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1993 - Mr Major’s Commons Statement on the Downing Street Declaration

Below is the text of Mr Major’s Commons statement, made on 15th December 1993, on the Downing Street Declaration.


PRIME MINISTER:

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about my discussions with the Irish Prime Minister.

As the House will be aware, the Taoiseach and I agreed a joint declaration this morning. Copies of the declaration have been placed in the Vote Office. I know that the whole House will wish to hear what lay behind this declaration and what it may mean for the future.

For the past 25 years, the people of Northern Ireland have suffered levels of violence that any civilised community would find intolerable. No community, and especially no part of the United Kingdom, should have to endure the murder and destruction that have afflicted the Province. That is why successive British Governments have sought to find a solution to these terrible problems. We must care as much about violence in Northern Ireland as about violence in any other part of the Union.

When the Taoiseach and I met at Downing street two years ago, we both agreed on the need to work together to try to bring about peace in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. We were both well aware of the pitfalls and dangers which have wrecked so many previous attempts, but we both knew that, after 25 years of killing, we had to make it a personal priority both to seek a permanent end to violence and to establish the basis for a comprehensive and lasting political settlement.

The declaration that we have agreed today shows the commitment of the two Governments for peace and democracy and against violence. Its objective is to set a framework for peace, a framework that reflects our responsibilities to both communities in a way that is fully compatible with the undertakings that we have both given and with the objectives of the talks process.

Copies of the joint declaration have been placed in the Vote Office. I urge all hon. Members to read it carefully. It deserves careful study. It has required detailed and painstaking negotiations between the two Governments. It addresses the concerns of both sides of the Community and it is totally consistent with the principles that this Government have repeatedly confirmed to the House. It may help the House if I set out the main elements of the declaration. I will, where possible, quote directly from the text of the declaration so that there can be no misunderstanding about what it says.

First, paragraph 2 expressly reaffirms the British Government's commitment to Northern Ireland's statutory constitutional guarantee. This guarantees that, as long as a majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom, the Government will uphold their right to do so. That pledge is rock solid. That is set out most clearly also in paragraph 4, which reaffirms that the British Government will

"uphold the democratic wish of a greater number of the people of Northern Ireland on the issue of whether they prefer to support the Union or a sovereign united Ireland."

Later in that paragraph, the British Government agree

"that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self- determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish."

This is a crucial sentence, and one about which there has been much misleading speculation. So let me repeat that it says that a move to a united Ireland can take place only

"by agreement between the two parts respectively"

and

"on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South".

This fully protects the position of the majority in Northern Ireland, and means that change could come about only with their consent.

In line with previous undertakings, the British Government also reaffirm that if a future majority in Northern Ireland desired a united Ireland, we would introduce the necessary legislation to bring that about.

For his part, the Taoiseach accepts in paragraph 5 that "it would be wrong to attempt to impose a united Ireland in the absence of the freely given consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland."

Later in the same paragraph, he accepts that

"the democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland".

Those are important commitments by the Taoiseach which I know will be widely welcomed by the House. The House will also welcome, in paragraph 7, the Taoiseach's confirmation that, in the event of an overall settlement of the talks process,

"the Irish Government will, as part of a balanced constitutional accommodation, put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish Constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland."

The joint declaration fully backs the three-strand talks process involving the main constitutional parties and the two Governments. It says that it is the two Governments' aim

"to foster agreement and reconciliation, leading to a new political framework founded on consent and encompassing arrangements within Northern Ireland, for the whole island, and between these islands." I believe that the passages that I have quoted, and the other language in the joint declaration, set out a clear framework under which differences can be negotiated and resolved exclusively by peaceful political means. But that can come about only if the men of violence end the killing and commit themselves to the democratic process. The joint declaration sets out the way in which this can be brought about.

Paragraph 10 says that both Governments

"reiterate that the achievement of peace must involve a permanent end to the use of, or support for, paramilitary violence. They confirm that, in these circumstances, democratically mandated parties which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and which have shown that they abide by the democratic process, are free to participate fully in democratic politics and to join in dialogue in due course between the Governments and the political parties on the way ahead."

Let me make it plain on behalf of the British Government what that undertaking means. If there is a permanent end to violence, and if Sinn Fein commits itself to the democratic process, then we will be ready to enter into preliminary exploratory dialogue with it within three months. But, first, it must end violence for good.

I understand the fears and concerns of Unionists about the prospects of the British Government's entering into talks with Sinn Fein. This period has been a worrying and uncertain time for them. Although they have the primary interest in seeing an end to violence, they are rightly concerned lest this be achieved by selling out the fundamental constitutional principles which the Government have always upheld. If they fear that, then they should be reassured by this declaration. It reaffirms the constitutional guarantee in the clearest possible terms. The Taoiseach fully accepts the principle that any constitutional change could come about only with the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland.

In summary, let me make it clear what is in the declaration and what is not. What is in the declaration is a renewed commitment by the British Government to Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee ; an acknowledgement by the Taoiseach that a united Ireland could only be brought about with the consent of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland ; a willingness on the Taoiseach's part to make changes in the Irish constitution if an overall settlement can be reached ; and a confirmation that if Sinn Fein renounces violence, it will be able to participate in future democratic discussions. What is not in the declaration is any suggestion that the British Government should join the ranks of persuaders of the "value" or "legitimacy" of a united Ireland ; that is not there. Nor is there any suggestion that the future status of Northern Ireland should be decided by a single act of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole ; that is not there either. Nor is there any timetable for constitutional change, or any arrangement for joint authority over Northern Ireland. In sum, the declaration provides that it is, as it must be, for the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own future.

All the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland will wish to study the document very carefully. I should like today to extend an offer to meet each of the parties regularly in the future, so that I can hear at first hand their concerns and ambitions, and can set out to them the British Government's position. If we can work together to quell ancient fears and suspicions, we can help to build a better future for Northern Ireland.

I have made it clear that if it renounces violence, the way is open to Sinn Fein to join in legitimate constitutional dialogue. That is a political route which it now has no excuse not to follow. That is the opportunity offered by this joint declaration--and it has been obtained without compromising any of the constitutional principles that this Government have consistently espoused. The onus is now on Sinn Fein to take advantage of that opportunity : I urge it to do so.

Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East) : On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the joint declaration with enthusiasm. We fervently hope that it will be an important first step in a peace process that will lead to a new political settlement. It was necessary for the two Governments to take the lead, but it is vital that the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland now take part in new discussions which the British Government should promote.

