HC Deb 22 November 1990 vol 181 cc411-2
5. Sir Hal Miller

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress is being made towards devolving local government in Ulster.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

The Government have no present plans for giving more powers to local authorities in Northern Ireland, but would not rule out any workable proposal here, provided that such a proposal guaranteed fair and equitable treatment for everyone in the local authority area and seemed likely to receive widespread acceptance.

Sir Hal Miller

If we are having difficulties with the Anglo-Irish Agreement or its successor, should not we make a much more determined effort at local level?

Dr. Mawhinney

We are not having difficulties with the Anglo-Irish Agreement—[Interruption.] I pay tribute to the determination of my right hon. Friend to bring all the political parties together round the table. He has made considerable progress in that regard, although deep difficulties remain. But my hon. Friend should be in no doubt that when we say that we are determined to seek ways to give locally elected representatives a greater say in the decisions that affect the lives of their constituents, we mean it.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

Does the Minister agree that councillors should have more input into road and planning decisions in their areas? Is he aware that if councillors had that greater input, it might stop planners allowing industrial estates to be built, for example, on top of hills in the middle of areas of special control? Is he further aware that it might even persuade the public to accept that it is not true that if one has money, one can build wherever and whatever one likes and then take the matter to court and fight it, but that someone who has no money will face the full majesty of the law that is ranged against him?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have started an undertaking to meet local authorities in Northern Ireland to hear their views, as has the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham). We listen to what locally elected representatives tell us and I refer the hon. Gentleman to earlier remarks that I made on the issue. A necessary precondition for the return of greater powers to local authorities would be a system of ensuring fair and equitable treatment to everyone in all local authority areas.

Rev. William McCrea

Will the Minister announce to the House and the people of Northern Ireland when the Government intend to bring to an end the despicable and disgraceful situation in which Sinn Fein mouthpieces for terrorists are allowed to sit as elected representatives in councils in Northern Ireland?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have already taken steps in that matter. Although I have some sympathy with his position, the issue goes much wider than the question.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does the Minister agree that tinkering with local government powers in the Province offers no long-term solution to the problems there? Does he further agree that the only way forward is to have agreed political structures for the Province as a whole?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have been seeking with great dedication—again, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend—ways to put in place some sort of structures. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is vital for locally elected representatives to have a greater say in the decisions that govern the lives of their electors. That principle will have to guide us in the days ahead, not least if we are unable to overcome the difficulties that presently confront us.

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