HC Deb 04 July 1974 vol 876 cc610-28
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

I will, with permission, make a statement.

I have today published a White Paper on Northern Ireland and have given notice of presentation of a Northern Ireland Bill which will give effect to the proposals in the paper.

The arrangements in the Constitution Act 1973, which have now been brought into force for the temporary government of Northern Ireland, were designed only for short periods which might arise between Executives. My discussions since the fall of the Executive have shown that no Executive can be formed out of the present Assembly.

I have appointed temporarily Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office to administer Northern Ireland Departments. They are constitutionally responsible not to Parliament but to the prorogued Assembly. Under the present arrangements any Northern Ireland legislation would have to be obtained by Bill at Westminster. No Parliamentary timetable here could bear this load.

The new Northern Ireland Bill will therefore make the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland responsible to this Parliament for the devolved services and will provide that laws for Northern Ireland may be made by Order in Council on matters within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

These arrangements will supersede for the time being those provisions of the Constitution Act 1973 which deal with the functions of the Assembly and the Executive, but all other of its provisions will remain in full force and effect. The arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland in the new Bill will have a life of one year, but can be extended or terminated subject to the approval of Parliament. The arrangements are designed to be temporary and could not be the permanent form of government for Northern Ireland.

Turning to the future, the extensive discussions I have had with political leaders and with the representatives of many groups and interests, following the fall of the Executive brought about by the Ulster Workers Council political stoppage, have shown that many people in Northern Ireland would welcome the chance of trying themselves to find a way of solving their own political and economic problems. The Government believe, therefore, that the time has come to give representatives of all the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to meet together to discuss their future.

As the first stage in this process the Bill will provide for a Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention to be elected to consider what provisions for the government of Northern Ireland would be likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there. The existing Northern Ireland Assembly will be dissolved as from the date of calling this election. The Government will play no part in the proceedings of the Convention, but will be willing to assist it in any way which is likely to bring its deliberations to a successful conclusion.

The Convention will have an independent chairman of high standing and impartiality from Northern Ireland and 78 members elected for the existing 12 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland by the single transferable vote system. The Convention's report will be laid before Parliament. The Bill also provides that questions arising from the work of the Convention may be tested by referendum in Northern Ireland.

It is not proposed to hold an immediate or early election to the Convention, but about four weeks' notice of an election will be given.

No local institutions can be established in Northern Ireland if they are unacceptable to broad sections of opinion there. Equally, I must emphasise that they cannot be established on a basis unacceptable to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole and to Parliament. This is why the report of the Convention will be laid before Parliament and it is why in the White Paper I have seen fit to spell out some of the realities of the situation which the Convention must face. I will supplement this with a fuller explanation on the financial side at a later date.

There is an overriding need that both communities in Northern Ireland must participate in government by a sharing of power. There is the fact that Northern Ireland has a special relationship with the Republic of Ireland—what the previous Government's White Paper described as the Irish dimension. There is the reality of the financial link between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

The fall of the Executive was a turning point in the recent history of Northern Ireland and this explains the concept and tone of the White Paper. The Government think it essential at this time also to emphasise again the overriding importance of the particular question of law and order.

The Army went into Northern Ireland on a temporary basis nearly five years ago in a situation where there was widespread sectarian confrontation. It is now dealing with urban guerrilla warfare, but it has also become involved in policing in many areas.

Her Majesty's Government will continue to discharge their responsibilities, but our hope is that normal policing, effectively backed by the support of the whole community in Northern Ireland, will take over a steadily increasing share of this heavy burden. A determination by the whole community to support the police service and to co-operate with it would transform the security situation. If this process developed, the Army would be enabled to make a planned, orderly and progressive reduction in its present commitment, leading ultimately to the point when the Army would no longer need to be involved in a policing rôle.

It is in this context that I have laid before the House today an order which provides for the extension of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 for six months. This will provide time during which Lord Gardiner's Committee, which has already begun work, can advise on the future of the Act. In the light of recommendations of the Committee, proposals will in due course be brought before Parliament.