There was never any excuse for violence and terror on the part of any paramilitary organisation, but there is now an opportunity for both the permanent cessation of violence and the involvement of Sinn Fein in constitutional dialogue--provided that it is clear that the path of violence has been abandoned. We hope that the new opportunities that the declaration creates are seized by both traditions in Northern Ireland.

May I ask the Prime Minister two questions about the detail of the declaration? First, in paragraph 9, both Governments commit themselves to seeking to create institutions and structures which would enable the people of Ireland to work together in all areas of common interest. What kind of institution, and what areas of policy, have the Governments in mind?

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman referred to what he described as the "crucial sentence" in paragraph 4, about consent being "freely and concurrently given, North and South".

Does that passage mean that a constitutional settlement arising from the talks process could be put to the people of Northern Ireland and those of the Republic in separate referendums on the same day? Finally, may I endorse the appeal for an end to violence that the Prime Minister made in his concluding sentence? That must be the overwhelming desire of all the people of the British Isles--not least those in Northern Ireland--who have suffered the appalling violence of the past 25 years.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman both for his support for the joint declaration and for the continuation of talks which necessarily must proceed beside it. I believe that he is right that it is an opportunity to move from a violent path. It is an opportunity which no one can compel the men of violence to take. It is an opportunity which lies there and it is in their hands now to decide whether to take that opportunity and move towards a legitimate political path in future. I repeat : I hope that they will take that opportunity.

As to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's two specific questions, the reference in paragraph 9 refers specifically to the three-stranded talks that are continuing at the present time, and there would be a large number of areas of common interest that are being identified in these talks that would be the subject of the structures referred to. So far as "freely and concurrently given" is concerned in terms of referendums, it certainly need not necessarily mean referendums on the same day. What it does mean is that that could be the situation. It is a matter for agreement in the talks and beyond, but they certainly need not necessarily be on the same day. It does imply that consent would need to be given separately north and south.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : Has the Prime Minister noticed that this morning's statement is already being termed the Downing street declaration? Those of us who remember the earlier Downing street declaration in the time of the Government of Lord Wilson will remember that it was very specific in saying that the affairs of Northern Ireland were an internal matter for the Parliament of the United Kingdom. May I, in a constructive fashion, ask the Prime Minister to assure us that the drift from that position over the past 20 years will be halted under his premiership?

Whatever the eventual conclusions that one may draw from this rather tortuously worded statement with its many contradictions--I am referring to the statement, not the one just made by the Prime Minister--it appears to give some finality to the secret discussions that have destabilised the Province over recent months and which the Prime Minister has recognised just now. Does the Prime Minister share my expectation that we can now proceed to govern Northern Ireland in accordance with the wishes of 85 per cent. of the population--Protestant and Roman Catholic--who were greatly reassured by his remark to the House that

"The future constitutional position of the people of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to determine and for no one else to determine."--[ Official Report, 18 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 29.]

Finally, can the Prime Minister confirm that the joint declaration does not assert the value or legitimacy of achieving a united Ireland without majority consent; commit the people of Northern Ireland to joining a united Ireland against their democratic wishes, establish any form of joint authority over Northern Ireland, even by phasing; establish any joint mechanisms such as a permanent convention; or give Sinn Fein an immediate place at the talks table? Can the Prime Minister also confirm that the statement does not sideline the very valuable round of meetings between the parties convened by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)--which are now drawing towards a successful conclusion and which have been supported just now by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition?

The Prime Minister : On the right hon. Gentleman's specific point at the end, I can confirm to him that the joint declaration does not assert the value of achieving a united Ireland; does not assert the legitimacy of a united Ireland in the absence of majority consent; does not either, for I think that it was implicit in what the right hon. Gentleman said, commit the British Government to joining the ranks of the persuaders for a united Ireland. That is not the job of any British Government. It does not set any timetable for a united Ireland. It does not commit the people of Northern Ireland to join a united Ireland against their wishes, and it does not establish any arrangements for joint authority. I can confirm each of those points to the right hon. Gentleman.

As to the talks process undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, we anticipate and expect that they will continue and intensify. They are, I believe, becoming extremely valuable. We wish to proceed with them with all speed so that we can make further progress in the talks, which will run alongside the declaration that I have just set out to the House. As far as the consent principle is concerned, I reiterate again, because I wish no one to be in any doubt about this, that the future constitutional position of Northern Ireland lies now, and will continue to lie, within the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. For so long as a majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain within the Union, they will have the total and complete support of this Government in doing so.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Would the Prime Minister care to comment on the fact that the great difficulty and the field of controversy between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic--Northern Ireland being a member of the United Kingdom, although the document never once mentions the United Kingdom; that phrase has been entirely jettisoned from the document – involves articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution? Surely that is the very nub of the controversy. Why does this paper not even mention that?

A member of the Government said to me outside, "Oh, yes, but look at page 5." I have read the document carefully. In fact, I was able to receive from Dublin 24 hours before this document was available to other people all the information that I put in my letter-- [Interruption.] It is very important that the Prime Minister should answer this question. He confirms that, in the event of an overall settlement, according to the Taoiseach, "the Irish Government will, as part of a balanced constitutional accommodation, put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish Constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland."

But it is not the principle of consent in Northern Ireland that has anything to do with articles 2 and 3; it is the principle of the territorial claim. However, that most important matter has not even been referred to.

Will the Prime Minister tell us what the statement on page 2 really does to the present position? Paragraph 4 states that the British Government agree

"that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self- determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish."

How is that different? Is it not different from the present situation when the entity of self-determination in Northern Ireland is the people of Northern Ireland? Why must the people of Northern Ireland now be linked with the Irish Republic on a question of their own right to remain within this United Kingdom?

Finally, may I say to the Prime Minister, that, as a public representative, I find it very offensive to be told that, in three months' time, if the IRA ceases its violence without any conditions for handing over its weapons or its bomb-making material or any of its military prowess, the IRA will be invited, as constitutional politicians, to sit down at the table. That goes to the very gut of the resentment of the people of Northern Ireland who have been slaughtered, butchered and murdered-- [Interruption.] I do not mind what the hon. Gentleman says. His constituents have not been murdered or butchered. Perhaps he would like to sit down with the godfathers of the IRA and others who have done such things. What I have described goes to the gut of the people of Northern Ireland. They look on this as a sell-out act of treachery.

The Prime Minister : Let me touch on the last part first. The hon. Gentleman makes the point that some of his constituents have been murdered by terrorist activities over the past 25 years. I acknowledge that and I understand the misery that that must have caused to his constituents, their families and to the hon. Gentleman himself.

