§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her interests and prerogative, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
The Bill gives effect to the proposals which the Government put forward in the White Paper published on 4th July. In the debate on the White Paper last Tuesday, we discussed at some length the policies which are proposed in the White Paper and the context in which they are put forward. In view of this very full discussion that we have already had on the White Paper, I think it may be for the convenience of the House if I turn immediately to the specific provisions of this Bill.
The Bill falls into two parts. First, in Clause 1 and Schedule 1, the Bill provides a more effective machinery for the administration of Northern Ireland in the coming months. The second part of the Bill, contained in Clause 2 and Schedule 2, concerns the setting up of the Constitutional Convention and all that follows from that.
The "direct rule" provisions in the Bill come into effect immediately the Bill becomes law. Clause 1(4) provides that they then remain in force for one year. There is power, however, for the Secretary of State to bring a draft order before the House either terminating the "interim period", as the period of direct rule is known, before the year is up, or extending it by a further period of up to a year. I emphasise that any order to do this is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
Schedule 1 to the Bill, which remains in force only so long as the interim period lasts, is intended to meet two specific 46 problems. The first is that, since the prorogation of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 29th May, it has in effect been impossible to make new laws for Northern Ireland except by means of a Bill taken through this Parliament. The parliamentary timetable here does not allow sufficient time for all the matters requiring legislation in Northern Ireland to be dealt with by means of a full Bill. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 accordingly provides that Her Majesty may make laws for Northern Ireland by means of Orders in Council.
This procedure is modelled on similar provisions in the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972, introduced by the previous administration. Like that Act, this Bill provides that such Orders in Council are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. In cases of urgency, however, the Bill, like its 1972 predecessor, will allow an Order in Council to be made without prior parliamentary approval, provided it is approved by both Houses of Parliament within 40 sitting days after it has been made. Like the 1972 Act, this Bill will therefore provide for full parliamentary control.
Some hon. Members have already expressed a fear that this procedure may not allow sufficient time for Parliament to debate issues thoroughly, and that the House may be inconvenienced by being unable to table amendments to the draft orders. We were conscious of this problem when it existed under the 1972 Act, but it was not easy then to see how the problem could be overcome, and it is not easy now. The Government are, however, actively considering what could helpfully be done to enable Members to have an opportunity of commenting on orders before they are formally laid before the House. Any more formal arrangements would, of course, be a matter for arrangement through the usual channels rather than a matter for legislation.
I should also say that I am moved personally by the fact that I felt strongly about it in opposition. Bearing in mind what care was taken about legislation in the Assembly in Northern Ireland when some hon. and right hon. Members never bothered at all, to the point of not turning up, I hope that, whatever other arguments they put forward, they do not use that one in the hope that it will be supported in the House.
47 Paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 deals with the functions of government in Northern Ireland. As I have already explained to the House, the present arrangement of appointing junior Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office to be heads of the various Northern Ireland Departments is satisfactory only in the short term, since they are not accountable to Parliament for the decisions and actions they take. Paragraph 2 of the schedule therefore places all power of executive government in Northern Ireland under the control of the Secretary of State, who is accountable to this House. This seems to the Government to be a far more satisfactory arrangement. Under the new arrangements, junior Ministers will still retain responsibility for individual Northern Ireland Departments, but overall responsibility will rest with the Secretary of State.
We have, however, been careful to draft this part of the Bill, and indeed other parts of the Bill, in such a way as not to bring about any amendment of the Constitution Act. Some provisions will be temporarily set aside during the interim period. Thus, in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 there is a provision that no appointment shall be made to the Northern Ireland administration or the Northern Ireland Executive during the interim period, and in paragraph 1 of the same schedule there is a provision that during the interim period the Assembly shall not pass any measures. These provisions are a necessary corollary of the other provisions in those paragraphs, but, as I said, have been so drafted as not to make any permanent change in the Constitution Act.
Those who want to see the end of the Constitution Act must realise that, if that Act dies, so do all of its provisions. In urging the end of the Act they are urging the end of the pledge on Northern Ireland's continued membership of the United Kingdom in Section 1, and the end of the provision in Section 16 under which the grant-in-aid is paid to Northern Ireland.
Turning back to Clause 1, the first two subsections deal with the Assembly. Subsection (2) continues the existing prorogation of the Assembly, and subsection (1) will enable Her Majesty, by Order in Council, to dissolve the Assembly. We recognise the importance of continuing to have elected representatives who can 48 speak for the people of Northern Ireland, and it is therefore the Government's intention that the Assembly should not be dissolved until an election has been called for the Constitutional Convention.
The Constitutional Convention is provided for in Clause 2. The Convention is given very simple, but clear, terms of reference. It is createdfor the purpose of considering what provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there".I would underline the words "throughout the community"; the Convention will not be fulfilling its terms of reference if it proposes a constitution arrangement which commands acceptance in only one section of the community. Moreover, as I am sure the House will agree is right, the terms of reference ask the Convention to consider the form of government which will command the "most" widespread acceptance.
It will, of course, be for the Convention itself to decide on how to arrange its work and how to govern its proceedings. The Convention is its own master, and it is right and proper that the Convention itself, and only the Convention, should decide these matters. The Government will play no part in the deliberations of the Convention, but will, as I have said before, stand ready to give the Convention any assistance they can. There may be some help which the Government can give before the Convention is set up, and, as I announced during the debate last week, we propose to publish in due course some information on procedures, based on examples drawn from historical precedents.
