§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the review of the working of the Intergovernmental conference set up under the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The review was completed at the meeting of the conference in Belfast yesterday and copies of the report have been placed in the Library. Also in the Library are copies of a paper setting out developments since the signing of the agreement. The review has been a very worthwhile opportunity to take stock of the working of the conference and I am grateful to all those who submitted views on this subject.
Both Governments reaffirmed in the report their full commitment to all the provisions of the agreement and to its shared understandings and purposes. The report deals with the work and achievements of the conference under each article of the agreement. In the conclusions of the report, the two Governments agree that the conference, supported by the secretariat, has proved its value in the past three years and that, while requiring no fundamental change at present, its role could, nevertheless, be developed and enhanced in a number of ways.
If in future it were to appear that the objectives of the agreement could be more effectively served by changes in the scope and nature of the working of the conference, consistent with the basic provisions and spirit of the agreement, the two Governments would be ready in principle to consider such changes.
What the report and the record of developments since the agreement was signed show is that neither the agreement nor the operation of the conference is a threat to either tradition in Northern Ireland. On the contrary, they have provided a framework that respects the essential interests of both sides of the community and their right to pursue their aspirations by peaceful means. They facilitate co-operation in the fight against terrorism and set out to create the conditions in which the whole community can live together in peace.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement this afternoon. My party gives a warm welcome to the declaration made yesterday. We had only one regret about the declaration and that was the absence of the Tánaiste, the Foreign Secretary of the Republic. I am sure that the whole House hopes that he has a speedy and successful recovery from his recent operation.
In many ways, the declaration has mirrored the opinions of the Labour party and the submission we made to the Government on it. However, the greatest achievement of the agreement has been its survival, despite all the pressures and controversy to which it has been subjected. As the review document clearly points out, the agreement has assisted the development of cross-border security, which is very important, and has resulted in a far more mature and constructive relationship between the British and Irish Governments. It has provided the forum for the institutionalisation of disagreements and has furnished a mechanism for the handling of disputes.
When we look at the detail of the review, we are pleased that the two Governments have accepted so many of our suggestions. I welcome the recognition of the need for 1134 greater openness about the working of the agreement, as well as the decision to hold regular meetings of the conference. The crisis management atmosphere has been detrimental to the agreement.
In terms of the legal aspects of the review, we welcome the fact that the review recognises the need to bring the Law Officers into the agreement process. We can do without the disputes between the Law Officers which have in the past marred Anglo-Irish relations. Furthermore, we note that efforts are to be made to make use of the extra-territorial legislation and, in addition, that the proposals for the harmonisation of the criminal law between the two countries are to be furthered.
There are two other areas of policy that we described in our submission as relevant and important. We .are glad that the two Governments have accepted our recommendation that more effort should be made to use the agreement to deal with cross-border co-operation in social and economic matters. We are especially impressed that the implications of 1992 for the relationship between the two parts of Ireland appear to have been recognised by the two Governments. We are certain that there can be future progress in that area.
I also welcome the publication of the document "Developments since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement", although some sections of that document tend to over-egg the pudding and others are somewhat contentious. However, it is good that the Government have attempted to provide information that will assist in drawing up a realistic assessment of the agreement.
The Labour party supports the conclusions of the review and, in particular, paragraphs 27 to 30. Paragraph 29 states:If in the future it were to appear that the objectives of the Agreement could be more effectively served by changes in the scope and nature of the working of the Conference, consistent with the basic provisions and spirit of the Agreement, the two Governments would be ready in principle to consider such changes.That shows a degree of flexibility which we wholeheartedly endorse.
