HL Deb 29 November 1993 vol 550 cc441-53

3.48 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a statement being made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: With permission, I will make a statement about messages between the IRA leadership and the Government. There has for some years been a means of communication by which messages could be conveyed indirectly, between the Government and the IRA leadership. Clearly such a chain could only function if its secrecy was respected on both sides. At the end of February this year a message was received from the IRA leadership. It said: 'The conflict it; over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close. We wish to have an unannounced ceasefire in order to hold dialogue leading to peace. We cannot announce such a move as it will lead to confusion for the volunteers because the press will misinterpret it as a surrender. We cannot meet the Secretary of State's public renunciation of violence, but it would be given privately as long as we were sure that we were not being tricked'. That message came from Martin McGuinness. Madam Speaker I have placed in the Library and the Vote Office all consequent messages which HMG have received and despatched. The Government had a duty to respond to that message. I will read to the House the substantive response which, after an intermediate exchange, we despatched on 19th March. The text published yesterday was no more than instructions as to how this was to be transmitted. The message was in these terms:

  1. '1. The importance of what has been said, the wish to take it seriously, and the influence of events on the ground, have been acknowledged. All of those involved share a responsibility to work to end the conflict. No one has a monopoly of suffering. There is a need for a healing process.
  2. 2. It is essential that there should be no deception on either side, and also that no deception should, through any misunderstanding, be seen where it is not intended. It is also essential that both sides have a clear and realistic understanding of what it is possible to achieve, so that neither side can in the future claim that it has been tricked.
  3. 3. The position of the British Government on dealing with those who espouse violence is clearly understood. This is why the envisaged sequence of events is important. We note that what is being sought at this stage is advice, and that any dialogue would follow an unannounced halt to violent activity. We confirm that if violence had genuinely been brought to an end, whether or not that fact had been announced, then dialogue could take place
  4. 4. It must be understood, though, that once a halt to activity became public, the British Government would have to acknowledge and defend its entry into dialogue. It would do so by pointing out that its agreement to exploratory dialogue about the possibility of an inclusive process had been giver. because—and only because—it had received a private assurance that organised violence had been brought to an end
  5. 5. The British Government has made clear that: no political objective which is advocated by constitutional means alone could properly be excluded from discussion in the talks process; the commitment to return as much responsibility as possible to local politicians should be seen within a wider framework of stable relationships to be worked out with all concerned; new political arrangements would be designed to ensure that no legitimate group was excluded from eligibility to share in the exercise of this responsibility; in the event of a genuine and established ending of violence, the whole range of responses to it would inevitably be looked at afresh.
  6. 6. The British Government has no desire to inhibit or impede legitimate constitutional expression of any political opinion, or any input to the political process, and wants to see included in this process all main parties which have sufficiently shown they genuinely do not espouse violence. It has no blueprint. It wants an agreed accommodation, not an imposed settlement, arrived at through an inclusive process in which the parties are free agents.
  7. 7. The British Government does not have, and will not adopt, any prior objective of "ending of partition". The British Government cannot enter a talks process, or expect others to do so, with the purpose of achieving a predetermined outcome, whether the "ending of partition" or anything else. It has accepted that the eventual outcome of such a process could be a united Ireland, but only on the basis of the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. Should this be the eventual outcome of a peaceful democratic process, the British Government would bring forward legislation to implement the will of the people here. But unless the people of Northern Ireland come to express such a view, the British Government 443 will continue to uphold the union, seeking to ensure the good governance of Northern Ireland, in the interests of all its people, within the totality of relationships in these islands.
  8. 8. Evidence on the ground that any group had ceased violent activity would induce resulting reduction of security force activity. Were violence to end, the British Government's overall response in terms of security force activity on the ground would still have to take account of the overall threat. The threat posed by Republican and Loyalist groups which remained active would have to continue to be countered.
  9. 9. It is important to establish whether this provides a basis for the way forward. We are ready to answer specific questions or to give further explanation.'