Although Northern Ireland is in the matter of this Convention, as in all other matters, unique, there has been a number of similar Conventions from time to time, and we intend to draw attention to the differing ways in which some of these Conventions have chosen to work—the question of dividing up into committees to conduct the work of the Convention, for instance, the question of voting procedures, the publicity accorded to the Convention's proceedings, the relationship between the Chairman of the Convention and the other members, and the types of assistance which might be made available to a Convention in the way of staff, constitutional experts, and so on.
49 The House will realise that it is far too soon for me to predict precisely what will be published, but this is the sort of thing we have in mind.
For hon. Members who are already familiar with the content of the Bill, I should stress that the publication of this sort of information is in no way connected with the provisions in paragraph 11(2) of Schedule 2. That provision permits me to give directions for regulating the procedure of the Convention and its committees. Paragraph 11(1) gives the Convention itself the power to regulate its own procedure and to override any regulations made by the Secretary of State. Paragraph 11(2) is put in only to avoid the chicken-and-egg situation which would otherwise arise: some provision is clearly necessary to regulate the proceedings of the Convention during its first few meetings while it is deciding for itself what permanent procedures it wishes to adopt.
I now turn to the earlier paragraphs in Schedule 2. These provide for the composition and election of the Convention. The Convention is, as the House will have noticed, modelled very closely on the Northern Ireland Assembly. The number of members is the same, the method of election is the same, and so on. It must be emphasised that it is not a legislative Assembly. It is a Convention for considering a simple but complex question—the future government of the Province.
I had intended at this point in my speech to explain in a little more length the Government's thinking behind these provisions in the Bill, but since amendments have been put down on these points it seems sensible for me to defer my remarks on them until we reach the Committee stage rather than take up the time of the House with unnecessary repetition—although I have noticed that that is not necessarily an English or Welsh failing.
Once the Convention has begun its work, paragraph 15 of Schedule 2 gives it a life of six months. If it completes its report, and the report is laid before Parliament, in a shorter time, the Convention is dissolved then. Alternatively, the Convention may need more than six months to complete its task. In that case, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to make an order extending the Conven- 50 tion's term by up to three months at a time. Such an order would be subject to the negative resolution procedure.
It is possible also that, even after the Convention has submitted its report, it will be right to ask the Convention to consider some new question which it has not previously looked at, or even to reconsider some issue which it has already examined. In that case, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to recall the Convention at any time within six months of its dissolution. If it is recalled, any report produced by the recalled Convention is sent, like the Convention's original report, to the Secretary of State for laying before Parliament.
Perhaps I could mention here, since I know one or two hon. Members were concerned about it, that it is this sort of possibility that has caused us to use the words "report or reports" in Clause 2(2) of the Bill. We want to make it clear that the Convention can nut in more than one report. It could, for instance, put in interim reports, so long as each report which it submits is a report of the Convention as a whole. These words are not intended to allow individual groups of Convention members to submit their own dissenting reports. The reports which come to Parliament from the Convention must all be reports of the Convention as a whole. There is no bar to the Convention deciding to include in its reports the separate views of any of its members if it wants to. But the reports must be reports of the Convention on conclusions it has reached under its terms of reference.
Clause 2(3) provides a power to hold a referendum on questions arising from the Convention's report, or on other matters concerning the Government of Northern Ireland. We have put this provision in the Bill because we believe it right that we should keep open the possibility of having this further test of opinion in Northern Ireland. On the other hand, it is clearly impossible at this stage to foresee what report will emerge from the Convention, and what will be the situation in Northern Ireland at the time.
We have therefore thought it right not to attempt to be too specific in this Bill about the precise details of the referendum. For instance, without knowledge of the report of the Convention, it will be impossible to decide what questions 51 should be put in the referendum. On the other hand, it is clearly right that a matter of this importance should remain subject to strict parliamentary control. We have, therefore, provided in Clause 2(5) of the Bill that the Secretary of State may make the necessary detailed provision in an order—but that he may make no order under this provision unless it has first been approved in both Houses of Parliament.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
May we be clear about who is to frame the nature of the questions asked in any potential referendum?
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
My right hon. Friend is racing through this part of his speech, and I understand why, but, as I have no amendments down on specific points, will he answer three questions about the Convention?
First, will internees or detainees be allowed to vote, as I believe they were able to do in previous elections? Secondly, will they be allowed to stand as candidates for the Convention? Thirdly, as many of the political organisers, certainly in some of the Loyalist and Republican movements, are incarcerated in Long Kesh, Armagh or Magilligan, will any arrangement be made for them to participate in the elections for the very important Convention? Will they be allowed out on compassionate grounds to participate in the election?
§ Mr. Rees
I am extremely sympathetic about my hon. Friend's first point concerning voting by internees. However, the question of voting rights does not arise under the Bill. It comes under the Assembly elections Act, which was separated from the original Constitution Act. If internees were allowed to vote under that Act, then it will be possible under this Bill. If they were not allowed to stand as candidates under that Act, amendment would be necessary, not to this Bill, but to that Act. I shall see what powers I shall have in that respect.
52 On the third point, I should not wish to say that I have done aught else than note what my hon. Friend has said. I shall carefully consider my hon. Friend's first two points. I am convinced that they do not arise on this Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with these matters later.
The Government believe that this Bill will enable the whole community in Northern Ireland to make further progress towards peace and prosperity. The Bill makes provision for the better government of Northern Ireland in the immediate future, but the provisions upon which I would lay most stress are those which provide for the creation of the Constitutional Convention in Northern Ireland. This is an important step forward, and we have been at pains in this Bill to avoid crabbing or confining the Convention in any way which might impede its work. Indeed, we have striven wherever possible to make the provisions in the Bill flexible. Thus we have been careful to provide for the Convention's life to be extended if this is necessary—or to be recalled after it has submitted its first report.