I must say to the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of the agreement and the document is to make sure that, 25 years from now, his successor does not sit there saying that to the Prime Minister of the day. I wish to take action to make sure that there is no more bloodshed of that sort and no more coffins carried away week after week because politicians do not have the courage to sit down, address the problem and find a way through. I am prepared to do that. If the hon. Gentleman believes that I should not, he does not understand the responsibilities of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. On the hon. Gentleman's three questions, the declaration does not specifically refer to the United Kingdom; it specifically refers to the Union, which I think that the hon. Gentleman himself cares about. If he reads the document carefully, which, alas, he had not done when he made his remarks this morning and issued his letter, he will see that reference to the Union. As for articles 2 and 3, the quotation answers the hon. Gentleman's own question. That is clearly intended to refer to articles 2 and 3 in due course, and does so refer. On the hon. Gentleman's third point on paragraph 4 about freely expressed consent, the specific point of paragraph 4 is to mention the freely expressed consent north and south respectively. It is saying to the hon. Gentleman that he, his constituents and all the other people in Northern Ireland have themselves, by their own actions, in their hands the future constitutional position of Ulster.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle) : May I express to the Prime Minister and to Mr. Reynolds my deep appreciation for the enormous amount of energy that they have put into trying to grasp the hope of peace--a hope which is shared by the masses of people on both islands? Having read the joint declaration, I think that it is one of the most comprehensive declarations that has been made about British-Irish relations in the past 70 years. My appeal to all sections of our people is to read the entire statement in full and to have no knee-jerk reactions but to study it carefully and in full before responding.

As the House will be aware, it has been the consistent position of my party that the British-Irish quarrel of old, the quarrel of sovereignty, has changed fundamentally in the evolution of the new interdependent and post- nationalist Europe of which we are members, but the legacy of that past is the deeply divided people. I welcome the fact that the declaration identifies the problem as the deeply divided people of Ireland. I also welcome the fact that it recognises that that division can be healed only by agreement, and by an agreement that earns the allegiance and agreement of all our traditions and respects their diversity. I welcome also the fact that the Government have committed themselves to promoting such agreement and to encouraging such agreement, and whatever form that agreement takes, the Government will endorse.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the joint declaration is a challenge to all parties to come to the table in a totally peaceful atmosphere to begin the very difficult process--it will be a difficult process--of reaching agreement? If it takes place in a peaceful atmosphere, we will have much more chance of reaching such an agreement. My appeal to everyone who comes to that table is to come armed only with the strength of their convictions and not with any form of coercion or physical force.

Let us remember at this time that it is people who have rights, not territory, and that humanity transcends nationality. May the House share with me at this moment the hope of all our people that today will be the first major step on a road that will remove for ever the gun and the bomb from our small island of people.

Hon. Members : Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comprehensive support. He is right; the declaration is a challenge to all parties and to all people concerned with finding a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland. I have to say to all parties that I think that we have no moral alternative but to take up that challenge and see whether we can find a satisfactory outcome. The hon. Gentleman has shown his personal commitment to a settlement in Northern Ireland for many years and, on that basis, his support today is doubly welcome.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the genuine and serious work that he has done in producing the declaration for the House? Is not it evident that no such declaration could give everybody everything that they wanted? Is not it evident also that there is nothing in the declaration that genuinely and seriously threatens anybody's vital interests in the matter?

Is not there a heavy responsibility on all hon. Members, including the elected Members in Northern Ireland, not to react in a way which could destroy the best opportunity for peace that we have seen since the trouble began? Is not the message from the House--we hope that it will be repeated later from the Dail Eireann--to those who have been responsible for violence that, because there is now a joint offer from both Governments of access to the democratic process, violence should cease immediately?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He speaks, of course, with the experience of having been a distinguished Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He is right that this is a balanced document which now offers opportunities that were not there before. I share my right hon. Friend's hope that those opportunities will be taken up.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Will the Prime Minister note that he has our sincere and heartfelt good will in all his efforts and in the personal commitment which he is devoting to the task? Does he note also that we welcome the concurrent referendum possibility and the emphasis on human rights in the Taoiseach's own statement? Is not the real question for the terrorists? Why should anybody else die and why should any more families be torn apart when it is possible to seek change without obstacle by a peaceful process, and when there are guarantees, which are underwritten by both Governments, that those changes cannot be enforced against the will of the majority in the north of Ireland?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is now no justification whatever for terrorism. There is now a clear and identifiable alternative for those people who seriously wish to engage in discussions in Northern Ireland. If terrorism were to continue after the statement and after the declaration, with the support that that has been given, it will be clearly understood by everyone that those people who engage in terrorism do not in any way genuinely seek a settlement, but simply wish to inflict murder and terror continuously.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster) : May I ask my right hon. Friend to be encouraged by the fact that the British-Irish inter-parliamentary body met in London today, and British and Irish Members of Parliament alike asked me on their behalf to welcome the joint declaration and to give it their support?

May I further ask my right hon. Friend to repeat that the declaration is a framework for peace that represents in many ways an opportunity for a new beginning? Will my right hon. Friend, together with the Irish Taoiseach, continue with all of his strength in his historic work, the end of which can mean only the peace which we all want?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. The declaration certainly is a framework for peace. It is an opportunity, but whether that opportunity is taken does not lie in my hands or in the hands of the Irish Prime Minister. It lies in the hands of the people who have bombed and killed for so long. It is they who must come under pressure to make sure that the violence ends.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : May I, as someone whose constituency suffered from the bombers, ask the Prime Minister to accept that now is the time to give peace a chance? Will he also accept that if anybody involved fails to take that chance, they will never be forgiven?

It is time for all paramilitaries to lay down their arms. If they do, will not that be a fitting memorial, not only to the two small boys who lost their lives in Warrington, but to all who have lost their lives needlessly because of the actions of the people of violence? Let us hope that the words that have been spoken today will be heeded and that peace comes at last. Is not that what is needed if we are to avoid debates about violence in the future?

The Prime Minister : I cannot improve on what the hon. Gentleman said; I simply endorse it.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Does my right hon. Friend ardently wish that people of Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the United Kingdom? Otherwise, is there not a danger that people will say that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is careless with regard to the integrity of the United Kingdom? In that case, would it be inconceivable that anybody could have said that without the events of the past 25 years?

