HC Deb 29 November 1984 vol 68 cc1073-4
3. Mr. Maude

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he anticipates laying proposals for devolved government before the House as envisaged under the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1982.

12. Mr. Tim Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his recent round of talks with Northern Ireland party leaders.

Mr. Hurd

I have talked to the leaders of Northern Ireland constitutional parties twice in recent weeks and I have met the Assembly's Devolution Report Committee. All have said that they want to make progress and have shown some understanding of each other's anxieties. I shall continue to encourage them to build on these expressions of intent.

Progress will be made only when the parties reach common ground on a political framework for Northern Ireland which commands widespread acceptance throughout the community. This is, of course, the criterion laid down in the Northern Ireland Act 1982.

Mr. Maude

Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to impress upon the Unionist parties that it is in their interests, as well as in the wider national interest, to take all steps to encourage and to show greater generosity to those representatives of constitutional nationalism in the Northern Ireland community?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend. When I took office and read the Ulster Unionist document "The Way Forward" I was struck with the following phrase: It is the responsibility of the majority to persuade the minority that the Province is also theirs". People in the House and the country who follow these matters now wish to see what action the Unionist parties propose to take to bring this about.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Is my right hon. Friend ruling out any possibility of amending the Northern Ireland Assembly Act so that devolution can take place? If so, and as he has a breathing space, may I suggest that it might be useful to set up a commission— perhaps a Royal Commission— drawn from a wide spectrum of the community to consider the possibility of a better structure of local administration for the Province?

Mr. Hurd

I have no plans to bring forward to the House proposals to amend the Act, as I do not think that at this moment the possibilities are exhausted.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister recognise, as I do, the signs of an incipient pantomime season in some of the statements from the Opposition today? Will he acknowledge that, despite Opposition Front Bench comments about parties being willing to talk, one significant party has not been prepared to come into the Assembly to talk? Does he appreciate that it is extremely difficult for the parties in the Assembly to come forward with plans unless those people are prepared to share with us in wrestling with the problems involved in finding a solution to Northern Ireland's constitutional issues?

Mr. Hurd

I understand that difficulty, but I think that the ingenuity of political leaders in the Province should find a way round it if they are to turn into reality the general professions that they have made in recent months.

Rev. William McCrea

Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to impress upon the SDLP the need to talk to Unionist representatives of the Province instead of running to Dublin every other day?

Mr. Hurd

It is very important for all the constitutional parties in the Province at this particular time to find ways in which their leaders and members can discuss the problems of the Province together.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Despite the comments of hon. Members opposite, is my right hon. Friend aware that we commend his restrained approach to these problems? Unlike his predecessors in office, however, will he avoid an absolute commitment to legislative devolution, because many of us, on both sides of the water, believe that Northern Ireland should be fully governed like any other part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hurd

I am certainly aware of that view and I have read the skilfully written pamphlet to which my hon. Friend and others have put their names.