Devolution

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st February 1990.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill , Ludlow 12:00 am, 1st February 1990

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received about his recent statement on devolution.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made in the discussions concerning the devolution of political power within Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My speech in Bangor, Co. Down, on 9 January addressed the possibilities and prospects of transferring some degree of political power, authority and responsibility to politicians in Northern Ireland. There has been widespread reaction, none of it wholly unfavourable.

Much now depends on the willingness and ability of local politicians to find a way forward together. The Government are ready to help in any way they can to bring about talks between the parties. The next step is likely to be further discussions between the Government and the parties.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill , Ludlow

When my right hon. Friend looks at the new map of Europe, does he see any evidence that direct rule satisfies the needs of the people for democratic and popular government? Does he agree that the legitimate ambitions of peoples and nations to regain their institutions is important and that the closer Governments are to the people that they serve, the more economic, accountable and responsive they will be? Does he recognise that those are rhetorical questions—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Such a long question is a very bad start to Question Time.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I recognise that my hon. Friend's questions are rhetorical. Recently the Irish Times carried a cartoon, half of which was devoted to a crowd in eastern Europe saying to someone on a balcony, "Negotiate, Power to the people, Elections, Freedom." In the Northern Ireland version, I appeared to resemble the person on the balcony. I was saying the same things, but the crowd was saying nothing. I look forward to a reply.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

Does the Secretary of State agree that matters in Northern Ireland are not helped by the obdurate behaviour of Allan Dukes and Fine Gael? That questionable behaviour brought about the cancellation of yesterday's Intergovernmental Conference. What further steps is he taking in the presentation of his case for devolution, in the light of the recent findings of the Belfast Telegraph-BBC "Newsnight" survey which showed that only 21 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland have any faith in a power-sharing arrangement? Will he give some sustenance to his colleagues in the Scottish Office on the principle of political devolution?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

As a former member of the Whips' Office, I make no comment on the practices of Opposition parties in the Dail. I studied the survey in the Belfast Telegraph, but the hon. Gentleman may be forgetting that some of the questions had a second choice attached to them as well as a first.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

Is my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in favour of a legislative assembly—

Hon. Members:

Scotland?

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

Is my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in favour of a legislative assembly in Belfast?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I agree that we need to look at appropriate constitutional practices in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Clifford Forsythe Mr Clifford Forsythe , South Antrim

As Northern Ireland is the only part of the British isles which does not have proper local government, is not there an urgent need to restore power to our local councils?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The hon. Gentleman may not have meant to refer to the British isles, but, as he knows, conversations are going on about whether further powers may be transferred.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Orpington

Joking apart, the quickest way of breaking up the United Kingdom is by going for a policy of legislative devolution. How does my right hon. Friend justify his policy for devolution in Northern Ireland and reconcile it with the Government's opposition to devolution in Scotland?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I was not joking when I said that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I agree that we need appropriate constitutional arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have been exploring with politicians and parties in Northern Ireland how there might be a transfer of power and responsibility. In my speech in Bangor I simply gave what I thought was the considered view of the parties to whom we have spoken.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle

With regard to the Secretary of State's request to the parties of Northern Ireland today, will he confirm that on each occasion that I and my SDLP colleagues have met the right hon. Gentleman we have made unequivocally clear, without preconditions, our willingness to engage in talks on any subject with all the parties in Northern Ireland, and that further to that, in order to meet the express sensitivities of the Unionist parties, we are willing to seek with them an agreement which, by addressing all the dimensions of the problem, would transcend in importance any previous agreement ever made?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said, save to say that saying that his position was wholly without preconditions might be overstating it a little.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

I commend my right hon. Friend on his speech in my constituency. As the leader of one of Northern Ireland political parties, I am willing to participate in the talks that my right hon. Friend has mentioned and to sit at the table for as long as is necessary to produce. if possible, some constitutional progress, and I urge all leaders of constitutional parties to participate in those talks.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

As I said when I had the pleasure of visiting the hon. Gentleman's constituency and welcoming him in the audience, I was delighted to be there, and I welcome the letter that he has since written to me stating his willingness to participate.