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Northern Ireland

Volume 268: debated on Thursday 7 December 1995

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Campbell Soups


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what correspondence he has received from Campbell Soups about location in Northern Ireland. [3029]

I have no record of an approach from Campbell Soups.

If the company, Campbell Soups, comes knocking on the Minister's door, he should not believe a single word that it says as all it does is tell lies. In my constituency, that US company with a turnover of $6 billion a year bought a highly profitable factory in Maryport. Within 11 weeks, it announced its closure, causing immense concern in my constituency. Will the Minister join me in asking the people of Northern Ireland to boycott Campbell Soups and Fray Bentos products in the supermarkets? The company used the market place to take its decision, and we should now let the consumers repay it for what it is doing.

I have no intention of asking the people of Northern Ireland to do anything of the sort. If an application is made to my colleague in Northern Ireland it will be looked at on its merits.

Is the Minister aware that the Campbell Soups company has a large facility in King's Lynn in my constituency which employs many people and is an excellent employer? Obviously, the people who work in that factory have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and the people who work in the factory in his constituency, but they are concerned about their jobs and future. Is the Minister also aware that if the Campbell Soups company wanted to invest in Northern Ireland it would be a good employer?

I agree with my hon. Friend—none of us likes to see job losses, wherever they occur. I repeat to my hon. Friend what I said to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours): if an application is made to my colleague, Lady Denton, it will be looked at on its merits.

Peace Process


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on developments in the peace process. [3030]


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further meetings have been arranged to continue the peace initiative. [3032]


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the latest situation in the Northern Ireland peace process. [3037]


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about recent progress in the peace negotiations. [3038]

Last Tuesday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton, announced the launch of a twin-track process to make progress in parallel on the decommissioning issue and on all-party preparatory talks.

Senator George Mitchell has been appointed as chairman-designate of the international body by both Governments. The two other members are General John de Chastelain, chief of the Canadian defence staff, and Mr. Harri Holkeri, a former Prime Minister of Finland. I wrote to the Northern Ireland parties on 1 December inviting them to begin the preparatory talks. The Tanaiste, Mr. Spring, has issued parallel invitations.

The Secretary of State will be more aware than anyone else of President Clinton's hugely successful visit to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State will have heard, as I did, the President of the United States putting the weight of his office behind the twin-track proposals. What will be the terms of reference for Senator Mitchell's committee?

The terms of reference are set out in the communiqué, which I have in front of me, but which would take too long to read out now. The terms of reference are set out in paragraphs 5 to 8 of the communiqué, which I think the hon. Gentleman will find in the Library of the House of Commons.

Will the Secretary of State explain how it is that the Government have recently signed a peace treaty in Bosnia and lifted an arms embargo, although there has been no decommissioning before the signing of the treaty? Why is it necessary in the dispute in Northern Ireland and Ireland for decommissioning to occur before a treaty is agreed? Why do the Government operate double standards on different peace treaties throughout the world?

It is the hon. Gentleman who is uncharacteristically operating double standards. He regards himself as a good democrat. In a democracy one cannot expect people to sit round a table or in any other formation to discuss the future of part of their democracy unless they have full confidence that everybody claiming to participate is there exclusively by reason of the votes that he commands, and not by reason of any armaments that he can discard.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that some Conservative Members have not been at all happy with the American President apparently interfering in the Northern Ireland peace process? However, I acknowledge that President Clinton made an extremely positive contribution last week during his visit, particularly because of the timely and powerful message that he gave to all the terrorists there that their day is over. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the robust and sound stance that he has taken on the issue of terrorist weapons and decommissioning.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There had earlier been some misunderstanding as to whether the interest of the United States was, in some degree, interference, but that never was the intention or expectation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in pointing to the deep significance of what the President said. Speaking to those who still wish to use violence for political objectives, he said:

"You are the past; your day is over".
That has rather an interesting resonance. He continued:

"Violence has no place at the table of democracy, and no role in the future of this land."
The sooner that that is accepted on all sides, the better.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that it is his view that some paramilitary arms need to be decommissioned before all parties can enter full and substantive negotiations? If an alternative is produced that engenders sufficient trust and confidence on all sides to bring all parties to such talks, will he study it closely?