It is clear that this message was consistent with our declared policy; namely, that if such people wanted to enter into talks or negotiations with the Government they first had genuinely to end violence. Not just temporarily, but for good. If they did, and showed sufficiently that they meant it, we would not want, for our part, to continue to exclude them from political talks. That remains our policy. The IRA sent a reply on 10th May which did not constitute the unequivocal assurance of a genuine end to violence on which we had insisted. Clearly a temporary ceasefire would not do. Substantive contact was resumed on 2nd November. The IRA sent the following message: 'This problem cannot be solved by the Reynolds Spring situation, although they're part of it. You appear to have rejected the Hume Adams situation though they too are part of it. Every day all the main players are looking for singular solutions. It can't be solved singularly. We offered the 10th May. You've rejected it. Now we can't even have dialogue to work out how a total end to all violence can come about. We believe that the country could be at the point of no return. In plain language please tell us through the link as a matter or urgency when you will open dialogue in the event of a total end to hostilities. We believe that if all the documents involved are put on the table—including your 9 paragrapher and our 10th May that we have the basis of an understanding.' Our reply was despatched on 5th November:
  1. '1. Your message of 2 November is taken as being of the greatest importance and significance. The answer to the specific question you raise is given in paragraph 4 below.
  2. 2. We hold to what was said jointly and in public by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach in Brussels on 29 October. A copy of the Statement is annexed. There can be no departure from what is said there and in particular its statement that there could be no secret agreements or understandings between Governments and organisations supporting violence as a price for its cessation and its call on them to renounce for good the use of, or support for, violence. There can also be no departure from the constitutional guarantee that Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom will not change without the consent of a majority of its people.
  3. 3. It is the public and consistent position of the British Government that any dialogue could only follow a permanent end to violent activity.
  4. 4. You ask about the sequence of events in the event of a total end to hostilities. If, as you have offered, you were to give us an unequivocal assurance that violence has indeed been brought to a permanent end, and that accordingly Sinn Fein is now committed to political progress by peaceful and democratic means alone, we will make clear publicly our commitment to enter exploratory dialogue with you. Our public statement will make clear that, provided your private assurance is promptly confirmed publicly after our public statement and that events on the ground are fully consistent with this, a first meeting for exploratory dialogue will take place within a week of Parliament's return in January.
  5. 444
  6. 5. Exploratory dialogue will have the following purposes:
    1. (i) to explore the basis upon which Sinn Fein would come to be admitted to an inclusive political talks process to which the British Government is committed but without anticipating the negotiations within that process;
    2. (ii) to exchange views on how Sinn Fein would be able over a period to play the same part as the current constitutional parties in the public life of Northern Ireland;
    3. (iii) to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence.
  7. 6. The attached Annex summarises the sequence of events and provides answers to the procedural questions concerning exploratory dialogue which have been raised.
  8. 7. If, in advance of our public statement, any public statement is made on your behalf which appears to us inconsistent with this basis for proceeding it would not be possible for us then to proceed.
  9. 8. If we received the necessary assurance, which you have offered, that violence has been brought to an end, we shall assume that you are assenting to the basis for proceeding explained in this note and its attachment.'
The House will appreciate from what I have read out, and from the other messages when they have time to study them, that our main objective has been to reinforce and spell out in private our publicly stated positions. It is for the IRA and their supporters to explain why they have failed to deliver the promised ending of violence. They should do so at once. Murder in Northern Ireland is no more tolerable than murder anywhere else in the United Kingdom. We must never lose sight of the fact that it is the terrorists who must answer for the deaths, destruction and misery of the last 25 years. It lies therefore with the IRA, and with them alone, to end their inhuman crimes. It is for them and those who support and justify them to explain why they have wickedly failed to do that. I promise the House and the people of Northern Ireland that, for our part, we shall not cease our efforts to bring violence to a permanent end. As my right honourable and learned friend told the House on 18th November if we do not succeed on this occasion we shall keep exploring again and again the opportunities for peace. Peace, properly attained, is a prize worth risks. If a genuine end to violence is promised, the way would still be open for Sinn Fein to enter the political arena after a sufficient interval to demonstrate that they mean it. Our message of 5th November again spelt that out. The key to peace is in the hands of the IRA." That concludes the Statement.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for repeating the Statement that was made in another place.

