§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Government's proposals contained in the White Paper, 'Northern Ireland: A Framework for Devolution' (Cmnd. 8541).The White Paper of which the House is invited to take note sets out the steps that Her Majesty's Government propose to take for the resumption of devolved government in Northern Ireland after eight years of direct rule. The Northern Ireland Bill, which will give legislative effect to these proposals, has also been laid before the House. This is not the occasion for a detailed examination of the Bill, but I thought that in a matter which concerned the transfer of powers and which affected existing constitutional legislation it would be helpful to the House to have the Bill available before the debate.
Any Secretary of State who comes before the House with constitutional proposals for Northern Ireland must do so with humility. The problems that beset the Province have engaged our minds, our energies, our resources and our hopes for generations. The problem of Northern Ireland is a legacy of history. It will not go away. It is right that we should approach any proposals sceptically, remembering that they may not be soluble in the short-term. The White Paper recognises the deep-seated and intractable nature of the divisions in Northern Ireland, and makes no exaggerated claims for the future.
However, being sceptical does not mean being negative. It remains my duty to continue to seek ways by which the lot of the people of Northern Ireland can be improved. Therefore, it is appropriate to begin with a word or two about the present situation.
As the House will know, there has been some improvement in the security situation in the past few months and that is greatly to the credit of the security forces. However, there is a continuing and determined effort by the Provisional IRA to thwart all efforts towards peace and stability. In the past few weeks there has been a considerable increase in its activity. Therefore, in the context of any development in Northern Ireland there is a need for maximum effort on the security side. Violence is never far away. Constant vigilance by the police and the security forces is always required. Security problems are bound to touch the whole community and to influence its views about the future as well as the views of those outside Northern Ireland whe hear only the worst stories and who think that they are typical of Northern Ireland as a whole. Of course, they are not.
What I have just said no doubt reflects on the economic life of the Province. There has been a sharp deterioration in that life. The economy of Northern Ireland has never been easy to manage or to sustain, but in the past few years it has become very much more difficult. Hon. Members should bear in mind the additional costs of security, the increased problems of attracting inward and indigenous investment in a hostile environment and the growing dependence—which has always been high—on Government support. There is now a strong desire, particularly among middle-class parents, for their children to go away at university age and not to return. As a Secretary of State, I find that the reverse of that problem is a marked difficulty. I refer to the problem of attracting 851 young executives of promise to the Province. The image of Northern Ireland as a violent community is a grave disincentive.
Unemployment is now, on average, close to 20 per cent. In a number of areas it is much higher. Among the young, unemployment is very high and that is an encouragement to men of violence to attract young people to their ranks. In parts of Northern Ireland, particularly Belfast, there is poverty and deprivation. There are beautiful districts of leafy suburbs and magnificent housing estates, but parts of Belfast have the worst housing conditions in Western Europe.
There is less mixing between the communities than a number of years ago and society has become progressively more polarised. One is faced by the paradox of a beautiful country that has many advantages such as high quality education, good industrial relations, a skilled and adaptable work force and, despite all that has happened, a very resilient people, but in which there is a feeling of resignation and of some tiredness.
This, then, is direct rule. It has brought some stability. It is everyone's second best answer to problems that they feel they cannot tackle themselves. It can continue and it may well have to do so, but, by its very nature and the system that it implies, it is unlikely to resolve the deadlock, the instability and the irresponsibility that leaders show when others have power that they believe rightly belongs to them. Those are the reasons for seeking to take more steps now. I must emphasise that despite the formidable problems and difficulties involved, no responsible Government could simply sit on their hands and do nothing.
That is the situation that we face. The divisions are not only different in character but are much more deep-seated and intractable than those that we face in Great Britain. The White Paper recognises those divisions and their consequences. Most people in the Province want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom; their loyalty lies to the Crown. That was made clear in the border poll in 1973.
There is also a substantial minority who regard themselves as Irish, many of whom would like to see a united Ireland. Of course, Northern Ireland life and politics are much more complex and people do not fall neatly into one of two categories. Nevertheless, the broad division that I have described dominates political, and to a considerable extent non-political life, to an extraordinary degree.
The Government have made it plain that the views of the people of Northern Ireland on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom will be respected. In the context of Northern Irish history, a united Ireland is a legitimate political objective if pursued peacefully and those who aspire to it are properly entitled to full participation in public life. But, given the views of the majority of the Northern Ireland people on this issue, constructive debate about the administration of Northern Ireland must take place in a United Kingdom setting.
We have to recognise that the elected representatives of the minority consider themselves Irish citizens and, as I have said, they campaign for a united Ireland. It is very important that we should recognise that tradition and aspiration and not leave it to be exploited by the men of 852 violence. We have to find practical ways of accommodating this. It is equally important that for the majority we should find a way of removing the suspicion and mistrust which have grown up in the past 10 years or so, and which, as many hon. Members know, is directed at Members of Parliament and Governments of Britain.
I very much hope—and I weigh my words carefully—that none of the politicians in Northern Ireland will miss the opportunity that the proposals afford simply because they imagine that the future constitutional position of Northern Ireland—which is the core of political division in the Province—is up for negotiation between the two sovereign Governments in London and Dublin. It is not. Northern Ireland's constitutional future is and will remain a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, for Her Majesty's Government and for Parliament. It would be folly for anyone to think otherwise. I hope therefore that Northern Ireland politicians on both sides of the community will see our proposals for what they are—a chance to govern themselves responsibly and in the interests of everybody.
There are a few in Northern Ireland whom I have met in recent days—I hope I can say there are none in the House—who would seek to draw comparison between themselves and the Falkland Islands. We hope and pray that bloodshed can be avoided in the South Atlantic, but much blood has been spilled by our soldiers, the security forces and police in Northern Ireland in their gallant fight against terrorists and murderers. We do not tire of our responsibilities, and we have not shirked them. In this week of crisis, we seek a new initiative.
The British people have shared in the sufferings of Northern Ireland, the losses of life, and of resources, in the cause of defending our people. The people of Great Britain are, I know, wholly steadfast in their resolution to support the campaign against terrorism. They ask in return that the people of Northern Ireland should resolve to seek solutions to their own problems. In this all politicians can help. That much is expected and, I think, justly expected.
Some of my hon. Friends believe that we should aim to integrate Northern Ireland with Great Britain, perhaps coupled with greater powers for local government.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
We are all completely opposed to violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland, but, bearing in mind the almost unanimous opposition to his plans for an Assembly from virtually all the political parties except the Alliance Party, does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the proposals, if implemented, will undermine terrorism?
§ Mr. Prior
I shall come to that later in my speech when I deal with the opposition to my proposals. As I have just said, some of my hon. Friends believe that we should aim to integrate Northern Ireland with Great Britain, perhaps coupled with greater powers for local government. That would be unacceptable to the minority and would raise in the local government context exactly the same questions and problems about how power should be exercised, as we faced in the past for devolved government.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
How does my right hon. Friend define "minority" in this context, bearing in mind that a considerable proportion of the Roman Catholics, according to their views given in opinion polls, would find integration acceptable?
§ Mr. Prior
The public opinion poll, to which my hon. Friend constantly refers, asked a number of questions. For example, it asked whether Northern Ireland should be fully integrated with the United Kingdom. Seventy-four per cent. found that acceptable—88 per cent. Protestant, 45 per cent. Catholic. The poll asked whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom with its own power-sharing Assembly. Seventy-three per cent. of the total found that acceptable—75 per cent. Protestant and 67 per cent. Catholic. So one can take almost any question and achieve a result of that nature.
I have no doubt that a number of people in Northern Ireland accept integration. I also believe—it is borne out in exactly the same way by the public opinion poll, which, in a Northern Ireland context, should not be taken too much to heart because they do not necessarily represent the way people vote in Northern Ireland—that the poll shows clearly that a larger percentage of the Catholic population is in favour of power sharing than is in favour of integration. That is the only point that one would wish to make. Therefore, this would be unacceptable to the minority, and would raise in a local government context exactly the same questions and problems which we face when we talk about the powers for devolved government.
Local government in Great Britain is conducted in the same political climate as national government. That climate simply does not exist in Northern Ireland. Whatever the rights and wrongs, we must remember that it was alleged abuse of local government powers that was the focus for much of the discontent of earlier years. The fact is that Northern Ireland's divided community, the history of local control of its own affairs and its geography make the case for devolved government there of a quite different order from that which might apply elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Some of my hon. Friends fear also that the establishment of a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland implies a willingness to accept devolution elsewhere in the United Kingdom. There is, in my view, no justification for such a conclusion. The circumstances of Northern Ireland are quite different from other parts of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland had devolved government from 1921 to 1972 and that experience has largely shaped its politics. Even in this House, we continue to accept a special procedure for dealing with its legislation which is the residual effect of that long period of devolution. The political parties contest elections on constitutional rather than economic and social issues and the pattern of party activity is different. Nor has recent experience, with all its attendant emotion and destruction, made the Province more similar in its political activity. On the contrary, the polarisation of politics along non-conventional lines has increased in recent years.
The constitution of the United Kingdom is not a neat and tidy construction. Its value lies in its ability to adjust its provisions to practical needs, and to recognise the national diversity. For unity does not depend on uniformity. In this tradition, the House is being asked to make special provision for Northern Ireland in return for greater harmony. Consider the circumstances in which the request for devolved powers will arise. No transfer can occur without the consent of Parliament. That consent will not be sought until widespread agreement has been reached between the communities in Northern Ireland.
854 Such an agreement is a prize of great value which would contribute greatly to the peace and prosperity of the Province.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
My right hon. Friend said earlier that a debate about the future administration should take place in a United Kingdom setting. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree with that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that having such a debate means that we must look towards the effect of the outcome of that debate on the rest of the United Kingdom, and, therefore, on the administration of other parts of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Prior
Of course; and, because I recognise that that is a valid argument, I have tried to deal with it. But I do not think that it necessarily means, as I have already said, that unity does not depend necessarily on uniformity. The position in Northern Ireland has been different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom for a great many years. I know that it is argued that hon. Members may regard it as wishful thinking to believe that such an agreement—an agreement between the parties—is possible. I do not share that view, nor do I believe that Members would wish to deny the Province a measure of devolution if progress of that order could be made. Yet without that progress no request for devolution can arise.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Does my right hon. Friend know of any democracy in the world where the minority has a veto on the wishes of the majority, which seems to be——
§ Mr. Prior
What I am saying is that, if there is to be political stability in Northern Ireland, there has to be a measure of cross-community support for any measures introduced. If there is not that measure of cross-community support, those measures will not work and there will be no political stability.
I did not think that in recent years there had been much controversy in the House on that point. If we are to reach the point where everyone in Northern Ireland can unite to defeat the Provisional IRA and the men of violence, all the people of Northern Ireland must be able to feel that they are part of any Assembly in Northern Ireland and that they can therefore fully support the forces of law and order. That is absolutely crucial. That is why, in the proposals that we are putting forward, there has to be some cross-community support.
The present proposals are quite different in character from those which have gone before. We are deliberately not suggesting what form a devolved Government should take. We are simply providing a framework within which elected representatives, while getting immediately involved in the current social and economic problems of Northern Ireland, can themselves debate and agree on how devolved government should be exercised. They will reach agreement only if both sides recognise the legitimacy of different traditions and conflicting long-term aspirations and the need to take account of these in agreeing on how the institutions of government should work. Our 855 proposals, with their flexibility and their provision of a substantial role for the Assembly from day one in considering the current business of government, are designed to provide the time and the opportunity for contact between the two sides, which could lead to the deeper understanding through which agreement might be reached.
I should like to say a word about the criticisms made of the Government's proposals by politicians in Northern Ireland. Leaders on both sides of the community have said that they are unworkable: on the one side because they do not give the minority adequate opportunity to participate in government and pay too little regard to its long-term aspirations, with the result that they will lead only to instability—that is the view of the SDLP—and, on the other side, which is the Unionist side, because the wishes of the majority are not properly respected and because under this scheme the devolution of powers is judged to be unachievable.
The same conclusions are thus reached on wholly different grounds. In response I would say this. Those people have criticised because they have not been given what they wanted. Yet in no way could they have had everything they sought—positions are at the moment too far apart for that, as what they have been saying all too clearly illustrates. Nor could there have been any question of so discounting the views of one group as to give another what it hoped for. Agreed solutions at this stage, before there is an Assembly and before politicians have had the chance to sit down and work together, are simply not on. The parties cannot be expected now to agree with one another or with any Government searching for a way forward, and I have never expected them to do so. But, as I have said, in the Government's view doing nothing is not right either. We have attempted in this situation to narrow some of the disagreements and to devise proposals which will allow them progressively to be narrowed further. That seems to us a way ahead—steadily to persevere along what I fully recognise will be a difficult path.
I shall quote the words used by Mr. Oliver Napier at the weekend. He represents the Alliance Party, which is the one party which so far has given my proposals a reasonable wind. He said:These proposals are workable if elected politicians want them to work. That is the only criterion, the determination of elected representatives to make it work. What the Humes and the Haugheys are in fact saying is not that the proposals are unworkable but that they do not want them to work.I suspect that that is a fair summary of the view of the SDLP.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I have already paid tribute to the arduous work that the Secretary of State has done while he has been in office. He knows that I am totally committed to devolution. It would be unfair to create the impression that those who are against his proposals for creeping devolution are all integrationists or do not wish to make them work. What does the right hon. Gentleman say to people like me who have a real fear that his proposals will not go beyond a talking shop and that at the end of the day there will be greater instability and far worse terrorism than there is now?
§ Mr. Prior
I do not necessarily agree that there is any connection between the proposals and what would happen 856 in the Assembly and terrorism. If we can achieve political stability, that would help towards solving the security problem, but the two things are not necessarily of the same order.
Unless one has a forum in which people for the first time for a number of years will seek to sort out their political difficulties by democratic means, there is no way in which one will make the people of Northern Ireland come together. Let us be honest with ourselves. That will not happen in the House. It will have to happen in Northern Ireland if it is to happen.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
Will the Secretary of State follow through his answer to the hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Kilfedder)? If terrorism will not be affected by what happens in the House, how does he expect his proposals to bring peace and stability to Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Prior
I have tried to deal with that question already. Northern Ireland need not in any way be adversely affected by anything that might happen in the Assembly. Am Ito be told that in an economic situation such as that which Northern Ireland faces and in a violent situation such as that which Northern Ireland faces, the people who attend the Assembly will just make it into a nonsense? If I am to be told that, the outlook for Northern Ireland and for its people is a good deal worse than I think the people of Northern Ireland are prepared to say. I hope very much that we can move from having an Assembly to something that goes beyond that.
Once elected, it will be for the Assembly to frame devolution proposals. But the Assembly will have other vital functions pending devolution. During this phase, direct rule will continue, but the Assembly will be able to scrutinise the work of the Northern Ireland Departments and advise on proposed legislation for Northern Ireland currently enacted by Order in Council. It will also be free to report on any issue which after devolution will be within its legislative competence; and it may be required to report on other issues on which the Secretary of State wants the Assembly's advice. All such reports will be laid before Parliament.
Another key feature of the proposals will be committees, corresponding to each of the Northern Ireland Departments, to enable the Assembly to monitor and scrutinise the work of the Departments. Ministers will look to these committees and their chairmen and deputy chairmen for guidance. Through the work of the committees and through the influence of the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the committees lies the best prospect of moving towards a point where the divided parties and divided communities can see that it is within their interests to work together.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
How does my right hon. Friend visualise the police committee of Northern Ireland fitting in with the devolved legislature, bearing in mind that law and order powers are reserved?
§ Mr. Prior
The police authority is a completely separate body and will remain separate from the Assembly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has said, the powers of law and order are reserved. It is not envisaged that when the Assembly starts there will necessarily be any committee 857 or any structure dealing with security. Those matters will remain firmly the Secretary of State's responsibility, who is responsible to the House.
In the long run, I hope that matters of law and order can be transferred to the Assembly, but, in the short run, I think that it will he appropriate to have discussions between the Secretary of State and representatives of the parties to see what informal arrangements can be made to try to create a liaison between the Assembly and the Secretary of State on security matters. Responsibility for security rests with the Secretary of State. The Chief Constable and the GOC are independent, but the Secretary of State works in co-ordination with them.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Is it the case that under the right hon. Gentleman's proposals the Assembly would have no power to debate security?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that each local authority in Northern Ireland has a security committee. Surely it is somewhat of a farce that local councillors can meet police chiefs and Army chiefs to discuss matters that concern the right to live while the Assembly will be denied this important task and responsibility.
§ Mr. Prior
The Assembly's role is a matter for discussion. It is the Government's firm view that matters of law and order must remain with the Secretary of State, who is responsible to the House. At any rate, that must be so for a period. However, the Government will be prepared to discuss what other arrangements can be made to give an Assembly committee, or the leaders of the parties in the Assembly, access to the Secretary of State to discuss matters of security, which are important issues in the Province. In that way we might be able to draw the Assembly and the Secretary of State closer together.
Thus from the outset an elected Northern Ireland Assembly will for the first time in eight years directly influence policy. I believe that these arrangements will greatly improve direct rule by subjecting it to detailed local scrutiny. The Assembly will have a crucial role in making direct rule more responsive to Northern Ireland opinion.
In parallel with these responsibilities, the Assembly will be able to make proposals for proceeding either directly to full devolution—with all the powers devolved in 1974 passing to the Assembly and a Northern Ireland administration answerable to it—or to partial devolution, with only some responsibilities devolved. Under partial devolution, there would be devolution of whole Northern Ireland Departments only, to keep lines of responsibility as clear as possible. Heads of devolved Departments will he answerable to the Assembly; the Secretary of State will remain answerable to this House for non-devolved Departments.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Would there be collective responsibility between the heads of the devolved Departments, the heads of the non-devolved Departments and the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Prior
I do not think that there could be collective responsibility in that manner. In dealing with what is bound to be a difficult situation, there would have to be the maximum amount of co-operation. Of course, the Secretary of State would maintain finance in his hands. At present finance is, as it were, doled out to each Department, and that would continue in the new arrangements. For a period a number of heads of Departments could be responsible to the Assembly but working in conjunction with a number of Ministers of this place and led by the Secretary of State, who would be responsible to the House for matters that had not been devolved.
It is a process by which we are not forcing the Assembly or the people of Northern Ireland to take all the difficult decisions on devolution, and power sharing in its old accepted sense, at one time. For example, it should be possible for the Assembly to agree on some of the less controversial powers and to leave the more controversial powers until the Assembly has settled down and begun to work.
I have a feeling that we should not try to say that everything must be devolved at once or that nothing can be devolved. If we proceed in that manner, there is a chance that the proposal will be successful.
§ Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Redditch)
I am finding some difficulty in following how partial devolution would work, with some Departments responsible to elected Members in Ulster and others responsible to the elected Government in this place. Surely that would not correspond with party affiliations. If the Government here are not represented there, is there not the possibility of a fruitful source of conflict and much difficulty?
§ Mr. Prior
The Secretary of State would have overall responsibility. Finance would still remain the responsibiity of the House. Allocations would be made to Northern Ireland as happens now and as used to happen before Stormont was dissolved. The Secretary of State would then have to decide in conjunction with his own Ministers, who would still be responsible for powers which had not been devolved and heads of Departments representing the Assembly—Ministers of the Assembly—for powers which had been devolved, on the allocation of money for those Departments. If a Department had been handed back to the Assembly in those circumstances, the Minister would be responsible to the Assembly although the Secretary of State would have decided on behalf of the House the cash resources to be made available to the Department. The Secretary of State would retain overall responsibility but would be working in conjunction with the Members of the Assembly.
Similarly, Ministers of this House could not be forced to attend Assembly committees, although I hope very much that they would do so. This is something of a constitutional change. I stress again that if one goes to the extent of saying that all powers have to be devolved at the same time, the chances of ever getting the cross-community support that will be necessary for that to take place are remote.
On the other hand, there is a chance of the Assembly being able to agree to start with some of the less controversial powers. For example, I think that it could agree on agriculture or on commerce. If it were found after a short period that it could not agree, the power that had 859 been devolved could come back to this place. In other words, we could roll devolution forward until all the Departments has been devolved to the Assembly, or we could roll it back insofar as the Assembly was unable to agree, and thus power would return once more to the House. It is a difficult proposal but it is one that is designed to seek to fit in with the particular needs of Northern Ireland. There would be no problem if Northern Ireland did not present a problem. The fact that we have this particular problem means that if we are to solve it we have to use rather novel methods of seeking to do so.
Before any devolution can take place, the Assembly will have to produce proposals acceptable to Parliament. The proposals could deal either with full or with partial devolution, and must contain recommendations for the composition of a Northern Ireland Administration. If 70 per cent. of the Members of the Assembly agreed on devolution proposals, I would be required to lay those proposals before Parliament, where they would be debated. The Government would give their view on whether the scheme was acceptable to both sides of the community. If Parliament approved the arrangements, devolution would be effected by Order in Council. If proposals were supported by a majority of the Assembly but attracted less then 70 per cent. support, I could, nevertheless, ask for them to be sent to me if I believed that they enjoyed cross-community support. In that event, too, they would be laid before Parliament and devolution could take place.
The 70 per cent. relates solely to the Assembly's proposals for devolution. The Government are not suggesting, still less requiring, that the devolution proposals should themselves provide for 70 per cent.—or any other weighted figure—for voting in the Assembly once devolution had taken place. It will be open to the parties seeking the necessary agreement on devolution proposals to negotiate safeguards to protect their respective positions. Accordingly, in its report the Assembly could put forward proposals for voting procedures and other features of a devolved system. On some key issues of confidence, the Assembly may wish to propose that a specified majority should be required, but that would be for the Assembly to settle as part of the agreement leading to devolution.
In framing the proposals, we have been careful not to stipulate how a Northern Ireland Administration should be composed. For example, it will be for the parties commanding the necessary support in the Assembly to decide whether there should be a chief executive and whether to operate a conventional system of Cabinet government. Appointments under full or partial devolution will be made by the Secretary of State, who will be guided by the report which had led to devolution as well as the views of the parties. Changes in these appointments—for example, if a member retired, or following a fresh election—could be made after consultation with the parties. Again, the essential requirement would be that the Administration continued to enjoy the support in the Assembly which had led to devolution in the first place. It will be perfectly plain whether the basis for devolution has broken down.
I am deeply aware that the Government are asking of this House a great deal. No one who has responsibility for Northern Ireland and seeks to try to move to some system 860 which is acceptable to Northern Ireland for devolved government can fail to recognise the strain that this involves. At a time when our attentions are very much elsewhere, we are asking the House to undertake the difficult task of constitutional change, but we do not seek to impose a settlement on the community. On the contrary, the timing and nature of any devolution are for the Assembly to propose. It might be that no devolution would take place during my time as Secretary of State. It might be that devolution would not take place at any time. It might be that only a partial devolution of powers would take place, such as I have suggested in the case of agriculture, commerce and so on. In that case, direct rule would go on, in whole or in part.
My proposals do not end direct rule. They have been best described by other people—not by myself—as a "do-it-yourself devolution kit". The proposals give to the people concerned the right to devolve or the right not to devolve—or the right to devolve some Departments but not others. They are designed to offer an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to come to terms with the realities of their situation and make the necessary adjustments to it on which economic, political and security advance all depend.
I believe very strongly that this opportunity should be taken. I believe that the British people as a whole are looking for some progress and for some advance, but I recognise that it is for the people of Northern Ireland themselves to determine the speed at which things move. These proposals at least give them a chance and a choice. They will be greatly aided by the degree of unity in this House that I hope the proposals will command. I commend the White Paper to the House.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
We welcome this opportunity to debate the Government's Northern Ireland White Paper, "A Framework for Devolution", because we believe it right that the House should have the chance to discuss the Government's analysis of the problems in Northern Ireland before it is called upon to consider legislation. This is one of the best attended Houses—certainly on the Government Benches—that I can recall for a Northern Ireland debate, and I am glad that it is provoking such interest.
Two principal questions should be in our minds during the debate. First, is the Government's assessment of the political difficulties in Northern Ireland fair and realistic? Secondly, we should question whether the remedies offered in the White Paper offer an adequate response to the magnitude of the political problems. I shall deal with those questions in some depth, but I think it important at the outset to give the Opposition's general response to the White Paper.
The Opposition support the general concept embodied in the White Paper that power should be gradually devolved to Northern Ireland's elected representatives on a basis that is acceptable to all sides of the community. We have long supported this idea and, as the House will recall, when in Government we made several unsuccessful attempts to return political responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland.
We are well aware of the difficulties and pitfalls—the Secretary of State has been made fully aware of them by some of the questions put to him this afternoon—that face any Government in tackling such an apparently impossible 861 task, but we think it essential constantly to renew some movement towards political progress. While we have misgivings about the timing of the initiative and some doubts as to its workability, we do not intend to oppose the Government tonight.
I think that at this stage it will be helpful to the House if I explain Labour policy on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. It will put our view on the White Paper into perspective. Our policy was agreed upon only recently at the last Labour Party conference, and the House has not yet heard our position in full. Our policy statement, like the White Paper that we are discussing, is the product of much hard work and wide consultation.
