James Molyneaux – 1985 Speech on the Anglo-Irish Agreement

Below is the text of the speech made by James Molyneaux, the then Leader of the Ulster Unionists, in the House of Commons on 26 November 1985.

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), not only because he has articulated, in a way that I could never attempt, the views of the rank and file citizens of Northern Ireland—unionists, nationalists, Protestants and Roman Catholics—but because he was a promising Minister who sacrificed a promising career because of his integrity. The fact that the hon. Member was intently listened to, even by those who disagree with him, proves that he is respected and admired for that integrity.

The House will have gathered that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be voting against the motion. However, I fully recognise that I have a duty and responsibility to explain plainly and sincerely why we shall take that course. We opposed the Anglo-Irish agreement because it will destroy any possibility of achieving peace, stability and reconciliation—three words that have found themselves by accident in the agreement’s preamble. Those words have been repeated—I do not say this in a disrespectful way—rather aimlessly in the debate so far.

During my six years as leader of the Ulster Unionist party, my objective has been to achieve for all the people of Northern Ireland those prizes of peace, stability and reconciliation. As leader of the largest party in Northern Ireland I feel, as I have always felt, that I have a duty to lead. For any party leader, that means some political risk. I accepted those risks, because I had to consider—today I still have to consider—the young people to whom the Prime Minister referred when she spoke at Hillsborough on the day of the signing. The fact that I am nearer the finishing post than are those young people, makes that consideration all the more compelling.

With all that in mind, in April 1984 I endorsed the policy paper “The Way Forward”. The main thrust of that paper was equal British rights for all British citizens. I shall read what I believe, and what the Prime Minister conceded in the aftermath of her statement a week ago, to be the key paragraph:

“The time is now ripe for both communities in Northern Ireland to realise that, essentially, their problems will have to be solved in Northern Ireland by their political representatives and that any future prospect for them and their children is best provided for within the Northern Ireland context. This will require a mutual recognition of each other’s hopes and fears. Only rights can be guaranteed, not aspirations”.

The next phrase is probably the most telling for an Ulster Unionist leader to use:

“but it is the responsibility of the majority to persuade the minority that the Province is also theirs.”

When a leader gives a positive lead, there is always criticism. All party leaders, great and small—I do not mean in stature but in the numbers of their Back-Bench Members—are criticised, and this case was no ​ exception. After much criticism, discussion and persuasion, the entire document was endorsed as party policy. However, although there was widespread interest from within the ranks of the minority, as well as the majority, there was little response from the elected representatives of the minority, except one good friend of mine who said, “You really terrified us with that phrase about convincing our people that the Province is also theirs. That would not suit us.” The Leader of the Opposition said that it was a tragedy that we did not carry forward our thinking on that occasion more than 18 months ago. He said that it was a tragedy that there was not fuller debate on that document and on the considerable shift in principles set out in the document. To my great regret, those proposals for achieving peace, stability and reconciliation within the bounds of Northern Ireland have been snuffed out by the Anglo-Irish agreement, and that document must be regarded as so much waste paper.

I owe it to the House to explain why the agreement will bring not peace, but the sword. On the day when the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) announced his decision to abolish Stormont, he justified his decision—he could be forgiven for putting forward that justification at such an early stage—on the grounds that it would end violence. However, as the IRA had demanded Stormont’s removal, it naturally regarded the decision as the first payment of the Danegeld. The right hon. Gentleman did not intend it in that way, but I hope that he will accept my word for it that that was how it looked to the so-called army council of the IRA.

The Prime Minister, like many of us in humbler positions, is tempted, especially in times of stress, to use phrases produced by her advisers—to give them their polite title—and such may have been the origin of a sentence uttered by the Prime Minister in her address to journalists at the signing ceremony. The sentence made my blood run cold. To quote from the transcript, she said:

“I was not prepared to tolerate the situation of continuing violence.”

That fatal sentence—I fear that it will literally be fatal for many—will convince the so-called army council of the IRA that, reinforced by the sweeping one-way concessions in the agreement, continued violence will extract the third and final payment of the Danegeld in the shape of an Ireland designed to their specifications, not the specifications of Dr. FitzGerald or even Mr. Haughey.

Indeed, the IRA claimed credit for the concessions two weeks before the signing. At the Sinn Fein conference, the IRA spokesman, Martin McGuinness, declared that any concessions to violence in the coming agreement would be welcomed by the IRA as a surrender to the armed struggle.

Far from the prospect of peace, I fear that we must brace ourselves for a renewed onslaught from a terrorist movement convinced of victory. That movement is in no way worried about the possible weaning away of Catholic support, which will not reduce its capacity for murder. As General Grivas said, there is a handicap in having too many supporters. He reckoned—he knew what he was talking about—that the maximum number of murderers he needed at any time was about 150. The IRA cares nothing for the predicted drop in support for Sinn Fein in terms of the ballot box, which it regards as ancillary to what it calls its “cutting edge” of terror.

The second casualty of the agreement is stability, because stability depends on a known way. But how can there be a known way when there is no consent? During ​ the past 15 years, the only period of stability was that achieved by the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason). He achieved that stability by making it clear in the honest, forthright terms for which he is noted, what was not going to happen, and by making it equally clear, in words and in deeds, that he would stand no nonsense from any quarter. I must say—this may pain Conservative Members—that, ironically, Conservative Central Office accurately forecast the end of what I call Mason stability, in the daily notes to candidates dated 11 April 1979. It stated:

“The next government will come under considerable pressure to launch a new high-powered initiative on Northern Ireland with the object of establishing another power-sharing government in the province which would pave the way for a federal constitution linking Ulster to the Irish Republic.”

We need not await the verdict of history to judge the accuracy of that forecast. For the past six years, we have seen a constant stream of foolish, failed initiatives, confusion and instability.

The third casualty of the agreement is reconciliation. Progress in that area is possible only if those who must be reconciled believe themselves to be secure. If Roman Catholics are meant to be assured by the agreement, why do so many of them say that they share my view? Why do so many of them tell me that they have conveyed their reservations to the Northern Ireland Office? I am in no position to confirm that; I depend upon their word. The answer is that they have never accepted—nor do they want—Dublin’s protecting power stance. Far more significantly, they have made it clear that they do not wish to live in a cold war atmosphere created by this proposed regime for which the necessary consent simply does not exist.

Tallying with the impressive quotations by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, the nightmare of Roman Catholics was expressed to me last Saturday by three young Roman Catholic constituents as they left the so-called loyalist rally—in reality a pro-union rally—at the city hall. They begged me to persuade the Prime Minister to think again and, as one of them put it, to

“beg her not to condemn us to spending the rest of our lives in an atmosphere of distrust and tension with our Protestant neighbours.”

That was a very moving occasion for me.

That grim prospect has been publicly recognised by church representatives, authoritative newspaper editors, moderate organisations and individuals, and, most of all, by those who have worked so hard for reconciliation in Northern Ireland and are now depressed because all that they have achieved has been obliterated at a stroke.

I notice that newspapers such as The Sunday Times and The Observer criticised the Government’s failure to reassure unionists. I understand—this was hinted at by the Leader of the Opposition—that the Northern Ireland Office is contemplating, at the expense of the taxpayer, providing copies of the agreement to every household. But the Secretary of State, who is observant, will know that the main newspapers in Northern Ireland have twice set out the full text of the agreement, unabridged and without journalistic comment. The people have read it for themselves, and the Government’s difficulty is that the people understand what they have read. Perhaps the Government intend to circulate a publication placing a gloss on the agreement. Dublin will do likewise, but they will conflict. The statements are already conflicting. I fear that the second state will he worse than the first.

The Government have a credibility problem, created not by them but for them by the Dublin Government, who leaked the agreement four days before the signing and who circulated copies of it two days before the signing to foreign embassies and other institutions. That breach of good faith with Her Majesty’s Government, not by the Government, placed Her Majesty’s Ministers in a position where they had no alternative but to mislead. That is no accusation; I am trying to defend Ministers. In good faith, they had agreed with Dublin to maintain as late as the Thursday afternoon before the signing on the Friday that agreement had not yet been reached. It is not in a spirit of accusation but out of sympathy with Her Majesty’s Ministers that I say that three Ministers of the utmost integrity were placed in such a position—the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during Northern Ireland Question Time, the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time and the Leader of the House at Business Question Time. All were forced to use the phrase, “if an agreement is reached”, when, thanks to the Dublin double-cross, the whole world knew that agreement had already been reached.

I should like to address a personal word to the Prime Minister. Millions of our fellow British citizens throughout this nation feel that the Prime Minister has a lasting contribution to make to the destiny of the nation, but if she is to fulfil their expectations she must retain her standing and authority. I am sure that the Prime Minister knows that she owes it to those people not to damage those assets by lending her name to statements which have no validity or veracity.

One of the Prime Minister’s statements asserted that the status of Northern Ireland is unchanged. I accept that the territory is not to be transferred—or not yet at any rate—and technically it could be claimed that the final approval of legislation will rest with Parliament and the Crown. In reality, however, as all hon. Members know and as the hon. Member for Eastbourne clearly stated, the legislation will be formulated and agreed, because the agreement states:

“determined efforts shall be made through the Conference to resolve any differences.”

In reality, therefore, Parliament and the Queen will give rubber stamp approval to legislation designed by a form of coalition with a foreign sovereign state.

As I said earlier in my comments about the Prime Minister’s commanding position in the nation, my plea to the Prime Minister is not to allow anyone to continue to say in her name that the status of Northern Ireland is unchanged. I trust that she has already rebuked the subordinates who led her to claim that the agreement contains, to quote her own words,

“the most formal commitment to the principle of consent made by any Irish Government.”—[Official Report, 18 November 1985; Vol. 87, c. 19.]

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup pointed out that the same commitment was given by a previous Irish Government in the Sunningdale agreement of 1973—which was also registered as an international agreement at the United Nations. The right hon. Gentleman will also confirm that an even earlier commitment was entered into by the Irish Government in 1925 and that that agreement was lodged at the League of Nations.

In the course of what I hope will be a constructive and well ordered debate—I am not casting any reflection ​ upon the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the responsibility lies with hon. Members—the House is entitled to ask what is new about that commitment or in Irish attitudes since 1925 and 1973.

The Prime Minister will not mind my saying that, over the years, she has sought my assessment of attitudes and feelings in Northern Ireland. In what may be my last contribution in the House, I am sure she will not object if I report to her in the presence of right hon. and hon. Members. I have to say honestly and truthfully that in 40 years in public life I have never known what I can only describe as a universal cold fury, which some of us have thus far managed to contain. I beg the Prime Minister not to misjudge the situation but to examine and assess the damage which will be done to the aims of peace, stability and reconciliation. Perhaps the leader of the Labour party and the leaders of the other opposition parties will not mind me saying to the Prime Minister that she will lose nothing in the eyes of the House or of the country if she decides to steer a safer course.

Ian Gow – 1985 Speech on the Anglo-Irish Agreement

Below is the text of the speech made by Ian Gow, the then Conservative MP for Eastbourne, in the House of Commons on 26 November 1985.

Since my departure from the Government 10 days ago I have made no public statement or comment. I wanted first to explain to the House the reasons for that departure.

