– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 18th November 1985.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the meeting which I attended with the Taoiseach on 15 November. I was accompanied by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Dr. FitzGerald was accompanied by Mr. Spring, the Tanaiste, and by Mr. Barry, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs.
An agreement was signed between our two Governments, which has been published in a Command Paper. The text of the communique, issued after the meeting, is also included in the Command Paper.
The purpose of the agreement is to promote peace and stability in Northern Ireland; to encourage reconciliation between the two communities there; to create an improved climate of friendship and co-operation between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland; and to strengthen cross-border co-operation between the two countries, particularly in combating terrorism.
The agreement will not come into force until it has been approved by Parliament and by the Irish Dail. The House will have an early opportunity for a full debate.
The agreement has two principal features. The Irish Government have affirmed in a binding international agreement that the status of Northern Ireland will remain unchanged so long as that is the wish of the majority of its people. They have also recognised that the present wish of a majority is to remain part of the United Kingdom. This is the most formal commitment to the principle of consent made by any Irish Government.
The second main feature of the agreement is the establishment of an intergovernmental conference within the framework of the existing Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. The conference will be serviced by a secretariat on a continuing basis. In this conference the Irish Government may put forward views and proposals on certain aspects of Northern Ireland affairs.
If devolution is restored—both Governments are committed to support this—then those matters which become the responsibility of the devolved Government will be taken out of the hands of the intergovernmental conference. The conference will also discuss cross-border co-operation, including improved security co-operation.
The two Governments have agreed to make determined efforts to resolve any differences that may arise, but the conference will not be a decision-making body. Full responsibility for the decisions and administration of government will remain with the United Kingdom Government north of the border and with the Irish Government south of the border.
The first meeting of the intergovernmental conference will take place as soon as practicable after the agreement enters into force. Particular subjects on which the conference will concentrate at its initial meetings are: ways of improving relations between the security forces and the minority community in Northern Ireland; action to improve security co-operation between our two Governments; ways to help to underline the importance of public confidence in the administration of justice.
The agreement recognises that it would be for parliamentary decision in Westminster and Dublin whether to establish an Anglo-Irish parliamentary body of the kind described in the Anglo-Irish studies report of November 1981.
The Irish Government have announced in the communiqué their intention to accede as soon as possible to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. We welcome this.
No single agreement can resolve the deep-rooted and complex problems of Northern Ireland and deliver the peace for which the great majority of people in Northern Ireland long, but I believe that the present agreement will make an important contribution. It maintains and confirms the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom and recognises the legitimacy of the Unionist position. It provides for co-operation in the intergovernmental conference to be a two-way street.
We shall wish to pursue matters affecting the Republic in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland—for instance, improved security and economic co-operation. It encourages the political parties in Northern Ireland to reach agreement on an acceptable form of devolved government. It offers hope to all those in both communities who want to defeat the men of violence and to work together peacefully for a better future for their children. That is the purpose of the agreement. It is in that spirit that I commend it to the House.
May I first express the Opposition's hope that the Anglo-Irish summit succeeds in its intention of promoting peace and stability in Northern Ireland? We wish the initiative well.
Is the Prime Minister aware that we regard two of the principles on which the agreement is based as especially important? These are, first, the reassertion by the Dublin Government of their acceptance that a change in Northern Ireland status could not come about without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, and, secondly, the acknowledgement by the British Government of what was described in a previous summit as the all-Irish dimension.
Against that background of general welcome, I ask the Prime Minister four specific questions. The right hon. Lady said that the intergovernmental conference may put forward views and proposals on certain aspects of Northern Ireland affairs. What are the subjects which have been agreed as unsuitable for discussion by that body? Secondly, is the intergovernmental conference to discuss plans for possible devolution before the Government consider putting them to the House, or is that essentially constitutional issue regarded as the prerogative solely of the United Kingdom?
Thirdly, there have been many reports since Friday of the United States proposing or offering governmental assistance to Northern Ireland. [Hon. Members: "Bribe."] May we be told what the facts are on these matters? Fourthly, the newspapers since Friday have referred constantly to promises by the United States Government to provide various forms of grant for use in Northern Ireland. Are these promises fact? If so, what form will the grants take?
Fifthly, I gladly acknowledge that the Ulster Defence Regiment was created as a non-sectarian force to inspire the confidence of all Northern Ireland, but sadly that is no longer the position. Have any decisions been taken, or assurances given, about the future role and the entire operation of the UDR?
