HC Deb 29 March 1972 vol 834 cc646-82

  1. (1) For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that nothing in this Act shall affect the provisions of section 1(2) of the Ireland Act 1949, under which it was affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of His Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.
  2. (2) It is hereby declared that, as stated in the Declaration issued from Downing Street on 19th August, 1969, with effect from the passing of this Act no part of Northern Ireland shall cease to be part of the United Kingdom unless the consent of the people of Northern Ireland thereto has been obtained through such process as may be authorised by Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom.
and Amendment No. 53, in Schedule, page 5, line 2, after 'address' insert: Provided that this sub-paragraph shall have no application to the consent required under subsection (2) of section 1 of the Ireland Act 1949 (which provides that in no event will Northern Ireland nor any part thereof cease to be part of His Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland).

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I believe, and here I say nothing new, but paraphrase a great deal that has been said over the years about Northern Ireland, that two of the parameters or limits of the problem of Northern Ireland are, first—I find almost unanimous agreement about this—that the 1 million of the majority, the Protestants, will not be forced into the South in any way. I must say that when talking to people of all sorts of opinion in North and South this is accepted.

Of the minority, the Catholics, it is now far more agreed than it used to be that they must be allowed to work for reunification peacefully and must be given a far better place in the society of Northern Ireland.

On the political side, this was referred to last night on Second Reading with regard to the Protestants when the Attorney-General said: It was never the intention of the Government to affect the existing position, nor do I believe that this Bill can or does affect the position as it is contained in that Section of the Ireland Act". At col. 249 of the same Second Reading debate it can be seen that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) had raised the same subject. He mentioned that in the comparable Bill of the previous Administration there was a Clause which said: Nothing in this Act shall be taken to override or to authorise anything to be done in derogation of the principle affirmed by Section 1(2) of the Ireland Act 1949 that in no event shall Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of Her Majesty's Dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland."—[Official Report, 28th March, 1972; Vol. 834, c. 360, 249.] The Lord President then pointed out that, in his view, the reason for the difference was that in the Bill drawn up by the previous Administration the Stormont Parliament was to be dissolved, as opposed to the proposal in this Bill that Stormont is merely to be prorogued. Out of a lively discussion last night came the view that whatever is put in the Bill, it can do nothing to alter the situation about the Border.

In discussions I have had with my right hon. Friends behind me today, it is accepted that as this Bill, which provides for temporary direct rule by this Parliament, is drawn, it does nothing to affect the Border.

The reason, therefore, for the new Clause is that it is not a legal assurance. I think there is no need for legal assurance. What is involved is a political reassurance to the majority in Northern Ireland, who in recent days have been shaken and shocked by change. There is no reason in logic for the shock that has taken place which necessitates this.

I have been given a document from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland which represents 400,000 people in Ireland as a whole. There are encouraging parts in the document. What is certain, even from this document, is that despite some of the brave words in it about the future, there is fear that there is more involved in what the Government are doing than meets the eye.

The purpose of the new Clause is to assure Protestants in the North that nothing more is involved in the Bill than is contained in the Bill; that this Bill of itself—I repeat, of itself—cannot affect the Border. The case for this new Clause rests at that point. The Bill is to be in force for only one year. Whatever might happen after that point is another matter. The point at issue is that this Bill does nothing about the Border; it does nothing to alter what was in the Downing Street declaration of August, 1969.

Mr. Orme

If it has nothing to do with the Border, why has that to be written into the Bill? That is what we want to know.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

That is a point which I had hoped I had made. It is clear. From the purely legal point of view there is no need for the new Clause. I have made that point. There is no need legally for it. I explained that in the first part of my remarks. But there is something more, and I would ask at this point of time for magnanimity, and that the Committee overstretch the point to make it clear to assure people in the North that there is nothing in this Bill to alter the Border. If the case for the new Clause were on legal grounds only, it would fall, but the new Clause is to meet the feeling which there is among people in the North.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Gentleman will note paragraph 4(3) of the Schedule to the Bill: Where under any enactment or instrument it is a condition for the taking of any step (other than the annulment of any instrument), or for the coming of anything into operation, that a resolution or motion has been passed or address presented by one or both of the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland, then so long as section 1 of this Act has effect the step may be taken or the thing shall come into operation without any such resolution, motion or address.… Will not the hon. Gentleman agree with me that here we have written into the Bill that a resolution of Parliament can be done away with, because under Clause 1 the Secretary of State will have the power? The answer to the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) is that it is necessary to give reassurance that the Secretary of State cannot override the consent required for Northern Ireland to cease to be part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

As I understand the matter the Stormont Parliament never had the power to alter the Border, and the powers of Stormont are to go to the Secretary of State who, in respect of this Bill, is exercising the powers of Stormont. So in law, as I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman will have no power to alter the Border.

Again, however, I come to the point that there are fears about this, and the new Clause is simply to reinforce the position to allay those fears.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that under the 1949 Act the guardian of the Border is the Parliament of Northern Ireland? I am in full agreement with him that a change should be made only by the people but under the law at present the Parliament of Northern Ireland has a veto on changing the Border. We want to retain that.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

As I recall, the words are "without the consent" of Northern Ireland. I accept that. What I am arguing is that under the Bill the Border is not at issue. That is clear from the legal point of view and from the assurance we had last night from the Attorney-General and the discussion which took place.

The Clause does nothing more than give a political reassurance for this year. Some of my hon. Friends are concerned about the future. One of the subjects that have been discussed in the past year, perhaps for the first time, is the Border. The minority in the North, it is now to be hoped, will be able to discuss this matter and work towards this change peacefully. We do not wish to remove this possibility. What is at issue here is that we wish to reassure the majority in the North that the Bill does not affect the Border. That was my right hon. Friend's purpose in raising the matter last night. It is purely on this aspect that I commend the new Clause to the Committee.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

When I interrupted the Secretary of State-designate during his speech on this matter yesterday I was not convinced that there was no need for an Amendment of this kind in the legal sense. I was not convinced that it would be merely a double reassurance to put one in. Grateful as I was to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who followed me in that intervention of support, I did not feel that an Amendment such as the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) has just spoken to gave in a political sense a sufficient reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland.

In their minds up to now the position of the border has been safeguarded by the 1949 Act, which gave a negative power—in fact, a veto. That was, and remains, the situation. But in the present emotional climate of Northern Ireland the people are very suspicious—and we can very well understand their suspicions—of anything that happens in this Parliament. There are few in the majority in Northern Ireland at present who believe a single word said by anyone in this Parliament, and it will take a long time for that situation to be remedied. Therefore, there must be an assurance in the Bill, not just one given by hon. Members of all parties. It must be seen in black and white, in print, that there is nothing in the Bill which can take away from the guarantees in the 1949 Act. Indeed, the 1949 Act must be mentioned.

For that reason it is one of the other Amendments, rather than that which the hon. Gentleman has moved, which appeals to me and which I would support. Only with such an assurance in the Bill can the Government in their attempts to remove the divisive issue of the Border from the political arena for the immediate future have any hope of detente in the present situation. I should like to see Northern Ireland politics able to concentrate on matters other than the Border issue, and I think I carry most of my hon. Friends with me in saying that.