My first encounter with Northern Ireland took place nearly 30 years ago. As a young subaltern I was stationed at Omagh in county Tyrone. It has been my good fortune to return to Ulster on many occasions since then, first as a soldier and then as a Member of this place. I have been proud to count unionist Members of this House as my friends.

It is nearly seven years since I spoke in a debate on Northern Ireland, from the Opposition Front Bench, with Airey Neave at my side. I speak today to show that it is not necessary to have a big mouth or a loud voice to care deeply about Ulster. I speak, too, as one who condemns violence in all its forms. I speak as a unionist who repudiates today and who will repudiate tomorrow, every kind—I repeat, every kind—of unlawful or unconstitutional action. Unlike others I do not impugn the motives of Her Majesty’s Government. In particular, I do not doubt for one moment the sincerity and the sense of honour of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Those who fashioned the Anglo-Irish agreement, principally my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, said to themselves, “We are faced with a continuing tragedy in Northern Ireland.” I say in passing that I regret that no Foreign Office Minister is taking part in the debate. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary also said to themselves, “Lives are being lost, innocent people are being maimed and injured, property is being destroyed, unemployment is higher and investment lower in Ulster than in any part of the kingdom. We must try to abate those evils. Things cannot go on as they are. We must make a new initiative. We must do something about Ulster.”

For years, successive Governments and successive Secretaries of State have told the House that a particular initiative could not be pursued in Northern Ireland because it would be unacceptable to the minority. Note that in this part of the United Kingdom the Government take pride, in my view rightly, in pursuing policies that they believe have the support of the majority despite the objections of a minority.

However, I will be told that Northern Ireland is different from England. I will be told that in Northern Ireland one cannot proceed save with the broad assent of the minority. I do not necessarily subscribe to that argument but if it is valid, how is it possible to proceed now with a policy that may be broadly acceptable to a minority but that is totally unacceptable to the overwhelming majority, among whom is a significant number of Catholic unionists?

The Government believe that the majority ought to be well satisfied with the agreement and profess some surprise that it is not. Conor Cruise O’Brien puts it well in The Times today. He writes:

“But the political impact will not be determined by … theories about how people ought to feel, but by how people actually do feel. And the feeling, on both sides … is that the Catholics have won a significant step in the direction of a united Ireland.”

In round figures, as the House knows, there are 1 million Protestants and half a million Roman Catholics in Ulster, but it is a grave over-simplification to equate religion with political allegiance. I do not ask the House to accept my word for that. It is not only my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) who is testimony to that truth. In the past few days I have received letters from Roman Catholic unionists who endorse that view. I have been authorised to quote from one. A doctor now working in Liverpool writes:

“As an Ulsterman—and incidentally a Catholic—who has always voted Conservative (and Ulster Unionist before I came to England) I can only say that I am absolutely appalled by the terms and implications of the Anglo-Irish agreement which gives a ​ foreign Government a say in the affairs of a part of the United Kingdom. There is not a shadow of doubt that the status of Northern Ireland has been changed without the consent of the majority of its people”.

Nor is it only the so-called Protestant bigots—and there are Protestant bigots in Northern Ireland—who oppose the agreement. Again, with the authority of the writer of the letter, I wish to quote. I do so not because I need to rely on others to support the views that I hold, but because the views of decent people from Northern Ireland are tragically misunderstood or simply unknown in the House. This is the letter that I have been authorised to read:

“I am now living quietly in a bungalow with my two sisters … We are the ordinary ‘silent’ Unionists of Northern Ireland. Our days are filled with caring for our families and homes, and we do not have the time, or the inclination, to demonstrate at protest marches, or wave banners, or gather at meetings of hate. But we are British. And we are also bewildered, and hurt, and angry. How do we, the silent majority, effectively express our hurt and fear and protest at what is being done to us? Our politicians hurl abuse and anger, but I do not think that they gain sympathy that way. The ordinary quiet-living British people of Northern Ireland are totally united in their opposition to the Hillsborough agreement, and in their desire to remain British without condition, but can you tell me, please, if there is any possible way we can convey our wishes to those who are in Government over us and at the same time to gain understanding and support from the other citizens of the United Kingdom? I feel that the lack of understanding from those who do not live here, together with the feeling of helplessness at not knowing how to gain that understanding, is the hardest part to bear.”

I have done as my correspondent asked. I have brought her fears to the attention of my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. However, I want to repeat her crucial words:

“the lack of understanding from those who do not live here … is the hardest part to bear.”

For many Members of the House, Northern Ireland is a faraway country of which we know little. Indeed, it may be that more Members of the House have visited the Republic than have visited Ulster. I hope that in the coming months more hon. Members will be able to visit the Province, not just to listen to soldiers and members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, heroic though they are, but to listen to the views of ordinary people who often are equally heroic.

Following the signing of the agreement at Hillsborough on 15 November, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that she was a unionist and a loyalist. I shall never question her sincerity, but I have to say to my right hon. Friend that those words were received with incredulity by unionists in Northern Ireland.

The Anglo-Irish agreement has been signed without understanding of the views of the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland. It has been signed against a background that gives wholly disproportionate consideration to the views of the minority. Under the agreement, the Irish Government will put forward views and proposals on political, security and legal matters, including the administration of justice. The Government who will put forward their views and proposals relating to Northern Ireland are the same Government from whose territory murderous assaults have been made on the innocent in the Province and to whose territory the guilty have returned and found too often a safe haven.

Article 2 of the constitution of the Irish Republic lays claim to the territory of the whole of the island of Ireland. One might have thought at least that if the Republic’s Government were to be allowed—and in the most ​ solemn terms of an international treaty—to put forward proposals relating to political, security and legal matters, they would have agreed to remove article 2 from their constitution. The British Government claim that it is a major step forward for the Government of the Republic to have given formal acceptance of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. If that is so, why was article 2 not removed?

We are told that the agreement will mean more effective co-operation on security matters between the Republic and the United Kingdom. Is it really suggested that without the agreement such co-operation would have been less effective? All civilised Governments, with or without a formal agreement, should commit themselves unreservedly to the elimination of terrorism. If the Government of the Republic have been unable hitherto to be as effective in combating terrorism as we were entitled to expect, why are we so confident that they will be able to deliver now?

The Intergovernmental Conference will be composed of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and a Republic Minister, who, in effect, will be the Minister for Northern Ireland affairs. The two Ministers will be the joint chairmen. The Republic Minister, even though he has only a consultative role, will be perceived to be the representative of the minority community. Thus, for the first time, a Minister from a foreign country will be representing at official level citizens of this kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the arrangement in her speech. That arrangement leaves unionists with no comparable status. That arrangement will be damaging, and incalculably damaging, for those who are asserting the principle that unionists and nationalists are fellow citizens. Instead of reconciliation there will be further division.

Our fellow countrymen from Northern Ireland will perceive—and will not be wrong in perceiving—that the agreement would never have been signed unless there had been a prolonged campaign of violence. The agreement will be perceived as having been won as a result of violence. The Irish National Liberation Army and the Irish Republican Army will believe that their violence is succeeding. The Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment will perceive that they have been betrayed.

The new agreement is being trumpeted in Dublin mainly because the Irish Government will be able, in the most solemn terms, to

“put forward views and proposals on matters relating to Northern Ireland”.

When those views and proposals are submitted to the United Kingdom Government, they will be made known in Dublin. When those views and proposals are accepted by Her Majesty’s Government, Ulster will feel that the views of a foreign power are being given greater weight than the views of the majority in Northern Ireland. The Intergovernmental Conference will not be able to receive the views of the majority. The views of the minority will be expressed, not by the minority itself, but by the Government of a foreign power.

No Member of the House should criticise the agreement without putting forward an alternative policy. I remember the words of our manifesto at the 1979 general election. They were words in which I had a hand. The manifesto said: ​

“In the absence of devolved government we will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services.”

Alas, following the assassination of Airey Neave, that policy was never implemented. It may be that he was assassinated because that was his policy. Successive Secretaries of State have abandoned that policy. Six years on, although there is still an absence of devolved government, there is still no

“one or more elected regional councils”.

I approved of the policy set out in the 1979 manifesto.

I approved, too, of the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at a meeting organised by the Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast on 19 June 1978, when she said of the Conservative and Unionist party and the Ulster Unionist party:

“Our two parties share one overriding common purpose: the maintenance and strengthening of the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. we shall not consider any plans for the political future of this part of the United Kingdom which could result in the weakening of the union.”

To my deep regret, the Anglo-Irish agreement is inconsistent with those words.

The Government assert, and continue to assert,

“that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.”

I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to understand that, with this agreement, the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland believe that there has been a change in status. I must tell the House that frankly, so do I.

We should implement the policy laid down in the 1979 manifesto. We should assert that those in Northern Ireland who aspire to a united Ireland will be respected. We should assert that Ulster Unionists are ready to acknowledge the place in Ulster of the Roman Catholic, whether unionist of republican, as in any other part of the kingdom, and that all men and women should be entitled to express their views, opinions and identities under a rule of law which would safeguard their rights. We should assert that the policy of the Government is to maintain and to strengthen the union.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster) rose—

Mr. Gow

I shall not give way. The House has been patient and I have almost done.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in her place. I do not recommend resignation. It is every bit as painful as I had expected. No doubt the Prime Minister would face the departure of some of her colleagues with greater equanimity than that of others. I do not know into which category I fall.

However, Ministers of State are of no importance. They come and go, and when they go their room is soon filled. Life goes on for the Department very much as before—although, following the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), to whom we send our congratulations and good wishes, no doubt very much better than before.

As right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House know, for the departed Minister, tomorrow is very different from today. Only my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and possibly not even she, understands how deep is my regret at my departure. But I have one consolation that is denied to all others the memory of the four years of the previous Parliament, when it was my privilege to ​ have tried to be of some help to the finest chief, the most resolute leader and the kindest friend that any Member of this House could hope to serve.

I disagree profoundly with the new policy on which the Government have embarked. I fear that this change of policy will prolong and not diminish Ulster’s agony. With all my heart—it is quite a big heart—I pray that I am wrong.

Neil Kinnock – 1985 Speech on the Anglo-Irish Agreement

Below is the text of the speech made by Neil Kinnock, the then Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 26 November 1985.

Today, as at all times when we discuss the affairs of Northern Ireland both inside and outside the House, we do so against a background of tragedy and atrocity. We think of those who have lost their lives, as the Prime Minister said, and we think of their loved ones and those whose lives have been devastated by sectarian killings and attacks. We remember those families who, when they felt the forces of violence, no matter what the status of those killed—soldiers, policemen, adults, relations or children—have always ended with a despairing question—”Why did it happen to us?” Many hon. Members have heard that question from grieving relations much too often, and, tragically those who represent Northern Ireland seats have heard it more often than the rest of us.

As we debate the accord, we remember too the courage and the fortitude of those who have lived and worked with ​ and within the tortured community of Northern Ireland. We know that the problem of Northern Ireland, plainly, has spilled across the water and scarred Britain. We acknowledge the debt that we owe, both on the mainland and in Northern Ireland, to the civil servants, the police, Members of the House and so many ordinary men and women in Northern Ireland who have been willing to help in the search for peace and a way out of the sterile sectarian divisions.

As we think of these things, we have to remind ourselves yet again that there are matters other than security that are of importance to the people of Northern Ireland, and that there are issues worthy of report and debate other than the constant plague of conflict.

