Amendment proposed: No. 12, in page 2, leave out lines 2 to 5 and insert:
'is likely to command the support of a majority in the Assembly '.—[Capt. Orr.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 302.697
|Division No. 168.]||AYES||[4.12 p.m.|
|Bell, Ronald||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Pounder, Rafton||Mr. Stanley R. McMaster and|
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Mr. James Molyneaux.|
|Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W)||Soref, Harold|
|Adley, Robert||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Drayson, G. B.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Dykes, Hugh|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Campbell, L (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Eadie, Alex|
|Ashton, Joe||Carlisle, Mark||Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Astor, John||Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Chapman, Sydney||Emery, Peter|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Evans, Fred|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Ewing, Harry|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Eyre, Reginald|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Cockeram, Eric||Faulds, Andrew|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy|
|Batsford, Brian||Concannon, J. D.||Fidler, Michael|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Cooke, Robert||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)|
|Benyon, W.||Coombs, Derek||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Biffen, John||Costain, A. P.||Foot, Michael|
|Bishop, E. S.||Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Forrester, John|
|Blaker, Peter||Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Fortescue, Tim|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Fowler, Norman|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)||Fox, Marcus|
|Booth, Albert||Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Fraser, John (Norwood)|
|Boothroyd, Miss B. (West Brom.)||Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Gilbert, Dr. John|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Deakins, Eric||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Dean, Paul||Golding, John|
|Bowden, Andrew||Deedes, Rt, Hn. W. F.||Goodhart, Philip|
|Bowden, Andrew||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Bradley, Tom||de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Delargy, Hugh||Gray, Hamish|
|Bray, Ronald||Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Green, Alan|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Dixon, Piers||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)|
|Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.)||Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Doig, Peter||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.|
|Buchan, Norman||Dormand, J. D.||Gurden, Harold|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mackenzie, Gregor||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||McLaren, Martin||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Hamilton, William (File, W.)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Hardy, Peter||McNamara, J. Kevin||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Harper, Joseph||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n & R'dnor)|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Marsden, F.||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Marten, Neil||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hawkins, Paul||Mather, Carol||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Mawby, Ray||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Meacher, Michael||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Hiley, Joseph||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Shersby, Michael|
|Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Mikardo, Ian||Sillars, James|
|Holland, Philip||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Silverman, Julius|
|Holt, Miss Mary||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Horam, John||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Milne, Edward||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledywn (Anglesey)||Moate, Roger||Speed, Keith|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Molloy, William||Spence, John|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Monro, Hector||Sproat, Iain|
|James, David||Montgomery, Fergus||Stallard, A. W.|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||More, Jasper||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Steel, David|
|John, Brynmor||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Morrison, Charles||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Sutcliffe, John|
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||Murray, Ronald King||Tebbit, Norman|
|Judd, Frank||Murton, Oscar||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Neave, Airey||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Kerr, Russell||Normanton, Tom||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Nott, John||Tilney, Sir John|
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Oakes, Gordon||Tope, Graham|
|Kirk, Peter||O'Malley, Brian||Trew, Peter|
|Knight, Mrs. Jill||Oram, Bert||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Knox, David||Orme, Stanley||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Lamborn, Harry||Oswald, Thomas||Varley, Eric G.|
|Lamont, Norman||Padley, Walter||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Lane, David||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Palmer, Arthur||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Lawson, George||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Pardoe, John||Wallace, George|
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Parkinson, Cecil||Walters, Dennis|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Pavitt, Laurie||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Leonard, Dick||Pink, R. Bonner||Watkins, David|
|Lestor, Miss Joan||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Prior, Rt. Hn J. M. L.||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Probert, Arthur||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Longden, Sir Gilbert||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Wilkinson, John|
|Loughlin, Charles||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Loveridge, John||Quennell, Miss J. M.||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Luce, R. N.||Radice, Giles||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Raison, Timothy||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Woof, Robert|
|MacArthur, Ian||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|McBride, Neil||Redmond, Robert||Younger, Hn. George|
|McCartney, Hugh||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|McCrindle, R. A.||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|McElhone, Frank||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Mr. Walter Clegg and|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Mr. Michael Jopling.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Captain Orr
On a point of order, Mr. Mallalieu. Before we proceed perhaps I had better explain exactly what has happened. The Chair originally selected Amendment No. 16 for debate, but, on reflection, I and my hon. Friends prefer Amendment No. 17 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and we are perfectly happy to follow what he is proposing to do.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 25, at end add:'(5) Notwithstanding anything contrary in this Act, if an Order in Council is approved by Her Majesty appointing a day for the commencement of Part II of this Act, any reference in subsection (5) of section 5 of this Act to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland shall be construed as a reference to the Governor of Northern Ireland for so long as that office exists'.
No. 16, in page 2, line 25, at end add:
'(5) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Act if an Order in Council is approved by Her Majesty appointing a day for the commencement of Part 2 of this Act, there shall be appointed a Governor of Northern Ireland and any references in sections 5, 7, 8, 24 and 27 of this Act to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland shall be construed as references to the Governor of Northern Ireland so long as that office exists'.
No. 40, in Clause 36, page 25, line 16, at end insert:
'on the advice of the Governor of Northern Ireland'.
No. 46, in Clause 42, page 29, line 36, leave out:
'or of the office of Governor of Northern Ireland'.
§ New Clause 1—Governor's powers in relation to Assembly.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
The purpose of the amendments and the new clause is to enable Her Majesty's Government to accede to our desire, which is shared by thousands of our fellow subjects in Ulster, that the office of Governor should be retained. If I can appeal to the heart as well as to the head of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State I would beg him not to trample the feelings of loyal and peaceable Ulster people, many of whom are now canvassing and subscribing to a petition to this honourable House against the abolition of the governorship.
During the last bloody year and more we have seen how loyalty has been soured and affronted by the prorogation of the Northern Ireland Parliament, by the imposition of direct rule as arbitrary as any that Ireland has ever known, without proper additional representation here or proper parliamentary time for the dispatch of Northern Ireland business. The predictable and predicted result was Protestant counter-terrorism and the proliferation of private armies.
Now we have these new proposals to abolish the office of Governor, to wind up the Privy Council of Northern Ireland and to replace the oath of allegiance. All these are the subject matter of amendments on the Notice Paper. But these proposals, this chipping away of the crown in Ulster, feed the suspicions of those who against all ministerial 700 assurances—and my right hon. Friend would say against good sense—and despite the overwhelming verdict of the border poll still fear a slide into the Republic. They fear that it might happen under some future administration not provided by the Conservative and Unionist Party. They fear the erosion of the British character of Northern Ireland institutions within the wider context of the European Community.
Some people will ask what all the fuss is about and suggest that the governorship is of little practical moment. Certainly until Lord Grey of Naunton showed himself in the discharge of his influence a man worthy of his very distinguished imperial service and also of the terrible challenge of urban terrorism in Northern Ireland very few in Britain would have been able to put a name to the Governor of Northern Ireland. It is probably true, and I hope it is not unfair to say, that in the 50 years of Unionist ascendancy Ulster premiers and politicians have not particularly cared to be overshadowed.
I may be wrong but I heard that Lord Grey was the first Governor of Northern Ireland to receive the Northern Ireland Cabinet papers. He is a great Governor. He possesses the greatness of humility. I remember him best at a meeting of prayer for peace in Ireland organised by PACE—Protestant and Catholic Encounter. Anyone who has had the opportunity of picking his brains knows that they are brains worth picking. Lord Grey established the vice-regal office at a higher level above the partial affections and religious denominations. He interpreted the monarchy of the United Kingdom as a source of unity and a fount of healing. He received all sorts of people and brought all sorts of people together. With very little publicity he would visit the wounded and comfort the distressed and with Lady Grey he encouraged many endeavours for the common good and for the relief of a stricken society.
But the case for our amendments and the new clause does not rest upon the high quality of Lord Grey and the graciousness of his lady. In a sense the case resembles that which was argued in favour of Clause 1, of which I was the sole backbench defender in its entirety and integrity.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I should have said "the only Conservative backbencher". I beg the pardon of the hon. Gentleman who, I hope, will always be my hon. Friend for forgetting his notable contribution.
It would not have been helpful to write into the Bill a reference to the status of Northern Ireland if that status had not been disputed and denied within the realm and without it and challenged in the streets of Northern Ireland with bomb and bullet. It would not be necessary to contest the withdrawal of the viceroy had the sovereignty of the monarchy not been contested in Northern Ireland. The issue of Republicanism is a great one.
In the past Ireland was cursed with absentee landlords and absentee kings. The Secretary of State has given it to be understood that Royal visits may be made more frequently to Northern Ireland. Hillsborough has been spoken of as a Royal residence, but it is not Holyrood House. My right hon. Friend knows Scotland far better than I do. Scotland has her own judiciary, whereas the Northern Ireland judiciary is to be an excepted matter if the Bill is enacted. Wales has her Prince. In Northern Ireland the Governor and the Privy Council were the outward signs of the kingdom of which Northern Ireland is a part.
