HC Deb 20 April 1989 vol 151 cc446-9
4. Mr. Flannery

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what subjects were discussed in his recent meeting at Stormont under the Anglo-Irish Agreement; and if he will make a statement.

11. Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, held on 5 April.

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

The meeting on 5 April discussed cross-border security co-operation, particularly in the light of the murders of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan; the review of the working of the Intergovernmental Conference under article 11 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement; the progress through Parliament of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill and took note of further work on policy aspects of extradition and extra-territorial legislation.

Mr. Flannery

What view, if any, of the progress of the Anglo-Irish Agreement has emerged from that meeting? When the official view comes out, can we be assured that a statement will be made in this House?

Mr. King

I cannot be sure when we shall complete that review, but when it is completed I certainly hope to make a statement in the House.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

Can my right hon. Friend say why the discussions on extradition and extra-territorial jurisdiction have been so drawn out? When does he expect a settlement?

Mr. King

I think that some of the points under discussion are already showing their merits. We are seeking to co-operate as closely as we can with the Irish Government on, for example, extradition, to ensure that we are complying with their requirements. My hon. Friend will have seen the successful extradition only last week, which illustrates that the procedure is working.

With regard to extra-territorial jurisdiction—in other words someone charged being tried in Dublin—my hon. Friend will be aware that, only last week, somebody was tried under that legislation on evidence provided by us and that that person was convicted.

Mr. Molyneaux

The Secretary of State has quoted from the second paragraph of the joint communique. Did he press for a return to the earlier arrangement for RUC officers crossing the frontier, which existed before the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed and which permitted them to carry their personal protection and weapons when they crossed the frontier? Is there not a hideous danger in the present rigid, formal arrangement under which they must be met by escorts and arrangements must be made beforehand? Is there not a real risk of security leakage?

Mr. King

I had some difficulty in understanding the right hon. Gentleman's question. If he was trying to suggest that some change has been made in the arrangements because of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that is entirely untrue. Those are matters for the Chief Constable and the Commissioner. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there has been no official change laid down in the arrangements under the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr. Gow

Since the Anglo-Irish Agreement in its present form has allienated the majority without reconciling the minority and since it is my right hon. Friend's purpose to govern the Province with as broad an assent from the people as possible, does he think that he will succeed in producing a fresh agreement which commands a much greater measure of support in the Province than the present one?

Mr. King

There will be no improvements in the directions desired by my hon. Friend and others unless people are prepared to state their views. I have made it absolutely clear that we shall carry on the basic principles of maintaining the right of the majority to determine their own future within Northern Ireland. That is a cornerstone for which this House has always stood and involves the principle of consent and the principle of the position and security of the majority. We shall also maintain our determination to stand together in the fight against terrorism. We shall maintain our principle that there is a recognisable and perfectly respectable interest by the Irish Government in the situation in Northern Ireland as it affects the nationalist community. On those planks, if anyone wants to advance ideas, but ignores those realities, he will not make progress. Those are the cornerstones of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

After the three years of its operation, I am absolutely persuaded that any alternative formulation which people might like to address is bound to include those principles or it will have no hope of making progress.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that when he has these Anglo-Irish conferences he should come to the House and tell hon. Members what is going on so that the representatives from Northern Ireland in this democratic forum can discuss what is going on at those meetings? As he very well knows, many of the proposals which come to this House through Orders in Council are born at those Anglo-Irish conferences and then come to this House, but we are never told where they come from or who is responsible for them. Will the right hon. Gentleman also check whether his facts are correct because the last time that I was over the border—escorted—the guns were taken from my escort, while on other occasions the escorts were allowed to go over the border with their guns?

Mr. King

On the latter point, I denied the attempt of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) to associate that with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I am aware of no evidence for that. In response to the first point raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), we have monthly meetings of the Anglo-Irish Conference and I am not sure whether it would be appropriate to report to the House every time the conference meets. I have made it absolutely clear that I am very willing to talk to all hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies after each conference to discuss the matters under discussion. If the hon. Gentleman is asking whether I will meet him and put him in the picture to discuss issues, if he puts forward his views to me in advance of the conference, I give him an unequivocal assurance that I am ready to do that at any time.

Mr. Mallon

Can the Secretary of State inform the House whether the recent Provisional IRA attacks on the north-south rail link were discussed at the last meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference? Can he confirm that both Governments are determined to keep that line open at all costs? Will he give the House an assurance that under no circumstances will the Provisional IRA's aim of destroying that vital social and economic link between the two parts of the island be allowed to succeed?

Mr. King

I can confirm that this matter was discussed at the last meeting, and that there is complete identity of view between the two Governments on the importance of maintaining the rail link. I think that we all recognise the very real hardship that disruption of the link is causing, not only to Ministers or other such people, but to ordinary people who wish to go backwards and forwards. People use that line to visit families, and for various other purposes. It is they who are being very severely disadvantaged. We recognise also that real problems may well be caused by additional heavy road transport, and that people may be inconvenienced significantly. For all those reasons, we stand together in our determination to maintain the rail link.

Mr. Bill Walker

In the discussions, will my right hon. Friend draw attention to the reality of the situation in the United Kingdom? Any discussions affecting the structures or method of operation of Government or local government in Ulster are bound to have an impact in Scotland. That must always be taken into account, otherwise we could have a break-up of the United Kingdom, coming from Scotland.

Mr. King

I think that I shall stick to Northern Ireland, which occupies my time fully. Of course, the point that my hon. Friend makes is right, and one is conscious of the implications. Throughout my time as Secretary of State I have stood strongly in support of the cohesion of the United Kingdom, and should be very concerned about any risk to the Union.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Secretary of State aware that in his reply to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) he has the general support of Opposition Members? I refer to the principles that he was enunciating about the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Is he aware that we welcome the fact that the Intergovernmental Conference is not now concentrating solely and specifically on security measures but is stretching its range of interests into social and economic matters? In that context, has the right hon. Gentleman discussed with the Republic of Ireland the effects of the Single European Act upon the economies of both parts of the island—in particular, with regard to the border areas?

Is the right hon. Gentleman certain that Northern Ireland will be able to get the maximum benefit from the expansion of the European Community structural funds? Has he discussed with the Republic the question of joint proposals for integrated development on both sides of the border?

Mr. King

We are certainly very interested in seeing what the implications might be. In a constructive sense, in respect of industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had a conference with the Irish Minister for Industry and Commerce, in Louvain, Belgium. They discussed the potential, within the European Community, for co-operative development. Points about tourism have already been raised. Manifestly, this is an area in which considerable benefits are to be derived from co-operation. I am particularly interested in the impact of 1992 on the island of Ireland. It might do some interesting things to what is euphemistically called "the import-export business" along the border. If that happens, it can be only for the good as well.

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