§ The Temporary Chairman
I hope that with this Amendment it will be convenient to deal with the following Amendments:
No. 32, in line 4, at end insert:
under the sovereignty of its Parliament at Westminster'.
No. 19, in line 6, leave out:
'If so, put an x ' and insert ' Write yes or no '.
No. 34, in line 9, at end add:
'and governed in accordance with the constitution and laws of that Republic'.
No. 21, in Schedule, page 3, line 11, leave out:
'If so, put an x ' and insert ' Write yes or no'.
No. 22, in page 3, line 11, at end add:
'Either or both questions may be answered '.
No. 23, in page 3, line 11, at end add:
'Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the United Kingdom with an all Ireland Council regulating relations between and common problems of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland?
If so, put an X in this box ‥'.
§ No. 25, in page 3, line 11, at end add:
Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with both the Republic of Ireland and (he United Kingdom in a condominium?
If so. put an X in this box ‥'.
§ [Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Orme
Amendment No. 24, which could be termed "the third question", is of major importance. In this plebiscite poll Bill the issue of timing and all it entails, linked with the questions themselves with which the electors will be faced when the plebiscite takes place, is of major importance. It has been said earlier that there has not before been a vote of this nature in Northern Ireland.
People are going to the polls for the first time to answer two questions: whether or not they want to remain with the United Kingdom and whether or not they want to join with the Irish Republic. The question with regard to the Irish Republic is crucial and I read the proposed words from the Bill:Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland, outside the United Kingdom?If the electors were to vote "Yes" to that and "No" to the first question, it would mean, as it were overnight, that the question of a United Ireland would not only have been posed but accepted. That is a stark choice for the electors to be asked to make. They are asked to take a decision and following that, virtually, to see its implementation.
Those of us who have followed the Irish question closely and who have been in touch with many people in the North and in the Republic who are in favour of a united Ireland, know that hardly any responsible people on this issue who have supported a united Ireland for a lifetime, believe that it can be achieved overnight. We had the experience of what we were told by the Irish Labour Party when they visited the House last week. We talked to people in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) would probably take a similar view. Therefore, to pose the questions in the manner in which they are posed, to my way of thinking, means that they are almost totally negative. We believe that there should be a third question which would leave the door open and allow people to think whether in the long term a united Ireland was achievable perhaps under a different constitution in the Republic and under different economic and political conditions.
1664 We believe that the third question should be:'Do you want eventually to live in a United Ireland brought about by free consent of the peoples of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? 'and that is what we are moving.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Surely the second question meets the hon. Member's point in that it does not say either that the result would be immediate or on a time-scale? It could be taken to have either interpretation.
§ Mr. Orme
The fact that it is not spelt out means that it can be interpreted—and the interpretation being put on it by many people, including the New Ulster movement in the North, is that it is a stark question and that people are voting for almost immediate unification. If the hon. Gentleman were right, there would be no harm in this third question being posed as an alternative.
Amendment 20, which would leave out the word "or" would have to be implemented if this third question were put on the paper.
I make the simple point to the Secretary of State, who has heard the views expressed on Tuesday and before that about the holding of a plebiscite: he understands that a tremendous gamble is being made. If there were violence during the plebiscite it could be disastrous. I do not believe that one can have bullets and ballot boxes at the same time. It will be extremely hard to carry out the plebiscite.
The Secretary of State has heard the arguments about polling booths, about polling hours and about how people will get from one community to another. He has also heard the very definite pledge which the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) made about threatening to recommend a boycott of the poll. If the plebiscite is held and there is a boycott by a large section of one community so that the returns show a clean slate on one side, it will be quite disastrous, because it will only harden the divisions which exist already.
The third question is designed to get the minority to the poll. The intention is to make people participate by putting them in a position where they can say, "We can vote, and vote for an eventual unification." If all three questions 1665 appeared on the ballot paper, many people facing the present stark choice might still vote for the link with the United Kingdom. But given an opportunity to look to the future with a united Ireland based on a much higher economic standard of living and political development, they might adopt an entirely different approach.
The second question brings into play the Republic, because it asks:Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland, outside the United Kingdom?It is an extraordinary question when one considers that the Republic has not been consulted about it. We are asking people in a section of the United Kingdom whether they want to join a foreign country. We have had no consultations with that foreign country. I appreciate that it is not a foreign country in the full sense of the word, because its citizens have special rights here. But it is a unique situation.
I do not mean this to sound like a threat, but has it occurred to the Secretary of State that if he proceeds with the plebiscite and it looks like going wrong because the questions are considered to be too narrow by a section of the community, pressure may be applied in the Republic to have a referendum on the same day posing the question of a united Ireland? I do not think it would be helpful, and certainly I do not advocate it. It could lead to a great deal of trouble. One effect might be to show that a majority of Irishmen north and south wanted unification as opposed to the six counties.
Most right hon. and hon. Members, even those who want a united Ireland eventually, agree that it must be done with the free acceptance of the people of Northern Ireland when they have taken account of the problems that exist. To achieve that, we have to secure a very different economic and political base where, eventually, Irish men and women themselves can resolve these problems. At the end of the day, I believe that that cannot be done here. However, that does not concern us at the moment, though the question has been posed in the ballot paper which will be presented to the people in the north.
1666 This is an exceedingly serious situation. Talking to people of all shades of opinion in the Republic, I find a great deal of pessimism even about the proposed plebiscite itself. Even those who welcome it do not believe that it will be an easy ride. If things go wrong, if the questions appear to be too narrow, there could be great difficulty. Bad as the situation is now, it could deteriorate much further after the plebiscite.
The Secretary of State has probably received a great deal of advice about additional questions. I read an article by John Whale in the Sunday Times where he said that there were 100 answers to the right hon. Gentleman's two questions. But there is a growing body of opinion which feels that the questions must be widened. The Opposition have deliberately not tried to amend the two original questions because we know that it is exceedingly difficult to re-write them after they have been drawn up. We ask the Secretary of State, however, to accept a third question, and if he cannot accept it we want a good explanation why not.
I do not know what hon. Members feel can be done at this late stage to influence matters, but I believe that the Secretary of State must do something urgently on the problem of the questions. I have therefore kept to the central issue throughout my speech and I have refrained from developing the many other arguments which occur in a debate of this nature. We attach the utmost importance to this third question. It could save this country, Northern Ireland and the Republic a great deal of disaster. It is in that spirit that I move the Amendment.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
At this late hour I intend to be brief. I know that that is the standard opening for many speeches, but I mean what I say.
I wish to take up the couple of points raised by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme). I share his anxiety about a boycott. Everyone agrees that we want the highest possible turn-out for the plebiscite. We are deceiving ourselves if we imagine that by altering the questions or by providing a third question within the terms set out in the amendment we shall encourage to vote those who might be inclined to boycott 1667 the poll. It does not matter what concessions are made there will be those who are determined to boycott.
We have seen the ante raised far too often in recent years. We delude ourselves if we believe that the amendment will achieve the hon. Member's objective of preventing the possibility and danger of a boycott. I do not doubt the hon. Member's good faith or his desire to help. I was apprehensive about the wording of the questions in advance of the publication of the Bill. Having, for amusement, on more than one occasion tried my hand at drafting suitable questions, I realise how difficult it is. I therefore warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend and those who drafted the Bill on putting down such simple, straightforward and clear questions. The Government must resist the well-meaning changes which those who contribute to this discussion will seek to make.
The hon. Member for Salford, West referred to the choice being stark, but the issue is stark. The issue is the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, and there are those who take the view that if the answer to Question No. 2 about joining the Republic of Ireland is in the affirmative this could happen tomorrow. Bless my soul! There are people who for 50 years have wanted it to happen tomorrow, so to speak. Their choice is simple.
What does the word "eventually" in the amendment mean? If someone were trying to inject a word which could mean almost anything it would be difficult to imagine one more suitable for the purpose. How does one categorise "eventually"? Are we talking about 5, 10, 15, 20 or 50 years? Goodness only knows. What we have to consider is the position in Northern Ireland on polling day, when people will be asked to state whether they want to stay as they are or join the Republic of Ireland.
This is not a matter of fussy nuances. The questions are first-class, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist any change.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
The Secretary of State knows that he is surrounded in this debate by hon. Members 1668 who have given him their full support ever since he undertook the heavy burden of his present office, and therefore the issue is the achievement of the policy that is supported by both sides of the House.
A number of hon. Members have indicated, even if they have not used these words during the debate, that this is a symbolic occasion. As I interpret their speeches, they feel that perhaps one can pay too much attention to the details of the operation, and that the poll is designed mainly to respond to the feelings of a number of citizens in Northern Ireland who have lived through a great deal of tragedy in the last three years by giving them the opportunity to assert some of their fundamental beliefs. If that is so, then the spirit behind the amendment falls into the same category, but it applies to another section of the people of that area.
It need not be in contradication of that aim to accept what my hon. Friend suggested because, if it is a good case to offer an opportunity for one section of the people to get this reassurance, it must follow that it is also a good case to offer others in Northern Ireland an equal opportunity to get some reassurance about their deeply held beliefs.
§ Captain Orr
I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman, who always speaks with reason and sincerity, but surely the second question meets his case.
