HC Deb 23 November 1972 vol 846 cc1558-643

The statement of intent shall specify any proposals of the Secretary of State, in the event of Northern Ireland's remaining part of the United Kingdom, for ensuring to all the people of Northern Ireland by means of a Bill of Rights or otherwise:

  1. (1) Equality between all sections of the community in the exercise of political power.
  2. (2) Equal opportunity for social and economic advancement.
  3. (3) Those civil and political rights accorded by law elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
  4. (4) Provisions facilitating co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for the benefit of the people of Ireland as a whole'.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I shall speak in particular to Amendments Nos. 3, 6 and 26.

Hon. Members will recall that the new Schedule embodied in Amendment No. 26 is the core of the reasoned amendment we moved on Second Reading. It is concerned with equality between all sections of the community, equality of opportunity, and civil and political rights and co-operation between the North and the South.

The case which I have to put has been heard before. It was made in the debate on the discussion paper and again on Second Reading. I make no apology for it because, in the wide spectrum of political views on this matter of Government policy, we regard it as probably the most important part of our argument because it is concerned with the timing of the White Paper. There is to be a poll, conducted on the lines of an election to this Parliament, and for this Parliament, as indeed for the local elections, there is to be a register.

This is to be published on 15th February, 1973. Can the Secretary of State tell us what will happen on that date? I was under the impression that, in this part of the United Kingdom, 15th February was the date on which the new registers are published. I think it was in 1951 that the Attlee Government published the new registers on 16th February and the General Election was held on 28th February. I was a little concerned when, during the Second Reading debate, the Minister talked about corrections having to be made to the register and said that the earliest date for an election would be 28th February. If that is the case it makes the situation in Northern Ireland different from that in this part of the United Kingdom.

In our view it would be good sense and equitable to have the poll conducted on a register compiled as late as possible, in other words after 15th February. On this side of the water there are very few changes in the rural areas during a year except for deaths and those who have come on to the register. There are other parts, in London and our other great cities, where with the best will in the world it is extremely difficult to get everyone to the poll in an election because of removals.

In parts of Belfast during the last year there have been forcible removals, when people have moved for their safety. Unless we have the latest possible register there will be an element of disenfranchisement involved. If it were six months ago, if we were at the time when the Prime Minister promised the poll, then our arguments for leaving it until after 15th February on the grounds of the timing of the register would not be very powerful. We may have sought then to give other reasons but we could not have used the argument about 15th February. We do so now because it would be equitable and sensible to have the poll after that date. It would also give time for the White Paper to be issued.

Last time there was some doubt in the mind of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster). The right hon. Gentleman said clearly in HANSARD that he had not made up his mind on the timing of the White Paper, that he had an open mind. If he is to hold the poll before 15th February, with all that has to go into the publication of the White Paper, then he will not have the chance to have much of an open mind because it gives about eight weeks in which to hold the poll.

Captain Orr

The hon. Gentleman is arguing that my right lion. Friend must keep an open mind on this issue. If the hon. Gentleman's argument is accepted it would be impossible for my right hon. Friend to do that.

Mr. Rees

I am not arguing that the right hon. Gentleman should have an open mind, I am saying that he said that he would have an open mind. The fact that the poll would be after 15th February would make it much more certain that he could have that open mind which we all know he would want.

If there is a poll the people of Northern Ireland must know what sort of Northern Ireland they are to be in before they vote. It would be wrong to tell the people in Northern Ireland to make up their minds on the link and then, two or three weeks later to reveal that there are to be all sorts of new things such as a Bill of Rights, a new Assembly, a link between north and south—some of the points made in the Green Paper. This would be putting the cart before the horse.

I am reinforced in this by the views of the Northern Ireland Labour Party quoted in column 1102 of HANSARD of 21st November. I also quoted other parties, and the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said that we did not know the strngth of these part-ties. That is right. We do not know the strength of the Unionist Party any more. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) confirmed this in her own case. I do not argue in terms of strength. The Northern Ireland Labour Party, which has been active in Northern Ireland politics for the last 50 years, has this link with the trade unions and has written to us all saying that we must insist that the poll follows the publication of the White Paper so that the people of Northern Ireland are aware of their responsibilities and obligations in continuing to live in the United Kingdom.

There was an interesting view on the purpose of the poll in the Daily Telegraph on the morning following our Second Reading debate. I will not seek to follow what it called by logical argument but it finished up by saying: All this impeccable logic, however, founders on the fact that the real function of the prebiscite is to give the majority in Northern Ireland the opportunity, which it has been clearly promised, to demonstrate emphatically its determination to maintain the British connection. To withdraw or postpone this opportunity would be to risk the total alienation of the Loyalist community. Precise constitutional details are better settled afterwards, it added. The point that the Daily Telegraph makes is that this is not concerned with the constitution but with putting at rest the minds of the majority in Northern Ireland. It is no good putting a person's mind at rest by saying that all is well and then two or three weeks' later to give him some really stiff medicine that makes him sit up and alters the situation. It may be logic, but it is not the sort of logic that the people of Northern Ireland appreciate.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that people who have been subjected for years to a bitter, sectarian, terrorist campaign will need to have their morale restored? Should not the White Paper, which I am sure will be reasonable, be presented to the people of Northern Ireland after their morale has been restored? That is why I support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Rees

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the morale of the majority in Northern Ireland. We all understand that their morale was given a great bruising when the Government, in our view correctly, took direct rule. No one wishes to force the people of the North into the South, but it is a curious way of building up morale to ask, "Do you want the link to remain with the United Kingdom?" and not to reveal the terms until afterwards.

On Second Reading the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) made some remarks which I will quote. As he was criticising me, it would be fair for me to read two or three lines which are not necessarily germane: I was not quite convinced that the hon. Member for Leeds, South shared my view that the White Paper may bring us to a more difficult stage than the reception of the Green Paper may have led us to suppose. It may confront my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with the most critical moment which has occurred since he inherited this office in March. We do ourselves no service at this stage in pretending otherwise. It will be miraculous if we get the White Paper accepted without a crisis of gravity. It is right to say that now and not later. No one will be offered—no one can be offered—all he wants. In the nature of things, the disappointment will fall most heavily on those who hitherto, for 50 years, have represented the majority. Who have had the monopoly, if one likes, of government in the province. Even the Green Paper, its wording, what it excludes, and the reception accorded to it, can leave us in small doubt about that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1972; Vol. 846, c. 1108.]

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the hon. Gentleman read the last part of that speech?

Mr. Rees

I am quite prepared for the hon. Gentleman to tell me what his right hon. Friend said.

Mr. Kilfedder

The hon. Gentleman has a copy of HANSARD, I have not. My right hon. Friend went on to say, as I said earlier, that if the people had their morale and confidence restored they would be more receptive to the White Paper. It is essential that there should be a receptive mood for the White Paper.

Mr. Rees

I stick to the point made by the right hon. Gentleman that there will be a difficult time for us all when the White Paper is issued, Nevertheless, he has argued and I agree, that the risk should be taken. As he said, it will be a difficult time, not just for the Secretary of State but for us all, because of the responsibility we all have for the problem in Northern Ireland. It will be difficult for the people of Northern Ireland to stomach the White Paper even though it contains what to many of us here seem to be marginal changes. To them they will seem fundamental.

All we argue is that it is better for the people of Northern Ireland to know what is involved in their future before they decide what to do. We all understand that whatever the Secretary of State does may result in extra bloodshed, and no one burkes that issue. It is the Secretary of State who ultimately has to take the decision. It is easy for us here to say that this, that or the other should be done, but we are not saying this just for the sake of saying something. Protestants in the North often write to me and ask why we do not support the Northern Ireland Labour Party because it is a moderate party. What we are saying supports the view of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and other parties which hold a similar view.

Mr. McMaster

Has the hon. Gentleman no confidence in the democratic process? Once the White Paper is published it will be debated in the House of Commons and suggestions will be made which may or may not receive general acclaim. Some time will elapse between the presentation of the White Paper and the drafting of legislation. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should wait not only for the White Paper but for the subsequent legislation before holding the plebescite—in which case there would be no use in having the plebescite?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman's last remark is revealing. I repeat that we shall have to face a difficult situation when the White Paper is issued. We are simply saying that we should face the difficulty at an earlier date.

On the question of what we want to see in the White Paper, equality speaks for itself. In recent years there have been changes in the voting rights. Had the local elections been held they would have been the first in that province under the system of one man one vote. That is one reason why we wanted local elections. Civil and political rights bring in the question of the Bill of Rights. Before the General Election the noble Lord, the Lord Chancellor, had ideas about a Bill of Rights for this country. In Northern Ireland a wide variety of people believe that a Bill of Rights is the appropriate step to take. Within the context of a Bill of Rights, I hope that the Government will be able to move from the Special Powers Act, the "Special" part of which we find obnoxious. Every community in the Western world has to take steps to deal with terrorism. Even under the European Convention on Human Rights a State must be able to do that.

In the debate of August last year we were for internment within the rule of law—

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

My hon. Friend would be doing a service by explaining that internment within the rule of law means evidence being produced and the public being able to judge the evidence for a person being sent to prison, in which case it is imprisonment within the law and not internment as it is popularly known.

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend makes an important point—I was talking in shorthand. We were concerned that internment should be carried out within the rule of law, and my hon. Friend will recall that debate. A Bill of Rights is a way in which this can be done. We are anxious to see the Special Powers Act ended. We have put forward a reasonable approach to the matter of co-operation between North and South because we believe that something of this sort must happen; this is not a device for forcing the Protestants into the south.

These are the sort of points which we should like to see in a White Paper. We are asking for that White Paper to be published before a plebiscite is held. This is our major argument against the Bill. The Secretary of State will have to come back to the House for approval of the date of the plebiscite, and we shall seek to alter the Parliamentary method by which this is done. We want to be sure that this plebiscite will not be held until the people of Northern Ireland know what is involved.

We have all had to face up to the realities of Northern Ireland. Many of us in the last two or three years have had to modify our views because we have seen the impact of what has happened there. Both the majority and the minority in the North are facing up to killings and shootings. It would be as well if the people of the North also faced the reality of what the Government are doing. They can do this only if they have before them a White Paper and if that document is published before the plebiscite.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern for the difficulty which would arise if the plebiscite came before publication of the White Paper, and the hon. Gentleman appreciates that if the situation were the other way round there would be a great deal of controversy. Does he not agree that if a vote resulted in rejection of a link with the United Kingdom, we should then have to face the problem of an independent Ulster, in which case the Secretary of State's task would be very much more difficult?

Mr. Rees

That is certainly a situation which must be faced and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) is being very fair. I am arguing that it would be better to face up to that situation when the people know what is involved than to do so shortly after any decision on the link with the United Kingdom. These are the realities of the situation.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Rose

I am sure that all my hon. Friends will endorse the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) on Amendment No. 3. Amendments No. 4 and No. 5 are very much in line with Amendment No. 3 and indeed are complementary to it. I gather that Amendment No. 6 is entirely acceptable to the Opposition Front Bench, and we shall defer to that Amendment when it comes to a vote. We shall take it together with Amendment No. 26, an Amendment which sets out in excellent form the kind of changes we want to see in Ulster and which also cover the question of Bill of Rights.

The more the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and the hon. Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) give the impression that this vote is an important one from the point of view of morale—and certainly morale at the moment is particularly low—the more I am convinced that a poll would be futile and divisive and would give a symbolic victory for one side of the community over the other. It is known in advance by those hon. Gentlemen what the result of such a poll would be. The rejection of Amendment No. 1 is an indication that not even a sop is to be given by those who in parts of the community will be in a majority.

The people will face a stark choice of realities, with no guarantee about the future. The vote in Northern Ireland will be a vote for or against the Unionism of the past, and not for or against the Unionism which we now have with a human face—namely, the face of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. When the people of Ulster vote "Yes" or "No" to a British link, it will be against the back ground of experience of Unionism which people have had over the past 50 years. It is a stark choice between Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Craig on the one side and Mr. Lynch on the other. There will be no opportunity at that point in time to consider a White Paper or a Bill of Rights.

I cannot understand how people can be asked to cast their votes ahead of the declaration about the future institutions of Northern Ireland. There are many in Northern Ireland who would opt for the British connection if it meant having the same rights and obligations as we have in this country—the same local government system; the same legislation against discrimination on grounds of race; the same social and economic opportunities, and a continuation of the £200 million subsidy which Northern Ireland is now receiving. There are many people who would vote for the link in those circumstances, but who would not vote in such a way if it meant living in a continually divided country, a country governed by the kind of clique which has been motivated by historic and religious ties and which has ruled over the last 50 years. Until those who will be voting know what future is in store for them, it is impossible for them to declare themselves one way or the other.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Would my hon. Friend elaborate on how he sees a Bill of Rights guaranteeing equality between all sections of the community in the exercise of political power, and could he say how that aim is compatible with a form of representative democracy?

Mr. Rose

Forms of representative democracy vary according to conditions. The kind of political system which I envisage for Northern Ireland is a system in which there is participation at all levels in decision-making by the minority as well as by the majority. We all know that a similar system has been pursued in Cyprus. In a divided community there often have to be representative institutions to provide a Bill of Rights so that the minority may participate in government with the majority. That has happened in many cases.

Mr. Kilfedder

Would the hon. Gentleman advocate that for the poor unfortunate Arabs in Israel so that they have a say in their country, especially in view of the fact that at the moment one of their shrines—

Mr. Rose

If the hon. Gentleman insists on bringing that issue into the debate, I might remind him that the Deputy Prime Minister and several Ministers in that Parliament are Arabs. They have equal rights—[Interruption.] Obviously the hon. Gentleman knows nothing about the subject.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I do not think that it is appropriate in this Committee to hear any more about it.

Mr. Rose

I agree entirely. But the hon. Member for Down, North, who is an Orange bigot, is equally bigoted against those who do not share his form of Orangism, whatever else they may share—

Mr. Kilfedder


Mr. Rose

It seems that the hon. Gentleman is intent upon dragging in this red herring—

Mr. Kilfedder

On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member, even the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), to make such an offensive and completely false allegation without giving way to the hon. Member whom he has attacked?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The Chair will judge what is offensive. I have made it plain that we have ranged far from the amendment under discussion. The sooner that we return to it, the better.

Mr. Rose

During the election campaign of the hon. Member for Down, North in 1964 a leaflet was issued asking his potential constituents whether they wanted Catholics to live—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. This is not contained in the series of amendments that we are discussing.

Mr. Rose

I believe that a Bill of Rights would outlaw that form of propaganda and therefore that it is within the scope of the amendment. The hon. Member for Down, North insists on bringing issues into the debate which are no more pertinent to Northern Ireland than the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland happens to be a Protestant.

These are not the points with which we are dealing. We are dealing with the timing of the poll and with what is most appropriate for Northern Ireland. All that the hon. Member for Down. North has achieved by his repeated interventions has been to show what it is that many of my hon. Friends have to face every day in Northern Ireland from those who are more concerned with bigotry than with trying to get the two sections of the community to live together.

The hon. Member for Down, North has missed most of the debate. He has come into it at a late stage and injected into it a new note of bitterness. He has illustrated only too well what divides the community and gives rise to violence in that community. It may be that the debate will proceed on a lower key if the hon. Gentleman remains silent.

Many people would favour other options rather than the Yes/No vote that is put forward by the Government in the Bill. Yes/No votes are notoriously difficult to decide upon. If one takes issues like capital punishment or the Common Market, there are other options than a simple Yes/No, and it is only when one knows what the options are that a vote has any real validity.

Without taking sides on it, if one considers an argument like Britain's entry into the Common Market, there are many who accept that this House did not vote until we knew the terms of entry. In the same way, one cannot vote on this referendum until one knows the terms of a continued link with the United Kingdom. Until the people of Northern Ireland know those terms, it will not be possible for them to give a vote which has any validity. Ultimately, when they read the White Paper and discuss the terms, they may find that although they have voted "Yes", many of those terms are unacceptable. It really is putting the cart before the horse.

We are saying to the people of Northern Ireland, "You had a one-party State for 50 years, your living standards are at least £100 per head below those of the worst area in the United Kingdom, you are at present divided one against the other, and the gunmen of both the IRA and the UDF are terrorising you daily. Do you want to remain part of the United Kingdom?" At the same time, we are saying, "The Republic of Ireland has not expunged Article 44, nor has it changed its laws with regard to personal conduct covering everything from contraception to censorship. Do you want to belong to the Republic? Will you choose between Tory unionism and Fianna Fail republicanism?".

