HC Deb 16 February 1995 vol 254 cc1113-6
1. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proposals he has for hon. Members to assist the peace process in Northern Ireland.

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

I hope that the Government's sustained efforts to encourage all-party talks on a comprehensive political settlement will continue to he supported in all parts of the House.

Mr. Field

My right hon. and learned Friend will recall the murder of the Isle of Wight's previous Governor, Lord Louis Mountbatten, so he knows that Conservative Members understand the pain of Ulster. Does he agree that, in the interests of the peace process, when the joint framework document is published all hon. Members should take a considered view of the overall package and not seize on certain elements of it? Will it not be in the best interests of all people in Northern Ireland if all hon. Members who represent parties in Northern Ireland take part in discussions on the contents of the peace document, for surely this is a unique opportunity to give lasting peace a chance?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We all recall the horrific act of terrorism with which his constituency is associated, as he said. It was reflective of the many, many hundreds that have afflicted the people of Northern Ireland. I agree with the approach which my hon. Friend helpfully suggests to the publication of the joint framework document, if that is agreed, as I hope it will be. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Molyneaux

Is not the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) unduly optimistic in assuming that Ministers will admit Northern Ireland representatives to any meaningful role in consultation or pay the slightest heed to what they say? Does the Secretary of State accept that it is highly dangerous falsely to allege divisions within parties, although that is not unusual in this House and in other quarters? Is it not even more dangerous to pursue the course of threatening to call the bluff of Northern Ireland elected representatives, a tactic that has failed so miserably and so disastrously in the past?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

On consultation, as the two Governments seek to use the document to offer a shared understanding of a possible outcome to the talks process, which would be consistent with the joint declaration, obviously—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), who asked the substantive question, has left the Chamber. Perhaps his colleagues would let him know my view on such matters. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State. Please continue.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

We have therefore wanted to learn the viewpoints of all parties, including, naturally, the party led by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). We had reason to believe that we were confident that we knew the views of the Ulster Unionist party, to which we naturally attach importance. It is a question not of calling anybody's bluff but of inviting all the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland to consider the issues that will be addressed in the joint framework document, and to address them together, whether bilaterally or around the table, in a way that was done fruitfully in 1992, and in a way that offered the opportunity—which was taken—for individual parties to table their own papers, whether on position or policy, which were used to great effect.

Rev. William McCrea

As the question relates to the peace process, will the Secretary of State tell us exactly what peace process we are actually referring to and talking about? Recently, the Prime Minister spoke to the people of the United Kingdom and of Northern Ireland. He said that, for the past five months, the people of Northern Ireland had been living without fear. Does the Secretary of State believe that that is factually correct? During those months, people have been murdered, bodies of young and old have been seriously brutalised by iron bars and clubs with nails, families have been, and are being, removed from their homes in my constituency because of continued intimidation and threat by the IRA, businesses have been bombed, not one pound of Semtex has been surrendered by the IRA, not one AK47 has been given up by the IRA and not one member of the IRA has renounced violence. Surely this is a tactical process rather than a peace process.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I suggest that the people whom the hon. Gentleman represents, among the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, reflect on the contrast in their lives between the time before the ceasefires were announced—or whatever one likes to call them—and the past five months. I acknowledge that acts of terrorism have continued; the murder of Mr. Frank Kerr in Newry was a particularly brutal example. I acknowledge that so-called punishment beatings have continued, which are no less political in their purpose than what went before.

However, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was surely alluding to the comparison between life in Northern Ireland before the ceasefires and life after. I stand to be corrected, but I am sure that, by the peace process, most people in Northern Ireland are referring to a process of political discussion which builds on the existing peace and which will create the stability for which that Province has yearned for so long. I believe that that is a real prospect.

Dr. Hendron

Does the Secretary of State agree that he can help hon. Members to assist the peace process by insisting that the framework document and the Government's own document on strand 1 are published together? Will he tell hon. Members that both documents should be considered together, not separately?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Whether it is called the peace process or not, it will certainly assist people to realise that the Government are to be relied on when they say that neither of the documents is intended to be imposed. Neither document is intended as a blueprint. The documents are intended as aids to discussion and negotiation, which is what we hope will ensue.

Mr. Hunter

To further hon. Members' understanding of the peace process, will my right hon. and learned Friend return to his words a few moments ago? Are we to understand that the framework document is by no means a draft treaty, and is certainly not an exclusive blueprint, but is intended to promote genuine consultation, and that any constitutional party of Northern Ireland is at liberty to produce any alternative suggestion during bilateral talks with the Government?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am happy to confirm that and it cannot be said too frequently. I have already indicated that, during the last talks process, papers were produced by all sides, including the British Government, who played an important part in achieving the contingent agreement which was reached, particularly on strand 1. At the last Northern Ireland Question Time on 19 January, I told my hon. Friend something to the effect that we want to use that document to help get the parties back around the table again—not to make them conform to anything but simply to discuss the issues addressed in that paper. That remains the position. I hope that that will happen and, when it does, I look forward to papers being produced again by all parties.

Ms Mowlam

At this time of delicate discussions with Dublin, is the Secretary of State aware of the House's disappointment that there will not be a statement today on the appalling behaviour of so-called football fans—they were masquerading as that, but were really fascists—in Dublin? Will he join me in condemning their actions? Will he guarantee to the House that he will not jeopardise progress towards a balanced constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland by allowing any party to enter into pre-emptive negotiations?

Mr. William Ross

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I must take points of order, as usual, at the end of Question Time and after any statements.

Mr. Ross

Is this Northern Ireland Question Time or Dublin Question Time?

Madam Speaker

Order. Secretary of State.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I will not enter into the question of a statement, because I do not want to blur an expression of feelings which I think is shared by every hon. Member and everyone in the country. I have seen and read of what happened with utter disgust and I feel a sense of personal shame that it was done by people associated with my own country. For that reason, I do not mind saying that, at the next opportunity, I shall offer expressions personally not only of shame but of apology. As for the second matter, I think that we want to get to publication of this document as soon as possible.