§ Captain Orr
I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 12, leave out from 'Kingdom' to end of line 15.
§ The Chairman
It will be in order to discuss at the same time the following amendments: No. 1, in page 1, line 9, leave out from 'Kingdom' to end of Clause and add:'so long as a majority in the United Kingdom Parliament so agree or unless a majority of the people of the United Kingdom voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1 to this Act express their consent to a change in the constitutional relationship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain'.No. 2, in page 1, line 9, leave out from 'Kingdom' to end of line 15.
No. 6, in page 1, line 13, leave out from 'Ireland' to end of line 15.
No. 47, in Schedule 1, page 31, line 1, leave out from `State' to 'on' in line 2 and insert:'after a resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly has been passed by a two-thirds majority of the members requesting the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 of this Act shall by Order direct that such a poll shall be held';No. 48, in page 31, line 4, leave out '1983' and insert '1974'.
No. 49, in page 31, line 4, leave out '1983' and insert '1988'.
No. 58, in page 31, line 4, leave out '1983' and insert '1993'.
No. 50, in page 31, line 4, leave out ten' and insert '15'.
No. 51, in page 31, line 4, leave out 'ten' and insert 'twenty-five'.
No. 59, in page 31, line 4, leave out 'ten', and insert 'twenty'.
§ Captain Orr
Amendment No. 5 is very similar to the official Opposition Amendment No. 6 and deals with almost the same point. Indeed, I am not sure 1719 on reflection that I do not prefer the Opposition amendment to my own. The only difference is that mine leave out the phrase… without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland",whereas Amendment No. 6 includes it. The reason that I left out this phrase from my amendment is that its inclusion would make it very difficult to leave out some method of determining that consent.
Perhaps it might be useful to look back at the history of this constitutional pledge. There was no such pledge in the 1920 Act or up to the time of the war. In 1948, or thereabouts, the Irish Free State, as it then was, decided to leave the Commonwealth and to break the final link with the Crown. In that atmosphere, the 1949 Act was going through this House and the Ulster Unionists at that time said that they would like some pledge about Northern Ireland's status incorporated in that legislation.
Looking back, I am not sure that that was a sensible thing to do. Although it appeared at the time to give the sanction of an Act of Parliament to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, the very fact that it was stated in an Act like that seems to me on reflection—I did not take this view at the time: I am using hindsight—to have been unwise. Events have shown that the constitutional pledge did nothing but create doubts about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
It should be remembered what the pledge was. It was not a pledge that Northern Ireland would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the people, but that it would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of its Parliament. The Parliament of Northern Ireland, by this measure, is being removed, so that pledge is being removed. The real question is whether we should have a constitutional pledge again in this legislation.
Like some hon. Members who put down an amendment, although for very different reasons from mine, to leave out this clause, I had thought at first that that might be the wisest thing. But on reflection I think that it might be mis- 1720 understood in Ulster if we were now to say that we did not want a declaratory constitutional clause in the Bill. It would be thought to mean that we did not wish our position within the United Kingdom to be under-written in this way.
I therefore decided that the best thing to do was to have the clause read,It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom.It would be sufficient if it were left there.
It is true that the Government are on record as saying that they wish the constitutional status of Northern Ireland to be determined from time to time by referenda, by border polls. I am not sure that it is wise to have a border poll written into the legislation. For example, there is no such provision in the Act of Union with Scotland or in the case of Wales. There are no constant constitutional pledges that Wales will not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the people of Wales. We are not told that the Act of Union with Scotland shall be maintained so long as it has the consent of the people of Scotland.
I am not sure that the position of Northern Ireland would not be strengthened with the declaratory clause minus the words that I propose to leave out. I am fairly sure that the Government will take the opposite view. I think that my right hon. Friend believes that they are committed to the idea of a referendum from time to time, and he may stick to that.
Because of the grouping of these amendments, we must address our minds now to the question of what happens if my amendment fails and we have to fall back on having a border poll. It is a pity that we could not have separated the two subjects. Let us suppose that the Government were to reject this amendment or No. 6. This brings me to the reason why we would want a separate division on Amendment No. 49. We then come to the question of the conduct of the border poll itself.
One of the weaknesses of the Bill as at present drafted is that it lays down no 1721 conditions under which and because of which a poll should be held. It is true that the Secretary of State has the absolute discretion whether there should be a poll. If he does not wish to have a poll, he never has to have one. If he or his successors, as a matter of Government policy, set their minds against referenda, nothing in the Bill would compel them to hold a referendum.
On the other hand, if we write in a minimum period, saying that a poll shall not be held for at least 10 years, for example, it is a fact of life that towards the end of that time there will come a clamour from some section or another for the holding of a referendum about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. It may well be that a Secretary of State at the time would find it very difficult to resist such a clamour. One cannot foresee what the circumstances would be like in 10 years' time, or what opinion would be inside Ulster or in Great Britain as far ahead as that. It is perfectly possible to get a situation in which a Secretary of State simply could not resist, at the successive 10-year periods, the holding of a referendum.
The point of my Amendment No. 49 is that if we have to have a referendum—which I should prefer not to have—I should like to see some curb upon the discretion of the Secretary of State in the matter. What I am suggesting is that if there has to be a referendum in the Bill, at least no Secretary of State could hold a referendum unless it had been requested by the Northern Ireland Assembly. I have suggested a two-thirds majority of that Assembly, although I am not particularly committed to that formula. But I believe that there ought to be some method of determining an expression of opinion in Ulster before even a poll is held. A vote in the Assembly is probably the best way of doing it.
It may be that my right hon. Friend will say that if one did that, it would not be taking the border out of politics. But anyone who thinks that the border can be taken out of Ulster politics by any kind of artificial device is deluding himself. The last local government elections made it clear that one cannot do that. The referendum device will not do it. Everyone ought to recognise that the real divide in Ulster is not even the 1722 religious divide. The divide is basically between those who want to remain part of this United Kingdom and those who do not. There is no way in which one can take that very deeply held division between people, a division about the very country to which people want to belong and imagine that they belong to, out of Ulster life by some kind of constitutional device. It is an illusion.
There are a great many other points dealt with in this series of amendments to which we shall return later. At this stage, having deployed the main argument, I shall leave it and see how we get on and what my right hon. Friend has to say.
§ [Mr. E. L. MALLALIEU in the Chair]
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
As I explained in my point of order, Mr. Mallalieu, and as your predecessor in the Chair kindly explained, we can bring Amendment No. 52 into our discussion.
As I see the amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), it would prevent any change in Northern Ireland as long as the Bill, when it becomes an Act, is in force. That certainly would not be to the satisfaction of the Opposition. It would leave such a lack of flexibility in the long run that it would be a foolish thing to do. But I note that the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not want a border poll.
Without being patronising, I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will listen carefully to the arguments of the Opposition on our amendment which, in a different fashion, seeks to remove the border poll. It is not tabled just for the sake of it. We believe that to put into a constitutional Bill for this far ahead the possibility—more than that, but for the moment the possibility, because of the wording in the schedule—that a plebiscite is to hang around the necks of the people of Northern Ireland would be extremely foolish. Despite the feelings of many of the people of Northern Ireland, we are very concerned for them.
I put it to the hon. and gallant Gentleman and to the Secretary of State that if it should prove, as I shall seek to argue, that in 10 years' time, when I would doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will still be the Secretary of State and when 1723 most of us will not be actively concerned in the matter——
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I shall be dead.
§ Mr. Rees
The right hon. Gentleman knows that we hope that even in 10 years' time that will not be so. However, it would be very much better to leave it to the Government and the Secretary of State of the time to analyse the position to see whether it was necessary and whether that was the right way to set about it.
I seek your guidance, Mr. Mallalieu, on another point. The Opposition amendment may seem to be a narrow one about machinery, but I seek your indulgence. I hope, as perhaps others will express such a hope in relation to their amendments, that we can go more widely in the context of the earlier part of the clause, because it is extremely difficult to concentrate on just the mechanics of a border poll without looking at the question of the principle which is involved in the Bill. I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is given to doing this. I hope that he will look kindly on me if I go wider than the amendment.
We regard the clause as the most significant and important part of the Bill. That is not to say that there are not other important parts. But in making a value judgment and considering it, we regard it as the most significant and important part. The Bill is based on a White Paper to whose principles we have given support over the last 18 months, and continue to do so. The amendments can be discussed only in the context of the clause as a whole because the part we seek to remove is the machinery by which the principle embodied in the first part is to be carried out.
Most right hon. and hon. Members are constantly looking at what was said in the constitutional proposals in the White Paper. In this and in other respects we ought to look carefully to see what the Government have thought fit to change in recent weeks as a result of further thinking. But as far as I can see, the Bill faithfully carries out the intention of paragraph 32 of the White Paper, except that the latter part of that paragraph 1724 simply says, for reasons that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has given,and accordingly other means must be found to give expression to that commitment.The "other means" that has been found is the border poll. That was mentioned by the Prime Minister when he spoke in the debate in the House after direct rule.
The Labour Party's view on this has been consistent. I could quote from the report of the annual conference of the Labour Party last year. That is an occasion on which the wider part of the Labour movement is met together and on which motions are accepted and debated, and so on, for onward transmission to the executive. They matter, as no doubt they matter in a different sense to the Conservative Party. What is clear and has been clear in policy documents of recent weeks is what the Opposition believe that change in Northern Ireland can come about only by consent. I echo the sentiment that I have expressed in the House over recent years and I say to certain of my hon. Friends that I believe that the people of the North cannot be joined with the South against their will. I ask that whatever else may come out of the debate today the people of Northern Ireland be under no iilusion about that. Whatever disagreements there may be in other respects there must not be dubiety on the point that there cannot be unification of North and South without the consent of the people of the North.
It frequently occurs to me to wonder why this has to be put into an Act of Parliament anyway. Perhaps it is significant that we have to write into an Act that something should not happen that in practice could not happen anyway. I put it to the people of Northern Ireland that no one is arguing with them that they can be put into the South. That is also the firm view of the newly elected Government of the Republic. The election results in the South may not appeal in certain parts of this House, but that was the result and we must take it into account. Sometimes I think that the Irish beyond the seas ignore the fact that there is a Government of the South of Ireland which has its own view on these matters, a view which is sometimes different from those who are a long way away.
1725 I understand the views of certain of my colleagues about the 1949 pledge where they feel that by putting it into legislation it acted as a sprag on change in the North, and I understand, too, the views of those of my hon. Friends who want to change the wording in the earlier part of the clause in the way that my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) seek. I understand the difference which exists between us and which is embodied in their amendment. But the change between the North and the South can come about only with the consent of the North and the South. It can come about only as the result of the significant change in the Secretary of State's White Paper. There has been a significant change in the thinking of Governments in this country since the 1949 pledge and, indeed, even since the Downing Street declaration.
Paragraph 112 of the White Paper sets out the greatest change of all. It is certainly recognised as a fundamental change by the people of Northern Ireland. The White Paper says that in the all-Ireland conference, which will be a first step in the realisation of the Irish dimension, discussions shall proceed upon the basis of theacceptance of the present status of Northern Ireland, and of the possibility—which would have to be compatible with the principle of consent—of subsequent change in that statusI understand why not very much can be said about that aspect in the Bill. It would be surprising if we could build on that in advance of discussion and in advance of the views of the Government of the South. But change there is. I noticed in the newspaper of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), the Protestant Telegraph, of 9th June 1973 the headline on his article read,Save Northern Ireland From A United IrelandThe hon. Member sees even Clause 12, which is the beginning of agency cooperation between the North and the South, as proposingthe handing over of authority exercised by Northern Ireland to the Government of the Republic or any other designated body in or with the South of Ireland.In other words he sees it asthe recipe for a united Ireland.
§ Mr. Rees
It may be that my hon. Friend wishes that it were so, but I take into account someone who represents a group of people in Northern Ireland. Certainly in the context of paragraph 112 of the White Paper there has been a change over the years. I happen not to see it as a Trojan Horse, to use the words of the Taoiseach in the South. None of this can happen unless the people want it to happen. Given the feelings which exist in Northern Ireland, anyone who believes that there can be a change simply by putting clauses into a Bill is not facing up to the facts of life in Northern Ireland. It is not on. The views of the people in Northern Ireland will reveal themselves at election time and, whether or not we here like it, we must take those views into account. The paragraph 112 approach is the only way that the two parts of Northern Ireland can work together, given the facts of history.
It is for that reason that we on the Opposition side of the House are against a plebiscite being written into the Bill. I am not against a plebiscite in principle, but it assumes a method of change in Northern Ireland which I believe to be unrealistic. Its presence in the Bill runs counter to that genius for flexibility that is the hallmark of British constitutional development.
I do not believe, as some people seem to believe, that the border poll did much to reassure anyone. It certainly did very little to change the situation. It may have had some psychological importance, and maybe that was the justification for the Government proceeding with it, but to imagine that in 10 years' time, if there were a shift of opinion, because of an election result it would be possible to change the status of Northern Ireland is a mistake. It is not on. Of course, it might be a way in which it could be attempted, in which case the Government of the day could come to the House of Commons with a Bill. But we believe that it is better not to provide for the poll in the Bill.
This aspect was referred to by the Prime Minister in his speech on 24th March 1972, and it is worth while looking at what he said. This is the genesis of the clause and so it is worth looking at. The Prime Minister stated:This Government, and their predecessors, have given solemn and repeated assurances1727that the position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom will not be changed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. We have decided that it would be appropriate to arrange for the views of the people of Northern Ireland to be made known on this question from time to time. We therefore propose in due course to invite Parlaiment to provide for a system of regular plebiscites in Northern Ireland about the Border, the first to be held as soon as practicable in the near future and others at intervals of a substantial period of years thereafter.But we should notice what the Prime Minister then said:These plebiscites will be in addition to, and not in substitution for, the provisions in the Ireland Act, 1949, which require the consent of the Northern Ireland Parliament to any change in the Border. This position is not prejudiced by the temporary prorogation of that Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1972; Vol 833, c. 1862.]On 24th March the Northern Ireland Parliament had been prorogued. That was the purpose of the statement. Therefore, there was no Parliament to which the Prime Minister could refer. He may at that time have had other views as to what might happen. We now see that a view stated by the Prime Minister 15 months ago has not proved to be a fact, even though it might have happened then.
We are now being asked to job forward 10 years and to legislate for a situation the circumstances of which we cannot yet know. I state this as a warning rather than anything else. We are opposed to the border poll on the grounds of timing and the type of question which was asked. We still believe that that was the correct judgment and we strongly believe that it is wrong to write the plebiscite into the Bill. The future of Northern Ireland will not be decided in this way.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen may ask how I can be so certain about this when a moment ago I said that no one can be certain of what will happen 10 years ahead. But there is a difference in the certainty. One cannot be certain of the events, but it is possible to be certain that there will never be a day when we can add the votes and say that because of the result we are going to have a change in Northern Ireland. The amendment would leave the matter to consent. How that consent is inter- 1728 preted must be left to the future. We must wait and see what happens after polling day. The amendment is about the machinery of consent. In the face of the all-Ireland institution it is the most which should be done to alter the clause. I choose my words carefully, as most of us do on this important matter. If the people and leaders of Northern Ireland choose to work the White Paper approach, which has almost universal support in this Parliament, the status given in the clause is clear. The future lies in the two parts of Ireland working together in ways that we do not yet know.
What I am about to say is certainly no threat. I know too much about the people of Northern Ireland to think that they would take notice of threats from this House. I put it in a conditional way. If the people of Northern Ireland and their leaders are not prepared to work this United Kingdom Bill, which is possible, and if it fails, it is not just an individual part of the Bill that fails. The whole Bill will have failed. Nobody will be able to pick out the bits that he wants. What the United Kingdom Parliament is putting to the people of Northern Ireland is an approach. Perhaps it is foolish to say that every dot and comma cannot be changed. Perhaps some minor parts can be altered, but if the Bill fails it will be time to reconsider the situation.
I hope that the Bill does not fail. Even if it does, the North could not be put into the South against its will. That is a fact of life, and anyone who thinks to the contrary is romancing from a distance.
If the Government fail, as I hope they do not, the time will have come to look at the whole relationship of Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom as well as the form of government as a whole. Now I am having a little guess at what might happen a few weeks or a few months ahead. Anyone who thinks that, given all the troubles of the past 18 months, that could be done at a nice little conference at Marlborough House and a reception or two, followed by the writing of a constitution—the classic end of the colonies, as we have seen in the past 10 years—must think again.
1729 If it goes wrong, there is a chance of violence against which the terrible happenings that we have condemned would seem small. Any hon. Member who is prepared to advocate changes from which that might come should think very deeply before doing so. The result might be completely different from that which he wants. It would not be the first time. Nobody thought in 1916 that Ireland would end up with what happened in 1922. That was not carefully planned. It happened because of the logic of events. There is a curious logic in Northern Ireland.
We on the Opposition Front Bench feel that the best thing to do is to remove the border poll. I freely admit that there are aspects of the first part of the clause which are contentious and raise issues for the future, but they are not the present issues. If the White Paper approach works, they do not matter. The time will have come to look at them if it fails.
I appeal to the Secretary of State, who I know values the approach we have suggested, to comprehend the force with which I put our amendment. It is not just a mechanical device. It is far more important than that. I hope that he will accept it. It does not weaken the force of consent. Perhaps he requires more time. After all, pledges were given—but in politics pledges are not always kept in the course of time, often quite rightly.
I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter. It is the consent that matters, but removing the last part of the clause puts a different tone on it. It brings us back to flexibility. That is what is required in Northern Ireland, not the certainty of what the future brings. We do not know what that is.
§ Mr. Powell
I am not sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) was right when he said that ideally it would be best if the clause were not in the Bill. It is one of the pathetic but persistent fallacies of humanity to think that we can chain the future by words in the present, that by inscribing sentences and assertions in an Act of Parliament or 1730 on a piece of stone we can thereby in some way determine or prevent future events. There is something primitive and almost magical about that procedure. It is a procedure which is specially inappropriate to a country which has no written constitution and to a House of whose sovereignty the basic essential is that no Parliament and no House of Commons can bind its successor. Yet, deeply believing that, we from time to time proceed to contradict it by writing into statutes words which purport to bind succeeding Houses.
Moreover, by vainly attempting to create certainty we often increase uncertainty. The great certainties of our life are not the certainties which are enshrined in statutes but the things which we take for granted. It is when a thing begins to be doubted, when it ceases to be taken for granted, that the demand arises: "Let us make sure of it by putting it into an Act of Parliament, by framing a formula of words."
The people of Northern Ireland when they sought and obtained a formula in 1949 were, for reasons which we can all understand and sympathise with, deceiving themselves if they supposed that they were thereby gaining anything whatsoever. Indeed, on balance they were losing. Bitterly they were undeceived a year ago when they found that the very Parliament which had inscribed that pledge into an earlier Act had removed the piece of mechanism—namely, the Parliament of Northern Ireland—upon which the pledge depended.