Will the Secretary of State agree with us that the prime objective in the next phase of the agreement is to bring all the constitutional parties in from the cold, not betraying their principles, their traditions or their communities, but working for the good of the Province as a whole?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for the welcome he gave the statement and especially for the welcome he gave to the paper we produced on developments since the signing of the agreement. It is helpful to remind the House and the wider public of a number of events which have taken place since the agreement was signed and which show, not spectacular developments in particular directions, but the steady and valuable progress made in developing a closer understanding and relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland on the issues in Northern Ireland. Anybody who considers these matters sensibly—and this is one matter on which I am sure that I command the support of the whole House—knows that there has to be a relationship between Dublin, Belfast and London. There are issues of manifest benefit that can be better resolved by discussion together. The lesson of the review is that the work of the conference started perhaps with a bit of crisis management, but is now steadying down to worthwhile, 1135 sensible progress in a number of important areas and that can only be of benefit to relations within Northern Ireland and to people within the whole island of Ireland.
At the end of his speech, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North invited me to bring people in from the cold. My door is open so that people can come in from the cold. If people are determined to stay out in the cold, I will not arrest them and compel them to come through the door. In the end, they have to decide whether they want to do that. I say as genuinely as I can from the Dispatch Box that if people wish to come, the welcome is there.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
The majority population of Northern Ireland were not consulted when the Anglo-Irish Agreement came forth and when it was signed. They had no opportunity at that time to say anything about its conditions because they were kept secret. However, the minority population, led by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), had full access to all that was going on, which was acknowledged by the Secretary of State at that time, who is now the Home Secretary. The Unionists were left out in the cold.
Then we had the agreement. When it was signed the hon. Member for Foyle told the Government to face down the Unionist population. At the time, the Unionists were told that they would not be consulted and to carry on as they had been doing. There was then an inquiry into the agreement. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), who was then Labour's deputy spokesman on Northern Ireland and who is in the House now, attended that session and admitted that in his opinion the status of Northern Ireland had been changed through the Anglo-Irish Agreement. When we look at the review—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Although I appreciate the importance of this statement to the hon. Gentleman, will he please bear in mind that he should ask the Secretary of State a question?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
When we are having a statement in the House, Mr. Speaker, I must put the background to my question—[Interruption.] If I do not have the freedom to do that—[Interruption.] In your hearing, Mr. Speaker, I have already pressed that this House—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) would do better to listen.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I should like a full-scale debate in the House on this matter. However, that has not been forthcoming from the Leader of the House or from the Secretary of State who could have said in his statement today, "We will give a full debate" because the only place that the view of the majority of Northern Ireland's representatives can be heard is in this House.
It is completely wrong of the Secretary of State to say that the views of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and myself were not put to him forthrightly because he knows the Unionist view over a period of nine months. He knows exactly where we stand on this issue. Surely this House should have an opportunity of having a full debate on this issue.
The Secretary of State is saying that the agreement hurts nobody, that it is even-handed and that it will bring about peace, stability and reconciliation. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), speaking for the Labour party, said that cross-border security has been improved. I wonder 1136 whether they would like to visit the homes of two senior police officers and ask their widows whether they think that it has been improved.
The House needs to face the fact that the Ulster question will not go away and that the way in which we should debate it is in an open debate in the House, not with a mere statement. There are things in the statement that radically change some of those democratic rights that are left. Matters such as appointments to boards will be tinkered with. If the Secretary of State is going to be forthcoming to the majority, let him say today, "Yes, we will have a debate on this issue in the House."
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman began his intervention, or question, with a travesty of the truth. He knows perfectly well that the first thing that I did when I went in to my office at Stormont as the new Secretary of State was to sit down and, in my own hand, write him a letter before the Anglo-Irish Agreement was even signed inviting him to talk to me on behalf of his party and the people that he represents. I issued the same invitation to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux)—but the hon. Gentleman never came. He is now saying that people were not consulted, but he bears a heavy responsibility for the fact that the people whom he represents did not have a chance for their voices to be heard. We also know that the hon. Gentleman did exactly the same thing when we reached the review period. It is not good enough for him to stand up in the House asking why people were not consulted when he represents one of the two parties that refused to give any views on this review of the agreement.
