HC Deb 17 April 1975 vol 890 cc640-1
3. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the arrangements for the election of the Constitutional Convention.

7. Mr. Molyneaux

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he is satisfied with the state of arrangements for the elections to the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

The election will be conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer in accordance with the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 and of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention (Election) Order 1975. I am satisfied with that.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the Secretary of State aware that we on this side of the House are grateful to him for offering to arrange an all-party visit to view the elections? To what extent will it be possible for the Royal Ulster Constabulary to perform the duties that were carried out at the local government and Assembly elections and at the Border poll by the Regular Army and the UDR?

Mr. Rees

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about the visit. I believe it is important that hon. Members from both sides of the House should be there. The arrangements for the security of the polling stations and the count centres are the responsibility of the RUC, which may call upon the Army for assistance. I have no reason to think that the RUC will not be adequate for these duties.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify what will be the position of the Westminster Members from Northern Ireland in the Convention election machinery? Is he aware that there is satisfaction with the manner in which the Chief Electoral Officer, his deputy returning officer and staff are carrying into effect the wishes of Parliament and with the part played by our fellow Members who are offering themselves as candidates and are, therefore, unable to be with us as frequently as would otherwise be the case? What will be the date of the first meeting of the elected Convention?

Mr. Rees

I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's words expressing satisfaction about the work of the independent Chief Electoral Officer. It is not for me to comment on the activities of any of my colleagues who are seeking election elsewhere. The date of the first meeting is entirely a matter for the Convention.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fundamental problem in Northern Ireland is the whole process of democratisation? He knows that I have asked this question many times before. While I accept that an attempt is being made to bring the Convention into being in a democratic manner, I think my right hon. Friend will agree that it could result in the cementing of existing divisions. Without giving me a complete answer now, can he assure us that, side by side with this, the processes of democracy are going on, which in the last analysis are the only processes that can resolve the problem?

Mr. Rees

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. Democracy is a subtle form of government in some respects. It may well be that, on one basic meaning of the word, democracy has been taken too far in that many people are involved outside the law. The people of Northern Ireland will not be preached to on this matter. Democracy must arise out of Northern Ireland.