§ Mr. Speaker
Before we begin the debate on Northern Ireland, I must inform the House that a large number of hon. Members have told me that they hope to speak. Quite clearly it is impossible for me to confine this debate to Northern Ireland Members. It is a matter for the whole House. I shall endeavour to ensure that at least one hon. Member from each of the various groups from Northern Ireland has an opportunity to speak, but recently there have been some very long speeches in Northern Ireland debates. I hope that today hon. Members will bear in mind that a long speech will prevent someone else from putting his point of view.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Humphrey Atkins)
I beg to move,That this House takes notice of "The Government of Northern Ireland: Proposals for Further Discussion". [Cmnd. 7950].Today's debate concentrates on the political and constitutional dimension in Northern Ireland, but that dimension does not exist in isolation, and cannot be fully considered in isolation. Events in the three areas of security, politics and economics interact on each other—for good or for ill. I once spoke of them as being interwoven, like the strands of a rope. That is a good metaphor, because if one part is weak, the whole is weak. This is why political progress is important. It will not immediately solve all Northern Ireland's problems, but if we can introduce some arrangements with which all sections of the community are able to identify we shall have strengthened the position of Northern Ireland and so helped to serve its underlying needs—which are for peace, reconciliation, and economic reconstruction.
As the House knows, within the next two or three weeks—depending on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House —we shall be debating both the other dimensions—security and the economy. The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act (Continuance) Order was laid before the House yesterday. That will provide an occasion for a wide-ranging 553 debate on security measures and the terrorist threat. The House will also be asked soon to approve the Northern Ireland Appropriation Order, also on the Order Paper, and with it the main departmental Estimates. This will provide an opportunity for hon. Members to raise economic and social issues.
§ Mr. Atkins
I doubt it. Today, therefore, we focus on the political dimension, while not forgetting its interconnection with those other aspects. The order that we shall be considering later this evening provides that the direct rule procedures of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 shall run for a further year. The machinery of the 1974 Act, which the order seeks to renew, was designed for an interim period only, but this will be the sixth time that Parliament has been asked to renew it. When added to the earlier period of direct rule beginning in March 1972, it means that for seven and a half of the last eight years Northern Ireland has had a system of government initially designed only as a temporary expedient.
One of our leading newspapers the other day said that we were "too modest" about direct rule—that we should reexamine its merits as a continuing form of government for Northern Ireland. Up to a point I agree. There is a risk of over looking the positive achievements of what is known as direct rule. It has brought political stability and order. It has enabled concerted action to be taken against terrorism of all kinds, and it has brought—I hope and believe—fair, efficient and impartial administration to the Province. These are important strengths, which we must not dismiss, and in seeking to move ahead we must make sure that we do not lose those attributes.
But for all its strengths, for all the service that it has rendered at a difficult and dangerous time, I am quite certain that the present system is not a satisfactory long-term basis for the government of Northern Ireland. We must seek to give to the people of Northern Ireland more control over their own affairs.
There are many reasons for this. Let me give just three.
First, it is not just the Government but also the Labour and Liberal Parties that 554 want to move forward. So do all the Northern Ireland political parties represented here, and all the significant Northern Ireland parties not represented here.
Secondly, the present system means that the process of law-making for Northern Ireland is less satisfactory than for the rest of the United Kingdom. As we know, Northern Ireland laws are made by Order in Council rather than by the normal procedure of Bills, which provides far less opportunity for hon. Members to discuss, consider and amend. As I say, it is a second-best way of making laws for Northern Ireland. Furthermore, Northern Ireland Members have a much more difficult task than do their counterparts in Great Britain. They have to represent in this House the interests of their constituents in a far wider range of matters than anyone else, covering virtually every aspect of life that demands the attention of government at any level.
The third reason, which I believe to be an important one, is that the life-blood of politics is the exercise of responsibility. For eight years now, the opportunity of assuming responsibility in Northern Ireland has been absolutely minimal. If that opportunity is not brought back, I believe that the whole body politic will suffer, and will suffer badly. I believe that the whole House feels, as the Government do, that we must do everything possible to find ways of restoring that opportunity.
That was the task that we set ourselves when we came into office 14 months ago. I undertook then to proceed with care, patience and perseverance on what many people said was an unpromising task. I should like to report briefly to the House on my progress so far.
Last year I had a series of meetings with representatives of political parties, large and small. These meetings served to establish in bold outline the platforms of the parties, and I was left in no doubt of the gulf between them on certain issues. But it also emerged from these discussions that there were a number of areas where the disagreements between them were not very great and where there was a possibility that they could come together. There was clearly a need to set up a process within which the similarities of approach could be consolidated and where remaining areas of disagreement could be clearly defined 555 and examined further. I therefore announced last October that a conference would be convened, to which I invited the four main political parties in Northern Ireland to discuss the working paper that we published a month later.
The conference worked through an agenda covering all the main questions identified in the working paper. In March, it agreed to adjourn so that Government proposals could be prepared in the light of all that had been said. The paper that we are considering today represents the next major step down the road on which we embarked in May 1979.
The conference did not result in a full political settlement. I doubt whether anyone expected—certainly I did not—that it would produce a binding inter-party agreement. But it brought to an end a period of political stagnation and it enabled the leading figures in the parties in Northern Ireland to sit down with me and with each other for a quiet, serious, detailed study of the problems facing all of us.
This, in itself, was valuable and I do not think that it is unreasonable to claim that all those who attended, myself included, now have a much clearer idea of what has to be done if progress is to be made than we had at the beginning.
I believe, too, that we made some progress in shifting the whole Northern Ireland debate forward and towards a closer realisation of the common ground shared by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland. The principles that we set out in last November's working paper—they are repeated in the paper before us today in paragraph 3—were accepted by all the parties at the conference. In particular, there was deep appreciation of the proposition that any future arrangements for Northern Ireland must includereasonable and appropriate arrangements to take account of the interests of the minorityHow these arrangements are to be made is, of course, another matter, on which the parties are not agreed—that is the principal theme of the present paper. Nevertheless, the sense of forward movement at the conference was real and, I think, valuable.
So we come to the paper before us 556 today. I may be asked "Why have not the Government produced proposals for legislation rather than simply proposals for further discussion?" I think that the House knows the answer. As I first said a year ago, we can make progress only with the co-operation of both communities in Northern Ireland, so any new system has to have the backing of both. We saw in 1974 how a system of government could flounder because co-operation broke down and the will to make the system work became a will to destroy it The resulting upheaval, strife and misery are things that we must avoid in the future at all costs.
But in a political environment, where the accent is habitually on a polarisation of attitudes and position, co-operation can be built up only with much care and much time. Anyone who believes that we could have proceeded in a different direction, or moved at a faster pace, has not been where I have been, talking to political leaders and to a wide range of opinion in other walks of life in Northern Ireland.
Let me emphasise one other point, which is, I think, implicit throughout the paper and will be of continuing importance when we get down to hard talking on the basis of these proposals. In approaching Northern Ireland's problems, we must deal in practicalities. Maybe—I do not know—one reason why little progress has been made in recent years is that too many people have demanded what, in an ideal world, they would like to see without asking themselves whether it is possible to attain it.
A moment ago I was talking about acceptability—one of our key tests. Paragraph 15 of the paper repeats our commitment. It says:New institutions of government which the minority community cannot accept as its institutions will not bring stability and so will not be worth having.That is not a straight statement of abstract political philosophy; it is a recognition of hard practical fact.
People sometimes ask" Why cannot straightforward Westminster-style democracy be brought back to Northern Ireland? It works well enough in Great Britain." We have to acknowledge the fact that a substantial proportion of the community of Northern Ireland do not believe that that system will safeguard 557 their interests. They became alienated from it in the past and they still are. Whether or not we consider that that alienation is justified, we have to recognise that it is there and that future political institutions must take account of it.
That is one of the key realities that we face. Another is the question of Northern Ireland's constitutional status. The paper does not address itself directly to the arguments over this issue, but it would be foolish to ignore the fact that it is a factor in the overall question. For years British Governments have been beset from opposing sides—on the one hand by demands from some people to act as if the Republic of Ireland were another country, such as Belgium or Portugal, which had no particular interest in the problems of Northern Ireland, and on the other hand by claims that a wrong was done by Partition in 1920 and that the only thing that matters now is to put that wrong right. I have to say that realism is lacking on both sides.
The geographical and historical facts of life oblige us to recognise the special relationship that exists between the component parts of the British Isles. It is, as the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach agreed recently, a "unique" relationship. That is not to say that responsibility for the resolution of Northern Ireland's problems is a matter for anybody but the people of Northern Ireland and the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom, but it does mean that we improve our chances of success by recognising that the Republic is deeply interested in what happens in Northern Ireland.
Evidence of that mutual interest is to be found in the down-to-earth, practical co-operation that has long existed in many areas between the authorities on either side of the border. It clearly makes sense to have close liaison and consultation in a number of fields. Tourism is an obvious example; fisheries and communications are others; and energy supply is a particularly topical one. In these and other matters for which a new Administration might be responsible, there will continue to be a practical "Irish dimension", and it will be for the new Administration in the North to consider how best to develop relations with the South in their common interest.
558 As for Partition, it is surely obvious that we cannot solve the problems of 1980 by a journey back to 1920. The vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland were not alive then, and it is their views—those of the present people of Northern Ireland, as it presently exists—that matter. There may be those who wish that it were not so, but no amount of wishing can change the reality of the situation.
I urge all those who have an interest in the political advance in Northern Ireland "Judge our proposals, and your response, by what is realistic. It is only on that basis that we have any hope of making progress."
I want now to say something about the proposals in part III of the paper—the heart of it, where discussion and negotiation will concentrate. First, the paper lists nine features of what it calls the "outer framework" for a new Administration. In the light of all that we have learnt from the political parties, the Government are clear that there is comparatively little dispute on a number of points. There should be a transfer of both legislative and executive power over a wide range of subjects, similar in extent to the transfer in 1973. A single elected Assembly should be established, with about 80 Members, elected by the single transferable vote method of proportional representation.
§ Mr. Atkins
In a moment. I am just coming to the end of this part of my speech. The existing Northern Ireland departments should come under the control of Members of the Assembly. The Assembly should have representative Committees to scrutinise the actions of each Department. The existing safeguards against discrimination and maladministration should be at least maintained, if not improved.
§ Mr. English
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The paper contains the mistake that he has just repeated. The single transferable vote can be a system of proportional representation and was in the European Assembly election, when the whole of Northern Ireland was a single constituency. It is not a system of 559 PR in any case where it is not regarded as a single constituency.
The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that on the Floor of the House his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) pointed out that he preferred a system of proportional representation, but went as near as any person I have ever heard to saying that he was overruled by his colleagues.
§ Mr. Atkins
I must take up the hon. Gentleman on one point. The system to which I have referred is used in Northern Ireland not only for elections to the European Parliament but for elections to district councils.
§ Mr. Atkins
It is. It is not used for elections to Westminster, which are common throughout the United Kingdom, but I knew that I was right when I was thinking of what I ought to say. I could not claim that there would be no dispute about these matters. I used the words "comparatively little". I have got away with that so far, with the exception of the hon. Gentleman, so I think that I was about right.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm to the House that on this matter at the conference our party, the Democratic Unionist Party, put forward the proposal not for STV but rather for a modified list system?
§ Mr. Atkins
Indeed I will. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I go back to my phrase "comparatively little dispute". This is a paper for further discussion, so we can easily discuss that.
Apart from these items, it is also clear that the Secretary of State, answerable to Parliament, must continue to be responsible, for the foreseeable future, for certain functions—in particular, law and order, given the large scale of commitment of the Army in the Province in support of the police, and the determination of Northern Ireland's share of total public expenditure. It will be necessary to provide a forum wherein leading Members of the proposed Assembly can meet the Secretary of State to discuss their interests in his exercise of these responsibilities.
560 So much for the outer framework. I now turn to the second component of Part III of the paper and, indeed, to the crux of it. Within the outer framework, how shall the Executive be formed, and how do we make reasonable and appropriate arrangements to take account of the interests not just of the minority, but of the majority, too?—because both are important.
It will be said that the propositions in paragraphs 40–62 are complicated and unusual. They are, but so is the situation in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, although we here at Westminster understand our own system pretty well, it is not without its complications, as many of us have found when we have tried to explain it to strangers.
The first option that we set out considers ways of sharing responsibility within the Executive. The second deals with shared responsibility between the Executive and the Assembly.
Within the first option, the paper suggests that the Executive could be formed in proportion to the support for the various parties expressed by the electorate, either by direct popular election or by constituting the Executive by reference to the strengths of the parties returned to the Assembly. Either way, the composition of the Executive would reflect the support for the various parties in the electorate at large. Contrary to what is sometimes said about this approach, the power of the majority would not be inhibited. The majority in the Assembly would be accurately reflected in a majority on the Executive, and of course the Executive would require the approval of the Assembly for its policies.
I do not suggest that such a system would necessarily be appropriate for the formation of a sovereign Government operating in the context of an adversarial Parliament, but Northern Ireland's circumstances are very different. This would be a subordinate Administration, without responsibility for a number of important matters, such as defence, or fundamental management of the economy and without responsibility for the matter that divides the local parties most—the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. Moreover, on most of the issues for which responsibility would be transferred there is quite a measure of consensus between the parties.
561 As I said, this method of forming an Executive would be unconventional by Westminster standards. It would have more familiar features to those who live in countries where coalition is the common form of government, or where the Executive as well as the legislative body is directly elected. No doubt, like any coalition, it would produce stresses and strains, but I cannot agree that it would be, as some have said, "rigged". On the contrary, it would be the ballot box that determined the composition of the Executive.
My final and most important comment on this system is as follows: if large parts of both communities were to support this concept, the Government believe that it would be a fair and workable system, and it would have considerable potential to unite both sides of the community in the solution of their common problems. In those circumstances I believe that this approach is worthy of the most serious consideration.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Are we to understand from what my right hon. Friend has been saying and from the working paper that the Government have now abandoned their election manifesto commitment to the people of Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Atkins
We have to recognise that there may not be the necessary agreement on a proportional system. What then? Our second approach is designed to meet a situation in which agreement that the minority should be represented in the Executive does not exist. It therefore seeks to give the minority, if it were part of the Opposition in the Assembly, a prominent place within another arm of the constitutional system, which would also guarantee it an effective degree of involvement in the administration of the Province. Thus, the power of the Executive, formed by the leader of the largest party or parties in the Assembly, would be balanced by a new institution, which we have called the council of the Assembly.
The council of the Assembly would consist of the Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen of the departmental Committees, which are common to both systems, and in this case would be equally divided between Members supporting and Mem- 562 bers opposing the Executive. The role and powers of the council of the Assembly are for consideration. We suggest that it might have power to delay legislation for a certain period, or refer it back to the Assembly for reconsideration, or block it indefinitely by withholding approval. Each different option provides a different degree of power to the minority representatives. In certain circumstances, the Secretary of State must have the power of override, subject to the approval of Parliament.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Brent, East)
Is the right hon. Gentleman implying a parity of esteem for both options?
§ Mr. Atkins
No, Sir; I am describing two ways in which the Government envisage matters developing, either of which the Government would be prepared to support if they had the support of the people of Northern Ireland. I shall return to that matter later in my speech.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Will the Secretary of State explain the process whereby the Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen would be elected if the two sides were, by definition, equal in number on the Committees?
§ Mr. Atkins
That is one of the matters that we should discuss. I cannot think why the right hon. Gentleman should laugh. He knows perfectly well that the proposals that we are putting before the House are for further discussion. There are two or three different ways, which I can go into now if the right hon. Gentleman wishes. I am outlining the proposals and I am saying that we shall talk with the parties—with the right hon. Gentleman's party and with a number of other parties—as to how this can best be done.
§ Mr. Atkins
I shall give one, with the greatest pleasure. Membership of the Committees would be equally divided between Members supporting the Executive and Members opposing the Executive. There could be a committee of selection. That is how we proceed in this House, and it is a way that is familiar to all hon. Members. That is one way of doing it. There are others. I shall not go into the other six now, because it would take too long. Yes, there are six other ways.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Regarding the balance between the two propositions in this paper, in one section there is reference to the two sides being equally effective and in another to their being equally adequate. Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that he does not have a preference?
§ Mr. Atkins
Yes, I have a preference. My preference is for what will command support in Northern Ireland, and that is for the people of Northern Ireland to say.
Some commentators have suggested that having a council would be a recipe for deadlock. I do not believe that that is so. Certainly, the Executive would have to take the views of the Opposition into account, and they would have to obtain the acquiescence of at least some Members of the Opposition for what they sought to do. As we know, there is quite a measure of consensus between the parties over a wide range of the matters that will be the responsibility of the Executive, so it is unlikely that there would be deadlock there.
However, if there were a proposal that the Opposition felt was really damaging to their interests they could use their power to make the majority think again. Is that not precisely what we want to ensure?
In any case, deadlock could never be complete, because the Secretary of State's power of override could be called into use. I have no doubt that Assembly Members would be reluctant to see such a sweeping power used in place of their own judgment. It would therefore be a powerful incentive for them to find accommodations between themselves. As I know better than most, the "usual channels" have existed here for a very long time. I have no doubt that they would develop in Northern Ireland in the situation that we are proposing.
In our thinking we have sought to project our proposed arrangements into the real world—the real world of Northern Ireland, that is—and to see what their practical effect would be. We believe that what we propose would result in effective and efficient government that takes account of Northern Ireland's unique political situation. But I shall value hon. Members' views and sugges 564 tions. I do not claim that the two approaches that we have proposed are the only possible ways forward. They seem to us, after all that we have learnt and heard and seen, the most likely to meet Northern Ireland's special needs.
The Government start from the basic premise that in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland the only acceptable way of devolving substantial powers to locally elected representatives is to confer powers on representatives of both communities. From that premise it follows that responsibility must be exercised in either the Executive by representatives of the two communities or by a conventional Executive supported by a majority of the Assembly but subject to procedures that inescapably involve the representatives of the minority. In other words, we do not see an easy way of finding an acceptable solution outside the framework in the paper.
What are the next steps? The debate this afternoon marks the opening of the next phase—a phase of discussion and negotiation. I see this debate as setting the keynote for the discussions that I hope to have with the Northern Ireland parties in the coming weeks. For that reason I —and I hope the political leaders and people of Northern Ireland—will listen with great care to all that is said today. What is said in this House today and in my subsequent meetings with the parties will show whether an acceptable form of local administration can in fact be established in Northern Ireland. I foresee an intensive period of negotiation in the course of the summer. Our aim is to be in a position, before the end of the recess, to reach conclusions on the content of legislation next Session. But that intention, like most political aims in Northern Ireland, is not something that can be pushed through willy-nilly. It depends on the acceptance of the people of Northern Ireland and their political leaders.
In considering whether or not they can agree on a transfer of power within the framework of the Government's proposals, the political leaders and people of Northern Ireland would do well to ask themselves what are the consequences of a failure to agree. Is there, quite outside the framework of these proposals, some other acceptable way forward? I suggested just now that probably there was 565 not. Perhaps that is wrong. If so, our minds are open to further suggestions.
Let me make one thing clear. I see no advantage to either community in sitting tight in the hope of a better bargain later on. I say to the majority community that I do not see any Government at Westminster transferring power to institutions in Northern Ireland that do not provide for minority participation in a meaningful way. I say to the minority that I do not see, in practical terms, how a broadening of the canvas of discussion so as to bring in all of Ireland makes it any easier to solve the difficult problem of how to provide for the government of the divided community in the North.
If there is no agreement, what is left? One possibility is some much more modest approach—an Assembly with little power beyond a power to discuss. Better than nothing, perhaps, and we may be obliged to explore it further. But is it the best that can be done for Northern Ireland? Or do we simply look forward to a series of motions, year after year, extending the direct rule powers? Is that good enough? I do not think that it is.
§ Mr. Atkins
Let me end on a note of encouragement. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland can agree, despite unhappy past history, on a form of meaningful devolved administration. I believe that the vast majority want to have their affairs administered by people of their own choosing rather than by people chosen for them. They want a system that everyone can support and that everyone will defend against attack. They know that this means settling for less than the most extreme view, but that, after all, is what they are doing in their own lives every day.
The Government feel that the paper before the House today gives this opportunity. I urge the people of Northern Ireland not to miss this opportunity, and I ask the House to give Northern Ireland the lead and the encouragement that it deserves.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
The importance of this debate on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is 566 emphasised precisely because we are faced with another interim statement. That was not what we had been led to expect at first, and it is perhaps as well that we should remind ourselves how the Government's thinking in this matter has evolved.
In an interview with the New York Times on 12 November 1979 the Prime Minister stated that a consultative document would be laid before Parliament. Then, in her unmistakable prose, the right hon. Lady went on:We will listen for a while. We hope we will get agreement. But then the Government will have to make some decisions and say 'Having listened to everyone, we are going ahead to try this or that' whichever we get most support for.For a while, in the sort of twilight zone between press speculation and the briefing machine of the Government, we had talk in the newspapers about a Rhodesia-type solution. Even the Secretary of State has in past Question Times and debates talked about the idea of having a White Paper now with a settled view after the conference. The conference has taken place and manifestly we have, not got a White Paper. We have another discussion document. Certainly it has narrowed the options from last November, but it is described in its title as "Proposals for further discussion".
I believe that that is all to the good because, despite the right hon. Gentleman's optimisim on 27 April 1980, when he said in The Sunday Times that they had identified sufficient areas of agreement to construct the framework of a constitution, that has not been possible. What has been possible has been to outline certain basic approaches, but there has not been enough agreement to bridge the gap between the communities. I set this out at this stage so that the right hon. Gentleman will not be tempted at any time to talk in over-optimistic terms about what might happen in default of agreement in the coming talks.
We would support a properly devolved Assembly, but one of the key elements must be substantial agreement before such a scheme is brought before the House. Indeed, only one commanding a wide measure of agreement would be likely to lead to a lasting solution. Hints such as have already been dropped cautiously by the Northern Ireland Office about 567 what would happen regarding imposition will do nothing to assist the Secretary of State in the forthcoming talks. I believe that they will again arouse exaggerated hopes or fears about what is possible.
I hope that the pressure of the parliamentary timetable, particularly events leading to the Queen's Speech, will not lead the Secretary of State to snatch at the opportunity which is still open to him. I hope that this time he will not, as on the last occasion, rush into the talks with inadequate preparation, the announcement of which talks bore all the hallmarks of timing which had foreign rather than domestic considerations in mind.
Having indicated my hopes for the Government's approach to these talks, I believe that a great onus rests on the leaders of the communities in Ulster to shed not so much their fundamental beliefs as their intransigent attitudes and modes of expression. If these or any talks are to have a chance of success, they will need to display both great vision and tolerance. I hone that we shall not look to them in vain to display these qualities on this occasion or on future occasions.
This debate, which is about constitutional matters, is taking place not in a university seminar but in the real world, affected by the hopes and fears of ordinary people and of the factors involving them. Regrettably, we do not start in as propitious a climate as we might wish. Indeed, the economic and social health of Northern Ireland could scarcely be blacker. The June unemployment figure, at 12.7 per cent. of the insured working population, is the worst since 1938. Nearly 13,500 of these unemployed are in the under-19 age group. Total unemployment has risen by 21 per cent. since May 1979. The total number of jobs vacant notified to the agencies has dropped by 35 per cent. in the last month or so. Since the June figures came out, we have had news of massive redundancies at Grundig, which have placed a further 1,000 on the unemployment register.
These new factors are added to the lower family income which prevails in Northern Ireland, and that is the lowest in the United Kingdom, with larger family size and with a higher cost of 568 living. By Government action in the recent past, 20,000 children of low-income families are to be deprived of the right to free school meals, and free milk is to be stopped. The price of school dinners is to be raised by 50 per cent. Then, last week, from the Northern Ireland Office—from the Secretary of State, in fact—came the puzzling statement that the Northern Ireland Office, of all Government Departments, was imposing a public expenditure freeze on all new projects, at the very time when these projects are most needed. If the figures that I quoted earlier are in any way representative of the total economic climate—and I believe them to be a fair reflection—further public expenditure, and not less, is to be expected.
What does the Secretary of State's announcement mean? Does it mean that the Northern Ireland budgetary procedure has gone out of control and that he needs a breathing space to reassert control? Or is it insensitivity on his part as to what is needed to provide tolerable standards in Northern Ireland? As part of the climate of the debate on the constitution, we should like to know, because it means that the talks restart in an environment of worry and desperation. As the Financial Times said on 9 June, in words to which the Secretary of State then took objection at Question Time:Yet the Government does have to ask itself: how run down can the Northern Ireland economy be allowed to become?It went on:There is also a political side to it. The chances of any political initiative succeeding may be diminished by the economy falling apart.We shall return to that matter in other debates. But I beg the Government not to underestimate how much more difficult it is for the unemployed head of a large family to appreciate and sympathise with the constitutional niceties when his whole world is becoming more difficult to live in.
We welcome what is said in paragraphs 19 to 21 of the White Paper, on the Irish dimension. As part of what I have just said, I urge the Government to promote cross-border co-operation in the economic and social field as a practical expression of that regard.
The second major factor which affects these talks is the security aspect of the 569 climate in which they will restart. Men of violence in both communities are restless. Political progress would help to undermine part of their appeal. I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement yesterday of the lapsing of the detention order in section 12 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act.
I have already made it clear that, in my view, it is right that security and law and order should be reserved to the Secretary of State, and that for these matters he should continue to be answerable to this House. But I must confess, dealing with the White Paper, that I do not understand his proposal for an advisory council on matters which are reserved and for which he is answerable to the House. I take one example—the question of public expenditure, which the Secretary of State himself has mentioned. It will be necessary for the Assembly from time to time to negotiate directly and at arm's length about the size and the source of its budget. How does the Secretary of State imagine that that can be done when a committee of the same Assembly is responsible in an advisory capacity for advising him on the size of the budget? But I understand the proposal for the advisory council least of all in giving it a function in the field of law and order and security, bearing in mind history and the role of the Army there today.
I put it to the Secretary of State very seriously that the giving of an advisory capacity in security matters to an advisory council will give rise to more hopes by some and more fears by others about its role than I am sure he wishes to confer upon it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider this proposal for an advisory council with a view to erasing it from the proposals with which we are faced.
I now turn to the main body of the proposals in the discussion document. As I have indicated, we would favour a proper measure of devolution of government. I use as yardsticks two simple tests for their acceptability. First, are the proposals with which the right hon. Gentleman will come forward acceptable to both communities? Secondly, do they enable both communities to play a constructive role in the govern 570 ment of Northern Ireland? As I have said, now is not the time when a decision has to be made on the Government's proposals, because there are no final Government proposals that we are debating. But when they are brought forward, their acceptability will be judged in this light.
In the meantime, the various alternative schemes which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward must be defensible and workable. That is where, in my view, the discussion document is extremely thin and disappointing. I believe that matters such as the membership of the Assembly and the method of election are fairly clear. Nor was it difficult, I imagine, to think of a range of powers which are to be exercised by that Assembly. But the question of what powers are to be exercised by the Assembly is not the crucial one. The crucial question is, and always has been in Northern Ireland, how those powers are to be exercised.
It seems to me that there are two basic types of Assembly that the right hon. Gentleman proposes. The first is the community co-operation type of Assembly, which some call power-sharing, in which majority and minority communities are represented within the Executive. This is the type of scheme which I and my party favour.
The first sub-scheme is what I may call the Sunningdale-type scheme, in which the Executive is appointed from the Assembly in the proportions in which the committees are represented in the Assembly. As such, this is a well understood concept, and I merely ask the Government to confirm that within that concept collective responsibility will extend to such an Executive. I presume so, because the Government devote no fewer than three paragraphs of the document—paragraphs 50 to 52—to spelling out the disadvantages to the minority of such a scheme. But the Government will know that the minority appear perfectly willing to face those disadvantages for the opportunity that it will give them to play a constructive role in the policy in Northern Ireland. It is likely to be the majority community and not the minority community which will object, and I believe that that somewhat deflates the right hon. Gentleman's argument.
There is an alternative proposition on 571 power sharing, namely, that of the directly elected Executive elected at the same time but in different elections from those elected at the Assembly. One has two bodies, both of them elected and both of them having the separate electoral legitimacy. With respect to the Secretary of State—who seemed to think that that was a perfectly well understood principle and that one had only to look at foreign Powers under which it operated—it is not at all clear how that will operate, and there is no detail in the White Paper which enables us to judge.
There are a number of unresolved problems attached to it. For example, how many is it envisaged should be in the Executive? Would it be possible for people to be candidates for both the Executive and the Assembly? What would happen if they were elected to both? Would they have to opt between the two, or would they, as members of the Executive, be Members of the Assembly?
Thirdly, I presume that the members of the Executive will not be Members of the Assembly. I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman: in our Parliament, members of the Government, of the Executive, receive their legitimacy from having the confidence of the elected body of which they are themselves members. But how will it work in this case, where there are parallel bodies, where there is an Executive and an Assembly both of which have legitimacy conferred upon them by independent election? In particular, if the Executive loses the confidence of the Assembly, what happens then? Can the Assembly dismiss the Executive, or vice versa? If not—and presumably not—we would have a legislative stand-off, in which the Executive would propose and the Assembly would dispose. Do the Government have further details which they can go into on this aspect?
We have what I call the majority rule decision—namely, option 2. That is the decision that means that the minority community has no claim to be part of the Executive but is given some tentative, negative control. It is that approach that has evoked the interest of the majority community. Whatever the Secretary of State says this afternoon, it seems that that is the scheme that is most favoured by the Government at present. 572 The Government have lavished a great deal of effort on that choice in devising a council of the Assembly that would have power in a weighted vote to check Executive power and to give protection against the majority Executive.
As that scheme is accorded such importance by the Government, I put certain issues to the Minister on which I should like clarification. First, will he confirm what I consider to be the central weakness of the idea namely, that the council of the Assembly will have not a positive role but a negative role at best? I presume that that is what the Secretary of State had in mind when he spoke in the House on the previous discussion document. He talked of its havingthe indirect or negative role."—[Official Report, 29 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 1505.]The granting of a negative rather than a constructive role would not, in my view, encourage the coming together of the communities. It is only the granting of a constructive role to the minority community that will do that. Secondly, the mechanism depends upon the representation of majority and minority parties equally as chairmen and deputy chairmen of the proposed departmental committees. I think that that was behind the question asked by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Paragraph 57 puts it in a curiously indefinite form. It states:but if the Chairmanships and deputy Chairmanships…were allocated equally".Is it the Government's proposal to legislate to secure equality of appointment? I warn the Government that, if it is not, I cannot readily imagine equality of appointment in the roles of chairmen and deputy chairmen being secured.
The formula of 50 per cent. plus one is, in my view, inadequate to provide a proper blocking mechanism. It seems to put a premium on the seduction—I talk in political terms—of one minority Member by the majority party. It gives a great incentive to the majority party to try to do that as that would give it its way through the blocking mechanism. It could lead to accusations of treachery and sell-out and a great deal of animosity being directed towards one person.
