HC Deb 20 May 1993 vol 225 cc352-4
1. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current state of the constitutional talks in Northern Ireland.

2. Mrs. Bridget Prentice

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had on the present status of the inter-party talks concerning Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

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

The Government are intent on promoting further political dialogue between the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Governments, commencing as soon as practicable. I shall be seeking early meetings with the leaders of the Northern Ireland parties to hear their views on the way ahead. I also plan to discuss the matter with the Irish Government.

Mr. Riddick

Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in condemning the wholly pointless bomb in Belfast city centre this morning? Will he confirm that that sort of outrage will not affect any constitutional talks? Will he join me in urging the Dublin Government to condemn the terrorist disruption this morning?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I whole-heartedly and utterly join my hon. Friend in condemning this latest outrage. I have noted the contrast between yesterday and today. Yesterday, the people of Northern Ireland, on a universal suffrage, went to the polls; today, the IRA went for the people of Northern Ireland in an attempt to maim and murder at random and destroy their livelihoods. So much for the IRA's self-proclaimed campaign, the struggle for freedom.

I assure my hon. Friend of my belief that the Irish Government are as deeply opposed to this sort of outrage as we are, and our opposition is total. It will no doubt be a long fight, but it will not be the first one to which our country has stuck, and won.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice

The whole House joins the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his condemnation of the bombings in Belfast this morning. I am sure that all hon. Members wish to convey our sympathies to those who have been maimed and injured. However, those bombings merely confirm the need for the democratic processes to be upheld and for the talks to continue. There is no place in our democracy for terrorists or terrorism.

What discussions has the right hon. and learned Gentleman had with the Irish Government—the co-sponsors of the talks—on the content of the proposals that he intends to present when the talks reconvene?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her opening remarks, which are heartening but not surprising. On the question of the constitutional and political talks, the resumption of those—or they might be described as further talks—represent the best way forward in achieving the objectives that the House so overwhelmingly endorsed when my predecessor announced them in March 1991. It is important that we should now give some direction and focus to those talks and I propose, therefore, to table some propositions on behalf of the British Government.

The hon. Lady asked what consultation there has been. These will be British proposals, but, naturally enough, I wish to consult my opposite number in Dublin about the ideas that we shall put forward, although it will not be a joint paper. I was glad to see that, on 15 May in Washington, Mr. Spring said that we had been having an exchange of views.

He said: We have been in active contact and I have to say that I believe we are working very well together to try to get resumption of the dialogue.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is not the prerequisite to peace and political progress the unequivocal defeat of the Irish Republican Army? Is it not the case that so long as members of that organisation, with bombs and bullets, seek to maim and intimidate, democracy as we know it will be a fragile flower? Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend devote his energies wholly to the first priority, which is to ensure that terrorism is defeated and the IRA no longer poses a threat to freedom and liberty within the Province?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The elimination of terrorism is, indeed, the Government's first priority, and it will remain so. Democracy is a good deal stronger in Northern Ireland than my hon. Friend perhaps implies in his question. Those who are responsible for destroying the peace are relatively small in number, but are of unmatched evil in their character. The people of Northern Ireland are very resilient. They are determined to hold on to their democracy and they will do so. But the Government's primary purpose is to achieve the elimination of terrorists of whatever character, and that will remain the case.

Mr. Trimble

I am sure that the House will be glad to know that despite the bomb outside our party headquarters this morning, that headquarters is now back in operation and functioning. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that any proposals that he brings forward will have to be based on more than wishful thinking. He will know from the last talks that we ran into some serious obstacles—obstacles that lie uniquely within the role of the two Governments and are uniquely for them to solve. I refer, of course, to the illegal territorial claim and the immoral diktat. I should be grateful, therefore, if the Secretary of State would let us know what progress he has made in defusing those obstacles.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. Gentleman speaks, I think, of articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution and of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The Government remain committed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and the British Government, together with the Irish Government, have jointly said that if, as a result of discussion and negotiation, it is possible to replace the Anglo-Irish Agreement with another agreement or similar instrument that would carry broader support, they would welcome that.

As to articles 2 and 3, I welcome the fact that the Irish Government have said that they are prepared to initiate and bring forward legislation to amend articles 2 and 3 as part of an overall settlement of the process in which we are engaged.

Mr. McNamara

In his Liverpool speech, the Secretary of State reported that Metternich, on hearing of the death of a political opponent, asked, "What did he mean by that?" We put the same question when the Secretary of State talks about putting his proposals to the participants. When the Secretary of State makes his proposals, will he be merely stating those areas where he believes that the parties have been moving towards an agreement or will he be stating those areas where he feels that the parties should come to an agreement and where he has proposals to overcome difficulties or will he be creating new parameters for the talks, which he seemed to be doing in his Liverpool speech, abandoning the three-strand approach and the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The last point of the question causes me great surprise. I have made it abundantly clear that the Government remain committed to the three-strand approach and are not in the business of promoting a single-strand approach, first dealing with the internal arrangements of Northern Ireland. As to the remainder, I have already made it clear that the time has come for the British Government to accede to requests that they give some direction and focus to the talks if they are to take place. Accordingly, we shall put forward propositions to the parties first of all. Their purpose will be to build on the wide area of progress that was made last year and to make suggestions that may help people to come forward. It will not be a blueprint, but suggestions that may give some focus and direction to talks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.