HC Deb 14 July 1994 vol 246 cc1153-5
2. Dr. Spink

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on recent developments regarding the joint declaration.

9. Mr. Dykes

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the latest peace negotiations in the Province.

10. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had on the Downing street declaration; and if he will make a statement.

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

The joint declaration stands as a statement by the British and Irish Governments of fundamental principles by which they will be guided. We have made it abundantly clear that violence for political ends is incompatible with these principles and that it will continue to exclude those responsible for it from the democratic process.

Dr. Spink

In view of recent speculation that Sinn Fein may soon respond to the joint declaration, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that Government policy remains that there will be no commencement of even exploratory talks until there is a permanent and total cessation of violence? Would he care to comment on the Taoiseach's recent comments on the matter?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We have made it clear time and again that there must be a permanent cessation of violence, and an unequivocal declaration and commitment to that cessation.

On 12 July Mr. Reynolds, the Taoiseach, said in the United States: Other parties will not sit around the table with those who reinforce their argument by the use of violence or the threat of it. That is why there must first be a lasting and definitive commitment to a purely democratic political strategy. That is the joint position of both Governments.

Mr. Dykes

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the striking features of the process since the joint declaration is the fact that the two Governments have continued to stand shoulder to shoulder in their search for peace? May we again put on record our thanks to the Irish Government for the constructive role that they are playing?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

They have indeed stood shoulder to shoulder. That is what makes the use of violence for political purposes so abundantly self-defeating. Those who use it in that way know perfectly well that both Governments are determined that coercion shall not be rewarded. That is the view of the British Government and also of the Irish Government. We make common cause very effectively to ensure that those who resort to violence are thwarted and defeated.

Mr. Hain

Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us share his disgust—and probably even despair—at the recent terrifying explosives find in Heysham, and the recent IRA attacks? May I urge him, however, not to be diverted by those events or by other pressures from the central goal of getting Sinn Fein to the negotiating table in one way or another, as that is one of the keys to peace?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

It is obviously desirable thatevery political party with a democratic mandate which is committed to the democratic process should participate, in one way or another, in the discussions, but people should not suppose that by continuing to resort to violence, or by justifying it, they can somehow hold up that process because they cannot—they will be left outside. So it is for them to choose—the process is unstoppable.

Mr. Mallon

The Secretary of State will agree that in the joint declaration his Government define their role as the creation of agreement among all the people of Ireland. I am sure that he would also agree that that implies creating a unity of purpose and a political agreement with which all the people of Ireland can identify. How and when will that be presented to us by the two Governments so that the emphasis can shift to the legitimate political process and away from those who support and plan acts of violence?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. Gentleman refers to the discussions going on between the two Governments, the objective of which is to reach a shared understanding of the sort of package that would lead and help the democratically elected and constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, with the two Governments as appropriate, to reach that overall settlement, which has been their goal since 1991. That is what we are about. Of course it is not easy. The reason why we are trying to achieve that settlement is that from time to time party leaders have said, "We cannot say how far we are prepared to go and what our bottom line would be on, let us say, strand 1 or strand 2 until we know the position of the Governments." It is therefore desirable that the Governments should demonstrate that shared understanding, if we can. It is not easy, but a lot of progress has been made. I cannot say when success will be achieved, but there are sensible grounds for believing that it will be.

Mr. Robathan

I am sure that hon. Members are pleased to hear that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the Irish Government, but what tangible progress has been made by the Irish Government or what concessions have made by that Government to the concerns of the people of the North of Ireland, who belong to the Unionist majority, since either the Anglo-Irish Agreement or the Downing street declaration?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

As I think that my hon. Friend knows—I have often told him so—the co-operation between, for example, the two police forces has progressively improved over the years and in very recent times. If he consults Hugh Annesley or the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana, as I hope that he will, he will become aware of the close character of co-operation and trust which exists and of the practical ways in which they are helping each other. I do not share the view implicit in my hon. Friend's question: I know that he takes an linterest in this matter and how sincere he is, but I do not share his implicit distrust of the Irish Government or the view that they are somehow not fully committed to the defeat of terrorism—I am satisfied that they are.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Since one of the main objectives of the declaration, now more than eight months old, was to bring about a renunciation of violence by the IRA and to involve it in the political process, leading towards some form of devolution in Northern Ireland in which the leader of Sinn Fein, Mr. Gerry Adams, and the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), would both work together and play a major role, how long will it be before the declaration achieves that objective? [Interruption.]

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will no doubt speak for himself—and I expect that we shall hear him—either from an upright or from a sedentary position. Both Governments made it clear at the time that the purpose of the declaration was to set out fundamental principles of democracy, of the rejection of violence and of realism. That was achieved, and that is why I said that the declaration stands. Of course, if those people who have believed—and still believe—that they can make progress towards their political objectives by violence are persuaded that they have been mistaken, that is well and good and we shall all rejoice. But if, contrary to all the evidence, they continue to think that they can make progress by violence in our democracy, that is too bad: we shall proceed with the process in which all the principal political parties have been engaged and we shall carry it through—we do not intend to give up.

Mr. McNamara

The official Opposition entirely support what the Secretary of State has just said. On another matter, however, does he accept that the Government of Ireland Act 1920 should be amended to reflect the principle of consent?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I do not accept that it should be amended to reflect the principle of consent because it seems to me that the principle of consent has been well and truly established in a number of statutory instruments since the Government of Ireland Act. Everyone knows that it is the policy of the Irish and British Governments that no change in the status of Northern Ireland can or should take place, save by the consent of those who live in Northern Ireland. Both Governments have said from the very beginning—and my predecessor said from the very beginning—that absolutely nothing is precluded from being put on the table in the constitutional talks. That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman—there is no need for the Act to be amended, but if someone wants to have it amended we shall examine any proposal and consider it on its merits.