HC Deb 14 March 1991 vol 187 cc1087-8
6. Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further discussions he has had with leaders of the political parties about a measure of self-government for the Province.

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have, within the last fortnight, met the leaders of all the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. As a result of my conversations with them, I have been able to take the steps that I outlined a few moments ago in my answer to the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor).

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

Building on that answer, will my right hon. Friend tell me whether he agrees that the heartfelt longing of so many people in the Province for a measure of political stability and local administration should take precedence over anything else that he may seek to achieve in any further talks? In his talks with the political parties, did he find enough common ground among them to encourage him to believe that a devolved Administration in the Province may be possible in the not-too-distant future?

Mr. Brooke

The longing to which my hon. Friend has referred has come through not only to me but to the leaders of political parties with whom I have been engaged in conversation. I have observed concern that the talks should succeed, and that we should proceed to constructive measures. The fact that we have been able to reach the point that we have reached, and that I have been able to draft the text to which I have referred, is, I think, evidence that common ground is beginning to exist.

Mr. Harry Barnes

To what extent is a Bill of Rights on the agenda in the discussions? Such a Bill would be particularly appropriate for Northern Ireland, because it would protect minorities in different sets of circumstances —both Protestant minorities in Catholic areas, and vice versa.

Mr. Brooke

I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what I am in the process of putting to the political leaders; it is a confidential matter between them and me. I can tell him, however, that—as I have said on previous occasions—although the Government do not see a Bill of Rights as an early part of any agenda, they would be prepared to consider it if it became relevant in the conclusion of an overall arrangement.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that none of his many friends in the House wish him to be viceroy or proconsul for ever? We wish his latest initiative every success, bearing in mind the fact that it follows in the long tradition that has been going on for more than 400 years.

Mr. Brooke

I am certain that that was a very nice remark of my hon. Friend's; in that spirit, I hope that I am correct in agreeing with him.