HC Deb 14 April 1983 vol 40 cc923-4
3. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the development of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

19. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about constitutional developments in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Prior

The Northern Ireland Assembly is in recess until 26 April, but there will be an emergency meeting of the Assembly on 21 April to debate agriculture matters. Meanwhile, the Departmental Committees of the Assembly are continuing their work in pursuance of its scrutinising, consultative and deliberative functions.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Is my right hon. Friend yet in a position to claim that the Assembly has improved local participation in the government of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

I am not sure that it is for me to make such a claim. However, I am sure that many people in Northern Ireland would say that it has done so, including the vast majority of members of the Assembly. The Assembly provides a check on direct rule, which has been absent for a number of years. The majority of the members of the Assembly have found the work, especially in the Committees, useful, stimulating and good for their constituents.

Mr. Arnold

Will my right hon. Friend give a firm assurance that he will not seek to change the Northern Ireland Act 1982 to enable Parliament to devolve powers exclusively upon parties that are presently represented in the Assembly?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. I can give an assurance that the Government do not propose to change the 1982 Act to allow the parties at present in the Assembly to proceed to devolution. The Act, as passed by the House, made that abundantly clear. I hope very much that we can persuade all the parties in Northern Ireland to play a part so that we can proceed to devolution.

Mr. McCusker

If what the Secretary of State has said is correct, how long does he expect the elected representatives of the Northern Ireland Assembly to continue with the charade in which they are presently participating? How long can they continue to be responsible, and act responsibly, if they do not have any real authority to do a real job for the people of the Province?

Mr. Prior

The Assembly is not a charade. Those who take part in it believe that they are acting in the best interests of their constituents.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Would the Secretary of State approve a proposal to link stages 1 and 2 of the Assembly, as set out in the Act, by having rolling devolution, rather than through Departments by way of functions—for example, legislative devolution?

Mr. Prior

I noted that that proposal was put forward during the weekend. It must be considered. I await the proposals that might come from the hon. Gentleman's party.