HC Deb 12 May 1971 vol 817 cc384-94

3.36 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the powers of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland and to make other provisions for equating the civil rights of citizens of Northern Ireland with those of other citizens of the United Kingdom. I fear that there are suspicions that a Conservative Whip is to be applied against this proposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] If so, that is a matter for regret, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will listen to the case that I shall present and decide, in the light of that case, whether or not to oppose my Bill. They will find that the language I use and the approach I make is moderate and that my proposals are quite modest.

I emphasise at the outset that this is not a Bill to introduce direct rule by Westminster. Nor is it a Bill to abolish Stormont. Indeed, in some ways it might strengthen it. It is also not a Bill to end partition. I am aware of the complexities of the Irish situation, but complexities can sometimes obscure certain simple principles which might otherwise be generally accepted.

As far as I know, I have no Irish ancestry. I believe, however, that I speak for the majority of United Kingdom citizens who see British lives lost and at risk, and British taxpayers' money expended, in Northern Ireland to maintain what in one set of language is called law and order and in another is said to uphold the authority of a Government who have fallen far behind the times.

Several thousand British troops are involved in Northern Ireland. Many millions of £s of British taxpayers' money is also involved. The rest of the citizens of the United Kingdom, the ordinary people of England, Scotland and Wales, may be forgiven for asking, "Why have we the responsibility while they, the Stormont Government, have the authority?". Responsibility without authority is always bad.

I do not propose to enter the discussion of the historic, present-day or future arguments concerning a unified Ireland, although my Bill would give Irishmen the right to advocate a unified Ireland, in the same way as Common Marketeers in the rest of the United Kingdom can advocate the giving up of British sovereignty to go into the E.E.C.

As Captain Terence O'Neill, as he then was, said after resigning as Prime Minister, in civil rights Northern Ireland is at least a hundred years behind the rest of the United Kingdom. I want to see the British Parliament pulling Northern Ireland, if not into the 1970s, somewhere towards them.

As we know, certain reforms have been proposed, and even legislated for, by Stormont but they are not being implemented. My Bill would be intended not to take away Stormont's powers but to re-examine the devolution of powers under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, with a view to recasting or reallocating those powers.

It is common to most domestic Acts of the British Parliament that there is a Clause which expressly precludes their application to Northern Ireland. Yet, as was pointed out in the House the other day, hon. Members from Northern Ireland have the right to speak and vote on those matters, and, indeed, they do. One measure, in particular, which applies to the rest of the United Kingdom and which I want to extend to Northern Ireland is the Race Relations Act, 1968.

One aspect of the preliminary draft of the Bill—some hon. Members may have seen it as a result of the lobby last week—which might be contentious but which could on Second Reading or in Committee be considered for deletion—although I should want to defend it— is the proposal to reintroduce a measure of proportional representation. I put it to some of my hon. Friends who might hesitate on this point that we must accept that there is no ideal electoral system to suit all situations, all places and all times, irrespective of circumstances and historical background. The two-party system works here and in some other countries. In some situations, the one-party system might be more democratic and effective. In some places, the multiparty system has failed, and in others it has worked well.

But what the House should realise when considering the possible cones- quences of the reintroduction of a measure of proportional representation is that in Northern Ireland, although in theory there may be the opportunity for a two-party system, in practice there has been a one-party system for the past 50 years. I suggest to the House, therefore, that P.R. may be a means for achieving a more representative Parliament for Northern Ireland and ensuring that the minority is adequately represented, and I submit that that would give Stormont greater credibility and more right to have its authority accepted.

I do not believe that it is possible to sort out in days, weeks or months that which has gone by default for 50 years. Therefore, the Bill which I seek leave to introduce would not be intended as a revolutionary Measure. There was a convention at one time that this House did not discuss Northern Ireland affairs. As is its way, however, the House has responded to events and it has in recent times become customary for matters concerning events in Northern Ireland to be discussed. My submission is that, because of the involvement of the rest of the United Kingdom in the problems of Northern Ireland, the British Parliament should assert a degree of authority for what happens there in the future.

