HC Deb 15 January 1987 vol 108 cc397-9
7. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had with political leaders from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

8. Sir John Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what meetings he has had since Christmas with Northern Ireland political leaders.

Mr. Tom King

I maintain regular contact with the leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party of Northern Ireland, but not at present with the leaders of the Unionist parties, who have unfortunately not felt able to have talks with me or my ministerial colleagues. On 28 November 1986 I met the Taoiseach and on 8 December presided as joint chairman over a regular meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

Mr. Canavan

Has the Secretary of State taken the trouble to sound out Opposition politicians in the Republic as to what is likely to happen to the so-called Anglo-Irish Agreement in the event of a change of Government in the Republic in the forthcoming general election?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman may not have been listening to the answer given earlier by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. It may come as a shock to the hon. Gentleman, but I entirely agree with the reply by my hon. Friend the Minister of State.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

In the absence of withdrawal or revision of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, how does my right hon. Friend propose to end the deadlock in cooperation and communication with the political leaders of the overwhelming majority of the population of Northern Ireland?

Mr. King

I entirely recognise, as my hon. Friend has emphasised, the importance of re-establishing a sensible dialogue. The absence of such dialogue has not been to the advantage of the Unionists of Northern Ireland in the past year or to the advantage of those for whom they seek to speak. I have made it absolutely clear that the evidence is now before them that the agreement has not threatened their position or undermined the position of the majority, nor has it infringed the sovereignty about which they are concerned. I hope they will recognise that after the sterile futility of past months there is now good sense in seeking to engage in talks on some basis. I have made it clear that I am willing to enter into any discussions without any preconditions respecting the opposition and hostility that many may feel to the agreement.

Mr. Alton

Arising from the discussions which the Secretary of State has had with politicians in Northern Ireland, in how many local authorities Unionist politicians are fully playing their part despite their original opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does he accept that politicians on the Alliance Benches join him in hoping that the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland will play its part here in the Chamber again as quickly as possible?

Mr. King

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I very much endorse the second part of his question. However, I am afraid that I am unable to help him in answer to the first part of his question, because it is very difficult at the moment to know the answer to that. The picture is very confused at the moment. However, it is quite clear that the policy of abstention, adjournment or whatever alternative versions are given to it in local authorities, has been utterly pointless. It has achieved nothing except to disadvantage local government electors and ratepayers in those areas. That point is becoming increasingly clear to sensible people in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Cormack

Are not members of the majority population in Northern Ireland aware of how many friends, and how much influence, are being lost by the boycott on the part of their leaders both of Parliament and of my right hon. Friend and his colleagues?

Mr. King

There is a strange concept among some people in Northern Ireland of loyalty to the Queen but of not ascribing loyalty to Parliament and any Government. People must understand that under our constitution the Queen in Parliament means that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is, in our finest tradition, the place where ultimately grievances or concerns can be raised.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Have political leaders in Northern Ireland ever raised with the Secretary of State the allegations of Captain Holroyd and Mr. Colin Wallace? Is it true that those allegations were communicated to the Prime Minister in 1984? Is there any substance to those allegations?

Mr. King

The answer to the first part of the question, on which the rest of the question hangs, is no, Sir.

Mr. Holt

Does my right hon. Friend recall that we had a debate upstairs lasting all of one minute, in which the American £50 million donation was given to this country, whether we wanted it or not? What discussions have so far taken place with the leaders of both sides in Northern Ireland on the disposition and spending of that money?

Mr. King

The structure under which the international fund is set up is that of an independent board. It is separate from Government, and the board is about to embark on its task. I know that a number of people have made applications to it and I am sure that it can make a most useful contribution. We recognise it as a most remarkable gesture made in a spirit of goodwill and appreciation by our ancient ally, and by good friends of both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Hume

Is the Secretary of State aware that had I met him since Christmas I would have raised with him the fact that the Western area health board has introduced a 12-hour working day for nurses and told them that if they do not accept they will be sacked? Is this not outrageous, and will he take steps to correct it?

Mr. King

I am not sure how the hon. Gentleman's supplementary follows from the main question, but I shall look into the point.

Dr. Blackburn

Will my right hon. Friend not only confirm that his door is open for discussions with members of all political parties in the Province, but make a positive step to encouraging such dialogue, because it is only through dialogue that any success will be achieved?

Mr. King

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am grateful for what he says. If people had any doubts about it, the events of the past year have proved that alternative routes offer no prospects of a sensible outcome. People can learn only from their experiences, and I hope they will realise that it is possible to have sensible talks and that they need not be afraid that, by talking to me, they will somehow undermine the principle of their position. We shall see whether, as sensible people, we can sit down and find a better way forward that will benefit all the people of the Province.