HC Deb 17 February 1994 vol 237 cc1051-4
2. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Government's peace initiative.

5. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made by his latest talks with Dublin on the future of Northern Ireland.

9. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will report the latest progress towards a peace settlement.

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

We have been working closely with the Irish Government to see that everyone fully understands the joint declaration. The declaration, by which we both stand, demonstrates that there is no obstacle in the path of anyone who wants to argue a political case, provided only that he rejects the use, or the threat of, violence in its support. It rests squarely on the principles of agreement, consent and democracy, and it provides a framework and a process for peaceful democratic progress. The two Governments also are maintaining, with the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, their commitment to the urgent search for an overall political accommodation through the three-stranded talks process.

Mr. Riddick

Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my distaste at the way in which Gerry Adams was feted on his recent trip to America, and on the "Walden" programme last Sunday? I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to keep the broadcasting ban in place, not least because Sinn Fein dislikes it so much. Is not it outrageous for Gerry Adams to claim that the key to peace in Northern Ireland lies with the British Government, when the IRA and Sinn Fein have been responsible for the mayhem, misery and murder in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The last part of what my hon. Friend said is right. Last year, 86 people were killed by terrorists in Northern Ireland, while no single death was caused by any member of the security forces, which underlines exactly what my hon. Friend said. I regretted the treatment that Mr. Adams predictably received in the United States. I believe that now, people in the United States, as here, are waiting to see whether the promise to give up justifying violence will be delivered. The broadcasting ban is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Heritage Secretary, who made a statement on 4 February in which he said that it will remain in place, but will be kept under review in the light of changing circumstances.

Mrs. Gorman

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, when the talks in Northern Ireland began, the Irish Prime Minister, Mr. Reynolds, said that the window of opportunity then could bring peace before Christmas? As that does not seem to have happened, should not we reiterate the fact that Northern Ireland and its people are as much a part of the United Kingdom as the people of Essex or any other part of the United Kingdom and they are not up for grabs or negotiation?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I saw a report that Mr. Reynolds had expressed the hope which my hon. Friend mentioned. Unfortunately, that hope has not been fulfilled, although it should have been. There is no excuse for continuing violence and there never has been. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) recently said, the declaration has destroyed every declared reason for the continuance of violence that has ever been put forward by the IRA and those who represent it.

As for the conclusion of my hon. Friend's question—that people living in Northern Ireland are part of the United Kingdom—of course that is so and the joint declaration reiterates that constitutional guarantee.

Mr. Hain

May I urge the Secretary of State to leave no stone unturned in an effort to get the republican movement involved in the talks? While we all accept the rejection of violence as a precondition for everybody's participation, is not it absolutely essential that the Government do not stand on ceremony over issues such as clarification when it is vital for peace to get Sinn Fein to the discussion table? I remind the Secretary of State that Ministers, through the United Nations, are currently talking to the Bosnian Serbs, who are responsible for one of the most evil acts of genocide in history. Besides that, the IRA's atrocities, evil though they are, pale into insignificance. It is vital that we do not nitpick at this stage but get Sinn Fein to the discussion table to make progress with the declaration, which I welcomed at the time.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I shall not join the hon. Gentleman in comparing one act of political violence with another. All political violence is atrocious and totally unacceptable. It is important to note the distinction between Bosnia and our own country. If one negotiates with people who bring bombs and guns to support their arguments in a political democracy, apart from anything else one fatally undermines those who may share their broad overall objective but subject that to the discipline of constitutional politics. We have never done that and we never shall. There is now no justification whatever for Sinn Fein to continue to exclude itself from the forum in which the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is open for debate.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the Secretary of State remember that, at the previous talks, neither the Union nor the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was on the table? In view of his widely reported statement at the weekend that one of the outcomes of talks based on the declaration could be a united Ireland, does that now mean that the Union and the 1920 Act are on the table and will be discussed at those talks?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

As I said at the very first meeting of the talks process—at which the hon. Gentleman was present—it has always been perfectly clear that, at the end of that process, the British Government would rise from the table as much committed to the Union as they were when they sat down. That is because there is no prospect in the immediate future or the medium term of the greater number of people in Northern Ireland wishing to see the Union finished. Equally, however, it has always been understood—the declaration also makes this clear—that democracy and nothing else will determine the future of Northern Ireland. That has always been the British Government's position and I find it impossible to understand those who take offence at it.

