HC Deb 27 June 1974 vol 875 cc1716-7
16. Mr. Evelyn King

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will arrange as a matter of urgency for fresh elections to the Assembly.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

No, Sir.

Mr. King

All hon. Members find from time to time that people do not vote in the way they would like them to vote. This is annoying, but so far it has never been held to be a reason for not holding an election in either Ireland or England. How can the right hon. Gentleman expect a political solution to emerge if he bottles up and stifles political opinion, which can be expressed only through elections? Does he realise that he will be no more successful in governing by the Army in the future than he has been in the past, and that political expression of opinion is a vital element?

Mr. Rees

The problem of the Army and its rôle is real. The hon. Gentleman should not believe that Northern Ireland is governed by the Army. I hope that he will consider the form in which his Question was put. He is asking me to hold elections under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act. It might well be that I gave the short answer, "No, Sir", because that is the answer I have had from many people in Northern Ireland who have come to see me.

Mr. Madden

In view of the diversity opinion which he has said exists in Northern Ireland about the future, will my right hon. Friend consider modern methods of public participation, using the media, so that the people of Northern Ireland—both the majority and the minority—can clearly express their views about the various options for their country, and so that those views may be assessed?

Mr. Rees

The best way of finding out what the people of Northern Ireland want is by elections. That statement is not a turn-round from the answer to the precise Question I was asked before. I am prepared to find any way of doing this, but one thing is sure: the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) shows that there is only one way for the people of Northern Ireland to get to know each other and their views, and that is by talking to each other and not to an Englishman, or a Welshman, as some people tell me.

Captain Orr

Will the right hon. Gentleman please desist from giving us a sort of semantic reason for not holding the elections, with his curious argument about the Constitution Act? There is no reason why he should not hold the elections for the Assembly without being in a hurry to implement Section 2 of the Act. Once the Assembly has been elected he can use it to determine the views of the majority.

Mr. Rees

That is not the view that is put to me by some people in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's group in Northern Ireland. Friends of his are telling me very firmly that they regard the Northern Ireland Constitution Act as dead. My reply is that if it is dead, all of it is dead—not just the bits of it they do not like.

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