That probably implies the birth of new political parties. I have always wanted to see a Right-Left confrontation, a more normal condition of politics, as some hon. Members would say, develop in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that can happen if any doubt is left in anyone's mind about that issue. Therefore, every reassurance and guarantee on it is always vital.

There are those who say that there is in the Bill a measure of surrender to the I.R.A. If that is so, the time has come to let the I.R.A. see the writing on the wall—the writing in this Bill—and let them see that the House of Commons is absolutely firm on the subject of the Border and that there can be no fruit from the tree of trying to upset the constitutional position by acts of violence.

It is vital that this kind of Amendment should be included in the Bill. I believe that it must specifically mention the 1949 Act and yet again confirm the guarantee given in that Act. It is for that reason that I would prefer either Amendment No. 53 or new Clause 4 rather than new Clause 8. Of all the Amendments put down to this Measure my hon. Friends and I regard this as the paramount one.

2.45 a.m.

Mr. Orme

I accept, as the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) has said, that this is an important argument. I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) on the necessity for the Amendment. It is not my wish to see the majority undermined, but we are in a new situation. The Government of Ireland Act, 1949, gives a veto to Stormont on the Border issue. Stormont has been prorogued by the Bill and the Prime Minister has said that there will be a referendum. That referendum will give the final sanction and annul the Government of Ireland Act, 1949, and that decision will have been taken by referendum and not by an elected Parliament.

We all accept that there can be no "kidology", no sleight of hand, whereby a million Protestants are included in a united Ireland. To achieve a united Ireland we would have to act on the basis of the acceptance of the vast majority—and that includes the minority and the majority as they are presently divided.

There is the danger that a referendum could heighten the Border issue and create difficulty, but it will be a step in the right direction if people feel that by a referendum the Border can be discussed, voted on and, if necessary, returned to again. This is better than leaving it under the old Stormont with the final sanction being with the elected representatives of that body. The criticism by the hon. Member for Londonderry is valid. If one is going to talk about the Government of Ireland Act, 1949, one might as well put it in the new Clause 8, because that is what my hon. Friend really means.

I am opposed to new Clause 8 because we are not going to resolve this issue with the Ireland Act, 1949. That Act is now defunct. It has been superseded by this Bill. We are moving into a changed situation. We all agree that, whatever comes after these 12 months, we shall not be going back to Stormont as it exists. Indeed, we might never go back to Stormont again. We might have a new form entirely. To claim, as my hon. Friend did, that this new Clause is a political means of reassuring the majority at present is not valid. Surely the statements made on both sides of the House and the promise by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State-designate of a referendum are an assurance to the majority that it is not going to be bombed or bamboozled into a united Ireland.

Mr. Maude

I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, but he will recognise that the plebiscite is not in the Bill and will have no mandatory effect anyway. Promises are not statutory. Would he not agree that since the people of Northern Ireland were originally promised that the veto should be held by the Parliament of Northern Ireland it is not really reasonable to transfer that assurance from a Parliament entirely composed of representatives of Northern Ireland to a Parliament where the representatives of Northern Ireland are in a minority of 618 to 12?

Mr. Orme

I see the force of that argument and I recognise the force of what the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) said. But we have said for years, "The Border can never be an issue because the sanction rests in Stormont." We know that Stormont has rested on a firm majority which would never relinquish its control of the situation. Yet, while we have been saying that the Border is not an issue, we have known for the last 20 or 30 years that it is the issue. It is right to recognise this and have open discussion in a political sense about it. Why leave it to the bombers and others? Why not do it politically and conduct the argument properly?

This is why I was so critical of Mr. Faulkner's statement that he could in no circumstances have in his Government any member who did not and would not accept the situation as it existed. It is no good closing our eyes to the fact that large numbers of people in Northern Ireland want the Border to go and large numbers want it to remain. How do we resolve the problem? Open political discussion is the only answer.

Captain Orr

What is wrong with doing it in that Parliament?

Mr. Orme

I am not trying to score a political point, but we are seeing the end, temporarily if not permanently, of Stormont. We do not know what is going to take its place. My argument is that we should open the subject up but give the guarantee to the majority which the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State-designate have given. This is a matter of opinion. I think that the argument is, indeed, open now. It is open for those who want a united Ireland and for those who want integration or some other form of government for the Six Counties.

The Amendment is dangerous in many ways. It resurrects something that we should be seeing the back of. I regret that it is not progressive in that sense, and I feel obliged to oppose it.

Mr. John Loveridge (Hornchurch)

I hope that the Government will accept the new Clause. At this hour, I suppose we might expect to see the leprechauns creeping out from under the green seats. With that in mind, I bear in mind what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) about the purpose of this Bill. It is to send a Secretary of State to take charge of Northern Ireland. It will be no help to anyone if we send a tired Secretary of State, so, although I have a considerable amount of material prepared in support of new Clause 4, I shall curtail my remarks so that my right hon. Friend can reply to the debate fairly soon and get away to refresh himself for his job.

I ask my right hon. Friend only to consider subsection (2) of the new Clause, which gives the force of law to the Declaration issued at Downing Street on 19th August, 1969. I believe that that will strengthen the good will and sense of security of the people of Northern Ireland. It will also ensure that any questionnaire or other form of plebiscite which may be put to the people of Northern Ireland will have to be approved by this House before being formulated and put to the people. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that thought.

I say no more, except to express to my right hon. Friend my heartfelt good wishes.

Mr. McNamara

It would be wrong to allow this Amendment or one couched in even stronger terms to pass without a voice being raised in opposition to its phrasing. I regard it as a load of "kidology". It is what might be described as an O'Neill vote of confidence. If I were a member of the majority in Northern Ireland, I should regard it as something that everyone is prepared to do until the last moment.

The Bill does nothing about the Border. It does not affect the Border. To demand that the Border be dragged into the Bill is to draw an enormous green or orange herring across the whole of this discussion.

The Amendment does two things. It creates in the minds of the minority the feeling that there is an open-endedness in the idea of future talks on the status of Ireland. It creates in the minds of the majority the real fear that they will be sold down the river. In fact, it creates that fear in the minds of both communities. However, I cannot help thinking that the real fear is in the minds of hon. Members of this House rather than in the minds of people outside it.

3.0 a.m.

The political reassurance to the majority is there in the 1949 Act. Somehow people seem to have suggested that Stormont had the right to wish away or to strengthen the Border. It had neither.

Mr. Maginnis

The hon. Gentleman must remember, on this valid point, that the Ireland Act, 1949, applied only to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. That Parliament has now been prorogued.

Mr. McNamara

I understand that point. My point is that because the Parliament of Northern Ireland was given this power under a United Kingdom Statute, it can be taken away just as easily by a United Kingdom Statute. Putting this Amendment in the Bill does not mean that some future Bill cannot take away this power. That is the important point—[Interruption.] People are arguing about a guarantee. I will come to the kernel of any kind of guarantee.

