§ 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 924 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. 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?