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Madam Speaker : In compliance with the order that the House has just made, I have to direct the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) to withdraw.

The hon. Member withdrew accordingly .

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : Will the Secretary of State accept from our party that he was right to enter into these deliberations ? Had he not done so, it would have been a dereliction of duty on his part.

At this important and sensitive time, the controversy surrounding these deliberations should not be allowed to hide the real challenge that faces us all : the challenge of creating peace in the island of Ireland a peace that will affect all sections of the community, and a peace that will last.

Will the Secretary of State also note that I fully support his statement that the Government hold to the views expressed by the two Prime Ministers in Brussels ? Will he further accept that it is not enough just to hold to those views, and that the two Prime Ministers must honour them and act upon them, recognising that time is of the essence ? If they do not, the day and the opportunity may be lost, and that will mean more lives lost in the north of Ireland. I ask the Secretary of State with all the power at my command to impress on the Prime Minister the fact that, unless he takes this opportunity and moves with the Irish Government to solve this problem and create peace now, there will be a backlash in the north of Ireland. It will not be a physical backlash ; it will be a backlash of despair that will engulf us all for many years to come.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : Naturally I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said at the outset. He asked that there be no diversion from the search for peace. I can readily assure him on behalf of the Government that there will be no diversion from their continuing efforts to secure a permanent ending to the violence. In my experience the people of Northern Ireland do not ask for peace at any price it has to be peace properly attained.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. He is committed, as are the Government, to doing everything proper to bring an end to terrorism. The exchanges that I have described show that to be the case. We will not negotiate with terrorists in advance of a demonstrated cessation of violence. If it is clear that violence has been brought to an end, then a party such as Sinn Fein would no longer be subject to a continued exclusion from the political process once it had shown that it was for real that it no longer espoused or justified the cause of violence. I repeat : it is for the terrorists alone to decide whether and when they will bring violence to an end.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : The Secretary of State has made a detailed and thorough statement to the House. Many hon. Members will congratulate the Government on their courage in having initiated this process. It requires great courage, and any Government would be open to the charge of being damned if they did and damned if they didn't. It is not surprising that the Government find themselves in that position today.

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The Government should not be deflected from the task of finding a fair and lasting settlement. Will the Secretary of State reaffirm his commitment to placing the Government's plan before all the parties in Northern Ireland should the present process stall ? The Government should not see themselves as spectators or umpires but should continue the process on which they have embarked, which requires imagination and courage, and which the whole House should welcome.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. May I gently correct him? He implied that this exchange, which began with the message in February of this year, was initiated by the Government. That was not the case.

I reaffirm the Government's commitment to carrying forward the process of political talks embarked upon by my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke). I was fortunate enough to take over in April of last year, when, because of his infinite patience and perceptiveness, all the procedural matters had been cleared out of the way. We want to see that process continue.

The process has been resumed since September of this year, with the considerable assistance of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I reiterate that, at an appropriate stage, we will put forward our own proposals about what is most likely to secure an overall agreement, which is an essential prerequisite to any lasting accommodation.

Sir James Kilfedder (North Down) : There is undoubtedly grave concern in Northern Ireland, and it would be wrong for the House to be blind to that concern. I regard the Prime Minister as a man of integrity, who is genuinely seeking peace and political progress in Ulster, as is the Secretary of State. Will they give an assurance that, despite these contacts, there will be no let-up in the battle against the terrorists ; that there will be no amnesty for terrorists who have been convicted ; and that terrorists who have committed offences will be pursued by the police ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful for everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said. There will be no let-up in the campaign to bring an end to the violence that should never have begun, should never have continued and should not be perpetrated now. The security forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary with the Army in support, are securing substantial successes, not all of which can be made public, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. That effort will continue, without the slightest rebate by reason of any other approaches that may be made to the Government.

