Former Northern Ireland Secretary Patrick Mayhew, who served during a critical period in the peace process, has died at the age of 86.

In a statement today, his family said he died peacefully at his home in Kent, England, adding: "He had lived with cancer and Parkinson's for several years. He worked hard for peace in Northern Ireland."

Mr Mayhew was a key figure in the December 1993 Downing Street Declaration, formulated by then British prime minister John Major and then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, which led to the IRA ceasefire the following September.

Seen as being on the liberal wing of the Conservative party, Mr Mayhew was no stranger to the eye of the storm, as when he was solicitor-general in January 1986 and became a significant figure in the Westland crisis which briefly threatened to endanger the position of then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The ex-Cabinet minister was also at the centre of controversy during the Spycatcher affair when he attempted to block the publication of former MI5 agent Peter Wright's memoirs for the Thatcher government.

In December 2012 Mr Mayhew was praised in the House of Commons by British Prime Minister David Cameron as he made a statement on the Desmond de Silva report into the nature and extent of state collusion in the murder of Irish human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane.

Mr Cameron told the Commons that Mr de Silva found the then attorney general Mr Mayhew deserved "significant credit for withstanding considerable political pressure designed to ensure" that some prosecutions did not go ahead.

Mr Mayhew is survived by his wife Jean, their four sons and their families.