HC Deb 21 May 1992 vol 208 cc488-90
8. Mr. Etherington

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further political initiative is being made within the Anglo-Irish Agreement towards a peaceable settlement of the Irish problem.

9. Mr. Adley

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further discussions he proposes to have with the Irish Government to improve the climate for progress within the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The Anglo-Irish intergovernmental conference held on 27 April agreed that, to allow a further opportunity for political talks to take place, there should be no further meeting of the conference before the week beginning 27 July. The two Governments are prepared to consider a new, more broadly based agreement or structure if such an agreement could be reached through direct discussion between all the parties concerned.

Mr. Etherington

May I first congratulate you, Madam Speaker, on your election and wish you many years of fulfilment in the Chair? I also congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. The post could be described as a bed of nails, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman has my sympathy. I wish him well in his post.

Does the Secretary of State agree with me that since the partition in 1921 of Northern Ireland every Government have failed to solve the problem? Does he agree with me also that, in line with the wishes of the majority of people in the United Kingdom, the Government should now look at trying to work towards the setting up of a free and united Ireland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am most grateful for the less controversial part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question in which he congratulated me. I do not need any sympathy for the job which I am privileged to hold at present. The future settlement of the conflicts and tensions between the two sides of the community in Northern Ireland will not be resolved by this or any other Government. They will be resolved by the people of Northern Ireland. If this Government can facilitate that process, that will bring to myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends great satisfaction. That is our determination.

Mr. Adley

In contradistinction to the situation in Scotland, is there not a clear cross-party consensus in this place between the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democratic parties among others as to how we should proceed with the Anglo-Irish Agreement—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—a broad consensus? That being so, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it will remain his policy that the Anglo-Irish Agreement should continue in existence? Does he agree with me that it would be helpful if all politicians in Northern Ireland, especially those who clamour most loudly about maintaining the links with the United Kingdom, were to give support for the agreement, which commands the support of the political parties here?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

It is the Government's policy to support and operate the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Equally, as I have said, the two Governments are prepared to consider a new and more broadly based agreement or structure if such an agreement could be reached through direct discussion between all the parties concerned. There are legitimate differences of opinion about the Anglo-Irish Agreement. My hon. Friend asked whether it would not be helpful if everybody agreed to support it. No doubt it would be extremely helpful if all agreed on the future for Northern Ireland, but we must deal with a rather different reality, and that is what we are approaching in the constitutional talks, which are continuing.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Will the Secretary of State confirm to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is up a siding and going nowhere? It has not led to peace, stability and reconciliation. In the light of the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington), will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that it would appear that there are more Irish in Sunderland than in Northern Ireland, where the people are against the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I think that I will leave the affairs of Sunderland to another time. The Anglo-Irish Agreement is in place and while it is it will be supported and operated by the British Government as it is by the Irish Government.

Mr. Riddick

Does my right hon. and learned Friend really believe that it is appropriate that a foreign Government should continue to have a say in how part of the United Kingdom is governed?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

As I said earlier, it is generally unwise to draw general conclusions from the specific and peculiar circumstances of Northern Ireland. At the moment, I shall look forward, rather than back to the time some five years ago when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was debated and instituted. I think that I have said all that I can helpfully say today about the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr. McNamara

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman to his new post and join him in the tribute that he paid to his predecessor, the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke).

There is broad consensus in the House on the future of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and on the nature of the discussions that are taking place, which may or may not change the Anglo-Irish Agreement. If the talks are not successful, the Anglo-Irish Agreement remains.

The Opposition hope that the talks will be successful and we congratulate the participants on the discipline that they have shown so far. We hope also that the talks will develop into the widest range of the three strands, as originally considered. Is the Secretary of State yet in a position to say when he hopes to be able to call upon the services of Sir Ninian Stevens?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I agree with what he said about the future of the talks. As he will remember, last year it was agreed by all parties that the strands should be dealt with in series, and that strands 2 and 3 should be entered into within weeks of the beginning of the talks on strand 1. I cannot say more than that. The talks are progressing and I have that timetable very much in mind.