My right hon. Friends may ask "Haven't you got me, one of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State? What is wrong with me?" My right hon. Friend is one of Her Majesty's servants, but he is immersed in politics, bitterly controversial politics, and I am sure that he would not want to add ceremonial functions to his arduous political duties.
§ [Mr. RICHARD CRAWSHAW in the Chair]
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State may object that it would not be possible under the proposed new constitution for a Governor to co-exist with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Law Officers have said so. But historically, under a modification of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the Governor of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Privy Council are, as it were, 702 the residuary successors of the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and the lord-lieutenant and the Chief Secretary were partners in the old Irish administration. In fact, senior appointments in 20 Irish departments of old were made by the lord-lieutenant or were subject to his approval.
§ The purpose of the amendment is to retain the Governor as the Queen's representative and to confer upon him certain functions which would not impair his non-partisan position. The Governor could, and should, open, prorogue and dissolve sessions of the legislative Assembly, thus conferring a royal dignity upon this new body. The Governor should transmit measures of the Assembly for submission to the Queen in Council. The Governor should advise the Sovereign on the appointment of those officers of State mentioned in Clause 36 who stand outside and above the political battle; namely, the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints, the Civil Service Commissioner for Northern Ireland, and the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Here there is an analogy with the function of the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in making certain appointments.
§ I conclude with a question of detail. What becomes of the Great Seal of Northern Ireland under the Bill? Article 4 of the Queen's Letters-Patent to Lord Grey authorises His Excellency to use the Great Seal of Northern Ireland. Who becomes the keeper of the Seal? What becomes of it if the governorship is abolished? Is this, too, thrown on the scrap heap of history with the vice-regal office, the Northern remnant of an ancient Privy Council and the oath of allegiance?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)
We have just indicated our general support for the Government in the Division on the previous amendment, which we regarded as a matter of fundamental importance. That is why we acted as we did.
In the remainder of the Bill there are some very interesting points to elucidate, matters that the Secretary of State will probably find himself acting upon after 28th June. There are some most important aspects, such as the questions of dissolution, that we shall seek to talk about in the ensuing hours. But we 703 strongly oppose the amendment before us in the current context of Northern Ireland. Repetition is probably the curse of the whole subject. We have already made plain our praise for the work of Lord Grey and his Lady, who have done so much in Northern Ireland in recent years, in many respects an improvement on much that happened before.
What has really moved me to speak is that the people of Northern Ireland listen carefully to what we say here, and the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who takes an interest in these matters, seems still to be of the opinion that there could be a slide into the Republic. In our discussion of an earlier, very important amendment to Clause 1, I felt that there was a consensus that united both sides of the House and influenced the Secretary of State that there can be no slide into the Republic—that whatever people want to write, whatever people want to do, it is just not on.
When the hon. Gentleman talks in this way he does no service to Northern Ireland, because he repeats mythology. There just cannot be a slide into the Republic. One of the reasons why we on this side support the White Paper is that it makes that clear, even in the context of the All-Ireland Council. Even with the departure of the Governor there can be no erosion of that. It is no use people talking about unification as if it is something that can happen overnight or as if there can be a slide. There cannot be, and the more we talk to the contrary the more harm we do to the Protestant community in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstood what I said. I did not say that it was my view that there would be a slide into the Republic. I was very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say on behalf of the Labour Party that there can be no slide of Northern Ireland into the Republic. Many people on both sides of the water will be delighted to hear that said on behalf of the Labour Party. The reason for the amendments is to remove very real fears and suspicions. It is not what is but what is believed that is so important. The amendments are a constructive effort 704 to remove fears and suspicions in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Rees
It is not news to anyone that I should say what I have just said. In the time for which I have had responsibility on the matter I have said it again and again, not as a public relations exercise but because I believed that it had to be said. One of the problems about any discussion of Ireland over the past 30 or 50 years has been that mythology has entered into it. But it does no good to legislate for mythology.
There is a similar background to the amendment as there is to pledges. The question of the Governor must be taken in the context of what is, and that is that the Government have decided on a new approach to the matter.
I can only repeat that we add our words of praise to the Governor. We do not believe that the amendment would improve the situation. What must be discussed is the dissolution and how it is to be done by the Secretary of State, and we have covered that ground on Second Reading.
In many senses we have a watching brief on the Bill. We want to obtain information from the Secretary of State. We cannot support the amendments.
§ Captain Orr
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) cannot support us. Oddly enough, I did not expect that he would, any more than I have any real expectation of the Government accepting the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison). I think that it is a pity.
My approach to the matter is slightly different from that of my hon. Friend. The issue between us is whether we are setting up a devolved Parliament or anything like it. My right hon. Friend has on previous occasions pointed to the fact that Scotland and Wales have senior Secretaries of State, who are in a sense a link with Her Majesty.
The reason that the Act of 1920 set up a Governor for Northern Ireland, as it did for Southern Ireland, was that there was envisaged in the Act a considerable measure of devolution. It was thought that the Crown should have a representative in Northern Ireland and distinct from party politics, even though there 705 was one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State—namely, the Home Secretary—responsible for Northern Ireland Affairs.
We see in the proposal to remove the Governor acknowledgment of the fact that serious devolution of power is not intended. The schedules which we shall be discussing later indicate that that is so. Nonetheless, I still cannot understand why it would hurt the principle of the Bill as it stands, accepting what my right hon. Friend will try to do in Clause 2 and Part II, to separate the functions which my right hon. Friend will have. He is a popular and a personally respected figure. Every one has tremendous personal respect for him even though they may disagree with him. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell said, he is a political figure. He is a member of Her Majesty's Government, and that is rather different from being the representative of the Crown.
My right hon. Friend has given himself two different functions. One is as the political head of the Government of Northern Ireland with powers which may eventually go in some degree to the Chief Executive. My right hon. Friend still remains the principal executive officer in Northern Ireland for the immediate future. While he does so he is putting upon himself the powers which would have formerly lain in the Governor—in other words, formal as opposed to executive powers.
I consider that my right hon. Friend could keep the fabric of the Bill and concede the amendment. First, it is always a good thing to distinguish between the formal functions of the Crown—as it were, the Royal Prerogative—and the executive functions of Government. I do not see why that cannot be done in this case. There are, of course, other rather more deep-seated arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell well deployed. Those are reasons which come from a deep feeling about the Governor in Ulster.
It has been argued that a good man would not go to Ulster as Governor purely for ceremonial purposes. In fact, the ceremonial purposes are very important. The Governor has been able to perform the kind of duties which are normally performed by the Crown—that 706 is, by members of the Royal Family—on the mainland. It has been exceedingly useful to have the Governor.
The day after the Governor departs from Ulster, if the Bill is carried and if the clause removing the office of Governor is carried, there may be an important presentation of standards to, for example, the Boys Brigade. That is a duty which would normally be carried out by the Governor. Who will perform ceremonial functions? It is still useful to have the office, and it is for that reason and for many others that I support the amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I shall add support to the arguments already put before the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). I say to my right hon. Friend once again, and perhaps for the last time, that he should think carefully about his proposition. I plead with him to have second thoughts. He must, I am sure, be aware not only of the deep affection which is felt in the hearts and minds of Northern Ireland not only for Lord Grey but for the position of Governor in Northern Ireland.
As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South said, the functions of Governor are divisible by two. There are the ordinary functions of someone who stands outside politics, someone who is a figurehead and the representative of the Crown. Secondly, there are political functions. I advance my argument primarily on the ground that I am sure that my right hon. Friend wants to see the new system working in Northern Ireland. I believe that if a concession were made on this point it would help to win the sympathy of the people in Northern Ireland. For that reason I ask him to think again.
The effect of a small concession on the hearts and minds of the ordinary majority of law-abiding people in Northern Ireland—I include every class and creed in Northern Ireland—would help to preserve the link with the Crown. In the present circumstances, and as far as can be seen in the future, it is not reasonable to expect the Queen or any immediate member of the Royal Family 707 to reside in Northern Ireland. Who would expect that? Therefore, to help preserve the link with the Crown and the stability of Government in Northern Ireland, to help to maintain the fact that there is an independent representative, someone above politics, looking after Her Majesty's interests and acting in the position of the Queen towards the people of Northern Ireland in so far as power is devolved to the Assembly, such a concession would help conditions in Ulster. It is for those reasons that I ask my right hon. Friend to be so good as to reconsider the amendment favourably.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
I supported the Bill, albeit with reservations, on Second Reading. My right hon. Friend knows that the question of the Governor was one of the considerable reservations which I had at the time and which I still have.
