HC Deb 16 February 1995 vol 254 cc1121-3
5. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Northern Ireland peace process.

6. Mr. Parry

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the peace process.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Separate exploratory dialogues with Sinn Fein and loyalist parties have been held. It is desirable that they continue.

Mr. Riddick

Has not the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) actually said that he does not expect to live in a united Ireland in his lifetime? Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that Ulster Unionists should take some reassurance from the fact that the Conservative party, more than the other two main political parties, is the party of the Union, and that Conservative Members will simply not countenance a united Ireland or all-Ireland bodies coming into place unless it is quite clear that a majority of the people in Northern Ireland themselves actually approve that?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Of course that is so, and my hon. Friend and his colleagues will not be put to that test for the very reason that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has just explained: that the heart, core and centre of what the framework document, if agreed, will propose is consent and agreement. The constitutional guarantee of the future status of Northern Ireland is long-standing, and it will be compatible with anything that the British Government are prepared to propose in the joint framework document.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Secretary of State tell us frankly and clearly where the Government's working assumption that the IRA is in a permanent ceasefire now stands? Is not it true that dozens of young men have been beaten to a pulp by IRA punishment squads and that 39 families have had to be removed from their homes in the past few months under the Government's special purchase of evacuated dwellings scheme? Does not the IRA delegation—or, as those involved call themselves, the Sinn Fein delegation—which comes to Stormont from time to time refuse to speak on behalf of the IRA, and say that it has nothing to do with the IRA? Is not it true that those involved refuse to talk about the decommissioning of weapons? How long will the Secretary of State head up this charade that is supposed to be a peace process?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

There are a number of issues in that question. The first part related to the working assumption, which the Prime Minister announced in October and which the Government were prepared to make: that the ceasefire was intended to be for good. That assumption depends on what is done and on what is not done. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point to activities which, as I said to the hon. Member for. Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) a minute ago, are no less political in their intention than what went before the ceasefire. Those activities put a strain on that working assumption.

I hope and believe that it is the intention that there shall not be a reversion to violent means of securing political objectives, but we cannot know whether that is the intention. Only those involved can know whether that is their intention. The rest of us have to rely on what is done and what is not done.

On the exploratory dialogue, most people think that it is better that people should talk and that the parties previously associated with paramilitaries should be exploring the Government's position. Unless they know and fully understand the Government's position, there is a danger that, in that curious world, they could act on a misapprehension. I understand the hon. Gentleman's scepticism, and I know that he has expressed it frequently. Although I see the grounds for it, I do not propose at the moment to give way to it.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Has not national backing from successive Governments and the determination not to have the United Kingdom destroyed by the bombs and bullets of the IRA and not to be pushed off course by the turning of women into widows and children into orphans helped to start the peace process? More controversially, might not extreme and fearful Unionism do more to undermine support for the Government's policy than some of the work of the provisional IRA over the years?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I thought that this question was going to be helpful. I do not want in any way to suggest that I underestimate the grounds for fear that people on whatever side of the political equation in Northern Ireland have. The history of Northern Ireland provides a ready explanation for the fears, anxieties and suspicions that abound. Of course the unknown is more capable of producing those things than what is known, and that is why I, along with most people in Northern Ireland, look forward very much to having the document published. The sole purpose of the document is to suggest a possible outcome to the resumed talks process, and we shall invite people to come back together to discuss the issues that it addresses. I hope and believe that that will occur.

Ms Mowlam

Does the Secretary of State agree that the nature of the questions in the House today suggests that there is a need for the speedy publication of the framework document as soon as possible, and that the clear hope of most hon. Members is that everyone will consider the package on the table and make a judgment on all parts of it? I simply add that obviously that is our focus, and understandably the focus of the Government at the moment, but there is growing anxiety on the Opposition Benches that the parallel process to the unfolding framework document is the need for economic regeneration. In meeting after meeting that I have had in Northern Ireland, people have been seriously worried that the Government lack any clear strategic plan about the way in which additional funding for Northern Ireland will be spent to help the process.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I think that I have said enough about the joint framework document to be excused from dealing with it once again. I do not find the depression that the hon. Lady apparently meets in her welcome visits to the Province. I find people rejoicing in the fact that unemployment is decreasing on a steadily established trend of more than 1,000 a month. We have better figures now for employment and unemployment than we have had for the past 13 years. I invite the hon. Lady to cheer up.

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