§ Amendment made: No. 29, in page 44, line 35, column 3, leave out '(1)' and insert '(2)'.—[Mr. Peter Mills.]389
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
We have given our general support to the Bill. We wish it well and realise the difficulties that face the Government and the Secretary of State.
Since last Thursday there has been a great change. There are now 78 Assembly members. Criticism has been made of the single transferable vote system, but it has enabled differences in the Unionist Party to be revealed. I do not glory in this, but it is a fact of life. The Alliance Party has emerged, and the SDLP, which was a small party, seems to have replaced the old Nationalist Party which had been in existence for many years—in its present form since the First World War.
Whether the White Paper approach from the rest of the United Kingdom works depends largely upon the 78 members who represent the people of Northern Ireland. We shall just have to see what emerges. All I know is that there is not another road to another poll via Darlington after long discussions.
The Opposition regard power sharing as crucial. We realise it is difficult, but some way must be found to get the communities in Northern Ireland working together. We must remember that not all who oppose the Unionists are rebels. The single transferable vote has given rise to a relatively small but meaningful number of Alliance Party members, but they certainly are not rebels.
I hope that the Bill will go through its remaining stages very quickly. I hope that Part II will be activated quickly. There is now a political momentum. There is not by any means more than a balanced argument that the approach made from this House will succeed. I make it clear that this is our wish and our hope. It has been our major aim that the White Paper approach of the Government and the Secretary of State shall succeed.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) throughout the passage of this Bill has spoken with great earnestness and moderation. I am sorry that I cannot share his enthuse- 390 iasm for the Bill, but I recognise the sincerity of his approach.
Before we leave the measure, I wish to put on record on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself how much we have appreciated the patience and courtesy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in his handling of the Bill and also the courtesy of his Ministers. This has not been an easy matter for them. We have not sought to obstruct or delay the Bill in any way, because we recognise that the Mouse having approved the White Paper against our advice and also having given the Bill a Second Reading against our advice, it would have been irresponsible of us to seek to frustrate the will of the House, particularly in view of the urgency of the situation.
Throughout its consideration we have sought to point to what we considered were the Bill's essential defects, the things which in our view would make it wholly unworkable. We adhere to the view we have taken throughout. We can at least say that we pointed to the essential unworkability of the Bill at every stage of its passage ad before the Assembly was elected. Therefore, we were not talking with hindsight. I do not propose to go over again the arguments in respect of unworkability.
We in this House wish the Secretary of State well. If I am wrong in my view about this legislation and if some kind of settlement can be produced which will bring peace to the people of Northern Ireland, while securing their citizenship within the United Kingdom, I would be the first to be happy. But I do not believe that this can happen. When the House of Commons passes this measure tonight and when eventually it receives Royal Assent, I cannot see that one human life will be saved as a result of it. I believe that the evil forces which are at work must be defeated first before we can see any kind of settlement. However I do not want to pursue that argument.
It has been said that this is the last chance for Ulster, with the implication that something dire will befall us if this measure does not work. There is almost an implicit threat when people say, "If you are perverse and if you do not between yourselves work this system 391 which we have imposed upon you against your will"—this system of regional government or whatever one likes to call it—"we shall do something dreadful to you, we shall possibly deprive you of your citizenship within the United Kingdom, or we shall do this and that".
I was delighted to hear what the hon. Member for Leeds, South said. I was especially pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State do what I expected him to do, saying that Her Majesty's Government's word meant what it said, and that when the Government said to the people of Northern Ireland, "You will remain part of the United Kingdom and you will not be driven out of the United Kingdom except by your own consent," Her Majesty's Government meant that.
If her Majesty's Government mean it and if the official Opposition mean it, I take it that this Parliament means what it says. If Parliament says to the people of Northern Ireland, "Your citizenship is assured so long as it has your consent," Parliament cannot therefore use the deprivation of citizenship as a threat if we do not manage to work this unworkable Assembly which has been forced upon us.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
On the subject of pledges, the Bill is the Bill is the Bill. But the Bill is not only Clause 1. The Bill contains a large number of clauses.
§ Captain Orr
I very much appreciate that. The hon. Gentleman has made the point before that the Bill is the Bill. But if the Bill lapses and if Part II is not brought into effect, what happens then? We are back to the Temporary Provisions Act, and no doubt ultimately that Act will run out. We are then back to something else. But I hope that this House of Commons will confirm that what we are not back to is Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom. That is not what we are back to.
If pledges mean anything, Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom so long as it is the wish of her people so to remain. So let it be plain that that is not a threat which is held over the people of Northern Ireland. The threat may be that they will never get 392 any form of self-government, that they will be treated like the subjects of a colony, that they will never have fair and just representation in this House. There may be all kinds of threats like that. But one threat must be an empty threat, and that is that the people of Northern Ireland shall cease to be part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Orme
May I remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that there are people on his side in Ulster who have just fought an election in which they have advocated a UDI for Ulster. I am thinking of Mr. Craig and people of that character. Therefore does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that there is not an open mandate for him and his hon. Friends to do as they please? Each Parliament is sovereign. Although the pledge that we have given on our side stands, nevertheless it does not stand for all time without qualification.
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Gentleman has referred to people who are on my side and who favour unilateral declaration of independence for Northern Ireland. Anyone who favours that is not on my side. Let me make that perfectly plain. I am a Unionist. For all the foreseeable future, for my lifetime and that of my children, I hope that Northern Ireland will remain firmly part of the United Kingdom. Anyone who advocates something else is not on my side. What some advocate, though—and this is a different thing—is that if Northern Ireland be driven out of the United Kingdom and if the choice were then joining an Irish Republic or being independent, one would settle for being independent. But that is not preferring that to the Union.
§ Mr. Orme
I am not trying to be unfair or to score debating points, but I can remember, in the not-too-distant past, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and Mr. William Craig were on the same platform advocating a policy for Ulster. I remember seeing the three of them together on television. I accept what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, but he must recognise that some of us saw these things for ourselves.
§ Captain Orr
Certainly. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening as well as 393 looking he would have heard the things upon which we were agreed. We attempted to ascertain the things upon which what is loosely called the loyalist community in Ulster were agreed. Nothing in what we said then had anything to do with an independent Ulster. If the hon. Gentleman looks at what we said he will find nothing like that. I would not have been a party to it had that been so.
I am a Unionist. I believe in Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom. I also believe in the sovereignty of this House of Commons so long as one is a member of the United Kingdom. So long as one is part of the United Kingdom, one accepts the sovereignty of Parliament. Although Parliament is about to give a Third Reading to a bad Bill, I will certainly not support anyone who operates outside the law.
On the other hand, I will not be a party to saying that the legislation means more than it says. As I argued earlier, it does not say that people must cooperate in an Executive with people with whom they politically disagree.
Let me make perfectly plain what I mean. Hon. Members of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believe that there is some kind of solution in power sharing. When I say that power sharing is inherently impossible, I am not talking in sectarian terms.
When we talk about the two communities in Ulster there is often a great difference of opinion about what we mean by "the two communities". If we are talking about two communities differing from each other in religion, I believe that there is every possibility in the future of people of differing religions working together.
The ballot is secret. I believe that often a great many Roman Catholics will vote Unionist, as I believe that they have done in the past. It may very well be that Protestants have voted for the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I do not believe that, in a broad sense, the religious division necessarily coincides with the political division, or will do so in the future. Therefore, when I say that power sharing does not or will not work, I am not talking in sectarian terms.
I believe that it is possible for Protestants and Roman Catholics to work to- 394 gether for the future of Ulster. What I do not believe is possible is the formation of an Executive of people of deeply differing political views about their own nationality. There cannot be a coalition between those who wish to preserve the State and those who wish ultimately to destroy it.
Of course I wish the Secretary of State well. No one would be more pleased than I if this extraordinary affair worked. But I believe that it will not. I shall certainly not advise my hon. Friends to do anything that will contribute to the failure—I almost said "unworkability" again—of the Bill. As the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) said earlier, we shall have to come back again looking for something else. I do not believe that this measure is permanent.
Although we shall divide against the Third Reading, one thing that we are all united about is that no one—on either side of the House, I hope—will be a party to any solution brought about by violent means. The elections have shown that the Ulster people agree on that. We are determined to support the Forces of Her Majesty and the forces of law and order. We want to return to peaceful methods. The fact that we do not believe that this is the proper way to do it does not mean that we do not want to see peaceful methods employed or that we do not all reject out of hand any violent method of influencing the future.
Once again, I thank my right hon. Friend for his courtesy throughout. We will oppose the Third Reading, but we shall do so out of a deep conviction that this is the wrong way to deal with the situation.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have brought to bear in constructing this Bill sincerity, enthusiasm, dedication and a genuine, heartfelt desire to see it make a contribution to peace in Northern Ireland. I wish that I could share their enthusiasm and sincerity. I am afraid that I do not. I believe that the Bill is doomed to failure before it is even on the statute book. It is an unworkable constitutional proposal. As the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has said, this Parliament, or perhaps its successor, will have to deal with this problem again.
395 It is one of the tragedies that the Government and the Opposition have not faced the realities of the situation and dealt with it. Until we remove the prop of membership of the United Kingdom from Northern Ireland, we will not enable the communities there to face the realities of life and to begin to co-operate in whatever future they determine they want for Northern Ireland.
I am sorry that there are so few hon. Members in the House for the Third Reading of this Bill. I am particularly sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) is not in his place, because it is no good standing up in this Chamber uttering mealy-mouthed tributes to the British Army for the tasks it undertakes on behalf of this Parliament, on the orders of this Government, and not being here to record one's vote one way or the other on this issue.
We are asking as a nation, the Government are ordering, men to go and die in Northern Ireland for this constitution. Yet this Parliament is hardly occupied by hon. Members to vote for or against this Bill. That is a disgrace which borders on an insult to those brave men whom we send to uphold the laws we pass. I am sorry that we cannot wish the Bill fair weather. I wish it were within a chance of being successful. I wish we could avoid the tragedy that will continue to unfold in Ireland. I wish we could avoid the continuing bloodshed that is inevitable because the Government and my party have decided that they will try to make the unworkable work.
