Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Act 1974

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:45 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell , Middlesbrough 10:45 pm, 26th June 1985

The right hon. Gentleman says that the Minister might resign. I am not going to offer that invitation to the Minister of State. I wish simply that he would reconsider the proposal and keep alive the gas industry and the 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland.

Last year's debate immediately followed the debate on the All Ireland Forum report, to which the hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) have referred. During the past few months we have not heard a great deal about the All Ireland Forum report. In one sense, this was the result of the press conference that followed the Chequers summit when the Prime Minister made swift and sweeping remarks about the various proposals. But a certain amount of obfuscation surrounds the recommendations of the All Ireland Forum report, because talks have since been held with the Dublin Government. We are not privy to those talks. We are lot sure whether they are talks about talks, or substantive talks, or talks about security, or talks about joint authority—or simply talks.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West said earlier, we were promised a further summit meeting in February 1985 but it was postponed. We had expected a summit conference in June between the Irish Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, but it has not taken place. I do not now believe that there will be a summit until November when the party conference season is over. There are to be talks between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach at the European summit meeting in Milan, but that is not the same as substantive talks with the Republic of Ireland.

In last year's debate, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), categorised the positive aspects of the report. He described them as a serious examination of nationalist aspiration; emphasis on the importance of consent; unequivocal condemnation of violence; an attempt to understand the Unionist identity; and openness to discuss other views. It was also clear from the former Secretary of State's speech that there had to be firmness in the recognition of the Unionist cause; firmness in the acceptance of minority sensibilities; and firmness in the view that the road to terrorism or the rejection of law and order were no way forward.

It is in the light of these comments—one year on, so to speak—that we wonder out loud about further cross-border co-operation in the battle against terrorism. We wonder out loud about the creation of a security commission with the aim of enhancing co-operation between the two Governments in their mutual fight against terrorism. We wonder out loud about a British-Irish Parliamentary Council to be established by way of agreement or treaty between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. We wonder out loud why there should not be an increase in the secretariat to be provided for the Anglo-Irish Council.

It is conceivable that all these measures are on the table in the discussions between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. It may be that we shall not have long to wait to find out, but it is right that this House should tell the Government — and the official Opposition certainly tell the Government — not to slumber on these issues, not to sleep away an opportunity to reach accommodations with the Government of the Republic of Ireland, a Government who are reaching out in order to make substantive settlements to longstanding problems.

I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North. He asked what would be the policy of the official Opposition. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West has enunciated on several occasions what our policy would be. If it would interest the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North and the House, I shall briefly repeat it. We believe that it must be in the national interest to have on our western flank an Ireland that is united in peace and prosperity but, like the Republic of Ireland, we also accept that without the support of the majority of the north there can be no unity. The question is, how does one achieve this support? What is the strategy that clothes the policy? How does one resolve what the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North has described as two self-evident truths; that Unionism never breaks its links with this country and that nationalism in the north will not disappear?

We believe, however, that a positive approach, closeness to the Dublin Government — which was acknowledged earlier this evening by the Secretary of State—with time, patience, care and understanding will help to bring the communities together and achieve that peace and prosperity that we all wish to have in that part of our country and of the British Isles.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough, who came in for a great deal of undue, unthought-out criticism from the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, has played a long part in the debates in the House. He has consistently and realistically spoken not only to the country through this House but to party conference and has taken a very sensible approach to the problem of Northern Ireland. He referred briefly tonight to the awakening of conscience within the Labour party and to barrenness and sterility in dealing with the issues that confront us all. He gets from me and from the Opposition the homage that he deserves for facing fully and without fear the issues that are before us.