§ 2.59 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR NORTHERN IRELAND (LORD WINDLESHAM) rose to move, That this House approves the White Paper on the Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals (Cmnd. 5259). The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking your Lordships to approve new constitutional proposals for Northern Ireland, I believe I am speaking not just for the Government, but for the House as a whole. We all want to see an end to the crisis and suffering in Northern Ireland. We all want to make whatever contribution we can to a solution. Few would argue that we should abandon our responsibilities, and fewer still—if any—would doubt the intractable and enduring nature of the problem. What we have to do, and what we have an opportunity to do to-day, is to stand back and appraise why it is that things are as they are in Northern Ireland, and how we can best work towards a better future.
§ In recent years, we have seen a calculated and violent assault on property, often resulting in death or in grave personal injuries to passers by. This has been coupled with the selective use of force against individuals. Northern Ireland has become accustomed to regular 1055 incidents of organised assassination, kidnapping, beating up, extortion of money and intimidation of many kinds. Since violence breeds violence extremists from both sides have become involved; the communities they claim to represent have been driven further and further apart; and many thousands of troops have been committed to assist the police and to prevent the total destruction of the social order. It is, I suppose, one of the most tragic episodes of the post-war age. Nothing like it has been seen before by an entire generation in this country which was too young to have taken part in the Second World War. If we are to learn anything of value from this terrible experience, it is that stable and peaceful societies, like all other human institutions, are fragile and delicate mechanisms which cannot be taken for granted.
§ Almost exactly a year ago (on March 24, 1972) the Government, with the full support of the Opposition—and indeed with the overwhelming support of a majority of both Houses of Parliament—decided that it was necessary to assume full and direct responsibility for the administration of Northern Ireland until a political solution to the problems of the Province could be worked out in consultation with those concerned. Since then there has been the conference at Darlington; the proposals of the Parties; the Paper for Discussion on the Future of Northern Ireland; extensive consultations at each stage; and now the statement of Government policy contained in the White Paper entitled Northern Ireland—Constitutional Proposals (Cmnd. 5259). Later to-day your Lordships will be asked to approve the extension of the Temporary Provisions Act under which direct rule has functioned for the last twelve months. It may be that your Lordships, after hearing this debate, will be willing to do so formally, although I shall be here for the rest of the day and will be ready to deal with any further matters which any noble Lord might wish to raise on the Extension Order. But our aim is to restore as quickly as possible elected representative institutions to Northern Ireland in which all sections of the community can have confidence. So it is to the White Paper, rather than to the continuation of direct rule, that I suggest we should turn our attention this afternoon.1056
§ I should begin by saying that the policies contained in the White Paper represent of course the considered policies of the Government as a whole, and not just the views of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and those Ministers who have some direct responsibility. Noble Lords will, I am sure, greatly look forward to the speech of the Lord Chancellor who will be winding up the debate from the Woolsack for the Government. We are fortunate that the debate has attracted two maiden speakers, and I know that the whole House will listen to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, a former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, with particular interest. There is one other Member of your Lordships' House who is deeply concerned with the affairs of Northern Ireland and who cannot take part to-day because of the office he holds. I refer to the Governor, Lord Grey of Naunton, whose distinguished services to Northern Ireland are acknowledged in the White Paper. I am sure that it would be the wish of your Lordships that we should take this opportunity to record our appreciation of the outstanding work that has been done by Lord and Lady Grey over a most difficult period.
§ Turning now to the White Paper itself, your Lordships will see that although it is not a particularly lengthy document, it contains both a set of specific constitutional proposals and a description of the conditions in which they are capable of being fulfilled. I shall not attempt to plough my way through all its contents for I am determined not to speak for too long. Instead I think it would be more helpful to concentrate on certain central features which are likely to be of particular interest to your Lordships.