I will vote against this Bill for reasons different from those held by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and some of his hon. Friends. I will vote against it because I believe that I speak with the voice of the majority of the British people. I challenge the Secretary of State if he says that is not so, to allow this country to express its views in a plebiscite or election on this issue of the future relationship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I do not know why the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) thinks that 396 he has this special revelation of the mind of the British people. My impression of the views of the British people on this difficult problem is different from his, but I do not claim to speak on behalf of the British people as a whole. I can only put my point of view conscientiously.
The first thing I want to do, because I doubt whether we will have a funeral oration from the Treasury Bench, is to pay a tribute to the parliament which is to be abolished by this Parliament in this Bill. I do not know whether the absent hon. Members to whom the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford referred are aware of the sense of humiliation and loss which was felt in Northern Ireland—yes, by Nationalists as well as by Unionists who had been working this parliamentary system—when it was swept away. It might have been more consonant with Conservative philosophy, with a Conservative administration, if it had sought to build on established foundations, to improve rather than to slay this daughter of the Mother of Parliaments.
With all its blemishes and faults the Stormont system upheld the Northern Ireland State from its inception for half a century. It upheld the frontier of the United Kingdom and enabled Britain to win the Battle of the Atlantic. It contended with problems and prejudices, the depth of which were only brought home to Government Ministers and to this House when, without my vote, and against my voice, direct rule was imposed on the Six Counties. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State very fairly said, if we now say that Stormont was oppressive, that it discriminated unjustly against sections of the population, why was it that we had nothing to say in those days?
But the result of the imposition of direct rule was that politics descended from the Senate and the House of Commons to the streets and to the gutter. Private armies multiplied. Terrorism and protection racketeering ceased to be an IRA monopoly. And the end is not yet.
The unappeasable were not appeased when the Government complied with the first demand of the Provisionals, the abolition of Stormont—abolition was the predictable sequel to prorogation despite what was said by my right hon. Friend 397 the Prime Minister at the time, which has been quoted in the House today.
We have heard it said on both sides that the settlement of Northern Ireland must be made by Ulstermen in Ulster. Therefore, I welcome at least the recognition accorded in the Bill to the need to bring direct rule to an end. Self-government must be given back to Northern Ireland.
Perhaps because we must on no account confess that we have taken the wrong turning, everything must be done in a very complicated way, in different forms, by complicated stages. The nomenclature of tradition is eschewed. The old parliamentary trappings are cut away. It is a strange reflection that if we proceed as we are proceeding we may find more of British tradition and prescription and parliamentary methods south of the border than in Northern Ireland.
All this is harmful to moderation in the Unionist ranks, as harmful as all the hectoring and lecturing of Ulster:—"This is your last chance. Nanny will give notice. We will not put up with this any longer"—that we have heard particularly from the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), neither of whose attendance at these debates has been particularly long or memorable. I was very sorry to see a former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland join in this chorus. It all does harm to what we are trying to achieve, which is the bringing forward of moderate men to positions of responsibility, giving them confidence in themselves and helping them gain the confidence of their fellow countrymen.
But I live in hopes that the flexibility to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly gives importance will in the end lead to the revival in Northern Ireland of many of the parliamentary traditions of half a century. That will be very important in connection with the Council of All-Ireland. I do not share all the misgivings of some of my hon. Friends. I believe that it is part of official Unionist policy to enter an All-Ireland Council. The fears felt in Northern Ireland that perhaps it is just a stepping stone to a united Ireland can best be removed if the Assembly, the Executive and the institutions of Northern 398 Ireland are given responsibility, power, authority and dignity, so that the representatives of the North can sit on equal terms with the representatives of the South, without fear of the erosion of their sovereignty and those British characteristics which they value.
I will conclude on what matters most. The White Paper rightly spoke of the primacy of ending violence. With other hon. Members on both sides, I was privileged to tour in the Province at the time of the recent Assembly elections. People of different opinions said "Once we have an Assembly, once the electorate of Northern Ireland have been able to send their representatives to it, once they have shown by their votes that they utterly repudiate terrorism, then Her Majesty's Government should be able to proceed with the utmost ruthlessness with the support of the people of Northern Ireland against those who disturb their peace."
It is often glibly said that there can be no military solution without a political solution. Perhaps it is even truer to say that there can be no political solution without a military solution. Without victory over the IRA and the extinction of all terrorism, there can be no lasting solution.
Her Majesty's Armed Forces, including the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and all the services of the Crown and of the community in Northern Ireland display magnificent physical courage. We in this place owe it to them to show political and moral courage to sustain them in what they must now do unflinchingly to bring bloodshed to an end.
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ Mr. English
It is because we have been accustomed for so long to having a unitary State that we are not very good at creating federal structures. The remarks of the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) almost gave one to believe that the Northern Ireland Parliament was an ancient creation of this country.
§ Mr. English
The hon. Gentleman now says that it has been there for half a century, which in the context of British 399 and Irish history is not very long. When we created it, we did so as a sort of autonomous area, but we did not do what is done in most federal States—in the United States or in Germany. We did not provide it with much of the apparatus that it needs in order to preserve it as part of the United Kingdom.
We did not, for example, set up a Bill of Rights preserving to different individuals the rights which they ought to have—something that was embodied in the American Constitution almost at the time of its inception. Indeed, I think that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would now say that we did not necessarily ensure that even its electoral system was entirely democratic in all parts of the country. And so it failed.
I do not think that I should use his form of words, but I must admit that I share the doubts of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). I was just thinking of the short exchange that I had with the Minister during the Report stage. The hon. Gentleman said that the assurance given to me by the Secretary of State during the debate on the Assembly Bill that there could be a change in the electoral system was carried out by Clause 29, even though that clause says that it must be a STV system, because, he said, the clause can always be changed by an Act of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman does not need to use the words that he did to some of my hon. Friends about hectoring and lecturing Northern Ireland. It needs a change of mind by only four hon. Members for Clause 1 to be changed. I am not attempting to lecture anybody in Northern Ireland. It is a fact that an amendment to Clause 1 was lost today by a narrow majority. It is a fact, too, that this House could change its mind at any time in relation not only to Clause 29 but also to Clause 1, with all that that implies. I am not suggesting that it should, but people are not lecturing the people of Northern Ireland when they say that that is a fact. There is nothing immutable in this.
As I said the other day, if I were to introduce a Bill saying that Nottingham should remain part of the United King- 400 dom unless it were to decide otherwise, it would be laughed at, and rightly. The reason Clause 1 has to be stated at all is that matters are in doubt. Otherwise, it would not be there. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) may regret the fact, but he recognises that it is a fact that the matter is in some doubt.
I hope that this Bill will be successful. Like my hon. Friends, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford, I do not propose, therefore, to vote against it. I would at the most only be cautiously optimistic. I have grave doubts whether this Bill is not yet another of the innumerable legislative pieces of paper which this House over centuries has showered upon Ireland.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Over the last 15 months this House has been groping for some form of new constitutional proposals to put before the people of Northern Ireland. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that I spoke and voted in favour of the White Paper and of the constitutional Bill proposals. I still believe that those proposals are right. I re-echo that this evening. I believe it is right to go for a new structure in Northern Ireland, and this structure, while in no way perfect, is probably the best structure for balancing—I emphasise this—the aims and aspirations of the two communities.
Now the people have spoken and we have the new Assembly. I do not wish to play the rôle of Cassandra, but if one is to be realistic it would be foolish and would deceive the House to say other than I do not think the omens particularly good. However, one hopes that the Assembly will find its own solution. It is up to it to do so. This House has given and should give it all encouragement in that task.
Much gloom and despondency has been shown about the Bill by many here. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has consistently throughout said it is unworkable. One respects his viewpoint, but I have yet to hear of a better framework to balance the interests of the two communities. I remind the House that I felt that the Government had gone for too loose an arrangement in the Bill and that it 401 would have been better to have gone for a tighter arrangement on power sharing, and to have had a referendum of the people of Northern Ireland on the proposals and then proceed on the basis of elections for an Assembly to work these proposals.
Perhaps it was hoping for too much that the results would be other than they were in an election campaign with as flexible a set of procedures as this. It is wise to remind oneself that for four years the people of Northern Ireland have suffered a latent civil war situation, and in the circumstances it was perhaps inevitable that the sectarian differences should have been deeply emphasised in the elections.
As the House will know—and perhaps I may express a personal note here—I have gone through a difficult period in the last six to 12 months, trying to face up to our new problems. Anyone who has gone through these kinds of difficulties knows the pain of parting with friends, but I believe deeply that there was a need, against the background of the White Paper proposals, for a centre to emerge in Northern Ireland.
I would not have said that a centre had failed to emerge, but it has not broken through in any spectacular way and one is disappointed. I tried to get Brian Faulkner to embrace a realistic policy rather than go towards lunatic proposals, in his Blueprint that led to nowhere. One tried to get him to face the challenge of Vanguard, but he has in the election paid the penalty of trying to face in three directions at the same time.
One would have wished for a wider group of independent Unionists, Alliance and Northern Ireland Labour Party to come together to provide a centre. However, the narrow doctrinaire views of some people prevented that, and all one can say with sadness is that this wider group did not result. One has given one's support to the Alliance Party, and it has made a modest start but it would be foolish to disguise from the House that it has been disappointing that there was a failure to grasp the full potential which there might have been in its campaign. There has been too much negative bashing of other parties and a failure to project positive attitudes, a failure to 402 grasp the opportunity to make a wider impact on the electorate.
That is all in the past and one comes finally to the obstacles which one recognises in the task the new Assembly will face. We have had reiteration on television and radio in the last few days from politicians of varying degrees of sectarianism saying "Of course we will talk". What does it mean? Does it mean something or is it just chatter?
The problems are great and the House would fool itself if it did not recognise the major problems of power sharing. There are those who believe that it is basically wrong and will not partake and those who pay lip service but do not face the reality, and the problems of achieving an Executive which is acceptable; the problems of finding an acceptable Chief Executive; the problems of the police and of a Council of Ireland. Is the latter, as some wish, to lead to a united Ireland or is it, as some believe, basically wrong, or should it, as others believe, act on a functionary basis?
