those people when they ask, "What if they do not let us have the final say?" The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) said yesterday that he believed that the status of Northern Ireland had been changed. If a former Minister believes that, can we blame the ordinary Ulster Protestant or unionist Catholic for thinking the same? Are they not entitled to draw the same conclusion? That is why it would be better for the House to accept that there has been a change of status and to test it with a referendum. That is why Unionist Members must resign and go to the country.

There is a crisis in our land. The only thing that will steady our people is the opportunity to do something. Constitutionalists must be asked to vote with their feet. That is what Ulster people want, and the House could help by facilitating the by-elections and the moving of the writs. I warn the House that if any hon. Member tries to prevent Ulster from being represented in the House, he will reap the consequences. The House cannot blame the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley or me. The House should facilitate those who want this to remain a constitutional battle, not one in the streets of our cities. No matter how hon. Members feel about me or those whom I represent, I trust that they will do nothing to hinder us in moving the writs and having the elections at a proper and honest time.

I was on the radio programme "Behind the Headlines" and one of the speakers was John Kelly. The hon. Member for Foyle will know who I am speaking about. Mr. Kelly is a prominent constitutional lawyer, author of a book on the Eire constitution, a former Attorney General and a member of Fine Gael—Dr. FitzGerald's party. No one could question his authority. He was asked why the Republic's Government had not spelt out that the status of Northern Ireland was as an integral part of the United Kingdom. The interviewer said:
"You seem to be saying in your answer that the absence of the words 'Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom' is deliberate. That is to say, the Irish Government could not deliver that."
I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) had some things to say about constitutional lawyers, even though he professes to be one. John Kelly said:
"I am not saying it is deliberate, but I am saying that a formulation which was in clear conflict with the words of our article 3 is outside the power of our Government to make."
The Eire Government cannot give us an undertaking.

What worries the people of Northern Ireland is article 3 of the agreement. It talks about:
"the majority of the people of Northern Ireland."
It does not say a large majority; it could mean a bare majority. We are told that the House wishes to safeguard the minority, but what if the minority changes? I was told by a man today, "You will be bred out anyway in 20 years." I heard that when I was a boy of 12 and they are still breeding us out. But it is interesting to remember that Roman Catholic unionists also breed. I say nothing about the virility of the Protestants.

There is no safeguard here for the minority. If the population is 49·9 per cent. Protestant and the remainder is Roman Catholic or nationalist, the Government will seek to establish a united Ireland. Legislation will be introduced and supported in the respective Parliaments to give effect to the wish of an undefined majority. Why do they not talk about "widespread support in the future?" We are constantly told that there cannot be government without widespread support. However, the status of Northern Ireland can be changed. It is noticeable that no other option is given. Will we be told that the House is sovereign and that down that road we shall have to go? The majority of Ulster people will never go down that road. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that he can persuade them, he should stand in one of the by-elections, put his money where his mouth is and use his energies there. He will need his friends to put up his deposit and election expenses.

I am especially sad today because Northern Ireland had much going for it. The economy was a little brighter and there was a small improvement in what really matters—in the bread-and-butter issues that lie as dear to my heart as they do to the hearts of other hon. Members. It is appalling that, instead of the Government concentrating their efforts on getting the SDLP into the Assembly that was set up by the House, they were prepared to go down this road of folly.

In my entire career I have never seen such unity among unionists. Everyone knows my religious convictions, and anyone who said that I always agreed with the Irish Presbyterian Church—the largest Protestant church in Northern Ireland—would be laughed at. However, at a meeting of the governmental committee of that church I encountered a noted liberal whose theology and mine are miles apart. He said to me, "This is another Munich agreement. I say that because the Munich agreement settled the future of a people who were never consulted." The majority of the people in Northern Ireland were not consulted about this agreement. He also said that the Munich agreement was sold as a programme for peace. But what happened? It was the beginning of the greatest war that Europe had ever had. When a liberal churchman says that, people who would not listen to me or to my colleagues should pay attention.

It is not only those who take a strong unionist stand and who are political activists who are against the agreement. The entire Protestant community and a large section of the Roman Catholic community are against it. A letter was read to the House yesterday; I could have brought along sheaves of letters from people whose religious beliefs are very different from mine, but who are saying exactly the same as I am: that the agreement has driven a division between Protestants and Roman Catholics that should not have been driven. It has divided communities and households.

I say to the hon. Member for Foyle that the time will come when he must make up his mind whether he wishes to talk to the elected representatives of the Northern Ireland people or whether his only interest is in Dublin and in the affairs of the Irish Republic. For one year, my party worked hard to bring him to the conference table. We were even prepared to go outside the Assembly, although we believed that the Assembly was the proper place for discussions. He was invited to present his case to the devolution committee of the Assembly, but he refused to attend. The Official Unionist party and its leader did the same. The Alliance party did the same. The hon. Member for Foyle chose to speak to the army council of the IRA, knowing when he did so that the unionist door would be shut because of our stand against the IRA.

The hon. Member for Foyle will have to learn that he must live with the majority. I have learnt to live with the minority. Only when representatives of his party come round the table, not as inferiors but as equals with us—as Ulstermen elected under the same system, whether it is proportional representation or any other—can we make progress. I objected to proportional representation, but a majority will show itself under any system. Let them come round the table and talk, but let it be on the basis that no one has special privileges. There is only one way to obtain privileges in politics—

No, I will not give way—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I will give way to the hon. Member for Foyle. I was not about to give way to the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire).

The only way in which a politician can obtain special privileges is through the ballot box. I should tell the hon. Member for Foyle that I will not talk in the terms of this agreement, for this agreement is treachery. As a unionist, I will not sit down and talk to anyone in the terms of this agreement, because it has destroyed the power of the representatives of the majority to negotiate properly on behalf of their people. Their power has been effectively removed.

As the House will have gathered, the reverend gentleman from Antrim, North is neither reverend nor gentle.

Had I known the hon. Gentleman was going to say that, I would not have given way.

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman gave way. The reverend gentleman has said publicly that he has a well-stocked armoury ready to oppose this agreement. That is not a gentle approach to the problem. He has just said that he is willing to talk to us as equals. This agreement expresses the equal validity of both traditions in Northern Ireland. I am ready to talk to him outside that door in five minutes.

The hon. Gentleman's statement is an atrocious falsehood. The chief whip of the SDLP made a similar statement during a broadcast, and the BBC forced him to withdraw it publicly. What I said—I repeat it now—was that the constitutionalists of Northern Ireland and the Protestants have many weapons in their armoury. I was talking about resigning seats and about withdrawing consent. I was talking about tactics. Indeed, two days previously, a Minister said that he had many weapons in his armoury to fight something. But because I said it, I am branded. Indeed, the story got the Irish twist. In the end, it was said that I had a cache of arms hidden away. I tell the hon. Gentleman that if I had a cache of arms—