As the hon. Gentleman suggested, the key to this question is confidence that everybody who claims to participate is there on a solely democratic basis and in fulfilment of what paragraph 10 of the Downing street declaration required. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear time and again that we can see no means by which that confidence can be engendered, save by the fulfilment of the three Washington conditions that I stipulated in March this year. If some other means become apparent by which that confidence could be engendered, naturally we would wish to consider it. I emphasise that we cannot see any at present.

If and when we move towards any form of talks process, there will be a more precise focus on the policies of the Government. In that context, can I refer the Secretary of State to the recent statement by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in which he said that the Government stood foursquare behind the Union with Scotland, and that that Union was a matter not only for the people of Scotland, but for the people of all the Union? How does the Secretary of State reconcile his position of disinterested neutrality and his close co-operation with a foreign Government who are subject to a constitutional imperative to destroy that Union?

The hon. Gentleman does less than justice to what was said at the time of the launching of the joint framework document in February this year, when Mr. Bruton made it clear that, as part of an overall settlement, he would put to the Irish people, in a referendum, proposals that would mean that there was no further territorial claim—such as undoubtedly exists at the moment in the Irish constitution—to that part of the island of Ireland that is part of the United Kingdom in international and domestic law. That is the first point.

Secondly, it is very important that all those matters should be available for discussion during the political track of a twin-track process. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—and I, for what that is worth—have made it clear time and again that we very much support the Union, supported as it also is by the majority of people living in Northern Ireland. The key to the understanding of the Downing street declaration is that both the Irish Government and our own stipulate in it that there will he no future change in the status of Northern Ireland, save by the wishes of most people who live in Northern Ireland.

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's statement that his working assumption was that the ceasefire was permanent, has the Secretary of State heard or seen reports of the interview with Mitchell McLaughlin, Sinn Fein party national chairman, who, when asked about the permanence of the peace, said that it was not possible to say peace was permanent because the conditions that led to 25 years of violence still existed? When asked why the IRA would not decommission weapons, he said:

"The reality is that nobody can say that these guns will not be used again".
What will the Secretary of State tell the people of Northern Ireland?

I will tell them what I have told them on many occasions before: that we do not have a complete peace, by reason of the remarks that the hon. Gentleman has just recited, and many others. There is, for instance, a passage in Mr. Adams' book, published in May this year, in which he reasserts the right of the Irish people to the "armed struggle". That is why it seems to us, and to the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom, essential, if confidence is to be established, that Sinn Fein in particular be wholly committed to peaceful and democratic means.

Then a beginning must be made to decommissioning, to signify good faith and the start of a process. There must also be a commitment to the principle of decommissioning and a method of achieving it. I very much hope that the first track—decommissioning—of the twin-track process will help to allow that confidence to be engendered.

The Secretary of State will be aware that much has been spoken and written about President Clinton's words during his welcome visit to the people of the north of Ireland. Not so much notice, however, has been taken of the words spoken, or perhaps not spoken, by the people of Northern Ireland during that visit, although they have made it clear that they want two things: lasting peace, and a new, agreed political dispensation in the north of Ireland.

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to tell the House what dynamic the two Governments are going to instil in the multilateral discussions that are to precede the all-party talks? Can he confirm that such a dynamic, which is essential, will lead to real negotiations and will put the political process back on the subject of politics, not the question of arms?

When the Prime Minister held a press conference last Wednesday week to announce agreement on the communiqué, he said that the twin-track process was intended to impart new momentum to the peace process. I am sure that it will; it is the means by which the Governments will achieve that.