We have provided for the possibility of a referendum—but have been careful not to impose a requirement that a referendum shall be held if it does not seem desirable at the time. And we have left open the precise issues which might be tested at the referendum.
The Bill is a carefully, and I hope thoughtfully, planned means of implementing the policy announced in the White Paper and approved by this House last week.
I have gone quickly through my comments because, as we had a debate on Northern Ireland last week, I thought it better to allow hon. and right hon. Members to raise matters which could be answered as they were raised. I emphasise the purpose of the Convention, which isfor the purpose of considering what provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there.If the ladies and gentlemen who are elected to the Convention take that as their precept, they will receive a favourable wind when they report back to the House. It is important that whatever comes out of Northern Ireland should command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there. 53 That is what the House wants. Here is a chance for the people of Ulster to talk and work together.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
The Secretary of State emphasised twice that we debated this matter in general in some detail last week. Like him, I made quite a long speech then, and I do not intend to trespass on the time of the House to a similar degree this afternoon, particularly as the Secretary of State has just explained the provisions of the Bill on the whole very adequately.
It was generally agreed last week that since the fall of the Executive and the prorogation of the Assembly the arrangements for governing Northern Ireland have not been satisfactory. The Bill contains provisions for rectifying that situation which I think will prove acceptable to the House.
As the Secretary of State said, Clause 2 is the crucial part of the Bill, and subsection (1) is probably the most important part of the clause. I hope that when he winds up the Minister of State will be able to expand a little on what the Secretary of State said about it. The key phrase in subsection (d) is:likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there.The phrase in paragraph 55 of the White Paper is:majority and widespread support from its members". I appreciate that in the White Paper the right hon. Gentleman was referring to the members of the Convention, while in the Bill the Government are referring to the community as a whole. But I should have thought that the original White Paper phrase would also have been suitable for the Bill. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us why the phraseology has been changed and what is the significance of the change. "Majority and widespread support" seems to me to have slightly greater precision that has "the most widespread acceptance". The phrase "most widespread acceptance" seems to be vaguer. The Government in the White Paper seem to be seeking the HCF—the highest common factor—and in the Bill they seem to be seeking the LCM—the lowest common multiple. In the Bill the Government 54 are not even seeking majority, let alone widespread, support. They are seeking only the "most widespread acceptance". "Acceptance" seems to be much less than "support", and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to explain this to the House.
The word "provision" in the subsection instead of "provisions" seems odd. The plural is the more normal usage. Is there a misprint, or is there a reason why the singular has been preferred?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Paragraph 50 of the White Paper reads as follows:to consider what provisions for the government of Northern Ireland would be likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there".Those are exactly the words in the Bill.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I was referring to paragraph 55 of the White Paper, which states:In the event of the convention producing recommendations which command majority and widespread support from its members".That seems to be a rather better phrase, which demands rather more than the Government demand in the Bill. "Support" is a better word than "acceptance". There is a slight difference. As the Secretary of State said, the Convention is its own master, and he has properly allowed great flexibility. By leaving the Bill in this state he may actually be increasing the chances of unnecessary argument within the Convention on what is needed. There might be something to be said for laying down more clearly the limits within which the Convention must operate, while making it absolutely clear that within those limits the Convention is entirely free to recommend what it wishes.
I turn briefly to Schedule 2, paragraph 7. Is it intended that the Convention should sit at Stormont? I presume so. Can it or its committees sit in secret? The House will remember that the Philadelphia Convention which produced the American constitution sat throughout behind closed doors. That would not be possible today, but it might be an advantage to have a secret session from time to time.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
My experience is that even if it were secret the proceedings 55 would all be in the Belfast Telegraph that evening.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I agree. That is certainly a possibility that must be taken into account.
The Convention will undoubtedly have a most formidable task. As John Adams, the second President of the United States, said just before the American Convention:It is much easier to pull down a Government, in such a conjuncture of affairs as we have seen, than to build up, at such a season as the present.The members of this Convention, unlike the members of the Philadelphia Convention, will have to fight democratic elections to achieve membership. As happens at all elections, unwise things are bound to be said which will make agreement and correct action more difficult later.
The Government have certainly set the people of Northern Ireland, particularly those who are elected to the Convention, an enormously difficult and intractable task, and if they fail the dangers will be very great. We must all profoundly hope that they will not fail and that those dangers do not materialise.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
Like the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour), I do not want to traverse all the ground we covered in the debate on the White Paper. I want to speak primarily about the Bill.
It is worth reminding the House why we are here. The House of Commons endeavoured to impose on the people of Ulster a constitution which was plainly not acceptable to the majority. It is a great pity that all that had to happen before we got where we are now. It would have been possible in April last year to have got where we are now, and that is what we should have done. We should have proceeded from the first election of the Assembly—as I then advised in the House of Commons—to regard the Assembly in a constitution-making way.
In the debate on the White Paper on 9th July, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham said one thing of great significance of which I will remind the House: 56But of one thing I am sure. We want Ulster to remain in the United Kingdom. We have been together a long time to the great mutual advantage of all, and that historic connection should not be severed now. We want to preserve the United Kingdom and we want to preserve Ulster as part of that United Kingdom. I am sure that it is possible to work out arrangements which will achieve that objective.It is worth reminding the House that that is now the official view of the Conservative and Unionist Opposition. I am entitled to ask the Secretary of State whether the bipartisan policy extends to endorsing what my right hon. Friend said during the debate on the White Paper. It will be interesting to know whether the Minister of State or, indeed, the Secretary of State himself takes exactly the same view—namely, that they want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The question of bipartisanship has worked for a couple of years on the basis of respect and, on occasions, of disagreement. It is clear that Labour wants Northern Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom in the terms laid down in the White Paper: it must be on terms which will gain the respect of the rest of the United Kingdom, and not on terms laid down in Northern Ireland.
