HC Deb 19 February 1976 vol 905 cc1467-8
4. Mr. Molyneaux

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he intends to make further changes in the structure of administration in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I have considered fully the MacDermott, Lowry and Jones Reports and hope in due course to promote legislation to give effect to their principal recommendations in regard to the structure and systems of courts in Northern Ireland. I also intend, following appropriate consultation, to create a unified courts administration in Northern Ireland which will embrace responsibility for the separate services now deployed in the Supreme Court, county courts, magistrates' courts and the Enforcement of Judgements Office. I am arranging for the publication shortly of a consultative document as an appropriate step in this process. I do not have any other changes in mind, but I keep the situation under review.

Mr. Molyneaux

I concede that these changes will do much to streamline the functioning of the judicial system in Northern Ireland, but does the Secretary of State agree that the time of the House would be saved if, in Bills relevant to Northern Ireland, we were to include application clauses? We should not then have to introduce them in the form of Orders in Council. Would not that make for closer co-operation between Departments at Stormont and Departments in Whitehall?

Mr. Rees

The law as it stands in Northern Ireland, which relates to the past 50-odd years, is based on a devolved administration there. According to the law, I operate a devolved administration. If we altered the procedure of the House—and that is not a matter for me—we should be saying that there is no prospect of a devolved administration in Northern Ireland.

I am sure that people in Northern Ireland welcome the fact that there is co-operation between the Department of Health and Social Security in Northern Ireland and that Department in this country, and over education, and so on. Co-operation, with the aid of the telephone and meetings, is one thing, but it would be another to suggest that Northern Ireland Departments should be incorporated in Departments in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Secretary of State said that he adminsters devolved government in Northern Ireland. Was he referring to the Northern Ireland Constitution (Amendment) Act 1973?

Mr. Rees

No, I was referring to the legislation that went through this House after the Ulster workers' strike, which the hon. Gentleman will remember well because he played a major part in it. That legislation arises out of the 1973 Act, but it is a large amendment to it.

Mr. Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that although the methods of administration and legislation laid down in the 1974 Act are unique, his constitutional position in regard to Northern Ireland is identical with that of his colleague, the Secretary of State for Wales, in relation to Wales?

Mr. Rees

That is correct. The responsibility for the government of Northern Ireland rests in this House. It rests with me. Although I do not need to tell the right hon. Gentleman, I would point out for the benefit of others, that I am responsible to Members of Parliament. I am not responsible to those whom hon. Members may wish to bring with them. I feel strongly about this. Convention members are not elected to govern Northern Ireland; they are elected to put ideas to this House about the future government of Northern Ireland.