HL Deb 19 December 1990 vol 524 cc826-7

2.52 p.m.

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they can confirm that Northern Ireland is as British as Huntingdon.

The Paymaster General (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, both Northern Ireland and Huntingdon are integral parts of the United Kingdom. In no event will Northern Ireland cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that unexpectedly robust and effective affirmative reply. Does he agree that the previous Prime Minister declared in no uncertain terms that Ulster was as British as Finchley? However, that was before the Anglo-Irish Agreement was made, which may have changed matters considerably. Would the noble Lord care to comment on that? Would he further agree that the more equivocal and half-hearted politicians and other public figures on the mainland are about the maintenance of the union, the more the Provisional IRA and the INLA will be encouraged to step up their terror campaign in the belief that it requires only one more push to achieve a united Ireland?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord suggested that the Anglo-Irish Agreement may have changed things somewhat. Presumably he referred to his Question today. I believe it is important to bear in mind that the agreement is an international, binding document which confirms the current status of Northern Ireland. As I said, any change in status would need the support of the majority of the people living in Northern Ireland.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, are the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, aware that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are British to their fingertips? What is more, I believe that they are more patriotic towards the flag, the country and the Queen than people in any other province in the United Kingdom. Their record in the past two wars proves that. Is the Minister further aware that in the present circumstances their endurance and Britishness must be admired?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am very glad this afternoon to have had the opportunity to put on record my admiration for all the people of Northern Ireland. As concerns the constitutional status of Northern Ireland I have nothing to add.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that no part of the kingdom is more British than Huntingdon? Its Member of Parliament would do much to make the people of the United Kingdom more united.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, so that there is no misunderstanding, perhaps I may say that Northern Ireland is part of the British Isles but not part of Great Britain. It is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is it not obvious from the Question that Huntingdon is probably as Irish as Northern Ireland?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Renton knows very well indeed, Huntingdon is a fine part of the world.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to the Dispatch Box in his role as a senior Minister at the Northern Ireland Office. His charm, which is considerable when it is applied, together with his other qualities should help to de-freeze ancient attitudes in the Province. Perhaps I may also take the opportunity to say that we shall miss the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, speaking from the Dispatch Box.

Will the Minister once again confirm that constitutionally Northern Ireland is not a part of Britain but is a separate part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Given that background, it is not easy to come up with a simplistic answer to the simplistic Question which has been asked.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind remarks about my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale and myself. I confirm that what he said is correct; the position is encapsulated in Section 1 of the 1973 Northern Ireland Constitution Act.