HC Deb 01 December 1994 vol 250 cc1323-4
6. Mr. McAvoy

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made on the development of the framework document on the future of Northern Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Useful progress has been made, but there are still substantial questions on which more work is required. We hope to give priority to these in our relations with the new Government in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. McAvoy

Will the Secretary of State accept that the Opposition support the strategy of the peace process deployed so far of locking the paramilitaries on both sides into the process and making it impossible for them to go back to their campaign of violence? Does he accept the need to develop a peace process that encompasses the whole spectrum of opinion in Northern Ireland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. When he next goes to Northern Ireland he will be impressed by the quite new sensation of hope that seems to be apparent throughout the community, and the belief that it is unthinkable that violence should return. Those who may be minded to return to violence for political purposes will have to take heed of that. It is necessary that what is called the peace process should continue to retain the confidence of all sections of the community. Therefore, it has to be balanced.

Mr. Trimble

The Secretary of State referred to continuing difficulties with the Irish Government in these discussions. Have the Irish indicated that they will accept their international obligations by dropping the territorial claim in article 2 of their constitution, or are they continuing their blackmailing demand that the unacceptable price for that is some form of tampering with the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and thus the Act of Union?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I do not recall referring to continuing difficulties with the Irish Government. I said that much more work needed to be done on a number of topics. Obviously, as everybody knows, the question of a territorial claim embodied in the Irish constitution is a matter of great importance in this process. I will not break the confidentiality of the discussions that are going on, but the hon. Gentleman and others will wish to know that the importance of that topic is well understood by this Government and by the Irish Government.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Has the Secretary of State given any further consideration to publishing the minutes of the three-strand talks so that the House would be in a better position to determine how the framework document might throw light on the way in which it can overcome the difficulties that the minutes may highlight?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Quite an important part of the three-strand discussions in 1992 was the fact that they should be in confidence. That was more or less observed at the time. I do not want to go beyond that and publish accounts of what happened two years ago as I do not think that it would be helpful at this juncture.

Mr. Spellar

While developments are taking place, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman put on hold other measures that are opposed by the great majority of people across Northern Ireland—for example, the privatisation of the water industry?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I have already made it clear that I do not anticipate introducing proposals in that regard during this Parliament. One matter that will have to be taken account of, at any time, is the very great anomalies in the charging system for water services in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Llwyd

I am sure that the Minister is aware that the House unreservedly welcomes the peace process, which brings with it the likely end of direct rule in the north of Ireland. Earlier, he said that he would favour a democratically elected assembly or forum for the north of Ireland. If that is so right—and it is—for the north of Ireland, why is it so wrong for Wales and for Scotland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I recall that in, I think, 1976, the question of devolution was referred to the people of Wales and of Scotland and it received a rather negative answer—

Mr. Canavan

The majority were in favour. The Secretary of State was wrong twice.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

That was a very loud Scottish intervention. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his point if he stands up in a moment.

Special factors apply to the community in Northern Ireland that make its governance almost unique. It is difficult to see a reliable read across.