HC Deb 15 October 2003 vol 411 cc115-6 12.31 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the House knows, today is the last day on which the Government can call for Assembly elections in Northern Ireland if the elections are to take place by the date that is required by the legislation-15 November. Devolved government in Northern Ireland is an essential part of the Belfast agreement, which the Prime Minister described only a few minutes ago as the only agreement in Northern Ireland.

The people of Northern Ireland are entitled to the right to democratic, peaceful political expression, and it is very important that that right is restored to them. So far as the momentum of the peace process is concerned, unfortunately, as I predicted at the time, the postponement of the elections in May had no other consequence than to bring to a complete halt the negotiations that had been launched at Hillsborough.

In those circumstances, Mr. Speaker, the whole of Northern Ireland is waiting to see what the Government are going to do about the situation, given that they have taken it down to the wire in their usual arbitrary fashion. Have you had any indication that the Government are to make a statement today about an intention to hold elections in Northern Ireland by the required date; or that they are to come before the House, as they would otherwise have to, with proposals for new legislation to give them the power—very unfortunately and regrettably, if that is their decision—to postpone the elections for a third time?

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that Liberal Democrat Members have been concerned that the silence on this matter is causing instability in Northern Ireland. I should like to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's question and to add one. If the Government refuse to make a statement in the next few days, do you have any power to require a written statement from the Northern Ireland Office in order to provide clarification of the kind that the hon. Gentleman requests?

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case that under the existing legislation the Government have the power to call elections; that that power remains effective until 15 November; and that the legislation does not require the election to be held before 15 November?

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given that the Northern Ireland (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Act 2003 has a sunset clause, is it not a discourtesy to this House for the Government not to come to explain to Members why they have not today made a statement calling elections? They are required by statute to come to this House to let us know whether they are going to hold an election in time. Instead of trying to appease someone who has been attempting to run away from the electorate since last May, they should come to this House and explain themselves.

Mr. Speaker

This is not a matter for the Speaker. However, the points have been made and the appropriate Minister will have heard what has been said in the Chamber. I draw the House's attention to the fact that tomorrow we have business questions, during which such matters can be raised if right hon. and hon. Members so wish; and, of course, representations can always be made to the appropriate Minister.