Normally I find myself in these discussions in agreement with the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), but to consider the issue of the Governor as some mysterious variant on the border theme and that in some curious way the reference to the Governor comes back to the first clause is an idea with which I disagree completely. As some of my hon. Friends have already said, this is an issue in its own right. To many hon. Members it may seem a small issue compared to the enormous decisions which are contained in the Bill and which in due course we shall be considering.
At the time of the publication of the White Paper, I did not appreciate how deep affection had gone not only for the person of the Governor but for his office. At a meeting in my constituency that evening, the first question I was asked related to the office of governor. It is therefore right and fair to contend that the feeling among many people in Northern Ireland on this subject is spontaneous.
I realise that there are legal arguments about the practicality of retaining the office in the context of the Bill. I am not a lawyer, so perhaps I can speak freely. In any case, one often finds eminent lawyers arguing totally different opinions. Whereas there may be a 708 school of thought that it is impossible to retain the office in the context of the Bill, it may be possible on Report to look again into this very emotional issue.
Rightly, there is great respect and affection in Northern Ireland for the present Governor, who has done a tremendous job. The popular feeling on this issue goes beyond the personage of Lord Grey to the office itself. It is a feeling of having a personal link with the Crown rather than of a link via an executive.
It has been argued also that the office may not have been used to the full by previous Northern Ireland Administrations. It is not for me to say whether that has been the case, and I am not prepared to argue it. But the man in the street is not conversant with whether former Northern Ireland Governments consulted the Governor in the way they should have done or could have been expected to do. He does not know these things. He sees the Governor as someone not only with important ceremonial functions, but above all, as the personal link with the Crown.
Even if it is not possible in the Bill to clothe the office with a plethora of executive functions, I hope that the issue of a personal link with the Crown and of ceremonial functions is given second thoughts before the Report stage.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
My hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) referred to the feeling that there is a slide into the Republic of Ireland. Like him, I say that no matter what statements are made in the House and no matter what may be accepted in it, there is enough hostility expressed in the House—sometimes in a most irresponsible fashion, of which there were examples last week—to convince people in Northern Ireland that there is a danger or possibility of some kind of move towards an Irish Republic.
It is very difficult, therefore, to convince people that they should accept unreservedly assurances given in the House, even those given by the Government. With the abolition of the Governorship, it is the more difficult to remove the fears of both the Unionists and the representatives of the Republicans, because the abolition tends again 709 to be divisive and to perpetuate the division which already exists.
We must recognise that the removal of the Governor is another of those unnecessary actions which form and to some extent even create suspicion. Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), I am not convinced that the Governor's role could be filled by any political Secretary of State. I accept what he said about my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State, but people will find it difficult, having had the experience of working with a non-political Governor, suddenly to find themselves on one occasion criticising the Secretary of State because he is wearing one hat and on another occasion paying him the respect which would be his due as the senior officer of the Crown in Northern Ireland.
The Bill seems to be based on the philosophy that political structures in Northern Ireland differ very much from those in Great Britain. It has been said that there is a far greater political divide in Northern Ireland and certainly that there is a far deeper sectarian divide. That may be true. But surely for that very reason it is all the more important that the office of Governor should be maintained, because all the Governors have been accepted by all sections of the community.
I know that on divers occasions leaders of nationalist and republican parties went through the motions of criticising the Governor. They indulged, for example, in some little campaigns of insulting the Governor by refusing to stand for the Loyal toast, but I think that this was generally regarded, even by their own supporters, as one of those things in the power game to which they had to subscribe and no one took it seriously. I do not think that these actions ever reflected the true wishes or views of their own supporters.
On the majority side, great care was always taken by what one might call loyalist organisations and loyalist individuals to avoid embarrassing either the Governor or the office itself. This was a significant factor because people who in some cases, quite wrongly, might be termed extreme loyalists were prepared to recognise that the Governor had a 710 duty to the minority as well. For that reason, they were prepared to accept and approve actions by him which they would never have tolerated from any politician.
That is probably the strongest reason for retaining the office. The Government are proposing to remove a unifying link between what are often mistakenly called the "two communities ". With respect to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his successor, I cannot see that we are going to put anything worthwhile in its place.
§ [Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair.]
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William Whitelaw)
The amendment was well moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison). At the very start I make it clear that I do not underestimate in any way the feelings of the people of Northern Ireland about the position of the Governor. Those feelings have been expressed by my hon. Friends in the debate. I think that many of the people in Northern Ireland have found it hard to differentiate between the present holder of the office and the job itself. Nevertheless, it is important that I should get some points out of the way at the very beginning.
The first point is one which I find personally embarrassing and therefore I want to get it out of the way at once. It is the position of, and inevitably the controversy which has surrounded, the present holder of the office. It is embarrassing to me personally because I have enjoyed over the past 15 months what I hope he would feel, and I certainly feel, have been very good relations with Lord Grey. I have lived in his house all the time and my wife and I have been immensely grateful to Lord and Lady Grey. If there should be any controversy I hope that it will never be said on my side that it is in any way personal. I do not think it will be said on his side.
In considering this matter, we must divorce the position of the present holder of the office from the office itself. We must argue about the future of the office but not about the present holder. I am sure we would all agree that Lord Grey has performed his functions admirably. I know that the House has already 711 recorded its gratitude to him on that score.
The next point to be dealt with is the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell about the abolition of a Governor being in any way regarded as a slide into the Republic. I hope we can get away from that. We must not pursue such an argument because it arouses unnecessary fears. I accept, as my hon. Friend said, that the fears exist where they should not, but it is not for us to give credence to such fears. Rather we should try to dismiss them. I understand the point of my hon. Friend's argument but I believe that Clause 1 answers the point.
I turn to what must be the next division of the argument, and that is the difference between executive and ceremonial functions. Under the 1920 Act the executive authority of the Crown was devolved to the Governor of Northern Ireland. If that were continued the Queen's executive power would flow through the Governor. This Bill brings us up to what must be the reality, which is that it is possible for the Queen's executive functions to be devolved to a Governor or to be exercised by a Secretary of State appointed by Her Majesty and responsible to this House but it is not possible in modern times to set up something afresh. It has either to flow through the Governor or the Secretary of State. If it does not do that and there is an attempt to make it flow through both, there are misunderstandings and difficulties.
What, then, is the position of Her Majesty? It is surely fair in executive terms to argue that she is directly exercising her executive authority in Northern Ireland through a Secretary of State. In a curious way, purely constitutionally, that brings us somewhat closer than if she were to exercise it through a Governor. I believe that to be a fact, although I do not expect the people to accept it.
I come to the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) who said that by abolishing the office of Governor and making the executive authority flow direct from Her Majesty through a Secretary of State we were in some way indicating a lack of faith in a devolved Assembly or going further and believing that there 712 would not be a properly devolved legislative Assembly. My hon. and gallant Friend is surely wrong to say that if the powers are transferred and the new Assembly legislates in the sphere of the transferred powers, then that legislation has to be submitted direct by the Secretary of State to the Queen in Privy Council. The Secretary of State cannot stop it being directly submitted.
§ Captain Orr
The Secretary of State is saying that where powers are devolved upon the Executive such measures as are enacted must be submitted direct by him to the Queen. This is, in effect, a formal function. All that I am asking is, why not have a Governor for the purposes of the formalities?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
My hon. and gallant Friend has slightly changed the question because he was earlier suggesting that doing away with the Governorship was not recognising the importance of a devolved Assembly. Surely my argument about measures having to be submitted direct to the Queen in Privy Council proves the point that the Government have recognised the importance of a devolved legislative Assembly. When devising a new constitution it must be right to decide that the Queen's executive power flows either through a Governor or through a Secretary of State. It cannot flow through both without misunderstanding and difficulty.
I come now to the ceremonial side. I am the first to accept that no politician, no Secretary of State, can be the right person to fulfil the ceremonial functions. Although it is done in many countries in in the world when the person concerned is a controversial political figure, there are difficulties. The many duties of a Secretary of State would not allow him the necessary time to carry out all the ceremonial functions which may have been carried out by a Governor. The Secretary of State cannot be in the same sort of position as that of a Governor, nor would it be right for him to be in such a position.
I therefore accept entirely the arguments put forward on that score. I believe that I have a considerable answer to them and one which I hope my hon. Friends will acknowledge, as well as the people of Northern Ireland who feel worried about this. There are two issues. 713 There is, first, the question of the Royal visits and keeping Hillsborough Castle as a place for members of the Royal Family who visit Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) derides the possibility of members of the Royal Family visiting Northern Ireland and staying at Hillsborough Castle under present conditions. I do not accept that view and nor do members of the Royal Family. It is important that that should be said. Members of the Royal Family certainly wish to make a visit. That would make the people of Northern Ireland feel that Her Majesty and members of the Royal Family were directly interested in Northern Ireland. I can assure my hon. Friend that such royal visits will take place and that it is the great desire of members of the Royal Family that they should take place as soon as possible.
