HC Deb 04 April 1974 vol 871 cc1433-4
13. Captain Orr

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has any statement to make on the future of the present constitutional arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

This Government fully endorse the constitutional arrangements which Parliament has provided for Northern Ireland.

Captain Orr

We shall return to that answer during the course of the debate which is to follow, but will the Secretary of State say, in advance of it, whether, before he came to that hasty conclusion, he consulted any of the political parties in Northern Ireland—in particular, those representing the four political parties in the House, who have just been returned after the election?

Mr. Rees

I am interested in the theological thought of four parties in another guise being one, which means that there is only one leader where there could be four—but I shall leave that matter on one side. We firmly support the Constitution Act passed under the previous Government. The Executive set up by the Act has been in being only since 1st January, which is not long enough to enable us to make a fair assessment of the situation. That administration and the Assembly receive our full support.

Mr. Winterton

The right hon. Gentleman said earlier at Question Time that he would consider any proposal which would improve the tragic position in Northern Ireland. Does he not now think that it is perhaps time to examine the Constitution of Northern Ireland and amend the details relating to the Council of Ireland, as it might then receive more support from the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, who are very unhappy about it?

Mr. Rees

The Council of Ireland is not part of the Constitution Act. It is distinct and separate. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Council of Ireland in the context of the Sunningdale communiqué—and developments and discussions on the council are taking place—I would say firmly that a means must be found whereby the two parts of Ireland work together, recognising the aspirations of people in the North and the South but facing up to the facts. Somewhere along the line aspirations may have to be forgotten. People have to face up to reality, and that means giving up some of their hopes. Many people have decided to do that; it is the only way in which the two parts can work together.