Secondly, I warmly endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about President Clinton's visit. It was a most extraordinary and moving series of occasions. I certainly agree that the people of Northern Ireland, if not articulating what they meant, shouted—nay, roared—it.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend made it absolutely clear to the chairman of the international body, former Senator George Mitchell, that his remit is purely to look at illegally held weapons, not at security weapons held by Government forces? I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend watched the "Newsnight" programme last week in which Mr. Mitchell leant back laughing in his chair and said that he would be perfectly happy to look at Government weapons too. Surely that is not what we have in mind?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the communiqué uses language which accurately reflects what both Governments intend—that the arms and armaments which shall be the subject of study and advice by the commission relate to those held illegally by paramilitary organisations and do not include constitutionally held arms north or south of the border. I am aware of the "Newsnight" programme; my hon. Friend will, I think, agree that it was broadcast only a very few hours after the agreement had been reached. It may have been the case that at that stage Senator Mitchell, whose appointment had not been completed, had not fully read, read at all or been shown the terms of the communiqué. I do not know, but there is no doubt about its content.

The Opposition congratulate both Governments on the launch of the twin-track process. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge the public desire for a lasting peace so vividly expressed in Northern Ireland last week during President Clinton's visit? Interestingly, paramilitary punishment beatings on both sides of the divide stopped during that period, which is indicative that they could soon stop altogether. As to reflecting the feelings exhibited during President Clinton's visit, does the Secretary of State agree that it is up to the political parties in the preparatory talks to reach widespread agreement through dialogue on the way to proceed to all-party, substantive negotiations?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her opening remarks. I much agree with her about the significance of the intermission in punishment beatings at a time when it would have been politically inexpedient for the persons who carry them out for political purposes to have continued doing so during President Clinton's visit. If those individuals could stop the beatings at that time, let us hear no more about the inability to control them at any other time. As to the last part of the hon. Lady's question, I join her in hoping that the political parties will take full advantage of the political track—of the preparatory talks that can take place.

The hon. Lady rightly used the word "dialogue", which is intended to mean that there shall be talks in any format that seems convenient. They need not necessarily be around a table. One-to-one talks are still a dialogue. That is an important point to make, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for enabling me to make it.

Royal Victoria Hospital


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what will be the effect of the funding of Royal Victoria hospital capital projects on other capital developments in the health service; and if he will make a statement. [3031]

The Royal Victoria hospital scheme is one of a number of major capital schemes currently being taken forward. Others are at Causeway in Coleraine, the Royal Belfast hospital for sick children, at Craigavon and at the Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry. Together with a programme for health and safety improvements, that commits the bulk of resources over the next few years. In line with the Chancellor's Budget statement, I will be looking more and more to private finance to take forward new schemes.

Does the Minister agree that it is rather strange that wholesale capital investment went ahead at the Royal Victoria hospital before the McKenna report was published, bearing in mind the fact that the Minister did not release funds for the development of Belvoir Park hospital, which would have been much more minimal, until the report appeared? Is the Minister aware of continuing anxiety that the Ulster hospital, which has been waiting a considerable time for capital finance, is still waiting? Will he re-examine the private finance initiative concept and say whether it will be applied to capital work or specialty services?

The Royal Victoria capital project was agreed and endorsed by the Eastern health board and by Dr. McKenna's reorganisation project. A business case has been made for the Ulster hospital and it is currently with the Department of Finance. As to Belvoir Park, I have commissioned a report under the Chief Medical Officer to investigate cancer services in Northern Ireland. When I have that report before me, I shall make a decision regarding capital requirements at hospitals providing cancer services.

Is the Minister aware of the grave disappointment that his answers will cause the people of Down, who for three decades have been waiting for a modest capital scheme to improve the Downe group of hospitals? The injustice is that Downe, having passed efficiency and business tests with flying colours, is now subjected to a private finance initiative to which the Royal Victoria, in respect of a sum of £64 million, was not subjected. I ask the Minister to provide Downe with the modest sum required, over a three-year period, say, to improve a hospital complex that is 250 years old.

The business case for Downe hospital has been passed by the management executive and is currently with the Department of Finance. We shall then move to testing for the private finance initiative. If no private finance is forthcoming, we will have to consider providing funds on the normal basis to progress the capital scheme at Downe hospital.