In England, Scotland and Wales Her Majesty appoints lieutenants for various counties. She also appoints them for the counties in Northern Ireland, as she always has done.
My hon. Friends may say that the lieutenants have not in the past carried out many of the ceremonial functions which were in fact carried out by the Governor. Might it not be that they have not done so because it was the Governor's purpose to carry them out? The lieutenants are above the political battle. Anyone in the counties can go to them. They are directly appointed by the Queen as her representatives. If they are not so regarded, we must develop the position so that they are so regarded, as I am sure they would wish.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
On whose recommendation are the lieutenants and deputy lieutenants of counties appointed?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
In England, Scotland and Wales they are appointed by Her Majesty. I imagine that in Northern Ireland they are appointed by the Governor. There is no reason why Her Majesty should not receive advice on exactly the same basis in Northern Ireland in future as it is received in England, Wales and Scotland. The matter is not dealt with necessarily through political Ministers. Her Majesty decides whom she should appoint as lieutenants. 714 If I am wrong, I shall take an early opportunity to correct what I have said.
The ceremonial functions can and should be carried out by people appointed by Her Majesty as her personal representatives in the counties in Northern Ireland. While I understand the feelings in the controversy, I hope that that course will be pursued and appreciated as being the right one.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell asked about the position concerning the Great Seal. The Bill leaves alive Section 3 of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1945 which provides for the use of the facsimile of the Great Seal in certain circumstances. This matter is not tied to the office of Governor and therefore that situation remains.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
No matter how much responsibility is given to the lieutenants, the Secretary of State will inevitably be left to discharge a number of the duties formerly discharged by the Governor. Bearing in mind that it is accepted in the House that, when possible, the Secretary of State for Scotland should be a Scotsman and the Secretary of State for Wales should be a Welshman, might there not at some stage be a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who was an Ulsterman? If so, would there not be embarrassment in having that person accepted as being neutral and impartial, bearing in mind that our troubles will be with us for quite a long time?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think that any person engaged in party politics can ever hope to be above controversy, but I should have thought that, with six lieutenants for the counties and, in addition, Royal visits, the ceremonial functions could and should be carried out without the Secretary of State being required to carry out some of the functions previously carried out by the Governor. No doubt it would be appropriate for him to carry out some of them, as happens in Scotland, but others could be carried out in the way I have suggested.
I appreciate the inevitable strength of emotional feeling at the time of any change. We cannot proceed in future 715 with a division of Her Majesty's executive authority. Her Majesty's Government believe it right that it should flow through a Secretary of State responsible to this House.
On the question of ceremonial, I reaffirm the desire of the Royal Family to pay visits to Northern Ireland and the decision that apartments at Hillsborough Castle should be kept aside in which they could reside during such visits. As time goes on, I believe that other ceremonial functions should and will increasingly be carried out by the lieutenants of counties appointed by Her Majesty.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Has my right hon. Friend considered the possibility of having a chief lieutenant, with the office rotating?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I have no doubt that that possibility can be considered. It would be for Her Majesty to decide, and therefore it would be wrong for me to express a view. I know of nothing constitutionally against such a course, but clearly that matter does not come within the ambit of the Bill.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I regret that we have not persuaded the Secretary of State, and I believe that thousands of people outside the Chamber will regret it. However, I thank my right hon. Friend for replying so courteously to the debate. He said that the Queen's executive power cannot flow through a Governor and the Secretary of State. It did in the past, and presumably it can in future.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
If I said that it cannot, perhaps I was wrong. It would be wrong, and I believe would be liable to lead to misunderstanding, if it were to do so.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I am much obliged.
The Secretary of State and all who have spoken in the debate have been careful to distinguish between the office of Governor and the holder of that office. This is not a matter of personality; it is a matter of high principle. I ask my hon. Friends to assert that high principle in the Division lobby.
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 263.717
|Division No. 169.]||AYES||[5.20 p.m.|
|Bell, Ronald||Neave, Airey||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|McMaster, Stanley||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Mr. John Biggs-Davison and Mr. Rafton Pounder.|
|Molyneaux, James||Soref, Harold|
|Abse, Leo||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)|
|Adley, Robert||Campbell, L (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Drayson, G. B.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Carlisle, Mark||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Dunn, James A.|
|Ashton, Joe||Castle, Rt. Hn Barbara||Dykes, Hugh|
|Astor, John||Channon, Paul||Eadie, Alex|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Chapman, Sydney||Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Atkinson, Norman||Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushclife)||Emery, Peter|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Clegg, Walter||Evans, Fred|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Cockerham, Eric||Ewing, Harry|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Eyre, Reginald|
|Batstord, Brian||Concannon, J. D.||Faulds, Andrew|
|Benyon, W.||Cooke, Robert||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Coombs, Derek||Fidler, Michael|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Cordie, John||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)|
|Biffen, John||Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Costain, A. P.||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Blaker, Peter||Cronin, John||Forrester, John|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Fortescue, Tim|
|Booth, Albert||Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Fowler, Norman|
|Boothroyd, Miss B. (West Brom.)||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Fox, Marcus|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||Fraser, John (Norwood)|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)|
|Bowden, Andrew||Deakins, Eric||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)|
|Bradley, Tom||Dean, Paul||Golding, John|
|Bray, Ronald||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Goodhart, Philip|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Delargy, Hugh||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Brown, Rober C.(N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.)||Dixon, Piers||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas||Green, Alan|
|Buchan, Norman||Dormand, J. D||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Mather, Carol||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Mawby, Ray||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Gurden, Harold||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Meacher, Michael||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Shersby, Michael|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Mikardo, Ian||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Hannam, John (Exeter)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Skinner, Dennis|
|Harper, Joseph||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W)||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)|
|Hawkins, Paul||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Speed, Keith|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)||Spence, John|
|Hiley, Joseph||Moate, Roger||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Molloy, William||Sproat, Iain|
|Holland, Philip||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Stallard, A. W.|
|Holt, Miss Mary||Monro, Hector||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Horam, John||Montgomery, Fergus||Steel, David|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||More, Jasper|
|Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Stokes, John|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|James, David||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Morrison, Charles||Sutcliffe, John|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Taverne, Dick|
|Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Murray, Ronald King||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Judd, Frank||Murton, Oscar||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Tebbit, Norman|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Normanton, Tom||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret|
|Kerr, Russell||Nott, John||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Oakes, Gordon||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Kirk, Peter||O'Halloran, Michael||Tilney, Sir John|
|Knight, Mrs. Jill||O'Malley, Brian||Tope, Graham|
|Onslow, Cranley||Trew, Peter|
|Knox, David||Oram, Bert||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Lamborn, Harry||Orme, Stanley||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Lamont, Norman||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Lane, David||Palmer, Arthur||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Lawson, George||Pardoe, John||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Parkinson, Cecil||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Lee, Rt Hn. Frederick||Pavitt, Laurie||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Le Merchant, Spencer||Percival, Ian||Wallace, George|
|Leonard, Dick||Pink, R. Bonner||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Lestor, Miss Joan||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Watkins, David|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Lipton, Marcus||Probert, Arthur||Wells, John (Maldstone)|
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Proudfoot, Wilfred||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Longden, Sir Gilbert||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Loveridge, John||Radice, Giles||Whitlock, William|
|Luce, R. N.||Raison, Timothy||Wilkinson, John|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Rankin, John||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|MacArthur, Ian||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|McBride, Neil||Redmond, Robert||Younger, Hn. George|
|McCrindle, R. A.||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Mackenzie, Gregor||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|McLaren, Martin||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Mr. Hamish Gray and Mr. Michael Jopling.|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n & R'dnor)|
|Marsden, F.||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Captain Orr
We come now to a general discussion on the clause.
It is a pity that the Government could not accept the amendment which I moved to delete the unfortunate words in the clause and to insert more positive words. Before we part with the unamended clause we are entitled to ask the Government how they see things developing. Having expressed our view in the course of debates on the amendments that the clause is unviable, I am not in a mind to oppose the clause standing part of the Bill. I recognise that if the clause is removed, the rest of the Bill will also be 718 removed. We put down an amendment on Second Reading, and those who were opposed to the Bill voted against it on Second Reading. On those grounds it is therefore unnecessary for us to oppose the clause standing part of the Bill. Nevertheless, we and the people of Ulster are entitled to know with greater clarity what are the Government's intentions.
The House has just rejected by a large majority the proposition that the new executive Government of Northern Ireland shall be based necessarily upon a majority in the Assembly. We are faced with the proposition that the Assembly elections will take place and that the various candidates and parties will put before the electorate in Ulster what they intend to do when the Assembly meets. 719 No one in any party can say to the electors what he will do or what will happen, because the intentions of the Secretary of State are completely vague at present. We have the proposition that the only guidance given to us about how the Secretary of State will act is the vague phrase which appeared in the White Paper and the almost meaningless words which are now left in the clause.