If we were for the first time debating a formula of that sort I should be urging the House to remove it from the Bill altogether. However, I believe that my hon. and gallant Friend was correct and realistic when he said that, at the point which we have now reached, the action of the House in not enacting some form or reproduction of the formula of 1949 would be misunderstood. That is yet another of the difficulties of any such assertion—namely, that when the assertion becomes obsolete the removal of the assertion does not take us back to where we were before it was made in the first instance, but instead, another dilemma and another evil has to be confronted.
1731 In 1973 the House would be doing wrong, despite the inherent feeble ineffectiveness of the clause, not to have something of the character of the clause in the Bill. We are right to avoid raising the misinterpretations which would certainly be raised if it were left out. In practice, therefore we are faced with a choice between two approaches which are represented by Amendment No. 5 of my hon. and gallant Friend and No. 6 to which the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) has spoken.
I can see the attraction of the longer deletion proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend. I can see the argument for removing altogether the phrase:without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland …".Quite apart from the general objections to this sort of formulae which I have mentioned there is a special objection to such terminology as:without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland …".The effect of such a formula is to shift the presumption and to reverse the burden of proof. It has the effect of putting the very people whom we are seeking to protect into the dock and representing them as the stumbling block which may lie in the way of a desirable future. Besides that, there is a certain absurdity in the United Kingdom Parliament limiting the conditions for the future integrity of the United Kingdom to the consent of the people of a part of it. In that respect I find myself in agreement with Opposition hon. Members whose approach and conclusions in other respects I reject. It is the business of the United Kingdom as a whole whether a portion of it continues to be a portion. It is not a sort of private property of the people of Northern Ireland whether they are part of the United Kingdom. Of course, they are much concerned, and perhaps they are primarily concerned; but they are not the only people who are concerned. The integrity of the realm is a matter of concern to all parts of the realm.
One of the objections to a formula of the sort which my hon. and gallant Friend seeks to delete is that it narrows the field of vision unrealistically. It creates the reverse presumption to that which we wish to create. It is the natural presumption of any united country that its unity will 1732 continue unless there is an irresistible reason to the contrary. But if we write in "It shall not cease"—which is negative—"without the consent of a section of people", uncertainty is created. Indeed, we create the presumption of change by merely specifying the obstacle which lies in the way of change. The clause is a negative clause by its nature. The fact that it is of a negative character is emphasised by the words which my hon. and gallant Friend desires to delete.
I must confess, however, that after listening to the arguments of my hon. and gallant Friend and the hon. Member for Leeds, South I am inclined to feel that the House would be wise to press upon the Government the shorter of the two deletions proposed.
I have two reasons for coming to that conclusion. The first I have already mentioned in connection with the clause itself—namely, that the formula of consent is by now, with all its weaknesses and objections, the hallowed formula for many scores of thousands of people in Northern Ireland. Some of the same difficulties apply to the removal of the words "consent" and "majority", even though the removal of them would make no difference to the real position except by way of the misconception that might result.
Another reason is that if my hon. and gallant Friend has his way the operative part of the clause will read:in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom.If we leave the clause in that form we are committing to an extreme extent the error of attempting to bind by a formula what shall happen in future. The words "in no event" are about as comprehensive as could possibly be contrived. Is there any possible virtue in writing into an Act of Parliament, an Act which we well know can be repealed and its successor repealed again, words prophesying so much and achieving so little,in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions …"?So I find myself driven to the conclusion advanced by the hon. Member for Leeds, South, and that is that we ought to retain all parts of this clause down to the words "Northern Ireland", but that we ought to eliminate the provisions which 1733 the Bill at present contains for the conduct of the poll—namely, by eliminating these words and the First Schedule to the Bill.
§ [Mr. BRYANT GODMAN IRVINE in the Chair]
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ There is something grotesque in setting out, 10 years in advance, to lay down in an Act of Parliament the manner in which the consent of a majority of people in a section of this country to something which we do not yet know, the outlines of which are not yet visible, is going to be obtained. We are in the absurdity that we do not know what the circumstances will be in 10 years, yet we are so certain about the method by which people will be invited to react to them in 10 years' time that we can put it into an Act of Parliament now.
§ The enactment of the mechanism of a poll in the Bill is destined to be, if we leave it, a standing cause of uncertainty. The very fact that the mechanism is there is a ready-made argument for its use. "Well", people will say, "Parliament has given us the mechanism. Why not use it? What is the virtue in a period of 10 years? It is too long. It should be sooner." The very fact that we enact in such detail the mechanism carries with it the assumption that it should be used, that the ground foreseeable for its being used will exist, and, very easily, that it should be used sooner and more frequently than we are at present contemplating.
§ But the greatest vice of these words and of the schedule is the grotesque manner in which they seek to limit our political duty, the duty of politicians and statesmen, to ascertain the consent of a majority of the people to one course of action or another. I intend no deviation, Mr. Godman Irvine, from the strictest relevance and the rules of order; but there are contexts, with which the House has recently been concerned and with which, I predict, it will not cease to be concerned, in which, for important constitutional changes, the full-hearted consent of Parliament and the people was required to be obtained.
§ There is no Act of Parliament, no form of definition, by means of which it can be ascertained whether consent exists, what 1734 is the amount of the consent, and whether it is full-hearted or not. Whether there is consent for a course of action is something for which those who propose it or those who oppose it have to fight. They have to fight for it in the circumstances of the time, with the arguments and the methods of politicians, and they have to take the responsibility of acting or opposing in the belief that the course commands, or does not command, sufficient consent.
§ After all, what does "consent of the majority" mean? A majority of one? A majority of 0.01 per cent'? We provide in the Bill as it stands for a poll, but we are not defining a majority. Yet I cannot seriously believe that any hon. Member would think that a poll, however scientifically conducted, which resulted in a dead-heat to within a fraction of 1 per cent. would give the appropriate basis for a fundamental change in the status of Northern Ireland. That calculation shows how absurd it is for us to think that we can contract out of our real responsibility by attempting to write the machinery into an Act of Parliament.
§ The responsibility for the events in Northern Ireland, for the future of Northern Ireland, belongs to us in this House. It accompanies us from day to day and year to year, and it will do so as long as the United Kingdom remains the United Kingdom. We are only making things more difficult for ourselves and more dangerous for our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland by giving the illusion that we have found a mechanism which will automatically let us out and give them their heart's desire. I hope that my right hon. Friend will listen to the general argument which all three of us so far in the debate have put forward, but that he will be most persuaded by the Opposition amendment.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
The Committee has heard a devastating case against plebiscites, border polls or referenda by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). On 21st November last, I said that the decision to hold the border poll was wrong. I went on:If we want vision, judgment, timing, and flexibility, I put my support firmly and squarely behind representative democracy, not behind periodic plebiscites and plebiscitary democracy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November 1972; Vol. 846, c. 1124.]1735 I think that the lesson of the last year or so is that the decision making in last analysis still belongs to this House of Commons formed by the relationship between a Member and his constituents, with a Member at a General Election being prepared to justify his views and actions to his electorate.
I welcome the fact that the Opposition Front Bench is moving an amendment to withdraw the right to hold periodic plebiscites. I give it my strong support. I think that it will not help the future of Northern Ireland to hold periodic plebiscites, and the case against plebiscites is extremely strong. We admire the Secretary of State, who has handled a very difficult situation with great skill. I have frequently disagreed with him—although I have voiced my opposition less frequently—but very few would deny that the choices he has made have been the result of considerable experience and ability. He has shown that he is a man who can think again, who is capable of changing his mind. I hope that he will now think again about Clause 1 and the framing of the plebiscite.
Many people felt, although I disagreed at the time, that there was a case for a once-for-all border plebiscite. I always accepted that there was a case for it. But to continue and to write a provision for plebiscites into the future is wrong. People say 10 years, but it could be 20 or 30 years before we came to make changes. If the Secretary of State is right in his supposition that the Bill and his other proposals will win support in Northern Ireland, hopefully it will remain on the statute book for a long time. I have my doubts.
I support the Opposition amendment, and I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) will also support it. His amendment is similar and yet the argument he has used, although I do not altogether share it, for leaving in the word "consent" is very powerful.
The core of the debate is the question whether we should re-enact the pledge contained in the earlier part of the clause. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West made a devastating indictment of that pledge. He made it clear. I think his words were that we had a tendency to wish to chain the 1736 future by words in the present. Unfortunately all too often in this House we think that we can somehow achieve our ends merely by passing legislation, so we establish a great factory of legislative words which rarely achieves our objectives. There are occasions, particularly constitutional ones, when words are important and when we have to consider those words.
The Committee should not allow this clause to go on the statute book as it stands. The right hon. Gentleman said there was a danger of its being misunderstood. The reason why I tabled Amendment No. 4, which has not been called, was that I wanted to make it absolutely clear that I believe we cannot join the North and the South together without consent. I agree with every word spoken on that subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees).
The facts of life are that it is one thing to say to one part of a country, "This far and no further", to say that the integrity of the union has been broken, and another thing to say simultaneously, "Not only are we readjusting our position, and the integrity of union is no longer, but you will have to join with someone else." That raises major issues of principle and practicality.
It is wrong in principle to force people out of a fractured union into another union. It is also totally impracticable. The South would not wish it and successive Irish Governments have repeatedly said that there can be no union without agreement. I do not believe that without agreement it would be in the interests of the Northern Irish. The wording of the clause must carefully be looked at by us. The right hon. Member drew attention to the words "no event". This brooks no other interpretation. There is no qualification, there is no room for equivocation. If we intend to enact legislation which has words of any value, "no event" is categoric and clear.
I believe there are circumstances in which Northern Ireland might have to cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom. Such a situation could occur much earlier than I wish it to. There are some who believe that we should, by act of will of our own, bring that about. I do not share that view. I have criticised various 1737 aspects of the Northern Irish policy but I believe that the present policy, the Assembly proposals and the envisaged power-sharing, must be given a fair wind.
It is introducing a wholly new principle into democratic government, and I am extremely perplexed and anxious about it. Power-sharing has to succeed for this Bill to be a success. I wish it well, and nothing I say is meant to impair its chances of success. But—and this has to be said from the back benches if not from the Front Benches—the Northern Irish people, Protestant and Catholic, have also to remember that they are part of the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Member was quite right when he spoke of the integrity of the realm. That integrity is dependent not just on how we in England, Scotland and Wales think, but on how the Northern Irish people act. As long as it has any power this Parliament should never allow its constitutional and political judgment to be affected by terrorism. If the truth is to be said, some of the criticisms I have of the conduct of our policy are that we have not been tough enough on terrorism. It is a very difficult judgment how to handle the terrorist situation when it is as close as this. It is for each of us to be certain that we would have handled it differently, given the options and choices. This House should not be subject to influence by terrorism, of that I am sure.
I hope that nothing I say will give sustenance to terrorists. Equally, this House cannot maintain a situation when it is fighting terrorism on the one hand and on the other hand the broad mass of the population—not necessarily fighting, but using words and questions that carry with them eventual violence. I say to Conservative and Unionist Members opposite who have considerable influence with the majority Protestant community that they are deluding themselves if they think that there is some new option which will unfold after the Assembly has been set up, that the whole concept of power-sharing can be revised and that some new constitution can be brought about.
Whatever their personal views and their dislikes in connection with these proposals, they have to accept that they are a compromise, and if they wish to remain 1738 within the realm, if they wish to contribute to the integrity of the realm, they have a duty to see that these proposals work and that the broad framework of the constitution is carried forward. If it is not, the integrity of the realm will be challenged and we shall have to assert the view of the realm, of the United Kingdom.
That voice ought to be heard now, coming from the Secretary of State. I suppose that he has made the judgment that he will say this after the Assembly elections for fear of being thought to be interfering with the political processes in Northern Ireland. It is a question of judgment. I would prefer that that voice were heard now. It would be a great mistake if people were to go to the polls for the Assembly elections thinking that there was some choice. The question is whether we here should give any currency whatever to the view that somehow only the people of Northern Ireland will sort out their own future. The right hon. Gentleman recognises that that would not be the case. Why put it in words? Why give sustenance to many Protestants in Northern Ireland thinking that this is just bargaining and that it will start all over again next time? It will not.
It is said that not re-enacting this pledge will lead to misunderstanding. I believe that to re-enact it will lead to misunderstanding. I am prepared as in my amendment to have written in a pledge that unification between the North and South will not be forced against the consent of the majority. I am not prepared to put in any word which will create a misconception in the minds of Protestants in Northern Ireland that there will never be, or that there might come, a time when the United Kingdom will have to say, "Right, if you will not collaborate, if you will not show that basic understanding and sympathy to the purposes lying behind the constitutional changes we have invoked, then we will have to part."
I cannot possibly support a wording which says that in no event shall we in the House of Commons change the constitutional relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country. It is humbug to ask us to do so. We ask how much importance we should attach to wording. With constitutional Bills 1739 in particular we should attach great importance to them. What happens? Will the Government come back in six months' time and say, "We did not really mean 'in no event'. It is a wording we wanted to qualify but did not dare to."?
Do words mean anything in this Committee? Do we and our pledges mean anything? If we do not believe what we say, we should not enact it. I challenge the Secretary of State to say that he believes that in no event will Northern Ireland cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions. He knows that he may have to say to the people of Northern Ireland that this situation cannot continue. He knows that there is a strong case for saying to the Protestant community in Northern Ireland, "We will stand by you against terrorism but you must now accept this package."
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
With due respect, the hon. Gentleman ought to look at the words with which he is dealing. There is no suggestion that it will be "in no event" unless it is with the consent of the majority. The whole essence of the hon. Gentleman's argument is shot to pieces unless he recognises that all that is being emphasised is that there must be a majority. How could it be otherwise?
§ Dr. Owen
The hon. Gentleman would have done better if he had listened to the whole of my argument. He would then have realised why I supported the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who argued that to exclude the words "without the consent", as proposed in the amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, would shackle them even more. If the majority in Northern Ireland were able to decide that they wished, of their own volition, to end their association with the United Kingdom, I would wish to retain for the United Kingdom the same right to say to the people of Northern Ireland, "We, too, have decided, hopefully with friendship, that the time has come to part".
I have always believed that the eventual solution in Northern Ireland will be unification, but that it will come by 1740 consent. We should therefore consider what we are legislating. I do not believe that the clause should be enacted. The pledge should not be re-enacted; it could be misunderstood. Above all, we should not continue to mouth words which do not carry a considered conviction which we are prepared to support not simply now but in future. As a subsidiary matter, I hope that we decide not to hold any more plebiscites, referenda or border polls.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
The speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) was thoughtful and powerful. I was glad that he emphasised that any change made in Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom could be based only on consent. That cannot be said too often in this Chamber, and I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said. However, to say that is not enough, and that is why I shall take a different view from that expressed in the four extremely powerful speeches made already in the debate and why I shall argue that it is necessary to go further.
The purpose of the clause is to spell out the provisions for a border poll. When earlier this year the House considered the procedure for the first border poll, which took place in March, I spoke and voted in support of it. It therefore seems only logical that when spelling out the procedures for further border polls I should also support them. The Opposition Front Bench was against a border poll on that occasion, so its position is entirely logical. But those on this side of the Committee, such as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), who called for a border poll on that occasion but who on this occasion say, "We can have only one", seem to be in a basically illogical position. They are trying to eat their cake and have it.
There are essentially three questions which we must consider. First, is there to be a procedure by which there can be constitutional change? That is being spelled out in the Bill, and I do not believe, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) believes, that it is an illusion. It is an important safeguard which should be carefully spelled out.
1741 Secondly, is this the best procedure? I am sure that the answer is "Yes", because it is based on the consent of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll. Such a safeguard cannot be lightly tossed away. If we are to have a poll, it is clear that adequate machinery for it must be spelled out in the legislation.
Thirdly, is a minimum of 10 years the right period? One can argue that it should be five or seven years, or 15, 20 or 25 years. One can argue that a short period would be unsettling and that too long a period would defeat the object of the procedures. Therefore, I am not very happy with the period of 10 years and I am glad that powers are taken in the Bill providing that it will be a minimum of 10 years. I hope that the possible unsettling influence of such a poll will not be felt and that it will be carried out with considerable flexibility.
There is another important point in considering border poll procedure. When we reach Clause 12, the clause relating to the Council of Ireland will then be considered. But I have no doubt that it will be possible to develop a working relationship on matters of mutual interest only if it is based firmly and clearly on consent so that the people of Northern Ireland have a procedure for determining their destiny. That is another reason why it is important for the procedure to be spelled out in the clause.
I hope that the Minister will resist the amendments. I shall go into the Lobby against them.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
My hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) and Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) were absolutely right when they said that the whole basis of this constitutional Bill is the guarantee enshrined in Clause 1.
I have tabled an amendment which seeks to ensure that there shall be no poll held in Northern Ireland as to the future boundaries and constitution of the United Kingdom. It seeks to delete all after the word "Kingdom" in line 9 and to insert:so long as a majority in the United Kingdom Parliament so agree or unless a majority of the people of the United Kingdom voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1 to this Act express their consent to a change in the constitutional relationship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain".1742 I should still have preferred not to have the phoney guarantee in the Bill, and it is my firm intention to vote against it on the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill" because if we accept the guarantee we shall re-enact the tragedy of the past in Northern Ireland. The basic trouble with our relationship with the Republic and Northern Ireland is that we delude ourselves in a belief that we, the British, have some part to play in Northern Ireland and a solution to offer for the age-old problems of that troubled country.
We have the 1949 Act and the Downing Street declaration hanging round our necks like a millstone, holding back my hon. Friends from the course which many of them would like to take but for which they cannot get the agreement of their leaders because of that millstone. I do not believe that because both major parties in this House are committed to the same mistaken policy of re-enacting the phoney guarantee, that makes it right. It merely postpones the inevitable.
The Government's policy is not even a gamble because it is based on a fallacy. At best it may bring temporary relief to the sufferings of Northern Ireland. It will transfer the crisis of decision from this Parliament to a future Parliament and from this generation to future generations. It renders worthless all the sacrifice and suffering endured by the people of Northern Ireland on both sides. It renders vain all the sacrifices made by British troops in Northern Ireland in trying to uphold this mistaken policy. One thing is absolutely certain. The trouble will come again. There is not a chance in hell of this Parliament solving problems which can be solved only by the people of Northern Ireland. There cannot be a solution unless that solution is based upon historic, geographical reality. That reality is that there is in Ireland one people, one nation.
I entirely share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton that Northern Ireland cannot be forced into unity with the Republic. But Northern Ireland is not an integral part of Great Britain and no solution can be imposed by this Parliament or by the British people. Only by the co-operation of the 1743 people of the North and South, by discussion between them and by each accepting the necessity to work together can a solution emerge. What hope therefore is there for this constitutional guarantee? We are being asked to re-enact nonsense. To back that guarantee there is the promise of power-sharing and co-operation with the South, but that is not a reality. It cannot come about.
