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Constitutional Reform

Volume 990: debated on Thursday 7 August 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he has made in his talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland on his latest constitutional proposals.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the proposals for constitutional reform.

Since Parliament debated the Government's proposals I have met each of the four main parties at least once. Further meetings are planned during the summer. Concurrently, I am seeking the views of the smaller parties, and of business, trade union, Church and other community and interest groups in Northern Ireland. In this way, we hope to move towards our goal of finding an acceptable means of transferring responsibility to locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland. In the light of my discussions, the Government will consider what recommendations should be put before Parliament.

Does not my right hon. Friend understand that he has the warm support of many people for the round of discussions that he has initiated? Have any representatives of political parties refused to take part in discussions with him? If the answer is negative, is not that in itself an encouraging start at least?

My hon. Friend is right. No one has refused to come and speak to me. Everyone has accepted my invitation so to do. This is encouraging. It shows that political parties and others are anxious to make progress.

In view of the fact that even the majority in Northern Ireland have probably more in common with Southern Ireland than with mainland Britain—

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman talk to all of us rather than to the right hon. Gentleman behind him?

Will the Secretary of State consider, as an alternative strategy, the possible unification of the whole of Ireland? I know that it is difficult. Will he consider it?

I think that the premise on which the hon. Gentleman's question was based was dealt with by the comments behind him.

While wishing my right hon. Friend well in his discussions, will he bear in mind, in considering the constitutional future of the Province that, contrary to what has been suggested by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), opinion polls of repute show that about half the Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland support the union with Britain and are content for their laws to be made in the Parliament at Westminster?

The hon. Gentleman is right. All the indications that we have show that the majority of people, whatever their religion, wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. As I, and successive Government spokesmen, have frequently said, so long as that is the wish of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, so it will be.