There are some who say: "Yes we will take part in an Executive, but not until there are tripartite talks." There are those who take what I believe to be the correct view, that we should form the Executive first and have talks later.
These are the problems which have to be faced but there is no point in making this a wake. One should end by saying that the weight of responsibility has shifted from this House to the shoulders of the Secretary of State, and. as one of my lion. Friends said a few minutes ago, he is perhaps the one member of the Government who has "caught on" to the Northern Ireland situation and the problems and understand better than anyone else on the Front Bench could. One wishes him well in facing his Byzantine difficulties.
One wishes the new members of the Assembly well in the problems they have to face, particularly the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). Both have heavy responsibilities and one wishes that they will be able to rise to the situation and bring Northern Ireland through this difficult period.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
I am happy to follow my hon. Friend the 403 Member for Belfast, North (Mr Stratton Mills) because he has taken a courageous view over the last 15 sad months. When I was motoring around the constituency of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) I was stopped art two polling stations and asked revealing questions. One elderly voter asked me why I thought it right that we should legislate in such a way that if they had done the same thing to us my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would have been compelled to have the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party in his Cabinet.
At another polling station someone asked me why it was that the Westminster Parliament was trying to impose majority rule en a reluctant Southern Rhodesia while denying it to Northern Ireland. Many people in Ulster will probably echo those questions. The answer is that in both cases Parliament in Westminster is trying to promote a form of power sharing in non-Westminster conditions. That is the common strand of those two entirely different exercises.
The thing which my hon. Friends in Northern Ireland so frequently rail to see is that although they were given the Parliament of Stormont complete with Speaker's chair, wig and mace and Serjeant at Arms, they never really had democracy on the Westminster model. We in Westminster know that sooner or later the Government in power will run out of ideas and that the Opposition might devise some fresh ideas at some unforeseeable moment in the future. When such a time comes power will be placed into their hands. That is how we conduct power sharing here, and a periodic change of Government is the only way to run things on Westminster lines.
If the Labour Party had been in opposition for 50 years as have been the supporters of the SDLP even they would have been militant. We cannot envisage democracy without the possibility of change. That leads me to the obvious conclusion, as the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) has said, that there is no alternative. For that reason this set-up must work. None of the factors which led to the setting up of Stormont exists any longer. I am 404 referring now to the tragic years between 1914 and 1922 and I am seeking to be as impartial as I can. Negotiation was being carried out under the threat of a European war, as was all too evident in 1914. There is no earthly possibility of the shadow of some Carson stalking the corridors of Westminster. If there is, I cannot detect it. There is no feeling in the post-Imperial era that could lead to a situation like the Curragh mutiny. So many of the forces which the Northern Irish people looked to for the maintenance of the union no longer exist, even though the sentiment does, and union must be maintained.
But the Assembly must work, because if there are other possibilities I can envisage but two. One is that proposed by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), simply that we should pull out.
§ Mr. James
I apologise to the hon. Member if I have misinterpreted what he said. I will not pursue the point, except to say that the proposal has been put forward from certain quarters that we should pull out. But as the Taoiseach said last night that is a certain recipe for civil war which would extend to the Republic of Ireland and to this country and it is unthinkable that we should do any such thing. The other possibility is that we should revert to what my hon. Friends dislike most, namely a further period of direct rule in the hope that in 15 or 18 months another attempt can be made at creating an Assembly that will work.
Power sharing will place a heavy burden on those who have to get it off the ground, and particularly will it place a heavy burden on the shoulders of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I hope that he will approach his task with an air of moderation, a quality which has not been seen up to now.
§ Mr. James
I may have had that in mind, but I do not think so. If history places a heavy burden on those who would make a success of these things, it will be extremely unkind to those who do not.
405 It is true to say that this is almost a last possible attempt. I suggest that the House will not be all that kind to those who seek to wreck the Bill. We have spent two days in Committee and a full day on Report and Third Reading. I point out to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South that the cause which he has been consistently promoting has not attracted very many adherents from either side of the House. There has been my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison). It is a small battalion which my hon. Friend has been leading to the breaches.
§ Mr. James
I seem to remember one vote which resulted in 219 battalions to six, but I let that pass.
Unlike some hon. Members I very much welcome the tripartite talks leading to a Council of Ireland. I genuinely believe that to be the joker within the pack, particularly within the ambit of our joint membership of the EEC.
I wish that some of my hon. Friends would realise that the Republic and Great Britain are English speaking partners in the vastly larger Community. We have enormous common interests. Those interests should be promoted. There is the possibility of contact which is opened up with the passage of the Bill. The visit of the Taoiseach should not be ignored.
I am staggered by my hon. and gallant Friend when he talks about the Republic. He talks about it as though it were some obscure cannibal tribe south of the Irrawaddy River and not a body of people who live within a stone's throw of his constituency. The burden of my hon. and gallant Friend's case in the last few days has been that what is regarded loosely as the Catholic community is a community of second-class citizens who are not entitled to any share of power.
§ Captain Orr
I cannot allow that to pass. My hon. Friend is being very provocative. I must make it absolutely plain that I was not speaking in sectarian terms. My hon. Friend knows that that is unfair.
§ Mr. James
I remind my hon. and gallant Friend that when we were discussing power sharing in Committee my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the coalition Government which was formed during the war. But my hon. and gallant Friend replied that they had also been at war for 50 years. That is the attitude of mind which I am getting at.
Why should there be an hereditary hatred for the people in the Republic, when we are natural partners within a joint enterprise in the EEC? That is the way in which I see things developing. If only we can get a relaxation of tension I do not see why we should not make a success of things in precisely the same way as Switzerland made a success of a constitution after a far bloodier and more sectarian period in the 1840s. Indeed, France and Germany successfully buried the hatchet in a way which we could not have conceived within 14 years of the ending of the last world war.
I am optimistic about the future. I welcome the Bill with open arms. History will record that Ireland has had two entirely different versions of history over nearly 800 years. The point at which those two lines of history coincide is the moment when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had the foresight and courage to dissolve Stormont and to start again entirely afresh.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which he has tackled the appallingly difficult job which he has had for the last 18 months in bringing the Bill to the point of Third Reading.
I offer the Assembly a fair wind.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Maginnis
My first duty is to bring the House back to reality. The Bill will go down in parliamentary history as the most unaltered piece of legislation since the European Communities Act. I reiterate the tribute paid by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) to the Secretary of 407 State for his patience during the passage of the Bill. I would also compliment him on his sober diligence because the Government have been very diligent in seeing that nothing was given away in it.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I find it a little hard to take that comment, considering that today I have brought forward at least five amendments to meet points made in Committee and have been thanked for doing so by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). It is a little hard of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) to say that I have not agreed to alter anything in the Bill. That cannot be substantiated by the facts.
§ Mr. Maginnis
My right hon. Friend misheard me. I did not say that the Bill was unaltered. I agree that many little points have been clarified and that he has made quite a number of amendments, but no amendments of substance have been made.
Throughout the past three or four years, the mistake has repeatedly been made by Government and Opposition of asking Northern Ireland to carry the can for decisions taken in this House, and we are being asked now to carry the can for this Bill. Does anyone here believe that hon. Members from Northern Ireland in this Imperial Parliament can go back to Northern Ireland this weekend, step out of the aircraft, hold the Bill up and say "I have it here—peace in our time"? I do not think that any one of us can do that.
We will have to look at this thing in a sensible manner. The big question mark hanging over the Bill is that of power sharing. No one can get away from that fact. What is the position following the Assembly elections? One section, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Reverend Ian Paisley)—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not right honourable"]—perhaps coming events cast their shadow before them—is concentrating on full integration within the United Kingdom. Another section wants a regional parliament with reasonable powers. Yet another section wants a negotiated independence for Northern Ireland. Another section, led by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has 408 the short-term aim of some type of unity in Northern Ireland and the long-term aim of a united Ireland.
We have all these different political views being asked to come together in power sharing. But initially at least there is no power to share. The Assembly will be merely a talking-shop until it decides in which way power can be shared in a way acceptable to the Secretary of State. Until then, the Assembly will get no power at all.
When the White Paper was published, I wrote on my copy, "Power sharing includes increased representation at Westminster". I believe that had a larger representation been granted to the people of Northern Ireland in this House, power sharing in Northern Ireland could have been a reality. For some unknown reason this point was not grasped by the powers that be. We are left in the position that Northern Ireland has no increased representation in this House but is asked to accept an Assembly which has and always will have far less power than had Stormont.
There is a will in Northern Ireland to make something work. I remind the House of the famous words of Sir Winston Churchill during war-time:Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.If the House gives it the proper tools, Northern Ireland will finish the job. It is the people of Northern Ireland who have to live with the situation.
I have perhaps riled some of my hon. Friends and my party by reserving judgment on the White Paper and on the Second Reading of the Bill. I said that I would wait until the Third Reading debate before giving my considered judgment. I intend to give it now, unreservedly. The Bill cannot have my full support because, as I said on Second Reading and in Committee, the power-sharing method will never work with all the inherent difficulties of the four different opinions which are represented in the Assembly. The more the Westminster Government try to force power sharing on Northern Ireland the less successful will they be. If the Assembly members were allowed a loose rein to work out together how to implement the criteria laid down in the Bill they would in the 409 end reach a conclusion. but as things are the chances are very slim.
I cannot give my blessing to the Bill because no recognition has been given to our request for extra representation for Northern Ireland in Westminster. I regret, therefore, that I am obliged to vote against the Third Reading.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Mr. McMaster
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) and Dorset, North (Mr. David James) and others who have contributed to the debate. We were glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North and his colleagues from both sides of the House in Belfast at the end of last week for the Assembly elections. We appreciate the attention that has been given by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the problems of the last three years in Northern Ireland. We appreciate the time they have given up to visiting Ulster at some inconvenience and even risk to themselves, and the diligence with which they have attended and spoken in the debates on Northern Ireland.
