HL Deb 08 November 1983 vol 444 cc708-11

4.3 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the Anglo-Irish summit meeting:

"I should like, with permission, Mr. Speaker, to make a brief Statement on the discussions that 1 held with the Taoiseach on 7th November. I was accompanied by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Dr. FitzGerald was accompanied by Mr. Spring, the Tanaiste, and by Mr. Barry, the Irish Foreign Minister.

"This was our first meeting for two years, other than in the margins of the European Council. It took place within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council which we set up at our meeting on 6th November 1981. The meeting provided the occasion for a useful and constructive exchange of views and reflected the good relationship which now exists between our two countries.

"We reviewed the state of work of the council at both ministerial and official levels. We approved a joint report describing the co-operation which has taken place between the two countries since the publication of the Anglo-Irish joint studies in November 1981. We particularly welcomed the satisfactory conclusion of negotiations for the supply of Kinsale gas to Northern Ireland.

"The report and the review annexed to it, with the exception of the section on security matters, have been placed in the Library of the House.

"We also discussed other issues in Anglo-Irish relations, including the situation in Northern Ireland. We reaffirmed our deep concern about continuing violence and our joint determination to take all possible means to end it.

"Dr. FitzGerald spoke of the work of the new Ireland forum. We also discussed a wide range of international issues, including the Lebanon. We gave special attention to community issues in the light of the forthcoming European Council in Athens.

"We look forward to further meetings of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council at Heads of Government level at regular intervals".

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement. We warmly welcome the fact that a meeting has taken place between Dr. Garret FitzGerald and Mrs. Thatcher, and hope that it will prove to be the first of regular meetings between the two Prime Ministers. Can the noble Viscount confirm that that is their general intention? Can he also indicate what kind of priority the Prime Minister proposes to give to the reports due to be published early next year by the new Ireland Forum referred to by the Taoiseach?

Can the noble Viscount confirm that one of Dr. FitzGerald's chief concerns is the frustration developing in minority areas because of the lack of political movements? Can he say whether this is a source of difficulty, and what steps were suggested to relieve the tension? Was that a matter of discussion between the two Prime Ministers?

I note that the Statement refers to "deep concern about continuing violence" and a joint determination to take all possible means to end it". Obviously this is to be warmly welcomed but can the noble Viscount say whether there were discussed any new initiatives which might help to resolve the tragic problem which continues? Without giving details, can he say whether any new plans are now being considered?

I should like to welcome the news that negotiations for the sale of Kinsale gas have been successfully completed.

With regard to further meetings of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council at high level, can the noble Viscount say how regularly these will he held?

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place by the Prime Minister. We on these Benches, both Liberal and SDP, wholeheartedly support the meeting between Dr. Garret FitzGerald and Mrs. Thatcher. It is indeed good news that with the disagreement that arose between the two Governments at the time of the Falklands war now past, these two leaders can meet in an atmosphere of seemingly great cordiality.

We believe Dr. FitzGerald to be an extremely intelligent and helpful person to deal with. Meeting to talk in friendship is the first step towards action in harmony. The problems of Ireland, north and south, are well known to be considerable, which makes all the more pressing the need for co-operation in overcoming them. We urge the two leaders in the first place to work in those fields where co-operation can be seen most easily to be for the mutual benefit of both Eire and Ulster, such as cross-border co-operation on security and policing. Divisive matters can, we hope, be followed up later.

We believe that there should be frequent meetings, and we sincerely hope that all parties concerned will be able to follow their leaders in a new mood of hope and accord. May I ask the noble Viscount whether we can be told today when the next meeting will he held?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords for what they have said. First of all to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, I would say that I am extremely appreciative of the fact that he welcomes the meeting, as I think do people in both countries, and I believe that it is all to the good of relations between the two countries. The noble Lord raised the question of the forum, and asked what priority would my right honourable friend give to it. My right honourable friend was briefed by Dr. FitzGerald on the work of the forum. As a Government we have made it clear that the deliberations of the forum are a matter for those engaged in them. It is in that spirit that they will all be considered and the report will be considered when it is finally concluded.

The noble Lord raised the question of frustration in the minority areas. This was, I think, one of the matters discussed and one of the matters which the forum is considering. Of course, it is something that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is seeking to bring forward through his Assembly. It is still a matter of regret to him that the minority community has not felt able to take part in that Assembly. I must say, having some little knowledge of the matter, that it is also of regret to me. I hope that the minority community will take part.

On the question of security, there has been very close co-operation indeed between the two Governments. Looking back again to the time when I had some responsibility there, if I had had half the co-operation that is available today, things would perhaps have been better sooner. The co-operation today is, I believe, extremely good, and Dr. FitzGerald is to be congratulated upon what he has done to help.

On the question of Kinsale gas, like the noble Lord, I am sure that it is a worthwhile development. In part, it answers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton. It is the sort of matter upon which progress can be made in the mutual interest of both countries. It should be welcomed in that regard.

Both noble Lords asked when there might be another meeting. It has been agreed that they will be at regular intervals, but I cannot give a specific date. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, referred to the fact that Dr. FitzGerald had been a very co-operative leader and he was glad that the meeting had taken place. I can confirm, from my own experience, that Dr. FitzGerald has taken a great interest in the problems of Northern Ireland, of relations between North and South and of relations between this country and Eire. That is to be welcomed. The whole House will be delighted that this meeting was a step further in this mutual co-operation.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all on the Cross-Benches when I say how much I welcome the resumption of talks between the Heads of Government in London and Dublin. May I ask the noble Viscount whether the Government will study carefully The Times leader of yesterday which began to discuss the sharing of sovereignty, the pooling of sovereignty, or dual sovereignty, in regard to Northern Ireland? We await with great interest what may come out of the forum. I wonder whether the Government also accept that neither nationalists nor unionists in Northern Ireland can expect in the long run to attain 100 per cent. of their objectives?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I have learned over a long period of time always to study leading articles in The Times but not necessarily to agree with everything that they say. It would be wrong at this stage for me to make comments on the matters that the noble Lord has raised. They are very delicate. It is much better to hope for careful co-operation between the two countries and not to prejudge any matters that might arise.