HC Deb 01 July 1993 vol 227 cc1091-6
1. Mr. Duncan Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the current position regarding cross-border security co-operation; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

The Government continue to work closely with the Government of the Republic of Ireland to achieve further improvements in cross-border security co-operation. Both Governments recognise the importance of keeping existing measures under review and making further progress whenever possible.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that what we need now is constitutional certainty? In the light of his answer, does he agree that Labour's recent discussion paper shows too amply to us all their cynicism about our current Northern Ireland talks?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I think that constitutional certainty is very important. It is represented by the Government's guarantee that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland will not change without the consent of the majority of the people living there. That is reflected in article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

It is alarming to find that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) was reported in The Irish Times yesterday as confirming a report that Labour's policy on Northern Ireland is moving towards joint sovereignty or shared responsibility. The infamous policy paper "Options for a Labour Government" expressly acknowledges that such a change could not be achieved without imposing it against the will of the majority of Northern Ireland citizens.

Mr. Maginnis

During the Prime Minister's recent welcome visit to Northern Ireland, did he advise the right hon. and learned Member that cross-frontier security co-operation is a mere figment of a fertile political imagination and that the continuing unresolved debacle over extradition is a more accurate measure of the perversity and carelessness of the Irish Republic?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

We are disappointed with yesterday's statement that the Irish Government are not able to fulfil their commitment to amend their legislation in this session of the Dail. We will be seeking assurances that the Bill will be introduced early in the next session. Both Governments share a common concern to ensure that terrorists cannot avoid extradition by claiming that the crimes they commit are political, and both Governments wish to close a loophole revealed by an Irish Supreme Court decision in 1991.

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's ultra-critical view of cross-border co-operation, and I have previously in the House commended what the Garda have done recently by way of substantial finds of munitions and weapons.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the first paragraph of the Anglo-Irish Agreement does not spell out that Northern Ireland is a integral part of the United Kingdom? Does not he also agree that, as long as the south of Ireland insists on its legal claims over Northern Ireland, we will have this question over Northern Ireland's constitutional position?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is correct. One of the reasons why I believe that it would be helpful to have a successor to the Anglo-Irish Agreement is that it would provide an opportunity to express, by agreement, a unambiguous statement of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. I have said previously that I consider that those two articles in the Irish constitution are unhelpful to the process in which all participants in the talks last year were engaged.

I hope that it will be possible for them to be changed in a way that will remove that obstacle.

Mr. Hume

Does the Secretary of State agree that the reaction that he has just given, and that which the Prime Minister gave yesterday, to that academic document, which I understand is not a Labour party policy document and which I have never seen—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Ooh!] Those words are very clear—which I have never seen. Does the Secretary of State agree that his overreaction has more to do with the politics of the House than with the politics of Ireland?

The Official Unionist brothers McGimpsey yesterday alleged that there was a plot between the Labour party and myself before the last election to stop the talks, in the hope that there would be a change of Government. The truth—which can be confirmed by the hon. Members for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—was that before the election we requested the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and his former leader to issue a statement saying that if there were a change of Government, the talks would resume on precisely the same basis, and that the hon. Member made that statement.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government have signed an international treaty, called the Maastricht treaty, which commits the British and Irish Governments to an ever-closer union, not just of the peoples of both Irelands but of the people of 10 other countries as well, and that that is, in effect, shared sovereignty over a much wider range of issues than Northern Ireland; and that the implication——

Madam Speaker

Order. This is Question Time. The hon. Gentleman has done very well with his questions. There are other Members seeking to ask questions.

Mr. Hume

Does the Secretary of State agree that the implication of that treaty is that there will be an ever-closer union of the people of Ireland within Europe—from a nationalist point of view-and of the—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must now resume his seat. This is not a debate; it is Question Time. A number of Members are seeking to come in on this particular question.

Mr. Hume

It happens to be a very important question.

Madam Speaker

Order. That is why I am seeking cross-party interest in the matter. Will the hon. Gentleman now come to his point?

Mr. Hume

Will the Government, instead of acting as a facilitator, be a Government and declare that their objective is to promote agreement—I underline that word—between the people of Ireland, the people of Northern Ireland and the people of Britain and Ireland, and convene talks for that, and tell the hon. Member for Antrim, North——

Madam Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I did not assert that the hon. Gentleman had seen the document "Options for a Labour Government". If I were him, I should feel that I ought to have seen it. A great many other people felt that they ought to have seen it before the last general election, because the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is reported as saying that the policy of the Labour party is shifting towards joint sovereignty or 'shared responsibility'. Paragraph 7 of the document says: Shared responsibility has been condemned as un-democratic—since it would have to be imposed against the wishes of a majority of Northern Ireland citizens. That is an anxiety-making statement and we are entitled to know—as is the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume)—whether that is the policy of the Labour party.

As to the Government's policy regarding talks, everyone knows that we wish to resume those talks with all participants present, with a view to securing the agreement that was everyone's objective in April or March 1991.