I should want it to be an eminently reasonable Measure. I hope that those who have seen the preliminary draft will recognise that that is the intention and will acknowledge also that, if leave be given this afternoon, it will be open to representations from those interested so that the Bill may in due course be amended to meet their wishes.

I believe that it is desirable that leave should be given and that there should be a Second Reading debate on the civil rights situation in Northern Ireland, with an opportunity thereafter in Committee, I hope, to discuss in some detail what degree of responsibility the British Parliament has, and should have, and how it should assert it. All I am asking for—I emphasise this to hon. Members opposite, if they have a Whip operating in this matter—is support for the eminently reasonable proposition that leave be given to introduce a Bill. to amend the powers of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland and to make other provisions for equating the civil rights of citizens of Northern Ireland with those of other citizens of the United Kingdom". I am certain that the majority of the British people would agree that this is a laudable objective and would greatly resent, and rightly so, an obdurate refusal to allow it to have full and proper consideration by the House.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. W. F, Deedes (Ashford)

I oppose the Motion, embodying, as it does, what the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) has described as fairly modest proposals for the Government of Northern Ireland. I oppose it not least because what the hon. Gentleman suggests would be wholly out of line with the declared policy of the parties on both sides of this House, rehearsed and agreed only a month ago in the debate on Northern Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have afforded myself a full study of the preliminary draft. I am indebted to the Irish Times—I think it was—which provided a pretty full draft under the headline, Bill seeks PR and Race Act in North Chances of passage at Westminster poor. That seemed to be the understatement of the year.

Setting aside the merits of the hon. Gentleman's proposals, I think that a scintilla of doubt may enter the minds of some of my hon. Friends and, perhaps, some hon. Members opposite about whether a Ten Minutes Rule Bill is the best vehicle for revising the Constitution of Northern Ireland on this heroic scale.

Searching for the most reasonable and kindly thing I can say about the hon. Gentleman's proposed Bill, I recognise that it is primarily associated with a former Member of this House, then Fenner Brockway, for whom some of us felt enormous affection and respect even though we constantly disagreed with what he wanted to do. To his honour, be it said, Fenner Brockway proposed a measure similar to this in, I think, 10 consecutive years, and then, as though to illustrate the force of an idea whose time has come, the Labour Government introduced his Race Relations Bill in 1965. which was probably the most singular triumph—I acknowledge this, since it is really the noble Lord's Bill which we are now discussing—that any Private Member's Bill could have had for a very long time.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that although Fenner Brockway's Bill was taken up by the Government, religion was excluded from the 1965 Act, and this not due to pressure from the then Conservative opposition but because we were persuaded by the arguments of the Labour Home Secretary who, after there had been much discussion, made quite clear that religion could not sensibly be included in that Act.

Two points arise in this connection. The Northern Ireland Parliament has passed the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1970. I shall not argue now whether it is working well or ill. We have in this country some experience of the difficulty of making these Acts sensibly operative. But the fact remains that it is now an offence orally or in writing to incite hatred against or arouse fear in any section of the public in Northern Ireland on grounds of religious belief, colour, race or ethnic or national origin.

The second point I make is that, if that is felt by the hon. Gentleman and his friends to be inadequate, and if he wishes the Westminster Act to be binding on Northern Ireland in this regard, discrimination on grounds of religion would have to be applied here. But that is something which Parliament has already rejected, on the advice of the then Labour Home Secretary, and it would run contrary to the declared policy of successive Governments.

I come now to the proposal for proportional representation to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I found him less than convincing on this aspect of the matter. In fact, this is the alternative transferable vote for multi-member constituencies. That system operated for Stormont elections before 1929. If we look at the figures before and after that date, we find surprisingly little difference in the overall balance of representation. I have the figures here.

Another Clause which the hon. Gentleman would include in what he calls his modest measure would list a dozen spheres in which the Parliament of Northern Ireland would cease to have power to legislate. Some are highly suggestive. Few of the provisions which it is proposed should cease are, in fact, in use. The most suggestive is, I think, the proposed Clause 5(e), regarding the punishment of prisoners by flogging. The Stormont civil servants are unable to cite a single case of the flogging of a prisoner as a punishment. I accept that the power of search without warrant is still being exercised. Arrest without warrant, imprisonment without trial—these powers exist, but are not being used. [Interruption.] Detention without trial is not being used.