This applies especially to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh was perhaps a little unfair in saying that my right hon. Friend made no concessions. He made concessions to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), on Clause 8 in respect of consultations with the parties and on Clause 25 in relation to heads of departments in the new Assembly being members of the Executive. These are important matters.
I wish that he had been able to make a concession on Clause 1. It was one of the matters that he agreed to consider. I was glad to hear his reasons for not giving way on it, though from my point of view I cannot entirely accept them. Nevertheless, as one of the Ulster Members in this House, I must say to my right hon. Friend that a debt of gratitude is owed by everyone in Northern Ireland to him, to his junior Ministers and to his officials for the time that they have taken in trying to sort out our problems.
Having said that, I must give my opinion about the Bill. By and large it 410 is an unsatisfactory and weak measure. The system of election that we have experienced in the past seven days is not really satisfactory. The constituencies are much too large, and I was disappointed that the Minister of State seemed adamant about the Government's intention of sticking to the system. After all, it is a trial system. A little more flexibility is required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh and others have developed the argument about power sharing. In practice, it may prove to be unworkable. I hope not. But it is very difficult to ask an executive to share power not just with their political opponents in the ordinary sense of the word, but with people who speak from a different standpoint and whose long-term aim is the ending of the State itself. If that is what is meant by power sharing—and my right hon. Friend was never too clear about this when he dealt with amendments in Committee—it could well be the rock on which this ship founders.
There are other minor matters concerning the position of the Governor and concerning oaths of allegiance which are felt strongly in Northern Ireland and which I was sorry to see in the Bill. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh, I am sorry that no concession was made on them. The position of the Governor is an especially sore point. He was highly respected, and it is totally unnecessary for the Government's scheme to abolish that office. It does not make it any more easy to establish a satisfactory solution in the future.
I come finally to the weakest point in the Bill and the White Paper. It is the proposition concerning the formation of a Council of Ireland. To the minds of many people in Northern Ireland, this is a very dangerous proposition. They smell a rat in it. If a council is to be established simply to consider trade matters, tourism and the like, that is all right. It has been accepted in the past, and it will be in the future. But very many people feel that it is a vehicle on which Northern Ireland will be taken into a united Ireland in 10 or 15 years as the Leader of the Opposition forecast some months ago.
We in Northern Ireland feel that the proposals set out in the Bill in respect 411 of proportional representation, power sharing and the like are less than satisfactory. They are proposals for a constitutional system in Northern Ireland which the Government would not dream of adopting in the United Kingdom as a whole. I have said before and I say again that these are concessions which have been made in the face of terrorism. I believe that they should not have been made at all.
This is not a time to make concessions to terrorism. One has only to think of what has happened in the past year or 15 months in Northern Ireland. Think of the casualty list since March 1972. My right hon. Friend knows that the tempo of violence has increased with each concession in Northern Ireland. The number of dead and injured or mutilated for life and the amount of damage to property has increased dramatically, particularly in the last 14 months. The security position is worse today, despite the success of the security forces in arresting IRA leaders, than it was when Stormont was suspended in March 1972.
We in Northern Ireland feel, too, that our constitutional position has been weakened. This is in spite of the declaration in Clause 1. We believe that the provisions set out in the Act under which our State was founded—the Government of Ireland Act 1920, repeated in the Downing Street Declaration—have been gradually weakened and that, though the declaration in Clause 1 gives some comfort in Ulster, it is much less strong, particularly in view of the interjection by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) during the debate on the clause in Committee when he made it clear that the Labour Party, which might well be in government shortly, would not feel bound by the clause.
Northern Ireland Members feel that very little attention has been paid to our views. We are listened to with great courtesy and at great length, no more so than at present. However, over the past two or three years senior representatives of the British Government have been stationed in Northern Ireland who have no deep understanding of our problems. There is a feeling abroad in Northern Ireland that the Government have listened too much to the spokesmen from one side.
412 Throughout the last four years there has been in Ulster a desire to placate people who have turned out to be implacable, as it has been well put in the debate. Concessions have been made to win the hearts of the minority. This has been the policy of the British Government over the last three years; they have attempted to convert the unconvertible or, as one hon. Member put it, appease the unappeasable or, as I would put it, tame the untameable. The primary duty of government has been neglected in the past three years. I say, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), that I do not believe that if the security forces had set their hearts to the job they could not have brought the IRA under control.
The IRA is still not accepted by the Government to be the main enemy in Northern Ireland. In answer to questions, the Government will not make a statement condemning the IRA. On many occasions I have asked—"Will my hon. Friends condemn the IRA?" They immediately say, "We condemn all terrorists"; in other words, they group one side with the other, saying that one side is as bad as the other.
This does not face the truth. The truth in Northern Ireland in the past three years—in the past 50 years—has been the existence of a small body of people, unappeaseable, who will not accept concessions; because they want to achieve an end—an end which can be summarised as the most undemocratic of all aims, namely, that the minority should impose its will by force on the majority. There has been a reaction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North referred to the last war. During the debates over the last three years I have been preached at at great length about the way in which we should treat our enemies. Hon. Members should not forget that they did not face up to a bombing campaign by a common enemy without being able to hit back. When their women and children were bombed in the last war they hit back. They were not afraid of using atomic weapons. We have been bombed, and we have lost 850 people in three years. Many people have been mutilated for life and there has been much damage to property. Over 250 members of the security forces have been 413 killed and many wounded by terrorist activities. There has been a reaction on my side, but a very marginal one. The surprising fact is that there has not been more, because when people in this country were hit like that they hit back. We would not have won the last war if we had tried to love our enemy.
I tell the hon. Member for Dorset, North, who referred to Southern Ireland as a friendly country, that it is a country that claims dominion over Ulster. Its constitution speaks of the reintegration of Northern Ireland. It refers to the 26 counties, but Southern Ireland has continued to work for the last 50 years to gain dominion over the entire island of Ireland and to take unto itself the curtilage of Ulster. That is the root of the problem.
§ Mr. David James
My hon. Friend will be generous enough to realise that yesterday the Prime Minister of Southern Ireland was clearly trying to get his country off the hook on which it was impaled by a previous generation.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
So long as they do not claim sovereignty over Loch Ness. I assume that that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James) was speaking about.
§ Mr. McMaster
I have already expressed a view about the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. I said that it was badly timed. If Mr. Cosgrave wishes to abandon the policies of the last 50 years he will have to change his constitution. But even if he does that he has no right to discuss the future government of Northern Ireland. It is no concern of his.
I ask hon. Members why we have had a plebiscite, why we have had a local authority election and why we have had an Assembly election, if it was not to establish one fact, namely, what the will of the people of Northern Ireland is. Why does Clause 1 say that the constitution of Northern Ireland shall not be changed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland? Why are there worries and doubts in Northern Ireland? It is because the Prime Minister, next day, had private conversations with the Taoiseach; and because the Government themselves will not outlaw the IRA and use the security forces to restore law and 414 order, which is the primary duty of any Government.
The Government have consistently refused to back un established authority in Northern Ireland and to meet the violent campaign and the propaganda campaign of the IRA. If my own Front Bench laughs it is because I suggest outlawing the IRA.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
My hon. Friend refers to laughter from this Front Bench. As far as I am concerned, his speech is not bringing me any amusement.
§ Mr. McMaster
I am glad to hear that. The outlawing of the IRA would have the primary effect of helping to meet the propaganda campaign of the Republicans. Only when the Government tell the world what they think of the IRA terrorist challenge to Northern Ireland have we any hope of restoring law and order there.
This Assembly will not restore law and order in Northern Ireland. This struggle has continued there for 50 years. I regret that my right hon. Friend saw fit to set out at length in the Bill provisions relating to discrimination. The fact that these are set out at length implies that for 50 years the Northern Ireland Government were adopting policies that were motivated by either religious or political discrimination. That is a charge that I shall always deny.
Conditions in Ulster were very good and were improving rapidly in 1968 and 1969 when the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) and some of her friends started this violent campaign. There is a link between that campaign and terrorist campaigns in France and other parts of the world. That is why this subject is so important. There is a link between them, just as there was a link with the "Claudia", which brought Russian arms to Northern Ireland to help the terrorists to continue their campaign, and the aircraft which was stopped in Antwerp and found to be full of Communist weapons from Czechoslovakia. These are not accidents. The enemy working within Northern Ireland and supplying the IRA with rifles and ammunition and some of its funds is a Communist enemy.—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. If hon. Members can contain themselves, the House will be 415 able to do what I think that it wants to do very badly, and that is to get finished.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In an important debate such as this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, surely the Chair has no right to suggest that the debate should finish. It is for hon. Members to decide when the debate should finish. We have felt the weight in the past years of a terrible campaign. As a Member of this House I would protest against any interference from the Chair to keep Members from Northern Ireland from speaking within the limits of the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
When the hon. Member has been here a bit longer he will realise that the Chair never has the intention of curtailing debate. The Chair's job is to sense the feeling of the House. That is what I gave, and I object to being bullied by the hon. Gentleman or by any other hon. Member.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I never attempted to bully you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I simply said——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
In that case, will the hon. Gentleman please adopt a more conciliatory tone of voice. Mr. McMaster.
§ Mr. McMaster
I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House if I have been wearying. Perhaps I was carried away emotionally. I and my constituents have had to put up with this. I have been at the death-bed of some of my constituents, including women and children, who have been killed in this campaign. I feel very strongly about this and wish that we could have done something to end these unnecessary deaths of the past few years, as do all hon. Members.
I plead with the Government to remember their duty to support established authority in Northern Ireland, including the police. The appointment of the Hunt Committee and Sir Arthur Young's ideas of civilianising the police force at a time of extreme violence in Ulster were totally misguided. They undermined the police and, with them, established authority in Ulster.
416 What the Government must do if they are to restore the position in Ulster is to back up the new Executive and to give them proper power and control, particularly over our police. I desire very much that devolution should work. I believe that the best form of government for Ulster is to have a form of devolution with an Executive dealing with local affairs in Ulster. But this is a time for strong government in Ulster. As the Bill is put into practice in Northern Ireland, I hope that it will lead to strong government, with the Government having control over their internal security and police forces, as quickly as possible.