We are in the sorry state of having a cosy accord between the two Front Benches. We have a Government with very little political capital left in Northern Ireland, for few people out there trust the Government and their policy. I say with deep regret to my hon. Friends that the Labour Party has no political capital in Northern Ireland. The majority do not trust us and the minority hold us in contempt.
Where do the British people stand in this? They have no standing at all because they will not be consulted. We are asked to re-affirm that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without consent. Without whose consent?
§ Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey (Mid-Ulster)
In fairness to my hon. Friends, it is rather a general statement to say that the people of Northern Ireland regard the British Labour Party with contempt. There is a great deal of difference in the attitude of the people of Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland Labour Party—the counterpart of the British Labour Party—and their attitude to the British Labour Party or certain members of it, which they see as a different organisation. Indeed, it is sometimes a different organisation from the party's own Front Bench.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am glad that the hon. Lady has clarified her point of view.
The clause is based upon acceptance of a package. If that package is not accepted, a new situation arises. We already know that the other proposals contained in the Bill are unacceptable. The official Unionists, through Mr. Faulkner, have already told us that they want to negotiate on the other parts of the Bill. They want to put an interpretation on what we are told is absolute and laid down in legislation. We know that the 1744 Republicans still want unity with the South and will strive to achieve it despite any guarantees or proposals in the Bill. We also know that the majority will never willingly surrender Ulster to unity with the Republic.
The constitutional guarantee that we propose to give Northern Ireland does not have the support of the British people. No guarantee given by this Parliament is worth the breath with which it is uttered unless it has the consent and support of the majority of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. Hardly anyone in Northern Ireland takes the guarantee seriously. Anyone who does is foolish to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South said that it will be possible in future to bring legislation to this sovereign Parliament to change the structure of the constitutional relationship. So the guarantee is qualified by that possibility.
No one in Northern Ireland should put firm, positive, long-term faith in the guarantee because it is not based upon reality. I predict that the day will come when the Westminster Parliament will awaken to the reality and respond to the majority view in Britain and in Ireland by recognising that only the Irish can determine their own future, whether they want one Ireland or two Irelands. The voices that are beginning to be heard in the background of the debate in Northern Ireland will come to the fore, and we shall hear more about the taking of independence by the majority in Northern Ireland because they are not prepared to rely on a phoney set-up like this.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
My hon. Friend says that it is for the Irish people to decide their own future, but he also supports his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) in what he said about the consent of the British people. Where do these points meet?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The two points meet in this way. The declaration which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South urges me to support is worthless without the consent of the British people as a whole, and I believe that no majority in Northern Ireland on its own has the right to determine the future of that island for all time. The future of Ireland as a whole is a matter for all the people of 1745 Ireland as a whole to determine at some time in the future. I hope that my answer is clear to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Orme
I am afraid it is not clear. I can follow my hon. Friend's argument about the consent of the Irish people as a whole, but he is talking about the consent of the British people. Does he mean that the British nation as a whole must be consulted first before the Irish people are consulted? At present, of course, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The answer to my hon. Friend is this. The Republic is an independent foreign State. We have no right in any way to determine how it wishes to bring about any changes in Ireland as a whole. That is a matter for it. Our responsibility is to determine how we would wish to see changes brought about in that part of Ireland which at the moment forms part of the United Kingdom.
My amendment suggests two ways in which the British people could bring about those changes if at any time we felt them to be desirable. I say in my amendment that changes can come about by a majority in the United Kingdom Parliament or by a poll held in the United Kingdom as a whole. I foresee either of those two methods as the means by which change in Northern Ireland can be brought about.
In being asked to vote for this guarantee in the Bill, we are putting a heavy price on those for whom we in Parliament have a great responsibility. I refer to the British Army, upon which we have imposed an impossible task in carrying out the policy of successive Governments. The soldiers who are sent in to discharge that responsibility are exposed to murder, criticism and abuse from the people whom they have been sent there to protect.
Many tributes have been paid to the quality of the British Army and to the discipline and tradition which it displays, and I shall not repeat them now. There is a record on sale in the shops which deals with the position of the British Army in Northern Ireland. The record is published by Cube Records and is called "The Soldier". The author is a Mr. Harvey Andrews. I recommend every hon. Member to obtain that record 1746 and listen to it, for it brings into sharp focus the real agony we are imposing on those troops in sending them to uphold this mistaken policy. I regret that the BBC has refused to allow the record to be played on the air. I hope that the BBC will change its mind because it is only when the situation is fully understood in Britain that we shall be able to bring sufficient pressure on Government and Opposition Front Benches in this Parliament to bring about the change in policy which is so essential.
I doubt whether when the full debate on all the amendments has taken place there will be a discussion on the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill." Therefore I shall repeat what I said at the outset of my remarks——
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. My hon. Friend raises a matter which is of particular interest to me. Do you intend to say, Mr. Godman Irvine, that there will be no debate on the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill". I wish to participate in a discussion of the clause, to which I object. I do not want to discuss any of the amendments.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
The hon. Gentleman has been in Parliament long enough to know that the Chair does not give rulings on those matters until it has heard the debate.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) if in any way I have misled him. I merely assumed, Mr. Godman Irvine, that as you generously allowed a wide debate to take place, then, in accordance with the normal precedent, you might consider limiting the debate on the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill".
Unless we can create the sort of circumstances which are based on reality, the reality that Northern Ireland is not part of Britain, that the British cannot solve the problems of Ireland, we shall not even begin to assist in solving this terrible tragedy. This nonsense of the guarantee enshrined in Clause 1 is the basis of the whole tragedy of the last 50 years. If we re-enact this provision, then everybody who supports it will be personally responsible for prolonging the 1747 tragedy and the bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
When the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) contested for the first time the notion that Northern Ireland is part of Great Britain, I thought that it was a slip of the tongue, but then at the end of his speech he again denied that Northern Ireland was part of Britain. Northern Ireland is not part of Britain and never has been. On the other hand, it is an integral part of the United Kingdom.
That is not merely the wish of the large majority of its people. It also happens to be the interest of the people of Great Britain. The hon. Gentleman cannot have forgotten that if Northern Ireland had not possessed the status which is described in Clause 1 of the Bill, we would have lost the battle of the Atlantic because we would have had none of those ports which Michael Collins said to Churchill were essential for the life of Britain.
This is not just a question of the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. It is in the interest of this country that what is said in Clause 1 should not only be affirmed but also should be maintained by this House and by the British people. The hon. Gentleman described the guarantee as phoney. I hope that it is not. But I hope also that I shall not alarm my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if I tell him that he is about to hear the first speech in the Committee this afternoon that is favourable to Clause 1 as a whole.
The speech made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) makes the case for reassurance having to be given to the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. From the point of view of our fellow subjects in Ulster, that kind of doctrine and the sort of speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford will fill them with foreboding and suspicion about what might be in the minds of the people on this side of the water.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) spoke about a hallowed formula. There 1748 is also some considerable ancestry for the idea of referendum. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) mentioned the situation at the time of the partition of Ireland and the views which were then expressed. In the Report stage of the Government of Ireland Bill in 1920 a Captain Craig—not to be confused with James Craig, who afterwards became Lord Craigavon—said:That a matter of such importance as the sweeping away of the Northern Parliament, and its inclusion in the Southern Parliament, was one which ought not to be left to a mere snap Division in the Northern House of Parliament Some further safeguard, either in the nature of a referendum, or that which is suggested by this amendment, namely an absolute majority of members of each Parliament at the Third Reading, should be inserted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November 1920; Vol. 134, c. 1219.]That was half a century ago. It is little over a year ago that, with the sponsorship of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) and others of my hon. Friends I obtained the leave of the House to introduced a Bill to amend the Ireland Act 1949. It did not reach the statute book.
My Bill provided that the status of Northern Ireland should not be changed without a plebiscite. It did not say that there should ever be a plebiscite. It said that there should be no change in the status without one. As I read it, there is no provision in this Bill that there must or should be a plebiscite, ever. It says merely that no change should take place without this form of consultation of the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Stallard
Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that the setting up of the Six Counties originally was done without reference to any plebiscite or election? It was done by a deal virtually between the Ulster Unionists and people on this side. There was no plebiscite, no referendum and no election.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
If I attempted to reply to that I might stray from the subject matter of the group of amendments that we are discussing. However, it is quite true that there was no plebiscite before the establishment of the Northern Ireland State within the United Kingdom. But just as what happened in the Irish Free State might be described as an act of self-determination, so might the setting 1749 up of the Northern Ireland State be described as another piece of self-determination because the people in that part of Ireland as a whole did not wish to be included in the Irish Free State. I think that the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) knows that quite well.
Even if a referendum is held, there are amendments in this group in my name and that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South which seek to increase the period in which there cannot be held another border poll. It the border is to be taken out of the politics of the province, if this is to be a serious attempt to bring this about, it is essential that if border polls are held they should not be held often.
In introducing my own Bill I said that a border poll should notbe held too frequently. The interval should be long enough not to cause distraction from the problems of bread and butter, work and welfare, housing and health, education and development ".—OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July 1972; Vol. 880, c. 1350.]In Amendment No. 51 I specify a period of 25 years. If there are to be plebiscites, I should have thought one in a generation would be often enough.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I had not intended to speak in this debate, but my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who will be winding up, has kindly allowed me to do so.
Haying listened to the speeches so far it seems to me that there are certain considerations which need bringing out if we are to be able to decide how to vote. It is a situation in which logic does not necessarily lead to the path of wisdom, although sometimes it does. I want to explain how I shall be voting and why, and I have to put it, therefore, against the background.
To my mind this is genuinely the last chance for constitutional advancement by Northern Ireland. We have often said that something was the last chance but I have always said that it was not. But I genuinely believe that this is the last chance, and it is for that reason that I do not want to disturb any form of appearance or reality in guarantees which people think that they have, however well-founded they may be at present.
1750 This is the most serious moment that we have arrived at in the history of Northern Ireland, and I want to put this to my colleagues in Northern Ireland, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) did earlier, in no spirit of threat but in a spirit of reality.
Britain has made a compact with Northern Ireland in which it has undertaken that Northern Ireland shall remain a part of the United Kingdom for as long as the majority of the people wish it to be so. That cannot be a one-sided compact. Both parties to the compact must have their rights as well as their obligations under it. To that extent I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved).
So far we have acted on the assumption that there is only one party to this compact and that it is for the people of Northern Ireland only to determine their own future. This ought to continue to be true subject to the one condition that the majority in Northern Ireland continue to accept the sovereignty of Westminster. The sovereignty of Westminster means this Bill. It means what has been said about power sharing. It means bringing the minority into government in Northern Ireland in a real sense and in every way. If there is any departure from that or, to take an important extreme case as I see it as an observer of the situation, if some of the earlier statements of Mr. Craig are taken at their face value and there is a deliberate attempt to sabotage the working of the Assembly, it should be made known before the election that we shall reconsider our position.
Speaking for myself, as one who has upheld in good times and in bad the absolute pledge to the majority, if there were an attempt by the majority in Northern Ireland to sabotage the Assembly I should regard it as Britain's responsibility to say that we shall reconsider our position. That should be clearly understood, and it is said in no spirit of threat.
Britain cannot bleed for ever. We have to have help if we are to carry out our responsibilities in Northern Ireland. We have to be certain that the majority there accept the obligations of Westminster sovereignty. That means in the last resort, for good or for ill, whether we are wise or unwise, that Westminster has to take the final decision about how the 1751 government of Northern Ireland is carried on.
Is that understood in Northern Ireland? I do not believe that it is. If it is, we are set on a new path once the elections are over.
As far as we can, we should try to maintain an all-party approach to this problem. Again I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford, who says that there are no votes for anyone in this. In the circumstances, if there were a deliberate attempt to make the Assembly unworkable so that the groups in Northern Ireland went their own way irrespective of Westminster, I hope that the Secretary of State would consider calling an all-party conference so that we might all look at the problem afresh in the light not only of what was in the best interests of Northern Ireland but of what was in the best interests of Britain. I say that quite solemnly. I put it positively that if the people of Northern Ireland, through their representatives, are not prepared to carry out their side of the compact, we must be free to reconsider our side of it. That would have consequences into which I do not wish to go. It is against that background that I want to cast my vote tonight.
I agree with the analysis put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen). Indeed, I think that I am saying much the same as he said. But I should like to advise him, if I may, that if that is our approach we should not allow the argument in Northern Ireland to proceed on any false basis. It is so easy to construct false arguments in Northern Ireland. If we were not to write into the Bill the belief under which people in Northern Ireland have lived for many years, that no part of Northern Ireland willcease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority",we would have an argument in Northern Ireland on an entirely different basis from what it should be about. The argument should be whether the sovereignty of Westminster is to prevail—whether they are to carry out the obligations into which they have entered and into which Britain has freely entered.
1752 Having said that, I repeat the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton, which is my view, that if the people of Northern Ireland fail to carry out those obligations after 28th June then, agreeing with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), it is no use attempting to change events by words. We cannot and should not attempt to do that. It would not be fair to the British people to try to do so in those circumstances.
The future of the Bill lies very much in the hands of the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives who are elected after 28th June. It would be wrong for the British Government not to carry out their responsibilities under the Bill if the majority of the people allow them to do so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton said, we must not give way to terrorism. We must never yield to it. I agree absolutely. But likewise the majority of people in Northern Ireland have an obligation. I regret that there are many signs that they are not prepared to abide by it. If they do not, then, in the vernacular, all bets are off. In the meantime, as long as they live by their obligation it is the responsibility of the British Government to live by their obligation in this matter.
Therefore, despite the logic of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West—I think he came to the same conclusion—I should be wholeheartedly willing to vote to preserve these words although we all recognise their shortcoming and difficulties. When we say it we mean it, but I think that events will determine how far those words will have life and how far they will not.
It is against that background that I make my personal appeal. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South has advanced the Labour Party's view. However, as an observer of the situation, I make my personal appeal to the Secretary of State to think again about the wordsvoting … for the purposes of this section".I will not develop the argument further, but I do not think those words are necessary. They are a handicap rather than a help. Therefore, I hope that the 1753 right hon. Gentleman will be willing to reconsider them. If so, I should have no difficulty about supporting the pledge that is given in Clause 1, with all the reservations I have made about the evil consequences that could flow not from our actions, not from the actions of the Secretary of State, not from the actions of the Westminster Parliament, but from the actions of the majority in Northern Ireland itself.
I hope that I have been clear enough in what I have said. It is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide. If, alas, they decide to refuse to follow the sovereignty of Westminster, then Westminster itself is entitled to think again irrespective of what is contained in Clause 1.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I intervene at this stage in the hope that I may be able to help the Committee on a narrow point. I do not in any way wish to limit the discussion. However, I may be able to separate one point from the generality of the clause and that might help our progress in Committee.
First, I should like to follow what was said by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), who I think agrees strongly, too. I am grateful to all of them for reaffirming what I believe to be essential; namely,that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland".I can understand the logical argument put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, but I and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, in his time in Northern Ireland, have repeatedly used and pledged those words. We are deeply committed to them. I could not in honour go forward with a constitutional Bill which did not have those words in it.
I am grateful for the widespread support that has been expressed, even by those who, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, 1754 have doubts about the wisdom of any words of this kind. But my right hon. Friend said that in the situation that we have today he believes it is right to have such words in the Bill. I am grateful for the support that has been expressed on both sides of the Committee. I stand absolutely firm on that part of the Bill.
I turn now to the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Leeds, South which, in effect, seeks to leave out the wordsvoting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1 to this Act.The White Paper—hon. Members will not be surprised that I have supplied myself with a copy to see exactly what it said on this matter—made the pledge thatthere will be no change in the basic constitutional status of the Province as part of the United Kingdom without their consent, and accordingly other means must be found to give expression to that commitment. The Bill will therefore, include a statutory declaration that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom, and will not cease to be a part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.The White Paper did not state how that consent would be found or expressed. The Bill puts forward the method of achieving consent by further plebiscites.
In talking about the amendment, am talking not about the basic principle outlined in the clause but about the mechanics, the method, by which we might carry through the principle. That is what we are discussing.
Is it possible—I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West posed this question—to know now what would be the best means of achieving this in 10 years? If I knew what was likely to happen in Northern Ireland next week, I should be more certain of what the position was likely to be in 10 years' time. I do not think one can possibly know.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South said that he believed it was right to have a considerable amount of flexibility. I am grateful that he should take that view. He knows that it has been my approach, but some of my hon. Friends may not like it. Indeed, I may be questioned later about the exact meaning of some of the flexible phrases which I believe are right to be used because they are 1755 flexible. If one wants to be flexible in one place, there is an argument for being flexible in other places. I cannot dismiss that argument altogether.
Why did we decide that it was right at least to have the power to have a plebiscite after 10 years? My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) gave some powerful reasons why a plebiscite was the best method of achieving consent. Frankly, I do not know of any other method. I do not think that any hon. Member knows of any other method.
The Bill as it stands does not provide that there must be a plebiscite. It makes no commitment of that kind. It merely says that the Secretary of State may, by order, institute a plebiscite. That does not mean that there ought necessarily to be one, but the power is there. We thought that was the best method of setting out how consent could be judged.
I do not think that, reading the clause, we can move from that to say that necessarily, if there were a narrow majority, the constitutional change should be made. It says only that this arrangement could not cease without consent. If the consent was very narrow, no doubt there would be constitutional problems at that stage, both North and South, which would have to be considered. No one would have any doubt about that. Therefore, the idea of the very narrow majority, which I agree is inherently difficult in a poll, would not be a bar to a plebiscite as a method of achieving consent. So I conclude that it is very hard to envisage better methods than the plebiscite that we propose for expressing this consent.
Second, a point that I must stress strongly is that I was pressed very hard indeed originally, even by some people who today express views about plebiscites, to have a border poll in the first instance. I was also bitterly attacked for having gone back on Her Majesty's Government's word about a border poll. In fact, as in so many things, we were as good as our word and we had a poll. Once one is as good as one's word and has a poll, everyone forgets that one has kept one's word; people merely accuse one of not keeping it before one has kept it. I do not mind that, but that is the position.
1756 I was pressed hard for it then and it was part of the proposals that we put forward when direct rule was introduced. I wish to be very careful indeed to ensure that under no circumstances could I be accused of going back on anything I had promised about a future plebiscite or plebiscites.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am trying to develop what I hope the Committee will feel is a helpful argument. It is an important one, and if I am interrupted now I might get words wrong. I therefore beg my hon. Friend to let me finish.
