HC Deb 15 January 1987 vol 108 cc391-3
1. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will report on his assessment of the results of the implementation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

3. Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the progress of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

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

Steady progress is being made, not least in the area of security co-operation. Experience has clearly demonstrated how views reflecting the interests of the minority can he taken into account without threatening the position of the majority or undermining United Kingdom sovereignty.

Mr. Ross

As one who is strongly in favour of the agreement, which is constantly being misrepresented by Unionist politicians in the Province, may I urge the Secretary of State to take the initiative himself and, with the aid of television, spell out to the citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom the exact terms of the agreement and how they could be developed if only the politicians in Northern Ireland would sit down and work together for the common good?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his consistent support for the agreement and I take serious note of his point. There is no doubt that the best hope for the defeat of terrorism, which is so important to everybody in Northern Ireland, must be in closer and more effective co-operation with the Republic of Ireland. Everybody in Northern Ireland knows that, and this agreement offers us the best prospect of that being achieved.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who support the general Unionist position believe that this agreement is the only practical instrument for greater co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and that it can bring as great benefits to the Unionists in Northern Ireland as can greater co-operation between the communities there? Will my right hon. Friend urge the Unionist parties to come back to this Chamber to discuss democratically the way in which the agreement is working for their benefit?

Mr. King

I hope that they will recognise the need to return to this Chamber and make a constructive contribution here. If they do not, their arguments will not be listened to with any great respect. In looking at the progress of the agreement, I note that it offers the opportunity for the minority tradition to be respected and for minority views to be taken into account. It is greatly in the interests of the majority in Northern Ireland that the minority should feel that their views are fairly respected as well.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

When does the Secretary of State now expect that the European convention on terrorism will be ratified by the Irish Republic? That was held out as one of the prizes of the Anglo-Irish Agreement 14 months ago. Will he take a £100 bet with me on this?

Mr. King

I shall not take up the offer in the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I do not intend to speculate on exchange rates. I have enough problems with other matters in Ireland without taking on that issue as well. I understand that, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, the convention has been signed by the Minister of Justice in the Republic of Ireland. It has passed through the lower House and we hope that it will make the further progress necessary for ratification. The right hon. Gentleman will also have noted the encouraging news about a more effective response to the issue of extradition. Indeed, an item of news this morning tends once again to reflect the improved relationship and the improved attitude that flows from the agreement.

Mr. Gow

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is possible to acknowledge and respect the Nationalist tradition and the Nationalist position in Northern Ireland without being a supporter of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does he not understand that to give the Irish Republic responsibility for representing Nationalists in discussions with Her Majesty's Government is intensely divisive and, in some ways, insulting to the Nationalists in Northern Ireland?

Mr. King

I respect my hon. Friend's views, and I agree that it is perfectly possible to respect the Nationalist tradition without being a subscriber to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. However, an awful lot of people in Northern Ireland have not been very good at doing that in recent years. The agreement enshrines the point that if there is to be greater harmony in Northern Ireland, it is important to recognise that within the Province there are people who hold a different point of view from that of the Unionist majority. It is in the interests of the Unionist majority that that should be recognised more publicly. If I understood correctly my hon. Friend's question, I hope that he will seek to urge the Unionist majority to recognise the proper rights and the respect that is due to the Nationalist minority.

Mr. Archer

I revert to the Secretary of State's answer to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). Does he agree that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is an abstract concept which exists, and can only exist, in the minds of human beings? Does it not follow that its importance lies wholly in what it leads human beings to do? Will the Secretary of State consider publishing a list of the things that it has led him and his Department to do which otherwise they probably would not have done, so that we may all make a rational judgment about it?

Mr. King

I shall certainly look at ways in which we might more effectively list the achievements and the effects of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. As for the progress of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I note that there are many people in Northern Ireland, certainly in the majority community, who believe that security is overwhelmingly the most important aspect of the agreement. I could list improved performance on the seizure of arms, the apprehension of mortars, the recovery of explosives and more effective extradition procedures. I rest mainly on the judgment of the Chief Constable of the RUC. He says that the agreement provides him and his force with the best opportunity that they have had to improve security and co-operation. I pay attention also to the entirely opposite point of view. It is quite clear that the IRA regards the agreement as a serious threat to its operations.