The Prime Minister : If my hon. Friend looks at the joint declaration and at the words I set out so clearly at the last general election, he need have no doubt about my views on the Union; they are well known and on the record. I have gone to great trouble to ensure that the constitutional guarantee is firmly enshrined in the joint declaration, so that there can be no doubt that those people who care about support of the Government, to remain within the Union for so long as that is their wish.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Is the Prime Minister aware that so strong is the desire for peace that the overwhelming majority of people in this country have long favoured talks among all the parties concerned? Will he confirm that a round table conference on that basis offers a better hope of a durable peace than simply talks between two Prime Ministers, neither of whom has been responsible for the violence? Would I be right in assuming that the significance of what he said today about the future of the island of Ireland being in the hands of the Irish people is that the British Government are no longer laying claim to an interest in the maintenance of the Union if the people of the north are ready to seek alternative arrangements? Is not that an important statement which ought to be underlined, clarified and emphasised in order to end the violence?

The Prime Minister : On the first point, talks between the two Governments have a place and the joint declaration is the outcome of those discussions. It lies alongside the main talks process with all the constitutional parties, who must play their part in determining what happens, as they are most directly concerned. Self-evidently, that is the best way to proceed. As far as the Union is concerned, I reiterate the points I made a moment ago; my views about the Union are well known. I said some time ago at the election that it would not be appropriate for any Government--I was talking about Scotland--to hold Scotland within the United Kingdom if a majority of its people wanted independence. The same must apply to the people of Northern Ireland. That does not exclude the fact that I have my own personal views; it illustrates the fact that, ultimately, it must be for the people themselves to determine.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) : While warmly welcoming the joint declaration as a potential positive way forward, may I ask my right hon. Friend to remember that, during the weeks it was prepared, violence continued in Northern Ireland? Will he ensure that there is no let-up in the hunt for those that perpetrated terrorism?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend takes a particular interest in Northern Ireland as chairman of the committee particularly concerned with Northern Ireland. I give him the categorical assurance that there will be no let-up in the security action against terrorists. The co-operation with the Gardai and the security forces in the north is today at a more comprehensive level that we have ever known.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : As I almost lost my life at the hands of IRA terrorism, I fully understand the message inherent in today's declaration and to whom it is directed. Obviously there is much emphasis on Irish nationalist aspirations. However, the Prime Minister will know that 95 per cent. of people in my constituency are more interested in British aspirations. Although he has given some assurances today and specifically referred to paragraph 2 of the joint declaration which states that both Prime Ministers reaffirm "Northern Ireland's statutory constitutional guarantee", the trouble is that both Prime Ministers interpret differently what Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee really is. Therefore, with the purpose of giving confidence to the British people of my constituency, will the Prime Minister assure us, first, that the declaration in no way weakens Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom and, secondly, that it in no way gives Dublin any further role in the internal affairs or administration of Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister : First, the whole House knows that the right hon. Gentleman was on one occasion very badly wounded by the IRA, and that he showed bravery then and subsequently. I am grateful for what he said. I give him both the assurances that he seeks. The declaration in no way weakens the constitutional guarantee that was first set out in the Northern Ireland Constitutional Act 1973. There is no weakening of that constitutional guarantee and nothing agreed today in the joint declaration gives the Government of the Republic of Ireland any additional say in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Sir James Kilfedder (North Down) : Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that there will be no talks with Sinn Fein until the terrorists, the IRA, hand over not only all the guns, ammunition and explosives that they have in Northern Ireland, but the material that they have in the Irish Republic?

The Prime Minister : It may be rather difficult in practice to find out precisely where it is and who has it ; that is the practical difficulty that we face. We have said, beyond any doubt, that there must be the clearest possible public renunciation of violence and then a decontamination period-- [Hon. Members :-- "Both sides."]--so that it is clear that that renunciation of violence will be held and there will be no violence. Then one can determine whether Sinn Fein can enter into discussions.

Hon. Members : Both sides.

Madam Speaker : Order.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : The Prime Minister will be aware that, in Dail Eireann today, there will be a similar reaction to the joint declaration. I welcome that, as I welcome the reception that it has received in the House. Does the Prime Minister accept that the intrinsic value will be recognised only if the same acceptance is gained where it counts--in places like my constituency in west Belfast, on the Shankill road and in the districts which have been beset by the violence of the IRA and of loyalist paramilitary groupings?

The Prime Minister said in his statement that the British Government's role will be to encourage, facilitate and enable agreement among all the people who inhabit the island. Does he include in that the further persuasion of those in the IRA who are carrying out violence? He has recognised that there are channels for achieving that. A logical conclusion of that part of his statement must be to pursue that type of persuasion with those people, to try to ensure an end to violence.

I am consistently impressed by the reassurances that the Prime Minister gives to Unionists in the House. Those of us of a nationalist persuasion believe in pursuing our objectives by peaceful democratic means. When the Prime Minister speaks about the north of Ireland, he should recognise that 44 per cent. of the population follow that view and are entitled to some prime ministerial persuasion and reassurance at some time.

The Prime Minister : I do not think that there has been any occasion when I have suggested that everyone who held nationalist aspirations was inclined to pursue them in a violent manner. That is certainly not my view. The IRA has pursued its activities in a wholly unsatisfactory and brutal manner. That patently does not apply to every nationalist and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have thought that any hon. Member could conceivably think that it did. As for persuasion, it is not in my mind to offer concessions to people. What we have to say to all parties is now said clearly and in the open. They know what lies there; they know what opportunity awaits if they are prepared permanently to renounce violence. That is what lies there and there is nothing further to be offered.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) : Now that the brave efforts of both Prime Ministers and of the Ministers and officials, who worked so hard, have brought the declaration to a successful conclusion, does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest cause for hope and satisfaction is that although there has never been the slightest excuse for violence, killing and bombing, if that course is pursued by the terrorists it will only show that they are not the slightest bit interested in any part of the democratic process? Has my right hon. Friend further agreed with the Taoiseach that if violence continues, both Governments, working together, will make concerted efforts to do whatever must be done to defeat the terrorists?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend speaks with special knowledge of Northern Ireland. He is absolutely right to say that there is no conceivable excuse for a continuation of violence. If it were to continue, I do not have a shred of doubt that we would continue to receive good and enhanced co-operation from the Government of the Republic of Ireland in tracking down those engaged in terrorism.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Do not we owe a particular debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) whose dedicated work for peace should be appreciated by all? Many attacked him, and I hope that they will realise now what he set out to achieve. Would it be useful to let friendly western democracies know what has been agreed between Ireland and the United Kingdom not least the United States, where there seems to be some misunderstanding of the long and justified campaign waged by this country against terrorism? Should not the people of western Europe know and understand that the joint declaration has the overwhelming support of the people of Ireland and Britain and that continuing terrorism from either side has no support from the people whom the terrorists claim to represent?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to add the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the hon. Member for Foyle. I have paid tribute to him in the past for the work that he pursued for so many years, and I am glad to reiterate it today.