We are sometimes told that there is no solution to the historic problems of Northern Ireland, but, however difficult it may be, and however long it may take, we must never give up the search for a solution. That would be defeatism paid for in blood. If we give up the search for peace, we say to the people of Northern Ireland, “Your agony must endure for ever”. In all conscience, we cannot and must not do that.

This House has a special duty to recall that the problems of Northern Ireland are a matter not just for the Province or for the Republic but, most definitely, for Britain as well. In addition to the tragedies and their irreparable costs, there is the price of conflict which the New Ireland Forum research team has reasonably estimated to be over £9,000 million between 1969 and 1982 and a further £1,500 million or so a year with the addition of the £120 million or so a year that we spend out of public coffers in maintaining the armed forces in Northern Ireland. It is not fitting for this House remorselessly to consign such sums to Northern Ireland without at least being able to demonstrate to the people of Wales, Scotland and England that we deliberately pursue all means of achieving an end to the conflict and the massive costs that go with it.

We must also recognise that many of the legislative and other changes that have come about as a result of our inability to find a political solution in Northern Ireland disfigure the democracy of our entire country. Courts without juries, strip searches in prisons, internment without trial and many other things can be said to have arisen from the circumstances of their time, but no democracy can or should bear such changes lightly or for long, because if it does it puts at risk the very liberty that it seeks to defend.

For all those reasons, the Opposition will do whatever they can to promote the chances of peace, and the prosperity that depends on that peace, in Northern Ireland.

The status quo offers absolutely no solution to anyone at all. For that reason, we shall approve the Anglo-Irish agreement, which for reasons of accuracy and not affectation I wish had been called the British-Irish agreement.

The agreement is clearly a development from the New Ireland Forum set up in Dublin in 1983. That was a bold and visionary step taken by the major political parties in the Republic, together with the Social Democratic and Labour party.

I pay tribute to those parties and their leaders, one of whom we are fortunate enough to have in this House. None of those leaders has given up his legitimate commitment to constitutional nationalism or his commitment to the reunification of Ireland. They have recognised that, just as they cannot be forced to relinquish their aspirations of getting rid of the border, neither can ​ the unionists be forced to relinquish their desire to keep that border between the north and the south. The constitutional nationalists have decided that, while retaining their historic ambition of unity, they will now give pre-eminence to reconciliation and a formal and binding acknowledgement of the fact that they have long recognised—that unification cannot be achieved without consent.

In the Dail last Tuesday, the Taoiseach, Dr. FitzGerald, said:

“No sane person would wish to attempt to change the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of its people. That would be a recipe for disaster and could, I believe, lead only to a civil war that would be destructive of the life of people throughout our island.”

As well as speaking for the Irish people, Dr. FitzGerald recorded the sentiments of all the British people.

That is the reward that the gunmen got for their violence. They have engendered such revulsion against insecurity, fear and brutality that they have made nationalists seek change even at the cost of indefinitely postponing their own nationalist aspirations.

The terrorists can and will treat the matter with complete cynicism. They will undoubtedly deride the action of the Irish Government and Irish political parties, and they will rely on their sworn enemies in the unionist groupings to erode and erase the agreement. No doubt that is what the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army seek. Since they know that the most critical test of the credibility and acceptability of the agreement is its effect on security in Northern Ireland, they will continue with their terrorism and the noxious insincerity of their bullet and ballot strategy to sustain insecurity throughout the Province and in the Republic. Those terrorists, like every hon. Member, must know that the success of the agreement will be difficult to build and prove, but that its failure will be easy to contrive.

The gunmen alone cannot make the agreement fail. That outcome would need the most unholy, unsigned, unspoken alliance with those whom they most despise. Will that alliance be forged? Some hon. Members can make a major contribution to providing the answer to that. They do not belong to the Government or a future Government. They are not men of violence, and not even people who tolerate violence—to their eternal credit. They belong to the unionist parties of Northern Ireland. I recognise their fears, I know that they feel beleaguered, and excluded from designing their own destiny, that they live in constant anxiety about a sell-out, and that any failure by a British Government to explain their intentions heightens those feelings of fear. I know that they feel that deals have been done behind their back, and some will feel deep and genuine resentment at that. However modest the agreement, and however cautious and conditional the change, those feelings run deep, and in many quarters of the unionist community those feelings are absolutely genuine.

However, I cannot help thinking that there is a minority in the unionist community who quite enjoy the opportunity that is afforded by anxiety, and who will mobilise fear and bigotry in Northern Ireland. Zephaniah Williams, the Welsh Chartist, said:

“When prejudice blinds the eye of the mind the brightest truth shines in vain.”

I do not address the bigots or the wallies on either side of the sectarian divide, when I plead with the majority of non-nationalists not to be blinded by prejudice. I ask them to ​ see that the sole beneficiaries of a breakdown would be the terrorists, that the objectives of the constitutional nationalists for the foreseeable future are limited to reconciliation and stability, and to see their acceptance of consent as the absolute precondition of any change. I ask them to see that the common cause of peace is a greater cause than the preservation of this miserable murderous status quo, and that in the agreement there is no loss of sovereignty by either Government or Parliament—certainly nothing that can begin to compare with the concessions of sovereignty that come as a natural consequence of our membership of the European Community.

I also plead with the non-nationalists to see that, if sovereignty is to be meaningful, it must involve the power to live effectively in peace under the law. Sovereignty cannot be an expression of vanity that covers the inability to rule with those conditions, like clothing on a skeleton. I ask them to see that the role of the Irish Government is consultative, and no more, that even that role can be transferred by progress with devolution, and that the basic reason for the involvement of the Irish Government, even in this capacity, is to be found in the refusal or inability of constitutional Northern Ireland unionists and constitutional Northern Ireland nationalists to share power, despite the opportunities afforded to them to do so.

I plead with them to see that the feelings of slight and suspicion, which are manifested, do not overwhelm them and leave them isolated as unionists from all those people, north and south of the border and on both sides of the water, who want to use their common longing for peace as the means of defeating violence. I ask them to recognise that the motives that led the constitutional nationalists, south and north of the border, to make the agreement are a convincing mixture of material self-interest and moral duty, not a cunning strategem for unification by stealth with the agreement of the British Prime Minister. That is the truth about the agreement.

The Irish state suffers from the contagion of violence—arms, robberies, killings, casualties, the waste of resources and the degeneration of its whole society which comes from a climate of conflict. The Republic cannot and does not want to afford that constant drain on its meagre fortunes, or the risk from it to the fabric of its society. Those are some of the pressing realities that brought Garret FitzGerald, Dick Spring and their colleagues first to the Forum and then to the agreement.

The other motivation, which is less tangible but no less forceful, of those men, whom I am happy to count among my friends, is their moral obligation towards the communities of Northern Ireland—the nationalist community, which is alienated and prey to either the temptations or the intimidation of terrorism, and the unionist community which is impaled, like its neighbours, on insecurity and estrangement.

The suspicious will understandably ask what is in the agreement for FitzGerald’s Fine Gael, Spring’s Irish Labour party and Hume’s SDLP. There are three things that are in it for them. First, there is the possibility of promoting reconciliation. Secondly, there is the practical demonstration that they are trying to fulfil their moral obligations to the whole of Ireland—the Ireland that they love with a special passion. Thirdly, there is the chance of combating the terrorists by intensified joint security measures, and by achieving extra credibility ​ within Northern Ireland for constitutional nationalism to throw back the tide of terrorist nationalism that comes with various pretences.

All those people and parties take great risks, and bring great credit on themselves. They are earnestly trying, against all the odds piled up by history, to put the purpose of securing peace above the easier course of indulging prejudice and courting popularity. Some people in every land are paralysed by history. Others are provoked by it, and they are such people. They have decided to try to be makers of history, rather than observers of it. They took that decision in modesty and responsibility, not in vanity or ambition. They want the history of conflict and waste to be changed to a future of conciliation. They are certainly Irish nationalists, but they are front-door agents for peace, not back-door fixers of unification. Unlike many others, they have decided to be part of the answer, rather than part of the problem. For that, my colleagues and I will support them in their aims and the practical application of them.

In doing so, I wish to acknowledge the contribution made by the Prime Minister to the agreement. I do not underestimate the effort that she has made, and I say without any taunt that it has involved a significant and welcome adjustment in her position during the past six years. I say further that the change is all the more credible because those six years have not only been marked by the continuing pressures of tragedy that come from Northern Ireland; they have also for her been punctuated by personal losses with the killing of Airey Neave and with the death and destruction of the Brighton bombing. I recognise her contribution freely, and I recognise it fully.

It is not, therefore, in any spirit of recrimination that I put this consideration to the right hon. Lady. The cause of this agreement would have been better served if she had taken the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) last year when they asked her to try to spell out to the unionist communities what her intentions were in developing the relationships with the Dublin Government. That might not have assuaged all fears, it might not have silenced all the shouts, but it would have been evidence of trust and consultation which could have provided an essential credential for the agreement now.

I have to say, too, that the right hon. Lady’s response to the report of the New Ireland Forum was, as I said at the time, precipitate and peremptory. Subsequent events, including the signature of the Hillsborough agreement, have demonstrated that. My party was the only party in Britain which gave the Forum the interest which it deserved, although I acknowledge the contribution made by a section of the unionist community in providing a coherent and cogent alternative review and set of proposals. That provided an opportunity for an informed debate, but unfortunately that debate was killed before it got started. But had we proceeded along those lines the atmosphere of accord may have been more literal and the atmosphere in which the agreement has been made may have been more propitious.

We gave evidence to the Forum on 19 January 1984. We said then that the way forward lay in the joint British-Irish initiative that could not easily be vetoed by either side of the entrenched communities of the North. We are glad ​ that the agreement recognises that. We further suggested major innovative attempts to cross-border co-operation which could lead to the closer operation of the economic and social policies of the North and South. That is also recognised in the agreement.

We suggested ways of creating links between the criminal justice system in the North and in the South and we note that the Government are at least going to consider such links at meetings of the intergovernmental conference. We endorsed the view of the report that the crisis in Northern Ireland and the relationship between Britain and Ireland required new structures that could accommodate the rights of unionists to effective political, symbolic and administrative expression of their identity, their ethos and their way of life, and the rights of nationalists to effective political, symbolic and administrative expression of their identity. The agreement establishes and defines such structural change and the accommodation of rights, and we welcome that.
That is all to the good, and I draw attention to these matters simply to show that there has been for some time a course which could have been navigated, as we recommended, in a different way and at a different speed, which might have made the circumstances of this agreement more propitious.

In addition to the matters of consultation with unionists and recognition of the validity of the report from constitutional nationalists, there is another point that I must put to the Prime Minister. It is not in any way retrospective and it has a direct bearing on the conduct of affairs and the potential of the agreement. It concerns the economic condition of Northern Ireland. As everyone knows only too well, Northern Ireland is a poverty-stricken place. It has the lowest male wages, the highest shop prices and the highest energy charges of any economic region in the United Kingdom.

The poverty is manifested in many ways, not least the high morbidity and hospital admission rates. It is also manifested among the young in the fact that a high proportion of them leave school without any form of qualification.