§ Captain Orr
That is a different view. That is not what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham said.
§ Mr. Beith
It is incumbent in this situation that the House should have a third view. Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman pause from healing his breach with the Conservative Party to say whether he thinks that it is for the people of Ireland to decide whether they want to remain in the United Kingdom or be part of some other grouping, and to recognise that the proposals we have discussed so far have been designed to secure that the people of Northern Ireland rather than the rest of the United Kingdom should decide the issue?
§ Captain Orr
It is the view of any part of the United Kingdom that any other 57 part of the United Kingdom should remain a part as long as it so wishes. On the other hand, it is a strange constitutional doctrine that any part of the United Kingdom would necessarily have a right to leave it. I wonder what we should say if the Isle of Wight, because of troubles there, suddenly decided by a majority to leave the United Kingdom. What would be the attitude of this House? We shall maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom only if the Parliament of the United Kingdom says plainly, as my right hon. Friend made clear, that it is the intention of the United Kingdom Parliament to preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom and that that is the only way we shall proceed.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Does not my hon. and gallant Friend agree that the interpretation given by the Secretary of State today is contrary to the Constitution Act, which says that Northern Ireland cannot leave the United Kingdom except when a majority of the people of Northern Ireland want that to happen? It is nothing to do with this House at all.
§ Captain Orr
I am obliged to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), but I did not pray that provision in aid because I do not believe in that kind of guarantee. It is no use the Secretary of State threatening us that if we attempt to do away with the Constitution Act we shall do away with the pledge. I believe the pledge is worthless. The pledge which the House should give is that the integrity of the United Kingdom should be maintained. I do not believe that declaratory pledges written into Acts of Parliament are of any value whatever.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
I should like to know what is the difference between the Constitution Act and what was said by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour).
§ Captain Orr
The difference is that my right hon. Friend spoke without qualification. He said "We want Ulster to remain part of the United Kingdom". The fact that we want Ulster to remain part of the United Kingdom should be put on record. I hope to see those words 58 reiterated in the Conservative election manifesto when it is published.
I turn to the Bill—and incidentally, what I said a little earlier was intended to be an agreeable introduction to my remarks on the Bill itself. We have now reached the situation where we are about to have an election to a constitution-making Convention. In my view that is a sensible step to take, and, whatever differences there may be between the Secretary of State and ourselves, he has taken an extremely wise course in setting up the Convention. However, there are certain defects in what he proposes which could, unless they are carefully handled, frustrate his good intentions.
The first defect is that there is a danger in the Bill as drafted that the whole matter may be allowed to drift into the sand. In other words, if we do not have elections to the Convention fairly soon there is a grave danger of further difficulties. I argued in a debate in this House after the ending of the constitutional stoppage—I do not use the word "strike"—that the election should not be too soon and should not be too late. The situation in which we now find ourselves is that there is a danger of the election coming too late unless and until there is a fair determination to get on with the job.
There are dangers in the organisation of the Convention itself. For example, there are dangers in the appointment of a chairman. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) deployed this argument in the debate on the White Paper. The choice of the chairman for the new Convention is very important. I hope that the Secretary of State will look at the precedents. I do not go to the precedent of the Philadelphia Convention, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. It would be unwise to pray in aid a UDI situation where an illegal body was involved. I prefer to go to the Newfoundland Convention. There a High Court judge was involved. In fact, there were two chairmen on that occasion. The first chairman died; the strain evidently was too much for him. The second chairman had to resign because he was thought to be partial towards confederation with Canada. In other words, the chairmanship of the Newfoundland Convention was not a success.
59 We must be careful not to fall into the trap outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South. There is difficulty in having somebody who is absolutely impartial and whose background is that of a High Court judge. Such a person will lack the political experience required to steer a political body and preside over its deliberations. It is difficult to find somebody with political experience within a small community in Northern Ireland who at the same time can be impartial. I suggest that the Secretary of State should not necessarily confine himself to a Northern Ireland person for the chairmanship of the Convention. He should not tie himself too tightly on that matter. He should go quite widely and not necessarily exclude himself. It requires a gerat deal of thought. I suggest to him that the question of the chairmanship should be left until the Convention is elected and that very great care should be taken after the election to the Convention to consult those who are elected about the type of person or about the impartiality of the person chosen to take the chair at the Convention.
We have heard all kinds of suggestions. One is that the chairman should actually be elected by the Convention. The Bill says that the chairman shall be appointed by Her Majesty, but I presume that that does not prevent the parties in the Convention from expressing a view about the chairmanship in advance or in giving advice to Her Majesty.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
It is important that issues like this should be discussed. I am interested in the analogy with Newfoundland. I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that when I wrote the paper on this matter the idea of Newfoundland was not in my mind. This is ex post rather than ex ante. I shall listen round, but consulting in the sense of getting people in the Convention involved and putting forward ideas as to who it should be would lead people in the end to say "That is the man whom such-and-such a group wanted". I thought that it should be very much for the Secretary of State to take this decision.