It is a false dichotomy, and we can do something about it. We can provide the other half of the equation by saying, "In Northern Ireland you are now to have a system where, irrespective of your religious creed or your political beliefs, you will now participate in decision-making." That is what is dealt with in the Amendment. We are saying, "You will now live in a part of the United Kingdom where there will be better job opportunities, where there will be a guarantee of civil rights for all and where there will be the substance of good neighbourliness with the Republic, rather than the shadow of what turned out to be an abortive All-Ireland Council. On those terms, do you wish to remain in the United Kingdom?"

I am sure that if those terms were given first to the people of Northern Ireland a larger number of people from the minority community would be prepared to say that whatever their ultimate aspiration might be they would want to remain part of the United Kingdom. That is why the third question, although it cannot be debated now, becomes related with this and of supreme importance. It is that there are no doubt an overwhelming majority of people who wish to retain the link with the United Kingdom but who do not wish to give up their ultimate aspiration given free negotiation and the consent of the people.

Basically the people of Northern Ireland want to know what kind of Ulster they are voting for in those circumstances. There will have to be changes in Northern Ireland of the kind foreseen by the White Paper so that those who go to the poll to vote on the link know precisely what that link will mean. What matters meanwhile is the kind of Ulster that they will be voting for, otherwise the result of the referendum will be merely to put the border back at the centre of politics in Ulster as the central issue rather than making the issue of economic, social and political changes of prior importance.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South that the Government are putting the cart before the horse. I hope that he will divide the Committee on this matter. One cannot say, "There will be an a priori vote for the link and only then can you decide what kind of link this will entail and, for example, whether Stormont will be resurrected"—we have heard about by-elections for Stormont—"whether the Special Powers Act will go, and whether a Bill of Rights will be enacted". Only when one knows those facts will any vote be valid.

For those reasons, I ask those of my hon. Friends who put their names to my amendment to defer to the excellent amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South in conjunction with the Second Schedule which sets out in detail some of the matters which would have to be altered before it would be possible for any valid vote to be given in a referendum, with the stark choices which have been placed before the people of Northern Ireland.

[Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]

6.0 p.m.

Mr. McNamara

I regard it as somewhat unfortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) should have used the phrase "internment within the law". I was sorry that, after I had pointed it out to him, he continued to use that form of legal shorthand.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

When we talked about it a year ago, the phrase that we used was "internment without trial" and that is the phrase that I was seeking.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have come to admire his work on this issue over the past year and I should hate to start disagreeing with him now over a purely semantic term.

On Second Reading, I said that my great fear was that, if this poll took place without our knowing what would be the future government of Northern Ireland, without our knowing what the Government's intentions are as regards the new assembly, the sharing of political power, civil and political rights, future co-operation between the North and the Republic, then what someone believed the first question to be would be a matter of individual interpretation.

The Secretary of State and the Minister of State tried to say that the question was simple and stark as it stood. But as was said in the debate, Mr. Craig could well vote for that question as it now appears, and his opinions are not, I hope, held by anyone in this House. We also know that, if the question goes forward in its present form, it can be quite easily interpreted. If one asked people in different parts of Belfast, "What do you understand by the British connection in Loyalist areas, and what does the link with the United Kingdom mean?", they would interpret it not only in the attitude of the Prime Minister on Thursday of last week when he was there but also in terms of Stormont, the old political power, the old social power, the old economic power.

If we have a poll on the border under those circumstances, there may well be another great betrayal, to their minds, of the Protestant working class in Belfast and other areas. Those people have over the past 50 years, been betrayed by the very people who lead them. They were betrayed because, whatever happened in those Six Counties, their leaders, the landed gentry or the captains of commerce, would come out on top; the people they led, whose support they sought, were misled by myths and false ideas.

If the poll is held and if the result is in support of union—we can all confidently predict that that will be the result, by at least two to one—if a fresh constitution emerges, with all those provisions enacted in my hon. Friend's new schedule, they will have been betrayed again, as they felt they were betrayed when the "B" Specials were disbanded and we had the Hunt Committee Report. It is because I see that there might well be further trouble, much worse and much bloodier—I regret to have to say this—if the poll is held before publication of the White Paper that I urge the right hon. Gentleman to think again.

People must know, when the poll is held, what sort of Northern Ireland they are voting for. It is not enough to say that it will be a Northern Ireland where British standards are applied. Until 1969, whenever we raised this question, when we were on that side, we were told that British standards applied there. It is not enough for them to be given a vague and woolly phrase. It is important that they should know in clear, precise terms, what are the Government's intentions for the future of the Province. If the right hon. Gentleman is hoping to get some support and some votes from minority areas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said on Second Reading—he has a later amendment to deal with this point—it is important that the minority should be aware of their rights and aspirations.

When we were in Government and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was Home Secretary, I mentioned the Flags and Emblems Act and said how it had created great annoyance and was a grave affront to people who lived in the Six Counties. We are now saying that it is legitimate and right for people to work peacefully towards a union of the Six Counties with the 26, yet the flag, the emblem, of the 26 counties is not one that they can wave in their streets, show in their windows, have in their election rooms. Yet we are applying British standards. One can see that flag flying in many parts of the United Kingdom on this side of the water, outside the holiday camps and on top of hotels. But to fly it in the Six Counties can be a cause of offence under the Flags and Emblems Act.

If the right hon. Gentleman is going to seek to secure not the acquiescence but the positive support for his proposals—but let us be honest: it will be acquiescence at the start, even if it is that from either the Protestant working class or the minority groups, they must know what their future will be. We have had all sorts of reassuring statements from the right hon. Gentleman and from his leader, but he knows that the more often one repeats these promises, the more they are doubted. This is regrettable, but it is a fault of the situation.

But if we had more than mere words, if it were spelled out what these things will be, as they are outlined in the Schedule, we shall be in a far better position to appeal to all sections of the community.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is hoping to start discussions with all parties in the North and that he has not ruled out the possibility that we will know the Government's intentions before the border poll, but we want to know precisely what will be entailed.

My hon. Friend mentioned the date and the need to ensure that we have the most up-to-date electoral register. He said that if we had it later in the year—although late February is on balance probably no better than early January in terms of security—there might be better chances of security and a more up-to-date register. These are powerful points which the Secretary of State should weigh very carefully in reaching his conclusions on how to treat these amendments.

Mr. Foley

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) spoke about the timing of the poll. The abnormality of the situation in Northern Ireland has been referred to. No one would question that it is abnormal. We have only to think of the amount of intimidation that has forced people to move. They have lived in fear and have been burnt out of their accommodation. Therefore, we would expect a poll to be carried out on an up-to-date register. As the Secretary of State said that the next register would come out in February, we are entitled to ask him to make a commitment that the poll will not take place until that new register is published. I do not press him for a precise date.

My second point relates to the whole series of amendments. We are all in a dilemma. I should not like the Secretary of State to imagine that anyone is motivated by malice in questioning his proposals. The dilemma is the juxtaposition of the commitment to have a poll, the commitment to have local elections, the commitment to have the talks at Darlington, and the commitment to produce a White Paper as a result of those talks. All those things must happen, but in what order? The question for us is one of judgment and emphasis. I do not think the Secretary of State would consider it impertinent if Opposition Members have their own interpretation of the correct timing.

Hon. Members on both sides are locked into the problem, and cannot escape from it. There is no running away. Those who handle the day-to-day responsibilities deserve the consideration of the House, but from time to time—not very often—they must listen to the strictures of the House.

In this important debate it is sad, to put it mildly, that the Government benches are so sparsely occupied. Only one representative of the Unionists from Northern Ireland is present. That is a particular pity, as this is the first time in 12 months that I have discovered the Unionist representatives in agreement. Perhaps the Secretary of State should be disturbed that they are in agreement on what he proposes, because the logic of that may well be that what he is advocating is wrong.

I want to address myself now to Amendment No. 5. In the mind of the Secretary of State the poll is to be seen on its own, and not related to anything else. He says that that must happen and will happen. I think that he is wrong. When there is a series of murders and assassinations night after night in Northern Ireland, and we see the deployment of so many British troops, the most important thing is that those who want to coalesce, to come together and think about the future and new structures, should be encouraged to do so.

I do not expect that that will happen on a grand scale until the right hon. Gentleman reveals the mind of Government in a White Paper. But we in this House have debated the reform of local government in Northern Ireland and talked about building on middle ground. If the right hon. Gentleman is to hold the poll along the lines he has suggested, the way to blur the edges, the way to smother the animosities and hostilities resulting from the stark presentation of two brutal questions, is to involve people in another exercise at the same time. The way to get away from the extreme polarisation of Republican and Unionist, to build on middle ground, to overcome intimidation, and to have the voice of moderation raised, is to have people voting in the same polling booths on the same day for their candidates in local government elections.

6.15 p.m.

It has been said on both sides, by the Sinn Fein and by the Vanguard movement, that they will contest those elections. So they should. In that way we shall discover the extent of moderation and extremism. The poll will not advance that discovery.

Holding the poll and local government elections on the same day could be the beginning of the production of two things —the reassurance needed by the people and a degree of normality, some discussion on political issues that affect people in their own locality, albeit in a modest way.

Therefore, I urge the Secretary of State to consider Amendment No. 5 carefully, and see whether lie can go some way towards understanding our fears. This is not the first time the issue has been raised. To hold a poll on its own along the lines advocated might do more harm than good. It would be far better for the right hon. Gentleman to hedge his bets and at the same time do something else that involves people in the normality of political activity for the first time in a long period of hard years in Northern Ireland.

Captain Orr

The hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) was kind enough to refer to my presence. He put a reasoned case, and it should be answered by someone representing my party.

The hon. Gentleman argued, to some extent persuasively, that it would make for a clearer poll, a clearer result, if the White Paper came first. I believe that it is the purpose of the group of Amendments to see that the White Paper does come before the poll, because they try to put my right hon. Friend in the position of having to decide here and now. In other words, if he accepted the Amendments his mind would have to be closed on the very question of timing to which the hon. Gentleman pointed as being the dilemma. In the inexorable course of events, he would have to produce the White Paper before the referendum.

Mr. Foley

In effect, I did not speak to the Amendment on the White Paper.

Captain Orr

I understand that.

Mr. Foley

I addressed myself to something the House has already debated and decided, that there shall be local government elections. We have even determined how they shall be conducted. I said that, having agreed that matter, we should use the occasion of a poll to carry it out. I did not address myself to the White Paper per se.

Captain Orr

No, but I think I am not doing the hon. Gentleman an injustive when I say he did refer to the total dilemma about timing. If these Amendments were accepted, the Secretary of State would be deprived of the chance of being flexible and making a judgment on them in the light of events. Either the poll should be taken in conjunction with the local government elections or it should await the publication of the White Paper. When the White Paper is produced, as the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), who leads for the Opposition, said, it will be highly critical.

Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)

How does the hon. and gallant Gentleman know?

Captain Orr

I suggest—and I think that all hon. Members understand—that it will be the critical issue in Ulster. At that moment, it will be in the interests of some people, on both sides of the political fence, to misrepresent the White Paper. Suppose my right hon. Friend manages—and it is not impossible—to produce a White Paper commending itself to the majority of decent reasonable people on either side of the divide in Ulster. Suppose it is important to avoid one piece of misrepresentation, which would undermine one's confidence in one's future citizenship within the United Kingdom. Would it not avoid that misrepresentation if the border poll had taken place beforehand so that citizenship within the United Kingdom was not in doubt, so that what the White Paper did—in the light of the fact that Northern Ireland, by the overwhelming wish of her people, taken by plebescite, was to remain within the United Kingdom—was to determine the structure of government within that part of the United Kingdom and its relationship with the rest of it.

Surely it would be better to do that than to try to compel the Secretary of State to postpone the border poll until the White Paper is published. In that case we ought to resist this amendment and leave my right hon. Friend freedom of action.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I shall be brief and pay particular attention to the new schedule and Amendment No. 26. I shall direct my attention wholly to the Secretary of State. Does he propose to accept any amendments to the Bill? Are we to go through the dreary process that seems to be characteristic of this Government, to accept no amendments to Bills?

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William Whitelaw)

If the hon. Gentleman can stop going forward on that course, he may get a happy surprise before the end of the evening.

Mr. Douglas

I am always willing to have surprises, particularly from a fellow Scot—as long as they are surprises and not shocks.

Perhaps the Minister will accept Amendment No. 26. I hope that he will. What we are discussing is not the border —and I speak with a degree of sorrow because two of my constituents have been killed there in recent months, one in the past week. The parents of those constituents wish to know what they are defending and whether it is worth while. Where is the border? It is not a particular piece of geography that is being defended. We are defending the constitution on behalf of the people in Northern Ireland.

The House is being asked to accept a process of legislation which reassures people in Northern Ireland not about a line but about citizenship. It has been said time and again in the House that that reassurance is not necessary on the part of the Government. What will happen is that the people of Northern Ireland, rightly or wrongly, will reassure themselves. If they reassure themselves they will not embark on a process of self-delusion, because the people to whom I spoke are representative of the more extreme elements among the Protestants —particularly Protestant working-class in the UDA. They need this reassurance. I was worried lest that reassurance to them meant the next test—the process of self-delusion about their being returned to the status quo ante.

That is why a White Paper, or some other form of thinking on the part of the Secretary of State, should make public what the Government's longer-term view is about the future of Northern Ireland. If the people who vote for the continuance of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom are not to embark on the process of self-delusion it ought to be made clear by the Government what kind of Northern Ireland they wish them to have. That would be beneficial not only for them but for the United Kingdom and for Ireland as a whole. Peace in Northern Ireland would not be divisive. It could mean peace in Ireland as a whole. That is important because, in order to achieve the co-operation of Southern Ireland in solving the problem of Northern Ireland the people must know what is in the Government's mind.

Before the border poll takes place it is important to make clear that we want to remove the power that the Northern Ireland Government had—and which the United Kingdom Government now have —to impose internment without trial. The Special Powers Act ought not to have been made part of United Kingdom legislation. There is no sense in saying that that legislation was drafted by a Northern Ireland Government. It is part of United Kingdom legislation. We cannot have it both ways. We should not tolerate that here. It would not be tolerated in Scotland, so why should it be tolerated in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Wellbeloved

My hon. Friend says that we should not tolerate that sort of thing in the United Kingdom. Is he aware that, although there is not the same atmosphere of internment in this country, members of the Angry Brigade have been held in custody awaiting trial for many months. It is not correct to say, therefore, that we have nothing similar to what happens in Ireland.

Mr. Douglas

My hon. Friend is making the point that in this part of the United Kingdom we protest about that type of legislation. What is wrong with the situation in Northern Ireland is that this policy has the support of the political processes that are peculiar to that country. I doubt whether the misapplication of legislation here has the support of the political processes in this House. That is essentially the point that I am trying to make.

If Northern Ireland is to remain part of the United Kingdom the standards that will prevail, in election terms and in terms of governmental subvention, must be stated. There is little point in the Prime Minister's going to Northern Ireland and compelling the people to concentrate their minds—like a condemned man—on the issue of their future without the Government themselves taking on board what that future will be.

The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), who has left his place—and I am sorry to refer to him in his absence—indicated that we were denying the Secretary of State flexibility. I have known the Secretary of State some time and I do not believe anybody could deny him that flexibility. He has a very astute sense of the political processes and great flexibility in approach. If he produced a White Paper he would not necessarily be denying himself flexibility. He would be indicating to the people of Northern Ireland what sort of Northern Ireland they would be voting for, and the flexibility of political processes that ought to flow from the enactment of the legislation proposed in the White Paper.

6.30 p.m.

The White Paper cannot solidify a situation. In view of the nature of the situation, it must be a fairly flexible document. If the Secretary of State produces a White Paper he is increasing the flexibility. More important, for the ultimate peace of the community as a whole and for the United Kingdom, the people of the United Kingdom have a right to know now—before this legislation is enacted—what the proposals are. If this Bill fails—if it does not give reassurance, and embarks on a further process of self-delusion, while we regret this, people in the United Kingdom will say, "We have had enough". That would be a very dangerous situation, because the procedures might force us into a situation where we would have to abdicate the responsibility of government—that is, maintaining civil order—and I would regret this very much. We must be very careful. It is a question of a balance of judgment.