Most of all, Northern Ireland has a 21·4 per cent. unemployment rate, and that has increased from 9·7 per cent. in 1979. Those rates do not respect religious or political demarcations. In Craigavon and Armagh, unemployment is more than 20 per cent. In Coleraine and Enniskillen, it is more than 25 per cent. In Dungannon, Derry and Magherafelt, it is more than 28 per cent. In Newry, it is 32 per cent. In Cookstown and Strabane, 35 per cent. of the registered workers are unemployed.

Against that background, it is obvious that the agreement between Governments for the purpose of promoting common objectives of reconciliation is a fine thing and the effort at popular consent is a creditable activity. But both need a crucial further element—the prospect, at the very least, of economic development and security.

In addition to the usual arguments for fighting unemployment and sponsoring recovery, Northern Ireland has its own special and unenviable case. It is that violence cannot be excused by poverty, idleness or unemployment, but it clearly cannot be said to be unconnected with those evils. Violence, support for violence, toleration of violence may come from political fanaticism or plain gangsterism, but it can thrive on the scale of Northern Ireland only in conditions of economic insecurity and the ​ alienation which that breeds.


I am telling the truth. I know that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) is never very keen on that.

Therefore, I say to the Prime Minister that it is essential in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, for her to adopt new policies of expansion and employment in order to stimulate recovery, to increase opportunity and to generate jobs.


Those hon. Members who are groaning now must answer the question: Do they think that an increase in employment, a reduction in unemployment and the generating of prosperity in that community would have the effect of increasing or decreasing the alienation in that community? Common sense of today, not some imagined history of which the hon. Gentleman speaks, tells us that such alienation, especially among the young, is rooted in the poverty, ugliness and strife that comes out of continual levels of economic deprivation.

We want that kind of economic development and recovery for the United Kingdom and will continue to work for it. Meanwhile, in Ireland, steps could be taken through the provisions and procedures of the Hillsborough accord, to promote the possibilities of economic development. Transport and tourism, as the Secretary of State and, indeed, his predecessors have previously recognised, have obvious possibilities for joint economic strategies, and so, too, does energy, as we have heard from many Northern Ireland Members.

What an absurdity it is that Britain can exchange electricity supplies with continental Europe but that Northern Ireland and the Republic cannot. Why do the Government refuse to put money into the Kinsale gas link when it appears that they are going to accept EEC and even American money for projects?

What proposals will the Government make for bringing the agricultural systems of North and South together so that the whole island can secure the advantages that would accompany that? Will the Government make proposals to fill the surplus college places in Northern Ireland with the students who encounter a shortage of places in the Republic?

Those are areas of action which can all give life to the words of the accord and meaning to the work of the Intergovernmental Conference. But the most useful source of reassurance and stability—I repeat it in order to emphasise it—would come from the promotion of economic recovery, deliberately and systematically by Her Majesty’s Government.

There are other areas, of course, in which the Government could work in order to mobilise support for the accord. We expect the Government to take deliberate steps to go beyond the current strategy of sending out letters and circulars in order to ensure clear understanding among the unionist and nationalist communities in Northern Ireland of the nature, purpose, potential and limitations of the agreement.

Exaggeration, either of hopes or fears, will be of no practical help to anyone. That will not impress the bullies or the bigots on either side of the sectarian divide. In any case, they are beyond communication. That still leaves a huge majority in both communities to be talked with and not talked at. There are opportunities for Parliament to communicate with the majorities in both communities, too.

We note that the Intergovernmental Conference shall be a vehicle through which initiatives regarding the wellbeing of Northern Ireland are being channelled. However, that should not obviate the role of the United Kingdom ​ Parliament also to come forward with its own initiatives—for instance, the initiative to put into effect the recommendations of the Baker report which was debated in the House last year concerning the operation of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978. In addition, we need not wait upon the Intergovernmental Conference before demanding a review of the procedures for strip searching at Armagh prison, to get prompt action on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and secure an early repeal of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act 1954 that has long been sought by the Opposition.

[HON. MEMBERS: “Too long.”]

Conservative Members should be acquainted with the fact that too many people in Northern Ireland say with justification that democracy is what happens in Westminster after 10.30 pm. When we have the opportunity for a two-day debate on those matters, they can expect the debate to be exhaustive and comprehensive, covering matters that concern our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

We are exhausted now.

Mr. Kinnock

The hon. Gentleman should go to bed earlier.

The agreement of Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland to give appropriate support to the development of a British-Irish interparliamentary body is worthy of further consideration, and we shall be seeking additional details from Ministers. In that area and in many others, there are obvious obligations for everyone in the House to demonstrate interest and commitment in communicating the opportunities that can arise from the agreement.

As a matter of policy and of commitment, the Labour party wants to see Ireland united by consent, and we are committed to working actively to secure that consent. However, that is not the reason for our action in approving the Hillsborough accord. We recognise that the priority is reconciliation in the communities of Northern Ireland and between the communities of Northern Ireland. It is that objective which brings our agreement.

I do not honestly know whether at some time in the future unity will come out of that reconciliation. That can be determined only by a majority which, in future decades, will probably have different components, be in different conditions and have different leadership. However, that peace will come only out of reconciliation and the normality and confidence that reconciliation brings. Further, any unity or development towards community between north and south will come only out of that peace. As an effort for that reconciliation and for that peace, the Labour party approves the agreement.

Margaret Thatcher – 1985 Statement on the Anglo-Irish Agreement

Below is the text of the statement made by Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 26 November 1985.

I beg to move,

That this House approves the Anglo-Irish Agreement (Cmnd. 9657) signed on 15th November by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald.
Since 1969, nearly 2,500 people have lost their lives in Northern Ireland as a result of terrorism, more than 750 of them members of the security forces. As the House is only too well aware, there has also been further loss of life among the armed forces, police and civilians in the remainder of the United Kingdom, including three of our colleagues in this House.

That is the stark background to today’s debate and it takes us immediately to the historic divisions between the two communities in Northern Ireland, which we cannot ignore.

Whatever the differences that may emerge in our debate, I believe that we shall all be united in our determination to end the violence and to bring to justice those who are guilty. We shall all be united in our deep sympathy for the thousands of families whose lives have been darkened by the shadow of the gunman and the bomber; and we shall all be united in our admiration and gratitude for the men and women of the security forces in Northern Ireland and, indeed, from all parts of Great Britain, so many of whom have paid the price of protecting us with their own lives.

But it is apparent that any initiative, however modest, to bring the people of Northern Ireland closer together to beat the terrorists raises emotions and fears rooted deep in the past. I understand those fears, although I do not believe them to be justified.

Faced with all that we have seen in the past 16 years, it was not enough for the Government to rely solely upon the security forces, valiant though they are, to contain and resist the tide of violence. Let me make it clear that there can be no such thing as an acceptable level of violence, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Government owe a duty to the security forces and to all the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic alike, to do everything within their power to stamp out terrorism—not by giving in to the terrorist, not by giving him a single inch. Indeed, the fact that the terrorists have condemned the agreement is a demonstration that we have done no such thing.

The fight against terrorism is greatly weakened if the community is divided against itself, and it is greatly strengthened if all people committed to democracy and the rule of law can join together against the men of violence. That, the Government felt, required a further attempt to reconcile the two communities in Northern Ireland.

The Unionist community, firmly loyal to the Crown and to the United Kingdom, represent a proud tradition of devotion to the Union which everyone in these islands should respect, and which this agreement does respect. They have a right to feel secure about Northern Ireland’s position as part of the United Kingdom. This agreement, by reinforcing the principle of consent, should make them ​ feel more secure, not only today but in the future. Unionists have the assurance that neither an Irish Government, nor of course a British Government, will try to impose new constitutional arrangements upon them against their will.

The nationalist community think of themselves as Irish in terms of their identity, their social and cultural traditions and their political aspirations. The House can respect their identity too and acknowledge their aspirations, even though we may not see the prospect of their fulfilment.

The only lasting way to put an end to the violence and achieve the peace and stability in Northern Ireland is reconciliations between these two communities. That is the goal of this agreement.

I now draw the attention of the House to what I consider to be the most significant points of the agreement. The preamble sets out the commitment of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic to work for reconciliation; our utter and total rejection of violence; our recognition and respect for the separate identities in Northern Ireland; and our acceptance of the right of each to pursue its aspirations by peaceful means. These principles reflect the hopes of both communities.

Article 1 of the agreement makes it abundantly clear that there is no threat whatsoever to Unionists’ heartfelt desire to remain part of the United Kingdom. It provides, in a formally binding international accord, a recognition by the Irish Government that the status of Northern Ireland will remain unchanged as long as that is the wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. It recognises also that the present wish of a majority is for no change in that status. There can be no better reply to the fears that have been expressed in the House than this explicit recognition of the legitimacy of the Unionist position.

Article 2 of the agreement acknowledges in a practical and strictly defined way the concern that the Irish Republic has with matters relating to Northern Ireland. In the past, that concern has sometimes been expressed in critical or negative terms which did not help the cause of harmony between the communities in Northern Ireland. Article 2, therefore, establishes an Intergovernmental Conference. This will have no executive authority either now or in the future. It will consider on a regular basis political, security and legal matters, including the administration of justice, as well as cross-border co-operation on security, economic and cultural matters.

This co-operation will not be a one-way street. The Irish Government will be able to put forward views and proposals on certain matters affecting Northern Ireland. We for our part shall be able to pursue issues of concern to all peace-loving people in Northern Ireland. Notably cooperation in the fight against terrorism—co-operation which goes beyond the borders of Northern Ireland.

The matters within the scope of the conference are spelled out in greater detail in articles 4 to 9 of the agreement. I should like to draw the House’s attention to three particular points about these articles. First, if devolution is restored, those matters that become the responsibility of the devolved Government will no longer be within the purview of the intergovernmental conference. We hope that the agreement will encourage the constitutional representatives of both communities to come together to form a local administration acceptable to both. This hope has been specifically endorsed by the Irish Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern ​ Ireland will be exploring with the constitutional parties how best to make progress. Meantime, the Assembly continues in being, with all its statutory responsibilities.

Secondly, article 8, which deals with legal matters, says that consideration will be given to the possibility of establishing mixed courts. Let me say straightaway that we have absolute confidence in the judiciary in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the integrity and courage which they have shown in recent years in maintaining high standards of judicial impartiality have been outstanding.

We know the difficulties which would be involved in mixed courts both in Northern Ireland and in the republic. We recognise the reservations which are held by the legal profession. We see no easy or early way through these difficulties. That is why, although we are prepared to consider in good faith the possibility of them at some future time, we have made it clear that we are under no commitment to introduce them.

Thirdly, I draw the House’s attention to the proposals for improved security co-operation in article 9. This provides for a programme of work to be undertaken by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Commissioner of the Garda to improve co-operation in such matters as threat assessment, exchange of information, technical co-operation, training of personnel and operational resources.

The really vital element in this programme is fuller and faster exchange of information, especially pre-emptive intelligence which helps to prevent acts of terrorism.

These are specific measures which I believe will lead to real improvements in security—improvements which will be welcome above all to those men and women who live in the border areas and who have been subjected to so many merciless attacks designed to drive them from their homes and farms.

That improvement should be further reinforced by the Irish Government’s intention to accede to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism.