§ Mr. Mendelson
That is not immediately obvious. I think that the first two points are more immediately obvious, but the point which the hon. and gallant Gentleman makes is not. I am not here referring to the immensely important detailed points which have been argued throughout the debate relating to what might happen technically on polling day. That will be difficult enough. But my party has decided not to oppose in principle the operation which the Government are undertaking, and I would not, speaking for myself, argue that the technical dangers are such that we should then advise the Government not to proceed.
We take the principle of the Government's operation as right. On the other hand, we are entitled to urge, and we have a duty to urge, that, while the Bill is still before the Committee, the right hon. Gentleman ought seriously to consider 1669 whether he could gain a great deal, and lose nothing, by saying that not only will he offer an opportunity to large numbers of people to make a public affirmation and assurance but, on the same day, by the additional question, he will offer an opportunity to people who wish, by perfectly law-abiding means, to affirm their view that, in the long term, they believe in a united Ireland. That is all that the amendment asks.
There is no need for any change in the Government's original intentions.
§ Mr. Orme
Perhaps I should emphasise —I did not do so in moving the amendment—that the third question could apply also to the majority community, and there might be quite a number who would be prepared to look at the prospect of eventual unification while not being prepared to contemplate it in any immediate sense.
§ Mr. Mendelson
We cannot speak about that with certainty. I note what my hon. Friend says, but I recall that on polling day my agent in South Yorkshire always says, "You must not try to know too much about what has happened in the ballot box". We cannot be certain how different groups of people may use one opportunity or another. But what we can say with certainty is that, if the argument be that there should be opportunity for reaffirmation of an attitude, it holds equally good that that opportunity should be offered to the largest possible number of citizens of Northern Ireland.
That is the burden of my case. I take it as common ground, and as the spirit of the Secretary of State's administration ever since taking office. We want to remove any feeling of dominance of any group over another. We want there to be no occasion for saying, "We have shown them". I do not know whether I carry all hon. Members with me, but that is the spirit in which we on this side decided to support the principle of what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. Had there been any doubt about that, I should have argued among my hon. Friends that we should not accept the Government's proposals. I would not have given my support to any intention harboured in any quarter that this could be an occasion for, say, a demonstration 1670 showing that people still believe in the success of those who won at the Battle of the Boyne or anything like that.
None of that is in the spirit of what the Secretary of State is doing. He has no such intention. But, once the campaign is joined, whatever the date, it will not be in the right hon. Gentleman's hands. Those who want to argue for a "Yes" reply, will make their own campaign and create their own spirit. That is where the danger lies. It would, therefore, be in the best interests of the sort of campaign we want to see, affirming a certain political point of view, that the amendment should be accepted. We do not want the occasion to be used for an attempt to reassert a domination which we here—at least the large majority of us—do not approve and cannot support. If the right hon. Gentleman were to look for means to make more likely a campaign in the spirit which I am advocating, he has his opportunity here in the amendment.
I do not see why the Secretary of State should feel that, at this stage, having announced his two questions, he ought not to do what I am urging upon him. He has consistently told the Committee that he is not committing himself on the timing of the poll. In spite of the blandishments of many hon. Members to get him to say something more definite about the time that the poll will take place, the right hon. Gentleman has refused. Therefore, he is still open to accept amendments to the actual document to be put before the electorate. If he were to argue that this form is not one that he is prepared to favour there is a duty upon him to tell the Committee whether he can find another means of making sure that the third view can also be expressed.
The right hon. Gentleman must accept that on this and on previous occasions the Opposition have done everything they could to make it possible for him to get the legislation that he thinks necessary within a reasonable time. That is an additional reason why he should respond in the most co-operative way to the amendment.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I was glad that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme)—speaking with increasing authority—went out of his way to make it clear 1671 that there was no question of the Opposition's giving any encouragement to those people who would try to persuade a section of the community to boycott this poll. I very much welcomed his words, and I hope that it will be widely recognised that they are based on considerable wisdom.
I oppose the amendment because I believe that a third question is unnecessary, and that it also blurs the issue, I have two reasons for saying that. I believe—as I said in an interjection in the hon. Member's speech—that the second question on the ballot paper,Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland, outside the United Kingdom?could be answered in the affirmative both by the person who wants a united Ireland immediately and by the person who wants it eventually—the person whom the hon. Member for Salford, West was describing.
§ Mr. Rose
Is not the hon. Member's logic that if these two groups together formed the majority they would be opting for an immediate move to join the Republic, whereas many people on the Government benches would want that only in the long term? If the hon. Member regards that as a method of achieving a meaningful referendum, that could be the result.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
One has to make an assessment of it. I have no doubt that there will be a majority for the first question.
It is important to see exactly how the land lies on this matter, by way of the border poll. My argument is that both for the person who wants a united Ireland now and the person who wants one eventually there is nothing in the second question to debar him from putting his "X" against it. Therefore, I say that the third question is entirely unnecessary.
My second reason for opposing the proposal is that I believe that to put in a third question would be bogus, because it would be asking people to makea choice in a vacuum. The word "eventually" is used in the amendment. A citizen being asked to vote on this long-term point would be asking people to make a choice I want to see how Northern Ireland develops in the next few years ", and he would also say, "Before I put my 'X' 1672 down I want to see how Southern Ireland develops in the next few years."
That point was argued when we debated the second group of amendments. It was said that before people voted in this ballot they would want to see the White Paper. There is a certain aspect of this proposal that makes it highly hypothetical, because the answer depends very much on how life develops in the two parts of Ireland.
I know what my answer would be. I would obviously disagree, on political grounds, with the person who puts his "X" in the second box. But that person would have a perfect right to put his "X" in the second box. My view is that the arguments that we have heard this evening are unconvincing. Because the position of the person in respect of whom the hon. Member for Salford, West, was arguing is entirely covered by the second question, I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist the amendment.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I regard this debate as being profoundly tragic. The speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson), were deeply moving. When I look across at the Secretary of State and see his face lined by the tragedy which he has seen since he took up his post, and when I consider the physical risk which he has to endure in carrying out his task, I am appalled that he has to sit in this Chamber late at night and waste his time in pushing through this piffling and pointless little Bill.
It strikes me as almost an abuse of Parliament and of the desperately tragic situation in Northern Ireland that the Committee should have before it a ridiculous Amendment Paper which looks like a football pool form, full of idiotic alternatives—idiotic because the basic premise is idiotic. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), notable for his many hours absence from the Committee, has put forward such suggestions as "Write" Yes ' or ' No ' "; "Either or both questions may be answered ". All that seems to be missing from the Amendment Paper is an instruction such as "Write on one side of the paper only"; or "Do not attempt to answer more than two questions at any 1673 one time"; or "Perm any two out of three"; or "Is your journey really necessary?"
This is one of the most tragically farcical debates which I have had to sit through. It is tragically farcical that a senior Minister who shoulders burdens more intense and wearing than those of any other member of the Government must give the appearance, and perhaps convince himself, that he believes that this idiocy is important. Everybody knows what the answer in the poll will be. Everybody knows what the answer would be if the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West were accepted or if any of the other amendments were accepted, because there is a majority only for one question.
It is extraordinary that those who are deeply and sincerely embroiled in this problem should delude themselves into believing that the outcome of this exercise can be anything other than an even greater tragedy than the one we are witnessing, because those who are part of the majority to what is being asked of them will be no happier than they have been since the position will be unchanged for them. But those who are part of the minority, whether they vote or not, seeing themselves voted down by an overwhelming majority, as they will be, will be that much more desperate and ready to run to the arms of the extremists who woo them.
That is what upsets me about this Bill and that is why, looking at this fatuous schedule and the absurd amendments to it, I believe that the pity of the tragedy of Northern Ireland has been set in a context of almost obscene farce. It is impossible to ask the Minister to withdraw the schedule, but I tell him that, despite the deep sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West in moving the amendment, I do not think that it makes a penn'orth of difference whether he rejects or accepts it.
§ Mr. McMaster
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) said. The Committee has landed itself in an absurd position, because it will not face up to reality. Both Labour and Conservative Governments have continued to treat the minority in Northern Ireland as though they were a majority. 1674 The case is clear. The people who have disturbed the peace in Northern Ireland—and I agree with the implications of the hon. Gentleman's speech—are a tiny and seditious minority.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I should not like to go on record by implication as believing that the Catholic population is a tiny and seditious minority. First, it is not a tiny minority, and certainly only a very tiny part of it is seditious.
§ Mr. McMaster
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have even more sympathy with him now, after that intervention, than I had to start with. Of course, the great majority of the Catholics in Northern Ireland do not want to set up a republic, either now or at any time, in the North of Ireland. This is for economic reasons, and because their sympathies lie very much more with the United Kingdom. They want to be part of the United Kingdom rather than be with the South of Ireland, with which they have little in common.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am being misinterpreted. Sedition is a crime, and I do not believe the minority are seditious. But I believe that they are deeply and rightly discontented with their lot, and the wish of a great many of them not to be part of the United Kingdom is not a seditious wish but a wish that I strongly support.
§ Mr. McMaster
It might have been better if I had not given way to the hon. Gentleman a second time, because he is trying to destroy his own argument. If he will only think carefully where his initial argument was taking him, he will realise that this whole exercise is a nonsense. Why? Because those we are asking to put an "X" in one of the two boxes on the ballot paper represent on the one hand the great majority of the population of Northern Ireland, both Protestant and Catholic, and on the other those who will put their "X" in the second box. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) suggests that their numbers might be increased by a third question:Do you want eventually to live in a United Ireland brought about by free consent of the peoples of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?Does that add anything to the two questions in the schedule? I am in complete agreement with what my hon. Friend the 1675 Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) said, that if a proportion of the people in Northern Ireland want eventually to live in a republic of Ireland, a fortiori they would prefer the process to start straight away.