§ First of all, the proposals for a settlement are contained squarely within the boundaries of the present area of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. The constitutional status of Northern Ireland now, as in the future, rests upon consent. It is because this is so that it is simply not realistic to contemplate any of the more extreme solutions that have been advanced. Diverse as these ideas are—whether an independent Ulster, or a United Ireland, or some form of condominium, or a complete integration with the United Kingdom—they share one feature in common: it is only 1057 too obvious that none of them is capable of commanding general consent. The Government's proposals, on the other hand, arise out of the intensive discussions which have been going on with the Parties, with a wide range of groups of every kind and with very many individuals in Northern Ireland over the last year. The proposals may not be perfect, but they are based on a judgment of the approach which is most likely to command the highest degree of general acceptability.
The division of society in Ulster shows itself in countless ways: in patterns of education, housing and employment; in general social attitudes and responses; and above all, perhaps, in attitudes towards history, culture and tradition. The cumulative effect of these results in the two communities in Northern Ireland being virtually insulated from each other. As the White Paper recognises in paragraphs 15 and 16:
…the solution to 'the Northern Ireland problem' is not to be found in any set of political proposals or institutions alone. However skilfully and fairly framed, these can do no more than provide opportunities which the people of Northern Ireland themselves may take or fail to take; and even with the utmost goodwill, the patterns of generations cannot be changed overnight.
The White Paper goes on to say in paragraph 16:
It would be impossible to devise a prescription for all the problems of Northern Ireland during a twelve-month period of direct rule. Many of the steps which remain to be taken will be for new Northern Ireland institutions, and many more will be outside the field of government altogether. There cannot be a 'governmental settlement', only a 'community settlement'; and its full achievement will be a matter of years. What can be done is to make a good start; to set off in the right direction.
§ My Lords, the right direction is the creation of greater confidence between the communities. This is a long process, and it can be achieved only on the basis of certain principles. The most important of these is that the people of Ulster—all the people—should feel that they are living under a fair system of government in which they and their elected representatives have an opportunity to take an effective part. Of course it is true that representatives of both sides of the community sat at Stormont, but it is a historical fact that for half a century one Party, representing one side of the community only, remained in power. 1058 Unlike the British Parliament on which it was so closely modelled, the Government remained continuously in office and the Opposition remained continuously in opposition. In the end, for a variety of reasons—and not all of them, by any means, to be laid at the door of the majority Party—the consent of a substantial section of the people was withdrawn from the institutions of government. That is why it is crucial in any new system that power should be shared.
§ It is, inevitably, of course, much easier to state this objective than to say how it will work in practice. In the White Paper we have outlined a framework. What is proposed is a legislative Assembly of about 80 members elected on the basis of the single transferable vote system of proportional representation; that such an Assembly should draw from its membership committees to take part in the deliberations and the decisions of Government; and that the chairman of these committees should be the political heads of departments, who collectively should form the Executive. I shall say more in a minute or two about the way in which the Executive is to be formed.
§ We have avoided going further than this. If the system of government is to be one which aims to secure the consent of the electorate in Northern Ireland, and takes a form which elected representatives are willing and able to work, it is vital that the newly-elected representatives are given the opportunity of taking part in devising their own constitutional procedures within the limits laid down by Statute. Because we believe it right that elected representatives themselves should determine to the greatest extent possible the way in which they would like to run the Assembly, we have deliberately confined ourselves in the White Paper to outlining certain underlying principles and have not attempted to set out the details.
The paragraphs of the White Paper (52 and 53) which relate to the formation of the Executive are particularly significant. Once an Assembly is elected, the Secretary of State will discuss with the leaders of the Parties represented in the Assembly how best to proceed towards the appointment of persons to be the Heads of Departments who together will form the Executive. These discussions will be undertaken so as to satisfy the
requirements contained in paragraph 52 of the White Paper that,
the Executive itself can no longer be solely based upon any single party, if that party draws its support and elected representation virtually entirely from only one section of a divided community".