As to stopping up of highways, the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) observed very fairly only a month or two ago in Northern Ireland: …the Ulster Government were ready and prepared to get rid of the Act. This was destroyed by the activities of those who introduced violence into this country shortly after they had taken this decision. That is a very fair comment on that aspect.

Nobody denies that the emergency has required the Government of Northern Ireland to exercise powers which they dislike as much as we here dislike them. That should be said in fairness to them. Responsibility for the emergency does not rest entirely on the Government of Northern Ireland.

The Bill also contains proposals which would afford freedom for the individual to argue and work for unification with the Republic, to display flags and so on. If the hon. Gentleman believes that that is the road to pacification, he has not read the history of Ireland. In effect, what he and his hon. Friends are seeking is the unilateral disarmament in a political sense of the Northern Irish Province. There may be a case for unification, though it is not one that I would argue. There may be a case for direct rule from Westminster, though that is one that is at present rejected by both sides of the House. But there can be no case for directing from Westminster a policy which would coerce Northern Ireland into unification. It is that underlying sense in the hon. Gentleman's proposals that causes me some anxiety. That is not a policy of pacification; it is a policy which would exacerbate and perpetuate internecine strife.

This propaganda exercise—it is fair to describe it as such—is founded on a series of propositions which discounts unfairly the progress Northern Ireland has made towards some of the reforms undertaken quite recently. It is irresponsible and less than honest to dismiss this progress as being of no account, and, to be fair, hon. Members know that that is so.

The new Housing Executive has been set up. The 1969 legislation has given full franchise on the basis of one man, one vote in local government elections, and votes at 18. All councils have made a declaration of equality of employment opportunity, and the majority have submitted their codes to the Government. The Parliamentary Commissioner has been at work, and has already looked into about 33 cases, of which only two showed maladministration and none showed discrimination. The Commissioner for Complaints, dealing with local government, has investigated 285 cases. Fourteen showed maladministration and none discrimination. There are 450 cases under investigation. We need not exaggerate this progress, but we should acknowledge it. In sum, the Northern Ireland Government have made far-reaching changes, and have shown an earnest intention to see their programme through.

The fact is that we have delegated certain responsibilities to them. The hon. Gentleman's proposals would interfere with the discharge of those responsibilities to a point which would totally undermine the credibility and the authority of the Government of Northern Ireland. The object is not to liberate. It is to annihilate the existing Constitution under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920.

I am not clear in my mind whether the hon. Gentleman's proposal is well-intentioned or simply mischievous. Either way, its consequences would be disastrous. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends should reject the hon. Gentleman's Motion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring

in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 135, Noes 175.