§ Mr. McMaster
Does the hon. Member for Salford, West suggest that there are a substantial number of people in Northern Ireland who in the distant future—and they do not know what will happen in between—are prepared to put an "X" in the third box who would not be prepared to put it in the second box?
§ Mr. Orme indicated assent.
§ Mr. McMaster
If the hon. Gentleman does suggest that, he and those hon. Members who say, "Yes" should explain what will happen in the course of the years to come to make those people change their minds.
§ Mr. Orme
This is a vital matter. I want to make the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has made on a number of occasions, that many of his constituents do not necessarily want to go into the Republic of Ireland as its constitution now is, but want eventually to go into a united Ireland, perhaps with an entirely different constitution. That is what we should be posing: the eventual possibility. That would leave people the choice.
§ Mr. McMaster
The hon. Gentleman has only further underlined the point that has already been made. The third question that he suggests should be put on the ballot paper is completely hypothetical. We cannot possibly forecast what another independent country will do with respect to its own constitution. That is totally outside our control. Therefore, this third question does nothing to improve the ballot paper; it does nothing to improve the proposal which we are considering that we should immediately —I stress the word "immediately"— ballot on the simple question:Do you want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Fitt
Even this afternoon we had made our attitude clear, particularly the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) and myself.
On several occasions since my entry to the House of Commons I have repeatedly said that a certain number of people in Northern Ireland, possibly a minority, espouse the ideal of eventual reunification of the whole country. This is accepted in Northern Ireland for many reasons. For ideological, emotional and historic reasons, these people hope to see the day when they will live in the island of Ireland under a sovereign Government. However, many of the people I represent would not accept the reunification of Ireland tomorrow.
As a Socialist I have many times voiced my objections to the constitution and Government which have existed in the Republic of Ireland over the past 40 years. As a Socialist I recognise that the imposition of partition was a great disaster for the people of Ireland, because it led to the formation of two civil war parties in the South and a monolithic Unionist Party in the North which prevented the coming into being of a Socialist Government which would have acted in the interests of working-class people both north and south of that monstrosity of a border.
I recognise the pressures to which the Secretary of State is subject in Northern Ireland and I have a great deal of sympathy for him; but only weeks, months or perhaps years will prove whether he is right at this time or whether we are right in the advice we are tendering to him today.
We are faced with a ballot paper containing two stark questions. First, do we want to live in Northern Ireland with a link with the United Kingdom? or, secondly, do we want to break that link immediately? The word "immediately" is not written in, but that is tantamount to what it means.
The people of Northern Ireland talk about realities and what they think will 1677 happen there, not what is happening in the rarefied atmosphere of Westminster. This evening I saw an instance which proves how unrealistic the atmosphere within the confines of Westminster can be when it is related to what is happening in Northern Ireland, particularly in the city of Belfast.
We hear about the Unionist extremists, Vanguard and the UDA, and the minority extremists, the official IRA and the provisional IRA. I should like to restate my position. I have no time for any of these extremists. As a Socialist I have consistently opposed the use of the gun and the bomb which have brought death and tragedy to all constituencies in Northern Ireland.
These two questions will play into the hands of the extremist elements in Northern Ireland. I know what the people in Northern Ireland are thinking, and it should be stated in this place now. The Secretary of State, acting under severe provocation and great pressure from the Unionist Party, has agreed to the plebiscite.
The Unionist extremists, the Vanguard and the UDA, are not fooled by the holding of the plebiscite. They believe that, if they vote for the maintenance of the link with Great Britain, once the Secretary of State has secured the overwhelming majoritiy he needs he will say to the Unionists, "You have voted for the maintenance of the link. Now you accept my terms". That is not diplomacy. It is tantamount to putting handcuffs on to someone and saying, "I will take them off when you tell me to".
Such an approach is not appropriate for Northern Ireland. The very people who will vote "Yes" on this issue will, when the Secretary of State introduces his White Paper, say "No". Although they may have said "Yes" twice or three times on the plebiscite, they will say "No" 10 or 20 times to the proposals in the White Paper if they do not contain everything they hope for.
The Government by holding the plebiscite are saying to the extremists, "You vote ' Yes ' "; and they are saying to the Provisional Irish Republican Army and to the rabid republicans, "You vote ' No'".
1678 The proposed ballot paper does not provide the opportunity to say, "Yes". A voter is required to put an "X". In some psychological way it might be better if it were possible to put "Yes". The people of Northern Ireland should not be treated as fools who are incapable of putting "Yes" or "No".
I want at this stage to pay tribute to the deep and abiding interest which my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) has had in what is happening in Northern Ireland. This goes back to a time long before many hon. Members espoused such an interest. In 1967 my hon. Friend, together with my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) and for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller), accompanied me on a visit to the Bogside, at a time when very few hon. Members had even heard of the Bogside. We also visited West Belfast and other areas which were suffering from severe unemployment, bad housing, and oppression. The report which my hon. Friends presented to the House, at the time of the then Labour Government, a report which was drawn up by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley, was subsequently confirmed almost word for word by the Cameron Report.
The people referred to in that report are those who are now being put into the category of rabid, mad republicans, gunmen and murderers. All that those people wanted was social justice, better housing and improved employment prospects. It is from this point of view that I support the Amendment.
No room is being given for moderate opinion to express itself. The door is being left wide open for extremists from both sections to pronounce their conclusions. Those who do not accept the extremist views run the risk of being gunned or bombed or being intimidated into accepting such views.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East said that people were being asked to vote on something which might happen in 10 or 15 years time and how were they to know what would happen. How does the hon. Member know? How does the Secretary of State know? How do I know? Because of what is happening internationally, for instance with the United Kingdom's entry into the Common 1679 Market, there is room for optimism that conditions will so change that people in the north of Ireland will forget their insularity and isolationism and be prepared to live in the context of a much wider world.
The inclusion of the question put forward by my hon. Friends would leave the door open. Many people in Northern Ireland, including Protestant and Catholic working-class people—if given an assurance that they would not be left jobless and homeless or be victimised or oppressed in an all-Irish State—would want to proclaim something which up to now they have not been given the opportunity to proclaim.
As a Belfastman, I say that the tragedy of the Protestant working class people is that they are suffering a crisis of identity. They are not sure whether they are Irish, Northern Irish, Ulster, Scots-Irish or what. That is an awful dilemma. If a working-class man came from my constituency to London to seek employment, he would be immediately identified by Londoners as an Irishman. Although these people may not admit it, they are desperately seeking an identity to which they can give their allegiance. That is why the inclusion of this question would mean so much to them.
The Catholic minority does not want to be a minority; the Protestant majority does not want to be a minority in the context of Ireland. For psychological reason no one wants to be a member of a minority group. The question would give moderates the opportunity to break down the polarisation that has arisen. Protestants, for purely mercenary reasons, because of the welfare services which are paid for by Britain, may not want to belong to the Republic because of the lower standards there. I am the last to advocate that any Protestant in Northern Ireland should accept lower standards of welfare benefit. I would support them in resisting any attempt to force them into the Republic with its lower standard of welfare benefits. The same with the Catholics, many of whom have suffered unemployment. They may not be much better off in the Republic.
Protestants are afraid that they may be taken over by the 26 counties. There is no question of that. I envisage an entirely new Ireland. if people were 1680 given the opportunity to enter a united Ireland by consent, and did so, Ireland as we know it would no longer remain, and the people of Northern Ireland would be a dominant feature in any future Irish Government.
I recognise the difficulties of the Secretary of State. He has to placate the Unionist leaders and, 50 years later, to give them the opportunity of securing an overwhelming majority as they did in 1922. But that in itself will not bring an answer to the Irish problem.
I believe that now the Secretary of State should take his courage in his hands—he has tremendous courage—and say, "We will include this third question." What possible objection can there be? If he accepts the amendment because it seems reasonable to him and because it seems reasonable to the British people, which is even more important, what possible objection could the people of Northern Ireland have? They would still have the opportunity to vote on questions 1 and 2 and they could ignore the third question if they wished. The people of Britain would be in a position to say, "One set voted one way and the other set voted the other way and all ignored the third question."
Inclusion of the third question would prove to the British people and this Committee exactly what the feelings of the people of Northern Ireland are. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose. It would be a bold and courageous political gesture by the Conservative Government. I have been opposed to the Government because of my Socialist ideology, but in this situation, in which my constituents and others are being murdered daily and where tragedy is a daily occurrence in Northern Ireland, I would give my wholehearted and vehement support to the right hon. Gentleman, as would many other people who are sick to death of killing and tragedy, if he included this third question. No one has anything to lose except those intent on bringing death and destruction to Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. English
I wish to refer to my Amendments No. 32 and No. 34. If I do not refer to Amendment No. 24 it is because of the lateness of the hour. There is no conflict between that amendment and my own in the sense that mine 1681 are simply relevant to the two questions which are already in the schedule. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), who accused my hon. Friends of blurring the issue by putting in a third question, will recognise that the object of my amendments is to make the existing questions clearer. I am concerned because the existing questions, in the context of Ireland, blur a certain number of issues.