§ There is, as your Lordships will have noticed, some flexibility in these proposals. All experience shows that it would be unwise (to say the least) to try to introduce any rigid system of government in Northern Ireland. Of course, it is possible that subversive or unconstructive elements may try to make any solution—this solution or any other—unworkable. But they will succeed in doing so only if they obtain the support of substantial numbers of people in the Province. When one pauses to think what both sides of the community have suffered from violence and aggressiveness and short-sighted self-interest in the past, and to compare that with the opportunities offered by a settlement on these lines, we can, I am sure, all agree that any leaders who might be tempted to wreck a settlement will have a great deal to answer for. The people of Northern Ireland know, as deep down we all do, that it takes little skill to destroy, whereas it calls for maturity and wisdom to operate machinery of government.
§ The noble Earl, Lord Longford, raised an important point last week when he asked what would be the position if, after devolution had taken place to a new Assembly and to an Executive which fulfilled the criteria in the White Paper, the system later broke down. Would the minority still be adequately safeguarded? I should preface my reply by saying that the Government are putting forward these proposals with the intention of seeing them work, and not seeing them fail: indeed the noble Earl expressed the same sentiment in his own question. No Constitution in itself can be proof against substantial numbers of people in a society who refuse to work it, either initially or later. What are needed are safeguards, and these, I can assure the noble Earl, will be built in. Although I cannot anticipate at this point the legislation which will be presented to Parliament shortly to implement these proposals, there is no room for doubt that, irrespective of what powers may be devolved on a regional law-making body 1060 and Executive in Northern Ireland in the future, such devolution will not in any way diminish the right of the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate for Northern Ireland, in just the same way as for any other part of the United Kingdom, and in relation to any matter whatever. Moreover, members of the Executive will continue to be appointed in the future by the Secretary of State and he will have to satisfy himself on each occasion that executive power is not concentrated in the hands of one community only.
§ My Lords, at the same time as bringing forward these constitutional proposals, the Government recognise the imperative necessity to counter, and to counter firmly and effectively, the continuing campaign of terrorism. The brunt of this task is borne by the security forces—police and Ulster Defence Regiment from Northern Ireland, and soldiers from Britain. To them, for their fortitude and endurance, many people in Ulster as well as here have good reason to be deeply grateful. Behind the security forces stands the law; the courts and any extrajudicial arrangements which may have been called for to meet exceptional circumstances. Noble Lords will remember that legal procedures to deal with terrorist activities in Northern Ireland were reviewed by a Commission under the Chairmanship of Lord Diplock at the end of last year. The noble and learned Lord and his colleagues worked extremely fast, as well as thoroughly, and the recommendations contained in their Report will be implemented in a Bill which it is hoped will be published very shortly.
§ As the White Paper explains in paragraphs 58 to 62, the Bill will, however, go wider than this, and will also repeal the Special Powers Act, substituting fresh provisions where they are judged to be absolutely essential. These measures, which will include the present Detention of Terrorists procedure, will have to be approved by Parliament. All the provisions of the new legislation, with minor exceptions, will be temporary in nature, lapsing after a period of time, unless Parliament agrees that they should be extended. Although some extra-judicial process of detention will still have to be retained to meet the requirements of the present situation—as Lord Diplock 1061 recognised in his Report—the legislation should result in more people being brought before the courts instead of being detained by Order of a commissioner. For this reason, as well as the fact that no departure can be made from normal judicial standards without undergoing the scrutiny and approval of Parliament, we can, I believe, claim—with some confidence—that these measures represent a move towards greater civil liberty in Northern Ireland, rather than in the other direction.
