HC Deb 26 April 1984 vol 58 cc865-7
1. Mr. Fatchett

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has now received a copy of the report of the New Ireland Forum; and if he will make a statement.

2. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his latest assessment of the work of the New Ireland Forum.

4. Dr. Mawhinney

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the New Ireland Forum report.

6. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has received a report of the New Ireland Forum; and if he will make a statement.

8. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he intends to have over the report of the New Ireland Forum.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)

I await with interest the publication of the report of the New Ireland Forum.

Mr. Fatchett

Is the Secretary of State prepared, without prejudging the content of the report, to say at this stage that he will meet the parties responsible for the report immediately after its publication and discuss the detail and proposals of the report with them?

Mr. Prior

We must wait until the report is published before judging it in any way. The Government's reaction must, of course, depend very much on what it says.

Mr. Dubs

Will the Secretary of State give the report, when it is published, his most sympathetic consideration, bearing in mind that it is likely to represent the only opportunity open to him for many years of solving the difficult problems of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

In so far as the forum seeks to take the opportunity suggested by the hon. Gentleman, we shall, of course, study the report with extreme care, but I should not want to judge it before I have seen it.

Dr. Mawhinney

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the report can be taken seriously only in so far as it recognises the present constitutional realities and is able to separate those realities from political aspirations?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. I am certain that that is right. If it encourages an understanding of the realities of Northern Ireland and the aspirations of all those who live there, it can then be taken seriously. However, it must also take very seriously the point about the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Canavan

May we have an assurance that the Secretary of State will not adopt the same dull negative attitude to the forum as that adopted by the Unionist parties? Will there be an official Government response to the forum report, and will the Government arrange for a debate to take place in the House of Commons so that some assessment can be made of the support in the British Parliament for any feasible proposals in the report which might lead to the eventual reunification of Ireland?

Mr. Prior

Rather than speculate on a report that has not been published, it would be better to wait until it is published. I have no doubt that there will be an opportunity for debate in the House of Commons, but that is not strictly a matter for me.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Secretary of State agree that all the signs are that serious and careful consideration has been given to drawing up proposals and recommendations by those involved in the New Ireland Forum? Does he further agree that it would be wrong, once those proposals and recommendations have been made—and it seems that they are likely to be very balanced—if the British Government, and not just the Secretary of State, dismissed the report out of hand simply because it originated in the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Prior

We should wait for the report. I cannot comment on the contents of the report contents before I have seen it.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Dr. Feeney, the spokesman for the SDLP, has made it clear that the forum's object is to bring about a united Ireland and that all its proposals are designed to that end. What is the Secretary of State's interest in bringing about a united Ireland?

Mr. Prior

There cannot be any change in the constitution of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, without the consent of the majority of the Northern Ireland people. Anything said about the matter must be consistent with the reality that no form of government in Northern Ireland will be stable unless it is broadly acceptable throughout the community.

Mr. Stanbrook

As the parties to the forum are all representative of nationalist communities in the Republic of Ireland, is not my right hon. Friend right to be sceptical about whether the report, if it ever comes, will contribute to solving the problems of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

We had better await the report. I stress that the Government will certainly be looking carefully to see whether anything in the report will enable the present impasse in Northern Ireland, with a very bad security situation, to be improved for the benefit of all the people in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara

I refer to the Secretary of State's reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Why are the Secretary of State and the Government not prepared to take account of the opinion of the United Kingdom as a whole? Why do they consider only the opinion of a small segment of Her Majesty's dominions—the six counties of Northern Ireland—so that it has a veto over the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Prior

We take into account the opinion of the United Kingdom as a whole, but we must consider also the majority opinion of the people who live in Northern Ireland. I thought that the Opposition's policy was for no change in the Northern Ireland constitution without the consent of the Northern Ireland people. As far as I am aware, that consent is not forthcoming.

Mr. Mason

Do I take it from the Secretary of State's replies that he has no intention of changing the terms for a united Ireland?

Mr. Prior

There is no suggestion that we should change what is clearly written in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973.

Mr. Archer

I tempt the Secretary of State to be a little more cheerful. Will he take this opportunity to respond to suggestions in some sections of the press that he does not expect the discussions to lead to more than marginal changes? Although, of course, he cannot compel anyone to choose peace and reason in preference to the old destructive treadmill, will he at least announce to the House that he will do everything in his power to initiate constructive discussions? Will he assure the House that he has not abandoned all hope of progress for the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

I am always willing to be cheerful when I have something about which to be cheerful. I hope that the forum will give me that opportunity.

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