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Political Parties (Talks)

Volume 132: debated on Thursday 28 April 1988

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7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about his latest talks with Northern Ireland political leaders.

Following my earlier meetings with the leaders of the two main Unionist parties I have now had two meetings with the leadership of the Social Democratic and Labour party. I hope to hold a further meeting with the Unionist leaders shortly. My purpose in these talks is to establish whether a basis exists for a wider dialogue about the future government of Northern Ireland.

Is not the Ulster Unionist difficulty over all this and over the possibility of talking to Mr. Haughey the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which also presents problems to a patriotic Taoiseach? Will the Government make use of the November review of the Intergovernmental Conference to transform this unequal agreement into an equal treaty of full partnership? Let the flawed agreement wither, and get down to business.

I do not see it as my role to dwell on the difficulties that may be faced by Unionists and Nationalists. It is easy to find difficulties in Northern Ireland in every direction. I am trying to see whether we can find a constructive way forward in which people in the Province can take more responsibility for the government of the Province. It is important not to dwell on difficulties but to find ways in which men of good will can work together.

Does the Secretary of State agree that there will be no prospects of any improvement in the political or security position if people throughout the United Kingdom and the Republic believe that the British Government are seeking to gag and silence the media and are colluding in the propagation of misinformation? Does he understand that it is entirely disingenuous to compare an inquest with a full public inquiry? As the chairman of the IBA is believed to have told the Foreign Secretary to get stuffed, will the Secretary of State now give an assurance that the Government will not seek an injunction and will allow people throughout the whole United Kingdom to know the truth about what happened recently in Gibraltar?

I am interested to hear that the hon. Gentleman believes that the correct way to arrive at the truth is by a television broadcast in advance of the proper procedure of the inquest, at which all witnesses involved have an opportunity to give their evidence before a jury under the rules of procedure that pertain in Gibraltar. I should have thought that to seek to pre-empt that and to present one side of an argument through trial by television would worry every hon. Member who is anxious to see that people's rights are protected and that justice is done.

Does my right hon. Friend recall the words,

"In the absence of devolved government, we will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services."?
Have not nine years elapsed since those words appeared in our manifesto? If the policy was right when it was fashioned by Airey Neave, why is it wrong today? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any constitutional changes in Northern Ireland with regard to local government there can he introduced, even though opposed by the Irish Republic?

My hon. Friend knows well that I am at the moment seeking to initiate discussions with the principal constitutional parties within the Province and have made it absolutely clear that I am prepared to listen to any propositions that any may seek to put forward and consider what alternative approaches might be adopted. I am not able to comment further to my hon. Friend on the reasons why those earlier comments were not pursued.