Having put that on the record, I genuinely want to see the ways in which progress can be made. If I may say so, it is more likely to be made by the sort of approach that the hon. Gentleman has now adopted than by him sending me the sort of letter that he sent yesterday, which is published in the Newsletter today. If he is interested, and if it was with his agreement, I would ask for permission to publish it in the Official Report so that the House could see what is not the right approach, what is the negative approach, of abuse and vituperation in Northern Ireland politics when what I looked for from him—I take encouragement from his remarks—is a constructive and sensible discussion on important matters.
The matters concerning the administration and government of the Province can be debated in the House, although that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I made it clear in my answer to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that my door is open. If the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is genuine in what he has just said, I am happy to sit down with him to talk about arrangements for administration and government within Northern Ireland which, as he knows, he can do outside the agreement. However, if he sits in his trench and bellows "Not an inch" and "No surrender", what happened to him in the local government elections will continue to happen, because more sensible voices will prevail.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State has referred to a document which I should like to be printed in full. I should like the House to read it and to see that it is not the document that the Secretary of State has painted to the House. By all means, print the document.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It would not be appropriate to have the document printed in the Official Report. Perhaps the best course would be to have it placed in the Library.
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
I congratulate the Secretary of State on reaching agreement with the Government of the Republic of Ireland which, in his own words, shows the full commitment of both Governments to the genuine implementation and use of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and Secretariat for the benefit of all the people of Ireland, North and South, and for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland, be they Protestant, Catholic, Unionist or Nationalist. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree—indeed, he has stated this—that nothing in the agreement is detrimental to the rights and the duties of any citizen in Northern Ireland or in the Republic of Ireland.
I welcome the Secretary of State's statement on behalf of both Governments that there is an attempt to expand the scope and the timetabling of the deliberations. While it is important that security is always the number one issue on the agenda, because of the unfortunate and damaging terrorist activity in Northern Ireland, nonetheless, the Anglo-Irish Agreement deliberations have been reactive rather than proactive. I hope that in the ensuing meetings of the Secretariat there will be a structured agenda and a structured timetable when dealing with, say, the economic issues that would be beneficial to both communities, in both Northern and southern Ireland. I welcome the intent that appeared to exist in the Secretary of State's statement that that would be the norm in the future.
As we head towards 1992, it is only appropriate that two neighbouring Governments evolve a harmonisation and compatibility such as is envisaged for all Europe. Why can it not be envisaged for the small nation of the island of Ireland?
In response to the Secretary of State's remarks to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), I reaffirm and agree with the Secretary of State when he says that opportunities were available to every party and to people of no party in Northern Ireland to make representations on this matter. The hon. Member for Antrim, North stated that my party leader and, presumably, myself had had some privileged access prior to the signing of the agreement. We consulted with the British Government and with the Irish Government. We put our views on both tables. We would have been fools not to, prior to any international agreement being signed. That opportunity was available to everybody on the island of Ireland, and in the British Isles.
When the hon. Member for Antrim, North speaks of the majority in Northern Ireland, he is really speaking for a very small minority of the people of the United Kingdom and a very small minority of the people of Ireland in relation to his campaign of opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
While there have been hiccups in the relationship between the two Governments over the past three years, the 27 meetings of the Secretariat must be recognised as having done away with the previous negative diplomacy and shouting across the Irish sea. The meetings have had a positive result. The opposition of the Unionist fraternity to the agreement got its answer in the local government poll last week. To say that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is an obstacle to political and economic movement in Northern Ireland is nonsense. The very parties that created the 1138 obstacle cannot get over the hurdle, so it is a self-imposed obstacle. I encourage the Secretary of State to expand the work of the agreement in such a way that not only the security but the economic and social welfare of all the people of Ireland may be enhanced and improved.
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who speaks for his constituents and obviously is keenly concerned about the interests of the Nationalist community. Some people believe that addressing the concerns, and perhaps the grievances and disaffections, of the minority community is somehow to the disadvantage of the majority community. It is abundantly to the advantage of the majority community within the Province that there should be good relations between both communities. It is tragic that some political leaders in the Province fail to recognise that.