The Secretary of State said that his balance of judgment is to have the border poll without the proposals being disclosed. I hope he will say that he will produce a White Paper and his proposals before the poll. I give him great credit for being flexible, but he is being much too flexible. This will not do. If he produces a White Paper before the poll, that will be fine, but if he says, "I am going to hang on and wait and see", and produces the date—we hope some time after 15th February—in keeping with the amendments, that is another matter.

I suggest that the people of the United Kingdom have a right to know the Government's long-term proposals. This Bill is not the first of many. I suggest that it is the first of few. It is a one-off Bill. It cannot be repeated. This political exercise must succeed, and I hope that it does. In my view, the balance of judgment would give it a greater prospect of success if the Government produced a White Paper and set out some of the proposals suggested in Amendment No. 26.

Mr. Stallard

I, too, shall be brief. I want to apply my few remarks to Amendments No. 4 and Schedule No. 26, with particular reference to that part which mentions the Bill of Rights. My interests have already been made known on the question of the Bill of Rights during debates, and I hope that I need not spell out in detail what I mean.

I was just as pleased as my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) to hear the Secretary of State say that he would be flexible and that we may have some surprises If he has been listening to this debate and the debate that took place the other day, he should be aware of the feeling on this side of the House, and I think among many of his hon. Friends, that the essential point at this moment—and these are probably the most crucial amendments before us this afternoon—is on the question of timing and the importance of that exercise.

What we are saying is that while we recognise—and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) mentioned the possibility of misrepresentation if we did this or that wrong—that if we accepted, this proposal the majority would be afraid of misrepresentation, there is also a minority to be considered in this equation. I am concerned that in this exercise, which in the main is to protect the majority and to give in to the demand of the majority that they remain a part of the United Kingdom, the minority get some assurances, to which they are entitled after 50 years of being second-class citizens in the six counties. There are two parts to the equation and the essential feature in that second part is the introduction of a Bill of Rights.

When a few of us in this House, and in another place, attempted to introduce a Bill of Rights early in 1971 and again in 1972 and many other dates, we argued for proportional representation, amongst other things. We were told it was not possible, that it was undesirable and that there was nothing in the constitution of this country or in precedents or anything else which would allow proportional representation and that it was not on. Then we found suddenly that everyone was converted to proportional representation because the strength of the argument had gone through and there was no case left against it. We were delighted when the Government accepted the principle and the arguments in favour of proportional representation in the six counties. We were also told, those of us who argued against the oath of allegiance, that it had to be, that that was how it had always been and that there was nothing to be done about it. I am pleased to say, from written replies and from correspondence with the Secretary of State, that there appears to be some chink in that objection and that some moves have been taken to do something about that oath of allegiance.

We are still left with what is possibly the biggest objection from the minority side. The only thing that would make any real difference and help to create circumstances where the minority might consider participating in this plebiscite—and I would remind the Secretary of State that at this moment they would not consider it—would be if the Secretary of State were seriously to consider introducing a Bill of Rights. The atmosphere might then be created in which they could consider participating in this plebiscite. That means, of course, the ending of the Special Powers Act. This is not a one-off emergency Act; this is a permanent ongoing Act which has been in existence since 1922. If there were time I should like to read out and spell out everything that can happen under it, but it would take the rest of the afternoon. There are things which cannot be tolerated, and I certainly do not intend to tolerate them anywhere, which exist under this Special Powers Act and which militate against one side of the population, and that is what has to be got through to all of those who oppose this kind of approach.

The Special Powers Act at the moment seems to apply only to the minority, and as long as it exists in that form, there will never be the co-operation which is needed to make inroads into the problems of the six counties. We have the Special Powers Act authorising arrest without warrant, imprisonment without charge or trial, no recourse to habeas corpus, the searching of homes without warrants at any hour of the day or night —and many of us have had personal experience of the kind of tragedies that followed those searches, the arrest of persons wanted as witnesses and the compulsion to answer questions under penalties for refusal. The regulations deny trial by jury and they prevent any access of legal representatives or relatives to a person in prison without trial. They prohibit an inquest after a prisoner's death. After all that, there is still another provision which can imprison, or arrest, people who do anything calculated to be prejudicial to the preservation of peace, or to the maintenance of order in Northern Ireland, and which is not specifically provided for in the regulations.

As we have said a thousand times, it is no wonder that the Prime Minister of South Africa said that he would welcome the opportunity to use the Special Powers Act and show how he could use it in South Africa. Yet we have tolerated it in the United Kingdom; we have tolerated it here, and we have operated it against one side of the community in Northern Ireland, as has been seen blatantly since 1969. Until we do something serious about the repeal of the Special Powers Act, I submit that we do not even begin to seek the co-operation of a minority population in participating in this plebiscite.

Mr. Molyneaux

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has drawn the parallel of South Africa, some 6,000 miles away. Would it not be a parallel to look at the legislation which is being brought forward, some of it already in existence, in the Republic of Ireland? If his hon. Friends are exhorting us to change our way of action and to unite with the Republic of Ireland, surely the legislation there should be condemned. Would he recognise that Ireland, North and South, is a very different problem from the rest of the British Isles?

Mr. Stallard

I do not want to get into that argument. What a lot of rubbish it was for an intervention. The comparison between Southern Ireland and South Africa, to those who know both States, does not even stand up. I am arguing about the operation of a Special Powers Act in the United Kingdom. That is what I am responsible for, and I am saying that it ought not to exist, certainly not in the form in which it has existed since 1922 in the six counties—nor it should be operated in the way it is against the minority population. That is nothing to do with the point that was raised.

One has to begin to work on both sides in order to obtain co-operation for this plebiscite, referendum, or any other piece of legislation that we intend to introduce in the six counties. One way in which to do this would he the immediate repeal of the Special Powers Act—and that includes the end of internment. I suggest, therefore, that we should have a Bill of Rights, based on the repeal of the Special Powers Act, together with the extension of the Race Relations Act. I give the Secretary of State credit that the process has already begun.

As mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) in the Second Reading debate, we must be much more serious in our approach to the unemployment problem. We know there is always mass unemployment in Catholic areas. We know this, and we know the reasons for it. At the last count there were 59 nearly-new factories in the Protestant part, as it were, of the six counties, as against 15 in the Catholic part. It can be divided roughly in that kind of shorthand.

We know that the kind of discrimination in employment that has gone on for 50 years still exists. We can check it and relate statistics to positions in the Civil Service and the National Health Service, and in all the main boards, to prove that there has been this kind of discrimination. Serious attempts must be seen to be made to do something about these injustices, to create much more equality, especially amongst the minority population, before we begin to get these two communities together to solve a common problem.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

It is always possible to draw conclusions from these figures of the representation of the community in a given service. The hon. Member will reflect that we Roman Catholics feel utterly under-represented in this House in proportion to our population. But it is no injustice; there is no complaint to be made of that. One should not read too much into these figures.

Mr. Stallard

If things were exactly in the six counties as they are here, I would accept it, but they are not. I am asking the hon. Member to recognise that if a Bill of Rights existed which put into the six counties the same conditions as exist here, his argument would be valid. But first of all let us make sure that the discriminations that have operated against the minority are removed. We then begin to talk about the kind of United Kingdom that the people of Northern Ireland would be joining when they cast their vote. Therefore, as an essential part of any attempt to bring these two communities together we must introduce a Bill of Rights, a White Paper spelling out the kind of United Kingdom that we belong to—and that they would belong to as well—and at some later stage seriously discuss, if necessary—and I doubt whether it would be—the question of a referendum or plebiscite.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Russell Johnston

If the Secretary of State is going to accept some amendments he should accept Amendment No. 3 in the first place as a simple, non-controversial proposition that since the poll is going ahead—we are not arguing about that, although perhaps we are not altogether sure about its effect or whether we should have committed ourselves to it—it should be held on the fullest possible register.

Secondly, regarding the various propositions about the statement of intent and the White Paper, it is a fact that the poll, in the first instance, was agreed to to assure the known majority that they would not be forced to do anything they did not wish to do, or be deserted. The hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) said that that was not necessary but the Government deemed it to be necessary, and for that reason the Prime Minister committed us to it, and we are therefore stuck with it.

We have to ensure that the poll is held in the least explosive circumstances. It was sad to hear the short but strong altercation between the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose). It does not matter which side of the argument one supports; a sure way of losing it is to say to the other side, "You must be moderate you Orange/Papist bigot". It is a pity to see that attitude emerging in the House, but it makes one realise how much more passionately these views are held where the actual bullets are flying.

It will be difficult to achieve the poll without more violence than already exists. Given that the poll is designed to assure the majority that they will not be deserted, surely there should be, as part of a package—and the poll originally was part of a package—an assurance to the minority that whatever happens we shall not revert to the position as it was before. Looking at it in that way the Secretary of State could with every reason agree either to the publication of the White Paper first, or, alternatively, to the statement of intent in the schedule. Unfortunately I was unavoidably absent from the Chamber at the beginning of the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) and consequently might have missed something that was relevant. In either case one is seeking to assure people of the general direction of civil rights that are guaranteed.

That is a very reasonable request. Liberals in Northern Ireland have for a long time argued passionately for a Bill of Rights, and I am in complete agreement with the remarks that have been made about it.

Essentially, the Opposition amendments are fair and reasonable. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, rose in rebuttal of the hon. Member for East Stirlingshire and argued that the publication of a White Paper or statement of intent would end the Secretary of State's capacity to manoeuvre and render his position more inflexible. I do not accept that argument. After all, White Papers are not definitive statements of policy, nor are they intended so to be; they are rather intended to suggest, for discussion, the intended general lines of Government policy.

Following publication, a White Paper may be considered, argued and discussed. The Government may well change it. Thus, I cannot agree that a White Paper would remove the right hon. Gentleman's powers of manoeuvre. On the other hand, it might well allay many of the fears of the minority, which might otherwise lead them regrettably to boycott the poll.

Mr. Wellbeloved

We are delighted that the Secretary of State has at least given an indication that he might be prepared to mend the Government's way of dealing with legislation and accept an amendment. This is one of the first signs of humility following from the lesson that was taught to them yesterday evening. Acceptance of Amendment No. 3, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) and calling for the poll to be conducted not earlier than the 15th February 1973 would, in my view, be the first step in bringing Northern Ireland towards the standards of the remainder of the United Kingdom, by allowing them to hold a poll upon a live register.

To conduct a poll on any basis other than a new live register would merely add to the fears expressed by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends that the poll would prove a futile exercise. Thus, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make that concession.

While I congratulate my Front Bench on their tabling of Amendment No. 3 I am rather puzzled by the question of the Bill of Rights and the schedule, contained in Amendment No. 21. I suppose that if we in this country are to embark on the exercise of solving the problem of Northern Ireland, a Bill of Rights is worth a try. After all, we have tried practically everything else. We tried integration, and we tried partition, both of which failed. We tried military might, which also failed. If we are intent once again on pushing under the counter the historic and inevitable tragedy of violence in Ireland, by all means let us try a Bill of Rights, if do so we must, before achieving the real and only solution, which is to allow the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic to solve their differences as two independent States.

Mr. Whitelaw


Mr. Wellbeloved

The Secretary of State says, "Oh!" I will forecast a day. Whatever we do now, in a generation's time we shall be faced with similar eruptions. We shall never solve the problems of Northern Ireland until we recognise that the people of Northern and Southern Ireland themselves, by economic necessity, must come to an agreement, based upon their desire to reach an understanding, rather than that any solution should be imposed from here.

I want to return to the question of a Bill of Rights, because I believe that it typifies our self-delusion. On Second Reading my Front Bench proposed a reasoned amendment calling for a White Paper giving a definite undertaking to ensure that all the people of Northern Ireland would have an equal opportunity to exercise political power. In the context of that debate I found no difficulty in supporting that amendment.

Whatever solution is arrived at, it must be based upon the exercise of political power and the opportunity to exercise that power by the people concerned. But that is not what is set out in the statement of intent for inclusion in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Although many of my hon. Friends have said that they support the statement of intent, what is the meaning of subsection (1)? I do not understand what it means, and I am sure the people in Northern Ireland would not. It reads:— Equality between all sections of the community in the exercise of political power". That is not what was said in the Second Reading debate. Does that mean that if I am a citizen of Northern Ireland I can set up a political party with two or three of my neighbours and say, "Now I constitute a section of the people of Northern Ireland, and I have the right to equality in the exercise of political power"?

Mr. Douglas

My hon. Friend would probably accept that that is not political power. Surely political power exists within an agreed constitutional framework, whether that framework be written or unwritten. My hon. Friend is talking about the abrogation of the absence of political power.

Mr. Wellbeloved

That leads me to the question which I had hoped to develop on that part of my hon. Friend's statement of intent. If when we talk about a Bill of Rights, we leave it in those vague terms, all is well, because we need not spell out what we really intend. But the moment anyone attempts to set out in writing what would be in a Bill of Rights—

Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

Does not my hon. Friend appreciate that what is set out here is not a statement of intent but an invitation to the Secretary of State to deal with these matters and specify his intentions?

Mr. Wellbeloved

That may be so, but I return to the point that I am endeavouring to make, namely, that it is no use to talk in a loose way about a Bill of Rights without giving the Government some clearer indication of what the Opposition want to see in such a document. The only clear statement before us at the moment is Amendment No. 26 which, in subsection (1), illustrates the difficulties which the Government, the Opposition and everyone else would face in trying to set out a Bill of Rights to deal with the situation.

Subsection (2) refers to Equal opportunity for social and economic advancement. That intent can be clearly expressed. It applies in the rest of the United Kingdom. If, therefore, the laws of the rest of the United Kingdom were applied to Northern Ireland that subsection would be properly dealt with. The same applies to subsection (3).

But it is no use saying to the Government that as part of the poll there must be a White Paper available to the voters in Northern Ireland and the people of this country. We would be interested in the White Paper, too, because the future boundaries of the United Kingdom will be a matter upon which the British people as a whole will decide and not just the majority in Northern Ireland.

[Mrs. LENA JEGER in the Chair.]

7.0 p.m.

It is no use telling the Government that they must have the White Paper published and ready before the poll if we do not say precisely what we want the Government to put in it.

Mr. Fitt

Each set of amendments is designed honestly to ask the Government to spell out its intentions and attitudes to the future of Northern Ireland. It is also asking the Government to ensure, before they express those intentions, that they will have the support of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

As I have listened to the speeches this afternoon, I have concluded that there may be a considerable advantage to be gained if the Secretary of State will listen to the pleas put forward by my hon. Friends. They have asked for a statement of intent. This can be allied with the publication of the White Paper. We hope that it would be published before the plebiscite was taken, and that it would spell out clearly what the Government intended to be the future of Northern Ireland. I am convinced that many elements in Northern Ireland will not agree with the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State time and time again—that he wants to bring justice and equality to everyone in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has already announced his intention to have discussions on the Green Paper with the major political parties in Northern Ireland next week. I hope that those discussions will be successful.

I have no doubt that when he discusses the Green Paper with, for example, the Vanguard movement, if they are true to the statements they have already made they will say to the Secretary of State, "We want the return of Stormont as we have known it for 50 years. We want the return of security to Northern Ireland." Naturally, the discussions that the Secretary of State will be having with the Vanguard movement and the UDA elements—perhaps not direct consultations with them; they will be there in different guises—will not be made available to everyone in Northern Ireland. Everyone will be in considerable doubt about what has taken place, what attitude has been adopted by the Secretary of State what has been conceded and what withheld from the various elements.

Would not a considerable advantage be gained by someone living in Northern Ireland? I think that it would have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). At the moment we have the official IRA saying, "We do not want a united Ireland under the present constitution of the Republic". We have the Provisional IRA saying exactly the same thing—"We do not want a united Ireland under the present constitution". The SDLP, both in North and Southern Ireland, have had many disagreements about the present constitution of the Republic. It would appear that no one wants to jump overnight into the 26 counties pit.

If the Westminster Government were to spell out in a White Paper what were their intentions towards the retention of that link with the people of Northern Ireland it might force the Government of the Republic to publish a White Paper or a Green Paper, or some form of paper, and say, "These are the terms under which we would offer you citizenship. If you like them, vote for them in the plebiscite. If you do not like them put your mark on the other part of the ballot paper".