I must, however, make it clear that the need remains for some kind of emergency powers in Northern Ireland until violence stops. It is a society in which over 1,000 people have been killed in the past five years. It is not a normal United Kingdom situation. The lives of soldiers, of policemen and of the civilian popula tion must be given greater protection in Northern Ireland than the ordinary law allows.

The Government believe that their proposals for the Convention offer an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to contribute directly and in their own way to the establishing of a joint and stable society in Northern Ireland.

An election will take place at which a wide range of parties representing all shades of opinion can put their views on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland to the electorate. All those who genuinely have political views can face the electorate, and the Government hope that the process of discussion and consultation will develop on as wide a basis as possible and cover the whole range of Northern Ireland's problems.

The reward of success will be victory for all the people of Northern Ireland; the penalty of failure will be defeat for all.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

The right hon. Gentleman has made a very important statement and the House will wish to consider both it and the White Paper with great care. I hope the whole House will agree that the continuation of the emergency provisions is absolutely necessary. We certainly owe it as a duty to our soldiers, to the police, to the Ulster Defence Regiment and to civilians to afford them the greatest possible protection we can.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the arrangements in this House for dealing with Northern Ireland affairs for the rest of this Session? Will he confirm that the apparent alternative of a second prorogation of the Assembly is not feasible? Can he say something about the proposed referendum? While at first sight it seems that a majority can be discerned in a referendum, it is less easy to see how majority and widespread support can be discerned in the sense that right hon. Gentleman means in his White Paper. Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman expand a little on what he says about the timing of an election? Are we to take it that, all things considered, it is unlikely that there will be an election before Chirstmas?

Mr. Rees

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's first point about the lives of soldiers, policemen and civilians, nobody who has the responsibilities that I have in Northern Ireland can be unaware of them, and I am not prepared—and I know of nobody else in the House who is prepared—to put these people at risk in a situation of urban guerilla warfare which is sometimes very difficult to understand. The right hon. Gentleman asked about arrangements in this House once the legislation is passed, if the House sees fit to pass it. It will be by order. It will be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. If there were major subjects these could be given more time.

On a second prorogation I am quite clear that, under my responsibilities, as laid down in Section 27—[Dissolution and Prorogation]—of the Constitution Act, by virtue of which the Secretary of State acts in the nature of a Governor, I could not form an Executive now, and I could see no circumstances in which an Executive could be formed in the present Assembly. With regard to a referendum, as the hon. Gentleman will see, I thought it desirable to put "may" in the Bill in case it is thought that a referendum in Northern Ireland would assist the Convention in its consideration.

On the timing of an election, four weeks' notice fits in approximately with the convention on this side of the water, but certainly I would not foresee an election in the near future. I feel that time must be given for people to think about the facts of the White Paper and other matters. There is a good deal of discussion going on, and it would be wrong to give any idea of a date of an election because in Northern Ireland giving a date can result in violence, and it is often wrong to signal too far ahead with dates. But an election for a Convention will be held if the House sees fit to pass the legislation.

Mr. West

We should all understand that this is not the time for instant comment from those who represent the Northern Ireland community but we shall be asking the right hon. Gentleman for an early date for a discussion and debate on this matter. I would ask the Secretary of State to have a discussion with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, because I understand from what was said a moment ago that there is some question about the arrangement of business for next week because certain parliamentary papers are not ready. Perhaps the Northern Ireland debate could be substituted in next week's business.

In considering this debate on Northern Ireland affairs, it seems tragic that those most directly affected by this legislation are not properly represented in this House. One Member of Parliament in this House represents on average 87,000 constituents in the United Kingdom, whereas one parliamentary representative from Northern Ireland represents on average 128,000 constituents. Therefore, the Northern Ireland community is grossly under-represented. Could the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State tell us whether Ministers now forming the Executive in Northern Ireland will be answerable in this House for business in Northern Ireland during their tenure of office?