We have sought through discussion to establish a constructive relationship with the Irish Government. From the position in which I sit, I can see the benefits which can flow from that. There are manifold economic benefits, not least with the approach of 1992. I appreciate the constructive relationship that we have with the Irish Government, which owes much to the outstanding leadership of the Tánaiste, Mr. Brian Lenihan. I know that the whole House will share the hope, expressed in the communiqué, that his recent operation in the United States will be a success and that he will be restored to good health.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have allowed discretion to the two hon. Members from Northern Ireland constituencies for reasons that I hope the House fully understands. We should now get back to asking questions of the Secretary of State on the statement that he has just made.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
How carefully did my right hon. Friend consider the alternative to the present agreement that was sent to him on 28 September last year on behalf of some of my hon. Friends and myself? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the greatest single factor in prolonging the tragedy of Northern Ireland is uncertainty about the constitutional future of the Province and that that uncertainty has been increased, rather than diminished, by the Anglo-Irish Agreement in its present form? How is it that my right hon. Friend is in favour of legislative devolution for Northern Ireland but is opposed to legislative devolution for Scotland on the ground that in Scotland it would injure the Union?
§ Mr. King
I think that my hon. Friend knows well that this was not a review of the agreement but a review of the workings of the conference. The agreement has been signed and is in place. That is not in dispute.
I regret profoundly my hon. Friend's comment about spreading doubt and uncertainty about the Union. He knows my position on that. He knows of my support for article 1, which has been signed and is supported by the Irish Government. It states that there should be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the agreement of the majority. That is an absolutely clear and firm understanding, expressed and signed by two sovereign Governments, the United Kingdom Government and the Irish Government. It has been lodged with the United 1139 Nations as an international treaty. There is no uncertainty about that. I hope that we all stand firmly in support of that.
On the latter point that my hon. Friend made, I do not want to rehearse the history of Northern Ireland, but my hon. Friend knows that there is a difference between the background of Northern Ireland and Scotland in that Northern Ireland had the Stormont Parliament while Scotland did not have a parliament. We need to think seriously about the most appropriate way to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have a greater say in and greater responsibility for the administration of their own affairs. I have made it clear that I am open to discussions on the most appropriate forum for that. If we are to make progress, we need to get discussions going with the people who might have responsibility for the affairs of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
May I associate myself with the expressions of goodwill towards the early recovery of Mr. Lenihan. I also take the opportunity to say to the right hon. Gentleman how much we on these Benches have admired the courage, determination and painstaking care with which he has assured the survival of the agreement. Those who seek peace in Northern Ireland are greatly in his debt and the debt of those in the South who have worked with him. His statement and the common statement that he made with representatives of the Government of the Republic have identified, rightly, that nothing in the agreement presents a threat to either tradition in Northern Ireland. That is seen by the Government as important, not in terms of the last dot and comma of the agreement but of its basic principles and spirit. The Government clearly see the agreement as not the last but the first step in the process.
In the light of those facts, does the Secretary of State agree that those who seek peace and the best interests of Ireland on both sides of the border would be better advised to develop and build on the agreement rather than seek to destroy it?