He will appreciate, as will the House, that it is difficult to understand precisely the sequence in which events happened unless one has access to the remainder of the documentation which I understand is being placed in the Library. I shall be grateful if the noble Earl will confirm that that is so, and that what is being placed there is the totality of the documentary contact that there was between the Government on the one hand and the IRA or Sinn Fein on the other. We need to know that the whole of the history has been revealed, particularly in view of what was said and what emerged during the past few days.

Secondly—again it is a question of detail—on page 5 of the Statement, paragraph 5 of the document of 19th March dispatched by the Government to the IRA in response to its request for advice, these words appear: The British Government has made clear that the commitment to return as much responsibility as possible to local politicians should be seen within a wider framework of stable relationships to be worked out with all concerned; new political arrangements would be designed to ensure that no legitimate group was excluded from eligibility to share in the exercise of this responsibility". That presumably refers to the responsibility of local politicians within the, wider framework of stable relationships". What do the Government mean by that? Are they envisaging new local constitutional arrangements for Ulster? Is it perhaps some new constitutional relationship between Ulster and the rest of the United Kingdom? In that paragraph are they questioning the whole union between Ulster and the rest of the United Kingdom? I saw those words only a few moments ago, as the noble Earl will appreciate, and I am bound to say that they raised my eyebrows somewhat.

What we have seen and what we have been told so far seems to reveal that there was a real possibility of a settlement following upon the initial approach of the IRA in February and the Government's response in March. However, somewhere along the line it appears to have gone wrong; I am not sure where or why. An extraordinarily long time appears to have elapsed between the receipt of a message and its answer either by the IRA on the one hand or the Government on the other.

The Government are right to take risks in the interests of peace. I do not believe that anybody in this House would question that; and certainly I, for my part, do not. However, they appear to have been somewhat inept and crass in their public disavowal of talks. I do not want to make too much of this point. It is precious near a negotiation; it is certainly a negotiation about how to start negotiating. Whether the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister can justify their public disavowal of what was going on in the terms that they disavowed it must be a matter for them to work out the precise semantic arguments which they will no doubt claim justified their unequivocal denial of what was clearly going on.

Perhaps more important than an inquest on the past is the question of where we go from here. How do the Government assess the possibilities? Is the peace process now firmly at an end as a result of the disclosures that took place? Have they brought it all to a shuddering halt? If what the IRA appears to have said on 2nd November was the position, it reveals that the goal of peace was almost within grasp—"We believe that the country could be at the point of no return. We cannot conduct dialogue to work out how a total end to all violence can come about". In plain language the IRA say, "Please tell us as a matter of urgency when you will open dialogue in the event of a total end to hostilities?" If that represented the position of the IRA as recently as 2nd November, clearly something went wrong between that date and today.

It is not good enough for the Government to say that it is up to the IRA as though the Government played no part in what went on during the past six months. I conclude by asking one further question. The IRA are not the only players in this affair; there are the Unionists. There are not only the Unionist politicians, but also the Unionist paramilitary terrorist forces. Can the Government say whether there have been "non-talks" in respect of the other military participants in the terrible affairs in Northern Ireland? Is there another set of documentation going from the Government to the UVF which at some stage in the future we may read and where again peace may have been just within grasp?

This is much too important an issue to take party, points and I hope that I have not done so. But my overwhelming feeling on reading the Statement is an intense disappointment that something which looked as though it was attainable has not been attained. We are entitled to ask the Government for a clear Statement that this is all there is and that there is not more tucked away which will trickle out at an inopportune moment in the future. Further, how do the Government see the future? Is the situation totally dead or is there still a chance to bring peace to this unhappy part of our kingdom?

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl for reading the Statement of his right honourable and learned friend.