The first question isDo you want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom?Amendment No. 32 would add the words,under the sovereignty of its Parliament at Westminster ".Anyone who knows his Irish history realises that it is not only the Catholics who have desired autonomy from Britain. On the contrary, there is an ancient and honourable Protestant tradition in Ireland desiring as much power as possible to lie in Ireland and not at Westminster, and that tradition continues.
One should make it plain that in this day and age, in the light of all that has happened, one can never totally go back to Stormont, with all the powers that it had. What must be made plain is that anyone voting "Yes" to the first question cannot think in his own mind that "Yes" means that Northern Ireland gets Stormont back and everything back as it was before. He must realise that, although there may be some different form of local government in Northern Ireland, if he votes "Yes" to that question the ultimate sovereignty will always lie here.
My other amendment, Amendment No. 34, is relevant to some of the things which have been discussed. Anybody who votes for the alternative question:Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland, outside the United Kingdom?must in the context of the referendum realise that what is envisaged is the existing republic with its existing constitution and its laws. I have simply suggested adding… and governed in accordance with the constitution and laws of that Republic ".There have been many arguments about changes; changes have even been suggested in the constitution of the 1682 Republic. But it should be clear in the question that if people vote to go outside the United Kingdom into the Republic, they are voting to do that as of now—not in some hypothetical situation where the laws of the Republic or its constitution were different from what they were at the time of the poll. Those are the two suggestions I put forward in my amendments.
§ Mr. McNamara
I shall not detain the Committee long. I merely want to make a number of points arising from the Second Reading debates on these questions, and to answer specifically points made by the various Conservative Members from Belfast.
Those hon. Gentlemen have deliberately chosen to misinterpret the way in which the third question was put. They asked whether it would mean a sort of never-never land. They forget that the most important element in the question is whether the people eventually will want to livein a United Ireland brought about by free consent of the peoples of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland ",—in other words, that when the decision is taken, it is taken by free consent, with full knowledge of the circumstances which exist at that time. All the ballyhoo hon Gentlemen were speaking about will have gone. It will give time for the Government's proposals to come into operation, it will give time for whatever alterations are made by the Republic to come to light and to be judged; and it will give time for whatever progress is envisaged to make itself felt so that people will know where they stand. This is why that question was chosen.
Conservative Members may not appreciate the situation, but I would tell them that a great deal of time went into trying to frame a third question which would be able to hold out hope to people who live in the North of Ireland. We have tried to get something at which the moderates in all the communities can clutch.
§ Mr. McMaster
This is a most interesting line of argument, but surely it leaves a totally unbalanced situation. The hon. Gentleman's question is on the following lines: "If there is free consent in Ulster to the reunification of Ireland, will you object to it"—or, in other words, is the 1683 person concerned a dyed-in-the-wool Orangeman? Surely one would have to ask a fourth question: "Do you agree eventually to remaining part of the United Kingdom if this is brought about by the free consent of the people of Northern Ireland?" That is the implication of the hon. Gentleman's argument.
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Gentleman should be the last person in the world to talk about lack of balance, because in the six years I have been in the House I have found it hard to discover anybody more unbalanced in his judgment than the hon. Gentleman.
I come to the hon. Gentleman's fourth suggested question. If contained within the" question is the phrase "brought about by free consent", there will never be free consent of the people of Northern Ireland on the basis on which the hon. Gentleman argues. Therefore, he has nothing to fear.
In many ways this debate is a little farcical since we know what the result will be. Many of us did not vote against the Second Reading because we wanted to show a degree of co-operation and to try to improve what in many ways was a very bad Bill.
I now come to what I regard as a very important matter in the context of the Bill. I repeatedly tried to get from the Secretary of State and the Minister of State a statement of the situation about the second question in the Bill:Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined by the Republic of Ireland, outside the United Kingdom?I asked whether there had been consultations with the Government of the Republic on the plebiscite; on the form of the questions and on what would happen if a decision were taken to join the Republic.
The Minister of State replied that his right hon. Friend had had frequent meetings with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic. That did not answer any of my points and I suggested that the answer was "No" and that there had been no consultation on these important points.
I think I am right in saying that that is the situation, and it is hard to imagine anybody negotiating with the Prime Minister. He never Seems to negotiate, 1684 but to state his proposals and then not to shift from them. The Prime Minister, at the Oxford Union Society this evening, dealing with these proposals said—[HON. MEMBERS: "Of Ireland."] The Prime Minister of Ireland. It is all one to me and always will be. He said:I must be frank about the plebiscite proposals. Certainly my Government could never accept that it is a valid or useful exercise to consult only the people of Northern Ireland by a plebiscite on the subject of Irish unity.—with which presumably he did not agree—Such a plebiscite, conducted on the basis of questions as stark as those which are proposed,—the very criticism which has come from this side on the starkness of the questions—can contribute nothing, is completely predictable—we all know the result—and can only widen the rift between the two communities.—the very point we have been most concerned about.
'Indeed, its result could create most harmful illusions. It might even create the impression that a return to simple majority rule in the North is feasible or justifiable".That turns to the principal argument from this side, because we feel that the first question could result in just that conclusion being drawn. If the promises of reform hinted at are in the White Paper and are to come after the plebiscite there would be a betrayal of the Protestant community looking for its own identity.
The Prime Minister continued:Of course, we reject completely the extraordinary notion that a plebiscite could 'take the border out of politics'. We reject too the idea that there could be a meaningful vote on the question of whether the North and South should be reunited when there has been no negotation of any kind about the terms and the time-span of the reunification process. In our view, the holding of a plebiscite on the basis of the most divisive question imaginable must seriously hinder the development of dialogue between the elements of moderation on both sides and progress towards new arrangements in Ireland. No responsible Irish Government could endorse such a procedure ".
§ Mr. Rose
We approach the end of the Committee stage on a futile Bill which has been shown by my hon. Friends to be futile. Many of my hon. Friends have not opposed the Bill in principle. We have adopted that attitude because we 1685 have been counselled by people who have shown great moderation. When it was suggested that we ought in principle to oppose the Bill, it was pointed out that there was another option, and that was to seek to introduce a third question on to the ballot paper. It is for that reason alone that many of us have shown the moderation that we have.
The proposed two questions are calculated only to create a greater polarisation and to bring into play the very issue which is the most divisive in Irish politics, rather than trying to bring people together on the basis of economic and social issues where there can be co-operation.
The options proposed in my Amendments Nos. 23 and 25 show merely that there are other options which people in Northern Ireland may wish to support. Today, I received a document which supports the idea of a condominium. I do not believe that that is a practical solution to the problems of Northern Ireland, but there are people who do.
When a referendum poses in these stark terms two alternatives which many people may find not to be real alternatives or which they may regard as unacceptable alternatives, it is not a referendum or plebiscite in the real sense. It is dictated by the questions that it asks. This is always the weakness of the plebiscite, which is so often the instrument of tyranny because those who frame the questions very often get the answer that they want. That is not always the case, but it can be, and it is very dangerous.
In this case, we have two extreme groups. On one side we have the IRA provisionals who are willing to terrorise and bomb people into joining overnight a republic which has no wish to absorb them in that way and which understands the danger. On the other side we have the UDA, UVF and other groups who assault innocent women and children and who were using terror eight years ago. I myself have received many threats from that quarter. All these people are willing to use violence to achieve their ends, and we all know that the very State of Ulster was conceived and born in violence.
It cannot be right to pose these two stark alternatives without giving the 1686 people of Ulster the chance to say whether they accept the status quo because that is the only way that they can live in peace together, and that they also accept the right of people to put forward their views about the kind of Ulster that they want or the all-Irish solution that they want ultimately.
This stark dichotomy of "Yes" or "No" rules out moderation. All that it does is ask people what are their tribal loyalties today. What it does not try to do is lay the foundation for a constructive dialogue with a view to an ultimate solution. In fact, it does the opposite, because it presents the extremist forces with the opportunity once again to step into the centre of the arena.
The point that I made on Monday that I could vote for both of the questions—we were told that that would be an invalid vote—is of some consequence. It is possible for me to say that I am in favour of the link with Britain, that I want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, but that in the long term I recognise that the ultimate destiny of Northern Ireland is elsewhere, that it must revert to being part of what it was historically, namely a part of the whole geographic entity of Ireland. I could say that that was a long-term process which could come about only through reconciliation. But that is ruled out. The possible question which could avoid violence has been excluded. The Secretary of State must pay attention to that.
Our debates have lasted many hours. They have shown that for the first time since the Minister's initiative when there was a bipartisan policy and when we supported him in his efforts, sometimes critically but with great admiration for what he has achieved and for his personal courage and integrity, the House is divided. If the poll divides the House, how much more will it divide Northern Ireland? Surely it has become crystal clear to everyone from the kind of division which exists in the Committee that this will be a highly divisive plebiscite. A warning should be seen in the debate. It is a gentlemanly and pale introduction to what will be far less gentlemanly if the poll goes ahead as planned.