The second point is that the Downing Street Declaration made this point.

The third point is that we have had a statement from the Prime Minister and from the Lord President, soon to be the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We have also had a statement from the right hon. and learned Attorney-General on this point.

I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) picked up this point yesterday and pursued it in this way, because it was wasteful. A further guarantee which is being given to people in Northern Ireland is the plebiscite.

My point is that it does not matter one little bit what is contained in any particular Statute and it does not matter what people have said in the past; what matters is the spirit, the determination, and the attitude of the Administration at Westminster at any one time.

I should like to cite and pray in aid—something which I rarely do—the words of the Prime Minister in a speech which he made at Birmingham yesterday. The Guardian reports: Mr. Heath said the guarantee of the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom had never depended on the existence of a Government and Parliament exercising responsibility for law and order at Stormont. The guarantee had always depended essentially on the determination and good faith of the Parliament at Westminster. The point is that if we ask for this or a similar Amendment to be put into the Bill we shall undermine the very point which the Prime Minister made, namely, that it depends on the determination and good faith of the Parliament at Westminster.

Mr. Molyneaux

Last Friday the Prime Minister said in his statement in the House: These plebiscites will be in adition to, and not in substitution for, the provisions in the Ireland Act, 1949, which require the consent of the Northern Ireland Parliament to any change in the Border. This position is not prejudiced by the temporary prorogation of that Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 24th March, 1972; Vol. 833, c. 1862.]

Mr. McNamara

That underlines my point. If Parliament is prorogued, it is not abolished. If we can depend on the good faith of our Ministers and of this Parliament, then there is no need for the Amendment.

The Prime Minister went on in his Birmingham speech to say: The guarantee has now been powerfully strengthened by our decision to hold a plebiscite in Northern Ireland as soon as is practicable. The moment we start insisting upon this or a similar Amendment we undermine the whole position that we are seeking to bring about.

Writing something into this Statute will not strengthen the position; rather will it be an O'Neill Amendment, resulting in people saying "What are they afraid of?" Must it be repeated, continually, day after day until suddenly in the eyes of the majority it is realised that we have been sold down the river?

There is another important point. If we are to consider the situation in Northern Ireland in its full context we cannot rule out the question of full integration with this country. It would be a tragic mistake, but we cannot rule it out. Neither can we rule out the idea of a union with the South—which is what I should like to see; I make no bones about that. But I suggest that every time we try to move an Amendment which brings forward integration or puts out the idea of eventual unification—as does this Amendment—we weaken our options in a situation which is remarkably fluid at the moment; we tie the hands of the Secretary of State-designate and cut down on his options. When we do this we are doing a service neither to the people whom we are seeking to help nor to the future of Northern Ireland.

Rev. Ian Paisley

In terms of good government in Northern Ireland at the present time, the Amendment that stands in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and myself is of the utmost importance. I take fully the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). Quoting the Prime Minister, he says that the guarantee rests on the good faith of Parliament. How can Parliament show its good faith? Only by accepting an Amendment along the lines that I suggest. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) said that this was a new departure. If it is a new departure the majority in Northern Ireland want to know that their anchors are right at this juncture. If we deny them that assurance we make impossible the task of the right hon. Gentleman whom we send to Ulster.

I could develop that theme tonight, but I understand that the Minister wants to deal with other Amendments that we all want to discuss. I understand that he has to leave for the Province, and has important decisions to make. I should like a full debate on this matter, and I trust that the House will discuss it. But I emphasise that when we are discussing a Bill of this nature it is the paramount duty of the House to accept the wishes of the majority and the present law of the country, which states that there will be no tampering with the Border. There must be no suggestion of tampering with the Border, and even the churches of Northern Ireland, even those with churches across the Border—and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Bishop of Down with whom I take an entirely different view of the ecumenical movement—both state that an assurance must be given to Protestant people that there will be no tampering with the Border.

If this Committee wants peace and good government in Northern Ireland and wants to help the right hon. Gentleman whom it is sending to our Province, this is the way to do it. I only ask that the present position, based on the Labour Government's 1949 Act providing that no part of Northern Ireland shall cease to be part of the United Kingdom with- out the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, shall be accepted. If we do not have that in this Bill we tie the hands of the right hon. Gentleman; if we have that in the Bill, we strengthen his hands to get co-operation across the Border.

Mr. Whitelaw

I have listened to the debate on the new Clause proposed by the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) and on the Amendment to which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred which is being considered at the same time.

It is important to learn from debates in this House, as I certainly did yesterday. I had thought that the assurances on the Border, the pledge given by successive British Governments, was absolutely solid in that it was there in the first instance under the 1949 Act because the Parliament at Stormont was prorogued and not dissolved, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East(Mr. Callaghan) admitted on a previous proposal, and it was reinforced by the proposal for a plebiscite. I learned that it was very important for me to know that this was not regarded as satisfactory by many people whose position I must respect in this matter. The reason why they did not regard it as satisfactory was that they felt there was some doubt because the proposal of a plebiscite was not in the Bill. I have to take account of this.

The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) made a point about his view of the future, and so did the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I must remind both of them that this is a temporary Bill for one year. I hope that in that time it will be possible for proper discussions to take place in conditions away from fear and tension. I have become persuaded that it is very important for this House, whether it is logical or not, whatever may be the legal position or not, to give assurances which can try to remove fear in those circumstances. I believe that is right.

I have regretfully to accept what I am told on all sides, that the word of British Ministers, and, indeed, mine in particular, is simply not believed at present in Northern Ireland. I have to accept that. It is painful, but I do not particularly shrink from it because if I shrank from it I could not have undertaken this task. I know that my word is simply not going to be believed at first. I hope that in time it will be, but I know that it will not be at first. Therefore, it is very important to go further than ministerial assurances. I must also say to this Committee that I have never believed—I might even carry my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) with me on this because he has often said this—one can govern by ministerial assurance. One has to govern by Act of Parliament; ministerial assurances of themselves are not enough.

3.15 a.m.

If my word is not to be believed, and if the facts, which they are in truth—perfectly solid facts—are still not felt to be satisfactory by the majority, we must do everything we can to prove to the majority that the word of successive British Governments means what it says. This is terribly important in the current circumstances.

Therefore, it is right that we should do everything in our power to try to remove this fear and to make the majority feel that the British House of Commons is determined to stand up for what has been the promises of successive British Governments on this issue. Therefore, the Bill, temporary as it is, will not affect those pledges in any way.

Some hon. Members may say that it is not necessary. The hon. Member for Salford, West says that. Probably the truth is that in legal terms it is not. I must deal with realities; and the fact of life and the fear, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North said, is there. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) made exactly the same point. I must accept this.

