My right hon. Friend maintains contact with the leaders of the alliance and SDLP parties. But real progress towards devolution is not possible until the constitutional parties are prepared to hold discussions on these matters. We are ready to facilitate informal preliminary talks among the parties.
Does my hon. Friend agree that article 4 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement makes it clear that both Governments recognise that without the co-operation of the representatives of the whole population in Northern Ireland devolution is a dead letter? If the price of the co-operation of the Unionist majority is to have a referendum—which is to ask only that the people of Northern Ireland should themselves give their support to the agreement—why should that referendum not be held and thus this road block be put out of the way?
Devolution is the preferred option of the British Government, as my hon. Friend is well aware, and that has long been the case. The British Government believe that that is the route down which to go, and it involves all the political parties in Northern Ireland coming together to discuss it. The fact that they are not doing so at the moment is regrettable, but we believe that it is the only sensible way forward.
When the Government consider future constitutional options for Northern Ireland, including devolution, will they take account of British public opinion and the recent poll in the Daily Express—of all newspapers—that 61 per cent. of the British people want the troops to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland, and that despite the support of all the major parties in Britain only 29 per cent. of the British people want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom? When will the British people have some say in how we resolve the problem of Northern Ireland?
The future of Northern Ireland is discussed by the political parties in Northern Ireland with the British Government. That is the route down which we intend to proceed, as our predecessors did before us. We do not deny the difficulties of that, nor do we deny the probably bemused feelings of many members of the British public when they look at some of the constitutional and non-constitutional activities of the political parties in Northern Ireland. However, the way forward is to get the constitutional parties together to discuss, on the grounds of power-sharing and partnership, how to run their own affairs. We are determined to continue down that route.
That is not an issue of such a constitutional nature as to require a referendum to be held, and I am sure that there would be arguments on both sides as to who should be included in it.
The main line of our policy is to find a way of getting the constitutional parties to come together to discuss how they can govern the Province together on a devolutionary basis.