It is necessary that no opportunity should be lost to secure a proper means by which this campaign of violence can be brought to an end. There will be no amnesty. There are no political prisoners in the United Kingdom. Those who are inmates of the prisons in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales are there because they have been convicted of criminal offences. That is why everyone must remember that there will be no let-up whatever in the Government's efforts, by all lawful means open to them, to bring the campaign of violence to an end.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Is the Secretary of State aware that, after the Hume-Adams talks which were widely welcomed the Mayhew-McGuinness exchanges

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will be seen as very important and comparable in character ? Is he also aware that the desire for peace is widespread in Britain as well ? Are not the British people entitled to hear for themselves what comes from Sinn Fein, rather than relying on what the Secretary of State chooses to tell us through the publication of limited documents in his possession ?

The Secretary of State will know that I wrote to the Prime Minister about this matter last night. Is it not time for a lifting of the exclusion order placed on Gerry Adams, so that all Members of Parliament may hear what he has been saying, and for a lifting of the Sinn Fein ban ? Given its enormous importance, this is not a matter that can be left to private, secret discussions and exchanges ; it concerns the whole country, and the whole country is entitled to know all the arguments used in the pursuit of peace, which must be the objective of all.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The right hon. Gentleman knows that the exclusion order is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I can only express my personal view : I do not think that the country would have understood if the opportunity to make an exclusion order against Mr. Adams had been left unused recently, when it became relevant.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this is not the first such approach from such sources ? Is he aware that it was his absolute duty to pursue those sources to establish whether it was possible to bring an end to the appalling violence from which the whole of the United Kingdom has suffered as, indeed, has the whole island of Ireland ? Is he also aware that his statement which makes it clear that there can be no negotiations with people who perpetrate violence is absolutely right ? It might have been in the better interests of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) to read the papers before making his allegations.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that he was absolutely right to seek, in every way that he could, to preserve the confidentiality of such approaches ? The House need only reflect on the problems that are now following from the premature disclosure of perfectly proper approaches, and the problems that may be caused not least, I suggest, to certain Republican leaders in Belfast.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. We had no doubt that it was our duty to respond in the way we did, remembering always that actions, not words, would be the ultimate test.

As the documents make clear, we have at no stage offered to negotiate in advance of a permanent ending of violence. That must be right. I am not conscious of having given any reply to the press during the daily doorsteppings that are the lot of a Minister in Northern Ireland that was not justified and justifiable by the facts.

It has always been known perfectly clearly that the British Government have never authorised anyone to enter into talks or negotiations on their behalf. There is only one context in which there is public interest in talking and having contact with Sinn Fein or the IRA : the context of public anxiety that the Government might do a deal with them before they had given up violence. That is the anxiety that has been expressed, and it has always been addressed in every answer given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself.

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Confidentiality is, of course, of vital importance. I very much agree with the latter remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) : I believe that all who have been responsible for breaking the confidentiality of this channel of communication whose value was rightly emphasised a few moments ago by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) will have a lot to answer for.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : Does the Secretary of State accept that the people of Warrington and my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) and I bow to no one in our desire to pursue the quest for peace ? Does he also accept, however, that there was a feeling of outrage and revulsion in Warrington at the fact that talks with Sinn Fein actually took place two days [Hon. Members :-- "Not talks."] Contacts, then ; I do not mind. Let me say to hon. Members who are shouting that this is too serious a matter for the people of Warrington for me to engage in a discussion of whether they were talks or contacts. Let us call them contacts.

There were contacts on 22 March two days after the bombing in Warrington as a result of which two small boys died and 56 people were injured, and while one of the boys was still fighting for his life. Can the Secretary of State tell me how that squares with the statement that the conflict was over and, in view of the Warrington incident, why that meeting went ahead ?