The study group which submitted the original policy draft had the benefit of considerable collective recent experience of governing Northern Ireland, with the presence on the study group of two past Secretaries of State and four former Ministers, plus other interested people on the national executive of our party. We considered a wide range of constitutional options in depth and decided that three in particular should be rejected.
We turned down any suggestion that majority rule devolved government should be returned to Northern Ireland. Given the experience of Stormont we were impelled to say, "Not again". We support the implicit rejection of simple majority rule in paragraph 19 of the White Paper and stress unreservedly that the Opposition would reject any report from the Assembly that advocated a return to majority rule.
Negotiated independence was another option that we rejected. Not only is there very little support for this in Northern Ireland, but we concluded that independence would be economically unviable, and we could see no way in which the rights of the minority community would be adequately protected.
Thirdly, we discountenanced the notion of a British Isles federation as constitutionally too complex and unlikely to get the required support of the Irish Republic. I might add at this point that I still do not understand it.
The proposals finally put forward are based on a desire to see peace and reconciliation between the two communities in Northern Ireland and on the belief that it is both desirable and possible to unite Ireland with the consent of the people North and South. We emphasise that we have no illusions about the problems of achieving such reconciliation and unification. To our mind that is no justification for not holding these long-term aims.
I am glad that the Secretary of State acknowledged the role that direct rule has played. It has been successful and should not be decried by anybody. As the Secretary of State has said, direct rule is the second best for everybody and was meant to be only a stepping stone to other arrangements. The three structures of direct rule—power sharing, devolved government and unification—should be seen not as separate alternatives but as individual parts of a practical programme of political reform. Each structure should give way gradually to the next on a basis acceptable to all sections of the Irish community. Consequently, we do not oppose the Government's proposals for an Assembly and for devolution of powers to Northern Ireland because they are broadly in line with the second stage of our three stage policy. We say "broadly in line" to indicate that we support the spirit of the White Paper rather than its specific proposals. There are some serious omissions and deficiencies which lead us to reserve support for the full details in the White Paper.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Before the right hon. Gentleman comes to that section of his speech, now that he has disclosed to the House the position of the Labour Party on the future of Northern Ireland, can he tell us whether the Labour Party as a democratic party intends to put up candidates at parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Powell
It is part of the United Kingdom. Such candidates could argue the case before the electors whom he hopes to persuade of the justice of his policy and gain support for it. Is that the intention of the Labour Party?
§ Mr. Concannon
That is certainly not the intention of the Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For the simple reason that we agree with the Secretary of State, whatever anybody else in the House thinks, that, as anyone who has had responsibility for Northern Ireland knows, politics in Northern Ireland is fought on different issues from in the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is a different entity and must be accepted as such, with different problems which require different resolution.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
Has the right hon. Gentleman entirely forgotten that the Northern Ireland Labour Party, which was indistinguishable from the British Labour Party, was in 1964 the second largest party in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Concannon
I have not forgotten the Northern Ireland Labour Party which, of course, is not part of our Labour Party. In political terms it has been superseded by other parties in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Labour Party is not an integral part of the British Labour Party.
In my opening remarks I said that we should be mindful of two questions. First, does the White Paper successfully analyse the political problems in Northern Ireland; further, how well do the Government's proposals for devolved Government match up to the political difficulties? When we consider in detail parts 1 to 4 of the White Paper, there is a good deal with which we agree.
Part 2, which expands on the need for devolved government, includes important observations about the relationship between political stability and the prospects for improved economic activity, on which the Secretary of State spent some time. The Opposition accept that political stalemate, reinforced by terrorist activities, has had profoundly damaging effects on the Northern Ireland economy. It will always be difficult to entice investors to an area where normal political processes have been suspended and where both property and people are in the perpetual shadow of a gun. We agree that an early return to the democratic process will enhance economic prospects and may help to diminish support for terrorist activity. I could never understand why terrorist activity should include setting fire to buses. It is only those who go to work and school children who travel on the buses, so I could never comprehend why terrorists should turn their attention to such things. However, that is not what we are discussing today.
The Government should not give the impression, as they do in paragraph 3, that Northern Ireland's economic problems have nothing to do with their policy. A large part of the economic malaise in Northern Ireland is the product of the deflationary monetarist policies that have led to a 863 doubling of unemployment in three years. Unfortunately, an Assembly or a devolved Administration will not be able to do much about the economic position.
It is made clear throughout the White Paper, as the Secretary of State spelt out in his speech, that overall Government strategy will be paramount and that the purse strings will be held tightly by Whitehall. In the long term greater political stability in the Province will help to being jobs, but there is little comfort in the White Paper for the unemployed and the poorly housed. Their elected representatives will still have to operate within the framework of Tory economic policies. All I can say to the people of Northern Ireland is that that can change only with a change of Government.
§ Mr. Concannon
I think that I would give the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) a fair run. Despite the sedentary intervention by the right hon. Gentleman, my record in Northern Ireland is a fair one. Certainly I can speak on the economics of Northern Ireland, having been in charge of the Department of Commerce. The right hon. Gentleman was never slow to come to me to look for jobs and, of course, he got the same fair treatment as anyone else.
Part 3 of the White Paper deals with the two national identities that co-exist in Northern Ireland today and have done so for centuries. We support particularly the two points made in this section. Paragraph 20 draws attention to the claim made by some Unionists that only those accepting the legitimacy of the State should be allowed full political participation. We support fully the following sentences:The Government, however, believes that, in a free society, the advocacy of change, including fundamental change, in the institutions of society, is a legitimate activity if pursued by peaceful persuasion and not by violence. So long as the existing institutions of the State are respected, those who favour change should not be debarred from playing a full part in public life.It is on that very principle that our policy rests, and we endorse that principle.
We agree also with the statement in paragraph 21 thatany new structures for the government of Northern Ireland must be acceptable to both sides of the community.This is more a recognition of political reality than a statement of principle. It needs to be stated repeatedly. However, it raises serious problems as to how that acceptability is to be judged. I shall deal with this in greater depth when discussing the precise proposals in the White Paper.
Welcome though sections of part 3 are, we express profound disappointment at the derisory attention given to the Irish dimension. When discussions were taking place, long before the White Paper came into being, one would have thought from the analysis and the sayings emanating from various places that the Irish dimension would figure a little more in the White Paper. In view of the high profile given to Anglo-Irish affairs over the past year and a half we had hoped for much more than three throwaway paragraphs that look like an afterthought. If the Government are serious in their recognition of the two national identities in Northern Ireland, they must give more attention to how Irish national identity may best be expressed.
864 We strongly believe that the Government should offer positive proposals for the participation of Northern Ireland Assembly members in the Anglo-Irish dialogue as it presently exists. At present there is no parliamentary tier to the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. Until there is, Northern Ireland Assembly members will effectively be excluded from the dialogue. That is a strange way to recognise two national identities.
Our thinking for the extension of the Anglo-Irish dialogue to include Northern Ireland Assembly Members is as follows. First, the intergovernmental council should be given a much higher status than it has now. It should be able to make reports to both Parliaments and to the Northern Ireland Assembly. We also think that it would be worth investigating the possibility of committees, to be formed under the council, to consider such issues as energy, citizenship and human rights—all the things that the Secretary of State talked about—and, possibly, security. I am talking about security not as the House would see it but in the sense in which the Secretary of State talked about it. One could consider various areas in which that would be very welcome. It is a matter that we might consider. The committees could be formed of individuals drawn from the Dail, this House and the Northern Ireland Assembly, all of those people having a specialist interest in, or knowledge of, the subjects that I have just mentioned.
In addition, the time is now ripe for Parliament to debate the possibility of a full parliamentary tier to the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. We have talked about it for long enough. It is all very well to say that members of the Northern Ireland Assembly may take part in a parliamentary tier, but the Secretary of State knows that it is still a hypothetical notion.
The House has not had an opportunity to discuss the Anglo-Irish joint studies paper or the wider issues of cooperation. We urge the Secretary of State to prevail on the Leader of the House to provide time before the Summer Recess to discuss the whole question, and particularly a parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. Otherwise, the White Paper's references to the Irish dimension will prove to be no more than a polite sop to the minority community in Northern Ireland. We shall certainly look to strengthen that area in the Committee stage of the Bill's consideration.
Having considered the Government's assessment of the political problems in Northern Ireland, which is on the whole fairly sound, apart from the question of the Irish dimension, we now look at the political proposals. Do they properly cater for the political realities of Northern Ireland? The White Paper says clearly that the Assembly will havescrutinising, consultative and deliberative functionsfrom the beginning. Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether the Assembly will vote at the end of its deliberations in the exercise of those functions? What will be the status of the debate and vote?
We should also be interested to hear how the right hon. Gentleman intends to cope when a majority of all groups in the Assembly are clearly opposed to a particular area of Government policy. Will he ignore the Assembly, or will he plead a special case for Northern Ireland when the pressure is on to apply legislation of this House throughout the Kingdom?
One example springs to mind. A month ago the House debated whether the Employment Act 1980 should be 865 enforced in Northern Ireland, whether Northern Ireland liked it or not. We had quite a debate on the issue. If devolved government is set up and commerce is a devolved area, what happens if the Government wish to inflict the latest, obnoxious Employment Bill on Northern Ireland? What happens if the Members of the Assembly say "No"? A precedent was set in that debate, when Northern Ireland Members accepted that, whether the law in the rest of the United Kingdom was bad, indifferent or good, it was acceptable to Northern Ireland. I entirely differ from that view, but it was acceptable to the House then.
We acknowledge the merits of having in Northern Ireland an Assembly that can maintain its existence regardless of whether powers are devolved. But we can also see the danger of setting up a talking shop that institutionalises the political differences, without allowing for participation in the exercise of power. It may be that the Government's plan for an active and influential Assembly will work out in practice, and we believe that it is worth a try, but we warn them that any failure to take full account of the views of all sections of the Assembly may turn the forum into a white elephant.
One job of the Assembly will be to submit to the Secretary of State a report on plans for the devolution of executive powers. Such reports will be laid before Parliament if they have the support of 70 per cent. of the Members of the Assembly or if they have the support of between 50 and 70 per cent. of the Members and the Secretary of State is satisfied that they command widespread support throughout the community. Neither side of the community seems happy with the figure of 70 per cent. Each seems to believe that the other side will have a veto over any proposals. The position is hypothetical at present, because no one knows the makeup of the 78-Member Assembly.
It seems to us that the Government have set such a figure to try, to ensure that any devolution report that comes before Parliament will have cross-community support. That is not a bad principle to work on, but when the Bill comes to the Floor of the House we shall have to examine those clauses closely to see where they can be amended. We agree with the Government that power should not be devolved unless all sides of the community can agree on a system. However, we have our doubts as to whether the Government have chosen the right method to ensure that proposals have that type of agreement. I have no doubt that we shall return to this matter on Second Reading of the Bill, and certainly in Committee.
It should be remembered that both the White Paper and the Bill state that an Assembly paper with support of 70 per cent. or more should be laid before Parliament. Nothing is said about the way in which Parliament must treat that report. I hope that Parliament will still have the last say on whether a devolution report carries the support of all sides of the community in Northern Ireland, regardless of the size of the majority that supported it in the Assembly. This is another matter that we shall examine closely in Committee.
It is at this point in the White Paper that we begin to detect its fundamental weaknesses, and we see that the remedy fails to match the political conditions. The key issue in any devolution of executive functions will inevitably be the exercise of power. Stormont fell because the exercise of power was at fault. Devolution proposals in 1974 and 1980 floundered because there was not enough 866 agreement on the exercise of power. We are left with the same central issue today: how will the executive functions be divided among parties in the Assembly when, or if, those functions are devolved?
To a large extent the White Paper avoids that critical question. It leaves it to the Members of the Assembly to hammer it out, while stressing that both sides of the community must support any devolution plan. We believe that such an arrangement is not good enough. Of course it is right to listen to the views of the Assembly on this matter, but the Government have a duty to state openly that in the case of Northern Ireland devolution is permissible only where the minority community is taken into partnership in executive functions. In short, only a sharing of power should be acceptable. That must be spelt out clearly.
When the House receives a report from the Assembly, the Opposition will wish to be convinced that scope exists for the incorporation of minority community representatives at every level of constitutional politics. The Government should have said as much in the White Paper, and they should incorporate that principle in every clause of the Bill. I hope that when a report comes, the House will have the chance to suggest amendments or to refer back sections of the report, for it may be that some sections meet the criteria of acceptability and others do not. Perhaps the Secretary of State will clarify the power of Parliament in that respect. The Opposition believe that it is important that the House should be paramount on the issue.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking from his long experience of the practicality of working politics in Northern Ireland. He said that the Opposition support the general idea of devolution of power to an Assembly. I understand that he accepts the 70 per cent. proposal but that he does not like it. Is he saying that the Opposition would not accept a decision of more than 70 per cent. of an elected Assembly on a devolution matter because he believes that Parliament should have a paramount responsibility of veto? Surely, if he is saying that there is no opportunity for the devolution of democracy in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Concannon
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) should examine the voting figures in Northern Ireland. We do not yet know how the figure of 78 will be divided. The 70 per cent. might be too low or too high. I do not agree with a percentage figure. There are other ways of devising the great test of the support of the population of Northern Ireland. I shall discuss that further. If the hon. Member for Canterbury is asking me whether I agree with the 70 per cent, my answer is "No'. Nor would I agree with 80 per cent. or 60 per cent. I can envisage a 78-Member Assembly, depending on who is elected to it, in which a 70 per cent. vote would not represent the wishes, the fears or the problems of the minorities, which would probably be voted under. In that respect, we get ourselves into a great deal of trouble if we stick to a percentage figure and do not rely, first, on the Secretary of State who is there talking to people. He is knowledgeable and will decide himself whether an issue has cross-community support. He will then come to the House whose view on whether an issue has cross-community support ought to be paramount. Devolving 867 powers back to Northern Ireland is important, especially when one bears in mind how we reached existing conditions.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the implementation of reports on devolution from the Assembly should be by way of a parliamentary Bill and not simply by one debate on one Order in Council?
§ Mr. Concannon
I think that the right hon. Member for Down, South and I agree. I do not want a "take it or leave it" order at 12.30 a.m. The matter is much too serious for that. On such a serious issue, the House will agree on certain points in the report and not on others. Either the report is amendable here, or it can be sent back to the Assembly where it can be amended and then sent back to us. I hope that I have clarified the point. That is why it is important to discuss the White Paper before proceeding further. Those are my reservations as a result of my practical experience of the politics of Northern Ireland.
We should never forget the sorry state of Northern Ireland today. It was brought about largely by the abuse of executive power. We allowed that abuse to continue and we have seen the consequence of parliamentary failure. The Opposition believe—the Minister who winds up must spell this out—that Parliament must be able to scrutinise the application of political power in Northern Ireland. We must retain the office of Secretary of State even when the maximum powers have been devolved. We must be able to ask a wide range of questions about the Province. I hope that the Secretary of State was not saying that, with regard to the devolution of power and a Minister in charge of it, we shall again revert to the pre-1970 position. I can just remember it. The House was not allowed to ask questions about Northern Ireland. I hate to think that we should go back to that.
For the time being, given the political realities, Westminster must retain its democratic safeguards over the control of executive authority in Northern Ireland, if only for the express purpose of protecting the rights of the minority. I stress again that the Opposition do not intend to oppose the proposals outright. However, our reservations have been spelt out. The White Paper provides us with a reasonable analysis of the political problems in Northern Ireland, but we doubt whether the proposals for devolution will allow for the fundamental differences between the politicians to be resolved.
We shall use the Second Reading and the Committee stage of the Bill to strengthen parliamentary control and to ensure that the rights and fears of both communities are treated fairly. By the two communities I mean the majority and the minority. I was at one with the Secretary of State when he said that this is possibly the only way in which we can proceed in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)
I was pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) say that he was glad that we are discussing the White Paper. I know that several hon. Members—I thought that he was one—doubted it, the international scene being as dark as it is, part of our territory having 868 been taken by force and British Service men having been in action to recover it. For all we know, they may soon be in action again.
There are many other apparently intractable problems both at home and overseas. They include Northern Ireland and led some hon. Members to say that this is no time to discuss a White Paper, let alone a Bill. They are wrong, because we are considering the future of the one and a half million people in Northern Ireland. I do not represent them and, therefore, cannot and naturally do not speak for them. As the House knows, I had the honour to serve them for nearly two and a half years. During that time I became enormously attached to them. No finer people are to be found anywhere in the United Kingdom. Taken as a whole, whether they live in the productive and attractive countryside or in the decayed and unattractive cities, they are hard-working, God-fearing, kindly and generous people who want what we all want—a home, a job, freedom from fear and hope for the future.
As the House knows, when I became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland almost exactly three years ago, I did not know Ulstermen and Ulsterwomen and they did not know me. But when I went there, I was shown more kindness, understanding, warmth and more eagerness to help than I have ever known in my life. Those same people, all of them, even the oldest, have suffered all their lives from one terrible drawback—a political system that too large a part of the population find unacceptable. None of us, unless we are Northern Ireland Members—that is, 623 out of 635 of us—can properly understand that.
To be sure, we know that one day we are on this side of the House and our party forms the Government and that, perhaps only one month later, we may find ourselves in Opposition and all the plans that we have helped to formulate and have supported are swept away and others, many of which we may not like, replace them. That is our system. While individually we may not like moving from this side to that—we do not—it seems to be broadly acceptable to those who elect us. It has endured without bloodshed for many years.
In Northern Ireland, however, that is not the case. Few if any of us are old enough to remember the events before, during and immediately after the First World War. I was born at about the same time as what was then called the Irish Free State and the establishment of the new arrangements for governing the Province of Northern Ireland.
In every decade since then, with the possible exception of the 1940s, the system of government in Northern Ireland has been under attack. I use that word carefully and deliberately. The system has been attacked not just politically by speeches, rallies, demonstrations and all the perfectly acceptable means to which we are accustomed in Great Britain, but by force—by physical violence, guns, bombs, shootings, murders and all the horror and fear that they have brought to hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
We must remember, too, that that violence was directed not just against the original system in the 1920s, 1930s, 1950s and 1960s. Since the early 1970s, with the short interval of some months of the power-sharing Executive—to be fair, that was brought down not by physical violence but by what may best be described as a massive campaign of civil disobedience—violence has been directed at the existing system of direct rule.
869 My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said today that direct rule has many benefits and for many people in the Province it is the second preferred choice of a system of government. I agree with that. I remember saying, when we debated these matters in July 1980, that direct rule had brought a fair, efficient and impartial administration to the Province, and so it has. The one thing that it has not done, however, is to bring an end to violence.
As we are only too tragically aware, more than 2,000 people—policemen, soldiers and civilians—have been killed in the 10 years of direct rule, and last year 10 people deliberately took their own lives by starving themselves to death, all in an effort to destroy this system of government. Of course, the security forces are having increasing success—no praise is too high for the patient, dedicated and dangerous work of the men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army—but still the terror goes on. I am bound to say that, in my view, so long as the present form of direct rule continues, so too will the campaign of violence. It will be at a reduced level, I have no doubt, but, as all of us have so often said, one terrorist incident resulting in one innocent death is one too many.
My right hon. Friend spoke in opening the debate of what might be called the side effects of the campaign. He referred to the image of Northern Ireland as a dangerous place and the idea that it is foolhardy to visit for fear that one might be shot or blown up. At a lord mayor's banquet in Belfast city hall a year or two ago, I met the lord mayor of a famous English city who was paying his first visit to the Province. He confessed that he had been in two minds about whether to come and that his wife had tried hard to persuade him that it was too dangerous. To his credit, he came and, like everyone else, he found that things were not nearly so bad as he had been led to expect. That is just one example, unimportant in itself, of the effect of years of bad publicity.
Far more important, however, is the effect of such publicity on potential investors. They it is who hold in their hands the future economic well-being of the people of Northern Ireland. They it is whose new enterprises, factories and business opportunities are so desperately needed to replace the traditional foundations of Northern Ireland's prosperity—the shipbuilding, textile and engineering industries that have been devastated by the world recession.
The potential investor finds much to attract him in Northern Ireland. There is the country itself—its ports, its communications, its facilities, and the Government's financial schemes, which make it the most attractive part of the United Kingdom in which to invest. Above all, there are the people—people available and ready to work, ready to do everything that they can to make a new enterprise succeed, with all the skills that one could hope to find and with a labour relations record second to none in the country.
On the debit side, however, there is fear, and I am convinced that many a would-be investor gives much weight to this. There is the fear that Northern Ireland is not safe and that the terrorist bomb or bullet may put an end, if not to his own life, to his enterprise and the capital that he has invested in it. The unhappy result is that the new investment does not come, or, at any rate, it does not come in sufficient quantities to make up for the decline in the older industries. The unemployment figures—I believe 870 that my right hon. Friend referred to 19 per cent.—stand little chance of improvement and there remain many more idle hands for the Devil to put to his own uses.
On a number of occasions I have likened politics, economics and security to the three strands of a rope—closely interwoven, acting together, not separately, and relying for the strength of the whole on the strength of the individual strands. That is why I believe that it is right that we in this House who bear the ultimate responsibility for Northern Ireland should take the time today, in spite of all our other preoccupations, to consider my right hon. Friend's proposals.
I have already implied and I now say explicitly, that I do not believe that the option of doing nothing, of just continuing the existing arrangements year after year, is open to us. I gave one reason—the security reason—a few moments ago, but there are many others and one in particular about which I feel especially strongly.
As things stand at the moment, we have Secretaries of State and junior Ministers for three of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom—for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland. Some argue that there should be one for England, too, but I shall not go into that now. I do not know whether there has ever been a Secretary of State for Scotland who was not either a Scotsman or represented a Scottish constituency. There may have been one, but, if so, it was so long ago that I cannot remember. The same applies to the Secretary of State for Wales, who has always either been a Welshman or represented a Welsh constituency, and usually both.
All Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, however—my right hon. Friend is the sixth—have come from outside the Province and have represented constituencies outside the Province. The same applies to all the junior Ministers who have served in Northern Ireland regardless of whether they were members of the Conservative Party or of the Labour Party. We know that one of the main reasons is that none of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland in the House is prepared to ally himself with either of the main parties here which, alternately over the past 10 years, have formed Her Majesty's Government and to accept the collective responsibility for all Government actions that we expect of all Minsters. I am not criticising them; I am merely stating a fact.
This has the consequence—in my view, the undesirable consequence—that people such as I when appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, come to that office with limited personal experience of the Province and with no family background experience and no electorate there. As I have said, we are greeted with the greatest warmth, understanding and eagerness to help, but I do not think that it is the best manifestation of our democratic tradition that for so important a part of the United Kingdom comparative strangers to it are entrusted with responsibility for virtually every aspect of government, both central and, as in Great Britain, local.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) and for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence) are Northern Irish by blood? Therefore, is there any reason why they should not be asked to serve as Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office?
§ Mr. Atkins
My hon. Friend should perhaps put that proposition to our right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury.
I conclude, therefore, that it is our duty to seek some improvement in the ways of governing Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend has laid his proposals before us and has explained why he thinks that they offer the best chance of progress. I believe that we should support him because the proposals offer a real opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to obtain what they want—or what they said that they wanted when I was there—namely, more control by people whom they have elected over their affairs.
In his White Paper, my right hon. Friend has thrust firmly on to the representatives of Northern Ireland who will be elected to the Assembly the responsibility of discussing precisely how that control should be exercised. Here I part company from the right hon. Member for Mansfield, who did not believe that that was the right way to proceed. I believe that it is because our predecessors devised a system in the early 1920s based almost exactly on our practice here. It failed, after a time, to command the support of a substantial section of the population and was terminated. Another system was devised here, largely by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. That failed to command the support of an even larger section of the population and it, too, was terminated.
We could no doubt have devised others—I had some ideas myself—but none of them will last without at least the concurrence of those elected to work them. Therefore, let them consider among themselves how to exercise power and then, provided that their conclusions and recommendations seem fair to us—my right hon. Friend has set certain criteria that we might use—let them do so.
§ Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)
I defer to the experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) in the affairs of Northern Ireland—experience that I sadly do not have—but I was under the impression that one reason why all the schemes to which he referred have failed is that the two main communities in Northern Ireland seem to be congenitally incapable of agreeing on anything. In that case, will this proposal do any more good than the others?
§ Mr. Atkins
I shall return to that point because it is important. However, may I go on to say that, apart from discussing among themselves how to exercise power, the representatives of Northern Ireland should consider what powers they will exercise and to what extent. That is provided for in my right hon. Friend's proposals.
We hear a certain amount nowadays about the word "integration" and my right hon. Friend spent some part of his speech talking about it. Those who propose that as a way forward are the ones who should explain precisely what they mean, but I take it to mean the treating of Northern Ireland exactly as if it was another part of the United Kingdom, such as Scotland, Birmingham, Sussex or Kent.
I must ask those who advocate that course to pause for a moment and consider two facts. First, I convened a conference two years ago to consider the future arrangements for the government of the Province. I put before that conference a number of suggestions for those arrangements. One suggestion, which was called model F in the paper, was similar in many respects to what I 872 understand by "integration". The three main political parties which attended the conference all dismissed that idea as not being at all what they wished. The fourth main party, which did not attend, submitted a paper to the Prime Minister putting forward, not "integration", but a proposal for a restored system of devolved government. The other, smaller, parties which did not attend the conference but which I consulted also came down in favour of devolved government.