That would give people a real choice, and it would also tell the Government of the Republic that they would have to give serious consideration to what would happen if and when the people of Northern Ireland were taken into the new all-Ireland State. At present there are people in the Republic of Ireland—and some people in the North of Ireland support them—who would accept a Republic on any terms, but I think that they are in the minority in Northern Ireland, because most of the people there are realists. Those who have opposed unionism for all these years in Northern Ireland will not join the Republic overnight on any terms.

If the Government were prepared to put their ideas in a White Paper or a statement of intent I should, with any influence that I may have—and no doubt with the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster and other political figures in the minority in Northern Ireland—ask the Taoiseach of the Republic to spell out exactly what they would do for the minority in Northern Ireland. But that can be done only if the Government are prepared to declare their intention.

Mr. Whitelaw

I start by thanking the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) and, indeed, all other hon. Members who have spoken, for the important contributions which they have made and for the moderate and careful way in which they have presented their views.

To the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley), I would say that I am certainly prepared to listen. No one who has done my job for seven months could be other than prepared to listen. I cannot but be reminded of the man who, having talked to me for 2½ hours one day at Stormont, left my office and said, "The trouble with the Secretary of State is that he is not prepared to listen". During that time, surprisingly for me, I had said very little. I genuinely mean that I am most anxious to hear all views, but at the start I ought to make clear where I stand. We can then consider carefully some of the detailed points against the background of what I believe must be my position at the moment.

During the Second Reading debate I said that Her Majesty's Government did not believe that it would be wise to commit themselves at this stage to the order in which the border poll and the White Paper would come. We take that view because I have learned from bitter experiences that in Northern Irish affairs to commit oneself specifically, too long before any particular date has great dangers. My worry is that, having committed myself to a date for the local government elections and changes, I am in the position that once it is decided on what dates the border poll and the local government elections are to be held, they must be held on those days. The dates cannot be changed again.

In my judgment it is most important to preserve the options and not to close them at this stage. For that reason I could not accept the amendments, but I meet them in the spirit in which they have been made and I do not at this stage rule out some of the arguments that have been made.

The hon. Member for Leeds, South very fairly said that the opportunity to disagree by vote with what I am seeking to do will come with the publication of the order under the Bill, if it is passed, actually naming the date. There is a clear opportunity to say that the Government have been wrong in their choice of a date, but I shall not commit myself now.

It is against that background that I want to look at some of the arguments. I accept at once that it is a desperately difficult situation to make. I have not lacked advice. The hon. Member for Leeds, South quoted my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who said that there would undoubtedly be a critical time when the White Paper was published. Many other hon. Members made the same point. I believe that it absolutely correct. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) made the same point.

The conclusion that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford came to as a result of that belief was that it would be right to have this poll before publication of the White Paper. One must put that on one side of the argument. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that if it were done that way round there might be much bloodshed. I am equally conscious that there may be bloodshed if it is done the other way round. I do not think that one can be sure either way. That is why it is a very difficult decision to make.

Therefore, when I am told—I think by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose)—that I must change my mind, it is only fair to say that I have not made it up at this stage, and that I am deliberately preserving the option, and believe it correct to do so.

The hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) said that it was most important that people did not delude themselves. That is immensely important, I agree. The dangers of delusion are inevitably always great in the affairs of Northern Ireland. Quite reasonably, people tend to believe what they wish to believe, and that makes self-delusion a very important factor. But when considering the publication of the White Paper and its impact one must also take into account a point which I do not make often but which I believe to be important. The White Paper itself cannot bring certainty about the future; the only thing that can bring certainty is legislation passed by this Parliament. Therefore, while the White Paper may be a guide as to what that legislation will be, it cannot of itself bring certainty. I do not make too much of that point because a White Paper put forward as a statement of intent goes a considerable way; but it cannot of itself bring certainty. One must appreciate that.

The hon. Member for Leeds, South by his amendment, said that it would be wrong to hold the poll on the old register. He questioned the matter of distributing the documents and checking them. I think that my hon. Friend, in saying "checking" them, after 15th, was not quite correct, but in speaking of "distributing" them he was absolutely correct. The result is exactly the same. The poll could not be held until 28th February if it were held after 15th. Therefore, if it has to be on the new register the poll could not be held before 28th February at the earliest. It is important that that should be clearly brought out.

Mr. Foley

Has the right hon. Gentleman made up his mind whether the poll will be conducted on the new register? Has he quantified the extent of movement, since the last register, of intimidation—people fleeing from one place to another—and the implications of holding the poll on the old register; or has he made up his mind to have it on the new register?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, I am deliberately preserving the option. I have made it clear that the local elections will take place on the new register. That is a clear and complete commitment.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The Secretary of State's answer has sparked a point in my mind regarding the rules—Stormont or Westminster—on which the election is to be fought. It occurs to me, arising out of the point that my hon. Friend has just made, that many people will have moved in Belfast for normal as well as for abnormal reasons. In our national parliamentary and local elections there are significantly different sets of rules regarding postal voting as between the two. Whatever be the result of any changes which may be made in the questions, and so on, I hope that the whole question of postal voting, and the terms on which people can vote, will be looked at, because many people will have to move around the cities of Belfast and Derry in order to vote.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that those problems arise more on the next set of Amendments, on some of the regulations I said on Second Reading that the Stormont election franchise, would be conducted under the Westminster rules, and I think that my hon. Friend said in his winding-up speech that that meant that poll cards would be issued as under the Westminster rules. As regards postal voting I note what the hon. Gentleman says. We shall do our best in the regulations.

I turn to the various points that have been made about the statement of intent, the Bill of Rights, to which a number of hon. Members—the hon. Members for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), for Leeds, South and for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), among others have referred.

I have no quarrel with the sentiments set out in the statement of intent. I think they are important and must be carefully considered, and I should have thought would be very likely to form part of any constitutional set-up that finally came into effect. But I do not think that they are appropriate to this Bill and that is why, while I do not in any way dissent from the sentiments, I should not wish to put them in the Bill.

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North made a strong point about the Special Powers Act. I have already made it clear that we are anxious to get away from the Special Powers Act as fast as we can. That is why we have set up the Diplock Commission to look into legal procedures for the future. That is why I have set up, temporarily, the tribunals which are working at the present time and which, although some hon. Members may consider that they have deficiencies, I believe are much better than internment by the signature of a single Minister. I am convinced that they are better and that the working of them, as has been seen so far, will lend weight to that argument. We are seeking to get away from the Special Powers Act, and that is the purpose we have in mind.

The hon. Member for Blackley suggested that the poll would be a choice between a Unionist Government in the North or Mr. Lynch's Government in the South. I do not see how, basically, he can justify that argument. I do not see how the poll on the border can mean that in any future constitutional set-up any particular form of government is inevitable.

Eqaully, to those who say that they would be in doubt if it were decided to hold the poll before the White Paper, I reply that I do not think anyone is in any doubt that membership of the United Kingdom means recognising the sovereignty of this Parliament. Ever since the 1920 Act, the House of Commons has had sovereignty over Northern Ireland. It has had powers to reject Northern Ireland legislation, which it never used. Although it did not use them, it had the powers, and no one should doubt that Westminster had the sovereignty, has it today, and would have it in future. Therefore, if one decides to maintain the United Kingdom link, one is accepting that the sovereignty is here in the Westminster Parliament. Of that there can be no doubt.

Mr. McNamara

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, though the theory of what he is saying is correct, after nearly 50 years this Parliament was unable to ask any questions about the Government of Northern Ireland? That was the problem of the convention, which we have had to battle against for four years before we made any headway.

Mr. Whitelaw

I was merely making the point that anyone in Northern Ireland who votes to remain part of the United Kingdom knows perfectly well that it means accepting the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. Whatever may be the arguments about direct rule, it is clear that it was brought about by the actions of this Parliament, which, if it had not had the sovereignty, could not have done it. No one can doubt that.

Mr. Foley

The Secretary of State must be aware from his experience since taking office that there are people in Northern Ireland who claim that they want to preserve the union with Britain. In order to demonstrate this, they put on uniforms, acquire rifles and shoot British soldiers. Is there any doubt in their minds about what they are voting for? They are voting to preserve the union and to preserve their position in the North. That is the weakness of the argument that the right hon. Gentleman is adducing.

Mr. Whitelaw

I might be led into other arguments if I followed that. I must stick to the argument. I was making the simple point that—

Mr. Stallard

On the simple point; would the Secretary of State accept that ruled from here under the sovereignty of this Parliament means no Special Powers Act? It is not enough to say that there is a Diplock Commission and tribunals. We do not have them here. It should mean the same conditions there as here. It means no Special Powers Act, no tribunals, no Diplock Commission—just as in Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow or Bristol.

Mr. Whitelaw

One might be led into arguments about the Emergency Powers Act, which we have in this country and which may be invoked from time to time, and what one might do in any future constitutional set-up. One is entitled to say—as my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has said —that it is impossible to pretend that conditions are exactly the same in Northern Ireland as they are in the rest of the United Kingdom, bearing in mind what has been happening and the terrorist campaign that has been going on for three years. No one can pretend that circumstances are exactly the same.

The Diplock Commission has been set up to see how one can move from the Special Powers Act to the sort of emergency legislation that we have here, which was the desire, it is fair to say, of the Labour Government. Stormont made clear its desire for precisely the same thing.

Mr. Peter Archer

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that what is troubling many of us on the Opposition side is that the people of Northern Ireland want to know whether, if they opt for the retention of the sovereignty of this Parliament, it is proposed to revert to the convention that this Parliament does not legislate about domestic affairs in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Whitelaw

I see the validity of that argument. I am not sure that it becomes conclusive in the timing of the White Paper and the border poll. But it is a fair argument and I accept it as such.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich proposed that the border poll and the local elections should be held at the same time. That proposal has been made before. It has been considered and it can be considered again. There is no doubt from the advice that I have received that it is administratively more complicated. It is undoubtedly more complicated for the electors. It may be argued that it has security advantages, for the security exercise is done at the same time.

Whether it would help is arguable. To have both at the same time might bring the border more into the local election rather than taking it out. It could be argued both ways, but I do not think that in the end it is the best course, although I understand the basis on which it has been put forward.

I have dealt with most of the issues put before me. I am convinced that this is a difficult decision of timing. I do not seek to disguise from the Committee that there are arguments both ways. People can honestly hold differing views. To differ does not mean that our aims are not the same, for we differ honestly about the best way of achieving it. I cannot be sure, and that is why I do not believe it would be right to commit Her Majesty's Government at this time. I want to keep the options open. When I present the order it will be possible to vote against it if the date which I have chosen is wrong.

I hope that the Opposition will not press their amendment. If they decide to do so, I must ask the Committee not to accept it, because I am convinced that it is right at this stage to keep the options open.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

We have listened carefully, as we always do, to the Secre-

tary of State. He has told us that he has an open mind on the date, and we shall return to that when we debate the order.

I realise that Amendment No. 3 affects the timing, but we were concerned that the poll should be conducted on the new register to allow the maximum number of people an opportunity to vote. It has been a feature of recent years that all of us who participate in these debates try to push in the right direction. In Amendments Nos. 3, 6 and 26 we have put our views on these significant matters, especially those relating to the length of time which should elapse between a poll and the publication of a declaration of intent.

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's views. I recommend that we vote on Amendment No. 3 but that we do not vote on Amendments Nos. 6 and 26, because Amendment No. 4 subsumes the arguments contained in them. That will enable us to have two Divisions for the price of three.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 68, Noes 91.

Division No. 20.] AYES [7.30 p.m.
Allen, Scholefield Grant, George (Morpeth) Orme, Stanley
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Grant, John D. (Islingon, E.) Pardoe, John
Atkinson, Norman Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Harper, Joseph Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Bradley, Tom Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Roper, John
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Hattersley, Roy Rose, Paul B.
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Healey, R. Hn. Denis Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Heffer, Eric S. Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Dalyell, Tam Horam, John Silverman, Julius
Davidson, Arthur Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Skinner, Dennis
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Small, William
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) John, Brynmor Spearing, Nigel
Deakins, Eric Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Stallard, A. W.
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Devlin, Miss Bernadette Kaufman, Gerald Tinn, James
Dunnett, Jack Latham, Arthur Torney, Tom
English, Michael Lyons, Edward (Bradford. E.) Wellbeloved, James
Evans, Fred Marquand, David Whitlock, William
Faulds, Andrew Marsden, F. Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Meacher, Michael Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mendelson, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Foley, Maurice Millan, Bruce Mr. J. D. Concannon and
Golding, John O'Halloran, Michael Mr. J. Kevin McNamara.
Atkins, Humphrey Carlisle, Mark Fenner, Mrs. Peggy
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Chapman, Sydney Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)
Benyon, W. Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Fookes, Miss Janet
Biffen, John Clegg, Walter Fowler, Norman
Biggs-Davison, John Cormack, Patrick Fox, Marcus
Boscawen, Hn. Robert du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Fry, Peter
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Eyre, Reginald Goodhaw, Victor
Green, Alan Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Gummer, J. Selwyn Moate, Roger Shelton, William (Clapham)
Havers, Michael Molyneaux, James Soref, Harold
Hawkins, Paul Money, Ernie Speed, Keith
Holland, Philip Monks, Mrs. Connie Spence, John
Howell, David (Guildford) Mudd, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Murton, Oscar Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Neave, Airey Tebbit, Norman
Jopling, Michael Normanton, Tom Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Tugendhat, Christopher
Kilfedder, James Orr, Capt. L. P. S. van Straubenzee, W. R.
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Kinsey, J. R. Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Ward, Dame Irene
Kirk, Peter Percival, Ian Warren, Kenneth
Knight, Mrs. Jill Pounder, Rafton Weatherill, Bernard
Knox, David Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Wells, John (Maidstone)
Lane, David Price, David (Eastleigh) White, Roger (Gravesend)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'field) Raison, Timothy Wilkinson, John
Loveridge, John Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) Winterton, Nicholas
McMaster, Stanley Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mather, Carol Russell, Sir Ronald Mr. Tim Fortescue and
Maude, Angus St. John-Stevas, Norman Mr. Kenneth Clarke.
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Scott, Nicholas
Mills, Peter (Torrington) Scott-Hopkins, James

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 4, in page 1, line 9, after 'date', insert: 'after the publication of a White Paper and a Bill of Rights'.—[Mr. Rose.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 66, Noes 91.

Division No. 21.] AYES [7.36 p.m.
Allen, Scholefield Grant, George (Morpeth) Orme, Stanley
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Pardoe, John
Atkinson, Norman Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Harper, Joseph Roberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Bradley, Tom Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Roper, John
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Hattersley, Roy Rose, Paul B.
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Heffer, Eric S. Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Dalyell, Tam Horam, John Silverman, Julius
Davidson, Arthur Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Skinner, Dennis
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) John, Brynmor Small, William
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Spearing, Nigel
Deakins, Eric Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Stallard, A. W.
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Kaufman, Gerald Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Devlin, Miss Bernadette Latham, Arthur Tinn, James
Dunnett, Jack Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Torney, Tom
English, Michael McNamara, J. Kevin Wellbeloved, James
Evans, Fred Marquand, David Whitlock, William
Faulds, Andrew Marsden, F. Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham,Ladywood) Meacher, Michael
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mendelson, John Mr. John Golding and
Foley, Maurice Millan, Bruce Mr. J. D, Concannon.
O'Halloran, Michael
Atkins, Humphrey Green, Alan Mather, Carol
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Gummer, J. Selwyn Maude, Angus
Benyon, W. Havers, Sir Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Biffen John Hawkins, Paul Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Biggs-Davison, John Holland, Philip Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Howell, David (Guildford) Moate, Roger
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Molyneaux, James
Carlisle, Mark Jennings, J. c. (Burton) Money, Ernie
Chapman, Sydney Jopling, Michael Monks, Mrs. Connie
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Mudd, David
Clegg Walter Kilfedder, James Murton, Oscar
Cormack, Patrick King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Neave, Airey
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Kinsey, J. R. Normanton, Tom
Eyre, Reginald Kirk, Peter Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Knight, Mrs. Jill Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Knox, David Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Fookes, Miss Janet Lane, David Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
Fowler, Norman Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Percival, Ian
Fox, Marcus Lloyd, Rt.Hn.Geoffrey (Sut'nC'field) Pounder, Rafton
Fry, Peter Loveridge, John Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Goodhew, Victor McMaster, Stanley Price, David (Eastleigh)
Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Speed, Keith Weatherill, Bernard
Raison, Timothy Spence, John Wells, John (Maidstone)
Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) Stanbrook, Ivor White, Roger (Gravesend)
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Russell, Sir Ronald Tebbit, Norman Wilkinson, John
St. John Stevas, Norman Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth) Winterton, Nicholas
Scott, Nicholas Tugendhat, Christopher
Scott-Hopkins, James van Straubenzee, W. R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Walder, David (Clitheroe) Mr. Tim Fortescue and
Shelton, William (Clapham) Ward, Dame Irene Mr. Kenneth Clarke
Soref, Harold Warren, Kenneth

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Rose

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 1, line 18, leave out ' the poll shall be conducted and ' and insert: 'polling booths shall be provided in such locations as will limit the risk of intimidation and the poll shall be conducted under the supervision of persons responsible to the Parliament of the United Kingdom'.