Therefore, I believe that I should recommend to the Committee that we go out of our way, in every way we can at this stage, to remove that fear. I have a very large number of right hon. and hon. Friends—over 210 of them—who, believing that this fear is this, have tabled an early day Motion stressing this point. They feel that it is important. I will therefore go to the extreme point on this. I will, first, accept the new Clause. After that, I will go further still.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North has spoken to an Amendment which has very excellent parentage, because it is exactly in the terms that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East referred to. Therefore, so as absolutely to give every possible assurance that lies in my power through the British House of Commons, I will accept the new Clause and the Amendment spoken to by the hon. Member for Antrim, North.

I believe that if the British House of Commons does that any suggestion that we are still not solid on our pledge would, clearly, not be fair. We should surely then, in the words of the hon. Member for Antrim, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, have removed the fear. It is a temporary Bill. It is right that this temporary Bill should be seen not to have anything to do with this issue. If we move towards removing fear at a very difficult time, which I believe is my task, it will help in the task we all have in this Parliament.

The Amendment spoken to by the hon. Member for Antrim, North has one small, technical, purely drafting, point which it will be necessary to put right. With the proviso that when we reach the appropriate point the hon. Member for Antrim, North should move an appropriate drafting Amendment to his Amendment, I advise the Committee to accept the new Clause and the Amendment. I appreciate the doubts that some hon. Members have on this score. If I am to be able to remove fear at an important point and to get people to trust that what British Ministers and the British Parliament say they mean, I believe that it must be right to do this.

Mr. Duffy

I am sorry that the Secretary of State-designate has made the announcement that he has. The feeling grew with me whilst my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) was making his earlier proposals that the more the British House of Commons sought to reassure the people of Northern Ireland about the Border the more they would continue to nurture the suspicion that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) told us exists throughout Northern Ireland. I do not doubt that is true. But does any hon. Member here really believe that that suspicion will be in any way diminished by the announcements just made by the Secretary of State-designate?

Hon. Members


Mr. Duffy

All right then, cannot we find some more Amendments to move? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman make some more suggestions during the course of the debate that will further reduce the suspicion.

Mr. McNamara

The Secretary of State-designate should have added new Clause 4 as well.

Mr. Duffy

Exactly; what is one more? We shall go on adding them, and the more we do so the more ridiculous we shall appear in the eyes of the world. Whatever other construction may have been put on the events of the last few days, I think there was an underlying unanimity in the debate that direct rule provided the House of Commons with an opportunity for a new departure, a fresh start.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) was quite right when he said that the right hon. Gentleman will start off with few options. It seems that he has reduced these options already, and I cannot but say that I view the immediate future less optimistically than I did last night.

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman suggests that I have removed any options. Surely the purpose of the Bill, a temporary Measure, is to establish the position in which talks about the future can take place. I have not removed any options from myself on this. I have given an assurance to the majority, because they wanted it, so that we can conduct discussions about the constitutional future in a situation removed from fear. I would not have thought that that was removing any options.

Mr. Duffy

In my contribution to the debate last night I subscribed to the view, which is universally held, that there can be no change except by consent. But I also put it that that consent must from now on surely be consciously sought. Britain's duty to Ulster now is surely not to sustain it in a permanent stance of no surrender, which would surely stem from any such Amendment. I mentioned this last night.

Mr. Whitehead

Surely the only option removed by new Clause 8 is a change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority, which the hon. Member has said he does not want to see.

Mr. Duffy

My hon. Friend did not see my point when I said that that consent can only from now on be consciously sought. Last night I said that I thought that Britain's duty to Ulster was to guide it into a closer working relationship with the rest of Ireland, which is surely a vital pre-condition for a closer working relationship between Britain and the whole of Ireland. The opportunity has been provided to bring together people from both sides to see what they had in common.

Mr. Gurden

We know quite clearly that the three or four hon. Gentlemen who are speaking against these Amendments want to do away with the guarantees and the Border. All parties in this House and all Governments have confirmed this guarantee. I challenge hon. Members to vote in the Lobby tonight against this and show their hand. That is what we want.

Mr. Duffy

The hon. Gentleman's contribution to the debate earlier this evening was no more helpful that the one he has just made.

I was most interested to hear the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) say that he would welcome a debate about the Border as soon as possible. I could understand such assurances being given if they were associated with an early debate of that kind or, preferably, a Government statement that not only would they not stand in the way of a united Ireland—we understand the Prime Minister when he says that—but also that they positively desire Irish unity. When pressed about the future relationship between this country and Ireland or Northern Ireland, most people say that they believe that future developments will result in a united Ireland. [Hon. Members: "No."] That is an expression of opinion which hon. Members are as well placed as I am to sound out and check with their constituents.

Once the will is present on the part of Her Majesty's Government, the necessary conditions will be promoted. More important in the short term is that once Britain favours Irish unity the whole psychology in Ireland will alter. Unity is an entirely respectable political ambition. In no sense need it involve merely the incorporation of the Six Northern Counties into the existing political structure of the South. In any event, it could not come about without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, and not without every safeguard. But that prerequisite must not be used as an evasion by Her Majesty's Government of their responsibility to promote policies conducive to the fulfilment of this aim. In other words, we do not want this problem with us year after year. That cannot happen because of all the impending developments, the Common Market, and our standing in the world. It is not merely that we cannot tolerate the present position for much longer than a year but that we cannot tolerate the status quo for much longer than a few years.

We must seize the present opportunity to explore the ground for a developing rapprochement, economically, socially and culturally. We have not discussed that area so far. I can do no more than touch upon it now. One or two hon. Members of the Committee are able to discuss the economic developments, but only a few. Unhappily, most of our discussions about Ireland touch either on the political or the religious; but I am glad to say that even Ireland does not stand still. Happily in recent years all the evidence of that has been in the economic sphere. This area calls for immediate study. I am thinking of cross-Border trade, industrial development in the Border counties, tourism, and co-operation between the two electricity authorities. Does any hon. Member believe that Ireland will ever get a nuclear power station without cross-Border co- operation? [Interruption.] Hon. Members may say "Come off it"—

3.30 a.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman not admit that there is a certain degree of co-operation, for example in the matters of electricity and tourism? Is not the whole tenor of the hon. Gentleman's speech coercive? Is he not trying to coerce the majority into a position where they will have to accept a united Ireland or—

Mr. Duffy

I have been relying, perhaps over-much, on my notes. The reason is that I was well aware I might be exposed to this taunt. I am aware that on this occasion I have to exercise more care in my choice of words. I assure the hon. Gentleman that when he refers to Hansard he will find no ground whatever for his remarks.

I have noticed certain early day Motions referring to Ireland some of which in relation to the South of Ireland are of a critical nature. Some are ill-founded, like that which is in the name of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt), who described the Republic of Ireland as a foreign independent State. The hon. Member for Antrim, North who is well versed in these matters, knows that in the 1949 Act the Republic of Ireland is described otherwise and is not regarded as a foreign country. Others have sought to close the Border.

Mr. McManus

Would my hon. Friend ask the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. William Clark) to stop making inane, sedentary interventions since this is a serious debate? If that is the sort of contribution the hon. Member wishes to make, he should go home to bed.