It is not for me to say what they believe today, but a short two years ago one of the few things that united the different political parties in Northern Ireland was their opposition to being treated in the same way as England, Scotland or Wales. That is hardly a good omen for widespread acceptance of this proposal.
The second factor that I ask the House to consider is that if we were to pass legislation, as we have the power to do, prescribing that Northern Ireland should be treated in exactly the same way as England—that there should be elected bodies with broadly the same powers as local authorities here—we would be bound to fail to produce anything workable unless we first addressed the problem of how those powers were to be exercised.
If hon. Members cast their minds back to the late 1960s, they will remember that the start of the civil rights campaign which culminated a few years later in the downfall of Stormont was not so much the alleged shortcomings of the Stormont Government as the alleged malpractices of local authorities in housing, planning and other responsibilities. If we simply recreate such a system, we shall simply recreate the problems. Instead of moving forward, as we all wish, we should be moving back 14 or 15 years.
The crux of the matter remains where it has remained for so long—how can power be exercised in a way that people will regard as fair, bearing in mind that, with the present party structure in Northern Ireland, one grouping of parties will always be a majority and another will always be a minority? We have tried to find a way here and we have not succeeded. My right hon. Friend's proposals will enable the people of the Province, through their elected representatives, to try. There are some, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranbourne), who say that they will never do it. I do not believe that. I do not believe that the people of Northern Ireland, whom I came to know so well and to whom I am so attached, cannot find a way of regulating their own affairs. At any rate, we should give them the opportunity to try. My right hon. Friend's proposals do that. He is to be congratulated, and his proposals deserve our support.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) was right to remind us of his sojourn in Northern Ireland, the knowledge that he acquired of the Province and its people and the many friendships that he and his good wife formed there—friendships that I hope will long remain.
However, I am mystified by what he and his successor as Secretary of State said about the impact of this form of government on security. Given that the IRA has made no secret of the fact that it is utterly opposed to any form of government, North or South, and that it increased the scale of violence during the period when there was a power-sharing structure in Northern Ireland, one does not see the 873 logic of the suggestion that if, by some miracle, we can achieve that to which the Secretary of State has set his hand—I am not very clear about it—IRA members will throw their hats in the air, hand in their weapons and say "It is all over, boys. We now have a power-sharing structure at Stormont". It has not been so in the past, and there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that it would be any different in the future.
For the past four weeks the House has been of one mind in its attitude to the act of aggression in the South Atlantic. That unity has been maintained broadly, give or take some long-range electioneering such as we had yesterday, and it would be churlish to deny that the Prime Minister has been mainly responsible for that achievement. She has struck a fine balance between the firmness that the Falkland Islands issue requires and the reasonableness necessary to achieve House of Commons support for her action.
The achievement of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland almost rivals that of the Prime Minister. He has achieved something of a coup in that part of the Queen's realm for which he is now responsible, an achievement that is different from that of the right hon. Lady, if not in scale, certainly in kind. Whereas the Prime Minister has marshalled the political parties in suppport of her policies, the Secretary of State has assembled every Ulster party of consequence in total opposition to his.
The achievement is his alone. Not for him the shuttle diplomacy of Mr. Haig. In seven months flat, alone and unaided, he has lined up the Northern Ireland political parties against the Government. What is more—as he revealed clearly to us today—he will ensure that they stay that way by herding them into an Assembly consisting solely of Opposition parties with the object of making their obstruction of the Government all the more effective.
The right hon. Gentleman expressed a certain fear that the structure might reach fulfilment during his term of office. One can only conclude that he would not like to see it getting beyond the Assembly stage because he clearly has no intention of being involved, exposing himself to a rough house or being grilled by an Assembly.
If the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) had consulted me last November, before he threatened to make Northern Ireland ungovernable, I could have saved him much trouble and explaining. My advice would have been "Don't bother Ian, there is one mightier than you riding on a Government bulldozer. He will do the job more effectively than you." As Mr. John Hume said this week, he is one with unlimited capacity to bribe the weak headed. In that contest of bribery, the Treasury coffers will beat the plastic buckets any day.
I, too, must be reasonable and strike a balance. I have to acknowledge that the Secretary of State is responsible for the presentation of this exhibit of deformed democracy. But blame for the design is not entirely his. Nor is it the work of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), or even that of Mr. Catherwood, or Professor Middlemass. The plan is essentially the same as that which has gathered dust since the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was Secretary of State. However, he had the good sense to leave the dust undisturbed.
I said that it is essentially the same plan, and the right hon. Member for Spelthorne was on the point of almost illustrating that when he was diverted to much safer ground. He said that a general election could change the 874 fortunes of the political parties in the House. He said that the Conservative Party could be in Opposition following a general election. That is undisputed. He did not fully illustrate that there is a certain continuity—perhaps a continuity in the conspiracy against Northern Ireland—that goes on and on, taking not a blind bit of notice of what happens in the Chamber or of which party is in Government.
The plan has been available for 10 years. The specification has been the same. The key words are that "there has to be an Assembly." There is no particular necessity for a Cabinet or a Government, simply that there must be an Assembly. Hon. Members who have seen the papers will know that is on the files. We must now ask "Why?". We were told that Northern Ireland is different and must be kept different. That has been the theme running through all the speeches in today's debate. That determination to keep Northern Ireland different must be borne in mind at every stage of our debate on the White Paper, on Second Reading and in what promises to be, judging by the remarks from the Opposition Front Bench and other quarters, a protracted Committee stage.
That attitude explains why 11 paragraphs of the White Paper have nothing to do with the internal government of Northern Ireland. That is why the references to devolved government are a sham and a deceit. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State. He is a senior Cabinet Minister, experienced in the mechanisms of Government. He has held high offices of State, including Leader of the House for two years. He knows from experience what will work and what will fail. He cannot convince himself that the Bill is anything other than a cruel joke, a caricature and a Heath Robinson contraption.
§ Mr. Prior
I should like to disabuse the hon. Gentleman of those remarks. I would not dream of wasting the time of the House or trying to influence the people of Northern Ireland if I did not wholeheartedly believe in the proposal I was putting forward. I hope that we shall hear rather more constructive proposals from the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The Secretary of State is given to lecturing me on occasions. It is not so long ago that he elevated himself to that Dispatch Box and informed me that I did myself no credit simply because I made remarks that were designed to be realistic and force people to face the true issues.
I say to the Secretary of State in the friendliest possible fashion that I was not sent to the House to do credit to myself. That means advancement in a political career. I came here to protect the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, and that I will continue to do. However, we must waste no more time on what is proposed except to establish that it is nothing to do with devolved government
It must be said that there were many innocent souls over the past six or seven months who really believed that the Government would produce a structure—I repeat the words said to me and my colleagues—"without institutionalised power sharing." Those people were encouraged to believe that although some of us had the courage to warn that they were being conned, they proceeded to ignore those warnings. Our warnings were not self-fulfilling prophecies, nor were they based on guesswork. We had the benefit of seeing and hearing what was happening on the other side of the hill.
875 When the Secretary of State was offering the bait for straightforward, devolved Government without institutionalised power sharing, his advisers were whispering over their coffee cups that it was power sharing in a disguised form. When the Secretary of State was discussing with my delegation possible participation in stage 2, his backroom boys, whether he knew it or not, were saying that stage 2 could not evolve without a change in the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party. Just as in war time, the enemy wireless has its uses on occasions.
I apologise for being unkind. One is not supposed to be unkind, particularly to civil servants, and senior civil servants at that. Therefore, I give them the benefit of the doubt and quote the authority from which they probably took their cue. I refer to none other than Lord Carrington, the former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Two gems will suffice. He said:Her Majesty's Government has no desire to impede the realisation of Irish unity.He also said:In Ulster it is necessary to modify the principle of pure democracy.If I were in an uncharitable mood I might be tempted to add that if pure democracy had not been modified in Argentina the noble Lord might still have been on his Foreign Office stool.
Under that influence is it any wonder that subordinates were saying that the 1920 Act was the result of a squalid deal? What sort of language is that to come from a servant of the Crown who is drawing a salary from the Crown? It is no surprise that with that background, programme and indoctrination one senior civil servant said to me—he was paying me a compliment—"Mr. Molyneaux, you and I are intelligent enough to know that the only real solution is a united Ireland." I am certain that if the Secretary of State had foreseen the Falkland disaster he would have deleted the 11 paragraphs from his White Paper. The parallel is far too close for comfort. The 11 paragraphs are almost a replay of that fatal statement in the House on 2 December 1980 by the then Minister of State, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). It will do no harm to refresh our memories of what was said then:We have no doubt about our sovereignty over the islands. The Argentines, however, continue to press their claim. The dispute is causing continuing uncertainty, emigration and economic stagnation in the Islands … Various possible bases for seeking a negotiated settlement were discussed. These included both a way of freezing the dispute for a period or exchanging the title of sovereignty against a long lease of the islands back to Her Majesty's Government … It is for the islanders to advise on which, if any, option should be explored in negotiations with the Argentines. I have asked them to let me have their views in due course."—[Official Report, 2 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 195–6.]When you have time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I suggest that "Ulster" might be substituted for "Falklands". Almost word for word, it is the Foreign Office jargon that, more than any other single factor, has perpetuated uncertainty and instability in Northern Ireland for the past decade. It is not jargon that is used without careful thought. It is a deliberate conspiracy to keep the Province in turmoil until such time as it can be disposed of.
Yesterday, at a meeting within this building, spokesmen for the Falkland Islanders were pressed to give their views on British policy under successive Governments. Without any trace of bitterness—perhaps they are more charitable than I am—they admitted that 876 reluctance to put the islands on a sound economic footing, to develop communications and to extend the airport, all of which were possible, was due to Foreign Office opposition to anything that would tie them closer to Britain and make more difficult the Foreign Office's desire to get rid of them. In this House, it has been generally agreed and understood that when the Falklands have been freed from the invader there will have to be a searching inquiry into the causes of the South Atlantic disaster. That inquiry is not without relevance to Northern Ireland and to today's debate.
§ Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)
The hon. Gentleman has been trying to draw a parallel between the position of the Falkland Islands people and the people of Northern Ireland. It is not an argument that commends itself to me, nor, I suspect, to a number of hon. Members. Even if it were true—I do not believe that it is—will the hon. Gentleman at least tell the House how impressed he is with the determination of Her Majesty's Government to defend the Britishness of the Falkland Islands people and their integration within the United Kingdom in putting to sea the largest task force since the Second World War?
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Yes. Unfortunately, the task force is acting in retrospect. If half the effort and half the treasure involved in sending the task force had been devoted to safeguarding and tying the Falkland Islands and Falkland Islanders closer to the United Kingdom, all this would have been unnecessary.
I have illustrated that the same treachery lies behind the sufferings of two sets of subjects—the subjects in the Falkland Islands and the 1.5 million subjects in Northern Ireland. While we fervently pray that human lives will not be the price of double dealing that has occurred in the past over the Falklands, we have to remind ourselves that over 2,000 lives have been lost in Northern Ireland as a result of the never-ending experiments of those determined to subvert the simple wish of 1.5 million British subjects to do nothing more than to enjoy the same rights as their fellow citizens in this larger island.
I quoted earlier the Government's statement made in the House on 2 December 1980. I should like, perhaps in deference to our American cousins, to be even handed and quote the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) who, on the same occasion asked:Will the Minister confirm that involved here are the rights and future of 1,800 people of British descent in a territory which was originally uninhabited—people who, above all, wish to preserve their present relationship with the United Kingdom? Will he reaffirm that there is no question of proceeding with any proposal contrary to the wishes of the Falkland Islanders? Their wishes are surely not just 'guidance' to the British Government. Surely they must be of paramount importance".—[Official Report, 2 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 196.]The Opposition spokesman could, I suppose, be said to have coined that blessed phrase, "Their wishes must be paramount". But, since then, and particularly over the past four weeks, it has been repeated almost on a daily basis by spokesmen for the Government. I should like again to ask the Secretary of State if he regards himself as a member of the Government in all respects, bearing and sharing collective responsibility. If so, why does he refuse to regard the wishes of the Ulster people as paramount? I am still being even handed. I am not suggesting that he should heed Unionist views alone. His predecessor in 877 office, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) launched an initiative that achieved only one thing. It deprived the SDLP of a voice in this House.
Although the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is here with us in the flesh, there has always been a certain reluctance on the part of the hon. Gentleman to impose upon the time of the House. It may be that he will feel rather reluctant and that he will not have time to put forward and express the views of his former party. I myself would not presume to act as spokesman for the SDLP. But no one can surely object to my putting on the record the words of the leader of that party, Mr. Hume. In doing so, I hope perhaps that I am being fairer to him than was the Secretary of State when he seemed to suggest that the leader of the SDLP was rejecting the proposals on the ground that they did not give enough power to that party. It is interesting therefore to consider two quotations. Mr. Hume said:The proposals will not, in fact, work, will not provide stability".andWe contend that by any standards the proposals for devolution of power contained in the White Paper are unworkable and can be seen to be unworkable".
§ Mr. Crouch
The hon. Gentleman is making an important speech as leader of his party. As he says, the other parties in the Province have not shown support for the Bill and the White Paper. I regard this as a United Kingdom debate in which we are discussing an important element of the United Kingdom and some change that is proposed for better stability. Will the hon. Gentleman agree with the first paragraph of the White Paper, namely, thatthere is an urgent need for the people of Northern Ireland to have a new opportunity to resume greater power and responsibility in running their own affairs"?Does he think that the devolution proposals, as suggested, would produce greater political stability? This is the kernel of the debate. It is what I have come to hear, particularly from the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I shall gladly answer that question. The party to which the hon. Gentleman belongs and which he supports came to that conclusion before the general election. The Government said in their manifesto and in the Queen's Speech at the start of the present Parliament that it would be their aim to restore to the people of Northern Ireland more control over their own affairs. The hon. Gentleman asks whether I regard what is proposed as achieving that aim. I have to say that by no stretch of the imagination can I or 91 per cent. of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland imagine that this proposed structure will give control over our own affairs. It may do certain other things. One thing it will manifestly not do is to give to us more control over our own affairs.
By the end of this debate, hon. Members will have heard the views of the three main parties in Northern Ireland. I have supplied the missing link, the SDLP. Lord Gowrie tried to extract what comfort he could from the criticism of all and sundry. His claim was that such criticism indicated that the Secretary of State had perhaps got it right. But the three parties and many others besides are not voicing mild criticism or reservations. They are expressing total opposition, total disbelief and total lack of confidence in the structure. They stand on common ground. They condemn the proposals on one ground 878 only—not on the ground that they favour a combination of this or that party, but on the one simple criterion that the proposals are unworkable.
Much has been, and will be, made of the requirement for a 70 per cent. weighted majority. On those terms we can settle the future of the White Paper today. Alone in Northern Ireland, the Alliance Party is prepared to give this plan a try. It has 9 per cent. of the vote of the electorate in Northern Ireland. Ranged on the other side is a weighted majority of 91 per cent. Faced with the clearly expressed view of 91 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives, will Her Majesty's Government act with consistency, and by their actions recognise that the wishes of the Ulster people, too, are paramount?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland will be surprised that the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) is now also a spokesman for the Social Democratic and Labour Party and for Mr. Hume. I am afraid that he would have done no service to himself in the House if he had spelt out why Mr. Hume said that the plan was unworkable. Mr. Hume said that even if all parties in the House, barring his party, decided to work a scheme, he would still find it unworkable.
The reason is simple. The SDLP believes that no form of devolved government shall work in Northern Ireland and that the only solution to the problem of Northern Ireland's government is an all-Ireland solution. Therefore, it is in the interests of the SDLP to see that this proposal, and every other proposal, does not work, unless it takes the people of Northern Irelamd into an all-Ireland settlement.
Although it is hard to find something pleasing in the White Paper, it is pleasing to the people whom I represent that it stirs such opposition from Mr. Hume. However, there is something more. Long before the White Paper was published, Mr. Hume and Mr. Haughey sang a duet in Dublin. The tone of that duet was that they must unite against the Secretary of State's White Paper. Both of them, before they saw the proposal, made it clear that they would have nothing to do with it and would oppose it.
The problem is one of great seriousness. I enjoy the quips of the hon. Member for Antrim, South, but I must bring the House back to reality. We are discussing a problem not 8,000 miles away, but just a few hundred miles from the door of the House of Commons in Westminster.
Yesterday, another gallant officer of the UDR was murdered in the city of Londonderry. If any hon. Member thinks that by bringing in some form of devolved government they will stop in their tracks the gunmen who perpetrated that barbarous deed, then they had better be disillusioned. Not only did they gun down that man but they stood over him and pumped bullets into him. That type of murder will not stop in Ulster, no matter what form of government is instituted there. The only way to deal with that is to put the murderers down by might and main, with determination.
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, failed to complete his study of the history of Ireland and failed to point out that the Dublin Government was also opposed in the same way, by force, to the settlement. He failed to 879 tell us that the leading party today in the South once carried out the same barbarous acts. It was only when Kevin O'Higgins determined to deal with the problem, and deal with it properly, that the irregulars were put down and forced out of the murder business, and de Valera and all his supporters then turned to politics.
Let no hon. Member think that any proposals made politically or economically will take the guns from the hands of the Republicans. What do they care for the good wishes of the people of Northern Ireland? The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said that they burn buses. Why do they burn buses? They are interested not in the welfare of the people going to work, but in bringing disaster and ruination to the country. They burn not only buses, but new factories, and they will continue to do that.
We have a gloomy background to the debate. I do not have the Secretary of State's optimism about security. In the next three days there will be a sad and awful reaping on that front. In Northern Ireland we know what we need, and I believe that the people of Northern Ireland will agree on this question. We need a regional Parliament and government on proper British democratic principles, firmly within the Union and under the sovereignty of the House.
What do we have? We have a form of direct rule. In a recent article in a Belfast newspaper the Secretary of State said that on direct rule he was really a dictator and that the people of Northern Ireland had little say in the decisions that affected their destiny. That is not a good position for any part of the United Kingdom.
What are we offered? I look upon the proposals in two parts. There is the Assembly and what it can do immediately. There is then the devolving of power to an Executive in that Assembly. We are offered two things, of which the first is an election. I believe in the principle of consulting the people, and the people of Northern Ireland need to be consulted. An election can do nothing but good.
I value the fact that Provisional candidates will go forward. I should like to see how they will fare when they present themselves to the people of Northern Ireland. Let us test this by the ballot box. That is something that I and my party and, I believe, the vast majority of Unionist people in Northern Ireland, welcome.
Secondly, we are offered an Assembly with certain powers that have been spelt out by the Secretary of State. Anyone who is genuine about Northern Ireland knows that there will be decisions made on housing, agriculture, planning, health and social services and education. The people of Northern Ireland want a vital input in the bringing about of certain decisions.
The Assembly will have an opportunity from day one to do something positive. If from day one it starts to argue about how it will get Executive power, it will be in real difficulty. I should set up monitoring committees and show the House that it can do a useful job and is concerned about things such as unemployment. It will be able to put vital points to the Secretary of State and to his Ministers. There are 112,000 unemployed people in Northern Ireland. Strabane has 36 per cent. unemployed. Cookstown and Dungannon have 34 per cent. unemployed.
880 Every person who believes in democracy in Northern Ireland should back the Assembly with all his heart, soul and mind. My party will bend all its energies to see that the Assembly's powers are put to work. There is no sense in the Assembly meeting on the first day and debating the means of obtaining Executive power. That would be nonsense. We must concentrate on the powers that we will have. Those powers will be useful. Elected representatives can do a useful job. They can influence the Government.
It is a tragedy that the Secretary of State said that the Assembly would have no power to debate security. Local councils can debate security and set up police and Army liaison committees. Why should the Assembly not be permitted to have such a security committee? It is vital that the Secretary of State should rethink that matter.
I give way to no hon. Member in my belief in the Union. Northern Ireland, however, is different. Any hon. Member who thinks that Northern Ireland is the same as Yorkshire should feel his head. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland is different, just as Scotland and Wales are different. I am not ashamed of my Ulster identity. I should like to see hon. Members beginning to appreciate the good qualities of the Ulster people. The Assembly will give an opportunity to those elected to it to do a good job. Perhaps the House will then see that there is a way forward.
I genuinely welcome those aspects of the White Paper, but I deplore and reject others. The overwhelming majority of Unionists will reject some of the proposals in the White Paper. It is sad that the Government make no unilateral declaration that they are determined to maintain the Union. They do not say that they will maintain the Union. The Government say that the Union will continue as long as the majority of people want to have it that way. There was a time when Conservative and Unionist Governments were pledged to maintain and defend that Union. However, the White Paper has weakened and diluted that pledge.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I do not care what the hon. Gentleman might say. I know what the Ulster people are thinking. There is no doubt that that is exactly what they are saying about the White Paper.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
What would the hon. Gentleman think if an hon. Member sponsored a Bill which provided that as long as the people of Yorkshire wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom they could so remain, but that, if they decided not so to remain, Yorkshire could happily leave the United Kingdom? Does he not realise that there are men in Northern Ireland today with guns in their hands and hatred in their hearts? The one thing that they want is for Northern Ireland to be removed from the United Kingdom. Any encouragement in that direction is seized upon and every inch of mileage is taken.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I have already answered the hon. Gentleman's question, but he does not like the answer.
881 The House has made a concerted effort to take into account the interests of the minority. The Secretary of State read with great strength, as though we were all going to disagree with him, paragraph 20 of the White Paper:The Government, however, believes that, in a free society, the advocacy of change, including fundamental change, in the institutions of society, is a legitimate activity if pursued by peaceful persuasion and not by violence.Who is that directed against? It has always been a Unionist principle that if people wanted to pursue a united Ireland policy, they were entitled to do so.
The White Paper goes on:So long as the existing institutions of the State are respected, those who favour change should not be debarred from playing a full part in public life.No one was ever debarred from playing a full part in public life because of anti-partitionism. What was debarred to him was getting into the Government. There were also people who believe in the Union who were never in the Government of Northern Ireland. It is the people's vote that puts people into the Government. The House has no right to tell any community that it must have a Government made up of X number of people from one party and X number of people from another party and that, if there is no agreement, it cannot have a Government. That is not democracy. It takes away the voter's right to choose the Government that he wants. That is the main basis upon which we contest that proposal.
I am glad that the percentage of the Alliance Party vote was spelt out. We have been told that people want power sharing. If they want power sharing, they can have it. All it needs is an election and a majority for power sharing. There will then be a coalition and, if the coalition has a majority, it must form the Government. That is the democratic way to go about it. That is the only way to go about it. For the Secretary of State to tell us today that he rolls out devolution but that he might have to roll it back again, is a recipe for instability and ruination in Northern Ireland. It is far better not to put one's hand to a scheme at all than to adopt one that is unworkable. The House should recognise that.
In addition, 70 per cent. of the entire Assembly's membership must agree. When did 70 per cent. of hon. Members in this House ever vote for anything? Some people will not go to the Assembly. Some will have been elected but will not turn up. Nevertheless, there must be 70 per cent. including them. If six are elected and do not attend, 80 per cent. will have to be in favour. If the SDLP wins seats and fails to turn up, we shall need over 90 per cent. Therefore, it is no wonder that Unionists say that that system will not work.
There is another aspect. If the figure is 50 per cent. plus one, the powers will be given as long as there is a Republican-Unionist mix. Therefore, the value of votes in Northern Ireland is different. A vote for a Republican is more important than a vote for a Unionist. If someone can persuade half a dozen Republicans to join him in the spoils of office, the House will consider devolving power. That system of Government will not bring stability to Northern Ireland. Therefore, that part of the Secretary of State's White Paper and proposals is unworkable. Time will tell, because 31 per cent. will hold 69 per cent. to ransom.
My party and I are absolutely and completely opposed to enforced power sharing with anyone. To get into Government a party must have a majority or join a coalition. No one should be told that his Government has already been picked for him. That is what happened in the 882 ill-fated Executive. Hon. Members will recall that 22 per cent. of the vote went to the SDLP, yet it got 40 per cent. of the seats. The minority in such a Government hold them to ransom. They need say only that they will withdraw for the Secretary of State to roll up devolution, to pack it up and to say that it is all over. That is a recipe for ruin and disaster.
The Secretary of State must face those facts honestly. We have made representations to him and we shall continue to do so. However, I welcome the first part. I should not like any hon. Members to think that we oppose it, the Assembly, the monitoring committees or the influence that elected representatives can have in those areas. In those areas useful work can be done. Some people think that we never talk in Northern Ireland[Interruption.] When I was talking to John Hume in the European Parliament a Tory Member said "I wish that I could take a picture of you talking, because you never talk when you are in Northern Ireland". However, the Secretary of State knows that that is not true. Across the party divides, the right hon. Gentleman meets delegations every day.
The House will be strangely surprised by the amount of unity in areas that do not touch the constitution. It will be very hard for the Secretary of State to turn down a plea for the Assembly. I notice that he said that he might not be there. Is he wishing himself away? If 90 per cent. of the Assembly say that that is the road to take, will the Secretary of State turn round and say "You are not going that way?" That is a possibility, but there is no possibility of standing democracy on its head and of trying to form a Government under those proposals. It is simply not on and the Secretary of State should realise that. That pail of the proposals will have to be radically changed.