I agree entirely with the remarks of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) in respect of the United States and Europe. I believe that there will be overwhelming support for the proposals set out in the joint declaration. We must hope that that transmits itself to those people who have the power to stop the killing, and that they choose to do so.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that whether or not this welcome declaration leads to an end to violence, it finally strips away the remotest pretext for violence and for international sympathy or support for violence? It also broadens the political base for the repression of violence from whatever quarter, should it continue.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend touched on a most important point when he said that the declaration strips away any pretext for tangible support. That is true within the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, and in respect of the tangible support that has come from other sources from time to time.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : Although there is widespread hope that today's declaration will form the basis of a peaceful settlement, does the Prime Minister agree that much remains to be done to ensure a lasting peaceful settlement? As to talks with various parties, will the Prime Minister give an absolute assurance that no party will be able to use a boycott or veto to scupper the peace process and that the Prime Minister will not be deflected by his Government's desire to secure the support of Unionist votes in the House?

The Prime Minister : I do not believe that the participants in the talks would put up with a veto, which is the most practical point arising from the hon. Gentleman's question. However, if the talks procedure itself is to produce a lasting outcome, it will need to carry the consent of people in Northern Ireland. I shall seek, therefore, to encourage the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland at which the hon. Gentleman directed his remarks to play a full part in the constitutional discussions. They have done so thus far; they have done so very constructively. A great deal of progress has been made and I believe that they will wish to continue to make progress, as was indicated by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) a few moments ago.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : As a committed Conservative and Unionist Member of the House, I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's total commitment to peace. All Members of the House join him in hoping that the declaration will produce peace. Does my right hon. Friend accept, however, that the strength of the United Kingdom is composed of the component parts of the United Kingdom--England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales--and that any breach of the Union will weaken the whole? Will my right hon. Friend, as I did some years ago, go to Northern Ireland and campaign for the Union and support those who are in favour of the Union, should the necessity arise?

The Prime Minister : My views about the Union, as I indicated a moment or so ago, are well known and I do not believe that they can be seriously challenged by anyone who considers the record at the general election, before the general election, or subsequent to the general election, or considers the detail of the joint declaration. I also hold to the belief, however, that in the circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland it is for the people of Northern Ireland to determine the position. I believe that that is the right way to proceed and I think that in due course that is the way in which we must proceed.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : In welcoming the statement and wishing its ideals and its aspirations fair wind, although I recognise the many difficult days which still lie ahead, may I re-emphasise, on behalf of the constitutional nationalist parties in the House, the importance that we attach to achieving our aims through the ballot box, through reasoned arguments and through the democratically expressed views of the people of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, be that through a referendum or through a general election?

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle on the bravery that he has shown for many months, along with other people whose names perhaps are not so well known in this context, and I hope that the efforts that have been made will bring about a lasting settlement. Finally, I remind the Prime Minister that in Europe there is a great opportunity for the diversity of nations to be recognised as equal partners.

The Prime Minister : On her first two points, the hon. Lady will carry almost everyone with her, and I believe that she deserves to. The third point was rather more elliptical, but I think that, in principle, I can agree with the hon. Lady.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend and all those who have helped in the making of this historic agreement. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House, however, that no commitment--explicit or implicit--has been made for any form of amnesty for those people who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes in Northern Ireland, and that the judicial process will pursue, with utmost diligence, those who have continued with their crimes of violence in recent weeks?

The Prime Minister : I can give my hon. Friend that absolute commitment.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : May I suggest to the Prime Minister that it is appropriate at this time that we remember two brave and dedicated men from my constituency who made the supreme sacrifice as members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary at the weekend? Drew Beecom and Ernie Smith were fine men. Those are the sort of people who must never be betrayed. I have experienced at first hand for more than 20 years the treachery of the IRA. Is there implicit in paragraph 10, which deals with a possible permanent end to violence and the way in which the men of violence can in due course enter the democratic process, provision by both Governments for a process of verification? Will he assure us that that process includes the surrender of arms and explosives and that it requires those who have been involved in violence to declare, by drafting a new manifesto and seeking approval at the ballot box, that they totally eschew violence before they can fully enter the democratic process?

The Prime Minister : They will certainly be required to give evidence of sincerity in a renunciation of violence. That is the purpose of having a gap between the renunciation and the entry into exploratory preliminary talks, so that we can examine the matters that the hon. Gentleman raises. The dreadful murders of the two brave men that he mentioned at Fivemiletown are the latest in a long catalogue of the wholly unnecessary and wasteful actions that have destroyed so many people's lives in Northern Ireland. If the options that are opened up as a result of this declaration are to be taken up, there is a possibility that perhaps no more brave men need join them.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be widespread welcome for the third paragraph of the declaration, which emphasises the key role of the European Community? Does he agree that the development of the single market will break down economic barriers and build up trust between the two communities? Does he also agree that it is important to have greater sporting links, as they also break down barriers and could build up the links between the two traditions? Does he agree that it would be an excellent idea if there were an all-Ireland soccer team?

The Prime Minister : An all-Ireland soccer team would be a great loss to many people who have watched Northern Ireland play the Republic on many occasions. Those of us who like watching the five nations rugby championship would also rather miss that clash. Beyond that, however, my hon. Friend is right about the impact of the single market.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : None of us have doubted the Prime Minister's commitment to the Union, but perhaps in drafting the declaration it might have been wiser to put in Great Britain, because then we would have kept Scotland within the Union.

Mrs. Ewing : No, thank you.

Rev. Martin Smyth : May I explore a little further whether, having offered the carrot, the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic has made any commitment to join in applying the stick if it is necessary and the offer of peace is not accepted? As I understand it, the two Governments and the two nations are not at war. May I also clarify a misunderstanding that may have gone unnoticed in this place today? Sinn Fein has a democratic place and has been elected, but its representatives did not take their places in this House and it has not been prepared to act as a proper democratic party.