Before I address the substance of the Statement, I should like to raise the question of the messages and the text of the messages deposited in the Library. The noble Earl may or may not be aware that they were deposited in the Library quite recently. I am told by the Librarian that they were embargoed for 3.30 and then photocopies had to be made of them. I perhaps inform the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on the matter. I have only just seen them. If the Government seek the understanding of the Whole House and, as the Secretary of State was able to announce on television yesterday that his intention was to deposit the documents in the Library. it would have been helpful for them to have been deposited there in time to inform your Lordships' discussion this afternoon.

As to the substance of the Statement, I suspect I speak for many of your Lordships when I say that I would have been far more surprised and shocked if there had been no contact with the IRA than by the news that there had. It would have been in my view genuinely disgraceful if there had been no informal back-channels by which messages could be passed. But we have to make a clear distinction—one that I know the Government are concerned to make—between the transmission of messages and substantive negotiations. That is the question that these messages raises—was that line crossed?

I certainly believe that no question of the Secretary of State's resignation can or should arise on these grounds. I say to your Lordships as someone involved in Northern Ireland affairs that the task of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as those who have held the office know, is not an easy one. It is a veritable bed of nails which the present incumbent seems to bear with considerable fortitude. In my view, he should be of good cheer because anyone who is savaged in the space of 24 hours by Gerry Adams, Dr. Paisley and Mr. Nick Budgen must be doing something right. But doing something right is not the same as doing everything right. I think there are grounds for some concern.

Perhaps I may address myself to the question of the first message from the IRA, on which the Government's basic argument depends. I am curious that that message—the, if you like, founding or originating message—does not appear in the papers in the Library. Indeed, the Statement of the Secretary of State simply says "At the end of February". I ask the noble Earl, when he replies, to reassure us that the text of the message from the IRA which he read out in the Statement is the exact wording that was received from the IRA. Will he please tell us the date on which that was received?

There is also, of course, as many of your Lordships will be aware, the difficulty the Government have got themselves into by the vehemence of their denials of any informal talks. It is one thing to have informal back-channels of communication. It is quite another thing to use the kind of language that any discussion with the IRA would turn the Prime Minister's stomach. Does the noble Earl not agree that the Government have got themselves into some of their present troubles by not being more circumspect in the language they have used in denying the kind of talks which are bound to be surrounded in some secrecy?

Finally, I am unclear whether there was a meeting immediately after Warrington. If there was, I think that this is a matter of a genuine public interest. I have not yet had time to see what messages were being passed between the parties at that point but I hope that that would have given some very considerable pause to this process. I am not clear from my first reading that that was indeed the case.

But, having said that, I have a more fundamental reservation about what is now happening. It seems to me that there is a great danger that the spotlight has now moved on to the IRA as though the whole issue were one about the IRA. The Hume-Adams talks tended in that direction and the new emphasis given in the past few days by the revelation must make many ordinary people following the news believe that peace in some way depends upon the IRA. It cannot be said too often that peace in Northern Ireland depends on the Unionist and Nationalist communities coming to terms with each other. Anything which gives the Unionist community the excuse to say "No surrender" and to throw up its hands in horror sets that cause back. I believe that the Government would be well advised in their approach to the summit in Dublin with the Taioseach to try to get the agenda back on to the question of a political settlement, without which any "peace" can really be no more than an armed truce.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. I wish to make one point very clear once again. As I have already intimated in the Statement, over the years approaches have at different times been made to us by people who believe that they have some influence with paramilitaries or who claim to be representing their views. It would have been completely irresponsible to ignore those approaches but we made it clear that we could have no talks or negotiations with anyone using or supporting violence, nor would we authorise anyone to have them on our behalf. That is absolutely the case.