Having seen the Assembly at work, its responsible members, the good work that they have done and are prepared to do, the House might have a change of heart. The House might then see that the Members have been responsible, done a good job and have helped the economy, agriculture and education of Northern Ireland and might then accept that they should be given some power on a proper democratic basis. That might be the way forward. I trust that there will be a way forward, for everyone in Northern Ireland knows that we need to move forward now, not backwards.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Two entirely different views of Unionist opinion in Northern Ireland have been presented to us today. One of those views was put by the leader of the Official Unionist Party, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). From his speech, one would assume that those representing 91 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland would not want the Assembly elections to take place, or the Assembly to exercise any of its powers. I disagreed considerably with the other speech, but it could have been made in the Assembly while it exercised its powers of scrutiny and considered whether—and in what form—to put to the Secretary of State a request that the powers of devolution should be exercised.
That division of opinion within Unionism was well brought out by those two speeches. The view of the Official Unionist Party that has been expressed in the House is different from that expressed by many Unionists in Northern Ireland. They are anxious for power to be 883 restored to Northern Ireland in the form of an Assembly. They may disagree with some of the details in the White Paper, but they wish it to make some progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) would normally express general support for the White Paper, on behalf of the Liberal Party. He is recovering well from a major operation, but cannot be here. However, I hope that he will soon be back with us and I wish to associate him with my remarks. My brief comments are made after consultation with my colleagues and with the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland. As has been said, that party supports the White Paper and wishes the proposals to make progress. In its manifesto for the last general election my party recommended a smaller body. It recommended a 19-member advisory council from which devolution could grow. We believe in the principle of organic growth into devolution. I still worry that a 78-Member Assembly is too large to exercise initially limited powers. Its very size might increase the temptation to strike postures. However, that is not a fundamental criticism of the proposals. We should also have liked a Bill of Rights as part of the legislation.
I do not share the Government's belief that devolution must take place because Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the United Kingdom. I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Northern Ireland is different in many important ways, and some of them are not unwelcome. It is right to be proud of some of Northern Ireland's characteristic features. However, there is an element of special pleading in paragraph 6 of the White Paper. Anxious not to be seen to set a precedent, the Government state:Northern Ireland's experience makes the case for devolved government of a quite different order from that which might apply to any other part of the United Kingdom.Perhaps that phrase was inserted to allay the fears of those Conservative Members who see this measure as an opening of the door to devolution in other parts of the United Kingdom.
I am in favour of devolution in other parts of the United Kingdom. This case is no different. Indeed, it is harder to set up an effective machinery for devolution in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the United Kingdom. Several of the basic difficulties that are the subject matter of this debate do not arise in other parts of the United Kingdom. Therefore, the case for devolution in Northern Ireland is not unique and does not set Northern Ireland apart from the rest of the United Kingdom.
We must move away from the present form of direct rule. Direct rule is essentially temporary in character and in its institutional framework. In particular, it does not provide for adequate scrutiny of legislation and depends on a statutory instrument procedure for main legislation and on non-parliamentary procedures for some of the things that are done by statutory instruments. The statutory instrument procedure is wholly unsuitable for major legislation. It is not even very good for the purposes for which it is used for United Kingdom legislation. It is quite unsatisfactory as a method of dealing with major Bills without any provision for amendment. As the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said, we have that procedure only because direct rule was introduced as 884 a temporary measure, and so temporary means were introduced. I do not see that as a satisfactory legislative basis for a part of the United Kingdom.
Under direct rule, there has been a political vacuum in Northern Ireland in which divisions between the parties have demonstrably widened. The divisions have broadened and parties such as the SDLP have moved to more extreme positions than before. Direct rule has taken political responsibility away from Ulster.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins). I used to have dealings with him in one of his other incarnations, when he was Patronage Secretary. I have never heard him make a speech from the Back Benches before. I hope he will not misunderstand me when I say that he should make many more such speeches because he made a good contribution to the debate. He made one point clearly that I did not have in mind.
He said that in the running of direct rule, no Ministers are drawn from Northern Ireland. It is in the nature of the operation, given that the politics and the political parties of Northern Ireland are distinct, that the Ministers who will govern Northern Ireland under direct rule are not Ministers drawn from Northern Ireland. That is undesirable not only from the point of view of having Ministers who have to familiarise themselves with the affairs of Northern Ireland, but because it allows and invites the politicians and the people of Northern Ireland to see the activity of Government as something that is not carried out by them but by Ministers from London. Their attitude to it, can be governed by the fact that they do not have to take responsibility for it. It casts the political leaders of Northern Ireland in perpetual opposition. That is not a healthy state of affairs or one on which the future of Northern Ireland can be built.
It is time to try again to make politics a worthwhile activity in Northern Ireland, and to make it clear that it is by the political process that decisions will be made. Politics in Northern Ireland is about finding ways by which those with diametrically opposed views about the constitution can work together on the vast range of everyday matters that affect people's lives a great deal more than constitutions. The hon. Member for Antrim, North has just said that unity can be readily achieved on many matters in Northern Ireland.
Politicians in Northern Ireland who might be thought to have widely opposing views on economic matters often have similar views because of their shared concern about the economic conditions there. There is tremendous scope for people to work together on the matters that touch people's lives more than constitutions do, while the fundamental difference of view about constitutional matters remains.
I see the proposals as the only immediate way that we can move forward to encouraging the Northern Ireland people to take up that option. It will not in itself solve their security problems or do away with terrorism, but I hope it will be one part of the way that Parliament asserts that it wants to afford to the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to work out together ways of dealing with the immediate problems of Northern Ireland while recognising that the fundamental differences on constitutional matters are differences that they are entitled to have, and which we cannot overturn.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
Over the years there have been great differences in the House about the long-term future of Northern Ireland. Some hon. Members have advocated a united Ireland and, by and large, Conservative Members, with a great deal of support from the Labour Benches, have had the unity of the kingdom as a primary objective.
In trying to weigh my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's proposals, I have asked myself: do they favour and foster the unity of the kingdom or do they tend to undermine it? I have come to the conclusion that the proposals tend seriously to undermine it and that even if, as I hope, they prove to be a dead letter, the initiative, in itself, will have been damaging.
My right hon. Friend proposes distinct institutions for the Province. Is that really necessary? Is that helpful to preserving the unity of the kingdom? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessor, the former Lord Privy Seal, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) stressed the difference between Northern Ireland and other parts of the kingdom. Is the difference really so great? Scotland and Wales have their own peculiarities and loyalties. If we set out to try to blur the distinctions between Northern Ireland and the rest of the kingdom, would that not be better than to emphasise them?
The emphasis is underlined by the provision in the proposals that there should be a privileged position for the opponents of a United Kingdom, for those who favour partition, their representatives in the Assembly and, therefore, by an ordinary logical process, those who vote for them. Those who vote for a Republican ticket will have one and a half votes compared with those who vote for a Loyalist ticket.
The proposals will also construct a dock in the legal sense of the word. The accused in that dock will be my right hon. Friend and his successors. My right hon. Friend and his successors will be viciously attacked in that dock by a consultative Assembly which will not have much else to do in the initial phase. If it became necessary to close Harland and Wolff, the Assembly would be a wonderful arena in which to lambast the British Government for the consequences of such a decision.
The proposals create a parliamentary link between the proposed Assembly and an Assembly representative of Dublin and Westminster. Surely, if we want to keep the unity of the kingdom alive and to strengthen it, the right links should be between Westminster, including Northern Ireland Members, and Dublin, but not a separate Belfast-Dublin link.
The proposals could only have the effect of weakening the authority of Westminster. Certain spheres of influence will be removed from our jurisdiction over which the Assembly will gain control, while the increased Northern Ireland representation here will be able to interfere as much as it likes in similar provisions affecting England, Scotland and Wales. I do not know what would happen about agriculture, which is closely connected with the Common Market. As Northern Ireland agriculture would be a devolved subject, would we be able to ask questions about it in the House?
The speech of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) must cause concern to those of us who sat up long nights to persuade our own Front 886 Bench—successfully, I am glad to say—to fight against the devolution proposals for Scotland and Wales. Devolution will raise its head again. My right hon. Friend is giving a serious impetus to what could be a dangerous development.[Interruption.] It is suggested that Scotland and Wales are different from Northern Ireland. They might not have been. If devolution had gone ahead and if there had been an Assembly in Edinburgh, we could have had a very serious problem on our hands already.
We have a sophisticated Civil Service in Britain. I am amazed that it should have allowed my right hon. Friend to produce this White Paper. Of course, we are not as logical as our French friends, but the White Paper starts from a dubious premise and goes on to draw conclusions from that premise which bear no relation to it. The premise is that the political parties in Northern Ireland want devolution. What is the truth? It is true that, after the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to shatter the "Unionist monolith", the Unionists have, to a considerable extent, lost faith in the Conservative Party. The Unionists would like to have institutions of their own, provided they had full control over them on a Stormont basis to protect what they regard as the majority interest.
It is equally true that the Unionists mistrust the current trend in the Labour Party which favours a united Ireland. They see in their institutions a safeguard against that, but always provided that they have control of it on a Stormont basis—that is, Protestant government of Catholics. The House is not prepared to concede that. However, that is what they would like to have if it were on offer, which it is not.
Equally, the Republicans—the anti-partitionists—would like to have institutions of their own to mark the separation between this country and Northern Ireland, but again only on condition that they have something amounting to veto power. One could say that that means that both Republicans and Unionists are against direct rule or integration.
I shall draw a simile. Suppose that I were to report to the House that, on the whole, hon. Members were opposed to the temperature prevailing at the moment and that two-thirds would like it to be warmer and one-third would like it to be cooler. If I were to say that all hon. Members were against the present temperature, that would not be an accurate representation of their feelings because most of them would rather have what they have now than the formula desired by the others.
It is clear that the Unionists would not accept the Republican formula and the Republicans would not dream of accepting the Unionist formula. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) mentioned public opinion polls. They suggest that the proposals are the second preference for everyone. As neither would accept the first preference, would it not be wise at least to consider the second preference?
I now come to the non sequiturs and entirely irrelevant conclusions that my right hon. Friend has tried to draw from his false premise. The first is that the setting up of the Assembly would help security. If the Assembly were attended by inter-communal harmony and if sectarian prejudice were buried as a result, security would be helped. Will that be so? My right hon. Friend is establishing a boxing ring in which, apart from lambasting the British Government, the two communities will have every opportunity to box against each other. My right hon.
887 Friend will say that they do that already, which is true. However, they do not have an Assembly with all the panoply of a Strangers Gallery and a Press Gallery with the media concentrating on it, where each Assembly man tries to make his reputation by catching the headlines, and how better to do so than by lambasting the other side or the British Government. I cannot see how, in the present circumstances, that will help security. I can see how it would bitterly envenom it further.
The second non sequitur is that my right hon. Friend suggested that the setting up of the Assembly would help economic development. If my right hon. Friend's gamble pays off and sweetness and light results from the establishment of the Assembly, that will be good. But the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) threw some doubt on the sweetness and light that would be likely to result from the debates in the Assembly. If there were sweetness and light, it would help and encourage investment. However, to begin with, potential investors would be made a little hesitant by the curious hybrid Administration, some of it rolled off into devolution, some of it still controlled by the Northern Ireland Office and some in danger of being rolled back. That is not the sort of security that business likes. If there is not sweetness and light and harmony, surely investment will be set back. There is still confidence in the British Government, but how much confidence will there be in this strange creature that we are being asked to endorse?
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
The right hon. Gentleman seems to pay considerable attention to the possibility—or impossibility—of having sweetness and light in any proposed Assembly in Northern Ireland. He seems to think that that would be an almost essential ingredient. I have been a Member for several years. I have not noticed that sweetness and light in the Chamber between Opposition Members and the Government. If that is the essence of politics, we cannot draw the conclusion that we should not have devolved government in Northern Ireland simply because people will not agree.
§ Mr. Amery
I was saying only that to argue that the setting up of devolved government would encourage business investment seems a non sequitur. Devolved government may be desirable for its own reasons. I have said why I thought that it was not. But to say that the setting up of the Assembly will encourage investment and economic development is a statement without proof or any sort of evidence.
My right hon. Friend has said that we must do something; that we cannot sit on our hands; that we cannot have a policy of immobility. But there is plenty to do. There will be a big increase in the representation of Northern Ireland in the House, which is desirable and overdue. I fail to see why we cannot proceed to ordinary local government similar to what we have in Scotland, Wales and England. I am told that that would lead to discrimination. We have a battery of laws in this country against racial, religious and other discrimination which is almost excessive. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can withhold the rate support grant from local government if he thinks that is appropriate. There is quite a lot to be getting on with, as well as exploring the possibility of finding suitable people of Ulster descent or Ulster representatives to take up ministerial positions.
888 Action for action's sake is a bumble-bee buzzing round without hope of fertilising anything. If my right hon. Friend proceeds on these lines and his proposals succeed, he will widen the Irish Channel. If they fail, he will increase the British public's impatience with Northern Ireland and impair the Government's standing in this and other matters.
I have been mildly critical of my right hon. Friend's proposals. The real tragedy about the White Paper is not what it proposes, but the opportunity that my right hon. Friend is rejecting. The unity of England, Scotland and Wales has resulted to no small degree from the fact that the political leaders of Scotland and Wales have made their careers, contribution and mark here at Westminster. We have had Scottish and Welsh Prime Ministers. In the first Government in which I served I was one of a minority of English people. Macmillan, Macleod, Kilmuir, Gwilym Lloyd George—the names of our Celtic friends follow one by one.
Ulster has talent enough to make a great contribution to politics. In the last war the Province produced eight out of 12 field marshals. It has produced statesmen such as Carson, who served in Cabinets, Craig, who served in Governments, Brooke and Captain O'Neil who were certainly of Cabinet timber. The trouble with Stormont was that while there were often distinguished representatives from Northern Ireland in the House, they did not have the political clout. The men with the political clout stayed in Belfast. It is a tragedy that, after Stormont was created, we never had a Cabinet Minister or, if I am not mistaken, a junior Minister from the Province. If the Assembly is set up, perhaps some of the most distinguished representatives who are here already will go to the Assembly and leave us here. I doubt whether the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth)—a distinguished figure in the Ulster community—would have come to this place if the Assembly had already been in action.
I do not think that the sectarian circle in Ulster can be squared in Belfast. The best chance is to bring the leaders to Westminster to play their part in British national politics. That is what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has been doing, although I often disagree with what he says.
In 1920, when the decision was taken to set up Stormont, the Unionist leaders in Belfast were against it. In May 1920, Carson said:It has been said over and over again 'You want to oppress the Catholic minority; you want to get Protestant ascendancy over there.' We have never asked to govern any Catholic. We are perfectly satisfied that all of them, Protestant and Catholic, should be governed from this Parliament, and we have always said that it was the fact that this Parliament was aloof entirely from these racial distinctions and religious distinctions, which was the strongest foundation for the Government of Ulster.Therefore, not only have we never asked to get an opportunity of dealing in a hostile way with the minority, but we have sought from beginning to end of this controversy to be left alone and go hand in hand with Great Britain as one nation with Great Britain … I urge even now at this hour that the proper course is that Ulster should remain as she is and that you should govern her, as you are governing her now, from here; there is very little difficulty about it, and you should, above all things, have it as a place of your own with feelings towards you exactly like your own people … I say try to look ahead, and, looking ahead, I believe the policy we have urged from the beginning of retaining Ulster as she is now as part of the United Kingdom, and treating the people of Ulster exactly as you treat the people of Great Britain, is the truest and surest policy for His Majesty's Government to pursue.889 Carson's words were not heeded. It is not often in history that there is a second chance of putting things right, but we have that opportunity today. These otherwise rather comic proposals will become tragic if we turn our backs on what is a great opportunity.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)
I remind the House of what I said a couple of weeks ago when the White Paper was introduced. I told the Secretary of State that, quite apart from the opposition that he would receive from the various political parties and the attempts that they would probably make to destroy his attempt to restore devolved government to the Province, the real threat would come from the terrorists. The same argument has been advanced by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).
When I warned the right hon. Gentleman of the danger of the terrorists, I was echoing a warning that I gave to the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), when he was launching his conference. A few days before he did so, a constituent of mine, Mr. Harry Livingstone, was killed. Some of those who are now present may remember the occasion when I identified the body that was lying on the border in my constituency as that of Mr. Livingstone. I asked the then Secretary of State how he could expect political progress to be made in Northern Ireland if terrorists were able to kill people in such circumstances whenever they chose to do so.
Another constituent of mine who lived beside Mr. Livingstone wrote to me the following day. The letter bore the address of Tynan Abbey. It read:Dear Harold,A short note to congratulate you on your use of poor Harry Livingstone's ambush in the House—I only hope, but doubt, that it had any lasting effect.What a tragedy that your conversion to your present views on the viability of 'conferences' to produce political agreements, which are held against a background of mere anarchy, came so late.I would have welcomed your support in the autumn of 1974 before the convention elections—instead of arguing the contrary with me on our tour of annual meetings!I am writing this in case I do not see you at tomorrow's ritual burial of a wasted life.That letter was written by James Strong, who 12 months later was murdered by the same people who murdered Harry Livingstone. He became another wasted life in Northern Ireland.
James Strong referred in his letter to the prelude to the convention, when some of us—I was one of them in my early days in the House—argued that if we were given the opportunity to sort out the problem for ourselves we would not prove so stupid as to be unable to do so. I still believe that that is true. However, James Strong argued that, against a backcloth of ongoing terrorist and sectarian strife, politicians in Northen Ireland would be unable to come to an agreement. He was proved correct.
James Strong was drawing on his experience of four years as a Member of the old Stormont Parliament. He sat there watching a Parliament trying to pretend that it had powers when it had no powers, and taking all the responsibility for decisions taken by others. Constituents in Northern Ireland laid on their Members of Parliament the responsibility for that deteriorating situation. He was drawing also on his experience of five months in the 890 Assembly, when that experiment was under attack from terrorists as well as others. It failed ultimately for that reason as well as for the other pressures.
In considering the events of the past few weeks we must realise, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North said, that the proposals will not satisfy the terrorists—that was the main thrust of his argument and I agree with it—and that they will try to wreck them, quite apart from the attitudes that might be struck by political parties in Northern Ireland.
Within the past few weeks a young boy has been blown to pieces in Banbridge and women have been horrifically mutilated. Car bombs killed two men in Magherafelt. A boy was killed by a plastic bullet during a riot. There was an apparent sectarian attack in the Short Strand. I am taking examples from a range of incidents. Only a matter of days ago another constituent of mine—he was a neighbour of Harry Livingstone and James Strong—was murdered in the same area in which they were murdered.
Regardless of whether we were denied the right to discuss security matters in the Assembly, I should insist on doing so. I should insist on expressing the anger and fears of my constituents. I should do so in the knowledge that I would receive the support of most Assembly Members. All those representing other areas under attack from Republicans would do the same. We would express our anger at the lack of security resulting in deaths and injuries being inflicted on those within the community.
Naturally SDLP Members would be saying "What about the poor boy killed by a plastic bullet fired by a soldier?" They would be making an issue of the nature of sectarian attacks on the social clubs in the Short Strand.
That is a recipe for conflict that will bring the entire edifice toppling down if it is ever erected. This is a view that is held by others. Professor Paul Wilkinson of Aberdeen university is an authority on international and urban terrorism. In his most recent publication, entitled "Government and Opposition", he writes:Some observers talk naively of a political solution which would cause the ending of PIRA terrorism"—that is Provisional IRA terrorism.
Professor Wilkinson used even stronger language than that of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. He continued:They are living in cuckoo-land, for the only solution PIRA is willing to settle for is their Final Solution. The democratic authorities, both North and South, should realistically plan for this and concert their efforts against terrorism in order to give real political and economic progress a chance of taking root.I am commenting now as someone who, like the hon. Member for Antrim, North, wants to see devolved government in Northern Ireland. I tramped the same road as he tramped for four years. I did not believe that it was possible for anyone to come to this House and say "All I want is to be treated like my fellow citizens", and be refused, but I have come to accept that I shall not be treated like my fellow citizens.
I listened with interest to the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), who paid himself one or two compliments about his term of office in Northern Ireland, with which I agreed; but he did not make such speeches when he was in Northern Ireland. If the people of Northern Ireland read the speech that he has made today, he might not be assured of the warm welcome that he received in Northern Ireland in the past. He was saying to me "We shall not only hold you 891 always to associate citizenship of the United Kingdom. If we get a chance we shall deprive you even of your associate citizenship."
I welcome the comments made by previous speakers that they would like to treat me as a fellow citizen. I can only tell them that it is late in the day and there are not enough of them holding that opinion. We know that we shall not be treated in that way. I know that I shall not be an equal citizen in this kingdom, but if this House insists that I should have devolved government I am prepared to do what I can to help restore devolved government to the Province in a responsible way.
I am not arguing that, because efforts to make political progress will stimulate violence, no effort should be made. I still believe that an effort should be made, but if the Government expect us to contribute to that effort they also have a responsibility to make an effort. Clearly more will have to be done by the Government about security. More pressure will have to be brought on the authorities in the Irish Republic.
This afternoon there has been talk of treachery. If there is a possibility of treachery, I believe that the potential for it already exists in the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. If we are to be betrayed, the instrument for betrayal is already there, but let us use that instrument so that the British Government can put real pressure on the Government of the Republic to do something to end the terrorism. As has been said, the two sovereign Governments should decide together to eliminate the terrorism, and then there may be some room for mormal politics in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the Secretary of State's attempts to restore devolved government. I am not annoyed that he has moved quite quickly. I am not even annoyed that his efforts might be construed as showing ambition, because being ambitious in politics is nothing to be ashamed of. If by doing something that is right for Northern Ireland he improves his own political career, I shall not hold that against him. I do not hold it against him that he is accused of bribing people to participate in the Assembly. If the right sort of people are to be elected to the Assembly, they will have to be paid enough money to enable them to devote their time and energy to the job.
What I am holding against the Secretary of State is that he appears to have abandoned the principle—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) referred—of having any sort of institutionalised power sharing in any settlement in Northern Ireland. I was with my hon. Friend when the Secretary of State said that to us. Therefore, I want to get to the heart of the 70 per cent. question, which has already been mentioned.
If I am selected and if I successfully fight an election, I shall not go into an Assembly in order to try to find a solution, based on a proposition which appears to be almost impossible to start off with, and then, having achieved it by some means, to be told "Sorry, 70 per cent. is not enough." What does the 70 per cent. mean? My interpretation, like that of some other people, is that it is 51 per cent. if the SDLP is involved, and if the SDLP is not in it it is 70 per cent. Is that what it means, or does the 70 per cent. still have within it a guarantee for a particular party, a particular individual or a particular group of individuals?
892 If I am prepared to try to make it work in the best interests of Northern Ireland, and I achieve 70 per cent., am Ito be faced with this House telling me that my 70 per cent. is not enough? If that is to happen, why put in the figure of 70 per cent. at all? Why not say "You will have to meet a vague criterion that we shall lay down, and when you come forward with your proposals we shall say either `Yes' or `No—as happened last time with the convention?
My attitude to the events in the next few months will depend on the answer to that question. If 70 per cent. of the membership of the Assembly can agree and come to this House with a proposition, will the Government recommend its acceptance? If the Government will not make that recommendation, I seriously doubt whether I shall fight an election. I certainly shall not go into the Assembly to try to achieve a figure of 70 per cent. I do not want to go up that cul de sac, only to run into a brick wall at the end of it. That will be the attitude of many people in Northern Ireland who might want to try to make the proposals work. I am telling the House tonight that it will be very difficult to make the proposals work. I have already referred to the difficulties that the terrorists will produce. Having done my best, I do not want to suffer a rebuff from the Government at the end of it.
I do not want to go into the Lobby to vote against the Government tonight as a hatchet man for Charlie Haughey and John Hume. When they say they are against the proposal, when the Provisional IRA is against the proposal, when the Irish Independence Party says that it is against it, together with the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, and when every non-Unionist body that I can think of is against it, I cannot help feeling that there must be something in the proposal for me if only I can find it. I repeat that I do not want to be the hatchet man for Haughey and Hume, but I cannot vote for something for which no other respectable politician in this House would vote.
I do not like what the Secretary of State is offering, but I am prepared to try to make it work. However, I shall not try to make it work unless I get a straight answer from the Secretary of State on the 70 per cent. question.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)
I had hoped that my little contribution would have become unnecessary by now, and that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office would perhaps already have heard enough to make it clear to them that there must be some further thought on this question.
It is not so much the content of the White Paper as the timing that disturbs me. The timing is interesting. I am led to believe from the statements made by my right hon. Friend in answer to questions raised in previous speeches that he is moved by a desire to see the economy of Northern Ireland brought to prosperity as quickly as possible. If I am right in that, I can well understand his reasoning, but it seems very odd that a Province that is shortly to return 17 Members to this House should be thinking in terms of an Assembly based on present constituencies, because, in my view, that will cause some trouble in the future.
