HC Deb 19 July 1973 vol 860 cc683-5
1. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his meetings with political parties in Northern Ireland since 28th June 1973.

11. Mr. McMaster

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he has made in his talks with the leaders of the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly towards the setting up of an Executive; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I am having a series of talks with the leaders of the parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I have arranged with them that the first meeting of the Assembly will be in the Central Hall at Stormont on Tuesday 31st July.

Mr. Douglas

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Did he assure the party leaders that there is a distinct resolution on the part of the British people to maintain troops in Northern Ireland so long as there is civil unrest there? Is he aware that this resolution does not extend to allowing political leaders in Northern Ireland to exceed the framework of the White Paper, and that the British people will expect political leaders in Northern Ireland to bring forth proposals for the resolution of the political situation within the framework of the White Paper and the Act that was recently passed?

Mr. Whitelaw

First, it is important for me to say that many of my talks with the party leaders are naturally confidential and must remain so. Hon. Members know very well that I have made the views of this House and of Her Majesty's Government abundantly clear to all concerned.

Mr. McMaster

In view of the great importance of making the Assembly work, will my right hon. Friend take particular care not to undermine the Unionist Party, in case he is left with no reasonable authority in Northern Ireland with which to negotiate?

Mr. Whitelaw

My answer to my hon. Friend is that it is not part of my business to do anything about the individual parties in Northern Ireland. I am dealing with the party leaders. I shall do my best to put the problems before them, and discuss them with them, and trust that they will get together to make the new constitution work.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is the Secretary of State aware that our support from the Opposition side for the White Paper approach is as firm as ever and that it is far too early to talk of failure, but that we are anxious to see a more positive response concerning power-sharing by those groups in Northern Ireland which value their connection with the United Kingdom?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said about the support that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends have given, and their feelings. I accept that.

I should make it clear that the talks I have had are necessarily in advance of the first meeting of the Assembly, as a preliminary stage. It would be quite wrong for anyone to conclude that there was any question of their failure in any way. We have had constructive discussions and have put forward different points of view. That is the first stage and I think it is very important.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Is it intended to bring together the leaders of the various parties prior to the meeting of the Assembly to sort out a method of making the Executive work?

Mr. Whitelaw

So far I have had individual discussions with the leaders of the parties. How I proceed from there must be a matter of judgment which I am sure the House would wish to leave to me.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that I appreciate, as we all do, the hard work that he has put into seeing party representatives about arrangements for the first Assembly meeting. Does he not also realise that there is regret that he has not yet agreed to meet the spokesman for the 10 Unionists who have been excluded by Mr. Faulkner from the Unionist Assembly Party? Will he arrange to meet their spokesman while this group is temporarily and wrongly excluded from the Unionist Party in the Assembly so that they can have something to say in the arrangements for the Assembly and make a contribution to its first meeting, bearing in mind that the group represents one-eighth of the total membership of the Assembly?

Mr. Whitelaw

The person whom I am recommending to Her Majesty the Queen as the Clerk to the Assembly has had informal discussions about the arrangements for the working of the Assembly. Immediately his appointment is made—which I trust will be early next week—he will be in a formal position to make arrangements with all members of the Assembly for the first meeting. Thereafter, the arrangements for the Assembly are a matter for the Assembly itself. He is having informal discussions with any member of the Assembly who wishes to put points of view to him on that matter.

I must point out to my hon. Friend that I have very properly seen the leaders of the parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly and any delegations that they have seen fit to bring with them to see me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Your hon. Friend?"] I understand that the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Unionist Party in this House, and that is why I refer to him as my hon. Friend.

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland is Mr. Faulkner. I have seen the delegation led by Mr. Faulkner and I believe that is my correct constitutional position.