HC Deb 01 December 1994 vol 250 cc1318-21
3. Mr. Fabricant

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to meet the new Taoiseach to discuss the progress of the peace process and other matters.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I look forward to the renewal of our work with the new Irish Government at an early date.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the steps now being taken, including the announcement made today, on the road to a lasting and permanent settlement are a vindication of the Prime Minister's role and that of the acting Taoiseach in making their historic declaration more than a year ago? Is not the joint declaration still a road to peace that the new Taoiseach should take?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who is of course absolutely right. The Downing street declaration was a very simple declaration of fundamental principles. It declared that democracy, and the wishes of most of the people in Northern Ireland, would decide its future. Both Governments are shoulder to shoulder in support of that principle. Parallel with that is the belief that there is no place for violence, and what has happened since the declaration was inevitable.

Those who were previously using violence to further their political ambitions had to recognise that they must stop, unless they were to declare for all the world to hear that they had realised that they could not get their way by democratic means and that they would go on using the bomb and the bullet. That would have been unacceptable, and recognition of that led directly to what has followed.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the concern that was expressed before the resignation of Mr. Reynolds that the British Government seemed to be moving at a much slower pace than the Irish Government in furthering the peace process, will the Secretary of State stop dragging his feet and arrange talks as soon as possible with the new Taoiseach, with a view to speeding up the peace process?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

It is an uncomfortable thing to drag one's feet. I am not in the practice of doing so and I have never done so since I took on my responsibilities for Northern Ireland. A lot of criticism was levelled at the British Government initially, when, after the announcement on 31 August, we did not say that it was marvellous and that we would enter into exploratory discussions straight away. That criticism of our caution has died away and I do not hear it now. On the contrary, I hear widespread recognition of the fact that we were wise to be cautious. Widespread recognition has equally been made of the fact that the Prime Minister was right to say in Belfast at the end of October that we were now making a working assumption, which has led us now to make the decision to enter into discussions on 7 December.

Mr. Mallon

Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the cornerstone of the peace process is not the position of the IRA, or of those who claim to speak on behalf of the loyalist paramilitaries, but the joint action taken by two sovereign Governments, working together to an agreed programme? Nothing should be allowed to interfere with that. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman also agree that the core of that agreement is those Governments' joint commitment in the joint declaration of 15 December to remove the cause of conflict, to overcome the legacy of history and to heal the divisions that have resulted?

Will the Secretary of State tell us precisely what action his Government have taken to date to achieve those objectives, or are both Governments planning to allow the principles of the joint declaration to remain on the piece of paper and gather dust as nothing more than principles?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's statement, but, as to the second part of it, the underpinning of confidence in Northern Ireland is of critical importance by reason of the suspicions to which I have already referred in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). It has been of critical importance to furthering the objectives to which the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) referred that the Government have time and time again repeated that it is acceptance and agreement by most of the people living in Northern Ireland that will determine the future of Northern Ireland, that nothing will be sought to be imposed upon them and that the two Governments mean what they say in the Downing street declaration that democracy will decide the day. That is the most important thing that we could have done, and we have done it well and truly.

Mr. Beggs

When the Secretary of State meets the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, will he inform him that, in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, there is widespread distrust and suspicion of corruption arising from the failure of the former Prime Minister of the Republic to appoint a High Court inspector to look into the scandalous International Investment fraud, which was operated from Dublin? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman urge the new Prime Minister to appoint such a High Court inspector as a means of building a little confidence on the way towards peace in Northern Ireland? Can he assure the House that the Northern Ireland Office was guilty of no collusion in assisting the authorities in the Irish Republic to cover up that scandal?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am quite sure that I can offer the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he has requested. I do not think that it is helpful for me to intervene in matters within the jurisdiction of another sovereign state, although they are of undoubted great importance and gravity, and I do not propose to do so.

Mr. Beggs

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Who will speak for the people of Northern Ireland if the Secretary of State will not?

Madam Speaker

I shall take points of order after questions.

Mr. Wolfson

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept it from me that his earlier comments on the reasons for and the correctness of his cautious approach to the peace process are widely applauded by the people of Britain?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says, and I take note of it.

May I just say, Madam Speaker, slightly bending the rules, that, if I failed to appreciate the significance of what the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) said, I shall look into it? I may have done so.