§ 14. Mr. Biggs-Davison
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the constitutional future of the Province.
§ 15. Mr. Stanbrook
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with political parties in Northern Ireland relating to the constitutional development of the Province.
§ 16. Mr. Marlow
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he proposes to take any new constitutional initiatives.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins
As I said earlier this afternoon, the constitutional status of the Province remains as set out in section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. It will not cease to be a part of the United Kingdom without the prior consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
So far as the government of the Province is concerned, it is not at present possible to achieve a transfer of powers to locally elected representatives. The necessary measure of agreement does not exist, and I believe that the local parties would agree that this is scarcely an appropriate time to make any major new move. Direct rule must, therefore, continue for the time being, and I am considering what further improvements might be made to the existing administrative arrangements.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I agree that there will be no consensus on devolution, but when will my right hon. Friend be ready to inform the House about the plans for 998 Ulsterisation, a possible Grand Committee, and the functions of district councils, which are to be re-elected in May?
§ Mr. Atkins
These are among the matters that I am currently considering. The decision about a Grand Committee is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but if my hon. Friend wishes the matter to be considered, we shall, of course, consider it.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
As an interim measure, will my right hon. Friend propose the creation of a Northern Ireland Grand Committee with power to sit in Belfast?
§ Mr. Atkins
I give my hon. Friend the same answer that I gave earlier. It is more a matter for my right Friend the Leader of the House than for me. However, as the suggestion has been made, the Government will, of course, consider it.