§ Captain Orr
I take the right hon. Gentleman's point about the dangers involved in too formal a form of consultation. However, I recommend that sound- 60 ings of some sort should be taken. We should be careful in the first instance to get the right chairman for the Convention. If we do not get the right chairman, we shall really run into dangers. We might get a situation where the assembly itself decided that it wished to elect a chairman and that it wished to advise Her Majesty. We might get a situation where a chairman was appointed and the assembly itself as its first act passed a vote of no confidence in him. Anything of that kind would make the chairman's position very difficult.
All that I am saying is that this is a much more difficult problem than perhaps anyone may have realised, and that there should be the greatest amount of consultation behind the scenes and in other ways to ensure that when the person concerned takes the chair for the first time all sections of the community have confidence in his impartiality in the first place and in his wisdom and skill in the second place.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It may be that the last person who should be appointed is a High Court judge, not least because such appointments bring the High Court into disrepute in that people are appointed who are not trained to preside over a highly political assembly. Nevertheless, does it appeal to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that a chairman should be sought not only from outside Northern Ireland but from outside the United Kingdom, remembering that the English, the Scots and the Welsh have not been exactly successful? Might he not come from Canada or the United States, for instance?
§ Captain Orr
Of course, everything depends on whom Her Majesty appoints. But I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say what he did about the possibility of a High Court judge being appointed. Of course another difficulty, if it is suggested that we look outside the United Kingdom, is that someone like the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will suggest, sotto voce, that we appoint General Amin or someone like that. However, the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) may well have a point. I hope that no possibility will be excluded in considering the chairmanship, because it is on the chairmanship that so much will rest.
61 I come to the most vital defect in the whole proposition. We are now proceeding once again to direct rule. In fact, we are in the direct position again. We have already had a year of direct rule. We shall have an indeterminate period of direct rule now. Taking the example of the Newfoundland Convention, that took more than a year. I think that it took two years. In any event, it was a long time. If some degree of pressure had not been brought to bear at the end, it might have been even longer.
It is necessary to move fast to get the Convention set up, and thereafter there ought to be any amount of time for the Convention to conduct all the necessary inquiries, discussions and everything else so that it may come to its decision. We have to envisage the possibility of a year of direct rule and perhaps more. At the end of that time, if the Convention is successful, if it comes to a view and it makes a proposition finally to the Secretary of State, it will be this House of Commons which will have to decide what are to be the constitutional arrangements for Northern Ireland. It is the House of Commons which will have to deal either with what the Convention puts forward or with the situation if the Convention does not come to any conclusion. In the long run, it is the House of Commons which must decide.
We have a situation where for six months, a year, 18 months or two years this House will be the governing body for Northern Ireland. At the end of that time, it is this House which will make the decisions. It is quite impossible to understand how anyone in this House who is a democrat can possibly defend Northern Ireland's continuing to be under-represented in this House in the face of all that. What possible justification can there be for it? We are part of the United Kingdom. It looks as if we are to remain part of the United Kingdom for the foreseeable future. We have invited a constitutional Convention to decide what is to be the nature of our devolution within the United Kingdom. That is really all that the Convention will do. It will say that it wants this or that scheme of devolution but in the long run the reality of the situation is that we are part of the United Kingdom. For the lifetime of all of us here it is pretty plain 62 that we shall remain part of the United Kingdom. How we can continue to justify our under-representation in the House of Commons, I cannot imagine.
Thus, I say to the Secretary of State that everything that we are doing today, every action that we are taking, the whole of the White Paper, the Bill and everything else will fall and be frustrated unless the House of Commons ensures that Northern Ireland is properly represented.
I have warned the House of Commons before about its mistakes with regard to Ulster. Every time I have been tempted to come here to say "I told you so." I say this most solemnly to the Secretary of State and to the House as a whole: continue to keep Ulster under-represented in this House and you are building up danger.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
It is important to get this right. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is talking about a society where 1,000 people have died and where there has been …70 million-worth of compensation—tragic as it all is—resulting from the views of people who do not want to be in the United Kingdom. I have in mind the remarks of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour). Although any suggestion of that kind could not be dealt with under the Bill and would require other legislation, what matters in terms of the Bill is that a proposal should command widespread acceptance throughout the community. Is that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's assessment of Northern Ireland, given the past five years?
§ Captain Orr
Most certainly. Here lies the misconception, and that intervention shows it. If there are people within any part of the United Kingdom who do not want to remain part of the United Kingdom, is that to be used as an argument for the rest of the people within that part of the United Kingdom, whose ancestors have been part of the United Kingdom for as long as the United Kingdom has existed and who themselves wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, being under-represented in the House of Commons?
If the right hon. Gentleman carried his argument to logic, he should say "Let us abolish Northern Ireland's representation in the House of Commons and let 63 Northern Ireland leave the United Kingdom." That is what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. The logical alternative is that, if we believe that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland should be represented properly within the United Kingdom. There is no way out of that dichotomy.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Let us assume that it were the case that Northern Ireland had a devolved form of government. I was always told that it was that. Originally the people of Northern Ireland had a Parliament. Whether or not they wanted it is another matter. This is a factor in what the representation at Westminster should be. What the hon. and gallant Gentleman is asking for is integration, not finding a devolved form of government.
§ Captain Orr
With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he knows as well as I do that the 1920 Act devolved considerable powers upon Stormont but that those powers were steadily eroded over the years because of the complication of our society, because of the growing influence of the Treasury over the years, till we reached a point after the war where the under-representation of Northern Ireland in the House of Commons, Stormont notwithstanding, was no longer justified. All the fiscal power was here. Northern Ireland's citizens are taxed at exactly the same level as the rest of the United Kingdom.