If we are to achieve what the Government have in mind, there must be a far 573 larger weighted majority before proposals pass through than a provision for merely one person to switch his vote.
A factor on which the workability of the proposed scheme may depend is the capacity of the chairmen and deputy chairmen on the council of the Assembly. Will they be there in their personal roles or as delegates of their committees? If they are there in the latter position, they will be mandated by the majority on the committee. That will give no minority protection. The 50 per cent. may not give any protection to the minority community. On the other hand, if they are there in their personal capacity I can imagine the strained relationships that will take place if they vote against the wishes of their committee when the committee structures resume.
For how long will the power to delay, to block and to refer back hold up legislation? I repeat that, in my view, it will not be a sufficient power to graft on to an Assembly a House of Lords type of blocking mechanism. However, if that is to be so, it should be spelt out rather more carefully and clearly than in the White Paper, so that the talks do not proceed upon false assumptions with the result that the great hopes of many are disappointed.
We take note of the discussion document. As the Secretary of State said, with its publication the difficult phase of the talks is entered upon. It is a far more difficult phase than any that the right hon. Gentleman has yet gone through. We shall be taking note of not only the White Paper but the discussions. I hope that the Government will heed the words of the right hon. Gentleman in his statement last Wednesday. He said that it would be no use coming to the House with legislative proposals that were not acceptable to both sides of the community.
We shall be looking to the progress of the report. We shall be looking to the Government's proposals satisfying the criteria that I have set out. With that in mind, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall not refuse to take note of this document. We shall follow the subsequent talks with the liveliest interest.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) was right to imply that the White Paper is really a Green Paper in disguise. We are not yet beyond the formative stage. Those of us who have reservations about the line of policy towards which the Government are moving should express them now. As Mr. Speaker said at the beginning of the debate, this is a matter for the whole House of Commons. It concerns primarily the people and representatives of Northern Ireland but it has profound moral, economic and geopolitical implications for us all. That is why those of us who represent constituencies on this side of the Irish Sea should let our feelings be known as soon as possible.
I do not deny that some of the proposals are ingenious, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will forgive me if I say that I do not think that they are serious. The questions that the hon. Gentleman asked on the detail indicate how difficult it would be to give practical effect to the proposals before us. They recall curiously so many of the hastily drafted constitutions that we produced in the heyday of decolonisation. When we were shedding responsibility there was justification, though there was some hypocrisy, too, in trying to show that we had provided for the rights and interests of minorities.
On occasions, indeed, we did something that I hope there will be no question of doing this time, namely, using the issue of financial aid as a lever for obtaining acceptance of what we were proposing. I hope that that thought is far from my right hon. Friend's mind.
We are not in a position of shedding responsibility. On the contrary, the White Paper reaffirms, and the Secretary of State has reaffirmed, our determination to remain responsible in Westminster and in Whitehall for all the main issues that face Northern Ireland. This is not a time for light-hearted constitution-making, the tattered remnants of which litter the African continent and Cyprus to this day.
If we were embarked on a major restructuring of the constitution of the 575 United Kingdom it would be logical to introduce proposals of this sort but after the referendums in Scotland and Wales, surely the idea of devolution as a general pattern for the United Kingrom will not be practical politics again for a long time to come.
I am sure that the last thing that the Government want is to rekindle the flame of devolution in Scotland or Wales, but if we are to keep faith with Northern Ireland and increase its representation in the House, as we undertook to do, we shall be up against the whole West Lothian issue. If we have this element of devolution in Ulster and an increased representation here, all the problems that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) put forward so eloquently in our debates on Scottish devolution will present themselves again.
Basically there are two issues underlying this discussion—that of the Union and that of minority rights. I deal first with the Union. By devising a special status for Northern Ireland that is different from that enjoyed by Scotland, Wales or England, we are, by implication, taking a step towards the recognition of an Irish dimension. It is a step towards recognising an Irish dimension which goes further than direct rule, although direct rule is not the same thing as integration. To move in the direction indicated by the White Paper would be a step towards recognising an Irish dimension. I do not believe that such a step will appease those who wish to see the union of the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. It does not go anything like far enough to appease them. But it will encourage them because it will keep alive the hope that with a little more pressure they will get a little more. I cannot help feeling that in some sections of the Foreign Office, if not the Northern Ireland Office, these proposals are intended as a signal to Dublin and to Washington not to despair altogether of making further progress towards the union of the Republic of Ireland and Ulster in due course.
If that is so, it will prove an empty gesture, and we are getting a little tired of foreign policy being conducted by gestures. We have seen a little too much of that in the last year or so. It is on this ground that I think we would be 576 wise to give very careful thought before agreeing with the proposals before us.
Secondly, there is the question of minority rights. I do not believe that the schemes before us will reconcile the minority and the majority communities. Their basic fault, in my judgment, is that they institutionalise the minority and majority communities. They go against the whole tradition of our parliamentary life, which is not to lay down rigid barriers but to have a flexible system in which people can cross the political divide. All these proposals have the effect of institutionalising the communities as communities, thus making reconciliation between them more difficult.
I think that there is little chance of the proposals being accepted; but that is not for me to say. Our colleagues from Northern Ireland will be able to speak much more eloquently than I can on this matter. Nor do I believe that the proposals would work—unless the Minister can find much better answers than I expect to the questions that the hon. Member for Pontypridd put.
Yet we must find a way of providing for the, rights of the minority. This is not a new issue. When Mr. Pitt brought forward the Act of Union between the whole of Ireland and Great Britain 180 years ago, he was trying to reconcile the rights of what was the Protestant minority in Ireland with the Catholic majority interest. His argument was that by joining the two countries the Protestant minority from Ireland would find itself part of a Protestant majority when linked to Britain, while the Catholic population, both in Ireland and Britain, would have the benefit of Catholic emancipation. The bargain broke down because the Crown reneged on the concept of Catholic emancipation. We suffered a great deal in consequence and many of the Irish difficulties go back to that decision.
Stormont was an attempt to safeguard the rights of the Protestant majority in the North from Britain because of the attempt made by Mr. Gladstone and later by Mr. Asquith to push Northern Ireland into the South, even by coercion. That coercion was stopped only by dramatic events such as the Curragh mutiny. There is no need for the Protestant majority to fear now that we would 577 push them into a union with the Republic. Successive Governments, Labour and Conservative, without exception, have said that they would not agree to push the North into the South; they would allow it to happen only if there were a clear majority in the North for so doing.
The Secretary of State asked what else we can do if we do not go down one of the alleys that he outlined. Are we to come back here, he asked, and have a Northern Ireland Act every year? But we do not have a Scottish Act every year. We have not integrated Scotland or Wales fully into the United Kingdom. There are still many differences in law. There is a Secretary of State for Scotland and a Secretary of State for Wales, but there has been a considerable merger.
I wonder whether the best hope for Northern Ireland does not lie in continuing direct rule for some time but proceeding as fast as we can towards a greater merger of our systems. Full parliamentary representation would be the first step. The kind of local government that we have in Great Britain would be the second step. The parliamentary scrutiny which this House can exercise over local government is the best guarantee against discrimination against the minority. The more that the Province is merged with Britain, the more the Catholic minority community in Northern Ireland will find itself strengthened by being joined to the numerous and influential Catholic communities in this country. The climate of opinion in this country is very much against any kind of discrimination. We have taken the process so far that minorities have become almost a privileged class. It is in strengthening the Union, not weakening it, that both communities will find security and equality of rights.
The true alternative either to Stormont or to continuing direct rule is the increasing merger of the Province with Great Britain. It is here in the House of Commons that majority rights and minority interests can best be reconciled.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
It is my aim, in response to Mr. Speaker's plea, to be brief and I trust that my example will be followed by my col- 578 leagues who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. I hope that they will not all feel that it is absolutely essential to catch the eye of the Chair, and I trust that thereby they will enable many hon. Members who represent constituencies in Britain to participate in this United Kingdom debate.
In early-day motion No. 768 on yesterday's Order Paper, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) reminded us of the indivisibility of the United Kingdom and called attention to the responsibility of the Government toarrange for consideration of the devolution of power to Northern Ireland along with the arrangements for the future government of Scotland and the constitutional framework of the whole of the United Kingdom.I can remember on a previous occasion, as far back as 1976, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and I agreed —and perhaps we were the only two in that five-day debate who made the point —that all debates on devolution for any part of the kingdom should be treated as a United Kingdom issue.
However, I have to tell the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that in his quest for a workable form of devolution he may have to be patient and, like us, bear the present distraction with a great deal of fortitude. When the grotesque caricatures of democracy contained in the White Paper have been obliterated like political graffiti, perhaps we as a United Kingdom Parliament will be able to get down to a sensible discussion of a pattern that might stand at least some chance of working.
The obstacle that we all have to surmount in coming weeks and months is the derisive and incredulous attitude of the general public. I have never known a set of propositions to be so ridiculed by the general public. Part of the reason for that may be that so little of practical value has resulted from all the kite-flying and speculations of the past 18 months.
It is incredible that nothing more than a rehash of failed experiments has been produced by the advisers who, as long ago as March 1979, schemed to prevent and divert an incoming Conservative Secretary of State from introducing what they knew would be Conservative policy.
I agree with much of what was said by the right hon. Member for Brighton, 579 Pavilion (Mr. Amery), and I can under-stand the Foreign Office loathing the terms of the Conservative manifesto commitment to Northern Ireland. I can understand the Foreign Office recognition that any legislation based on that commitment would not serve to weaken the Union and therefore would not appeal to Irish Republicans, Irish Americans and those who are enemies of the Union.
Those enemies could have preserved at least a degree of credibility if they had contented themselves with saying to the Secretary of State on the day he took office "Take your time. Do not rush it. You are new to the game. When in doubt, do nothing." The Secretary of State might have done well to take that advice, but I have reason to suppose that that was not the advice that he received. He was clearly advised to go in a direction that was almost contrary to that which had been worked out by the Conservative Party over many months of patient consideration.
We may never know why the Secretary of State's advisers opted for something as crazy as the White Paper proposals. I am tempted to wonder whether the document represents a continuation of the cynical game of what may be called leadership destruction, which has been going on in one form or another for the past 10 years.
I remember that when Stormont was abolished in 1972 the fashionable phrase in the Tea Room was "break the mould". "However, that plot required more than merely breaking the monolithic influence of the Unionist Party, which I now have the honour to lead. It also required the systematic destruction of successive pro-Union leaders in the Province. I suspect that that is still the objective. Why else did they dangle the bait of power, prestige and a place in the political sun, in the expectation that personal vanity might overcome doubts and fears for the future?
In the current exercise, the tide of rejection of the proposals is already sucking sand from under the feet of those who have shown a willingness to collaborate in the so-called initiative of the past nine months. Their plight gives no pleasure to me or to others who kept their feet on firmer ground. We have all been here before. Each time the 580 result has been the devaluation of yet another generation of Ulster leadership. Time and again, Ulster leaders have been cynically used and discarded like an orange sucked dry.
I do not exaggerate the inducements and pressures that one has to endure. For example, I do not forget the predictions of certain Government advisers, when tongues may have been loosened by the Christmas spirit at a certain reception, that "Molyneaux would be broken and sucked into the mark I conference before the opening date of 7 January". Those gentleman may conclude that they did not suck hard enough.
I wish to address to the Secretary of State and his ministerial team a few words that I hope will not be misunderstood by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues or by anyone else in the House. Unlike their colleagues in the Scottish and Welsh Offices, none of the Northern Ireland Ministers represents a constituency in the part of the kingdom which it is their duty to govern. I do not complain about that. However, they are sensitive and intelligent men and I am sure that they understand that, because their political base is elsewhere, they are more exposed to criticism.
Ministers must tell their advisers that there has to be an end to the favourite pastime of tempting and ensnaring Ulster's indigenous political leaders into false positions, with the inevitable rejection of those leaders by those who put their trust in them. The continuation of that pastime will lead to the destruction of public confidence and will make the task of government far more difficult. That is not an argument in favour of devolution at any price. It is a plea that nothing should be done to damage further the political cohesion and stability in Northern Ireland.
On another level, it follows that those who lead and represent political parties in Northern Ireland should not be saddled with responsibility without having the power to match it. The discussion paper and the potted version attempt to convey the impression that, for example, a devolved structure would have a security role. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) pointed out that such an implication is blatantly dishonest. Unless we make that clear, those who voted for 581 Members of an Assembly would expect them to exercise powers that they would not possess.
I have tried to illustrate the danger recently by pointing to the position of local government councillors, whose powers over such everyday matters as roads, planning, water services and street lighting were removed in 1973. The people who put those councillors in the council chambers still do not believe that councillors no longer have those powers.
Time and again electors complain to me that they have raised matters with local councillors who have done nothing about them. I try patiently to explain that the councillors do not have the power to remedy or redress the grievances, but people do not understand or believe that. The same situation would apply in relation to Members of an Assembly.
Last week, the Secretary of State replied to my question following his statement by saying that security powers could not be handed over because of the large Army commitment in Northern Ireland. But that situation applied in 1920 and, on an even larger scale, in 1973.
In the 1920 Act, and again in the 1973 Act, provision was made for the control of internal security to be vested in the structure that was being set up by those two Acts, with the provision, of course, that the powers over security would be phased in at the appropriate time. But no such power, no such undertaking, no such writing into the proposed legislation, can be expected from what we read in the White Paper.
The withholding of such powers from the proposed body—perhaps the two bodies, if we consider the two rival Cabinets system—would result in elected Members of the Assembly, the Executive, the advisory council, the two Cabinets—or whatever we shall have, if we are unlucky—becoming whipping boys while the Government evaded all responsibility for security.
We are told "It is not quite as bad as that, because they will have advisory powers." In a debate on the Army on 26 June, as reported in column 831 of the Official Report, my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), 582 with my approval, advised against dropping the power of detention. Yesterday's news indicated that that advice had been ignored. We shall not go into that, because there will be an opportunity to debate it when we come to the renewal of the relevant order.
At any rate, my hon. Friend has clean hands, because he cannot be held responsible for that decision. How different it would be for an Ulster Cabinet, or two Cabinets, or an advisory council or an Executive who found that their advice, which presumably would have been offered to the Secretary of State privately and secretly, had been rejected by him! No amount of hand-washing would absolve them in the eyes of those who elected them. They would have to carry the can. They would have no means of defence and no way of answering back.
The potted version—or maybe it should be "the potty version"—of the consultative document says:Northern Ireland needs: peace from terrorist violence and reconciliation under a settled framework of government, so that we can work together to rebuild our economy.I hope that I have already exposed the fallacy that the body can do anything about security. What about the phrase "rebuild our economy"?
That immediately prompts a question. What is not now being done, what has not been done already, by the Secretary of State and the Minister whom he has appointed to oversee the Department of Commerce? How would the new structure, working within an overall budget, a total allocation for all the Stormont Departments, succeed where the present Minister and the Secretary of State himself had failed? Would the Secretary of State perhaps feel that he might be more successful in obtaining a larger financial allocation from his hard-nosed Treasury colleagues if he were reinforced by a deputation from the committee overseeing the Department of Commerce, rattling its begging bowls outside the Cabinet Room windows?
In paragraph 45 of the White Paper there is another serious matter. It admits that the grotesque designs in the White Paperwill seem strange judged by conventional Westminster criteria"—and strange creatures they certainly are. The authors attempt to justify these mon- 583 strosities, presumably on the ground that the Westminster system is not suitable for safeguarding minority interests. That leaves all of us in the House—not excluding yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker—in the position of being told by the document "So now you know."
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Did not the Secretary of State himself use the phrase"without fundamental power to alter the economy "? If one uses such phrases, does not one simply raise expectations that by their very nature cannot be fulfilled?
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Yes. And the expectations are highlighted in the document, published at the taxpayers' expense—all 200,000 copies, which are to be circulated for light reading over the 12 July holidays. It does precisely that: it leads the people of Northern Ireland to expect that a Department of Commerce, a Department of Manpower Services, under the control of this brand-new structure, would succeed where the Secretary of State had failed. There can be no other interpretation.
I was about to deal with a slightly different matter, one that should be of concern to the House. I have said that by implication the White Paper clearly condemns the Westminster system as being inadequate for the defence and safeguarding of minority interests anywhere in the United Kingdom. It was on that point that I was saying "So now you know." Seven hundred years of evolution have gone down the drain, according to the document.
No doubt the Government have it in mind to modify the ineffective Westminster system that we are trying to work, to take account of the interests of all the ethnic minorities scattered throughout the United Kingdom, minorities that, if they had the good fortune to live in Ulster, would be guaranteed a place in the Cabinet as of right. Perhaps that is something that we should want to consider and give effect to immediately. The reality is that, as we all know—here I agree absolutely with the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion—this House and the Westminster system generally provide the best known guarantee of the rights of minorities and majorities, whatever their colour, creed or religion.
584 On the day of publication of the White Paper I made clear the Ulster Unionist Party's position. I said that I would continue to meet Her Majesty's Ministers, as I have over the past 14 months. I said that I regarded it as my duty to seek to advise and guide them in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that by the end of this debate we shall have a clearer idea of the value of any discussions limited to the discussion paper alone.
At this point in the debate I plead with the Government to listen to the view that they know and I know is widely held in the House, in the national press, in the country and, most of all, in Northern Ireland itself—that serious discussion can be expected only if the Government are prepared to take account of much more realistic and more sensible suggestions for the better government of our part of the United Kingdom.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I shall follow the example of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and be as brief as I can be.
I should like first to put on record my conviction that no Ulster leader can be made or broken in his House. The place where he will be made will be at the ballot box, and the place where he will be unmade will be at the ballot box.
I discerned a great fear in the hon. Gentleman that he might in some way be sucked into a compromise, in which he, like other Unionist leaders, would lose support at the ballot box. I have heard this talk before. I heard it before the Westminster election from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), when he painted a picture of the Official Unionist Party returning to the House as the third largest party here. We know what happened at that election. Then, in the European election, a similar prophecy was made. The electorate made its decision.
I do not think that any leader of Ulster opinion need fear anything from what this House could or could not do to him. It is the people in Ulster who will decide who shall have their support and who shall faithfully represent their views. That should be put fairly on the record.
It should also be said that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for 585 Pontypridd (Mr. John), put the debate against the backcloth of our economic plight, which is serious. Outside the House today, there are people lobbying because they are to lose their jobs. We in Northern Ireland have passed through a very sad period diving the last year. When I came to the House in 1970, Courtaulds, in my constituency, employed 3,000. Today, it employs 300—and there is a question mark hanging over the jobs of those 300.
Agriculture is the basic industry of Northern Ireland. The pig and poultry intensive farming section of agriculture is in danger of losing 5,000 jobs. We are in a serious and critical economic plight. I believe, and I must put on record, that the elected representatives of Northern Ireland could better tackle in Northern Ireland these economic sores and problems because they understand them. What is more, they are answerable to the people, for they, too, must submit themselves at some time to the people.
There is, of course, a far darker backcloth to this debate. Not livelihoods but lives themselves are involved. There is an appalling and tragic security situation in Northern Ireland. There has been an escalation of killings during the last month. There is also the question of the use of the border. Hon. Members have been told today that we should develop links with the Republic. How can one ask people to develop links with what is today a hostile State, allowing people to come over the border to carry out their devilish and diabolical acts and then to escape easily back in into the haven and sanctuary of the Republic? The House should face up to the reality of the situation. It is all right to put forward airy-fairy views about co-operation and tourism. But the people in South Fermanagh and South Armagh and along the border of Tyrone and Londonderry and County Down are not interested in tourism. They are interested in protecting their lives.
The question has been raised whether the new Assembly will have security powers. It is evident that it will have no security powers whatever. It is also evident that the Executive, or any other machinery in the Assembly will have no security powers whatever. I believe that any effective Government of Northern 586 Ireland must be in a position to deal with the defence and safety of their people. As far as I and the party for which I speak are concerned, we do not want to have any responsibility without power.
The old Stormont Cabinet accepted responsibility but the power was at Westminster. That was utter folly. The Secretary of State would be better not to be involved in any way. Elected Members of this House can, of course, speak to the Secretary of State, but to set up an advisory forum and pretend to the people of Northern Ireland that such a forum would be effective is utterly ridiculous. That must be spelt out clearly and plainly. There are other ways in which an Assembly could have powers. They could be achieved through appointments to the Police Authority and in other ways.
That raises another issue, but the Secretary of State should face up to the fact. If we do not have security, the question must be asked "Is it worth while?" Elected Members of this House have no say in security now. That was illustrated by the hon. Member for Antrim, South, who said that his hon. Friend went to see the Secretary of State and advised him against doing something—
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I indicated that my hon. Friend said in a debate in the House, which can be read in Hansard, that he gave advice to the Government and that the advice was obviously ignored or rejected.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I thought that he had directed the matter publicly to the Secretary of State and that the Secretary of State did not heed him.
We have to ask ourselves "If we do not have security in the new Assembly, is it worth while having the Assembly at all? "I must come down strongly on the side of those who believe that it would be far better for Ulster people, freely elected and answerable to the Ulster constituencies, to be able to make decisions that effect the everyday running of Northern Ireland. We have to face up to that. If people say that they will agree to devolved government if they have entire control over security but that they will have nothing if they do not have security, that is something for which I believe they will be answerable to their constituents. 587 We do not have any power over security, at the present time, anyway.
I was rather surprised that the leader of the Unionist Party did not at least give credit where credit is due in regard to statements in the document concerning the maintenance of the Union and Ulster's constitutional position. I always understood that the, main objective of the hon. Member for Antrim, South was defence of the Union. The document contains strong statements on the matter. I think that I should underscore them. It states:In accordance with Section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom and in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland".There is agitation in Northern Ireland by the SDLP that this so-called guarantee should be done away with. I note that paragraph 19 reads:It follows that the continued position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom is not something which the Government could use as a bargaining counter in order to secure agreement to a particular form of political institution".I welcome that forthright statement by the Government. It does away with the agitation from Dublin that in some way a bargain should be struck. The House is well aware of my views. I do not believe that any guarantee from this House will give confidence to the people of Northern Ireland. Their confidence is in their own majority. That is the fact of the situation. They have a majority. As long as they have a majority, even if the House wanted to put them into the Republic it could not be done. It is simply not on. I think that the Ulster people are beginning to learn this.
Something else that this Government have done that no other Government have done is to say to the minority that they have a responsibility. It has been said to the minority that the minority community should accept and respect the fact that we are part of the United Kingdom. It is said that if this were accepted they could expect the majority to be helpful. I have seen no acceptance of that fact. That fact is attacked over and over again. The goal of the political parties that hold to a Republican stance 588 repudiates that fact. They have no respect for that fact. They attack it over and over again. So I welcome those statements.
Let us, therefore, examine the proposals. After the statement was made in the House, I appeared on a television programme with the hon. Member for Antrim, South. He agreed with me on two points. He agreed that the first option was not acceptable to the Unionist people in Northern Ireland. It takes us back to Sunningdale, and perhaps even to a system that is worse than that in some respects, with two types of elections. The difficulties on that have been spelt out from the Opposition Front Bench. What happens when the Executive has a difference with the elected Assembly? Where does one go from there? Who holds the power? That idea is not worth considering.
Another factor should be spelt out. There is no possibility under that system of the people of Northern Ireland ever being able to change the type of Government with which they will be saddled, because a given number of seats must always be in the hands of the minority. How, then, could an election manifesto for which a mandate was obtained be operated and fulfilled? It could not be. I utterly reject the first option. I have no time for it. I cannot discuss it, because it offers no way forward.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Can the hon. Gentleman, therefore, regardless of the merits of the first option, claim this emphasis on being part of the Union while exercising what appears to some of us on the Opposition Benches to be a veto on what the United Kingdom Parliament may do?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I understood that the United Kingdom Parliament wanted agreement. I say that we cannot agree to the first option, so I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's line of reasoning. We reject the option. That is that. There is no way forward that way.
We are talking about acceptability. This idea was tried. There was an election in Northern Ireland. Through devices of falsehood, a majority in the old Assembly came down in favour of the so-called power-sharing concept. An Executive was formed by the previous Conservative Administration. Those of us who were opposed to it and were elected on that 589 basis were told that it would operate for four years, during which time there would be no election. However, this House ran into difficulties and there was an election.
The UUUC fought that election on the issue of power sharing and the Sunning-dale agreement, and it swept home with a massive majority, winning 11 seats. The only non-UUUC candidate not to be defeated was the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). That was an endorsement of our views by the electorate, and the electorate has not changed its mind. The Northern Ireland Members know what the electorate of Northern Ireland is thinking better than do hon. Members from other constituencies. Therefore, the first option is rejected.
I turn to the second option. That makes it clear that we may have an election and that the ballot box will settle the constitution of the Assembly. From that Assembly the majority party or coalition of parties will have the opportunity of appointing the Executive. Paragraph 56 of the White Paper reveals the folly of the Government's thinking. I always thought that Governments of both parties wanted a system that would safeguard the minority, so that no actions could be taken under that system to discriminate against the minority. That is not what is conveyed by paragraph 56, the most significant paragraph in the document. It states:The problem is to devise a way in which without the minority parties being represented directly in the Executive, they can, while formally in 'opposition'."—whatever is meant by that—share responsibility for the administration sufficiently to satisfy themselves that the interests of the minority community are adequately reflected"—not protected—in the decisions of government".No wonder the next sentence reads:To achieve this it becomes necessary to create a novel institution".That is simply saying that a minority must have the position of a majority and must not only safeguard itself, which is a legitimate aspiration, but be able to influence the Executive that its views are reflected in the legislation and the administration of the Province.
We on the Unionist side in Northern Ireland have resisted that principle all 590 along. We believe that the ballot box will decide who should be in the position to carry out the government of the country. The minorities have to be and can be protected, but they cannot be put in the position of saying that unless they are satisfied that their views are represented they will not work the system. The veto therefore would come not from the majority but from the minority. The system envisaged here is unworkable, because a minority would become the majority and would carry out its policy in what would become a second elected Chamber.
The council of the Assembly would not reflect the views of the electorate. It would be composed in such a way that its membership would be split fifty-fifty. That council would, under the proposals, have the power to override what the majority of the people had voted for. We know that the legislation of this House can be held up by the other place, which is a non-elected body. I am not opposed to the power to take a second look at legislation. However, the power to block legislation is wrong and undemocratic.
How are we to discover what the people of Northern Ireland will support? I believe that the safeguard should be one of appealing not to the political leaders of the parties but directly to the people in a referendum. Let the people of Northern Ireland see the system that they are asked to support. Party personalities and party platforms aside, let them vote in a referendum—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
No, because that is a proposal. I hope that the Government will have more sense than to put that to the people, because if they put that to the people as it is, it will be rejected—apart, of course, from the guarantees of the Union. The right hon. Member for Down, South may laugh, but his leader supported me on that the other night on television. We were at one on that, and we were accused by John Hume of walking the same road. Of course, Mr. Hume accused him on that programme of walking after me. That, however, is a story for another day.
This is a serious matter, and I am prepared to discuss it with the Secretary of State. I went to the conference, as 591 did my party. I believe that we did well to do so. I am prepared to have discussions within the terms that I have spelt out this afternoon.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
When I arrived in this House in 1966 I was the one non-Unionist representative. There were 12 representatives from Northern Ireland, and I was the first non-Unionist for many years. It was generally accepted by the House and by many people in Northern Ireland that I was the voice of the minority or Catholic community in Northern Ireland.
I believe that I can still reflect the opinions, fears, suspicions, hopes and aspirations of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, irrespective of the loss of any political label that I may have had in the mid-'sixties and through the decade of the 'seventies.
I live in Northern Ireland. I am the one representative Catholic voice from the Province. I am the one person who had something to do with the courageous experiment of the Sunningdale agreement, and I am delighted this afternoon to see the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) listening to the debate. I say to him what I have said in conversations with people from all over the world, that he showed a great deal of courage in trying to bring us together under the Sunningdale agreement. It was a tragedy for the people of the whole United Kingdom, but particularly for those in Northern Ireland, that that experiment was not allowed to succeed.
I listened to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who said that there had been a massive majority against the Sunningdale agreement in the February 1974 election. There was not a massive majority. Certainly the various brands of Unionists, as reflected in the UUUC as it then was, returned 11 Members to this House ostensibly opposed to the Sunningdale agreement. I was returned in support of it.
Fifty-one per cent. of the electorate of Northern Ireland voted against the Sunningdale agreement and returned 11 Members to this House. Forty-nine per cent. of the electorate in the Province voted in favour of that agreement and returned one representative, myself, to 592 Westminster. There was, therefore, no massive majority against the Sunningdale agreement.
It was not only unfortunate, it was tragic, that because of other activities in this part of the United Kingdom—industrial disputes and other issues—and the effect that they had on this House and on the country in general that the Sunningdale Executive existed for less than two months, between January and February, before the election which ultimately gave its opponents 11 seats in this Chamber. Consequently, they were able to kill the Executive. I repeat that that was one of the most courageous experiments since the partitioning of Ireland.
We heard the hon. Member for Antrim, North say that he was prepared for further discussions with the Secretary of State. I do not know what he wishes to discuss. I believe that option 1 will be supported by both the Government and the Opposition. I think that it is suitable experiment. It provides for the election of a PR Assembly and a PR Executive which would reflect the wishes of the whole community in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) appeared on television on the day on which these proposals were put forward. He said that under no circumstances would he discuss option 1. He said that it was rigged. He used the vulgar phrase, which he has recently acquired that" It is not on". He said that repeatedly. Today the hon. Gentleman has ruled out the second option.
I believe that the vast majority of the Catholic population of the Province would accept the proposal for a PR elected Assembly and a PR Executive. It is only by being in there with political opponents, by listening to what they say, by knowing the men with whom one is sitting down, by knowing their history in Northern Ireland, and by talking to them man to man across the political and religious divide, that one can begin to try to impress them about the needs of one's community.
Pargrph 3 of the White Paper states:Under any new arrangements, existing safeguards and remedies against discrimination on religious or political grounds should be at least maintained, and, if possible, improved".The Minister of State and many other hon. Members were with me this morning in Committee debating the third 593 annual report of the Fair Employment Agency. We witnessed hostility and animosity during three consecutive sittings of the Committee from a combination of Unionists—DUP Unionists, Official Unionists and one UUUP Unionist. All brands of Unionists represented on that Committee are bitterly and viciously opposed to the Fair Employment Agency and to the Fair Employment Bill proceeding to the statute book. Whatever other differences they may have—and some of them appear to be emerging now—they have one thing in common—total, absolute and obsessional fear, hatred and suspicion of the minority community in Northern Ireland. That is the thing that keeps them together.
I invite every hon. Member to go to the Vote Office and look at the Official Report of the Committee sittings, particularly today's sitting, to see what possible hope there can be for any type of Executive in Northern Ireland other than a return to one-party government. That is exactly what the hon. Member for Antrim, North is advocating. He wants the restoration of Unionist ascendancy.
