HC Deb 16 January 1975 vol 884 cc651-3
1. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the Constitutional Convention.

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

Preparations for the Convention are well under way and I shall announce the date of the elections to it and the name of the chairman at the appropriate time.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that talk of postponement is without foundation? Is he still of the view that the chairman of the Convention must necessarily be an Ulsterman?

Mr. Rees

I certainly have not chosen the date, and no question of postponement arises. There will be an appropriate moment to decide on the date. The chairman will be an Ulsterman.

Mr. David James

Will the Secretary of State bear in find that if the cease-fire holds there may be great advantage in postponing this election to enable moderate opinion to formulate?

Mr. Rees

I shall certainly take everything into account in choosing the date. I have not got a date marked in the diary. I have always had in mind getting beyond the end of February and the new register. I shall take all matters into account. What I must not and would not want to do is to choose dates which are beneficial to a party. I must choose dates which are beneficial to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the great priority is to ensure that the uncertainty is ended, and that this can be done only by freshly elected representatives in Northern Ireland sitting down and discussing the matter together?

Mr. Rees

I agree that what matters in Northern Ireland is to get freshly elected representatives to a convention, and not to an assembly. That is absolutely right. I recall that in the past when dates have been announced for elections events have blown them off course. It is easy to be blown off course in Northern Ireland. Therefore, perhaps I may be allowed to choose the date in my own time, which I hope will be to the advantage of Northern Ireland.

14. Mr. Kilfedder

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made in consultation with likely candidates for the chairmanship of the Constitutional Convention; and whether there has been or will be any communication with the Eire Government about the choice of a chairman.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I shall announce the name of the chairman at the appropriate time.

The choice of the chairman is entirely a matter for Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Kilfedder

I appreciate the answer that the right hon. Gentleman has given, but will he refrain from making his choice of chairman until after the first meeting of the Convention, so as to give the elected representatives an opportunity to express their view on a suitable, agreed candidate, or will he at least wait until he has had talks with those who have been elected to the Convention?

Mr. Rees

Under the legislation, this is one of the few things that quite properly, lie with Her Majesty's Government. After the first day or two the procedures will be a matter for the Convention. One of the best things I can do is to find an Ulsterman who, by his standing and stature, will be accepted by the Convention. I am sure that I can do this.

Mr. Fitt

To reinforce what has been said by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), may I ask whether the Secretary of State is aware of the crucial importance of finding the right personality to be the chairman of the Convention? Is he aware of the danger that if he appears to be going over the head of the Northern Ireland elected representatives the possibility is that there will be no Convention, because the members will not meet under a chairman appointed in that way? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend do his best to consult, directly or indirectly, the representatives of the people to try to find a suitable candidate?

Mr. Rees

There is room for the existing parties which were elected to the Assembly to discuss with Mr. Blackburn, the Clerk to the Assembly, their ideas on the early running of the Convention, which will be in my command, as it were. I understand exactly what my hon. Friend is saying, but the choice will be Her Majesty's Government's. I do not think that people in any part of the Convention will be disappointed.