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Assembly Elections

Volume 86: debated on Thursday 14 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he proposes to announce the dates of the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Nicholas Scott)

We shall be considering the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly during the coming months.

I had hoped to be responding to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and congratulating him on coming to the Dispatch Box in his new post. We are sure that he will bring to it the dedication and energy for which he is well noted.

Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State agree that, in the deliberations relating to elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Assembly should reflect the views of the people in Northern Ireland via Northern Ireland politicians, duly elected? Will he confirm that if the Assembly is to be kept in being, appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that political parties, such as the SDLP, will be properly represented and will be able to take their duly elected seats?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have heard the kind remarks of the hon. Gentleman and will be grateful for them.

If the Assembly is to continue in existence, of course we shall seek to ensure that all those who are involved in constitutional politics and who wish to stand for election should be able to do so. It is up to the representatives of the Social Democratic and Labour party to decide whether they wish to do so and to take their seats.

In view of the rubber stamp decision that was taken by the Cabinet this morning, is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State a free agent? Are the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in a position to take a decision on that or any other matter?

The right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members may have heard things on radio or television or read about them in the newspapers. If there is to be any such agreement, as is rumoured, I recommend the House to read its terms carefully and to listen to any statement that is made to the House of Commons.

If, as the Minister hinted in Omagh, the Nationalist community is to be given a veto on the Stormont structures, will the Unionist community be given a veto on Anglo-Irish structures which may be based at Stormont?

I made no suggestion in Omagh about any veto for any party. I said that the suggestions that had been put forward and upon which I was commenting would merit careful consideration by the Government.

Is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State aware that I cannot understand this furore about what appear to me to be very modest proposals, which are nevertheless a step in the right direction? In any review of the role of the Assembly, will the Government pay careful attention to the amendments that were put down to the original Bill by the official Opposition and consider bringing them into operation so that there is proper repesentation within the Assembly, which the SDLP will then be prepared to enter?

When we reach the stage of coming to a decision about the Assembly, I am sure that there will be widespread discussions and that all views will be taken into account. However, I have to make the same reply to the hon. Gentleman as I gave to others: wait and see.

Does my hon. Friend hold out any good prospect of devolving further functions to the Assembly on the far side of the elections—assuming, of course, that the duly elected Members take their places and attend?

The main task of the Assembly was to produce widely acceptable proposals for a system of devolved government. It is a matter of regret that no proposals that would have commanded widespread acceptance across the community have yet been put forward.