Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Act 1974

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Warley West 7:45 pm, 26th June 1985

If anyone in my constituency was known to have committed murder, I would press the authorities to bring him to justice. The law should take its course. That would be the proper way to deal with such people. If there were people who said they believed in murder, I would disagree with them very strongly and would understand those who felt indignant about it, but I would not say that I was not prepared to talk to them, because something may emerge from such talks. Certainly, if they represented the people who had elected them, I would not expect that support to terminate if they were in a position to say that they were not given the chance to carry out their mandate.

But I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. It is a matter of judgment, and we could have been wrong. We shall have to agree to disagree about it, and in democratic politics there are a number of questions like that. But delegates from the Ulster Unionist party said that they were going further than that. Not only would they not talk to Sinn Fein, they said that they would not talk to anyone who talked to it.

Because they disagreed with our judgment, they would not talk to us either. So they went off in a sulk and would not meet us. I do not know how far they are prepared to extend this. Perhaps they will not talk to anyone who has talked to anyone who has talked to Sinn Fein, and it will end with no one speaking to anyone else. They would not talk to our working group. That was our misfortune, because the purpose of the whole exercise was to hear what everyone had to say. We may have to reach our conclusions as best we can without hearing the views of the Ulster Unionist party and the people they represent.

Happily, they do not seem to speak for the whole of the party, which does not uniformly adopt quite so rigid an attitude. Last week, after Mr. Golden, the comptroller of the New York city pension fund—a fair and open-minded man whom I had the pleasure of meeting—had met representatives of Sinn Fein, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) did not think it right to refuse to meet him. I applaud the hon. Gentleman. I think he showed greater vision and wisdom than some of his colleagues.

If the Government want to see a resolution of the political differences, they too can set the kind of example on which the Secretary of State touched this evening. I appreciate the difficulties which confront the Government, but they seem to recognise that when members of a political party seek election to public office and are returned as councillors at the polls, it is absurd to say that central Government will not discuss council business with them or listen to them when they wish to speak about environmental health, clean food and the prevention of epidemics. The Government recognise that if we condemn people—and rightly so—for putting their trust in the gun rather then the ballot box, it is inconsistent, when such people use the ballot box, to refuse them access to the machinery of constitutional politics.

But Ministers will not front that operation themselves, although they recognise all that. They leave it to their officials to talk to them. It is neither courageous nor honest to leave officials to do what for any reason they are not prepared to do themselves.

I do not believe that Lord Whitelaw or the Secretary of State, when a junior Minister, were signifying their agreement with Sinn Fein or with anything it said when they met representatives in July 1972, nor were they endorsing Sinn Fein's view on violence. Possibly they were wiser in their generation than some of their successors.

If there is ever to be an end to divisions in Northern Ireland, if people are ever to live in peace with their neighbours, and if there is to be any end of the tribalism, the violence, the waste and the tragedy of it all, there must be some arrangement about how people can live together in one island and manage their business and administer their affairs. There is no hope of that unless they can seek agreement through conversations and constitutional processes with those with whom they do not already agree.

This morning we all urged on the Government the virtues of an open mind. Hon. Members on the Unionist Benches added their voices to ours, and that was greatly appreciated. They did it extremely effectively.