Finally, no one suggests that the agreement is without its faults—no such agreement could be—but, in our view, it offers some hope for the people of Northern Ireland; it is for that reason that we wish it well.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his general approach and for the good wishes that he has expressed to the purposes behind the agreement. The right hon. Gentleman asked four questions. First, he asked what subjects were regarded as not suitable for the conference. The subjects that are regarded as suitable are set out in the agreement itself. They are clear. Article 2 says that the conference shall
deal … on a regular basis with … political matters … security and related matters … legal matters, including the administration of justice … the promotion of cross-border cooperation
and certain other matters such as economic and cultural matters referred to in the agreement. The subjects that are suitable are set out in the agreement rather than the subjects which are not suitable.
The right hon. Gentleman's second question referred to decisions relating to devolved government. It is of course for the United Kingdom to approach the constitutional parties about devolved government. It is for the Republic of Ireland to put forward views in the conference about that matter. However, decisions north of the border rest with the United Kingdom Government.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned promises and grants from the United States. It has been suggested that the United States should provide moneys to assist both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I do not know any more than has been published.
We believe that some money will be forthcoming, but I do not know the amount or in what form it will be.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Ulster Defence Regiment. I congratulate the Ulster Defence Regiment upon its most excellent record. There are no changes in its structure. The matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is dealt with in paragraph 8 of the communiqué, which states:
In addressing the improvement of relations between the security forces and the minority community, the Conference at its first meeting will consider
(a) the application of the principle that the Armed Forces (which include the Ulster Defence Regiment) operate only in support of the civil power, with the particular objective of ensuring as rapidly as possible that, save in the most exceptional circumstances, there is a police presence in all operations which involve direct contact with the community.
Can my right hon. Friend, who has proclaimed herself rock firm for the Union and reaffirmed her Unionism at Hillsborough castle, assure the House that the agreement, whether in terms of is wording or in fact, gives Dublin no veto in the exercise of executive authority in Northern Ireland?
That is correct. Decisions north of the border are for the United Kingdom. Decisions south of the border are for the Republic. The Republic has no veto in decisions north of the border.
Is the Prime Minister aware that instructions have been given for leave to be sought forthwith to apply for the judicial review of a number of the issues which the agreement raises? I understand that the initial steps in court are likely to take place within the next 48 hours. I look to the Government not to proceed with any action in implementation of the agreement until their legal right to do so is clarified.
I do not think that I can give the right hon. Gentleman the answer which he seeks off the cuff. I believe that we are right to go ahead with debating the agreement next week and putting forward a motion that the agreement has the approval of the House. That is our intention.
Will the Prime Minister agree that, while it is always easier to destroy than to create, nowhere is that more true than in the history of Northern Ireland? Will she accept from these Benches support on the basis that this creative step is preferable to the status quo of bitterness, division and bloodshed? Will she further agree that those who are not prepared to accept the decisions of this sovereign Parliament, as they apply to that part of the United Kingdom, should cease to arrogate unto themselves the title of moralist?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's constructive approach in support of the agreement. It is designed to mobilise men and women of good will everywhere against the men of violence so that there may be peace and stability in Northern Ireland, against a background where the Republic of Ireland recognises the legitimacy of the Unionist case and the fact that the status of Northern Ireland cannot be changed without consent.
It will come as no surprise to the right hon. Lady to hear that I shall not be commending this document of treachery and deceit to the House. As the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic arrived home from Hillsborough castle it was widely publicised on television, radio and in the press that he said:
In future, the Ulster Defence Regiment will operate differently from the way in which it has operated for the last 12 years. That means that from now on the present position under which the Ulster Defence Regiment can stop people on the road, search them and question them will no longer operate.
He also said something which affects the sovereignty of this House over a regiment of the British army:
The question of how security should be organised in Northern Ireland is one for the new intergovernmental conference.
In view of the fact that the people who live on the border in Northern Ireland get no defence from anybody but the Ulster Defence Regiment, what will they do in these circumstances, and why should a Prime Minister of a foreign republic have a say in the government and direction of a British Army regiment?
I pay tribute once again to the bravery and courage of the men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I repeat that under the agreement the Governments of both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland may raise with one another matters of security: we with them about certain matters south of the border and they with us about matters north of the border. Decisions north of the border will remain with the United Kingdom. Decisions south of the border will remain with the Republic. For many years, the policy of Her Majesty's
Government has been that the armed forces should operate in aid of the civil power. We have been trying to make arrangements progressively to bring that into effect. The only difference about the Ulster Defence Regiment relates not to the agreement itself but to the particular matter which I read out from the communique. It says that the conference will consider the objective of ensuring
as rapidly as possible that, save in the most exceptional circumstances, there is a police presence in all operations which involve direct contact with the community.