We have noted that attitude time and time again in local authorities throughout Northern Ireland over the years. We were told this morning by the Minister of State, who replied to the debate, that Craigavon—one of the most bigoted sectarian councils in the whole of Northern Ireland, which has among its members certain DUP members who are not only ordinary councillors but are on their party executive, including Councillor Calvert, who is a close colleague of the hon. Member for Antrim, North—was found guilty recently by three High Court Judges in the Court of Appeal of a serious case of discrimination. It was proved beyond doubt that a person was refused a job by Craigavon council purely and simply because he was a Catholic. Those are the words of the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. They are not mine. That is the council that fought against the establishment of the Fair Employment Agency and succeeded in getting 15 other Unionist-dominated councils in Northern Ireland to agree with it in calling for the abolition of the agency and the repeal of the Fair Employment Act.
Those things are at the back of the mind of every Catholic in Northern 594 Ireland. They are not prepared to accept the restoration of a Unionist ascendancy Government, whether it be of the DUP or a combination or coalition of all the other forms of Unionism.
Why do the Catholic population of Northern Ireland view with suspicion any attempt to impose such a Government on the Province? I will tell the House. I am a contemporary of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. I tell him that what I say on the Floor of the House is not to be taken in a personal sense. I am his political opponent, and I merely give the political reasons why any attempt to impose a majority Government in Northern Ireland under his supervision would meet with failure and disaster.
The hon. Gentleman said that he would accept nothing less than a return to majority rule. He said that he would not accept a "rigged" Government. He may talk about majorities and rigging, but in my opinion the creation of the Province of Northern Ireland was a rigged operation. There was a rigged operation throughout the Six Counties. There was a rigged majority and a rigged minority. A border was drawn in 1920 to give the Unionists a majority. Since then, we have not had a minute of political peace or stability in Northern Ireland.
When viewing the possibility of a return to majority Government, the Catholic population fear that by some means a mistake may be made whereby the Unionists will succeed and influence the Government in power at West-minister to attempt to establish a majority Government. The Catholic population will, in those circumstances, remember all the vicious attacks that have been made by the hon. Gentleman on its Church and the things that he has said about a succession of eminent churchmen, not exclusively Roman Catholics. He made such remarks about churchmen from this country, some of them only recently. I am referring not to what he said 20, 15 or 10 years ago but to what he said recently, when the Archbishop of Armagh was being enthroned. On that occasion he engaged in a campaign to disrupt that ceremony.
The hon. Gentleman demanded that the police arrest him. He was arrested, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), but he 595 knew very well that nothing woud come of it. Sure enough, as predicted by everyone, the Northern Ireland Director of Prosecutions read the papers and marked them "No Prosecution" The Catholic population watched that operation and said "We cannot expect justice here". Here was a man who blatantly broke the law on that occasion and demanded that the forces of the RUC arrest him, yet no prosecution was ordered.
The Catholic population also remember the Divis Street riots of 1964, when one of the candidates for election to this House was a Republican, who is now deceased. Whether or not one accepts it—some did, some did not—he regarded the Tricolour—the flag of Ireland—as his political emblem. During many demonstrations and parades in this country I have seen the flags of every nationality in the world used in the City of London. However, that candidate, who sought election as the representative of West Belfast—the constituency which I now represent—flew the flag of the Irish Republic from his party political headquarters.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North led a deputation to the then Minister of Home Affairs and told him "Either you get that flag out of that window or I will lead 10,000 Protestants down the Falls Road, around a strongly Republican district, and take that flag out of that window". He did not have to prove braggadocio, because the Unionist Government resorted to the provisions of the Flags and Emblems (Display) (Northern Ireland) Act 1954 and said "The Tricolour is illegal in Northern Ireland".
I was working for another candidate at the time. I was standing outside those headquarters when the RUC came down with all its majesty and might, wrecked that little shop, pulled the Tricolour out of the window and took it away. Nothing much could be done about it, as the RUC was present. However, it was acting under a compulsion from the hon. Member for Antrim, North, and the then Minister of Home Affairs surrendered to him. Again, when considering the future, the Catholic community does not forget that. It was not the events of 1967 or 1968 that brought street riot- 596 ing to Belfast but, rather, the events in 1964, because of the incident that I have just outlined.
In November 1968 the Civil Rights movement held a parade in Armagh. The hon. Gentleman, supported by others, went there in the early hours of the morning armed with cudgels and sticks—the photographs are readily available for anyone who cares to look at them—defied the RUC and sparked off a political confrontation. The Catholic people of Armagh, and those throughout Northern Ireland, will remember that.
The Catholic population are frightened of the possibility that the Government will give way to a demand for the restoration of a Unionist majority Government. I advise the right hon. Gentleman that under no circumstances will the Catholic population accept a return to Unionist ascendancy, be it a one-party Government or a Unionist coalition.
I turn to the second option. I sense the sneering that is taking place behind me. Perhaps what I am about to say will please the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who does not believe in any form of devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Fitt
I believe in the Sunningdale agreement. I believe that that was the best possible political experiment that existed. My belief is that our best hope of achieving peace will emerge when we try to institute something like it again, although perhaps not on the same lines. I have never once denied power sharing in Northern Ireland, and I have no intention of doing so now. The right hon. Gentleman does not want to see any devolved institutions of government at all. He has made that clear. That is his political belief, and one must respect him for it because he has been consistent.
Let me paint a scenario. First, there will be a Unionist majority on the Executive. There would then be the second tier. Let us say that under these proposals 10 people serve on the Executive, with a second tier comprising 10 men, either chairmen or vice-chairmen of the committees. The Secretary of State said that there would be equal representation. How can he ensure that? 597 Will they be appointed? If the Government are to appoint the chairmen, they may as well appoint the Executive. If they are to impose the second tier, they may as well go the whole hog and impose the first one as well.
There would, therefore, be 10 members of the Executive, all Unionists. Of the 10 chairmen and vice-chairmen, half would be Unionists, thus making a total of 15 Unionists. There would be five minority representatives. In such circumstances, those five members would be under tremendous pressure, because the Executive and the five Unionist chairmen would be in agreement on every issue.
One of the issues would be a denial of grants to the Gaelic Athletic Association, because the DUP has made it clear that it regards the GAA as almost as much of an anathema as the Irish Tricolour. The Unionist majority Cabinet would meet and say "The GAA will get no more grants", and from there it would go to the committee chairmen. The Unionists there would say "We agree with the Executive". The five minority representatives would say "We believe that it should get grants because we are part of the Northern Ireland community. We are certainly the minority, but we have a tradition on this island and are just as entitled to be on this island as you are".
Who would argue against that? Can we imagine the atmosphere that would be created? We would build up a sectarian bonfire. The Unionists would be in total agreement not to give grants. Consider the impossible position of the five minority spokesmen. If the Executive said "Under no circumstances, in any street, or anywhere in Northern Ireland, will we permit the flag of the Irish Republic to be flown"—and it has made it clear that that is its attitude—what can the five minority representatives do? The conflagration that would take place could only be imagined. Is this the end of the road for the Government? Are there no further options? Can no further thought be given to a solution that has a hope of working in Northern Ireland?
Having voiced my objections to the Unionists in Northern Ireland, I should be less than honest if I did not say that I 598 had a suspicion that some people on the minority side were not anxious to see political institutions working in Northern Ireland. I refer to an article in The Irish Post, which is circulated in Britain. The column is supposedly written by Frank Dolan, but I understand that it is written by the editor. The column is devoted to the Government's intentions in Northern Ireland. It gives a long analysis of the Government's initiative. It appeared on 21 June, when no one could be sure of the Government's proposals. I shall quote briefly from the article, but I advise the Minister to look at the full article. It refers to the present Taoiseach of the Irish Republic. It states:Charlie is not interested in another botched internal settlement…But the hard facts of the matter are that it suits Charlie's purpose for this latest British set of proposals to be put in train, laboured at, frustrated and eventually scuttled. It is only then that some real progress will be made.Charlie is very dependent on John Hume. The SDLP must make its contribution to ensuring the shambles. In the days of Gerry Fitt, this couldn't be guaranteed. Fitt, a member of the Commons, was in London every other day and always approachable. But Hume isn't part of the Westminster ballgame He's going to go along with Charlie.As one who lives in one of the very troubled areas of Northern Ireland, who has attended scores of funerals, and who has seen the real tragedy of Northern Ireland over the past decade, I say that that sort of sentiment is unworthy of anyone who wants to see peace in Northern Ireland. I hope that my successor in the SDLP will not allow himself to be used by any of the political parties in the South of Ireland.
I have with me newspaper cuttings from all the Irish newspapers. They refer to the effect of the possible departure of Sean Donlon, the Irish Ambassador in Washington. I know him very well. He is a man of tremendous integrity. He was appointed by the previous Taoiseach, Mr. Lynch. He has done everything possible to ensure that the supply of funds to the IRA are stopped. Rumours are now circulating in the Irish Republic that he may be shoved aside by the new Taoiseach. That would be a bad move.
§ Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the 599 Irish embassy in London issued a statement this afternoon indicating that Mr. Donlon will not be moved from his present position and that the Irish Government have full confidence in him?
§ Mr. Fitt
I am absolutely delighted to hear that. Over the past week there has been a series of rumours, some no later than today, that that was to happen. I am delighted to hear that Sean Donlon will be allowed to remain in his post to continue the good work that he has been doing for Northern Ireland.
It appears that the Unionist majority is intent on ensuring that the latest set of proposals should not work. I advise those that I formerly represented as a spokesman in the party issue—I still represent them in my capacity as a Member of Parliament—to look at the problem in its Northern Ireland context. They should accept whatever agreement can be found with the Irish Government, because there is an Irish dimension. Whatever the hon. Members for Antrim, North and for Antrim, South may say, the Irish dimension will exist on the island of Ireland long after they and everyone else in the House are dead and gone. The Irish dimension will always exist.
Any new arrangements should seek to bring about maximum co-operation. But any attempt by Fianna Fail or any other political party in the South to better its electoral prospects at the expense of events in Northern Ireland should be totally disregarded. I know that my colleagues in the Irish Labour Party in the Republic take the same view. They want to see internal arrangements tried in Northern Ireland and being successful. There is absolutely no doubt about the Irish dimension, whether or not it be in an institutionalised form. I believe that it will come in that form. I hope that we can find the maximum agreement. I advise political parties in the South not to use the position in Northern Ireland as a jumping-off ground.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) quite rightly referred to other aspects outside the constitutional position. Distress and despair exist in Northern Ireland, not because of constitutional arrangements but because of unemployment. There is a terrible curse of unemployment and bad housing throughout Northern Ireland, especially in my constituency, where 73,000 are unemployed 600 with another 1,000 redundancies anounced by Grundig last week. There are more closures in the offing. Trade union officials in Northern Ireland, at their recent conference, said that there would be 100,000 unemployed within the next one or two years.
I repeat what I have said in the House before: unemployment is a major problem, and it must be tackled by the Government. If the Government do that, they will have the total co-operation of all political parties in Northern Ireland. By trying to ease that problem they will build up a better atmosphere among the present warring factions. They should do something to erase the terrible level of poverty and despair.
The Secretary of State said that this would be a debate in which many matters could be raised, especially the emergency provisions Acts. I shall make my position quite clear about the emergency provisions. I do not like that legislation, and I have never liked it. I voted against it on each occasion that it came before Parliament. I intend to do so again, if given the opportunity.
I believe that the Government have gone some little way by talking out the provisions relating to internment. That was probably a necessity, because no Government, in view of the attitude of the people of Northern Ireland, would be prepared to tolerate internment. The right hon. Gentlman's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), did very well to abolish it.
Law and order is another very controversial issue in Northern Ireland. I think that it will be accepted that I have never in this House made unwarranted accusations about or attacks on the forces of law and order, be they the RUC or the British Army, but some decisions have come down from our courts recently which have put the Catholic population in such a position that it is demanding answers. The Catholic population, like any other, is made up of a cross-section of people. They are not all intellectuals; they are not all legal experts. They are very frightened by some of the decisions which have come down from the courts.
The House will probably have heard of an IRA man—a self-confessed IRA man, I think—called Martin Meehan, 601 who is at present in the Maze prison. He was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment. The charge against him was that he had kidnapped a young lad in Northern Ireland. I am not sure whether he was guilty. I pass no opinion on that. He is on hunger strike, protesting his innocence, and many people in Northern Ireland believe that Martin Meehan was not guilty of the offence of kidnapping. However, as I said, he was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment.
The people compare that 12-year sentence with the sentence that was handed out in the courts of Northern Ireland a fortnight ago. Five members of the RUC were brought before the courts, charged with murder, kidnapping, setting off a bomb outside a bar in Keady, in County Armagh, and shooting a customer who was coming out of the bar. After a prolonged hearing, one of the policemen was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. The murder had taken place in another county—County Antrim. The headline in our local newspaper read:4 of 5 RUC men involved walk free after sentence".With the exception of the one who was found guilty of murder, they were all found guilty of setting off a bomb, of shooting and of kidnapping, but they were given suspended sentences and released.
That in itself terrifies the Catholic population in Northern Ireland. Someone such as Martin Meehan is sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment and the people then read in the newspaper that policemen have been released. The position becomes even worse when we read what the Lord Chief Justice said in his summing up in the case. The report reads:The bomb failed to explode when the detonator went off, and the judge said he had taken this result into account when fixing sentence.It was not the fault of those policemen that the bomb did not go off. There are lots of people in Long Kesh who have been sentenced to five, six or seven years' imprisonment because they had detonators in their pockets; the detonators were not even attached to a bomb. But when the Lord Chief Justice dealt with the members of the RUC, he took into account the fact that the bomb did not 602 go off and gave a suspended sentence. The report goes on to say that the judgepaid tribute to the police officers who had brought their colleagues to justice without flinching and without fear or favour.I certainly congratulate the RUC men who went out of their way to bring their colleagues to justice. What I am doubtful about is whether a suspended sentence was justice in that case. The report went on to say that the judge saidhe could understand the harrowing compulsion which had made McCaughey and Armstrong carry out the crime.McCaughey was the policeman who was convicted of murder. I understand that the policemen had engaged in this series of crimes because the IRA had carried out an absolutely brutal murder of one of their colleagues—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I do so because so many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. We are supposed to be discussing the proposals that have been submitted to the House. The Question before the House isThat this House takes note of the Government of Northern Ireland: Proposals for Further Discussion".
§ Mr. Fitt
I was coming to the conclusion of my remarks, Mr. Speaker. But the Secretary of State, in opening the debate, said that we would be discussing the emergency powers, law and order in Northern Ireland, and so on, and that all those issues could be referred to in the debate. I apologise if I have—
§ Mr. Fitt
I was trying to impress on the House the fact that law and order is a very important factor in the search for any political solution to the problems of Northern Ireland.
I repeat that the case to which I have referred has caused a great deal of concern to the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. The policemen to whom I have referred were involved in a series of crimes—crimes of the same sort as had been committed by the IRA, and for which IRA men were quite justly sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Yet the police, although they were found guilty, were almost absolved.
603 I return to the document that we are discussing. There does not seem to be much hope held by anyone that either of the proposals in it will meet with any great degree of success. I do not think that it is enough to say that the proposals will not work. I have already asked the Secretary of State whether this is the end of the road. I ask again: are there no further proposals which could be put forward?
I am not totally in favour of referendums, but, if there are no further proposals to discuss, it may be that a referendum in Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Fitt
That is exactly the point that I am coming to. A referendum in Northern Ireland would not be a black and white issue. There would have to be a series of questions. One of the questions could be "Do you support a power-sharing Government in Northern Ireland?", or "Would you support a Government in Northern Ireland of partnership and representing all the communities?" Another question could be "Do you support the link with the United Kingdom?" That would have to be asked, because the Unionists feel so insecure on this matter.
It would be a different thing from what happened with the border poll. One section of the community was able to boycott the border poll; it did not go to the poll. But if people were going to the polls to vote for a partnership Government or a power-sharing Government there would be a considerable difference in the figures, no matter which way people voted.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will the hon. Gentleman say to which electors a referendum should be addressed? There are some of us who think that if there is to be a referendum all the United Kingdom should be involved. There are others, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well, who take the view, rightly or wrongly, that if there is to be a referendum—
§ Mr. Fitt
I certainly would not object to a referendum taking place in the United Kingdom. I should be fully in support of 604 it. It should be remembered that in February 1974 49 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland voted for power sharing. Only 51 per cent. of the people voted against.
Perhaps, with a concerted campaign and in the belief that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want an end to political division, murder and mayhem, a solution can be found. If a referendum were to be held on power sharing in Northern Ireland, I am sure that a sufficient number of Unionists would vote in favour of it. We could then pose other questions: "Do you believe that steps could be taken to foster better relationships with the Irish Republic?", and "Would the Irish dimension have to be institutionalised?"
In the final analysis we may have to think along those lines, because it appears that political leaders in Northern Ireland are frightened to move out of their political trenches. Certain Unionist leaders in the past—notably Terence O'Neill, now Lord O'Neill of the Maine—tried to move out of their trenches and eventually they were killed politically.
I do not believe that there is any hope of success for these proposals. The Government should try again and perhaps enlarge on them. But, in the final analysis, if there has to be a referendum, so be it.
I end on a note of warning to the Government. Some people say that if we cannot find agreement at this stage we should hand power back to local authorities in Northern Ireland. That would cause an absolute holocaust, in the political sense, in Northern Ireland. Unionist councils that are under the control of a variety of Unionist labels have made clear what they think of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. I urge the Government not to go down that dangerous road.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
I find it surprising that I should be the first person in this debate unreservedly to welcome the Government's proposals. I do so unashamedly, not because I believe that the Government have got the answers right, nor necessarily because I believe that the solutions will work. I am convinced that this is a logical step in the pride in what we have done. We have 605 process of the Government since they took office last year to try to produce some forward movement in the sterile atmosphere of Ulster politics over the last three or four years.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has taken us through his usual sincere and passionate version of recent Ulster history as seen through greentinted glasses, and the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) have poured their scorn and cynicism on what is a genuine attempt to see whether there is any possibility of finding agreement.
The reason why I think it is the logical progression, and why I firmly believe that it is the course to which the Government should stick, is that it must be clear that we cannot go on as we are. Yet every time that any Government bring forward proposals to try to restore to the political scene in Ulster some of the normality that once was there they have been frustrated by politicians who seem to be more afraid of the consequences of having to take constructive responsibility for the affairs of the people whom they represent than their desire to come here and knock our suggestions as to how they might proceed.
It is clear that the Goverment should proceed with the urgency that the Secretary of State has undertaken to do to bring this round to an end. It is urgent. We cannot go into the next Session of Parliament without a decision having been taken on the question whether any progress can be made towards a solution of this difficult problem.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South called these proposals a rehash of failed policies. Yes, the policies have failed. There can be no argument about that. The problems have not changed, either. There can be little argument about that. But what has changed is the atmosphere in which the problems to which we are addressing ourselves exist. It has changed for a number of reasons. First, the sheer length of time that this vacuum has existed has produced frustrations of a different sort from those that existed under the old majority rule in Stormont. Secondly, conditions outside Ulster, in areas that have a legitimate interest and a greater or lesser effect, have also changed.
606 The situation vis-a-vis the American-Irish population has changed. Some people may say that that is none of their business, but a large amount of support, succour, comfort and, at one stage, political pressure, was being exerted by those people. As a result of the robust handling of the propaganda by the Government to try to explain how misguided those efforts were, we have seen a significant improvement. The atmosphere in the Republic of Ireland has changed. Some people may say that that is none of their business. I do not subscribe to that. I think that they have a legitimate interest in what goes on in Ulster, as they have a legitimate interest in what goes on in the rest of the United Kingdom, because of the special relationship between its citizens and ours.
Since the change of Government in the Republic, the Prime Minister has come to London to talk to our Prime Minister. He has acknowledged the difficulties, and he has acknowledged and accepted the special position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. He has said that his Government are anxious and keen to co-operate in every way in making some progress on the problems that beset Ulster. He has shown that cooperation over security matters has never been better. We can argue that it is not good enough yet, but we cannot deny that things are better and that there has been an improvement and a significant change in attitude towards those who operate from the southern side of the border against our citizens in Northern Ireland. All that adds up to an atmosphere in which there is a better hope of our being able to achieve political progress.
Although I am speaking only at second hand, I believe that the attitude of the people of Northern Ireland has changed. The frustrations and problems that existed in 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1975 have mellowed with time. I do not believe that attitudes—with notable exceptions—are as bigoted and uncompromising as they were.
All that represents a tide that is flowing and that we would be foolish to miss. Hon. Members who represent constituencies in Britain must tell their colleagues who represent Northern Ireland constituencies that they will have to answer to them if they miss that tide. 607 We cannot go on year after year with hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland being destructive about proposals that successive Governments make.
If the hon. Member for Antrim, South wants to tell us that this proposal is no good he should come to us or go to the Secretary of State and suggest how it might be modified or changed so that good can come of it.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I have just handed to a representative of the Scottish National Party a copy of the submission that I sent to the Prime Minister on 31 December 1979. That has been taken into consideration and I hope that it will be acted upon.
§ Mr. Mates
The hon. Gentleman knows that it cannot be acted upon, because it does not fulfil one of the fundamental problems set out in the paper before us, namely, acceptability. The hon. Gentleman, from his majority position, does not believe that that is a requirement. I take issue with him there. I am certain that it is a requirement. If it had not been a requirement, we would not be in this situation.
I urge the Government most strongly to keep the next series of talks short and, with determined urgency within the next two or three months, to face the fact that they must decide either that there is scope to proceed or that there is not.
The Government must make it perfectly clear to those who lead political opinion in Ulster what the options are. The leaders of political opinion in Ulster—when they can stop their cynical laughter—must also bear the consequences of any failure to make progress. If this sterile condition in Northern Ireland politics is to continue they must tell us their suggestions for improving and refining a democratic process which, alas, has not been allowed to reflect itself in any expression of popular will in the Northern Ireland context for far too long.
We need an expression of opinion in Northern Ireland in the context of Northern Ireland politics and we need it soon. I hope that the political leaders will constructively come together with the Secretary of State to produce an amendment—even a massive amendment 608 —of the proposals before us upon which we can at least start to build political stability in a part of the United Kingdom where it has been absent for too long.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) on his speech because I agree with almost every word of it.
The more one listens to these Irish debates, the more despondent one gets as they go on. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) is here to listen. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has left the Chamber, but both he and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) expressed the view that they wanted to hear from other hon. Members.
Unfortunately, no politician in public life in Northern Ireland seems to have the breadth of vision to lead the people in the Province out of their wilderness, and that is a tragedy.
I welcome this latest discussion document. It has quite a lot to commend it. It places the situation in the Province as it is and not as many of us and outside commentators would like it to be. It accepts that any formal steps towards Irish unity are not realistic at present, so any commitment to a form of institutionalised Irish dimension has rightly been dropped. It seems to accept that to restore greater powers to local government —this is referred to in paragraph 25—is too dangerous a step to take. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, West that that step should not be taken. I hope that the Secretary of State will confirm that this option is no longer up for consideration. If he thinks that it is a possibility, events at Craigavon last week, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West reported, should serve to remind him of the realities that would follow. I was in the Province at the time that that case was reported.
In my view, to continue direct rule is in the long run a recipe for disaster. I agree that it is a substantial improvement on what went before. Over the past eight years—it is time that this was said, and I think that I have said it before—successive Secretaries of State and Governments have done a great deal to improve the situation in the Province. It has been a desperate job, but we can take 609 pride in what we have done. We have invested substantial sums of money. I accept that unemployment in Northern Ireland has worsened considerably in the last few months, just as it has in other parts of the United Kingdom, including my constituency. Nevertheless, when visiting the Province one can see what has been achieved. We should shout about it occasionally and not always sit back and take the can that is always thrown at us.
There is a desperate need to involve local politicians and the communities that they serve in decision-making at local level. A vacuum exists at present. They do not know to whom to go. I was told only last week that under the power-sharing Executive, even though it existed for only a short time, there was an improvement. In order for us to appreciate the situation in Northern Ireland we would have to do away with our county and borough councils and have only parish councils. We cannot adequately cover the situation with representatives at Westminster only, because it is too far away.
When it comes to choice, I prefer option 1, with its emphasis on partnership both in the majority and minority groupings. The possible destruction of such a structure is clearly mentioned in paragraphs 51 and 52. No one has referred to that possibility, but it could happen. However, an appeal system to the Secretary of State and ultimately to the House could prevent its happening. It is clear that this form of administration does not find favour with Unionists, of whatever strain, as was demonstrated again this afternoon.
Option 2, according to many constitutional pundits much wiser than me, is not working. We have heard some reasons why it could not work in the form set out in the paper. But if there is a will, there can be a way. With give and take on both sides, it might prove to be an answer. However, I am sure that greater safeguards will have to be built into it if the minority parties axe to be won over. The hon. Member for Belfast, West highlighted that point in his speech.
The Northern Ireland problem of status and identity is missing, and that is vital. I agree that the fifty/fifty-plus-one split is too small a margin to risk.
610 It would have to be substantially increased.
I agree with the hon. Member for Petersfield that the atmosphere is changing. I have made five visits to the Province and a number to the South. From those visits I can confirm that the atmosphere is changing. Ordinary people want to see progress on the restoration of meaningful government within the Province. I think that they are prepared to concede quite a lot to the minorities in their midst. I hope and pray that the parties represented here and the Alliance Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party will enter into further discussions with these facts in mind. If, after all, no I agreement can be reached, the Government must press on.
We have heard about the referendum, and I support it. I think that a suitably worded referendum should be held in the Province so that we may know what the electorate feels about these or amended proposals, such as may yet come from further discussions.
The South has a role to play, but no progress can be made until the first hurdle has been surmounted and an Assembly has been established. It could be an exciting prospect, with lessons for the rest of us in the United Kingdom. I think that I bored hon. Members to tears during proceedings on the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill, because I kept talking about the possibility of an elected mayoral system in the United Kingdom. We are moving some way towards such a system with an elected Chief Executive in Northern Ireland. I do not think that problems in the North-East, the North-West, the Midlands and other parts of the United Kingdom will be solved until someone strong is directly elected and can get through the bureaucracy that holds up progress. There is a job to be done. I think that a directly elected Chief Executive or lord mayor would be a step in the right direction. Northern Ireland could set us an example, and we could copy it if it proved to be a success.
In the meantime, cross-border trade and co-operation must continue to be encouraged in every way. The Secretary of State referred to some of the things that are happening now. I hope to see improvements in power exchanges, and 611 links in respect of electricity and possibly, in the long run, gas. In that respect I support hon. Members from Northern Ireland. I think that we are letting down the Province over the supply of gas. That matter should be reconsidered.
Organisations such as North-South should be supported. North-South comes mainly from the South and is financed from the South. Some of us met some of its representatives in Dublin recently. It should be given the support that it so much deserves. It is doing a great deal to try to break down barriers between the North and South in trade relationships.
Those are the kinds of things that we must encourage for the future. However, until we get a settlement of the political situation in Northern Ireland I do not think that we can make any more progress with the South.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
I should like to begin by at least stating my great sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the task that faces him. I do not imagine that there is any less enviable task facing any member of the Cabinet. My right hon. Friend's paper is possibly useful as a stimulus to our discussion. But the remarks that I should like to make today are directed not so much to my right hon. Friend as to our fellow citizens in the Province. Some of my remarks may well be welcome to their elected representatives in this House; other perhaps less so. But I would ask them to accept that they are made with sincerity by one who, over the years, has made regular efforts to visit Northern Ireland and to observe what is happening.
I think that the starting point must be the clear declaration by a majority in Northern Ireland of their wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. From any analysis of the referendum that was undertaken on this matter, one understands that at least a significant number of those who belong to what we normally call the minority community there—the Roman Catholic community—nevertheless voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. So we are not talking here of a matter which strictly divides all Protestants from all Roman Catholics.
Speaking personally as an Englishman, I want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. I believe that 612 the Northern Irish personality is a vital ingredient in the make-up of what we call the British character, and I wish it to remain so.
Whenever I return from a visit to Northern Ireland I invariably meet friends who say to me "Oh, dear, you must have found that a most depressing experience ". The answer that I always give them is "No, I did not find it a depressing experience. I found it in many ways a most uplifting one ", because there one observes a community that has been under attack from terrorism for many years and yet whose spirit has not been broken. Recently I went with the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) to the southern part of his constituency. I can but wonder when I meet farmers and others in his community who daily leave their homes not knowing whether during the course of the day's work they will get a bullet in their backs and yet who continue to stay to do their work and to do it with an amazing cheerfulness. These are men who stand up to be counted for their beliefs day after day. One goes to Belfast, too, and sees the ravages that that city has suffered, and I find myself inspired by the strength of the human spirit that survives that with such cheerfulness.
So my admiration goes out to all peace-loving citizens of that Province, and I am proud that they should wish to remain part of the United Kingdom.
But I also believe that the people of Northern Ireland must be warned that the further they go in developing internal institutions that are distinct from those in other parts of the United Kingdom the more vulnerable their link with the other parts of the United Kingdom will inevitably become.
We are presented with various suggestions for legislative devolution to Northern Ireland. In the previous Parliament we went through countless arguments over the implications and consequences of legislative devolution—with the help of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), from whom I hope we shall hear during the debate. We see those arguments echoed again in the early-day motion in the names of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) and others, raising again the 613 basic problem with legislative devolution: that it will produce representatives here who vote on a whole range of matters affecting us in our constituencies when we are not able to vote on equivalent matters affecting their constituents and which indeed, they are not able to vote upon them themselves.
It should be pointed out to our fellow-citizens in Northern Ireland that if they secure some form of devolved legislature in their Province the position of their elected representatives in this House will inevitably come under question. During the years of Stormont's existence the role of Northern Ireland's representatives in this place went largely unchallenged while we had Governments with large or secure majorities, but it is significant that in 1964—long before the outbreak of the current troubles—we had the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), as Prime Minister, with a slender majority, raising precisely the question whether it was legitimate for the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to cast their votes in this place on subject matters that had been devolved to their own Stormont Parliament.
I am afraid that from all our debates in the previous Parliament on devolution for Scotland we must conclude that a question mark would inevitably be put over the role of Northern Irish representatives in this House if devolution for Northern Ireland came about. When their representation is made more equitable, when it is raised from 12 to 17, they would be at even greater risk, and the question mark above them would be all the larger.
We see the kind of suggestions that are being proposed. All of them would have the indirect effect of pushing the people of Northern Ireland further from their fellow-citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom. We see it proposed that there should be created various kinds of distinct or even alien institutions—Governments chosen in accordance with party strengths; advisory councils; top-tier Executives; second-tier councils with 50:50 representation of Opposition and Government, and with blocking mechanisms unknown or untried in the United Kingdom ever before—all of them contrived constitutions, weaker even than the paper on which they are written. If instituted and 614 set up, they would have the effect of removing the citizens of the Province further from the rest of us.
One of the proposals is that these legislatures in the Province should be elected by a system that is unknown within the rest of the United Kingdom, namely, proportional representation by single transferable vote. I know that district councils in Northern Ireland are elected by such a system. I know that Northern Ireland representatives of the European Parliament are elected on a similar basis. However, that came about not without considerable dissent being expressed in the House. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who sit on the Government Front Bench joined in that dissent, arguing that it was basically undesirable to have one part of the United Kingdom electing members to the European Parliament by a system that differed so fundamentally from that employed in the rest.
