HC Deb 09 March 1989 vol 148 cc1019-21
4. Mr. Hunter

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he will next meet representatives of the Government of the Republic of Ireland; and what matters he will discuss.

Mr. Tom King

I shall meet representatives of the Government of the Republic of Ireland at the next meeting of the intergovernmental conference. I expect this to take place shortly, but no date has yet been set. The agenda for the meeting has not yet been drawn up.

Mr. Hunter

What discussions about 1992 does my right hon. Friend, or his officials, propose to have with Ministers of the Government of the Republic of Ireland? Will the opportunities of 1992 be maximised to the benefit of the economies of the Republic and Northern Ireland?

Mr. King

We certainly believe that 1992 could have significant benefits. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) has already jointly chaired with the industry Minister of the Irish Republic a conference of the Irish Institute of European Affairs at Louvain, to talk about the implications of 1992. Further discussions and decisions will be necessary on harmonisation of tariffs, customs duties, monetary compensatory amounts and a number of other matters which will have considerable implications for the border. It is our ambition to eliminate any distortions and help to stimulate trade and reduce the opportunity for what is euphemistically called the import-export business.

Mr. William Ross

When the Secretary of State meets the Government of the Irish Republic, will he be perfectly truthful and straightforward with them and tell tham that they do not have a cat's chance of obtaining a power-sharing devolved Government? Will he also tell them that the Government accept that there is a need for an improved system of government in Northern Ireland, and that, as there is not a power-sharing devolved Government, other means must be found?

Mr. King

I am not sure whether the Irish Government are waiting on the edge of their seat to hear that announcement from me. They have made no proposals to me on such matters. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are at present having discussions and inviting interested parties to let us have their views on what they consider the best way forward. I am glad to say that a number are responding, and I hope that all who care about the situation in the Province will make their contribution to the discussions. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough, (Dr. Mawhinney) the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State—whom I have asked to help me—will be very interested to hear any views that are expressed.

Mr. Gow

Does my right hon. Friend anticipate that Irish Ministers will complain to him at the next meeting that whereas the enormous benefits of the community charge are to be heaped on his constituency and mine, they are to be withheld from the people of Northern Ireland, whether they be nationalists or unionists?

Mr. King

I shall not respond to that question in any way. As I think that the main thrust falls elsewhere, I shall leave it to lie where it falls.

Mr. Ashdown

While we are on the subject of meeting representatives of the Irish Republic, will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the moves to establish the parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

I fully recognise that the Secretary of State does not make decisions about who those representatives should be, but will he join me in hoping that they will be as broadly drawn as possible? In particular, may I ask him to suggest to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that there should be a representative of the alliance party in Northern Ireland in the Upper House?

Mr. King

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, and I hope that the parliamentary tier will be as broadly based as possible. I hope that every party will take part in the recognition that this is a relationship between the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Parliament of the Irish Republic. If, as I understand, some unionists have reservations about taking part, some of us will be left wondering what on earth they are willing to take part in. They have reservations about the North-South relationship. If they have reservations about the east-west relationship as well, where are we?

Mr. Cash

In the context of the European Economic Community and the question of frontier controls, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is in the interests of neither the United Kingdom nor the Republic of Eire for us to abolish such controls, and that there is a good deal of misconception in the European Commission about the need to do so?

Mr. King

That will clearly require considerable discussion. It has major security implications, and we understand that very well. Indeed, it has a number of implications for important issues that affect both the island of Ireland and Great Britain—such as animal health, to which we all attach importance. There is no doubt that the economic distortions that have existed across the border have led to a significant smuggling industry, which I should like to see substantially reduced.

Mr. McNamara

Whether or not we see a reduction in the smuggling industry—which I think we would all welcome—it is surely in the greatest interests of the island of Ireland as a whole that the parts of the island that are capable of co-operating on an industrial and economic role should be able to do so, in the interests of both the people of the North and the South and the relationship between the two communities.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the greatest thing about the interparliamentary tier is that people come from two sovereign Parliaments, and that those who are prepared to go abroad on Inter-Parliamentary Union delegations should be prepared if necessary to use an IPU umbrella to partake in a relationship between two sovereign Parliaments which will not in any way impinge on the integrity or status of those taking part, but could do a great deal to heal wounds in Ireland and bring a degree of peace to the North?

Mr. King

I think that that is right. My understanding is that, unless the position has changed, every party in the House is in favour of talks, and of meeting and co-operating on matters in respect of which it is beneficial to do so. That is true of all the democratic parties in Northern Ireland, which have never tried to argue against economic co-operation, contacts and discussion. This proposal—which is separate and is being discussed, under the auspices of the IPU, between the sovereign Parliaments of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—seems to me to be a very sensible one to which all parties should subscribe.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and myself, and all those who have been conducting these talks, which are now in a stage of advanced discussion, are very grateful for the support of my right hon. Friend, Her Majesty's Government and the House? My right hon. Friend should be left in no doubt that whenever we see hon. Members from the Unionist party, they are very welcome.

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His leadership in the matter is much appreciated. I recognise the depth of ignorance and misunderstanding that exists between our two countries in so many areas and I welcome the prospect that hon. Members of the House of Commons and hon. Members of the Parliament in the Irish Republic will have opportunities to talk and meet together. We may not agree, but I hope that it will be helpful in clearing up many of the misunderstandings and the distrust that can exist.