May I emphasise to the Secretary of State that those of us who want peace and want an end to the killings and the violence also want to know just what is going on and would like from the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister more honesty, less hypocrisy and more frankness with the House ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I readily appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern for the feelings of his constituents in Warrington. He will know that we met in his constituency at the launching of the Warrington project a month or two ago. The hon. Gentleman speaks of a sense of outrage that there should have been any contact with Sinn Fein after the Warrington bombing. I think that the House will attach much importance to the fact, which I have already made clear, that the response was sent by the British Government before then. It was delivered, through the channel of communication that I have mentioned, afterwards.

It is noteworthy that Mr. Parry, the father of one of the two boys who were murdered on that occasion, has spoken movingly about his own feelings towards the policy that the Government have followed. I respectfully endorse what Mr. Parry has publicly said.

The hon. Gentleman rightly asked how Warrington and subsequent outrages square with the assertion that the conflict is at an end. Plainly, they do not. Such outrages are totally inexcusable. When the hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to read the bundle, he will see that the Government have repeatedly said in response to the IRA leadership that it is conduct, behaviour and events on the ground that will determine whether any credence can be placed on what that leadership has suggested.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend take note of the widespread feeling that in this business he has acted entirely correctly and wholly honourably, and has very great support ? Will he take this opportunity to assure the House that the search for peace will never slide into the search for appeasement, and that

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the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland remains absolute so long as that is the democratically expressed wish of the people of Northern Ireland ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : On the last point, I readily and warmly give that assertion to my hon. Friend who takes so close an interest in these matters. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his Blackpool speech in October, the Government will always stand behind the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. That could not be more clearly expressed and could scarcely have been more frequently expressed than it has been this autumn. My hon. Friend asks whether I will make sure that the search for peace does not degenerate into appeasement. Yes quite unequivocally is the answer to that. It is made abundantly clear in the bundle of documents that there is no suggestion of any price, inducement or bargain being offered to these people to do what it is their common duty to humanity to achieve here and now.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is the Secretary of State aware of the real question that needs to be answered, not only here but outside ? The Government have involved themselves in a peace initiative which most people want, and from listening to some views in the House, it seems that more people want that initiative to continue than was the case several weeks ago. We should all be pleased about that, but that is not the issue.

The issue is that, in this democracy, everybody has been taught to believe Ministers when they say at the Dispatch Box and outside on behalf of Parliament and the Government that they are doing one thing. But behind the people's back they are doing another, and that raises the question of honour and resignation. I did not hear the Secretary of State mention the word "apology" in connection with this mess. There was no reference at all to anyone's stomach turning. The question that he has to answer it will hang round his head for a long time is whether anybody can again trust the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister. The problem that they have to face rather than the question of the peace initiative is whether they will ever be believed again. The Secretary of State should do the honourable thing and resign.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : There is no question of resigning by reason of any of the efforts that I or my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have made to secure by proper means peace in Northern Ireland. I am aware of the Opposition point. I repeat that the Government's policy is perfectly clear and has always been expressed as the fact that nobody has been authorised and nobody will be authorised to enter into talks or discussions with people who are responsible for violence or who justify the use of violence.

That has been made perfectly clear in all my responses. I have looked through all the transcripts that are available to me. It was well expressed in "The Week in Politics" on 24 October on which I was interviewed by Mr. Jim Dougal. Referring to the disgraceful Shankill episode, Mr. Dougal asked :

"What does this do to the attitude of the Government to a party like Sinn Fein ?

I replied :

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"The attitude of the Government to a party like Sinn Fein is quite clear and it does nothing to it whatsoever. We will not discuss for political purposes with a party that brings a bomb and a bullet to the aid of its political viewpoint."

After further material, I said :

"To do that would be to undermine those who practise constitutional politics and it would be to feed the appetites of those who get their way by bombs."

It is perfectly clear from everything that I have said that that is the British Government's position, and nothing has taken place that conflicts with that policy.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster) : The Secretary of State will bear in mind the fact that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) spoke about the backlash of despair. Unfortunately, there is already a backlash of despair in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State said that the Government entered into these negotiations in February. [Interruption.] They were in the context that channels of communication were open. Responses were given in February because of a contact from Sinn Fein that the conflict was over.