That is in pursuance of the general policy that in a democracy the armed forces act in aid of the civil power.
Does the Prime Minister agree that a great deal will depend upon the implementation of the agreement? Can she assure the House that it will be implemented in the same spirit of good faith as was evident on Friday between the two Prime Ministers? Despite the ill-judged and prejudged reaction from certain quarters, my party believes that this agreement is an opportunity to make progress towards peace and reconciliation. We shall offer our fullest cooperation to the new institution. That includes willingness to enter into discussion and dialogue with anybody in Northern Ireland, particularly those who represent Northern Ireland, in this House, about any matter that will lead to peace and reconciliation, including the sharing of responsibility for certain matters in Northern Ireland. Recognition of the validity of both traditions, which was explicit in this agreement, is the only true basis for reconciliation. My party and those who support me do not believe that there will be any resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland which involves in any way the crushing or the defeat of the Protestant heritage there. Not only would that be unthinkable; it would be impossible.
May I most warmly thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said? I believe that his constructive contribution will help greatly to defeat the men of violence and to bring peace and stability to both traditions in Northern Ireland. Whenever there is a change, obviously hopes and fears are raised on both sides. It is for us in this House and those who take the lead in all communities in Northern Ireland to quell those fears and to bring forward those hopes so that we may move forward to the peace and stability that we all want.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in these coming months, and whatever view we take about the Anglo-Irish agreement, restraint in public utterance will assist, and intemperate and inflammatory public utterance will injure the true cause of Ulster?
Is my right hon. Friend further aware that charges of treachery levelled against her, whether within or without this House, are resented deeply by me and will be repudiated totally by me?
I warmly agree with my hon. Friend about restraint in public utterance. His objectives for peace and stability and for defeating the men of violence are the same as mine. I am very grateful to him for what he said in the latter part of his question.
No one who has had any responsibility for Ulster—for Northern Ireland—could do aught else than wish the Government well in their endeavours. I was especially pleased to hear the words of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume).
Is the right hon. Lady aware that I regret the reports in the weekend newspapers that, in the light of the response of the Unionists, there is talk of sending 9,000 soldiers and two battalions of paras—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] I am referring to what has been reported.
I have noted that, unlike in 1974, the Unionists on these Benches have not had any truck with paramilitaries and are not talking about an Ulster workers' strike. They are talking about standing again for election and of going to the High Court. At least in the short run, we should give them credit for that. We must fight their arguments, if that is necessary, with the spoken word and not with threats, because that would be counter-productive to Northern Ireland.
The crisis is likely to come next year. If the Ulster Unionists win through overwhelmingly in their communities, the Orange card will no longer be able to be played over here—the Orange card will no longer be a trump card. I simply say to the Government that it is about that time that they should be thinking, because it is my view that the union is at risk not from this part of the United Kingdom but from within Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the matter of that report. I know of no such plans as those referred to in that report, and we have issued a statement from No. 10 Downing street to that effect. I do not see any need to increase the security forces in Northern Ireland as a result of the agreement. I hope that any views that are to be put will be put in the customary way, through representatives in this House or through representatives in the Assembly or elsewhere in Northern Ireland. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make that clear.
Should not those who are most vocal in their wish that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom bear in mind the fact that it follows logically from their position that the acceptability of this agreement is a matter for the United Kingdom as a whole, and that the United Kingdom will warmly applaud the agreement and wish it success?
Yes, my right hon. Friend is correct. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so unless the majority wish the contrary and the House endorses their wish. Decisions are a matter for the United Kingdom as a whole.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I join in expressing the hope that this agreement assists the process of peace and security. Is it the Prime Minister's intention to table a motion and allow a free vote on the proposal that there should be an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the first part of his question. There will be a motion, subject to the approval of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. We hope to have a debate next week and we shall table a motion to approve the agreement. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer that he wishes to receive on the voting. The parliamentary tier is a matter for the House and for the Dail.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the prospect of additional American investment in Northern Ireland could be useful, provided that it is properly targeted, by far the best hope for the security and prosperity of Ulster and for its marvellously skilled work force would be if efforts could be mounted to ensure that the agreement is built upon and not undermined and eroded by pointless unrest?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. I understand that it is the intention of the United States of America to put up some money to help peace and stability in Northern Ireland and for inward investment. I do not know how much or what form it would take, but it would be tragic if there were to be internal unrest, because that would put back the cause of peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that the prime challenge to this agreement may not arise from the customary threat, nor even from great expectations about improved security, but from the response of the indigenous nationalist community? Is she further aware that, if the agreement does not provide some evidence or even offer a glimpse of a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of Northern Ireland, and of movement towards its legitimate unity aspirations, the right hon. Lady will not achieve her principal objective of defeating Sinn Fein, whatever role she accords Dublin?