I must not be seen in any way to go back, on the Government's behalf, on any promises which may have been made about the method of achieving consent. In the time of this debate, as I think the Committee will be generous enough to appreciate, I do not have time to turn up the record of all the words I may have used at some stage on this matter. This would be very difficult at short notice. I have to be careful because I am determined not to go back on my word. It would be wrong to do so. I do not believe that we have gone further than the really strong pledges on principle. I am not sure that we have ever absolutely pledged ourselves on method, but I will consider this.
Therefore, in view of the views expressed from both sides of the Committee, I would suggest that I should be allowed to consider them and to test reaction in Northern Ireland to the idea that, while preserving the possibility of having this method in future, we should not write it into the Bill. But I must warn the Committee that, if I find that we are pledged, if I find that people feel very strongly and that there is a very strong body of opinion that wishes to continue with the poll, I might then have to come back to the House during a later stage of the Bill to say that I believed it was right to have this method. The House would then have the opportunity to vote against me if at that time I came to the view that I had to maintain the plebiscite provision in the Bill.
Meanwhile I suggest that, with that proposal, I should be allowed to look at this carefully and to come back on 1757 Report and say either that I must go forward with this, in which case some, I understand, will vote against me, or that I can agree that, while holding to the principle, we should not keep the method. I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend to consider withdrawing the amendment so that I can at least be given the chance to look again, as several hon. Members have asked me to do, at the method, while standing to the principle.
I think that that is a reasonable proposition. How it happens in the conduct of the debate is a matter for the Chair. If my hon. and gallant Friend were prepared to withdraw his amendment, I imagine that nothing would stop the broader debate on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill", which is what many hon. Members have been discussing as part of this whole debate.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I am sure my right hon. Friend will remember that I was always against holding plebiscites in Northern Ireland, and I hope he will not have a plebiscite on whether or not polls should be held in Northern Ireland. Surely the proper way of testing opinion in Northern Ireland is to hold an election, not every four years but when the majority in the new Assembly decides that an election should be held.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
My hon. Friend has raised all sorts of other issues with which I am not concerned at the moment. I have made my position clear, and it is a reasonable one. I want to be given a chance to look at this matter.
§ [Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mrs. McAliskey
While it is not my custom to come to the Secretary of State's assistance, I find very strange the remark just made by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), since on 23rd November 1972 he voted for the Third Reading of the Northern Ireland (Border Poll) Bill.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Perhaps I might respond to the right hon. Gentleman's words. The matter that concerns us is that while the schedule says "may", in the clause to which the amendment relates the exclusive way of testing opinion would be a border poll. We feel strongly on 1758 this matter. If I understand the right hon. Gentleman correctly, he will look at this in view of the speeches that have been made, and, if he finds that, in his view—it will ultimately be his view—he cannot remove this provision, the debate can be reopened on Report, and we can then vote in the way I recommended to my hon. Friends earlier. In my view—I am speaking on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench—the right hon. Gentleman has made a very reasonable approach to the matter, and we can return to it later.
§ Captain Orr
I echo what the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) has just said, that the Secretary of State has been very helpful in his approach to this matter. I should be prepared to withdraw my amendment, which is the substantive one that we are debating. We are now dealing with the principle of the border poll, but we are taking with it, because of the selection of amendments, not only the general question, to which my right hon. Friend has been speaking, of whether we have a border poll, but also a number of amendments which would depend upon a border poll actually taking place.
If my right hon. Friend comes back on Report and says that the border poll has to remain, I want to preserve the right then to pursue the question of the conditions under which the poll would take place, the period that might elapse between polls and other matters which are the subject of later amendments in this group. One does not want to be faced on Report with the situation that the provisions for the border poll remain in the Bill when we have no opportunity to amend them at that stage if we now withdraw the amendment. Perhaps I could have some guidance from you, Sir Robert, or the advice of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, before seeking leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not know whether it is on a point of order, Sir Robert, and perhaps it does not matter, but, as far as I am concerned, having made these proposals to the Committee in the hope that I was helping, I naturally understand that if I came back to the House saying that I wished to keep the Bill as it was, on Report I would naturally and rightly have to face the various amendments, provided that the Chair so ruled, 1759 which have been tabled on both the clause and Schedule 1. Nearly all the amendments are concerned with the poll. I hope that I am not straying from my duties in saying that the other discussions which have been taking place were really on the basis of the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill". No one would be inhibited in making known their views on the poll because the debate can continue on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill". Perhaps that is your view, Sir Robert.
§ The Chairman
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and to the Secretary of State for raising this matter. I see the great difficulty for them in what has been said. Mr. Speaker is naturally quite free to select what he likes but he has regard to what has taken place in Committee and tries to facilitate the business of the House as a whole. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and gallant Gentleman could rely on that practice being followed when the time came.
§ Captain Orr
In that case, Sir Robert, and with that reassurance, it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we were to continue the general debate upon the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill". In the spirit of my right hon. Friend, and recognising with considerable gratitude the fact that he will reconsider this question between now and Report, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
On a point of order, Sir Robert. I should like to be clear procedurally. Some of my hon. Friends are as unclear as I am. A number of them wish to speak on, for example, the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and on other matters that have been raised today. Before we reach the point of withdrawal of the amendment, and because we have had a broad debate, I should like to be clear that my withdrawal of the Opposition amendment on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends would not inhibit any of them from raising the issues that we have been discussing in the earlier part of the day.
§ The Chairman
I am pleased to be able to give the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that assurance: that the speeches they would have been making on this matter will be in order in the debate on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill".
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
On a point of order, Sir Robert. I appreciate the reasons for the various remarks by several hon. Members but, as I favour the amendment that has been moved, it is my intention to object to its withdrawal.
§ The Chairman
If that is the hon. Gentleman's intention, that is his undoubted right and I cannot allow the amendment to be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I am not speaking to a point of order, Sir Robert, but it is most important that the niceties of parliamentary procedure, which are important to us all, are followed. What matters most is that there shall be a chance of withdrawing this proposal to have a plebiscite and accepting the offer of the Secretary of State, instead of voting and losing. There is the chance of another day to look at it. It is in that spirit that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ The Chairman
We are getting into some confusion. The hon. Gentleman does not have an amendment to withdraw. We are discussing the amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). If I may respectfully advise the hon. Member, it would be taking the sense of the Committee if he did not press his amendment but allowed the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South to withdraw his amendment, on the understanding that the hon. Member is free to say what he wants to say on the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill", and on the understanding—without in any way wishing myself to commit Mr. Speaker, which I cannot do—that in the ordinary practice as we know it points raised by the hon. Member will have a chance to be fully aired at another time.
§ Mr. English
May I explain my view, Sir Robert? The debate having started on the amendment, it would be better if it 1761 continued on it. When I said that I intended to object at this moment, it was simply because the debate ought to be on the amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). For the sake of the world outside Parliament it should be clear that that is what we are debating. The Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" is a technicality. We all understand that, but it is not necessarily understood outside Parliament. We are debating the hon. and gallant Gentleman's amendment. I take the sense of the Committee. We all do. We are all reasonable men. We have all discussed this issue with a fair understanding of each other's positions. But it is better that we discuss not the technicality of the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill" but the position taken up in effect by the amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. At a later stage I am sure that the Committee will wish that that amendment should, in the light of the discussion, be withdrawn. I would not object to that.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I wonder whether could make one point clear to myself. If it is clear to me, possibly it will be clear to others. My undertaking to look again at the position was in the context of the amendment of the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) and in the context of the arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and other hon. Members. If we had to proceed to any form of Division on the amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), I should have to advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against it. My commitment is to look at the position again in the context of the Opposition amendment.
§ Captain Orr
I have moved my amendment. Having discussed the reasons for it, I said that I preferred the Opposition's amendment and that I understand my right hon. Friend's position. But I still think that it would be better if the debate were to proceed upon the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill", which would be very much wider than this debate, with respect to the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees). I would still wish to withdraw 1762 my amendment if that were considered the right thing.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), there are those among us, Sir Robert, of whom I am certainly one, who regard the debate on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill", far from being a mere technicality, as the nub of the debate. I have kept not only out of the debate but also out of the Chamber, as I regard the debates on the amendments as absurdities, whereas I regard the debate on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill" as of vital importance.
§ The Chairman
If hon. Members would like me to try to bring this matter to a conclusion, may I say that I think the better procedure would be to hear the hon. Member now and, when he has finished, perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will then seek leave to withdraw his amendment. I think that perhaps the whole Committee would be agreeable to that.
§ Mr. Stallard
On a point of order, Sir Robert. I should be obliged if you could enlighten me in view of the confusion among both Front Benches. What happened to Amendment No. 6?
§ Mr. Heffer
On a point of order, Sir Robert. Which hon. Members are we now supposed to hear before the amendments are withdrawn and we come to the debate on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill"? Some hon. Members who have just appeared in the Chamber will rise and speak about matters without having heard the debate on them. If that happens, some of us who have been here nearly all day will be somewhat annoyed, to say the least.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Chairman
It seems to me that the sense of the Committee is not quite what I thought it was. I thought that the Committee would be content to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and would then allow the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) to withdraw 1763 the amendment, following which we could proceed with the debate on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill". I see now that that is not the unanimous wish of the Committee, and therefore we have no option but to continue the debate.
§ Mr. English
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) was referring to me. If he was, perhaps I may tell him that I have heard every major speech in this debate.
§ Mr. English
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that statement, because I have not just entered the Chamber. If it is the sense of the Committee that it would be better to debate these issues on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill", I shall not stand in the way of that being done.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. John E. Maginnis (Armagh)
On a point of order, Sir Robert. It was agreed during an earlier debate that those hon. Members who had not spoken to the various amendments would be allowed to make their speeches in the debate on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill", but after sitting through the whole of the debate so far it appears to me that you are starting from the beginning again.
§ The Chairman
Order. I cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman wants to say unless the Committee allows me to do so.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I was saying, Sir Robert, that during the debate on the amendments it was agreed that those who had intended to speak to them would be allowed to make their speeches in general terms during the debate on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill". 1764 It now appears that the Chair intends to call those who debated the amendments.
§ The Chairman
I take the point. The difficulty is that one cannot be in the Chair for the whole debate and know what has happened all the way through. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) will give way and allow me to call someone else to speak.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am most grateful to you, Sir Robert, for your ruling and also to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) for giving way. I realise that it is impossible for one occupant of the Chair to be fully aware of all that has happened in the debate.
It is not right that hon. Members who have sat through the whole of the debate should be pushed into the background again, and I am therefore obliged to you for calling me to take part in the debate.
I must first congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his action in proceeding as far as he has. It augurs well for the future that he is prepared to listen to points made by hon. Members, both here and in other places, about the future government of Northern Ireland.
I am one of the few Members who have researched the Ireland Act 1949 which is the basis of Clause 1, which states:It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom, and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland ".and so on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said that he was granted leave to introduce a Bill to substitute "people" for the "Parliament" of Northern Ireland. I backed my hon. Friend and went on television to give my reasons for so doing, and how right we were to do that, because at a stroke the Parliament of Northern 1765 Ireland was prorogued, with the result that there was no way of determining the views of the people of Northern Ireland except through a border poll.
I listened carefully to the arguments deployed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). Were it not for the pledge given in the 1949 Ireland Act, I should have agreed wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend's conclusion that we are weakening the position of Northern Ireland by including the pledge in the Bill. But having made the mistake in the first place, and Northern Ireland having lived under the pledge given by the then Prime Minister and through the Downing Street Declaration, and again by the present Prime Minister last year in his package deal on Northern Ireland, how can we come back and say that this must be taken out of the Bill? It would he like taking a dummy from a child, because people would jump to the conclusion that the British Government were taking from them something which they had cherished over the years.
I agree that the mechanics of the border poll should be a matter for discussion. I do not care if another border poll is ever held, though I supported the one that was held because it was the only way of discovering the feelings of the people of Northern Ireland. On Second Reading, I said that 10 years was far too short a time in which to hold another border poll. I suggested 20 years, and I should like to be consistent.
Let us remember that the Bill comes before us this afternoon because of all the violence that has occurred. All the demands and requests of the so-called minority in Northern Ireland had already been granted by the Government of Northern Ireland. The position that we are in today and the reason for this constitutional crisis stem from acts of violence. Despite this Bill and any other measures which follow, the issue can no longer be fudged. There will never be peace and good government in Northern Ireland, or throughout the United Kingdom, unless the first priority is the defeat of violence in Northern Ireland. I hope that that will be appreciated during the coming debates.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been magnanimous in his approach this afternoon and I hope that 1766 that augurs well for the future of the Bill, because it must be amended and considered in great detail. I say that because it is our responsibility to give to the people of Northern Ireland a vehicle that will work and will not break down and need repair every few weeks.
§ Mr. English
If I were to introduce a Bill which said what Clause 1 of this Bill says, and sought to replace the words "Northern Ireland" with the word "Nottingham", it would rightly be regarded as ludicrous. The most interesting thing about the clause is that it is there at all, because by implication its existence means that many of us are thinking exactly the opposite of what it says. If we were not so thinking, there would be no need for it.
Like most hon. Members now in the Chamber, I am a member of the Standing Committee which is considering the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. The more I go through that Bill and the longer I sit on that Standing Committee, the more my views on the subject of the relationship of Northern Ireland to the United Kingdom change.
No one relates what happens at private back-bench meetings, and I do not propose to do so now, but I do not think that any of my colleagues would mind my saying that when we returned from the recess—and we are people with different views on this and other subjects—we had serious thoughts on this matter because the Bill was coming before us. I think that all who have spoken from this side of the Committee have implied that, at least on our side, views on this issue are on the verge of change. This is a serious issue, and I shall therefore tell the Committee why my views are changing. It is because I believe that we cannot govern Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
I say that because of the things being done in that Standing Committee, done against my will. There we are saying that, after centuries, we must throw away trial by jury. It has been done in Ireland before. Every coercion Act in British history has taken away that right. I looked up the last few of those Acts; there are so many of them that I did not look up all of them, but every one of them did that, and since as far back as the eighteenth, not merely the nineteenth, century.
1767 We are doing it once again, and for the first time I have come to realise what must have been in the mind of that man whom I regard as one of the greatest Prime Ministers this country has ever had, Gladstone, when he retired for that famous weekend at Hawarden and afterwards came forth and said "This will not do, this constant belief that we can keep Ireland"—the whole of it in those days—"as part of the United Kingdom and at the same time every few years introduce into the House of Commons a coercion Bill"—which made it an authoritarian State.
Gladstone was a great man but a strange man, too, for he was one of the very few people to start life as a Tory and work his way steadily to the Left all his life. I am not saying that there is any particular virtue in that, but it is unusual. Most people grow more conservative as they grow older. Mr. Gladstone was a strange man. However, he said, in effect, that there must be some other solution than that to the problem of Ireland.
The thing which happenend in that Standing Committee on Monday night really shocked me, as I said in the Committee at the time. For the first time in British history we are treating the Army in the United Kingdom as if it were in a foreign or colonial country.
In that other Bill, the Emergency Provisions Bill, there is a clause on bail; it placed restrictions on bail, but they were taken out by a concession of the Government. Perhaps for that reason another part of the Bill said it should not apply to the Army. Throughout British history we have had the principle that the ordinary law of the land applies to Ministers, civil servants, politicians and the Armed Forces. We have had in addition embodied in the law a code of military discipline, but the members of the Armed Forces have not been exempt from the ordinary laws of the land. They will be when that Bill receives the Royal Assent. That is a constitutional principle we are throwing away.
The precedents adduced by the Minister for doing it were the way in which our forces in Germany are treated and the way in which visiting forces are treated in this country. The United States of America (Visiting Forces) Act 1768 was adduced as a precedent, but that was introduced at the request of the Americans because under the American constitution people are entitled to trial by jury, they are entitled not to incriminate themselves and, the Americans said, in certain respects British law was not as good as it was in the eighteenth century when they themselves picked it up.
Trial by jury, admissions by accused persons and a change in the position of the Army are only three things we have discussed in that Standing Committee, and all are basic constitutional principles upon which the United Kingdom has been governed for centuries. They are being thrown away because we cannot govern Ireland in that way, we cannot govern Ireland as though it were part of the United Kingdom. That is what every single piece and clause of that Bill is saying. It is a terrible admission. It is an admission in a Public Bill introduced by the Government that all the constitutional and legal and political principles on which this United Kingdom is and has for so long been governed cannot be used in the government of Ireland. That may be true. I am not disputing the truth of it, but it is a terrifying admission.
I agree entirely with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said. No one, certainly on this side of the Committee, would wish to see Northern Ireland pushed into the Republic of Ireland without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. That is a matter for them. I understand the position of the Secretary of State as he has outlined it, and we all know him to be an honourable man who would wish to keep his pledges.
I understand the position of my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South, but I am not committed by their past commitments. I am speaking now as one who has never actually committed himself publicly on this issue. I have never, I think, done so, but what I am saying, in the light of events, and in the light of the elections, which will influence me—because obviously no one would state his position in 1769 advance of those elections and I am interested to see the outcome of those elections—is that if the result of those elections is a certain outcome I shall be encouraged in coming, as I rapidly am, to the conclusion that, rather than throw away things in the British system of Government, things which I hold dear, as they are being thrown away ever day in the Standing Committee, it might be better for the United Kingdom if a portion of it ceased to be part of the United Kingdom so that the rest of it could he governed in the way it traditionally has been.
I am grateful to you, Sir Robert, for calling me, because I deeply wished to say that.
That is why I have some sympathy with the amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), because the first part of this clause is simply a statement of fact. If the clause had said no more than that Northern Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom, it might have been superfluous but it would have been unobjectionable, but it goes further and it says that it should always remain part of the United Kingdom except with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. That I will not have.
This United Kingdom is governed, as it always has been governed, by this Parliament. I would argue, and have argued, that we cannot give away the rights of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole without their consent. I have used this argument in relation to the European Community. I find the position of the Government immensely strange in saying that we can throw out the baby—the whole of the United Kingdom—and yet have a referendum on a smaller point: that of whether a relatively small number of people should remain in it; that that can be decided not with the consent of the majority of the 55 million people of this country but only by their own consent. That I do not myself believe. This United Kingdom is a single State, but it is a single State for all its people, not just some.
Usually in the world the arguments are the opposite way round. Over the question of Algeria the majority of the people of France wanted to keep Algeria as part of France; a majority of the Algerian people wanted to be independent. Here 1770 the argument is between a minority wishing to be independent and the majority which does not wish it to be. This is not the usual argument. This reversed principle I have not heard of in history.
Frankly, I thought it was a mistake when the Labour Government introduced it in 1949, and I think a lot of our present difficulties stem from the fact that that statement was ever made in an Act of Parliament. I know that the amendment which I have down is out of order, and I understand that, but it would simply have put the position back where it was in the 1920s. Then we had just had virtually a mutiny in the Army and we had just had a civil war. So perhaps they realised, with more consideration, that it was not a statement it was desirable to make.
