§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE rose to move, That the Draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1975, laid before the House on 9th June, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Northern Ireland Act 1974, as well as providing for the election of a Constitutional Convention, also made better temporary provisions for the government of Northern Ireland. This followed the fall of the Northern Ireland Executive in May of last year and the prorogation, and later the dissolution, of the Northern Ireland Assembly. These temporary provisions were to have effect initially for an interim period of one year, which expires on 16th July 1975. The Acts allows for this interim period to be extended for up to one year at a time by Order of my right honourable friend, subject to a draft of the Order having been approved by Resolution of each House of Parliament. 1635 The purpose of the draft Order now before your Lordships is to extend the interim period for a further year; that is, until 16th July 1976.
§ Your Lordships may like me to refresh your memories about the nature of these temporary provisions. Briefly, the Northern Ireland Act 1974 provided for the re-introduction of direct rule. It enabled legislation for Northern Ireland to be undertaken by way of Order in Council in Parliament instead of by Measure of the Assembly. It also provided that the functions of Members of the Northern Ireland Executive should be discharged by the Northern Ireland Departments subject to the direction and control of the Secretary of State. My right honourable friend thus became for the time being responsible to Parliament for what are known as transferred matters, which were formerly the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and for which the Executive were accountable to the Assembly. At the same time, my right honourable friend retained his direct responsibility for matters' which were reserved under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, in particular the administration of law and order.
§ One of the main reasons why this Order is required is that, even if circumstances were propitious, it would not be right to introduce any fresh arrangements for governing Northern Ireland while the Constitutional Convention is at work. Your Lordships will recall that the Convention has been given the task of considering the future arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland, and that the Convention's report is to be laid before Parliament.
§ The Government take the view that it is for the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, to take the lead in shaping together their future institutions of government, although final decisions on this will be a matter for Parliament. I know your Lordships will understand if I say it would be inappropriate for me to attempt an assessment of the Convention's progress so far. Although the Government will assist the Convention in any way they can, they are anxious not to interfere in its work. I think it not out of place, however, to say that the Government welcome the constructive way in which the 1636 Convention has settled to its task. As your Lordships will know, the Convention has agreed its rules of procedure and is now addressing itself to its main business. I sure that all noble Lords will join me in wishing the Convention well in its difficult but vital task.
§ Whatever the outcome of the Convention, the government of Northern Ireland has to be carried on in the meantime. The draft Order before your Lordships does no more than allow that to happen. The Government are well aware that there are unsatisfactory features of direct rule, and it remains our view that this can only be a temporary means of governing Northern Ireland. For the time being, however, there is no practical alternative to the present arrangements and I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will be prepared to approve the draft Order. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, of course we on this side of the House support the passage of this Order. We do not like the continuation of direct rule any more than I expect the Government do, but its ending is dependent on the work of the Convention. The only observation I shall make is that we on these Benches support the Government in hoping that the work of the Convention will be swiftly and successfully completed, so that its report can be laid before Parliament before too long.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.