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The agreement refers to the possibility of devolved government on a basis acceptable to both communities. If that could be provided, the matters that are within the scope of the intergovernmental conference would leave the scope of the conference and be dealt with by devolved Government. That offers some hope, and the fact that we are mobilising all people who are against violence to fight it offers hope to all the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that one day we may even get the hon. Gentleman to come round more to our view.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people who may feel uneasy about some aspects of this agreement would have felt very much more uneasy if my right hon. Friend had not succeeded in reaching this agreement?
I recognise that not everyone can agree with every part of the agreement, but most people support its general purpose and wish it well.
Will the Prime Minister be completely candid with the House and the public about what is contemplated in the context of the administration of justice, especially in view of the discussions that have taken place on the operation of mixed courts in Northern Ireland?
The agreement shows that we have agreed in good faith to consider the possibility of mixed courts. We are considering that possibility without commitment, because we know from experience the difficulties and we cannot yet see our way around them. We are considering the possibility without commitment.
My right hon. Friend has consistently argued that, despite the Republic's claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland, it has no right to intervene in the domestic affairs of this kingdom. Now, she proposes to give it a legally enforceable right to do so—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—in clear breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of the constitutional guarantee to Northern Ireland. Why has my right hon. Friend abandoned her Unionist principles?
As my hon. Friend is aware, I have not. The intergovernmental conference is about the Republic putting forward its proposals and views within the context of that conference. Article 2 makes it clear that
There is no derogation from the sovereignty of either the United Kingdom Government or the Irish Government, and each retains responsibility for the decisions and administration of Government within its own jurisdiction.
Thus, the undertaking I gave after the Chequers conference that there would not be a united Ireland, joint sovereignty or joint authority has been fully honoured and upheld.
Will the Prime Minister accept that on Merseyside, in Liverpool and in my constituency of Bootle, where I represent second, third and fourth generation Irish people, sectarian conflicts and violence have been removed and conquered? Conflict existed in full force as a reflection of what happened in Ireland many years ago, but it has now been killed. That was achieved because the Catholic minority on Merseyside did not face an Ulster Defence Regiment or a police force that is seen to be sectarian. It was achieved because the Catholics of Liverpool and Bootle had the same civil liberties as the Protestant majority—
Yes, and the same Parliament.
It was achieved because a climate of good will and tolerance was created in the Orange and Catholic communities. Although the Irish people whom I represent do not want a return to sectarian conflict in Merseyside, they believe that the problems of Northern Ireland will not be solved until Ireland is unified.
The latter part of what the hon. Gentleman said is not helpful in any way. It will only arouse fears in people who are the majority in Northern Ireland—fears which do not arise from the agreement. For the first time, the Republic has recognised the legitimacy of the Unionist cause and the fact that Northern Ireland shall retain its present status because the majority wishes that to be so, and that that will be the case until the majority changes. Obviously, we must work with both communities. The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Unionist document "The Way Forward" recognises some of the hopes and fears of both communities. It states:
It is the responsibility of the majority to persuade the minority that the Province is also theirs.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the most welcome part of her statement is the reference to the priority which the conference will give to co-operation in security matters? Achievement in that area is the best way to gain support from both communities for the work of the conference. Does my right hen. Friend agree that no one should assume that the agreement is a preliminary to a united Ireland and that the conference and the Government should have an open mind to the many possible solutions? Would my right hon. Friend confirm that a united Ireland is not the aim of her Government?
Most certainly. Article 1 of the agreement states:
The two Governments
(a) affirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
That has been signed by both Governments. The agreement should add to the confidence of Northen Ireland Unionists.
If the Irish Republic is a friendly state, why was it necessary for the Government to sell out on the sovereignty of Northern Ireland to obtain co-operation against terrorism? Should not co-operation against terrorism be given as of right by any friendly neighbour?