What is the purpose of the haste? What is the purpose of something which, as is clear from the content of the debate this afternoon, has been ill conceived and not properly thought through? The hon. Member for Armagh 893 (Mr. McCusker) said that no respectable politician in the House could possibly vote for the proposals in the White Paper. In that case, on this occasion I am on the side of the great, the good and the respectable.
I understand that the legislation will be coming before the House next week. If that be so, I do not know why we are here today debating a White Paper. Before the Second Reading of the Bill is taken on the Floor of the House, the Government must have some regard to what is said in this House by people who have a direct and sensible interest in the matter.
Given all my reservations about the timing of the proposal, I think it is right and proper that I should make some attempt to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who has put in essence my objections to the White Paper. Political stability, economic recovery, the defeat of terrorism and all the other aims in the introduction to the White Paper are self-evidently desirable, but not only do I believe that it is highly unlikely that the proposals in the White Paper would lead to that desirable end; I think it is almost impossible, not merely improbable.
We have heard this afternoon that the proposals are being opposed by every responsible politician—not merely by Members of this House and not merely by the political parties which Opposition Members represent, but by every other organisation, apart from the Alliance Party. For the Secretary of State to pray in aid Mr. Oliver Napier, who has been elected to nothing in his life, so far as I am aware, except the leadership of the Alliance Party, leads me to believe that his case is weaker than I thought.
I understand that the parties are in the process of selecting candidates. Members will elected—and then what? Only two hon. Members have spoken so far about trying to make the Assembly work if they are given certain assurances. I would expect that those assurances could not be given. Those Assembly Members will then work for the failure of the Assembly and, in my judgment, will succeed in that aim.
There is an understandable suspicion among the Unionists that this initiative, with the concept of the weighted majority in respect of executive powers, will be seen as a negation of ordinary democratic rights. Worse, because of the concession to or accommodation of the minority view, it will be seen as an edging towards the abandonment of the Union. Who is to say that that view is totally unjustified?
The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), the official Opposition spokesman, said that he saw the White Paper as the first step towards a unified Ireland. If I were Unionist—indeed I am a Conservative and a Unionist—I would be very suspicious if that was the view of the possible alternative Government.
We have not yet heard the views of the Social Democratic Party. As I understand from my warm relationships with that party, it will give a general broad welcome to the initiative. I would expect the Social Democrats to give a warm welcome to an initiative which has not been thought through, which is not positive and which gets no support from any body except themselves.
The Unionists have a case for thinking that there is an edging towards the abandonment of the Union. On many occasions in the past I have asked questions of Ministers in relation to the continuance of the Union. Always I have received the answer that the Union will continue while a 894 majority of the people in the Province wish it to do so. Not once have I received an answer which gives unequivocal and full-hearted support to the continuance of the union.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
The answer which my hon. Friend has received from Ministers is the law of the land. If he finds it unacceptable, why has he not introduced a Bill to change the law so that he may find it more acceptable?
§ Mr. Porter
I appreciate that it is the law of the land that there shall be border polls, but I should have thought that it was the duty of Conservative and Unionist Ministers to determine the policy of their party and to declare it on the Floor of the House in response to questions like that.
I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State giving stronger support to the Union than I have heard before. But there is nothing about support for the Union in the White Paper, and that I deplore.
Lukewarm acceptance of the views of the majority is not enough to allay fears of what some people see as an ultimate sell-out. When I talk of a majority, I do not mean a simple majority of Protestant Unionists over Catholic nationalists. The opinion polls referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) and so lightly dismissed by the Secretary of State are significant. The figures given by the Secretary of State show that over 40 per cent. of Catholics within the Province want to remain citizens of the United Kingdom. That means that the minority, as described in the White Paper, is very much smaller than one might think.
Plenty of people think of themselves as Irish and support political parties which would like to see a united Ireland, but it does not mean that all Catholics think in that way. I accept that a minority are of that opinion, but a minority of the population of Scotland and Wales are in favour of independent political power for those parts of the United Kingdom. Some of them sit in this House. Are we saying that there is something different in principle because there are more in Northern Ireland who are in favour of a united Ireland than there are people in Scotland who are in favour of an independent Scotland? I fail to see the difference in principle if it is merely a matter of numbers. The point is that the numbers are not significantly different.
I appreciate that the response to that is that Ulster has a different history overladen by intermittent violence, that we are not comparing like with like and that there is also a history of devolved power in the Province. Indeed there is, and what a failure it was. My right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion dealt with the history and the introduction of Stormont. Nobody, least of all me, would like to return to any form of devolution in the nature of a revised Stormont, especially with a weighted majority which, as has been said this afternoon, would in some way make respectable and institutionalise sectarian differences.
The White Paper says that thedifference in identity and aspiration lies at the heart of the `problem' …There is an element of truth in that proposition, but it ignores the undeniable fact of the existence of the Catholic Unionists. I emphasise that the concept of the minority is one of a very much smaller number of people than the White Paper relies upon to support its basic theme that the minority who have nationalist sympathies are so large and so intransigent that they have to be accommodated.
895 What would the permanent Conservative minorities in South Wales and parts of the North-East say to that or the permanent Labour minorities in parts of the South of England? In any democracy a minority works to persuade a section of the majority to change its view and on occasion it succeeds. The fact that it is difficult for views to be changed, or that on occasion it seems impossible, cannot alter the principle.
The principle in regard to Northern Ireland is without doubt that a vast majority wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. The representatives of that majority suspect the basic intent of the White Paper and the legislation that will follow.
It does not matter whether those suspicions are well founded or not. The fact is that they exist. My judgment must be that the Assembly will fail as a result. I am confirmed in that opinion by the opposition of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Fein and all other bodies and individuals mentioned. Their opposition is based on completely different grounds from those of the Unionists. In their view, it is not going far enough or at all towards the concept of a united Ireland.
The Irish Government have declared themselves against the White Paper on the ground that it is unworkable. Quite why Mr. Haughey has interfered is not clear. Perhaps an adventure with some patriotic overtones would provide a welcome diversion from the problems of his economy.
Obviously the White Paper does not contemplate the possibility of failure. My right hon. Friend made it clear that he does not go into this thinking that there will be failure. However, I should have thought it right to give the possibility of failure at least a passing thought.
Yet another initiative which leaves the majority bewildered and even more suspicious about the intentions of this Government and any succeeding Government is to be deplored. Another initiative which fails would leave the nationalists in a position to argue that there is no way that Ulster politicians can have responsibility for their own affairs within the framework of the United Kingdom and that the only solution therefore is an accommodation with the Republic. Worse, would not another failure only give encouragement to the Provisional IRA to escalate its ghastly activities? It may see this as yet another failure not of the will but of the capacity of the British Government to govern a part of the United Kingdom.
Obviously it will be asked, and properly so, what my solution would be. My solution is not one that would happen tomorrow. I am what has been called an integrationist. I object to that term. Ulster is an integral part of the United Kingdom in my view, and it should stay so.
I have heard nothing today to lead me to believe that some form of local government cannot be instituted in the Province and be made to work. Many people did not like it when my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, last put it to them as mode 5 or mode F. The fact that people do not like it has not stopped the Government putting forward the White Paper, so I do not see the logic of that argument. Having a framework of local government on the same lines as that on the mainland would give the politicians of Northern Ireland the opportunity to work together in those matters on which 896 they already want to work together, and where there is no constitutional divide between them. I cannot see why we should not progress along those lines.
As I have said before, if the Bill comes before the House on the basis of what I have seen, I shall have no option but to vote against it.
§ 7 pm
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams (Crosby)
The only encouraging aspect of this debate from the Government's point of view is the number of hon. Members attending it.
As they listen to the debate, the Government must constantly want to ask "Just what alternative are you suggesting?" The hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) was honest and addressed himself to that question but he did so in a way that he must know, as I know, is not acceptable to part of the population of Northern Ireland. The Government are trying—Heaven help them—to find some way out which will be acceptable to the great majority of the constitutional population of Northern Ireland. I exclude the terrorists from our considerations, as we should, because they should have no influence on our decision.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) spoke specifically, as did the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port, of local government functions. I do not believe that they listened closely to what the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) said. The right hon. Gentleman reminded the House that it was in 1969, when there were local government functions in Northern Ireland, that the troops were sent in. I know, because I was the Minister of State with responsibility for Northern Ireland at the time. That was because of the objection to the way that local government functioned in Northern Ireland. It was held to be discriminatory—both ways discriminatory, but discriminatory none the less. It is no use saying that because 13 years have passed that objection will fall. Sadly, it is still there.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said "Leave the dust undisturbed." I found that a frightening remark in the light of the rapid deterioration of the economic situation in Northern Ireland and the steady outflow of some of the brightest and best of its young people—an outflow to which the Secretary of State referred. Anyone who goes round the universities of the United Kingdom, including the universities in Northern Ireland—I recently visited Coleraine—will discover that almost all the graduates intend to leave, or not to return if they are already on the mainland. That is a haemorrhage of the population of Northern Ireland that will not be put right if the House cannot come up with any constructive suggestions.
As well as overlooking the deterioration of the economy in Northern Ireland, we have neglected the point made at the beginning of the White Paper. The introductory paragraphs refer to the crucial need to re-establish the political dimension in Northern Ireland. Direct rule, as it goes on year after year, will erode the sense of responsibility among politicians in Northern Ireland in a way that will mean that at some stage there will be no coming back.
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne, like the Secretary of State, recognised the dangers of having a part of a democracy—Northern Ireland—which is not ruled in a democratic manner, which however benevolently, 897 however farsightedly, however responsibly, is essentially ruled as if it were a colony. That cannot be a long-term, acceptable solution to our problem.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
With the high standard of education in Northern Ireland over the years we have always exported a high percentage of our graduates. Part of the trouble in Coleraine has been the instability surrounding it, especially at times of new entrants coming in. It is not so much the uncertain political situation as the education and economic situations generally that are affecting us in that realm.
§ Mrs. Williams
I accept that those are among the factors, but they are certainly not the sole factors. The evidence is that the rate of emigration of young people from Northern Ireland has speeded up. I suspect that one reason is the speed of the economic decline to which the Secretary of State referred.
The House knows, because it is obvious, that people will not go to Northern Ireland while they are worried about law and order, about the safety of their investments and about their own personal safety. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the House to see whether there is any way, not to solve the problem of terrorism—I accept what hon. Members have said about that—but to divide from the terrorists the great majority of the communities of which, in sectarian terms only, they are part. I understand that that is what the proposal before us is all about.
The hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port supposed that there would be "some windy support" from the SDP. There is support, but it depends upon the Government's being able to answer certain questions that I now wish to put to them. I say "the Government", because one matter that has disturbed me about the debate is that the Secretary of State has been treated as if he were speaking as an individual, when he is speaking for the Government and with the Cabinet's support. This is what the Cabinet also believes to be the best answer to the problem.
The first question—a fair question—posed by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) was about the 70 per cent. Others of us would wish to ask that question as well. In an article that I wrote inThe Times last July, I suggested a figure of 75 per cent. as the basis on which functions might be transferred back to Northern Ireland. Other hon. Members will suggest a much lower figure.
The hon. Gentleman had a good point when he suggested that, rather than try to tie the proposals down to a precise percentage, it might be as well if there were a second safeguard—that the Secretary of State was satisfied that the proposal had the support of both communities. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) made the same suggestion.
My second question is about the presiding officer of the Assembly. The White Paper simply says that the presiding officer shall be elected by the Assembly. That is a thin basis of consent for the man or woman who will be given the powers that the White Paper suggests. They include powers to appoint chairmen of committees, to appoint two deputy chairmen of committees and to allocate members of committees. The presiding officer will be far more powerful than a combination of Mr. Speaker and the Chief Whip, and, for that matter, the Leader of the House. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for those of us who wish 898 to see the Government's initiative succeed to ask them to consider further how the presiding officer will be seen to have the support of both communities and all the major parties in the proposed Assembly.
I turn now to the question of the recall of functions that are transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The White Paper makes no provision for recall. However, the devolved Department may lose the faith of the Assembly or a substantial majority of that Assembly. It is crucial that some provision should be made by which the Assembly, or some part of it, will have the right to audit, account for and debate the work that has been done by each transferred Department. That is missing from the White Paper. Consequently, an element of accountability is missing from the proposed new Assembly. What system of reporting, of audit and of account do the Government have in mind between the Assembly and the transferred functions of the Departments? I suggest that there should be some way in which the annual report must obtain a vote of confidence that constitutes a substantial majority of that Assembly and represents both communities.
My next question to the Government is about the power of patronage. I was interested when the hon. Member for Antrim, South referred rather cynically to Treasury coffers and plastic buckets. I ask the question that is implicit in what the hon. Gentleman said: what level of pay do the Government believe is appropriate for the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the committees? There would be dangers if the initiative were seen to be too well financed with regard to the benefits that individuals gain from it. It could attract the wrong sort of people to the Assembly—not the type that hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland would wish to see functioning in the politics of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Has the right hon. Lady done a calculation of the number of chairmen and deputy chairmen, out of the 78 Members, who would be in receipt of such sums?
§ Mrs. Williams
The mathematics of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) are more advanced than mine, but it seems that a large proportion of the Assembly would be in receipt of large amounts of money as a result of these proposals. That should be examined carefully as it could give rise to great cynicism among the electors of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
It is offensive to politicians in Northern Ireland for the right hon. Lady to suggest that people would put themselves forward simply because of the cash benefits that might accrue to them. Does she agree that it does not matter whether such people are paid? Political parties will still put representatives forward and exactly the same people will probably be in the Assembly.
§ Mrs. Williams
I do not agree. The hon. Gentleman is saying the almost exact reverse of what I said. I said that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland would be among the first to suggest that they do not want to see only those who are attracted by money drawn into the politics of Northern Ireland.
I pay tribute to the courage of those from both communities who represent the parties in Northern Ireland. I include the courage of the hon. Members for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). We do not want people coming into Northern 899 Ireland politics merely to make money. We want politicians to come forward for the sake of Northern Ireland. I am making the point for the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson).
I turn now to paragraphs 42 to 44 of the White Paper. The protective provisions there laid out should do something to reassure the doubters. When the Government get to the point about full devolution, the provisions in the White Paper are extremely thin. There is no clear description of what type of support would be required in the Assembly for full devolution and there is no clear description of the basis on which those powers might be recalled if full devolution proved unacceptable to one or other of the communities in Northern Ireland. That is extremely important.
I turn now to two matters that are only touched upon in the White Paper. There are two reasons why my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) and Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), who normally speak on Northern Ireland matters, have graciously agreed that I might speak on this occasion. The first is the parliamentary dimension of discussions between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland with, one hopes, the participation of Northern Ireland Members. There is a brief reference in the White Paper—the right hon. Member for Mansfield also mentioned it—to the parliamentary tier. It is extremely important to pursue that.
There is another concept that has been raised, a concept that I raised in my article inThe Times last July. There might be a Joint Committee of Parliament and of the Dail to consider various ways in which the respective Parliaments might work more closely together. I was encouraged when the hon. Member for Antrim, North said that it was possible to find many grounds for co-operation outside the constitutional sphere. A Joint Committee of the two Parliaments could find grounds for co-operative discussion and scrutiny. It is much easier for Parliaments to move into controversial territory first. They can explode the mines before the Governments get to them. It is not for Governments to take that chance, as so much more rides on the decisions of Governments than on the Back Bench speeches of a parliamentary grouping. I commend that to the House.
§ Mrs. Williams
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait. I wish to make one more point about him.
I turn now to one profoundly unexplored aspect of Anglo-Irish relations. It touches directly on Northern Ireland and is the only area in which there has been successful co-operation. It has embraced, if I may use that term, the hon. Member for Antrim, North and his two colleagues, Mr. Hume and Mr. Taylor, who are Members of the European Parliament.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North may guess what I am about to say. He and I have differences of opinion. He does not hold unqualified admiration for me. Nevertheless, I have considerable admiration for one aspect of his work. He has invariably represented his constituents' interests regardless of their religious beliefs. All hon. Members know that the hon. Gentleman has a remarkably good record in that respect.
900 In the light of his anxiety for his constituents, the hon. Member for Antrim, North, with Mr. Hume and Mr. Taylor, who I believe are profoundly concerned about the interests of their constituents, went to the European Parliament and there obtained a decision to vote a sum of money for rehousing the people of Belfast. No-one needs it more. The European Parliament voted £28 million for that purpose. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and his fellow Members of the European Parliament for sinking their differences and working together for that purpose.
Sadly, I must be critical of the Government. They found it difficult to give up the concept of additionality, by which they put most of the money in their back pockets to offset expenditure on Northern Ireland, vital though the needs of the Province are. Of the £200 million voted to Northern Ireland since 1973, about £120 million has been absorbed by the Government to offset their own voted expenditure on Northern Ireland. That is not the best way to encourage the co-operation between parties and communities that all of us desparately need to see.
My final proposal to the House and to the Government is again one that I raised some months ago. We should consider the possibility of a European Community joint committee in which the United Kingdom, the Republic and representatives of Northern Ireland take part, so as to deploy some of the money voted by the European Community for the benefit of the two parts of Ireland alone. The Council has considered possible joint projects, such as a gas pipeline, electrification of the railways and electricity. I suggest that there are common needs in areas such as youth unemployment and in higher education. For instance, Coleraine has problems filling places while youngsters in the Republic can find no places. In those common functional areas, which have nothing to do with the constitution, we could begin to develop closer relationships. We have already seen this work.
I conclude the SDP contribution to the debate by emphasising that, beyond the White Paper, the parliamentary dimension and the EEC dimension deserve and would repay far more careful consideration. I believe that we could make progress in those areas.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I should not like the right hon. Lady to be under any illusion about my stand on this matter. I believe in co-operation between elected Members in Northern Ireland on the fronts on which they can agree, but I could take no part in a council that included Members of a Parliament that claims jurisdiction over the part of Northern Ireland which is in the United Kingdom and which I represent. I have made that clear in Europe, where there are representatives from the Republic. I am a Member of the European Parliament, I recognise them as Members of the same Parliament, and in committees I must take my place for Northern Ireland, but the right hon. Lady would take me a long way from my principle by taking me down into the South of Ireland or to Europe in the context that she has described. I must make that absolutely clear.
§ Mrs. Williams
I remember the old Chinese proverb that travel round the world begins with a single step. Therefore, I am grateful that the hon. Member for Antrim, North has taken a single step, even if he is not yet prepared to take any more. Moreover, I am prepared to see just how far we can push him and, indeed, representatives of the other communities in Northern Ireland.
901 I believe that the Government are right to try again. As the right hon. Member for Mansfield said, the history is depressing. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State has already won a great deal of approval for his efforts to create a new initiative in Northern Ireland. He deserves the support of the House. I have listened carefully to the debate so far and I shall listen equally carefully to the rest of it. I have not heard a single constructive proposal so far better than that advanced by the Secretary of State. It is on that test that my party will support the White Paper.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
The concluding remarks of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) should be the guide for all of us. There has been a notable lack of sensible alternatives from critics of the plan proposed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has returned, as I do not like to criticise him, let alone in his absence, but his contribution was the most depressing of all. He spoke for 24 minutes, but could not suggest one way forward better than that proposed by my right hon. Friend. I was depressed by the sterility of the contributions of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland, who above all, in a debate such as this, should be telling us what else we should do. I find that most distressing.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) made the occasional suggestion as to what we might do. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) made the rather extraordinary charge that my right hon. Friend and the Government were not staunch enough in support of the Union because time and again we had said unequivocally that we would support the wish of the citizens of Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom so long as a majority wanted that. They both implied that we should cut out that final qualification. Taken to its conclusion, that means that we should support the retention of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom even if the majority there want something different. When I put that to the hon. Member for Antrim, South, he gave no answer, because there is none. I believe that the future of Northern Ireland lies firmly and completely within the United Kingdom, certainly for the rest of this century and probably for half of the next. That is a point of view.
§ Mr. Mates
I apologise. I was referring to the hon. Member for Antrim, North.
If the hon. Member for Antrim, North says, as I am sure that he does, that even if a majority of his fellow citizens wanted to opt for independence or for some kind of arrangement with the Republic, he would continue to fight for the maintenance of the Union, he would no doubt do so because that would be his point of view. If he did, however, all the criticisms that he now levels at the aspirations of the minority would then apply to him. So long as he did not use force but continued to use democratic means, he would be perfectly within his rights. Yet when the same aspiration is expressed by others whose viewpoint is different, he regards that as somehow immoral or improper. We must sort out the hyprocrisy that is expressed on this by some Northern Ireland Members.
902 I warmly support my right hon. Friend's attempt to move the situation forward. I wished to make several detailed remarks about the White Paper, but they have all been made very cogently in the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), with his vast experience in these matters. If, therefore, I do not repeat them, I hope that my hon. Friends will be no less convinced of my support for the Government's proposals.
I shall concentrate on some of the objections expressed by hon. Members on both sides. Of course there are worries about the way ahead, and we tread a very difficult path in producing highly controversial constitutional innovations. But that is no reason to flinch from the attempt. Those who object on high constitutional principle to what we are trying to do because it is different and because it is not constitutionally perfect should appreciate that conversation on the Shankill and the Falls is not about high constitutional principles. It is about a job, a way of life, and freedom from fear. We do not give nearly enough attention to the desperate situation in which our fellow citizens live in Northern Ireland and the economy in which they are almost sinking. We do ourselves no credit by simply saying that because something may be a little new, difficult or doubtful constitutionally we should therefore flinch from it.
The other major objection, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port quite honestly mentioned and which has been echoed in the House, concerns the idea that we might simply restore local government. We need not go back so far as the events of 12 years ago, to which the right hon. Lady referred. To those of my hon. Friends who say that we can solve the problem by giving back local government powers to one, two or more larger bodies in Northern Ireland, I say "Remember Poleglass". There, just two years ago, when elected representatives were given the power to decide whether dustbins were emptied, they decided not to empty Catholic dustbins. It is to those people that my hon. Friends who suggest that solution would give power to decide not only about dustbins but about the allocation of the very houses in which those dustbins are situated. We cannot do that and it would not work. The House would never approve it because it has been shown—if we believed that there had been any change, that example disabused us—that there is still, on both sides, a real sectarian desire to outdo the other by any means possible.
Therefore, like it or not, my right hon. Friend must continue to hold the ring. He must continue to insist that wherever discrimination appears it must not be allowed to succeed. That is why, in this gradual giving back of trust to the elected representatives of Northern Ireland so that they will use their powers without discrimination, my right hon. Friend deserves our support. That is why I urge him to be very careful about giving the powers and to be satisfied that hon. Members will not vote for the Bill, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North suggested, for the purpose of getting the power back so that it can be abused. For far too long there has been abuse of power in Northern Ireland which has brought about the present desperate position. This is a genuine attempt to prevent that abuse from recurring, and that is why I shall support it fully for as long as it exists.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The White Paper is clearly assured of acceptance. The question in all of our minds is whether it will work. I have a different opinion from most of those who have spoken.
First, may I dissipate the argument about unemployment, which is that if one does not agree with the White Paper one is in favour of massive unemployment? That is nonsense. There is no obvious connection. The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, gently rebuked his hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) for implying that the state of the patient might be worse at the end of the White Paper and Bill than it is at the moment. He should not have been rebuked. That is an imponderable about which we should worry. The question is not whether, as the right hon. Gentleman put it, there are some who believe that the people of Northern Ireland will never reach agreement. We are discussing whether we believe that this White Paper is the best immediate step towards achieving that, which is a completely different question.
I do not believe for a moment that we shall never solve the problem, but it is one of the most terrible and intractable problems that the House has ever faced. The immediate problem is whether to continue with direct rule or to organise devolved rule.
We must ask ourselves some political questions. Why did Stormont—which was devolved rule—collapse? Why did power sharing collapse? Why did we have to initiate direct rule at all? The arrogance of the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland and its ill-treatment of and failure to give democracy to the minority community stimulated the rebirth of the IRA. The IRA was spawned because a spawning ground was given to it by those who failed to give democracy to the minority community. That is the reality, but there has been complete failure in the House to face up to it. There is even an attitude on the Opposition Benches that we must not be naughty enough to talk about such things because it is just not done.
Another reality is that the Labour Party has changed its policy. Our Front Bench has not said very much, but I shall repeat once again that the Labour Party's aim is the ultimate unity of Ireland by consent. We have made that absolutely clear, but it is not mentioned in the White Paper. Has anything new occurred to tell us that we should not have direct rule? Has something happened other than the desire to move forward—a desire that I applaud and for which I have always asked, using the expression "a political solution"? Should the White Paper give us the desire to move forward and to be seen to do something? We can pass a Bill in the house, but what will Happen in Northern Ireland after that? That worries me and, I am sure, everyone else.
The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) mentioned paragraph 31 of the White Paper. At the end of that paragraph, having told us that there will be 78 Members of the Assembly, there is a brief but important sentence:It will be for the Assembly to elect its Presiding Officer.The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is so assured of the majority in Northern Ireland that he can lecture us about democracy. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who equated the position in Northern Ireland with the Labour Party majority in the North-East 904 and in South Wales, has not understood the very beginning of the problem. In Northern Ireland there are two separate communities and, sadly enough, there is community voting. That is the crux of the matter.