I agree that these systems now operate. The significant fact is that the single transferable vote operates in Northern Ireland to elect members to bodies none of which are legislative institutions. The European Parliament is not a legislative body. District councils are not legislative bodies. However, it is proposed that the people of Northern Ireland should employ an electoral system for the election of legislators not used in the Province for the purpose of electing legislators. It was not used when they elected legislators to Stormont over many years and it has not been used in their election of representatives to sit in this place.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
The hon. Gentle-many must be corrected on that point. The basis of the settlement was that PR was introduced both for the North and the South. I think that the first one or two Stormont elections were carried out by the use of that system. It was the later Administration that threw it out.
§ Mr. Gardiner
I accept that. I thought that I said that it was not a system which, over the years, had been used to elect Stormont Members. If I phrased my remarks badly, I apologise. For many years that system has not been used in Northern Ireland for the purpose of electing members to a legislative assembly. That is the crucial difference between that which is proposed and the system that operates for the district councils and the European Parliament.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is well aware that the present party in power in the South of Ireland tried to do away with PR and STV.
§ Mr. Gardiner
That is an interesting observation. The conclusion that I draw and that should be brought to the attention of our fellow-citizens in Northern Ireland is that if they accept an electoral system of this sort for a legislative assembly they will be removing themselves further from the practice of the remainder of the United Kingdom and putting themselves in a position much closer to that which applies in the southern part of the island.
If the people of Northern Ireland wish—as I believe they do, and as I wish them—to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom, there is a better way in which they can proceed. I should like to see the term "direct rule" removed entirely from our political vocabulary. We do not speak of direct rule of Wales or of Scotland. I see no reason why we should speak of direct rule of the people of Northern Ireland from this House. It is in their interests to remain part of exactly the same legislative structure as the remainder of the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend says "If these proposals are not accepted, what alternative is there? Where can we go?" The sentence that appeared in the Conservative Party manifesto seems to have been tailor-made to meet the needs of the present situation. It reads:In the absence of devolved government, we will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services.Surely that is a formula that measures up to the present situation.
Within the United Kingdom we have a variety of forms of regional government. We have different forms in Scotland from those in England. We have the model of the Greater London Council, the regional councils of Scotland, and the English metropolitan authorities. 616 There is no reason why a different variant of regional authority should not be devised that meets the needs of Northern Ireland. However, the powers granted to it must be exactly comparable to those granted to other regional authorities within the structure of the United Kingdom.
We acknowledge the terror that has afflicted Northern Ireland and the toll that it has taken of families over the years. It has been a tragedy beyond description. I believe that nearly as great a tragedy would come about if the people of Northern Ireland, wishing to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom, came to accept forms of internal government and administration that led them in precisely the opposite direction. I pray that the people of Northern Ireland be alert to the danger, and decide accordingly.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
The document that is termed the working paper, and for reasons of delicacy is not called a Green Paper, is entitled "Proposals For Further Discussion ". I believe that it has its origins in the pressures brought upon the Prime Minister at the end of 1979 before the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and other issues took American politics to a different area of foreign interest.
The pressures that were on the President of the United States and the fact that Senator Kennedy at that time seemed to be running most strongly for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party forced the introduction of the paper. Having been on course to introduce a White Paper, the Secretary of State—we are told that he went against the advice of his private office—went ahead and produced this paper. As the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said, it is a mish-mash of former proposals.
That background and its uncertain parentage—it was pushed forward at the behest of politicians on the other side of the Atlantic—are not necessarily reasons for discarding what have been put forward as proposals for discussion. We would be wrong immediately to throw out an opportunity for discussion.
Therefore, I very much regret the speeches of the hon. Members for Antrim, 617 South and Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), which seemed to rule out any form of discussion on the basis of the proposals contained in this paper. If I have misrepresented the hon. Member for Antrim, South I shall gladly give way to him, but I was under the impression that he was against the paper, or at least that he did not think much of it.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
It is true that I did not express any great enthusiasm for the proposals in the paper, but I indicated in my final words that I hoped that the Government would look a little further than the propositions in the document. I believe that I have a duty to discuss propositions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that are in the best interests of all the people of the Province.
§ Mr. McNamara
Yes, but I understand that the proposals that the hon. Member put forward would not be acceptable to a large proportion of the minority in Northern Ireland. If he was not insisting that that should be the basis of discussion, I hope that some form of discussion can take place.
Judging by the gloom in this debate, I have come to the conclusion that I suspected before, namely, that these proposals will not get very far. The Secretary of State said that the parties in Northern Ireland were all agreed that there must be a way forward. The problem is that most of the parties want to go in different directions. The way forward for one party is the way back for another, and that is probably true of all of them. Therefore, we say "All right, we shall have discussions". Those discussions continue and eventually they disappear into the sand. Yet another set of proposals, discussions and ideas, put forward by honourable men trying, from different positions, to reach a conclusion to a difficult problem, will have disappeared.
If we cannot find a system of devolved government that is acceptable to all citizens in Northern Ireland or to a majority of citizens within each community we are left with three possible solutions. The first is that we should go along the way advocated by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), namely, the road to complete integration. There are some Official 618 Unionists who would not object to that.
If it is not possible to have a form of devolved government on their own terms, the Unionists would find integration a very attractive proposition, but it would not be an attractive proposition to the minority community, and certainly it would not be an attractive proposition to many people who live in Britain.
The reason for that is that the majority of people in Britain do not understand why Northern Ireland is not part of a united Ireland. Even if they understood that, they would not welcome a return to civil disturbances in the United Kingdom—bombs and bullets on this island. They would not welcome a further deterioration in our own civil liberties as a result of the problems overspilling from the Six Counties into this country. They do not want to see our political life corrupted in the way that it has been corrupted by the events in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that they would be prepared to have this continuous haemorrhaging of men and money that has taken place over the past decade. I do not believe that that option is relevant for them.
Thus, we turn to the option of independence. We know from the figures in the paper that Northern Ireland raises roughly 56 per cent. of the total sum spent there in public finance. Therefore, I do not believe that independence would be a viable solution. Possibly it is not what people in the Six Counties would want, and I do not believe that it would stand up. In fact, I believe that it would be a laughing stock. Admittedly Northern Ireland would be as large as some countries in the United Nations, and its per capita income would be larger than some, but in our terms independence is not an acceptable solution.
Therefore, we are left with the third proposal—that we should work to create a situation in which the majority of people in Northern Ireland would see an end to the troubles and hope for the future in a more positive association with the Republic of Ireland. It will be argued immediately that 1 million people in Northern Ireland would turn away and shudder at that prospect. I understand that. But I am not certain that the number would be as great as that, or that the fear would be as great as has been suggested. Certainly many of the old 619 economic arguments are disappearing with increased prosperity in the South and decreased prosperity in Northern Ireland. The economic gap between the two is diminishing rapidly, and shortly there will be parity. However, in many ways that is not necessarily significant.
As a people and as a Government we can say that we believe that a closer association is in the long-term interests of the people of Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and Great Britain. There-fore, perhaps we can arrange our legislation in such a way that we can try to bring together the corpus of law, the economic and social conditions and the institutions of the Six Counties and those of the Irish Republic, wherever that is possible. Lest my own Front Bench should misinterpret me, I am not suggesting that there should be any lowering of our rates of benefits and assistance to Northern Ireland. I am simply asking that the way in which this is administered should be as close as possible to the ways of the Irish Republic.
I also believe that any sort of movement made in the United Kingdom along these lines must produce corresponding gestures by the Government of the Republic which will recognise those matters of cultural or social habit that are different in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government of the Republic would ensure, in one way or another, that such matters were guaranteed.
I believe also that the time has come for the Government of the Republic to start saying exactly how far they are prepared to go to meet the legitimate demands of the people in the North. It is too easy to say that that will be a matter for consultation or that constitutional arrangements will be altered when we sit round a table. There is a duty on the Government of the Republic, if it is their aim and aspiration to take the Six Counties to their bosom, whether as a unitary State, a federal State or a confederation, to spell out exactly what guarantees and commitments they are prepared to offer the majority population in the North.
The immediate reaction to any suggestion of unification is "What about democracy? What about the size of the population in the Six Counties? "The hon. Member for Antrim, South spoke about 620 the grotesque forms of democracy contained in the working paper, but the most grotesque form of democracy in these islands is the Six Counties.
The Secretary of State said that we must not go back to the 1920s, but the problem is that no one has advanced from the 1920s. When the border was drawn, it froze, the situation. There can be no movement in politics in the island of Ireland until the border has gone.
We in the Labour Party must take on board the issues of the border and Partition and bring them into the forefront of politics in the United Kingdom. We were happy in 1920 to feel that Lloyd George had solved the problem, when, in fact, he had merely brushed it under the carpet. We were happy—I am as guilty as others—to believe in a bipartisan policy after the outbreak of the recent troubles, and that some sort of artificially created institutions in the Six Counites could bring about a happy ending to a sad story.
We must go back to 1920 and ask where we went wrong. The problem was that we reneged on democracy. The island of Ireland overwhelmingly voted for Home Rule, but we artificially carved off the Six Counties because of strange agreements and undertakings made at the advent of the war in 1914 and hammered out later in a strange coalition.
We have had 60 unhappy years of government in the Six Counties. In 1920 we were prepared to give way and to chop off an artificial entity. We have sought to maintain it over the years, and it is costing us £1,114 million a year. That is the amount that Northern Ireland does not raise for itself. When one considers our debates on Britain's contribution to the EEC one must accept that that matter must be considered carefully.
I am not suggesting a sudden squeeze, or that we should give up our responsibilities to the Six Counties immediately. However, we have to take on the Unionists' threat and say that their veto, whether a population veto or a guarantee in an Act, cannot be allowed to sour progress as it has in the past. Unionists must either accept and operate what the United Kingdom Parliament eventually decides or appreciate that they cannot have the same benefits of citizenship as the rest of our society.
621 What is the difference between Northern Ireland and Scotland and Wales? People are not dying in the streets of Scotland or Wales. Policemen are not being bombed, and prison warders are not being murdered.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
The hon. Gentleman is giving a tip to Welsh nationalists or other nationalists. They have only to cause a sufficient degree of violence and the hon. Gentleman will argue that their part of the kingdom should be jettisoned by the rest.
§ Mr. McNamara
On the contrary; I argue that part of the kingdom exists by violence and created the violence because of the way that the Government ruled there, through its special powers Acts, and so on, until Stormont was abolished. That is the cause and the determination of the violence.
Northern Ireland is the one part of the United Kingdom that has a frontier with another Power. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and his colleagues deny that Power even its legitimate right to discuss the mutuality of problems.
If we are to make progress and achieve peace we must be prepared to jettison the alleged guarantee, which has no value because the guarantee rests in the votes of the majority in Northern Ireland. It is not a paper guarantee. We must also arrange our affairs so that whether we get a devolved system of government, power sharing, or whatever, we should come out of our shell and say, as the people and Parliament of Great Britain, that we believe that the true future of Ireland lies in some form of unification between the North and the South—federal, confederal or unitary—with the necessary safeguards for those who fear that their religious, personal or cultural identities may be at risk.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) referred to this as the Parliament of Great Britain. In fact, it is the Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He also deliberately used the term "Six Counties"—as he has often done in the past—and kept repeating it. That is a term which 622 Irish republicans who are bitterly opposed to Northern Ireland use to emphasise the claim of the Irish Republic to the territory of part of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman insults the House and the nation by giving support to that cause.
The hon. Gentleman seems to have swallowed Irish Republican propaganda. He does not seem to realise that if a referendum were held in Northern Ireland on remaining within the United Kingdom or linking up with the Irish Republic a great majority would opt to maintain the link with Great Britain. That majority would not be restricted to Protestants, as the hon. Gentleman seems to think, but would include Roman Catholics who wish to remain under the Crown.
That fact seems to have been overlooked in the debate. It is not a question of Protestants wishing to be British and Roman Catholics wishing Northern Ireland to be part of a united Ireland. The issue is between the forces of law and the forces of terror. Many Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland abhor and repudiate the violence of the Provisional IRA. That should be recognised by the House, and by those on the Loyalist side. One must also remember that they disapprove of the statement made by the SDLP councillor, Mr. Sweeney, who suggested only about a week ago that Protestants must expect to be murdered by the Provisional IRA if they belong to the Ulster Defence Regiment and wish to maintain the union of Northern Ireland and Great Britain. That is an abhorrent thing to say. It should direct our attention to the true situation in Northern Ireland. For 11 years people have suffered terribly.
When he opened the debate for the Opposition the hon. Member for Ponty-pridd (Mr. John) pointed out that the debate on the constitutional proposals was not taking place at a university seminar where people could exchange views on possible constitutions without thinking of the practical consequences that would flow. We are debating those constitutional proposals against the black background of the economic position, and against the sombre background of the terrorist campaign in the Province.
When hon. Members criticise Ulster Members for being sombre and gloomy, they forget that their predecessors made similar speeches in this Chamber during 623 the last war until victory was finally in sight. They were right to make gloomy speeches, because their troops and people were dying. Our troops and people are dying in the Province today.
We are now debating the White Paper. Before the debate, the Northern Ireland Office distributed a scrappy little leaflet entitled "Northern Ireland Your Future". Its funereral black lines and its language were similar to a letter of condolence, and the leaflet matches perfectly the muddled mood of the Secretary of State. He did not strike a convincing note of buoyant optimism when he opened the debate. The right hon. Gentleman's personal pronouncements, and the general tone of sheer desperation in the White Paper, are characteristic of a general in headlong retreat, who can just manage to keep in front of his demoralised army. While the Secretary of State, his Ministers and their advisers are cosseted from the hardship of life in Northern Ireland and are protected from gunmen—a protection that is not extended to all citizens of that hard-pressed Province—the real army has to face the terrorists. Regular soldiers, members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the police force, despite the political restraints imposed on them, have to contend with evil murderers who are bound by no rules other than to cause the maximum amount of pain and suffering to the long-suffering Ulster people.
For 11 years the people of Ulster have endured horrendous terrorism and have been slandered and maligned all over the world. For 11 years they have stood firm. Without the courage, fortitude, patience and forbearance of decent Ulster people of both religions and of all ages, Ulster would long ago have crumbled into civil war. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) pay tribute to the morale and spirit of the Ulster people. He is to be commended. That is the only sincere tribute that I have heard in this debate from an hon. Member from outside Northern Ieralnd.
Officials at the Northern Ireland Office and in the Foreign Office may believe that endless terrorism will wear down the Ulster people, and that they will agree to almost any measure offered by the Irish Republic, or handed down by Westminster. Politicians, officials and the Provisional IRA do not realise that the 624 people of Ulster, despite some doubts and indecision about the way ahead, are stronger and more united in their determination to remain separate from the Republic of Ireland than ever before in the history of the Province. The Government must bear that factor in mind when they consider possible proposals for devolved government in Northern Ireland.
There has been a significant change in the character and nature of the Ulster majority. One great change that has been wrought by Irish Republican terrorism, by direct rule and by the failure of successive British Governments to protect the people of Ulster from gunmen has been the development of an Ulster identity and patriotism. Out of the terrible holocaust a new, stronger and more confident Ulster will arise that will shape a future worthy of young people of all religions. We should fight for those young people who are not caught up in violence, and who do not shout obscenities at troops or throw stones at the police.
Let the Secretary of State be warned that the people of Ulster have suffered cruelly at the hands of the Provisional IRA for 11 years. They will not crawl to him and cravenly accept any proposal for the future government of the Province. That does not mean that the people of Ulster are intransigent. They are right to be cautious. Apart from the terrible death and destruction of the past 11 years, the people of Ulster have seen a Westminster Government made change after change. They have accepted everything with a cheerfulness that one would probably not find in any other part of the United Kingdom. They have taken each change, and they have made their protests. They accepted each change in turn, with the exception of the power-sharing Executive, which the people of Ulster rejected with a clear voice. They accepted all the other changes.
The time must come when the people of Ulster will be entitled to say that they should have a system of government that will not be changed in the foreseeable future and that will help to resolve the problems of the Province. I have great respect for the Minister. However, we need Ministers who represent the people of Ulster, who are intimately caught up with their affairs and who live there. 625 We want Ministers who go out to the shops to buy things, and whose friends are seeking employment or are finding that their jobs are in jeopardy. We need Ministers who know Ulster, and who are responsible to the people of Ulster. Ultimately that will be best for the people of the Province and of Northern Ireland. We need an Assembly there.
Option 1 has clearly been rejected by most Unionist politicians. Option 2 is an ingenious measure devised by civil servants who have been given a commission to find a system that might win support from everyone in Northern Ireland. One cannot please everyone. One certainly cannot please the terrorists, who are out not simply to destroy government in the Province but to wreck Northern Ireland and make it part of a united Ireland. The Ulster people wish to discuss the possibilities of a form of government that would ensure that their affairs were in the hands of Ulster men and women, and would enable them to deal more realistically with the great problems of unemployment, housing and the other social matters that face them.
Paragraph 19 contains one statement that should have the support of every representative from Northern Ireland:the continued position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom is not something which the Governmen could use as a bar-gaining counter in order to secure agreement to a particular form of political institution.The admission is that one cannot threaten Ulster with the withdrawal of troops or money and expect thereby to frighten the majority into accepting a settlement that they do not want. It is no use for me to tell the Secretary of State that, in order to please everybody in the House who does not live in Northern Ireland, in the midst of the terror there, we shall accept one solution or another. The Government have to introduce it, and unless it is acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland there will be a worse situation after the proposal has been forced on them than exists now.
That is why I urge the Government to use caution. They say that they have made progress and that they are moving forward. I do not believe that they have moved forward since they took office over a year ago.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for many years, and he has heard me repeat often enough that I wish to see a Parliament or an Assembly in Northern Ireland on the same basis as this Parliament. I wish that we could have the proposals that the majority report of the constitutional convention recommended to this Parliament. The Government of the day rejected them. That was a pity.
§ Mr. Dalyell
May I make a point that I can make more easily in the hon. Gentleman's speech than in any that I may make? The hon. Gentleman referred to the Secretary of State. Some of us wondered what the right hon. Gentleman bad better to do than to listen to the House in what is recognised to be a major debate. I see that the Secretary of State has just entered the Chamber, but he has been absent for a long time.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
The statement in paragraph 19 of the White Paper shows the change of attitude that gives meaning and reality to paragraph 63, which says:It is not desirable to continue indefinitely with the system of direct rule' as the means of governing Northern Ireland.In this country the parliamentary system continues to thrive because the people at large and the main political parties have confidence in it and are genuinely concerned to see that it works. That is vital. The White Paper calls attention, in paragraph 51, to the essential nature of a general understanding. It says:Any political system based on democratic lines depends on the majority of elected members supporting the existence of the system.We are not discussing the political situation in England and Wales or in Scotland. We are debating the situation in Northern Ireland, where the republican party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, is based totally on opposition to the existence of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. The SDLP wishes to take the reins of government in Northern Ireland, because its objective is to destroy any constitutional settlement that ensures that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)
How does that differ from the situation in Scotland, where we have a party that wishes Scotland no longer to remain part of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I have enough to do in dealing with the situation in Northern Ireland. I shall not become involved in Scottish politics. However, I can say this much: I supported devolution for Scotland, and I still think that Scotland should have devolution. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) fought against devolution.
The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) emphasised in support of the White Paper that the Irish Republic had a legitimate interest in Northern Ireland, because of a special relationship. Certainly there is a special or peculiar relationship, in that the Irish Republic maintains the very hostile claim to the territory of Northern Ireland. I believe that because of that claim, and until it is dropped, this country should tell the Irish Republic's Government to keep their nose out of the affairs of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister of the Republic will have to face a general election within the next year or so, and because of the economic situation in the Republic he will be seeking votes on the basis of a strong stand against the majority in Northern Ireland. We should not encourage Mr. Charles Haughey to interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland. We should not try to get votes for him in the coming election.
I have now taken up the time that I promised to take, and I shall not go beyond it, because other hon. Members wish to, speak. I conclude with two points. First, the proposals for devolution for Northern Ireland—the proposals before us and any others that may be put forward—should be debated by the Northern Ireland Committee sitting at Stormont, so that the Ulster people can be intimately caught up in the debate. Otherwise they will not know what is going on. They do not see the empty Chamber. They do not see the indifference of other hon. Members to the problem in the Province.
Secondly, I should like from the Secretary of State a pledge that if the Gov- 628 ernment introduce their own proposed legislation it will be subject to a referendum of the Ulster people.
I repeat that I am in favour of a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland so that everyone there has his or her rights protected. Then no one need be in any fear of being deprived of those rights. That is the way to bring the people of Northern Ireland together again.
A great divide in Northern Ireland is the religious apartheid in schools. Until young people of different religions, from little toddlers upwards, can go to the same schools, a divide will exist. There is no justification for that religious segregation in education. I indict the present Government for doing nothing about ending that divide.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)
On a number of occasions I have raised as a question to the Secretary of State Northern Ireland, at business questions or, more recently, in the early-day motion to which reference has been made, the linking of devolution of power to Northern Ireland with the devolution of power to Scotland and the government of the United Kingdom as a whole. I was beginning to feel a little isolated, thinking my views somewhat eccentric, but I have been encouraged by the debate. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) implicitly expressed some degree of support, although he comes to a different conclusion from the same logical argument. The hon Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) expressed explicit support. I would say strongly that the most fundamental question before the House is the revolution of power to Northern Ireland as a whole.
There are two fundamental directions in which the future of Northern Ireland may proceed. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) talked of unification. That is one major option. The other, which we have been considering most, is that Northern Ireland will continue to be part of the United Kingdom. I am certain that hon. Members have their individual views. I have my own strong individual views. I speak neither as a Catholic nor as a Protestant. Far more important than our individual views—I mean no 629 disrespect to my colleagues—is the view of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. I accept, perhaps with some reluctance, what was stated by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder)—that at the present moment the view of the vast majority of the people is that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom. We must start from the acceptance of that reality. Its acceptance must be followed by the acceptance of discussion of the government of Northern Ireland in the context of the United Kingdom, particularly in relation to Scotland and Wales.
I hope that the House, and especially hon. Members who were Members before the last election, will learn from the mistakes of the previous debate on devolution to Scotland and Wales. I accept that we did not grasp the nettle of tax-raising powers and the funding of the Scottish Assembly. That was one of the mistakes. The hon. Member for Antrim, South alluded to that situation when he indicated that one of the fundamental problems of the proposal before the House is that it will arouse expectations of the Assembly in Northern Ireland being able to solve some of the problems that are currently not being solved when the Assembly will not have the powers to solve them. That nettle has to be grasped for Northern Ireland, as it does for Scotland and for Wales.
I accept, outwith the Chamber, a measure of responsibility for not accepting the force of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) at an earlier stage. We must not consider the government of Scotland or, in this context, the government of Northern Ireland, in isolation from the government of the United Kingdom as a whole. I have found little understanding of the importance of this aspect in the comments of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or the Leader of the House. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in response to a question that I put to him, said that he had no responsibility for the question of devolution to Scotland and Wales, but he is a member of a United Kingdom Cabinet that is asking us to consider and accept the proposal now before the House. He therefore has as much responsibility for Scotland and for Wales as he 630 has for Northern Ireland, or, indeed, for England, with which he has an undoubted connection. The Leader of the House told me:I know that the hon. Gentleman connects these matters in his own mind, but there is no objective connection … The all-party talks on Scotland are concerned with improving the procedures for dealing with Scottish business within the House, whereas the discussion document on Northern Ireland deals with major constitutional proposals."—[Official Report, 26 June 1980; Vol. 987, c. 748.]In my view, that is precisely why we should consider these matters together. In a letter sent to me, the Leader of the House also said that the reason for not discussing Scottish devolution wasthat the people of Scotland had declined to give the proposals in the Scotland Act the the degree of support with which Parliament judged it necessary for such a fundamental constitutional change.I repeat the question that was asked earlier. I hope that it will be answered. Are we suggesting that whatever proposal is finally agreed by the Government, this matter is put to the people of Northern Ireland in the same way as it was put to the people of Scotland, and that it needs 40 per cent. of the electorate to vote in favour before it takes effect? It is important that hon. Members should know the answer. It has a fundamental bearing on our consideration.
Also relevant to our consideration is the fact that at the next general election the representation from Northern Ireland at Westminster will be increased. That has been accepted. It will have parity with the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Foulkes
It will certainly be much nearer. It may not be quite as well represented as Scotland but it will be much nearer the United Kingdom as a whole. I am sure that this will be accepted by my right hon. Friend.
The question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian regarding Scottish devolution arises equally in the case of Northern Ireland. I paraphrase his remarks as meaning that hon. Members in Westminster who represent Northern Ireland will be able to vote on education for Armadale but not on education for Antrim. They will be able to vote on social services for Blackburn and West Lothian but not for social services 631 in Belfast. I accept the argument of my hon. Friend in this context. It raises questions about my own commitment to devolution. I shall come to that matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central said that the difference between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom is the security problem in Northern Ireland. He said that people are not dying in the streets in other parts of the United Kingdom. I reinforce the caution expressed by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), that if that is the argument and people have to be dying in the streets before devolution is granted, some people will take the corollary. I shall not do so. I am a man of peace, not a man of violence. But some people will take the corollary.
The corollary is that the only way to achieve devolution is to follow the example of Northern Ireland—perhaps not for the same reasons, or from the same motivation. That feeling will be particularly strong when the people of Scotland realise that a Province is to get devolution, which the majority have not effectively sought, whereas the majority of people who took the trouble to vote in Scotland were seeking devolution and did not get it.
§ Mr. McNamara
My hon. Friend has referred to me twice. He has put his finger on the nub of the argument. If we had not had the West Lothian amendment we would have had devolution in Northern Ireland. If we had not had an armed uprising in the Six Counties and a threat of civil war we would have had a united Ireland as a result of a ballot of people in the whole of the island of Ireland.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I am conscious that I have been somewhat negative. I have been picking holes in what is suggested. I am anxious to be positive and to come to the options before us. They do not coincide with what is being suggested. I accept that one of the logical options is to have a totally Unionist United Kingdom and to accept all the consequences. My hon. Friend for West Lothian has to accept that one of the consequences of not moving to devolution is to ask why we have the Secretary of State, the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office and the degree of devolution that exists at the 632 moment, the Scottish Grand Committee and a separate legal system for Scotland. That is not necessarily a stable position. Although I think that it constitutes a logical possibility I do not support it. I support devolution and decentralisation within the United Kingdom. I recognise that people should have a greater direct say over local matters. I recognise that there are national differences within the United Kingdom. I recognise that it will strengthen the United Kingdom to encourage the diversity that exists between the various parts of the kingdom.
Secondly, I accept in retrospect that the Scotland and Wales Bill and, subsequently, the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill together did not constitute a stable, secure and sensible way of proceeding. I say that for reasons that I outlined earlier and that have been spelt out by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian on many occasions. Therefore, it is even more wrong to consider devolution for Northern Ireland alone, as though that were a separate problem divorced from the government of the rest of the United Kingdom.
I urge the Government as strongly as I can to rethink their attitude on this matter and to view the devolution of power to Northern Ireland and the government of Northern Ireland in the context of the government of the United Kingdom as a whole. The reform of the House of Lords is not unconnected with this matter. That is an issue that we have not tackled. If we were starting, through White Papers, to examine the government of the United Kingdom, and we were to suggest setting up a second Chamber that consisted of hereditary peers, English bishops and miscellaneous friends of former Prime Ministers, that would not be considered logical, sensible or democratic. Would any country other than the crazy United Kingdom come up with such a proposal? We therefore have to consider that aspect as well.
I should like Assemblies to be established for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—they might not all be the same—and an Assembly, or more than one, set up for England as well. They would countries. We should then look at the deal with domestic affairs for the four House of Lords within that context to 633 discover whether, within the government of the United Kingdom, there should be a second Chamber that was indirectly representative of these Assemblies.
I agree that there are problems in that concept. It is certainly clear from the reaction of the Ulster Members who have spoken today that the Government's proposals will give rise to problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), as the official Opposition spokesman, gave a relatively warm and relatively uncritical welcome to what has been suggested by the Government. I can assure the House, however, that on the Opposition side there is a groundswell of criticism and unhappiness about what thought behind that ground swell is also my thought—that we cannot consider the the Government are suggesting. The government of Northern Ireland in isolation from the government of the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (New-bury)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) touched on a significant point when he said that there is a consequence of the White Paper that has some bearing on all the regions of the United Kingdom. We must recognise that if we were to pursue the proposals in the White Paper we should inevitably once again open the devolution debate in a much wider context than we imagine when we look simply at the problems of Northern Ireland.
It was perfectly natural for the Government, on coming into office, to wish to re-examine how Northern Ireland is governed and whether the institutions there satisfy the natural aspirations of the people of the Province. It seems equally natural to me that they might assume that if they went to the political leaders in the Province they might find a measure of common purpose which would provide the key to a blueprint which they may have felt they lacked in spite of the manifesto commitment to set up a regional council.
However, if that had been the Government's belief—and it seems a perfectly honourable belief to hold—I cannot help feeling that they have allowed themselves to be put in an extremely difficult position, because to imagine that any political party leader is able to give advice which 634 bears no reflection on his support in the part of the country from which he comes seems to ask a lot of that political leader.
With Northern Ireland, given the greater divisions within its community than are found in other parts of the United Kingdom, it seems inevitable that the party leaders will impress upon the Secretary of State and those who may negotiate for him the view that their attitude is one that he must build into whatever proposals he makes. Therefore, when the Secretary of State is presented with up to four viewpoints, one of which is entirely contrary to the views of the other three—I am talking of the view of the SDLP as opposed to the views of the Unionists, whether at the conference or presented in papers to my right hon. Friend—he is put in the same position as his predecessor. When I pressed his predecessor about political progress, he told me that he could do nothing without the consent of the political parties. He used that as an excuse for doing nothing. At the time I chided him for his unwillingness to take action because I felt that he, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had it within his power to bypass the political parties and introduce such proposals as he believed would best serve the interests of the Province.
He chose not to do that, and my right hon. Friend has chosen the same course. I think that the result of his not being prepared to look at the problem without going to the party leaders has been to get my right hon. Friend into the same quandary as faced his predecessor, except that my right hon. Friend has continued to proceed along a certain path even though, as has surely been shown by today's speeches, he has found little if any support for his ideas from the political leaders in Northern Ireland. I suggest that the reason for that is that those leaders are seeking to use the devolved institutions being offered by my right hon. Friend to forward their individual political approaches. I cannot see that that is in any way unreasonable of them. I would do the same in their position. However, if my right hon. Friend then tries to draw a common factor from what they say he will find that the only thread holding them together is a healthy dislike for the proposals that he has put before the House.
635 It may be that these proposals, when put before the people of Northern Ireland, will extract a different response, but it is reasonable to suppose that the party political leaders are in touch with the people—their supporters—and that to that extent he will see his options run into the ground. I hope that I am wrong, because I believe the White Paper contains a genuine attempt to find a way of once again devolving certain political powers to Northern Ireland.