The convention’s purpose is to ensure that those who commit terrorist offences should be brought to justice and that any offences involving the use of explosives or firearms should not be regarded as political.

Irish accession should greatly increase our prospects of securing extradition from the republic of persons accused or convicted or terrorist crimes. This will be a major and a welcome step forward in the war against terrorism.

I draw the House’s attention to the reference in article 12 to the possible establishment of an Anglo-Irish interparliamentary body. Both we and the Irish Government felt that this was a matter for our Parliaments themselves rather than for Governments to pursue. I hope that contacts will be established through the usual channels to consider how discussions on an interparliamentary body can most effectively be taken forward.

I have tried to explain to the House the most significant points of the agreement. In view of some of the mistaken claims about it, I want also to say something about what is not in the agreement. The agreement does not affect the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. It does not set us on some imagined slippery slope to Irish unity, and it is nonsense to claim that it might.

The effect of article 1 is to confirm the provision in section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom as long as a majority there so wish. That again is a ​ recognition of reality. The guarantee for the majority lies in the fact that it is a majority. That fundamental point is reinforced by this agreement.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Lady. Can she explain why the Irish Government signed the agreement?

The Prime Minister

I believe that the Irish Government signed the agreement because they share with us its objectives: to try to defeat the men of violence and to try to achieve peace and stability for all the people who live, and who will continue to live, in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to read it, all of this is set out fully in the preamble to the agreement.

Second, I want to make it clear that the agreement does not detract from British sovereignty in Northern Ireland—or, for that matter, from Irish sovereignty in the republic. We, the United Kingdom Government, accountable to Parliament, remain responsible for the government of Northern Ireland. Yes, we will listen to the views of the Irish Government. Yes, we will make determined efforts to resolve differences. But at the end of the day decisions north of the border will continue to be made by the United Kingdom Government and south of the border by the Irish Government. This is a fundamental point. There can be no misunderstanding.

Third, I want to dispel the absurd notion that the Government will listen to the views of the republic on Northern Ireland matters, but not to the views of our own unionist community.

There are already many ways in which the majority community in Northern Ireland can and do put their views to the Government. The right hon. and hon. Members of this House who represent the unionist parties are themselves an important channel. Another is the Northern Ireland Assembly, an important and experienced body which could be used to improve the arrangements for consultation. Yet another is the many representations that unionists make to Ministers. The unionist voice is clearly heard and will continue to be heard.

If the Anglo-Irish agreement is to bring about a real improvement in the daily lives of the two communities in Northern Ireland, it must be matched by a determined effort on the part of all law-abiding citizens to defeat the men of violence. And that effort must rest on clear and consistent principles of justice, equity and fairness. For if democracy is the rule of the majority, the other side of the coin is fairness and respect for the minority, for all are citizens of the United Kingdom.

On the economic front, we will continue to pay special attention to Northern Ireland’s needs. During direct rule, spending on economic and social programmes has risen since 1972–73 by 50 per cent. in real terms to £3,600 million last year. That amounts to nearly £2,500 a head, far more than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Spending on that scale shows the high priority given by successive Governments to the needs of Northern Ireland and its people. Our concern will continue.

On security, our efforts will also continue. Thanks to the magnificent work of our policemen and soldiers, we have already made some progress, but we still have much to do. I believe that our security forces can take new heart from the promise of greater security co-operation that will flow from the agreement.
In commending this agreement to the House, I should like first to pay tribute to Dr. Fitzgerald, who has worked ​ honestly and sincerely for an agreement to bring reassurance to both communities and a real prospect of peace and stability.

Second, I say to the members of both communities in Northern Ireland that, if Parliament approves the agreement, the Government will steadfastly implement it. This House represents all the people of the United Kingdom and its decisions are binding on all of them. We shall not give way to threats or to violence from any quarter. We shall look to the co-operation of all men and women of good will who want a better future for Northern Ireland and for their families.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the point about the accountability of Parliament, will she say whether there will be any opportunity for Parliament to know about the deliberations of the Anglo-Irish conference? Will its deliberations be made public anywhere, or debated?

The Prime Minister

It is not expected that everything that is said in the intergovernmental conference will be made public. I am giving consideration to how we can report to the House, for obvious reasons. We attend many intergovernmental conferences in Europe and elsewhere and usually report to the House about those that we attend. I am giving urgent consideration to this matter because I realise that there is concern about it.

Finally, I address myself once more to those among the unionist community who have openly expressed their fears and worries about this agreement. Far from representing any threat to the union of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, the agreement reinforces the union, and that should bring reassurance and confidence to the unionist majority. It clearly recognises—as it should—the validity of their great tradition, and it holds out the prospect of greater success in the struggle against terrorism from which the majority have suffered so much. As one who believes in the union. I urge the unionists to take advantage of the chance offered by the agreement.

We embarked on this agreement because we were not prepared to see the two communities for ever locked into the tragedies and antagonisms of the past. The younger generation, above all, has a right to expect more than that. The price of new hope is persistent endeavour. That is what we ask, and ask equally of all.

Peter Thurnham – 1985 Speech on Handicapped Children

Below is the text of the speech made by Peter Thurnham, the then Conservative MP for Bolton North East, in the House of Commons on 25 November 1985.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for keeping him up at this late hour. If he were to join those families who have chosen to adopt a handicapped child, he might get used to it. Before then, he would have to get through the hurdle of being approved by the local authority. One is asked whether one has secure employment. I hope that my hon. Friend feels, as I do that there is no reason to suppose that our employment is anything but secure.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to bring this subject up for five reasons.

First, this is the month that the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering has launched its appeal for £200,000 towards its excellent work in placing children with special needs. This month we are celebrating the 2,000th placing in 17 years.

Secondly, 1985 is the year in which the Exodus campaign has reminded us that many hundreds of children are still in long-term care in mental hospitals, despite repeated claims by Ministers over many years that they are not the right environment in which to bring up children.

Thirdly, this is the year in which BAAF has produced an excellent publication—”Against the odds: adopting mentally handicapped children” by Catherine Macaskill. I have a spare copy if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State would like to glance at it. The author describes the timing of this study as crucial to the changes that have occurred earlier in the United States and the revolution that is occurring in this country.

Fourthly, this year has seen a great crusade for the sanctity of human life. More than 2 million signatures were on a petition presented to the House. This has occurred at the same time as BAAF’s director, Mr. Tony Hall, has appealed about the desperate shortage of families willing to take the children who are in long-term care.

Fifthly, there is my personal interest, arising out of having fostered a handicapped child for two years. I hope that adoption can soon take place.
My purpose in requesting this debate is, I regret to say, to make the usual call for more funding. I hope that my hon. Friend will listen particularly to the special reasons for my plea, because he is probably aware that I have not often called for more Government expenditure. I should like to link that with a request for more centralised co-ordination of services for handicapped children who need placement families.

I think that I share a common purpose with the Government. In a recent letter, Baroness Trumpington wrote to the leader of the Exodus campaign, Mrs. Peggy Jay, stating:

“We do have a common purpose, to achieve better alternative provision for mentally handicapped children at present in hospital. The only difference between us is in how this can best be achieved.”

Much of the present spending is wasted. We do not have the exact figures, but it must be costing more than £10 million a year to keep 1,000 children in long-term residential care in NHS hospitals in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and a similar sum to keep children in long-term care in local authority homes. This ​ money will be wasted if it fulfils an objective that runs counter to the Government’s policy that children should not be there in the first place.

I link my appeal with humanitarian grounds. In 1946, nearly 40 years ago, the Curtis committee said that these children are the most deprived of all, yet we are still debating the subject. Government Ministers have said repeatedly that the Government’s aim is to get these children out of long-term hospitals. Cmnd. 9674 which was published last week states that the Government’s aim is to get all long-stay children out of hospitals for the mentally handicapped. They have asked all health authorities to ensure that these children are identified and that their needs are reviewed jointly.

We have a common purpose, but I question whether the Government’s policies are working satisfactorily. My experience is that with these children it is more like the game “Pass the parcel.” The policy of leaving this job to local authorities is not working. The evidence is contained in the Government’s survey of local authority social services for handicapped children. If my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has not yet had an opportunity to refer to this document I can show him a copy. It refers to the work being done by local authorities.

May I also refer my hon. Friend to Catherine Macaskill’s book and to my personal experience. Catherine Macaskill’s book contains 20 case studies. Nine of the families first approached voluntary agencies while 11 of them first approached local authorities. The 11 families who approached local authorities saying that they were interested in taking a handicapped child were rejected. It was only when those 11 families approached voluntary agencies that they were given any sort of encouragement. The local authorities told them nothing at all or fobbed them off with unhelpful remarks.

The attitude of social workers can be too negative. May I refer my hon. Friend to page 94 of Catherine Macaskill’s study. She describes what it is like for a family that says that it would like to adopt a second handicapped child. Such families are regarded as being not only singularly odd but doubly odd. She said:

“Applicants for a second handicapped child were not generally viewed favourably. Some adoption workers expressed the view that the stress associated with integrating one handicapped child was more than enough for any family. One project leader had no hesitation in expressing her verdict: ‘Im dubious about it. I think we need to think about how the family look in the community. If a family adopt one handicapped child, they are considered odd — if they adopt two, they’re considered even odder.'”

Of the few adoptions of children who have been difficult to place that my local authority has arranged in Bolton, half of them went to one family. This shows the division between what families are able to offer and what some local authorities are prepared to understand.

My experience was that after telling the local authority that we were interested in fostering or adopting a handicapped child nothing happened for two years. We discovered later that 30 miles away the same local authority had at the same time been advertising a child for 18 months. We found out about the child who is now with us only when we were on holiday in Majorca. We read an advertisement in The Guardian. The same local authority was dealing with us and with that child, but two different offices were involved. There was a complete lack of liaison.

I called upon the excellent officer in charge of social services in Bolton, North-East, Miss Barbara Swayles, and asked her whether she knew of any handicapped children who needed to be adopted or fostered. She made inquiries and said that there was none. The following week I visited the Elizabeth Ashmore home for handicapped children in Bolton. It is run by an excellent lady by the name of Mrs. Jean Farnworth. I asked her if she had any handicapped children who were in need of fostering or adoption. She said that she had three and that she had been looking for parents for them for up to five years, and yet a divisional officer of a different division only two miles away, although still within Bolton local authority, did not know about them.

The social worker responsible for those children told me that the local authority had for years been making vigorous efforts to place those children. How vigorous can those efforts have been when they were so completely unsuccessful? We must regard such children as the truly forgotten children.

The Government’s study shows a number of weaknesses. To start with, it does not contain one number. It is one of the most extraordinary documents that I have ever read. That is brushed off with the explanation that there was great difficulty in collecting reliable information.

I refer my hon. Friend to paragraph 7.222. It states:

“The chances of a handicapped child being placed in a substitute family varied widely from place to place.”

We can see why from what I have just said.

Paragraph 7.228 states:

“Adoption of handicapped children is achieved very rarely.”

That is hardly surprising.

Paragraph 7.410 says, “Pressure of work”—one wonders what work it was—

“prevented one authority from taking into care any children in hospital who had lost touch with their parents.”

What work could that local authority have been doing that was more important?

Page 89 of the Government’s report recommends:

“Every local authority department should consider fostering and adopting.”