Will the Minister confirm that the effective use of capital investment in the national health service in Northern Ireland remains a priority for his Department? If so, will he comment on the fact that when the new Waterside hospital at Gransna park was opened only four years ago by his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who is now Minister of State, Foreign Office, it was described as the jewel in the crown of the Western health board, but it is now to close, along with Strabane hospital in Roe valley in Limavady, as 173 NHS care-for-the-elderly beds are replaced by 65 private nursing home beds? Will the Minister give an assurance that no future expenditure of precious NHS capital resources will be wasted in a few short years, as they have been at Waterside?

The total sum available over the next five years for capital development of hospitals in Northern Ireland comes to £240 million, which is £40 million each and every year. We are considering the private finance initiative for the hospitals that are not in the programme. As I have said, it is a full and comprehensive programme. We are out for consultation on the closures at Strabane. We shall be making our decisions when we have the benefits that will derive from the consultation process.



To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his assessment of the prospects for employment in Northern Ireland. [3034]

The outlook is very encouraging. Employment is at record levels. Output and trade are increasing and tourism is booming. Business confidence is very high and there have been substantial inward investment successes recently. With continuing peace, we can look forward to this excellent progress being maintained.

Is my hon. Friend aware that over the past two-and-a-half years unemployment has fallen by 18.5 per cent. in Northern Ireland and that unemployment at the long-term end fell by fully 17 per cent.? Does he agree that the increasing employment opportunities flowing from the improved economic condition bodes well for long-term stability in the Province?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who rightly talks about the significant progress that has been made to reduce unemployment. It is interesting to note that employment is at a record level of 566,550. Even more encouraging is inward investment. Since the ceasefire 14 projects worth £288 million, with the potential to create 4,000 jobs, have been announced. Even more significantly, in the month of November five projects worth £153 million and over 2,000 jobs were announced. That indicates the strength of the Northern Ireland economy and the hope that we all have in it for the future.

Does the Minister agree that there is a sound foundation on which to build better future prospects for employment in Northern Ireland, and that we can expect with permanent peace more inward investment to take advantage of our excellent national and international air and sea links and our good road and rail links to efficiently managed harbours at Larne, Belfast, Warrenpoint and Londonderry? Most important of all, there is the opportunity for those investing in Northern Ireland to harness the skills, talents and high education qualifications of an industrious work force, which is awaiting opportunity. Will the Minister assure us that there will be continued financial support available to encourage further inward investment?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. We certainly will continue to encourage inward investment. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State visited Larne the other day with the hon. Gentleman and was most impressed by what he saw.

It is important, too, to recognise that peace is an important ingredient for inward investment. It underlines the importance of reaching an agreed settlement to underpin that peace. At the end of the day, that will give a greater boost to inward investment than anything else.

It is worth recording that it is the responsibility of us all to ensure that we sell all the good aspects of Northern Ireland, as the hon. Gentleman has just done, rather than talking, as we sometimes tend to do, about the bad aspects. Last week, when President Clinton was there, the eyes of the world through the television media had a wonderful picture of the opportunities that exist within Northern Ireland.

Although the peace process has played a significant and welcome part in creating new jobs in Northern Ireland, should not the agencies, such as the Irish Development Board and the tourist board, be recognised for the enormous amount of effort that they have put into making the Province more attractive in many respects? In relation to tourism, does my hon. Friend agree that even greater efforts could be put into ensuring that people, not only in that part of the United Kingdom but in the rest of Europe, are aware of the wonderful opportunities and attractions of that most beautiful part of the United Kingdom?

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, who not only has great experience of the work that is being done in Northern Ireland but contributed to it very substantially during his time as a Minister in Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to him for that. He is right to point to the work that is being done by those agencies, both of which are fully aware of the opportunities that the ceasefires have brought to Northern Ireland, and are taking Northern Ireland out across the world and selling it. I know that both are making substantial efforts to do so.

The Minister will agree that inward investment depends very much on good transport links. Does he share my concern and that of many people in Northern Ireland that Belfast international airport is seeking to take over Belfast city airport, and that that would be to the detriment of the tourist industry, the business community and, indeed, all people travelling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom?