However, I believe that the White Paper has been based on a false premise and that it has one serious danger. It has raised expectations once again that something not akin to Stormont, or at least to the Ulster Assembly of 1974, will be created. If those expectations are not fulfilled a dangerous vacuum will exist which will have to be filled with a categoric statement from the Secretary of State that the future of the Province must be seen in terms of direct rule, with perhaps an increase in local government representation, or filled with something similar.
We all know that Northern Ireland felt the loss of its Parliament eight years ago as a political slight, which it longs to redeem. After 50 years of having that Parliament I cannot say that I find that attitude unreasonable or to be wondered at. However, I must say that the ending of Stormont ended a chapter in the history of Northern Ireland.
I have believed for some time that it was the Stormont Government that made this House and Parliament so unconcerned about what went on in Northern Ireland for 50 years. As I have said, many of the wrongs that we have sought to put right in the past eight years might have been righted much earlier if Northern Ireland had been more answerable to this House rather than to the Parliament at Stormont.
I say to my right hon. Friend, therefore, as I look at his proposals, and in particular at the list of the devolved powers that he wishes to give to the institutions set out in his two proposals, that I find myself asking why he should wish to recreate a government structure in Northern Ireland of such considerable proportions. Why does he think that the region called Northern Ireland, which has 636 population, if not a land mass, no larger than Yorkshire should be given a Government replete in so many respects though, admittedly, without power over security or overall finances? I wonder whether he really believes that giving a long list of devolved powers to such a small area will not create an absurdly top-heavy administration in a Province which, if I understand so many of those who come from it, is not seeking quite, that amount of devolved government so much as a desire to fill the gap in its local government structure which has existed since Stormont was destroyed.
Therefore, my first objection to the White Paper proposals is the list of devolved powers which are to be handed over to the new Assembly. I think that I should go further. I have already suggested that each party leader in Northern Ireland has, not unnaturally, played his corner as hard as he can. The result is that the representatives of the minority community say that they must have power sharing or they will not enter into such an Assembly. The leaders of the majority say that they must have proper representation from their majority position in terms of government or control of the Assembly.
My right hon. Friend has sought to meet those two, as it were, unsatisfiable positions by coming up with the solution that we tried before. He argues, as does the White Paper, that this solution can be achieved by consent. He says that it can be achieved because it has within its hands the possibility of peace and reconciliation, political stability and economic reconstruction. But does it?
I suggest that those four objectives are not likely to be satisfied by the first of the two propositions. I wonder—and I quote from the White Paper whether—those who wish to maintain Northern Ireland's present status within the United Kingdomcan really reconcile that position withthose who aspire to Irish unity".It is argued that the same situation existed when the last power-sharing Executive was set up. As we have heard during the debate, there are those who say that the power-sharing Executive worked better during the two months of its existence than anyone could have imagined.
637 It is a matter of fact that in the convention's report so many of the politicians who gave their views said that they were surprised at how much common ground they found among politicians of all parties with whom they had thought they could not work. But it is also true that after only two months it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about how the power-sharing Executive would have worked.
It is true that the same consent that allowed the power-sharing Executive to be set up disappeared a few months later, when, in February 1974, there was a general election and, as we have been reminded, the political complexion of the Province changed. Therefore, if we believe that the consent given by the people to one set of political ideas becomes a permanent stability, I think that we have to look at that example to see that that is not how stability will be achieved. People give their consent, but they can withdraw it in the flash of an eye. If that is what we rely upon, it will not do.
It may be argued that a power-sharing Executive means that those with different attitudes are prepared to work together to achieve certain common objectives. It will be argued that that is reconciliation, with the two sides of the community working together building bridges across the gulf that divides them and thus drawing the two communities closer, but is it? If such an Assembly it to have legislative powers as is suggested in the White Paper, is it reasonable to suppose that politicians whose objective is Irish unity would wish to lend support to legislation that might make that unity more difficult to achieve?
I say that the power-sharing Executive would, inevitably, have broken on that rock when that rock appeared in its way. It was only the fact that it ran for such a short time that the Executive did not strike that rock. If that is the case, I urge my right hon. Friend not to believe that the momentary consent of the population, if it is gained, will stay with any form of political institution which may seem soon afterwards to deny natural justice to those who may claim, reasonably, to be in the majority. The majority will want to achieve a political objective in contradiction to the 638 minority who have been brought in to a political institution which suits their aspirations, but which is so contrary to the aspirations of the majority and which will, if legislation is to be part of this Assembly, soon produce a situation where disaster will be the only outcome.
Power sharing will not produce the reconciliation for which we all hope. It is a form of political acrobatics which may, momentarily, appear to have achieved the unachievable and to have satisfied the insatiable, but it will not last long enough to produce the strong and stable government which the White Paper holds out for that view.
We then come to the question of how to produce stability. We must first ask what power should be devolved. I have already suggested that the powers in the White Paper are excessive. Secondly, we should ask whether these Assemblies should be legislative Assemblies. I was attracted some time ago by suggestions put forward by the hon Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). In his view, once we start talking about a devolved Assembly that has legislative powers we create the very friction that will destroy any such organisation, particularly if we seek to bring in the minority. The minority will see in law—making the means by which they may be prevented from achieving what they consider to be their rightful political aspirations.
Why introduce legislative power? Why should not those powers stay on this side of the Irish Sea? Why can it not be an administrative Assembly for the purpose of carrying out the laws of the United Kingdom—laws that will be argued in this Chamber by increased representation from Northern Ireland and by other hon. Members and which, therefore, will have passed through the natural process of the Westminster Parliament and will be ready to be carried out in the Province?
I move from that situation to tell my right hon. Friend, as he will easily guess, that I am not keen on the first of his two proposals, because I do not believe that it will work. I believe that the second of his two propositions has more to commend it, even assuming, as I do, that the devolved powers will be limited and that the legislative process will not be there. However, until rather more 639 detail is spelt out about the second proposition than is contained in the White Paper it is difficult to see whether that Assembly can be changed in such a way as to meet the suggestions that I am putting forward.
I should like to move on to two other points. The White Paper—dare I say it? —rather grandly describes itself asThe Government of Northern Ireland—Proposals for Further Discussion".Curiously, although it has so grand a title, it omits two major areas in the structure of Northern Ireland Government which I should have thought it would touch on. The first relates to the local government structure. It says nothing about the fact that Northern Ireland has no county councils, that the district councils do not have responsibility for the same range of services as ours do on this side of the Irish Sea and that the area boards, which are un-elected, are not desperately popular and yet possess considerable powers. By omission it seems to suggest that that part of the Northern Ireland Government structure must be left alone. One cannot help feeling that to some extent that attitude is taken, because whenever anyone talks about the reform of local government in Northern Ireland an SDLP spokesman says "If you try to do that we will resist you".
Sooner or later we must decide whether we govern Northern Ireland or whether we are governed by those in Northern Ireland. We must decide whether we are acting on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland or whether we are trying to trim so as to upset as few people as possible, thereby bringing in the wake of that decision weak, unrepresentative and undemocratic government to the Province.
I then look at the parliamentary situation. As we know, Northern Ireland has no Select Committee shadowing the Northern Ireland Department, yet Scotland and Wales have. Why not Northern Ireland? Why should not the Northern Ireland Members have the same rights as Scots or Welsh Members to question the Northern Ireland Office about what it is doing and intends to do? That would produce an answerability which would be helpful to both sides. As has been said 640 already, no Northern Ireland Member sits on either Front Bench. Nor has one done so since 1974, and the then Member for Londonderry did not have a job in the Northern Ireland Office, but was in the Department of Employment.
All those deficiencies in the political structure of Northern Ireland arc not referred to in the White Paper, which seems to try to do what the legislation which set up the Ulster Assembly in 1973 tried to do—to see whether there is a grand-slam approach which will satisfy the political aspirations of the politicians in Northern Ireland, if not the people of Northern Ireland, and which will by one sleight of hand remove the troublesome problem of looking at the structure of government in Northern Ireland at every level to see whether it is functioning, as we should reasonably expect it to function, and to what extent it is comparable with what we find in the other regions of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
The Select Committee suggested by the hon. Gentleman would require a Government majority of Conservative Members and a minority representing the official Opposition. There might only be one place in that minority for a person from Northern Ireland. Which one would he choose? That is how the Select Committee would have to be structured if it was to be representative of the House, as Select Committees are supposed to be.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not pursue that point because he has asked me a question to which I cannot immediately given an answer, nor do I necessarily accept his premise upon which such a Select Committee would be set up.
I recognise the sincerity of the Secretary of State's approach, both in setting up a political conference and in producing this White Paper—I think that all of us would accept that if there were a willingness in Northern Ireland to make either of the proposals work that could happen—but I wonder whether this is the moment at which the people of Northern Ireland are as keen on proposals of this sort as my right hon. Friend supposes.
A few weeks ago I listened to a television interview from Newtownbutler, where there has been a lot of terrorism.
641 Canon O'Neil, the local parson, was perhaps the last speaker who was put on the box. Someone asked him "Do you think these new political proposals which are about to be announced will get rid of this terrorism?", and he replied "What the people want is peace, not politics". He did not think that the two were complementary, and I do not think that I do, either.
Perhaps I can close my speech by quoting some words from the Belfast Telegraph, which said:If there was enough agreement on fundamentals, and trust either plan could work. In fact Westminister style government could work. But without a much higher level of agreement than has emerged so far—the effort required to set up the edifice, and maintain it, would not be worthwhile. The Government have gone through an essential and useful exercise…If they decide that direct rule is everyone's least unacceptable choice, and that ordinary people in both communities are more interested in security and jobs than constitutions and votes, this would not mean defeat. It would mean, quite simply, that politically reconciling the communities they designate throughout the statement as 'majority' and ' minority' is not, in July 1980, a possibility.I think that those words may be more accurate than any of us would like to suppose. However, it is now, clearly, up to the people of Northern Ireland, and those who represent them in that Province in whatever way, to express to the Secretary of State whether any of the views that I have expressed this evening are representative of thinking in Northern Ireland, or whether they will embrace one or other of his proposals in a way which, at present, I think is unlikely.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
I am quite sure that many hon. Members who have not spoken in the debate or have not attended expected to find the Ulster Unionists totally isolated in their opposition to the proposals now before the House. But that has not been the case. Frankly, we did not expect it to be the case. I therefore follow with much encouragement the speech of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). Indeed, we have listened with great interest and profit to almost every speech from the Conservative Benches, with the rather predictable exception of one.
There are two fundamental questions which are occasioned when proposals 642 such as these are put before the House. The first is whether they will strengthen or weaken the Union. The second is whether they will result in affording greater security to the people of Northern Ireland. Both major parties have given a verbal commitment to the maintenance of the Union, but, alas we found that the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 thoroughly undermined the verbal agreement and commitment which was given in respect of the Union.
The simple fact is that there have been numerous attempts in Northern Ireland to reconcile two political philosophies—I underline the word "political"—which are irreconcilable. Those attempts have been made on the basis that there are two communities in the Province of Ulster, which somehow have to learn to live together, govern together, and to share their future in government together. But no one has really endeavoured to point out that it is of paramount importance to define the phrase "two communities". In paragraph 15 of the document that phrase recurs again and again. There has been no attempt during the debate, and certainly not during my tenure in Parliament, to define the meaning of "two communities". That is fundamental to the consideration of how the Province is governed, and the question of power sharing or its absence.
Successive Secretaries of State have referred to the minority community as a religious community, namely, Roman Catholics. They have insisted that there must be a place in Government, as of right, for that Roman Catholic community. No Secretary of State who wishes to avoid the accusation of casuistry can plead that he has not regarded the minority community as both a religious minority and a political minority. Each Secretary of State has argued that a place in Government, as the right, should be afforded to the political minority. That idea has been championed under the guise of concern for fair play for the religious minority. That is the fundamental misconception about the Ulster problem.
An examination of the historical events that have rendered the political minority also a definable religious minority—Roman Catholics—is outside the scope of the debate. However, it is clearly fundamental to the debate that successive Governments have made frequent attempts to 643 include Republicans in the Government of Northern Ireland, and that is inherently nonsensical. We are faced with the simple fact that in the Ulster political scene, leaving aside the term "religious minority", there are two political philosophies, one held by the minority—Republicanism—and the other held and espoused by the majority in Ulster—Unionism. They are totally irreconcilable, If we miss that fact, we shall go round and round in circles for years.
Because there has been an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, we find ourselves coming to the Floor of the House with even more exotic schemes. There is no possible solution to the nonsensical pursuit of trying to reconcile Republicanism with Unionism. Republicanism exists to effect the cessation of the State of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Unionism exists to ensure the continuation of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. There is no way in which those two philosophies can ever enjoy common ground.
Yet we are once again considering a document that seeks in two rather strange ways to reconcile those two philosophies. At the end of the day, it has nothing to do with the fact that there is a religious minority and a religious majority. But it has all to do with the fact that there are two different political philosophies that can never run together on a common line As the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said, even as we try to create an exotic scheme we do nothing but institutionalise sectarianism in Northern Ireland within a political context.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has returned to the Chamber. I must try to respond to some of the rather uncharacteristic points that he made earlier in the debate. I think that it must have been a slip of the tongue when he said that Ulster Unionists absolutely hated, and worked against in every way, Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. That is simply not true. The hon. Gentleman should be prepared to accept a simple acid test. He is a Roman Catholic, and I ask him to accept that in his heart he knows that I do not hate him, nor do my right hon. and hon. Friends hate him. Nor are we in any way tempted to hate or despise 644 those for whom we work in the Province who are Roman Catholics.
I have often said in the Chamber that we, as Ulster Unionists' face a challenge in Northern Ireland. That challenge is the battle for the minds of Roman Catholics. In the constituency work carried out by my colleagues and myself and by the concern that the party has shown with other Unionists in Northern Ireland within the convention report, we have clearly indicated that there is no question of hatred towards a religious minority.
I must take up the hon. Gentleman on another point. The debate this morning in Committee did not indicate that we held that attitude towards the religious minority. We have stated clearly again and again that we wish to afford the religious minority in Northern Ireland access to the courts to establish whether discrimination has taken place against them. We shall encourage and fight for that. I would go as far as to say that the Bill of Rights that was adjourned to the convention report could be extended. I think that few of my friends would object to such a Bill of Rights, even if extended. I wish to lay, once and for all, what I believe to have been a slip of the tongue.
I return to the proposals in the document before the House. Both proposals address themselves to Republicanism and its role in government. That is unacceptable because the Union would be irreparably fractured. Hence, I answer my first question—"Will these proposals weaken or strengthen the Union?"—by saying that I believe, without a shadow of doubt, that they will weaken it. As Unionists, we cannot contemplate proceeding on the basis of the proposals.
Let us consider the first proposal, which will not take more than a second or two. We can sum it up in one term—"Whitelawism". That is enough for the people of Northern Ireland to say "We have confidence in your rejection of proposal No. 1 on that basis". I do not think that I need take up the time of the Chamber much longer to dispose of proposal No. 1. The bluder of places as of right for Republicanism, of concocted exotic Executives, and of appointees has received the judgement in Northren Ireland. It received its burial in the House. 645 So let us not try to breathe life into something which is dead and buried. Resurrection is for the good, not for the damned and the evil.
§ Mr. Bradford
If the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss theology, let us do that later. But a simple text comes to mind—that the result of sin is death. I am talking about the converse of death, which is life, and that is for the good and the just and not for the sinner—or not, certainly, for the Sunningdale proposals.
I turn now to proposal No. 2. The great difficulty here is with the council of the Assembly, its blocking role, its delaying role and all the rest, as outlined in the document. There is a wonderful little phrase in the document on page 16:To prevent exercise of these powers"—that is, the powers exercised by the Cabinet and the blocking role and delaying tactics operated by the council of the Assembly—from bringing the process of government to a halt the Secretary of State would have a referee function with powers to override by Order.That is a fascinating statement. The fact that a referee is needed invites the assumption that there is to be a fight. A referee is not needed if there is not to be a fight. The document says that the referee is to be the Secretary of State. Indeed, the fact that there is to be a referee on hand, within easy, call, means that there is an incitement to confrontation, because the minority will not say "Let us settle for what we know is just and right ". The minority will say "Let us go for as much as we can and let the referee settle the opposition". The fact stands out a mile that if a referee is needed an argy-bargy is contemplated.
Some people in Northern Ireland have said, in relation to the blocking and delaying powers, that there is an analogy with the House of Lords. The House of Lords has the power to delay and to block. Those of us who were in this Chamber in the last Parliament know that that is true. We remember some interesting measures concerned with the shipbuilding and aircraft industries.
646 It is clear that the Parliament Act 1911, which was amended in 1949, gives this House the power to proceed at the end of the argument, so that there is no impasse, in the complete and full sense of that word. But that cannot be said of proposal No. 2. The only way out of the impasse is to call in the referee. If we call in the Secretary of State, what have we got but direct rule by the back door? He will legislate by Order in Council, so we go back to direct rule, Even though we have an Assembly on the hill, the salaries, the powers, the perks and all the things that go with Government, Parliament, Cabinet and Executive, we still have direct rule by the back door. So proposal No. 2 is also a non-starter.
The next question is: will these proposals afford security to the people of Northern Ireland? I do not believe that they will, because a Parliament which has not the power to protect those over whom it governs is a hollow mockery. A Northern Ireland Parliament which could not make security decisions would become a mere whipping boy for a Westminster Parliament which had neither the will nor the guts to defend Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State has said "Ah, but you have a voice in security matters". That is nothing new. We have always had a voice in security matters. At each Northern Ireland Question Time —tomorrow will be another such occasion—the Secretary of State is bombarded with security questions. We shall soon have debates on the emergency powers. We are always advising him. Our only problem is that he does not avail himself of such expert and marvellous advice. But the advice is always tendered. So that is not a new provision or a new offer.
I return to the point that a Northern Ireland Parliament which could not take security decisions would not be a Parliament in the full sense of the word.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirling-shire)
Does the hon. Member seriously want a Northern Ireland Assembly or Parliament to give orders to the British Army?
§ Mr. Bradford
If the hon. Gentleman had waited a little longer, he would have found that I was about to deal with that 647 point. His question is a good one and I shall deal with it.
The Secretary of State has invited the Unionist politicians—indeed, I suspect that he has invited all politicians in Northern Ireland, but particularly the Unionists—to contemplate a political compromise. I say to him in sincerity that right now in the Province there is no more pressing need than to destroy the IRA. That need is even more pressing than devolved government. Yet it is clear that the will to win will emerge only when Ulster politicians have the right and the possibility of taking security decisions in their own Paliament.
I now come to the question put by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). I do not, of course, contemplate power over the Army. That has been reserved to this House since the Government of Ireland Act 1920. No change is contemplated.
What we enjoyed in Northern Ireland up to 1972 was the control over policing. In addition to that, the General Officer Commanding the Forces in Northern Ireland liaised with the Home Secretary in Northern Ireland at Stormont and gave advice—and, indeed, at times received advice. It is in those areas that we would envisage the Parliament in Northern Ireland exercising a security role.
If some of us are to bare our souls tonight—the hon. Member for Belfast, West made a very good job of that—I would say that the logical extension of Unionism is total integration. If we had the luxury in Ulster of approaching these constitutional proposals as a purely scientific exercise, treating politics as a pure science, not one of us in this Chamber could stop short of total and full integration. But I want to tell the House, seriously and not in a carping way. that the one thing which does not enable my colleagues or myself to take that approach or to pursue that end is that successive Secretaries of State in Ulster have wilted in the face of the IRA.
The previous Tory Secretary of State entertained members of the IRA in this country as they plotted to murder the soldiers and Service men whose aircraft they were using. Does that reveal the guts, determination and courage that the of State in the Labour Administration 648 brought into being a bogus cease-fire which inhibited no one but the British Army. He brought into being a bogus ceasefire that was arranged with one section of the IRA but which allowed every other section of the Irish Republican Army to perpetrate dreadful atrocities in the Province. Because there was an agreement with one section of hte IRA, the rest were free to bomb, blast, maim and kill.
It was fascinating to discover in the Rowland report on housing in Northern Ireland that the ceasefire was effected and agreed for political reasons. Housing contracts were made in order to keep the ceasefire in being. None of those things leads us to believe that an English Secretary of State has the guts, courage and determination to beat the IRA. It is for that reason, among others, that Ulster Members ask for their own devolved Parliament, with security powers.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. If he is saying that we do not have the will to win, I am puzzled that despite the signficant number of arrests, the Diplock court convictions show that a large percentage of those people are new recruits to the IRA and have not been in trouble before. If that is correct, the only way to get tougher is by picking up people who have not been in trouble before, which must bring greater pressure on minority communities.
§ Mr. Bradford
The people who are plotting and planning—the strategists—are clearly known. The people who are perpetrating some of the worse atrocities in the border areas have free recourse to the Province. Actions could be taken, against both the strategists and those people from Eire, but that action is not forthcoming. That leads us to believe that action that could have been taken by Secretaries of State is not being taken.
Westminster security policy of reducing the Army in Ulster, closing UDR barracks in Ulster and inhibiting work by local security forces, such as the RUC and UDR, from taking necessary action has resulted in the Ulsterisation of the casualties and the deaths. But there is no contemplation of Ulsterisation of decision-making in these proposals. There 649 cannot be one without the other if we are serious about a devolved Parliament that has power to beat the terrorists in the Province.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) is not present. He made a typical, innocuous and negative speech. He said that during the past four years there was total sterility on the part of Northern Ireland politicians. That is not so. First, the Convention report was not given the reception that it deserved in the House. I wonder whether he is aware of that, or whether he has even read the report. That was one product of a non-sterile mind. There was also an important political debate on the increase in the number of Northern Ireland seats in the House, and that is inextricably bound up with the return of powers to local government. That case has been argued again and again by my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends. There is no sterility there.
Has the hon. Member for Petersfield done any homework over the last four years? Has he even read his party's manifesto? That manifesto said that his party was contemplating the return of powers to local government in Northern Ireland. Yet he is not in the vanguard of saying to the Secretary of State "When will you keep your promise? When will you honour a commitment that was made that involved the late Airey Neave, a man who appreciated the case for the return of powers to local government?"
Any proposal which weakens the Union is anathema to Unionists. Any proposal which does not give us a say in our own security, in view of past experience regarding decision-making in the House, leaves us with no alternative but again to reject that proposal.
I do not attribute to the Secretary of State the deviousness of some of his predecessors. I believe him to be an honest and fair man. I ask him to take on board the points that we have tried to make and to accept that unless a future Government in Northern Ireland receive adequate security powers any proposal will be a non-starter.
§ Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)
Last week I welcomed the publication of this White Paper not because I necessarily 650 agreed with everything in it but because I thought that it kept the discussion and the momentum moving forward in this important area—something which all of us ought to seek to achieve.
The White Paper is a combination of principles with certain practical proposals that have emanated from the Government. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spent a good deal of time talking about the specific proposals. I prefer to talk not about those practical proposals, as such, but about three of the principles that appear near the beginning of the White Paper and that seem to me to be central to it.
The first occurs by combining the first sentence of paragraph 15 with paragraph 16:The key to stability in Northern Ireland is the healing of the divisions between the two communities…What Her Majesty's Government can do in this is limited. It can create, with the help of representatives of the two communities, fair and workable institutions. But governments cannot create the will to make the institutions work: that will to work together must come from the people of Northern Ireland themselves.It seems to me that that last sentence is crucial to the report: that the will to make it workmust come from the people of Northern Ireland themselves.The question that I have about the report—it will not come as a surprise to my right hon. Friend—is whether it will enable the will to be demonstrated by the people or by the politicians of Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who is not in his place, said that the politicians in Northern Ireland had worked their corner and defended their position as they saw fit and that they were not to be chastised for doing that because that is a normal part of the political process. However, after a number of years, I think that even they would be prepared to accept that it is difficult to know how accurately the will of the people is being reflected in this process.
The question is whether the proposals that the Secretary of State has included in his White Paper are those most likely to be enhanced by the will of the people. If the proposals most likely to succeed derive from the people of Northern Ireland, one must ask whether it would not be 651 better for the people of Northern Ireland to derive for themselves the proposal that they want to see initiated and that they in turn will have to implement.
The White Paper suggests that the Government have a role in establishing the outer framework. I entirely agree. That has been a characteristic of Government policy in other areas since this Government came to power. I think particularly of the Government's involvement in what has now been termed the solution of the Rhodesian problem.
In that context, the Government's policy was to set up an outer framework, as decribed by the Secretary of State in this White Paper, and then to leave the people on the ground to work out the details for themselves within that outer framework. My right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary lent his advice to help them overcome problems and Lord Soames, in his capacity as Governor of Rhodesia, helped them to overcome the problems as they appeared on a day-by-day basis. But if there had been a requirement on the part of the Government to achieve detailed agreement at Lancaster House, there would never have been Zimbabwean independence because they could not, in that vacuum, have solved the problems that faced the community. Those problems could be solved only within the framework, with good will, and given the help that was made available to the parties.
That is a very good illustration of the sort of approach that the Government might care to consider adopting for Northern Ireland. I suggest to my right hon. Friend—this does not come as a surprise to him—that it is the Government's role to set the outer framework and to allow the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, to overcome the problems themselves within the framework laid down by the Government.
I believe that it is possible to establish such a framework. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury asked whether we were listening to the politicians or to the people. If my right hon. Friend were to set up an Assembly and to have elections to that Assembly on the basis of of his outer framework, that would com-proportional representation, which is part mand wide support. If he were to intro- 652 duce the idea of a qualified majority rather than, perhaps, the 50 per cent. —plus 1 idea which is contained in proposal 2—it seems to me that a qualified majority would be less intricate and cumbersome—he would afford a measure of protection for the minority community while preserving the role of the majority community as being in a majority in such an Assembly. He could then make devolution available to that Assembly on the basis of agreement over policies and their implementation.
The advantage of such a scheme is that it is not necessary in advance to establish the administrative structures that would characterise that Assembly. Initially there would be no power, and power would be devolved on the basis of agreement, so it would not be necessary for some time to come together to decide what the administrative structures ought to be. In that time, the Assembly would be seen to be working and to be having a future. It would be seen to be giving the opportunity for Northern Ireland politicians to be working together. But above all, it would be seen to be allowing the people of Northern Ireland to exert the normal political pressures and processes that are characteristic of any democratic Assembly—this House or any other—allowing them to express their own preferences before the event rather than after the event, which is characteristic of the proposals in the White Paper.
If the Government wished to devolve, that devolution would depend on Northern Ireland politicians reaching agreement, and that in turn would be a reflection of the will of the people to see power devolved.
I think that administrative structures are much more likely to evolve in such an arrangement on the basis of working together in a real situation than they are of appearing by prior agreement in bilateral talks in a theoretical situation ahead of an election and without the normal political pressures from the will of the people.
§ Mr. S. Enoch Powell
The hon. Member refers to the persons elected to this Assembly as "working together," but they do not have any work to do, because it is an Assembly which he has already stated by definition will have no powers.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
The right hon. Gentleman was not listening, or perhaps I was not being as clear as I should have been. I said that they would meet together, they would decide on policy areas, and that as they reached agreement power would be devolved. Therefore, from the first day they would have an objective. They would be working together and power would be devolved gradually. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows that that is an idea that I have made available to him before. It is one that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) introduced during Question Time last week, when he advocated such a proposal. My right hon. Friend replied:That is a possible approach, and one that we might consider…We are aiming higher than that at this stage. "—[Official Report, 2July 1980; Vol. 987, c. 1534.]I accept that that is my right hon. Friend's value judgment, but I am not sure that "higher" was appropriate in the circumstances. That which is being proposed may have much to commend it, especially as it gives the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity at the very beginning to express their will in a way that is not available in the proposals that my right hon. Friend has outlined. The will of the people of Northern Ireland and the need for them to express it has been a constant thread through virtually every speech during the debate.
§ Mr. Fitt
I accept fully the honesty and sincerity with which the hon. Gentleman advances his proposal for an elected Assembly. Will he concede that before an Assembly is established there has to be an election, during which policies and manifestos are put to the electorate? Does he accept that one section of the community will be saying "We want power sharing and an Irish dimension"? Does he accept that the other side will be saying "We do not want power sharing or an Irish dimension"? After the election takes place and the elected Members go to the Assembly, they will be afraid to talk to one another for the first six months. Having been elected on their manifestos they will be regarded as traitors by their communities if they try to find agreement.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
Nothing that the hon. Gentleman has said is any different from 654 any election that is held in any democratic country in any part of the world. Politicians are able to work together after such elections take place. The most recent example was the compact between the Labour and Liberal Parties, which was formed when the Labour Government were in power.
There are two other advantages to be found in the scheme that I have proposed.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
It would allow the form of the Assembly and the speed of devolution to be determined by the people of Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State would remain in charge pending devolution on an agreed basis. It would provide a genuine test of the people's will. We have talked a great deal about devolution, and the scheme would tell us whether that is what the people of Northern Ireland desire.
Paragraph 18 of the White Paper contains the second important principle that we must discuss. It states:In accordance with Section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom and in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland…Statutory provision exists for the wishes of the Northern Ireland electorate to be tested at intervals by a 'border poll', and successive Governments have made it clear that those wishes, whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or to cease so to be, will be respected. A substantial majority of the people of Northern Ireland at present wish it to remain part of the United Kingdom.That has already been commented on by hon. Members from both sides of the Chamber, including representatives of the Unionist parties. They have given it their approval. It represents a fact of life that even the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will recognise.
The working party talks about the necessary relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain on the one hand and the North and South of Ireland on the other. Both are important, although the strength of the latter arrangement may well depend on the sort of Assembly that evolves.
655 There is also a relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland which is crucial to the future of the Province. Whatever election procedure is adopted, the Assembly will have a majority from the majority community, and this will be true whatever precautions are adopted for the protection of the minority. There will be more Unionist politicians in the Assembly than anyone else. However, "majority" in the context of paragraph 18 means the majority community at any particular time.
The border poll occurs on a regular basis. The decision is not taken in perpetuity; it is taken for a finite length of time. That is the point in having periodic polls, so that the people of Northern Ireland can express an opinion.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
This is a common misapprehension. There is no statutory provision for periodic border polls. There is a minimum period within which such a poll cannot be held again, but that is quite different.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I would not argue with the right hon. Member, but that is not to say that there will not be periodic testings of the views of the people of Northern Ireland.
The statement that emerged from Sunningdale was that the British Government would support the majority view and they would support that view whether the people decided to remain part of the United Kingdom or become part of a united Ireland. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) raised the question whether these proposals strengthened the Union. He asked whether the proposals would affect the majority in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom. That is what the Union is—an expression of the people of Northern Ireland, the majority of whom want to stay part of the United Kingdom. But that majority could change at any time.
What is the strength of that majority position? Is it the ministerial guarantee that the views of the majority will be respected? The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has said repeatedly that this it not so, and that the guarantee is the majority—the fact that there are more Unionists than any- 656 one else in the Province. He claims that that is the guarantee that the Province has, and ultimately he is right.