Could I also ask whether the right hon. Gentleman does not think it unwise to delay elections in Northern Ireland unduly? Has he any thought of holding elections in the month of February, considering how unwise that could be, leading to unstable conditions in Northern Ireland? I assure the House that, if given the opportunity to deal with our own affairs in Northern Ireland under the terms of this constitutional conference, we shall d our best—and I believe I can speak for all the community—to try to establish a stable and just society in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Rees

I have made it clear that shall be publishing a Bill, and of course a debate will take place on that. It will subsume the White Paper information. At the moment the Ministers who have been appointed to the various ministerial posts available in the Executive are responsible to the prorogued Assembly but they do make statements here. If this Bill is passed, all of us will be responsible to this House. As to the date of an election, I am fully aware of the problems of electioneering in February, though sometimes a date in February proves to be beneficial to some people.

Mr. Rose

While deferring any comment on the constitutional proposals in the White Paper, may I particularly welcome paragraphs 44 to 49, not least that which states that it would be wholly unacceptable to go back to any type of Stormont Government, excluding a large part of the community in Northern Ireland? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that is the case? Above all will he recognise that an entirely new situation has arisen in Northern Ireland in which the old Unionist politicians, like those on the other side of the House, have been discarded by the grass roots organisations in Ulster? Above all, will he try to bring together the genuine grass roots organisations, like the Ulster Workers' Council and othes, along with the genuine representatives of the minority because it is they alone who can decide the future of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rees

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to paragraphs 44 to 49. The purpose of these is to list what the Government regard as the realities of the situation. There must be participation by the community as a whole. There must be power-sharing. There is also the point that: any pattern of government must be acceptable to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole and to Parliament at Westminster. Citizenship confers not only rights and privileges but obligations". There is the further point of an Irish dimension. What we have sought to put down are the parameters of the situation which those who are elected should consider when submitting a scheme to this House. My hon. Friend is right to say that there is great political ferment taking place in Northern Ireland. I have received representations from what used to be called the Unionist side, putting to me the case for delaying elections and expressing views about politicians. We shall have to see what happens when the election comes.

Mr. Beith

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept a general welcome from the Liberal Bench both for what he has said this afternoon and for what is in the White Paper, in particular for the constitutional Convention proposal which is very much in line with what we asked of him in an earlier debate? Will he further recognise that if these laws for Northern Ireland are to be made by Orders in Council there will be the feeling in this House that opportunities must be provided for debate? Does he recognise that the phrase he used in his statement about "urban guerrillas" may be an accurate description, but is far too generous a phrase to describe the kind of bestial terrorism with which he is dealing? Will he note that the passages in the White Paper on finance could have spelled out even more clearly the importance of the British contribution to the very industries upon which those who supported the strike of the Ulster Workers Council depend? Will he make it clear in his further discussions that this financial contribution is made by people who expect the people of Northern Ireland to act in the terms of the opportunities now given them and to sort out their own problems?

Mr. Rees

I am grateful for the general welcome given by the hon. Gentleman. The Orders in Council will be debated. I am sure that we can at some time or other, through the usual channels, provide extra time for debate on major issues. We are talking about the period following the end of this Session. Whether the description "urban guerrillas" is right or wrong, the plain fact is that, and I see this every day, this is a society in which large numbers of people are killed or maimed. There is a bestiality which seems to permeate to the younger members of the community.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right about the finance. We shall be publishing further information on finance later in the year and on other matters such as the jobs provided by defence establishments which are not there because of the troubles. All of this has to be taken into consideration when people are considering their future.