As the hon. Lady knows, those areas do not fall within my responsibility, but I am sure that my colleagues who are responsible for them will have heard what she has to say. It is important that we give every encouragement to movements within the economic sector in Northern Ireland that increase competitiveness and therefore give a chance to the people of Northern Ireland to prosper within their economy.

Although I welcome the inward investment into Northern Ireland, which is creating jobs and impacting on long-term unemployment, would not the prospects for employment be improved if job losses that have occurred through privatisation, the creation of agencies and the contracting-out of services—particularly strategic services, where in-house bids are prohibited—were prevented? Would it not be better to stop that process to preserve jobs within the Province?

If the hon. Gentleman were to talk to those involved in, for instance, the five projects that were announced last month, in terms of inward investment, he would find that many of them are interested in investing in Northern Ireland because of the flexible employment practices that exist there. My understanding—if I do understand Labour party policy, which is never as clear as it might be—is that if the Labour party had its way, those flexible practices would be discontinued.

Water And Sewage Treatment Plants


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the performance of water and sewage treatment plants in Northern Ireland. [3035]

The Department continually assesses the performance of its water and sewage treatment works. Data about the quality of water produced at its water treatment works is available on the public register. The environment service is preparing formal discharge standards for sewage treatment works for monitoring on a similar public register.

Is the Minister aware that his Department is allowing industrial effluent to be put into the normal sewerage system, which inevitably leads to untreated sewage entering our rivers? Will he give an assurance that no sludge from aluminium or supernatant water is getting back into the drinking water system in Northern Ireland, with the obvious dangers of causing Alzheimer's disease?

The Department's water executive operates approximately 900 sewage treatment facilities in Northern Ireland, ranging from small rural septic tanks to multi-million pound works in urban areas. In that context, in 1994, just 27 pollution incidents out of a total of 2,216 were ascribed to its work—approximately only 1 per cent. Aluminium levels in public water supplies are regulated under the Water Quality (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1994, and the United Kingdom standards in them incorporate those of the European Commission. There is no proven link between aluminium and the incidence of Alzheimer's disease.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the people of Greater Andersonstown in my constituency of West Belfast have had to tolerate the stench of human excreta for the past 20 years and that various Department of the Environment Ministers have made promises and given explanations, all of which have been futile. He will also be aware that the DOE gave planning permission for building the large housing estates and development of the nearby brewery. Will the Secretary of State accept that the DOE and the Northern Ireland Office have been grossly negligent in allowing that problem to continue for so many years?

Will the Minister now give a guarantee that meaningful and urgent action will be taken to deal with the problem so that the thousands of families who live in the area will no longer have to tolerate the stench of human sewage?

I am familiar with the problem, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, of the Upper Falls works, since he brought a deputation to see me on that very matter. He will be pleased to note that the Department has met the senior management of the Bass brewery, who have agreed to reduce the strength of the brewery's discharge by 50 per cent. during the next six months. That should bring the discharge load down to design capacity.

In the longer term, we have now agreed a new route for the sewer to Glenmachan street pumping station and from there to the reconstructed sewage treatment works at Duncrue street. Detailed design work has commenced and I hope that the new sewer will be installed towards the end of the 1996-97 financial year.

Republic Of Ireland (Agreement)


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make it his policy that no joint agreement with the Republic of Ireland will be agreed by the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of Northern Ireland citizens. [3039]

It is already the declared policy of Her Majesty's Government that the present status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom will not change without the consent of the people who live there, and that the outcome of the three stranded talks process will be put to the electorate of Northern Ireland for their approval by referendum. We have no plans to add to or subtract from that policy.

Will the Minister, mindful that the principle of consent is a cornerstone of the Downing street declaration and has never been unequivocally and unreservedly accepted by Sinn Fein-IRA, give an assurance that, should the substantive talks take place and fail, Her Majesty's Government will not enter into any agreement with the Republic of Ireland in relation to the future government or administration of Northern Ireland without the specific consent of the majority of British citizens living there? Does he accept that the pro-Union parties in Northern Ireland will need an assurance before participating in those talks that they do not do so against a background of a threat of an imposed agreement or settlement without the majority's consent being given?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State have made it clear on many occasions that consent is absolutely central to any settlement in Northern Ireland. Not only is it central in terms of the Government's belief and policy, but in terms of practicality. History teaches us that any attempts to impose settlements on the people of Northern Ireland against the wishes of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland do not work. It is for that reason that the present status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom will not change without the consent of a majority of the people who live there.