Mr. Duffy

I think it will be rememberred that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) in an earlier contribution referred to citizens of the South of Ireland as foreigners and cast aspersions on worth of their contribution. I am sure there is not one hon. Gentleman present who has had war-time service and who has not had worthy comrades from the South of Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about closing the Border. He clearly knows little about movements between this country and Ireland. He obviously does not know that the freedom of movement between England and Ireland is fully reciprocated. He should inquire after those of his own constituents who choose to retire to Ireland. Is he one of those people who wish to see the flow stop? No doubt he will be interested in the suggestion that perhaps the most desirable pieces of real estate in 10 to 15 years time will be in Southern Ireland. Many continentals are quite sure that this will prove to be the case.

I draw attention to my early day Motion 262, which mentions the growth of trade with the Irish Republic. I will not comment on that Motion in detail. [Hon. Members: "Good."] Hon. Members need to know these things because the Motion points out that Britain's third biggest customer is the very country of which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak was so contemptuous. In 1971 total exports from the Irish Republic to all destinations were worth a record £537 million. They have zoomed in recent years—

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. George Wallace)

Order. The hon. Member is getting a little wide of the debate.

Mr. Duffy

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Wallace. I hope hon. Gentlemen will look at the details of my Motion and see the further ground that there is for economic co-operation not merely between this country and Ireland but between the North and South.

Mr. Maginnis

As the hon. Gentleman has such an interest in Southern Ireland will he ask his friends there to stop the export of gelignite to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Duffy

I hope the hon. Gentleman does not think that if I were in a position to do that I would not readily respond.

I hope hon. Gentlemen will not mind if I remind them that what I was referring to has been done without any subsidy from this country. This is a small economy that has taken off at long last, under its own power. We have now reached the stage when our Government have to look carefully at subsidies, wherever they go. We were reminded yesterday of the extra subsidies that have had to be provided for Northern Ireland in the last few years—£100 per head extra, £150 million in all. I hope no one thinks we can go on doling out money on that scale. I represent an area in South Yorkshire where social and economic needs are every bit as urgent in some respects as those in Northern Ireland. My constituents will not be content to go on indefinitely without any help. They will claim equal treatment.

The time will arrive when we shall have to look carefully at our subsidies, especially those that have the effect of encouraging Unionists to indulge their prejudices and thus maintain the divisions within Northern Ireland as well as within Ireland as a whole. Because of the objective circumstances the Government, any Government, will soon have to call for such help to go towards unifying measures and co-operative ventures. In this way the Government can encourage and assist the promotion of policies that can make such proposals as mine a reality. Only in this way can peace be assured and the development of the common interest be facilitated. This will be aided in future by common membership of the E.E.C. This is the only constructive way to provide for a basis of co-operation, if not coalition, between the two communities in Ireland.

Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)

I hope the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) will not take it amiss if I say that his speech is a new version of interrogation in depth!

I thank my right hon. Friend most sincerely on behalf of my hon. Friends for the genuine effort that he has made in accepting the new Clause, which I hope will be a contribution to his work. The Leader of the Opposition in his 15-point plan talked of a variety of interlocking talks. One rather lost track of the variety of avenues for these talks. One point he made was that the talks were not to exclude anything. I understand that the Government Front Bench, too, talked about various kinds of discussions again on the basis of such talks excluding nothing.

I find it a basic contradiction to hold to that principle and to have the other principle written into the Bill, that all parties in the House are confirming that there should be no change in the Border without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. That is a basic contradiction. It may be wrong, but it would be helpful if my right hon. Friend would go a little further and give an assurance from the Dispatch Box that such an item would not be placed on any such agenda unless the people of Northern Ireland had given their consent, because this is an area where people are immensely unhappy. What is the point of having this assurance if one can turn round, have talks and put the whole thing in the melting pot?

My right hon. Friend is in a real dilemma and it would be immensely helpful if he could say something firm on this.

Mr. McManus

I almost feel a certain pity for the Secretary of State designate because he has allowed himself to be—to use a common term—fairly snookered by the Unionist Members opposite. He has been asked to legislate against fears among the majority.

I have never yet heard of Parliament legislating against fears, and, if he is going to, I suggest that many people in Northern Ireland fear ghosts. So why does this Parliament not legislate against ghosts so that the people there may not be afraid?

If he is going to legislate against fears, what about the fears of the minority? Can he give legislative assurance to them that they will never be terrorised and brutalised by the British Army?

Hon. Members


Mr. McManus

Nonsense? The world proclaimed against them, and still they insist that it does not happen. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can protest but I have my facts right. What about an assurance for the minority that there will never again be discrimination in any shape or form, never again a Special Powers Act or Stormont? These are the fears of the minority. All the assurances are sought for the alleged fears of the majority.

These Amendments are ridiculous and unnecessary because they attempt to stop what is, in my opinion and in the opinion of many hon. Members on this side, an irresistible force, an inevitable force driving to an inevitable conclusion; the inevitable progress from the present condition to a condition of a united Ireland. Anybody regarding the situation knows that that is inevitable. It is plain to be seen, and these are legislative attempts to stem the tide which cannot be stopped.

I reject the argument that this must have the consent of the majority of Northern Ireland. It is the argument of the minority that one cannot carve up a country so that one has a permanent majority in one corner and sanctify the difference for ever more.

Mr. Maginnis


Mr. McManus

Just a moment. I will finish this point. It is just the same as if in Birmingham or anywhere else—and the heart of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) would never outlast this—a colony of West Indians, Pakistanis, or coloured people—or in West London—were suddenly to declare that they needed a parliament of their own and that anybody else in that area would be controlled by them.

It would be as if the Government proposed that, without the consent of that majority, that situation would never be changed.

Mr. Maude


3.45 a.m.

Mr. Maginnis

All I ask the hon. Member is, what percentage of the minority in Northern Ireland would want that?

Mr. McManus

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point and I will come to it in a moment when I have finished this point.

Mr. Maude


Mr. McManus

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) has made many speeches and has ample opportunity to develop his points at length in a major national newspaper.

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. McManus

I will be generous.

Mr. Maude

I am much obliged to the hon. Member. I just wanted to ask him one question. He said, suppose that a minority in one part of Great Britain suddenly announced that they wanted a parliament of their own. I think it has escaped him that the people of Northern Ireland did not ask to have a parliament of their own; they wanted to be integrated into the United Kingdom and were forced to have their own Parliament.

Mr. McManus

That is a very good point, but if that is the fact, why are they kicking up such a fuss that their Parliament is being taken away from them, if they did not want it in the first place? I do not see the logic of that.

It has been suggested that the new Clause is to reduce the fears of the majority. If the majority are distrustful, as we all believe they are, of the word of the British Government—and who can blame them for being distrustful of the pledged word of the British Government?—then this device will not change that or those fears. If, as has been said, the new Clause is not legally necessary, it is not likely to convince the majority or anyone else, and it is not likely to remove the suspicions of the majority. I see it as a device which is worthless and which will fail.