The Government ought now to answer some positive questions about what will happen when the Assembly meets. When the Assembly election takes place, the first obvious question that arises is when it will meet. Will there be a long delay between the election and the meeting of the Assembly? How will the Secretary of State proceed when the Assembly meets? What happens when it meets? Presumably the Clerk to the Assembly will preside and the Assembly will move to get all its Standing Orders in accordance with subsection (1)(a). The Secretary of State then has the task of forming the Executive. We want more guidance as to how he will set about it.
Let me take a hypothetical example. Supposing that the election results in an Assembly made up roughly as follows: the Unionist Party with 22 seats; the Vanguard-DUP alliance with about the same, or perhaps with one or two seats fewer; the Alliance Party managing to scrape five seats in the Assembly; the rest of the seats being held by independent, SDLP and various other Opposition parties. How does the Secretary of State proceed in that situation? We ought to have a clear answer.
Will the Secretary of State pick on the person who leads the party with the largest number of seats in the Assembly? Will my right hon. Friend invite him to see whether he can become the chief executive, as Her Majesty here picks upon the leader of the majority winning a general election, and invite him to form a government? Is that the procedure that my right hon. Friend will follow?
Will my right hon. Friend necessarily pick the leader of the party which gets the largest number of seats in the Assembly? I use those words rather than the word "majority" because it looks on present form as though no one party will 720 arrive with a majority in the Assembly. Alternatively, will my right hon. Friend wait, before sending for anyone, to see what kind of horse-trading goes on between all those elected to the Assembly and between this and that party?
It may be, of course, that my right hon. Friend will not necessarily select the person who leads the party with the largest number of seats. He may select someone else as the chief executive whom he thinks has a better chance ultimately of bringing about some kind of majority in the Assembly.
How does my right hon. Friend intend to proceed? It is very unfair to the electorate that these questions should not be answered in advance of the election and to leave matters so vague that one cannot even say, "If I vote for that party and therefore for that party leader, and he emerges with the largest number of seats in the Assembly, he will become the chief executive." It is even possible as the clause is drafted at present that an Executive could be formed before the Secretary of State even decided who the chief executive should be. It is an extraordinary piece of unfairness to the Northern Ireland electors to leave them in such an appalling state of confusion about what is to happen when they elect the Assembly.
I quite understand that my right hon. Friend wishes to have the maximum flexibility and that he has been deliberately imprecise so that he will not be tied to any specific formula. I understand that he wishes to leave himself some ground for manoeuvre. In the circumstances that is not unreasonable. But to go so far as this clause goes without any kind of precision is being grossly unfair to the Northern Ireland electors. They are being asked to elect an assembly. They are being asked to make this constitution work. We have been preached at from both sides of the House that we shall be unreasonable people if we do not work the constitution. But we do not know what it is.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman does know what it is. The terms on the basis of power-sharing of the constitution of the new Assembly have been outlined to this House. The parties going into the election know the general terms on which the 721 Bill is based. It is quite wrong of him to suggest otherwise.
§ Captain Orr
With respect to the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), I suggest that it is he who is wrong. It is unknown. We do not know what the constitution is. We are told that the Secretary of State has to be satisfied… that a Northern Ireland Executive can be formed which, having regard to the support it commands in the Assembly and to the electorate on which that support is based, is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community …If the hon. Gentleman can explain that to me or to the Northern Ireland electors, I hope that he will do so. It is inexplicible to the ordinary man in the street and to many hon. Members.
The clause goes on to say that if my right hon. Friend is satisfied… that having regard to those matters there is a reasonable basis for the establishment in Northern Ireland of government by consent …we might get an executive and we might get some powers devolved upon us. What does that mean? If the hon. Member for Salford, West can explain that to my electors, he will be doing well.
§ Captain Orr
I do not know what it means because the Secretary of State has never said what it means. I asked, when we were dealing with earlier amendments, what was meant by power sharing. Are we talking about power sharing between different political parties on the basis of a religious division?
We are talking about a divided community. What is meant by "divided community"? Are we talking about a community divided by religion? Are we being told that at all costs the only criterion that will be used for the formation of this Executive is that it shall have Protestants and Roman Catholics on it? Or are we told that the essence of power sharing is that those who stand for union with Great Britain must enter into a Government with those who stand against union with Great Britain? Nobody has told us which is meant. Cer- 722 tainly the Government have not. My right hon. Friend was exceedingly imprecise when we discussed this question. We want to know what it means. The people of Ulster want to know what it means. I suggest that we should not part from the clause until we hear a little more.
I should like to put some specific questions to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I have dealt with the point about when and how soon the Assembly will meet.
Who will summon the Assembly? Will the Secretary of State summon the Assembly? How will it come about? For example, there is no Governor to summon the Assembly. It may have been laid down in the Assembly Bill, but I do not recollect who will call the Assembly together.
Does the Secretary of State intend to initiate talks with party leaders immediately after the election? Is that the way that it will proceed? Is it the intention that the Executive should be formed quickly? Is it the intention that the Assembly will meet and the Secretary of State will talk to party leaders on either side with a view to seeing who among them might ultimately command the kind of support that would fall within the parameters of these vague words?
Given the formation of an Executive, given that the scheme succeeds to that extent, and supposing it were possible—I do not believe it is—to find an Executive which would fit into these vague words, how soon after that is it intended that devolution shall take place?
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would tell us something about the timing when he replies to the debate. I still think that we should be wary of allowing the clause to stand part of the Bill until we get some satisfaction about what the Government intend to do.
§ Mr. McMaster
I have grave doubts about the practicality of the scheme set out in the Bill. My main doubts centre on a fact which came out during the debate last week. Indeed, I asked of some hon. Gentlemen opposite whether these provisions, particularly in Clause 2, would ever be accepted for the Government of the United Kingdom. The answer that I got from hon. Gentlemen opposite—indeed, I felt I was getting the same 723 answer from my own Front Bench—was, "But that is not the right test to apply, because conditions in Northern Ireland are totally different."
I see that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) nods assent. What is meant by that? It means that there are conditions of violence in Northern Ireland and that the Bill has been drafted under duress.
§ [Mr. RICHARD CRAWSHAW in the Chair]
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ I suggest that we must put these conditions right out of our minds. If we are simply adopting a scheme for the Government of Northern Ireland because of the violence that we have witnessed in the past three years, I ask, is that right or fair? Is it a good scheme of government? We are bowing to duress.
§ I suggest that the only proper way of determining whether the system of government which we are asking the people of Northern Ireland to accept is right or wrong is to ask—could it apply in ordinary circumstances to the United Kingdom as a whole? Could we share power with a minority in Government in the United Kingdom?
§ For example, if the National Socialists demanded to have a share in the power in this country, claiming that it was undemocratic because they were never invited to take part directly in the Government of the country, would we in Britain accept that as a principle? That is what is being asked of people in Northern Ireland.
§ My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has rightly questioned the interpretation of Clause 2, particularly the vital recital in subsection (1). He asked, "Does it mean that we are to share power across the religious frontier or across the political division in Northern Ireland?"
§ I should like to go a stage further. Surely what is meant by the Bill is not that we are inviting a few Roman Catholics—in the past Roman Catholics have taken part in the government of Northern Ireland, and I hope there will be many more in future—but that some members of the Republican Party should play a part in Government. We have seen not only in the recent plebiscite, but 724 in the local authority elections and, in the past, Stormont and Westminster elections, that that party commands very little support in Northern Ireland. Certainly the more extreme elements in that party command very little support indeed.
§ I believe that my right hon. Friend should make clear here and now, before voting takes place at the end of next week, what is meant by power sharing. Does it mean that those who are dedicated to the establishment of a republic in Northern Ireland must be invited to take Government positions or Cabinet positions as they would be in this country, in the new executive to be set up in Northern Ireland? Is this what we might reasonably expect could be applied in Britain to Westminster? If not, why not?
§ My right hon. Friend has been less than fair with Ulster Members in this House and with the people in Northern Ireland. He has refused to spell out exactly what is intended in Clause 2. He has refused to spell out what conditions must be applied by the head of the Executive, when he emerges, in order that this new Executive and Assembly shall be established and set up. Indeed, the White Paper and the Green Paper following the Darlington Conference stated that it was desirable that it should be set out clearly and simply so that the ordinary man in the street would know what was intended.
§ If this is to be effective, and if it is to form the basis of a well-established new administration in Northern Ireland, these facts must be stated, and stated clearly, if not in the Bill, then to the House, and through the House to the people of Northern Ireland so that they know just what is intended.
§ I believe that some form of devolution of Government is desirable in Northern Ireland. I believe, too, particularly following the experience of the last year, that the House has not the time, the knowledge or the ability to deal with the many functions of Government in Northern Ireland. I therefore want to see the Bill work and to see an effective Assembly set up, and I do not think that it helps that cause to leave as much uncertainty as is left by the Bill.