Therefore, will the Secretary of State's proposals in the White Paper affect the majority view in Northern Ireland? Will the proposals influence that majority view, or is he saying that he will accept the view of the majority, irrespective? In other words, do the Government have a view about the majority that they would prefer in Northern Ireland and will they seek to influence that majority, whether it be the majority as it is or the majority as it may become? Or will my right hon. Friend stick to the statement in paragraph 18 of the report?
Finally, I turn to paragraph 11, which refers to the fact that the British Government's involvement in the fight against terrorism in terms of manpower, equipment, installations and their operational use, is such that it is not realistic to envisage conferring on the Northern Ireland Administration full responsibility for the criminal law, the police and the prison service.
Hon. Members who heard the Secretary of State's statement last week were touched by the response of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), who said that his constituents were more concerned about whether they would be allowed to live than under what system they would live. We understand that. The security context is important in determining the political future of Northern Ireland.
I have to ask my right hon Friend how he can reconcile the statement in paragraph 11 with the answer that he gave me on 1 July. I asked why the road from Northern Ireland to the Republic at Aughnacloy was not manned. A few days later two men were shot and seriously wounded there. My right hon. Friend replied:The tasking of individual patrols and checkpoints is an operational matter which is entirely the responsibility of the Chief Constable and the GOC."—[Official Report, 1 July 1980; Vol. 987, c. 536.]In other words, in Hansard operational matters are not the concern of the Secretary of State, but in paragraph 11 of the White Paper they are his responsibility.
657 I understand the difficult position in which my right hon. Friend finds himself, and I am not criticising him. However, when one considers security, particularly around the border, it is easy to understand the perception of those who feel, fairly or not, that security is not as good there, and one can appreciate why their concern for the political future of Northern Ireland is secondary to their concern to live.
I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the security element of the White Paper. Even with the great strides that have been made in security in many parts of the Province, the White Paper will not succeed without the security element.
I conclude on a point that may be considered emotional, but it goes to the heart of one of the fundamental problems of Northern Ireland. We have not heard much willingness to be flexible or to settle for less than the ultimate goal represented by each political party. Listening to speeches, I could not help my eye falling on the plaque that we erected to the memory of Airey Neave. I saw the cross on that plaque, and if the cross means anything it indicates the necessity for a degree of repentance.
In the context of the hyper-religious atmosphere of Northern Ireland, it might not be out of place to say that as people approach the White Paper in a political, sectarian or religious context, a degree of repentance might be helpful in contemplation of the proposals. I profoundly hope that my right hon. Friend succeeds in what he is seeking to do not only for the people of Northern Ireland but for those of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
It gives me no pleasure to say that I am unhappy about the White Paper. It is easy to find faults in any scheme for Northern Ireland, but we send good wishes to the people of Northern Ireland and to any Secretary of State who has to try to deal with the problems there.
The difficulties come through in the earlier parts of the White Paper, where it says thatthe Conference was aimed at establishing the highest level of agreement between the parties rather than identifying a single detailed scheme of government to which all would subscribe.658 Having heard speeches from the various Unionist parties, it seems to me that that level of agreement must be dangerously low. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) asked after the Secretary of State's statement last week:may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that any attempt to resurrect the 1973 rigged Executive would be rejected by the electorate in Northern Ireland as decisively as was that earlier experiment? Is the Secretary of State aware that any design for two rival Cabinets would be a recipe for disaster".As the 1972 Stormont Government were dismissed and abolished for refusing to relinquish powers over security, what credibility could be attached to any structure from which those powers were withheld.Given that the White Paper does not give those powers, the chances of agreement will be minimal.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said thatany attempt…to rig a Government…so that the minority can, by artificial devices, become a majority and exercise a veto will be unacceptable and will be utterly rejected by the electorate of Northern Ireland."—[Official Report, 2 July 1980; Vol. 987, c. 1530–31.]Given those statements alone, no agreement on the basis of the White Paper would lead to progress. Why? One could argue that the responses of the various parties were made before they had fully considered the White Paper and before they had negotiated. The Unionist parties have been remarkably consistent in their opposition to such schemes. Why? First, such schemes imply that the minority have, and have had, unequal treatment. Unionists would not be willing to admit that, because they do not believe it to be true. Secondly, such an admission would raise the possibility of what the Unionists fear, namely, a united Ireland.
The White Paper cannot be discussed without reference to past events or future policies. If successive British Governments are to be criticised, the criticism should be that they have tried too hard to make the system in Northern Ireland work. That system has not worked effectively since 1920. Are we tinkering with the problem, or should we take more radical action? Must we not decide whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom? Should we decide, as the Unionists argue, that it must be fully integrated? That nettle has yet to be grasped.
659 I welcome paragraphs 19 to 22. They represent the first admission and recognition of a wider Irish dimension. For a similar reason, I am sure that Unionist Members will not like those paragraphs. The White Paper pleads, as others have done, that the people and parties of Northern Ireland should be constructive. I do not believe that the people or parties of Northern Ireland have necessarily been unconstructive. I shall not mention those individuals or personalities who may have appear unconstructive at times.
As the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) pointed out, there is no irreconcilable difference between the basic philosophies. They differ on the issue of the constitution. It is the constitution that causes the problem. In addition, there are a number of Unionist parties. The Unionists have split. Indeed, they have splintered. There is a reason for that. It is easy to blame the people of Northern Ireland or to shrug them off, on the ground that they cannot agree and that they are born to fight amongst each other. It is said that they will never learn, and so on.
I do not accept that. There are reasons why people get into such situations. The people of Northern Ireland are no worse and no better than the people of England or, for that matter, of China or Brazil. The problem is that they have no effective political power in Northern Ireland. I go further. The political power does not lie in Dublin, either; it rests in this House.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) made a very good speech expressing his feelings about discrimination and prejudice. He was picked up by the hon. Member for Belfast, South for saying that Catholics were hated by Protestants. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, South, that all Protestants do not hate all Catholics. The problem is that that discrimination exists as it does for other minority groups.
It may help to put the matter in perspective for some of the Unionists present if I explain my own involvement with the Irish question over the years. My involvement started at about the age of 6. It meant nothing to me then. I had been evacuated to Liverpool at the close of World War II, away from the V2s. There, along with other street gangs, we 660 used to gather stones and chase boys and girls home, throwing stones at them and ambushing them. We called them "Paddies". Occasionally we called them "Catholics". I thought no more of that. I was there for only a relatively short period, and was spared what happened to quite a few people in Liverpool.
The next occasion was at school, when we learnt about the Irish question, which kept bringing down British Governments in the last century. That was just another boring history lesson.
The next time was slightly more meaningful. I was in uniform in Northern Ireland, where I was given a lecture by an RAF officer. I was told that I was not to visit certain parts of Belfast in uniform and not to talk about the Queen in certain areas, and that if people started to talk to me in pubs about Republicanism I was to watch them or leave the pub. Suddenly I began to think about the matter.
The final occasion was in Glasgow, when I went to live there and found myself talking to a lady who was carrying a banner bearing the picture of a man on a horse. In my naive innocence, I asked who King Billy was and what the Battle of the Boyne was about. It was all I could do to escape being lynched for what the lady called sheer cheek and what I regarded as genuine curiosity.
It was not until I began, much later, to knit those experiences together that I began to realise that the Irish problem was not simply an Irish problem but was also a British problem. It lies here, in this House.
As someone who has for long held that the only real road to go down is that of Irish unity, I must say that the main problem that we created for ourselves in the House was to give a veto to the majority in Northern Ireland. I understand their need and desire for that, but, as I have said once before in the Chamber, just as it would be wrong for the minority in Northern Ireland to exercise the veto over the majority, so it would be wrong for a minority of the people of the United Kingdom, wherever they live—be it in Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Shetland or anywhere else—to exercise a veto over the decisions of this House. That is what the majority veto must mean. It 661 must mean that we in this House decide on the path of the United Kingdom; it is not a decision of any one part of it.
§ Mr. Marlow
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the overwhelming majority of the people in Northern Ireland want to remain part of the United Kingdom? So long as the Government have policies that are effective throughout the United Kingdom, that proportion will remain, and perhaps even increase. Is the hon. Gentleman also aware that it is quite possible that the words that he has recently uttered will give great comfort to members of the Irish Republican Army?
§ Mr. Soley
I am certainly aware of the hon. Gentleman's first point. I thought that I had made it perfectly plain that the majority in Northern Ireland had a veto. I am about to come to the question of giving comfort to the IRA.
One of the reasons why the people in the United Kingdom must start asking whether we can pursue this policy is that we have been pursuing it for a long time without success. Even if one makes the arbitrary choice of 1969, when the violence began to hit us—although it was always there before that —that gives a period of 11 years, which is a long time for successive Governments to be trying the same policy without success. We must ask more and more whether it is the right policy.
The question of providing comfort to the IRA arises on my second point, which is the effect of the existence of Northern Ireland in its present form on the democracy of the United Kingdom and the civil rights that we have built up here over hundreds of years. Every person in the Strangers Gallery and every member of the public who has walked through the House today has been screened. The House is daily checked for explosives.
§ Mr. Soley
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it was not the PLO that caused the initiation of these measures. It was the Irish question. We have to be honest enough to face that. On one occasion there was an IRA fire bomb 662 in Westminster Hall. That was a genuine problem.
I can understand the Home Secretary of the time introducing the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 in response to the Birmingham pub bombing, although we should remember that the people of Northern Ireland had been suffering such outrages for many years before that. The effect of all these things is to whittle away the civil rights and democracy that this country has built up over the years. We have to ask, therefore, not whether we give in to the IRA, because that is not the issue.
The 1974 Act was seen as a victory by the Provisional IRA. To find out why one has only to read any of the books written by a variety of terrorist philosophers on the nature of terrorism. One of the first aims of any terrorist organisation is to make the Government take tougher and more restrictive action, in order to drive a wedge between the Government and either the whole population or a particular part of it. That is what the 1974 Act has done so effectively. It has meant that many Irish people have been picked up and not charged and, as a result, have become afraid to identify themselves willingly or openly with the British position generally.
In this case, the Provisional IRA saw the Act as a victory. I do not doubt that it will welcome any action that leads to increasing numbers of young people who have not been in trouble before being recruited into the IRA and used. The majority of people who have passed through the Diplock courts are not experienced terrorists. They are mostly youngsters who have not been in trouble before. That means, above all else, that the Provisional IRA is still able to recruit.
I turn to paragraph 64 in the White Paper, which deals with what the Secretary of State will do if the proposals are not accepted. In a way, it is one of the most dangerous paragraphs in the document. In it the right hon. Gentleman goes down the road which I suspect the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) would willingly go if he could not get his first objective. In other words, it coincides with Democratic Unionist policy. I hope that the Labour Party will in due course move down the road 663 towards Irish unity, and if these talks break down that will be the time to move towards that position.
I mentioned before the fall of various British Governments on the Irish question. I am sure that the majority of hon. Members cannot have forgotten that the last Labour Government also fell on the Irish question. That was when the hon. Member for Belfast, West and for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire) declined to vote on the crucial motion of confidence. Yet again a British Government had been brought down by the Irish question. We know the reason. It 664 was about representation in this House.
We have some unfinished business on the agenda of the House. It has been on the agenda since the last century. It is about the division of Ireland. To my mind, the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, the Provisional IRA, the UDA, and even H blocks, and other things that we associate with the increased use of terror and our response to it, are symptoms of a cause. The cause is the existence of the border. It is time that we finished the business of the last century and put that right.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
I am afraid that if the Unionist speakers in the debate, on both sides of the House, command the sort of political support that I think they do, and if they mean what they have said in the debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in the position of a jockey who has been bucked off in the paddock. If he has not been bucked off, he has a very hard ride ahead. He must not be discouraged by that. I do not think that he expected anything else when he published the White Paper.
The White Paper is important for this reason. It does not matter how much one has consultations with the people of the Province. It is the politicians who have to carry it out in the end. The politicians are the key to the whole business As an English Member, I welcome the fact that this debate is a United Kingdom debate. It is a United Kingdom matter. I shall come to the interesting intervention by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) on the question of devolution.
I must say to Ulster Members that if I were to take one of them into the streets of my constituency and ask at random what were the reactions of one or two of my constituents to the Ulster situation, at best I would be met by indifference and at the worst downright exasperation with what they consider to be the tribal politics of the Province. I believe that this is fair comment. There are obviously those with family and other ties with the Province who feel differently. To many people, however, there is something so absurd and so tragic about what is happening and the divisions between the two communities that incredulity and exasperation set in.
One could say, as has been stated so often in the past, that the British have never understood the Irish. This is in a sense the abiding message of history. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) referred to a number of incidents in the past, particularly in the last century. It is doubtful whether the Irish, north or south of the border, fully understand themselves. But that is another matter.
666 This White Paper, with its proposals, is an attempt by civilised men to solve an intractable problem. It is to be warmly commended for that alone. I certainly do that. It is, however, no good trying to judge Ulster in terms applicable to the rest of the United Kingdom.
I turn to the intervention by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire about devolution. I accept entirely his statement that, if one is to devolve, it is necessary to consider the United Kingdom as a whole. The dangers of devolving in one place without making arrangements for the others are great. We dealt with all these matters in the devolution proposals in the previous Parliament. Having said that, I am equally certain that if one goes for devolution in one form or another—a federal system or whatever it is—one does not necessarily have to have the same set-up for one part of the United Kingdom as for another.
One can legitimately go down the road of experimentation and consultation before taking a major decision. I originally took a contrary view. I took the view that it was absolutely wrong to make any attempt whatever at devolution for one part of the United Kingdom without the others being brought in.
I no longer take that view in relation to Ulster, and I believe that it would be a totally wrong analysis for nationalists in Scotland and Wales to take these proposals in any way as being a blueprint for other parts of the United Kingdom. The situation in the Province is totally different. The two communities are separated by history, race and religion. We have to look overseas to find anything comparable. We must look to such places as Cyprus or Belgium, or even Israel, to find a similar situation.
Having said that, I believe that the proposals in the White Paper have some defects and probably will not succeed. But the message that must go from this House to the people of Ulster is "This is your last chance. If you repudiate this attempt at devolved Government there will be no other attempts during the lifetime of this Government". In that connection I welcome the assurance given by my right hon. Friend last week that these negotiations will be brought 667 to a conclusion at the start of the next Session of Parliament.
However, I am concerned about the wording in paragraph 64 of the White Paper. The paragraph seems to say—at least this is how I read it—"Do not worry if this initiative fails. We will still pursue devolution by stealth". I believe that that is a totally wrong approach. If this initiative fails, the only logical alternative is complete integration with the United Kingdom. I prefer to call that the Welsh solution—a system of local government akin to our own and a revision of the law to ensure that our statutes cover Northern Ireland.
I know that my right hon. Friend will say that this is a difficult and protracted legal exercise. Perhaps it is, but a deficiency of lawyers and legal advice has never been a characteristic of this Parliament, or any other, and we should not shirk this task. Such a solution would avoid one of the great difficulties we are up against—the totally unsatisfactory way in which legislation for the Province has to be dealt with in this House. There is no way out of that—if we cannot get a solution as proposed in the White Paper—except by radically revising the way in which we make our legislation cover the Province.
I accept entirely what hon. Members from Ulster have said today and previously, that the priorities for their constituents are jobs and security. I note in particular the astronomic sums now being paid to produce one job in the Province. The defeat of the IRA must be our top priority and that is the most fundamental issue to be faced by any administration in the Province as well as by this House.
The issue of security was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney); and the terms of paragraph 11 of the White Paper demonstrate a willingness to look at various proposals, particularly in relation to the police, by which some form of dual control may be evolved. Such a system has worked elsewhere, and I believe that it could work well in Northern Ireland.
Surely, in view of the sums of money we are paying in the Province to create extra jobs and other measures of assistance, it would be more in the interests of 668 the Province to divert some of that money to help strengthen the UDR and the police. I have taken part in three major anti-terrorist campaigns elsewhere in the world. I learnt a lesson then that I have never forgotten, and that is the crucial importance of local involvement in attempts to defeat terrorists. I accept, of course, the significance of the contribution which must come from the Republic, but that should not prevent a progressive replacement of British Army units by Ulster-based security forces.
The twin pillars of British policy in relation to Ireland and the Province of Ulster must be, first, the commitment that Ulster remains part of the United Kingdom as long as the majority so wishes and, secondly, that the rights of the minority must be safeguarded in any proposed solution. I wish my right hon. Friend well in his endeavours with regard to this White Paper. It will not be the first time that an attempt has been made to pacify Ireland, and it will not be the last. But let it be brought to a speedy conclusion. If it fails, let the Government come to the House and put forward their own proposals for consideration.
§ Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)
I do not intend further to seek to analyse the White Paper; that has been well enough accomplished already. I should like to refer to one term that is emotive—indeed, explosive—not only in the context of this debate but in regard to former debates on this problem. I refer to the term "power sharing". The alliance Party usually uses the word "partnership". Mr. William Craig, the former right hon. Member for Belfast, East, called it "voluntary coalition". But essentially it is power sharing.
At the risk of boring the House, I want to go back to 1974. Some hon. Members have gone back further than that. [An HON. MEMBER: "1690."] I shall not go that far back. However, one hon. Member said that he was ignorant about King William III and the Battle of the Boyne. It is said that a Loyalist from Sandy Row was engaged in conversation in an English pub on one occasion and happened to mention 1690, King William III and the Battle of the Boyne. Most of his companions 669 expressed complete ignorance and asked"What was 1690? Who was King William? What was the Battle of the Boyne?" He replied "Do you mean to tell me that you don't know?" They said "No", to which he replied "Man, do you never read your Bible?"
I return to the power-sharing Executive of 1974. I sat in the Chamber in Stormont and witnessed both the formation and the activities of what might be called that heterogeneous admixture of pseudo-Unionists and ardent Republicans which at that time formed the Government of Northern Ireland. I am bold enough to say that in most essentials it was a Republican Government because the party of which the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was the honoured leader at the time got roughly 20 per cent. of the total vote and was afforded most of the important portfolios.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West himself was accorded the deputy leadership, under the late lamented Lord Faulkner. In that position the hon. Gentleman held what was virtually a veto, because unless what he wanted was done, he could have led his companions out and the Executive would have fallen. The portfolio of commerce was afforded to Mr. John Hume. Mr. Patrick—" calme-Paddy"—Devlin was in charge of health and social security. Housing, local government and planning were in the hands of Mr. Austin Currie of the SDLP.
The post of Minister of Community Relations—what a high-sounding term!—was given to Mr. Ivan Cooper, a political rival of mine. I saw that gentleman in action in Newtownstewart shortly after his appointment, and his efforts to improve community relations were well worth noting, because he was in conflict with the UDR. He left his car unattended and unlocked in the main street of Newtownstewart, which at that time was totally against the law. When he tried to get into his car he was approached by members of the UDR. He engaged in a colourful argument with them. When I use the word "colourful" I am talking about the language employed by the Minister of Community Relations. He ended by describing the UDR as "the scum of the earth". I thought that that was a useful exercise 670 in community relations, and a splendid example to Northern Ireland.
One other appointment that caught my notice was that of the Minister of Man-power Services, who is the present chairman of the Fair Employment Agency. He did not even receive his quota in the PR system of election. Because there were a few seats floating around in that pernicious system he was accorded a seat. He was made virtually a Cabinet Minister even though he had not reached his quota.
The leader of the Alliance Party, Mr. Oliver Napier, was made Minister for Law and Order and Enforcement—an important post in any Government. He was not elected until the eighteenth count. He had to wait during the Saturday afternoon to discover whether he would win a seat at all in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Yet he was accorded a Cabinet post. The Alliance Party was supposed to be the panacea for all our errors in Northern Ireland. It was the bridging party and the sharing party. It entered the list at the last parliamentary election, which brought the present Government into power, and lost its 12 seats. Even the leader of the party was not elected. It appears that people in Northern Ireland were so stupid that they could not see the goodness of that political outfit and did not have the sense to vote for it.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West considers himself to be the voice of the total minority in Northren Ireland. I wish to refute that claim, because there are many parts of the minority community that have no time for him or for the Party that he used to lead. The Irish Republican Socialist Party is hoping for majority rule in Northern Ireland, as against the claims of the SDLP that it wants power sharing. The Irish Independent Party has no time for the SDLP either. It wants a complete all-Ireland independent state. It even wants to get rid of the southern Government in Dublin. It says that that Government are a bunch of reactionary Tories. Those factions in Northern Ireland have no time for the hon. Gentleman or for the party that he used to represent. His claim to represent the totality of the minority is quite erroneus.
Why does the SDLP want to serve in a Government in Northern Ireland 671 under the British Crown? If it did so it would be Unionist. It would serve in a Government who were controlled by this House, under the Crown of England and under Her Majesty the Queen. The SDLP wants that, because at nearly all of its major conferences and public utterances it has declared that its main political purpose is the destruction of Northern Ireland as a State, its eventual absorption in an all-Ireland Republic, and the destruction of the British presence in Northern Ireland. Why does that party wish to sit in government with Unionists who demand that they remain British subjects?
After all, the demand that the British presence be taken out of Northern Ireland covers more than just the British soldiers who are there, or who have been there—or, for that matter, the UDR or the RUC. It covers over 1 million people. How are we to get rid of them? That would be a big exercise. Those people want to remain and are determined to remain British. They have to be listened to, and they have made their wishes known through the ballot box—the British democratic process—time and time again.
Somebody mentioned Rhodesia. The Herculean efforts of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary and all who were associated with him in the Rhodesian settlement have brought about British democratic practice in Rhodesia. This democratic process has taken place with great effort and with considerable diplomatic pressure by the United States. As a result, the people have elected as their leader and Prime Minister a blood-thirsty, murdering thug who is guilty of the most appalling crimes against both black and white. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is that?"] I will name him—Mr. Robert Mugabe. He was responsible for some of the most heinous crimes and murders against innocent people.
How is it that successive British Governments will bend over backwards to afford the democratic process to Rhodesia or Zimbabwe and deny that process to Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom? I fail to see why. I have often asked what is the essential difference between democracy in Rhodesia and democracy in Northern Ireland, and I have never received a satisfactory answer to that question.
672 I should like to turn now to some of the remarks made today by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, not only here but upstairs in the Northern Ireland Committee. Genuine politicians are supposed to be capable of the most amazing acrobatic activities and dramatic U-turns. In the Committee this morning the hon. Member for Belfast, West eulogised the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland because, in an exercise of transparent justice, he had overridden the decision of a county court against Craigavon council and had charged it with discrimination in the giving of jobs. But here in this Chamber the hon. Gentleman criticised the Lord Chief Justice—
§ Mr. Dunlop
Surely the pure, transparent justice that was evident upstairs in Committee is just as good down here in this Chamber. From the hon. Gentleman's expression it would seem that the only thing to do is to sack the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and to appoint somebody better in his place.
The hon. Gentleman also criticised the police force. There has been evidence from other countries of the police falling down in their duty. Even in this country, policemen—among them senior police officers—have been charged, convicted and sentenced for having ommitted the most heinous crimes—corruption, in other words.
§ Mr. Dunlop
In that case, the thing to do would be to sack the Chief Constable and appoint someone who will ensure that he has decent policemen around him in Northern Ireland.
Then the hon. Gentleman criticised the Director of Public Prosecutions because he had not prosecuted in every case that was brought before him. I suppose that the thing to do would be to sack the DPP and get another one.[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman was alleging in his speech that the DPP was not doing a good job.
Perhaps the answer to the problem would be to bring to Northern Ireland 673 the superlative judges of the Republic. They surely would exercise justice there. We have seen occasions when murdering criminals from this country, who have been guilty of terrible crimes—blowing people to pieces and shooting people down like dogs in front of their own families—have been brought before the judges in the South of Ireland and have been released on the specious excuse that their crimes were political or politically motivated. There is justice for you! That is the sort of thing to which we have to listen. Surely these paragons of justice and peace would exercise a good influence on Northern Ireland if they were on the Bench. They would bring about better verdicts than those of our present judges.
I pay tribute to the obvious sincerity of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hills-borough (Mr. Flannery). I have heard him say many times "Let us have a political settlement and an end to the violence ". We know—and surely the hon. Member will admit—that even if we had the political settlement advocated by the hon. Member for Belfast, West and those who support him it would in no way end the violence. The IRA and the SDLP are not interested in power sharing. The IRA is a terrorist organisation that wishes to destroy the democratic institutions in the North and the South, and even in this country if it has the opportunity. Even if we had power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland tomorrow, I question whether the IRA would stop its activities, or if the violence would cease.
Power sharing is not the answer. Why do not the Government and Parliament take the problem by the scruff of the neck, hold an election in Northern Ireland, and let the democratically elected majority take the reins of power and run the country as they can, and have done, in the past?
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I deeply regret that I have been absent from part of the debate so far owing to unavoidable engagements. I hope that the House will forgive me, particularly as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been so courteous in his attendance in the House.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the clear reaffirmation in the White 674 Paper that Northern Ireland belongs with us—to the United Kingdom. The words of paragraph 18 of the White Paper have been read out more than once during the debate. It states:Northern Ireland remains parts of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom and in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.The principle of consent underlies Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom. It is based on democracy and is founded on self-determination.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) compared the proposals in this White Paper with some of the constitutions that were successively prefabricated during the de-colonisation of the British Empire. He even mentioned Cyprus and his negotiations with Archbishop Makarios. I had a nightmare recently that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) saw himself as some sort of unritualistic Archbishop Makarios with Mr. John Hume as a ritualistic Fazil Kutchuk. Direct rule is colonial in character as a result of the combined effect of the Macrory reform and the abolition of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland lacks a system of local government, as we know it in Great Britain. We now have the jargon of dimensions. We have the Irish dimension, and so on. What we lack in Northern Ireland is the democratic dimension.
The colonialism of Stormont Castle and of Whitehall needs to be brought under democratic scrutiny. Therefore, Her Majesty's Government are right to seek to transfer powers to elected representatives, subject to the overriding authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and with account taken of the interests of the minority.
The speech by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) was interesting because he brought us up against the question: what do we mean by "the minority"? How is "the minority" defined? Does it mean the Roman Catholics of Northern Ireland? Is "the minority" defined as those of nationalist or republican opinion, most, but not all, of whom profess the Catholic religion? Does "the minority" mean the SDLP and those who vote for it? If ever it 675 was justified to equate Catholic, nationalist or republican, to do so has become increasingly misleading. A public opinion poll in 1973 showed that only 39 per cent. of Roman Catholics supported a united Ireland.
Last October the Economic and Social Research Institute—a Southern body—published in Dublin a survey of Roman Catholic political opinion and revealed that in the Republic 68 per cent. of Roman Catholics wanted a united Ireland but that this anti-partitionist sentiment was stronger in the Republic than among Northern Roman Catholics. Only 9 per cent. of Catholics in the South but 50 per cent. of Catholics in the North thought that the Province should remain part of the United Kingdom. This factor should modify all our talk and thinking about what we call "the minority". We have the evidence of successive elections to local authorities, Parliaments and Assemblies and the overwhelming verdict of the border poll in 1973.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) made a notable speech, but he also wrote an interesting article in The Irish Times published on 17 June. In that article he quoted what is called the "Attitude Survey" conducted from Queen's University that 76.6 per cent. of That showed that 16.9 per cent. supported the Republic and that only 39.1 per cent. of Catholics who were asked in the poll opted for a politically united Ireland. It was also discovered at Queen's University that 77.6 per cent. of Protestants but 92.2 per cent. of Catholics wanted United Kingdom legislation to be applied to Northern Ireland as uniformly as possible.
If these statistics mean anything—statistics should always be treated with reserve—and if it be correct or approximately correct that only 3 per cent. of Northern Catholics favour a united Ireland, surely it follows that nationalists and republicans are not a minority so much as a minority of a minority. Of course, they have their fears and their memories. These should be recognised and allayed and their opinions should be respected. We respect differing opinions in a democracy. But we should be careful when devising constitutional arrangements not to perpetuate sectarian politics. My right hon. Friend the Mem- 676 ber for Pavilion spoke of institutionalising sectarian politics. If we entrench minority rights, how are the minority and the majority eventually to get out of their trenches?
What is the best security for minority rights? Paradoxically the best security for the rights of non-Unionists is the supremacy of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. If one substitutes an intermediate legislature, it may be more difficult to maintain those rights. A Westminster is a stronger safeguard than a new Stormont.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) has referred to what was happening in 1920. That was when the Government of Ireland Act was passed. Section 75 of that Act saved the authority of the imperial Parliament over all matters in Northern Ireland, but this reserve of power here came to be used only in the most limited way. Indeed—and this was part of our trouble—a convention arose that Westminster would legislate within the field of Northern Ireland's transferred powers only by indication. Things happened in Northern Ireland which this Parliament should have dealt with but was prevented by convention from dealing with. I think that that is agreed now between Unionists and non-Unionists alike.
But those times have passed. Abuse of power in Northern Ireland, the maltreatment of a minority, will inevitably nowadays become the immediate concern of this sovereign Parliament. Without pontificating about this attempt to produce more democracy in local government, whatever local arrangements are made in the Province, I would say that we should tackle it from two ends. The security and prosperity of these islands require, on the one hand, the maintenance of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under the sovereignty of the Parliament at Westminster. The other end from which we should tackle it is the development of that unique relationship between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, which face a common terrorist enemy.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
It seems to me that the primary responsibility for commenting upon these proposals rests with the representatives of 677 Northern Ireland, who, of course, are doing so in this debate. However, I should like to refer to one matter—the proposed system of election. It is a matter of some importance since, obviously, whatever the nature of power sharing or a council, or whatever it may be, the rest of the proposals ultimately depend upon the nature of the electoral system.
I am afraid that the White Paper is in error in paragraph 26, which states:Second, in the light of the special political considerations that apply in Northern Ireland, the method of election to the Assembly should be the single transferable vote form of proportional representation. This method is familiar and well-established in Northern Ireland, having been used since 1973 for all elections except those to Westminster".It is true that the single transferable vote is a unique electoral system. It can be a proportional representation system, or it can not be such. In that respect it is unique. Our British first-past-the-post system is not proportional. A list system will always be proportional. But STV is unique in that it can be either.
It is certainly true that it has been used in its proportional form in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who had the highest poll in the European Assembly elections, will be well aware that his constituency was the whole of Northern Ireland in those elections.
When used in such form the system is proportional. It was exactly proportional in Northern Ireland but not in the United Kingdom. That is the only time that it has ever been so used. In the 1973 Assembly elections, for example, and on every other occasion, Northern Ireland has been divided into constituencies. Once that is done it ceases to be proportional. It is true that the Northern Ireland Assembly constituencies were larger than those commonly used in the Republic's elections.
In the past four general elections in the Republic the largest party, Fianna Fail, has always gained more seats—as a percentage of them all—than votes, also as a percentage of votes cast. That could not happen under a proportional representation system. However, it is not a PR system. It is STV but not necessarily PR. The smallest parties have 678 always gained fewer seats than votes. The extreme case is that of Sinn Fein, which has gained no seats. Similarly, in the 1973 Northern Ireland Assembly elections the two largest parties obtained more seats as a percentage than they obtained votes. The 5 per cent. of the electorate that voted for the smallest parties obtained no seats.