I am not allowed to swear in the House of Commons but hon. Members can put whatever adjectives they like before my views on the section in the 1949 Act. It should be said to the people of Northern Ireland that they may, it they wish, belong to the United Kingdom but that if they do they must accept that the United Kingdom is ruled by this Parliament, is ruled basically by this House of Commons, which is elected by the people of the United Kingdom as a whole, and that, if they accept that, they must accept the decisions of this Parliament.
They must be told that if they do not accept that, with the greatest regret—and I say "regret" because I have family connections with Ulster—we should have to consider whether we should part company with them with or without their consent. That is not to push them into the Republic but merely to part company with them as part of the United Kingdom. This should be recognised by everyone in Northern Ireland and I hope particularly that it is recognised before the 28th June next.
The way that that Assembly is elected is something that every person in this House will be looking at. I have no wish for any particular party to win but I have a wish for certain viewpoints to win, and I hope that they win irrespective of their religious persuasion and that they will consider with the greatest care that the one thing they cannot hope for is to remain in the United Kingdom 1771 on their terms. Either they remain on our terms, meaning the terms of the majority of the people in this kingdom, or they go out of it. Those are the only viable political choices open to them. They cannot have both, and they must choose between the two.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I followed with interest all that was said by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) but when he speaks about the pledge given by the Labour Government in 1949 he and other Labour Members should remember that it was given with the remembrance of the part played by Northern Ireland in winning the war. In other words, the Ulster people had made their contribution to the integrity of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) moans when I talk about that subject but soldiers from Northern Ireland died for the United Kingdom. There are people throughout the United Kingdom who served in that war and who were grateful for the fact that Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. He may groan now, but the fact that he depends upon Irish Republicans in his constituency to keep in Parliament does not mean that he should attack the British Army in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
For some reason the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) seems to have a fixation about me. He is always looking in my direction. I happen to agree with everything he says about those from this country and from the Republic of Ireland who died serving during the last war. Less than 0.5 of 1 per cent. of the people in my constituency are citizens of the Republic of Ireland and the hon. Member should therefore retract that ridiculous nonsense.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Nottingham, West said, but the law-abiding majority of people of Northern Ireland are not responsible for the campaign of terror which has been waged for four years. We have just witnessed the latest atrocity in Coleraine where six innocent people died and where old and young people were mutilated. Can this House say to the people of Northern 1772 Ireland. "Go your own way. We are taking back our soldiers", when Northern Ireland has always been part of the United Kingdom?
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) is not here——
§ Mr. Kilfedder
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford spoke about the reunification of Ireland. Ireland was never united until Britain entered and brought it within the United Kingdom. Before that Ulster was a separate kingdom with its own separate traditions, and that was long before an Englishman set foot in Ireland, long before a Norman set foot on Irish soil. Therefore we should remember that Ireland has its own traditions, cultural as well as historic, and that is why the mat majority of Ulster people are and wish to remain separate from the Republic.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West spoke about coercion. We are at war with the IRA. A former Home Secretary said so two years ago and at that time very few people had died. Since 1969, however, over 800 people have died, and stronger measures have to be taken to put down these evil men. It is not only in Northern Ireland that the IRA has had to be dealt with in this way. I regret to say that one of my constituents, a bus driver, was shot dead only a few days ago. I went to see his sorrowing wife and family. It was a tragic experience and I hope that no Labour Member has to go——
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I do not think I should want to delay the House but I have been asked by whom my constituent was shot——
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am sure that the hon. Member did not mean to misrepresent what I said a few moments ago when he inferred that I was supporting the reunification of Ireland. I said that the destiny of Ireland is for the people of Ireland. Whether they choose one Ireland or two is for them. All I say is that Northern Ireland is not an integral part of Great Britain within the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
History proves that Ulster is a part of the United Kingdom and as far as I can see, despite everything, will remain a part of the United Kingdom for a long time to come. But I was talking about coercion——
§ Mr. Kilfedder
—and I was drawn away at a tangent. In the Irish Republic even stronger measures have been taken against terrorist organisations such as the IRA, even though the Dublin Government do not implement them to the full. We should remember that during the war members of the IRA were tried not by civilian courts but by courts-martial and executed.
§ Mr. English
I referred not to coercion but to what are historically called "the coercion Acts". I believe in putting down violence and I believe that in such circumstances force must be met with force. I have no dispute about that. But throughout history we have used our armed forces for this sort of purpose and never before have we exempted them from the ordinary law of the United Kingdom when they were in it, and this is a significant difference. It may be that Ireland can be governed only in certain ways, but I do not think that even in the Republic a clause such as that to which I was referring in the Bill in Standing Committee has ever been introduced.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
One thing I regret about the Republic is that, although we are asked to extradite people to the Republic, when warrants for extradition are issued to the courts in the Republic the people involved are allowed bail, even though they may be wanted on very serious charges in Northern Ireland. I accept much of what the hon. Gentleman says.
1774 The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) always makes a useful contribution to debates on Northern Ireland, and I have always listened to him with respect. Today he said that the House should not be subjected to terrorism, but it was clear from his remarks that it has been subjected to terrorism. Those of us from Northern Ireland accept the sovereignty of this House. I have always said that it is the sovereign body, and that the old Stormont was a subordinate Parliament. I would not state otherwise. But Labour Members, as well as my hon. Friends, should be ready to support the later amendment requesting an increase in the number of Members of this House from Northern Ireland. The increase is necessary so that the people of Northern Ireland not only realise that this is their sovereign Parliament but that they have a fair representation here. That is the only way to deal with the question. We must he fair both ways.
If the Royal Commission on the Constitution, which is due to report this summer, recommended, for Wales and Scotland an administration such as that set out in the Bill, and the Government then attempted to implement it, Labour Members would rightly resent such a form of subordinate government. Indeed, it would not be a government. Nor would it be a truly democratic system. It would be a glorified county council, but without even the democratic controls which county councils possess.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman's argument. He has put forward one of the only two valid attempted solutions to the Northern Ireland problem. But he said that it was the only solution. I believe that what the Government are trying to do will inevitably fail. What he proposes may succeed, though I believe it will not. He says that his solution is the only way, but there is another way, which is the way I believe in, not that Northern Ireland should be part of a unitary United Kingdom with greater representation in this House, but that it should not be part of the United Kingdom at all and not represented in this House.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I do not subscribe to the hon. Gentleman's view on that matter. I want Northern Ireland to remain part 1775 of the United Kingdom, and that is the policy of the Unionist Party.
I am taking part in the Assembly election, and I have interrupted my election campaign to take part in the debate. I am not recognised by some people in the Unionist Party as an official Unionist despite the fact that I was democratically selected, because I refused to sign a certain pledge. It may be a breach of privilege of the House if a sanction is imposed on an hon. Member in an attempt to prevent him from speaking on the Bill and dividing on it against the wishes of some members of his party. It is an interesting point which I am considering. The pledge would have prevented me from speaking and dividing the Committee on certain amendments. It is a matter of interest to all hon. Members that they should not be forced to do things by small groups of people, be prevented from speaking in the Committee as they wish, and be prevented from dividing the Committee in the way they feel they should.
As a result of what has happened, I have been put to the expense of printing all my own election literature but there is an important principle involved. I think that I leave the point at that.
§ The Chairman
I was just about to tell the hon. Member that there is nothing in the clause about his election.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I apologise, Sir Robert.
I should like to return to what was said by the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees). I agreed with many of his arguments. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for telling the Committee that he will look again at the clause and the amendments.
We should not be dependent upon plebiscites or polls. I did not think that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) listened to every word that fell from my lips. I am against plebiscites in general. Although I am against the Common Market, I could not, support those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who demanded a referendum on that issue, because I do not believe that that is the way to decide such questions.
But in the instances to which the hon. Lady referred the Prime Minister had made one of those solemn promises that 1776 he makes from time to time. He told the people of Northern Ireland, "We have taken away your Parliament. We shall give you a poll as an opportunity to express your opinion on whether you want to remain part of the United Kingdom." The people of Northern Ireland had to clutch at something, and it would have been wrong of me to say then, "I dislike plebiscites. I am against having a poll in Northern Ireland." The people needed that poll to show hon. Members and the world that the great majority wanted to remain British.
It is not a division on religious lines. That should be emphasised. Many Roman Catholics wish to remain British citizens; they wish Ulster to remain part of the United Kingdom. It is unfortunate that Republicans who are very subtle in publicity can put it over to the world that all of the minority want to get out of the United Kingdom and to have a united Ireland. That is completely wrong.
§ Mr. Stallard
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are also thousands of people in the majority camp who would agree to a united Ireland, and that his subtle propaganda hides that fact?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I immediately deny that. There may be one or two such people, but 95 per cent. of the Protestant people and perhaps 99 per cent. of the Protestant people of Northern Ireland want to stay in the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Labour Party, which has come out fairly and squarely on the issue, would agree with me on that. Unfortunately, that party has been sabotaged by some Labour Members here. The key to the attitude of some Labour Members was perhaps revealed in a remark by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford. The hon. Gentleman said that there were no votes in it for the Labour Party. Of course there are no votes in it. If there were a majority of Labour hon. Members from Northern Ireland in this House just as the Labour Party has a majority of Labour Members from Scotland and Wales, all Labour Members would be demanding that Ulster should remain part of the United Kingdom. It is the fault of some Opposition hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who 1777 gave great support to the Social Democratic Labour Party, that the Northern Ireland Labour Party was sabotaged.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
The hon. Gentleman has done a great disservice to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East who has, throughout his time as a member of the Executive of the Labour Party, paid particular attention and care to the views and points put forward by the Northern Ireland Labour Party. It would be wrong to allow the hon. Gentleman to make such a point about my right hon. Friend and his attitude towards the Northern Ireland Labour Party. What he said is just not true.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
Of course, so many things have happened in Northern Ireland. If the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East had looked after Ulster's affairs in a different way, the situation might now be different. The failure to undertake stronger measures, the decision to send over Sir Arthur Young—Sir Softly Softly—helped to undermine the morale of the police. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton made the point about dealing with terrorists, In fact, the morale of the police was destroyed and that is what contributed to the breakdown of law and order in Northern Ireland.
Clause 1 refers to the consent of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland. We must ask ourselves what is meant by a majority. It could not be a simple majority of one or a majority of 1,000. If we attempted to force Northern Ireland into an Irish Republic as a result of a simple majority on a border poll there would be a terrible holocaust which would make the present campaign of terrorism pale into insignificance.
§ Mr. Rose
Is the hon. Gentleman stating the proposition clearly and frankly to the House when he says that if the majority of the population in Northern Ireland decided it did not want to remain part of the United Kingdom he would not accept that verdict, just as in the past the House has not accepted the overwhelming verdict of the people of Ireland that they wanted an independent Irish Republic?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I am not sure whether in due course the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley might not advo- 1778 cate that when the next border poll is held not only the opinion of the people in the Republic should be tested but the Irish people in his constituency as well. I support the Amendment No. 47 which suggests that before a poll is held in Northern Ireland two-thirds of the members of the Assembly should agree to the holding of such a poll.
As I have said, I am against plebiscites. They are only an invitation for further turmoil and civil unrest in Northern Ireland. That leads to terrorism and to bombing, shooting and death. The preparation of each poll will not be immediately before the poll is held. It will continue throughout the intervening years. Indeed, every election will be a preparation for testing the opinion of the people of Northern Ireland as to whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said that the clause throws an onus on those in Northern Ireland who wish to keep Ulster part of the United Kingdom. In other words, the majority in Northern Ireland will be translated into protestors. The onus will be placed on them of fighting—I do not mean in a physical sense—in this House to remain part of the United Kingdom. We shall be left with the responsibility, in the eyes of the rest of the United Kingdom, for being stubborn in our attitude of wishing to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Next, we must consider the Government's proposal of a poll not less than every 10 years. The next Government might be a Labour Government. I trust that it will not be, but that may be the position. That Government may decide that there should be a poll immediately. Indeed, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was speaking the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) shouted, "Let us have a poll tomorrow." He made that remark in the context of how soon a poll should be held in Northern Ireland. It is a bad thing to have a periodical poll in Northern Ireland. That will only concentrate the attention of the people on the poll and its outcome. It will distract them from paying attention to the economic, social and cultural matters which should be canvassed and which 1779 are important for the future prosperity of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I know that the hon Member for Mid-Ulster is anxious to speak. I am anxious to listen to her.
Finally, I refer to paragraph 2 of Schedule 1. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will explain what is meant by that paragraph. The paragraph says:Any order under this Schedule directing the holding of a poll shall make provision as to the persons entitled to vote on the poll, the question or questions to be asked of the persons so voting and the conduct of the poll …".In other words, it seems to suggest—and I am sure that it will suggest this to people in Northern Ireland—that we could have a completely different kind of poll in Northern Ireland in 10 years' time or that different questions could be asked. That would be wrong and I hope that my hon. Friend will give an assurance that that is not what is meant.
I should like to see the responsibility for a poll resting on the Assembly and for the Assembly to draft the questions if they are to be different from those put forward by the Government in the border poll. Will my hon. Friend also deal with the final part of paragraph 2 of Schedule 1? The paragraph says:may make such other provision in connection with the poll as appears to the Secretary of State to be expedient, including provision applying, with or without modifications, any enactment or statutory provision with respect to Parliamentary elections or elections to the Assembly.I should like to know what that means. The people of Northern Ireland will want to know the answer.
I have dealt briefly with the points which I wanted to raise. I reiterate my gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for looking again at Clause 1 and the amendments. I trust that he will give way to the wishes which have been expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), the hon. Member for Leeds, South and others of my hon. Friends and myself.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I dislike following the hon. Mem- 1780 ber for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) because he makes so many outrageous assertions that it is difficult to know where to begin. But I will touch briefly on his reference to the wartime contribution of Ulster. I remind the Committee that there are hon. Members who experienced what the hon. Gentleman has merely read or been told, who know how many Service men returned on leave through Heysham to Northern Ireland, although Northern Ireland did not introduce conscription. I also know that there was a special gate on the quayside at Holyhead bearing the sign, "For HM Forces". This was to facilitate the travel of Service men returning on leave to Southern Ireland. We should surely bring out in this debate the wartime contribution of both parts of Ireland, which was every bit as good as the contributions of Scotland and Wales and every part of England. That means that it was "super".
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware of the frequent requests made for Britain to be able to use ports in the South of Ireland, how vital those ports were when this country was being strangled by the German submarine campaign, and how the use of those ports was refused to the United Kingdom and instead the South of Ireland——
§ The Chairman
We ought not to enter into matters which are a long way outside the clause. I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) will help me.
§ Mr. Duffy
I hope that hon. Members opposite—and I have no doubt that they do for the most part—have accepted what I said in the spirit in which I intended it.
I want to take up the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) on Amendment No. 5. He concluded his remarks by praising the links with Britain, even going so far as to say that these are valued perhaps above everything else by the people of Northern Ireland. As he spoke, so convincingly, I could not prevent my mind from thinking about the links which Britain has with Dublin. I wonder whether they have ever been closer. I recall the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement, which we now know has revolutionised 1781 completely the commercial links between the two countries, and we all know the implications that membership of the EEC must have for the ever-closer relationship of the two countries, not merely economic but social.
I wonder whether the social bond is not even more significant, not only because of the possible developments within the Community, but in the presence in this country of several million Britons of Irish birth or extraction, all of them content to live in Britain, to share in her institutions and to take pride in them and in their sons who gain membership of the House of Commons. Just as the sons of Dublin and Ireland are content with this state of affairs, there is growing evidence that Dublin, for her part, is content—and content to have London as a neighbour and certainly has no intention of absorbing Northern Ireland.
But that does not mean that a new Ireland, embracing both North and South, should not evolve peacefully. Indeed, I suspect that that is the growing hope of the vast majority of the people of Britain. In view of the White Paper, it is difficult not to believe that this is also the hope of Her Majesty's Government. Why else do they talk of setting up a Council of Ireland, about the Irish dimension? Although they have not yet set out any express provision for it, the White Paper acknowledges the desirability of some scheme for institutional arrangements between the South and the North. Paragraph 110 of the White Paper says that the United Kingdom… favours and is prepared to facilitate the formation of such a body.The White Paper takes the view that such a body should not be brought into being until the new Northern Ireland Assembly has been elected, but a Council of Ireland is clearly on the stocks and a Council of Ireland presumably will receive growing attention after 28th June. But it is a development that must satisfy the people of this country—perhaps first of all the people of this country. I have already suggested that what they will need to be satisfied about more than anything else is that ground will be prepared that will solve the Irish problem once and for all.
We all recognise that such a development not only must be peaceful but, as 1782 I have said, must be on the basis of consent. I hope, as I have said on previous occasions, that we shall not use the word "consent" idly. I hope that we shall not use it as a mere excuse for not acting upon it. I hope that we shall not—even worse—use it as an evasion of our responsibilities. One cannot envisage a concept like this without thinking in positive terms, without recognising that it is not a neutral concept but one which has to be worked for and encouraged and even cultivated.
This means that the onus first and foremost is on the British Government, and we shall all be concerned—on both sides of the Committee, I am confident—to support them in all they do from now on to give to this Council of Ireland depth and a positive content and to look for its possible growth points and then to seek to bring them to maturity.
Unhappily, Clause 1 suggests that it might be an obstacle in the way. It provides for an even more emphatic assertion of the sovereignty of Westminster over Northern Ireland. This will run counter to the spirit of the declaration concerning a Council of Ireland. Does it not even run counter to our history and to our constitutional practice?
In studying the history of Anglo-Irish relations, one must be struck by the fact that no British constitutional solution—the Government of Ireland Act, the Home Rule Bill, the Act of Union and the rest—has ever been successful. None of these solutions has been successful because it has never matched the underlying realities of the Irish situation. I want to believe that this time it will be different. I want very much to believe that this time it will succeed.
Then there is the constitutional practice. We in this country have a remarkable record in constitutional innovation—a record such as no other country has. We truly have an inventive genius for government instrumentation and devices. I am glad to say that Members of the House of Commons have contributed enormously to the fashioning of various devices.
It is only fair to say that those Members of this House who represented Southern Ireland in the closing decade of the last century had such an impact upon 1783 the House that they have left evidence of their presence in such devices. We may take these for granted but we should not. Other countries do not come up with them. Rather they adopt ours. One reason why we are successful is that we have always taken a pragmatic approach. We have always been most reluctant to attempt any formal, comprehensive constitutional document or prescription for our society.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was absolutely right about this. I am surprised that we have not been a good deal more cautious about putting on to paper the words found in Clause 1. If we had to put something on paper, given what the Secretary of State said—and I accept his honourable intentions—I wonder why he did not bear in mind our constitutional practice and ask himself, "How little can I put down?" It may be that he phrased the question differently—"How little can I get away with?" and decided that he could not get away with less than this. If that is so, I understand.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), among others, said that this is possibly the last chance for Ulster. He sees little evidence that the majority of the people are prepared to accept the obligations that go with the rights that this House is anxious to confer on them. I am pessimistic about our own record, too. It is not just that there is little evidence that the people of Ulster will seek to make the Bill work. There is little evidence that we can make it work, given the way we are going about it. It is for that reason that I cannot accept the clause in its present form.