That is a weak recommendation. Page 90 deals with, “Children with profound handicap.” That chapter does not mention fostering or adopting. It confirms the view held by many social workers that the more difficult the child’s need the more unlikely it is that the child can be placed. That is contrary to what Catherine Macaskill found. She found that the challenge that the more profoundly handicapped children present to would-be adoptive parents makes them in many cases keener to take the children who have the greatest needs, and yet local authority workers tend to view them as the ones least likely to be placed.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the points that have emerged from the survey? Does he not consider that it shows that there is a failure by local authorities to collect the parcel that the Government are offering them? Does he think that it displays a failure by the staff in his Department fully to understand the potential of placing children with difficult needs? The social workers are failing to understand the revolution that is occurring. It started in America and it is now here. It is most important that people recognise that fact. The Government’s survey ​ also pointed to the need for legislation to tidy up uncertainties. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would comment on that point.

I would like the Government to review their policy on this matter and to estimate the cost of setting up a standard national minimum adoption allowance. BAAF called strongly for that. It is felt that the present system is crazy. In the United States, the adoption of children with special needs by low income families has been made much more possible by the standard adoption allowances that prevail there. Only 65 of our local authorities out of 128 have approved adoption schemes. That is 10 years after the Children Act 1975 was passed. That does not take account of special needs because the Disablement Income Group has estimated that it costs £130,000 to bring up a severely handicapped child compared with £70,000 for a normal child.

The present scheme is described as experimental and it is due to lapse in 1989. Does my hon. Friend think that it is now time for the Government to grasp the nettle and introduce a standard national minimum allowance for adoptive parents? If we set the figure at £50 a week and enabled another 1,000 families to take children it would cost £2·5 million a year. The numbers are difficult to get at. The Government have access to a lot more information, and I challenge them to produce a costing.

Attempts have been made to get the figures, and local authorities have told the National Foster Care Association that they would be willing and able to submit figures of payments to foster parents of handicapped children in their returns to the DHSS. I was shattered to learn from a written answer by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health on 20 November that the Government did not feel that the information was necessary. As the local authorities say that they are willing and able to provide the details, it is offhand for the Government to say that they do not want them.

We have some information about the numbers. It is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 severely mentally handicapped children are born each year in the United Kingdom; there are also about 2,000 abortions of what would have been severely handicapped infants. The vast majority of severely handicapped children live with their natural parents and the support services are much welcomed, but the work done by Madeline Simms at the Institute for Social Studies in Medicine shows the strains on many of these families. In a recent survey reported in The Lancet on 2 November, she showed that two thirds of mothers of mentally handicapped young adults said that they wished they had had an abortion. That shows the acute need for post-adoptive services to encourage would-be adopters.

We know that it costs up to £20,000 per annum to keep a child in institutional care in London, and the latest figures that I have for Bolton show that it costs £19,000 per annum to keep a severely mentally retarded child in institutional care there. I hope that the Government do not underestimate the cost of transferring children from the NHS. I note that the White Paper issued last week showed that the money available had been increased from £9 million to £10·5 million, to be made available over an unspecified period, but that is a paltry subsidy for children who must be costing the NHS at least £10 million a year. Professor Lawrence of Cardiff recently estimated the lifetime cost of caring for a Down’s syndrome child at £250,000. Against those costs, £2,000 to place a child in ​ the BAAF “Be my Parent” book seems paltry, yet many local authorities claim that they cannot afford even the modest proportion of that fee which BAAF charges them.

I recommend the Government to review policy in this area and introduce a national minimum adoption allowance, on the United States model, without delay. That would allow BAAF to get on with promoting its schemes nationally. The Government should also recognise the inability of local authorities to make placements of children with special needs. Each child is different, and each family is different. It is not easy to link the two. The policy of leaving that task to local authorities is clearly not working.

I urge the Government to increase the grant to BAAF and the other voluntary services, such as Parent to Parent and Parents for Children, which do such excellent work. I am sure that a double grant would be cost effective. I also ask the Government to produce additional funds for post-adoptive services, especially for adolescents. Workers in this area say that there is a vacuum when children reach 18 or 19. Many parents adopting handicapped children must wonder what will happen when the children reach that age.

I do not believe that local authorities can co-ordinate joint services properly. Surveys show how they are struggling, and the recommendations of the 1976 Harvie committee have still not been implemented.

One of the most important aspects of post-adoptive services is respite care, which could help to avoid a number of the breakdowns that might occur if more children were placed. The Parents for Children survey showed that 14 of 89 placements over eight years broke down for this and other reasons. I recommend that there should he at least one place for each 12 who are mentally handicapped, so that the necessary care can be provided. I look forward to seeing the Government’s resources guide, which I understand is to be published shortly.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend could persuade other newspapers to follow the lead of The Guardian, which carries a monthly advertisement of a child in need? Does he agree that the Daily Telegraph would be a much better newspaper if it showed the same enlightened attitude? If standard adoption allowances were introduced, does my hon. Friend accept that that would be an excellent basis on which to advertise in The Sun as well? We could have a page 3 Sun child of the week.

The Exodus campaign should be recognised now by publicising the list of local authorities, and not merely a list of health authorities, with children in long-term care. That would enable pressure to be brought on the local authorities with any new legislation that may be necessary to help us transfer children who are in National Health Service hospitals.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity of initiating this Adjournment debate at such a critical time. I look forward to my hon. Friend’s reply. I hope that the clock has not been running too fast in the limited time that is available to us.

Timothy Raison – 1985 Statement on UK Withdrawal from UNESCO

Below is the text of the statement made by Timothy Raison, the then Minister for Overseas Development, in the House of Commons on 22 November 1985.

It is exactly a year to the day since my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary informed the House of the decision of the Government to submit formal notice of withdrawal from UNESCO. This will take effect, unless rescinded, on 31 December 1985. This decision followed a careful review of the background, and in particular of what had already been achieved in respect of reform of UNESCO during 1984.

UNESCO has been beset with problems of inefficiency, over-politicisation and obscure programming for a great many years. We have in particular been worried by a slow-moving, over-centralised, top-heavy administration, with outdated procedures and poor delegation of authority. Morale in the organisation has been notoriously bad. UNESCO had also become increasingly used as a forum for the propagation of ideas repugnant to the people of this country. The so-called new world information and communication order, an idea which arose from the work of a UNESCO-sponsored commission chaired by Sean MacBride, posed a threat to the freedom of the press because it could be used to justify rigid Government controls in the name of producing a balanced flow of information.

UNESCO activities have too often been used as a medium for Communist rhetoric—largely, but not exclusively, over such issues as peace, disarmament and human rights. An example of this is the working document prepared for the world congress on youth held in Barcelona early this year. Material sometimes comes through the secretariat which is thoroughly biased.
UNESCO has also, we believe, spent too much money in Paris on too many meetings and too many studies, often of doubtful value. Let me give two examples from UNESCO’s current programmes. We really find it hard to believe in the value of studies on

“the social and cultural dimensions of world problems”

or on

“the relationship between access and participation in the interest of the democratisation of communication”

—an apparently harmless phrase which can be used to justify activities which are far from democratic.

That is not, of course, to say that everything UNESCO does is harmful or of little value. The constitution remains in most respects as valid today as it was 40 years ago. There is certainly a foundation of practical activity on which to build. For natural sciences UNESCO has provided research and training services in mathematics, physics, chemistry and life sciences, and perhaps ​ particularly in geology, hydrology and oceanography. In education, the major regional programmes for literacy and primary education in Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean are developing soundly. Handbooks for teachers and other teaching materials are produced in various scientific and technical subjects. In culture, UNESCO has a long-standing reputation in promoting the preservation of monuments and the development of museums.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Does the Minister agree that that part of UNESCO’s programme which he is now praising constitutes about 98 per cent. of its expenditure, and that the part that he criticised earlier constitutes about 2 per cent.?

Mr. Raison

No, I do not agree. There is a core of good, solid work, but there are other aspects which give great cause for concern, not only to the Government, but to many others outside Parliament. Overall we were not satisfied that UNESCO represented good value for money either for us or for other member states, particularly the developing countries, and, contrary to what has sometimes been suggested, the sums involved are not so small as to be ignored. If we were to stay in UNESCO, our financial contribution for 1986 would be just under $9 million, or £6·4 million at current rates of exchange. The question that we have to ask is whether this money could be put to better use if it were to be devoted to other activities in education, science and culture within our overall aid programme.

British and other delegations had raised these issues at many previous sessions of the general conference, but until the last two years no comprehensive attempt to set the organisation to rights had been made. Following a review of our policy during 1983, we decided that if the results of the general conference held in that year were seriously damaging to British interests in some way, withdrawal should be seriously considered. The outcome of that conference was somewhat better than expected. The Americans nevertheless put in their notice to withdraw at the end of 1983, to take effect at the end of 1984. We decided that we should stay in the organisation, at least for 1984, and fight for reform from within, but that we should seriously consider withdrawal again if significant progress had not been made by the end of the year.

On 2 April 1984 I wrote to the director-general, Mr. M’Bow, to tell him that we thought radical changes were necessary and to spell out in broad terms those areas of UNESCO’s programmes and management in which we sought improvements. We did not believe that it was necessary to propose in immense detail the means by which improvements might be gained. However, I made specific proposals in my letter. These have, where appropriate, been amplified. Indeed, I can reasonably claim that the proposals contained in my letter have largely set the agenda for reform of UNESCO.

In the wake of my letter and the pressures arising from the threatened United States withdrawal, various steps were taken by the director-general and by the executive board towards reform. In particular, the board set up the temporary committee of 13 members, including the United Kingdom. This met during the summer of 1984 and produced a series of detailed proposals for reform which were endorsed by the full board in the autumn of 1984. At ​ the same time, the board adopted a decision setting out the guidelines for the preparation of the next programme and budget covering the calendar years 1986 and 1987.

We reviewed the situation carefully towards the end of 1984 and acknowledged that some progress had been made towards reform. However, we concluded that much remained to be done. Certainly, at that time, we could not be confident that adequate reform to justify continued British membership would be achieved by the end of 1985. We therefore submitted our notice of withdrawal. At the same time, we said that a further review of British policy would be held after the general conference in 1985. Meanwhile, we would continue to work for reform, in co-operation with other countries, as vigorously as in 1984.

The Government’s overriding interest in 1985, as in 1984, has been to bring about reform in UNESCO. I assure the House that British representatives in Paris and elsewhere have indeed vigorously pursued our aims throughout this period. I shall describe what has happened, and, inevitably, some of the details are complicated.

At its spring session this year, the executive board endorsed a timetable for the implementation of reforms already agreed which had been recommended by the temporary committee. It also adopted a series of detailed recommendations on the draft programme and budget for 1986–87.

The draft programme contained a number of useful innovations, notably, for the first time, an element of priority rating. This was forced on the secretariat by the United States withdrawal and the consequent loss of 25 per cent. of the budget. It took the form of dividing all activities into categories of first and second priority, the second priority activities amounting to approximately 25 per cent. of the whole. They will not be implemented unless additional funds are made available. Though crude, the setting of priorities was a useful step forward. As part of its recommendations to the general conference, the board suggested a number of changes to the priority ratings, the main thrust of which was to preserve the scientific programmes to a greater extent than originally envisaged by the secretariat.

