HC Deb 27 February 1992 vol 204 cc1100-3
3. Mr. Canavan

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about his recent efforts to have talks with representatives of political parties in Northern Ireland.

10. Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a further statement on the efforts he is making to reconvene all-party talks on the future government of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Brooke

The Prime Minister, the Minister of State and I met the leaders of the four main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland on 11 February. As a result of that meeting, the leaders agreed to meet together to discuss the obstacles in the way of further political dialogue in the hope that new talks might be able to begin at an early date. I shall meet them again shortly.

Mr. Canavan

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the killing is to be stopped and a just and peaceful solution is to be found, all politicians, whatever their views, have a responsibility to speak to each other? Does he further agree that, sooner or later, the talks will have to develop into meaningful discussions about constitutional change on an all-Ireland basis because the status quo is untenable and is a recipe for continuing conflict?

Mr. Brooke

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the responsibility that politicians of all constitutional parties have, and a willingness so to talk has been very much present in recent years. As for his comments about all-Ireland talks, the talks on which we have been engaged, and to which we hope to return, contain more than one strand. The second strand involves the Government of the Republic and it has been a pleasure to all concerned that everybody involved in those talks has supported and sustained them.

Mr. Greenway

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for all the work that he has done in the past two and a half years to improve the future and administration of Northern Ireland. Does he agree that the future economic prosperity of the area depends primarily on the defeat of terrorism and that terrorism will not be defeated until all political parties in the Province renounce violence—not just those represented in the House today but Sinn Fein?

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments about the policies that we have been pursuing and economic prosperity in the Province, where we have seen advances in recent years. Our immediate agenda must be the talks on which we embarked last year. Everybody concerned has expressed an interest in returning to them.

Mr. Molyneaux

Does the Secretary of State agree that the progress made thus far is more likely to be maintained through calm deliberation than high wire circus acts'? Will he convey to the Prime Minister what I know to be the view of the three party leaders who represent Northern Ireland in the House—that we are endeavouring diligently to meet the wishes that he expressed at the Downing street meeting on 11 February?

Mr. Brooke

I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about the progress that has been made so far. All of us, during the time that we have been directly engaged in these matters, have found it easier to make progress when the media have not been looking over our shoulders and breathing on the backs of our necks. I mean no disrespect to the media, but some matters are carried forward more easily with the calm deliberation that the right hon. Gentleman described.

Mr. Kilfedder

I draw the attention of the Secretary of State to a damaging allegation made last week by the chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservative party and its prospective parliamentary candidate for North Down that the Secretary of State, by initiating talks between unionists and nationalists, provided the greatest possible encouragement for the murderous IRA campaign. Will the right hon. Gentleman bluntly refute the despicable accusation that those taking part in the talks are responsible for the deaths of innocent people at the hands of the IRA?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman knows well his opponent, the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate. I enjoy my conversations with that gentleman as much as I do those that I have with right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. Rees

As to strand 2—the north-south strand—of the talks to which the Secretary of State referred, the new Taoiseach announced that articles 2 and 3 would be on the table, and we all understand that. He said also that the Government of Ireland Act 1920 would be on the table. I studied it carefully this monring, better to understand what is involved. What has the Taoiseach said about that aspect that we can consider?

Mr. Brooke

Under the terms of my statement to the House of 26 March 1991, which set in motion the talks that we held, it is open to any party to raise any issues—including constitutional issues—that it considers relevant. However, the outcome of the talks will depend on securing agreement, and all concerned accept the principle that any change to Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom would come about only with the consent of a majority of the people who live there.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Secretary of State confirming by that last statement that the union can be negotiated only by the House, the people of Northern Ireland and Her Majesty's Government—and that that matter is no concern of Mr. Reynolds or of the foreign state to the south of Northern Ireland? Is the right hon. Gentleman confirming that today? My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and I understood that the basis of the talks was to try to secure a replacement for the Anglo-Irish Agreement and to make arrangements to safeguard the administration of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

Mr. Brooke

At last night's meeting, the Taoiseach confirmed his Government's continuing commitment to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, article 1 of which contains a clear statement of Northern Ireland's constitutional status.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition welcome the statements made by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach at last night's meeting, on the future progress of talks between the two Governments, and that Northern Ireland will be high on their agenda —as it will on the agenda of the Labour Government? We are pleased that Northern Ireland party leaders agreed to meet to discuss the possibilities of progress. Does the Secretary of State accept that the Opposition hope very much that, after years of violence and despair, a political settlement will emerge, and that we will do everything in our power to achieve such an outcome, based on the three strands agreement?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman and I have had similar exchanges before across the Dispatch Box, when he has advanced that bizarre and extraordinary hypothesis. I agree that the hon. Gentleman has supported the talks as they are conducted at present. If the hon. Gentleman's extraordinary and bizarre hypothesis were to come to pass, I would—as I have said before—be supportive of his efforts.

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