HC Deb 12 March 1987 vol 112 cc449-50
3. Mr. Archer

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland concerning the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

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

I met the last Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland on many occasions, most recently at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference on 8 December. I look forward to meeting his successor.

Mr. Archer

I thank the Secretary of State for that unsurprising answer, but may I ask him whether, when he meets Mr. Lenihan, he will extend good wishes from all parts of the House to him on his difficult but challenging task? Will the Secretary of State also send affectionate valedictions to the retiring Taoiseach? If Mr. Lenihan should inquire of the Secretary of State how the Intergovernmental Conference can best help in improving daily life, in reconciling people and in finding areas of agreement, will he be ready with a list of topics, and what will be in that list?

Mr. King

On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's last point, I refer him to the communiqués which show a continuing programme of work and, obviously, we look forward to continuing it. I certainly join him in the courteous welcome that he gave on behalf of hon. Members to the new Foreign Minister, Mr. Lenihan. We look forward to confirmation about whether he will be the co-chairman of the Anglo-Irish conference. I have already sent valedictory messages of goodwill to the former Taoiseach and to the former Foreign Minister.

Mr. Benyon

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Foreign Minister to the large number of unemployed families coming to this country from the Republic? This is causing considerable strain on our services. Will my right hon. Friend point out that this shows the mutual interest that both countries have in achieving prosperity in the south of Ireland?

Mr. King

It would not be interference in the affairs of a foreign country to say that we were all aware of the great concern during the election campaign over the issues of unemployment and emigration. Quite clearly, that is an illustration of aspects in which we have a clear interest, because a number of people who have emigrated from the Republic of Ireland are in this country.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

What odds on the implementation of the European convention against terrorism by the Irish Republic is the Secretary of State now prepared to offer?

Mr. King

I do not think that betting is permitted in this Chamber. I note that the measures to enable the convention to be ratified have passed through both Houses in the Republic of Ireland and will come into effect on 1 December.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was negotiated between two sovereign states, and that any question of changing the agreement would also involve the British Government? Certainly, it cannot unilaterally be done by an incoming Irish Government.

Mr. King

The point at issue is that if either party wishes to raise matters in connection with the agreement that is provided for in the agreement in relation to the operation of the conference. I note that Mr. Haughey was reported in an interview published in The Irish Times on 7 March as saying that he accepted that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was an accord that had been entered into by an Irish Government and therefore had to be accepted as binding.

Mr. Skinner

In his discussions did the Secretary of State mention that a recent poll in the Daily Express said that more than 60 per cent. of the British people want to see the troops out of Northern Ireland? Although not many hon. Members voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement when it went through the House, if the Secretary of State has kept his eyes and ears open he will have noticed that a growing number of hon. Members are against that agreement because, like all its predecessors, it is bound to fail.

Mr. King

I had not appreciated before how strongly the hon. Gentleman is against the agreement. There must be more to it than I realised, and that gives me some real comfort. In the poll in the Daily Express, the question was "over a period", and a considerable number of people would hope to see an improvement in security that would enable the withdrawal of significant numbers of the British Army over a period.