I want the British Government to practise what they preach and not to have a plebiscite which shows a clear result in favour of union followed by steps which undermine the Union. I ask for a degree of flexibility from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in carrying out his functions as laid down in the Bill. I ask him to recognise quite openly the nature of the common enemy in Ulster and to lose no opportunity to declare that recognition not only in Ulster but in this House and, through the Foreign Office, throughout the world.
I have recently had experience of some of the shortcomings of Her Majesty's Government in dealing with the propaganda campaign in Houston, Texas, which has been referred to. I was there just after Easter and saw the shortcomings of Her Majesty's Government in dealing with the IRA representatives in America who are collecting funds there to carry on this campaign. Some Communists were working with them and some of them admitted it openly to me on a television programme.
Although I have expressed strong criticism of the Bill, I want to see it work and therefore, although I voted against Second Reading, now that it has been passed by the House, I am prepared to support the Bill and to work as hard as I can——
§ Mr. McMaster
—and to work as hard as I can to make the Assembly work. I would only ask my right hon. Friend to try to meet some of the points that I have raised—
§ Mr. McMaster
I have spoken as strongly as I could in criticism of the Bill, confident that my right hon. Friend is not just sitting here but is listening and that he will try, in operating the Bill, to use the flexibility that I have asked for, so that effective government can be established in Northern Ireland, and especially to treat the next elections differently from those held last Thursday.
§ 11.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
We have heard a very strong speech against the Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster). Since he voted in favour of the White Paper and has now revealed that he will vote for the Bill, hon. Members will understand how strongly I feel, since I voted against the White Paper and intend, as I have always maintained, to vote against the Third Reading.
I do not intend to speak for as long as my hon. Friend, but that does not mean to say that my feelings are not as strong as his. I regret that many hon. Members seem more anxious to depart to their homes and their beds than to deal with a matter which is crucial to Northern Ireland and its people. For instance, if my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James) and other hon. Members had had to live in Northern Ireland over the last three years, perhaps they would take a different attitude tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East talked about what the British Government had ordered during the last war. We know what terrible things happened, for instance, the bombing of Dresden in pursuit of the defeat of the enemy. If, in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, we ask for proper military measures, it is deemed politically unwise to allow the Army to take the stern measures which are necessary to wipe out these thugs.
We are debating tonight the final stages of the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill, 418 in the highly unusual and perhaps unique circumstances that 78 members, including the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and I, have already been returned to the Assembly with which the Bill is concerned. None of those representatives, including the hon. Member, my hon. Friend and myself, will know until the Royal Assent is given to the Bill what are the initial powers which will be given to these representatives, apart from the fundamentals set out in the Bill.
It was a former Home Secretary who, two years ago, declared that the IRA campaign had led to a state of war in Northern Ireland. No one who has seen the devastation there would deny that statement. It was not denied at the time. There is hardly a family in Northern Ireland which has not had friends or relatives killed or injured by the reign of terror pursued so vituperatively by the IRA.
Yet in the middle of this we have had an election designed to placate those principally responsible for initiating the violence and continuing it. The political capitulation to the men of violence as manifested by this Bill in the midst of the shambles created by their terrorism is not the way to create confidence among the law-abiding majority and to make them willing to work this measure, even if it is to their disadvantage. In the phrase used by the Secretary of State some time ago, the people of Northern Ireland are war weary.
The people of Northern Ireland have been pushed about far too much in past years and they are finally taking their stand. Despite the artificial system specially devised by my right hon. Friend and set out in the Bill in my opinion to erode the influence of the loyal majority of the population, we are grateful that the Ulster people have been given the opportunity to express their opinion in an election. However, what does that democratic right amount to?
In this Bill the members of the Assembly will have no control over the Executive. They are not permitted to decide when the border poll should be held, they are not even allowed to decide what sort of voting system should be operated when the election is held. The 419 results of the recent election may not be what the Government hoped for or intended. The people, in the election, were asked for their views and they have given them in no uncertain terms. Of course the people of Northern Ireland desperately want peace, but this Bill will not provide that.
The Ulster people also want their democratic rights, which they enjoyed until recently, restored to them. The Bill does not provide for that. What it does ensure is that for the first time the Irish Republic will be permitted to dictate the kind of political structure which should exist in Northern Ireland, and that is something I deprecate.
Provision is made to allow for the creation of an All-Ireland Council on which the Ulster majority will be permanently in a minority. No longer will there be a Parliament of Northern Ireland. The Governor has gone, the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen has gone. Instead of that we get leaders of parties demanding that oaths of allegiance be given to them. This Bill removes many things which constitute an impediment to a slide towards a united Ireland.
If proper military action had been taken in 1969 we would not have had this Bill and over 850 people would not have died. This Bill was not contemplated 15 months ago because when Stormont was prorogued the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box that the suspension of that parliament was temporary. His words have not turned out to be true. We have had the removal of Stormont and of the democratic system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North was critical of Unionist rule in Northern Ireland, but if only he ex-examined the 50 years he would find that a great deal was achieved in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Is my hon. Friend aware that none of my constituents in Devon has any of the things he is asking for? They have not got a parliament of their own, but they do not complain that they do not have democratic rights, because they have a Member of Parliament, just as my hon. Friend's constituents have here.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
My hon. Friend represents fewer constituents than I do, until the boundary revision.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I represent 123,000 constituents. Perhaps my hon. Friend could tell me how many he represents.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
Perhaps under the boundary revision my hon. Friend's constituency will be reduced in size so that he represents far fewer constituents.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I respect my hon. Friend as a very conscientious and active Member. He should be complaining to Mr. Speaker's Conference and making sure that his people have their proper representation. There should be more than one Member if the constituency has over 100,000 electors.
The people of Northern Ireland would like to have full representation in this House. The Bill does not provide for that. It provides for power sharing with Republicans in the Executive and with the Irish Republic in a Council of Ireland. If the salary of the heads of departments is to be £6,000 a year, as reported in the Press, some may be induced to participate in power sharing with Republicans in the Executive, but it will prove impossible for parties which are diametrically opposed to each other to work together in the Executive. Time will prove that, and my hon. Friend will find that the Bill will not bring the results which he plans and hopes for.
Normally when a major measure passes through its final stages in the House there is great enthusiasm. I remember when the Opposition walked out during the passage of the Industrial Relations Act and half my right hon. and hon. Friends walked across and sat on the Opposition Front Bench. I think that they included my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop).
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I remember the excitement aroused over the European Communities Bill, when it received its Third 421 Reading. There is no excitement in the House tonight. Very few Members are present. It is a very doleful wake indeed for Ulster. If the people of Northern Ireland could only look at this Chamber they would feel ashamed that the House and the Government were treating them in this paltry way.
§ 11.59 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
There is very little enthusiasm in the House tonight, even from those who are seeking to put their benediction upon the Bill. Sooner or later the House will have to face up to certain realities.
The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James) may tell us that for Ulster there is no Carson, no Curragh mutiny, and that there is just sentiment. I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman that, in spite of the campaign of bombing, wounding, mutilation and destruction, the will of the majority of people in Northern Ireland is as strong as ever. Let the House not think that the people of Northern Ireland will be bombed, shot or mutilated into capitulation to the Republic. They are determined to remain outside the Republic, and it is not sentiment for which we are battling. Whether hon. Members like it or not, what we are battling for is our heritage.
I differ from hon. Gentlemen opposite in many things, but they have at least been faithful in their devotion to the various debates on Northern Ireland. That cannot be said for all hon. Members on those benches opposite. Some hon. Members on this side of the House have come to debates to do with the welfare of the people of Northern Ireland and to do with those things that matter to the life of the ordinary individual, and we have always been glad to see them here, but tonight we are passing the last stages of a very important Bill for Northern Ireland and yet the House is thinly attended and there seems to be an eagerness expressed from the Chair that this debate should come to a conclusion.
I might not be here for long as a Member, but so long as I am here I shall stand up for the rights of the people who sent me here. I do not accept that the Chair in this House can put an interpretation on my tone of voice and say 422 that, because I want to speak in a debate in this House, I have adopted——
§ Mr. Whitelaw
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) intended to continue his speech, and I hope later to be be able to deal with some of the points that have been made. I did not understand my hon. Friend to have concluded his speech.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I inquire what event caused the Chair to put the Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time" in the middle of a speech by an hon. Member? I did not hear the closure moved from either Front Bench or from the back benches. What event caused the Chair to put the Question in the middle of an hon. Member's speech? I have never, in 12? years in this House——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member has put his question to the Chair two or three times, and he need not do that. The debate is on Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who had the Floor, sat down, not, as I thought, because I had told him to sit down. It was my mistake in thinking that he had finished his speech, and I now repair it by calling the hon. Member to continue his speech.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I do not want to make any comment on the mistake that occurred, except to say to the Chair and to hon. Members that I was sent to this House by the people of North Antrim to represent them here and I shall continue to express what I believe is their viewpoint, irrespective of what attitude is adopted towards me in this House. Having made that clear, I am glad that the Question has not been put and that the debate will continue.
423 As I was saying before that interesting interruption, the Bill is of great importance to the people of Northern Ireland. I have taken a consistent line since the publication of these proposals in what was called a Green Paper but which was really a White Paper, their appearance in the White Paper itself and finally in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and I did not go to the electorate on anything that was hazy, and the Secretary of State knows that. The people of Northern Ireland know that we submitted ourselves to the electorate on the declaration that we were against the constitution as proposed in the Bill and the White Paper. It was spelled out fully. I have heard members of other parties say before the elections things different from what they have said after them. I did not work that way, and the electors said to me, "We agree with you and are returning you on those terms".
It is all very well for hon. Members to talk about responsibility, and it is all very well for the hon. Member for Dorset, North, to say that history will not be kind to anybody who does not do what the hon. Member thinks he should do. The people are the final deciders. The people of Northern Ireland have spoken in these elections, and no one in this House should think that they have put their imprimatur on this Bill, because they have not. Everybody in Northern Ireland knows that.