It will have one adverse effect. It will make open-ended talks and an open-ended agenda impossible. The British Government give their word one day and break it the next day. With respect to the Labour Party Front Bench, it appears to be talking with two voices. There are many hon. Members opposite who think it frequently talks with at least two voices. In this case the Leader of the Opposition appears to have said that a united Ireland is a subject for discussion, and the former Home Secretary puts down an Amendment which renders such talks impracticable if not impossible.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The Amendment does not mean that what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said is not a possibility. It is a reinforcement which is required, because the Bill does not alter the Border. This is the whole point of putting the Amendment forward in this way.

Mr. McManns

That is an academic argument merely. In effect it means that there is no open-ended agenda for talks on a united Ireland. People can speculate on the possibilities, perhaps, but that is not, to my mind, serious political negotiation or discussion. Speculation can happen any day, and can happen in the Tea Room or any of the bars in this place.

As to the question of a plebiscite, quite apart from the fact that, on the grounds I have previously outlined, it is unacceptable to the minority, it is needless, for every general election or by-election which has taken place in Northern Ireland since it was established has been in effect a plebiscite or a referendum on the Border.

Despite what anybody here tries to pretend, the Border has always been the main issue in Northern Ireland. So there is a plebiscite every time there is a General Election. Who is to contest that the majority, as has been proved at consecutive elections, want to retain the Border? That will continue to be the case, because the Unionist majority will see to it that plebiscites, if they are held, can never be won. Even though it is held that members of the Catholic faith generally increase at a faster rate than members of the Protestant faith, that only means that the Unionists will redouble their efforts to force the increasing population to emigrate, thus retaining the status quo.

Mr. Powell

There is one adequate and sufficient justification for the Amendments my right hon. Friend has indicated his willingness to accept. That is that they remove a legitimate doubt which existed upon the face of the Bill, namely, that since the existing guarantee is linked with the Northern Ireland Parliament and since the Northern Ireland Parliament is affected by the Bill, the suspicion and fear might arise that the Bill affected the guarantee. It was right and justified that my right hon. Friend should decide to clarify that point and remove that ground of doubt.

I detain the Committee, only for a moment, because I think there may be some danger that we deceive ourselves into thinking that a guarantee or a promise is strengthened by the fact of its being repeated. On the contrary, in politics as in personal life, a guarantee or promise which has to be constantly repeated is thereby brought into doubt and weakened rather than strengthened.

My right hon. Friend referred to a Motion upon the Order Paper which a large number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have signed. I declined to add my name to that Motion, not because I did not wish the guarantee in the 1949 Act to be valid, not because I do not sympathise warmly with my hon. Friends the Ulster Unionist Members and those whom they represent, but because of a sense of fear about protesting too much and the danger that repetition may weaken rather than strengthen.

My right hon. Friend rightly recalled that in this House we insist in proper circumstances upon assurances given solemnly and in good faith by Ministers nevertheless being put in statutory form. But this undertaking is in statutory form, and it may be that my right hon. Friend is under a misapprehension as to the source of the anxiety which many in the Committee hope will be allayed by the Amendments. He referred to his pain at realising that the words of United Kingdom Ministers, at any rate upon this subject, are not trusted, and he hopes that a statutory provision will be more trusted.

I have two things to say. The first is that it is not only the words of Ministers and the promises of Governments which can be broken. The words and promises of Parliaments can also be broken. Ministers are Ministers because they command a majority in the House of Commons, and the breaking of promises by Ministers often involves and carries with it the breaking of promises by the majorities upon which they rely. So there is a danger of a false separation between the faith of the Government and the faith of Parliament.

It is deeds and not words which have aroused the fears which these Amendments seek to allay. It is my right hon. Friend's actions and not what we write into the Bill which will be believed or disbelieved, trusted or distrusted, by the people of Northern Ireland. The reason why hon. Members on both sides of the Committee—certainly on this side—recognise anxieties which we vainly seek to assuage by statutory provisions is that those anxieties have been aroused by the actions of successive United Kingdom Governments. The faith and the assurance which my right hon. Friend seeks to bring cannot be brought by words on the Statute Book; they can be brought only by his actions.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I rise only to re-emphasise the first part of the observations of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and I hope in doing so to allay some of the fears of my hon. Friends.

The Ireland Act, 1949 did not say that in no circumstances would the Border ever be changed. It declared that Northern Ireland should not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.

Clause 1(3) of the Bill makes specific provision for Her Majesty by Order in Council confirmed by the House of Commons to make laws which for all practical purposes will be the laws of Northern Ireland. In other words, we are taking over by means of Order in Council the power of the Parliament of Northern Ireland to make laws.

As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, it could be thought that in doing that we could by Order in Council make provisions which would affect the Border between Northern Ireland and the South without breaking the terms of the declaration contained in the Act of 1949. This subsection is intended solely to set that possible doubt at rest, to make it quite clear that there is no possibility by Order in Council arising out of the Bill of our taking a step which under the 1949 Act we have declared will be taken only with the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland; in other words, that in no circumstances should an Order in Council making laws for Northern Ireland through the House be regarded as equivalent to the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. It does not seek in any way to prejudice what might be done by either some future Parliament of the United Kingdom or some future Parliament of Northern Ireland on the question of the Border. That is a matter entirely for the future. It is one on which I know some of my hon. Friends have very strong feelings. I assure them that there is nothing in new Clause 8 which will in any way diminish their right to put forward these views or which diminishes the possibility that at some time in the future, whether as a result of the plebiscites or in some other way, their hopes and aspirations will fructify.

4.0 a.m.

Mr. Alexander Wilson (Hamilton)

Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend can remove some further doubts. Why have successive Governments refused to accept a simple Amendment to the Ireland Act, 1949, which would substitute the word "people" for the word "Parliament"? That is what the argument has always been about, and new Clause No. 8 only underlines the form of the guarantee which has always been a matter of contention.

Mr. Siikin

I am sorry but I am not concerned with the question of people or Parliament but simply with the terms of new Clause No. 8. I have tried to explain what it seeks to do and to make it clear that it does nothing to derogate from any future possibility other than the possibility of using this Bill in the way my hon. Friends object to. I hope they will take it from me that that is the purpose of new Clause 8, and its effect, and that it is desirable, if not necessary, to set at rest the sort of doubts the right hon. Gentleman has referred to.

[Mr. E. L. MALLALIED in the Chair]

Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State-designate has puzzled me by accepting both new Clause 8 and Amendment No. 53. I have two questions to put to him in consequence. The first arises from the fact that new Clause No. 8 and the Amendment appear to me, on the face of it, to be verbally inconsistent. The new Clause omits any reference to the consent of the Northern Ireland Parliament and I had assumed that that omission was intentional and that the reason for it was that there was no logic in embodying in a Bill which prorogued the Parliament of Northern Ireland reference to its consent being necessary. But Amendment No. 53 reintroduces the concept of the consent of the Northern Ireland Parliament. I do not see how it is possible to have it both ways. New Clause No. 8, I would have thought constitutes a far more forcible pledge than a pledge embodying the consent of the Northern Ireland Parliament.

