HC Deb 04 May 1972 vol 836 cc578-9
17. Mr. O'Halloran

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has for the reform of local government in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Chanson

My right hon. Friend intends to submit shortly to Parliament measures to enable local government reorganisation in Northern Ireland to proceed in the form which has already been widely debated and approved there.

Mr. O'Halloran

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he give a categorical assurance that local government elections will be held this year in Northern Ireland and not shelved?

Mr. Channon

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. There is a further Question about that matter on the Order Paper.

Captain Orr

Will my hon. Friend please look at two matters? First, the reform of local government would normally have required a Bill which would have been debated by the Parliament at Stormont, with a proper Committee stage. Surely it is not now proposed that it shall be brought forward simply in the Order in Council form. Will my hon. Friend also look at the necessity for publishing fairly soon a map setting out the various local government boundaries that may be proposed under the legislation?

Mr. Channon

On the second point, my right hon. Friend has now received the Boundary Commission's final report. It will be published very shortly. On the first point, discussions are taking place through the usual channels as to the best methods of proceeding in this matter.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is the Minister aware that one of the important issues with regard to local government elections which will have to be decided, and which I found in Northern Ireland last week to be widely discussed, is whether there will be proportional representation. We on this side of the House think that it is very important for many reasons that a decision on this should be taken very soon.

Mr. Channon

I certainly note what the hon. Gentleman said. My right hon. Friend is now considering that matter.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether the timetable of the local government reform programme will now be delayed in regard to elections? Will he also say whether it is right that an electoral officer has still to be appointed, to be solely responsible for compiling the register?

Mr. Channon

I assure the hon. Member that there is no intention of delaying the date for the implementation of the local government reform on 1st April next year, and the elections will proceed according to the timetable previously set down by the Stormont Government.

Mr. Stallard

I want to press the Minister about proportional representation. Is he aware that it has been widely reported that there may be a partial boycott of these elections unless proportional representation is introduced in time for the October elections? Will the elections be held under a system of proportional representation?

Mr. Channon

As I said, this is one of the matters that my right hon. Friend is at present considering. I cannot add to that at this stage.