The reason why they have not done so is that in this Bill are things which are completely and totally repugnant to them. When I received my postal vote in the election I saw "On Her Majesty's Service" stamped off the envelope, and I was indignant. So were many thousands of voters in Northern Ireland. That is something that people in Northern Ireland resent. Why, on an official paid envelope, must the words "On Her Majesty's Service" be printed over? I have made inquiries and I discovered that it costs the Government a very large sum of money to run thousands and thousands of envelopes through printing machines to stamp off the words "On Her Majesty's Service". That is a reflection of something which goes deep. Every envelope sent out for a postal vote in the elections had three envelopes: an 424 envelope in which the vote was to be sent, an envelope to contain the vote and an envelope to contain a certificate that the person using it was the person entitled to use it. On all those envelopes the words "On Her Majesty's Service" were stamped out.
This Bill says it is to be illegal to ask a person to take an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen when appointed to office under the Government of Northern Ireland. The oath I took to become a Member of this House, and the oath I took as a Member of the Stormont Parliament, in common with other Members of that Parliament, is abolished by the Bill. Instead we are to take an oath to the laws of Northern Ireland. There are at present in Northern Ireland laws which are not acceptable to members of the minority, and they could not sincerely take an oath to uphold those laws. They are against certain laws and Acts in Northern Ireland.
Why was this done? This was done in an effort to appease the Republican elements in Northern Ireland. Are they appeased? Alas, after the election was over and this Bill had passed through Committee, another soldier was assassinated in the Ballymurphy area. The shootings go on and the killings go on.
This House thought that if Stormont were removed—many Members have said this to me—the trouble would stop. It did not stop. We were told that, if we put something in place of Stormont, the trouble would stop. It did not stop. This House must realise that, no matter what political settlement we seek in Northern Ireland, the terrorists have got to be dealt with and they have got to be rooted out from Northern Ireland. That is the fundamental consideration. Every Member of this House should be fully aware of it.
Then also in this Bill we have relations with the Republic of Ireland. There are many Members of this House who are committed to the union of Ireland. They feel that that would be the ideal solution. They feel that if they could get the people of the North into the South, that would be the end of the problem. They are entitled to their point of view, but the people of Northern Ireland bitterly resent politicians from the South of Ireland interfering in what they believe are 425 their own affairs. We had the unfortunate interference of Dr. Garret FitzGerald when he tried to tell us what we should do with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He said it should be reconstructed. I would say to the Foreign Secretary from Dublin that he should mind his own business. It is not his business what the people of Northern Ireland do.
There is also the fact that the Prime Minister of the Republic should intimate that he will have some say in the shape of Northern Ireland. If this is the sovereign Parliament, and in my opinion it is, and I stand for that, it is in this House that those decisions should be taken and not outside with negotiations with the Prime Minister of the Republic which has in the past been hostile to Northern Ireland. We all know that, and the hon. Member for Dorset, North should be aware that, no matter what is said in this House, the South of Ireland in its constitution claims full dominion over Northern Ireland.
I have always maintained that the moves should come from Dublin to scrap their constitution. The people of Northern Ireland would then realise that the South really wanted good neighbourly relations. Perhaps the people of the South of Ireland will find out that the fact that they gave sanctuary to terrorism and allowed the murderers of policemen and soldiers from Northern Ireland to hide in their territory may rebound on them, to their shock. I trust that it will not, because I would not wish on anybody the afflictions which have been inflicted on Northern Ireland.
The South has made no change in the constitution. After all, the word of a Prime Minister of the Republic is worth nothing because, when we look back in history, we see that the present Prime Minister's father put a Bill through in the South, a treaty which was ratified in that Parliament and in this Parliament and in the Parliament of Northern Ireland. It was lodged with the League of Nations, but when De Valera came to power he tore it up. We should remember that this is the mere word of a Prime Minister who is not in a substantial majority in the Dail, so the fact that he says they recognise it does not mean constitutional recognition of Northern Ireland. This should be emphasised and considered.
426 Then there is the matter of power sharing. It is a strange thing that I have not heard from those parties which are evidently anxious to be appointed to the Executive saying "We want to get into the Executive". Mr. Faulkner has been cagey and hedging and, as one of his opponents said, foxy on this matter. I have not heard the SDLP or any member of it saying "Yes, we are prepared to share power with Mr. Faulkner and work under him".
We have made clear that this is unworkable and that it will not work. Everyone in this House should realise that. However, the House has something to work on. Seventy-eight people have been elected directly by the people of Northern Ireland on such a franchise that the minority can no longer say that it is not democratic. Because the minority wanted some sort of proportional representation, they have got it. The election has been held and there are now 78 representatives. It is the duty of the British Government to contact those representatives as soon as possible so that they may tell the Government what they think can be done for the good of everybody in Northern Ireland.
If there is a spirit, as I believe and hope there is, which will prompt the British Government to talk, irrespective of the agonies of the Bill, and if we can get a solution in Northern Ireland that gives stability and puts us on the road to peace—whether it is a scheme outlined in the Bill or not—I am sure that the Government will be wise enough to encourage the people of Northern Ireland along that way. I am encouraging the people I represent and those over whom I have influence to go along that road. But it is certainly not the way as set out by the milestones of the Bill.
There are many things which will have to be scrapped and changed, but the situation is not lost and we have not taken the last step. There is no last step. Every step has to be taken and perhaps the foolish steps that have been set out in this House by people who do not know the true situation and the true facts will have to be withdrawn. But there are steps which can be taken and I hope that the Government and this House will be wise enough to accept the renegotiation of those things that are not acceptable to many people in Northern Ireland.
§ 12.18 a.m.
§ Mr. Fitt
I felt during the course of the speech by the hon. Member for Antrim. North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that I would finish by disagreeing with him on every aspect. But towards the end he said something with which I agreed. He said that it would be necessary for all the elected representatives in the new Northern Ireland Assembly to discuss what possible future there may be for Northern Ireland. That was a reasonable suggestion and it reflects the attitude of the party which I have the honour to represent in Northern Ireland.
However, I have sat patiently listening to the other Unionist spokesmen and it became crystal clear that they are determined to wreck the new Assembly. They are not prepared to negotiate. They have put their cards fairly and squarely on the table and they have indicated their intention to vote against the Bill. I admit that I am not enamoured of every clause in the Bill. There are many points in it with which I would find it hard to agree. I have not had the opportunity to voice that disagreement and I do not want to take the time of the House at this late hour. Because of other commitments I did not have the opportunity to speak in Committee or on Second Reading.
I ask those Unionists, however, to tell the people of Northern Ireland what their attitude is. They have repeatedly stated during the course of the debate that they are opposed to violence. They say that they want to bring it to an end. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) in particular keeps himself well up to date with all the deaths that take place in Northern Ireland and he seeks repeatedly in the course of debate here to lay all the blame for all the deaths on the IRA. That is patently untrue. Many of the deaths that have happened in Northern Ireland have been caused by extremists who would give the Unionist Party support and have formerly given it support. I do not accept that there was anyone remotely connected with the IRA who brutally murdered my colleague in Northern Ireland in the early hours of last Tuesday morning.
§ Mr. McMaster
Surely the hon. Gentleman must admit in all honesty and fairness to the House—and I have no brief at all for extremists of any kind— 428 that there was no UDA in Northern Ireland before March 1972—namely, before Stormont was dissolved. Further, he must admit that there would be no UDA or UFF, or any other terrorist force, if it were not for the fact that the IRA has been carrying out its campaign for three years.
§ Mr. Fitt
I can only reply to the hon. Gentleman that there was no IRA before the burning of Bombay Street and the looting on the Falls Road in August 1969. I am prepared to accept that there is violence in Northern Ireland, but it is unfair and untrue for any hon. Member, and particularly the hon. Member for Belfast, East, to lay all the blame for all the murders on one section of the community. If the hon. Members for Belfast, East, for Down, South (Captain Orr), for Antrim, North and for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) were so intent on eradicating violence from Northern Ireland and trying to bring some form of sanity back into operation, they would ask themselves the salient question " What is the alternative to make the Assembly work?".
If politics do not work we shall have a continuation of the violence and killing which we have had to live with for so long. That is the only alternative. Hon. Members who express their total opposition to the Bill, which seeks in a tentative way to make changes in Northern Ireland, are condemning not only their constituents but all the people to a further period of violence.
I have said that there are many parts of the Bill with which I am not enamoured. However, in the desperate position which prevails in Northern Ireland, I am at least prepared to see the clear alternatives and to try to take whatever steps I possibly can to eradicate violence.
I bitterly regret that Unionist hon. Members have had support from some hon. Members who are not Unionist Members and who have little relationship with Northern Ireland. They have had, in particular, support from the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison). He has shown his support for the extreme Unionist spokesmen since the Northern Ireland problem arose.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I think that the hon. Gentleman has not been studying 429 what I have said in debate. He has said that he was not able to be present for certain debates. I am not voting against the Bill.
§ Mr. Fitt
You could have fooled me. Whether or not the hon. Gentleman votes against the Bill, he has by his words supported the Unionist argument in almost every facet.
I have said in relation to the Northern Ireland problem that the Stormont system did not work. It brought with it oppression and repression, victimisation and discrimination. It brought with it majority and minority politics, first-class and second-class citizenship. That is why that system had to be brought to the ground.
It was not the IRA which brought Stormont to the ground. It was not the men of violence who brought Stormont to the ground but the ordinary people, who had been subject to Unionism for far too long and who finally began to make their legitimate demands. When I hear the hon. Member for Chigwell saying that there were Unionists and Nationalists who regretted the abolition of Stormont, may I ask who were the nationalists?
§ Mr. Fitt
I think we should get in touch with Mr. McAteer and see how he regarded the abolition of Stormont.