§ Mr. McMaster
May I pick up at once the final sentences of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy)? He referred to the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and to that part of it in which his right hon. Friend said that the North of Ireland would be required to recognise the sovereignty of this Parliament. That is something with which I would not disagree for one instant. However, I would like to see the system set out in the Bill copying 1784 the systems of government for which this country is known throughout the world.
The ordinary principle of democracy is all that we ask for in Northern Ireland—the simple principle that the will of the majority should be accepted by the whole of the population and put into effect. Is it a principle of democracy that members of a minority, whether Communists, Nationalists or National Socialists, should form part of the Government of a country to achieve justice? This is what is being asked of Northern Ireland and this is the point that has not been dealt with. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
If it is right that members of a minority should be invited to take part not simply by chairing the committees but by being members of a Cabinet before there can be democracy in Ulster surely Britain should follow this pattern and open the doors of the Cabinet to members of every minority in Britain which has not been fairly represented for the last 50 to 100 years.
The points raised by Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), who is not now present, and the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), seem to sell the pass completely. They look forward to a day when Ireland will be united irrespective perhaps of the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland. This is exactly what the IRA is playing for.
The IRA in Northern Ireland has been carrying out a campaign of violence, already referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). This campaign has resulted in more than 800 deaths in Northern Ireland in just over three years. There has been millions of pounds worth of damage. Each time a Labour Member makes a speech like those we have heard today, those members of the tiny minority which forms the IRA in Northern Ireland intensify their campaign because every encouragement is given to them that if they keep pushing a little longer they will get what they want.
The fundamental point of this debate is what should happen to Northern Ireland in the years to come. Should the future of Northern Ireland be decided by the will of the majority there? Should there be a plebiscite there, or should it be decided by the will of the majority in 1785 Ireland as a whole, as the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford advocated, or by a majority in the United Kingdom as others have argued?
Whichever solution is adopted, I feel that we must admit the right to self-determination of the people of Northern Ireland. In the last analysis we must leave it to them to decide whether they want to become part of a united Ireland or whether they want to retain their traditional position, which has existed for hundreds of years, as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
We accept the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and we ask nothing more than that the principle of democracy which is applied in this House should be applied in Northern Ireland—the principle of majority rule. It is important that the statement in the clause should be incorporated in the Bill. After the disturbances in Northern Ireland in the last three years, it is essential for morale that there should be a clear declaration that it is the Government's intention that Northern Ireland shall in all circumstances remain part of the United Kingdom unless the majority of the citizens decide otherwise.
I share the anxieties of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), that it is unwise to require periodic plebiscites in Northen Ireland. This relates to the last phrase in the clause. If we state, as is stated in Schedule 1, that they shall be held at periods of not less than 10 years, that minimum period will quickly become the standard period.
This will become a focus of attention for the terrorists. Pressure will mount during the passage of the 10 years so that it will be inevitable that a poll will be held at the end of the 10 years. Far from the border being taken out of politics, which is the aim of the Government, stated quite recently by the Prime Minister in an interview on Ulster Television, this provision would tend more than anything else I can think of to keep the border in politics in Northern Ireland.
If we are to have regular plebiscites, the minimum period should be 20 years rather than 10 years. But I believe that it would be wiser to drop this part of the clause completely and to leave it to 1786 future Governments to determine, as they will in any event determine, how the consent of the majority shall be obtained. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) indicating assent.
Provisions such as those in the clause are hardly worth the paper they are written on. It is a fundamental principle of the British constitution that we cannot bind our successors. The assurances given in the clause have been repeated many times and yet we are seriously debating whether these assurances should be dropped as a result of a simple decision taken tonight. That illustrates the value of all the previous assurances given—for example, in the 1949 Act and in the Downing Street Declaration. They are worth nothing if we decide that this clause shall not be included in the Bill.
We are therefore perhaps putting too much emphasis on the exact wording of the clause. We want in the Bill as great a degree of flexibility as possible. One of the great strengths of the constitution of this country is that it has not been put in writing. The manner in which the new Government or Assembly and its Cabinet should be formed should not be spelled out. In the weeks following 28th June, when the election takes place, it should be left to those who are returned as the representatives of the people to decide the precise machinery which they wish to adopt and the manner in which the country shall be governed within the limits set out in the Bill.
Some measure of local autonomy is desirable for the good government of Northern Ireland. I refute the allegations made in the debate that for the past 50 years the country has been misgoverned. Such allegations are the product of the Republican propaganda machine which has received far too much attention in the past three years. In my constituency people of all classes, creeds and religions were happy before the troubles began in 1969. Employment, living conditions and social security were good. The housing situation was improving and rates of pay were improving more rapidly than ever before. Since I became a Member in 1959, average unemployment has dropped from 11 or 12 per cent. for the whole of Northern Ireland to 5 or 6 per cent. That is a trend in the right direction. The vicious campaign launched 1787 against us was launched by people who feared that if they did not act quickly there would be no grievances left for them on which to act.
For those reasons, I support the clause and wish to see it stand part of the Bill. I particularly welcome the Minister's statement that he is prepared to look again at that part of the clause dealing with the holding of a plebiscite.
§ [Mr. RICHARD CRAWSHAW in the Chair]
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Stallard
There is one point which has not been mentioned. As I feared that it would not be mentioned, I tabled an amendment and a new clause designed to ensure that all aspects of the problems confronting people in Northern Ireland would be discussed. The aspect which has not been discussed, and which never is discussed by most hon. Members, is that of the border, which started the trouble.
The Front Benches have been confused about amendments. We have had confused speeches on the amendments and two or three hon. Members have said that it might have been better if the clause had not been in the Bill. Amendment No. 8, in my name, suggested that the clause should be removed from the Bill because of the argument it would cause, has caused and will continue to cause.
I have taken the trouble to read the debates going back over many years. In the debate in 1949 on the Ireland Act it was stated that that measure opened with the words "Be it enacted". There then followed not an enactment but an affirmation. We have heard much discussion about the meaning of words in Bill. I am no expert, but I believe that one does not say "Be it enacted" and then follow it with an affirmation.
It was said in 1949 that not since the 15th century had a statute been used as a means of expressing policy. That is as relevant today as it was then. The present Bill starts "Be it enacted", but the enactment does not start until Clause 2. That was another reason why I felt that we should delete Clause 1. Far from it being an enactment, it is an affirmation.
1788 When introducing the Government of Ireland Bill, or the partition Bill, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Macpherson, said that all hoped that the division of the country would be temporary. The late Earl Winterton said that few would have supported the Bill had they not believed that it would lead to the ultimate unity of Ireland. Other Tory spokesmen and statesmen said similar things then and since.
Some of us recently watched a film, which has been banned for showing to the public, which brought out quite a number of points. It showed that when the Anglo-Irish Treaty was being negotiated, the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, assured the delegates that acceptance of the treaty would lead to the ultimate ending of partition. For years people have been saying that the border one day will have to go and that ultimately unification will come. Why, then, have successive Governments of all complexions constantly put forward affirmations that perpetuate the border? The clause does exactly the same, and that is why I feel that it should be removed.
I have tabled New Clause 5, which I will refrain from discussing because I believe that new clauses are still under consideration and that my new clause may even yet be reached. What I object to is that the Bill reaffirms the partition of Ireland for what appears to be all time. It has always been my firm belief, as a result of years of close connection with the Anglo-Irish problem—a view shared by thousands of people of all religious views and of none here and in North and South Ireland—that so long as the border remains there will be trouble. I have heard slogans to the effect that one cannot bomb a million people, and my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench have constantly stressed that unification can come only by consent. I believe that it cannot be achieved overnight and I hope that it will not be achieved by violence, but until it is achieved there will be trouble.
We should be moving in a much more positive direction towards the ultimate goal to which most people pay lip service. Prime Minister Gladstone has been quoted. I have always wondered what Gladstone said in 1886 and I took the 1789 trouble to find out. This is what he said on 8th April 1886:What I wish is that we should no longer fence and skirmish with this question, but that we should come to close quarters with it; that we should get if we can at the root; that we should take measures not merely intended for the wants of today and of tomorrow, but, if possible, that we should look into a more distant future; that we should endeavour to anticipate and realise that future by the force of reflection; that we should, if possible, unroll it in anticipation before our eyes, and make provision now, while there is yet time, for all the results that may await upon a right or wrong decision of today.That was said about a hundred years ago. Mr. Gladstone was speaking then about a united Ireland, not about partition and not reaffirming that the Six Counties should be managed as part of the United Kingdom. What he said then is as relevant today, but our politicians have neither the courage nor the will to stop skirmishing and to accept that there will be trouble as long as partition remains.
In new Clause 5 I suggest constructive steps for bringing about the end of partition and, by consultation and agreement, achieving a reunified Ireland, which is what most people in Ireland desire.
It is not usually understood that the Irish Nationalists look upon the issue of the border in as logical a manner as do the Government and their supporters but come to a different conclusion. To them the outstanding fact is that the minority in the Six Counties is part of the majority of the people of Ireland as a whole. They regard partition as depriving the majority of the people of Ireland of their rights in a part of their own country. That is perfectly logical. They agree that the Unionist majority has rights, but they say that the boot should be on the other foot, that the majority should have the overall control and that the protective restrictions should apply to the Unionists within a united Ireland.
There is nothing illogical about that. We may not agree with it, but it is not often discussed or even mentioned. There are people who go into orbit when it is mentioned, but it is logical. Any affirmation of the continuation of British sovereignty should be accompanied by an explanation that it is continued with the object of bringing the Unionist minority 1790 to a position where it will accept the majority rights of the majority.
§ Mr. McMaster
Does the hon. Gentleman say that if the majority in North American is in favour of the unification of Canada and the United States that is what should happen, or does he allow the people in Canada the right to self-determination? That is a good parallel.
§ Mr. Stallard
If I were to develop that line of argument I am sure you would rule me out of order, Mr. Crawshaw.
Although everyone may not agree with the view put forward by the Nationalists, the Republicans and people like me who have long respected their point of view, that view nevertheless exists. It is based on logical reasoning and in the end it will be accepted by more and more people as the only basis for a permanent ultimate solution.
During the past few years we have tried to maintain the link with Britain, and my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) has spelled out the cost. It is fast becoming the opinion of many people in Great Britain that the cost of trying to maintain the link is too high. Despite its cost, we are told by the people who have been most vociferous in their demand that the link should remain and that it must be the kind of link they want and not the kind we want. They say that they will wreck the Assembly and attempt to set up a separate State if the union is not as they want it, despite all the affirmations, resolutions and all the rest of it.
I promised that I would be brief, and I conclude on this note. I believe that the point of view held by thousands of people here and in the North and South of Ireland—namely, that the only ultimate solution is the reunification of the 32 counties—should have been discussed in terms of positive and constructive ways of assisting in that reunification. The argument can be developed and I hope on this topic to take part in the debate on New Clause 5.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
The, right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and many other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), have emphasised that the 1791 majority must recognise the sovereignty of this Parliament at Westminster on the terms of this Parliament alone, a Parliament in which they are under-represented. It is curious that no similar duty to obey this Parliament is laid on the minority. The latest example of failure to co-operate with this Parliament came when the border poll set up by this Parliament was boycotted by practically all the leaders of the minority and a great many of their followers in Northern Ireland. This is scarcely an example to the majority or a lesson in unconditional obedience.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members may feel on reflection that they were a little unwise in some of their comments. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends fully understood the effect of what they were saying on the minds of the people to whom they were addressing their remarks. They kept saying that if majority returned a democratically-elected Assembly which took the attitude that certain parts of this Bill were unacceptable or unworkable, then the whole package would fall apart. One might then have to call an all-party conference to review the relationship of Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) towards the end of his speech indicated that he at least saw the logical consequence. He said that if this Parliament were to say, "Ulster is no longer part of the United Kingdom", then the alternative is not a united Ireland. It is an independent Ulster as provided for in the Vanguard manifesto to meet that very contingency.
The assertion was made earlier that efforts by those who would be elected to the Assembly to have substituted more credible and more workable provisions would be regarded as nullifying, if not wrecking, the entire structure. If I were standing as a Vanguard candidate, I should be overjoyed by the volume of support so freely given in this debate. Whether it is intended as support is neither here nor there, but that will be the effect of it, as clearly will be seen on 28th June.
1792 The same goes for all the talk about the cost of preserving the link and the constant reiteration of the truth that public opinion is reaching the point at which it may not sustain the Army commitment. But this saddles the United Kingdom Parliament with a responsibility which was accepted in 1969 when the local security forces were destroyed, when the British Army was committed to cope with the situation, and there was then little hope of its ever being extricated from this impossible situation. Those are the people who made this decision and there were some who are now on the Government benches who supported that fateful decision.
There is no convincing reason for perpetuating the practice of holding plebiscites within one part of the United Kingdom. The last one brought little satisfaction to either side of the political divide in Northern Ireland. The leaders of the minority took the line that one should not even start playing the game unless one was assured of winning. That was not a very constructive approach, but it was not an uncommon one in terms of the minority contribution in the past 50 years.
Following the last plebiscite in March, the SDLP—which many hon. Members in this House are beginning to regard as a party not noted for accuracy of assessment—claimed that 40 per cent. of the electorate which had boycotted the border poll were by implication opposed to union. They sought to prove this by lumping together the 10 per cent. who are unable to vote by reason of defects in the rolls—the fact that they may have moved and all the rest of it—together with the 10 per cent. who never at any time bother to vote. They included those who refused to vote because they disapproved of this un-British practice. These were alleged to aggregate to 40 per cent. opposed to the union and it was even claimed that they had accepted the leadership of the SDLP.
We should at least be thankful that, in the interval, in the local government elections the SDLP was cut down to size, and it was demonstrated that it did not have 40 per cent. support but barely 10 per cent. throughout the whole of Northern Ireland. That may be one reason why it is not represented in the Chamber tonight.
1793 Although it is true, on the other hand, that initially the majority side had some reason to be grateful for the vote in favour of union, this was quickly dispelled by the White Paper provision for a Council of Ireland with the promise of an early meeting of this unlikely body having as the first item on its agendathe acceptance of the present status of Northern Ireland, and of the possibility—which would have to be compatible with the principle of consent—of subsequent change in that status ".So the majority gave an overwhelming answer to the question "Do you wish to remain part of the United Kingdom?" Having had this reassurance, we were told almost before the computers had stopped clicking that this was to be set aside and a body set up to discuss the possibility of a change in that status. Therefore, any temporary satisfaction which may have been felt by the majority was immediately set aside.
§ Mr. Orme
Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that when the plebiscite was held the new constitution was already proposed and it was implicit in the ballot that persons were voting not only for the union but for the sovereignty of this Parliament over the rest of the United Kingdom? That is surely the crucial issue. The hon. Member is saying "We have had the ballot, we want union, but we are going to go our own way."
§ Mr. Molyneaux
With respect, I am not saying that at all. I do not think I need to reiterate to the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who was an observer at the border poll, that the questions appearing on the ballot paper were very simple ones. People were asked "Do you wish to remain part of the United Kingdom?" or, on the other hand, "Do you wish to be joined to the Republic of Ireland?" It was on the basis of those questions that that convincing reply was given. However, within a matter of weeks of that decision having been taken, we had a White Paper issued by Her Majesty's Government saying that they were preparing to find ways, means and devices of discussing subsequent changes in that status.
That was hardly a reassurance to those who voted in favour of preserving the union. One could hardly imagine a more cynical rejection of a referendum verdict.
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
Surely the object was that the Southern Irish would not come to a Council of Ireland unless they had at least the prospect open to them of subsequent change. If that is all that is meant by that paragraph, what is so frightening about the Council of Ireland?
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I think that those words of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James) in themselves would be frightening enough. One does not need to add anything. He has underlined my point for me.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I do not know whether Her Majesty's Government were sincere in their original aim of using the referendum to take the border out of politics, but certainly the same Government, in this rather hamfisted follow-up in the White Paper to which I have drawn attention, brought the border back into a dominant position in the Ulster political scene, and there it remains to this day.
It has been said and accepted generally by hon. Members on both sides that there can only be a united Ireland by consent. Unity could not even come as a result of a plebiscite. It has been accepted in this House that in Northern Ireland majority views are of very little account and that somehow it is necessary to invent various blocking and vetoing devices. All manner of devices have been invented to frustrate ordinary parliamentary democracy. For the sake of this House and hon. Members who represent constituencies in Great Britain, I hope that the disease does not spread to this side of the Channel. But I have my fears, and others share them, that the spread is already taking place. I hope that people here will find the courage to put a stop to it.
As the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said, it follows that unity can come only by consent. But it must be by the consent of the people of Northern Ireland as a whole and not just of the Republicans or Nationalists who might at some stage be in a majority. It must be by the consent of the Unionist as well even if by then they are in the minority. If the fashions 1795 which we have established and which are being perpetuated in the Bill are to continue, a Unionist minority in a united Ireland would have to be given an influence out of all proportion to its numerical strength. For example, Unionists would have to have some kind of built-in veto on various items of social legislation in the South of Ireland which would be unacceptable to them as matters stand at the moment. What is more important, they would have to be given key influential posts in all future Eire Governments. Would any Eire Government accept this? Dare they accept it in the foreseeable future? Can we expect them to accept it?
I agree that the mere tipping of the scales in a future border poll should never—and could never—be the instrument for deciding. That is why I am happy that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has undertaken to look at this proposal again.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Heffer
This is the second occasion on which I have spoken in this House about Northern Ireland. I come from the city of Liverpool where we are not usually inclined to become too involved in the problems of that part of the United Kingdom. But it would be quite wrong if I did not express my rather deep-felt opinions about this clause.
Whether we like it or not, we have to face the fact that the problem of Ireland is one of history. It is not a problem upon which one likes to dwell, but it is history. Any discussion of Ireland, be it Northern Ireland or any other part of Ireland, is essentially an historical discussion.
I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back to some of the historical events and to remember that the wording of the clause is almost identical to the wording of the 1949 Act, the 1922 Act, and the declaration of Downing Street in 1969. We have to remember that it has been because of words of this kind that, every generation almost, another group of emergencies has arisen, myths have arisen, new songs have emerged, and more people have been killed. People have suffered as the result of the continuation of myths based upon the historical reality of what actually happened in Ireland 1796 when it was decided by a Liberal Government prior to the First World War to grant home rule.
