Northern Ireland (Ministries)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13 December 1973.

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Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Ministries (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 6th December, be approved.—[Mr. van Straubenzee.]

11.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stanley McMaster Mr Stanley McMaster , Belfast East

This order deals with a great many detailed matters. It creates two new Northern Ireland Departments—Manpower and Environment—and it abolishes the old Ministry of Home Affairs, most of whose functions go to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

This matter also was raised earlier, but I do not think that it was properly understood by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. In any event, in his reply he seemed to miss the point that the question is about terminology. Should one refer to the new Departments as Departments or Ministries? This is of particular relevance in the context of the Council of Ireland, because those members of the Council of Ireland representing Southern Ireland will be Ministers.

I hope that my hon. Friend will at least look at this matter again and write to me about it. There is a feeling in Northern Ireland that it would be better, instead of making the transfer rather as caterpillar changes to chrysalis and then to butterfly, to stop at the stage of Minister. This would in no way weaken the legislation which is being passed by the House, but it would appeal to many people in Northern Ireland if my hon. Friend saw fit to call these people Ministers, as, indeed, they are called in parts of the legislation, instead of just heads of Departments.

The order deals with the various functions of certain Ministries, notably the Ministry of Development, covering housing, local government and planning, environment, roads, transport, conservation, pollution, and so on. But the subjects of roads and transport is quite distinct from that of housing and local government and planning.

If development is meant to include housing and local government as we understand them, is there not a case that roads and transport should be under a separate Minister? Will my hon. Friend the Minister deal with the division of responsibility under the heading of health and social services? This is coupled with manpower, training, labour relations and employment. Why is training under this heading? Surely it should come under the heading of education. There are other similar points in respect of the other Ministries but at this stage I simply ask my hon. Friend what flexibility exists in this matter. Will he look carefully at representations made to him from Northern Ireland on the way the powers are divided between these various Ministries?

11.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I do not see any confusion on the first point my hon. Friend raised. The purpose of the legislation that has been before this House this evening is, in the first instance, to create the new Ministries, which then, almost instantaneously, under further legislation devolving power to the new Executive, become, as specified in the Constitution Act, Departments at midnight on 31st December. The purpose of the legislation this evening is to create the Ministries that can then become Departments.

My hon. Friend referred to the Ministry of Development. That already exists. What emerges out of that under the proposed division of functions under the Executive is a Department of the Environment which as a pre-condition must have been preceded by a Ministry of the Environment which then becomes a Department.

Photo of Mr Stanley McMaster Mr Stanley McMaster , Belfast East

I am well aware that Ministries become Departments. The point is one of terminology. Is it not possible to call them Ministries, with a Minister at their head, instead of Departments?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

This was fully discussed during the passage of the Constitution Act, which laid down that Ministries should in future be known as Departments and that those who were at the head of Departments should be known as heads of departments. That is the situation which faces the new Executive when it takes office on 1st January.

Manpower and training are very closely bound together and are at present combined in the Ministry of Health and Social Services. But with a separate Department it also makes good sense to have manpower and training close together. There is a very good programme for manpower and training in Northern Ireland. It has been extremely well run. I am sure that it will be run with great imagination and vigour in the future.

As for flexibility, I am sure that it will be possible in the new situation for there to be changes of functions as between Departments so that there will be some degree of flexibility.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the Ministries (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 6th December, be approved.—(Mr. van Straubenzee.)