I have been asked to reply. The joint studies of November 1981, put in hand by the United Kingdom and Irish Governments, recommended the establishment of an Anglo-Irish organisation to be called Encounter which should organise periodic conferences and seminars. As was announced yesterday after the meetings which my right hon. Friends the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary had with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Ireland, we and the Irish Government have agreed to support the establishment of this body. We believe that it will have a useful role to play in fostering contacts between the peoples of the two countries.
I am pleased that the Government's sulking with Dublin is over, and an improvement in relations between the two countries is to be welcomed. Is the Minister aware that, despite all the protests which will come from Unionist Members later on, it is only through contact and negotiation with Dublin that a solution will be found to the continuing tragedy of Northern Ireland? Does he agree that if we are effectively to undermine terrorism, precisely that sort of Anglo-Irish settlement is necessary to deal with Northern Ireland?
I understand and welcome the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the concept, but I hope that he is not reading too much into the proposal, which is strictly to foster contact between the peoples of the two countries and has no constitutional implications.
How do the contemptuous references of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland serve the cause, which he professes to support, of peace in the island of Ireland? Will my hon. Friend make it clear that in all our dealings in these matters, those dealings are between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the other sovereign state within these islands, the Republic? In other words, they are east-west and not north-south within the island of Ireland.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) must be responsible for his own statements. I confirm the point my hon. Friend makes; dealings between the two Governments are precisely as he says.
Those on the Liberal Benches welcome the Minister's announcement, but I urge him to go further and to say that, in proceeding in this way, he takes a totally different view from that reported from the Democratic Unionist party, which says that it is wrong to edge Northern Ireland into an all-Ireland situation. Will he tell the House that it is clear that Northern Ireland is in an all-Ireland situation —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—and that account should be taken of that.
I cannot and will not be responsible for the statements of the Democratic Unionist party or any other party in Northern Ireland. I repeat—the objectives of this organisation are very clear; they are not constitutional in any way but are further to promote contacts between the peoples of the two countries.
While accepting that the proposed forum will not have a constitutional significance, will it be possible for discussions within the forum to encompass exchanges of view about the future relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic and the rest of the United Kingdom?
Again, the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to read much more into this body than is proposed. I repeat — it is an organisation which will help to contribute to the improvement of relations between the peoples of the two countries.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, while co-operation between sovereign states at national level is to be welcomed, any institution which enables one party to interfere in the internal affairs of part of another will be strongly resisted in this House?
That is well recognised by the Government. There can be no question of this body giving rise to, or causing the danger of, any interference of the sort that my hon. Friend has in mind.
Did the Minister notice the speech on Monday night in Birmingham by the Irish Foreign Minister, Mr. Valery, that the Irish Government would not be found wanting in energy, dedication and generosity in the quest for a united Ireland? He went on to say that London must play its part. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to go on record as saying — whatever ritual genuflections he is bound to make about there being no constitutional implications involved — that London is not prepared to match any such initiatives by Dublin?
Again, the hon. Gentleman seeks to take my announcement about this organisation far beyond the implications which it will bear. There are no constitutional implications in the creation of this body.
I hope that my hon. Friend welcomes any measure — non-governmental, as this is, or governmental — which seeks to improve knowledge, contacts and understanding between the peoples of our two countries.
This organisation has no doubt been prompted by the fact that there are about 1 million Eire citizens living in Great Britain. Would he agree to the creation of a similar organisation for Pakistan, the West Indies and India, because they have large communities in the United Kingdom, visited also by the Foreign Minister of their country of origin?
Without wishing to read too much into the announcement which the Minister has made, the official Opposition welcome the move and of course welcome the possibility of better relationships between Dublin and London. We welcome what is proposed because it is a move in the right direction and we hope that it proves to be a springboard to further steps forward.