Mr Hume, leader of the SDLP, was given a standing ovation by Labour delegates for his role in helping to broker the peace initiative with Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president. 'Five governments, 20,000 troops and 12,000 armed policemen couldn't stop the killings. If I could save a single life by talking to somebody, it was my duty to do so,' said Mr Hume, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The SDLP leader signalled his support for Kevin McNamara, the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, whose future is in doubt in the forthcoming shuffle of Labour's team by Tony Blair.
Senior colleagues of Mr McNamara said privately yesterday that they did not expect him to be moved from the Northern Ireland portfolio, which he has held for several years. But there are strong rumours at the conference that the Labour leader may move Mr McNamara to reassure the Ulster Unionists on Labour's policy of a united Ireland by consent.
Mr Hume urged John Major to respond 'soon' to the IRA ceasefire by accepting that it is permanent, meeting the terms set by the Downing Street declaration for Sinn Fein to enter official talks.
The conference unanimously passed a motion calling on the Government 'to go that extra mile for peace by responding positively to the opportunities available to advance a political settlement on the achievement of peaceful reconciliation'.
The conference also overwhelmingly approved a statement by the party's executive committee, shifting Labour policy away from its previous stance of seeking to persuade the people of Northern Ireland to accept a united Ireland.
The statement says Labour will 'seek to facilitate and encourage a balanced constitutional settlement leading to an agreement which will have the support of both traditions in Ireland'.
In a clear message of reassurance to the unionists, Mr McNamara told the conference: 'No one need fear a Labour government. We are a democratic party. We fully support the principles entrenched in the Anglo-Irish agreement and the Downing Street declaration.'Reuse content