We all know the identity of the smallest parties. The Provisional Sinn Fein, whether it is called that or anything else, is an extremist organisation. It is the extreme of the extremists. If it won a seat under a system of proportional representation, it might choose not to take it up and not to sit.
It seems ludicrous to produce an electoral system that is supposed to be a proportional representation system which has the effect of deliberately and intentionally excluding a particular extremist group that under a PR system should have the opportunity of sitting, even if it does not choose to take up a seat that it has won. It disproves to a section of the community of some importance in this context—those who believe in terrorism—that we are talking about a system of proportional representation.
The single transferable vote is an odd and unusual electoral system. It was invented by Thomas Hill, the father of Rowland Hill, of penny post fame, when Rowland Hill was the secretary of the South Australia Commission which founded Adelaide. It was invented because, as he wrote to his father, there were not sufficient of the "superior sort of person" to allow votes in the ordinary electoral system. It was introduced into Ireland, in Sligo, in 1918 by a Private Bill that passed through this House and another place. Unfortunately, for purposes of history, the records have been lost. The press reports of the time of the proceedings in the House illustrate that it was desired by the richer ratepayers of Sligo to protect themselves from democracy, which was being introduced at about that time throughout the United Kingdom. They did not like the possibility that the poorer ratepayers of Sligo would win elections.
The system was introduced into the Republic and both Fianna Fail Governments and Governments led by Fine 679 Gael have on separate occasions recommended its abolition. Due to the peculiarities of the Irish constitution it has not been abolished, but nobody in the Republic would believe it to be a proportional representation system.
Why do we not have a proportional representation system? I refer to the Hansard report of 16 April 1973. On that date we were discussing the Northern Ireland Assembly Bill. I moved an amendment for precisely the same purposes that I am now discussing this issue. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who then had ministerial responsibility for Northern Ireland, said:He"—that is, myself—argued from his considerable knowledge of these matters in favour of the list system and against STV. He asked me how it came about that STV had been chosen. The answer is that this was the system which many of the parties and organisations in Northern Ireland which spoke to me about this matter and submitted papers on it put forward as being the one they thought best.We heard earlier today that this is not necessarily the situation prevailing at present. The right hon. Gentleman went on:We had someone in my office working on the list system. A great deal of work was carried out in considering the list system on the one hand and the STV system on the other. I must admit that at one time I was convinced that the list system was the better of the two. After careful consideration of both systems and listening to the arguments one way and the other—they are narrowly balanced"—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That, at this day's sitting, the first Motion relating to Northern Ireland may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Twelve o'clock.—[Mr. Boscawen.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. English
The right hon. Gentleman, the present Home Secretary, then said that hecame to the conclusion that it was right to go for STV which was the system favoured by those who had spoken to me. Therefore, I can give the assurance that the work has been done and that there is no reason for not changing if at a suitable time it is thought right that such a change should be made."—[Official Report, 16 April 1973; Vol. 855, c. 164.]Therefore, I recommend to the present 680 Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that he look up the papers of his predecessor in 1973. He is entitled to look at those papers because they are of a previous Administration of his own party. I strongly suggest that in the course of his discussions he looks at those papers. He may find that the views of people in Northern Ireland on this matter have changed, partly as a result of having had some experience of an STV system.
The final point at issue is the fact that one can see an argument for the British system of election. It has the great merit of single-Member constituencies which are closely tied to the locality which elects the Member. One can also see the objections to that in the context of Northern Ireland. One can see why others wish to have a proportional representation system. One can even imagine a system that was rather like the German one, with a bit of both—single-Member constituencies and proportional representation. What really cannot be understood is the desire to move away from the British first-past-the-post system to a system that is not proportional—a system that deliberately enhances the seats of the largest parties and deliberately excludes the smaller ones. There can be no justification for the deliberate intention to exclude certain parties.
If he wishes it, the Secretary of State should be honest about this and say that he does not want a PR system; he wants a system that is designed to do certain things and not others. I do not really attribute that sort of hypocrisy to him. I am sure that he believes that there is a degree of proportionality in the system. I am sure that the words in paragraph 26 of the White Paper are simply a mistake. But mistakes in this context cannot be afforded.
There is another unfortunate set of phrases in paragraph 46, where 25 per cent. of the vote is chosen as the proportion which might entitle a party to representation in the new Northern Ireland Executive. That is an unfortunate figure to choose. Only the Official Unionists achieved more than 25 per cent. of the vote in 1973. No one else managed it. On that basis it would be a one-party system. The next largest party was the SDLP, which obtained 22 per cent. of the first preference votes. Therefore, 25 681 per cent. was an extremely bad level to choose. Whatever level one chooses one will exclude somebody. If one chooses 20 per cent. it will be a two-party system; if one chooses 10 per cent. it will be a three or four-party system.
One cannot justify a single transferable vote system on any other ground than that it is used in the Republic of Ireland. Yet when it was used in Northern Ireland in 1973 it was not used in the precise form that it was used in the Republic. In the Republic there are three or four-Member constituencies. In the case of the Northern Ireland Assembly they had almost double the number of seats for each constituency. So there is no justification for this peculiar system being used in Northern Ireland.
By all means let us argue about the proposals in the White Paper, but let us decide that we either want the normal British electoral system or that we want proportional representation, or possibly a combination of the two. Let us please forget the rather archaic system that was invented in the nineteenth century because there were not sufficient of "the superior sort of person" in Adelaide.
§ 10.5 pm
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
Before dealing with the White Paper I should reply to some of the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who attacked one of my colleagues. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) was close to the point when he listed some of those who had been attacked by the hon. Member for Belfast, West. However, the hon. Gentleman's list was not complete, because we had a debate in Committee this morning and the hon. Member for Belfast, West has today attacked the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, a deceased judge, the Lord Chancellor, a galaxy of Unionist politicians, the police force, Charles Haughey and even the editor of the Irish Post.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West has had an active day. One would assume that having decided to criticise everyone around him he must be an angel, but many of us remember that he beckoned the people of Belfast out on to the streets to take pressure off those in the Bogside at the start of the troubles. I regret 682 having to make such comments, but it is necessary to reply to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
In critcising the Lord Chief Justice for his decision today in the case of the policemen, the hon. Member tried to give the House the impression that there were two laws in Northern Ireland, so that policemen who were brought before the courts on criminal charges walked away free after being found guilty while IRA men, such as Martin Meehan, received different treatment. The recent written answer that I received from the Secretary of State shows that 75 per cent. of those found guilty by the courts of membership of the IRA walk away free. It is not, as the hon. Gentleman tried to suggest, a one-way street.
I have to raise a matter that may be considered negative. We shall not be facing reality if we ignore the stark fact that even if the Government's efforts attain an acceptable structure of government for the Province they will not rid Ulster of the scourge of terrorism. No political solution short of a surrender to terrorism will do that.
Therefore, there must be a military defeat of terrorism, and it behoves the Government to bend all their efforts to pressing ahead relentlessly on the security front. In the White Paper the Secretary of State says of security:it is apparent that much remains to be done.That is an understatement. The efforts to date have been wholly inadequate. Terrorism is not on the turn, and the need of the moment is an intensification of the struggle against the men of violence.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) referred to the leaflet issued by the Northern Ireland Office—the poor man's guide to the White Paper. The Government produced a White Paper that cost £1.50 and because they wanted it to be widely read they had to produce the leaflet, which says:Northern Ireland needs: peace from terrorist violence".It goes on:But to achieve these aims Northern Ireland needs workable and stable institutions.That is a dangerous proposition, because it suggests that if we achieve workable and stable institutions, peace from terrorist violence will automatically return. We all know that that is not so.
683 The Secretary of State must pursue the battle against mindless anarchy and rebellion with the utmost urgency and resolve. The community in Northern Ireland is particularly concerned that the campaign of terrorist crime should be brought to a speedy end. An Assembly that is denied real influence on security policy and affairs will have its chances of survival lessened. If the proposed institutions are set up in Northern Ireland the people of the Province will look to them to alleviate the problems that beset them, without distinguishing whether their grievances are matters over which local politicians have power. If local politicians and their institutions are to survive and to retain credibility in our troubled society they must have a meaningful security role.
It is important that the Government do not envisage a role for local politicians that allows them to share the blame but not the power. In the long term, to use the terminology of the 1973 Act, will the Secretary of State assure the House that if responsibility for law and order is not to be transferred—as he has said—it will be considered as a reserved matter, and not an excepted matter? It could then be transferred later.
Having viewed the Government's proposals against a backcloth of terrorism it is worth considering the present arrangement of direct rule. In the Command Paper the Government say that direct rule has achievedgeneral acceptance in the Province.I expect that they really mean that it is disliked by all sections of the community equally.
I welcome the fact that the Government recognise that direct rule is not a satisfactory way of governing Northern Ireland. The system is remote and unsatisfactory. There is a degree of unaccountability that we in Northern Ireland have to face. The subject needs urgent attention. Those whom I represent seek a change in the mode of Government. They are not interested in a cosmetic exercise or in a slight tinkering with the existing framework. They want a thorough and lasting change that will return many of Northern Ireland's former powers and structures. The Government must get it right this time.
684 When we meet the Secretary of State we shall be able to engage in detailed discussion. However, I should like to lay down a few points of general direction. We welcome the statement that the majority in the community should be confident that Northern Ireland cannot be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom without the consent of a majority, and that the minority community should accept and respect that. Let it be clearly understood that any solution outside a British context is doomed to failure. I welcome the Government's firm answer to Mr. Haughey, contained in section 19 of the Command Paper. It states:It follows that the continued position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom is not something which the Government could use as a bargaining counter.That is exactly what Mr. Haughey and the SDLP wanted the Government to do.
I am tempted to expand on a point raised by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) in relation to the unique relationship that is supposed to exist between the people of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. No doubt it is a unique relationship. However, a person who claims friendship also claims jurisdiction over part of the United Kingdom, namely, Northern Ireland.
I expect that it is also a unique relationship that someone who harbours the murderers of United Kingdom citizens and refuses to extradite them to his neighbour should come with a silver teapot in his hand, seeking friendship. That argument could well be expanded, but time does not permit.
Before considering the two options for the formation of the Executive, I should like to comment on the Government's term "outer framework" and the matters within that description. First, we support the conclusion in paragraph 25 that there should be:a single province-wide elected Assembly.That is necessary for the highest possible degree of devolution.
The creation of more than one body, with those bodies therefore having local authority powers rather than the powers of a devolved Government, would, in my view and the view of my party, obstruct the move towards full devolved government that is urgently wanted by the people of Northern Ireland.
685 Our party put forward a different proposition to the single transferable vote system. We suggested a modified list system, which would combine the advantages of the first-past-the-post system with a party list system that provides a high degree of proportionality.
In paragraph 27 the Secretary of State deals with the subjects to be transferred. We believe that the bare minimum acceptable would be those subjects transferred in 1973. Would matters that would not initially be transferred be listed as excepted matters or reserved matters? It is our contention that the excepted matters should be those that were excepted both in 1920 and in 1973 and that all other matters should be reserved matters, which could subsequently be transferred.
It would be helpful if the Secretary of State would tell the House how he envisages his advisory council operating and how it is to be formed. As it is a body that will consult him on matters over which he will retain responsibility, I assume that the Secretary of State will appoint its members. Will that be done on the basis of proportionality, relative to the strengths in the Assembly? My colleagues and I are apprehensive about this matter. No doubt we can pursue it further with the right hon. Gentleman. Clarification would be useful.
§ Mr. Marlow
Although it obviously would not be anything like his preferred solution, will my hon. Friend react to the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) with regard to the Welsh solution—it is satisfactory in Wales—with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland but with devolved local government, as there is devolved local government in Wales? My hon. Friend has said that it is not his preferred solution, but how would he react to that sort of proposal?
§ Mr. Robinson
It would be unwise for anyone at this stage to become embroiled in that kind of exercise. It is proper that we deal with the document before us.
In my manifesto I said that I would seek to obtain for the people of Northern Ireland full-blooded devolved government. That is what we are aiming at, 686 and I trust that that is what we shall get.
The Government will have no argument from me on the conclusion in paragraph 30 thatthe Assembly should have power … to legislate ".As one of the few Members who remained in the House until 4.30 this morning to deal with Northern Ireland business, I do not need to be convinced that the House does not have the time, or perhaps even the inclination, adequately to legislate for Northern Ireland. The central argument in favour of devolution is that Northern Ireland people and politicians know best their own needs, and hence are best able to legislate for them.
The departmental committee proposals are basically substantially in line with the proposition in the convention report. Therefore, they will find no objection from my colleagues or me. This leads me to the kernel of the question—the formation of the Executive itself. I welcome the fact that, for the first time, perhaps, for many years, the British Government are prepared to say that there is an alternative to power sharing, and not only that but that the alternative would be equally satisfactory. Our Opposition to power sharing is not based on some kind of awkwardness or intransigence, as some hon. Members have suggested. It is based on sound and democratic principles.
The House knows well that there could be no collective responsibility in any meaningful sense between the members of the Government in a power-sharing Assembly, since they would owe their position not to an electoral mandate or, indeed, to the choice of a Prime Minister but to a constitutional guarantee quite distinct from the will of the electorate. Such a Government would not be responsible to Parliament or to the people if there were a constitutional guarantee that group A would always be in government. It would not be possible for the people to change such a Government, as neither they nor the Parliament would ever be able to vote group A out of office. In other words, democratic government would cease to exist.
687 Every group in government, as suggested by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, would have an effective veto on every Government decision. It also follows that in a power-sharing Assembly with a power-sharing Executive there could be no effective Opposition. In its purest form, power sharing envisages all parties being involved in government. Without an effective Opposition, parliamentary government becomes a laughing stock and meaningless.
In their paper the Government recognise that a constitution that ensured power sharing would fail if now, or at a later election, a majority of the new Parliament refused to operate the guarantee. No constitutional device can overcome a resolute refusal by a majority of the people to operate it, outside a totalitarian State, The experience of 1974 should not be forgotten.
In Northern Ireland, one of the parties with whom those in the Executive would be expected to share power does not unequivocally support the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and is working to establish the sovereignty of a foreign State over that territory. Nor does it give unqualified support to the security forces. To share power in Cabinet with such a party would be a recipe for total disaster. Furthermore, power sharing makes a mockery of the principle of receiving a mandate. When the electorate endorses the policy of a party it has the right to expect that policy to be implemented. Complications and other considerations involved in a power-sharing Administration cannot guarantee the implementation of such a mandate but rather would produce the ludicrous situation of attempts to implement conflicting mandates.
Because a power-sharing Government would depend on so many differing parties, it would be a totally ineffective Government unable to move in any direction lest it offend one group or the other. It would mean that a majority in electoral terms would cease to have the rights of a majority. In power sharing, a majority is treated in the same way as if it were a minority. That is wrong. A majority must be a majority, and must be treated as such.
Most significantly, power sharing proved not to be the answer to our problems in 1974, despite the promises of its many advocates. We are searching for 688 a system that is acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland. They have emphatically rejected power sharing in the past. The House should never forget 1974, or the outcome of every election since then.
The option argued in paragraphs 46, 47 and 48 suggests that if the Executive were formed proportionately according to the popular vote
faith would be kept with the ballot box".That is a counterfeit of democracy and a sham of the democratic principle. It would be unacceptable to the people of Northern Ireland.
Finally, it is right to say that the alternative approach outlined in paragraphs 53 to 59 could be the basis of a solution, though changes would have to be made. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) indicated the concern of my party about the council of the Assembly, and in particular the proposition that a blocking power be given to it. The Government's last document for the conference said, in paragraph 38, that "good and efficient government" was what they were seeking to provide. That is our aim as well, and it is what the people of Northern Ireland seek. We could not encourage a situation to arise in which deadlock would be the daily diet of the Assembly. With the Secretary of State we shall pursue some way of trying to avoid that.
Again I ask the Secretary of State to keep in the forefront of his mind the possibility of a referendum to assess the degree of acceptance of whatever proposition he finally decides upon. It would be better by far that the settlement be tested than to allow the agonies of the past, such as those in 1974, to be repeated.
There are aspects of the document that I do not like, and there are many that I find abhorrent. I know that the Ulster people wish the Government success in moving to get a devolved structure in the Province. The return to devolution in Northern Ireland was the mandate that I sought and received at my election to this House. That is the goal that I shall continue to seek to achieve.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Not simply as a matter of routine courtesy but partly because he showed us very great courtesy when the Labour Party 689 delegation went to Belfast, and partly because of the deeply serious nature of his speech, I am glad to speak after the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). He talked about his constituents wanting fundamental change, but would it be an impertinence on my part to say that the change that they might want above all else is secure employment and more jobs?
I begin by echoing words of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) earlier from the Front Bench, that many of the problems that we are discussing are not to do with constitutional tinkering but are about deep-seated unemployment in Northern Ireland, which is even worse, and has been worse for a long time, than it is in our constituencies.
I ask the Government for a fairly clear statement on a matter that above all else affects the constituency of the hon. Member for Belfast, East, namely, the position of Harland and Wolff. I read the written answer on the subject, but the £42.5 million that is to be given is a sizeable sum. Some of us on this side of the water would like a clear statement of the Government's policy towards Harland and Wolff. I emphasise that we do not necessarily object to the money being paid, but in the current economic climate there is some obligation on the Government to provide clarity in this matter and for them to make a clear statement of policy.
If the hon. Member for Belfast, East talks about an Assembly of this kind he had better be clear in his mind on the question of economic powers. The Secretary of State said earlier that there was no question of giving the Assembly the power of fundamental management of the economy. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of the Official Unionist Party, warned us earlier—and there are some of us with a different experience who would like to repeat that warning—that we should be careful not to expect an Assembly to exercise an economic power that it does not possess. Certainly, if such an Assembly and Government—for it would be seen as such—were to come about, they would be expected to do something about the economic problems 690 of the constituency of every hon. Member from the Province of Ulster.
Before offering dissent, may I say that my trouble is that I just do not believe that the problems of Northern Ireland even begin to be met by this kind of constitutional tinkering. Have not we learnt over 11 years that we are now faced with problems—I do not wish to be offensive about it—of tribalism, race, faction and gang warfare, with the complication that, if they do not actually enjoy it, many people in Northern Ireland find the strife to be something of the spice of life? It looks to us on this side of the water as if many of the actors on the Northern Ireland scene revel in their TV appearances and radio shows, in having their opinions sought by the press, in going on their lecture tours, and in being a centre of interest which they would not otherwise be.
I do not mean this offensively, but I think that the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) is required reading for anyone interested in this debate. From that marvellous description of Ivan Cooper haranguing the UDR in the street, one can imagine it. One can imagine Oliver Napier during that eighteenth count on that Saturday afternoon. But that is what some of us feel—that the Northern Ireland people are a very internal people. They have humour, great charm and great wit, but when the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster says that constitutional tinkering will not satisfy the IRA, some of us might want to add that we very much doubt whether it will satisfy the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster and many others.
Therefore, we come back to all the dangers of gesture politics. One of the difficulties about the opening speech was that whenever the Secretary of State was asked an awkward question he said "Well, of course, we will have to talk about that", even though many fundamental questions were asked.
Before the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) goes—I am not trying to hold him back—I should like to say that he said something that in my opinion was very important. He said that there is no possibility of the scheme working without the Executive having some power over defence. If he really means that—I have no reason to doubt that he does—it seems to be a bit of a 691 nail in the coffin of the Government's scheme. Some of us feel that the hon. Gentleman cannot claim above all else to be a Unionist, to value the Union and to be part of it, while at the same time saying "Ah, but in many matters I and my party have a veto over the United Kingdom Parliament". One cannot have one's cake and eat it.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is not present. I shall content myself by saying that during his speech some of us began to wonder whether he was not about to fight his own shadow. Again, this is a fundamental difficulty. The Government say "We can make progress only with the support and cooperation of both communities". I doubt whether in the last seven hours that support has been forthcoming in sufficient measure to enable them to go ahead.
When eight members of the Northern Ireland group of the Parliamentary Labour Party went to Northern Ireland we met representatives of 13 different organisations, across the board. It was depressing to learn that almost any proposition coming from this stable on this side of the water would not have much acceptance—partly on the basis of "Not invented here". The same difficulty applies to the media in Northern Ireland.
I shall mention one minor instance by way of illustration. At the last conference of the Labour Party at Brighton I was responsible for arranging a debate, outside the conference hours, on Northern Ireland affairs between my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) who took one view, and Peter Melchett, a former Minister at the Northern Ireland Office, who took another. I was telephoned by three Northern Ireland media points. They asked what would happen at the debate. I said that it would be a serious and restrained discussion. It would be a serious argument, and there would not be any fireworks. In two cases out of the three the reaction was identical. "What a pity" they said, and rang off. There is great difficulty in those circumstances.
The White Paper assumes basic good will and reason in order to make any of the Assembly proposals work. In paragraph 50 it explicitly states that the Governmentstress that no system of this kind could work692without the clear support of the two communities in Northern Ireland, agreeing to its establishment and voting in elections for candidates ready to observe the spirit of reconciliation in a common task.Having listened to today's debate I wonder whether there is any of that spirit of reconciliation in evidence. It appears to many of us that the necessary good will stressed by the Government is absent. There are the euphemistically called "usual channels" in Northern Ireland. I happen to be one of those who feel that the Irish together may, by some alchemy, sort out matters. That will come from Northern Ireland rather than from this side of the water, on the basis that the stable from which it comes is extremely important.
In a sense, the Government's proposals are undoubtedly the result of a great deal of work. I wonder whether they are, in design, rather like the Kaiser's battleship, which looked splendid in the blueprints but would not float. The Government have brought forward a non-starter. They will have to recognise that at an early stage.
One of the deep-seated troubles in Ulster's society—I should not pretend that this is not offensive—is that it is very inbred. Resurrecting Stormont or anything like it would aggravate that in-breeding tendency, which some of us think is deeply unhealthy in itself. That brings me to a specific point. The Secretary of State talks about the advisory committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd laid stress on that point. I hope that when the Minister replies he will say something about the precise advisory nature of the Government's proposals. Will they have any advisory influence or powers on the disposition of troops? That is a question that has to be answered.
It is not sufficient to be negative. Here I part company with many of my colleagues, and I must not pretend otherwise.
From a succession of visits to Northern Ireland since 1973, it appears to some of us that with all the difficulties and dangers of which we can be aware there is an argument for giving back to Northern Ireland some kind of healthy local government. I mean by this local government in small units. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Some may argue 693 that this will bring out the worst. It may create great difficulties in certain places.
In his opening speech the Secretary of State talked about the burden on the Northern Ireland Members of Parliament. They get involved in many things in which most hon. Members elsewhere would probably prefer not to be involved. That certainly applies to me in my own constituency. But it is not only that; it is the health of the body politic. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is important that the local government units should be small ones.
But there is one qualification, to which I do not think there will be many "Hear, hears". There is a nettle that has to be grasped. We should say that money for schools above the 56 per cent. of the revenue raised in Northern Ireland should be forthcoming only if a fairly rapid plan of integration of schools is produced. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I realise the difficulties. I am personally involved in this in Scotland. I make no bones about it. I do not usually parade my personal circumstances, but I am married to a Catholic. My children have been to a Catholic primary school and go to a State secondary school. I say that because those who talk on this subject had better know what they are talking about.
I just gently say that I was greatly influenced by visiting with the Labour Party delegation—by courtesy of the Northern Ireland Office—the youth detention centre at Hyndbank. There are some fairly difficult youngsters in Hyndbank. From what the staff told me, it would appear that the so-called Catholic-Protestant divide had ceased to be a problem—not in all cases but in most—even with the hard boys on each side. Therefore, influenced by Hyndbank, I suggest that people who go to school with each other are less likely to kill each other.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is no less important in Scotland than in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend knows my views on this. I have been very open about them. Certainly I would be prepared to discuss it.
I turn to a very important subject—the question of a referendum. Would I 694 be wrong in thinking that the Secretary of State, in answer to questions, did not rule out a referendum? Some of us would like him at an early stage to consult his hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who has been a very active member—along with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker)—of the working party on ground rules for referenda, chaired by David Butler, of Nuffield college, Oxford. This work should be looked at carefully by Northern Ireland Ministers. If there is to be a referendum, perhaps my colleagues will take it from me that the sooner we have ground rules for it the better.
If there were problems—I see my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) looking at me—with ground rules for the referendum in Scotland, they are nothing compared with the arguments about the ground rules for a referendum in Northern Ireland.
The only time that I have been to court in my life was when we took action against the IBA. Doing things at the last minute is a very unsatisfactory way of proceeding. Anyone who talks about a referendum in Northern Ireland had better be very clear about the ground rules and sort out the problems arising from the 40 per cent.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) raised that point. They must be clear about the question that will be asked, because in a Northern Ireland context there is a Unionist case for "Yes", a Unionist case for "No", and a Republican case for "No". They must also be clear about the basis on which the results will be announced, because this is no technical matter. Should it be on the basis of the Province, or locally? If it is to be on a local basis, there will be difficulties in announcing the results from Fermanagh and South Tyrone, for example, as an entity.
Equally, to what electorate should this referendum be addressed? In an intervention, I made the point that some hon. Members would like the rest of the United Kingdom to take part in the referendum, because it affects the whole of the United Kingdom. Alternatively 695 some hon. Members feel that the referendum should be conducted on an all-Ireland basis. Those matters should be sorted out before, and not after a referendum.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I particularly wanted to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would envisage that if there were a referendum it would, as in the case of Scottish and Welsh referenda, be held after the legislation had passed through all its stages in Parliament.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am not as quick-witted as the right hon. Gentleman. To use one of his favourite words, that is a conundrum that I would have to think about. But I think that I assent to it. The problem is that there is a possibility of a veto by a majority over negotiations with the South.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of a referendum will he turn his mind to the problems that would arise if the electorate give one answer in the referendum and then elect the party that took the opposite view?
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is all too possible, given the personal nature of politics in Northern Ireland. I note that the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) realises the force of that.
Other matters are more than semirelated. Surely the Government lay up trouble for themselves by doing certain things. I give two examples. The first is the appointment of Sir Maurice Old-field. I do not know Sir Maurice Oldfield. I have never met him, but, if we on this side of the water appoint to that job a man who has as the primary feature of his career the fact that he was the head of MI6, we are really asking for trouble. The other specific instance is the whole question of sending the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards to Ireland. That is reckless. I know that possibly one-third of them are Irish. I shall spare the House a potted history of the cavalry.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), who was a colonel, may be an expert on the infantry, 696 but I know a lot about the history of the cavalry and the 5th Royal IDGs. It might not matter in other places, but let no one say that history and myth do not matter in Ireland. Heaven knows what will be dug up if an Irish regiment goes to Ireland, in an area where some people wallow in martyrdom.
I do not think that we can duck the vexed question of the presence of the Army in Northern Ireland. The West Lothian constituency Labour Party organised a special one-day conference and devoted three hours to the subject of Ireland. I do not claim that the West Lothian constituency Labour Party or West Lothian has more wisdom than any other constituency in these matters, but it has an electorate of 90,000, 30,000 of whom are second and third-generation Irish on both sides of the argument. There are many close contacts between my constituency and the North of Ireland. There was a very strong feeling, reflected by many of my constituents, that the presence of the British Army in uniform is counter-productive in present circumstances.
For 11 years we have been told "Be patient; be responsible; a solution is just round the corner," but after 11 years I am quietly of the opinion that the withdrawal of the Army is a pre-condition for any kind of lasting settlement. I beg my colleagues and Ministers to understand that there is a reputable, serious case for not having the Army in Northern Ireland, though it may risk not, as I believe, a United Ireland, but—though I do not think it would come about—a separate Northern Ireland State.
In 18 years since my maiden speech I have never been so depressed by any subject as this. I am afraid that, to borrow the phrase of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), possibly the Government are in the position of the jockey who has been bucked off in the paddock and that there is a nail in the coffin. But my political antennae tell me that the best course for the Secretary of State, after this debate, is to go along to the Cabinet meeting tomorrow morning and to say to his colleagues that, after the discussion on both sides of the House, this set of proposals is a non-starter.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
One is bound to have a great deal of sympathy with the conclusion reached by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), but I was impressed by the sensible and amiable speech by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), which should be set off against the speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), who displayed the sort of bad logic—one might call it Irish logic—that has so bedevilled consideration of the Northern Ireland question. The hon. Gentleman said that the integration of Northern Ireland with the rest of the United Kingdom was not possible because of the resistance of a minority of the people of Northern Ireland. On the other hand, he advocated the integration of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. Apparently the resistance of the majority of the population of Northern Ireland could then be safety ignored, although that majority is twice the size of the minority.
That sort of logic in the approach to the problems of Northern Ireland has made it all the more difficult for us to talk about realistic solutions. Indeed, the search for solutions has been a fallacy, and misleading in this context. It is not necessarily so that every problem has a solution, particularly in Northern Ireland. It seems to me that by pursuing his present course the Secretary of State is wedded to the idea that there can be a solution if only men of good will will sit around a table and hammer things out in the desire to reach agreement. How often in this House have we established that that proposition is not always true and not always an effective recipe for agreement?
So we find that the Government have tried yet another initiative on Northern Ireland, ignoring the terms of their own manifesto, and are now saying that we can have one of two models as if this is a new idea or as if the two models are new ideas. One model is that we should have a system of majority rule with checks and balances for the minority, and the other is that we should have a system of power sharing with checks and balances for the majority, but it seems to me that the outcome of this experiment and these discussions will be 698 the same as the outcome of those other initiatives that we have had in the past.
The result of it all is to leave Northern Ireland in the constitutional limbo in which is has been for so long and to exclude it from the proper government to which it is entitled as a member and part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, matters are made far worse by the suggestion that devolution can be of any assistance in solving the problems of the Province, because devolution does not solve any problem, in my experience. Trying to transfer to a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland the particular problems of the Province, and expecting the Members of that Assembly to be able to solve the problems is a crass error. The error lies in the fact that governmental responsibilty for Northern Ireland rests with this Parliament, and in this Parliament it does not matter two hoots to most of us which is Catholic and which is Protestant. We do not even bother to ask. It is a matter of complete indifference to most of us. As I understand it, that is the spirit that has always actuated our Governments, of whatever party.
It is here that the government of Northern Ireland rests and should rest. I confess to being an avowed integrationist. I simply do not believe that the people of Northern Ireland will be happy until they are integrated into the rest of the United Kingdom and treated as subjects of Her Majesty within the United Kingdom. Every attempt to provide them with a separate system, telling them to get together around a table and solve their own problems, and saying"This is a model for doing it, allowing for the various objections and counter-objections ", is just another way of putting off the final day when one has to accept that Northern Ireland is entitled to be a part of the United Kingdom and is entitled to share its institutions in just the same way—as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) said—as Wales.
The only difference at present between the internal organisation of Northern Ireland and that of Wales, as I understand it, is the upper tier of local government, which is absent in Northern Ireland—not the governmental side. The governmental side is taken care of in this very 699 House. There are 12 Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland in this House. It is a very good thing that in the next Parliament there will be, as we understand it, at least 17 Members from Northern Ireland. I believe that that is the correct way of looking at this problem.
