HC Deb 09 February 1978 vol 943 cc1651-4
7. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of of State for Northern Ireland if he has any further plans to meet the leaders of the main political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

8. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the progress of his talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland to lead to a constitutional settlement there.

11. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the progress of his discussions with political leaders in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mason

As I said in reply to Questions in the House on 12th January, I believe that my framework for talks with the parties provides the best opportunity to make progress towards the return of substantial power and responsibility to locally elected representatives. The caution of the parties at the moment is understandable and I do not intend to force the pace.

Mr. Flannery

Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that where a sense of hopelessness prevails, terrorism flourishes? Therefore, as this is one of the few directly political questions, will he address himself very carefully to it? Only in a continuing dialogue will some hope emerge. Will my right hon. Friend also accept that I am trying very hard to do what he said and to guard my words carefully in order not to inflame a very delicate situation, and that I hope that he has noted that in my last contribution on the subject I said that, if the last dialogue failed, inevitably there would be an outbreak of further terrorism? Will my right hon. Friend accept that, unless a continuing dialogue between all the parties in Northern Ireland and the Minister continues, the sense of hopelessness will go on and more terrorism from both sides is bound to follow?

Mr. Mason

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is essential to try to get the political dialogue under way once again. I have told the House before that my door is not closed. I hope that the political parties will feel it worth while to continue the talks. I was not pessimistic about the outcome of the talks. We had a round of ministerial talks with the four parties. My officials had bilateral talks with the four parties. I was hoping that they could continue. However, because of some external utterances of late, the parties have decided to go back and stand aside for a while.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Although I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman neessarily to commit himself in principle at the moment, may I ask whether he is really satisfied that he could not attain the objective set out in his interesting speech of 3rd February, with which clearly the majority of the House is in accord, by seeking perhaps to get there by stages, the first stage being the resumption of some effective form of local government, as long as it fulfils the conditions set out in his speech?

Mr. Mason

Yes. If the hon. Gentleman has read my speech—and from what he said it is obvious that he has—he will see that I am trying to do it in stages. I was talking about a regional authority, but with the devolution of powers. Local government in the British sense does not satisfy that criterion. However, if local government in the British sense were given to Northern Ireland, the SDLP would immediately say that it was the return of a Protestant majority.

Mr. Fitt

Hear, hear.

Mr. Mason

The leader of the official Unionist Party, Mr. Harry West, would say that it was a diversion from his ultimate goal because he wanted the devolution of power—that is, Stormont—back again. So I have to find something more than the British style of local government.

Mr. Canavan

Is not it obvious that there is a degree of schizophrenia on the part of certain Northern Ireland political leaders who want a devolved Assembly for Northern Ireland but who are opposed to such an Assembly for Scotland and want more Northern Irish representation at Westminster but who complain about too much Scottish representation at Westminster? Does not this demonstrate a lamentable lack of logic, especially on the part of a doctor of divinity and former classics professor?

Mr. Mason

It is not for me to allow Northern Ireland Question Time to devolve into a wrangle between the Scottish and Northern Irish forms of devolution. Suffice it to say that even within the official Unionist elements in the Province there are different types of devolution which they themselves require, and many of them are campaigning for different forms. It makes it difficult for me when there are utterances in this House for one form and utterances from leaders of the official Unionist Party over the water for another.

Mr. Bradford

When the Secretary of State next meets Mr. West, will he discuss with the leader of our party the proposed development for Poleglass, which has very serious implications for law and order in the Province? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept the result of a by-election in Lisburn Area E which Councillor McAllister is prepared to initiate and to fight on the basis of an anti-Poleglass ticket? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman accept the democratically expressed wishes of the people in that area in this by-election?

Mr. Mason

There has been a full inquiry into the future of the Poleglass development. The announcement has been made. I hope that the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) will recognise once again that if we are to make progress, especially on the housing front, and to be fair to members of the minority community in the Province, he must prevail upon his friends to allow them their development, which is justly deserved.

Mr. Fitt

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the breakdown in the present political talks was brought about by the official Unionist Party, which used as a convenient excuse what was alleged to have been said by the Taoiseach in the Republic? The official Unionist Party never wanted to ensure the success of the talks, and since the breakdown of those talks we have been subjected to almost daily—certainly weekly—utterances by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who appears to be giving total and absolute support to the official Unionist Party in its attempt to regain Unionist ascendancy and to make it impossible for any representation from the minority community to engage in discussions.

Mr. Mason

My hon. Friend indicates how difficult the problem really is. However, I do not want to apportion blame. Now that the turbulence which was created is settling down, I hope that I shall be able to meet the representatives of the parties so that we may carry on the political dialogue once again.

Mr. Neave

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although the Opposition agree with a great deal of his Doncaster speech on 3rd February about power sharing, the terms of reference for further talks that he set out seem rather too wide? Is there any reason why the SDLP should not put up candidates for a local government body, such as that suggested by the official Unionists? Is there any reason why it should not participate with the rest of the community? Is not that the best solution and the one most likely to succeed?

Mr. Mason

The only difference is that if I tried to impose a local government solution on the Province it is unlikely that the minority would regard that as satisfactory and, therefore, whatever form it took might ensure that that form of local government did not succeed. It is essential to carry with me the representatives of the minority and the majority communities in Northern Ireland if we are to negotiate the interim stages towards full devolution.