The opening sentence of paragraph 37 is:The Presiding Officer of the Assembly will be required to allocate members to the departmental committees and to appoint a Chairman and not more than two Deputy Chairmen as salaried officers of each committee.I shall give hon. Members three guesses, with no prizes, as to the political grouping from which the Assembly will elected its presiding officer. Does anyone believe that he will be from the SDLP? We shall have Unionist law, as we had before.
§ Mr. Flannery
I shall read some of it. I did not interrupt the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), so perhaps he will leave me in peace. Paragraph 40 states:Any new system of devolved government in Northern Ireland must, if it is to be stable, be acceptable to both sides of the community there.What a dream that is in present circumstances. We should not talk as though there is any immediate hope of the hon. Members on the Official Unionist Bench behind me or the Democratic Unionist Members ever understanding the minority community that they have held in subjection for many years, which sparked off the present struggle in Northern Ireland.
Paragraph 41 states:The Government's aim is to give the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, the opportunity to find an acceptable form of government.That is pious rhetoric and it will not help us. It may convey the impression that we are doing something, but it should be viewed with much caution. We should ask ourselves, is it viable, is it workable or is it equitable? I believe that it is not workable and not viable. It presupposes agreement between the two communities, but there is not the slightest evidence that that agreement is anywhere on the horizon. All the evidence is that the struggle is more intense and the communities more divided than ever. Because the communities were so divided, we had direct rule. In other words, there has been no fundamental change which tells us that the position will improve if we do this.
It presupposes a reasonable attitude on the part of those who wrecked the honourable attempt at power sharing the last time. I see no evidence that those who wrecked power sharing and who bridle at the very mention of the expression have changed their attitudes one iota. They believe that this scheme is a step back to the old Stormont, so that they can do exactly what they did before. These presuppositions, at which the Unionists behind me laugh, are the realities that we must face. The fundamental reason for the debate is what they did in the past and their determination not to change.
Although a serious attempt is being made to set up an Assembly, which I applaud, I fear that it is cosmetic. It has the hallmark of the type of thinking that says that we must do something, that we cannot go on doing nothing. A plan is then trotted out that is unworkable and has the trappings of democracy, but no real democracy.
One hears what the SDLP has to say, and to some extent has been said earlier today. However, it seems to be a crime to mention the SDLP in the Chamber. It represnts the majority in the minority community who have taken 905 most of the kicks. That is the reality. They have their viewpoint. Hon. Gentlemen should listen to it. The SDLP states:Any party, which accepts, without question, proposals which can be clearly shown to be unworkable, in order to present an image of reasonableness to the community, is an irresponsible political party. We contend that by any standards the proposals for devolution of power contained in the White Paper are unworkable.The paper goes on to discuss the actual details. The SDLP viewpoint is serious and should be considered, because we want its members to stand in any elections. However the signs are that they will not take part in the elections. I do not know whether they will continue with that stance, but unless the SDLP undergoes a radical change of mind it is clear that its members have no intention of standing in the elections for the Assembly.
Many hon. Gentlemen might say "And a good job too", but they would merely be proving that they considered the proposals to be unworkable. It is true that there are other Republican groups that might stand, but if the SDLP does not, the whole plan will be abortive and unworkable.
There are also doubts about the so-called Democratic Unionists. That is a charming title and seems to imply that all the other Unionists are undemocratic. I have often wondered about that. We have heard part of their opinion.
What does the White Paper hold out for us? I believe that it offers elections to a powerless Assembly. That will be seen in both Northern and Southern Ireland. I believe that there will be powerless committees with chairmen undemocratically appointed by the president. There is an implication of power sharing, but it is merely a gloss and should be considered with care.
My fear is that the proposals in the White Paper will be unworkable. Even if the Assembly were elected, and no matter what groupings were there, it would collapse through its own internal contradictions. If that happened we would be in an even more difficult situation, bad as it now is. The Assembly could become a dangerous talking shop, the failure of which would set us even further back in the intractable struggle.
I believe that it is still constructive to suggest that we should keep direct rule until there is a sign of the emergence of a need for a devolved Government. I do not believe that the White Paper proposes a viable alternative. I do not believe that an alternative will ever exist—this must be said—which dogmatically refuses to discuss the border.
The Official Unionists asked about the Northern Ireland Labour Party. The answer to that question is simple. When the two sides first met, the question of the border cropped up. The Unionists decided that they wanted nothing to do with the other side, so the other side do not attend meetings any more.
The Northern Ireland Labour Party is not a viable proposition. That is one of the great problems for Northern Ireland. We have talked to members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party at great length on this subject.
§ Mr. Winnick
We have been asked whether the Labour Party would contest elections in Northern Ireland. Bearing in mind that the Unionists now sit with the Official Unionists on the Opposition Benches, would it not be appropriate to ask whether the Conservative Party intends to contest the elections in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Flannery
That question must be addressed to someone else. I shall quote that someone else because the 906 hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) said that he was frightened that the whole question of the Union was not in the mind of the Secretary of State. I shall prove that it is in the Secretary of State's mind because in introducing the White Paper he said that he believed that his proposals were the most likely to tie Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom:I believe passionately that that is the case. Otherwise there will be continual erosion in Northern Ireland of Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom. With a little wisdom, we could put that behind us forever."—[Official Report, 5 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 701–2.]That is the exact viewpoint of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. He would like to put it behind him forever, but the problem will not be put behind us forever. It is the reality of our lives. It is the cause of all the trouble. Therefore, we have to talk about it. If hon. Members do not want to talk about it, that is up to them but it will intrude into their consciousness over and over again. The fact is that the White Paper will more than likely fail precisely because it does not have the courage to cover the fundamental point of why we are having this debate tonight.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has attacked the Northen Ireland Labour Party. The reason why it has dwindled away is that Labour voters vote for Unionist candidates. In the eyes of the hon. Gentleman, that may be a crime, but it is democracy, and we have democracy in Northern Ireland. We do not have witch hunts against the Trotskyites. The English Labour Party is trying to drive them out because they are seeking to change the constitutional set-up in the United Kingdom. The Ulster people are a fair-minded people who welcome everyone. If the hon. Gentleman lived in Northern Ireland, he would find that it is a much nicer place than he paints.
On the basis of the hon. Gentleman's argument on Ulster, he would expect me to be in favour of the White Paper. He argued vehemently against it. However, the people in Ulster do not make decisions on the basis of prejudice. He may be uncomfortable to hear it but I am not happy about the White Paper either, although for different reasons.
The hon. Gentleman should recognise that I am, no doubt to his disappointment, a perfectly reasonable person. I am an ordinary, average Ulsterman—perhaps without the elegance of an Englishman, but none the less an average Ulsterman. I admire Ulster and the people of Ulster. If English people lived in Northern Ireland for any time, they would soon realise that the Ulster people had a great deal to commend them.
I am sorry that Ulster is condemned in the eyes of the world and by some Conservative Members. Such Conservative Members are showing an arrogance which they should not adopt when criticising Northern Ireland Members for being bigoted, backward or strict constitutionalists. I am prepared to adopt any scheme for Northern Ireland if it will bring peace and prosperity to the Province.
As the Secretary of State knows, I have been urging for years that the sectarian divide in education in Northern Ireland should be brought to an end. But successive Governments have argued that such a move would introduce a variation from the rest of the United Kingdom 907 where church schools exist. I want to see a change. I do not care if this means that Northern Ireland departs from the path followed by the rest of the United Kingdom. The sectarian divide in Northern Ireland exists at such an early age that it even divides toddlers who attend kindergarten.
I have repeatedly urged a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Again, successive Governments have rejected my suggestion because it is a novel idea and because English people—I emphasise "English" people—do not like a written constitution. I continue to advocate it. I am disappointed that the Secretary of State has not declared that he will introduce a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. It is not simply "minority" rights that have to be protected. The rights of the majority have also to be protected. I refer to the rights of all the people in the Province. What disappoints me about the initiative proposed by the Secretary of State is that it adopts a system that offers nothing to the Ulster people unless the politicians get together and agree among themselves on a system that would enable powers to be devolved in the Province.
As the Secretary of State will have heard from some Northern Ireland Members, if he did not already know, there will be no agreement about power sharing. His scheme of creeping, or rolling, devolution will never advance beyond a talking shop. A talking shop in Northern Ireland after 13 years of terrible violence, instead of creating political stability, will worsen the situation and will act as an incentive to the terrorists to increase their campaign of murder, mutiliation and destruction.
No one can attack me on the basis that I am an integrationist. I am a devolutionist. I want to see a proper system of devolution for the Province. I want to see a meaningful Assembly and an Executive with powers. It is as a devolutionist that I speak in this debate.
I wish to give briefly my reasons why I do not welcome the proposals in the White Paper. I emphasise what I said in an intervention during the speech of the Secretary of State. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman's conscientiousness. He created a very bad impression when he came to Northern Ireland. His appointment had been preceded by his statement that he would not accept the Northern Ireland Office. However, no one can doubt his sincerity. He has worked extremely hard since becoming Secretary of State.
The average Ulsterman and woman realises that the right hon. Gentleman is working hard and that he wishes to see peace and prosperity brought to Northern Ireland. I differ from him over the means that he is adopting to bring peace and prosperity. I do not believe that his proposals will bring peace. My only interest is what is best for the Ulster people. My clear duty is to oppose any measure that will expose the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland to increased murder and mayhem or to further political instability.
The Secretary of State has urged the House to accept his proposals because he believes that they will provide the political stability necessary to end violence and to deal with the economic and industrial decline of the Province. In my opinion, his proposals will increase political instability. The reason is simple. The Assembly has no prospect of being more than a talking shop. There will never be agreement about the devolving of powers that will give the elected representatives the task of shaping the future of Northern Ireland.
908 Sadly, the Assembly will develop into a ceaseless round of acrimonious, disruptive and irresponsible debate. Many of the elected representatives will want to prove to the Ulster people their political virility, either as Loyalists or as Republicans. They will not have the sanction of implementing their promises and pledges in the election or implementing whatever they may say in the chamber. Because they will never have the duty of forming an Administration and of then doing what they have promised, they can criticise the Government, Ministers, civil servants and every Tom, Dick or Harry as much as they like. In my judgment, the Government are creating a rod for their back, and I do not know why. I have never before known a Government who wished to add to their troubles—and, my goodness, this Government have plenty of troubles, not counting the battle for the recovery of the Falkland Islands that should never have fallen into the hands of the Fascist dictators in Argentina.
The only argument advanced by any Ulster politician in favour of the White Paper is that it will give the Ulster people the opportunity to express their opinion in an election. We have had election after election in Northern Ireland. We even had a constitutional Assembly that sent its majority report to this House. What did the House do with it? It threw it out. What, therefore, is the point of another election and another Assembly if all it does is to add to the bitterness already in the Province, leading to greater division at a time when the Ulster people need some hope of coming together and of seeing an end to the violence that is gnawing at their vitals?
Despite the unsatisfactory situation of unbridled bureaucracy in the government of the Province, I believe that the White Paper proposals would only create a worse state of affairs. It is my duty to give my opinion to the House. Paramount in our minds should be the unprecedented unemployment figures. They are a disgrace to any nation and to any Government. The people of Northern Ireland are also burdened by the high cost of living. There is a desperate need to restore peace to the Province.
As indicated by the White Paper, a direct link is involved in the creation of a durable political institution and the revival of the economy of the Province. But the proposed Assembly will not create the conditions of confidence essential to economic recovery. Most important of all, the Assembly will not make any contribution to the defeat of terrorism.
As hon. Members have heard from the Secretary of State, the Assembly will not be able to discuss security or terrorism. It will be an impotent body that will disappoint the Ulster people if it is created. This would be wrong. The terrorists will be defeated only when it becomes clear that the British Government are prepared to tackle them, root them out and destroy them and when they make it clear that they will not enter into any arrangement or accommodation that would compromise the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
It was reported in the BBC news on the Northern Ireland radio service—I think that it was Monday—that the Secretary of State welcomed the statement by the Provisional Sinn Fein that it would contest the election. If that is correct, I find it strange because the Provisional Sinn Fein party will be going forward as an abstentionist party. I do not see why the right hon. Gentleman should welcome its intervention when it will not be participating in the Assembly.
909 Apart from the Provisional Sinn Fein, the only party fully committed to the constitutional proposals is the Alliance Party. We have heard today that it represents only 9 per cent. of the electorate who voted in the recent election. Therefore, it cannot be said fully to represent the Ulster people. Even the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) found no virtue in the proposals except that he saw the Assembly as a place where, day in and day out, there would be opportunities to give expression to Ulster anger. I hope that the Secretary of State bears in mind that that is the use to which an Assembly would be put if it were established.
The principle enunciated in part 3 of the White Paper assures the House that the Government are not seeking to impose a particular system on the Province. However, the White Paper attempts to impose a non-system on the Province. In reply to the parliamentary question that I put to the Prime Minister on the need to hold a referendum in Northern Ireland on devolution, she said that the Government were determined to seek an acceptable basis for a transfer of power.
However, the White Paper seeks to impose on Northern Ireland, as a basis for the restoration of a measure of local autonomy, a means that does not appear to be acceptable to any political party or representative in the House except in the guarded way expressed by the hon. Member for Antrim, North or by the SDLP. It seems that the SDLP will have the power to decide whether there will be a Government in Northern Ireland. The Government have decided that the SDLP will have the power of veto. If it says "No" to powers being devolved to an Assembly in Northern Ireland, the powers will not be devolved. If all the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland ask, as they have asked in the past, for powers to be given to an Assembly in Northern Ireland, they will not be given unless the SDLP agrees. That is a sad commentary on the intentions of the Government towards Northern Ireland.
I warn the Government that it would be wrong to proceed with this plan unless they give full powers of devolution to the Assembly right from the beginning, from the first day of the election when the candidates tell the electorate what they promise and will do if elected and form an Executive. That is the only way to start. Without power and without responsibility there is only irresponsibility. Northern Ireland has suffered too much for too long. It would be wrong to embark on this measure if it will not provide the solution to all our terrible problems—and there are many of them.
I wish that the Government, as an earnest of their good will, would set up what I have asked for—a Select Committee on Northern Ireland where we could deal with many of these problems vigorously and effectively. I am disappointed that they have not done that. I ask the Government to think again about their White Paper and say that the Ulster people are entitled to an Assembly and Executive with full powers from the first day that that Assembly meets.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I vividly recall another occasion such as this 14 years ago. In August 1968 the House was recalled to discuss the breakdown of law and order in Northern Ireland and the invasion of Czechoslovakia that had happened that week. Here we are, 910 14 years later, with another invasion—in the Falkland Islands—and Northern Ireland's problems are as acute today as they were then.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) quoted Sir Edward Carson, the architect of the Northern Ireland State.
§ Mr. Fitt
With Craig, he was the architect of the Northern Ireland State.
The right hon. Member for Pavilion quoted Sir Edward Carson as saying that he wanted to govern not Catholics, but the people of Northern Ireland.
That is not true. In March 1920 Sir Edward Carson claimed that when he set out to create the State of Northern Ireland he went round every town, village and hamlet in the counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan to see whether it would be possible to govern the ancient Province of Ulster from Belfast. Sadly, they found that the figures were against them. In those three counties there were 200,000 Catholics and only 70,000 Protestants. Therefore, they had to settle for the Six Counties instead of nine.
That was the basis of the creation of the Northern Ireland State. That is why in 1982 we are talking about majorities and minorities. They do not exist in any other part of the United Kingdom, but they exist in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. That is why we cannot apply the same standards to Northern Ireland as we do to other parts of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that he was happy to be identified with Northern Ireland because he thought that Northern Ireland was unique and different. In the next breath he went on to say that he felt just like a Yorkshireman. That is a contradiction in thinking. That is why we cannot apply the same standards of democracy to Northern Ireland as we can to other parts of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland was set up on a Catholic and Protestant head count. The border was deliberately drawn to make the Protestants, who were British in outlook, 65 per cent. of the population. There was nothing democratic about the setting up of the Northern Ireland State. The Government, with all the might that they had at their disposal, decided to create the Six Counties in Northern Ireland. They did not give a damn what the people in Fermanagh, South Armagh or Tyrone thought. That was no democratic decision. The partition of Ireland took place at gunpoint and created within the border of the Six Counties a permanent majority and minority. No account was taken of the position in the House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) has taken part in many debates on Northern Ireland. It is possible—I hope that it is highly probable—that after the next election my right hon. Friend will be sitting on the Government side of the House and Conservative Members will be sitting on what is now the Opposition side of the House. That did not happen in Northern Ireland. A Protestant who supported a Unionist majority knew when he entered politics that he was there until he died, or until the House was abolished by a Conservative Government in 1972. A Catholic knew that he was in the minority. He knew that he was a second-class citizen and would never have the opportunity to taste the fruits of power or to use power in the interests of Catholic people in Northern Ireland.
911 The right hon. Member for Pavilion quoted Carson. I have quoted Carson back to him. There is an even more appropriate quotation from Churchill. In 1922 he said:Then came the great War. Every institution, almost in the world was strained. Great Empires have been overturned. The whole map of Europe has been changed. The position of countries has been violently altered. The modes of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous changes in the deluge of the world, but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that has been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world."—[Official Report, 16 February 1922; Vol. 150, c. 127.]This is 1982 and we are still discussingthe dreary steeples of Fermanagh and South Tyrone".They represent the minority population in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State is trying to take one timid, tentative step forward to see whether political progress can be made in Northern Ireland.
I am not a supporter of the Government. However, some of the opposition to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is a continuation of that which he faced in the Department of Employment. Politics in Britain can sometimes be like politics in Northern Ireland. A vendetta has been waged against the right hon. Gentleman by some who did not like his policies in the Department of Employment and do not like his policies in the Northern Ireland Office.
I saw, with a great deal of sadness, that the party that I formerly led, which is now led by John Hume, has sunk to the level of pointing the finger at the Secretary of State. It says that he is concerned only about his own political future, not about the political future of Northern Ireland. That is a damned lie. It is unworthy of the party that I formerly led. No one can agree with every single line, comma and sentence in the White Paper. We all know that it is bristling with difficulties.
Again, I must take exception to what has been said. For the first time, either in the Chamber or anywhere in the House, I find myself in total disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). Time and time again, on both sides of the House, he and I have said that there must be a political solution. When Conservative Members were advocating military solutions against terrorists, we repeatedly said that there could be no military solution in Northern Ireland; it had to be a political solution. Yet this evening my hon. Friend has said that Northern Ireland is not ready for any political developments and that direct rule must continue. Direct rule must not continue. For five short months I was a member——
§ Mr. Flannery
If my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) examines what I said, he will find that I said nothing to imply that there could not be a political solution. If, inadvertently, I used such words, let me make it clear that I think that the only solution is a political one. However, I said that I felt that, rather than have the type of Assembly that would be created out of the proposals in the White Paper, we should wait until circumstances emerge which demonstrate that direct rule is no longer as good as the Assembly which would emerge.
§ Mr. Fitt
I fully accept that. However, my hon. Friend said that we should wait until circumstances emerge that may make an Assembly more viable. If we wait that long, we shall wait until Doomsday. We cannot wait until 912 circumstances permit. We must take action and give leadership so that we can bring about the circumstances that will allow us to govern ourselves.
I was disappointed by some of the speeches from Northern Ireland Members. They say that we are unable and do not have the ability to govern ourselves. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) is opposed to the proposal. He does not want an Assembly. He does want any political steps to be taken in conjunction with the White Paper. He would like a pre-1972 Assembly. In other words, he wants the restoration of Unionist majority government. The hon. Gentleman must accept that the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland was created in 1920 and that it will not go away. Any system of election similar to that in Britain will always produce that majority. There will be a permanent majority and a permanent minority. That is a recipe for continuing political conflict.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
The hon. Gentleman has done me a grave injustice. He knows that I am not arguing for a replica of the old Stormont Government. I want a Government based on the proposals enunciated in the Convention report or on the proposals that I personally submitted to the Secretary of State and his predecessor. They envisage something far removed from the old Stormont Government, but which would ensure a democracy in Northern Ireland in which the vote counts and the people have a say in government. I want government for the good of all those in the Province.
§ Mr. Fitt
Since 1920, the Unionists and Protestants have voted for Unionist and Protestant candidates and the Catholic minority—who know for 24 hours a day that they are a minority—have voted for Catholic candidates and for some Protestant Labour candidates. However, the Catholics voted for candidates who espoused the idea of the eventual reunification of Ireland. That was the impasse, the immovable object.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
The hon. Gentleman has swept aside the differences in the United Kingdom. The main difference between Scotland and Northern Ireland is that the minority party in Scotland is a Unionist party. Indeed, with the exception of the nationalists, the minority parties are Unionist parties. That is why we do not have the problems that are encountered in Northern Ireland. We have the problems of low representation but we do not want to depart from the Union.
§ Mr. Fitt
But the hon. Gentleman would not want to partition Scotland, Wales or any part of England on the basis of a Catholic and Protestant head count. I have just cited what Lord Carson said. He said that there were 200,000 Catholics in the counties and only 70,000 Protestants. That is what led to the creation of the State of Northern Ireland. I was a Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament for 10 years before its abolition. I know the frustrations that existed. People might be patronising or friendly in the corridors, but the decisions were always taken in the interests of the Protestant majority. I know only too well—I am never likely to forget—the frustrations that existed then.
For five short months in 1974 I was a member of the Executive. The failure of the Executive in 1974 was one of the great political tragedies for the island of Ireland. I was then the leader of the SDLP. That party may have 913 changed since I left it, but it was then working as closely as possible with every interest to ensure fair play for everyone in Northern Ireland. It is with regret that I say that, although the party may not realise how it is viewed by the majority party in Northern Ireland, it has taken decisions and said things—perhaps unintentionally—that have given rise to fear among the majority population of Northern Ireland.
Last year, the SDLP's decision to refuse to contest the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency on two occasions convinced even the most moderate Protestants that the SDLP supported the IRA. I know that it does not, but that decision was disastrous in terms of community relations.
In its comments on the White Paper, the SDLP says that it will not vote and will not put forward candidates. As one who has an occasional bet, I ask "Does anyone want to take a bet?". I bet that the SDLP will fight the election. If it does not, it will be the most stupid political decision ever taken by any political party.
I advise the SDLP to fight the election. I know that it will fight. because, if it does not, it will hand the seats over to abstainers and to Provisional Sinn Fein. A conglomerate of loonies and head cases will win seats in those circumstances.
There are serious reservations and misgivings about certain proposals that may be contained in the Bill to give effect to the constitutional proposals. I remind the House of the questions asked by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) about the election of the presiding officer of the new Assembly, who will have authority to appoint a chairman and two deputy chairmen to each departmental committee. There are eight Northern Ireland Departments. That will mean 25 officers, including the presiding officer.
The election of the presiding officer cannot be by a majority vote. In 1920, the majority of people in Northern Ireland were Unionists. The majority of voters for the Assembly will be Unionists. The majority of those elected will be some form of Unionist, either Official Unionist, Democratic Unionist or United Ulster Unionist. They will get together over the election of the presiding officer. That happens not only in Northern Ireland, but in Britain. In those circumstances, no member of a minority party will be given a deputy chairmanship, let alone a chairmanship. In the minds of the Northern Ireland electorate, that would be interpreted as a restoration of Unionist majority Government.
In the first five months of the Executive in 1974 we tried desperately to grapple with economic decisions. The decisions were difficult in 1974. They are even more difficult today. The committees would have to grapple with the economic situation in Northern Ireland.
Undoubtedly the IRA will continue to bomb and to kill. In 1974, the Loyalist paramilitaries were doing the same. The Executive was killed not by the Loyalists, but by a combination of both sets of extremists.
It would court disaster to allow the Assembly to discuss security. Yet I can fully understand what the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) said. If one's constituents are being murdered, one has to stand up and voice their anger. I am not sure how the problem can be handled, but a way must be found to enable public representatives to voice their concern about the murder of their constituents. That 914 could lead to a dangerous atmosphere in the Assembly, an atmosphere that would kill all the other progressive movements that were taking place.
The right hon. Member for Crosby referred to power-sharing among the three Northern Ireland European Members of Parliament. It is easy to have such power-sharing because John Hume, Ian Paisley and John Taylor go to Europe and say "Please, we want more." It is easy to find such unity. That is the sort of unity that we would have in the Assembly. All the party barriers would be down. The Unionists, the SDLP and the other panties would all say "Please, we want more". Such unity could be found. I hope that it will be successful in the representations that are made to the House.
It is possible that in economics and when we are trying to create employment, attract investment and new industry and build more houses, there will be total unanimity and fairness in an elected Northern Ireland Assembly It is on the constitutional issues that all the dangers arise.
I say this again to the party that I formerly led. It was indiscreet, to say the least, that when the White Paper was first published, John Hume, the leader of the SDLP, went to the Taoiseach of the Republic, who is not the darling of the Unionists. I do not expect any Unionist to like any Taoiseach. This Taoiseach scared the living daylights out of the Unionists, who remember well the arms trial. It was wrong that the leader of a Northern Ireland political party should ally himself with the Taoiseach and issue a statement saying "Throw these proposals out of the window. I do not agree with them." That was bound to cause bitter resentment among the Unionist population.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
Is not the hon. Gentleman being a little kind to the Taoiseach? Is it not a fact that the Taoiseach's Government condemned the proposals before the White Paper was published?