Mr. Fitt

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is the firm intention of the British Government to base any future constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland upon a system of power-sharing, partnership and the Irish dimension? Will he confirm that the Government will not allow themselves to be driven by certain elements in Northern Ireland into the position of doing away with the basis of power-sharing and the Irish dimension? Turning to the announcement about the extension of the Emergency Provisions Act, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that the Act not only takes into account the lives of the soldiers and other security forces there, but also ensures that a number of men continue to be detained in Northern Ireland? Is there to be a debate limited to an hour and a half to discuss the burning issue of internment which has caused such great disruption in Northern Ireland? Will he consider allowing more than an hour and a half so that we may all have our say on this important subject?

Mr. Rees

We have made our views clear in the White Paper about the realities of the situation, dealing with such things as power-sharing, the Irish dimension and belonging to the United Kingdom. We are all extremely proud of our citizenship of the United Kingdom, which imposes responsibilities on us.

The amount of time allowed for debating the emergency provisions legislation is not a matter for me. I am fully aware of the situation.

I believe that the Emergency Provisions Act can be reformed—hence the Gardiner Committee. Given the situation in Northern Ireland I must say that I would not be party to the British Army being there without the protection of extra legislation. I would not be prepared to put anyone's life at risk—and this happens daily—without this protection. The names of people who have been killed are reported to me morning after morning. We all have a responsibility for the people in Northern Ireland and we cannot wish it off. As long as there is an Army in Northern Ireland and I have this job I will see that it gets protection of this kind, not perhaps precisely in this form.

Mr. Heath

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) has already said that the whole House will want to give serious consideration to the policy set out in the White Paper. The Leader of the House is present and he will hear what I have to say. In view of the importance of the proposals which the Government have put forward, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that it may not be enough just to have a debate on the Second Reading of the Bill? Does he realise that many may consider that we ought to have a debate on the White Paper first because of the importance of the proposals? Is it not the case that the Executive tell—the Secretary of State reiterated this today—as a result of industrial action taken for political ends? What has resulted from that is that the Government now propose to sweep away everything which this House had decided upon in the last Constitution Act. The result is that because of the industrial action not only the Executive but everything we at Westminster had worked for for so long, everything which my right hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) had worked for as Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland in the last Government, everything which the Executive had brought about, is being swept away by the Government's proposals.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is therefore of the utmost importance that it should be made absolutely plain that there should be no wavering by the Government on this point and if there is to be a constitutional solution though a Constitutional Convention it must be on the basis of power-sharing in which the two communities can continue to work together and in which there is an Irish dimension? Has there been any consultation with the Prime Minister of the Republic on these proposals?

If there is any wavering by the Government I have no doubt that the consequences of an election on these proposals in Northern Ireland will bring this Parliament into a direct head-on conflict with the Constitutional Convention and its recommendations. It is therefore a brave step which the Government have decided to take. I would be the first to agree that every action in Northern Ireland is fraught with difficulty. All I ask is that we should recognise at this stage what are the dangers we are facing and that we should therefore have a proper opportunity to debate it.

Mr. Rees

I will certainly convey those thoughts to my right hon. Friend. These basic matters of Northern Ireland must be discussed in this House. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Ulster Workers Council strike brought down the Executive. It is my strong view that it has not swept everything away. There is no doubt in my mind that the concept of power-sharing in particular had a profound effect in Northern Ireland, even upon people whom one would not have expected. There is also in Northern Ireland among a wide band of people a feeling, which perhaps the strike brought about, that they want to get together, that they believe they can talk together as Northern Irishmen and can produce a solution. At this stage, we should give them the chance to do so. As for not wavering, we cannot put it more firmly than we have in the White Paper, in paragraph 45. We have firmly set out the parameters there. To be fair to the Leader of the Opposition, these parameters arose from the legislation and the White Papers of his administration. We do not depart from them; they are important and must be taken into account—especially by people who aspire to be citizens of the United Kingdom.

Mr. McNamara

Will my right hon. Friend accept that those who do not go along with his desire to maintain and support the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act do not have, because of that, any less feeling for the safety of our constituents in Northern Ireland but simply doubt the wisdom of policies which made that legislation necessary? Will he accept that no one hon. Member can claim a greater degree than another of concern about people in Northern Ireland who may be killed or about our soldiers there? It is a question of policy and not of the principle at stake.

