HC Deb 23 February 1984 vol 54 cc957-9
2. Mr. Molyneaux

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans for reorganising the Northern Ireland Office; and if he will make a statement.

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

No, Sir. The Northern Ireland Office is properly organised to administer the present constitutional arrangements, but I am always willing to consider the size and structure of the office if widely acceptable proposals for devolution could be found.

Mr. Molyneaux

As the Northern Ireland Office is, in a sense, a microcosm of the national Government, is there not a strong case for having available continuity of advice from senior civil servants; advice which can be obtained only from people who have long experience in Northern Irleland affairs?

Mr. Prior

There is much in what the right hon. Gentleman says. Such advice is available through the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and through members of the Northern Ireland Civil Service who are members of the Northern Ireland Office, so that point can be met.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House how the Northern Ireland Office acts in London when the Foreign Secretary of the Republic gets in touch with his ambassador here and wants roads not to be blocked in Northern Ireland, and one official of the Northern Ireland Office sees the ambassador and eventually gets the Army pulled out from blocking those roads?

Mr. Prior

That is not a correct account of what happened. What happens is that the ambassador endeavours to see a senior official at the Northern Ireland Office if a Minister is not available. In the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers a Minister was not available, but the views of the ambassador, representing his Government, were immediately relayed to a Minister, who then took the appropriate action.

Mr. Flannery

Does anyone seriously think that the reorganisation of the Northern Ireland Office will in any way solve the problem in Northern Ireland? Is it not a far more massive problem than that, and one with which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will not come to terms because he fears a solution in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

In fairness, I do not believe that either the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) or the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) thought that this was a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. I believe that only by working through the Assembly can the people of Northern Ireland progress towards a solution of their problems, which will not be possible by making statements in the House.

Mr. Adley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has overwhelming support from the Conservative Benches and in the country for the difficult job that he does with such tact and patience? In the light of the previous question, will he take this opportunity to obtain from the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) a repudiation of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) and others who share them?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I leave it to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) to make her own remarks about that matter, but I must say that they were extraordinary, inept and unhelpful.

Miss Maynard

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there was misrepresentation and that in one newspaper at least there was an untrue statement? I repeat what I said before. I am not in favour of violence, here or anywhere else. I have never been, and am not now, a supporter of the IRA or any other warring group in that unhappy country.

Mr. Prior

In that case, I hope that the hon. Lady will go one step further and say that she is not in favour of terrorism and that she does not believe that the IRA are freedom fighters.

Miss Maynard

I am not in favour of terrorism, and I am not in favour of it on either side.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I allowed the hon. Lady to say that.