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Northern Ireland (Dublin Talks)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th December 1980.

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Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 10th December 1980

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the need for the House of Commons to be immediately informed by the Prime Minister about the nature and details of the agreement reached in the discussions with the Taoiseach in Dublin on 8 December. I underline afresh, as I did yesterday, that of course I am not questioning in any sense whatsoever the right and, indeed, the duty of Her Majesty's Ministers to engage in discussions and meetings in Dublin on the kind of matters that were raised there. That is perfectly natural and, indeed, we wish to hear what moves have been made. What I am asking for is prompt and proper reports to the House of Commons.

Since yesterday, and since you, Mr. Speaker, ruled on another application yesterday—and I understand that that is a matter that might enter into your consideration—there have been further developments. Some of those developments we forecast when I raised the matter yesterday, but that does not mean that they are any less relevant.

I do not think that anybody who has studied some of the reports that have come out in Dublin and in London on this matter could question what I said yesterday, namely, that there is a real danger of different understandings and interpretations being placed upon these matters in Dublin and in London. Whatever may be our views on these questions, we must surely wish to see that that divergence does not occur, because it could lead to very serious misunderstandings. I therefore urge that the House should take that into account.

Moreover, of course, since the application yesterday it has been announced that there is to be a debate in the Dail. The Dail is perfectly entitled to have its debate and report on what occurred, but we are entitled to have the report here, in the House of Commons, from the Prime Minister, who is the only person who can report on all these matters. Although some of these questions are open for debate in the House later, the Prime Minister is the only person who can report to the House fully.

I therefore urge most strongly—and I should have thought that this was precisely the kind of use for which Standing Order No. 9 was devised, that is, on occasions of urgent necessity such as this, when the House of Commons wishes to hear from the Government and perhaps to give advice to the Government—that we should have the matter raised.

I therefore raise these matters not in any sense to interfere with or to cause difficulties for the Government's negotiations but in the interests of clarity and in defence of the rights of the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The right hon. Gentleman gave me notice this morning before 12 o'clock that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House to discuss the need for the House of Commons to be immediately informed by the Prime Minister about the nature and details of the agreement reached in the discussions with the Taoiseach in Dublin on 8 December.

Since I received the right hon. Gentleman's notice, I have read again with great care the exchanges that took place yesterday and, indeed, the ruling that I gave yesterday.

The House knows that it is never easy for me to decide on these questions of an emergency debate, but that I give the same consideration to them whoever makes the application. The House has advised me that I can give no reasons for my ruling on this question, but the House will also be aware, as I said yesterday, that I do not decide whether the House will discuss this matter. I decide only whether it should be discussed tonight or tomorrow night.

I have listened with care to the right hon. Gentleman, but I must rule that his submission does not fall within the provision of the Standing Order, and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.

Several hon. Members:

Several hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. There may be points of order, but nobody can raise a point of order on my ruling.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Obviously, I am not raising a point of order about your ruling, but it relates to the refusal of the Prime Minister to make a statement on the Dublin talks.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I am afraid that that would be too close to a point of order on my ruling.

Photo of Mr Ioan Evans Mr Ioan Evans , Aberdare

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I in no way question the ruling that you have made, but the difficulty in which the House is now placed is that bilateral talks have been held, a statement has been made in the Irish Parliament

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. We cannot have a discussion on that matter now.

Photo of Mr Ioan Evans Mr Ioan Evans , Aberdare

Would it not be possible, Mr. Speaker, with the Leader of the House here, to know whether we are to have a statement, in view of the demand that has been made on both sides of the House?

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This has nothing to do with your ruling. I understand that an official from the Northern Ireland Office visited the hunger strikers in the Maze prison today and was reading to them from Hansard. I wondered whether any action could be taken on humanitarian grounds.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I intend to call one very senior Member of the House.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]. Of course, we are all equal in the House, but, as I have indicated before, some are a little more equal than others. I want the House to understand that there can be no points of order about my ruling.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order is not on your present ruling, but we know that there have been occasions w hen, immediately following upon your ruling, something rum has happened whereby the same approach can be made, literally within hours, and when, because of the changed circumstances, the Chair has ruled that the matter would then be in order.

My point of order is this: if, during the debate that the democratic Dail is to have but this democratic Parliament cannot have, something is said or revealed there which would then alter the procedure and alter your decision, would you give further consideration to a new approach, in view of the new information? [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish. There is to be a debate in the Dail, because it is more democratic than we are. I am asking whether, if something is revealed there, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition or one of my other right hon. Friends could come forward with a fresh application.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The hon. Gentleman has always been courteous to me, and I am grateful for the way in which he made his point of order. He will know that I never rule on suppositions. I find it difficult to read the future, and I am therefore reluctant to rule on what he said.