HL Deb 24 March 1980 vol 407 cc441-3

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how they intend to respond to the increasingly strident demands, emanating from certain prominent politicians in supposedly friendly countries, that the Government should effectively declare themselves in favour of the break-up of the United Kingdom.


My Lords, the Government are satisfied that their attitude is well understood internationally. We shall continue to make it clear that the internal affairs of the United Kingdom are a matter for the people of the United Kingdom, for the Government and for this Parliament.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Would e not agree that a dignified and low-key response to the impudent demands that Britain abandons its guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland and declares itself in favour of a united Ireland, although superficially attractive, could be misinterpreted by ill-informed people in the world at large as indicating either weakness and indecision or, worse still, as indicating a guilty conscience? Would the noble Lord not agree, therefore, that a rather more robust response to these irredentist demands is indicated? Furthermore, would he not agree that public opinion poll after public opinion poll, as well as the Border Poll, has demonstrated that the proportion of Ulster men and women who want to be incorporated into a united Ireland is even smaller—

Several noble Lords: Speech!


—than the proportion of Austrians who welcomed the German Anschluss 42 years ago?

Several noble Lords: Order, order!


My Lords, would he not make it entirely plain, therefore—


My Lords, I think that if the noble Lord would be good enough to put his question fairly succinctly it would be for the convenience of the House.


My Lords, I will take the noble Earl's advice. Would he not make it quite clear to Mr. Haughey, to Mr. Leniham and to Senator Kennedy and his friends that there will be absolutely no question of a latter-day Anschluss?


My Lords, the last sentence of the noble Lord's supplementary question revealed to me the gist of his remarks, which was most helpful. We have indeed noted the remarks of the Irish Prime Minister and the Saint Patrick's Day statement put out by some leading Irish-Americans.

With regard to the first of those, we keep the Irish Government informed of our Northern Ireland policies, but, as I said earlier, the responsibility rests with the people of Northern Ireland, with Her Majesty's Government and with this Parliament. As for the statement made by the leading Irish-Americans, we very much welcome their further condemnation of violence and the continuing efforts to curb the American support for terrorists, together with the recognition of the important efforts which the Government are making towards political progress in Northern Ireland.


My Lords, is the Minister in a position to tell the House what progress is taking place in the constitutional conference? It may be a fast ball to bowl without notice, but it would be interesting to know whether he has any information.


My Lords, I can help the noble and learned Lord. The conference, so I am told, is likely to adjourn today. The Northern Ireland Secretary will then be reporting to the Cabinet about the next steps to be taken. The conference, of course, is the first stage in a continuing process.

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