Northern Ireland (Framework Documents)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 22nd February 1995.

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Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon 3:31 pm, 22nd February 1995

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support, and for the unqualified manner in which he expressed that support. He is entirely right to illustrate to the House that nothing in the document is a diktat—nothing seeks to be imposed, nothing seeks to be threatening, and everything is there to be determined by consent and agreement.

I shall deal with the specific questions that the right hon. Gentleman has posed. Will the Government, in the talks yet to continue, be prepared to accept and consider other documents? The answer, in unqualified terms, is, yes, we will welcome other contributions to the debate, and we shall wish to explore them in the discussions that lie ahead.

The devolved Assembly will deal with many matters traditionally dealt with in local government, and some beyond. It will deal with education, health and agriculture—broadly, the range of responsibilities that existed in 1972 when Northern Ireland, for historic reasons, had its own Assembly. Funding is not for each individual aspect of responsibility, but will come in a block, as the right hon. Gentleman anticipated.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, cross-border functions currently exist.

The right hon. Gentleman's description of the executive element was entirely correct, so I need not reiterate that. The Executive will deal with the European Union through the Government and will have its own secretariat, drawn jointly from north and south—answerable to the body and to the Northern Ireland Assembly and to the Dail.

The right hon. Gentleman was entirely right about the obligation to try to agree, and I need add nothing more to that.

The straight answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about civil rights is, yes, we shall seek to determine civil rights. That was a matter raised by each of the political parties—I think, without exception—with whom we had discussions. There is much work still to be done beyond the principle that we shall seek to enshrine such rights.

Bits of the document may require legislation, but it is as yet unclear precisely which ones. Where necessary, we shall proceed, with agreement, towards such legislation.

On the subject of reciprocal changes, we shall seek to enshrine the principle of consent in the joint declaration—which was echoed again in the documents this morning—in British legislation. That could be done by amendment to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 or by fresh legislation. It will not affect Britain's sovereign right to govern Northern Ireland.

I reiterate that the right hon. Gentleman is entirely right to say that the principle of consent is writ large through every page, every action and every purpose that exists within the document.