It is no use the Minister of State saying continually "Look at the money that is going there." That is a stupid argument, for I can point in return to the money that goes to North-East England, to Wales, to Cornwall, and to other parts of the United Kingdom. Let me quote Marx to the hon. Gentleman—From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.That is the principle that underlies our taxation system within the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister of State will eventually abandon that nonsensical argument.
Either we are part of the United Kingdom or we are not—it is one or the other. If we are part of the United Kingdom, and pending any decision or recommendation by the Convention for any widespread 64 form of devolution, there is no argument in favour of keeping us under-represented in this extraordinary way.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Has not the hon. and gallant Gentleman read what is called the Kilbrandon Report and, perhaps more important, what is called the Crowther-Hunt Report? In both reports, more especially in the Crowther-Hunt Report, it is argued strongly that if there is to be very substantial devolution in terms of the assuming of many responsibilities within separate areas, there must necessarily be a considerable reduction in representation in the House of Commons. Is not this reasonable?
§ Captain Orr
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the Kilbrandon Report, which said that if there were to be devolution to Scotland or Wales there should be a diminution in representation in the House. Kilbrandon's only recommendation about Northern Ireland was that Northern Ireland is grossly under-represented in the House and that its representation here should be increased. I am happy to have the hon. Gentleman reinforce my view. I hope that if we ever have a Division on the subject of increasing Northern Ireland's representation in the House of Commons he, with the Kilbrandon Report on his shoulder, will march behind us into the Lobby.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
This is an important subject to be discussed, but can the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell me what part of the Bill could be amended to bring about what he wants?
§ Captain Orr
The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that I sought to table an amendment but that he drafted the long title of the Bill so skilfully that it was impossible for me to get an amendment to that effect within order. That is why I am making so much of this on Second Reading. However, he has saved no time by taking that action.
This is a very serious matter. Why have people died in Northern Ireland? Why has there been so much bloodshed, violence and murder? It is because wicked men were allowed to create by force political uncertainty, to thrive on it, and to go on while political uncertainty 65 lasted. While there is political uncertainty, so long will evil men use violence to try to gain their ends.
One way of getting political certainty about union is to make it plain that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and is properly represented in the House of Commons. The Secretary of State seems to find that a curious argument. It happens to be the fundamental argument. Until there is stability of government, backed by the Parliament at Westminster which says "This shall not be overturned. We do not wish to overturn it", for so long will violence feed upon the uncertainty.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree with me that the fundamental reason for the killing and the grave differences of opinion in Northern Ireland is that the minority community there has been grossly under-represented in Stormont for the last 50 years and that his new-found desire for proper representation—in fact, over-representationin—this Parliament does not in any way accord with his previous feeling about the under-representation at Stormont which has caused all the slaughter which is now going on?
§ Captain Orr
If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything. Nothing could be further from the truth. The minority was represented in Stormont in a perfectly fair and reasonable way. It is untrue to say that it was not. The hon. Gentleman is probably thinking about local government. In any case, nothing that could conceivably have been suffered could justify anything like the loss of human life that has occurred. If the hon. Gentleman really thinks that that is a reason for all the bloodshed and the murder and the bombs that are going off in Manchester, Birmingham and other places, he has another think coming.
There will not be peace, nor a return to order, nor will the Army commitment be reduced, until such time as there is stability. It must be stability based upon the clear will of the majority, with magnanimity to the minority. Without those things, the problems will not be solved, there will not be peace and there will not be order. What we hope to get from the Convention is stability, but we 66 shall not get that unless Northern Ireland is properly and fairly represented in this House of Commons.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I cannot pretend to welcome the Bill, coming as it does in the wake of the downfall of the Executive, the power-sharing Government and the Sunningdale Agreement which I believe had the support of many people in Northern Ireland who wanted to see justice and a fair Government.
I believe that the introduction of the White Paper and the Bill today represent an abject and total surrender to those forces in Northern Ireland which set about using every endeavour to bring to an end the system of government that we had under the Sunningdale Agreement. That is the way in which this measure is being interpreted in Northern Ireland.
I wish that I could share the optimism of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who hopes that the simple but complex task—that in itself is a contradiction—that is to be given to the newly-elected Convention in Northern Ireland will result in a form of government that is acceptable to everyone in Northern Ireland.
I shall endeavour to the best of my ability to co-operate in every way to see whether my right hon. Friend's hopes can be achieved, but I think that one is entitled to refer to the short exchange after Question Time today following the statement by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about events in Cyprus. One is not unaware that there are certain parallels to be drawn between Cyprus and Northern Ireland. Both areas have majority and minority politics, and both have majority and minority communities. It is because of the differing aspirations and loyalties of the two communities in Cyprus that one has seen such tribal attitudes and violence, and the same thing can be said for Northern Ireland.
The Bill is being accepted by the so-called Loyalist forces in Northern Ireland because they believe that when the elections take place their supporters will be elected by an overwhelming majority and they will then be in a position to dictate the terms under which they will accept any new political structure in Northern 67 Ireland. If that is their attitude, I predict that we are in for a series of continuing crises in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) said that in the elections that would precede the setting up of the Convention certain things would be said which would be unfavourable to the creation of an atmosphere of confidence in the newly-elected Convention. The right hon. Gentleman does not have to wait for the elections to take place for that to happen. One has only to read the speeches—they were almost bordering on sedition—during the 12th July demonstrations to realise that there will be no confidence in the Convention.