1687 It is a great tragedy that the right hon. Gentleman in his efforts to try to get the Unionist majority to accept his correct measures on the ending of Stormont should have thrown this proposal out to them as a sop. I am glad that he has not committed himself entirely on the timing, but we would be even happier tonight if he refused to commit himself on the questions that are to be asked and if he accepted instead that there is an alternative. That alternative will cater for those people who believe that for the present Ulster must remain part of the United Kingdom, and no sensible person could quarrel with that, and that if there is free consent between the North and the Republic there can be no objection to a change in status.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said, the operative words are "free consent." Those who oppose the proposed third question are as opposed to free consent in their way as the IRA provisionals are in their more violent fashion. They are saying that there must not be free consent to think of Northern Ireland becoming part of a united Ireland. That is the nub of the matter and the Minister must realise that for the first time a divisive factor has entered the issue. If it is divisive on the Floor of the House where we are free from the terror, the bombs, the burning and the attacks on wives, how much more divisive will it be in Northern Ireland?
Will the Secretary of State think again about this and will he at the very least accept the amendment? We have put it forward because it is the only alternative to our dividing the Committee on the principle. Will he at least make a concession on this so that it will be unnecessary for us to spend hours during the night on a wasted and wasteful Third Reading?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) says that the key to the long debate on this group of amendments is to be found in the words "free consent". We have spent a lot of time talking about a question on unification between Northern Ireland and the Republic being included in the poll, such unification being based upon the free consent of the 1688 peoples of Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Has anyone given any consideration to the fact that there is another question which should be posed in precisely the same setting? Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain can come about only with the consent of the peoples of Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and yet that issue is not to be raised in the plebiscite. It makes a mockery of the whole thing that the people of this nation as a whole, for whom the Secretary of State is also responsible, are not to be asked for their views.
The Committee should be indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for bringing to our debate the reports of speeches by the Prime Minister of the Republic because, by doing so, he has shown that the whole exercise and the matters that are being raised in this Chamber—such as direct rule, and so on—are absolute nonsense. The problem will not be solved—and I say this again to the right hon. Gentleman—until the Government, this parliament and our people come to the conclusion, and act upon that conclusion, that only Irishmen will solve the problems of Ireland, and that to transfer power to an independent Northern Ireland will not put an end to this tragic and terrible story.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
In answer to the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) one is bound to say that this country and this Parliament have a duty to the people of Northern Ireland which they must discharge. If anyone thinks that there is some wonderful way in which the people of Ireland, North and South, if left to themselves, will solve all the problems, he has to face the fact that history has not shown that to be possible.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Having said that, J should like to continue by telling the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) that I am grateful to him for the great care with which he put forward his third question and also for the immense amount of thought, which I fully recognise, that has gone into devising the question.
1689 The hon. Gentleman said—and others have made the same point—that he has doubts about the plebiscite because it might lead to violence. One has to accept that that is a danger, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept from me that, having weighed all the arguments carefully, my view is that there is grave danger of violence if there is not a plebiscite. One has to take both those factors into account, and I should not like anyone to run away with the idea that I have not weighed them both before coming to my conclusion.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) began by having great sympathy for me, for which I am grateful, but which I do not think I need. He thought it was a tragedy that I had to be bothered with the Bill because it is no good and will not do any good. If I had taken that view I should not have sat here all day, or previously, trying to get the Bill through the House. The hon. Gentleman may be right and I may be wrong—I am not saying that I am right—but I believe that the Bill is necessary.
Even if I did not believe that, there is another reason for the Bill. A plebiscite on the border was promised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in March, and that is a promise to which the Government are committed. Indeed, on many occasions people in Northern Ireland have told me that it would be a breach of confidence and faith to go back on that promise. That is a very import ant factor, because confidence and faith are essential in all our efforts to deal with this problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) seemed to agree somewhat with the hon. Member for Ardwick that, on the whole, the exercise was a nonsense. I can only say that that is not the view which has been expressed very forcibly and sharply either to me or to various members of my ministerial team by many of his constituents. They have said precisely the opposite.
§ Mr. McMaster
The view expressed to me by many of my constituents has been that, the promise having been made, it must now be implemented rather than, that it is basically, a good idea to have a plebiscite.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
They have said to me quite simply, "You have got to have a plebiscite". They have said it in stark and determined terms, and I believe that that is what they feel.
One comes back, therefore, to the question: how should the poll be expressed? On what should it be based? I am the first to say that one of the great problems—this has been said on both sides—is the devising of questions. I admit freely that a great deal of time and thought has gone into the devising of questions. The more one looks at questions, the more difficult the task becomes.
When I tell the Committee that I rest on the belief that the simpler the questions are the better, I want hon. Members to recognise that, although one can always argue that other questions might be better or easier, the moment one enters upon that one runs into further difficulty. That has certainly been our experience. Therefore, while fully understanding the arguments which have been put, I keep coming back to the worry I have that the more questions one has the more one is then driven to have.
It has been argued that a further question would avoid a boycott. I agree here with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder). If people are determined to boycott a poll of this kind, other questions will not, I am sure, stop them doing so. I hope very much that they will not boycott it, and I believe that the second question as it stands in the schedule gives them a perfectly good opportunity to cast a vote, without boycott. I am sure that that second question gives such an opportunity, and I cannot for the life of me see why it should be thought otherwise.
If people genuinely wish to take part in the poll, the second question gives a clear opportunity. If they are determined to boycott it, I believe it would not matter how many questions we put; they would still boycott it. I greatly hope that that will not be their view, although I know that some say that it will be.
§ Mr. Orme
But it is those of us who want to recommend that there be no boycott who will be limited in what we can do if we cannot say, "First, you have had the White Paper, and second, you have a choice of questions". That is the 1691 difficulty. There are some people who will boycott all the questions, whatever they are, but we believe that there are a large majority who, given the opportunity, would go to the poll. That is the central issue.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I absolutely accept the hon. Gentleman's sincerity in that. I know that he wants people to take part in the poll, as I do. I entirely accept that he puts his proposal on that basis, and I accept the sincerity of his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) that he wants to see people take part in the poll. That is our purpose. But the burden of my argument remains—this is where a basic difference lies between us—that I genuinely and honestly believe that the second question on the schedule now provides an opportunity—[Interruption] I believe that it does. Other hon. Members believe that it does not. I am entitled to my view. I may be wrong. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) says that, up to now, there has been a broad measure of support, and I trust that that broad measure of support on the principle will continue. There are bound to be differences of emphasis from time to time. The hon. Member may be right, and I hope that if I say, in a sufficiently humble manner, that on the question of Northern Irish affairs it is hard to know just what is right, and that he may prove to be right, he will, in the same sense, admit that it is just possible that I may be right. I am saying that he may be right; I cannot prove it. I ask him to agree that I may be right.
§ 12.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Rose
I accept the Minister's sincerity, but does he appreciate the dilemma that many of us will now have to face if the third question is not in? Those of us here who ask people to vote, and those in Northern Ireland who think the same way, will no longer be able to put forward a choice. We shall have to tell the people that if they vote both ways their ballot paper will be null and void, and as the third choice does not exist they will feel compelled to boycott the referendum.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I believe that the questions as put provide that opportunity; 1692 the hon. Member does not. Many people tell me that they do.
§ Mr. Stallard
This is an important point. As I understand it, moderate opinion in Northern Ireland—the Northern Ireland Labour Party, the New Ulster Movement, the SDLP, many trade union representatives, and the Alliance Party—has recommended the very change that we suggest, or one very similar to it. On what does the right hon. Gentleman base his judgment? We base ours on the large area of moderate opinion that says, "Change that question", and we are convinced that if the question is changed the people will find it possible to vote.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I accept that some people take the Opposition view. I can only base my judgment on a great many consultations with different individuals and parties. I am entitled to take the view that since I have probably discussed these problems with more people than anyone else in the House, it is fair to say that, although I may be wrong in the end, as I am the first to admit— [Interruption.] That is not enough for the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson), because he does not agree— but I am convinced that this is the best way to proceed.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
It doles not matter that I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman; I am arguing that a great deal of the area of moderate opinion to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is opposed to his view, and it is not good enough for him to say that he has had all sorts of consultations. He has to meet the body of opinion quoted by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
It is a remarkable statement that one has to meet one body of opinion. When many different views are put to one it is clear that one cannot meet all the views. One is bound to accept that. But I believe that this is the best way of doing it.
§ Mr. Fitt
Will the Secretary of State accept that on the first of the two questions—Do you want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom?I have made my position clear? Faced with the stark reality of the choice provided by the ballot paper I cannot vote 1693 for the maintenance of the link, because in my view it means a return of a Unionist Government in some other guise. But I shall have difficulty in putting my cross on the second box, because I want to see a Socialist Ireland—a new Ireland. But I am faced with a black-and-white situation. There is no room on the ballot paper for me—as the leader of the SDLP and as one who wants a Socialist Republic—to make known my opinion.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I still believe that this is the best way of doing it. If the hon. Member reflects on the matter he will find that if we put in another question we shall get into greater difficulties. If we decide to include the word "eventually"—which is a perfectly good word; it has been criticised, but I do not criticise it—it does not give any indication to the voter as to what else would have to be done to bring about the situation that he would wish at the time. I do not think one can tell. One would be putting to him a question which was extremely difficult to answer.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) quoted various remarks made in the speech of the Prime Minister of the Republic. He also asked me about the question of consultations with the Prime Minister of the Republic. As I said on Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had various discussions with the Prime Minister of the Republic and has fully informed him of what we are doing. My right hon. Friend has told him what we are doing about the plebiscite, which he does not like, as he has made clear in his speech.