§ I do not want to end without referring to Part 4 of the White Paper, which is headed "A Charter of Human Rights". This is a subject which has been debated on a number of occasions in the past in your Lordships' House, usually at the instigation of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I shall listen with great interest to what the noble Lord has to say when he speaks in the debate later to-day to find out whether our proposals match up to his standards. The problem in Northern Ireland is to provide machinery to prevent sectarian discrimination, and to provide redress, if necessary, by a simple process. The proposals in the White Paper are therefore designed to prevent the Assembly or the Executive from any sectarian discrimination in the making of laws or in the exercise of executive powers. They are also designed to prevent Government Departments, local authorities and public bodies from abusing their powers; and to strengthen the existing machinery provided by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the Commissioner for Complaints and the Community Relations Commission, by setting up a Standing Advisory Commission to advise the Secretary of State on the effect and working of this machinery and ways in which it might be improved. At the same time, the Government have stated in paragraph 103 of the White Paper that when the Working Party considering the problem of discrimination in the private sector has completed its consultations and produced its final report, the Government will propose to Parliament comprehensive legislation in this field.
§ In case we get too cast down in considering the magnitude and difficulty of the task of trying to find an acceptable settlement, we might recall some words selected by Alistair Cooke to conclude 1062 that splendid television series "America". The quotation he chose was a reminder that constitutions are made to be argued about, not to impose a single doctrinaire view of life, and it came from one of the most quotable of all America's wise men, Oliver Wendell Holmes. "A constitution", said Mr. Justice Holmes, "is made for people of fundamentally differing opinions". That is something worth keeping in mind as we consider these proposals, and the contribution they can make towards building a more peaceful and a more stable society in Northern Ireland. My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
§ Moved, That this House approves the White Paper on the Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals (Cmnd. 5259). —(Lord Windlesham.)
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, this is perhaps the most important constitutional document that has come before us in the last 50 years—indeed, since the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which was an Act to provide for the better government of Ireland. Alas! though that may be true of the Republic of Ireland, the events of the last few years—and I make no criticism of the previous period—have shown that some of the aspirations of that earlier Act have not been fulfilled. It will not be possible for us to-day to ask all the many questions that must pose themselves in the minds of noble Lords who have closely followed the situation in Northern Ireland, but in due course when the legislation comes before us we shall need to go into these matters in a great deal of detail. I would therefore, in my opening remarks, echo the pleasure which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, expressed, that we are to have a maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, who carried a very heavy burden in Northern Ireland—I think few people realise just how heavy the burden of the premiership was—and from the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. We shall look forward with the greatest interest to hearing their views. May I, once again, echo the praise which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, expressed for the noble Lord, Lord Grey of Naunton. One of the messages which has consistently come out of Northern Ireland is the steadiness and wisdom which he 1063 has shown, and the only regret I have is that he himself having so much to contribute was not in the circumstances able to play a greater part. But we as a country are very grateful to him.
The Government are to-day asking both Houses of Parliament to approve the White Paper on the Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals and I wish, right at the beginning, to confirm that the official attitude of my Party, of the Opposition, is to support the Government. I would recommend that my colleagues on these Benches should give their support, and I should like briefly to say why. While, clearly, many of us on this side, and indeed throughout the House, may have reservations on particular aspects of the proposals, it is our firm view that it is now for the people of Northern Ireland to decide whether peace with justice can be brought to that troubled land, or whether the downward drift to chaos, and perhaps in the end open civil war, is to continue. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made clear, it is the essence of the situation that no set of proposals can be acceptable to everyone. But it is also fair to say that these proposals have had a better response in Northern Ireland, and indeed elsewhere—including the Republic—than many of us, including the Government, at one time dared to hope. While, therefore, the proposals are the responsibility of the Government, and they must carry that responsibility, it is right to recognise that, on the whole, the national interest has demanded over the last five years that Governments of opposite Parties in this country should operate in the knowledge that there was a broad consensus—let us, frankly, call it a bi-partisan approach. We all share the same desire to see democratic processes in Northern Ireland based on consent, and we recognise that no Government of the United Kingdom, unless it is prepared to withdraw from its responsibilities, can just bow to violence from whatever side it may come.