We heard the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) call upon his supporters to join the RUC reserve and the UDR because, he said, the day was coming when they would have to take security into their own hands. That is very near to sedition, and it does not give any member of the minority confidence to join either of those forces, yet that is what we were desperately advocating throughout the lifetime of the Executive to try to create an acceptable security force.
A former Minister in the Ministry of Home Affairs, speaking on the national radio, expressed his sentiments and called for the creation of a Home Guard of 20,000 men. He said that they would have to build on the victories which they had achieved during the strike which led to the downfall of the Executive.
Such sentiments may be acceptable to Loyalist Members in this House, but they are not acceptable to the one-third of the population in Northern Ireland who have lived their lives under a one-class ascendancy Government, except for a short period of direct rule and five months during the lifetime of the Executive. They now feel that they have lost everything, and they have no confidence in the decisions that may be taken by the Convention.
The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) is rather pleased at what he regards as a change of policy by the Conservative Opposition. The hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted at length what had been said last week 68 about the Conservative Party wanting Ulster to remain part of the United Kingdom. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seeks to divide the Opposition and the Government by saying that my right hon. Friends are trying to place some qualifications upon Ulster's membership of the United Kingdom.
In the absence of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, I ask the Conservative Opposition whether they accept the terms and conditions laid down in the White Paper issued by the Government. Do they accept that any future political structure created in Northern Ireland must prove acceptable to this House and to the people of the rest of the United Kingdom?
The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South says that his party will have a majority elected to the new Convention by sheer weight of numbers, that those elected will determine what type of assembly or local political institutions they will have, and they will then come to the Westminster Government and say "This is what we have decided by a majority vote in the newly elected Convention, and you will have to accept these terms". Given the history of Northern Ireland, and remembering that there has been a majority trampling over a minority for 50 years, which has led to the death and destruction that we have had to live with during the last five years, I must tell the House that that attitude is not acceptable.
I believe that the Government at Westminster—and who knows which Government may be in office after the next election—must continue with the bipartisan approach that has been adopted so far. This must be done to ensure that the majority party in Northern Ireland does not achieve the insatiable lust for power which its members are beginning to demand, and here again I refer to the speeches that were made on various Orange platforms only last weekend. If one reads those speeches one learns which way the wind is blowing, and if it is allowed to continue to blow in that direction it will bring with it a hurricane of disaster.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South on some points. During its five months in office, the Executive tried to govern in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland. Every 69 elected Member of the Assembly had the opportunity to go to that House at Stormont and ask questions about his constituency or put forward a case on behalf of his constituents. But many Members decided not to attend, and now they are asking for added representation in this House. That again is a contradictory argument.
As the Assembly is prorogued, will it be possible for me to ask Questions in this House about my constituency of Belfast, West and have those Questions answered here, or must the issues that I raise be dealt with on the telephone or by letter? Certain matters cannot be dealt with satisfactorily over the telephone or by letter. Questions that we ask should be answered in this House, because our constituents want to know whether we are acting in their interests. I do not believe that any private or semi-private system will be accepted by our constituents in Northern Ireland.
§ Captain Orr
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman on this. I understand that the arrangements will be precisely as they were under the previous direct rule, and that we shall be able to ask any Questions.
§ Mr. Fitt
There are a few points which some people may regard as minor but which may become major, as everything is inclined to do in Northern Ireland.
Again, I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that whoever is to be appointed as or selected chairman of the Convention must have the support of at least a majority of members there. We in our various political rôles in Northern Ireland could read an announcement in the Press or here in this House that someone has been appointed whom the majority of members of the Convention might find objectionable. My right hon. Friend will have to tread very warily to make certain that he gets an acceptable chairman.
Will the chairman have a deputy, in case he happens to be knocked down by 70 a bus on his way to the Convention or overtaken by illness? Will he have one deputy or two? The Government cannot just appoint a single individual, because it may not be possible for him to be available at every meeting of the Convention. Much more thought must go into the appointment.
§ Mr. Orme
As my hon. Friend knows, the chairman will be appointed upon a recommendation to Her Majesty the Queen. The responsibility for a replacement, if something unfortunately happened to the chairman, would be on the same basis. The Convention may decide that it needs a deputy chairman representative of the Convention. I do not think that it will be difficult for the Convention members to make such a decision.
§ Mr. Fitt
I am delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend will look into these points, because they are very important.
One other matter has been brought to my mind by the intervention of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who says that no matter what happens in this debate, and no matter what the Convention decides, last year's Constitution Act guarantees the constitutional position of Ulster within the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said repeatedly that it is not possible to have Section 1 or Section 2 and dump all the rest of the Act. I have also heard repeatedly, not only from the hon. Member for Antrim, North but from all those associated with him, that the Act is dead. If that is so, every single section goes with it, and the only way in which Northern Ireland can continue to be related to the United Kingdom is by our creating political structures in Northern Ireland which will bring about social justice for all in that part of the United Kingdom and which will have to be rubber-stamped by this Parliament.
I warn my right hon. Friends that there seems to be a mood developing in Northern Ireland, because of the success of the Ulster workers' strike, allied as it was with certain politicians, that they have shown that they can bring the whole country to a complete stop, and that in those circumstances British Governments will be prepared to concede their demands. If that is so, I can only predict a further series of troubles in Northern Ireland.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
It is with some hesitation that I venture to intervene for the first time in some years' experience of Parliament in an Irish debate. My godfather was shot on the steps of his house for his associations with Ireland, and my uncle, who graced the Liberal benches—he was the last all-Ireland Secretary of State—had two detectives attached to him for 20 years after the 1922 treaty. Therefore, I have no illusions about the gravity of the problems we are discussing.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) censured the White Paper and the Bill as an abject capitulation to violence, referring, as I understood him, to what the Ulster Workers' Council had done to bring down the Sunningdale structure. But that is where we came in, because Sunningdale itself was a capitulation to violence. [Interruption.] I do not disclaim responsibility. My party supported many of the actions which the previous Labour Government took, and we carried them further.