Mr. Whitelaw

The answer is that I am trying to remove a fear. The point my hon. Friend is making is exactly the point which a great many people in Northern Ireland have put to me and it is simply not the case. As it is not the case, I am trying to give that assurance they seek. That is all.

Mr. Woodhouse

I will ponder on that intervention and go to the second question, which I want to put following the question put to my right hon. Friend by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills). My hon. Friend asked for an assurance that new Clause 8 would inhibit any discussion of the possibility of a change of the Border. I think that was the purport of the question. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is going to answer "Yes" or "No". If he were giving the answer "Yes"—and to some extent if he were giving the answer "No"—it would inhibit the holding of a plebiscite. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that there is nothing in the new Clause that he has accepted which would make it impossible to hold plebicites at regular intervals? Quite clearly there is no question of a plebiscite in the first year of this new Act. But the Act is likely to go on for quite a number of years—

Mr. Whitelaw

There is nothing in the new Clause about the holding of plebiscites. It does not affect that situation one way or the other.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

As we see it, all that it does is to say that the Bill does not alter the Border. What happens outside the Bill is a completely different matter which is not referred to.

Mr. Woodhouse

What the new Clause says is: Nothing in this Act shall derogate of authorise anything to be done in derogation from the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. I am simply asking for an answer to the question whether that inhibits discussion and inhibits the holding of a plebiscite.

Mr. Whitelaw

It cannot inhibit discussion. It cannot inhibit the holding of a plebiscite

Mr. George Cunningham

Possibly due to the lateness of the hour, some of us seem to have difficulty in understanding the consequences of certain provisions on the Statute Book which are very clear to my mind. Our confusion arises because we are discussing on this Amendment two separate matters. One is the 1949 guarantee, whether it should have been given, whether it should be sustained, whether we ought to try to get off the hook of it, and so on. Some of my hon. Friends have been labouring that point. But it has nothing to do with the Bill. There will have to be an occasion when the House has to ask itself whether it has got itself off the 1949 hook. Unless Stormont is to exist again, we shall have to free ourselves from that commitment. But that is not a hurdle that we face now, and nothing proposed in any of these Amendments has any effect on the 1949 commitment: it does not strengthen it, it does not weaken it, and it does not touch it in any way.

The other matter, which is the only one that we should be discussing, is whether the effect of the Bill in conjunction with the Ireland Act, 1949, is to remove the guarantee given in 1949. It has been suggested that the new Clause is unnecessary in that the Bill does not touch the guarantee. I do not think that that is correct. There is a technical necessity for the Amendment, and not only for the removal of doubt.

I think that there is no doubt. The 1949 Act says that Stormont may give its consent. When we pass an Act which says that for all practical purposes the right hon. Gentleman is Stormont, then the right hon. Gentleman's consent not only could be construed as having the authority of Stormont but would have the authority of Stormont.

It might help to remind the Committee how the consent of parliaments has been obtained where it has been required by other Statutes. The only example of a similar provision that I recall is that contained in the Statute of Westminster, 1931, which provided that in respect of the then dominions it would still be possible for this House to legislate for the internal affairs of the dominions if the dominion parliaments gave consent.

Different dominion parliaments, in invoking that provision, occasionally thereafter give that consent by different devices. Some Parliaments give the consent by different devices on different occasions. It has sometimes been done by resolutions of the two Houses of the Parliament. It has sometimes been done by the passing of an Act of the dominion parliament giving consent.

Because it has sometimes at least been done by the passing of an Act, and since specifically we are saying in this legislation that anything which could be done by the passing of an Act of Stormont can now be done by an Order in Council initiated by the Secretary of State and authorised by the House of Commons, then clearly technically the consent of Stormont could now be given, but for the Amendment, by an Order in Council. Therefore, technically there is a need in one sense and there is a need in another. In practical terms there is no need because no one believes that the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister will argue that an Order in Council under the Bill would constitute the agreement of Stormont for this purpose. However, if people in Northern Ireland are worried about that, then, because the technical possibility exists, and if this gives them any assurance, for godness sake let us do it and have done with it.

It is most important that, given the confusions which have arisen on the point even in this Committee, when the Secretary of State designate is talking about this matter in Ireland he should make it very clear that these Amendments, which he is accepting, do not add to and do not reiterate the 1949 guarantee, but merely, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said, ensure that this Bill does not touch that guarantee in any way.

Mr. Whitehead

Surely my hon. Friend will agree that part of the problem is that Amendment No. 53, if accepted, specifically refers in parenthesis to the veto power of the Stormont Government.

Mr. Cunningham

Yes. However, I do not think that in doing so it touches or reiterates it. It ensures that it is not modified in any way. It relates only to the Bill. This is the answer to the objection of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) who said that promises repeated several times lose their validity. We are not promising anything a second or a third time; we are merely providing that this Statute will not touch the promise in anyway. It is most important that the Secretary of State designate should make that very clear in Northern Ireland. It has to be accepted that there could, and very likely will, come a time when the House of Commons will have to look at the hook of 1949 and at least consider whether it is necessary to get itself off that hook or to transform the hook in relation to an elected Parliament in Ireland into a more formal hook in respect of a plebiscite of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Whitehead

I rise briefly to speak in support of new Clause No. 8, and to ask my hon. Friends at this late hour whether they could consider that the new Clause is necessary, though the Secretary of State designate, in attempting to make assurance doubly sure by also accepting Amendment No. 53, has made confusion worse confounded. As I understand the new Clause, there is nothing in it which refers to the powers of the Stormont Parliament or, indeed, to the provisions of the 1949 Act.

4.15 a.m.

What we are saying—and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) deserves support in this—is that under the provisions of new Clause No. 8 the people of Northern Ireland shall be assured that the Secretary of State designate is not arriving armed with powers which would allow him to change the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. That is eminently sensible. The Secretary of State designate is setting out on a very difficult and dangerous task, and it is essential, in the course of doing so, that he should win, as soon as he can, the collaboration and trust of the majority as well as the minority in Northern Ireland.

We would all accept that both communities have been progressively alienated by the tragic events of the past few years. The great danger is that by taking the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act as written into Amendment No. 53, it will appear to the minority in Northern Ireland that there is an effective precluding of the kind of discussions which must now take place and which will take place.

When we heard the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) supporting Amendment No. 53, but referring to the further stipulations that he wanted to see, that there should be no constitutional talks of any kind about the future status of Northern Ireland, we can appreciate precisely the fears which the minority community in Northern Ireland will derive from the acceptance by this Committee tonight of Amendment No. 53. Hon. Members have spoken passionately about a united Ireland. I share that view, but more pessimistically I believe that the concept of a united Ireland is more likely to come about within the context of a united Europe. Ultimately it makes sense, and it should be seen to make sense on both sides of the Border.

I should like to see the Committee take more positive steps to remove the fears of the minority. We could have made a start with the Special Powers Act, against which only a few of us have voted to-night. Nevertheless, it is necessary to acknowledge that the majority community in Northern Ireland are for the moment at least a separate entity, with a separate identity. They have a separate sense of nationhood and are at the moment under a great sense of threat.