The White Paper is very much welcomed. The British people in particular—there is a British dimension to these matters as well as a Six Counties dimension and an Irish dimension—will clearly welcome the way in which my right hon. Friend has spelt out the terms under which we are prepared still to accept the Six Counties as part of the union. If they cannot be achieved, they could have no part in our Union.

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that we greatly welcome the spelling out of the fact that the Six Counties cannot insulate themselves from the Republic and that the Republic has an interest just as much as the people of Britain have in what goes on in the Six Counties?

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend knows that when we discussed the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act in the last Parliament we all made it clear that it was not the principle but the methods with which we were dealing. I know only too well my hon. Friend's concern for soldiers, from Yorkshire in particular, in whom he has shown a great interest and whom he visits whenever he goes to the Province.

As for the realities in the White Paper to which my hon. Friend referred, I can only reiterate that they were included for a purpose. Certain factors have arisen from the discussions of the last two years. I have no doubt that the phrase "Irish dimension" was used before the discussion paper came out. The phrase "power sharing" has been used before, and it, too, has emerged strongly in recent years. These are basic factors which the Convention must take into account. We are asking the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to make proposals to us to take account of those realities.

Mr. Kilfedder

The people of Northern Ireland were pleasantly surprised when it was announced that a White Paper would be produced so quickly. Does the Secretary of State not realise that the proposals which he has announced today, including the widespread discussions mentioned in paragraph 57, the Constitutional Convention and the referendum or referenda, all mean delay and that delay is the last thing we want in the situation in Northern Ireland—a situation which, the Leader of the Opposition should remember the Eire Prime Minister has said is one for the Ulster people to decide?

On the subject of Orders in Council, could a Northern Ireland Committee be constituted in the House to consider draft Orders before they are considered by the House? On the Constitutional Convention, would the right hon. Gentleman restore the office of Govenor of Northern Ireland and appoint the former Governor as chairman of the convention? He is a man who achieved widespread respect from every section of the community in the Province.

Mr. Rees

I feel strongly—this is the way that I worded the proposal—that the Convention should be chaired by someone from Northern Ireland. People have put it to me, perhaps using the term "Ulstermen" in a narrower context, that Ulster people want to "do it themselves". My view is, let Ulster people do it themselves. I am sure that there are people of eminence whom we could consider for the post of chairman. I would advise the hon. Member to look at the Newfoundland Convention in the late 1940s. It was set up for a different purpose, but a great deal can be learned from its proceedings.

As for an election and the time taken, I am fully aware of all the problems that lie ahead because of the time factor, but it would be wrong to give any idea of a time now. Wider considerations must be taken into account.

As for a Northern Ireland Committee and the idea that legislation should be considered before it is debated in the Chamber, I must say that it is a bit much for representatives of organisations that saw fit not to use the Assembly, and did not enter it to discuss any legislation, to show concern, after the Assembly has broken down, with procedures in this House. Of course this matter will be considered because we have a responsibility to do so, but I hope that people who would not discuss any measure in the Assembly will not shout too loudly about the need for special arrangements here.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot allow this questioning to go on much longer, so I hope that, instead of speeches which could be made in a debate, we shall have short questions to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Duffy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a growing number of people in this country will welcome the more explicit references in the White Paper to a British dimension as well as an Irish dimension? The success of the Constitutional Convention will depend largely on the extent to which its members not only take into account the implications of both dimensions and their own personal aspirations but also to face up to their corresponding obligations? Will my right hon. Friend therefore continue to take every opportunity to sustain in Northern Ireland the awareness in everyone he meets of the realities of the situation, especially those relating to finance which he has put in paragraph 5 of the White Paper?

