§ 9. Mr. Mather
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the progress of discussions in the Convention.
§ 4. Mr. O'Halloran
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is 650 satisfied with the progress so far made by the newly-elected Convention; and if he will make a statement.
§ 10. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by what date he expects to receive the deliberations of the Convention about new political institutions for the Province.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the progress or the proceedings of the Convention. I do not know when it will complete its report. The Northern Ireland Act 1974 gives the Convention a basic life of six months, but this can be extended if necessary.
§ Mr. Mather
I am grateful for that reply. Is the Secretary of State aware that we welcome the conciliatory spirit in which the discussions have so far taken place? Is it intended that at some stage during these discussions the Government should make known their views, the devolution guidelines and the powers which go with devolution? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether those powers will be no less than those being considered for Scotland and Wales?
§ Mr. Rees
I am sure that all those involved will be grateful for the remarks of the hon. Gentleman about the way in which the Convention is working. I think that it would be better if I rested at that point, because the less we are involved in comment the better. All who are there are aware of what the Convention is for. It is not a parliament. It is not an assembly. It will not govern Northern Ireland. It is a body which meets together, to talk together and to put proposals to the British Government.
I know from practical experience in one sense that Wales is different from Scotland. Over the past 15 months I have learnt that Ireland is very different from Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Duffy
I understand the Secretary of State not wishing to harbour too much optimism at this stage. Ought he not to acknowledge, however, that a good start has been made and that during the 651 recently-concluded stage 3, thanks to the conciliatory speeches which were made on all sides and the remarkable speeches of Mr. Harry West and Mr. John Hume, an atmosphere of hope has been created? We can now all look forward to the ultimate conclusion with a good deal less trepidation than formerly.
§ Mr. Rees
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that his laudatory remarks will be well received by those Members of Parliament who are also members of the Convention.
There is much in the Convention which supports the feeling I had when a year ago, on behalf of the Government, we put forward the idea of the Convention on the basis that people from Ireland understood the nature of Northern Ireland far better than we did, and that they would talk together and put their ideas to this House. I can only say, on behalf of everyone in the House, that we wish them well.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
Has the Secretary of State a timetable in mind once he receives the report from the Convention? Will he accept that report as being the authentic voice of Northern Ireland which should be taken extremely seriously before the Government introduce proposals that may be out of line with it?
§ Mr. Rees
At this stage it is better for us to wait and see what comes from the Convention. Of course, the report will be considered by the Government and put to the House of Commons. It is a report to Parliament. It is much better to leave it at that. The Convention is meeting, it is a Northern Ireland meeting, and the less that is said by the rest of us at the moment the better. The time will come when it will be our job to comment on the report which comes from the Convention.
§ Mr. Fitt
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the Convention is deliberating upon the overall political issues, we are becoming increasingly aware of the severe economic problems that are beginning to emerge in Northern Ireland? Would he be prepared to receive an interim report, which would probably have the support of all political interests in the Convention, on the social and economic problems affecting Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Rees
The Convention is not a parliament which is met together to consider current economic problems. If, however, the Convention were to consider whether the best way to govern Northern Ireland is through a Department of Commerce, a Department of Manpower Services and the various organisations dealing with economic affairs which are handled by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, that is a matter for the Convention. But the Convention is not a parliament.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that if a locally-developed administration is devised, as I hope it will be, as a result of the Convention, it will have the right to decide locally how money will be spent without constant reference to the Treasury in London?
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman is moving to a different form of government which seems to be concerned with how to have what money one likes and how to spend it as one likes without reference to the United Kingdom Parliament. That is not what I mean by devolved government. If the hon. Gentleman means that the devolved government must have regard to priorities and take decisions whether money should be spent on roads, leisure centres, housing or agriculture, there is a great deal of sense in that; but money does not grow on trees.