The Temporary Chairman

With this Amendment it will be in order to take the following Amendments:

No. 27, in page 1, line 10, after 'direct' insert: 'which shall be a public holiday with all licensed premises closed'. No. 10, in page 1, line 24, leave out subsection (2).

No. 11, in page 2, line 1, leave out from 'expedient' to the end of the subsection.

No. 13 in page 2, line 8, after 'influence', insert: by intimidation or other unlawful means'. No. 16, in page 2, line 15, at end add: '(4) For the duration of the campaign and poll the Public Order Act, the Flags and Emblems Act and the Special Powers Act will be suspended'. No. 28, in page 2, line 15, at end add: '(4) The Secretary of State shall produce a report on the conduct of the poll and present it to Parliament as soon as practicable after the conclusion of the poll".

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Rose

I shall not detain the House for long, because this matter was discussed at length during the Second Reading debate. However, there are grounds for concern, which have been expressed by Members for Northern Ireland on both sides. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will be with us, so that he can tell the Committee about his experiences in his constituency.

Because of the siting of polling booths it has been difficult, if not dangerous—even in conditions of comparative peace —for persons to vote in ordinary elections in Northern Ireland. A poll which is conducted on the border issue can therefore be calculated to excite the most extreme passions among extremists on both sides. That situation will be rendered even more dangerous during the border poll, and it is felt that some special protection is needed for those who are to vote.

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) cited during the Second Reading debate instances of Protestant voters in his constituency who had been intimidated. Similarly, the Member for Belfast, West referred to the position of Catholic voters in his constituency who had met with the same problem. Given the so-called peace lines and barricades, and the fact that many polling booths are sited in the heart of areas composed of only one section of the community, it might be highly dangerous for persons to vote.

It is the intention of the amendments to ask the Government to provide means whereby the maximum safety can be guaranteed to those who decide to participate. If that is not done there may be even greater feeling among those who will vote that apart from any political principle it might be safer to abstain.

Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)

I also hope that the poll will be operated in an atmosphere of dignity so that the people of Northern Ireland can have an opportunity to say whether they wish constitutional developments to proceed. Through the ballot box they can give their answer to violence and to the gunmen. That is why I welcome the Bill.

I recognise that any election will take place in immensely difficult circumstances. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the constituency of West Belfast, but most constituencies will have equal problems. Therefore, there are some matters which the Government should bear in mind. I hope that we can have sufficient army personnel and police in Northern Ireland to deal with any tensions which may arise. I hope that there will be sufficient numbers available so that there are not to few men trying to do an impossible job. That is my first request.

Many times today speakers have suggested that this is an exercise in pointlessness. I do not believe that. I am particularly keen to see the poll operating in a dignified and low key fashion because I want to ensure that a wide cross-section of the public is given the opportunity to cast their votes without fear and without intimidation.

One of the mistakes of hon. Members opposite is to assume that the bulk of the Catholic community wish to join Southern Ireland. The figures in the recent public opinion poll published in Fortnight magazine show that only 24 per cent. of the Catholics wish to do so, while 41 per cent. wish to remain with the United Kingdom; 26 per cent. abstained and 9 per cent. did not know. This is why I think it particularly important to have the poll operating in a dignified low key fashion.

I want to appeal particularly to the Social Democratic and Labour Party. The men of violence, the IRA, will call for a massive boycott of the poll. I hope that the SDLP will not add political respectability to the voice of the gunman by joining them in a call for a boycott. I think that this is a vital opportunity for the SDLP to exercise statesmanship and to say that it recognises the right of the Westminster Parliament—I am sure the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will agree with this—to take the decision to have a border poll and that therefore people should not abstain but should play a positive role in it. The SDLP certainly should not give political respectability to the demand which the IRA will make for a massive boycott.

I hope that I can put the same appeal to Mr. Lynch. There have been noises from that direction suggesting that he would run a simultaneous poll or would join in creating an atmosphere of boycott or of messing the whole thing up. That would be a serious error of judgment. I appeal to him to bear in mind that he, too, might be giving a psuedo respectability to the IRA when it obviously called for a boycott.

What about the date? This is the key to the whole question of a peaceable atmosphere for the poll. I hope that there will be no massive campaigning by the political parties—no monster rallies and no high key type of political activity. The people of Northern Ireland will not have to be driven out to the poll. Many of them are eager to have an opportunity to take part in it. I think that they themselves will wish that there should be no massive campaigning. There is much merit, therefore, in considering whether it would be practical to have the poll at the beginning of January. There could not then be a massive build up campaigning because of Christmas and the New Year—and perhaps a little of the spirit of Chirstmas and the New Year might spill over into the poll.

Mr. McNamara

If I may say so, the Chair has been wise in its selection of amendments in that it has distinguished between the general constitutional amendments, which are of importance to the body politic as a whole of Great Britain and to the constitutional position of this Committee, and those which deal with the plebiscite. I congratulate the Chair on following the splendid example I set in my speech on Second Reading.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) appealed to Mr. Lynch concerning a poll below the border. That appeal would be far more opportune if we had had a clear statement from the United Kingdom Government that Mr. Lynch had been asked about the poll in Northern Ireland. If we decide to have a poll north of the border, in the six counties, I am sure that Mr. Lynch, the Republic being a sovereign power, can decide to have a poll, if he so wishes, in the 26 counties. If, by some queer quirk of fate, the result in Northern Ireland were a majority for joining the Republic, we would be saying to Mr. Lynch, "Here are the six counties; here are 1½ million people". He could reply, "I never asked for that". It would be our decision to shove them into the Republic, which would not have been asked whether there was room for them. The British Government did not discuss with Mr. Lynch the wisdom or otherwise of having this plebiscite. Moreover, they did not discuss with him what should be the direction of the questions put in the poll.

Mr. Stratton Mills

The constitution of the Republic lays claim to Northern Ireland. One assumes, therefore, that the door is for ever open as far as Mr. Lynch is concerned. My point is that if Mr. Lynch were to engage in a simultaneous poll the sole purpose of it would not be constructive but destructive.

Mr. McNamara

If there were a poll in the Republic at the same time, at least we should have the voice of all the people of Ireland being raised on the problem. One of the problems here is that we have never heard the voice, united or disunited, of the whole of the Irish people together. If we did, we might have an overall majority in favour of the six counties being united with the 26 counties. The hon. Gentleman must bear that in mind. On the question of the constitution of the Republic and what it lays claim to or does not lay claim to, the hon. Member of all people will surely not seek to intervene in the affairs of another sovereign State since he opposes strongly any suggestion that the Republic should interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

If a poll is to be held in Northern Ireland, it is important to have adequate provision and protection for those seeking to vote or not to vote. They have to have adequate protection. That means that polling booths must be sited in areas where intending voters are not likely to be subjected to intimidation of any sort and are not likely to be driven away from the poll. That will create all sorts of difficulties which the Government will have to consider when drawing up the various regulations. The Secretary of State may have to split up whole districts, perhaps sides of streets, and establish new polling stations in new areas which can be adequately protected so that members of various communities can feel that they can go in safety to vote if they so desire.

There is the question of the Flags and Emblems Act. How are people who seek to advocate support of the second question in the Schedule going to be able to show or demonstrate their attitudes? Are they going to be able to wave their flags and their emblems, which they regard as being important and symbolic? Surely this is something we should accept as being symbolic for the peace we all want, because the whole symbolism of that flag is peace between Orange and Green. It is something we should welcome instead of regarding it as a sectarian symbol.

These are some of the problems—the security of the voter, the suspension of legislation which either of the communities feels to be repressive, hindering them in the free exercise of democratic choice and in trying to persuade people to adopt their views. We have a further duty. We have so to arrange this poll as to ensure that the security forces, particularly members of the British Army, are not placed at risk. The task is difficult enough but we do not want it worsened through the poll. The security arrangements to be made on that day for the protection of voters, officers and polling booths must be carefully considered. We do not want the Army to be too much at risk from either side.

[Mr. C. M. WOODHOUSE in the Chair]

Mr. Fitt

This is one of the most important amendments that we shall be discussing because unless adequate protection can be given to intending voters, whether they are in favour of the maintenance of the present link or in favour of a link with the Republic, then the whole plebiscite will have been not only a wasted exercise but a dangerous experiment. In that event we shall be called to account by those who will have lost their possessions, who have been intimidated and who may even have lost their relatives by death.

It would not be the first time in the history of Northern Ireland that people have suffered grievously on such emotive issues because of their voting intentions. Many people have lost their homes and possessions because they lived in a certain area. When the results of elections were declared their homes were attacked and burned. I do not say that this will happen only to Catholics. It can happen to Protestants living in certain predominantly Catholic areas. With passions aroused and the escalation of tension that will undoubtedly accompany this plebiscite they, too, could suffer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) has pointed out the dangers inherent in this plebiscite. The Falls Road and the Shankhill Road are both in my constituency. Some people will have to traverse the side roads between the Falls and the Shankhill to go to the polling stations. People who want to vote may decide not to go up the Shankhill because they will be intimidated. If they do go up that street they may be shot at by a sniper. What do the Government have in mind? Will they have members of the security forces on every street leading to a polling station? Will security forces be outside polling stations? Will the cars carrying voters from the Falls Road area be allowed to travel through the Shankhill Road area displaying a Tricolor? The Tricolor is the symbol of those who will wish to cast their votes for some form of unity with the Republic.

If the Government take the view that the Union Jack is the national flag of Northern Ireland as at present constituted and that the other flag must not be given any preference or recognition, then the whole reason for the plebiscite falls to the ground. We are trying to get the plebiscite carried out in a peaceful way so that we may determine the attitudes of the people of Northern Ireland as a whole. It appears that the Government are intent on forcing through legislation to allay the fears of the majority Protestant population.

The Government must know that there is also a minority population with real fears, held for good reason. For 50 years they have lived under the domination of successive Unionist Governments. They have been the victims of this repressive legislation. For example, in replying to the last debate the Secretary of State said that the Government would be spelling out their intentions. He said that since the inception of the Northern Ireland State the United Kingdom Parliament had always been sovereign. He could have fooled me! When I came over here in 1966, together with my hon. Friends I repeatedly tried to raise questions about Northern Ireland but we were told by the Table Office that a convention existed and that it was not a matter for the House but for Stormont.

Yet Stormont was the very Parliament that brought to the Statute Book the Flags and Emblems Act making it illegal to fly the Tricolor if someone took offence and objected to it. This kind of legislation was not passed in London and does not apply in any other part of the United Kingdom. While there were many people suffering because of that Act I was able to go to Hyde Park on Sunday afternoons and see hundreds of Tricolors. No one took offence and no one was imprisoned. [Interruption.] They may have been IRA supporters or supporters of a United Ireland but they were not sent to gaol or fined. It is impossible to do this in Northern Ireland.

It is worthwhile repeating the case I mentioned on Second Reading. In 1964 an election was held for the Westminster Parliament and a Republican candidate named McMillan was fighting for a seat in this Parliament. Outside of his headquarters he had the Tricolor because that was the symbol of his party. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is not here today, was at that time just becoming known. He threatened the Northern Ireland Government, the police, the Judiciary and the security forces, saying that if the flag were not taken down he would lead an army of militant Protestants into the Catholic area and remove the flag. Under that threat the police force and the Government surrendered.

They went in. I was in the vicinity on that evening when they used a good deal of force and succeeded in taking down this flag. Is that likely to happen in this poll? If people are to be given the opportunity to vote one way or the other they must be allowed to use their symbol. As a Socialist I object to nationalist flags being used as symbols. I do not think that the Union Jack should be the property of any political party, particularly in Northern Ireland. I certainly do not think that the Irish Tricolor should be the property of any political organisation in Ireland.

We have to face facts. Will Republican organisations in Northern Ireland be allowed to display even the colours of the Tricolor during the course of campaigning?

I am not talking only about the flag. Even the display of green, white and orange colours is an offence under the Flags and Emblems Act. Will the people who support the establishment of a connection with the Republic be allowed to wear a Tricolor lapel badge? That is an offence.

A person who wants to vote for the maintenance of the connection between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be allowed to go into a Catholic area and display any number of Union Jacks and it will be an offence for anyone in that area to raise an objection. One can see how lopsided the law will be. I hope that the poll will be carried out with the intention of trying to arrive at the opinion—

Mr. Stratton Mills

In the circumstances which the hon. Gentleman has described, the criterion is whether the act of a person is likely to lead to a breach of the peace, and it therefore depends very much on the surrounding circumstances.

Mr. Fitt

Exactly. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that if anyone were seen with a Tricolor on the Shankill Road it would lead to a breach of the peace, but if anyone were seen with a Union Jack in Ballymurphy it would not lead to a breach of the peace. It is not an offence to fly a Union Jack in Ballymurphy but it is an offence to fly a Tricolor in Shankill Road.

Mr. Rose

Does my hon. Friend accept that the legal position is that the display of that flag would immediately become a breach of the peace as soon as someone said that he took offence at it and would try to take it down?

Mr. Fitt

I agree with my hon. Friend. A reporter of the Belfast Telegraph took a photograph of a flag hanging in the window of the election headquarters in 1964. Most people did not see the flag hanging, but many people saw the photograph and said that they would take the flag down because it offended their susceptibilities. That will be the position in the election, and it will lead to a great deal of trouble.

There are not enough security forces to carry out an election in these circumstances. There are 21,000 troops and there are the UDR men. I can imagine what would happen if a UDR man were asked to give an unbiassed opinion of a Tricolor which is being displayed. That man was probably originally a member of the "B" Specials but he is now wearing a different uniform and is better armed than he was under the Unionist Government. We cannot expect an impartial opinion from a UDR man. The British Army will have to carry out their normal duties and there will simply not be enough of them to carry out this extra duty.

8.15 p.m.

The Public Order Act puts great power into the hands of the local sergeant or inspector of the RUC. Many allegations of gross partiality have been levelled against those officers and I would not expect them to act with any impartiality in this situation. Passions will be aroused. We cannot put a citizen of Northern Ireland into the uniform of the RUC, the police reserve or the UDR and say to him, "From now on you are a member of the security forces and you are not allowed to have opinions of your own". We have to take into account his background, the background of his parents, whether his father was a member of the "B" Specials and how he became a member of the security forces in the first place.

Mr. Molyneaux

I know that the hon. Gentleman may not pay much regard to my views, but does he not accept the testimony of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) to the impartiality of the RUC when she said that at election time a wagon load of them rescued her in her constituency?

Mr. Fitt

I happened to be there on that occasion.

Miss Devlin

Since my hon. Friend was there himself does he not remember that it was not due to the impartiality of the police but to the fact that at two o'clock in the morning, following the antics which took place, the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Porter, looked in at the Apprentice Boys Club in Derry and ordered them to stop drinking and get the police into mid-Ulster?

Mr. Fitt

Yes, I remember that occasion. I am not saying that every member of the RUC and the UDR is a sectarian bigot, but there are certain individual members of the UDR who cannot be expected to act with impartiality in the situation I envisage because of their traditions and background.

There is on the Statute Book the Criminal Justice (Temporary Provisions) Act. Any person who says anything to any member of the security forces—be it the police, the Army or any other element —can be immediately sentenced to a mandatory six months imprisonment. That Act has caused untold trouble. It would undoubtedly be a factor in what is likely to happen during election meetings, either indoors or outdoors.