Mr. Rees

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a British dimension and that there are obligations, which, as he said, are clearly set out in the White Paper. As for increasing the awareness of the realities, which I believe is part of my responsibility, we shall be making special arrangements to see that the main ideas in the White Paper are brought to the notice of all in Northern Ireland in the near future. They obviously have to be taken into account before there are elections and meetings of representatives.

Rev. Ian Paisley

When does the Secretary of State think the Bill will come before the House? Would he comment on the present security situation? The White Paper mentions law and order. What considerations has he given to proposals for the formation of a Home Guard in Northern Ireland, since a similar organisation has been called into existence in the Republic? Could he also tell us the position of the Member who has been elected to the Assembly since it was prorogued? Will he be recognised as a Member of the Assembly and be able to make representations as a Member? He cannot sign the roll while the Assembly is prorogued. Last, will all the Orders in Council be subject to the affirmative procedure so that they can be discussed, or will he adopt the system that he protested against from the Opposition Front Bench, of Orders in Council which were not under that procedure?

Mr. Rees

The Bill will obviously have to be very soon, but I have no responsibility for its date. One thing relating to security which is very important is that anyone in Northern Ireland who wants to help the community to protect itself must belong to a responsible organisation like the police or the Army and not take this responsibility upon himself.

With regard to prorogation, I have followed the Act carefully and, I hope, correctly on all occasions. There had to be an election in North Antrim even though the Assembly was prorogued. The gentleman concerned is not being paid. I had no power to prevent that election and, indeed, since I still hoped for and was discussing the formation of a new Executive, it would have been wrong for me to prevent it. However, if this gentleman writes to me or to my hon.

Friends, he will be given every consideration as though he were properly signed in.

Mr. Wellbeloved

There will be widespread public welcome for the very clear statement set out in paragraph 45(b) of the White Paper; namely, that any future pattern of government for Northern Ireland must be acceptable to the British people as a whole. Have Her Majesty's Government yet started to give consideration to the manner in which this test of opinion is to be taken of the British public? Will such a referendum, or general election, or test of opinion—whatever it may be—also give the British people an opportunity to express a clear view on whether they wish the constitutional link between Great Britain and Northerin Ireland to be continued?

Mr. Rees

Certainly it is a fact that anything that emerges has to be acceptable to the citizens of the United Kingdom as a whole, and that means to the House of Commons. The normal way is by election and by the decision of all of us acting in this House as Members of the House.

The link between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom is expressed in Section 1 of the 1973 Act. Any referendum on that link would not be covered by the new Bill. It would be covered by the Act and the 10-year rule. It means that if at any time there needed to be a decision about the link between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, it would not emerge under this new legislation but would have to be brought before the House in a further Bill, carefully drawn up for that purpose, because the link between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is not just a matter for any Assembly meeting in Northern Ireland but for this Parliament acting on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Fell

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept my congratulations on his sheer guts in standing up, under great difficulty and provocation, for the policy which the Conservative Government advocated? Will he give an assurance that in no conditions will the present Government give way to anarchy again as they did give way to it a couple of months ago in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rees

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening words. I can only say to him that the facts in terms of urban guerrilla warfare and the role of the Army have to be faced. I had to face them. I saw them at first hand. If the vast majority of a community support an industrial dispute going way beyond the people involved in it, and gain complete control of electricity supply, it is not possible for soldiers to deal with the situation. It is impossible for that to be done. One needs support from the community as a whole, and such support was not forthcoming in that situation. This is a factor which we all ought to take into account when considering the recommendations that come from the Convention.

