HC Deb 11 March 1998 vol 308 cc540-1
4. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

What representations she has received on the devolution proposals contained in the framework documents; and if she will make a statement. [32130]

Marjorie Mowlam

Those issues remain under intensive consideration within strand 1 of the multi-party talks.

Mr. Winterton

While many people believe that the devolution proposals for Scotland and Wales are designed to bring government closer to the people, will the Secretary of State agree with me that the devolved assembly under the framework is seen by many on both sides of the water as being for the purpose of taking Ulster out of the United Kingdom and putting it under the control of a foreign country?

Marjorie Mowlam

No. The devolution procedures are there to increase accountability and increase transparency and, as I made clear in answer to the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), they will be made only with the consent of the parties, and of the people, of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the Ulster Unionist party has made it clear from the beginning of 1995 that the framework documents do not define a way forward in terms of the future of Northern Ireland; and that we have not negotiated on the basis of the framework documents, because they actually stymie negotiations and one cannot negotiate from a fixed position? Will she further acknowledge that, that apart, my party has done everything possible and made no unreasonable case to hinder negotiations, but that hindrance has come, almost exclusively, from the IRA, which refuses to move forward the parallel process of decommissioning and has had the connivance of two Governments in hindering it in that way?

Marjorie Mowlam

As I said in answer to an earlier question, a number of documents are on the table—the framework document, the Downing street declaration and papers submitted by different parties—and the point to which everybody around the table is trying to get is to reach an accommodation, whether or not that is in line with one of those documents. If it reflects consensus among the parties, we shall readily accept the decision of the parties.

In answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I acknowledge the courage and determination of all the parties in the talks. They have all made changes and have all tried to move to find an accommodation and I hope that that continues in the weeks ahead.

Mr. McNamara

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, whatever the outcome of the talks, the aspiration to a united Ireland will still be permitted, allowed and, hopefully, attainable for those people who argue and work for it democratically? Will she inform the House of the number of occasions on which the Ulster Unionist party has sat down with Sinn Fein to discuss the various proposals in strands 1, 2 and 3?

Marjorie Mowlam

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is that it is about democratic participation by all in the talks, and that is where we want to arrive. As for parties siting down with each other, there has been sitting down between some parties in various locations. I am unable to give the time and place of all those occasions, but I can tell the House that, in a poll last Thursday, a majority of both communities in Northern Ireland wanted the parties inclusively to sit down and try to find an accommodation.