I am sorry that the Government have not had the courage—and I think it meant courage, following the death of Airey Neave—to go ahead with the spirit and the intentions that lay behind the wording in the manifesto. In the absence of devolved government—one cannot see realistically any prospect of successful devolved government—the manifesto promised constitutional progress, with the objective of causing the administration of Northern Ireland to be similar to that of the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a very proper objective.
One hopes that initiatives of the sort that my right hon. Friend has introduced will be successful. He has worked extremely hard towards that objective. However, he must recognise a feature of the problem that sometimes it is rather hard to recognise. It was exemplified in the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central, who ignored the fact that a majority of the people in Northern Ireland do not want to be integrated with the Republic.
In the same way, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who is not in the Chamber, has an intellectual problem. In his articles and speeches he argues that through free elections it would be possible to build a Socialist paradise in Britain. There is one snag. If he maintains free elections, the day will come when this Parliament, through a changed composition, will demolish his paradise and he will have the old hated capitalist system back. The dilemma is whether the hon. Gentleman should get rid of free elections to achieve that which he desires.
In other words, democracy is a bit of a nuisance for those who believe that they have the solution to a problem but cannot persuade the majority to accept it. They tend to disregard democracy when that happens. That is too often the attitude of those who talk about Northern Ireland The settled conviction of the majority of its inhabitants is to remain British subjects—subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. I hope that the Government will finally 700 accept that Northern Ireland should remain no longer out in the cold but should be brought in and be entitled and allowed to enjoy the privilege of full United Kingdom membership.
§ 11.3 pm
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stan-brook) is wrong to equate the government of Northern Ireland as it is now with the government of Wales. A number of the hon. Gentleman's other remarks indicated a lack of understanding of Ireland's position. As a Welshman who spends much time in Wales, I advise him that the comparison is not there. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is not a solution to every problem. People view the problem of Ireland in different ways. It may be that Governments have to find not a solution but a way through.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) is no longer in the Chamber. For a variety of reasons he has not been able to stand the pace and remain here all day. He made a remarkable speech. It was remarkable when we consider the involvement of his illustrious father—I was not in the House with him—who before the First World War wrote a great deal and was involved a great deal in Home Rule and anti-Home Rule matters concerning Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman made the interesting historical point that when Pitt brought Ireland into the Government of England he failed because George III did not give Catholic emancipation. To go into whether that argument is precisely right would take much too long. I felt that the right hon. Gentleman failed in his argument, because for 100 years, in the days when there was not a border—which was not the origin of the problem—the Irish question loomed through this Parliament with coercion Acts. Those Acts were introduced and taken off the statute book throughout the century.
The reason why we did not get it right was that the St. George's Channel or the Irish Sea is as big a barrier to attitudes towards Northern Ireland as the Channel is to attitudes towards Europe. The Secretary of State's contribution failed to recognise the divided community in Northern Ireland. I listened with 701 great interest to the analysis of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). There is a division in Northern Ireland that is different from that in Scotland or Wales. The answer in Northern Ireland must therefore be different.
This is a take-note debate, and take note we shall. The Opposition have their views about the White Paper and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) went into detailed analysis and discussion about the major procedures in it. I shall not do that. In expressing our views we do not want to do anything that will impede the talks. This does not mean that our views must be muted, because it is in this House and nowhere else that the decision will be taken. The House has the responsibility.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but it has only 12 seats out of 635. It will eventually have 17 seats. Belonging to the United Kingdom means being among the 635 Members here. In the February 1974 election the argument was put that there were 11 Unionists to one Republican, but the real argument was that there were only 12 Members out of 635. When my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) a question about this, his answer was less than convincing.
Of course we should listen to Northern Ireland. If I learnt nothing else in Northern Ireland I learnt that there are different attitudes there. Words have different meanings. I am absolutely certain that when the Secretary of State spoke to Mr. Passmore, of the Orange Lodge, he did not say what was alleged afterwards. I fully understand that what was reported was what Mr. Passmore thought the Secretary of State said. That is one of the problems that we have and no way am I sneering at the people of Northern Ireland—they have grown up with a different political language from the one that we use here. Northern Ireland is different. It is divided. It was born after a civil war and I, for one, am quite prepared to admit that we might get it wrong this time. If we do, it will not be the first time.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Just for the record, I think that the right hon. Member may have made an error in mentioning a particular name just now. I do not know anything about the inside story, but I think it is unlikely that Mr. Passmore was involved in the incident that the right hon. Member quoted.
§ Mr. Rees
I wish that I had not mentioned it in the beginning. I thought that that was what I read in the newspaper. It only goes to prove the point.
There is one other point that I wish to make about bipartisanship. There has been bipartisanship to a greater or lesser degree over the years—sometimes it has been high and sometimes it has been low. Personalities and attitudes have played a part, and I do not grumble about that.
We supported the previous Conservative Government because we wanted direct rule, responsibility for security to reside at Westminster, and institutionalised power sharing. There was bipartisanship, because the policy was one that we wanted to support and because division for the sake of it—in an Oxford Union sense—which often happens here, is wrong, in the light of the jobs that some have to do in Northern Ireland. When we think that the Government are wrong we shall say so.
I ought to put down one or two markers on the constitutional proposals. We support the White Paper. I know that it is argued that the words "power sharing" should not be used, but I do not care about that. What concerns me is that when people share government they share responsibility, and we want to see that form of government.
§ Mr. McNamara
Is my right hon. Friend aware that an august paper, Labour Weekly, draws the attention of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, to a resolution calling for bipartisanship to be rejected?
§ Mr. Rees
Such a resolution is wrong, for the reasons that I have outlined. Power sharing involves not only being in the Government but working for 703 the good of the community. On that basis, I wish the Government well in the bilateral discussions.
The House should not make government anywhere, and particularly in Northern Ireland, too complicated—the simpler the better. I warn against proposals that have to be read two or three times before they can be understood. Unlike "boycott", the term "veto" is not an Irish word, but it could be. In 1972, a variety of Republicans brought down Stormont. A variety of groups of Protestants brought down the power-sharing Executive—one-all. The power is expressed in different ways, but there is a firm power of veto on each side. It is important that what we are to do is clearly understood.
It is not that Ulstermen are better politicians than we are, but the public representatives there are accountable to the electorate in a way that we on this side of the water are not. They are nearer to those who put their crosses on bits of paper. Voters are not operating in a pluralistic society in which they may vote for either side, for a variety of reasons. They vote for one basic reason and they know what they are doing. It is difficult for politicians in Northern Ireland to nudge one way or the other in the search for a solution. I do not mean that with any disrespect; it is a fact of life.
The Opposition prefer option 1. I am sceptical about the referendum that one of my hon. Friends suggested. I have heard too often that there are many in Northern Ireland who would like to escape from their politicians and that we should liberate them. I do not believe it any more. I have heard it too many times. The Northern Ireland politician is close to the grass roots and he has far less room for manoeuvre. Let us not think that a referendum is a way out round the backs of the politicians of Northern Ireland.
It is nice to look back at debates and to find that one has been right once or twice. In 1973, in the days of bipartisanship, we voted against the plebiscite on the border. We did so not because the border is unimportant but because we said that it would tell us what we already knew. Secondly, we did not accept that one can do a bit of political arithmetic 704 every so often and that there is an easy way of dealing with the problem of Northern Ireland.
We do not believe in the proposed referendum. We are against the concept of an advisory council. It flies in the face of the concept of government. Power will be left at Westminster. Such power can be exercised only by this Chamber. Every Secretary of State will find that his base is in England. I did not have a base in Northern Ireland. One has to present oneself to hon. Members in this Chamber. In 1972, the advisory council did not work. The good people on it were either "Castle" Catholics or "Castle" Protestants. They had no basis.
When considering security one must consider the community. There is only one man with ultimate responsibility, and that is the Secretary of State. Above all he is responsible to this House on security. If an Assembly emerges, members of that Assembly could be put on the police authority. We should not think that a police authority in Northern Ireland will run the police force.
In the days of the 50-year rule, the old Ministry of Home Affairs was not only poor; it was politically controlled. Of course, the Secretary of State has every right to discuss overall policy with his political advisers and to put his mark on it. However, it was not that type of political involvement.
There is talk of local government reform. In 1973, the Macrory reforms meant that Stormont took on functions similar to those of the Greater London Council. It is important that Catholics saw the old form of local government as a means of Protestant domination. There may have been two or three Catholic-dominated local councils. I accept that local government procedures are wrong. The Catholics would argue that, as they cannot achieve a devolved Administration, nothing should be done about local government. They will use their veto.
As for the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, it will come as no surprise to him that the Catholic Church is firmly against integrated education. It could use its veto. However, as it is constitutionally important, I suggest that one should start with the sixth forms and work downwards. One should not attempt to put 705 everything right in one day. A beginning could be made with those who are sprouting their own ideas.
The magic figure for the number of those in the Assembly and the convention is 78. That figure is magic, because the same figure applied—not by design—to the Irish convention of 1918. This House constructed the figure of 78 from 12 constituencies. The White Paper says "about 80", which I presume means that before anything is done the new 16 or so seats may well be on the statute book. If it is necessary to move quickly in the autumn it would be much better to stick to the existing number.
I am dubious about what the Government are up to on the question of the economy. Many Unionists have talked in the House of free enterprise and the market. The Province was not a place in which free enterprise and the market were apparent. Money was given to factories by the Ministry of Commerce. One could obtain money from a variety of sources. Without it there would not have been some of the new industries in Northern Ireland that were brought in in the days of Brian Faulkner and before, but particularly when he was Minister of Commerce. It certainly is not a place that operates on the basis of free market forces. With free market forces, Northern Ireland would not have been able to compete with the South, and would have been in great difficulty.
I hope that the policies of Professor Friedman and the Secretary of State for Industry will not be followed in Northern Ireland. Heavy unemployment will be an added burden on top of the problems of political and security development. Whatever else happened, the Labour Cabinet made no public expenditure cuts in Northern Ireland. Indeed, we were able to get extra money for Northern Ireland. That matters.
In training, job creation, housing or whatever, there is a problem. It is not just in the Catholic areas, though it happens to exist in Strabane and other places. It is equally true in the Shankill and Sandy Row, in some of the Protestant areas of West Belfast.
The hon. Membe for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) was right. What his people are concerned about is not political 706 advance but the economic situation and security. I should like to say a word about security, because it is mentioned in the White Paper and it is vital that we put our minds to it, as we shall when we talk about the law and security in the course of the next week.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian spoke about the Army. He is right: there is a respectable argument about the role of the Army in Northern Ireland. We should not say that everyone who says that there are too many soldiers there, or that the soldiers should go, is being caught up with the Provisional IRA or is a Republican.
The Army went into Northern Ireland for a particular purpose. It is well known and documented now that when that happened my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), perhaps with an Irish background, said "You will put them in, but you will find it more difficult to bring them out."
One bit of the White Paper that I published in July 1974 sticks in my mind. I can remember being involved in writing it on a summer's afternoon. We talked about the temporary basis of the Army's presence and the burden on the Army. We said that the problem, of dealing with relatively small numbers of ruthless and vicious killers and bombers, had changed. The Army could not replace the police.
Our conclusion was that we should work with extra numbers of the police, so that the Army could make a planned, orderly and progressive reduction in its commitment. I am pleased that three battalions have gone. There has been a big change since my day in the role of the police, and I commend it. It is not giving in to the IRA or to anybody else to say that, having gone there in 1969, realising the difficulties, we should tell the Ministry of Defence—which has its problems, and wants to pull out battalions—"We went in in 1969. We should work positively to make sure that there are only perhaps five resident battalions to be called out if necessary." The Provisional IRA never says "Pull the soldiers out of Northern Ireland." It says "Confine them to barracks", because the IRA knows what could happen, and that the soldiers might be needed. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is right in that respect. 707 I am glad to see what has been done on detention. It is important to look again at the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act as we did in 1975. It is vital that after five years of such Draconian legislation on the statute book something should be set up on the lines of the Gardiner committee, composed of a wide variety of people, to consider whether such laws are still needed. If the police and the Army are operating in a different fashion, the question arises whether the legislation is still needed in that form, or at all. To look at the matter quinquennially is important.
§ Mr. McNamara
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one must also look at uncorroborated evidence in terms of people convicted and sentenced by judges sitting without juries? This is an H-block problem that should be examined carefully.
§ Mr. Rees
I do not know about a H-block problem. I ended the special category, just as I ended detention. I also provided the money and the building for a new prison. The May report says that prison conditions in Northern Ireland are better than those in the rest of the United Kingdom. I agree that the question of un-corroborated evidence, which is part of Diplock, could be examined again.
There is an all-Ireland dimension to security. The co-operation between the police in the North and the South—the South will not touch the Army—is good. If, however, we are talking firmly to each other on different sides of the House we should also talk to the South. There is the problem in Fermanagh, and the fact that 2,000 people have died, a large proportion as a result of the activities of the Provisional IRA. We can talk for as long as we like about a united Ireland. The Protestants of Northern Ireland see the South not through blinkers but through the eyes of people who know what death is all about. In that context, political discussion and political involvement do not take place.
I do not want an all-Ireland dimension institutionalised. I would be the last person, as would my right hon. and hon. Friends, to push anyone into the South. It could not be done. People talk of a guarantee to the people of the North in the Downing Street declaration or in the legislation that has been bandied around 708 today, but that guarantee is not worth the paper it is written on. What is certain is that the people of the North do not wish to go into the South. The paper is meaningless, as are all bits of paper. The Protestants know that. They recall what happened in 1973, following all the promises made beforehand. Paper promises are not worth very much. The facts of life are worth a great deal more.
I would say to the Government of the South that I still read the speeches and all the Irish newspapers. I tell hon. Members that I do not know what they mean. I do not know what is meant by the statement that there will some day be a united Ireland. If they were offered it tomorrow morning, they would not know what to do with it. They have never given a moment's thought to what they would do if it came their way. John Hume, in an article on which I shall not dwell, because of the time, gives praise to the South. But the statements of these people are unclear irridentism. They consider the Protestants of the North to be their citizens. Some of the politicians of the South have never made much of an effort to speak to the people of the North, let alone anything else. While that situation exists, any idea that the North could be joined with the South is pie in the sky.
I wish I knew what was meant by the "unique relationship" that is referred to. Is it a geographical relationship? If so, it is not unique. The word has now been given another meaning. Apparently our Prime Minister and the Taoiseach got together. The unique relationship is supposed to mean something, but I do not know what it means, and I do not think that anyone else does. Ireland was divided in the face of civil war in 1922. We on the Opposition Benches want the people of the North to work together. I hope that this means that the bilateral talks will not be on a narrow basis. I hope that they will not be restricted to the White Paper.
We have said very little about the PIRA and the UDA. For people living in Northern Ireland those organisations mean something. Their battles will not be won as in a cowboy film or something of that kind. The problem is much more deep-seated than that. Political and economic advance is the way to deal with 709 it. I issue a warning as I finish. The more I read of Irish history the more I become aware that there are dangerous corners. Who in 1914 would have foreseen the events of 1916, and would have thought that by 1922 events would have followed the course that they did?
I may be wrong, but I believe that if we pulled out of Northern Ireland there there would not be a united Ireland. There would be an independent Northern Ireland, with the edges altered not by design but by military activity of some kind. I do not want to see that. I am against integration. It flies in the face of history. I say to the politicians of Northern Ireland, with all their problems, that we should all help the Government to find a way to bring the two sides together. They are not irreconcilable. They have so much in common. We shall not do it in three, six or nine months, or even five years. It will take time. From this side of the House we wish the Secretary of State well in the next few months and we hone that he will move in the general direction suggested by his paper.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Alison)
This has been an unusually long debate, stretching from 3.30 pm until midnight. I am glad of that for two reasons—first, for the large number of speakers who have been able to take part, representing not only Northern Ireland constituencies but many other parts of the United Kingdom. Secondly, I am glad because we have heard such a range and quantity of speakers that it has been possible to deploy in the debate a considerable variety of different perspectives against which one can view the proposals that we have made.
It is an advantage that we should have, as a background, a wide variety of perspectives from as many different angles of opinion, political philosophy, constituency base, and so on, as possible, because the detailed and not uncontroversial proposals of the White Paper take up a lot of intellectual energy and study. The broad approach is therefore as crucial to a proper evaluation of the problem as are the details.
710 I hope, therefore, that I may start by commenting upon the main but distinctive perspectives that different right hon. and hon. Members have deployed in approaching our proposals. I promise that I shall later attempt to focus on the more detailed features of the White Paper—the nuts and bolts. I shall not neglect the detailed points raised by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John).
One of the perspectives down which our proposals can be viewed is that of the fundamental attitude to the broad principle of devolved legislative government for Northern Ireland. As a result of today's debate one can make a rough tally of how right hon. and hon. Members and their different parties line up on this issue. First, there arc those in favour of the principle of a devolved, directly elected legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland who, while agreeing on that principle, do not necessarily agree about a particular model for implementing it.
Alongside the Government themselves—and in support of them, as I understand it—are those who have clearly expressed their support for the idea of a devolved legislative Assembly—the four main Northern Ireland parties, that is to say, the Official Unionists, led by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), whose position in this respect was made clear in his memorandum to the Prime Minister on, I think, 31 December last, and the members of other three main parties who attended the recent Belfast conference, namely, the DUP, led by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), the Alliance Party, led by Oliver Napier, and the SDLP, led by John Hume, whose attitude to devolved government was endorsed today by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). Those five main groups—the four Northern Ireland parties and the Government—so far are in favour of the principle of a devolved legislative Assembly.
Individual hon. Members who today made their position clear in favour of devolved government included, as far as I can accurately follow it, the hon. Member for Belfast, West, whom I have already mentioned, my hon. Friend the Member for petersfield (Mr. Mates), the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), whose 711 support I was particularly glad to note in this context, and my hon. Friends the Members for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). These individual hon. Members identified themselves solidly with the principle of the desirability of trying to secure some form of devolved legislative Assembly.
Then there was the spokesman for the Liberal Party—the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross)—who kindly apologised to me for not being able to be present at the conclusion of the debate. He was in favour of the idea. Last, but by no means least, we had the weighty endorsements of the hon. Member for Pontypridd, who opened the debate for the Opposition, and the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) who wound up the debate for the Opposition.
All the substantial body of opinion in the House starts from a common approach. All these hon. Members support, in principle, the idea of trying to secure a satisfactory form of devolved legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
I hesitate to correct my hon. Friend, but if he reads my speech he will find that I was not in favour of a legislative Assembly. I was in favour of a devolved Assembly.
§ Mr. Alison
I accept that correction and beg my hon. Friend's pardon for misleading the House.
Against the very idea of the principle of a devolved form of government I seemed to detect at least two, and possibly three, voices. There were two important voices, that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner). That is a pretty substantial line-up in balancing one side against the other, but in the context of the misgivings of my hon. Friend I want briefly to address myself to that small minority of critics who oppose the principle of devolved government.
I address myself in particular to the critcisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion. Their argument was that devolved government 712 weakens the Union. My right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion suggested that devolved government introduced the very idea of an Irish dimension which the White Paper was seeking to eschew. So far as I can appreciate their argument, their fear is that because devolved government is so much the exception to the rule in the rest of the United Kingdom—almost an aberration as it were—its presence in Northern Ireland alone and exclusively must inherently undermine and weaken the prospect of the long-term adherence of the Province to the United Kingdom; and that it is a factor for loosening the Union.
I think that the argument goes like this: one might liken the uniqueness of devolved government as a system to a swan in a brood of ducklings; that that is what it would be in the Province; that it provides good cause for a sense of insecurity in the Province; and that, just like the swan in the brood of ducklings, it will be rejected in the end because it is an aberration, an abnormality.
I suggest that one can really argue the opposite conclusion. The uniqueness of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom already lies inescapably in its physical and geographical location, separated by the Irish Sea or St. George's Channel, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, South reminded us—that is to say, its territorial separation from the rest of the United Kingdom—and its sharing of a common frontier with a neighbouring sovereign State.
Under those circumstances, the uniqueness of its locally devolved administration would, in my view, tend to consolidate and not to undermine its membership of the United Kingdom. I argue on the concept that the stronger, the more self-conscious and the more identifiable as a special community a group of people manage to be, the greater their tendency to be free and self-determining, and able to fulfil their own aspirations in terms of their allegiance and connections.
For example, anyone involved in local government reform in Britain in 1974 will remember that if the smallest rural district council had a strong sense of its own special characteristics, identity and situation, it had greater capacity and power to decide where it would belong. The stronger and more self-conscious the 713 community, the greater its prospect of determining where its allegiance will lie. On that basis, I suggest that a devolved form of local government uniquely in Northern Ireland will enable it precisely to fulfil and realise its aspirations as to allegiance.
§ Mr. George Gardiner
I am following my hon. Friend's argument with great interest. Before he leaves it, will he give us his view on the argument that when a part of the United Kingdom is given devolved government its elected representatives in this place will find a particular question mark put over their role?
§ Mr. Alison
That is a real problem, and I acknowledge it. My hon. Friend must recognise that the problem was faced and accepted over the whole span of the life of the Stormont Parliament. The reason why it was faced and accepted was that devolved government suited Northern Ireland particularly well. I think that the same argument can be used again.
I hasten to add that I do not think that the Republican minority in Northern Ireland need feel that devolved government, because it enhances the union, is something of which it should be afraid. The opposite consideration, namely, the absence of that self-conscious, self-confident power to choose one's own destiny—the fruit of which might be that one would be shoved into the Republic—is the greatest conceivable nightmare for the Republic, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, South made clear.
I now turn quite briefly to what I consider to be the second broad perspective that has emerged from the debate—the question of how, given that most people in all parts of the House and in both communities in Northern Ireland want devolved government, one navigates between the options of what one might loosely describe as "the Westminster style of democracy" and the options proposed for discussion in this White Paper, which clearly differ fundamentally from the Westminster style.
Here, the line-up of views expressed is a good deal more varied. The hon. Member for Antrim, South, in a withering purple passage about our two options—which in spite of myself I thoroughly en- 714 joyed and congratulate him upon—came down firmly in favour of the Westminster model, as expounded in the paper that he presented to the Prime Minister, to which I have already referred. I am glad that he tempered his rejection of the options that we have canvassed in this discussion paper by expressing his willingness to talk about it. He expressed the hope that we might be able to broaden it. We shall certainly see what we can do when the encounter takes place. I hope that it will be constructive.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North likewise showed a marked preference for the Westminster model and poured a good deal of scorn on parts of the second option. He was especially scornful and critical of a phrase in paragraph 56, which talks of the need to securethat the interests of the minority community are adequately reflected in the decisions of government.He did not like the idea that we should reflect the needs of the minority. If he is happier with the idea of adequately safeguarding or protecting those needs, we should not quibble over a word. It is essential that recognition is given to the necessity for the minority community to have a say in determining the adequacy of the protection that it is given. On that understanding we should find the basis for a constructive discussion. I am glad to note that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to discuss further the basis of an acceptable formula within the second option. I noted the constructive comments and ideas of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson).
There is another line-up on this issue, distinct from that deployed by the hon. Members for Antrim, South and Antrim, North. That line-up was broadly reflected not only by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Government but, I am glad to say, by the Opposition, the Liberal Party, the hon. Members for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), Belfast, West, Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), and a number of others. That perspective relates to the position set out in paragraph 3(ii), on page 1 of the White Paper. There, the principle of acceptability set out in the context of a context of a critique of the Westminster system as hitherto applied in Northern Ireland is made very clear.
715 The reason for the approach of those who follow that perspective is self-evident. The earlier approach—the Stormont pattern—unquestionably ended in failure. The Stormont pattern was that of the Westminster-style democracy and there was no doubt that it ended in a failure that was reflected in the alienation of the minority community. There appears here to be a real dilema because of the differing approaches enunciated by the hon. Members for Antrim, North and Antrim, South in stark contrast to the views expressed by the official Opposition, the Government, and many others. Are we left in the position of an immovable object confronted by an irresistible force? We must sincerely hope that that is not the case.
Let us mark the consequences. The way back to a Stormont-style devolved Government is unquestionably unacceptable to the majority of hon. Members. It the way forward to a modified form of directly elected devolved legislative Assembly is barred by the attitudes of the hon. Members representing the Official Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party, only two other alternatives seem to be on offer. Neither is in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. If we are disbarred from going down the line suggested in the White Paper, one of the two residual alternatives is the option of reformed local government, namely, regional councils in the Province with upper-tier powers. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) addressed himself to that matter, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook).
I do not find this option a convincing one in present circumstances. First, as was made clear in the conference, there is a strong political wish in Northern Ireland for an Administration for the whole Province with legislative power and with the very considerable responsibilities of the present Northern Ireland Departments. There is no inclination to settle for something limited to traditional local authority powers.
Secondly, any new local government structure would have to involve and protect the minority. It would have to meet the same test of acceptability that is at the heart of the Command Paper, otherwise it simply would not get off the 716 ground. But the political climate in which inter-party agreement would have to be sought would be completely soured by the fact that it was local government—nobody's favourite child—that was at stake, rather than the very much greater prize of devolved government.
On the practical side, a new local government structure would cause enormous bureaucratic upheaval. The Northern Ireland Civil Service would have to be carved up and scattered. If this path were travelled, no one could seriously maintain that a devolved Assembly in this context was an option, as we claimed in the working party for the conference. I have to say to those who continue to urge on us a local government solution that they do not recognise the real difficulties, political and practical, that we see as existing.
The second option outside those proposed in the Government's White Paper is that of a continuation of direct rule—that is, a continuing and growing role for the United Kingdom Parliament and Government in the context of the existing minimal local government pattern in the Province. In this context I was struck by the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central about one of the terrible spectres that might loom for the people of Northern Ireland if we settled, over a long time, for a dominant Westminster role—a dominant United Kingdom Parliament role—in the Province in the context of a minimal local government role. The spectre was that of "haemontage", it is worth realising.
One of the truths—the right hon. Member for Leeds, South was right to stress this—is that bits of paper have no value. A fundamental reality about Northern Ireland is that successive Governments and I'arliaments cannot and will not be bound by their predecessors. If we are to have a dominant Westminster and United Kingdom role in the Province—high profile for Westminster and the United Kingdom Government and very low profile for all genuine elected Northern Ireland provincial assemblies and small local government units—sooner or later there will be the risk that some party will come along, perhaps 40 years on, and do what the Westminster Parliament of the nineteenth century, under Mr. Gladstone's premiership, was quite content to 717 do, namely to introduce land reforms that cut the ground literally from under the security and durability of the whole of the Anglo-Irish connection in Northern Ireland. It did not hesitate to do it. How do we know that a dominant Westminster Parliament in 40 years' time will not sell the pass and abandon the Ulster Protestants? That is the danger of depending upon a high United Kingdom, high Westminster profile. It is a very dangerous course, and not one that I believe would in the end be in the best interests of the Protestant identity in Ulster.
In the time remaining I hope to address myself to some of the more particular points raised. A number of highly relevant questions were asked, particularly by the hon. Member for Antrim, South, on the nuts and bolts. It would not be right for me to suggest a definitive answer to all the points made about the nuts and bolts of the proposals. That is not because the Government have not foreseen them, or have no answer to them. I hope that it is no disrespect to my colleagues in the House to say that no questions have emerged tonight that had not occurred to the Government in the drafting of the discussion paper, and certaintly no points have been made that call into question either the practicality or acceptability of the proposals. The purpose of this stage is to hear the views of others, and it would be quite wrong for me to suggest final detailed answers to everything tonight.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd spoke about the direct popular election of the Executive. We would expect that the people working the system would find it desirable that any member of the Executive should also be a Member of the Assembly. I share that view. We envisage that they would be allowed to be candidates for both. I do not believe that there is a problem. The hon. Gentleman asked what would happen if a candidate were elected to the Executive but not to the Assembly. No matter how unlikely that might be, it is theoretically possible. Should it happen, the candidate's election to the Executive would presumably stand, and the Executive and the Assembly would have to devise special arrangements for his answerability to the Assembly.
718 The hon. Gentleman asked what would happen if the Executive lost the confidence of the Assembly. Since the balance of views in the Executive would be reflected in the Assembly, that is not likely, but we must, of course, cater for it. The answer is obvious. As the document makes clear, if the Executive could not carry this programme in the Assembly it would not be able to continue. There would need to be fresh elections. For those reasons, the document emphasise the need for us to be sure, before considering such a system, that a majority of members would support the system. That is what the forthcoming discussions are about.
The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions about the council of the Assembly. Those are matters that we must discuss with the various parties. He argued that it would be necessary to provide a legislative guarantee that the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the departmental Committees would be equally divided between parties supporting the Executive and parties opposing it. The form of statutory provision is a consideration. Section 25 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 offers one example of the general approach that might be adopted.
The hon. Gentleman also said that the approval of the council of the Assembly should require the support of considerably more than 50 per cent. plus one of its members. Perhaps he was thinking of the night when the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire) cast a balancing vote. That may be the view of some hon. Members, but the Government unquestionably believe that the proposition in the document would be adequate and workable, in spite of the misgivings that the hon. Gentleman suggested. He asked whether the council of the Assembly would be mandated by departmental Committees or would act in a personal capacity. The Government would not expect it to be bound by any mandate. It would be its own master, but how the various influences would work out would be a matter for those who operate the system. Given the good will, the difficulties can be taken care of.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South raised two points about law and order. He misunderstood the Government's 719 intentions about the reservation of law and order functions. He has taken the discussion paper to rule out any possibility of a future Northern Ireland Assembly exercising responsibility for these matters, and he was critical of such a departure from the 1973 arrangement. He can be reassured. If he reads paragraph 3(v), which reproduces paragraph 5 of the working paper, he will note that we state thatIn the foreseeable future, given the Government's overriding commitment to combat terrorism, responsibility for law and order will also remain with Westminster.I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the phrase "In the foreseeable future". It is the Government's hope that in due course, in a different security situation, law and order matters can revert to local control. If that is the wish of the parties we shall be receptive to it and we shall be ready to consider statutory provisions of the same sort as those contained in the 1973 Act.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that our proposal for an advisory role for elected Members on matters of security was somehow dishonest. I cannot accept that. We do not suggest that the Government will be able to shuffle off their responsibility for security, nor do we believe hat there will be any confusion in the mind of the public. Responsibility would rest fairly, squarely and clearly with the Government, but in exercising his responsibilities my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would naturally wish to take account of the views of locally elected representatives from all the main parties. He would take the decisions himself, and carry the can for them. He would not do so in a vacuum. He would do so against the background of advice, ideas and genuine concern of those involved in the day-to-day life of the Province. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that local representatives would prefer not to have a formal channel for giving such advice, and if other Northern Ireland parties agree, we are ready to think again on that, but the message that has reached us so far—loud and clear—is that the advisory council would be useful to the parties, as well as to the Secretary of State.
This has been a long debate and I had slightly less time than I bargained for. I hope that hon. Members whose points I 720 have not covered will allow me to write to them on any outstanding issues.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of "The Government of Northern Ireland: Proposals for Further Discussion". [Cmnd. 7950].