HL Deb 19 February 1988 vol 493 cc858-61

11.21 a.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what immediate steps they will take to re-establish good relations with the Republic of Ireland following Mr. Haughey's statement, as reported in the Irish Press of 13th February, that "Anglo-Irish relations in regard to the issues that have been raised are at an impasse".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has had three meetings recently with Irish Ministers to discuss their current concerns and made a full Statement on these issues in another place on 17th February, describing action that is being taken.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his Answer, but does he not accept that the recent deterioration in relations between the two countries is a bitter blow to those many people who have for many years been trying to build up understanding and trust between Dublin and London? Will he say, first, whether the Anglo-Irish Agreement is being used as a framework for communicating important announcements between the two countries? Secondly, will he say whether Dublin was informed of the result of the Stalker review prior to the announcement in the House of Commons? Thirdly, will the Minister say whether the Government will try to meet the minimum requirements needed under Irish law to enable extradition to continue between the two countries, as agreed and wished for by the two countries? Finally, without any disrespect to the noble Lord, will he say why he has answered my Question, which is about relations between the two sovereign countries of Ireland and Britain?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I shall start by answering the last question first. I and all Members of your Lordships' House who stand at this Dispatch Box answer for the Government. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that. Secondly, the noble Baroness asked me about the overall Anglo-Irish relationship being at an impasse. In her Question the noble Baroness quotes the Irish Press, which I presume is a newspaper and not the general press. However, I think that I should quote the words of the Taoiseach himself in the Dail on 17th February when he said: We have reached an impasse for the present on these issues". He continued: Overall Anglo-Irish relations as such are not at an impasse". He referred to the very important discussions in the Anglo-Irish conference and to other matters of very direct and practical concern to the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. I hope that that will cover the second point raised by the noble Baroness.

As regards the Stalker report, I understand that information was given to the Irish just at the same time as it was given to Parliament. I think that your Lordships would accept that.

The noble Baroness also asked a question about extradition. Both Governments regard extradition as a very important instrument in the fight against serious crime, including terrorism. Last autumn we said that the changes which have since been incorporated in Irish law would create additional difficulties for the United Kingdom. I wish to stress to your Lordships that we have proposed talks with the Irish authorities to try to find the way forward. We hope that those talks on those matters will take place very soon.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that the supplementary question of the noble Baroness, to whom we naturally listened with the greatest of respect, has really been rather overtaken by events? Does he not agree that we owe a debt of gratitude to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the vigorous action taken earlier this week in appointing two inquiries into the Stalker affair? Does he agree that without that statesmanlike act and the admirable restraint shown by Mr. Haughey we should be in danger of ending up by alienating both of the communities in Northern Ireland?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for the first part of his supplementary question. I shall certainly pass on his remarks to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. As regards what was said earlier this week both in your Lordships' House and in another place about the Stalker Report and the full Statement that was made, I do not have anything more to say. But certainly what my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley said about the remarks made elsewhere, and above all by the Taoiseach, is of considerable interest.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I was encouraged last night to hear the Prime Minister say on television that a meeting in Brussels with Mr. Haughey was a quiet and dignified one? Is the noble Lord able to tell the House what, if any, proposals were made by Mr. Haughey to improve relations between this country and the Republic of Ireland which at the moment are at a low ebb? Also does he not agree that, in view of the recriminations and counter recriminations which one constantly hears on television, on the radio and indeed reads in the press, it is very important that the inquiry referred to just now by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, which is to be conducted by Mr. Kelly, should be conducted swiftly and decisively so that we know precisely where we stand?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, is quite correct that the inquiry at present being conducted by Mr. Kelly—I think a Mr. Jones is the Assistant Chief Constable—should, as the noble Lord quite correctly surmised, proceed with all haste and all speed. I understand that that is how matters are proceeding at the moment.

As regards recriminations, I think that the noble Lord and all your Lordships would agree that the less that is said in the press and above all about matters which do not necessarily impinge upon Northern Ireland and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the better.

I shall cover the first point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister told Mr. Haughey in Brussels on 12th February that the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the conference provide the best hope for the future. That is the forum in which we shall conduct Anglo-Irish relations in this particular field in the future.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that the maintenance of good relations is a two-way business and that there are many ways in which the Irish Government could play their full part in this, notably by stopping the interminable foot dragging over extradition which has already been referred to? Will Her Majesty's Government make it clear to the Government of the Republic of Ireland that the Prevention of Terrorism Act is a matter for ourselves and ourselves alone?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I think I have already covered the difficulties over the extradition problems. We hope that our proposed talks with the Irish authorities to find a way forward in this area will be fruitful and will take place soon. On the Prevention of Terrorism Act, as your Lordships will be aware, this Act has to be renewed for a further year by 21st March this year. That is the reason why the announcement could not be delayed.

Lord Moran

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one factor which has strained relations in recent days has been the efforts by Mr. Haughey and his colleagues to bring political influence to bear on the judicial system in this country? Does he not agree that it is regrettable that so many of them should have made statements suggesting that they know better than the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues in the Court of Appeal about the culpability of convicted persons in the United Kingdom? On extradition, can the Minister tell us how many persons have been extradited from the Republic on terrorist charges since the agreement was signed and whether, now that Mr. Haughey's Government have raised new obstacles to extradition, it will be impossible to extradite terrorists in future even if the papers are drawn up by the Archangel Gabriel?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, it is not for me to speculate on celestial affairs or on who draws up the papers. There are representatives in your Lordships' House who could do that, but that is not for today. I think that the noble Lord will appreciate that the Taoiseach has made many statements and a very important one in the Dail this week. Many of us believe that it is often what is not said that is of equal significance. The noble Lord, in his previous incarnation, will appreciate what I mean.

The noble Lord also raised the matter of comments by sundry persons, both in this country and elsewhere, about judicial pronouncements. All the statements which have been made on such affairs by my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General cover his particular duties. They all relate to judicial decisions or those of the prosecuting authorities. Those matters are not for the Government in this country or I believe in the Republic of Ireland.

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