In the course of his remarks, one hon. Member used the phrase… self-determination of the people in the North, and, equally, of the people in the South.It is remarkable to remember that it was the Carson rebellion and the arming of working people and others in Northern Ireland which led to the arming of working people and others in Southern Ireland. There were two lots of volunteers, one group wanting a united Ireland and the other wanting complete independence for one part of Ireland, having no intention of going into a united Ireland.
Here is the dilemma of Ireland: two groups of people both absolutely passionate in their desire, one for independence in the South, and the other for the continuation of the union but, in a sense, for self-determination because, if the British Government had decided to go ahead with the Home Rule Bill by a majority in this House, they would have declared independence. That is what the Carson rebellion was all about.
I am not saying that they are wrong. I am saying that historically that is what happened. There was a passionate desire on the part of two groups of people, one wanting freedom for the whole country from Britain, the other wanting to remain with Britain but wanting freedom if the whole country was given freedom by this country.
Can anyone imagine a more complicated situation? It is almost impossible for the ordinary British person to begin to understand what has happened over there. Yet, if we do not understand it, we cannot begin to grasp the realities of the situation or find any answer to it. That is why, whether we like it or not, we must look at historical events in Ireland and at precisely where we stand regarding the clause.
I am sorry that I missed the speech by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I understand that he, too, is unhappy about these words, although he will vote for them, as will my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), because there does not seem to be any other way out of the situation. 1797 My conclusion is the opposite. If the words are wrong and perpetuate difficulties on both sides, surely it is right at this stage of the game to eliminate them altogether. Whether we like it or not, by including these words, even if the violence in Northern Ireland is diminished—we all trust that it will diminish—we may be helping to perpetuate the violence in the immediate situation. What is worse is that in perhaps two or three generations to come another group of martyrs will arise to try to eliminate this tie with Great Britain. This is the problem with which we are faced.
I supported the Government on Second Reading of the Bill, because it seemed to me that some way had to be found constitutionally, peacefully, to try to resolve the problem of violence in Northern Ireland. I did not go along with everything in the Bill. This was one part with which I did not agree. However, it seemed that we had to give the Government a chance to try to solve the problem, and we are still giving them that chance even if the clause is eliminated. We are saying not that the Assembly should not be established but that the clause ought not to be in the Bill. I believe that it should come out.
I do not intend to make a long speech. I want to give my view of the situation and my reasons why the clause should not be included in the Bill. It is amazing that agreement has been expressed on the wording of the clause by hon. Members who have totally differing views on other matters. That point should be taken on board by the Government.
There is a feeling in the House and in the country—I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) said—that good will is running out. For example, when a good young Catholic boy from Kirby is shot down in the streets of Belfast by the IRA and his father ultimately commits suicide, the good will of the Catholic community in my area begins to run out. Also, when a good young Protestant boy is shot down by Protestant extremists, the good will of the Protestant community begins to run out. British people—Catholic, Protestant, Church of England, Jewish, Baptist or anyone else—are getting fed up with a situation where our young lads are the targets for extremists on both sides in Northern Ireland. They 1798 are increasingly saying, "No more. We have had enough. It is time our boys were brought home." I understand that feeling.
§ Mr. Heffer
They do not know anything about Carson. Unfortunately, they do not know anything about Connolly either. I wish they did. They do not know enough about the problem. However, they know that in every part of the world British troops ultimately had to be withdrawn and a political solution found. Whether it has been Cyprus, Aden, Africa or anywhere else, our troops have had to come home. Our people are getting to the stage of saying, "Our boys must come home. We do not want much more of it."
Therefore, I suggest that the clause should not be retained in the Bill. It will help to perpetuate and develop the border problem. I ask the Government to withdraw this clause in the interests of a final solution and ultimate unity and friendship among the Irish people as a whole.
§ Captain Orr
We are still dealing with the clause as it stands, but our attitude on whether we vote for the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill" is determined by what my right hon. Friend said about the possibility of looking at the whole question of the border poll between now and Report. Therefore, bearing that point in mind, we are in effect giving a decision on the earlier part of the clause dealing with the pledge. I should like to say something about that before we come to a conclusion on this matter.
The hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) pointed to the differences in logical outlook about the situation in Ireland as a whole. I agree with the analysis put forward by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North. I am certain that many people in the nationalist community, and outside Ireland as well, look at it in precisely the way he described. I think that people tend to think of Ireland, because it is a geographical entity, as one nation. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is the opposite. The view of the 1799 British in Northern Ireland is that it is wrong to take geography as the judgment of what constitutes a nation; one should look at nationhood in accordance with what people are. Thus, the majority in Ulster consider themselves British.
The hon. Member for Walton talked about bringing our troops home. "Home" to us is the United Kingdom. We regard the troops in Ulster as being home. They are welcome there because they are, in our view, on British soil. We welcome them and seek to support them and we condemn anyone who attacks them or makes their position difficult. They arc our Army on our soil.
Thus, we are dealing with two irreconcilable points of view that are deeply held. I accept what the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North says, that the view he described is deeply held. There are people in Northern Ireland who, although they are on British soil, regard themselves as being on Irish soil, in terms of nationhood rather than geography. But he must also accept from me that those of us who live in Ulster regard ourselves as being on British soil. These two points of view are irreconcilable. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Yes, they are totally irreconcilable when it comes to ultimate ends. Nothing is more passionately or deeply believed in by human beings than their nationhood, so the ultimate aims here cannot be reconciled.
The best that can be hoped for in a situation like this is to find some way in which the majority will—it must be the majority—prevails, provided always that the ordinary civil rights of the minority are protected. We should not try to do something that will not work.
This can be done in Ireland in one of two ways. We could treat Ireland as a geographical entity, which could be done overnight or could be worked towards, in an attempt to leave the British in Ireland as a minority in an Irish republic. Alternatively, we could start from the present position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. We could ensure that the maximum protection was afforded to the minority but we should not create an artificial situation in an attempt to bring about an impossible end. Because 1800 of the inherent difficulties, it will not work.
§ Mr. Frank Marsden (Liverpool, Scotland)
I find the hon. and gallant Member's argument perfectly clear, but there is one question that confuses Englishman. Why is it that people who regard the soil of Northern Ireland as United Kingdom soil attack their own Army? This is one of the things we cannot understand.
§ Captain Orr
It is not for me to explain the motives of people who attack their own army. I condemn it. It is unjustified. Nothing that has happened in Ulster or that could happen in Ulster can conceivably justify any citizen of Northern Ireland attacking his own Army. I find it difficult to understand, but it is true that, in an anarchic situation, with a general breakdown of order, people often imagine that they have grievances which do not in fact exist. It is the bounden duty of those who regard themselves as British to obey the law laid down by Parliament.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said in moderate terms that there was a compact between the rest of the nation and any part of the nation. That compact is based upon the argument that one remains part of a nation provided one accepts the law; if one does not accept the law, the nation has some right to cast one off. I am not sure that I would accept even that doctrine as it stands.
§ Captain Orr
As my right hon. Friend has so eloquently interjected, it is like that.
Nevertheless, even if one were to go with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East on this, what is the compact? The compact is that Northern Ireland, being part of the United Kingdom, is under the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and its citizens are therefore bound to obey the law as passed by Parliament. I endorse that view completely. Neither I nor my hon. Friends would be a party to saying that one should not obey the law as passed by Parliament. But it is a different thing—this is where confusion exists—that one must always think that the law is right. Any part of the United Kingdom, any 1801 part of England, any group of people in England, or in Scotland, is entitled to say that the law that is being made by Parliament for it is unsatisfactory. Any local authority in England, while bound to work under the law as passed by this House, can at the same time argue that there are defects in the law and that the law is unworkable. It can invite its Member of Parliament to say to Parliament that the law is unworkable.
I happen to believe that the scheme outlined in the Bill is unworkable, as I have argued on Second Reading and as we shall argue as we progress. It must not be assumed, therefore, that those who say the same thing at home in Ulster—that the provisions of the Act, as the Bill will become, are unworkable—are in some way against the law. Because the Assembly, when it meets, may not be workable, it must not be assumed that people are in some way acting against the law or breaking the compact.
If at the end of the day my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State finds that he is unable under the Bill to appoint an Executive and we come back in March, as it were, to direct rule, that should not be held against the people of Ulster unless they have broken the law or unless they have gone into the Assembly and refused to operate within the law of the Assembly. But provided that they have operated within the law and done nothing unlawful or that would wreck the Assembly in an unlawful sense, it would be wrong to say that the failure was a failure of the people of Northern Ireland and, therefore, that they must be ejected from the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. McNamara
I have followed part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument and in part accept it. But surely part of the argument he was stating is that there is a duty under the law for people to seek to work the law.
§ Mr. McNamara
To obey the law. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is basing part of his argument upon the point that he starts from the position that the law as Parliament may enact it may well be unworkable. The hon. and gallant Gentleman may well think that the law is unworkable but, under the terms of the statute as Parliament may pass it, is there not a duty upon people who are elected 1802 to attempt to work the law whether or not it be workable?
§ Captain Orr
I am not sure that I like the phrase "work the law". I do not think that is the right phrase. The correct one is "obey the law". One can go into an Assembly—or a Parliament—that is set up and the Secretary of State can say "I shall set up an executive provided you agree to certain things", but there is no compulsion of the law to make one agree to obey. Not agreeing to something is not breaking the law.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way because, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), I totally agree with what he has just said. I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the law as the Government are seeking to put it through is unworkable and will break down because what he is saying is an exact parallel of our view on the Industrial Relations Act—namely, that, although we would not seek to sabotage the law, we would not assist the working of the law, and when we advised trade unionists not to co-operate with the National Industrial Relations Court we were not, as was alleged from the Government Front Bench, sabotaging the law. We were merely exercising our right not to co-operate with but not to break a law of which we profoundly disapproved and which we believed to be unworkable, as it has proved to be. In the same way, this Bill will prove to be unworkable when it becomes an Act.
§ Captain Orr
I am grateful for that intervention, and I shall carefully note it for future reference if it should be required. I think, however, that there is a slight difference between us in that, while the hon. Gentleman may advise his colleagues to opt out of the institutions that have been set up, I shall not so advise my hon. Friends.
What I am saying to the people of Ulster is that if the Assembly is set up they should go into it, take part in its elections and not boycott it. But if the kind of agreement that is required before powers are devolved upon the Assembly is not obtained, let no one say—provided that the people in Ulster have obeyed the law—that, because the Assembly was not workable and because they did not agree, 1803 they have rejected the sovereignty of Parliament and, therefore, they ought to lose their citizenship. To do that would be totally unjust and unfair, and I want to get that plainly on the record, because the words of my right hon. Friend and of some Labour Members may be misunderstood and it is important that that should not happen.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is making an interesting point. A comparison has been made with the Industrial Relations Act, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman has talked about whether the Bill will be workable and whether one should obey the law.
Let me put the question another way. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the communities in Northern Ireland were irreconcilable.
§ Mr. Rees
Yes. Let us suppose that on 28th June the people of Northern Ireland, as is their right, vote for groups which, by the very nature of the irreconcilable attitudes there which are the basis of everything that has happened, will not be able to work the constitution. What will then happen, bearing in mind that the Government of the day have put forward proposals to try to deal with those irreconcilable attitudes? The 64,000-dollar question is what will happen? Surely we at Westminster will have to decide the matter.
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Gentleman is right. I spoke about the communities holding irreconcilable attitudes about their ultimate aims. I am not necessarily using the sectarian divide in this. I am not necessarily using the Catholic-Protestant divide. What I am using is the Republican-Unionist divide. Let us be quite plain about that just for the record.
Now we come back to what happens if the scheme is unworkable, if we have the Assembly elected and it meets within the law and nobody breaks the law but it is not possible to find an agreement upon which the powers could be devolved in accordance with the Bill. What happens is that the Assembly comes to an end, we come back here 1804 again, and we are back, in effect, to direct rule again. Then we have again to think, and to find a scheme which will work.
The hon. Gentleman is asking me—but I did not create the situation; I did not prorogue the Parliament of Northern Ireland; I did not start direct rule in the first place. It is no use asking me, who would not have embarked upon the operation, how we now save the patient, now we have cut him up. When did the patient become sick? In 1969.
§ Captain Orr
Anyway, I suggest that speculation now about what might be the solution when the scheme fails is not very helpful at this moment. We have to do a very great deal of careful thinking between now and next March.
In the interim we shall have the Assembly, and that will be of some value because we shall have had a General Election, and, whatever else happens, in the meantime, there will have been a free general election. It may be on a bad kind of franchise and a bad system, but, none the less, we shall have had a test of Northern Ireland's opinion and we shall see the results and be able to do our thinking and make our general contingency plans, whatever they may be, in a very much better informed way. So even though this scheme is not a good one, there is this to be said for it, that we are gaining some form of representative Assembly so that those who are seeking election to the Assembly now and the political parties which are working for them are not doing something in vain but are doing something very useful indeed in the Ulster context because they are providing a forum in which consultation can take place and through which we here can judge what Ulster opinion is likely to be.
This debate has tended to run as though it were a Second Reading debate, but its subject is simply Clause 1 of the Bill. I come back to the clause. What we are discussing is the constitutional pledge. In opening the debate on the first amendment, which was withdrawn, I said that if we were starting anew without any pledge, without the history of the 1949 Act, I would agree with both hon. 1805 Gentlemen opposite that we should not make the pledge at all. Looking back, in retrospect, it was a mistake in 1949. I myself thought it was a good thing then to do. I was wrong. Looking back, one can see that it was a mistake. This kind of declaratory clause in a Bill is not very much worth while.
However, we cannot start anew. We are starting from a pledge which was existing, and by not re-enacting it now what we shall be doing is withdrawing it. That would be misunderstood. I am certain that, if the clause were removed from the Bill, it would immediately give rise in Ulster to the impression that the House of Commons was no longer interested in keeping Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. For that reason, and understanding that my right hon. Friend is to look again at the whole question of the border poll, I would advise my hon. Friends in this instance to support the Government on the clause.
§ Mrs. McAliskey
I do not intend to say a great deal except to support my hon. Friends who believe that the clause should be withdrawn. I pay particular attention to the words of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard)—and I say that with due deference to hon. Members who are worried about the number of Irishmen in any particular constituency.
The clause merely reaffirms the pledge which the Government, hon. Members on both sides and, much more important, the people of Northern Ireland know will in the end mean nothing. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said that there would be a misunderstanding if the pledge were withdrawn, if the affirmation were not repeated. The only difference it would make would be that the people in the North of Ireland, particularly in the Loyalist community, would begin perhaps to believe that there was some element of truth, honesty or credibility in a British Government.
Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman says that it is beyond his comprehension why his kinsmen, his fellow Loyalist Protestants of the Shankill Road and East Belfast, should fire on the British Army, it is not beyond my comprehension. I can see quite easily how a group of people who are socially and economically no different from the 1806 Catholic community or the Republican community should do so. They have from 1949, indeed from 1922, been told continually that they are the people, they are the loyalist population and they are the true British citizens. The have been told continually that they are an integral part of the United Kingdom and that they will be protected by the same laws and democracies as the other parts of the United Kingdom. And while internment without trial and detention orders remain among that section of the people which supports Republican ideas, the Protestant and Loyalist section was untouched by them.
For 50 years these people have been told that they had rights and they had privileges which with usage they considered to be rights. Then suddenly they discovered that the British Government for whom they fought a war, to whom they gave their loyalty, and the Unionist Party to which they gave their undivided and unflinching loyalty were divided over who can deceive their people the most. They see that the Army they joined and fought with in the war now stands against them on the Shankill Road. They are more loyal than the Loyalists who fed and bred them until they were smothered and choked in loyalty.
Now those who fed and bred them have washed their hands of them and the people believe that they have been deserted by their Army. It is no longer their Army. It is the Army of the British Government, a Government they no longer trust which will impose upon them a settlement which after 50 years they believed would never come about. It is that Government who have taken from them with the consent of the party of privilege that which they believed was their rightful inheritance. I understand perfectly well why the people on the Shankill Road feel that they should open fire on the British Army.
I come back to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, because their problem is one of nationhood. They may not consider themselves citizens of the Republic of Ireland but they are not British in the integral British sense. They are not like Yorkshiremen or Londoners or Scotsmen. They are Ulstermen. The people in this country have a common bond in that they at least belong to one integral system in this country. People 1807 in Ulster are British in so much as Britain will deliver the goods for them, and when Britain began to alter of necessity the deal offered to the Loyalist population that population began to feel that they were not an integral part of Britain. If they were, the clause would not be part of the Bill in any case.
They know that their problem is that they are a threatened community who do not feel that they have any ties with the Republic or any links with republicanism as such. But they feel that all the links which they were led to believe they had with this country are as false, as devious and as dubious as the people who bred them in those beliefs.
That is why we find ourselves with a clause which means absolutely nothing to the Protestant or Loyalist community because they do not believe that the British Government, be they Labour or Conservative, will keep their word. To them it is the same British Government who took away their Parliament, their B Specials and their privileges, told them that they would have to share power, and brought them Willie Whitelaw. The clause means nothing to the Catholic community and even less to the Provisional Republicans.
Hon. Members have been saying something which has often been repeated but which is not true. It is not true to say that people cannot be taken somewhere they do not want to go, that they cannot be forced somewhere they do not want to be. After all, this country has gone into the Common Market although people do not want to be in it. They were not consulted about it. They were fooled and conned, and when they were not looking they were trailed backwards into the Common Market. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) may have ideas that in a hand-to-hand waltz the Leader of the Opposition will lead this country back out of the Common Market, but I have my doubts on that.
Therefore, the Catholic community also know that the British Government do not mean what they say. Even if the Government do mean what they say, the Catholic community are determined that until such time as that pledge is broken and Northern Ireland ceases to be an 1808 integral part of the United Kingdom they will keep up the struggle to get the British out of Ireland.
The Government may not know what the Loyalist community would do if they decided to come clean and say that they would like to be rid of the North of Ireland. But the Government can rest assured that as long as Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the United Kingdom the struggle to take it out will definitely and unflinchingly continue.
The clause means nothing and says nothing. It affirms. It does not enact anything. It is a waste of time and paper, and nobody, least of all the present British Government, believe that the Government will keep their pledges. Therefore, they might as well take the clause out of the Bill.
§ [Mr. E. L. MALLALIEU in the Chair]
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Although its words may be meaningless, I regard the clause as extremely dangerous. That is why I wish to see it deleted. Its implications are a prescription for bloodshed in Northern Ireland—not only mounting bloodshed of the kind which has been increasing almost day by day but never-ending bloodshed.
The purport of the clause perpetuates the fiction that there is a genuine entity which is Northern Ireland as distinct from a segment of the island of Ireland which has been artifically severed from the whole. What is more, it gives a veto over the future of the whole island not only to a majority of those in the segment but to a small minority of the population of Ireland as a whole. It perpetuates most damagingly the fiction that there is a Northern Ireland problem. In my view, there is not and never has been such a problem. There is an Irish problem, which can be solved not within the Six Counties which make up Northern Ireland or in London but only in Ireland itself.
