HC Deb 18 March 1976 vol 907 cc1533-4
18. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with political leaders in Northern Ireland since the Convention last met.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I have not had any formal discussions with party leaders in Northern Ireland since the dissolution of the Convention. I have on normal House of Commons terms spoken informally with Northern Ireland Members at Westminster.

Mr. Goodhart

What plans does the Secretary of State have for regular meetings with the leaders of the political parties which were represented in the Convention but which are now unrepresented in this House?

Mr. Rees

I have no plans for doing that on a regular basis. As I stated earlier, the leaders of the UUUC, the SDLP and the VUP sit in this House. There is little problem about talking with people in Northern Ireland, but I do not think that formal talks on the basis of those conducted in the last four or five years are necessary at the moment.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am resisting the temptation to ask how the talks are progressing that he and his Minister of State are conducting with various bodies? Will he say to what extent the Department is making arrangements for regular consultations with community leaders in Northern Ireland who may not be Members of this House, who may have important matters to discuss, but who feel that because of the diminution of the responsibilities of local government in Northern Ireland, they have no proper opportunity to discuss them?

Mr. Rees

I am prepared to do that, but in no circumstances will I diminish the responsibilities of Westminster Members and my responsibilities to this House. A large number of people in Northern Ireland see the Ministers who work with me and who spend a great deal of time there. We are not deficient in knowledge of the views of a wide variety of people in the Province.