With regard to the specific points put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, first, I can say to him that there are no more documents. The record is complete since February 1993. The noble Lord quite rightly asked what are the prospects for peace henceforth. We very much hope that the process for securing peace or endeavouring to secure peace has not been halted, but it very much remains up to the terrorists to end their violence. That would make life and matters very different in Northern Ireland. Certainly there is no equivalent process as regards the Loyalists. We call on all paramilitaries at all times to halt their violence of their own accord. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the new arrangements referred to are those being discussed as part of the political talks process. That, I hope, is apparent.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, said that the copies of the messages were placed in the Library too late. I apologise to him on that score but I think the answer is that they took some time to compile together in order to see that the date sequence was correct and that the whole texts of the messages were recorded accurately.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his loyalty to my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State. It has been a difficult time for my right honourable and learned friend and he has at all times and on all occasions taken the line that is consistent with the Government's line that there will be no talks or discussions or negotiations until the terrorists have laid down their arms. I can also say to the noble Lord that the record will show that the line was not crossed between negotiation and providing explanation and also that the IRA's message of 22nd February should be in the set, of which he should have a copy, deposited in the Library. The noble Lord nods his head. If that is not the case, I apologise.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, there have always been contact men in Northern Ireland—Church leaders, ex-IRA men, do-gooders—submitting information to the Northern Ireland Office. You cannot stop them and you cannot ignore them. You have to wait and see what is the substance. But this time the contacts established a chain of communication and through this chain the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wrote to Provisional Sinn Fein using government official bodies. In the meantime the high command of the Provisional IRA heeded not and carried on bombing and killing, but the government constantly stated in Parliament that no talks or contacts were taking place. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in that regard deceived the House and the people.

Perhaps the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will have to consider his position—that is a matter for his own conscience—but from my point of view he was on to the price of peace and that may well excuse him. The breach really now has to be bridged. We have to get the talks back on track. I thought that on this occasion there was real hope. The difficulty now is the question of trust in Her Majesty's Government because various parties involved in the talks are withdrawing that trust. Nevertheless, now all is out in the open and all the papers are on the table, let us hope that the next meeting between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will be used as a springboard for new progress. Can the Minister give an indication whether the talks are going to take place and if so, when, and what have the Government now in mind?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can certainly tell the noble Lord, Lord Mason, that my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State has a very considerable conscience in all matters pertaining to Northern Ireland. He has always taken great care not to use the word "contact". That point has always been taken very much into account in discussions from the point of view of the context of the talks or discussions which will not take place until, and if, the paramilitaries have laid down their arms. I can tell the noble Lord that it is hoped that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will meet shortly in order to further these peace talks, both parties being adamant that they should happen.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, since the onset of the present murderous IRA campaign in 1970, I believe that successive Conservative and Labour governments have maintained contact with spokesmen for the IRA. Indeed, I know from experience that even under the Labour government, and when I was leader of the SDLP, contacts were taking place in an attempt to take the IRA away from violence. There were also people who were not elected politicians, but churchmen and people of all descriptions and from all walks of life, who tried to dissuade the IRA. I would certainly give my support. I would have absolutely no objection to what has been happening under the present Government for trying to maintain those contacts to see whether it is possible to bring violence to an end.

But I fully agree with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, in that it is not within the power of the IRA to bring about a total cessation of violence in Northern Ireland. Anyone who saw the frightening pictures on our television screens of the arms haul that was found at Teesport will be under no illusion that there are not other people in Northern Ireland who are prepared to wage massive violence in support of their political position. Let us make no mistake: the IRA want concessions before they will call for a cessation of violence. If any concessions are made to their demands that will provoke murderous activity from the Unionist paramilitaries and the Loyalists. I have no doubts or illusions that, had that shipment of arms arrived in East Belfast rather than where it was apprehended on Teesside, those arms would have been used not at some time in the far distant future, but certainly within the foreseeable future; namely, within weeks or months of the date of their arrival.