We are labouring under a pathetic fallacy. That fallacy is engendered because Ireland is a short distance away from Great Britain geographically, because most of the people speak English and because it has for purposes of political convenience been labelled part of what is called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
1809 There are those—they are a majority on the Government benches—who regard it as a genuine part of the United Kingdom even if a rather wayward part. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), in an interjection, spoke very aptly from his own point of view of a conflict between a man and his leg.
§ Mr. Powell
I am sorry; that is a mishearing or a slip of the tongue. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) had been speaking of a compact between the people of Northern Ireland and the nation as a whole. I stigmatised that as being as absurd as speaking about a compact between a man and his own leg.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I misheard the right hon. Gentleman's verb but I did not misunderstand his metaphor, which is extremely apt from the point of view of those for whom he speaks—a considerable number. Northern Ireland is not a leg which is part of the body. It has nothing to do with the body as a whole and it is, if I may use the right hon. Gentleman's metaphor, an anatomical fallacy to describe it so.
Ireland is not genuinely a part of the United Kingdom but is a separate and different country. It will never settle down until its communities are permitted to solve their problems and difficulties together rather than have solutions imposed from Westminster. It is, in my view, the last of Britain's colonial problems. In the past 30 years every one of Britain's surviving colonial problems has been solved in precisely the same way and has gone over precisely the same course. India, Palestine, Cyprus and British Guiana, each having divided communities, have found a solution. A solution by force was attempted and it failed in each case.
Ireland is the latest in the series in which an attempt has been made to impose a military solution on a territory with a communal problem which is ruled from this country. In India, Palestine, Cyprus and British Guiana, a solution was brought about because of a revolt by the British people about their boys being killed purposelessly. In every case, because of the feelings of the British people, we have pulled out our Army. The outcome has not always been happy. In 1810 many cases it has led to bloodshed, but at least whatever has ensued has been decided by the people concerned.
The people concerned have decided, for better or for worse, their own destiny, and in all these cases, tragic though some of them still are, British soldiers are no longer pointlessly and bloodily involved. So it will be in Ireland. Every day that passes, including the things that hon. Members have referred to in the debate, writes in blood the verdict that this half-baked plan in this pathetic White Paper will never work. Heaven only knows what carnage will take place two weeks today when a further pointless stage will be reached in the elections to this eunuch Assembly.
What will happen thereafter? The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) was right to ask that question. What will happen thereafter, if it is decided in this Chamber, will never satisfy the people of Ireland, and before long, as the bloodshed continues, as it tragically and inevitably will, the British people will rise up and say "No more of our sons, brothers, husbands and fathers will die to justify a White Paper".
This problem can never be solved by trying to suppress terrorism. Even methods far more severe than those tried in Algeria will fail in Northern Ireland, as they failed in Algeria, where in the end, the Pieds Noirs had to abandon what they wanted—Algerie Francaise. That is what will happen in Northern Ireland, because the methods tried in Algeria are methods which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said aptly, the people of this country will never tolerate. British public opinion will never tolerate the kind of suppression which is the only way to attempt to defeat terrorism in Northern Ireland, even though that would not in any case defeat it.
I oppose this clause because only the Irish—and not only the Northern Irish but all the Irish—can defeat their own terrorists, let alone solve their own problems. In the end, it is the Irish who will have to be given a chance to solve their problems, not only of terrorism but of politics as well. But this foolish clause imposes a statutory veto on solving the Irish problem. That is why it will cause death and suffering not only to the Irish 1811 of both communities who are suffering so grievously but also to British families, including a number in my constituency, who are suffering needless bereavement. It is for these reasons that the clause must be opposed.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I do not accept the basic premise of the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), which is based on the argument that Northern Ireland is a colonial situation. If one starts on that basic premise one goes completely amiss in understanding the basic problem.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would consider again the final words of the clause,… voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1 to this Act.He promised that he would look at his commitment on these words and to consult the various elements in Northern Ireland. I hope that when he does so he will stand firm on this provision, because I believe that the essential question is, "How is one to get consent?" and "consent" is spelled out in the clause as drafted.
§ Mr. McMaster
Does not my hon. Friend see another alternative—that although one might for practical purposes in the end gain consent by plebiscite, it might be unwise to write it into the Bill? It is a totally different proposition.
§ Mr. Mills
I understand my hon. Friend's point. I want to see a clearer procedure spelled out for consent. I do not want us to be in an ambiguous position years hence when various people will be interpreting in various ways how we define the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. I do not want to see the question left open. It should be clearly and precisely written into the Act.
My view is basically that the poll is the best method of testing consent. The best yardstick of testing consent is to leave it to the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that when my right hon. Friend is thinking about this and considering different views he will consider what I have said and recognise that there are powerful arguments for leaving things as they stand.
§ Mr. Orme
In many ways this has been a remarkable debate. There has been a great deal of clarity and fresh thinking on all sides. The opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), followed by the speeches of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) added a great deal to this clarity. There is no doubt, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said later, that we are approaching the crossroads. In the Irish context this might be thought to be another cliché, but I think the Committee has grasped that we are dealing not just with words but with the lives of millions of people in Northern Ireland, the Republic and the rest of the United Kingdom.
I have never before during my time as an MP heard the 1949 declaration being dealt with in such a serious manner. Hon. Members on all sides have said that if they had their time again that declaration would not have gone through without some opposition and probably would not have gone through at all. I agree with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West that if we have to write this into a constitution it means that there is serious opposition. If it is necessary to reiterate it, then it means that the opposition is increasing and making itself felt.
The strength of our constitution is its unwritten character. The right hon. Member and I might agree, on another matter, that once we start going in for written constitutions and protocols we are running into trouble. Lawyers frequently have different interpretations of legislation, and Parliamentarians can have just as many differing views. As a result there is difficulty in reaching agreement.
We are dealing with the constitutional position as it exists in Northern Ireland. Everyone has said, whether he be Republican, Nationalist, Unionist or Vanguard, that there must be a guarantee that the majority in the Six Counties cannot, against its will, be forced into a United Ireland. That raises the wider issue, touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and my hon. Friend the 1813 Member for Plymouth, Sutton, (Dr. David Owen), that there may be others who must be consulted. They said that whatever changes were made they should not entail forcing a group of people to join a united Ireland. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South. We on this side are at one on this issue—and I know that that goes for hon. Members opposite. That in effect weakens the demand for reaffirmation. It defeats the point which the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) made about the border poll.
The interesting point about the consent of the majority is this: if the majority have a sanction of consent about joining a united Ireland—in other words, if they have a veto—the logic of my hon. Friends' argument is, "If you cannot have a united Ireland, you must have a united Six Counties". If the veto of the majority is against a united Ireland, the minority in Northern Ireland must have a veto against an independent Six Counties.
When I was in Northern Ireland last week—and, as the Secretary of State knows, I went from East Belfast to the Creggan estate where there was an incident at 1.30 the following morning—I met people of different persuasions to discuss the current problem. I discussed the issue of an independent Ulster with Mr. Craig. I am still baffled about how it would work if it were achieved. It is strange that people who advocate the withdrawal of British troops and an independent united Ulster—UDI—do not necessarily want to break the financial links.
The problem, as many of us see it, is not the question of a written constitution. It is not the words in the Bill which are significant. What is significant is that if the proposals in the latter part of the Bill which set up the new Assembly and deal with the question of power sharing are sabotaged and are made unworkable, the whole Bill, including Clause 1, becomes untenable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East said that then all bets would be off. That is not said in any sense of a threat. It is a statement of fact. The feeling expressed by my hon. Friends—and I understand the view of my hon. 1814 Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), though I do not necessarily agree with it—and the demand for a break with Ulster and the withdrawal of British troops in gaining momentum in this country.
When I talk in Northern Ireland about a change of policy along these lines our friends in the Northern Ireland Labour Party are petrified at the thought. When one moves from Belfast East to the Creggan and the Bogside one realises that drastic changes could bring with them a drastic loss of life, and my hon. Friends and I do not treat this matter lightly. We do not underestimate the difficulties.
It cannot be too strongly stressed that the election of an Assembly does not necessarily mean that the people will be supporting a political party for its philosophy. It is a way of finding out whether the people are prepared to make a constitution work. I hope those people will read the report of our debate today. They will understand from it that the chips are down. The voting on the plebiscite did not guarantee that the people would accept a constitution.
The opposition to this issue has been likened to the opposition to the Industrial Relations Act. This question is on a different level from the plebiscite. It is a much deeper, fundamental, constitutional issue. It concerns people who do not live within an integrated community, people who are threatening UDI. They are not trying to change the State but threatening to go independent, out of the State.
§ Mr. Orme
Indeed. The problems in Northern Ireland are historical ones. What Mr. Gladstone said in 1886 has been quoted to good effect but we are still a long way from a solution. I do not think that the Secretary of State will be able to drag along until 31st March 1974. People will look to the elected leaders of the respective parties to come together quickly to start things moving.
Although the Bill does not offer a permanent solution it moves towards ending discrimination, abolishing poverty and the establishment of an all-Ireland Council in which Republicans, Unionists and Protestants will be able to fight for 1815 their own point of view in a political forum and not with weapons.
Some of us have severe reservations about the philosophical approach of the clause—not on the guarantee of consent and not on the rights of the majority and the minority. There is a fear that if the situation is changed there would be a reaction, with all the problems which would flow from it.
I know that many of my hon. Friends feel strongly on this issue and they will express their view in their own way. The official Opposition will not oppose this clause, but we say to the Secretary of State in regard to the plebiscite that we want him to reconsider the issue in the light of this debate. The right hon. Gentleman can then collect the voices in Northern Ireland and in this House and we shall then leave him to consider the matter and to give us his judgment. We are not pressing for an answer this evening. The right hon. Gentleman has gone a long way to meet the points of view which have been expressed on this matter—indeed, he reacted spontaneously to views expressed at the outset of this debate. Those views have been reflected in all speeches with one particular exception, and the hon. Member concerned was not being dogmatic but felt that there should be a reaffirmation of that particular point of view.
Clause 1, which is the central provision in the Bill, deals with the question of consent, with the 1949 situation, with the question of the possibility of the failure of the Assembly and the possibility of a united Ireland or of a UDI situation. My experience of our involvement in Northern Ireland is that on this issue we have been working in a vacuum. People have made sympathetic noises and have said, "You understand the issue, so you had better get on with it." But for the first time there is a real stirring outside in the nation and it will begin to express itself in a political manner. It has not reflected itself in my postbag, but it has been expressed to me personally, and it is increasingly being expressed by the people that I meet.
The views which have been put from the Opposition Front Bench are not put forward as a warning, but as a statement of fact of what could happen following 1816 the elections on 28th June. Many in this House tend to look on the black side. I happen to be an optimist rather than a pessimist and I still believe that there is a chance for a détente in these circumstances, a chance that the Assembly will work. I Certainly have not written off the Assembly. If that body is written off, then the consequences which flow from it will flow naturally and not vindictively.
I meet people on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland, and I recently spoke to shop stewards at Harland and Wolff and we talked about these issues in great depth. I appreciate their feelings. The point is getting through to many people in Northern Ireland that Opposition Members in the United Kingdom Parliament do not take a sectarian view—we are neither pro-Catholic nor anti-Protestant. These matters affect working people on both sides of the divide and they must see the consequences which will flow from their own actions. This in a sense could be their last chance. I believe that the message in this debate has been loud and clear, and I hope that the people whom it affects will pay full heed to it and act on it.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. David Howell)
In effect, we have had two bites at the clause today. In the first we chewed over the question of the border poll. Since then we have gone over the ground in the first part of the clause about the pledge given by successive British Governments.
On the border poll, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear his view that, while there can be no challenging and no question but of upholding the principle of consent, he was prepared to look again at the means by which consent could be established through a poll and that he would come back to the House on Report. With the withdrawal of the amendments, I believe that the Committee signified its readiness to accept my right hon. Friend's position on that.
I intend to keep the majority of my remarks to the other part of the clause which we have discussed in the second half of the evening, and that is the affirmation of the pledge of successive Governments that there shall be no change in the constitutional status of 1817 Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people.
To get the pedigree of this right, it must be said that this pledge was originally expressed in terms by Mr. Attlee as Prime Minister on 28th October 1948. It was first given statutory form in Section 1(2) of the Government of Ireland Act 1949, and it has been repeated by successive Governments many times since then, as, for example, in the Downing Street Declaration. It appears again in very similar form in Clause 1.
Inevitably the thought has come up in debate from both sides of the House "Why bother? Do the words mean anything?" Do words ever mean anything in this kind of situation when it comes to making constitutions?
I am the last person to claim that laws and legal formulae can override and conquer events and circumstances. They cannot. If one set out on that path alone it would be a hopeless path. But in this case, and in the light of the history of the pledge, the answer is that the words mean something. They have significance. They have a history and a value. In the very eloquent language of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), they are "hallowed". In other words, they are familiar. They are comfortable words in a situation full of discomfort and fear. They stand for and mean something of crucial importance. It is right that the whole Bill and the White Paper is built upon the principle of consent and the reaffirmation of the pledge that there shall be no change without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Howell
I think that my hon. Friend realises the position. I have just repeated that the very weight of those words is to an extent drawn from the fact that they have been repeated by successive Governments and that they constitute a pledge given by successive British Governments and by successive senior British statesmen again and again. That is their value and that is why most hon. Members have agreed that they mean something and that it is right for 1818 the Government to put forward the proposition that they should have central and first place in the Bill.
§ Mr. Heffer
Despite what the hon. Gentleman says, it is the very existence of those words which has meant that in each given situation when there has been a need for a flexible policy Governments have been bound by inflexible words. It is that which has been responsible for the situation.
§ Mr. Howell
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has put forward that view before and he has done so again now. But it cannot be accepted. Let me put to him the alternative proposition, because this is why one is entitled to say that it is right that this pledge should be at the beginning of the Bill.
No one who is familiar with Northern Ireland—certainly not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—and no one who has sought to study the problems there has ever tried to disguise the facts or to pretend that there does not exist the basic dilemma, and it is this. There are those—we heard them this afternoon—who say that the status of Northern Ireland should never be in question and that there should be no need for the words in the clause because there should not be any doubt about the matter. For them the argument is closed and there is no need to assert the matter in the first place.
There are also those—the existence of either group cannot be denied—who assert that the matter should be very much open, that it is the main issue; that, far from the matter being closed, it is the main question that raises the whole issue about the future of Northern Ireland.
It is tempting but quite impossible—I think that the hon. Member for Walton will accept this if he reflects upon it—for one side to assert the other out of existence by saying that the other side's view does not exist. The truth and the difficulty is that both sides cannot be denied, even if it were practicable to do so, which it is not, the right to advance their views by democratic and constitutional means. That does not mean that either side, or any party, has the right to advance any view by terrorist methods. Any attempt to do so cannot be and is 1819 not tolerated. Indeed, the central part of my right hon. Friend's policy in seeking to deal with the security side in Northern Ireland has been to hunt out and crush terrorism and those who seriously believe that they can advance their views by nondemocratic and violent methods. That is obviously an essential part of the issue in Northern Ireland. But the debate is bound to go on. It cannot be silenced by one side asserting its view so firmly and loudly that in some way it believes that the other side will fall quiet. It will not be like that. Whatever people on either side may say, that is the situation facing the Government and that is the situation from which realistically we must start in the future.
We must keep the two views that I have described from being pursued in such a way that they sabotage the normal and peaceful life that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want. If one needs to look for evidence of that obvious fact, it can be found in the local elections in which the vast majority of people voted. New councils have been set up. For example, the members of the new council in Londonderry have decided to work together to operate the programmes to build the Londonderry of the future. That is an effort in partnership in startling and tragic contrast to the horrors of Coleraine, but there it is. There is a readiness by the members of the new council in Londonderry to work together. In many other places there is similar evidence that people are ready and willing to work together: on the factory floor, in the
§ councils, in public offices and administrations. In a variety of places people not only work together but wish to work together.
§ That is the argument for confirming the status of Northern Ireland on the basis of consent, for seeking to create a situation, whatever the ultimate views—I think "ultimate" was the adjective used by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) —whatever the ultimate views, completely legitimate, of people in Northern Ireland, of political stability within an established status of Northern Ireland resting on consent which cannot be changed without the consent of the majority. Although we have had strong opposition from one or two hon. Members this afternoon, I think the Committee will accept that.
§ Finally, there are those who may say "Why go through all this again? It is obvious, is it not, that in a free society such fundamental matters as change of status of parts of a nation must be based on consent?" Perhaps it is obvious to us, but the inescapable fact is that it needs affirming in what my right hon. Friend called the hallowed words and it is a necessary foundation for peaceful politics, peaceful commerce and peaceful administration. That is why the Bill is founded on this pledge in Clause 1. That is why this is the reality from which we have to start.
§ Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 118, Noes 16.1821
|Division No. 156.]||AYES||[9.41 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Dean, Paul||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Dunn, James A.||Kilfedder, James|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Eyre, Reginald||King, Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Biffen, John||Fidler, Michael||Knox, David|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||Lane, David|
|Blaker, Peter||Fortescue, Tim||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Body, Richard||Fowler, Norman||Lawson, George|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Fox, Marcus||MacArthur, Ian|
|Bowden, Andrew||Gray, Hamish||McCrindle, R. A.|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Green, Alan||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Bray, Ronald||Grylls, Michael||McMaster, Stanley|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)||Hall, John (Wycombe)||McNair-Wilson, Michael|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Haselhurst, Alan||Maddan, Martin|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hawkins, Paul||Madel, David|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Hiley, Joseph||Maginnis, John E.|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Holland, Philip||Marsden, F.|
|Clarke. Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Clegg, Walter||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Concannon, J. D.||Howell, David (Guildford)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Cooke, Robert||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick||Hunt, John||Moate, Roger|
|Cormack, Patrick||James, David||Molyneaux, James|
|Crouch, David||Janner, Greville||Money, Ernie|
|Monks, Mrs. Connie||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Tope, Graham|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|More, Jasper||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Waddington, David|
|Onslow, Cranley||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Russell, Sir Ronald||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Scott, Nicholas||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Shelton, William (Clapham)||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Peel, Sir John||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Pink, R. Bonner||Simeons, Charles||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Stanbrook, Ivor||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Tebbit, Norman||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Raison, Timothy||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret||Mr. Oscar Murton and|
|Redmond, Robert||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)||Mr. Michael Jopling.|
|Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Latham, Arthur||Watkins, David|
|Booth, Albert||Milne, Edward||Wellbeloved, James|
|English, Michael||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||O'Halloran, Michael||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Prescott, John||Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey and Mr. Gerald Kaufman.|
|Judd, Frank||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lamond, James||Stallard, A. W.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.