Looking back over the events of the Government's handling of the situation over the last two or three years, we can, if we want, find plenty to criticise. But it is the present situation with which we are concerned and it is therefore right that, as I hope, Parliament gives strong support to the proposals, coupled with 1064 the very strongest recommendation that the people of Northern Ireland should give them a try. And let no one think that these proposals—and this is a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham—cannot be nullified, or that, even if there is a promising start, there will be a need for anything other than a sustained willingness on the part of all Parties in Northern Ireland to seek to make the machinery work. The fact that some may set out to demonstrate that these proposals are unworkable does not mean that they are inherently unworkable; merely that if certain people are determined that they shall not work then they probably will not. But this must be true of all democratic machinery, whether here or in any other country, which depends upon acceptance, by an overwhelming majority of the people in a democratic community, of the fact that they must achieve aims that they feel to be right—and may, indeed, be right—within the limits that democracy imposes upon them. So I must emphasise—and I think it is right that we in this House should emphasise this point—that the politics of abstention or outright obstruction, even if there is no violence, can themselves destroy the chances of peaceful evolution. Therefore we hope that no section or group in Northern Ireland will succumb to the temptation to boycott the various constitutional proposals and machinery.
Having stated my own attitude, which I hope to be that of every body in your Lordships' House, I turn to the White Paper. It is noteworthy that the proposals have been accepted with something almost approaching enthusiasm by the moderate groups—the Alliance Party, the new Ulster Movement, and if I may specially single out the Northern Ireland Labour Party whose own proposals are so fully represented in the Government's White Paper; and I should like to express—in a way not to embarrass the Government—my appreciation of the way in which they have been prepared to listen to advice from whatever quarter it has come.
The White Paper covers a wide range of subjects and of course raises almost as many questions as it answers. This is perhaps inevitable and if I seek to press the Government on certain points it is 1065 because, sooner or later—and I hope it will be sooner—they will have to give an answer to them. It would be fair to say—and again this follows closely what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, says—that the White Paper is a mixture of firmness on principle of broad policy and flexibility on detail. It confirms that the people of Northern Ireland retain the inherent right to decide their position in relation to the United Kingdom, and here perhaps I should point out, because this is the time when we must speak frankly, that there is a growing feeling in this country that this is a matter also for the people of the United Kingdom. But it would be disastrous to the prospects of a peaceful settlement if anyone were to suggest that any fundamental change should be contemplated just now when there may be a hope of peaceful solutions.
If this hope is falsified the situation will become so difficult that I, for one, would not wish to speculate on the outcome. None the less, it is important that people in Northern Ireland should recognise this factor of the attitude in the United Kingdom when they have to face up to accepting some aspects of the proposals that they may find unpalatable. Perhaps, therefore, the most important thing is for the Government—and this involves Parliament—to proceed as speedily as possible to implementing the main constitutional proposals for the creation of an Assembly. The sooner an election is held on the basis of these proposals the better. The sooner the Assembly exists and the Government's propositions for power sharing can be tried, the better the chance of success. One of the tragedies in Northern Ireland is that so often hopes were dashed just when one thought that a new initiative was going to lead to peace; somehow it was dragged away and disappeared into oblivion. I think that what is now proposed in regard to the system of proportional representation—let me stress, for Northern Ireland—using the single transferable vote, should be tried. I believe that the Government will need at a fairly early stage to commit themselves to this system for subsequent elections which at the moment, for reasons which I do not quite understand, they prefer to leave unsettled.
1066 May I, in passing, say that I hope it will be possible for Sinn Fein to participate in the elections. I realise that there are difficulties, and whereas in the Republic it was legal for Sinn Fein to do so it may not be possible in Northern Ireland. I have a suspicion that one reason for the continuation of violence from the Provisional I.R.A. is that they do not wish to be legalized; they do not wish to face the test of the ballot box vis-à-vis the Social Democratic and Labour Party; and of course the showing of the Sinn Fein in recent elections in the Republic was very poor indeed. Therefore there is a case if it is possible—and I can do no more than press that it should be possible—for Sinn Fein to participate in the election.