Even if one accepts that the Government had to respond to that and that is a matter for another occasion the Warrington bomb came after that. Did that not convince the Government that the conflict was not over ? Then the London bomb came. Did the Government need more convincing that the conflict was not over ? Then there was the Shankill bomb. Did the Government need more convincing that this contact from Sinn Fein and the IRA was rubbish ? How many more bombs must go off before the Government accept that Sinn Fein and the IRA have been playing them along ?

I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said and he said that the fight against terrorism would continue unabated. The question that needs to be answered is, how can that stand side by side with the fact that one of the leading terrorists in Northern Ireland is Martin McGuinness ? Two programmes were put out on the airwaves, but Martin McGuinness was never questioned. He was never arrested. Why not ? How could he be questioned or arrested when he was that channel of communication ?

I appreciate that the issue is delicate. The House may play around with words, and some may agree on whether it is a matter of talks, authorisation for talks or negotiations. However, this House was not under any illusion on any occasion on which the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box no contacts had been made.

Madam Speaker : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must remind him and the House that we are not in debate ; we are questioning a statement by the Secretary of State. Will the hon. Gentleman now put his question so that I have the opportunity to call as many as possible of the other hon. Members who have been standing ?

Mr. Benn : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have already had to deal with one hon. Member who breached the order of the House. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) said that someone was a terrorist, but he has not been convicted of that. The hon. Gentleman used the privileges of the House to condemn somebody

Madam Speaker : Order. I am listening very carefully to every word that is uttered in these exchanges. The hon.

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Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) is not out of order, other than for the fact that I hope that he will now ask his questions so that the Secretary of State can respond.

Rev. William McCrea : No matter how we play with words, there were contacts with the IRA behind the backs of the people of Northern Ireland. They were not told about them. Sinn Fein knew about them, the British Government knew about them, Dublin says it knew about them and America says it knew about them but the people of Northern Ireland, whose lives are at stake, did not know about them. There is a deficit of belief between the people of Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State. How will the right hon. and learned Gentleman correct that ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's comments bit by bit. His first remark was that the Government had entered into negotiations. I do not know where he has been this afternoon, but he could not have heard the central point of what I said to the House that there have been no negotiations, none have been offered and there will be none unless and until the IRA gives up violence and Sinn Fein gives up justifying it.

The hon. Gentleman said that the question whether it was right for the Government to reply to the initial message was for another occasion. It is not it is for this occasion. It is very much a technique of those from his Benches who criticise the Government to make assertions outside the House that they are not prepared to make here. They have said that it was disgraceful that we replied to that message, and that is a matter for this occasion. I say to the House and to the hon. Gentleman in particular that it would have been culpable in the extreme if we had not replied.

The hon. Gentleman then asked why Martin McGuinness had not been arrested. I must tell him as a Northern Ireland Member, he should know this perfectly well that the prosecuting authorities are independent of Government [Interruption.] His hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) laughs. I shall have something to say about him in a moment. He may laugh, but as I know very well, it is a fact that the prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland are independent. People cannot be brought to trial unless there are people willing to take the risks inherent in Northern Ireland of giving evidence in court.

Next, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster said that the people of Northern Ireland were not told about the messages that I have described, and then said that that had put me in a position where there could be no trust. I do not believe that for one minute. The Government have said consistently, and I have repeated many times, that nobody has been authorised to undertake talks or negotiations on behalf of the Government. I made it absolutely clear that was always in the context of political negotiations. That is what people such as the hon. Gentleman rightly mind about whether some price or inducement is being offered for an ending of violence. That would be profoundly wrong. None has ever been offered, and none will be offered.