The main event of the year was the general conference, which took place in Sofia from 8 October to 9 November. The principal role of the conference is to approve the programme and budget for the next biennium, but it considers a large number of other issues. However, it does not have the main responsibility for determining management issues or reforms; these are mainly within the constitutional responsibility of the director-general or the board.

Following the spring session of the board, we had carefully reviewed progress. In the light of this, a statement of key United Kingdom objectives for the conference was drawn up and circulated widely in Paris and in other capitals through our diplomatic missions before the conference. We were looking for further improvements in politically contentious programmes, more effective and concentrated programmes, decisions on financial issues which respected the board’s recommendations concerning zero real growth and the principle of no extra cost to members arising from the United States withdrawal and confirmation of the management reforms which had already been agreed.​

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the reasons given by the comptroller general to the House of Representatives and say whether they influenced our decision? Will they be taken into consideration, as they were extremely critical?

Mr. Raison

The American General Audit conducted a review of UNESCO, as my hon. Friend points out, as a result of which many critical points were made. On the other hand, it is fair to say that it was critical, not of what one might call the probity of the organisation, but of many of its operations. Those reports were not discussed directly by the executive board in Paris, because the United States had left the organisation. We made sure, however, that the substance of them was discussed during the proceedings in the last year or so.

To pursue the objectives which I described, the British delegation submitted a number of formal draft resolutions to the conference. Among the more important of these was a text proposing changes to priority gradings amounting to some $3·7 million across almost all major programmes, and detailed proposals concerning major programmes III and XIII, which deal respectively with communication issues and peace, disarmament and human rights. These are the two major programmes that give rise to most political problems for us.

I attended the Sofia conference for a few days near the beginning to make the main British plenary speech and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs took part in the discussions in the commission on major programme XIII towards the end of the conference.

In my speech I outlined what we hoped to achieve at the conference. I went on to suggest, however, that practical reforms were not everything and that we were looking for a return to the spirit which inspired the founding conference in 1945. I concluded by saying:

“It is this concern for freedom and the rights of the individual, taken together with our own belief that UNESCO is nowhere near sufficiently focused on the practical development of education, science and culture, which lie at the heart of the serious and carefully-considered steps we have taken. They are why we insist on thoroughgoing and comprehensive reform. Without it, our intention to withdraw will be confirmed”.

During the visits of my hon. Friend and myself, we met many other delegations, formally and informally. It was clear to both of us that some were doubtful about our intentions but even those who believed, wrongly, that an irrevocable decision to withdraw had already been taken seemed anxious to keep us in or, at least, not give us an easy pretext to withdraw. We were impressed by the efforts made to produce a common line with other Western delegations.

On the positive side, the conference confirmed the important recommendations concerning zero real growth and no extra costs arising from the United States withdrawal. It confirmed the recommendation of the board to delete an international future-oriented study as a separate element in the programme. That aspect had concerned us. We held the line on communications issues, in spite of strong eastern European pressure and a recent decision in New York which endangered the UNESCO consensus language which had evolved concerning a new world information and communication order. Secretariat pressure for a number of new international legal instruments was successfully withstood. These included one particularly dangerous idea—the international ​ regulation of the use of works which have passed out of copyright protection. In a low-key conference there was less overt politicisation than before. For the first time the resolutions adopted on middle east issues within the competence of UNESCO were acceptable to us and to our Community partners. For the first time too the conference turned against a number of highly politicised and irrelevant draft resolutions produced by the eastern Europeans.

There were, however, significant disappointments. We had hoped to obtain changes in the priority ratings of specific activities which would preserve to the greatest extent possible key elements of the programme concerned with education, science and culture at the expense of less useful activities. Some changes were made, but the overall effect was disappointing.

In particular, we were unable to peg major programme XIII—the one concerned with peace, disarmament and human rights—to anything near the average overall reduction of 25 per cent. This was due partly to procedural problems, but mainly to an unwillingness on the part of most delegates to reopen issues which they regarded as having been dealt with by the executive board. There also remained points of concern about independent evaluation, which has been a key element in our reform programme.

Overall, the outcome on major programme XIII was mixed. The resolution that was adopted did not go as far as we had hoped in limiting UNESCO’s role in relation to disarmament issues, but we were successful in preventing UNESCO, in its proposed activities for 1986–87, from endangering the supremacy of individual human rights as defined in the three universally recognised instruments. It was made clear that the in some ways questionable concept of people’s rights had a different status from human rights and required further clarification.

We regret that the general conference as a whole showed little interest in looking for new ways of working, particularly in the programme commissions. This contrasts with the positive attitude towards procedural reform shown by the board.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

What does the Minister mean by saying that the concept of people’s rights is questionable? Surely basic concepts such as the right to self-determination have long been recognised in international law.

Mr. Raison

The questionable element in the concept of people’s rights is the point at which they are held to override individual rights. As I have said, there are international conventions which give a supremacy to individual human rights which we have always regarded as being of very great importance. People’s rights, if they are abused, can be a way of determining that the collective power of the Government should override the rights of individuals. That is the area which concerns us.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

This is an important question. Will the Minister accept that the individual rights of citizens should be given equal consideration in the government of the country in which they live? That is the fundamental principle on which the American constitution is formed. Due process of law became the basis on which every American, black and white, had the right to vote. Is the present Government’s view that human rights are denied in every country where there is not an absolutely equal franchise in respect of the election of the Government? That is what people’s rights are about.

Mr. Raison

We believe that in a democracy every citizen should have the right to participate in government. The equal right to participate is the target towards which democracy must and should move. The fear about the doctrine of people’s rights is that it can be used in a way to allow the power of the state to override the rights of the individual. That is our concern, and I should be surprised if even the right hon. Gentleman did not share that view.

Mr. Benn

With great respect, the use of people’s rights in this House to take away the rights of the citizens of London by the abolition of the Greater London council is a perfect example of the way in which the Government have used their national majority to destroy the rights of individuals in this country.

Mr. Raison

It is wholly extraneous political considerations that mar the work of UNESCO, in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has just illustrated.

I now turn to the important report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which appeared shortly before the general conference and which we have studied with great care. This debate is a response to one of the recommendations of the report—that this House should have a chance to give its view before a final decision is taken.

The House will not expect me to give a yes or no answer to the Select Committee’s view that, subject to certain provisos, we should not implement our notice of withdrawal. What would be the point of consulting the House if I were to give the answer now? However, I should like to say a few words about four of the main issues dealt with in the report. These are the tactics of submitting formal notice of withdrawal, the financial balance sheet, the concept of universality, and the international consequences of withdrawal.

As regards tactics, I was pleased to see that the report seemed on balance to find that the effect on reform of our giving notice was beneficial. I note the conclusion that

“it seems inconceivable that a reform programme of the kind now under way within UNESCO could have been undertaken without the stimulus provided by the United Kingdom Government”.

What of the financial balance sheet? The report suggests that the figures provided by my officials suggest that the United Kingdom receipts from UNESCO’s budget are substantially in excess of our direct budgetary contribution, but there are two important factors to bear in mind. First, the receipt figures include a very substantial element funded from sources other than the regular UNESCO programme, and to many of which—for example, the United Nations development programme—Britain makes a separate voluntary contribution. There is no certainty that there would be any loss of contracts for activities funded in this way. Indeed, it is possible that not all contracts under the regular programme would be lost. Furthermore, the purchase of goods and services in the United Kingdom for 1984 was $5·2 million and for 1985 $2·8 million. Of the remaining $10 million per annum referred to in the report, which represents payment of salaries to British employees of UNESCO in Paris or in the field, only a little would accrue to the United Kingdom balance of payments. So there are modifications which have to be made to the argument put forward in that respect.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the House that it is his view, ​ having studied the figures, that it is of direct financial benefit to the United Kingdom to remain within UNESCO? Secondly, will he make it clear that, if we should come out, there is no guarantee whatever that the money saved will go to, for example, the BBC external services or to the British Council?

Mr. Raison

It is very difficult to say what the financial benefits are. I have explained some of the qualifying factors. There are others which have to be taken into account.

With regard to the important question of what we would do with the money if we were to leave UNESCO, I hope—indeed, I believe—that it would be retained within the British aid programme. Obviously, within the British aid programme a very strong candidate for its use would be activities related to education and science, which might be funded through the agency of the British Council. We have to bear in mind that there is potentially an alternative use for the money which could serve very much the same purposes as UNESCO serves.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Minister admit that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs received strong evidence from scientific bodies in the United Kingdom that it is not possible for the British Council to undertake most of the programmes that would be lost by our withdrawal from UNESCO, and that it is only UNESCO and similar multilateral organisations that can carry out these programmes?

Mr. Raison

We could continue to take part in some of the international scientific programmes, but possibly in some of the others we could not. My point is that if the money were to be switched out of UNESCO into my general budget, it could perfectly well be used on activities relating to education, science and culture in the Third world. We might well use the British Council to bring that about. Any loss to international scientific activities deriving from our withdrawal could be balanced by increased activity on our behalf. There is no doubt about that.

Mr. Foulkes

The Opposition agree that there can be switches in the budget, just as huge chunks of the Minister’s budget are now being improperly used in the Falkland Islands.

Mr. Raison

We have returned to politicisation of a rather irrelevant kind. I know that this is a political House, but my budget for the Falkland Islands is used for developmental work there.

The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs also dealt with universality. I can confirm that it is the Government’s view that universality means the right to belong to, and participate freely in, the work of the United Nations and its associated bodies, rather than implying any obligation to be a member of all of them.

The international consequences of withdrawal is a complicated matter. There are two main aspects: the effect of possible United Kingdom withdrawal on our relations with our partners and friends, particularly in the Community and the Commonwealth, and the danger that such a withdrawal would leave the door open to mischief-making in UNESCO from other quarters. Our current assessment is similar to that of the Foreign Affairs ​ Committee, which is that there would be little likelihood of others submitting notice of withdrawal before the end of the year. However, if we decide to leave, it would not be difficult to explain to other countries the reasons which underlay our decision.

Dealing with increased Communist influence would depend upon a number of imponderable factors. To suggest that, in the absence of the United States of America, only the United Kingdom can counter Soviet advances is far from complimentary to many of our closest allies and underestimates the good sense of our Commonwealth and other friends.

Before I leave the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs’ report, I should refer briefly to the two specific proposals for further reform that it contains. These are, first, that the term of office of the director-general should be restricted in future to a single tour of six years, and, secondly, that an executive body of more manageable size than the current executive board of 51 members should be set up.

I find both those ideas well worth considering. They both relate to one of our major areas of concern—the relationship between the governing bodies and the secretariat. We believe that it has swung too far in favour of the latter and we cannot ignore the management weaknesses. I doubt whether it can be healthy for any international organisation to have had only two directors-general in 23 years, which is the case with UNESCO.

I have to warn the House that I can see some practical problems in pressing for these reforms. Both would require constitutional amendment. So far, we have avoided reform proposals which would require amendment to the constitution, for two reasons. First, constitutional amendments take time, since only the general conference can change the constitution. But we have also been very reluctant to pursue such proposals since, in doing so, we might encourage others to submit amendments to what we still see as a basically satisfactory document.