§ I can see the argument in favour of flexibility, but the points that I have raised must be spelled out clearly and debated in the House, and some decision 725 taken on them, if there is to be any chance of the scheme outlined in the Bill and in the White Paper being a success. It is for that reason that I ask my right hon. Friend to consider answering the questions put to him by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South about what is meant by power sharing and what he intends to do following the elections on the 28th of this month.
§ Does it mean that representatives of the Republican Party in Northern Ireland, whose manifesto was greeted with surprise, and perhaps dismay, by many of the papers when it was released earlier this week, will share power in the Assembly? Does it mean that members of the SDLP must form part of the Executive?
§ Unless we know the answers to those questions, and unless we can debate these matters in the House and come to a decision on them, I can see little hope for the future, because they will come as a surprise to people in Northern Ireland when these conditions are made clear, and the dismay and reaction of that surprise could undermine the success of the Bill which has been hoped for both inside the House and outside it.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
This debate on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill, is unsatisfactory. In saying that, I do not criticise in any way the able and interesting speeches that we have heard, but it is difficult to bring together one's views on the clause when one cannot have access to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in our earlier proceedings a week ago.
At the beginning of our proceedings today I referred to the absence of the OFFICIAL REPORT. We are told that there is an OFFICIAL REPORT, and I hold a copy of it in my hand—difficult though that is to do—but it is Hamlet without the Prince, because it contains the debate without my right hon. Friend's reply. If the debate is to be conducted properly, we ought to adjourn until we have my right hon. Friend's speech. However, Mr. Crawshaw, I do not think that it would be within your competence to accept such a motion, nor do I suppose that it would be agreed to by my right hon. Friend, although I am sure he would be the first to want to see what he said on the pre- 726 vious occasion. I do not know whether my memory is correct, but I think my right hon. Friend said that this exercise in power sharing might not work, and in that event there would be a new situation.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) criticised the imprecise verbiage of the clause and suggested that my right hon. Friend justified it on the grounds of flexibility and wanting freedom of action. My criticism of the clause is that it is not drawn flexibly enough. If what my right hon. Friend wants to happen—and it is not clear what he wants; my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South said that he had no idea at all of what my right hon. Friend wanted—does not come about; if what is called power sharing—what others might call the manipulation of representative democracy—does not work; if there is a new situation and a new initiative is called for by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, surely it would be better if there were a simple clause rather than a complicated one which is so difficult to understand and which places all sorts of limitations on the way in which a new Executive is to be formed.
Would it not be better merely to state in the clause that the Secretary of State is empowered—I am not putting this in legal language—to form a broadly-based Executive on the most practical and acceptable basis? Surely words of that character would be more apposite and more helpful, and would lead to less criticism on the grounds of wordiness, incomprehensibility, and so on? In this difficult situation, I think that the Secretary of State should not be circumscribed in the manner in which he forms an Executive. What is important is that a legislative Assembly should be elected and that, based on that Assembly, a broadly-based Executive should be formed.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Some of my hon. Friends have asked what is meant by power sharing, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) asked a number of rhetorical questions. To some extent, my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) answered the question about power sharing.
727 As I see it—and I do not want to enter into the debate on a previous set of amendments—the aim is to get as broadly based an Executive as possible. That is what is meant, and that is what is clearly set out in paragraph (b). It is drawn in such a way as to underline the points about which the House is anxious and to underline, too, the fact that the Secretary of State must, inevitably, be given the maximum amount of flexibility to act because we are building a new type of institution, and building it before an election. In those circumstances, one has no alternative but to approach the matter in this way.
There are some points in the clause on which I should like further details. It is envisaged that after this election the Secretary of State shall consider the matter with the leaders of the parties involved and prepare a scheme for power sharing. I am not clear about what is to happen after a subsequent election, or about what is to happen if there is a withdrawal of some of the parties from the Executive at various stages. I am not clear about what is to happen if there is a change of personnel. That is why I am anxious, as I have made clear on previous occasions, to ensure that the rules of the Assembly set out in clear and intelligible language the basic principles on which an Assembly-based Executive is to be put together. I understand the need for flexibility in the first instance, but there is much merit in the idea of getting the matter clarified for subsequent occasions.
I wish to set out the scenario as I see it. The Assembly will be elected on 28th June. The Bill will not pass through all its stages in both Houses until about the second half of July. That is my estimate, but perhaps we can be given some indication of the Government's thinking on the matter. I would assume that in such an event the Assembly would not be able to meet until after the Bill had become law. But I hope that the aim is that the Assembly should be brought together as soon as possible after the Bill became law rather than for it to be allowed to sit over until September. There is much merit in bringing the representatives of the parties together in an Assembly at the earliest practical date.
728 I assume that there is no reason why, before the Bill is passed, the Secretary of State should not consult the leaders of the main political parties in Northern Ireland. I assume that informal talks will take place at that stage between the chief executive and the leader of the party which has the widest support in the Assembly, to try to bring together, and to activate, the Assembly in line with Clause 2 of the Bill.
If the Executive is then formed, and if it is satisfactory to the Secretary of State, under the Bill as it stands this House would have to approve it by means of an order. This would mean that if the Commons were in recess until the middle of October it would not be possible for the Executive to be activated before then. Therefore, if the Secretary of State has made progress and has succeeded in bringing an Executive together would it be considered necessary to recall this House to consider such an order? It is essential to maintain the dynamic in this matter. I hope that the Opposition will agree with this. These are a few basic points which I think should be examined before we approve the clause.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The effect of the rejection of Amendment No. 12 is greatly to improve the electoral prospects of all the anti-White Paper candidates in the Assembly elections. The lack of any clear, precise statement of intention will make for untold confusion throughout the remainder of the Assembly election campaign. The natural result is that the electorate will decide to support the parties which have a clear ojective, which have shown evidence of clear thinking and which did not accept without reservation some very improbable proposals and suggestions contained in the White Paper. I make no particular complaint about that, but I hope that hon. Members will not afterwards say that we did not give them an oportunity and a lead. I would say, on their own heads be it.
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) expressed the view that, because what he called power-sharing in Londonderry had appeared to work there, it should work in the Northern Ireland Executive and in the Assembly. But what power is being shared in Londonderry? The power to do what? with all the worthwhile powers removed, on what 729 could they possibly disagree? Even the most determined political agitator would find it difficult to make controversial an issue such as the emptying of dustbins in Londonderry, or anywhere else.
§ Mr. McMaster
My hon. Friend will know that, in the past 24 hours, it has been impossible to carry out four burials in Belfast because of something which falls within those powers—that is, the control of the cemeteries.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
It should in fairness be pointed out that the councils have greatly reduced powers and little or no influence on security. I hope that what my hon. Friend has said will be noted on the Frnot Bench and that this appalling situation will be remedied.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I am sure that that will be accepted by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster).
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Will not the hon. Gentleman accept that what my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) wanted to bring to the attention of the House in mentioning Derry was that the will was present, whatever the consequences? This is what is so desirable at this stage. Do not he and some of his hon. Friends think that they might make a more open show of enthusiasm for these arrangements, whatever their doubts? There are doubts, which should be aired, as they have been in a proper and responsible way, but basically what we must all subscribe to is a willingness to see these new arrangements work. What is so significant and heartening about Derry is that such a will is present there.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The hon. Member, like his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West, makes the mistake and falls into the trap of believing that this is something entirely new in local government. For the past 12 years we have never had this kind of political divide. It is only in very recent times that party political labels have been used in local government elections. In my own Antrim 730 County Council, we did not sit on opposite sides and hurl insults at one another. We sat around in a semi-circle and tried to do what we regarded as best for the people who elected all of us, and not just for our own supporters. There has been a tradition of councils being non-political, in the best sense of the word.
I would imagine that nine-tenths of the councillors who have now been rejected—they have not been rejected by the electorate, but have simply been put on the shelf and set aside by the local government reorganisation—never supported any party political view. The combined actions of the councils on which they served were never taken on a party political basis. So I see nothing new in this. We should welcome the fact that it has continued, but it is nothing new.
§ Mr. Orme
But the hon. Member must recognise that in Londonderry it is new. This is the second largest city in Northern Ireland, which was the scene of many of the civil rights disturbances, with a built-in majority for the Unionist Party over 50 years, and with no power sharing at all. What is encouraging following these elections is that they have seen fit to elect an SDLP member as chairman and a Unionist member—not an official Unionist Party member but someone on the right—as vice-chairman. That, to many of us who observe the Northern Ireland scene, is nothing but encouraging.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the shift in the balance of political power. The much-maligned Unionist-controlled Derry Corporation invited in the Northern Ireland Housing Trust, a completely non-sectarian body, to build all its new houses. The charge that the corporation failed to build houses was unrealistic and largely untrue. It is accurate to say that it did not build them itself, but it invited in the Trust to build them. When they were built, the houses were administered by the Trust and the lettings were made by its officials, and not by the Unionist-controlled corporation.