Division No. 361.] AYES [3.55 p.m.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Garrett, W. E. Murray, Ronald King
Ashton, Joe Gilbert, Dr. John Oram, Bert
Atkinson, Norman Ginsburg, David Orbach, Maurice
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Golding, John Orme, Stanley
Barnett, Joel Gourlay, Harry Oswald, Thomas
Beaney, Alan Grant, George (Morpeth) Palmer, Arthur
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Pardoe, John
Bennett, James(Glasgow, Bridgeton) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Pavitt, Laurie
Bidwell, Sydney Hamling, William Pendry, Tom
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Pentland, Norman
Booth, Albert Hattersley, Roy Perry, Ernest G.
Bradley, Tom Hughes, Mark (Durham) Rankin, John
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Roy (Newport) Robert, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hunter, Adam Roper, John
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Carmichael, Neil John, Brynmor Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Sillars, James
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Silverman, Julius
Cohen, Stanley Jones, Dan (Burnley) Small, William
Concannon, J. D. Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Spearing, Nigel
Conlan, Bernard Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Spriggs, Leslie
Crawshaw, Richard Kerr, Russell Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Cronin, John Kinnock, Neil Strang, Gavin
Dalyell, Tam Lamond, James Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Davidson, Arthur Latham, Arthur Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Swain, Thomas
Deakins, Eric Leonard, Dick Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Lestor, Miss Joan Tinn, James
Delargy, H. J. Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Torney, Tom
Deil, Rt. Hn. Edmund Lipton, Marcus Tuck, Raphael
Devlin, Miss Bernadette Lomas, Kenneth Urwin, T. W.
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Varley, Eric G.
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McBride, Neil Wainwright, Edwin
Edwards, William (Merioneth) McCartney, Hugh Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, Alf Saints)
Ellis, Tom McElhone, Frank Watkins, David
English, Michael McGuire, Michael Weitzman, David
Evans, Fred Mackie, John Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Fisher, Mrs. Doris(B'ham,Ladywood) McNamara, J. Kevin Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Woof, Robert
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mendelson, John
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Milne, Edward (Blyth) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Foley, Maurice Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Mr. A. W. Stallard and
Foot, Michael Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Mr. Gerald Kaufman.
Freeson, Reginald
Adley, Robert Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Glyn, Dr. Alan
Atkins, Humphrey Churchill, W. S. Goodhew, Victor
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Cockeram, Eric Gorst, John
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Coombs, Derek Gower, Raymond
Balniel, Lord Cordle, John Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Cormack, Patrick Gray, Hamish
Bell, Ronald Crouch, David Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)
Benyon, W. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Gummer, Selwyn
Berry, Hn. Anthony Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Gurden, Harold
Biffen, John Dixon, Piers Hall, John (Wycombe)
Biggs-Davison, John Drayson, G. B. Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Blaker, Peter Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Haselhurst, Alan
Body, Richard Eyre, Reginald Hawkins, Paul
Boscawen, Robert Farr, John Heseltine, Michael
Bossom, Sir Clive Fell, Anthony Hicks, Robert
Bowden, Andrew Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Higgins, Terence L.
Bray, Ronald Fidler, Michael Hiley, Joseph
Brinton, Sir Tatton Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Hill, James (Southampton, Test)
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Holt, Miss Mary
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Fookes, Miss Janet Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Foster, Sir John Howell, David (Guildford)
Bullus, Sir Eric Fox, Marcus Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)
Carlisle, Mark Fry, Peter Hutchison, Michael Clark
Channon, Paul Gibson-Watt, David Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Chapman, Sydney Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) James, David
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Montgomery, Fergus Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) More, Jasper Stokes, John
Jessel, Toby Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Kellett, Mrs. Elaine Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Kershaw, Anthony Mudd, David Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Kilfedder, James Neave, Airey Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Normanton, Tom Tebbit, Norman
Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Onslow, Cranley Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Le Marchant, Spencer Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Thomas, Rt, Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey(Sut'nC'dfield) Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Tilney, John
Luce, R, N. Page, Graham (Crosby) Trafford, Dr. Anthony
McCrindle, R. A. Page, John (Harrow, W.) Trew, Peter
Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Paisley, Rev. Ian Tugendhat, Christopher
McMaster, Stanley Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Percival, Ian van Straubenzee, W. R.
McNair-Wilson, Michael Pounder, Rafton Waddington, David
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Price, David (Eastleigh) Ward, Dame Irene
Magginnis, John E. Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Warren, Kenneth
Marten, Neil Raison, Timothy Weatherill, Bernard
Mather, Carol Redmond, Robert White, Roger Gravesend)
Maude, Angus Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Mawby, Ray Ridsdale, Julian Wiggin, Jerry
Meyer, Sir Anthony Russell, Sir Ronald Wilkinson, John
Mills, Peter (Torrington) Sharples, Richard Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Woodnutt, Mark
Mitchell, Lt-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire, W) Simeons, Charles Worsley, Marcus
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Soref, Harold Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Moate, Roger Speed, Keith Younger, Hn. George
Molyneaux, James Spence, John
Money, Ernle Sproat, Iain TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Monks, Mrs. Connie Stanbrook, Ivor Mr. Robert Cooke and
Monro, Hector Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper) Mr. John Wells.