Therefore, I believe that in all the discussions which the Minister and the Government have with the IRA, they must relate only to one thing: that the IRA must call off their campaign of violence and that no concessions should be made to them for doing so. As the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said, all the statements which we have read and heard recently have given the IRA a political prominence. They have bombed their way into the media of this country. I believe that the IRA have not changed one single iota from the days when they attacked and harassed me in Northern Ireland. Indeed, only this week an autobiography was published by a former colleague of mine in the SDLP, Paddy Devlin. He and John Hume tried in 1972 to prevail on the IRA to stop their campaign of violence. That was 21 years ago. He arrived at this conclusion: The breakdown of talks with the Provos was a salutary lesson for us in the SDLP, for it showed that the IRA was incapable of engaging in the political process. Their agenda was shrouded in historic myths no longer relevant; their demands were unrealistic and their attitudes were sectarian and unbending". Nothing has changed since 1972.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it quite clear in his Guildhall speech that, if the IRA end violence for good, then, after a sufficient interval to ensure the permanence of their intent, Sinn Fein can enter the political arena as a democratic party and join the dialogue on the way ahead. In these circumstances it is up to the IRA to end that violence.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, perhaps I may say first to my noble friend that I hope that he will have listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has said for I could not find it in my heart to disagree with a word of it. I hope that the Secretary of State will take the same view.

Can my noble friend say a little more than he did about the chain of contact? I believe he said that, if its secrecy was exposed and its cover blown, then the chain would be broken. Can my noble friend say whether the chain is still in existence? If not, perhaps it would make things much more practical and clear if fax machines were to be used. I am sure that one of them would have to be on a mobile phone number, but nonetheless it might obviate the delays and misunderstandings of operating through intermediaries.

Secondly, can my noble friend say how many people have been murdered since the IRA expressed their desire to give up violence? Can he also say whether he has any understanding of whether the ending of all violence, in the vocabulary of the IRA, means that the security forces must lay down their arms? Can he say whether or not it is in any way conceivable that the question of an amnesty would arise? It would be helpful if that could be ruled out at this time.

My noble friend referred to authorised contacts. Can he say whether there have been any unauthorised contacts and, if so, what was their nature? Further, can he and the Secretary of State finally take on board that we understand that the House was not deceived when the Secretary of State said that there had been no talks in the mind of the Secretary of State, but that it might have deceived itself by assuming that no talks meant no contacts? In that sense does my noble friend understand that every single word of what he has said, and the messages passed by Her Majesty's Government to the IRA, will now be looked on with the most enormous care and with a great deal of doubt?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can say to my noble friend that a link to the Provisional movement has existed for a number of years under successive administrations and that the use made of the link has been at best intermittent. I do not propose now or later to reveal the nature of that link since that would obviously put lives at risk. As regards whether the chain has been broken, I do not know the answer to that at this moment. My noble friend asked how many people had been murdered in Northern Ireland since the atrocities started about a quarter of a century ago. The answer is approaching 3,000 people in Northern Ireland.

As regards the security forces laying down their arms, that would depend totally on the circumstances at the particular time. My noble friend also asked about amnesties. Certainly, the Government will not make any secret deals or arrangements with organisations supporting violence. We shall make no bargains for cessation of violence. The sentences given to those people convicted of terrorist offences in the United Kingdom are a matter for the courts. The arrangements for dealing with the subsequent release of sentenced prisoners are well known. There can be no question of waiving the criminal law for terrorists.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, I rise merely to ask for elucidation. I take it that, whatever the noble Earl has said, there is no question of Her Majesty's forces laying down their arms in Northern Ireland.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that is what I said.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, as one whose family has lived in that unhappy Province for a very long time and with an almost unbroken connection, may I ask my noble friend two questions? First, will he convey to my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State and to the Prime Minister that 1 at least am 100 per cent. persuaded of their total integrity in this matter and very much regret the knee-jerk reactions of a person with somewhat violent opinions to the contrary? Secondly, must we not all remember that for the first time since the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland we now have a land frontier which is based upon a treaty which we have kept ever since it was made, and that we must not break off our contacts with the authorities on the other side of the land frontier as long as they respect the integrity of the United Kingdom?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, certainly as long as they respect the integrity of the United Kingdom, as my noble and learned friend says. I shall convey to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and to the Secretary of State my noble and learned friend's total understanding of and agreement as to the integrity of the British Government at this time.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, may I welcome the Statement and say that this is far too serious a moment to speak of deceiving Parliament or to attempt to lay down preconditions for any negotiations that may eventually happen? Meanwhile, and in view of what has taken place in the past year, may I ask the Government to consider two methods of proceeding? The first would involve an independent mediator with sufficient staff and resources for his task; the alternative could be an independent and professionally structured process of conflict resolution.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, this is not the time to debate the particular issues or suggestions that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raises. There have been many ideas and theories put forward for ceasing the violence in Northern Ireland, but I shall certainly bring his remarks to the attention of my right honourable and learned friend.