Mr. Flannery

In paying tribute to the evident compassion which orders every action my right hon. Friend takes in regard to Northern Ireland, may I ask him whether he agrees with me that, when a question arises about under-representation of the people of Northern Ireland in this House, it should be taken into account that the minority in Northern Ireland within that framework are greatly under-represented in numbers, even though they are well represented in the person of one individual? Would not my right hon. Friend agree that this necessitates a very clear change of mind on the part of some hon. Members opposite in regard to what constitutes democracy and representation on an equal basis for all the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rees

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's early words. It is a plain fact that, by the nature of the spread of population, the minority in Northern Ireland are under-represented in this House. Who knows what will happen at the next election? But in the Assembly, which is where the people of Northern Ireland could talk together under a system of the single transferable vote—which is the desirable form of election in that part of the United Kingdom—it was possible for everyone to be proportionally represented. In that way, they could talk to all their fellow citizens of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Kershaw

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is desirable that we in this House should not take up positions about what the Convention should or should not do in advance of its sitting, otherwise we shall diminish very much its value in the eyes of the people of Ulster?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman is right, but certain basic things have to be said. What the Convention decides has to be reported back to this House. There should be no room for dubiety on certain basic issues. It is those issues that we have spelt out, and it is within these realities that the men and women elected to the Convention will be able to consider their plans.

Mr. Stallard

Will my right hon. Friend accept, from someone who has been fairly critical of recent political directives and initiatives in Northern Ireland, my congratulations on the White Paper and his statement? I believe that the speed with which my right hon. Friend has introduced the White Paper is a sign that he intends to take constructive action in the vacuum left by the fall of the Executive.

The whole House is concerned about the safety of our troops and of the civilians in Northern Ireland. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that perhaps repression and even more repression put that safety in danger. Will my right hon. Friend accept that one of those repressive measures which I have campaigned against and will continue to campaign against is internment? I suggest to my right hon. Friend constructively and sincerely that, as a sign of good faith, he should announce the immediate release of all those interned in 1971 in order to create an atmosphere in which this White Paper can be discussed constructively in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Rees

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a great interest in these matters for a very long time. His congratulations to me on speed give me the opportunity to say something with which I know my two predecessors as Secretary of State will agree. In the Northern Ireland Office there are, I am glad to say, some of the finest members of the British Civil Service. Without them and their ideas and deep thought on this matter, we should not have been able to move so quickly.

I take the point made by my hon. Friend about people's feelings on repression, and certainly action by security forces sometimes aggravates this. I am not unaware of the situation and I will take into account what he has put to me.

Captain Orr

Since, I think, I was the first to advocate in the House some time ago the calling of a Constitutional Convention, it would be churlish of me if I did not congratulate the Secretary of State upon including it in his White Paper, and at least that portion of the White Paper will be warmly welcomed.

I recall to the right hon. Gentleman what the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) said. A very important ingredient is missing from this situation. It is a fact that this House will be the final arbiter after the Convention has done its job. In the meantime, it is this House which will legislate for Northern Ireland. Surely now, in advance of the House of Commons deciding about the future state of devolution and constitution of the United Kingdom, the House should show its good faith with the people of Northern Ireland and ensure that all of them, majority and minority, are represented fairly in the House.

Mr. Rees

The hon. and gallant Gentleman talks about extra representation here in the context of the people of Northern Ireland meeting to discuss their future. I must remind him that we would not be having Green Papers and White Papers and the like, and all the troubles going back over the years, if Northern Ireland were not rather different in its social and religious composition from the rest of the United Kingdom. It was seen fit, rightly or wrongly, to have a separate institution there. That is what we are considering again, and it still puts Northern Ireland in a different position.

With regard to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's claim to paternity to the idea we have expressed here, I acknowledge that he has talked to me about it in the past. There are other claimants for fatherhood who will be putting that point to me. But it is shared paternity, and I am prepared to share it with many people.

Mr. Thorne

Will the Secretary of State clarify what he means in paragraph 53 of the White Paper by the words independent Chairman…a person of high standing"— I am sure that he does not mean a tall person— and impartiality from Northern Ireland"? Is there anyone left in Northern Ireland who is impartial?

Mr. Rees

After three months of living there, I can say, "yes, there is". I am sure that we shall find such a person, and a person who will be acceptable to those in the Assembly. They are the people who matter, because he will be chairing their deliberations.