§ Mr. King
I appreciate very much the right hon. Gentleman's opening words and his general comments. I agree profoundly with his last remark about the agreement not being a threat to either tradition. The only threat to those traditions in recent years has come from some of the methods of opposition and some of the behaviour that has appalled many people in Great Britain and many hon. Members whose belief in the Union is that people should play their part in the Parliament of the Union. Those hon. Members were concerned about the unwillingness of some people to continue on constitutional routes. I hope that people will recognise that the agreement is not a threat and that it can bring benefits. They should look at the positive side. We owe that to the people of Northern Ireland. I believe that real benefits can flow from that recognition.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
My right hon. Friend is only too well aware of the grave difficulties in British-Irish relationships. Potentially horrendous difficulties must reach his desk every day, involving cross-border security, Libyan arms, extradition, Gibraltar and all the rest of it; I do not need to list them all. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in his difficult job, which, if I may say so, he does so well, the existence of the Anglo-Irish Agreement has been of great assistance to him?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One of the least valid comments that is made about the agreement is that security has got worse as a result of the agreement. People who perpetuate that falsehood fail to recognise that some time ago, probably about 1983, plans were laid and preparations were made for the shipment of substantial quantities of Libyan arms, equipment and explosives, which were starting to arrive in Ireland before the agreement was signed. We are facing a determined and vicious campaign which, to put it bluntly, was intended to be the campaign to end all campaigns and to force victory for the IRA. That campaign is being resisted by the courage and determination of the security forces and by the resolution of all the people of Northern Ireland who are standing bravely against it. We are aided by the close support and co-operation of the Irish Government, the Garda Siochana and the Irish army. I should not like to face that serious campaign without the co-operation that has resulted in a series of arms finds and in the close working relationship that now exists. That is the reality of the security matter, and that is the reality of one of the benefits that have flowed from the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
Is there a danger that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is becoming an aim in itself? Its initial worthwhile provisions to end terrorism and extend democracy, especially in the Province, are not being pursued with sufficient vigour. Although there are great problems in controlling terrorism, democracy could be acted upon more quickly. A democratic devolved Government with a Bill of Rights to protect civil liberties should be the result of the agreement or of alternative discussions if the Anglo-Irish Agreement cannot deliver.
§ Mr. King
I hope to see a more constructive approach in political matters. There are some signs that, after the local government elections that have just taken place, that is increasingly the view of more and more people in Northern Ireland. Although they certainly wish to protect and defend their own respectable traditions and values, they look for dialogue and a constructive way forward, and not the hostility, hatred and distrust that some people still try to engender.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
Will the Secretary of State inform the House whether, during the review of the workings of the conference on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, he considered the heady days of late 1985, when claims were made in the House that the Anglo-Irish Agreement would produce peace, stability and reconciliation? In his analysis of the Anglo-Irish Agreement over the three-year period, did he conclude that the increase in violence, political and economic instability, and the divisions within Northern Ireland demonstrate that the policy has not been a success? Will he admit that all the talk of the IRA's plans being set in 1983 was known to him when he claimed that things would get better under the Anglo-Irish Agreement?
Will the Secretary of State please acknowledge that all hon. Members want Northern Ireland to move towards peace, stability and conciliation? Some of us at least believe that this is not the means to do it and that there is a better way. Will the Secretary of State please inform the House that he is not closing his mind to alternative means of bringing peace and stability to Northern Ireland and that there can be other proposals to get peace, stability and reconciliation? Does he recognise that the vast majority of 1141 people in Northern Ireland still reject the Anglo-Irish Agreement and still refuse to accept it as the basis of good government for the Province?
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman's last sentence yet again confirms his total misunderstanding of the basis of the agreement. It is not a basis of government in Northern Ireland. The responsibility of government in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the office that I have the honour to hold. In discharging that responsibility, I am aided by several contributions. I would have hoped to have more contributions from some of the elected politicians and representatives from the Province. I am aided also by the Anglo-Irish Agreement Conference, in which the Irish Government put forward to me views and proposals on certain matters. We co-operate on some economic and social activities and security matters as well. The hon. Gentleman's last sentence is precisely the misunderstanding that some have sought to perpetuate—it totally misleads the people that listen to it—as the true nature of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The hon. Gentleman talked about economic instability. I am proud of the improvements in the Northern Ireland economy that we have seen over the past three years. They have been largely as a result of the improvement in the United Kingdom economy. There has been a substantial fall in unemployment and a significant increase in industrial investment. I welcome that, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does, too. Our approach is to seek a better future for the people of Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman will have listened to my statement and heard me say that if, in future, it appears that the objectives of the agreement can be more effectively served by changes in scope and nature, the two Governments will be ready in principle to consider such things. I hope and believe that the hon. Gentleman understands the significance of that statement. In the light of my opening comment and my last comment, putting the nature of the agreement into its true context and making it quite clear that the actual government of Northern Ireland is a separate matter, I hope that he will feel able constructively to discuss any ideas that he might wish to put forward.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Is it not the case that, whatever they may have said when in opposition, successive Governments in the Irish Republic have supported the agreement? Does the Secretary of State appreciate that his task has been made much easier by the support that he has received from both sides of the House since the agreement was signed? One hopes that, if a Labour Government were responsible for the agreement, we would have got the same support from what would have been the Tory Opposition.