We have the Bill before us tonight because the Stormont Parliament as it existed under the Unionists would never have agreed to implement Part III of the Bill relating to the implementation of a charter of human rights. Time after time politicians in the Stormont Parliament, particularly liberal Members, brought before Stormont a bill of rights which was completely and contemptuously rejected by the Unionist Party. because they want to maintain and arrogate to themselves all the power and privileges. That is what is in the minds of Unionist Members here tonight. They are not worried about the Northern Ireland constitutional position in the past or in the years ahead. What they are trying to recreate is the ascendancy politics which dominated Northern Ireland for so long and in which they could arrogate to themselves and their sup- 430 porters all the power in the land and deny the most elementary social justice to their political opponents.
In the new Assembly it is the intention of the Government to share power. I am not particularly enamoured of that term "power sharing Indeed, I believe that it is offensive. I believe that some people may get the idea that people want power for power's sake, and I do not think that is true, certainly not of the minority representatives. If any of their representatives are given power, it will not be given to them personally but will only mean that they will be placed in a position in which they can determine and ensure that the neglected areas of Northern Ireland will be given the housing and jobs they have lacked for so long.
Why is the Unionist Party so vehemently opposed to power sharing? Knowing the Unionist mentality from the days when we had a one-party State, I know that the Unionists never believed that the day would ever come when they would be asked to share power. All the Unionists in the debate so far have repeatedly made reference to Clause I wherein, they say, they must have the guarantee that they will remain British citizens and part of the United Kingdom. But that is the only part of the Bill they are prepared to accept. They want to maintain their British citizenship but they want to dominate Northern Ireland in their own way. They are bitterly resentful because the Government are now saying "If you want to remain citizens of the United Kingdom, you must pay heed to what this Parliament says".
The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South has said that he accepts the sovereignty of this Parliament as a citizen of the United Kingdom. Again I must repeat, in case my words are interpreted differently in Northern Ireland, that I am not entirely happy with many of the Bill's provisions, but I recognise its honesty. But although the hon. and gallant Member says he accepts the sovereignty of this Parliament, he goes on to predict that the Bill is unworkable and to say that it will not save one single life in Northern Ireland.
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member is wrong, because I have seen too many innocent lives taken in Northern Ireland. For such an impression to be 431 given by someone in a responsible position is tantamount to saying to the men of violence "Reject the Bill and carry on with your killings and murders." Who are the people who want the Bill defeated? Who are the people who want power sharing put out of the window? Who are the people who do not want politics to work? They are the extremist, the Provisional wing of the IRA. They have repeatedly said that they do not want politics to work and have shown their opposition to the Assembly. The Provisional wing of the IRA called on its supporters last week to boycott the Assembly elections and spoil their ballot papers. That is one section of the community which does not want power sharing or anything like it.
Then there is the other wing, the UDA candidates who were firmly rejected even by the Protestants—the Tommy Herrons and the Billy Hulls who for years have claimed to speak for the loyalists. If the election proved anything, it proved that the Catholic minority desperately wanted to give politics a chance. They completely rejected those who tried to join them to the campaign of violence. The same happened on the Unionist side of the community. Men who had any association with para-military organisations such as the UDA or the UDF were rejected by the electorate.
The election has shown that the people of Northern Ireland are war-weary and desperate for peace. They are living in fear and do not want a continuation of the campaign of violence. It ill behoves anyone with the interests of Northern Ireland at heart to say that the Bill will not work. That is to condemn the people to another period of violence.
During the election, the party I represent made clear its attitude. We want to create a new Northern Ireland, a just society in which all men will be equal and victimisation and discrimination abolished. We want whatever power there is to be made freely available over all sections of the community. We recognise that this will be no easy task because of our tragic history. It will be a long, uphill struggle before we can even attempt to end the dreadful polarisation and alienisation between the two communities. The sentiments ex- 432 pressed by Unionist Members tonight will not make the task any easier.
In the initial stages in the Assembly there will be an opportunity, which we have not had for the past four years, to sit down, discuss and negotiate with other elected members. The people of Northern Ireland expressed their will at the polls last week. I do not say that every representative of the Vanguard movement or of the party headed by the hon. Member for Antrim, North is an extreme Protestant bigot. I recognise that many candidates who were elected last week were elected by people who are afraid, people who feel that they will be transported overnight into a united Ireland. They fear that their British citizenship will be taken away from them and that they will be made second-class citizens in a united Ireland.
I have been a second-class citizen for too long under Unionism to want to inflict that upon anyone. I know what it feels like to be a member of a minority that is trampled on and oppressed by one-party government. That is the last thing I want to inflict on my Protestant fellow-countrymen. We must co-operate and allay these fears, and we can do so only by talking and negotiation.
I understand the urgency with which the Secretary of State wants to treat the present situation, but I ask him not to push forward too quickly. We cannot discuss and settle all the problems in three weeks. It may take four, five or six weeks. There cannot be a deadline by which all the problems should be sorted out.
I hope to have the opportunity to talk to all the elected members of the new Assembly. My party has 19 members in the Assembly. We have been given a clear mandate from the minority population to take whatever political steps we can to make politics work and to stop the killings. I promise the Secretary of State that, if we are given the opportunity, we shall do everything possible to ensure that there is a political system brought into Northern Ireland which will operate in the interests of all the people. But there are many issues about which we shall have to negotiate with those who will be opposed to us. They include the creation of an acceptable police force and many other issues which have caused 433 so much trouble and division in the community.
I heard the hon. Member for Down, North ask how members of the SDLP could take part in the Executive since they did not like some of the laws on the statute book in Northern Ireland. I regard many of them as repugnant, especially the Criminal Justice (Temporary Provisions) Act and the Flags and Emblems Act. But we shall regard those as having priority in any discussions. In any event, the hon. Member for Antrim, North should not try, in this House or anywhere else, to determine the attitude which will be taken by the SDLP, especially in view of the number of seats that his party secured in the election.
We shall regard the initial stages of the new Assembly as being an opportunity which has been given us in which we can discuss with all the elected representatives of Northern Ireland the type of society we want there. We want to bring about a situation in which all men are equal. We want to bring about the creation of a new North in the Six Counties and a reconciliation between the communities. Inevitably that will lead to a new Ireland where all Irish men and women will be able to conduct their own affairs.
§ 12.38 a.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I have listened for some time to hon. Members detailing the sufferings of all the parties in Northern Ireland. I want to say a word about the sufferings of the rest of the United Kingdom which have contributed to this situation.
I deal first with the effusion of blood from the United Kingdom, with the men of our Armed Forces whom we have lost, the widows who have lost their husbands and the children who have lost their fathers, not because of a will in this country to impose itself on Northern Ireland but because the minority in Northern Ireland cried out to us for protection. We sent in our Armed Forces with the full assent, encouragement and will of both sides of this House, not because we wanted to use armed force but because it was the only palliative—not solution—to the situation.
This country has paid its price as well. When we hear of the sufferings, when 434 we observe the sufferings and when we share the sufferings of all the people of Ulster, we are entitled to ask them and their representatives in Parliament to see the sufferings which we in this part of the United Kingdom have borne and continue to bear.
The speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was well worthy of the traditions of this House. To any who claim to represent people in Northern Ireland but who reject the chance of a political solution, I say that we in this country cannot for ever bear that cross. We have poured out our blood. We have poured out our treasure in the economic support that the rest of the United Kingdom has given to Northern Ireland in the past decade, and that is a matter of which we can be proud.
Does anybody believe that in the slaughter of the aircraft industry Short's would have survived except for the contribution it makes to the Northern Ireland economy or that the special provisions for Northern Ireland's agriculture would have been borne by the taxpayers of this country except in the context of contributing an economic base upon which the people of Northern Ireland could build a solution?
It is fundamentally unjust and inappropriate that the people of Northern Ireland should concentrate entirely on their own sufferings and not at all on those which the rest of the United Kingdom endure to enable them to achieve their solution.
Northern Ireland has an opportunity now in the Bill. The rest of the United Kingdom has made its contribution in blood, in economic support and in its most able Ministers who could well be used in other Departments of State and who did not go to Northern Ireland simply because they had nothing better to do with their time. These conditions will not last for ever. Time can run out. I say to those who are the political representatives of the people of Northern Ireland, fairly elected, "If you will not help yourselves now, God help you, because the time will come when we will help you no longer."
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Orme
This has been a difficult debate. Many of the views which have been expressed have not taken account 435 of what happened in Ireland last Thursday with the election of the new Assembly and the new political future that lies before the Province.
The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) underlined the difficulties and the fractiousness surrounding this issue. I need not emphasise to the Secretary of State the size of his job during the coming discussions.
Surely the message that there is not unlimited time has got home to the non. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Down, South (Captain Orr), who, though they welcome the new Assembly, adopt the attitude that "We want the Assembly because we want a political dialogue, but in no circumstances do we want the Bill."
I predict a lot of trouble, certainly from this side of the House if hon. Members think that they can go into the Assembly, argue for the next six or nine months and then come back to Westminster and say "There will be no new Executive. We now have a majority which is against it. We want a new Bill. The House of Commons had better start all over again." Judging from the views which have been expressed by Conservative Members tonight, I do not think that it will be all plain sailing on that side either.
It will not be individual Members who will be taking these decisions. They will be reflecting an increasing public irritation with the whole question. Some of us who have been concerned with the Northern Ireland issue over the years have held out for a new political approach, for a new assembly, for many of the measures that are in the Bill. The Opposition do not believe that every word in the Bill is perfect. After a long debate the Government were almost defeated in a vote on the border question. We welcomed the White Paper. We see this as the basis for some form of political detente.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) again that I do not think there is unlimited time for discussions. Certainly he and his party want to go into the Assembly to meet and discuss various issues with the new members, but there is not unlimited time. There is no luxury of time in this matter 436 —and that goes for all parties in the Assembly.
I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. He bears a great responsibility in terms of the question whether the Assembly can be made to work or whether it must fail. I believe that he is a constitutionalist. I believe him when he says that he wants the Assembly, although he is not happy with the White Paper and the Bill. But he still has responsibility as a person who supported the border poll and wants to maintain the current situation. He has a responsibility at least to try to make the Assembly work. It may not be so difficult when the attempt is made.
