HC Deb 23 February 1984 vol 54 cc961-2
5. Mr. Peter Robinson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many recommendations of the Northern Ireland Assembly he has accepted fully or in part; and whether they have involved or will involve changes in statutory rules, Orders in Council or Executive action.

Mr. Prior

Up to 31 January 1984 the Government had accepted, in full or in part, 138 recommendations made by the Northern Ireland Assembly arising out of the work of its departmental Committees. Acceptance of these recommendations has resulted, or will result, in changes to draft Orders in Council or statutory rules, or Executive action, including, in some cases, further discussion with the Assembly.

Mr. Robinson

I am grateful for that information. Does the Secretary of State believe that that is a worthwhile role for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly? Will he in this House welcome the return to the Northern Ireland Assembly of four Members who had for some time been boycotting it? Does he believe that their return — or, indeed, the absence of the remainder of their colleagues—affects the future of that Assembly?

Mr. Prior

I warmly welcome the work that the Assembly has done, which has been valuable, and if we could find any other way of making the work of the Assembly, even in phase 1, more effective than it is at present by the greater participation of Ministers, and so on, we should be only to happy to do so. I shall, of course, not be satisfied until everybody elected to the Assembly is attending it. I am afraid that that may still be some way off, but in the meanwhile we must go on with the Assembly as it is, although it cannot continue indefinitely unless people take part.

Mr. William Ross

We are grateful to the Secretary of State for the figures that he has given. Does he understand that those figures will be read with great interest in Northern Ireland? Will he increase that interest in Northern Ireland by detailing in the Official Report the number of recommendations which have been put to him which he has not accepted and has decided not to implement?

Mr. Prior

I believe that 78 recommendations have not been accepted. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is now taking an interest in the Assembly. The Government believe — this is generally recognised — that it is far easier to bring down institutions than it is to create them. Nothing has been put forward for the future of Northern Ireland which in any way comes near to the success of the Assembly, even as it is operating now.

Mr. Porter

I am glad to hear that the Assembly has done some useful work. Is not now the time to have another look at the possibility of administrative devolution, which could perhaps add to the Assembly's work?

Mr. Prior

As I have said on many occasions, we are prepared to look at anything put forward, but it must match the criteria that are acceptable to both sides of the community. The Assembly is the right place for those aspects to be discussed. I hope that everyone will take part in discussions in the Assembly on how it can progress. The House could then look at the proposals put forward.

Mr. John David Taylor

Is the Secretary of State aware that most people in Northern Ireland wish to see the Assembly not only retained but given real powers of devolution?

Mr. Prior

I recognise that, and I am the first to want to see that happen. Having been on the receiving end of representations from hon. Members for a number of years, I long for Northern Ireland to have more say in its affairs. I equally recognise that that can happen only when the people of Northern Ireland are prepared to accept those powers in a spirit of co-operation.

Mr. Canavan

Are the absentee Members of that toy town Assembly still entitled to draw their wages and expenses? How much is that stupid exercise costing the taxpayer?

Mr. Prior

I do not regard the Assembly as a stupid exercise. I hope that, from now on, the hon. Gentleman will give a little credit where it is due to the people who are playing a full part in the Assembly. I cannot give him the figures of those who have drawn their salaries but are not attending the Assembly. I recognise that many of them are doing constituency work and carrying out constituency functions. If the hon. Gentleman puts down a question on that subject, I shall answer him.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it ill-becomes the hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) to say in the House that the Assembly should be supported and that the Northern Ireland people want: to support it, when he occupies an office in that Assembly as the Vice-Chairman of a Committee, does not attend, but continues to draw a salary for an office which he does not even attempt to fulfil?

Mr. Prior

I am trying to get the hon. Gentleman back into the Assembly, not to keep him out.