But it will be a different matter with the Assembly, and particularly the Executive. Although their powers are in many respects in the realm of make-believe, there are certain powers still left 731 on which, in certain circumstances, the influence of the Assembly and, probably even more important, of the Executive will be sufficient to give rise to dispute. That is where the real divide will emerge, and when a clash comes, as it will come, for example, on the key question—the only thing that really divides the people of Northern Ireland—whether or not to remain part of the United Kingdom, will the majority view be accepted by the Republicans, the SDLP and their allies, or will there be another tiresome walkout by those parties such as we have seen over the past 50 years? Will the Secretary of State at that point keep his nerve and sustain an Executive based on the remaining majority, or will the whole thing disintegrate and be put back into the melting-pot?
It is this possibility of opting out which to some extent is encouraged and even incited by the vague wording of the clause, and this is what worries me most. The Secretary of State could perform a signal service not only to the House but to all the people of Northern Ireland if he could clarify this position.
§ Mr. Pounder
I should like to follow closely the concluding remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), who highlighted the terribly brittle thread which will exist after 28th June. Hon. Members opposite have referred to the activities of the new Londonderry Corporation. That is fine, but it met within a matter of days after the election, as did a number of the district councils, to elect its officers. The momentum generated by that election has not been allowed to become dissipated by delay between the election and getting the nucleus, the office-holders, of the new organisations off the ground.
What is terrifying is that, after all the momentum of an election culminating on 28th June, my right hon. Friend will hold conversations with political leaders and so on throughout the holiday period, and it might be autumn before anything has happened. The momentum will have been dissipated, and heaven knows what will have happened on the ground during those intervening three months. We must acknowledge that a very brittle thread could be broken—I derive no pleasure from saying this—by 732 the autumn. The sense of urgency cannot be over-emphasised.
Reference has been made, both on Second Reading and today, to the fairly unhappy wording of the clause. Flexibility is desirable—my right hon. Friend's hands must not be tied—but there is a distinction between flexibility, which is desirable if not necessary, and loose and unattractive terminology being written into an Act of Parliament.
If we part with the clause with this loose language unaltered, it will be open to successive Secretaries of State to interpret the words of this House not necessarily with the care and clarity of my right hon. Friend. When one talks, as two hon. Members have done, about power-sharing meaning as broad a base as possible, that phraseology is as bad as the loose and vague wording in the clause.
What is desirable is for the Minister to try to lift a corner of the carpet of a declaration of intent about his thinking, all being well, on the steps to be taken after 28th June, when the electors have given a verdict on those who should serve in the new Assembly.
§ [Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ I am very concerned—perhaps frightened is a more appropriate word—about the appalling dangers of nothing happening between July and September. I am concerned for a variety of reasons. We must not allow the new Assembly to be made unworkable merely because of the whim, for whatever reason, of one of the parties therein. If we are prepared to think and talk in terms of a rather rigid power-sharing concept, so that it could be totally destroyed by a mischievous act or decision on the part of one of the participating parties at the end of this month, we might as well stop here and now and forget this Bill. We must ensure to the best of the ability of the Committee and later of the House of Commons that the wrecker, whatever his motives, cannot succeed in thwarting the new Assembly.
§ Mr. Orme
The Opposition's views on how the Assembly is to operate are well known. While we have reservations about its operation, obviously we want it to operate successfully and succinctly.
733 I was impressed by what was said by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) and the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) about the issue of timing. That issue could be crucial to the whole matter. I draw an analogy, for instance, between what happened in Londonderry and what could happen in the Assembly, particularly if it looked as though there were groups of parties who were willing to try to make the Assembly work. It would be a disaster if the Secretary of State had to wait until the new Session of Parliament to make orders, and so on, to get the Assembly and the Executive fully off the ground.
We should like to know the Minister's recommendations on this matter. The Opposition would support any speedy legislation to implement any facets of the Bill earlier than originally anticipated.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Mills)
We have had an interesting debate on the amendments to the Clause and on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. Perhaps it would be a good thing now to stand back a little and to look at the clause as a whole. Before doing that, I want to clear up one or two of the smaller but important points that were raised. Perhaps then some of the major questions that were asked will be dealt with in the speech that I have tried to prepare.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) asked a question about rules. Subsection (1)(a) clearly states that the Assembly must make satisfactory provision in its standing orders. That is the method. It is up to the Assembly to start to make these orders.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Am I to understand, therefore, that under subsection (1)(a) the Assembly's standing orders are to include the procedure by which an Executive is to be formulated on the basis of subsection (1)(b)?
§ Mr. Peter Mills
No, I am not prepared to go further than what I have said on that matter at present. I cannot commit myself. Subsection (1)(a) makes it quite clear that satisfactory progress must be made.
The question of time is very important. It is certainly my right hon. Friend's 734 intention to get things under way as quickly as possible, as soon as possible after the election and when the Bill becomes law. The Government's desire is to make progress. We understand the problem of delay and of a possible vacuum and the dangers that have been spelt out to us. Obviously discussions must take place—that is terribly important—once the election has taken place and we know who is elected. Discussions will take place. There is no question of delay. The need is to get the Bill through the House of Commons and to get the elections over. Then we can start these discussions.
My right hon. Friend fully understands the problem of delay, especially in the circumstances in Northern Ireland, and the warnings that hon. Members have given are fully accepted.
§ Mr. Mills
I am coming to that.
The attention of the Committee has already been drawn to the difficulties inherent in these provisions. The Government recognise that there are difficulties associated with the principle of power sharing, which principle these provisions are designed to achieve, and recognise the immense problems which will face those who are seeking to achieve power sharing. It is none the less an immensely worthwhile goal, which could be frustrated if the House of Commons were persuaded that it should not be attempted or, equally, if it were persuaded to tie down the provisions on which it was based to a degree where flexibility was not available. We recognise that there are very real difficulties but I believe, as I hope that the Committee will believe, that it is an immensely worthwhile aim.
735 It is the Government's intention that the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland should play a part in deciding how a basis for government by consent can be established. What has to be found through the consultations of the Secretary of State with the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland is a system of exercising the executive power in Northern Ireland in relation to transferred matters which is broadly acceptable throughout the community.
Rather than specifying details of how such a basis could be measured, for example, by specifying, perhaps, weighted majorities, as one or two hon. Members have suggested, the issue has been left to the discretion of the Secretary of State. But the Secretary of State is required—this is important—to take into account the expressed support of the electorate in addition to the support of the members of the Assembly. This degree of flexibility is considered both necessary and desirable. I emphasise that strongly.
It is rather difficult to say very much more until one knows the result of the elections. One cannot forecast which way they will go, but one can promise that consultations will take place.
The clause implements paragraphs 52 and 53 of the White Paper. Basically, the clause provides for the initial devolution of legislative and executive powers under the Bill. Surely we are anxious to see this under way—in other words, to get the political initiative moving. From my travels in Northern Ireland, I believe that people naturally want to have a say in their own affairs and that they want this political initiative to be kept moving. My right hon. Friend has promised that he will consult and do all that he can to see that these things get under way as quickly as possible.
The devolution takes place by Order in Council approved by both Houses in a draft specifying the date for the commencement of Part II and setting out the matters to be dealt with at this stage. However, the Secretary of State requires the fulfilment of certain conditions before he can move forward. He must not lay the draft Order in Council before Parliament until he is satisfied on several important matters. As the clause is drafted, the Secretary of State has to make crucial 736 judgments whether satisfactory provision has been made in the Assembly standing orders for the purposes mentioned in Section 25; whether a Northern Ireland Executive can be formed which, having regard to the support it commands in the Assembly and to the electorate upon which that support is based, is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community; and thirdly whether, having regard to these foregoing matters, there is the reasonable basis for the establishment in Northern Ireland of Government by consent. Those are crucial matters of judgment which the Secretary of State must make.
§ Captain Orr
By what criteria does the Secretary of State make his judgment that the Executive is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community?
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Why do not we merely legislate to enable the Secretary of State to form a representative legislature without indulging in all this complicated verbiage?
§ Mr. Mills
I do not agree with my hon. Friend about that. The Government believe that what is proposed is the best way of carrying out what is needed. We believe that it is best to see how the election goes and to consult those who are elected. I would have thought that that was perfectly clearly the fair way to proceed.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
This is a vital point because it is not just a question of seeing who is elected but also of seeing on what basis they are elected. That means that in some way an estimate would have to be made of who is voting for them, and how wide is the volume of support they have secured in the ballot box. I never understood how it was proposed to do this, but it appears to be written into the clause, and that is the point which we should like to see explained.