I shall give three simple illustrations. Having made a declaration that they would not support violence, as they would not then be eligible to be councillors, one of Sinn Fein's elected councillors has gone to the United States to defend the acts of the IRA. The other evening in my constituency, a 1,000 lb bomb was placed by the IRA in a nationalist and predominantly Roman Catholic area. It could have devastated new houses and a Roman Catholic controlled school and one woman died. Representative McKnight of Sinn Fein refused to condemn the IRA. Is it not near time that we stopped that mollycoddling and laid down the terms under which Sinn Fein can be represented as a proper democratic party?

The Prime Minister : On the hon. Gentleman's first point, if the offer that implicitly lies there is not taken up, I have no doubt that the two Governments will continue to work together in intensified mode on security matters against men of violence, whether from the IRA, the Ulster Freedom Fighters or the Ulster Volunteer Force. The relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA is well understood, as is the pseudo-constitutional position of the president of Sinn Fein. Therein lies the link--the necessity for a complete renunciation of violence before there can be any intention of accepting the representatives of Sinn Fein in any constitutional talks.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. May I remind hon. Members that we are not in the middle of a debate but asking questions on a statement. I am sure that if I call a few more hon. Members, they will co-operate with me and ask brisk questions, and perhaps we could have a brisk exchange.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : Can the Prime Minister tell us what loyal Ulster has done wrong to have this further betrayal visited on it? When he talks to the House about the consent of Northern Ireland being required, will he remember, because the people of Northern Ireland have not forgotten, that their consent was neither asked for nor given for the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Their consent was neither asked for nor given for this declaration. It seems that their consent will be required only for the final act of separation.

Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether his stomach is no longer turning at the prospect of sitting down with the IRA? Can he tell us why he has taken away the unfettered right of the people of Northern Ireland to have an act of self-determination and why he has included it in the self- determination of the island as a whole? Why is it that Prime Ministers from this House who protest the most that they are Unionists are always the ones who do the greatest harm to the Union?

The Prime Minister : I am afraid that I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I think that that was intended to be a wholly destructive intervention. There is no question, and the hon. Gentleman knows that there is no question, of betrayal in any sense. I would invite the hon. Gentleman to read the joint declaration and then read it again and again until he understands it, because he cannot justify what he has just said.

The constitutional guarantee and the consent principle are writ large in the statement. In the letter which the hon. Gentleman published this morning, with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), the hon. Gentleman claimed that I had

"given the Prime Minister of a foreign and alien power joint jurisdiction over part of Her Majesty's dominions".

That is what the hon. Gentleman wrote this morning. He was utterly and totally wrong about that. I have done no such thing, as the joint declaration makes unambiguously clear. The declaration states that self-determination must be

"exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland".

The hon. Gentleman should read the declaration before he comments on it, and not mislead people about it. I hope that one day the hon. Gentleman will not always put himself between actions that will bring peace and that peace.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Can the Prime Minister tell us whether the loyalist paramilitaries will also be expected to lay down their arms? Can he tell us what he means about the concurrent referendums? For instance, we now know from questions that he has answered that the referendums may not be on the same day. If the decision of the referendum in the south of the country is in favour, and the decision of the referendum in the north is against, do they add them up? [Interruption.] Can the Prime Minister explain what will happen in those circumstances? Does it mean that there will be no further progress? I should like to know the answer.

The Prime Minister : I sometimes despair at the hon. Gentleman. Everyone is expected to lay down their arms--that is perfectly clear. As I said, I despair at the hon. Gentleman's understanding. I have made it clear almost times beyond number at this Dispatch Box over recent weeks and now that there must be a majority in Northern Ireland. If there is no majority in Northern Ireland, the constitutional guarantee stands.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : In view of paragraph 4 of the declaration that the British Government "have no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland", will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government still have a "strategic or economic interest" in Wolverhampton? [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister : Well-- [Interruption.] Don't tempt me-- [Laughter.]

Let me explain to my hon. Friend : we shall not impose our views on the majority in Northern Ireland, but that, of course, does not and cannot mean that we are indifferent to their concerns and their future. We support the Union, and we protect its people. We support their rights with our cast- iron constitutional guarantee. We support their economy, and we support it generously. We deploy 18,000 of our troops in Northern Ireland, because of our concern about the situation there, and we want to ensure that the people in Northern Ireland about whom we are concerned, from both communities, can have a safer and more prosperous future in which democracy can thrive. None of that is selfish; all of it is our responsibility.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Does the Prime Minister accept that only when articles 2 and 3 have been removed from the Irish constitution--

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : Removed?

Mr. Beggs : Removed. Does the Prime Minister accept that only when articles 2 and 3 have been removed will my constituents recognise that, for the first time, an opportunity has arisen to seek to develop new relationships between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic? Will he bear with me when I describe the great disappointments that my constituents and people elsewhere in Northern Ireland have had over little things, such as the £7 million defrauded by a citizen of the Irish Republic in Dublin out of the people who invested in International Investments Ltd? Despite the representations that have been made from Northern Ireland on that little issue, we have had no satisfaction. Therefore, we have great doubts whether we shall get satisfaction on the greater issues.

The Prime Minister : I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I freely confess that I am not familiar with the particular case that he mentioned, but I am sure that if he brings it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. and learned Friend will examine the matter to see whether anything can be done.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that no rational Unionist could fail to give the declaration a cautious welcome, but does he also accept that it is sensible that the declaration has not been made in an atmosphere of euphoria, as though it would bring "peace in our time"? However, it is an opportunity. I take sides with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in asking whether my right hon. Friend also agrees that those who may have some persuasive influence, although no direct influence, over the loyalist paramilitaries should persuade them to lay down their arms--before the IRA men lay down theirs, in my view.

The Prime Minister : We all wish to see the men of violence lay down their arms, whether they claim to represent the loyalist or the nationalist cause. In my judgment, both groups of people involved in violence betray the causes for which they claim to speak. My hon. Friend is right about the status of the document. It is an opportunity for peace, but it cannot be guaranteed by the two Governments; I do not guarantee it. It lies there to be taken up if the people who can deliver peace will take it up. It is not a certainty, but it is an opportunity.

Mr. Trimble : The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) referred to euphoria. Does the Prime Minister recall the euphoria years ago when the House foolishly endorsed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which has blighted the politics of Ulster ever since? If we are suspending judgment on the statement today, it is in the hope that it will lead to a way out of the cul-de-sac to which the people of Ulster have been condemned for the past eight years.