I invite the hon. Gentleman, in the light of his public remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to consider what contribution he has made to stability and confidence. What contribution has he made by apparently handing covertly to a journalist as we understand the hon. Gentleman did the document that I mentioned ? The

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hon. Gentleman might care to say where he got it and how he got it. Rather than tell my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he met him, "I have this document. It is a worrying document. What do you say about it ?", we understand that the hon. Gentleman slid it to a journalist. Why did he do that ?

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : Taking account of the folly of anyone believing that the word of the Provisional IRA can ever be taken at face value, and that any evasion and equivocation by members of the Government Front Bench only presents republican terrorists with a propaganda victory, can the House take some comfort from the fact that right hon. and hon. Members would not have any official confirmation of the rumours that have been circulating since May or June if the IRA's political demands had not been rejected by the Government ? May we continue to rely on assurances by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister that the democratic process will never be subverted in favour of terrorist demands ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The hon. Gentleman has an unmatched record of resistance to terrorist demands and to the threats and violence that terrorists offer so many people in Northern Ireland. I give him the assurance that he seeks, without equivocation.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that political demands made by the IRA and by Sinn Fein on the Government in advance of any ending of violence were rejected out of hand. Contrary to all the rumours now being sedulously put about on behalf of Sinn Fein, that has been the case. That is why there came to be considerable interest in what talks, contacts or whatever had been taking place. That, and that alone, was the context. That is the context in which I have answered all the questions put to me.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster) : Despite a few of the things said in the House, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many people in the House and outside it congratulate him on, and do not criticise him for, his efforts in pursuing a proper peace in Northern Ireland ? Will he proceed undaunted, notwithstanding recent events ? In doing so, will he realise that those who oppose him and who make life difficult for the Government in this regard will increasingly be perceived to be opposing peace as well ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and take heart from his remarks. I know that he is speaking not only for those on the Government Benches but for those on the Labour Benches and throughout the House. I believe that the House is absolutely at one, that there must be no surrender to terrorist demands, and equally that there must be no relenting in all proper searches for ways to bring violence to an end.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Does the Secretary of State accept that, while in 25 years there has not been the slightest indication that the British people or the House would surrender to terrorism, there is an overwhelming wish on the mainland, no less in Northern Ireland, for any steps that could lead to a negotiated settlement ? The father of one of the children killed at Warrington bravely said that steps leading to peace should be taken, if that could possibly be done, and that concessions must be made by all by the majority and minority communities in Northern Ireland.

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While one acknowledges some of the problems that have undoubtedly arisen during the past few days, can the Secretary of State tell the House today that no steps will be taken to stop the summit that is to take place in Dublin between the British and Irish Prime Ministers ? Is there not a strong argument now for every possible step to be taken by both Governments, to see whether there is a possibility of an honourable agreement in Northern Ireland, recognising that Northern Ireland would remain a part of the United Kingdom but also as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that the legitimate aspirations of the nationalist community must be pursued, as the majority recognises, by peaceful means ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The hon. Gentleman always takes a courageous line in matters connected with Northern Ireland affairs. As to his first point, I acknowledge that there is an overpowering demand among the everyday people of Northern Ireland for an end to violence. However, they do not want peace at any price.

Recently, I attended a service for the association that represents disabled police officers, and I attended a memorial service for those who lost their lives in the prison service. The mothers, widows and other relations of those who have suffered hideous injuries or death say, "We want peace, but we do not want it at any price." It is terribly important to remember that, and it is never out of the Government's mind.

The hon. Gentleman asked that no steps be taken to frustrate the Dublin summit. I told the House that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will be discussing over the next few days the date of the summit. On "The Frost Programme" recently, the Taoiseach said I speak from memory rather than quoting his words exactly that any solution emanating from one side alone could have no chance of success.