We hope that the agreement will enhance co-operation against terrorism by mobilising from the nationalist community in Northern Ireland the support of all those who are against violence, and that cross-border support will be enhanced through the increased cooperation that the agreement affords. That would be to the advantage of all the people of Northern Ireland.
To what extent is the Prime Minister's word her bond? Does she recall that in November 1984 she signed a communiqúe with the same viper that she took to her breast in Hillsborough castle? In that communiqúe, she promised that any political structures or processes affecting Northern Ireland would have to be acceptable to both sections of the community. What test of acceptability does the Prime Minister intend to use? Has she the least appreciation of the deep sense of betrayal felt by the people of Northern Ireland at this act of political prostitution?
The hon. Gentleman is deliberately trying to work up fears when he should be doing everything to allay them if he really wished to defeat the violence that afflicts Northern Ireland. The acceptability to which he referred related to devolved government, which would have to be broadly acceptable to both sides of the community. That would be a matter for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland after discussions with the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. After what the hon. Gentleman has rather scandalously said—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I must repeat the agreement:
The two Governments
Does the right hon. Lady accept that there is a difference between treachery and treason? Does she accept that, since it is absolutely necessary to arrive at a reasonable solution to the problems of Northern Ireland, no method of arriving at the solution should be neglected, including assistance arising from our special relationship with the Americans?
I understand that it is the wish of the United States Administration to give some help. I do not know how much or what form it would take. We gladly accept their good wishes and we are grateful for the way in which they have tried to stop any help going to Noraid, because that would go to the men of violence. We gladly accept their help.
I warmly commend the Government for this initiative, which offers something to all parts of the community in Northern Ireland, except the extremists and the men of violence. Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about article 12, which deals with inter-parliamentary relations? If there are to be regular formal meetings between Ministers, is there anything that those outside the two Governments might offer in a more formal structure than we have? My right hon. Friend says that she would accede to the wishes of Parliament in this. How does she think that those wishes might be made manifest?
Whether there should be an inter-parliamentary arrangement is a matter for both Parliaments. If a wish is expressed, through the usual channels or through my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, for such an arrangement, we, the Government, would support it.
Is the Prime Minister aware that all those Protestants who have in the past been in favour of a united Ireland have not actually adhered to the Orange banner—I refer, for example, to people such as Robert Emmet, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Wolfe Tone—and that there is another tradition, a Protestant tradition, in Ireland that believes that Ireland has a right to a united country? Having said that, is the right hon. Lady aware that, while many of us want this to be a success, we have reservations because we are concerned that there may be not only a Protestant backlash but, equally, a backlash from people who fear, even at this stage, that they are not getting a proper deal in relation to this agreement?
The agreement recognises that there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland except with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. Anyone who is trying to undermine that is only trying to raise fears which do not exist. This is the first time that we have had a recognition of that in writing from the Republic of Ireland, and that is valuable in calming the fears of the Unionists and reassuring them that change would come about only by the will of the majority in Northern Ireland.
While I warmly congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the agreement, is it not a fact that one party to the agreement always seems to be left out of account, and that is the British people as a whole? They will not take kindly to people who seek to frustrate the will of this Parliament yet who call themselves loyalists.
Everyone in Northern Ireland who detests violence has a duty to try to make the agreement work, in loyalty to and recognition of those who regularly risk their lives in defending our freedom in the Province.
Will the Prime Minister agree that, despite the drama of recent days, there is nothing very much in the agreement that takes us beyond the status quo, apart from formalising the links that exist between Dublin and London? Despite that, we have seen an intransigent and unreasonable outburst from the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland. Does the right hon. Lady feel that the time has come for the British Government to take more heed of the views of the people of Britain and all the people of Ireland and begin the process of bringing about the reunification of Ireland and the withdrawal —[Interruption.]— which is what the majority of people want?
No. Nor do I believe that such a statement is helpful in any way to getting the agreement accepted. I recognise both the hopes and fears of people in Northern Ireland. In a democracy, the majority in Northern Ireland should have the say, and the agreement says that the status of Northern Ireland will not be changed except with the consent of the majority. That gives a good deal of assurance to those who are in the majority and who wish the Union to remain, as I do.
Is it true that the American Administration put great pressure on Her Majesty's Government to enter into this agreement? If it is true, would it not have been better to tell our American friends that matters concerning Northern Ireland are no business of theirs, to have thanked them for their offer of money but asked them to mind their own business?