When I was in Northern Ireland last week I thought that one of the most horrifying things about the election, reading the election manifestos of all the parties putting forward candidates, was that the meat and drink of elections—the economic and industrial issues and the social matters—never seemed to be mentioned at all. As one who has been involved in elections in one way or another since as long ago as 1945 I was astounded by this.
The question of the top 25 companies being taken into public ownership and the little controversy that we have had in the Labour Party about it did not pass the lips of the electorate in Northern Ireland, let alone the candidates. People in the House and in this country want to see the Executive get down to work and succeed on the basis of political argument, but they want to see the elected representatives in the Assembly deal with the question of an 8 per cent. unemployment rate, the wretched housing that exists in the Province and the fact that, because of the beauty of Northern Ireland, there is a great opportunity for tourism and the development of cross-border co-operation.
Surely we must welcome the fact that cross-border negotiation can take place, whether in a Council of Ireland or in whatever form. If we send into these negotiations people like the hon. Member for Antrim, North I am convinced that the people he represents will not feel unrepresented; they will not fear that he will sell them out behind closed doors.
There has been an air of gloom and fractiousness about today's debate, an air 437 of unreality and a turning back to the sterile arguments of the past. We must throw off that feeling. I went round Northern Ireland with the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). He sits there with his eyes closed, but he is fully awake. One does not often catch him sleeping. There is a feeling of uncertainty among the minority. There is still the problem of the Provisional IRA, which the people do not support, as they proved in the ballot last Thursday. But they also have a feeling of some strength, because they now have their own elected representatives.
I know that there is uncertainty among many Protestants, including members of the working class and active trade unionists, and members of my own and other major unions in this country. Some of them feel that they are in a difficult situation, that there is uncertainty and that the security which they believed they have had for 50 years has been removed. That was expressed to me outside polling booths last Thursday, and very vociferously by some people.
It is the job of the elected representatives of the Assembly to give those people courage and to say that this Parliament means what it says. It is their job to say that if the Assembly works there will be no problems because there can be security, a move forward and political development.
That is why the Opposition support the Bill. The Bill is a basis for the type of political development that we have been advocating. There is no certainty that it will work. We cannot guarantee that. Ultimately the people of Northern Ireland will decide. But if they, either themselves or through their elected representatives, send word back to this House that it is unworkable, the decisions of this House and the British people may be unpredictable. They ought to bear that in mind.
§ 12.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
It is important for me in anything I say at this stage of the Bill not to put myself on a hook of any particular kind which I may then wish to get off later during various discussions. In nearly 18 months in Northern Ireland I have learned that it is very unwise to get on to a hook from which one can 438 not subsequently remove oneself without pain. Therefore, I do not intend to do so.
It is, however, important to make one or two points. First, on behalf of my Ministers and myself, I should like to thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and many others for their kind personal remarks. I am grateful to my Ministers for all the work that they have undertaken.
I want to make a few remarks about the background in Northern Ireland against which the Bill inevitably has to be considered—the continued campaign of violence. I have the greatest sympathy with those who have desperate concern about this. I appreciate very much the feelings, for example, of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster), who has experienced a great many tragedies, as have many other hon. Members. One knows only too well of the personal tragedy that affected the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) last week. I have already expressed to him my sympathy in that particular case. Therefore, one has to look at the background.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East says that the men of violence have not been condemned. He says that the Provisional IRA has not been condemned. I pay tribute to all those—some have shown considerable courage in doing so—who have firmly stood up against violence over the years. They have stood up against it and they have been proved right at the election, because violence, from wherever it comes, has been substantially defeated at the ballot box and none of those who have advocated any form of violence got anywhere at all at the election. That is very important factor. Into that category undoubtedly comes the Provisional IRA campaign.
It has been said that there are other men of violence. Alas, that is true. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East asked whether I would condemn the Provisional IRA's campaign of violence. Most certainly, yes, I will. I thought I had done so. If I have not, I certainly take the opportunity to do so now. If there is one thing that anyone doing my job would wish to condemn, it is some of the actions taken in their name and 439 for which they have claimed credit over a period.
It is in this connection that I find myself obliged to say something to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). If I have learned nothing else in the past 16 months, I have learned the value of patience—not a quality with which I am naturally endowed; but sometimes my patience wears very thin. When the hon. Member asks me or anyone who has had anything to do with this problem to face up to realities, I find that both arrogant and offensive. If there is one thing that people who deal with the problems of Northern Ireland, who live there or who, like me, go there have to face, it is certainly the realities. They are faced there on the ground.
The hon. Member spoke about removing from the people of Northern Ireland their citizenship. If I were a United Kingdom citizen who lived in Northern Ireland, I should find that just as offensive as if I were a United Kingdom citizen who lived in Erith and Crayford. I call see no difference at all. Some of the hon. Member's constituents would find it extremely offensive if it were suggested that their citizenship should be removed for some reason about which I am not at all clear.
Then the hon. Member said—this is what I really mind—that we are sending our soldiers to die for this constitution. I will have some words to say about the Bill and the constitution it provides, but that is not what our soldiers are doing in Northern Ireland. They have been there since 1969 to protect and to do their best to preserve law and order for our fellow citizens in the United Kingdom.
If the hon. Member keeps asking me about his poll, I will tell him what I think the answer would be. Like all polls, it would depend on the question that is put. If he put to his electors or anyone else the question "Do you wish to see law and order preserved in the United Kingdom, including your own area?" I think the answer would be that they would wish it. If they wish it, the only way in which our fellow United Kingdom citizens in Northern Ireland can have that law and order—if we can but achieve that and defeat the evil forces 440 —is by the presence there of British troops. There is, alas, no other way.
We all want to see a peace built up. We all want to see our Army reduced, but not before this objective is achieved. I am on very strong ground in saying this. I am backed by a much wider variety of people than on almost any other question. I have noted what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South rightly called the remarkable speech by the Taoiseach last weekend, when he added his voice to those who say that it would be a disaster if British troops were withdrawn from Northern Ireland. It would, because it would be a sign that the United Kingdom Government had not the will and determination to protect their citizens. That is something that I would find totally shaming for this Parliament, this House of Commons and this nation. I hope that I do not express myself unduly strongly but, having lived with this problem for some time now, I feel strongly about it.
I know that some of my actions can be criticised. There are those who say that, if something else were done by our forces, the problem would be handled better. There can be arguments, but on the basic will of the Government and our determination to defeat the men of violence there can be no argument. That is part of the issue. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) that no political solution will succeed unless the military solution has come with it.
At the same time, I would make it clear that I believe equally passionately that a political solution is an essential ingredient in any overall solution and that we will not achieve a solution by military means alone. Those are facts of life which this House must live with and appreciate.
It is on that basis that I now turn to the political side of the solution. Here I can only say to the House that it is the easiest thing in the world in Northern Ireland to be destructive. The most difficult thing is to be constructive. It is easy to knock down any proposals that are nut up. There are solid arguments for knocking down practically any proposals that are put up. That is no way to go forward. I am the last person 441 to resent criticism of the proposals put forward in the Bill and I freely admit that there have been strong arguments put forward in favour of changes of one sort or another.
I pay tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South and his hon. Friends. They have not attempted in any way to delay the Bill. I appreciate that personally they do not believe this is the right course. That is their decision. I have said that it is the best course which I and Her Majesty's Government can see for the way ahead. We do not know of any other. It is easy to knock ideas down. We believe that our way is the best we can devise. In that we have been supported very broadly, and I thank the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) for his support.
We believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) said, that power sharing is undoubtedly extremely difficult to achieve but that getting the delicate balance right is the right way forward in the Northern Ireland situation.
There are those who say that it will not work. I believe that it must be right to do everything we can to make it work, because if it does not I do not believe we will remove the basic sense of conflict which undoubtedly exists in Northern Ireland and which cannot be avoided. It is inevitably the conflict inherent in a divided community. There are those who say that we have to accept divisions in a community and live with them, and act accordingly. That is a counsel of considerable despair and we have to move on the constructive side of trying to heal the divisions rather than simply accepting that they exist and living with them.
Therefore, I am convinced that this is the way that is right to try. This is the way we are determined upon. I noted with interest a point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). He said that many things in the Bill were wrong or thoroughly offensive, but nevertheless he said that he wished to see the Assembly working. There are those in Northern Ireland who have expressed a contrary view in front of television cameras after seeing me. I am glad the hon. Member takes that view.
442 I believe that the basis on which the Assembly can and should work is the basis laid down in the Bill. The hon. Member will, I think, be the first to acknowledge that I have never been one on behalf of the Government to issue threats of any sort. I am not going to start now. I do not believe that that is the right way forward and I have a suspicion that they can in themselves be counter-productive. I do not consider that threats are the right way. I beg for a constructive approach. I do so on the basis of the Bill. I was glad to hear what the hon. Member for Belfast, West had to say about his party's constructive approach. I welcome such an approach because it is the only way forward.
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) said that there is no luxury of time. Other hon. Members have made that perfectly clear. I do not believe that there is a luxury of time. Everything I can do to press ahead will be done, because I believe that this is not something which we can sit around continually discussing without reaching any conclusions. Success will not lie that way.
One other thought that the hon. Member for Salford, West put in my mind was that there is a very large area of economic and social development which could occupy most profitably the Members of the new Assembly, where they have a great contribution to make to Northern Ireland. In the past year the Government have made a considerable contribution in terms of jobs and of the employment position, under great difficulties. That contribution has been made with the taxpayer's money from the United Kingdom as a whole, both in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland. But there is a great deal more to be done, and the Members of the Assembly can do it. These are issues on which I believe they can and should work together, and on which it is perfectly possible to work together. That is what we are asking them in the Bill to do.
For these reasons I have great hope that the discussions and the constructive approach shown by many hon. Members and many people in Northern Ireland can make the Bill succeed. It will be a sad day if it does not.
443 But I am the first to be a realist. I must be so. I have great hopes for the Bill, despite some of the gloom mentioned by the hon. Member for Salford, West. At the same time, there is no such thing in life in the end as a last chance. But there comes a time when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said, patience can run out. It is very dangerous when it begins to do so.
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time and passed.