Since the summer recess, I have had a number of meetings with the leaders of the main constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland and the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland. All have expressed support for the view that formal talks should be launched soon which would address all relevant dimensions to the political problems of Northern Ireland, including the prospects for transferring substantial power, authority and responsibility to locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland on a widely acceptable basis.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that even though those talks might not reach a positive conclusion, the fact that they have been going on for so long offers the first positive hope to come out of the Province, in political terms, for a long time?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comment. I hope that his view is shared by Members of Parliament from the other constitutional parties in the Province. I certainly found the dialogue extremely fruitful.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I are agreed that different constitutional arrangements may be needed for different parts of the kingdom. It is important that appropriate arrangements be available for those parts.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that during his discussions with the Northern Ireland parties and with the Government of the Republic of Ireland there is genuine concern to ensure that we make political progress? During those discussions, did he see any traces of the terminal disease called creeping integration?
The fact that the talks have been going on for a long time has proved an opportunity for almost every subject to be discussed. I dare say that the subject mentioned by the hon. Gentleman has been raised at some stage during the past 10 months.
It may well become necessary to pause and take stock, but we have not yet reached that point. As I have indicated elsewhere, I currently await a response from the Irish Government to certain proposals that I have put to them. Thereafter, I would expect to have a further round with the Northern Ireland parties. I continue to find constructive my experience with all my interlocutors.