One thing that this Commiteee can do is to accept that we can make progress—and the Secretary of State designate can make progress—in Northern Ireland only if an assurance is now given to the majority community that the legislation that we hope to pass tonight will not, of itself, be a vehicle by which the status of Northern Ireland is changed. I should hate to see that assurance manipulated in any way—as it may be by the majority community—to bring about a situation in which they feel that what has been passed if Amendment No. 53 were also accepted by the Secretary of State designate precludes the kind of discussions which must now take place in the future. One of the first things that the Commission should do, if and when it assembles is to advise the Secretary of State designate about the constitutional alternatives. The fact that these discussions are to take place should not blind us to the fact that the majority community in Northern Ireland must at this moment, more than ever before, be assured that there will not be a change in their status as a result of this legislation.

Mr. Fitt

Yesterday afternoon when the Bill came before the House for its Second Reading I had no hesitation in congratulating the Government on bringing it forward. I did so in the full knowledge that hitherto I had opposed the Government. Listening to the arguments that have developed during the course of the debates I now have no hesitation in saying that, much as I may disagree with the points of view put forward by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I find a cold, unanswerable logic about them. People in Northern Ireland are no fools. They may not understand all the academic terminology of debates in this House, but they know where they stand and they want to know where their future will lie.

Yesterday afternoon the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), the former Home Secretary who is not present tonight but has delegated responsibility to the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), much to the chagrin of hon. Members of the Opposition put forward the idea that the 1949 guarantee should be written into this Bill. I am not a member of the Labour Party in this House and I am not a member of the official Opposition, but I have many friends on this side of the Committee. I have faithfully and loyally supported hon. Members on this side on every vote since I became a Member. There was a ripple of dismay which permeated these benches when the former Home Secretary from the Opposition Dispatch Box promulgated the idea that the 1949 guarantee should be written into the Bill.

Mr. George Cunningham

It is not.

Mr. Fitt

I know that it is not and I know the reason. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) was as amazed as I was when the right hon. Gentleman promulgated that idea. Words mean what they say in cold print, particularly in the logic of Northern Ireland. Many of my hon. Friends must have brought their counsels to bear on the right hon. Gentleman. What we are left with will please the Government, confuse the people of Northern Ireland and perhaps satisfy some of the objections made from this side of the Committee.

What we are left with is: Nothing in this Act shall derogate or authorise anything to be done in derogation from the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. That means nothing to the people of Belfast and nothing to the people of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, Tomorrow morning when it is read in either the Unionist Press or the Nationalist Press, it will do nothing. It is a get-out. I am sure that I have the agreement of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). This is not what the former Home Secretary meant, and it means absolutely nothing to Northern Ireland. Certainly the Unionist majority there will accept this formula, but it will not be accepted by the people I represent.

Captain Orr

I agree, but, of course, Amendment No. 53 is different. That will mean something, something very important.

Mr. Fitt

The Secretary of State-designate has said that he will accept new Clause 8 and Amendment No. 53. That shows the pitfalls into which he is liable to fall. Referring to the terms of Amendment No. 53, the Parliament of Northern Ireland no longer exists. Even if it did, the Government should know that a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) has received a First Reading and that Bill seeks to substitute "the people of Northern Ireland" rather than "the Parliament of Northern Ireland." The Secretary of State-designate should have reckoned with that fact and not accepted Amendment No. 53.

Some hon. Members have said that the guarantee is written into the statement that there will be a plebiscite. I do not subscribe to the idea of a plebiscite. If a plebiscite were to be held and if 221,337 voted for the union and 220,014 voted against the union, would the majority have the support of the British Government? Or would those in the majority then go out and kill off those who were against the union, to ensure that the majority remained in control of Northern Ireland? No one can say with any certainty that a plebiscite will solve Northern Ireland's problems.

Given the majority-minority problem in Ulster, I do not believe that the British Parliament should give guarantees to the majority. Giving guarantees to the majority will create fears in the minority, although that may seem to be the lesser of two evils. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South must recognise that there is a community problem in Northern Ireland: there is a 60 per cent. majority and 40 per cent. minority that must be reckoned with. It is not a 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. minority.

Where there is a sizeable minority which, given the opportunity, could become the majority, the problem is serious. This is why the Government of Northern Ireland failed. This is why Stormont no longer exists. The Unionist Party at Stormont since its creation in 1920 had a 65 per cent. majority against a 35 per cent. minority. Any political party must take all reasonable steps to perpetuate its existence—this is recognised in politics—and the Unionist Party had to make certain that it held the 55 per cent. majority intact. It took all steps to preventan increase in the 35 per cent. minority. That was why there was discrimination and why the minority did not get houses. That was why the minority were forced to come to London or to emigrate to America, Australia and New Zealand. This is why the Stormont Government have fallen.

4.30 a.m.

What will happen if we write guarantees into the Bill for the majority, saying that in no circumstances will the constitution of Northern Ireland be changed unless by the express will of the majority? We have heard from the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East and from the Leader of the Opposition that talks must take place on an open agenda which includes the possible reunification of Ireland. If the new Clause and the Amendment are written into the Bill the Government will be saying: "We are giving guarantees to the majority, and you can talk as much as you like about the reunification of Ireland but it is not on".

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has a cold and unanswerable logic. He has said that many promises have been made and many statutory undertakings have been given. But no Act of Parliament is sacrosanct. I think it was Edmund Burke who said that a Parliament or Government which failed to take cognisance of changing conditions was sowing within itself the seeds of its own destruction. I remember coming to the House in 1966 and telling hon. Members that the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, had failed. I said that I lived in Northern Ireland and I understood the situation. It had never been a success. Hon Members from the Conservative side said "You cannot change the 1920 Act, because it is sacrosanct. It is there, and it must stay." That was in 1966, and now in 1972 that Act means nothing.

The Bill now before us means everything. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is correct when he says that statutory undertakings given at any particular time can within a few years mean nothing no matter what is said in the House or what is written into the legislation. Governments must take account of changing circumstances, particularly in Northern Ireland.

It is unnecessary to write the Amendment and the new Clause into the Bill. Giving a guarantee to the majority is disenchanting the minority. This support for the majority and disregard for the minority has been the trouble in Northern Ireland. This was why we had to abolish Stormont. A State like Northern Ireland cannot be run without the consent of 40 per cent. of the people.

It was completely unnecessary for the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East to suggest the Amendment yesterday. It is rather strange that an Amendment moved from this side of the House has included in its sponsors Mr. James Callaghan, Sir Elwyn Jones, who must have been caught in the Lobby somewhere on his way in or on his way out, Mr. Merlyn Rees and Mr. Silkin, who is on the Opposition Front Bench, and one Conservative Member, Mr. William Deedes. It must be unique for an Amendment to have five sponsors from this side of the Committee and one from the other side. I would have hoped that the Amendment would have shown the unanimity of this side of the Committee, but it has not.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.

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