Lord Elton

My Lords, following the noble Lord, Lord Mason, and my noble friend, I reflect that nothing in Northern Ireland is simple and that there is a genius in the people of that Province for discovering complexity where simplicity is believed to exist. I think that we need to remember that the questions that we are now facing are actually very simple. First, should the Government have responded to the approach that was made in February? Clearly, it would have been verging on the criminal not to have done so. Secondly, should they have responded in the way that they did? I have not heard one word repeated here which was not already in the public domain as the Government's position. It cannot be described as "negotiation". We are sophisticated in the use of language in this house and I think that the country is, too. We know about "talks"; we know about "talks about talks"; and we know about "contacts". What have taken place have not been talks; they have not been talks about talks; it has been contact. In conclusion, it is remarkable to find in a politician such a combination of the robust and the sensitive as is to be found in the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I join my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham in a complete endorsement of what he has done.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I warmly thank my noble friend for what he has said. It is quite apparent from what I have said this afternoon and from what has been said in the Statement that never at any time has any form of negotiation ever taken place.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, it seems to me that there is no criticism to be made of the contact. However, I should like to ask my noble friend a question on this point. Is he aware that in 1922 the Irish Free State signed a treaty which it lodged with the League of Nations acknowledging the international border of the United Kingdom? It then consequentially altered its constitution and claimed a province of the United Kingdom. Mr. Hume and Mr. Adams have the same long-term political goal—that is, a united Ireland. Had there been negotiations between Mr. Paisley and Mr. Adams, there would have been some point in them; but Mr. Hume and Mr. Adams actually want the same thing.

If we go on giving the united Ireland people cause for hope that they will get a united Ireland, all that we shall do is encourage the IRA, and we shall consequentially push into the corner the Unionist peoples of Northern Ireland. They may not appeal to us, and it is historically true that the English have been happier with the Southern peoples—they get drunk with them and go hunting with them and feel akin to them. There is the old adage that in the North, they like the flag and hate the race, while in the South, they hate the race and like the flag. If we go on pushing the Northern Irish people into a corner, we shall produce more reactive terrorism. It is a question not of weeks and months, but it is a question of not long before one of those ruddy container ships gets through. Thereupon, the Unionist people will be backed into a corner. They will be frightened and they will launch yet more murder and mayhem in Ireland.

The sooner that we say to the Republic of Ireland, "It is no interest of yours what happens in Northern Ireland. It is part of the United Kingdom", the better. It is no use Mr. Reynolds talking about Guildford or Scarborough. Belfast is just as much a part of the United Kingdom as Guildford or Scarborough. It is none of the Republic's business. If we give people encouragement to go on like that, the murder and mayhem will continue. The sooner we say that the Union is our business and nobody else's, the sooner peace will come to Northern Ireland; but Her Majesty's Ministers and the Opposition have not grasped that simple fact yet.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, all that I can say to my noble friend is that we are after two things. First, we are after an end to violence. Secondly, we are after a political settlement which is acceptable to all the people of Northern Ireland. We are making our strongest endeavours to bring about both aspects.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the noble Earl not agree that the overriding aim of the Provisional IRA is the creation, by fair means or foul, of an all-Ireland republic from which every trace of what we might describe as "Britishness" has been totally eliminated and, specifically, where everything relating to the British monarchy has been eliminated? The Provisional IRA is not interested in a compromise solution, which would be incompatible with these aims. Therefore, any truce which it may agree to enter into will not be genuinely directed at a compromise, but will be a cynical ploy to achieve a short-term strategic or tactical advantage.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is very difficult at times to know precisely what the IRA is about; but I hope that it is absolutely clear what the British Government are about.