§ Mr. Fitt
It is not my intention to be kind to the Fianna Fail. I would have been more pleased if the coalition Government had been re-elected. Dr. Garret FitzGerald would have been more acceptable to the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland. I do not want to go out of my way to say that the Protestants should have all the consideration. Many Catholics need consideration.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
Does the hon. Gentleman see any prospect of a shift in attitude of the Government of the Republic in the light of what has happened to the Sinn Fein Workers Party and their dependence on it for support?
§ Mr. Fitt
I am glad that the right hon. Lady has brought that to the notice of the House. The Government of the Republic are dependent on three votes of the Workers Party. The party changed to that name over the weekend. I congratulate it on having taken that decision. It has said that if the Taoiseach takes this bellicose and hostile attitude towards the North, he cannot depend on its support. That might be a restraining influence on some of the more adventurous statements that emanate from Fianna Fail.
Another hopeful development is that over the past week or fortnight trade union representatives from the Belfast shipyards have spoken with representatives of the Dublin Government. This week representatives of industry in the Republic are coming to Belfast to have discussions to see whether it would be possible to build a bulk coal carrier 915 in Belfast for the Republic. Industrial co-operation could take place. That is far more important than anything else that could be done.
If it can be seen that the Republic is concerned about the high unemployment figures in Northern Ireland and that it can alleviate them in some way, that would do much to dissipate fears in Northern Ireland. Employment would be created not only for unemployed Protestants but for unemployed Catholics. That is hopeful. I hope that something emerges from those discussions because, three or four weeks from now, or six months from now, if it is announced by the authorities in Dublin that nothing can come of the visits that have been taking place, Northern Ireland Unionists, being the suspicious people that they are, will say that it was all a "take-on" in the first place and that it was not really meant to do anything for them.
I am none too sure how the 70 per cent. requirement will work in practice. Certain abstentionists might be elected, which would increase the proportion of votes that would be required. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State has examined this proposal in great detail, but I am certain that the official Opposition and perhaps the right hon. Member for Crosby, will be tabling amendments to the Bill, which we believe will be necessary, to give the required protection to the minority.
If there is no agreement on the forming of an Executive—I believe that we shall get partial devolution before full devolution—there will be no rush to create an Executive in the opening months of this Assembly. That would be asking for too much agreement to be found after all the fratricidal strife that we have had.
If we can establish partial devolution—that is one committee after another and one Department after another—to build up hope and reconciliation between the different parties and the different communities in Northern Ireland, we must take this chance. It is only a chance. There is no guarantee of success, but at least we shall be able to tell the people of Northern Ireland "We are now giving you an opportunity to take into your own hands the success or failure of your own destiny".
I hope that the next time we have a debate on Northern Ireland 10 years from now we shall not have to requote Churchill talking about the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. I think that the Northern Ireland people—whom I know well and whom I have spoken to over the weekend—will be prepared to give these proposals a chance. If that it so, the House should wish the Minister godspeed on the action he has already taken.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
We have heard a characteristic speech from the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). His speeches always remind me of those Chinese boxes that one had as a child, because it takes a long time to get to the middle of his speeches, but I hope that his advice will be taken.
I have found this debate extremely encouraging. Apart from one or two speeches, the debate has concentrated on the Committee aspect of the Bill rather than on its principle. I warmed to the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker).
I agree that the advent of an Assembly in the Province will not stop terrorism just like that, but we must ask ourselves why terrorism continues. It does so because the 916 terrorists are harboured. They are harboured in the Republic, and that is why it is important to continue our conversations and association with the Republic. However, they are also harboured in the North. They will continue to be harboured until the minority in the population identifies with the political system in the North. That is the key to the problem.
I welcome strongly the proposals that are outlined in the White Paper. I think that they are overdue, that they should be implemented as soon as possible and that our current preoccupations elsewhere should not diminish the Government's resolve. I listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), who covered a great deal of what I wish to say.
Although terrorism continues, it is being contained to the extent that the IRA knows that it cannot succeed along that line. Far more promising from its point of view is a policy of destabilisation that will lead to the economy's destruction and the increase of lawlessness and discontent that follows in its wake.
When I started my industrial career in the Province 25 years ago, Northern Ireland was in the forefront of the then industrial advance, especially in man-made fibres and plastics. Companies of international repute set up plants in Northern Ireland. Many did so because of the advocacy of Ulster Members and Ulster Ministers in an Ulster Parliament. Those who say that we are trying to do something new forget the work that was done by those such as Lord Glentoran and Brian Faulkner, which made an enormous difference. It is far more effective that Ulstermen should sell the advantages of Northern Ireland rather than that Westminster Ministers should try to do so.
The industrial advance to which I referred has nearly finished. The plant in which I worked stands empty and forlorn along the Belfast lough. Very few people on this side of the Irish channel realise the full extent of the economic disaster that has hit the Province. It is now a pensioner province. The proportion of the population in work which is employed by the Government is now a staggering 45 per cent. Unemployment is about 20 per cent., or well over 100,000. Part of the trouble in Harland and Wolff and other similar industrial enterprises is the idea that there is continuing Government finance. That has a bearing on the way in which employees consider their employment.
Therefore, we have reached the present position, when the net inflow of funds to Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom Treasury for the coming year is calculated at £1½ billion. Gone are the days when Ulstermen looked across the border to the Republic's economy with superiority. It is now much more likely to be envy.
Faced with such appalling conditions, the politicians in any other community in the world would have come together to try of their own accord to achieve stability and to advance the economy themselves. That is not so in the Province. The divisions deepen and the invective continues. Political advantage takes the place of responsible dialogue. I am convinced that one of the reasons for this is that no framework exists for the dialogue to take place.
I say to Ulster Members that nothing infuriates me more as an Englishman than to visit the Province and to be lectured on the shortcomings of the Government—for example, "They should do this and they should spend more money on that". Very seldom does one hear the question, 917 "What can we do about it?" If one does hear that approach, it is generally coupled with a criticism of Ulster politicians.
Ulster Members who sit in this place are not elected by small constituencies with paper-thin majorities. The majority of them are elected with thumping majorities. The people of Ulster must want them and, therefore, they have a great responsibility. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) is not in his place, because I wish to say that I found his speech the most depressing one of the debate. It was completely barren. It offered nothing towards a solution of these difficult problems. However, such is the disillusionment with Ulster problems and politicians on this side of the Irish Channel that many of us are fortified by the criticism that has been levelled at my hon. Friend's proposals by nearly all the parties in Ulster and in the Republic. That indicates to me that my right hon. Friend may have got it just about right. Republicans must realise that, whatever happens to the birth rate, they will always have to deal with a sizeable Unionist population. Unionists must realise that stability will never come without the co-operation of the Republican section of the country.
Perhaps all should realise—or at any rate acknowledge—the great sadness that Christians feel that those divisions are between people who acknowledge the same Christ. Many of us find that very hard to understand.
There are those who say that we should do nothing. Strangely, they are very often the same people who strongly supported the old Stormont. The arguments against this course of action have been advanced very eloquently today and I do not want to repeat them, but the House must consider the effect that the problem has on our allies and friends elsewhere in the world.
In America, in Europe and elsewhere the myth—and it is a myth—is created that we are pursuing our favourite policy of divide and rule. We know that that is not so, but the myth persists. We appear to be doing nothing and there is no Ulster voice that can be heard overseas. The Assembly, when it comes, may produce a discordant voice, but at least that voice will be coming from Belfast and not from London.
The proposals are modest. They threaten no one—in Ulster, the Republic, or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It is an expression of extreme political arrogance to think that we must have the same form of political system applying throughout the world or throughout the same community. We must be prepared to evolve different arrangements to suit the different circumstances of each community.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I am interested in my hon. Friend's views. Suppose that after the next general election we have an SDP Government with insufficient SDP Members in Scotland to provide Ministers or the necessary numbers required to get Bills through Scottish Committees. That would present an interesting situation. Of course, such a situation could equally face a Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Benyon
I do not see how that affects our present considerations. The situation mentioned by my hon. Friend has occurred in the past. I remember only too well being part of a very large English element on the Scottish Grand Committee, if that is the point that my hon. Friend is making.
In effect, in the White Paper the Government are saying to Ulster, to the Republic and to the world "We, the British 918 Government, are placing the initiative where it should belong—with the Ulster people themselves." I do not believe that we can do more than that.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I am not opposed in principle to an Assembly as such in Northern Ireland, but any such proposals must face certain basic questions.
Will any such constitutional steps as recommended by the Secretary of State help to stabilise the position in the Province? Will they assist in decreasing tension? Will they help to undermine terrorist violence? I do not believe that what the Government are recommending will do any of those things. Indeed, the danger is that they will only make the position in Northern Ireland that much worse. As we know, all the political parties in Northern Ireland, with the exception of the Alliance Party, are opposed to the proposals.
I have no doubt that when the Assembly elections come—if they come—all the parties will contest them, but I believe that they will probably contest them with the same enthusiasm as that with which the Labour Party contests the EEC elections. We need to look at the whole position in Northern Ireland to see what can be done to try to resolve the crisis.
Let us remind ourselves of the sort of crisis it is. It is 13 years since British troops were first actively involved in the Province, as the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) reminded us earlier. It is 10 years since direct rule was introduced. Although we welcome any decrease in terrorism, all of us would be foolish or naive to believe that the terrorist problem is any nearer to a solution than it was 10 or 13 years ago.
The question must be: how much longer is the position to remain as it has been for the last 10 years? Will it be the same 5, 10 or 15 years hence when, despite having an Assembly or not, there will not be any basic change in Northern Ireland? Have we accepted as a country that the problem there is so grave that it is impossible to find a solution?
We should take note of the point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) about the damage and cost to the country's standing and reputation around the world as a result of being involved, as we are daily, in Northern Ireland. We are not making any friends or allies on the international scene over Northern Ireland. In fact, we are gravely embarrassed by it. It may be. as he said, that people misunderstand and believe that Britain is involved in the old game of divide and rule. But whether there is misunderstanding or not, we are and have been over the last few years associated with the type of terrorist violence which occurs in Northern Ireland.
There should be no need for anyone on the Opposition side to make it clear that we are completely opposed to terrorism. Sometimes those of us who believe in a united Ireland are accused of being soft over terrorist violence. However much I wish to see Irish unity, I am opposed, and I am in no way ambiguous about it, to all forms of violence to bring it about. Apart from all the harm, the casualties and the loss of life caused by violence—as the House has been reminded there have been casualties in the last few days—it must increase sectarianism. The irony is that the very people engaged in terrorism who talk about Irish unity and fight for it are helping to ensure that it is all the more difficult to get consent in the Province.
919 Nor do I accept the argument of those engaged in violence that they are in the same position as Irish men and women over the centuries who have fought for Irish freedom. That is not my view and, more important, it is not the view of the vast majority in the Irish Republic. It has never been the view of successive Irish Governments.
The other point which should not be overlooked is that if terrorist violence were to succeed in its objective, if the Border were to be removed and if a united Ireland were to come about as a result of terrorism, what sort of united Ireland would it be? It would be constantly insecure and unhappy. It would be a country where the democratic process would be constantly at risk.
I have an article fromThe Guardian last Saturday which reports that Provisional Sinn Fein will contest elections for the Assembly but that its candidates will not take their seats if they win, which will not come as a surprise. The article says:The organisation's aim is, as one spokesman put it at Sinn Fein's last annual conference, to take power in Ireland with a gun in one hand and a ballot paper in the other.What sort of Ireland is Sinn Fein referring to? It does not say Northern Ireland as such, so we know what sort of Ireland there would be of 32 counties if it came about as a result of the gun and violence and all the horrors we have seen in Northern Ireland over the last 10 years.
All that I have said about paramilitary violence from the Republican side applies equally to those sick and twisted people who claim to murder in the name of the Union and who are willing to put to death people who simply have a different religion from their own.
Unionist politicians often say that it is impossible to sit down with those in the Province who do not accept as permanent the link between Northern Ireland and Britain. We have heard today from both sides of the Unionist divide that those who do not accept the Union are not the sort of politicians whom it is possible to be with in government and administration. They should note that the Labour Party, one of the two main parties in this country, now accepts Irish unity as a long-term objective. A document approved at last year's Labour Party Conference says:our aim is to bring about the unification of Ireland by agreement and consent between the two parts of Ireland.The document also says that there is a need for greater unity between and within the working class in Northern Ireland. There are those who constantly criticise class politics in Britain, and say how unfortunate it is that people vote according to class labels. When we consider the alternative in Northern Ireland, where people vote not according to class but because of their religion, their background and so on, we see the advantage of having the kind of class politics that exist on the mainland.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Patten)
We are debating the White Paper and not the Labour Party's policy document, which I have read. The hon. Gentleman skated quickly over how unity was to be brought about by consent. Has he any time span for that consent to be achieved?
§ Mr. Winnick
What is required is a recognition that Ireland should be united. It would greatly help the process of such unification if the Government, with their long history of involvement in Northern Ireland—that is why 920 their party is called the Conservative and Unionist Party—took the same position as we do. It would make the transition to a united Ireland that much easier. But I suppose that the Government are not willing to adopt that position.
I have argued that the proposals in the White Paper are not realistic. Even if they came about, they would not help to stabilise the position in the Province. One may fairly ask "What is the alternative?" The Minister asked how unity should be brought about. When people say that it is essential to have the consent of the majority in the North, it is important to bear in mind what was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), that when Ireland was divided there was no consent from the majority of people in Ireland. No one said "Let us have an election to decide whether Ireland should be divided", nor was there any arrangement to obtain the consent of the people in the counties that were part of traditional Ulster but who were excluded, for reasons explained by the hon. Gentleman. They were not asked in 1918–20 whether they wanted to be excluded from Ulster. It is important to bear in mind the background.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not read enough Irish history. The Dail took a vote and agreed the boundary by a majority, as did this House and the Northern Ireland Parliament. They signed a tripartite agreement that was then lodged with the League of Nations, and now with the United Nations.
§ Mr. Winnick
The boundary was accepted after it had been brought into being, but there was no question of seeking the consent of the Irish people at the time to having the arrangement which led to the Six Counties. It was six not nine, so that there would be an inbuilt majority for the Unionists whereby it would be virtually impossible to bring about unification by consent.
I should prefer the continuation of the present arrangement—direct rule in its present shape—rather than our bringing about an Assembly simply for the sake of creating one that is not likely to get off the ground. I also believe that what happened as a result of the Sunningdale agreement, the power-sharing Executive, should be brought back on to the agenda. Somewhat surprisingly, or perhaps not so, Unionist politicians, who always proclaim their loyalty to the Union, decided to destroy what Parliament had agreed to. The power-sharing Executive was the only way in which two communities that were torn apart by all types of sectarianism and by what happened in the past were able to work together properly. It may be asked whether a power-sharing executive would undermine violence. Of course, the provisional IRA may not wish to see it succeed. We understand the reasons for that. But to the extent that a power-sharing Executive would win the support of most of the minority community, there would be a chance, never of course a guarantee—we all understand why—that it would undermine terrorist violence.
Terrorism succeeds as it does in Northern Ireland because it is able to convince a good number of the minority community that they are the only supporters of that minority community. That is what we must undermine. We must gain the consent of the minority community in the absence of the unification of Ireland. There is no alternative to a power-sharing Executive.
921 I shall be brief, to give the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) the opportunity to make his speech.
We should await a proper opportunity for a power-sharing Executive to return. For reasons that we understand, I do not believe that the Government will be willing to do that. We should try to bring back a power-sharing Executive at the appropriate time. We do not want a repeat of 1974. It would be pointless to reintroduce a power-sharing Executive to see it similarly destroyed. We should say in advance that if such an Executive is agreed to by the British Parliament, we expect to see it implemented as are other laws in the United Kingdom.
If a power-sharing Executive, duly agreed to by the British Parliament and with the warning that I have suggested, is destroyed undemocratically, as it was in 1974, Britain should state that there is no way that we can bring forward an agreement that is acceptable to both communities. In those circumstances, we should attempt to work out as quickly as possible a satisfactory arrangement with the Irish Republic—perhaps even with the United Nations—about the future of the Province. Working on the basis of what I hope not to see, if a power-sharing Executive were again destroyed, the matter should be put to the British people as a whole in the form of a referendum. I am not the greatest enthusiast of referendums. Nor am Ian enthusiast of continuing with the present state in Northern Ireland for the next five, 10 or 15 years.
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was one of the first to speak in the debate. He explained to the House many of the problems that he faced when he took office. Listening to the disagreements about what the Government are proposing, I am anxious about failing to take steps that are likely to lead to a solution of the grave crisis in the Province, a crisis that I do not believe can continue indefinitely.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
It must be disappointing for the Secretary of State, having entered upon his duties in Northern Ireland with so much determination, with so much good will and with such hopes, to find the result of his work in these months of office rejected—for that is what it amounts to—by virtually all of those to whom his proposals would apply.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot avoid that—it has been reinforced rather than weakened by the general course of the debate—by the common and facile reflection that, if everyone is against him, he is somewhere in the middle and therefore may probably be right. That may be so in matters of judgment and estimation; but it cannot be an attractive prospect for the right hon. Gentleman that those who would be expected to use and to work the opportunity that he is offering them in the White Paper have, almost without exception, rejected it as impracticable and undesirable.
The right hon. Gentleman need not be too hard with himself, however. He was attempting the impossible and it was no discredit to him if he failed. By "the impossible" I do not mean something that is so very difficult as to be almost impossible. I mean something that is inherently impossible by the nature of things as they are. What I largely wish to do in my speech is to explain to the right 922 hon. Gentleman why I believe that the task to which he set his hand was impossible in this form and why it was bound to be received as it has been.
The impossibility arises from an in-built contradiction in the behaviour of successive Governments of this country towards Ulster—a contradiction not without parallels, although I shall not overstress the parallel that is present to our minds. We assured the people of the Falkland Islands that there should be no change in their status without their agreement. Yet at the very same time that those assurances were being repeated, the actions of the Government and their representatives elsewhere were belying or contradicting those assurances and showing that part at any rate of the Government was looking to a very different outcome that could not be approved by the people of the islands.
Essentially, exactly the same has happened over the years to Northern Ireland. After the First World War, it became clear to almost everyone concerned that the northeast of the island could not and would not participate in the form of home rule that Parliament had enacted for the island as a whole. In those circumstances, the people of the north-east were given the assurance that their position in the United Kingdom and their status as United Kingdom citizens, to which they clung unmistakably and passionately, would be maintained as long as that was their desire.
It was indeed an assurance that no Government could fail to give, as no United Kingdom Government can say to a part of the United Kingdom "You shall be detached from the United Kingdom whether or not most of you wish that to be so". Yet side by side with that inevitable, axiomatic assurance to the people of Northern Ireland, Parliament and Government proceeded in 1920 to set up in the north-east of the island a carbon copy of the home rule legislated for Ireland in 1912.
By imposing—the word is not too much of an exaggeration—that system upon the people of the northeast of the island who wished nothing more than to continue as full citizens of the United Kingdom, the Government in 1920 brought about three fateful results, most of which were still reverberating in the debate today.
First, they created—for, naturally, the constitution was on the Westminister model—a contradiction to the democratic principle, namely, a democratic State in which there could be no foreseeable change in the party structure of government. As Northern Ireland was treated as a separate entity, all other political questions and alignments fell into insignificance compared with the question "For or against the Union". For practical purposes, the other political parties disappeared: the only political issue was pro- or anti-Union. In the State so created, it was not foreseeable that there could be any alternation or change in political composition of the Government of Northern Ireland. Thus an insoluble problem, a contradiction of the democratic principle, was created in 1920. But something else happened, too.
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), in a very perceptive speech, pointed out what few people understand to be the most severe of the problems of what is called direct rule. The severest problem is not legislation by Order in Council instead of by Bill. That is bad enough. It is not even the absence of local government as we know it in Great Britain, although that is worse. It is the fact that the party political structure of Northern Ireland differs from the party political structure of the rest of the United 923 Kingdom. That has the direct effect, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, that hon. Members sent here by the political parties of Northern Ireland are not available to serve in Governments of either complexion, either in the Northern Ireland or any other office.
However, there was a deeper effect still upon the people at home and their outlook. When, in the county of Durham, the Conservative minority contemplates the fact that it is unlikely to return a majority of Members to this House—or vice versa in Hampshire—it feels no estrangement as a result, because it identifies itself with the cause of the Labour Party, or the Conservative Party as the case may be, throughout the nation. If it dislikes the Government of the day, it can say "Never mind; we only have to wait a couple of years and we shall see those fellows off'. There was no such participation for Northern Ireland after 1920. It did not have the essence of the parliamentary process of this country, which makes parliamentary democracy workable—an overall, national party system.
That was the form of separation, that was the contradiction to the principle of the Union, under which Northern Ireland lived until the end of the 1960s. At the end of the 1960s, the system, whether by reason of its inherent contradictions—as some believed—or otherwise, began to break down. It ended with those horrible three years in which the shadow of responsibility still resided in Stormont and real responsibility had come back to this House. The House then had to face the reality of responsibility which it had always claimed constitutionally. It had to decide how to exercise that responsibility and especially how it would exercise, as it does throughout the United Kingdom, its responsibility to minorities.
But there had been a change in the scene since 1920. There was another player at the table, another partner in the game. It was not simply that the Irish Free State, later the Irish Republic, claimed the territory and the population of Northern Ireland. The United States of America was now interested in Northern Ireland in the context of its global strategy and the importance of that island to the general defence of the West.
In 1972–73, probably under the influence of those pressures, the House reached a paradoxical decision. Having destroyed and abolished the 1920 constitution in which it, rightly or wrongly, saw many of the reasons that had brought about the necessity for its intervention in Northern Ireland, the House proceeded to attempt to create another separate constitution for Northern Ireland, but one which would deal with the inherent problem of the absence of possibility of a change in the party political complexion of government. In short, the House devised the contradictory notion of a power-sharing, democratic Government—an Executive which should be responsible to an elected body, but only upon condition that those who had been elected in a minority should have equally effective power and control with those who had been elected in a majority.
It was not a system that could survive, since it was so crass a contradiction of the whole principle of elections that those who elected members to a representative Assembly should be obliged to accept the opposite consequences to those which they had intended by their votes. It was a system in which the principle of decision by majority—which, after all, lies at the foundation of all 924 democratic government—had been deliberately bypassed. What was worse and more dangerous was that this contradiction had been introduced for the sake of providing a representative place in office for those whose object was incompatible with that of the majority—those, namely, who were elected to say that Northern Ireland ought not to be part of the United Kingdom at all.
Often in these debates we misdirect ourselves by the terminology of the "communities" in Northern Ireland. When we talk politics, as we do when we discuss constitutions, we are not talking about Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics. When we talk politics we are talking about those who are elected to maintain and those who are elected to destroy the Union. Of course the latter have a right to that opinion; but that is what they are in politics for, that is what they seek votes for, that is what they are elected for by those who elect them.
§ Mr. Winnick
I do not understand the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's position. Does he not agree that it is possible for politicians in Northern Ireland to say, in effect, that as a long-term objective Irish unity is desirable? But if the politicians make it clear that they are totally opposed to violence—clearly they must win consent within the community in Northern Ireland and from the British Government—why should it be so wrong, so illegitimate, for Unionist politicians to negotiate and be in Government, as the case may be, in a power-sharing Executive with those who have the right to believe in Irish unity?
§ Mr. Powell
One answer might be that they ought to do what they were elected for respectively and what they said to their electors when they were elected. That is to say, they ought to use their elected position in order to achieve the aim for which their party exists.
But I sometimes think of the grotesque result that we would have if we attempted to apply to the House and the United Kingdom some of the principles that we attempt to apply to Ulster—if we said there should be no Government in this country, no Executive, unless the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) could go hand in hand. Now the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) would say "Of coure they have certain differences, but surely," he might argue, "there are matters on which they ought to go hand in hand together".
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member says that there is no comparison. However, look at it from the point of view of Northern Ireland and of those who are asked to elect a representative Assembly in order that they may be governed, separately from the rest of the United Kingdom, by persons responsible to that Assembly, but who then find that the basis of the constitution is going to be that those who accept and those who reject the Union, those who exist to maintain and those who exist to demolish it, are put in a position of equipoise.
It was perfectly foreseeable that the 1973 Act would not work. It did not work. We have the evidence of the then Secretary of State that it was not the workers' strike or anything of that nature that caused it not to work. It was its inherent unworkability, and he has gone on record to that effect over and over again.
925 Now, after a lapse of nine years, the present Secretary of State is to revive that Act. Let there be no misunderstanding; this is the 1973 Act—I have been guilty of calling it the Heath-Robinson Act—and the changes that the right hon. Gentleman is making in that Act will not reduce its inherent handicaps.
