§ 1. Mr. Stephen Ross
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will publish the cost of the Northern Ireland Assembly from its inception to its suspension.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
The cost of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the period November 1982 to 31 May 1986 was £9,317,000. There will be additional costs in respect of Members' salaries and allowances payably from 1 June up to the date of dissolution.
§ Mr. Ross
I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that, whatever else may be said, that is a sizeable sum, which shows the strength of our commitment to try to restore local democracy in Northern Ireland? Is it not tragic that it has not been taken that way? Will Stormont now be put on a care-and-maintenance basis?
§ Mr. Scott
Various activities take place inside the Parliament buildings on the Stormont estate other than the activities conducted by the Assembly. I share the hon. Gentleman's view. The establishment of the Assembly was amply justified. I am sorry that better use was not made of the opportunity that it provided for local parties in Northern Ireland. I hope that, as soon as possible, the circumstances will be created under which it can be restored.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
In the absence of the Assembly, what plans do the Government have to create some form of scrutinising body for Northern Ireland within the House?
§ Mr. Scott
Those are matters about which my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of Slate made it clear they would be anxious to talk to hon. Members of all parties to find out what they think would be most suitable. In the meantime, we shall continue to send to party leaders and others in Northern Ireland proposals for legislation affecting the Province.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does my hon. Friend agree that this experiment, sadly, has not worked, that it has not exactly been inexpensive to the taxpayer and that before we continue with experiments that can be, and are, expensive we should consider whether there are other ways in which we can continue to have the Province governed in the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Scott
For the time being, direct rule will be the vehicle, as it were, by which Northern Ireland is governed. I hold firmly to the view, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that the restoration of devolved government provides the best hope for the future government of Northern Ireland. To suggest, as some have, that this means that Northern Ireland is being treated unequally compared with the rest of the United Kingdom is not a sustainable argument. In the meantime, however, if elected representatives wish to come and talk to my right hon. Friend and other Ministers about these matters, we shall listen to what they have to say.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
Will the Minister consider enhancing the powers of local government within Northern Ireland and perhaps introducing an elected element into the boards which have been appointed and which administer so many of the functions?
§ Mr. Scott
There are elected representatives on the boards who have been appointed by the local authorities. The single most important criterion for any change in the way in which Northern Ireland is governed is that there should be widespread acceptance of it throughout the community there. I do not believe that the restoration of increased powers to local government would achieve that sort of consent at the moment.