No, it is not true. Naturally, when we began these negotiations, I told the United States Government that we were negotiating. I have had occasion many times to criticise those in the United States who contribute to Noraid and to ask for the help of the United States Government and her leading citizens to prevent those contributions, because they go to men of violence. They have always tried to assist us in stopping contributions to the men of violence. Yes, I believe that they wanted an agreement and I told them that we were negotiating, but at no stage did they put pressure on us.
I never knew what desolation felt like until I read this agreement last Friday afternoon. Does the Prime Minister realise that, when she carries the agreement through the House, she will have ensured that I shall carry to my grave with ignominy the sense of the injustice that I have done to my constituents down the years— when, in their darkest hours, I exhorted them to put their trust in this British House of Commons which one day would honour its fundamental obligation to them to treat them as equal British citizens? Is not the reality of this agreement that they will now be Irish-British hybrids and that every aspect—not just some aspects—of their lives will be open to the influence of those who have harboured their murderers and coveted their land? Is the Prime Minister aware that that is too high a price for me and hundreds of thousands of others in Northern Ireland to pay?
No. The status of Northern Ireland cannot be changed unless the majority so wish. The hon. Gentleman chooses to ignore that, although it is one of the best assurances that he could have. The agreement also makes it clear that there is no derogation from the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Government or the Irish Government. Each retains responsibility for the decisions and administration of government with their own jurisdiction. The hon. Gentleman and a number of other hon. Members are trying to undermine that. They cannot; it is in the agreement and is a cardinal point of it.
Will the Prime Minister tell the House and the people of Northern Ireland what is the legal status of Northern Ireland in the eyes of the Irish Republic? Does she know that in a Deny newspaper today it is reported that one document that was signed by the right hon. Lady at the Hillsborough summit recognises Dr. Garret FitzGerald as the Prime Minister of Ireland? [Interruption.] The document is in the hands of the right hon. Lady. In response to a question about that, a Northern Ireland Office spokesman said:
The references to the Governments are the same as has been followed in a variety of agreements between them for almost 20 years.
The Stormont spokesman added:
Eire does not recognise the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
That was an official statement from Stormont. On behalf of my constituents, I have a right to ask my Prime Minister, is she in agreement with that, or will she hold a ballot of the people of Northern Ireland and let them give their answer on the agreement?
The hon. Gentleman is working himself up. [Interruption.] Equally the Taoiseach recognised me as the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and it was in that capacity that I signed the agreement.
The hon. Gentleman is referring to a practice that has existed with regard to all agreements since April 1946. There are two descriptions, and one is as he described it, but there has been no change in that practice since 1946 and I have not heard him raise this point before, though he could have done so many times.
To what does the reference to aspects of the criminal law being harmonised refer in article 8? What does the phrase "mixed courts" mean and what offences are contemplated in article 8 as being likely to be tried by mixed courts?
I am not going to put a gloss on any words in the agreement. There would only be difficulty if we attempted to do so. I have already answered the question about mixed courts. We say without any commitment that we shall consider the possibility of mixed courts, but in considering that possibility we are aware of the many difficulties that have arisen when it has been considered previously.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the majority of people—certainly those on the mainland of the United Kingdom—will judge the validity of the Hillsborough agreement not so much by finer points of sovereignty as by simple facts: will the terrible killings and woundings in Northern Ireland decrease and, above all, will less be asked of British troops?
The purpose of the agreement is to mobilise the help of all the people in Northern Ireland and in the Republic who detest violence and reject it, as a way forward in order to defeat the men of violence. Our purpose is to achieve exactly the end which my hon. Friend has described.
You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that on Thursday I asked the Leader of the House whether one of his right hon. Friends would tell the House today the basis on which, in the light of history, the Government built their confidence that any agreement would be kept and the change that will come about in the relationship with the Republic on recognition of the status of Northern Ireland?
I have listened intently to the Prime Minister's responses. No light has yet been thrown on my questions. The right hon. Lady says that this is the first time the status has been recognised in international law, but I would correct her, because we were so recognised in 1925. We have constantly been recognised as a fact of life and not de jure. There has been absolutely no change in that position. In this agreement, we have given the Government of the Republic a place to which they are not entitled.
The Prime Minister said that the status has been recognised and that the people's place has been protected. Why does article 1 state that a formal change would take place if the people of Northern Ireland decided that they wanted a United Ireland? They want something else. I ask the right hon. Lady to bear in mind the fact that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) assured us not that our Unionism would be protected but that our Protestantism might be respected?