The Public Order Act puts tremendous power into the hands of the police. For example, if notice is given to the police that a meeting is to be held on the question of unity with Ireland, a policeman can say that if the meeting is held there will be trouble. The Secretary of State will have to accept that advice because he will not know whether trouble can be expected in a particular district of Northern Ireland. He will have to depend on the advice lie is given by Ministry of Home Affairs officials or the RUC. They could give wrong advice to the Secretary of State because of their political attitude or their past history. If an RUC man says that a Tricolor should not be allowed to be carried into a certain area, the people who are trying to persuade voters to vote in a certain way will not be given all the privileges that are afforded to their political opponents who carry the Union Jack. How can we expect a true result when such restrictions are placed on one section of the electorate and no restrictions are placed on other sections of it? This is why I have been opposed to the poll from the very first. I cannot see an election such as this taking place without a very real danger of communal troubles and, possibly, loss of life.

Why have a poll at all? Will it do us any good if, after the poll has been declared, we find that many members of the security forces have been killed, many houses wrecked, many people sent to prison, with the result that we shall know only what we knew before a single vote had been cast—namely, that the majority in Northern Ireland have once again said that they wish to maintain the link with the United Kingdom? If that is the situation at the end of the poll, then this House will not have brought any credit upon itself.

I turn to the question of security for electors. Be those electors Catholics living in Protestant areas or Protestants living in Catholic areas, they are entitled to vote, to be given every facility, and afforded every protection to enable them to register their opinion one way or the other.

What will happen if Protestants living in Catholic areas are afraid to go to the polls because of intimidation? And what will happen in the case of Catholics living in Protestant areas who feel they may be intimidated if they go to the polls? I think at once of East Belfast where many Catholics will be fearful of going to cast their votes in the afternoon. If they go to the security forces—to the Army or to the police—and say, "I want protection while I go to the polling station and cast my vote", will it be given to them or will the situation be as it was following internment in September, 1971, when the Unionist extremist mobs burnt Catholics out of their homes in Springfield Park, Dunboyne Park and the Ardoyne area? The police then said to many people who approached them, "We cannot do anything". That is why there are now so many burnt out properties and vacant homes in the city of Belfast.

The Government cannot with any degree of credulity give an undertaking this evening that such protection will be afforded to intending voters. Therefore, if the Government want to conduct a plebiscite—and I do not believe that they should have one at all—they should say, "Every voter must have some opportunity to cast his vote so that we may be able to determine the real attitude of the people. In those circumstances we shall not use the Flags and Emblems Act". It would mean that people would be able to go anywhere with their flags. People with Union Jacks could take them into the Falls Road, and I think that they should be given the opportunity to go into the Falls Road to try to influence voters. It also means that Catholics should be able to go to the Shankill Road with the Tricolor to try to influence voters there.

This is what this debate is all about. The poll is supposed to represent a democratic franchise. It is taking place under Westminster legislation, the 1949 Act, which guarantees the system of election to this House. I concede that that legislation is a fair piece of electoral law, but it should be made to apply to the plebiscite which is to be held.

I shall listen with interest to the Government's reply. If I could be convinced that the security forces will act impartially, that the Flags and Emblems Act will not be used against one section of the population in Northern Ireland, that the Public Order Act will not be used to stifle any voice being heard in the campaign and in the run-up to the election. I might be prepared to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. But if those guarantees are not given, then—knowing full well what the outcome would be—I must ask the House to support me in the Lobby.

Miss Devlin

Before the Committee there are nine amendments, many of which are important enough to have been considered separately. I propose to speak only briefly on the amendments tabled by other hon. Members but I make no apology for the fact that I propose to speak at length on the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and myself.

Amendment No. 16 asks that at least for the purpose and for the duration of the campaign, and during the poll itself, such repressive legislation as now exists in Northern Ireland shall be repealed. That is not to say that we support the present or future existence of such legislation, but even in the Government's own terms it is completely impossible for them to declare that they are holding a democratic and free poll in the North of Ireland on the issue of unity with the United Kingdom or with the Republic of Ireland while there exists in Northern Ireland the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act, the Public Order (Amendment) Act, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act and the Special Powers Act.

Many hon. Members are familiar with the Special Powers Act, but it is quite probable that there are some who have never before heard of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act. In view of that, I do not consider it out of order to inform hon. Members about the legislation that we are discussing. Therefore, with the permission of the Chair, I propose to read the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act in order to show hon. Members how it is impossible for those people who are opposed to unification with the United Kingdom to be empowered legally to campaign for that in which they believe.

Section 1 of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act deals with the display of the Union Jack. It reads: Any person who prevents or threatens to interfere by force with the display of a Union flag (usually known as the Union Jack) by another person on or in any lands or premises lawfully occupied by that other person shall be guilty of an offence against this Act. Then comes the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), dealing with the removal of provocative emblems: Where any police officer, having regard to the time or place at which and the circumstances in which any emblem is being displayed, apprehends that the display of such emblem may occasion a breach of the peace, he may require the person displaying or responsible for the display of such emblem to discontinue such display or cause it to be discontinued; and any person who refuses or fails to comply with such a requirement shall he guilty of an offence against this Act. Before reading further, let me point out the difference between that and legislation existing in the rest of the United Kingdom. When one talks about emblems one is not talking about the flag of the Irish Republic—the Tricolor; one is talking about any other emblem apart from the Union Jack. That can be and has been the Red Flag. It can be the Starry Plough. It can be the banner of any trade union. It can be the wearing of a lapel badge in the form of the Tricolor. It can be and has been the wearing of a James Connolly Socialist badge. It can be the wearing of anything which is not the Union Jack. It can be almost the existence of a person who might be construed to be a political emblem.

We come, then, to a situation not only in which can any such emblem be declared illegal but in which it is not necessary for a breach of the peace to take place; if a flag or an emblem is displayed it is not necessary for a breach of the peace to ensue before a police officer acts. In the course of his duty any police officer espying any emblem which in his personal opinion he may construe to be a breach of the peace in the present or in the future may immediately demand that it be removed.

One is not talking solely in terms of Tricolors in the Shankill or Union Jacks in the Falls Road; one is talking about Tricolors displayed in the streets or the homes of people in the Falls Road.

One is talking about emblems—possibly posters—urging people either not to vote in the poll or to vote for a United Ireland. They would legally constitute emblems which, if they were posted in any public place, might—and, knowing the Royal Ulster Constabulary, certainly would, in the eyes of 99 per cent. of its officers—constitute a possible breach of the peace. How, when that kind of law exists, can anyone in any way campaign for a vote against the link with the United Kingdom, or even campaign against voting?

We then come to what happens to people who do not comply with the orders. We have the powers of the police: Where

  1. (a) a requirement under the preceding subsection is not complied with; or
  2. (b) the person responsible for such display is not readily available; or
  3. (c) no person, or no person responsible for such display and capable of complying with such a requirement, is present on or in any lands or premises whereon or wherein such an emblem is being displayed;
a police officer may, without warrant, enter"—

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Frank Marsden (Liverpool, Scotland)

This is incredible. I have a relative who has a motor car with a United Nations emblem on it. If he took this car on a ferry to Northern Ireland on holiday, and if some copper in Northern Ireland took offence at it, is the hon. Lady saying that he is likely to be in trouble under this Act?

Miss Devlin

That is exactly what I am saying—and given the level of political awareness among the Royal Ulster Constabulary, he is likely not to know that it is a United Nations flag, and is liable to construe it as some Republican symbol hitherto undiscovered by his colleagues.

Mr. McNamara

Is my hon. Friend also aware that the symbol of the European movement, which some hon. Members support, is a number of stars which can be taken at first glance to be the Starry Plough?

Miss Devlin

My hon. Friend had better not take that symbol when he goes to Northern Ireland the next time.

Hon. Members should hear the kind of legislation that went through Stormont. The passage that I was quoting goes on: a police officer may, without warrant, enter any such lands or premises, using such force as may be necessary, and may remove and sieze and detain such emblem. It shall be a good defence to any proceedings (whether civil or criminal) against a police officer or constable in respect of anything done or omitted to be done for the purpose or in the course of carrying into effect the provisions of this section, to prove that anything in respect of which the proceedings have been instituted was done, or as the case may be omitted, in good faith for the purpose or in the course of carrying into effect any of those provisions. That simply means that any police officer—granted, first, that he is likely to see something that he himself does not like and thus declare it a possible breach of the peace—can without warrant, without any proper authority at all, immediately go on the individual rampage or, if there are several of them, on the collective rampage, and remove all emblems.

If, in the course of this, he breaks a few skulls, wrecks a few windows, breaks and destroys some property, happens to arrest the wrong person, it shall be a good defence for him that what he intended to do was to prevent the display of an emblem. Therefore, he can more or less do what he likes in getting this emblem, as happened in 1964 in the case of the Divis Street flag.

Hon. Members may not know that in the process of removing one flag from one window there was one week's solid rioting in that area, and it was a good defence for the police that all they intended to do was remove the flag which, incidentally, they did by breaking the window. It did not occur to them to walk through the door and take it from the inside. The passage continues: "(1) Any person guilty of an offence against this Act shall be liable—

  1. (a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months;
  2. (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding five hundred pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or in any case to both the fine and the imprisonment hereinbefore respectively provided.
(2) A court before which a person is convicted of an offence under section two of this Act may order any emblem in respect of which he is so convicted, and which has been seized and detained under that section, to be destroyed or otherwise disposed of. The only protection afforded to the community is in Section 4, which says: Where any person is charged with any offence against this Act the court may, if it thinks fit, order him to be remanded in custody or on bail … The record for the past three years of people in the Catholic community receiving bail—the position is commonly referred to as internment by remand—shows that it is almost impossible, even on the ridiculous charges with which a person might be charged under that Act, to obtain bail in a Northern Ireland court at present.

Just to put a polite front on repression, the Act finally tells us: This Act may be cited as the Flags and Emblems (Display) (Northern Ireland) Act 1954. That is one piece of legislation already at the disposal of the Secretary of State. Yet, with either the naivety of a fool or the impudence of a Stormont Minister, he asks the House for further powers. The right hon. Gentleman also has the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act and the Special Powers Act, which should give him power to do almost anything. He has yet another piece of legislation, bits of which should be read in the Committee to show hon. Members the kind of law that exists in Northern Ireland. They should apply their minds to the facts of Northern Ireland and see how the law applies, where it applies, and to whom.

We come to the Public Order (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland), 1970, where we are told that: It shall be an offence under section 1 of the Public Order Act … for any person knowingly to take part in a public procession in respect of which notice required by that section has not been given or which is organised or conducted otherwise than in accordance with such a notice and, accordingly, in subsection (2) of that section after the words 'attempting to conduct' there shall be inserted the words 'or knowingly taking part in'". The amendment to that preceding Public Order Act goes on to change the period of notice. Hon. Members interested in United Kingdom laws and democracy will note that we can march to our hearts' content around Hyde Park. The Irish, unfortunately, seem to be distinguished by the fact that they are not allowed to march around Trafalgar Square, but we are at least allowed the odd Sunday jaunt to the Embankment without serving prior notice to the police. In the North of Ireland 72 hours' notice is required of any public procession or demonstration that moves from one place to another. That does not mean that permission is automatically given to conduct that procession or demonstration. It means simply that without notice being given there is no question of the procession's being allowed. When notice is given, the chances are that if those concerned are likely to be displaying any emblems other than the Union Jack—we return to the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act—they will not obtain permission.

The Public Order (Amendment) Act goes on to deal not only with the holding of processions but to provide for orders made by the Minister for Home Affairs. It gives him powers which are presumably now in the hands of the Secretary of State. Therefore, the Secretary of State already has power to make an order permitting the public procession but prohibiting for such period not exceeding one month as may be specified in the order, the holding of any other public procession or any public meeting in that place or any other place so specified. Does that mean that if the Loyalists head for City Hall no one else will be able to get near it for one month? By that time no doubt the poll will already be over. Does it mean that if they hold to ransom the centre of every town and city in Northern Ireland, as they have in the past, no one else will be allowed to assemble there for one month? Those powers are already in the Secretary of State's hands, but still he asks for more. How does he propose to conduct a democratic poll with legislation like that?

We have seen how the legislation works. The Loyalist Association of Workers can lay down tools and march on the city hall, and the security gates will be open for them. The security forces will stand back, and through they will march. But, should anybody else try it, those gates will be firmly shut in their faces, and any attempt to proceed further will constitute a breach of the law for which people will receive mandatory gaol sentences.

The Secretary of State also has power to make an order prohibiting for such period not exceeding twelve months as may be specified in the order, the holding in that place of all public processions or of any class of public procession so specified. By the time we get around to receiving permission to hold some of the meetings it may be time for the next poll. And still the Secretary of State requires further powers from the House, and still the British Government tell us that we are to have a democratic referendum in the North of Ireland.

The Act continues: Any person who knowingly takes part in any public procession or meeting held in contravention of an order under this section shall be guilty of an offence against this Act. Therefore, those prosecuted will be not only those who organise meetings, those who serve notice on the police that they may take place, and perhaps those who propose to speak at them, but every man, woman and child old enough to be prosecuted who actually present themselves at such a meeting. That is the kind of legislation that we are dealing with.

As was pointed out when that law was brought into effect, there are sections dealing with people endeavouring to break up public processions; there are measures to deal with people who sit in at public places, and measures to deal with the protection of buildings. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West will testify, we have too often seen how those pieces of legislation work. To take a hypothetical situation—if we hold a demonstration or meeting urging people not to vote or, possibly, as other people in the anti-Unionist section of the community would do, urging people to vote for union with the Republic of Ireland, it simply requires one flag-waving Unionist to arrive on the scene to constitute—according to the Act—an attempt to break up a lawful meeting. That is the situation if he and his mates arrive and start to make trouble.

I see Unionist Members nodding disagreement. Of course, to them it means no such thing. But in law it means that we have held a meeting which has been provocative and is a breach of the peace, and we are immediately asked by the forces of law and order to cease our meeting and cease our procession, because it constitutes a breach of the peace. Unionist Members need not shake their heads. I have been in the situation, and they have never had their two feet on the ground except on 12th July.

8.45 p.m.

We continue with the same kind of legislation dealing with the wearing of uniforms. That legislation may not be well known to hon. Members, or even to members of the public here, who have repeatedly seen on their television screens the mass of the UDA marching up and down the streets. But the House is not unaware of the incident at the Shankill Road, where the UDA assembled what they claimed to be 8,000 men and the British Army moved back. There should not have been a military confrontation on that evening, because it would have led to a blood-bath on the Shankill Road. But there existed the law under which Mr. Herron, who appears regularly on television, could have been prosecuted.

The law states: Subject as hereinafter provided any person who in any public place or any public meeting place or in any public meeting wears uniform signifying his association with any political organisation or with the promotion of any political object shall be guilty of an offence. What of the sash wearers? What of the mask wearers? What of the uniforms of the UDA? People wearing them have never been prosecuted; but let those who want a united Ireland turn out with their regalia. I am not saying that I support it; there is too much flag-waving, too much sash-wearing, too much uniform-wearing on the streets of Northern Ireland. Let the Hibernians turn out. If the anti-partitioners turn out with their uniforms, the law says that they are guilty of an offence against the Act. The law says that they are guilty of an offence and are liable to at least six months' imprisonment. The law says that some of them are liable to possibly five years' imprisonment. Yet we are told that this is an opportunity for people to put forward their views without fear.

I have not yet come to the question of fear on the streets. I am talking of the fear of the law and order that is supposed to protect us. It is said, "Obey the law; respect order". With laws and order like that, how can people obey? What would the Labour movement do on May Day if the Tories decided that it would be against the law for working class people in Britain to carry their trade union banners on the 1st May and to wear the Red Flag?

Mr. McNamara

Move an amendment.

Miss Devlin

My hon. Friend says "Move an amendment". I regret to say that undoubtedly the Opposition Front Bench would decide not to vote on it.

Mr. McMaster

What would the hon. Lady think of a proposition that the swastika should have been worn and displayed in Britain during the last war?

Miss Devlin

The hon. Gentleman makes a mistake when he cites emergency legislation in force in this country at a time of war and attempts to fool people into believing that he is dealing with similar emergency legislation and similar conditions in Northern Ireland. The Flags and Emblems Act was passed in 1954. We will soon be approaching 1974. Any Government who, after almost 20 years, are still trying to deal with an internal situation of emergency ought to have resigned long ago. If a Government cannot, within 20 years, sort out an internal emergency, they should have resigned.