Does the Secretary of State agree that far more substantial improvements in housing and employment would do much to undermine terrorism? That is probably why the Provisional IRA is so opposed to the economic progress that we would like to see in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. King
It is certainly true that the Provisionals are opposed to much of the economic improvement. It is true also that they are the bitterest opponents of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the developing co-operation 1142 between our two countries. There is no question about that. We know why they are so frightened. I have had support from both sides of the House of Commons for the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which has been in place for about three and a half years. Anybody who knows what has happened in housing and the economy in trying to encourage more jobs in Northern Ireland knows that sensible co-operation in tackling other social problems will also help to improve the situation in the Province.
§ Mr. Speaker
I will call those hon. Members who have been standing, but, in view of the business before the House today, I ask them to keep their questions brief.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there have been many positive achievements by the conference? I refer to article 10 of the agreement and the success of the international fund for Ireland, thanks to the generosity and understanding of the United States, New Zealand, Canada and the European Community. Does he agree that economic co-operation leads to economic confidence, which leads to economic prosperity, which benefits all people north and south of the border, and brings peace with it?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the international fund. Although we very much appreciate the contributions of Canada, New Zealand and the European Community, obviously the major contribution has come from the United States. It is a remarkably fine gesture as a result of the close relationship between the United States and the island of Ireland. That gesture of good will and support is being used in increasingly constructive ways to help in many matters within Northern Ireland, the border counties and the Republic.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most notable achievements of the Anglo-Irish Agreement has been the greater emphasis on fair employment and education? Both matters deal with people. The reduction of tension between people of different traditions has played a notable part in ensuring not only that the Anglo-Irish Agreement will be successful but that there will be a much greater chance of peace in the community of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that matter. In particular, successive Governments have been determined to tackle discrimination, whether in housing or in jobs—topical as the subject is, as the House is about to complete the last stages of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill. That development, allied with what I hope will be a continuing improvement in the number of jobs available, gives us the best chance now not only of more jobs but of equality of opportunity in the availability of those jobs.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
Does my right hon. Friend recall that I was one of those who voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement? I now feel, having studied the document "Developments since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement" regarding the working of the conference, that it must be acknowledged that there have been considerable beneficial developments from the Intergovernmental Conference.
1143 Does my right hon. Friend agree that the continuation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement need not be any reason why politicians should not accept the invitation which he has proffered, today and on previous occasions, to come before him with constructive alternative proposals?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments and for the time he has taken to study the report on developments, which I have made available to the House. I can certainly confirm what he says. If people wish to talk, that does not imply acceptance or approval of the agreement and it does not need to be within the agreement. Nothing could be fairer than that. I have invited people to come and talk without preconditions. It is no good for people to jump up and down and shout about people not being consulted when that offer is available.
I am not here to belabour the point, but I would rather see genuine, sensible discussions taking place. The opportunity is there if they want to take it. If they do not, they can go on sticking in their trenches. We shall go on with our responsibilities of government. An opportunity will have been lost and the people of Northern Ireland will be the poorer for it.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
Does the Secretary of State really believe that the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland are now in favour of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Is he not aware of the alienation that is felt by the Unionist population in Northern Ireland? Has he any idea of the objection that the Unionist population has to the Anglo-Irish Agreement?
