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Government Departments

Volume 894: debated on Thursday 26 June 1975

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14.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he is satisfied with the present structure of the Northern Ireland Departments and the degree of co-operation between such Departments.

Yes, Sir, but I and my ministerial colleagues naturally keep the situation under the closest review at all times.

Will the Secretary of State examine the possibility of reducing the number of Departments? For example, does he feel that the Manpower Services Department should revert to control by the Department of Health and Social Services? Will he give urgent attention to the delays in decision-making, particularly in areas of government connected with local authorities?

Under direct rule we have made some changes. The former Office of the Executive is now the Central Secretariat. Community Relations is part of the Department of Education, and Law Reform is part of the Department of Finance. My right hon. and hon. Friends who have responsibility for various Departments take them in pairs and we try to put together Departments with the closest affinity. I have been extremely impressed with the working of the Manpower Services Department, and when the time comes to examine the structure of government in Northern Ireland my belief is that this Department should be left on its own. It does not have a social services function; it is an excellent department of employment. The co-operation between the Departments I inherited is extremely good and I have nothing but praise for the civil servants who work extremely well for them.

Although I recognise that the members of the Convention have been given the specific task of trying to evolve a new political structure, does not my right hon. Friend agree that many of them are deeply involved in the social and economic structure as it affects their constituencies? Will he confirm that the people who are in charge of Departments in Northern Ireland will continue to receive deputations of duly elected members of the Convention to discuss social and economic problems?

I must make absolutely clear to my hon. Friend that those elected to the Convention are not Members of Parliament or Assembly men. They are elected to put a form of government to this House. Although I have directed Departments in Northern Ireland through my right hon. and hon. Friends to give all status to those who are elected and to have correspondence and so on, I am considering an approach that has been made to me. However, there is one great principle of which I have instructed everyone to take heed—namely, that the Convention is not a parliament. There are 12 hon. Members from Northern Ire- land represented in this House.

Jokes about Members of Parliament in Northern Ireland are not for me. However, with regard to the 12 I find it odd that those who say on the one hand that 12 is not enough, tell me on the other hand that they much prefer to work through local representatives.