I have pointed out the powers already in the hands of the Secretary of State. How can a free poll on the question of the border be held when many repressive laws have already been passed which prevent an expression of view on the point that he is asking people to go to the polls on.

How can people be asked to cast an "X" for unity with the Republic of Ireland when the legislation of Northern Ireland—and now, since Stormont is defunct, let this House not shirk its responsibility—is on the Dispatch Box. How can people be asked to make a free decision when law after law, Act after Act, can be cited to show that the expression of those ideals is made illegal by existing legislation? Therefore, if that legislation is not to be abolished immediately and for all time, I cannot see how the Minister can hold a referendum and maintain the use of current legislation.

I come now to Amendment No. 10, in my name. For the life of me I cannot see what the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wants with Clause 1(2). What powers does he not already have? Unless he proposes to implement the death penalty. I cannot see why he needs that provision. He has every bit of repressive legislation he needs already on the Statute Book.

If people attempt to influence the result of the poll by any public display, he may clap them in irons for five years under the Flags and Emblems Act. If people attempt to assemble and hold meetings or processions to influence the poll, he may use the Public Order Amendment Act. If people attempt to persuade other individuals by word of mouth, or assemble in public buildings, or attempt to persuade the police, or members of the UDR, to vote one way or another in the poll, he may use the Criminal Justice Act. I should like to hear one reason for the clause.

The Minister may well say that the Government are frightened of intimidation, perhaps from the Provisonal IRA, perhaps from the UDA. Let me not hear from the Minister that he will use that provision to do anything against the UDA, because, armed with the legislation he already has, he has not lifted a finger against the UDA.

But if he intends it to deal with the Provisional IRA, what else does he need? Cannot he do as he is already doing—picking up every potential member of the Provisional IRA, that is, every male over the age of 16 in Belfast, interrogate him and have him thrown into Long Kesh to be interrogated further by three hacks of judges? There is no power under the sun that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does not already have, and the only reason that I can see for Clause 1(2) is that the Tories are hoping that some evil-minded genius will develop, or invent, yet another means of repression hitherto undiscovered by the rest of us and to be implemented in time for the poll.

Could the Minister tell me—and this is a subject which I have often taken up at Stormont level and with the returning officers in the North of Ireland—how anybody will be able, without fear of intimidation, without fear of reprisal, to vote in an Orange hall for a United Ireland? How is a person to be asked to walk into an Orange hall to vote for an Irish Republic? The hall would probably fall down around his ears at the very thought of a vote being cast for a United Ireland inside such hallowed walls.

But that is the situation. The polling stations in Northern Ireland are often in Orange halls. It is not as it is here. Could anyone imagine Tories voting in Trades Union Congress headquarters? Could anyone imagine a polling station lodged in the centre of Transport House? I should not like the Prime Minister's chances of getting a vote out of it. But people are to be asked, none the less, to vote in Orange halls.

Whatever the Minister may decide, my position is clear. I am opposed to a poll and I will unrge people to stay away from it. But my task will be a lot easier than that of the Minister's because, armed with his legislation and the fears that the poll will bring about, it is not urging people to stay away from the polls that will be the hard task, but urging people to them, making them believe that they will be safe.

Everything is against them. There is fear on the ground and fear in the community. Legislation institutionalises that fear and makes it technically illegal in the north of Ireland for people to walk into a polling station and vote for a Republic of Ireland. If they do so, they might find themselves "lifted" under the Public Order Amendment Act for behaviour likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

Mr. Douglas

I apologise to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) for not taking up her remarks, although I appreciate the sensitivity with which she has illustrated the wearing of badges and emblems in Northern Ireland.

I address myself to Amendments Nos. 27 and 28. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, in her closing remarks, illustrated the responsibility on this Parliament. Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 are probing amendments. It is not that I eschew strong drink—my constituency is a very large producer of whisky, a very important export—but in the situation which exists in Northern Ireland we have a responsibility, having conceded the poll, to ensure that the maximum number of people are capable of going to the poll on the day chosen.

I should appreciate some indication from the Minister about what is in the Government's mind regarding the arrangements for that day, which he ought to choose with great care. I have thought about it a great deal, and I suggest that a Saturday might be an appropriate day, if it were a public holiday. This is a consideration which must be borne in mind for a maximum turn-out. An ordinary working day might not facilitate the turn-out that we all desire. We must ensure that the people who go to the poll can do so with the least possible hardship or impediment.

The second amendment asks the Secretary of State to present a report on the conduct of the poll. I hope that the Minister will not resist the amendment because the drafting is not correct. I hope that the sentiment is clear—that the Secretary of State, or some other official named by him in an order, should have the responsibility of seeing how the poll was conducted and reporting the conduct of the poll to this Parliament.

Mr. Foley

I should like clarification from the Minister in connection with Amendment No. 16, particularly on the Flags and Emblems Act. I do not know whether the Minister has been in Northern Ireland during an election campaign. It certainly is an experience.

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

9.0 p.m.

On Second Reading, I said this was the wrong moment and the wrong way to have such a poll. The logic of the Government's decision—the Prime Minister said it, and therefore it will happen—is to ask two simple questions, easily worded, easily understood. In effect they ask people, "Do you want to preserve the Union; or do you want to be part of a Republic of United Ireland?".

If the Minister is saying that we want people to have the chance to talk and to persuade each other on these two matters, he must address himself to how they can do it, given the backcloth of legislation relating to political activity in Northern Ireland. Will he say that those who want to campaign for a "Yes" vote to question 2—"Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland, outside the United Kingdom?"—are to be allowed without let or hindrance to organise public meetings, to demonstrate, to wave the Tricolor? Does the Secretary of State require powers for that? Or will he announce that he is taking powers, or is asserting powers that he has, so that it may be seen that there is open discussion about what the people of Northern Ireland want?

If the Minister ignores the whole history and background and reason for current legislation and pretends that there are no such limitations or restrictions on what people may say, what they may argue for, what flag they may carry, how can he talk about a poll to test opinion? The logic of bringing in this miserable little Bill is that people in Northern Ireland must be protected if they are to campaign openly to belong to a Republic of a united Ireland.

I expect the Minister to say whether that is so, whether there will be a repeal of legislation, whether legislation will be put in cold storage during the election campaign, whether people will be protected from harrasment if they campaign for either result. I hope that he will answer that clearly and decisively.

Mr. Wellbeloved

It will be no surprise to the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) if I indicate that her general political philosophy has no support from me or my hon. Friends, but the case that she has put today is weighty and I am appalled that not one Member of the Ulster Unionist Party challenged any of her statements. As an Englishman with little first-hand experience of the grassroots of Ulster, I express no opinion as to the accuracy of her case. It is the duty of hon. Members opposite who represent constituencies in Ulster to put a contrary case, if a contrary case exists.

Mr. McMaster

The hon. Member can hardly have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) and myself, We both put vital questions about what is a minor point. The essence is clear at law. It is simply that anything likely to provoke a breach of the peace in any part of the United Kingdom must be resisted. Whether it provokes a breach of the peace is purely a question of fact in the circumstances.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Is it a fact, as claimed by the hon. Lady, that anybody flying the Union Jack in a minority area would be legally entitled to do so, but anybody flying the flag of the Republic of Ireland in any part of Northern Ireland would be committing an offence?

Mr. McMaster


Mr. Wellbeloved

The hon. Member must put it on the record and the Minister of State must clarify this matter.

The speech of the hon. Lady carries great weight with Opposition Members—and, I hope, with Government supporters, for it has not yet been repudiated.

Captain Orr

The Irish Tricolor is constantly flown in Ulster now. The criterion is still whether that is calculated to produce a breach of the peace.

Mr. Wellbeloved

We shall wait to hear what the Minister says.

Opposition Members have expressed grave doubts about whether the polling stations can be made secure. It is recognised that the only way in which the polling stations could even begin to have a chance of being secure for a free poll to be conducted is by the activities of the forces of the British Crown, the British troops.

I point out again to all those interested in Northern Ireland that the only forces preventing a blood bath, the only forces giving people a chance to think, to ponder, to consider what should be done in the long run, are those sent there by this Parliament and under the command of this country. It is a matter of deep regret that both communities in Northern Ireland make these continued attacks, verbal attacks, as well as physical attacks, on forces on which we place this responsibility.

It is no good hon. Members here supporting those who are continually critical of our troops. In the preservation of law and order during the conduct of this poll our troops will be subject to great provocation by both sides, not least by the—

Captain Orr

Hear, hear.

Mr. Wellbeloved

—side represented by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who says, "Hear, hear", because those causing greatest concern to the British Army are those who are breaking every law of Ireland and of the United Kingdom by parading in the streets in paramilitary uniforms, contrary to the Public Order Act, 1936.

Captain Orr

Not my side.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Of course it is the hon. and gallant Gentleman's side. It is to those people that this argument is addressed. If they have the audacity to parade and to carry the Union Jack, yet involve British Forces in confrontations, let them know that they do not do so with the consent of the British people as a whole.

Mr. McMaster

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not deliberately intend to malign the police in Northern Ireland or undermine their authority. He must be aware that the police withstood extremists on both sides, have frequently been attacked and have suffered heavy casualties as a result. The Army's job is to root out the gunmen, the Republican terrorists who are armed—in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Wellbeloved

The Army seem to be doing a lot more than just rooting out gunmen, and certainly while the poll is taking place, the soldiers will be called on to undertake other duties.

I hope that the Minister of State will tell us why troops transferred from service in Germany to perform these difficult duties will lose their overseas allowance immediately they arrive in Northern Ireland. It is a matter of considerable concern to the British forces and should be to Members of Parliament who are about to put yet another responsibility on them, while at the same time withdrawing extra pay to which they have been accustomed.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)

Listening to this debate makes me feel that we are back on the Anglesey Marine Terminal Bill, because it seems to be taking place under water. Rarely have I listened to a debate—and this has continued for more than five hours—less related to reality. On the one hand there is a situation described by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) in which the battered inhabitants of Northern Ireland and our own forces there are exposed to danger and death. At the same time we have this piffling little Bill, utterly irrelevant to the situation, with its absurd Schedule dragged in which will decide nothing at some little expense, but which will create danger to our forces which will be there, and others which will participate, and danger to those who will refuse to participate.

I have enormous admiration for my hon. Friends the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley), the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) and the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), who can move amendments such as those now under discussion as though they were dealing with a logical situation in which amendments of this irrelevant and unnecessary detail on a Bill itself an absurdity would clarify or improve anything. [Interruption.] When my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley interrupts, I wish to reassure him that I meant that in no derisory way. I admire him for trying to import what my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich has desperately described as logic into a situation that is totally illogical.

Of all the amendments that we are disussing in this group—and I shall, if I catch your eye, Mr. Mallalieu, return to this theme when we discuss the Schedule; "Alice in Wonderland" would be a better description for it—the only one that seems to have any validity of all those that my hon. Friends have painstakingly worked out, with the best intentions, is Amendment No. 10, tabled by the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster to delete a subsection. I favour amendments which would consecutively delete all the subsections until no Bill remained, because that is the only logical way in which one can deal with a Bill of such extraordinary lunacy.

On this amendment it seems that the hon. Lady, with that devastating logic which marked her maiden speech, has hit upon the nub of it—that although the Bill is a nonsense—and, in so far as it has any meaning; is a dangerous nonsense—the one definite thing that it does is to provide the opportunities for the regime in Northern Ireland to create new criminal offences. This is something dear to the hearts of those who rule Northern Ireland, whether Stormont or the Secretary of State. Here is an opportunity for criminal offences—the only reality provided by the Bill.

Mr. Wellbeloved

The logic of my hon. Friend's argument is leading him closer to the point of view which I have sought to put, namely, that the problems of Ireland as a whole will not be settled by this Parliament, or by Englishmen in particular. Would he not agree, therefore, that the only meaningful poll would be a poll of people of the United Kingdom as a whole which would provide the groundwork for a peaceful transfer of powers to an independent Northern Ireland?

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Kaufman

I have a great deal of sympathy for the reasoned amendment which my hon. Friend put down on Second Reading, and for which, had it been selected. I should have voted. While I do not accept that that is the only meaningful poll, I believe that given the two alternatives in the Schedule—without "Have you stopped beating your wife?" as a third, equally sensible possibility—we are faced with a Bill which is a patent idiocy. I intervene at this point, as I might at any stage have intervened, in order to ask, "Am I the only person in this Committee who sees that the Emperor is wearing no clothes?".

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I wish to ask only one practical question arising from the interesting contributions that we have heard about the problem of the location of polling booths. By "interesting" I mean that they provided information hitherto unknown to many of us, since this kind of thing does not occur in the elections in which we participate. We have heard that some polling booths are situated in Orange halls—a fact which, considering the situation in the North of Ireland, seems odd.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) spoke of the problems of people in the Catholic community who have to walk through a Protestant community in order to vote; and, of course, similar difficulties occur in the opposite case. This situation has arisen during many Northern Ireland elections. Indeed, from what I have seen and heard from those involved, it would appear that undoubtedly people in some parts of the province need to be brave to venture out to vote.

When considering proposals for local elections in Northern Ireland on 6th December, and considering the question of the new boundaries, I think that as a result of an order the House appointed a chief electoral officer. I have no doubt that, had the elections taken place next week, he would have ably performed his task. However, will the Minister explain whether that officer would have any say in the siting of polling booths for local elections? I suspect that he does not, and that the responsibility for the location of the polling booths lies with the under-sheriff. This is a job which is unknown to electoral law in England and Wales, although there may be a connection with Scottish procedure. Certainly in this country the returning officer plays a part through the local authority.

Assuming that I am correct, and that the under-sheriffs are charged with this duty, can they be given advice or instruction, or can they be asked merely to read what was said in Parliament? What can be done to ensure that they take carefully into account the siting of the polling booths?

Mr. McMaster

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that in many areas—particularly country areas but also in the town, as far as my constituency is concerned—the only hall available is one which, unfortunately, is used by both sides. It is used by both Catholics and Orangemen. It is, in fact, the only hall available.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that, in elections in which I have played a part, in one instance the local authority supplied metal huts which were brought in for the purpose. I should not have thought that it was beyond the wit of man to do something about the matter. The short quesion is: has the Secretary of State any power at all, or does he just have to sit back and hope that these under-sheriffs will read what we have said?

The Minister of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William van Straubenzee)

We have had a long, and very properly a long discussion, because this is an important series of amendments, dealing as the Committee will recall, with certain aspects of the conduct of the poll. I shall attempt to deal as fully as possible with the questions raised and to answer all the comments made in the speeches to which we have listened.

What I shall not do is to argue again, in effect, the case for the bill. The position of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), is a perfectly fair one, but if we are to have any kind of Committee procedure, he must not expect me to re-open the Second Reading principle or the question of timing which was the purport of the previous series of amendments. I fully understand that he and other hon. Members are dead against the whole issue.

When the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) began his remarks by saying, "This is the most curious debate I have listened to", I wondered where the hon. Member was, because he only joined us at a comparatively late stage in the debate.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. van Straubenzee

Naturally I shall give way to the hon. Member, as I have made a personal reference—but I had a feeling that perhaps when I came to the Dispatch Box, it was me without the clothes that he had in mind—

Mr. Kaufman

My imagination stretches a good deal, but not as far as that. I have been attending this debate in what might be described as an intermittent manner, because whenever I have entered the Committee the sheer fantasy has overwhelmed me so much that I have had to go out to have a drink and come back again.

Mr. van Straubenzee

That is clearly in order, because we have discussed an amendment about drink—but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was in Committee at the time.

I return to the debate, because it is a serious matter. Let me establish that as a principle it is my right hon. Friend's intent that anyone who wishes, within the law, to express a view one way or the other as a result of the poll, shall be enabled to do so. That is the way we ourselves got here, and that—as far as can conceivably be managed—is my right hon. Friend's intent in Northern Ireland.

Both sides of the Committee are only too painfully aware that there are certain regrettable conditions in Northern Ireland affecting both communities. Members of both sides in Northern Ireland are affected by fear. In those circumstances it may be that certain restrictions, of a kind which in the remainder of the United Kingdom we should not find acceptable, are still necessary. Naturally, I hope that that situation will not exist for long, but such conditions exist at present. I think, therefore, that it would help the Committee if I dealt consecutively with the amendments, though not necessarily in the order in which they have been put down.