Will the Prime Minister comment on the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland? At his press conference today he said that his object was to increase the democratic rights of the people of Northern Ireland. Does he realise that it lies uniquely within his hands to remedy that democratic deficit, and will he give us an assurance that he will not be held to ransom by other parties in other countries that are trying to block that remedy for their own selfish motives?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that he will suspend judgment and study the document. I am sure that that is the right thing to do. The document is complex, and genuinely deserves and will reward careful study. I hope that when he has studied it he will be reassured. As I said earlier to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, I am keen to proceed with the talks process. I look forward very much to examining the ideas which the right hon. Gentleman has presented to me on strand 1. We shall examine those quickly and pursue the discussions that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has been engaged in for some time.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) : May I say to my right hon. Friend that it was a remarkable achievement to have received such an unambiguous statement to convince the IRA that, even by the standards of its own perverted logic, when neither Government will give it any succour or support, it has no alternative but to come to the bargaining table.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right and I see no need to reiterate his point.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South) : Is the Prime Minister aware that while the House has generally accepted his statement, the people of Northern Ireland will not perhaps look at it in the same light because for years and years and for election after election, they have voted to show that they are part of the United Kingdom? They will hardly regard the agreement as further copper fastening because they already felt that they were part of the United Kingdom. Do the Prime Minister and the House realise that the people of Northern Ireland require every encouragement to see this statement and the agreement in that light because they have always felt that they were part of the United Kingdom and they do not understand why we need an agreement to point that out?

The Prime Minister : In a sense, the hon. Gentleman answered the point when he said that the people of Northern Ireland have shown that they are part of the United Kingdom and that they feel strongly about that. The fact that they feel strongly about it and the debates that so frequently ensue in Northern Ireland mean that there is a need for reassurance and that reassurance is offered by the joint declaration today. They have shown, as the hon. Gentleman says, that they wish to be part of the United Kingdom. As long as they continue to show that, they need have no doubt that they will remain a part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : My right hon. Friend may not be aware that 25 years ago I was serving with the Army in Northern Ireland and had the task of helping build the peace line that divided the Protestant and Catholic communities of the Shankill and Falls road. Does he accept that the initiative is not just the best chance of peace, but the only chance of peace in the foreseeable future? Does he further agree that we are talking not only about peace, but about prosperity, jobs and trade for north and south Ireland to improve the standard of living of all the people?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making a point that has not yet been made this afternoon. Were we able to end the violence that has scarred Northern Ireland for so long, it would make a remarkable difference to the business prospects of Northern Ireland, to the prospects for tourism and to the prospects for the flow of inward investment into Northern Ireland. I can think of no single event that would raise the quality of life and the standard of material prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland than an ending of violence.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North) : I welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to the constitutional parties. Will he confirm that the creation of a Northern Ireland assembly is still on the table?

The Prime Minister : I can confirm that that is still part of the strand 1 talks.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the real importance of the declaration is that it removes any pretext for terrorism, violence and murder and that now the onus is clearly on the men of violence to give up their arms and take the peace process further?

The Prime Minister : Yes, that is entirely right. It is their decision and we hope that they will make it.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : It is hoped that Sinn Fein will respond positively to the joint declaration and persuade the IRA to end its armed struggle. However, some issues in the joint declaration may worry responsible Unionism in Northern Ireland--the issue of articles 2 and 3 has already been suggested. Will the Prime Minister elaborate on paragraph 11 of the declaration which deals with the establishment of a forum for peace and reconciliation? It seems that that forum is to be established by the Irish Government, although they will talk to other parties. I am not clear whether that forum is to be for the whole of Ireland or just for the Republic. Is not it the case that Northern Ireland really needs a forum for peace and reconciliation and that it should be developed in that area?

The Prime Minister : The forum to which the hon. Gentleman refers is an initiative of the Irish Government which I understood would be launched after an announcement that violence had ended. That is certainly what the Taoiseach said this morning. It would be open to all constitutional parties in the north and south, but would, of course, be entirely optional. There would be no compulsion on any party to attend.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : In giving the joint declaration a cautious, but heartfelt welcome, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his courage in seizing what is potentially a poisoned chalice? May I press him further for crucial detail? Does his definition of a cessation of violence include the handing over of at least some weapons and explosives and will he assure the House that convicted murderers in Northern Ireland will serve the whole of their sentences?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly confirm that not only do I not have any notion in my mind of amnesty, but there is no suggestion of a reduction in sentences awarded by the courts. That is a matter for the courts and not something in which I wish to interfere. Were there to be an end to violence, the crimes that are currently being investigated would still be the subject of investigation in the future--that is the way our criminal justice system operates and it will continue to operate on that basis. We hope that there will be a surrender of some arms. The sine qua non is the absolute assurance that there is a renunciation of violence and that that renunciation is shown to be carried out.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Does the Prime Minister recognise that the basis of a lot of the talks that have occurred in the past few weeks is the initiative taken by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) in meeting Gerry Adams, the leader of the Sinn Fein? In the spirit of expanding democracy in Northern Ireland and in the whole country, what consideration has he given to the repeal of the prevention of terrorism Act, to a lifting of the ban on Gerry Adam's movements to this country and to the ending of the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein so that the peace process may be further hastened in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister : I have not given consideration to those particular matters. Indeed, in the Republic of Ireland, there is a tougher ban, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know. I indicated earlier my admiration for what the hon. Member for Foyle has done over many years, not only over recent months. The Taoiseach's initiative did not begin a few months ago, but commenced in February 1992, at our first meeting in Downing Street, soon after he became the Taoiseach.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : The Prime Minister must be pleased and proud to put the offer for peace on the table today and I, like most hon. Members, am happy about it. However, will he bear in mind that the active elements of terrorism in Northern Ireland will not wish to see a cessation of violence--the element that have what I call a gangster mentality who have been making a good living from what is going on? Some of those men will want actively to perpetrate further acts of violence under the guise of someone else. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that he will carefully scrutinise any transgression that may threaten the agreement so that we know who is the guilty party? While a referendum is being--

Madam Speaker : Order. I have asked for brisk questions. I am allowing the statement to run a long time because it is so important to the House. I wish that hon. Members would not abuse my tolerance and put one question so that I can call all hon. Members who wish to speak.

Mr. Cook : It is a most important question.

Madam Speaker : I am sure that all questions are important. The hon. Gentleman must determine the priority of his questions.

Mr. Cook : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will ask his question speedily. I have pleaded for short questions so that other hon. Members might be called. I think that that is a fair and just way to proceed.

Mr. Cook : Concurrent with the concurrent referendums in north and southern Ireland, can we have an appropriate and complementary referendum in the United Kingdom to find out what mainland Britain thinks?

