HC Deb 27 April 1995 vol 258 cc975-6
12. Mr. Canavan

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had about furthering the peace process; and if he will make a statement. [19619]

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) earlier today.

Mr. Canavan

I welcome the decision, however belated, to initiate dialogue with Sinn Fein at ministerial, level, but can we have an assurance that, from now on, the talks will be as inclusive as possible and the agenda of the talks will be as comprehensive as possible, including constitutional matters as well as the decommissioning of arms? Do the Government now accept that they have no excuse whatsoever for excluding any party, or not fully including it in the talks, on the ground that it is allegedly not constitutional?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. Gentleman has run together two stages. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the Minister of State, will be participating in the exploratory talks, and if our understandings prove to be correct, there is no relevant matter that cannot be discussed. As to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, whether Sinn Fein enters the substantive political talks depends on whether it divests itself of what has disqualified it from joining. I have repeated in answers to several questions today what it is necessary for it to do.

Mr. Dykes

As these various complicated processes are gathering pace in a most encouraging way, will my right hon. and learned Friend examine the way in which parliamentarians and Ministers can together persuade the Ulster Unionists to join the British-Irish parliamentary body at long last?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am glad that my hon. Friend finds the process encouraging—I think that it is—but, if it is going to continue to be, there has to be the most steadfast adherence to principle and we have to play matters coolly and resolutely, as well as in a sensible and imaginative way. As to what the Ulster Unionists do in regard to the body that my hon. Friend mentioned, that is a matter entirely for that party, led by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux).

Dr. Hendron

When the Secretary of State is considering ways of furthering the peace process, will he at the same time consider prisoners, both republican and loyalist, bearing it in mind that many of the young men from both communities who are in prison were not responsible for the extremely adverse environments in which they spent their formative years? Will he please look sympathetically, therefore, at the whole question of prisoners? At the same time, does he accept that the time must surely have come when Irish prisoners in England should be brought to Northern Ireland, so that their friends and loved ones can visit them there?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. Gentleman invites me to look sympathetically at the question of prisoners, but he will know that such sympathy cannot exclude, for example, sympathy with the feelings of the relatives of those who have been murdered. There are no political prisoners in Northern Ireland. Those in prison are there only by reason of having been convicted of offences such as murder, conspiracy, the possession of arms and so forth. Accordingly, those who have been sentenced by the courts will have to serve their sentences in accordance with the law. It is very important that the hon. Gentleman, whose constituency has suffered much from these hideous crimes, should not give weight to the idea that those were somehow political crimes—they were not, they were murders and crimes of great evil and malice, done to people whom he represents, along with others.

Mr. Bernie Grant

Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the Irish National Liberation Army has declared a ceasefire? If so, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to have talks with it?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I have no knowledge of any ceasefire having been declared by INLA.