HC Deb 16 March 1995 vol 256 cc1014-5
4. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the response in Northern Ireland to the framework documents.

9. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many representations and of what general nature he has received following publication of the framework documents; and if he will make a statement.

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

"Frameworks for the Future" was published on 22 February. It is too early to make a full assessment of the response in Northern Ireland, and many people and organisations are still studying these complex documents before responding. So far the Northern Ireland Office has received 147 letters of varied content from members of the public and from Members of Parliament.

Mr. Riddick

Does my hon. Friend agree that the reaction from the parties in Northern Ireland suggests that the nationalists feel that their views are well represented in the framework document? Has not the time therefore come to provide some cheer and comfort to the Unionists? To that end, will he continue to place great emphasis on the need to decommission IRA arms and assure the House that he will consider fully and favourably the proposals contained in the Unionist parties' own documents?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He raises a number of issues. On his final point, we have made it clear that we shall consider and discuss any documents put on the table for discussion about the future of Northern Ireland which address the issues. It is important to recognise that there are a number of interlocking issues across a number of different relationships that we have discussed many times in the House which must be addressed if we are to find a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. Any suggestions that address those issues—wherever they come from—which are capable of securing agreement are matters that we would certainly wish to discuss with the parties. I give that assurance again.

As for the decommissioning of arms, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has this afternoon already clarified the Government's position. I merely add that it is a matter of fact that if we are talking about sitting round a table to come to an agreement on a settlement for Northern Ireland and the parties round it are asked to join parties such as Sinn Fein, they will not do so unless they are satisfied that there has been a sufficient decommissioning of arms by the paramilitaries for all parties to be present on the same basis.

Mr. Greenway

What time scale does my hon. Friend have in mind for talks on the framework documents? Is he aware of the intense interest of the people of this country in the resolution of the problem, and especially in a fair and proper decommissioning of arms, without which they see any negotiations as completely unfair and improper?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I cannot add to what I have already said about the decommissioning of arms. The Government have no set deadlines or timetable. The purpose of the framework documents, in which there has been enormous interest within Northern Ireland, was to assist and promote discussion and negotiation involving the parties. About 120,000 copies have so far been issued within Northern Ireland. There is much discussion and debate taking place on what is within the documents and on others' ideas about the issues. The debate is constructive and healthy. We hope that it will lead in a reasonably short time to the parties coming together and looking for a constructive way forward.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister accept that, after the initial euphoric response from specially briefed industrialists and the media, the general reaction has been one of dismay and disappointment, despite Government-inspired media hype that elderly politicians were out of touch with the electorate? Will he recognise now that many young people are saying that it is the "You've been framed" document?

Mr. Ancram

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. I find that many people, and especially the young, are saying that it is time for political representatives to talk about the issues. The purpose of the framework documents was to assist in that process.

I have read with great interest some of the reactions of other parties within Northern Ireland. I have discovered such levels of misunderstanding of what is within the framework documents in some of the responses that I would welcome a chance to get alongside the hon. Gentleman, for example, to go through the documents line by line to explain to him the Government's intention.

Mr. Murphy

The Minister will confirm that the framework documents make much of European links. Does he agree that an essential part of the process of peace and reconciliation will be the financial help that will come from the European Union? Will he give the House and the people of Northern Ireland an assurance that the European level will be truly additional to and over and above the Northern Ireland budget, and that the Treasury will not use the extra cash to reduce its spending plans for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ancram

I am not certain whether this arises directly from the framework documents. The documents make it clear that a north-south body would be able to advise the two Governments on matters of common European interest affecting the whole of the island of Ireland. It would possibly manage certain programmes that are already cross-border within Northern Ireland, such as Intereg. Effectively, all representations to Europe would be through the two sovereign Governments. Any moneys forthcoming would be subject to the usual treatment unless the Governments agreed otherwise.

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