HC Deb 02 November 1989 vol 159 cc458-9
9. Mr. Corbett

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he intends to issue a White Paper on local government in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The Government have no plans at present to issue a White Paper on local government in Northern Ireland. Any legislative proposals arising from the consultative paper on local government published last November will be issued in due course as a proposal for a draft Order in Council.

Mr. Corbett

May I congratulate the Minister on succeeding where so many of his predecessors have come to grief? Where they brought discord, he has brought harmony among virtually all the chairmen of local authorities who are opposed to the privatisation of council services.

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman may do that, but he would be wrong to do so because I was not in post last November. What happens in the future will be determined by our actions and, no doubt, by local authorities.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

Will the Minister assure the House that, in any future local government proposals, he will drop the suggestion, made in the recent local government consultative paper, that the chief executive should act as a paid informer for local government? Will he assure the House of that, because it would be completely unacceptable to councils and will cause nothing but untold trouble in the council chamber?

Mr. Bottomley

The proper reply to that is that the responses to the consultation are being considered. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that those who know that wrongdoing is going on should not declare it, I think that he and I are on different courses.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Has the Minister noticed that several meetings have taken place at the invitation of the Lord Mayor of Belfast at which all the Northern Ireland parties in the House were represented? Is he aware that, at that meeting, there was unanimous opposition to the Government's proposals on privatisation and compulsory competitive tendering, and there was a fairly unanimous view that some further powers should be given to local government, which presently has a consultative role? If the groundswell of opinion of parties represented in the House were that we should move in that direction, would the Minister include that in the new consultative document?

Mr. Bottomley

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney)—the Under-Secretary of State—have said that if various parties across the country can agree on things, that makes it far easier for the Government to consider the proposals that come forward. Most people look with interest at what the Lord Mayor has managed to achieve. I do not think that many others have brought that many people together in such a harmonious way, for a long time.

Mr. Harry Barnes

In any plans for the change of local government in Northern Ireland, will the Minister consider developing plans that will fit in with devolved government there? If the Government are frightened of moving towards majority rule, will they protect the rights of minorities by producing a Bill of Rights?

Mr. Bottomley

That question goes beyond my competence. Most of the things in the consultative paper, especially competitive tendering, which is slightly different from privatisation, can fit in with any form of local government responsibilities.