HC Deb 01 May 1986 vol 96 cc1086-8
10. Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the operation to date of the Anglo-Irish agreement.

11. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on meetings with the Government of the Irish Republic which have occurred arising from the Anglo-Irish agreement.

18. Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about progress in implementing the provisions of the Anglo-Irish agreement.

Mr. Tom King

Since the Anglo-Irish agreement came into force on 29 November, the Intergovernmental Conference has met four times and there has been one meeting of the legal sub-group. A joint statement was issued after each meeting, which gives an account of the issues discussed. I have placed these in the Library.

Mr. Latham

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I wish that there was more than one Ulster Unionist here to listen to it. Is my right hon. Friend aware that since we live in 1986, not 1689, many of us hope that more could be done by the Churches to promote intercommunal reconciliation, which is implicit in the Anglo-Irish agreement?

Mr. King

I endorse to the full my hon. Friend's opening comments. It is a tragedy that Unionist Members of the House of Commons are not present to play their part, with the exception, to which I pay tribute, of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). I certainly do look to closer co-operation between the Churches. Undoubtedly many Church leaders play an outstanding role in that respect. I should like to encourage that process even further.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not important for the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to make it absolutely clear that, no matter what sort of intimidation there is in the Province, and what action is taken by the bully boys and the rest, the Anglo-Irish agreement will stand? If that is made clear, perhaps the time will come when the Unionist Members of Parliament will return to their seats here.

Mr. King

The position has been made absolutely clear, by both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself on several occasions. We remain absolutely clear about that.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Is my right hon Friend aware that many of us who are strong supporters of the Union are also believers in the Anglo-Irish agreement? Does he agree that one of the prospects, if the agreement were to fail, would be an internationalisation of the Northern Ireland problem, which, with the greater interest of perhaps the United States in an adverse way, and the United Nations, would spell disaster for Northern Ireland?

Mr. King

If the agreement were to fail because of intimidation and the sort of violence and obstruction that we have seen in certain quarters, that would be extremely damaging to the Union and would be catastrophic for the image and prospects of Northern Ireland overseas. We face many difficult problems. My hon. Friend the Minister of State referred to the difficult economic news coming out of Northern Ireland today. In that situation, we need maximum co-operation among all the people there. I believe that the Anglo-Irish agreement can contribute to that, if only Unionists are prepared to give it a chance.

Mr. Mallon

Now that there is consensus across the board in Northern Ireland that the use of plastic bullets and of the uncorroborated evidence of supergrasses should be discontinued, would it not, in the Secretary of State's opinion, be advisable for the Anglo-Irish conference to deal with those matters?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman's first point will arise shortly through another question on the Order paper, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will reply. With regard to the second point, the use of accomplice evidence is under discussion at the moment. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has commented on that practice. I understand the concern about it, but when we face terrorism there are real difficulties in making sure that we deal as effectively and fairly as we can with terrorist crimes.

Mr. Gow

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no date has been fixed for the next meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference at ministerial level? Will he explain to the House why he cannot say that future meetings of that conference will be held in London rather than Belfast, and why he considers it desirable that the secretariat should be sited in Northern Ireland and not in London?

Mr. King

The answer to the first question is yes, Sir. In respect of the second question, it is not the practice to disclose the location of the conference, for reasons which my hon. Friend may understand. As to the third question, it is my belief that the secretariat is most usefully located in Belfast in order to discharge the work that it does.

Mr. Alton

Will the Secretary of State make it clear to those in Northern Ireland who want to try to break the Anglo-Irish agreement that it is the democratic wish of all the major parties in the House that, however many marches, and however much intimidation or violence there may be over the next few months, we will not tolerate any watering down of the Anglo-Irish agreement?

Mr. King

I have made absolutely clear my support for the Anglo-Irish agreement, but at the same time I have made it absolutely clear that this agreement is not designed to exclude the voice of Unionists from involvement in and contribution to the affairs of Northern Ireland, and that is what I wish to see.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Now that we have the Anglo-Irish agreement, what additional measure does my right hon. Friend propose to protect the members of the RUC, their families and their homes from the attacks that they have suffered? What can he do to stop a number of members of the RUC requesting transfers to return from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. King

In respect of the latter point, I have to say that there is no evidence of this happening. I know that the RUC collectively is determined to combat and defeat attempts at intimidation. I know that the whole House will pay tribute to the courage of the RUC in the present difficult situation. I know also that the Chief Constable and the associations involved in representing members of the RUC are determined to stand together and take all necessary measures to defeat intimidation against them.

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