The Prime Minister : I had not contemplated a referendum of that sort on this particular issue. On the early part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I think that he is right. In terms of the criminal aspect that so often runs alongside terrorism, he touches on an important point. There is a possibility that terrorists might give up terrorism but that some might decide to continue with what one might call freelance gangsterism. The hon. Gentleman touches on an important point, and I am glad that he did so.

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : Will the Prime Minister clarify the final sentence of paragraph 7, which contains the important commitment from the Taoiseach that

"in the event of overall settlement, the Irish Government will, as part of a balanced constitutional accommodation, put forward proposals for changes in the Constitution which would reflect the principle of consent"?

May I take that to mean that it does not preclude a change of that nature in the constitution in advance of a final settlement and that we might still hope that the Irish Government might, of themselves, grasp the nettle of articles 2 and 3?

The Prime Minister : It certainly does not preclude that. The hon. Gentleman has read it entirely correctly. It is a rather allusive way of indicating the fact that articles 2 and 3 might, at an appropriate time, be put forward for changes in the Irish constitution. The hon. Gentleman has read it accurately.

Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : In paragraph 4, the Prime Minister reiterates on behalf of the Government that Britain has no "selfish strategic or economic interest in northern Ireland." Even if hon. Members do not like it, they must accept that many people in Northern Ireland will regard that as a betrayal, even if we think it is wrong. Will the Prime Minister clarify what he means by that sentence? Does not he, as a British Prime Minister, think that British citizens, many of whom lost members of their families fighting for this country in the war, might feel a little sad? Will he say what he really means by it?

The Prime Minister : The essence of it is that our interest is benevolent, not selfish. I set out a series of ways in which I felt that that should be interpreted in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). The essence is that we are not going to impose our views on the majority of the people in Northern Ireland against their wishes. That is the essence of what it is about, but it does not mean, and should not be interpreted as meaning, that we are indifferent to their concerns or their future. We are not indifferent to their concerns or to their future. That is why in terms of economic support and, for the past many years, military support to preserve security, we have shown our concern for the people of Northern Ireland--all of them, both communities-- in the most tangible way possible.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : I fully understand why the declaration concentrates mainly on finding ways of persuading Sinn Fein and its paramilitary allies to stop murdering people, but, as the majority of recent terrorist incidents have been the result of so-called "loyalist" paramilitary activities, does the Prime Minister agree that the whole House would never forgive people who went on carrying out such acts in the name of loyalty to the House and the state and nor would they forget politicians who condoned such activities?

The Prime Minister : The House wants no one to murder and kill on the basis of loyalty to the Union except perhaps at a time when the country might be at war with another nation. That is not the case. The hon. Gentleman is quite right--the actions of those who call themselves loyalists besmirch the Unionist cause and are not accepted by constitutional Unionists. Their activities are as malign as those of the IRA.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : I hope that my reaction is not cynical, but, given the document's emphasis on the Government's commitment to honour

"the democratic wish of a greater number of the people of Northern Ireland",

the island of Ireland will surely remain divided in the foreseeable future. Is that not a reasonable assumption? Is it not also fair to assume that significant interested parties will seek to put on the agenda the hugely important issue of a united Ireland?

The Prime Minister : I think that I have made it clear repeatedly over the past 1 hour and 25 minutes that we believe in the principle of consent and that is what, rightly in my judgment, is enshrined in the document.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : Will the Prime Minister list to what extent the British Government's policy has been changed as a result of the joint agreement? Does he accept that merely to bring the parties to the conference table does not necessarily lessen the chance of violence? Does he recall that the last time a comprehensive peace treaty was under discussion, which all major parties had sought election successfully to support, a civil war and bloody carnage followed, the like of which we had not seen before and have not seen since?

The Prime Minister : The joint declaration is consistent with our policy, as I told the House earlier.

Mr. Field : What has changed?

The Prime Minister : It is consistent with our policy, as I told the House earlier. The hon. Gentleman referred to what happened in the past, but it is rather a counsel of despair. I think that the hon. Gentleman, like me, would wish to see us make a move that may end violence and lead to a constitutional settlement. That is what we are doing. In no sense do I believe that it is going to be easy, and in no sense do I believe that we can snatch at it in a second and change the whole way of life in Ireland, or even in Northern Ireland, but it is presenting an opportunity to take a first step towards securing a long-term constitutional position by ending violence. While that violence continues, no progress can be made economically and only limited progress can be made politically so it is a wholly desirable step. We are seeking to ensure that violence ends so that we can begin the further discussions that will have to take place.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) : I should like to add my congratulations to those who brought about this joint declaration and I am very pleased because it is, of course, Labour party policy that there should be a united Ireland only with the consent of the people in the north. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the chill of the horror of violence in Northern Ireland goes across the border? Although we bow to the experience of Northern Ireland Members, it does not go down well to hear the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) claim that it was only in his fiefdom. Is he aware that I lost a relative in 1973 in a pub bombing in Belfast?

Is he aware that last night there was a peace vigil at St. Martin-in-the- Fields at which hon. Members of all parties stood with people from Northern Ireland calling for an end to violence and killing for Christmas and, we hope, onwards in Northern Ireland? There were people there from the Ophsal Commission and members of Families Against Intimidation and Terror. Does he know that people in Families Against Intimidation and Terror are saying that they are underfunded? Does he not agree with me that the civil society will have to be built in Ireland, not just political initiatives, before the people of Ireland who are against violence can come into the light and drive the men of terror into the darkness?

The Prime Minister : I think that the hon. Gentleman is right on the question of violence. Clearly, hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies have had far greater experience of violence over the past 25 years than those of us with mainland constituencies. The hon. Gentleman cited his own case, and many of us will have had friends involved in the violence in Northern Ireland. In later years, perhaps most noticeably recently in the dreadful events in Warrington, that violence has spilled over to the mainland. While the brunt has been borne in Northern Ireland, I think that an understanding of what the people of Northern Ireland have suffered has increased in recent years and I think it is desirable that it has done so. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that the violence spreads beyond an individual constituency, however bad things may have been in that constituency.

The hon. Gentleman's second point returns to a point made by one of my hon. Friends a few moments ago : nothing will do more for the economic well- being of Northern Ireland, in the short and the long term, than an end to violence.

Hon. Members : Hear, hear.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) : Bearing in mind the wide international interest in the whole of the island of Ireland, will my right hon. Friend seek the support of the Republic of Ireland in explaining the present initiative in the United States and elsewhere?

The Prime Minister : I think that my hon. Friend will see that we will have that support.