Sir James Kilfedder

Has the Secretary of State brought pressure to bear on the Government in Dublin to take urgent and necessary measures to apprehend IRA snipers who, operating from the safety of the Irish Republic, have killed a number of members of the Northern Ireland security forces? Surely it is time for the Irish Republic to introduce selective internment at the same time as it is introduced in Northern Ireland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The last part of the hon. Gentleman's question raises profound issues of great difficulty.

There is no evidence of which I am aware that the recent disgraceful killing of a soldier near Newtownhamilton was by a shot fired across the border. There is, however, no question but that the border is one of the greatest assets of terrorists of a republican character—in fact, it is their greatest asset. I make no criticism of the willingness of the Garda to bring all their resources to bear to the detection and arrest of people of that character. It may well be the case that they could do with more resources, but I emphasise that co-operation between the two police forces has never been better than it is at the moment.

Mr. Alton

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that many in the House and outside it were disappointed at his overreaction and that of the Prime Minister on Tuesday? They welcome honest intellectual debate about some of the options that might move us away from the certainty—[Interruption.]—the certainty that the right hon. and learned Gentleman described today, and which represents sterility because there is no movement at all in the politics of Northern Ireland. If joint sovereignty were one of the options to be explored, surely it is legitimate that it should be on the table for people to discuss—just as much as the retention of Northern Ireland in its present form or even a united Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that if a debate is going on in the Labour party about whether a change in the constitutional state of Northern Ireland should be imposed against the wishes of most people living there, we should all know about it. That is what we want to know.

Mr. McNamara

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the document, "The future of Northern Ireland: A paper for discussion", produced by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. William Whitelaw? Is the Secretary of State aware that the introduction to that paper states that it is to be seen as a comprehensive basis for further discussions"? There follows a whole host of possible options for the future of Northern Ireland including, in paragraph 40, a partial or incomplete transfer of sovereignty"— of parts of Northern Ireland—

either in geographical terms … or in jurisdictional terms"; in paragraph 42(a), the possibility of total integration of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom; in paragraph 42(b), a British Government declaration

To admit the possibility of change, either towards Irish unity or some form of condominium"; in paragraph 42(c), the Government laying down a theoretical path towards closer integration, and possible ultimate unity in Ireland"; and in paragraph 42(e), some form of joint machinery, either at inter-parliamentary or inter-governmental level"? Will the Secretary of State confirm that such discussion documents make a useful and positive contribution to debate on solutions to the Northern Ireland conflict? Will he confirm that his Government have imposed an Anglo-Irish Agreement on an unwilling majority? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the union of Ireland with Great Britain was imposed, and that not one Irish Member—not even a Northern Ireland Member—voted for the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and for the start of Stormont? Will the Secretary of State therefore repudiate the suggestion that such discussion documents are a recipe for disaster, although the Opposition accept that the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has put his question.

Mr. McNamara

I can assure you, Madam Speaker, that this croppy does not lie down before a pile of Tories behaving like that.

The Opposition accept that the Prime Minister has provided us with a substantial menu from which we can choose a variety of disasters—both a la carte and table d'hÔte.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The document that the hon. Gentleman produces, as though it were a killer rabbit out of a hat, was a discussion document published without a contemporary expression of Government policy at that time. The Labour document was not published before the general election, and has not been published. We now have the reported confirmation of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that the Labour party's policy is shifting towards "shared responsibility". The document asserts that shared responsibility can only be imposed against the wishes of a majority. Despite his lengthy intervention, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North carefully refrained from telling us whether that is his policy. We need to know.

As I am answering a lengthy question, perhaps you, Madam Speaker, will allow me to raise another matter, which is not unapposite, from page 29 of the full document. Having stated that it would be possible fully to reform the economy of Northern Ireland by affirmative action, it goes on to say that that might reduce the differential between Catholic and Protestant emigration rates and that the Catholic-nationalist electorate of Northern Ireland would expand. There then follows a remarkable sentence: However, such a transformation would take time and might have the unintended effect of reconciling Catholics to Northern Ireland's present status as part of the UK. Is that the Labour party's policy towards reconciliation? Will the hon. Gentleman condemn that and disown it or is it the case that reconciliation has to conform to the party's declared policy of unity in Ireland?

Mr. McNamara


Madam Speaker

Order. Another time.

Mr. Hunter

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, whereas cross-border security co-operation is invaluable, the sort of co-operation envisaged by the secret paper that is causing so much discussion amounts to a callous disregard for the democratically expressed wishes of the majority of Northern Ireland and, therefore, could not possibly be the foundation for a secure and better Northern Ireland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Mr. Cryer

What about the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The Anglo-Irish Agreement is an agreement on how two sovereign Governments who share a land border should co-operate. Nothing in the Anglo-Irish Agreement derogates from the sovereignty of the British Government. I very much agree with my hon. Friend.

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