Dealing first, as the lead amendment, with Amendment No. 9, the short answer is that the under-sheriffs are returning officers. The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) raised a question on this matter which is not unknown to us in England. I should not dream of venturing any view about Scotland; I think that the House knows that my family came to this country in 1745 in order to suppress the Scots. I have therefore always had to be careful when talking about Scotland—partially because I have felt that we were never very successful in what we attempted to do.

In English counties the sheriff is the returning officer, and the working returning officer is his deputy. This Is normal procedure. We have established the important point that this poll is to be run on what I might call, in brief, the Westminster rules.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's very important question lies in the Representation of the People Act, 1949. As he, with his extensive Home Office experience, will know, in Schedule 2 there are extensive parliamentary elections rules. The question of the provision of polling stations is in Rule 26—an important point. The returning officers will be responsible. But it is perfectly acceptable that they should have consultations and advice from the security forces. They are not in law bound to accept a polling station scheme which is already prepared by a local authority. They may, for security reasons, find a building unacceptable in a particular area; they may wish to make alternative arrangements.

This Act and these rules apply to a parliamentary election. A parliamentary election has a nominated candidate, questions of deposits, with which we are all familiar, but none of those questions will arise. That is why it is necessary for my right hon. Friend to have the additional powers which are contained in subsection (2) and to which exception has been taken by the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) and others, because we have to do something which has not been done before. This answers an interjection on Second Reading by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer). So far as I know there is no precedent and my right hon. Friend must have certain additional powers.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) was very properly concerned about extensions of postal voting. He made the point that communities may move, and they may be uneasy to return to their former dwellings where their vote is registered if the poll is to take place before the new register. My right hon. Friend was very outspoken in the House about the timing question. [Interruption.] Yes, he was, indeed. He was perfectly straight as to why he was keeping his options open.

It may well be necessary, by regulations made under this subsection, for my right hon. Friend to widen the provisions for postal voting, which would assist the very point that the hon. Gentleman was making.

Miss Devlin


Mr. van Straubenzee

I will give way; I think I know what is in the hon. Lady's mind. Let me try to be a mind-reader, if that is an accurate description of what goes on with the hon. Lady.

It is true that the subsection ends with certain additional words. I have evidently read the hon. Lady's mind. I ask the hon. Lady to understand my predicament. There is an amendment in the next group of amendments which deals specifically with those words. I should be out of order and would incur your wrath, Mr. Mallalieu—which would be a terrible experience—if I were now to discuss the next series of Amendments. Perhaps the hon. Lady will be patient with me and wait till we get there. Apart from anything else, it would be discourteous to hon. Gentlemen who will be moving those Amendments.

9.30 p.m.

In principle, the reason behind subsection (2) is that we need the additional powers to make appropriate adjustments, basing ourselves on the fact that the Westminster regulations are for a parliamentary election. I hope that even the hon. Lady may feel that there is nothing more sinister in it than that. I think that she was pulling my leg when she talked about the death penalty—

Miss Devlin

In Northern Ireland, we would never be surprised at anything the Government introduced. In fact, we always imagine that they are pulling our legs when they tell us they are governing the country.

I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman has said with regard to the Clause. If he is saying that he had nothing sinister in mind—they may be admirably worded ideals that he put forward—could it not have been within the ability of whoever drafted the Bill to take a leaf out of the hon. Gentleman's book and draft it as he has explained it at the Dispatch Box, leaving out all the sinister words like reference to criminal penalties? Nobody ought to have a criminal penalty imposed upon him because he does not use the postal vote.

Mr. van Straubenzee

The hon. Lady is not being fair with me. I have quite expressly not stated a view on the words dealing with criminal penalties, and I have not done so because of the procedures of the Committee. I am not being unstraightforward with the Committee. An Amendment is to follow later, and I must, out of courtesy to the mover, wait till we reach that point. But I am telling the hon. Lady that, in principle, subsection (2) is intended to do the sort of things that I have explained.

If she will reflect for a moment, it would not make sense to seek in an Act of Parliament to draft every small additional power one would need, in order to make the adjustments that I have described, particularly when there may be some arising out of this debate. There might be certain further additional powers by regulation which it is necessary to have.

Mr. Rose

Could the hon. Gentleman assist me? The poll is to be conducted as at a General Election in the United Kingdom, and there are specific powers granted to the Minister to modify the method in which it is held. Could the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is possible for the Minister to make the sheriff responsible to this Parliament in a way there would not otherwise be, and himself provide for the siting of the polling stations? If that be done, he can meet Amendment No. 9 in that way through the orders that he will lay. If that is not so, and it is left to the sheriffs on the spot, he will not have met the point in Amendment No. 9. It is important that he deals with it.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I have gone as far as I can properly go. I shall study what the hon. Gentleman said. It is important to be accurate in matters of this kind. If he will do me the goodness to look at the regulations in the 1949 Act under which the sheriffs will be working as returning officers, under Westminster rules, he may feel, upon reflection, that the matter is much more closely supervised than, perhaps, at first he realised.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Can the Minister clarify two matters? As the poll will be conducted under the Westminster rules, does this mean that a citizen of Northern Ireland who is temporarily living in this country, but registered in Northern Ireland, would be entitled to a postal vote? Second, can the Minister confirm that the persons appointed to act as presiding officers and polling clerks will have the same duties and responsibilities as they would in this country in an election, particularly in respect of impersonation and other matters which they have a duty to oversee?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I hope I am giving the correct answer to the hon. Gentleman—if I am not, I shall write to him—I believe that the answer to his first question is "Yes", and to the second certainly "Yes".

The hon. Member for East Stirling-shire (Mr. Douglas) raised a very reasonable question about licensed premises. Is is not an easy matter to make a judgment about. There are arguments both ways and, of course, the very considerable change in drinking habits, as the hon. Gentleman will know—I am sorry, I say, "as the hon. Gentleman will know", and he looks unhappy. I mean that he knows third-hand about other people's drinking habits—that there is consumption at home and that kind of thing. It is a reasonable point, though I think there are grounds for wondering whether it might be counter-productive to do this as he suggests. There is already power under the existing law of Northern Ireland to close licensed premises in the interests of public order. I undertake that we will consider carefully whether it might be a wise provision. I only want him to appreciate that there are arguments on both sides of that particular fence.

I have dealt with the reason for the subsection, which I hope is acceptable to the Committee, and I have dealt with the regulations. I want now to deal with the important series of amendments on existing—what some hon. Members consider repressive—legislation. This is not easy.

As the Committee knows I am but an inadequate lawyer, but all lawyers have a sense of the rights of other people, and I am sure that it is widely shared. There are real difficulties here.

For example, I take the Public Order Act, 1951, to which there have been two subsequent amendments, as the House knows. There are important provisions in that Act about endeavours to break up public meetings. I wonder whether it would be to the benefit of a well conducted poll, and campaign leading up to a well conducted poll—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but there are certain important provisions in the statute law which I think it important to have available. We have to recognise the facts of the situation in Northern Ireland, which none of us wishes were there.

To take one example, while in most of the United Kingdom we feel that, within the law, people should be able to demonstrate and process. I think that one of the few exceptions is the immediate environs of this Palace. Other than that, we wish always to have the broadest amount of freedom.

The facts of the matter are—they have come out frequently in discussion of the amendments—that there are parts, particularly of Belfast, where if one group processed from one side through the territory—if I may use that word loosely—of the other, or there were a counter-demonstration, there might be bloodshed.

I was faced with this—under my right hon. Friend's direction—on Sunday. It is most distasteful for anybody—and I think that even the hon. Lady will accept my personal bona fides in this matter—actually, physically, to sign an order preventing a procession going to certain parts. But faced with conflicting processions, and faced with the strongest evidence from reputable and reliable sources that there may be resultant bloodshed, where does the duty of Ministers lie? Ministers of all parties have faced this kind of problem. I think it would be questionable whether, at a time like this, it would be wise for the Government to release themselves from use of these powers.

Miss Devlin

While I am not questioning the hon. Gentleman's bona fides in the matter, the point that I am attempting to make is that although we have common law, and legislation to deal with people who cause breaches of the peace, who disrupt orderly meetings, in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, the Public Order (Amendment) Act was necessary. I should like the hon. Gentleman to look through the case history of the working of that Act since 1970. He will undoubtedly think that a loyalist demonstration, faced with the prospect of a counter-demonstration from the anti-Unionist population, will be given protection under that Act from those likely to disrupt the march or procession.

However, if the shoe were on the other foot and the anti-Unionists attempted to hold a similar procession, the workings of the Public Order (Amendment) Act are such that instead of protecting them under the provision outlawing attempts to break up a meeting, the meeting would be prohibited under the provision which guarantees the security of the peace. It is this one-sided working that leads me to say that in the event of campaigning on a poll, there is no reason for the Catholic population to see things any differently. The city centre of Belfast is always open to Vanguard, the Loyalist Association of Workers and the Ulster Defence Association while—

The Second Deputy Chairman (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. The hon. Lady must not make a speech when making an intervention.

Miss Devlin

With respect, Mr. Mallalieu, I am trying to impress on the hon. Gentleman the way that Act has worked and the way we believe it will continue to work in Northern Ireland.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I think that the hon. Lady has made her point. She was kind enough to accept my bona fides in the matter, for which I am most grateful. She will know that my right hon. Friend, during the period when he has had the heavy burden of making decisions—and ultimately it is he, of course, as the senior Minister, who does—has banned Protestant marches. It is not an easy matter on one side or the other, and I am not blaming either side. I am simply saying that I am well aware of the counter-demonstration threat to stop the demonstration. This is exactly the sort of difficulty in which a Minister finds himself and I can only say that, as long as my right hon. Friend has authority in this matter it will be our intention to try to operate powers which are distasteful absolutely without discrimination.

I cannot expect that we shall not sometimes be accused of discrimination, but I can say with some strength of feeling that it will be our intention so to avoid it. It must mean that I must spend a few moments on what I understand is an Act which causes intense irritation and perhaps I may say that I think it unlikely that an Act of this kind—the Flags and Emblems Display Act—would have been passed in this House. But it is fair to say that when my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) and other hon. Members interpreted the law, they were, with respect to them, giving the House accurate information, and that is the answer to the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). It is the display of an emblem which may occasion a breach of the peace. I was not there and I do not know, and so I am forming no judgments about the way in which in every case the provisions of the law may or may not have been enforced.

9.45 p.m.

Quite obviously, no Minister in this House can change the law without the authority of the House, or interfere with the administration of the courts in any part of the United Kingdom, but it will be my right hon. Friend's intention that, within the law, the greatest freedom shall be given to be able to express points of view and to do so freely.

That is a reasonable undertaking for a Minister to try to give and it would not, in those circumstances, he wise for us in dealing with a limited Bill, dealing with a limited matter, to start altering other laws. For all I know there must be change of laws generally. I am not taking my stand, I am not making a great pretence of an Act, I am talking about it in relation to this Bill.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. As I understand it, subsection (2) states that The Secretary of State may by order make such further provision as to the conduct of the poll and matters connected therewith as may appear to him to be expedient, including provision modifying or excluding for the purpose of the poll any enactment or statutory provision that would by virtue of subsection (1)(c) above apply … Surely there is power within that Clause to suspend the operation of the Flags and Emblems Act.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I think not. I hesitate to cross quill pens with the hon. Gentleman, but he will recall that he is limited to Section 1(1)(c). I will study this point, but, with respect, I think that he will find that that limitation would not give the necessary width in the matter.

Mr. Orme

May I press the Minister on this point? Taking the argument that the Flags and Emblems Act was brought in for previous elections that have taken place in Northern Ireland, the important point is that a plebiscite is being held on the issue of either joining or not joining the Irish Republic. This issue has never been posed in previous elections and, in consequence, the Government must look very closely at this issue; if they are able to assist by any direction or amendment, I think that steps should be taken to do so, in order to give a clear indication that if people want to show their flags or their emblems on this occasion it will be permissible.

Will the Minister give that undertaking?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I certainly undertake to consider the matter. One of the difficulties is that the flag commonly and, indeed, actually identified as a Union Jack in legislation, is and has a very special position. I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who said earlier in our discussion that he was always sorry that anybody anywhere used the flag of the United Kingdom as a political symbol.

I say quite sincerely that when I go to Conservative Party meetings and find a table, for example, draped with the Union Jack, I am always genuinely regretful. I like to think that members of all parties have a common allegiance to it, and I prefer that it should not be done.

I must take facts as they are. I cannot just alter the circumstances of Northern Ireland overnight; even my right hon. Friend cannot do that. We have to take account of reality. I need not say this to Northern Ireland members. I will see whether any further steps can be taken, but my general thesis is that in a Bill dealing with a poll like this it is not appropriate to take suspensionary powers, or powers of amendment. It would be better to proceed in a total way.

Mr. Stratton Mills

While I understand his response to the comments from the Benches opposite, would my hon. Friend remember that it is the essential aim of such legislation to deal with provocative behaviour and prevent breaches of the peace?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am much obliged. I attempted to say that, but I did not put it so well. My hon. Friend is quite right. Furthermore, it is perfectly possible and proper for Ministers to give guidance about matters of this kind, certainly on the limited period of a poll.

Mr. Foley

I should like the Minister to address himself to the question that I raised earlier and which he has not adequately answered. We are in a unique position with this proposal—the Minister conceded that it was unique. We have had this backcloth in Northern Ireland over the past 50 years and we should like to know whether the Government genuinely intend that this poll should be carried out in such a way that people who want to express themselves and campaign in favour of a United Ireland will not be restricted from doing so.

Mr. van Straubenzee

So long as it causes no breach of the peace on either side. The hon. Gentleman is as much an upholder of the law as he knows that I am. After all, that applies to hon. Members here and to the remainder of the United Kingdom. None of us would be prepared to see a breach of the peace, and so long as it is not such, I believe that I can give the hon. Gentleman that undertaking in good faith.

What he is not entitled to ask from me, and what I am not prepared to give him, is an undertaking that all forms of expression, however outwith the law they are, shall be permitted. That would be a negation of responsibility by Ministers charged with the not easy task of the Northern Ireland office. With that explanation, I hope that I have given a categoric assurance.

The last thing that I am required to do is to deal with the comparatively small but important amendment tabled by the hon. Member for East Stirlingshire about the report. The answer is in principle, yes, it is my right hon. Friend's intention to report to the House and to keep the House informed about the outcome of the poll. Perhaps I could have freedom as to the form of the report, but there is no intention on the part of my right hon. Friend to be other than absolutely frank with hon. Members.

I hope for those reasons that I have shown that, with the exception of the last words of subsection (2), as to which I am not allowed to speak on these amendments, I have shown sympathy towards the spirit of a number, but I have shown why it would not be in the interests of the Committee to accept the actual wording. I hope, therefore, that the issues will not be pressed to a Division. If they are, I must advise my hon. Friends to vote against the Amendments.

Mr. Rose

Before the matter is put to the vote, I should like to explain to the Committee my reasons for not pressing the matter to a vote. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) rightly said, this is a farce and the purpose of these amendments, and indeed the result of the argument on them, has been to show that without doubt all that the Government have done has been to add a burden to the security forces, endanger the lives and property of all those people in Northern Ireland who may well vote in this referendum and conduct it in circumstances in which it is impossible to conduct the normal political process fairly so that voters may equally participate and display their emblems.

In those circumstances, the debate itself suffices to deal with those matters. The Minister has gone as far as he can to answer individual objections. On that basis, I feel that there is no purpose in pressing an amendment to a Division. It will serve to show the Government that the day they promised this poll they made a grievous error and they will probably rue the day.

Mr. Fitt

Amendment No. 16 stands in my name and in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). I had hoped that it would not be necessary to press this matter to a Division. I recognise that by taking such a step, I shall have alienated some of my hon. Friends, but this is a matter of such deep concern to my constituents that I will ask the Committee to divide on the issue.

The First Deputy Chairman

I am afraid that the hon. Member's Amendment is not selected.

Mr. Fitt

With respect, Mr. Mallalieu, it is.

The First Deputy Chairman

Yes—selected for discussion, but not for a Division.

Question accordingly negatived.

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.