If the right hon. Gentleman believes, and is confident, that the people have changed their minds and that the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland are now in favour of it—and that the voice of Unionism in this House is not the voice of the people of Northern Ireland—he could prove it in a simple way. If he feels so confident, why not ask the people of Northern Ireland this simple question in a referendum: do they believe that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is in the interests of the United Kingdom? I and, I hope, the Secretary of State and hon. Members in all parts of the House would be happy to abide by the answer.
§ Mr. King
I have never pretended—I have made this absolutely clear—that a substantial number of Unionist people are, or have been, happy about the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Some of them felt extremely strongly at the time of the signing. I am well aware of that. Indeed, I recognise one or two faces here who have sought to come in quite close contact with me on various occasions to try to make sure that I was aware of that fact. I do not resent that. There were strong emotions at the time.
I recognise also that, increasingly, people—while they may have reservations—are honest enough to admit that it has not proved to be the threat or disadvantage that they feared, and there are a few who are honest enough to admit that perhaps it could just have some benefit.
If there is one hon. Member in the House who should recognise that, it is the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), who must have recognised the benefits that could flow to Northern Ireland from a fall in the Sinn Fein vote and from an increase in support for constitutional nationalism—[Interruption.]—and that a reduction in seats and numbers of councillors, which has happened—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster cares to add up the numbers of Sinn Fein 1144 councillors elected, he will find that in 1985 there were 59 and that on the last occasion there were 43. He may agree that that was a reduction. I would describe it as a fall of about 25 per cent. I should have thought that he would be the first to recognise that.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
Paragraph 15 of the document "Developments since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement" mentions extradition and related matters. Extradition is perhaps the factor that has given most trouble in the three and a half years since the signing of the agreement. Is my right hon. Friend now happy that extradition arrangements have reached a satisfactory position? If not, what further aspirations has he to ensure that fugitives to the south from the north are returned for trial in the north if they are apprehended in the south?
§ Mr. King
My hon. Friend is right to say that that is an area which has given some of the most difficult problems and where some of the greatest emotions have been aroused. The report of the review shows that the two Governments are committed to continuing their examination of these matters with a view to ensuring that appropriate arrangements are in place, both for extradition and for extra-territorial jurisdiction. In other words, we have concerns in this area and the work is continuing, and my hon. Friend will be aware that extraditions have recently been completed and that extra-territorial prosecutions have been conducted—[Interruption.] It is a matter about which some will laugh. They are not in the business of trying to establish effective arrangements. They are more interested in shouting abuse at the Irish Government than in seeing whether, between us, we can find an effective way to get arrangements in place so that fugitives cannot escape from justice merely by transferring themselves to another jurisdiction.
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)
Will my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a wide welcome for the review because it represents a limited but significant record of co-operation between two countries, and not least because there is no record in the review, which I have studied, of interference in Northern Ireland, which was feared by many. Nor has the other difficulty of the internationalisation of the problems of Northern Ireland occurred?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that benefits are flowing to both sides from cross-border co-operation and from the international fund for Ireland? May I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) in hoping that my right hon. Friend will press hard with the Law Officers to make further progress under paragraph 18 of the review so as to achieve fair and effective procedures for extradition?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I confirm that the work is continuing. We are determined to ensure that it is effectively in place and we have made that point clear. Under the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act one successful extra-territorial prosecution has been conducted and a conviction achieved in Dublin. The Attorney-General has made it clear, depending on the suitability of individual cases, that we are ready to consider extra-territorial prosecution as well as extradition. The important point is that those who may be chargeable for crimes are brought before the court.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Will my right hon. Friend agree that the Anglo-Irish Agreement has been a spectacular success, reflecting the skill of himself and his fellow Ministers and Ministers from the Republic of Ireland in the work that has been done, contrary to the prognostications at the time when it was originally launched? All the press in many countries said that the agreement would not last.