I said in the statement that this was the most formal commitment to the principle of consent made by any Irish Government. The status of Northern Ireland in United Kingdom law is, of course, protected. I believe that this is the first time in a formal international agreement that the Republic has recognised this position in Northern Ireland and has recognised that it cannot be changed except with the consent of the majority.
Article 1 states:
The two Governments
(a) affirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland".
In a democracy the consent of the majority is required. Something else would also be required under our law—the consent of the House, and we should not—
That is in our law as well. It is also a great protection for the Unionists in Northern Ireland.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the great majority of people on these islands, of which the Province forms but a part, greatly prefer a chance of reconciliation, which is wholly absent from the policies put forward by the representatives of the Ulster Protestant majority?
Yes, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. There is a chance for reconciliation, peace and stability, provided that all the people take that opportunity now.
How can the Prime Minister reconcile article 9(a) about the right of the conference to
set in hand a programme of work
on aspects of security, including "operational resources" with article 9(b), which states:
The Conference shall have no operational responsibilities"?
Does not the right hon. Lady realise that this is a contradiction, in that the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State cannot retain their operational integrity while the resources fall within the bailiwick of the conference? Does not the right hon. Lady further realise that the RUC manpower and all the military personnel operating in support of the RUC are, in fact, "operational resources"? Does not she realise that she has effectively placed our armed forces under the direct influence of another Government?
That article is about cross-border co-operation. We can raise matters relating to cross-border cooperation with the Republic through this intergovernmental conference—
threat assessments, exchange of information, liaison structures, technical co-operation, training of personnel".
We can raise with the Republic matters affecting security because we both want to defeat the men of violence. The Government of the Republic can raise matters with us. Operations in Northern Ireland will come under our decisions and operations in the Republic under the Republic's decisions. This agreement is about cooperation. More co-operation is needed. It should be to the advantage of everyone in Northern Ireland.
I hope that I shall not be accused of bias if I refer to a body with which I have some connection—the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Government's last initiative on Northern Ireland is likely to be overlooked. It has been overlooked so far in these exchanges. The Northern Ireland Assembly was set up more than three years ago by the British Government to create peace and stability and to bring about reconciliation and progress in Northern Ireland. I should like the Prime Minister to confirm that the Assembly is a democratically elected body, that it is elected under proportional representation and that every elected representative is on an equal footing. Will the right hon. Lady confirm that she continues to give it her full backing?
Of course, the Assembly was a democratically elected body. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we hoped that more parties would participate in these proceedings than has been the case. We shall have to consider this matter together with the article that considers further devolved government structures in Northern Ireland. We have taken no decision on the Assembly, so at the moment it continues.
I represent a constituency that has suffered many atrocities in the past 16 years, many of which emanated from the Irish Republic. The right hon. Lady's remarks on Friday that we owe it to those who lost their lives to accept the agreement were highly offensive and totally insensitive. The families of those who lost their loved ones feel that they have been betrayed by the Prime Minister whom many of them may have trusted. Why should we accept the Prime Minister's solemn promises and assurances in the agreement when every other promise and assurance ever made by successive United Kingdom Governments have proved to be worthless and have succeeded only in bringing death and destruction? [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] If Conservative Members think that this is funny, I assure them that people in Northern Ireland do not think so. The agreement will only bring death and destruction and more anarchy to Northern Ireland.
I should have thought that most people in Northern Ireland would honour the way in which the security forces have operated to protect them—whether the armed forces, the Ulster Defence Regiment or the Royal Ulster Constabulary under the aegis of the United Kingdom. I think we owe it to those young men and women who put their lives at risk in order to protect us to do everything we can to defeat the men of violence.
I believe that most people in Northern Ireland would take that view.
Now that the Government have formally recognised the Republic's inevitable interest in the affairs of the Province, will the Prime Minister confirm that it is the view of the people taking part in the negotiations that the agreement will succeed to the extent that the minority and the Republic join in ensuring that terrorists are exposed and prosecuted openly and without stint.
I accept my hon. Friend's remark and will go a little wider. It requires the co-operation in the North of all people who are against violence and requires also heightened cross-border co-operation with the Republic. That is what I believe the agreement offers.
