HC Deb 30 January 1986 vol 90 cc1077-8
1. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent representations he has received from the majority community about the acceptability of the Anglo-Irish agreement.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

I have received a number of representations from members of the majority community in letters and in a wide range of meetings. I remain ready to meet representatives of the majority political parties to discuss their concerns about the agreement and their views on matters arising from it.

Mr. Gow

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the Government had believed that the agreement would be deeply opposed by the minority community in Northern Ireland they would never have entered into the agreement, and will he explain why he thinks it right to proceed with the agreement when the Government know that it is opposed deeply by the majority?

Mr. King

I am certainly aware, and I have never concealed the fact, that there is concern among the majority community, some of whom are instinctively opposed to any closer co-operation with the Government of the Republic and others who are deeply concerned about possible implications or misunderstanding about the agreement. We are determined to ensure that there is a better understanding of the benefits of the agreement. The House will be aware of one recent illustration of the benefit that can come from closer co-operation—cross-border co-operation in security—which I know the House will welcome. The House will also notice the significant changes in the nationalist vote in the recent by- elections.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

If, despite the attempts of the Government, and in the light of the election results, which were geared to the November agreement, the majority of the people in Ulster—not the United Kingdom—were determined to go for independence, what would the Government do?

Mr. King

I hope that no such counsels will prevail. I think the House will recognise what an unfortunate course that would be. I have made clear our belief in the merits of the agreement, but we remain ready, willing and anxious to talk to representatives of the majority community as well. I have to say that one cannot complain, as some leaders of the majority community do, about lack of consultation when they refuse to enter into any dialogue whatsoever.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree, now that the dust is beginning to settle after the by-elections, that this is the time for quiet reflection and discussions, taking into account some of the political realities? Is he not encouraged by the opinion polls, which seem to show that the majority of people in the Province do not accept that the way forward is non-co-operation, either actively or passively?

Mr. King

Non-co-operation will only be damaging to the economy and future of the Province. I think that, increasingly, sensible opinion among the majority community recognises the necessity for talks and discussions to see whether a way out of their present concerns can be found. In the present situation, the refusal even to talk would be inexcusable.

Mr. Alton

Given the reluctance of the majority community to speak directly to the Secretary of State, may I ask whether the Prime Minister has considered inviting the four constitutional parties to Downing street for discussions?

Mr. King

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has always made clear her willingness to meet leaders of any party in the House. If there are points that they wish to put to her, she will always be willing to listen to them.

Mr. Baldry

When considering the wishes of the majority, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Members of the House, who supported the Anglo-Irish agreement in the belief that, if it were approached positively by all people in Northern Ireland, it could do much more than anything else to produce stability in the Province and combat the cancer of terrorism?

Mr. King

The agreement creates a new situation, in which the responsibilities fall on the leaders of both the majority and minority communities. I say in the presence of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) that he knows that the Government look to the SDLP to make a positive response in the new situation.

Mr. Flannery

Do not the antics of the Unionists in coming in and walking out of the Chamber, and acting in the way that they are doing, reveal that they have had their way for so long that, when it comes to arguing the case, they refuse to discuss it with us? Is that not a sign that they feel that they are in a defensive and weak position and that events are now overtaking them?

Mr. King

I do not underestimate the strength of genuine feeling in the Province and the genuine concern of a considerable number of Unionists about the Anglo-Irish agreement. That is all the more reason why everybody in the House who is a democrat recognises the importance of discussion and talking now about the situation. Nothing will be achieved by abstention. Parliament is here. That is a role for Parliament. I hope that within this Parliament sensible discussions can take place.