Consultations and discussions have taken place. It is recognised on both sides that the responsibility must rest with Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. McNamara
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government and that in the long run the decision
§ must be theirs. But there is a question on the ballot paper asking people, "Do you want to be part of the Republic?". The Government are completely disregarding the opinion of the Republic and saying, "We will go ahead and put a question in a plebiscite", which people do not want to be held, "about the future of the country", which people do not want to be discussed in this way. It is quite mad.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
That may be the hon. Gentleman's view; but the Republic has said for a long time that it desires a united Ireland. I do not want to go into detail, but it has consistently made that clear. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that if the answers to the question showed that there was a majority for the second, it could not happen overnight; there would have to be negotiations to see how an orderly transfer could be made. No one can pretend otherwise.
I think that a third question is unnecessary because the two proposed questions give the options and set out a simple and straightforward choice. Hon. Members opposite do not agree. To add another question would further complicate the issue. Therefore, I must advise the Committee that the right answer is to leave the position as it is. Much as I appreciate the ideas behind the amendment, I cannot accept it.
§ Mr. Orme
The Secretary of State's explanation was completely unsatisfactory. The Opposition feel extremely concerned about this issue. We have put the case for the amendment in the strongest but most reasonable manner. The right hon. Gentleman is not on our wavelength on this crucial issue. Therefore, I must advise my hon. Friends to vote for the amendment.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made: —
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 26, Noes 66.1695
|Division No. 24.]||AYES||[12.40 a.m.|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Evans, Fred||Latham, Arthur|
|Atkinson, Norman||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Foley, Maurice||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Deakins, Eric||Golding, John||Marsden, F.|
|Devlin, Miss Bernadette||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|English, Michael||Kaufman, Gerald||Mendelson, John|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Orme, Stanley||Skinner, Dennis||Mr. J. D. Concannon and|
|Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Spearing, Nigel||Mr. Tom Pendry.|
|Rose, Paul B.||Stallard, A. W.|
|Atkins, Humphrey||McMaster, Stanley||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Benyon, W.||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Soref, Harold|
|Biffen John||Mather, Carol||Speed, Keith|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Spence, John|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Moate, Roger||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Molyneaux, James||Tebbit, Norman|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Money, Ernie||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Clegg, Walter||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Eyre, Reginald||Mudd, David||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Neave, Airey||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Fortescue, Tim||Normanton, Tom||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Fowler, Norman||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Fox, Marcus||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Green, Alan||Pounder, Rafton||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Jopling, Michael||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Kilfedder, James||Raison, Timothy||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Kinsey, J. R.||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Mr. Paul Hawkins and|
|Kirk, Peter||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Mr. Oscar Murton.|
|Knox, David||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Lane, David||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 12.45 a.m.
§ Question proposed, That this Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington, North)
I should like to put a number of short technical questions about the marking of the ballot paper in the schedule. I understand that earlier an indication was given that a ballot paper would automatically be invalid were there to be crosses in each of the two boxes. Under what statutory requirements can it be determined at this stage that such a ballot paper would be invalidated?
Is there any existing statutory commitment which would of necessity invalidate any qualified answer that a voter might give to either of the questions on the ballot paper?
Is the Minister of the view that the conduct of the ballot, the marking of the ballot paper, and the circumstances in which the ballot paper would be declared spoilt and therefore invalid are governed by any existing electoral regulations, or whether those provisions will form part of the rules which the Bill enables the Secretary of State to introduce? If the latter, may I inquire whether the door might still be slightly open?
We know the Secretary of State to be a man not only of sincerity and integrity, 1696 but of courage—the courage to stand by his convictions and, in the light of evidence and further consideration, to revise his view and to take account of any additional factors and evidence brought before him. Therefore, in the introduction of the rules that the Secretary of State will prescribe, will it be open to him even now, if he is convinced that some people will not in those circumstances boycott the election, to permit voters to answer "Yes" to each of the two questions on the ballot paper? Might it even be possible for the Minister to indicate that it would not be out of order for a voter to choose to answer "Yes" to the second question and to add "Eventually"?
If there is a high proportion of spoiled ballot papers, will it be possible under the regulations which are likely to be made for it to be declared how many ballot papers have been invalidated as a consequence of voters answering "Yes" to both questions or by their giving qualifying answers? If this poll is not governed by existing electoral regulations, and in view of the powers the Secretary of State will have under the Bill, will the Government consider making some modification in the rules which will be made? That might make the poll more acceptable to those who will otherwise boycott the plebiscite.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
These are technical points on which I would not want 1697 to give the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) wrong answers. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept from me that I should like to check the accuracy of the information I will now give him, although I believe this information to be correct.
My understanding is, first, that the hon. Gentleman is right that the matters of which he speaks in general will be the subject of regulations made under the Bill when enacted. The Bill as amended provides that the House shall have the opportunity of scrutiny.
Second, my immediate answer to the hon. Gentleman's question whether the regulations permit an affirmative answer to both questions is "No", because the schedule contains the word "or" and it would not be open to the Secretary of State to make regulations under the Bill when enacted which defeated the purpose of the Act.
Third, I will consider the question of a declaration of the number of spoiled papers. I think that the regulations can cover the question of the declaration of the poll.
Fourth, it will not be permissible to make comments on the ballot paper. If the Committee approves the schedule, it will not be open to my right hon. Friend, by regulations made under the Bill when enacted, to permit people to amend the ballot paper which has been approved by Parliament. Therefore, a ballot paper with written-in words would be the equivalent of a spoiled ballot paper, as over here. We are working under on what we have loosely termed the Westminster rules.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported, with amendments; as amended, considered.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 12.55 a.m.
§ Mr. McNamara
Some of us will be dividing on the Bill with tremendous regret. There has been a great deal of talk about there being a bipartisan policy, both parties having regard towards the problem of Northern Ireland—a wish not to make party capital out of it, a wish not to put people's lives at stake, a wish not to inflame the situation. I choose my 1698 words with care, because it is not my intention to do any of those things.
When one seeks to maintain a bipartisan policy one accepts that there are certain responsibilities laid upon the Secretary of State and his team and that in the end they must take decisions that they think are right—that is what they were elected to do. There comes a time when people who have gone along with the Government, sometimes gradually, sometimes faster, sometimes seeing the Government catch up with them and doing what was urged on them a long time ago—and being grateful to them for eventually doing it—must say to the Government, "We are sorry; we cannot support you in this."
Many of us felt that the idea of the poll was wrong from the beginning and were upset about it when the Prime Minister first mentioned it. Some felt that we were taking up too much time in recording our opposition to the idea and that opposition to the Bill would be divisive. We thought, if we put down a reasoned amendment to the Bill and some of our ideas were accepted it would be possible to go forward largely in agreement with what was being done, even though we had misgivings, but realising that the responsibility was the Government's.
That situation has not now arisen. A number of amendments have been accepted by the Government but they were concerned with mechanics, important issues of constitutional principle and not with the substance. Although we are grateful to the Government for accepting those amendments, our attitude to the principal matters is not affected. One almost had the feeling that the original provisions were included so that amendments could be made to satisfy the Opposition.
In moving the reasoned amendment we were arguing three main things—that the timing was wrong, the questions were wrong and that the Government held out no hope of co-operation between the two parts of Ireland. The amendments we put forward in Committee were on the timing, the contents of the White Paper and relations with the Republic—and the reply of the Secretary of State on that important issue was lamentable.
1699 If indeed the Republic has claimed in its constitution the control or eventual jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland, if we were to pose questions which would bring about that eventuality, the time to talk of the consequences would be before the vote was proposed, and the matter should not be flicked off in a cheap way as if we know already what the vote will be but if it goes in a way we do not expect we can talk about it then.
These are the reasons why I will divide against Third Reading. I do it with regret and with a certain amount of sadness, because I had hoped that the Government could have been persuaded, particularly on the point about the timing and on the questions. The problem about relations and discussions with the Republic has always been difficult because it takes two to talk. But on these first two issues we hoped for something and the Government gave us nothing. If that is bipartisanship, I will have nothing of it.
§ 1.2 a.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Foley (West Bromwich)
These debates in Committee have been of value because we have attempted to probe each other's minds and arrive at some conclusion. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), I am disappointed in so far as the basic substance of the Bill has not been amended. For this reason I, too, shall be voting against Third Reading.
Having said that, however, I think that the question to which we need to apply our minds—this is particularly true for the Government, whose Bill this is—is the letter and spirit in which the Government interpret the decisions taken tonight. I want to remind the Secretary of State of a point I raised earlier—that this is something unique in the context of Northern Ireland. It is unique because a British Government are setting out to try to test what the people of Northern Ireland want.
Therefore, the first questions we must ask are, "Will that test be fair? Will the restrictions and trappings in terms of so-called political freedom over the last 50 or more years be lifted sufficiently within the context of a peaceful and orderly establishment to allow a free expression 1700 of views either on belonging to a united Ireland or maintaining the constitutional links with Britain?" The Government must apply themselves to these matters because the House will want to satisfy itself that what takes place is not a sham and charade but something genuine.
In this context, I want the Secretary of State to explain, if this is to be on Westminster lines, the extent to which people will be given time on radio and television in Northern Ireland to speak freely and frankly in favour of one or the other question. Who will determine who speaks? Will the political parties be invited? Will they be given equal time? How will it be determined? All this is of considerable importance if we are talking of the Westminster rules and pattern.