On timing, much will depend on the speed with which we can get the legislation through Parliament, and I take it that the Bill setting up the Assembly, which is so urgent, will come forward as rapidly as possible, so that the elections may take place, perhaps in June. We must recognise that there is great urgency in this. The prospect of success if the elections are held in June, before the marching season starts, is greater, I believe, than if we wait until September. I appreciate that the Government may be in difficulties in another place, but I should certainly hope that we shall be able to speed it through as quickly as possible in your Lordships' House. If this happens, may I ask what the Government's intentions are going to be with regard to the local government elections? If there are local government elections in May it will be a little unfortunate if the Assembly elections are a month or two later, and I would ask the Government to consider this point.
Can the Government say anything more about power sharing, and in particular the way in which they think the committees will work? This is a very fascinating part of the White Paper, but we are unfamiliar with this type of arrangement in the United Kingdom. It will perhaps be more familiar in other countries where coalitions are the order of the day. Since the responsibility of the Secretary of State will remain overall, I think it is right that the ideas which the Government have should be formulated in rather more 1067 detail, even though the White Paper acknowledges, rightly, that the Assembly has its own responsibilities and concern for its own procedure. Can the Government say anything more about the Nor-them Ireland Commission and about its composition? As I understand it, the existing members of the Commission, either all or some of them, will gradually be phased out—and in passing we would express our thanks to them for the work that they have done—and they will be replaced by members of the Assembly. I wonder how the Government are going to think that one out. There are a great number of questions and it is not really fair to expect the Government to answer them all, but they have to answer them sooner or later. I am wondering how far members of the Northern Ireland Commission will be selected according to the strength of the various groupings in the Assembly. It is not possible to speculate with any certainty on the results of the Assembly elections, but I should like to do so because I hope desperately that the Assembly elections will take place very soon.
There is one point which I think is worth emphasising. The old, single Party domination of Ulster, which with hindsight nearly everybody would agree has been one of the greatest sources of weakness in Northern Ireland—I do not make any criticism of Lord Moyola and others who carried this burden, but it was a fundamental flaw in the system, and we in Britain know the importance of avoiding permanent one Party domination—should not recur under the Government's proposals. Certainly if one analyses the grouping—and one hopes for the emergence of a strong centre grouping—it is unlikely that there will be single Party domination after the immediate Assembly elections. That is one of the virtues of the proposals. But the maintenance of this position in the future is equally important. It may well be that if this arrangement goes on, the powers and the influence of the Secretary of State, and indeed of the United Kingdom Parliament, will have to be particularly vigilant to ensure that this is so. My Lords, I am wondering whether the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack-1 should have said the noble and learned Lord, and I apologise to him; 1068 I always go back to earlier days and call him a Viscount—can say anything more about the different legislative powers of the Assembly: the reserved, the transferred, the excepted powers. It may be that we shall be able to go into these in more detail later.
May I turn very briefly to the provisions for human rights, and the Diplock proposals? First of all, if I understand the position correctly, and if I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said, the use of emergency powers in Northern Ireland will be controlled, and will in fact be determined, by United Kingdom legislation. May I ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack —I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on this point and I am not quite sure whether the Government have in fact made this clear—whether the activation of the powers under the emergency legislation will be subject to some sort of annual Parliamentary process, such as we knew in the case of the old Expiring Laws Act, or perhaps to an annual Order? I think this is important, again, to retain Parliamentary control and to ensure that, where an emergency situation is continued, it does not continue a day longer, certainly not a year longer, than is necessary.
Turning to Diplock, which is part of the pattern of the emergency powers, I think most of us now recognise that some derogation from the normal process of the courts which we take for granted here, and which was so strongly reaffirmed in your Lordships' House in the debate on the proposals of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, is inevitable, and any system which enables us ultimately to get away from detention or internment (which, I repeat, was, I think, a political disaster) by the substitution of a system of special courts, perhaps with powers to impose sentences of limited duration, will be a much more acceptable solution than the ones that we have seen in the past. In due course we shall have an Act of Parliament to deal with this, and we shall need to examine it very closely. In fact, I think it is a pity we were not able to have a debate in your Lordships' House on the Diplock proposals before the Government committed themselves to implement them. I 1069 do not know whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, is going to take part in the debate, but we shall have an opportunity to discuss his proposals, no doubt, when the legislation is before us. There have been some criticisms of these proposals, not over the broad picture but of certain aspects of detail, and on some quite important points, and I hope the Government will have taken them into account in drafting the Bill.
