asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give the estimated costs of running the Northern Ireland Assembly in the current year.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that support for the Assembly came, perhaps reluctantly, because many of us thought that it was the last chance for the Northern Ireland politicians and people to learn to live together and work out their constitutional future? Will he now tell the political parties of Northern Ireland that the Assembly represents the last constitutional chance for them to do that, and that the patience and purse of the British taxpayer are not inexhaustible?
I would hesitate to say that anything is a last chance. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right Much patience is needed, and also a very clear sense of purpose. Since the constitutional parties have such a responsibility for helping to create political stability, I hope that they recognise that that includes a responsibility to listen and to consider concessions in return for concessions.
What steps are taken to ensure that reimbursement is not claimed inadvertently for the same expenditure by Members of the Assembly who are members of other Assemblies and bodies?
The claims made in respect of Members of the Assembly are rigorously scrutinised, and I am sure that the inadvertent possibility to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is covered in that scrutiny.
Will my right hon. Friend review the whole question of the usefulness of the Assembly before the next elections to that body?
Yes Sir. I have learnt to respect the efficiency and thoroughness of some of the scrutiny work carried out by the Assembly, but it has not yet succeeded in the main task set for it by this House, which was to work out proposals for the devolution of powers which would command widespread acceptance.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time will have to come when he must say to the Northern Ireland Assembly that, since it has not accepted the challenge put to it by this House, other circumstances will have to prevail and the Assembly cannot continue?
We are not at that point. I hope that the Assembly, through its Report Committee or in other ways that it thinks proper, will continue on the main task that I have described.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if rugby came into being by changing the rules when someone handled the ball, the Government may have to change the rules under which the Assembly is currently asked to operate?
We are not at that point yet.