Will he also agree that much more needs to be done, both within the formal and informal framework of the agreement, on economic policy co-operation? Are there also prospects for greater co-operation within the EEC in achieving some of those goals?
§ Mr. King
Part of my message has been to try to discourage the claim that anything is a spectacular success. Irish issues—Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland relationships—long-standing and difficult as they are, do not lend themselves to immediate or overnight reconciliation or resolution. However, what I believe—and what I believe the House has honestly recognised in looking at the developments that have taken place—is that we are making steady and worthwhile progress in a constructive way that can only be of benefit to both communities and to all the people in the island of Ireland.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
Notwithstanding that there have been improvements in cross-border security co-operation since, and as a result of, the signing of the agreement, may I ask my right hon. Friend what further progress he thinks can be made?
§ Mr. King
We can continue to reinforce that co-operation. The difficulty about security issues is that, obviously, I cannot talk about them in any detail. A lot of work is taking place and there is now ever closer co-operation in a number of important and relevant spheres. We are undertaking a considerable amount of work to try to ensure that wherever the terrorist may be and from wherever his resources may come—and I am talking not merely of armaments, weapons and explosives but particularly about an area that has not been sufficiently addressed in the past, which is money, cash, racketeering, smuggling and other aspects which undoubtedly have underpinned much of the terrorist effort—we can together steadily improve and concert our actions in all the necessary spheres.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, fundamental to any progress in Northern Ireland and at the heart of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, is a recognition of the rights and identities of the two traditions in Northern Ireland? The Anglo-Irish Agreement has given practical expression to that recognition by the improvements in appointments to public bodies, a code of conduct for the police, and improvements in the law relating to public order, employment and terrorism.
§ Mr. King
I agree with that. I feel that part of the quality of Northern Ireland comes from the diversity of the two traditions, which should be a source of enjoyment and appreciation and not a source of division. I have been struck by the Nationalists, who appreciate the marching tradition that exists in Northern Ireland. Marching, for instance, need not be seen as an aggressive and triumphalist act. Conducted in a responsible and non-provocative way, it can be seen as a decent 1146 remembrance of an ancient tradition. So many aspcts of the culture and tradition could be enjoyed. One would certainly like to see mutual respect enhanced and encouraged in that way.
§ 5 pm
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the Anglo-Irish Agreement review of the working of the conference".The matter is specific, it is important and it is urgent. We have heard in the House today the benefits of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Good wishes were given to the Foreign Secretary of the Irish Republic, and I am sure that everyone would wish him well. I hope that he gets better quickly.
However, today I am thinking of the widows and the orphans in Northern Ireland. Not a line in the document concerns them. I would go further and say that today I speak for them. What has been said in the House about the Anglo-Irish Agreement does not reflect what is happening in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) knows Downpatrick. It is the centre of his constituency. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a grammar school, a Roman Catholic grammar school and a Roman Catholic secondary school. The proposal is to close down the one state Protestant grammar school in Downpatrick, so that the only children who will have an education in a grammar school will have to travel to Belfast. Therefore, the children of working-class people will not have the opportunity of a grammar school education.
Those are the issues that lie at the heart of the matter—discrimination against the Protestant sector of the community. That is why I am saying that the House should have a thorough discussion of the matter. Hon. Members should not talk about Northern Ireland Members not making any approach to discuss the matter. This is the place where the matter should be discussed.
I would welcome a referendum in the whole of the United Kingdom. That is not the first time that I have said that. I said it 10 years ago. Let us hear from the people of the United Kingdom what they want to do with Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland will abide by their decision. However, I can assure the House that it will not go into a united Ireland.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,the review of the working of the Anglo-Irish Agreement that has been announced.I have listened with care and concern to what the hon. Member has said, but, as he knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 20 is to decide whether it should be given priority over the 1147 orders set down for today. I regret that the matter that he Community Charge has raised does not meet the criteria of the Standing Order. I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.