This is closely allied, of course, to the proposed Charter of Human Rights; and, like the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, I shall be very interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Brockway, who has pioneered so much in this area, has to say. We all remember the Bill of Rights that he sought to introduce into this House some while ago. I recommended my noble friends stoutly to vote against it, and ever since then I have been wondering whether I was right or wrong. The difficulty then, and to some extent now, is not so much in stating the intentions in this field as in introducing a system which will work. None the less, my noble friend has been prophetic in these matters and we hope now that the proposals will be effective. But, of course, the problem of discrimination is a particularly difficult one to deal with when it conies to individuals. It is easy enough to see when a group is discriminated against. From upstairs the Select Committee have just produced what was the Anti-Discrimination Bill, now called the Sex Discrimination Bill; but when it comes to individuals, categories may no longer be so effective. The discrimination may not just be by Protestants against Catholics or by Catholics against Protestants; there are infinite variations within the groupings. Here I think it is particularly important that, in the industrial field, there should be trade union and other industrial representation on the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights; and I would press this very strongly on the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will know of the recommendations of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Whatever certain individuals may have done, the trade unions, as the noble Lord has acknowledged, have stood absolutely firm against violence and for the safeguarding of 1070 human rights; and I hope they will be able to participate. I draw to the attention of the noble Lord, who I am sure knows of them already, the results of the meeting of the Northern Ireland Committee of Irish Congress Trade Unions earlier this month in Belfast.
May I, in conclusion, say a word about relations with the Republic and the proposals for an All-Ireland Institution? Again, I think it is right to repeat that those who still have the dream of a United Ireland should not be asked to abandon this dream. But it is my view—and it is a view which I have held and stated for many years—that violence puts back the possibility of achieving this end. It is probable that, while willingness to accept a United Ireland has grown more strongly in Britain, enthusiasm has, if anything, declined in Ireland—and on both sides of the Border. While, therefore, my Lords, I believe that it would be highly counter-productive to press for a United Ireland to-day, we must none the less hope that, as soon as the Assembly elections are over, the proposed conference—and, if I understand it rightly, the United Kingdom Government must participate in the conference, anyway—will lead to the setting up of a new Council of Ireland. It is worth recalling that the nature of such a council (as well, incidentally, as a Parliament for All Ireland) was clearly set out in the 1920 Act.
There has been some criticism of the Government's proposals in the White Paper on the grounds that they have not been sufficiently specific. That is an arguable point of view. But I think there is also quite a powerful argument that there is a need not to spell this out in too much detail at this moment, but to begin patient and, if necessary, confidential negotiation on it. I personally would favour the suggestion that, so far as possible, the Council of Ireland should, at least with regard to some elements, take an inter-Parliamentary form—and this was in the 1920 Act—and that Members of the Assembly in Northern Ireland and Members of the Parliament in the Republic should themselves participate, quite apart from any intergovernmental arrangements that may be made.
My Lords, it would be churlish if I were not to congratulate personally the 1071 Ministers, and our own noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who has carried such a heavy burden, and the officials who have put these proposals together. It is a tragedy that it was not possible to do so sooner, but at this stage it is no use blaming one another for that. The important thing is to ensure that this fresh chance, which may be the last chance, succeeds. The alternative is almost too awful to contemplate. It is the very lives of the ordinary decent people of Northern Ireland and of our own soldiers which are at stake, and we beg everybody concerned, either here in the United Kingdom, in the House of Lords, or in Northern Ireland, to face the reality of the danger, and at the same time to recognise the bright gleam of hope which is contained in these proposals.