§ Mr. Mills
If We had been more specific as my hon. Friends seem to wish, they would have criticised us just the same. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) seems to be criticising the fact that we intend to 737 see how the electorate votes before the consultations start. I should have thought that that was a fair and correct way to proceed.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South talked about the clause being the nub of the problem and "the essence of unworkability". I found that extremely depressing. Here we are anxious to get on with the work so that the political initiative can go ahead. We have undergone all the problems of bringing forward a difficult Bill like this and now he speaks about the "essence of unworkability". I hope that is not his attitude. Surely the essence of the clause is that we need the will to see that it works in consultation with and with the support of those who are anxious to give it a try. My experience is that a large number of people want it to work and it is deliberately designed to be flexible and adjustable.
We must not attempt to tie the hands of the Secretary of State or, for that matter, the parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly in this delicate business of forming a broadly-based Executive. Obviously great care will be needed and there will be much consultation. Obviously very great patience will be needed also. Given the will and the flexibility which the clause contains, I think we shall be able to get this thing under way. Surely that is what we want, and that is what the clause sets out to do.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Captain Orr
It is not the intention of myself and my hon. Friends who share my views to delay the proceedings on the Bill. We have no vested interest in delay. The sooner the arguments are out of the way and the Bill, good or bad, is on the Statute Book, the better. But as I have already said, it is upon this clause that the whole Bill hangs. My hon. Friend the Minister has with great patience and great care dealt with the argument, but he has not answered the fundamental question.
It is suggested to us—and this is one of the things that are so difficult to understand in the ordinary use of the English language—that there is something perverse about us if we do not go in for 738 power sharing. But no one has explained what power sharing means. What does it mean? What are politics about? They are about power. Why do parties go before the electorate? They do so in order to put their policies before the electors in order to attract the electors into giving them power. All politics are about power. People share power for a common purpose and coalitions are formed. Every political party is a coalition of people who agree to submerge minor differences for a political philosophy.
In Ulster we are at present trying to do something which is contrary to all human political practice. The Government are saying to people, "Very well, you ask the electorate for power and you fight your opponent for that power, but when you achieve that power we shall not allow you to exercise it unless you then form a coalition."
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) spoke about Londonderry. What happened there was voluntary. No one said that the people there could not form a council unless they agreed in advance to setting up a coalition. It is one thing to form coalitions voluntarily by submerging differences in order to achieve an over-riding matter on which all are agreed. But to suggest to people in Ulster that, having fought a strenuous election campaign with deep fundamental divisions in it, they must then form a coalition or they get no power seems totally wrong.
My hon. Friend the Minister said that he found it depressing that I should use the phrase "essence of unworkability". The essence of unworkability lies in the clause, not in the people. The people of Ulster are not to be blamed if it does not work. They have been asked to do the impossible. Representative government, if it means anything, means that people go to the electors seeking power from them and the majority of the elected representatives wield the power. By all means when dealing with a subordinate assembly write in those safeguards thought necessary for minorities, but do not do something that is inherently impossible. That is why the clause will not work.
I accept that I shall not persuade the Government. I do not think that either 739 of us will persuade the other. We may simply have to leave it there.
§ Mr. Orme
Is not there something false in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's premise? I have looked at the election progammes of all the main parties concerned. I can see no basic economic difference, for example, between them. It is not as if we were talking about Conservative and Labour Parties. Working-class Protestants and working-class Roman Catholics are being asked to come together across the divide to try to knit the community together. The parties are not based on an economic division within the community. There are probably differences of emphasis and opinion, but the parties do not split on an economic basis.
§ Captain Orr
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the point. The differences in the community in Ulster are far deeper than economics. There are differences about what people we are, whether we are British or belong ultimately to an Irish Republic. That is the deep divide. It is not possible to have power sharing across that divide. It will not work. It is inherently impossible.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is leader of the Unionist Party at Westminster. He has said that the difference is not economic but that there is an inherent division in the community, and that the clause will not work. Is he not therefore casting doubts on the whole nature of Northern Ireland? The Secretary of State, whose Government the hon. and gallant Gentleman normally supports, has had a go at doing something that has not happened over 50 years. When I hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman talking in this way, I raise my hands in despair, because he seems to be saying before the event that the clause will not work. Is that what he is saying?
§ Captain Orr
I am saying that if the clause stands, and if we understand by power sharing that people who believe in the union with Great Britain must enter into a Government organisation with people who do not, the deep division between them is such as will make the clause impossible to work. I believe that to be true. It is quite a different matter 740 to tell people "You must obey the law". I am not advocating, and would not be party to advocating, that people should enter the Assembly with a view to wrecking it in an unconstitutional or unlawful way. The law must be obeyed, and when people elect their representatives to the Assembly those elected representatives should go to the Assembly. If the law be as it is proposed to be in the Bill, so be it. We must operate within the law in so far as that is possible.
All I am saying is that the House will be under an illusion if it thinks of power sharing across the divide between those who wish to be British and those who do not. If power sharing means power sharing in the sense that there should be no barrier of a sectarian nature between people who are agreed on political aims, that is a different thing. But that is not what we are being told. The whole basis of the Bill is that there are two communities in Ulster, fundamentally divided, and that we are being told, "You will not get a scrap of power back in Ulster unless you come together and sink these totally fundamental and irreconcilable differences."
The Government are embarked on a dangerous course, dangerous ultimately to human life. I beg them to reconsider it before it is too late.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Perhaps unconsciously my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has demonstrated the very real problems and difficulties which the Secretary of State will encounter in trying to make the clause work. But I believe that it is right to proceed on the basis of seeking to share power, and that has been the basis of my argument today.
I want to return briefly to the question solely of maintaining momentum. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said much about the momentum of meetings with the party leaders, and I welcome that. Can he go a little further and give us an assurance that it is the basic aim to try to bring the Assembly together to meet as soon as possible after the Bill becomes an Act? I hope that it will be possible to bring it together briefly at the end of July rather than leaving it until September or early autumn. It is an important matter.
741 If, despite all the problems and difficulties, my right hon. Friend succeeds in putting together an Executive, inside the definitions in the clause, we still face the problem that the Executive cannot be activated under the clause until a resolution is passed by both Houses of Parliament. It would be unfortunate if my right hon. Friend were successful and if there were then a gap. Therefore, I ask that either there should be consideration of an amendment on Report to alter the provision, so that the order would have to be approved within, say, 40 days, or that we should have an assurance—and this is the optimistic scenario—that in those circumstances, rather than hold the matter up, earnest consideration would be given to bringing back Parliament at an early date, purely for that purpose.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) has raised two points so important in regard to timing and so personal to the way I see the matter myself that perhaps I should add to what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said.
I believe that it would be right, and it is my desire, that the Assembly should meet as soon as possible after the Bill has become law. Its first meeting must be at a time and place which the Secretary of State determines. At its first meeting it must elect a presiding officer and then proceed to draw up its orders.
I cannot say when the Bill will become law, but I am making the point that the Assembly cannot meet until it has. The first reason is that the Bill sets up the Assembly and many of its conditions. Secondly, it gives me the power to call it at a given time and place, and until it is law I do not have that power. Thirdly, the present Northern Ireland Parliament is still in existence, although prorogued, until the Bill becomes law. For those reasons, it is clear that the Bill must be through the House before the Assembly can meet.
§ Mr. McMaster
Surely there is a distinction between its meeting and the Executive being formed? Cannot the Assembly meet, without forming an Executive, before the Bill becomes law? There will be a very important period of perhaps three or four weeks.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The answer is that it cannot officially meet. But although the powers will not exist until the Bill becomes law there is nothing to prevent my having discussions with the leaders of the parties who are elected to the Assembly, to see on what basis it might be possible to proceed once the Bill has become law. The constitutional basis is clear and must be adhered to. Certainly Her Majesty's Government hope that the Bill will become law by the end of July. It is hoped that the Assembly will meet as soon as possible thereafter. If my discussions before that date give hope that the Executive could be formed at an earlier date I should have to consult my colleagues, and no doubt discussions would have to take place through the usual channels about the way in which a devolution of powers order could be brought before the House.
I accept the fears of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). I accept his sincerity and I do not blame him in any way for taking the view that he has declared. If he is proved right I shall be sad, but I understand that he might be right. I shall not go further than that.
It is right that the clause should give a wide degree of discretion and flexibility to the Secretary of State. That makes it all the more important, as he is answerable to the House, that he brings his proposals to the House and Parliament decides whether his judgment is right. It is something which must, in the final event, be decided by Parliament. The question when the orders must be brought before Parliament is not one that I can possibly answer. In a previous capacity I might have been able to do so, but I cannot make any pronouncement other than to say that if I thought I were in such a position I should consult my colleagues. The matter could be discussed through the usual channels and a decision made as to how the momentum could be maintained.
I have been anxious about timing and I have been interested in what has been said by the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster). I have gone as far as the 743 constitutional position allows under the Bill. I hope that I have explained the matter correctly and clearly and that whatever may be the reservations we shall be given the chance to see whether we can make the clause work.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.