HC Deb 27 March 1986 vol 94 cc1053-4
1. Mr. Archer

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what are the dates and agenda for the next Intergovernmental Conference under the Anglo-Irish agreement.

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

Dates of meetings of the Intergovernmental Conference are not released in advance. But while it is not our normal practice to release the agenda in advance, the joint statement issued after the last meeting on 11 March indicated that at its next meeting the conference would consider cross-border security co-operation, the development of relations between the security forces and the community, legal matters, measures to enhance public confidence in the administration of justice, and cross-border economic and social co-operation.

Mr. Archer

Has it struck the right hon. Gentleman that while the political orators have been debating the merits of the emperor's new clothes, many people in Northern Ireland have been waiting to see whether he will be any warmer? After four months, can the Secretary of State point to anything that has changed in daily life in Northern Ireland because it was discussed in the Intergovernmental Conference? If not, when and where can we begin gathering in the harvest?

Mr. King

The most important prize for many will be to get greater confidence in the effectiveness of the security forces and in the fight against terrorism. As I have said to the House, that will be a progressive movement and it will obviously take time for it to develop. However, I am encouraged by the start of the co-operation, particularly in much of the work now taking place between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda under the leadership of the Commissioner and the Chief Constable. I think that the first fruits were shown in the by-elections in the switch of votes from those who support violence to those who support the constitutional Nationalist approach, which was a further encouraging development.

Mr. Gow

Will my right hon. Friend consider removing the secretariat for the Intergovernmental Conference from the Province? Will he also consider the advantages that would flow if future meetings of the Intergovernmental Conference at ministerial level were to take place not in the Province but in London?

Mr. King

The word secretariat has led many people to believe that it is a much more substantial body than is the case. In fact, the secretariat is made up of the secretaries of the conference. The agreement makes it clear that its duty is to service the conference. Obviously it is sensible for that to be organised in a co-operative way. I have picked my hon. Friend up on the point that he made, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just written to the leaders of the two Unionist parties. The letter makes it absolutely clear that we are committed to the agreement and will not suspend it. There is an important statement that we are prepared to operate the agreement in a sensitive way and encourage Unionists to enter into discussions on a wide range of matters. I very much hope that that invitation will be accepted and that we can sit down to sensible discussions about the whole range of issues which are of concern to the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it helps confidence in the accord, particularly among the Nationalist community, if members of his ministerial team seek out members of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill and advise them not to hear oral evidence from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) on the role of the Ulster Defence Regiment?

Mr. King

I am not aware of that matter. Obviously it is a matter for the Select Committee and its dealings.

Mr. Stanbrook

Does my right hon. Friend think that the cause of the Anglo-Irish agreement has been advanced or retarded, by the refusal of the Dublin court to grant Britain's recent application for the extradition of Evelyn Glenholmes?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will know that part of the very clear objective of the Anglo-Irish agreement is to improve the efficiency of the extradition procedures. I should have thought that all the evidence of those events, upon which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has commented, makes it ever more clear that those arrangements need to be improved.

Mr. Mallon

Will the Secretary of State confirm that a sizeable section of the population in Northern Ireland are in favour of the accord and want to see it working? Will he consider directing some of his remarks to that section of the community at the earliest possible opportunity, instead of expressing his own inherent Unionism at every opportunity?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my words. I have made it absolutely clear that we are committed to and will not suspend the agreement. I am well aware of that fact. I recognise that one of the consequences of the agreement was a recognition among the Nationalist community of the opportunity of progress by constitutional means rather than by having to support the men of violence. I thought that I had made my views very clear on that point. At the same time, it is not in the Nationalist interest to have the degree of misunderstanding and discontent that undoubtedly exists among the Unionist community over the Anglo-Irish agreement. I am anxious that those fears and misunderstandings should be relieved and that genuine concerns should be met in discussions with the Unionists on a number of aspects, such as methods of consultation and involvement that are available to them as well.