Clearly all this needs very serious thought. There could be other ways of achieving the same aims without formal constitutional amendment. For example, the board has now charged a renewed special committee of 18 members to follow the reform process, a function which it has taken over from the temporary committee.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, we committed ourselves to a final review of our decision to leave after the recent general conference. That is now being carried out. Our starting point must be an assessment of the outcome of two years’ work by Ministers and officials in seeking to reform the complex organism which UNESCO has become. Other Governments will no doubt wish to make their views known to us.

Obviously there have been improvements. The main problem now will be to form a judgment on whether those measures are enough to meet the very serious needs, whether they will be properly implemented and how effective they will be. That depends on forming a view on whether the majority of member states and the director-general have wholeheartedly embraced the idea that reform is necessary and urgent, or whether they have, reluctantly, gone along with as much as they believed to be necessary to stop Britain and others leaving.

Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

At the Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg Mr. M’Bow arrogantly refused to answer almost 50 per cent. of the ​ questions put to him, and his answers to the remainder were entirely unsatisfactory. I believe that the full opinion of the Council of Europe, with Members of Parliament from 21 nations present, was that no reformation and progress—which I should like to see for UNESCO—could take place while Mr. M’Bow was still director-general.

Mr. Raison

I shall consider my hon. Friend’s point in the context of today’s debate.

Mr. Foulkes

This debate is not about whether we are in favour of Mr. M’Bow. It is on the much more important matter of whether we are in favour of UNESCO. That organisation is much more important than any man.

Mr. Raison

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the debate is about whether we should remain in UNESCO. There are many factors to consider on that score, and I am discussing them in my speech.

I cannot forecast the outcome of our review, but we will take account of the many and various factors involved before reaching a firm conclusion. I shall, of course, listen carefully to the views of the United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO when it meets next Friday. We aim to announce our decision before the House rises for the Christmas recess. I assure the House that the decision on whether we should remain in UNESCO will not be taken lightly and that the Government will take note of the views expressed in the debate.

Richard Luce – 1985 Speech on the Museum of London

Below is the text of the speech made by Richard Luce, the then Minister for the Arts, in the House of Commons on 21 November 1985.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The main purpose of this short Bill is to give the Government and the Corporation of the City of London equal shares in the funding of the Museum of London and in the appointment of members of its board of governors, following the abolition of the Greater London council. At present, the Government, the City and the GLC each contribute one third of the members of the board. As the House will recall, last Session the Government announced their intention to divide the GLC’s share equally between the two other partners after abolition. It was not possible to make provision for those new arrangements in the Local Government Act 1985 which abolishes the GLC.

This was partly because the Government wanted to make amendments to the Museum of London Act 1965 and to effect other repeals, neither of which could be done under the terms of that Act. Therefore, the Local Government Act provided for the transfer, from next April, of the whole of the GLC’s share to the Government, as an interim measure. The Bill supersedes the relevant provisions of the Local Government Act before they come into effect, and amends the 1965 Act governing the Museum of London.

The Bill is being treated as a hybrid measure. Hon. Members will recall that that involves special additional parliamentary procedures. The procedures are already under way, and I have no reason to expect any difficulty. They do not affect today’s Second Reading debate.

Before I deal in detail with the contents of the Bill, it may be helpful to remind the House of the history of the Museum of London. The museum had its origins in two long-established institutions—the Guildhall museum, primarily concerned with the square mile of the City, and the London museum, concerned with a much broader survey of London’s history. The two museums were merged into one organisation on 1 June 1975 when the Museum of London Act 1965 came into effect. In December 1976, the present superb Museum of London building in the Barbican, specially designed to accommodate the joint collections, was opened by Her Majesty the Queen.
The Guildhall museum was established in 1826 by the corporation as an adjunct to its newly revitalised library. It was to accommodate

“such antiquities as relate to the City and suburbs”.

The museum was, from the start, intimately associated with the archaeological investigations of building sites in the City. In 1966 the museum became a separate department of the corporation. In 1973 a full department of urban archaeology was established at the museum.

The London museum was founded in 1911, when the first Viscount Harcourt used private funds at his disposal to establish the museum at Kensington palace. Financial support was assumed by the Treasury in 1912. The museum was governed by Treasury minute and administered through a board of trustees.

After the second world war, closer working links were established between the two museums, mainly as the result of arrangements for the excavation of the City’s war-damaged site. By 1960, it had become apparent that the premises in which the museums were housed were ​ inadequate. Negotiations began which had the object of merging the museums into a new and comprehensive institution to be devoted to the history of Greater London. The agreement eventually reached was formalised in the Museum of London Act 1965.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the present board of governors of the Museum of London, under the distinguished chairmanship of Mr. Michael Robbins, and to the museum’s talented director, Mr. Max Hebditch. Together they have contributed to an enormous amount to its successful development in the past 10 years, and have enabled it to become widely admired as a jewel in London’s crown. It is fitting also to recognise that this would not have been possible without the tremendous support and encouragement of the Corporation of the City of London, to which we are all indebted, not least for the fine premises which the museum now occupies. We must build on this success and establish the statutory basis for the museum’s development in the decades that lie ahead. The museum and the City welcome the 50:50 sharing arrangement and the clarification of the board’s powers. The Bill has their support.

The Bill’s main purpose is to share the appointment of governors and the funding between the Government and the City on a 50:50 basis. That is achieved by clauses 1 and 3. It also redefines the powers of the board of governors, for the sake of clarity and to bring them more into line with other modern museum legislation. That is the object of clause 2. I shall say more in a moment about the funding of archaeological services in London, which is covered by the new provisions in clause 4.

Clause 1 deals with the appointment of governors and provides that the Prime Minister and City corporation should each appoint nine, in place of the six currently appointed by each of the Prime Minister, the City and the GLC. There are transitional provisions to stagger the terms of office of the new appointees. Clause 1 supersedes the relevant provisions in the Local Government Act 1985.

Gerald Howarth – 1985 Speech on the Televising of the Commons

Below is the text of the speech made by Gerald Howarth, the then Conservative MP for Cannock and Burntwood, in the House of Commons on 20 November 1985.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page), I did not take a bath last week or this week for the purpose of conversion. I took a bath to listen to “Yesterday in Parliament” to find out what had gone on while I was doing my correspondence.

I shall vote with great confidence against the motion. Although I have been privileged to be a Member of the House for only two and half years, I believe that the intrusion of the cameras would be a grave mistake and would destroy the essential character of this place. I believe that it would turn the House into a television studio and theatre. The microphones do not intrude, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) so ably explained, the cameras would intrude a great deal.

We should no longer be looking to you, Mr. Speaker, and we should no longer be looking to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Some strange alliances have been formed today. I agree with everything that the hon. Member for Walton has said, which must embarrass the hon. Gentleman as much as it embarrassed my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) to agree with all that was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The television cameras would intrude; the intimacy of the Chamber would be lost. It would become a studio or theatre. The press would interpret our proceedings. As the hon. Member for Walton so ably explained, it would choose the little nuggets that it wanted to televise.

This motion should be rejected out of hand. We should preserve the traditions of this great House. Those who want to hear our proceedings should listen to them on the radio. Better still, they should come and see us in action.

John Page – 1985 Speech on the Televising of the Commons

Below is the text of the speech made by John Page, the  then Conservative MP for Harrow West, in the House of Commons on 20 November 1985.

My interest in voting today is to ensure that greater power and authority is given to this Chamber. I had a kind of road to Damascus conversion in the bath last Thursday morning and decided very determinedly that I would vote for the motion. This is a debating Chamber, however, and in a free vote we can be swayed by the speeches that we have heard.

As I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) in support of the motion all my confidence dissipated but, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has said, one should not be ashamed to change one’s mind, however frequently the pendulum swings. Soon aftewards, however, my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) spoke against the motion and all his arguments persuaded me that it would be quite wrong to vote against it. My hon. Friend said that instead of spending his afternoons in Committee, talking to disabled constituents or dealing with his correspondence, he would have to waste his time in the Chamber, and that poniard went straight into the wound.

In the light of that final revelation, I have decided to vote in favour of letting the cameras in—not only because I bought a carnation this morning at enormous expense in the belief that the cameras would already be here today, but because I believe that the televising of our proceedings, warts and all, will bring back greater power to our debates here, which is where it ought to be.

Nigel Spearing – 1985 Speech on the Televising of the Commons

Below is the text of the speech made by Nigel Spearing, the then Labour MP for Newham South, in the House of Commons on 20 November 1985.

There is one thing on which all right hon. and hon. Members agree—that the gap between the House of Commons and the public is apparently increasing. Those who want us to vote in favour of the motion maintain that television will fill that gap.

If hon. Members vote in favour of the motion, they may increase the feelings of frustration and powerlessness among their constituents. Politicians speak to their ​ constituents daily in their drawing rooms and kitchens and the public cannot get back at them. If the public were able to see the proceedings in the Chamber but could not come here to make a speech, the division between hon. Members and constituents could conceivably be greater.

Hon. Members can take many steps to close such a division. They could make sure that Hansard appears in every public library and in the libraries of every secondary school. I do not know whether that would be possible to implement at present. Years ago the weekly Hansard could be purchased from bookstalls, but today the daily part costs £2·50. I believe that Hansard should be available throughout the country at wholesale prices.

Many hon. Members have said in the debate that the function of a Member of Parliament is not restricted to the Chamber. Indeed, the majority of our time is spent outside the Chamber, however vital our function in the Chamber may be.
When the House was asked to support sound radio in the Chamber, we were told that the broadcasts would cover Select Committees. The media told us that they would give coverage to powerful Select Committees calling the Government to account. In fact, the only coverage of Select Committees is a BBC programme broadcast at 11 pm on Sunday on VHF only.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) that the Chamber is the hub of Parliament. The Chamber operates on motions, questions, debate and decision. There is also pontification, promotion of causes and probing of Government. Above all, there are good speeches of persuasion. Those are often the most effective speeches in the Chamber, but if speeches of persuasion are distorted by the media to create news value—and the media will be tempted to do that—distortion of our proceedings will be increased.

The trumpet soloists will be in the ascendancy if the motion is passed. I ask hon. Members to consider what a Beethoven symphony might sound like if it was played only from the score for the brass and timpani sections. That is not an unlikely analogy if, through the exigencies of the edited extracts, that is the view that the public are given of the Chamber.

There would inevitably be pressures on hon. Members and on how parliamentary business is carried out. If we wish the House to become a permanent, national, political television studio in an attempt to fill the gap between the public and Parliament which hon. Members have identified, we must adapt our priorities, proceedings and practices to suit the requirements and disciplines of the media. That is not the function of Members of Parliament.

In the Chamber, it is our duty to ensure the efficient dispatch of public business. That should not be done in secret. It should certainly be recorded. It may be broadcast in sound and it is published the very next day in Hansard.
Hon. Members must be publicly accountable—motivated by party passions and principles or those of our own deep convictions—but if the practices and proceedings which are the ball bearings of democratic government are in any way geared to requirements other than the proper dispatch of public business, democratic parliamentary procedures will be threatened. We shall be performing those functions to satisfy the requirements of one medium whereby we are accountable, rather than the requirements of parliamentary business.

Parliamentary democracy is very tenuous. Its gossamer threads are too fine to be subjected to the risks that those who support the motion would have us take. The House should seek other, more realistic measures to close the gap and defeat the motion tonight.