HC Deb 03 July 1973 vol 859 cc380-2
Captain Orr

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 23, line 3, leave out subsection (1) and insert: '(1) (a) If the Secretary of State shall make an order under section 2 of this Act (appointing a day for the commencement of Part II of this Act) the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall cease to exist; (b) if the Secretary of State does not make such an Order before the expiry of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act then on the expiry of that Act the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall be dissolved and fresh elections held'. When I tabled this amendment I did not apprehend that we would have so long a debate upon the first amendment we had today or the long debate on Clause 1. A good deal of what I would have said on this amendment has already been said and I do not want to go over all the ground again.

The purpose of the amendment is to do one thing only, and that is to provide for the contingency—a possible contingency, I think—that Part II of the Bill might never come into effect at all. In other words, I am providing for a situation where the Secretary of State fails to get the conditions required under Clause 2 for the formation of the Executive and for the devolution of powers, for the situation where the Assembly comes to an end and the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act itself runs out.

One could do two things if that were to happen. One could either go back to the situation before direct rule—in other words, one could let the Temporary Provisions Act lapse and go back to the situation as it was before—or one could simply go back to the Temporary Provisions Act itself and be back to direct rule again.

I am using this amendment to argue that it might be possible—and there ought to be the option—to go back to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) just now appeared to be in some horror at the thought of going back to the old régime, and it might be argued that that is what the amendment is saying. That would not be true, because a great deal has happened in Northern Ireland since the prorogation of Stormont. The whole edifice involved in what are called the Macrory reforms has come into being; the new district councils have been elected; the Housing Authority is in being. All these various reforms have already taken place.

My amendment would require the dissolution of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the holding of fresh elections. So if the Assembly itself were to fail, if the whole edifice were to collapse, the amendment would provide an option to the Secretary of State to bring back the Parliament of Northern Ireland and require fresh elections for it.

However, I am not intending to make heavy weather of the point. The purpose of proposing the amendment is simply to make that point, to make anew the argument we had on Clause 1. That was a very wide-ranging debate, and I do not propose to pursue this amendment at very great length now.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I am sure that the Secretary of State does not contemplate failure in establishing the Assembly and bringing into existence an Executive which will work. Nevertheless, I would have thought that something on these lines would be prudent in the difficult situation he faces, and I hope he will consider the amendment favourably.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.


That the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill may he proceeded with at this day's Sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills

I shall be brief. have noted carefully what my hon. Friends have said, and the effects of the amendment are clear.

To carry the amendment would mean that there would be a reversion to government by Stormont as soon as direct rule expired. Of course, that would fly in the face of everything that we are trying to do. The Government would never have brought forward these proposals if they had not thought it right to have a change and a new start. The House has shown its clear desire in giving the Bill a Second Reading. The White Paper clearly spells out the facts. I shall not, therefore, delay the House. I must ask it to resist the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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