We are talking about two communities with two cultures. Will it be sufficient to send out ballot papers in English, or should they also be in Gaelic? What thought has been given to that? How important is it? These are some of the factors which are part of the demonstration by the Government in terms of the letter and spirit of what they are attempting to do. There must be no hindrance in reaching out to the people of Northern Ireland in ways they can read and listen to and see and in a way in which they can express themselves. I have grave doubts about this whole exercise, but I shall want to know the extent to which the Government are intent on making it a genuine exercise, not a mockery.
§ 1.5 a.m.
§ Miss Devlin
I do not intend to detain the House for very long on what I believe is a farcical discussion of a farcical piece of legislation.
I have already made my opinions clear on the holding of a poll. This is nothing more than an opinion poll. The Government of Ireland Act, whatever may have been said in the Downing Street agreement, deals with the changing of the position in Northern Ireland as having regard only to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. We all know only too well what may or may not be said inside or outside this House. We know, too, what promises have been made in the history of my country to one section of the people at the same time as other contradictory promises have been made to other sections of the population.
1701 The only safeguard for the people of Northern Ireland lies in legislation. The legislation clearly states that the situation regarding unity with the United Kingdom or unity with the Republic of Ireland is vested in the decision of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. And that Parliament does not exist. Since that Parliament at present does not exist, the decision rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of this Parliament.
I feel justified in saying that the people of Northern Ireland are being fooled, and at a fearful price, because what they are about to have is a Gallup poll. I suggest that the holding of Gallup polls is a function of Gallup and not a function to be undertaken by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the British Government. There is nothing in this legislation to make the decision which is arrived at, however it is arrived at, binding on the British Government. It is merely testing opinion in the North of Ireland. The opinion which is being tested is already well known to us. The overwhelming majority of the people in the North of Ireland will take a decision between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. There is nothing in the legislation which says that that decision will even be taken into account by the British Government, whether it be Tory or Labour. The price we shall pay for this referendum or opinion-gathering in the North of Ireland will be something that is totally unenvisaged in the House.
Time after time I have been accused in this House of being consistently wrong. I suggest that time after time, destructive or negative as I may have been, I have been consistently right in this House. I said in this House that the Downing Street agreement would not work. At that time every moderate in creation said I was wrong—and six months later, after the event, admitted that I was right. It is my prediction that the Government will have their majority tonight—because I will certainly divide the House on Third Reading. They may have their majority, and their Bill may become an Act, but it may be a long time before their Act becomes an opinion poll. I predict that they will never actually reach the stage of carrying out the opinion poll.
1702 I predict that hopefully because we shall then be saved the agony, fear, prejudice and bloodshed which would result from proving the obvious to a Government who may not care what the obvious is because that would make no difference to Government policy. There is nothing in the Act which will turn the opinions registered into action by the Government. For that reason, I address the remainder of my remarks, not to the Government, but to this side.
We have in Northern Ireland—and here I declare my interest in the tourist trade—the sham fight of Scarvagh. This is invariably conducted between members of the Orange Order. People dress up, some pretending to be the forces of William and the others the forces of James. A most realistic battle is held. It is entertaining and colourful and worth the journey to Northern Ireland to see it. The people dress up in green and orange and one can distinguish one side from another. When it is over everybody gets—
§ Miss Devlin
Precisely. All repair to the nearest pub, they pat themselves on their backs in a friendly and convivial manner and get drunk together and go home.
In this House, time after time when I look at the Government Front Bench and that of the Opposition, it reminds me of the sham fight of Scarvagh. It is an interesting fight, but nobody dresses up. At least if the Opposition Front Bench wore red ties we might distinguish between the forces of William and of James but that does not happen.
Tonight we are likely to witness the sham fight of Westminster with the Opposition Front Bench. I am not involving those hon. Members who are my hon. Friends and colleagues who have consistently put up a fight in this House, but I cannot understand how they make a stand in principle on so many amendments tonight and yet can still say that they will not break the bipartisan policy by voting against Third Reading.
I ask my colleagues of the Labour Party: are they to be paid off by the sops of the amendments we have got, by the addition of a few lines to say that the Secretary of State will not be able 1703 to take criminal proceedings against people when, as I have already pointed out, that is unnecessary because those powers are in existing legislation and he has power enough to deal with that in that legislation? Other amendments have not been accepted and the third question has not been put in. We got an affirmative procedure instead of a negative one, but that makes little difference.
In all honesty, the Labour Party Front bench has made its sham stand. We have spent from four o'clock to this hour debating the issues and perhaps the Labour Chief Whip and Shadow Cabinet feel that they have done duty and raised their whips.
I may be wrong. I may be described as some kind of lunatic idealist, but it is not a matter of debating points. It is not a matter of the sham fight at Scarvagh. It is not a matter of entertaining the masses in the public gallery. It is not a matter of fooling the population of Britain or that of Ireland that there is a fundamental difference between the Labour Party and the Tory Party. It is a matter of principle. Either the Bill is right or it is wrong. If it is wrong, it could be put right by incorporating a number of amendments. But those amendments have not been accepted. Therefore on the basis of their argument, the Opposition Front Bench and certainly my colleagues in the Labour movement have no choice on principle—not on the basis of what has gone on here this evening—but to safeguard the lives and futures of the people of Northern Ireland which depend on them.
It is not merely a deal between the two Front Benches. It reflects something much deeper. It reflects the way that trade union militants fight. It reflects the fight over the rent issue and over the Industrial Relations Act. In this House, both Front Benches exchange debating points and score off each other in the manner of the sham fight at Scarvagh. But this is an important matter of principle. The very lives of the people of Northern Ireland depend on it.
I ask my Labour colleagues and the Opposition Front Bench especially how they can argue in favour of amendments and then, having had the greater part of them rejected and being offered the 1704 sop of Scarvagh, refuse to divide the House? In the interests of my people and in the interests of my principles, I shall divide the House.
§ 1.17 a.m.
§ Mr. Fitt
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), I have no intention of keeping the House overlong. I hope that my colleagues will advise me if I appear to be breaking that promise.
I agree with almost every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster. With the support of many of my hon. Friends, we have fought hard on Second Reading and in Committee. We have fought a parliamentary battle, trying to amend a Bill which will be a disaster for the people of Northern Ireland whom we represent here.
I have been a Member of this House since 1966, and I understand the polemics of politics here. I understand the battles which are fought on the Floor of the House and, more important, those fought in the corridors. I also understand how the Press reports will reflect the attitudes of the Government Front Bench or the Opposition Front Bench. But in Northern Ireland it is not a battle of semantics or a battle about words. It is not a battle about whether the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davidson) is a Conservative and a Catholic, or about whether many of my hon. Friends are Jewish, Protestant or Non-Conformist, but supporters of the minority in Northern Ireland.
The people in Northern Ireland are concerned about what is happening at the moment. They want to stop the death and destruction and in some way to guarantee the future for everyone in Northern Ireland. Far from taking any steps to do that, this Bill will only exacerbate existing tensions. It saddens me to have to say that the Bill and the campaign leading up to the poll may well lead to further death and destruction in Northern Ireland.
The confusion earlier this evening over the Division on Amendment No. 9 was a silly charade. In that confusion only 25 hon. Members voted for the amendment and later, when Amendment No. 16 was brought to the vote, only 13 voted for that. Twelve or 13 people suddenly 1705 disappeared I do not know whether they had taken the advice of the whips. By British standards those results will be described by the political correspondents of The Times, The Guardian and the other "heavies" to be derisory figures. But those correspondents are not living in Northern Ireland where the killings and bombings and explosions continue night and day. The people who support the stand I have taken will not say that there were only 13 in the lobby. They will ask where were the other 610. They will ask why so many hon. Members were absent on such an important constitutional issue. I would have thought that this issue would be of such importance and of such concern to all hon. Members that there would be a far greater attendance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) spoke of his constituents and of other hon. Members constituents who are soldiers and who are being killed and blown up in Northern Ireland. In not attending the debate hon. Members on both sides of the House have done a signal disservice to their constituents who are losing sons and husbands. This is an important constitutional issue which affects not only the constitutional position of Northern Ireland but the lives of their constituents. That is why I oppose the Third Reading.
I will not go back to my constituents tomorrow with any apology and say that I secured only 13 votes. I shall tell them that I tried to do what I could to make the Bill a better piece of legislation, much as I opposed it, and my constituents will certainly support the stand I have taken tonight. This charade of a Bill, this farce of a Bill and what will ultimately be proven to be a tragedy of a Bill will not have my support on Third Reading.
§ 1.24 a.m.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
In the long, tragic entanglement of Great Britain with Ireland, the people of this country have tried practically every conceivable means of solving the problems of that tragic entanglement. We have tried starvation, we have tried bloody brute force, we have tried integration, we have tried partition and now we are trying something else. All the things we have tried have failed 1706 to bring peace and unity and failed to solve the problems.
Every generation, both in Great Britain and in Ireland, has paid a price in blood, and I am aware of the tragedy of what is happening in Ireland to the people whom my hon. Friend represents. As the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said, the big disgrace tonight is that many of those who have been elected to this House and who are responsible for sending their constituents, or the sons of some of their constituents, to die in Northern Ireland, have not been here to participate in the debate.
