HC Deb 17 January 1991 vol 183 cc969-70
8. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions his Department has had with the Irish Government about the implications for Ireland of its relations with Europe post-1992 and following the construction of the channel tunnel.

Mr. Brooke

The implications for the Government of the Republic of Ireland of their relations with Europe after 1992 are a matter for them. We and the Irish Government have regular contacts about matters of mutual interest arising from progress towards the single European market in 1992.

Mr. Alton

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the Single European Act and the construction of the channel tunnel pose challenges not only to the island of Ireland, north and south, but to us, in terms of our relations with both the Irish Government and Northern Ireland? They provide an opportunity for enhanced co-operation between north and south and between the British and the Irish. Does the right hon. Gentleman also recognise that, unless we improve our infrastructure—especially by the further electrification of railway lines and the improvement of roads—it will not be possible for the island of Ireland to be anything other than a peripheral, rather than a core, part of Europe?

Mr. Brooke

Our practical co-operation on internal market issues is already good. We are in close touch with the Irish Government about Interreg, a Commission initiative to encourage co-operation in border areas. I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about infrastructure. On both sides of the water, the Government are addressing that—in terms of access to the ports in Northern Ireland, in terms of connections and communications with the south and also in terms of road and rail developments on this side of the water.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

Given the importance of the channel tunnel to the whole of the United Kingdom, what steps has the Secretary of State taken to improve the direct routes between Northern Ireland and the channel tunnel, using the shortest sea route between Lame and Stranraer, in the south-west of Scotland?

Mr. Brooke

I understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in the matter. He will know that work is under way on the 15 km of the A8 on the way to Lame to provide a dual carriageway instead of a single carriageway. Matters concerning the road between Stranraer and the M6 are for the Scottish Development Department, but £45 million has been spent on continuing stretches and the question of a bypass round Dumfries is currently being addressed. There is no doubt at all about the importance that the Government attach to the question that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Mr. Hume

Does the Secretary of State agree that, once the channel tunnel is completed, Ireland, north and south, will be the only part of the single market that does not have a land link with the rest of the Community? In effect, it will be the offshore island of the new Europe. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that will intensify the common economic interests of both parts of the island and should therefore lead to intensified co-operation between both Governments on those interests?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman is clearly right about large islands, although the Greek islands would be a close analogy. I have already agreed that practical co-operation in the economic sphere is going forward well. Whether that will have a read-across into the political sphere only time can tell. There is not an automatic read-across. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I appeal to the House to listen to Northern Ireland questions.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the Secretary of State explore with the Dublin Government and other member countries of the EEC the possibility of building a tunnel for the short route between Scotland and Northern Ireland? Such a tunnel would be beneficial to not only Northern Ireland but the Irish Republic.

Mr. Brooke

I am reasonably confident about the current arrangements, but I am always prepared to include on my agenda anything that the hon. Gentleman puts to me, however hypothetical.