HC Deb 16 February 1995 vol 254 cc1116-7
2. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if it remains Government policy to support the integrity of the United Kingdom based upon the consent of the inhabitants of each of its component parts.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram)

Yes. We wholeheartedly support the Union in its present form. As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, it is, in fact and in law, an integral part of the United Kingdom, and the Government welcome and will support that position so long as it remains the wish of a greater number of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Arnold

Will my hon. Friend reiterate the fact that, whereas the people of Northern Ireland will have the final say in all this through the referendum, the Conservative and Unionist party feels that membership of the United Kingdom by Northern Ireland is of immense value and that the United Kingdom is of greater value than the mere sum of its four parts?

Mr. Ancram

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. I would go further and say that the strongest cement that holds the United Kingdom together is the consent of the majority of the people of each of its component parts, which is something of which we are very much aware.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister agree that, if there is to be acceptance of stated Government policy on the United Kingdom, however neutral on Northern Ireland, there has to be confidence in the integrity of those who speak for the Government? Can he give us one valid reason why we as Ulster Unionists should not question his integrity, that of the Secretary of State and even that of the Prime Minister, in that we feel that we have been not only deceived but betrayed? Does the Minister not understand the depth of Unionist frustration and understand that we perceive that there has been capitulation to pan-nationalism and IRA thugs who threaten to use their guns and Semtex again if their will is not expressed in the Government document?

Mr. Ancram

I can only state regret at the hon. Gentleman's original remarks about the integrity of myself and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I hope that, in due course, he will reconsider his remarks, especially when the joint framework document is published and he is able to see what is in it in relation to the various consultations that have taken place in the past 12 months with, among others, members of his party, the Ulster Unionist party, who were sent to speak to me about the parameters that I should take into account in terms of these negotiations.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I would again ask him to wait to see the joint framework document. If it is to succeed as an aid to negotiation and as a means of bringing parties back into discussion, obviously it has to be balanced. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman sees it, he will accept that it is.

Mr. Hayes

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Downing Street declaration, with all its constitutional implications, still stands? Does he agree that the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland deserve a just, genuine and lasting peace and that they will not want to put up with party political shenanigans? Does he further agree that the final arbiters of any framework document will be the people themselves, and no one else?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recalling to the House the Downing Street declaration, because it was a statement of principles. The key principles enunciated in it were those of democracy and consent. Hon. Members will once again, I believe, see when the joint framework document is published, if that is what happens, that it, too, is based on the essential principles of democracy and consent.

Mr. Stott

The Minister will be aware that when the joint framework document is eventually published as a basis for discussion and negotiation, it will be welcomed by almost everyone in the House. Given the fact that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), have backed the triple-lock process wholly and fully, should not the ordinary people of Northern Ireland expect and demand their elected representatives to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue with the Government about the future governance of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ancram

The House will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I believe that all the parties from Northern Ireland in the House have very strong and genuine arguments to make and very strong and genuine positions to state. I hope that they will take the opportunity of stating those within the context that the joint framework document will make possible, by opening up a situation where negotiations, discussion and dialogue may again take place.