Every generation, both in Great Britain and in Ireland, has been called upon to pay this bloody price, and it must end. The sham fight is not what the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) said it was. The sham is that we are trying to solve a problem that we cannot solve. In the long ran, the only way in which peace, decency, civilisation and basic decent behaviour can come to Ireland is by people in the North and South appreciating the reality of the economic situation, and they will never do that while we in Great Britain pretend that we have some part to play in Ireland, that we have some solution to offer.
The best service that we can do for Ireland and for the people of our own country is to state a date and say that on that day we shall relinquish our responsibility, and then pray to God, and put our hands in our pockets to provide the money to go with our prayers, that there will be reconstruction and reconciliation in the country.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
We have today again gone over the question of the border and the next step in dealing with the problems of Ireland. We did not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. Our arguments have been based on the reasoned amendment which was designed to appeal to the moderate view in Ireland which many people affect to sneer at but which we believe is there and must be unlocked.
The Secretary of State has accepted a number of technical amendments, and they matter, but we still feel strongly about the question which, though it may have been slightly different from that put forward by the new Ulster Movement, 1707 was designed to appeal to those in the minority community who were prepared to look forward, rather than at the existing situation.
We still feel strongly about the timing, and on that the right hon. Gentleman has said that he has not closed his mind and that we shall be able to return to it when the order is introduced. We have expressed our views on this issue, we have voted against it, and we have made our feelings clear. We stick by our reasoned amendment. We regret that no change has been made.
We have expressed strong views on this issue, but it may be that we are wrong. We hope that the Government are right because, after hearing views from Northerin Ireland, it is borne in on me that if the Government are wrong then, in the words of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who explained to many of us why he was unable to be here tonight, the crunch point will come at the time of the issue of the White Paper.
If these are the best questions which the best statisticians—if they are the people who devised these questions—could think of, there is still a grave danger of everything going wrong and the situation getting worse than it is now. We are all aware of that. We are aware, too, that the right hon. Gentleman has made a considered judgment. We have put forward a different view and tried to push him towards our line of thinking.
I assure the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) that there is no sham fight. I have no doubt that there are sham fights at times in the Oxford Union-type institution in which we operate, but I assure her that there is no sham fight here on our side. There cannot be a sham fight when people are approaching the problem with the humility that is borne in on us every day by the realisation that we do not understand the Irish question. But, equally, I say to her that, in the same humility, she should realise that she does not understand the English question.
The hon. Lady talks about the Labour movement. She may well represent it in Ireland. When I talk to my people, I know that they are not changing towards her, and when their view is expressed, 1708 it is not one of concern for the people of all Ireland but, rather it is, "A plague on both their houses". That is not a feeling which I am willing to accept, because, in many respects, it is as unthinking as that of those who think they know the solution in Ireland.
There is no sham fight. This is not a matter on which to fight. I know that the hon. Lady has expressed feelings for both sides in Ireland about the problems which face them in their struggle there. I can only say—I say it in no jingoist way—that the soldiers who go to Ireland, by reason of their being infantry, tend to come from the Labour areas, from Nottingham, from Derbyshire, the West Riding, Scotland, Manchester, Erith and Crayford—my hon. Friends know it well. Many hon. Members, I am sure, will join me in the point I am making, that they tend to come from areas which we on this side represent. All of us have to go and talk to parents about these things. There is no sham fight.
I know that many of my hon. Friends feel strongly, but my advice to them is this. We have put our reasoned amendment, and we stick by it. It was prepared in no sham battle. We felt strongly about it. If we do not vote tonight on the Third Reading, that will be no evidence of sham. We hope that the Secretary of State is right. We have differ-views on various aspects of the Bill, but —I say again—we hope that the Secretary of State is right. He may well be wrong. We may well be wrong.
We hope that in the coming weeks and months, the Secretary of State will most seriously consider one point which has come out of our debate, which, perhaps, is the politically possible, namely, that the White Paper will be published before the questions are put. That will then be a reality, a harsh reality, and perhaps it is only in the face of harsh reality that all of us will face up to the correct next step.
§ 1.33 a.m.
§ The Minister of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William van Straubenzee)
We have traversed, at least in outline, a number of the arguments raised in Committee, and they fall, broadly, into three main categories. I realise that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) would not have accepted a Bill 1709 of this kind, holding the views he does, if it were limited to the franchise. That is a perfectly proper view to express. I simply say to him, in language not as eloquent as that of the hon. Member for Leeds South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), that I believe that in personal life and in corporate life one sometimes has responsibilities, disagreeable responsibilities, stemming from one's corporate past as part of one's corporate inheritance; and it is not necessarily open to an individual or a group to wash one's hands of that inheritance. Either as individuals or as groups, we have to take up those responsibilities and seek to find a solution.
I entirely follow why the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) would not accept a Bill of this kind. They have been perfectly consistent. Since we are, rightly, talking of serious matters, I must say that all those of us who do not hale from Northern Ireland enjoyed the hon. Lady's account of the sham fight at Scarvagh, but there was one significant point about it which she would do well to think about. The hon. Lady told us that in that sham fight William invariably won. Let her remember that lesson.
§ Miss Devlin
Will the Minister accept that William fought in 1690, when neither my hon. Friend nor I was around?
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
The hon. Lady must remember my Dutch origin. We are a determined people. I quite understand the view that the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Belfast, West, put forward, but I am sure that I can say to both of them—and I hope and believe that they will respond—that if, as I trust will be the case, the House gives a Third Reading to the Bill and Parliament eventually decrees that it shall become an Act, they will do everything they can, from their point of view—as we shall from ours—to ensure that death and destruction—I use the words of the hon. Member for Belfast, West—shall not come about, if we can all of us, together, prevent it, when the poll takes place.
§ Mr. Fitt
The hon. Member expresses the hope that if and when Parliament gives a Third Reading to the Bill I will be prepared not to take any action to exacerbate the existing tensions in 1710 Northern Ireland. I tell the Minister that I do not believe that Parliament has given a Second Reading, or a Committee stage or a Third Reading to this Bill. There are fewer than one-third of the Members of this Parliament in the House at the moment. It is on that point that I have serious objections. I do not believe that the British people are aware what is happening here tonight.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I take the hon. Member's point. He made it effectively earlier, and it has been echoed by others. But assuming that Parliament so enacts, I feel sure that across our differences about the measure we can join and unite in saying that no bloodshed should arise out of the operation of the poll.
We had the moving speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), the speech by the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) and the winding up speech by the hon. Member for Leeds, South. Perhaps even now it is not too late for us to recall what my right hon. Friend said, in opening, on the whole question of timing. This is not an easy matter. My right hon. Friend explained the position. He put his options openly and quite frankly to the House, and the reasons he put forward seemed to me to be regarded by many hon. Members as being of considerable strength, if not persuasive. My right hon. Friend explained the problems that arose on the questions, and I feel sure that hon. Members will agree that he has conducted this whole matter, so far as the South is concerned, on the basis that friendly countries do not interfere in the internal affairs of each other on a matter of mutual interest, but that this does not preclude them working together in a friendly manner on matters which are increasingly of common interest and concern.
I am sure that the hon. Member for West Bromwich will agree that the matters that he raised must be the subject of study in the regulations to be laid by my right hon. Friend. I can only express my belief that the combined effect of the Bill and the regulations will be to provide a fair test, which will enable all the people to express their views freely, as they would wish. I believe that the poll will turn out to be a genuine exercise of the wishes of the 1711 people. Certainly every effort that can be made to that effect will be made.
I simply echo what the hon. Member for Leeds, South said in conclusion. He was absolutely fair when he said that there was no sham fight about this matter. Nobody who has been on the end of his probing interrogation on detailed as well as broad matters in Ulster would accuse him of conducting a sham war.
In the end the Government must take the responsibility for decisions. We understand that. In matters of this kind, it must be right for the Government to seek to reach as wide a measure of agreement as possible. It was genuinely in
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
§ Miss Devlin
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for legislation of paramount importance to the people and security forces of the United Kingdom and to the lives of the people of Northern Ireland to be passed by a total vote of 70 hon. Members in a House in which there are at least 600 representatives?
§ that spirit that two amendments, which were rather more than technical amendments, were accepted. I am sorry that that was not sufficient for two hon. Members opposite. I hope that the House will agree that we should move forward from this stage so that every effort can be made to secure success for the poll as part of the process of bringing to a most valued part of the United Kingdom the peace and prosperity which we all wish to see.
§ Question put, That the Bill be read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 62, Noes 8.1711
|Division No. 25.]||AYES||[1.45 a.m.|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Lane, David||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Benyon, W.||McMaster, Stanley||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Biffen John||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Soref, Harold|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Mather, Carol||Speed, Keith|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Spence, John|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Chapman, Sydney||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Clegg, Walter||Moate, Roger||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Molyneaux, James||Tebbit, Norman|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Money, Ernie||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Fortescue, Tim||Mudd, David||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Fowler, Norman||Murton, Oscar||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Fox, Marcus||Neave, Airey||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Normanton, Tom||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Green, Alan||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Hawkins, Paul||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Jopling, Michael||Pounder, Rafton||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Kilfedder, James||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Kinsey, J. R.||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Kirk, Peter||Raison, Timothy||Mr. Hugh Rossi and|
|Knox, David||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Mr. Kenneth Clarke|
|Devlin, Miss Bernadette||Latham, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)||O'Halloran, Michael||Mr. A. W. Stallard and|
|Foley, Maurice||Rose, Paul B.||Mr. Kevin McNamara.|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Skinner, Dennis|