That certainly represents the British Government's view. We are at one in wanting violence to come to an end, but it must come to an end before there can be any negotiations or exploratory talks as to how parties may enter the constitutional talks process from which they exclude themselves by perpetrating or justifying violence at present.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) : While those who have no responsibility in these matters can indulge in the semantic differences between communications, talks and negotiations, is it not the case that those who have that responsibility must deal with human life and limb, and with the wanton destruction of property ? When this froth of mostly artificial rage has died down, will not the IRA leadership be left exposed for its utter cynicism in saying that it could stop the killing, but asking for some way of doing that while saving face ?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make it clear to the IRA leadership that there is no way that it can save face for its actions over the years ? As long as my right hon. and learned Friend pursues with vigour and honour the path that he has chosen to try to bring the IRA to a peaceful means of discussing solutions, he will have the backing of every right-thinking person in this country and of most right hoeen as a very strong suit of the IRA and of Sinn Fein, and especially of those who express regret for the entirely foreseeable and intended consequences of the violence that they perpetrate. That is extremely hard to bear for the hard-pressed people of Northern Ireland. Of course duties are placed upon those who have responsibility for every life in Northern Ireland, and they must face up to them. Others do not have the disciplines that responsibility imposes.

Yesterday, I watched my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) on "The Frost Programme", in which the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) also participated. My hon. Friend asked the hon. Member for Belfast, East whose face was on the screen, transmitted from Northern Ireland what the Government should have done in the face of the message. Should they have done nothing, or should they have responded ? Answer came there none from the hon. Member for Belfast, East. But those with responsibility for lives in Northern Ireland must make up their minds and they must take proper risks.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East) : Can the Secretary of State confirm that those contacts did not just start with this particular round but, in the words of Lord Gowrie, contacts with the IRA were instrumental in bringing the hunger strike to a close, and certainly contacts were still continuing between Sinn Fein and officials at the Northern Ireland Office in 1983 when the Greater London council delegation met Gerry Adams for the first time ?

Does the Secretary of State agree that part of his problem with the public and media response to this news is not that talks or contacts have been taking place, but that successive Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, and the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, have roundly condemned anyone who went openly, and in front of the public, and discussed with the leadership of Sinn Fein ? They were condemned for doing openly what the Government have been doing behind the backs of the British people and the people of Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State also agree that most people outside the House will not be terribly concerned, because this is more of a parliamentary point. People outside the House will be amazed, however, given the terms that Martin McGuinness used in his contacts with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and they will ask, "Why did not the British Government have more imagination in seizing the opportunity ? Where is the imagination in their response that is shown by people like Rabin or de Klerk ?" Why is imagination so lacking on the Conservative Benches ? Is it because the Conservatives rely on the votes of the Ulster Unionists ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I think that what the hon. Gentleman would describe as imagination, most of the people of our country would describe as appeasement [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] feeding those who, in a democracy, know that they cannot attain their political objectives by the ballot box and therefore bring bombs and bullets to the conference table, to the discussions, to fortify their case. That is what I think that the hon. Gentleman would have described as an imaginative response, but I and, I think, most people in our country would describe it as a disgraceful response.

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I believe that the Government have made an entirely proper, and certainly understood, distinction that once one has shown oneself qualified to become a constitutional political party, one may take one's place in the political arena. As long as one shows oneself not to be able to accept the disciplines of democratic and constitutional politics, one excludes oneself.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : Does the Secretary of State recall that he took part in BBC "Breakfast Time" on 16 November and that during that programme he made three denials ? First, he denied that there were contacts through emissaries between the Government and the Provisional IRA or Sinn Fein. He also denied that there were talks between the Government and the IRA, and he denied that there were negotiations between the Government and the IRA. Do not the papers that the Secretary of State has selected to put in the Library today indicate that such contacts did take place ? If there were no talks, why was his emissary sent off to do the job with speaking notes ?