Does the Minister accept that the principle of consent, which has always been at the heart of the Labour party's policy, is now established in an international treaty? Does he agree that consent, which is so important, should now give the people of Northern Ireland the confidence to negotiate an agreement which brings to the minority and to the majority community a sense of confidence in their own direction, which they can set for themselves knowing that we shall not drift back to what happened in the past when either the minority or the majority community felt threatened that something would be imposed without consent?

Indeed. That is key to the whole question of confidence, and to parties' becoming involved in the talks. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear at the time of the publishing of the framework documents that there was what he called a "triple lock". It is a question not just of the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, but of the broad agreement of the parties, followed by a referendum, followed in turn by the agreement of Parliament. That triple lock remains firmly in place.

Royal Ulster Constabulary


To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proportion of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is known to be (a) Protestant and (b) Catholic. [3040]

At 1 November 1995, 89 per cent. of the Royal Ulster Constabulary regular force, 88 per cent. of the full-time reserve and 93 per cent. of the part-time reserve were perceived to be from the Protestant community, whilst 8 per cent. of the regular force, 6 per cent. of the full-time reserve and 5 per cent. of the part-time reserve were perceived to be from the Catholic community.

Does the Minister agree that, until the RUC reflects the balance of the communities in Northern Ireland, problems will continue? If the Government were able rapidly to present plans to achieve a better balance in the RUC, that might be a major argument in favour of decommissioning, which would reassure nationalists.

I do not agree with the supposition that it is necessary to change the religious characteristics of the RUC to achieve that balance. The evidence points the other way. Now that we have a ceasefire however, more Roman Catholics are seeking to join the RUC.

Perhaps I might remind the House that, during the 25 years o1 violence, one of the major reasons why members of the Catholic population did not seek to join the RUC was the fact that 297 RUC officers were killed and more than 7,300 injured and the Roman Catholic police officer was specifically targeted. Those days, I hope, are now behind us.

Is not it the case that, throughout the years of violence, support for the RUC was remarkably strong? Has not that support increased significantly on both sides of the political community divide since the ceasefires?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The latest opinion survey shows that more than three quarters of the population—some 78 per cent.—thought the police to be helpful in dealing with ordinary policing problems. The Catholic population were only just less positive in their overall assessment of the helpfulness of the RUC than the Protestants, in whose case the figure was 81 per cent.

The House and the people of Northern Ireland will be encouraged by the Minister's reply. Does not the increased Roman Catholic membership of the RUC demonstrate that the RUC is becoming more acceptable throughout Northern Ireland, and belie the campaign by Sinn Fein and its fellow travellers for the crown on the RUC badge, or the word "Royal", to be removed if the RUC is to become acceptable?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. All the evidence in Northern Ireland suggests that the constabulary is serving the whole community of Northern Ireland. It is increasingly successful in community affairs, and is addressing the concerns of the population. There is no need to change its basic characteristics to obtain support.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, whether it is Catholic or Protestant, the RUC enjoys the utmost admiration among my constituents—and, I believe, among those of most hon. Members?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The RUC has a tremendous reputation, built over 25 years of terrorist violence and, because of its steadfastness, it has contributed to the present peace process. The House and the country owe it a great deal.

As the Minister has said, a crucial part of the peace process in ensuring that the police force is supported and respected by all the people in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that, to achieve that consensus, it is necessary that the Police Authority for Northern Ireland should be given more powers and that the Secretary of State should reconsider the process whereby he appoints all the members of that authority?

I shall issue a White Paper on the future arrangement for that police authority, and the tri-partite arrangement in Northern Ireland, soon. The hon. Gentleman is right—the authority should echo the interests of Northern Ireland's population and have clearly defined powers to hold to account the expenditures and policy objectives of the Chief Constable of the RUC.