The notion that one will begin with an Assembly with no responsibilities and work up gradually to an Executive, some of whose members are responsible in one direction and some in another, only adds a new nightmare on top of the old. It is absolutely asking for what has been predicted repeatedly in this debate, that such an institution will become a focus not of co-operation or mutual understanding but of a sharpening of differences, a focus of alienation between the people of the Province and the Government of the United Kingdom, which, after all, carries the ultimate sovereign responsibility.
The Opposition are not here in a position of any great advantage over the Government. They also have at the heart of their policy the canker of an in-built contradiction. They too make incompatible statements. They say that the north-east should be politically united with the rest of the island of Ireland but that this should happen only through the consent of the people of the north-east. That is a funny way to go about matters—to say, "We think it should be for you to decide, but the following is what you ought to decide". I believe Henry Ford once had a prescription on those lines; what is proposed by Her Majesty's Opposition might be called the T-model constitution.
The Labour Party makes matters still worse by first announcing that its policy depends on consent and then refusing to do anything to secure that consent in the same way as it conducts its business in the rest of politics, namely, by talking to people and giving them the opportunity to express themselves through the ordinary political mechanism.
I remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, almost exactly nine years ago standing in this House—it was on the Government side—and saying that not only would the 1973 Act not survive but that the attempt to put it into operation would be disastrous in its repercussions and would leave things far worse than its absence would have done. In 1982, I say that again to the Government. I beg them now, as I begged the Conservative Party then, not to engage in a piece of constitution-mongering that is self-evidently impracticable and self-destructive; but there is an additional weight at this moment to my plea.
Surely, at a time when we are in what—apart from technicalities—is a state of war, whatever the controversial matters that have to be transacted in these weeks, the Government and the House do not want to spend part of their time in imposing upon part of the United Kingdom a system that virtually all its spokesmen reject, the unworkability of which is manifest, and the consequences of which would leave the Province worse off than before the attempt was made. I cannot believe that the Government will do that thing.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
I can reassure the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that not only can the Labour Party work for the consent that we seek but that the talking has already begun. I have taken part in that process together with my right hon. Friend the 926 Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) on a number of visits to Northern Ireland. I am sure in my mind that over a period of time it will be successful.
Today, the House has endeavoured to carry out its duty to the people of Northern Ireland. It has acquitted itself well. It is the duty of hon. Members to study carefully and with great consideration our response to the Secretary of State's proposals to try to create a more politically stable situation in Northern Ireland. Any such attempt must not only be considered carefully by the House but by the parties in Northern Ireland. The people of Britain will expect that of the parties in Northern Ireland.
The long drawn out agony of the people of Northern Ireland goes back to long before 1969. We should not let ourselves forget that. It might have become more acute and pertinent on the front pages of our newspapers in recent years, but it is a problem that has been underlying the political structure of the United Kingdom for some years. It has done damage not only to the people of Northern Ireland but to the people, political structures and institutions of Southern Ireland. It has also damaged the political structures and institutions and the civil rights of the United Kingdom. That must be a matter of serious concern. For that reason, any proposal by any Secretary of State must be given careful consideration.
The White Paper, in page 5, acknowledges that the difference in identity and aspirations fo the two cultures in Northern Ireland is a critical underlying problem. It is a problem that we cannot afford to let ourselves forget. The Labour Party now has a policy of a united Ireland by consent, but it also recognises the problem. It is one of the reasons why it talks of consent. It is not just that the Labour Party believes in governing by consent. We know that to try to force 1 million people, against their wishes, into another political unit of 5 million people would not work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) drew our attention to the importance of the aim of a united Ireland. He observed that in the short term we needed direct rule, but that we had to try for some form of devolved government. Whatever solution anybody wants for Northern Ireland, we have to recognise that there is a need for some sort of local government that has direct connections with the people of the Province and is seen by them as being relevant and fair. That is, I presume—and I am sure that I am right in making this presumption—what the Government are trying to achieve.
The Government have tried to find a common starting point. It may be, as the right hon. Member for Down, South said, that they have met much hostility and criticism from many of the parties to which the proposals are directed. I note from some of the comments made by the Unionist parties in the House that they have not completely rejected the proposals. They must give the proposals careful consideration. If they do not, the people of Britain will have to consider their view of the proposals. It is a matter that affects us as well as the people of Northern Ireland. It is the desperate attempt to try to make a political system in Northern Ireland work, and work to the satisfaction of the two cultures, that is our main task. That is why we wish to give the Secretary of State's White Paper a chance to succeed. To do otherwise would be less than fair to the people of Northern Ireland.
A number of issues have been raised about the While Paper. Some of them I shall touch on; others have already 927 been dealt with. My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough and the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) referred to the powers of the presiding officer. Those powers are considerable. The relevant document here is not so much the White Paper as the Bill. Clause 4(b) relates to the powers that are given to the presiding officer. When we come to debate the Bill we shall have to look carefully at how those powers will be operated and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough said, how that person will be selected in the first instance. That is a point of considerable importance.
There is the question of what the White Paper callsScrutinising, Consultative and Deliberative Functions.Those are not enormous powers by any stretch of the imagination. If the House were limited only to those powers, we might feel frustrated. One of my worries is the Government's possible response to decisions by the Assembly, whether reached by the 70 per cent. or less than 70 per cent. formula. If the House, or the Government, chooses to reject a particular recommendation, especially if it is carried by a large majority in the Assembly, I should guess that the frustration of the Assembly would be considerable. The Members would begin to feel, as obviously the Members of the Official Unionist Party already feel, that it would be not "a Heath Robinson" but, in the more general term, "a con trick". We shall need to consider carefully how to react to the recommendations that come from any Assembly that is finally set up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) raised the difficult question of security. As always, the hon. Member for Armagh puts his experiences in a real and human way. He touched on the death of children as a result of plastic bullets. It will be difficult for a Member of that Assembly not to raise such issues.
When we come to debate the Bill which results from the White Paper, one of the things that the House might care to consider will be whether or not some use could be made of local discussions among police committees and local authorities. I am talking not about strategy—the overall control of security forces. I am sure that this will worry the Unionist parties, but if they want to discuss the security issue again, particularly in the area of Armagh, one of the things the House might want to consider is further discussion with the Irish Government about security issues across the border. I would not object to the House at some time giving consideration to, and discussing in depth, the possibility of an all-Ireland court. That is another way to deal with the paramilitary problem in Northern Ireland.
We must also consider the parliamentary control which will be influenced by the Assembly's decisions. I have already touched on that matter.
Financial control also gives me considerable cause for concern. We cannot separate the financial problems of Northern Ireland from the political problems. Reading the White Paper, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Assembly will have little real power when it comes to dealing with the financial matters of the Province. Yet we know that the economy is in a disastrous state. An odd situation is created here for the Right-wing of the Tory Party and for the official Unionists, too. The more one has the philosophy of free market economics operating in Northern Ireland, the more one will have a collapse of the 928 industrial base of that economy, and the greater will be the desire to link up with the South to make a common economic unit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West said, it is relevant that people who some years ago would never have dreamed of talking to people from the South about possible economic co-operation between companies and areas, are now doing just that. A few years ago they would have gone to the wall rather than do that. However, now they are talking. The reason that they are talking is the 20 per cent. rate of unemployment.
Unless the Assembly has some financial power to intervene in the economy of Northern Ireland, that economy will continue to collapse. I would also suggest, particularly to the Right-wing members of the Conservative Party, that the more that happens the greater will be the impetus towards a united Ireland. That is a good thing which I want to encourage. I also believe that it will work equally well in a planned economy. The problem for the Right wing of the Conservative Party is that one can organise a planned economy according to existing borders. If one has a free market economy, one cannot. The borders will become increasingly irrelevant. I prefer an economy planned in such a way as to make the border increasingly irrelevant. The problem for the Right wing of the Tory Party is that, if it does not go for planning, that border will go sooner or later. It must face that issue at some stage. I should be interested to hear its conclusion and that of the right hon. Member for Down, South. I suspect that there might be a slight contradiction in their basic assumptions.
I shall risk the possibly heretical statement that it is not only the violence that has led to a lack of investment in Northern Ireland. I put it higher than that. Violence is probably not the major factor. Many other areas of the world face violence and political instability but do better in terms of investment than Northern Ireland. An Assembly would have to consider whether the financial policies are right for that area. At present, I have no doubt that the answer is "No", because the Government are imposing an economic policy on Northern Ireland that is not only nonsense in United Kingdom terms, but is dangerous nonsense for Northern Ireland.
Perhaps the most regrettable factor about the White Paper is that only three paragraphs touch on the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. The House should discuss soon and in great depth our plans to extend that council. I should not be satisfied with a continuation of the existing in camera talks that now take place. There is an all-Ireland dimension to the problem. Whether one likes it or not, and, whether one is a Unionist or a Republican, the Southern Irish Government are involved and are directly affected. Talks with them are necessary even at the level of the lowest common denominator of concern by both parties.
The long-term solution is along those lines, partly because Britain has often mistakenly assumed that the problem somehow exists for Northern Ireland alone. I repeat that there is nothing wrong with the people of Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. I deprecate the jokes and comments made about the people of those two areas. They are said to be unable to govern themselves. It is said that they do not know what they believe in, but that by God they are prepared to fight for it. I deprecate all such comments and phrases.
The problem in Northern Ireland is that there is an excess of negative power in the various political parties and groups involved and a lack of positive power. The 929 people of Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland are no less capable of governing themselves than the people of Britain, France, the United States of America, China or anywhere else. It is a political problem that requires a political solution.
The problem for both the Right wing of the Tory Party and the Official Unionist Party is that they believe—rightly or wrongly—that the Secretary of State's proposals will lead to a united Ireland. I think that the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) expressed that fear most clearly, but it was also expressed by several hon. Members. That is clearly the fear of the Official Unionist Party, and perhaps in a different way, of the Democratic Unionist Party. I can see the logic of that. If it is assumed that Northern Ireland will always be part of the United Kingdom, anything that treats Northern Ireland significantly differently and, above all, involves discussions with the Southern Ireland Government will call into question in some way the legitimacy of that political unit.
Several Opposition Members agree with me that that political unit is in trouble and has been in trouble since the drawing up of the border. We tend to think that the problem began in 1969. It did not. When I did my National Service in the 1950s, I had to guard air bases against the IRA. I was sent to Belfast and told not to go into certain areas in uniform and not to talk about the Royal Family. The problem has been with us since 1920. It is a real problem and goes much deeper than 1969. The Right wing of the Conservative Party and the Official Unionists may be worried, but they must accept that the view is growing that there must be a united Ireland by consent.
Fears of covert Irish unity, covert in the sense that the Government are trying to bring it about by trickery, are exaggerated. But economic and political events are pushing us in the direction indicated by the Labour Party.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that violence should be put down by "might and main". In effect, he suggests that violence should be put down with violence. That very rarely works. Some years ago, when I visited Northern Ireland on the first of my political trips, I was told by a Unionist that the arrest of only 11 or 12 people would lead to the end of violence. I do not know whether that theory is still around. It always struck me as a bizarre theory. I doubt whether there is or ever has been any truth in it. The problem is that the divisions are so deep that people on both sides of the community are prepared to support paramilitary organisations. When the hon. Member for Antrim, North condemns the IRA, I wish that he would also condemn with equal ferocity, with equal frequency and with equal force the activities of the paramilitary organisations on the other side. It is not a one-sided equation. Over the years, the killing and injuries rates on both sides come very close at times. The problem must be recognised. It is not one-sided and never has been.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) who spoke for the SDP. Recent contributions from the SDP have not always been on the lines that Members were expecting. We heard a number of positive suggestions but I should like to ask the SDP two questions. We would like to hear sooner or later, and preferably sooner, whether the SDP is in favour of a united Ireland by consent, or is it in favour of continuing the present arrangements in one form or another? Perhaps more important, because the SDP touched on it, what role 930 does it see for the European Community in this matter? I agree with what the right Lady said about money coming from the EEC, and the Government pocketing about £200 million of it. I have great sympathy with that view. Her suggestions were positive and useful, but does she see it as a political involvement also in the hope that the EEC can step in and sort out the matter for us?
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
I shall not respond to the hon. Gentleman at length. I would point out to him that I tried to set out what I thought would be a functional arrangement within the scope of the EEC. It would be helpful if he would now say what the Labour Party view is.
§ Mr. Soley
The Labour Party view would be very clear. I have no complaints about economic involvement while we are within the EEC, but on the political side—the right hon. Lady must give us her views on this—I believe strongly that Britain must solve this problem with Ireland because it is a problem for Britain and Ireland. The SDP seems to be hinting, not so much in the right hon. Lady's comments as in the comments of other SDP Members, that it wishes to extend the "family" problem into a "whole street" problem. The SDP suggests that because we cannot solve the problem within the family, we will bring in the whole street and ask it to sort the problem out. That seems to be the SDP message. The SDP must be clearer titan that because unless it is prepared to state the position, it will be accused, yet again, of ducking the issue. The Labour Party view is clear. We want a united Ireland by consent. That is the road that we must go down. I hope that we shall be able to move down it partly as a result of the White Paper.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
We have had an interesting, sometimes, not surprisingly, controversial but generally constructive debate on the White Paper. Despite the doom-laden prognostications of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), the Government will be proceeding with their plans and with the Bill, which has already been published.
I add my welcome to the return of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). I am never sure just how long he will stay in any one place, but we are delighted that he is back on the Front Bench. We look forward to working with him on the Bill and on many of the detailed points which he raised in his speech.
Before I deal with some of the points and themes that have been mentioned in the debate, I shall briefly reiterate the thinking and reasoning that have led the Government to set their hand to yet another effort to restore devolved government to Northern Ireland. To listen to some of the speeches that have been made today, some might think and assert that the Government were ignoring the Prayer Book's advice to those undertaking matrimony and were embarking upon this enterprise "unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly". Nothing could be further from the truth. We are treading this road after intense consultation, mature reflection and an immense amount of thought and work.
The Government are convinced, and remain convinced. that, despite the difficulties and obstacles which have been mentioned in the debate, and which we acknowledge, the approach set out in the White Paper is the best chance we 931 have of restoring to Northern Ireland the basis for longterm political stability and the other advantages which would flow from that stability.
We certainly acknowledge that as the years have passed, as other efforts have failed, as the mutually contradictory claims of those who speak for the two communities have become more entrenched, this task has not become more easy.
However, we are absolutely convinced of the vital need now to take the first steps in a cautious and responsible way to seek to break the deadlock. I emphasise that, in our view, despite the formidable problems and difficulties involved, no responsible Government today could stand aside and do nothing. Doing nothing suggests that there is a stable and satisfactory situation in Northern Ireland. It assumes that the political climate, the economic prospects and the security situation will not get any worse. But this is not an analysis which the Government can accept.
It is our firm belief that the problems of the economy, security and the political deadlock in Northern Ireland are linked and must be tackled together. My right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) used the analogy of the three strands of a piece of rope. It is quite unrealistic to imagine that effective and lasting progress can be made on any of these fronts if one of them is neglected. It would be equally unrealistic to imagine that the necessary longterm stability could be established, unless the political deadlock in the Province can be overcome and eventually broken. Without long-term stability, we shall find it very hard to make significant progress on the economy or security.
I am not claiming that simply by political advance one can solve automatically the security problem or transform the economic situation, but I believe that political advance is a precondition for movement on those fronts. We cannot be negative. If we were to be negative, we would be accepting that we should do nothing to end the political deadlock in the Province. It would mean accepting that we should carry on with an unstable and in many ways deteriorating situation. It would mean continuing with a position in which the extremes have increasing scope to dominate the political scene. My hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) and Petersfield (Mr. Mates) made that point extremely effectively.
Criticisms have been made—mainly outside the House—that the White Paper, in the modern idiom, has "rubbished" direct rule. I apologise for that inelegant phrase, but that is the way in which it has been put. I completely reject that criticism. Direct rule has served Northern Ireland well and better than many ever dared hope. Direct rule has lasted a great deal longer than was envisaged when it was introduced. That in part is. a testimony to the good and impartial administration that has been provided, but we must face the basic fact that direct rule is based on the premise that it is a temporary arrangement. The other side of the direct rule coin is the understanding that the Government would make every effort and work ceaselessly to restore a permanent system of devolved government to the Province.
For us to say now that there is no point in trying to make a start would have widespread ramifications. We would have knocked away one of the props on which direct rule has been based. We would be committed to inaction and 932 the result would be to prolong greater uncertainty about the long-term future of the Province. That would be damaging to both the security and the economy of the Province.
We can always say that the time is not quite right and find excuses for not proceeding with ideas to secure devolved government. However, a start has to be made. We see no overriding reason for delay, and we say that the process should start now.
It has been made clear that we are basing our proposals on a framework that can be built upon by the people of Northern Ireland and their political leaders, not a blueprint to be imposed by the Government at Westminster. We aim for maximum flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of the Province.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
Before the Minister leaves the framework, can he see any way in which the process of devolving functions can be so linked to the process of setting up the Assembly that the danger of having a talking shop with no functions can be averted?
§ Mr. Scott
I do not think so. My feeling is that we need the Assembly first, and then the Assembly can take on the work of the arrangements for devolved government. That is the kernel of the idea that we are putting before the House. That has to happen first. Incidentally, I do not dismiss the Assembly in its original state as a mere talking shop. It will have useful and effective work to do. It is hoped that by tackling that work the Members of the Assembly will learn to work together and will then be better able to tackle devolved government when that is possible.
I refer first to the speech of the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), who has had ministerial responsibility in Northern Ireland. He spelt out for the first time the future policy of the Labour Party on Northern Ireland. I hope that he will not mind if I say that he was being slightly hypothetical. We shall see whether we ever get to the stage at which that policy is introduced. He and the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) made a great deal of play, as they normally do, about Government economic policy and its effect on Northern Ireland.
Whatever one's view on the overall effect of Government economic policy, to maintain that it is responsible for the special difficulties of Northern Ireland is to distort the situation. The additional problems of world recession, Northern Ireland being on the periphery of this country and the European Community and, in particular, the drastic input of the recession and the lack of inward investment caused, for example, by the problem of security, all add to the difficulties of the Province.
However, the Government have presided over policies which mean that, of the gross domestic product in Northern Ireland, 78 per cent. is public expenditure compared with 44 per cent. in Great Britain, and per capita public expenditure is 40 per cent. higher in the Province than in Great Britain. Only today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a £47.6 million subsidy for Harland and Wolff for 1982–83. The Government cannot be accused of undermining the economy of Northern Ireland when major efforts are being made to sustain it.
§ Mr. Concannon
We have not said that this is the only course. We had some difficulties as well between 1974 and 933 1979, but that did not stop us pursuing this course. Even though we had problems during that period, we had some success.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that the impact of public expenditure in Northern Ireland is more in percentage terms that it is here. Thus, if there is a public expenditure cut in Northern Ireland, which is what I think the hon. Gentleman is admitting, this has a far greater effect on Northern Ireland than on the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Scott
Under this Government, as under previous Governments, special consideration has always been given to the extra needs of Northern Ireland. Extra expenditure of about £90 million has been found in the last financial year for those needs. I think that we are entitled to credit where credit is due.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to ask whether the Assembly will vote when it has its scrutinising role before powers are devolved. It will certainly be free to vote. Under direct rule, responsibility will rest with the House and the Secretary of State, but both will be interested to know what votes take place in the Assembly. The right hon. Gentleman said that, at the end of the day, the devolution decision must be made by the House.
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) spoke about the 70 per cent. vote that is necessary for proposals to come automatically from the Assembly to the House. I do not want to mislead the House. The final decision for either partial or total devolution will rest with the House, It will examine the percentages and the evidence of cross-community support.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
By what method are the Government planning to bring the issue before the House? Will they provide good notice and reports, or will the issue be brought before it late at night when it is not well attended?
§ Mr. Scott
The time at which the issue is brought before the House is not a matter for me. However, there would be two debates. The Assembly would report and its report would be brought to the House to be debated. The views expressed in that debate would be listened to and taken into account. An Order in Council would then bring the process into effect. I do not think that there will be any lack of debate on the proposals when they come before the House.
Will a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland be retained after devolution? The answer is "Yes". The Secretary of State's responsibilities would be retained under both partial and complete devolution because he would continue to be responsible for excepted and reserved matters. The matters that are devolved will become the responsibility of the devolved Administration and Assembly. Westminster will retain the right to bring devolution to an end if we reach such a situation. It will have a continuing role in the total financing of Northern Ireland. We cannot have it both ways. Either we devolve responsibility for the various Departments to Northern Ireland or we retain control at Westminster. We cannot have it both ways at the same time.
I mention briefly the notable contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, who was such a distinguished Secretary of State for the Province and who bore the major burden of administration in the Province during the terrible burdensome time of the hunger strike. 934 My right hon. Friend reminded us that the people of Northern Ireland have the same housing, job and education aspirations as the citizens of the rest of the United Kingdom but have been denied a political system that gives them the opportunity to influence decisions over those matters while direct rule has been in operation. He, like many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, was anxious that we should move as soon as possible to a proper system of devolved government.
My right hon. Friend paid a great tribute to the people of Northern Ireland. Anyone who has served there as a Minister knows of their welcome, their many qualities, and their courage in sustaining their community against the attacks of which my right hon. Friend spoke. My right hon. Friend mentioned the lord mayor of a British city and his unwillingness initially to go to Northern Ireland. I have had that experience and I expect that other Northern Ireland Ministers have had it in their time.
Not long ago I met a party of American journalists who had been in the Republic. They travelled up to the North but only half of them dared to cross the border because of their perception of the dangers in the North. When we consider the impact that that perception of Northern Ireland has on potential investors, for example, despite the attractions of the Province, we realise how important it is to change the perception of the security and political situations. They are extremely important aspects in the perception of so many.
I agree with my right hon. Friends that we should not continue to have a succession of Ministers arriving as comparative strangers to Northern Ireland, seeking to get to grips with that section of the United Kingdom, and then being replaced. The sooner that the men and women of Northern Ireland have responsibility and can achieve power and influence over their own affairs, the better.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) seemed to imply that Ministers would be unwilling to appear before the Assembly or to co-operate with its committees. Nothing could be further from the truth. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) described the Assembly as a dock in which Ministers would go to face accusations from representatives of the Northern Ireland community. My right hon. Friend was a doughty fighter in any job that he had in Government, and we should not be in politics if we are not prepared to go into the dock or to stand before whatever Assembly represents the interests of the Province, or anywhere else, to defend our policies. So there is no question that Ministers will be other than willing and keen to co-operate with the Assembly and with its committees, but I have to say to the hon. Member for Antrim, South that his argument was undermined by his constant reiteration of the ludricous conspiracy theory of which someone has managed to persuade him.
The conspiracy of which we were accused—to keep Northen Ireland different—was responded to in fairly vigorous terms by his neighbour in Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who emphasised many of the pluses of the differences in Northern Ireland. I leave it to the House to decide whether the depth of the sectarian divide, the basis of the political parties in Northen Ireland, the violence that they have endured and the history and geography of the Province make it different from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The part of the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, South that I found most offensive, if I followed him 935 properly, was his suggestion that 2,000 deaths in Northern Ireland have been due to political experiments by the British Government, when the reality is that the British Government and the British people have committed troops and money and made commitments in every way to help the Province through these appallingly difficult times.
I think that I have made clear to the House exactly the basis of the 70 per cent. point, but——
§ Mr. McCusker
The Minister says that it has to be 70 per cent. with cross-community support. Does that mean that, having achieved 70 per cent., there must be a place as of right for any particular group or individual, or group of individuals, within the 70 per cent.?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Surely it would be only fair to the Assembly for it to know, before it works for 70 per cent., what is really meant by cross-community support. It would be entirely unfair for the Assembly to come up with 70 per cent. and for this House then to say "That is not what we are looking for at all."
§ Mr. Scott
I shall be surprised if, in the passage of the Bill through the House, that subject is not aired very widely, and I think that what the criteria are likely to be will become very clear.
The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) referred to the presiding officer. This question is spelt out 936 clearly in the White Paper. The presiding officer will be responsible for the allocation of the chairmanships and the deputy chairmanships and for the membership of each committee. It will be spelt out in the Bill that in appointing them he will, as far as practicable, have to do it in proportion to party strength in the Assembly, and he is under a duty, before doing it, to consult the parties. There can be no question of a presiding officer acting in an arbitary or unfair manner. He will have to be elected by simple majority in the Assembly, but his constraints and his duties under the Bill will preclude him from being able to act in an arbitrary manner.
Security is a reserved power. It rests with the Chief Constable and the Police Authority but ultimately with the Secretary of State, who is answerable to this House. Of course it is true, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North said, that some local authorities may talk with security forces at a local level on an informal basis. The White Paper makes it clear that suitable arrangements for the discussion of security and for consultation with the Secretary of State will be made for the Assembly. Control of security, however, will not be on offer until a durable and stable system of devolved government has been established in the Province.
I can best sum up the proposals in the White Paper by quoting paragraph 4:The Government's proposals do not require any group in Northern Ireland to compromise its deeply held beliefs. They provide an opportunity for both sides to create a workable form of government in the interests of the common good and in the face of the urgency of the Province's problems.That is the opportunity that is before the people of Northern Ireland and their political representatives. I commend the White Paper to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Government's proposals contained in the White Paper, "Northern Ireland: A Framework for Devolution" (Cmnd. 8541).