Contrary to the Government spokesman's misleading remarks, the Unionists did not comment on the agreement before reading it. I should like to assure hon. Members that I have read and re-read, as have my colleagues, the detail of the deceitful betrayal that is enshrined in the agreement. Will the Prime Minister inform the House that the agreement represents the end of the union as we have known it and that it represents the beginning of joint London-Dublin authority in Northern Ireland? Will she confirm that, when the Anglo-Irish conference meets, it plans to approve other matters which have already been agreed to, as stated by Maurice Manning TD, but which have been concealed from hon. Members?
There is no truth in the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. The agreement confirms the existence of the Union as long as that is the wish of the majority. That is diametrically opposed to the hon. Gentleman's comment. It also points out that, if devolved government on a basis acceptable to both traditions in Northern Ireland is established, the matters within the scope of the intergovernmental conference are thereby diminished as some matters would fall wholly within the responsibility of devolved government. It therefore gives hope not only for the continuation of the Union but that when devolved government occurs on that basis the intergovernmental conference will have less of a role.
As we have opposed with vigour and determination proposals for devolution for Scotland and Wales on the ground that they would inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, is it prudent to put forward such proposals in the even more complex and difficult circumstances of Northern Ireland? Secondly, will the Prime Minister tell us what a mixed court is?
The situation in Northern Ireland, as my hon. Friend is aware, is quite different from that of Scotland, Wales or any other part of the United Kingdom. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"' A mixed court, as I understand it, is one that would have a judge from the other part of Ireland; that would be reciprocal. There could be mixed courts in the North and in the South, if there were a decision to go ahead with them. I made it clear that we are bound to consider the possibility without commitment, because we are aware of the difficulties that would ensue if there were mixed courts. We do not see much possibility of that taking place in the near future.
Will the right hon. Lady confirm, or categorically deny, the assertion of the Irish Republic's Minister of Justice, Mr. Noonan? He said on American television at the weekend, that his Government's role
is substantial, not merely advisory. In effect the Irish Republic has been given a major and substantial role in the day-to-day running of Northern Ireland.
The agreement is there for all to see. I do not put a gloss on it. The words
There is no derogation from the sovereignty
are as clear as any in the agreement.
Is it not the case, as shown in this historic agreement, which I welcome because it is necessary, that Northern Ireland suffers from political problems as well as terrorism, and that the local communities in Northern Ireland, and especially their leaders, for reasons both good and bad, have failed to resolve them?
Yes, the problems are also political, but the purpose of the agreement is to mobilise politicians from both sides against violence so that politics can be conducted in the usual way—in peace and stability.
Is the Prime Minister aware that Unionist Members of Parliament were only given a copy of the document some hours after its release to the press? Does the Prime Minister expect the Unionist people to believe that the ambiguities and contradictions that are framed in the document will not be accepted? Does she also realise that the various articles enshrined in the agreement suggest a coalition rather than a consultative role for the Irish Republic?
That is precisely what the agreement does not do. I believe that, in trying to give that interpretation, the hon. Gentleman is needlessly arousing fears. Let me make it clear that the agreement affirms
that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
The agreement confirms that there is no derogation of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, and that decision making north of the border is for the United Kingdom. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will put that about among Unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland and Unionists and loyalists in this country—of whom I am one.
While I support the intentions of the agreement, inasmuch as it is proper or possible for an Englishman to pass judgment, does not my right hon. Friend agree that the document changes the status of Northern Ireland by allowing the Irish Republic to have greater influence over the affairs in the North? As this is a good agreement, and as undoubtedly the people of Northern Ireland will see it as a good agreement, would it not be sensible and helpful to allow the people of Northern Ireland to have a referendum? We criticised Arthur Scargill for not having a ballot, and it would strengthen our position if there were a referendum.
It would not do any good, and we have no intention of having a referendum. I believe that for Unionists the agreement gives the assurance of no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority; it gives the prospect of increased co-operation with the south; it gives the prospect of support for devolution from both Governments, and it offers the prospect that the Republic will accede to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. That is good for all Unionists in Northern Ireland.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the imaginative and courageous step that the agreement represents. I further remind her that the issue of peace in Northern Ireland is not just a matter of concern for the representatives of the people from Northern Ireland. In this Parliament, we are all concerned for peace and a settlement in Northern Ireland. We are ready to hear those representatives. Let them fight their cause and argue their case. We can well hear them. This is a matter for the whole Parliament.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The status of Northern Ireland is protected in an Act passed by this whole Parliament. The success of the agreement will mean that we expect all of those in Northern Ireland who hate violence to work together in the spirit of the agreement.