Does the Secretary of State recognise that he needs more than the confidence of his colleagues in the House to do his job and to do it well ; that he needs the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland, and that he does not have it any more ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I have heard the hon. Gentleman proclaiming that for some time. I walk about as much as I can in the streets of Northern Ireland to talk to people, and I seem to get a reasonable and I am very grateful for it friendly reception. The hon. Gentleman speaks of BBC "Breakfast Time." It is certainly true that I took part in BBC breakfast television on 16 November. I was asked this question :

"Let's look further at what Gerry Adams was saying last night." As I have already said, and I think the House has recognised, Gerry Adams has been putting it about that we have been negotiating. The question continued :

"Has there been contact between people who could be regarded as emissaries or representatives of the Government ?"

I said :

"No, there hasn't. There has been no negotiating with Sinn Fein ; no official, as I see is alleged"

has been

"talking to Sinn Fein on behalf of the British Government. We have always made it perfectly clear that there is going to be no negotiating with anybody who perpetrates or justifies the use of violence. That's been our public policy, and it is our private policy and we have stuck to it."

The question was asked :

"You choose your words, I am sure, very carefully. You say no negotiating, but perhaps there have been exploratory talks at some level ?"

I replied :

"There has been no talking whatsoever about what is to be a price, if there is to be any price for the giving up of violence or anything of that sort, which is what is alleged, nothing of that kind at all. We have always said that there is to be no bargaining whatsoever with people who espouse, who perpetrate violence, and that's absolutely the case. Nobody on the part of the British Government has done that or anything like it."

I stand by that. I made it perfectly clear what I was replying to, and I stand by that answer. I do not make any apology to the hon. Gentleman or to the House for, as the questioner put it, choosing my words carefully. Of course I was not going to volunteer that there was a channel of communication, which was one whose value has been maintained for, as has been clear, many years 20 years.

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Supposing the time were to come when the IRA were to say, however belatedly, that the conflict was over and that they needed advice only as to how it was to be tied up, am I to have supposed that the public would have been better served if there had been no such channel if there had been no means by which the IRA could send a message ? If that is what the hon. Gentleman is saying, I do not think that the House is with him. This stuff about "Of course there have been talks how could there be a speaking note otherwise ?" is a lot of rubbish.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) : I ask the Secretary of State to take comfort from the fact that the people of Northern Ireland at least in my constituency, which he knows is roughly half and half Unionist and Nationalist and which genuinely reflects the ordinary people of Northern Ireland want him to continue the peace process. They do not want him to be deflected by the rituals of the House or the deliberate diversions of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) but to concentrate on the core issue of pursuit of peace.

Alongside that, in parallel to it, are the inter-party talks. I ask the Secretary of State to accelerate those, so that they may run in parallel with the peace initiative. Perhaps at those talks he can advise and, one hopes, convince the members of the Unionist parties that there is nothing nothing at all to fear in peace. That would create a new dimension for us all.

I ask the Secretary of State to convey to his right hon. colleague the Prime Minister the fact that a lot rests on his shoulders and that, although the Secretary of State terminated his statement with the words

"The key to peace is in the hands of the IRA",

it is a combination lock and the Prime Minister holds the other key to that process.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I know how closely in touch he is with the opinions of his constituents because I visited his constituency with him not long ago. Of course there is a desire for peace and I will not repeat what I have said about that and the qualification that the people of Northern Ireland place upon it.

There is no need to urge me or my right hon. Friend to press on with the political talks. Those are very important and much progress is being made, albeit in a different format from last year. I believe that the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that the Unionist parties played a valuable part in that process, as he did himself and as did his party, and that much progress was made towards contingent agreement.

I therefore think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has heard what the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) said, needs no encouragement in the direction that the hon. Gentleman urged. However, in our search for peace, it is no good looking for a solution to the problems that emanates only from one quarter. It must again be brought to the attention of the House that both Governments, at the end of the Brussels summit on 29 October, said that there could be no question of the Government's accepting and endorsing the report of the Hume-Adams dialogue that had been given to the Taoiseach, although not to the Prime Minister.

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