Mr A. Cecil Walker

Will the Secretary of State admit that the peace initiative is going nowhere? Will he now take steps to set up a Northern Ireland Assembly to cater for all the needs of all the people of Northern Ireland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The re-creation of a Northern Ireland Assembly is one of the ways in which devolution and the restoration of democratic responsibility can come to the people of Northern Ireland. Article 4 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement shows that that policy is supported by both Governments. The talks process is the correct forum in which ways of achieving that can be explored. As to the first part of the question, I do not agree that what the hon. Gentleman calls the peace process—I think he means the declaration—is going nowhere. It is a statement of the fundamental principle that democracy will decide the future of Northern Ireland, and it will stand.

Mr. Canavan

Does the Secretary of State agree that the prospects for peace would be better if there were more public confidence in the security forces? Therefore, in view of the Amnesty International report referring to evidence of collusion between British security forces and loyalist paramilitary organisations, including the supply of intelligence, arms and even personnel for loyalist death squads, will he consider setting up an independent inquiry?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I take all Amnesty reports seriously, and we shall therefore consider that one carefully. It produced no fresh evidence in addition to that which has been examined already in support of the assertions that gained such publicity. Of course it is right that the security forces should command the confidence of the public. I see the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding frequently. I notice that in the past year the number of complaints against the police force in particular has fallen substantially and that is important. I make one last point about the Amnesty report: it was disappointing that, rather than calling upon the paramilitaries to desist their attacks upon the security forces, it called only for them to desist their attacks on what it called innocent civilians, and that was a pity.

Lady Olga Maitland

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be helpful if President Clinton repeated his support for the peace initiative when the Prime Minister goes to Washington, thus denying Sinn Fein the support it expects in America?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

President Clinton probably needs no encouragement for that, as he has been outspoken and warm in his support of the declaration. With that goes his recognition that there is no conceivable arguable ground for the continuance of violence for political purposes, unless those who use violence for those purposes acknowledge that they cannot get what they want by democratic means and therefore use violence.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition welcome the meeting that is to take place on Saturday between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach and trust that they will use that occasion to confirm their intention of seeing through the principles in the Downing street declaration? Does he accept that it is of vital importance that both Governments should be seen to be acting in concert, that nothing should be seen to be driven between them and that no unilateral action should be taken by either of those parties, given the three strands of the relationship?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

It is important that the two Governments should be seen to be standing together in support of the principles set out in the joint declaration. That is exactly where we stand. It is also important that the talks process should continue and that there should be no hiatus. Nobody is waiting upon a Sinn Fein decision, in the sense that some policy has been put in abeyance. As long ago as last April, I said on behalf of the Government that I would seek to put forward ideas that would give direction and focus to the talks process. That initiative has been welcomed by the main constitutional parties participat:ing. Unfortunately, the Democratic Unionist party is not participating. It is open to anybody to use such an initiative; I believe that I am perfectly justified in doing so and that it will have beneficial effects.

Mr. Garnier

What steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to acquaint the people of the United States, rather than the President and the Government, with the true nature, history and habits of the Irish Republican Army? What steps is he taking to ensure the better understanding of the Government's most laudable peace initiative and declaration in that country?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The people of Ireland, north and south, are only too familiar with the history and character of the Irish Republican Army and do not need instruction from me. As to the second part of the question, I have taken considerable pains to see that the people of Northern Ireland understand the declaration. I have published 200,000 copies and made them available everywhere. In a number of speeches and articles I have used the text of the declaration, showing what it is, what it achieves and what it does not do and that has been generally thought to be rather helpful.