It was the diagnosis of both sides of the House that the way to combat the IRA insurrection was by winning the hearts and minds of the minority community. It must be said that each Government—the Labour Government first, and the Conservative Government afterwards—bent over backwards in their attempt to win the hearts and minds of the minority community. There can be arguments about whether they went far enough or too far. Different hon. Members in various parts of the House will take a different view about that. The fact remains that we were totally unsuccessful in winning the hearts and minds of the minority community to a point where the IRA insurrection was brought under control.
There is a danger, which I have noticed in this debate and in the debate on the White Paper, of forgetting that the IRA insurrection was at the beginning of the problems we are discussing. Our discussion is not an abstract attempt to produce a better system of government in Northern Ireland but an attempt to produce a system of government that will enable the insurrection to be defeated. We must face the fact that so far we have totally failed in that respect.
72 The Conservative Government of which I was a member—I do not disclaim responsibility, although I think that I was at the Ministry of Housing at the time—took important steps, as the Labour Government have done. The Labour Government uprooted and destroyed the B Specials. There was much to be said against the B Specials, although I think that every military man today, and, I suspect, the Minister of State, would wish that we had the B Specials back again. I have had some experience of guerrilla warfare, both as a guerrilla and from the security side, and I have no doubt that only local forces can really help uproot and destroy an enemy who also has his roots in the local community. I am not saying that we should re-create the B Specials, but I would hope that membership of them is not regarded as a bar to anyone's being recruited into any of the security forces.
That was a step taken by a Labour Government. We uprooted Stormont. We destroyed it as completely as the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State have now uprooted the Sunning-dale Assembly. It was a big step to take. There was much to be said against Stormont, but it had survived 50 years. It had weathered the depression between the wars, and the Second World War, when Dublin, certainly for the first two years of the war, was not too well disposed to this country in its most dangerous hour. It also survived the aftermath of the war and the severe economic depression that struck Northern Ireland.
I do not know whether it would have been possible to amend or improve Stormont. Instead, we took the drastic step of uprooting it. It is quite easy to destroy institutions, but when we took that step we put in question every other institution that might succeed it. It is very difficult to put Humpty Dumpty together again. We cannot re-create Stormont as it used to be. The Assembly that followed it has been destroyed in the same way, and there is a great danger that, whatever comes next, there will be a feeling in Northern Ireland that pressure or violence could also lead to its destruction.
The purpose of recrimination, as Winston Churchill once said, is to prevent the repetition of error. The only 73 reason I go back on what I think were probably mistakes—the disbandment of the B Specials and the uprooting of Stormont—is that it is important that we approach the Ulster problem with more humility than we have done. There has been a tendency to say "They are behaving like barbarians over there, not in the way they ought to behave. They ought to do what we say. They ought to have our standards of fair play."
After all the mistakes we have made, it behoves us to walk a little more humbly and to look at the problem not from above, as if we knew we were right, but thinking that perhaps we are not. I could have wished, in some ways, that the Government had not summoned this Convention out of the blue. I could have wished that the question of Ulster devolution could have been considered in the broader context of Kilbrandon, as a progression from the direct rule which exists today in Scotland and Wales. That has not happened. What is important is that we should proceed flexibly, particularly where the parameters which have been laid down are concerned.
I want to speak about two of those parameters, because the third—the acceptability of a decision to this House—goes without saying. It is only if this House acepts what is decided in Belfast that it will become law. That is the only way in which progress can finally be made.
The first of these parameters is power sharing. The difficulties in Ulster between the two communities are fat greater than anything we can conceive of here between even the Left wing of the Labour Party and the Right wing of the Conservatives, or even the Liberals as they still exist. When some of us have advocated a Government of national unity, the Prime Minister has dismissed the idea as a squalid conspiracy. That is all part of the rhetoric of our politics. But to suggest that it is easier for the two communities in Ireland to embark upon a power-sharing coalition than it is for Labour and Conservatives to get together seems a little surprising. Their difficulties are real, because they go to the heart of things. We have to accept that the more emphasis we place on power sharing in this House the less power can be devolved. We have to face the fact that the more we insist upon 74 power sharing as one of the parameters to which we attach importance the fewer will be the opportunities to devolve powers. It may be that the Convention will reach agreement over a broader scope of powers than seems possible so far. I hope so. We must, however, have this very much in mind. If we insist on power sharing we shall not get very far with devolution.
I am not sure about the merits of devolution—not only for Ulster but for Scotland and Wales. The trend is towards devolution. Whether it is in the best interests of the provinces or the nations concerned, or of the United Kingdom as a whole, seems far from sure. Under our present system the best elements from Scotland and Wales have made their contribution in this House. They have spoken here and worked here and served in Governments here, not only representing Scotland or Wales but, like David Lloyd George or my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir A. Douglas-Home), taking great positions in United Kingdom politics.
With all respect to my hon. Friends from Ulster it seems that under the Stormont system some of the best men stayed in Belfast and did not come to make their contributions here. I am not sure whether big fish and little pools are a good combination. The fish tend to be too big for the pool, and ruffle the water. There is a lot to be said for devolution not going too far.
I was a little disturbed by the exchange between the Secretary of State and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) on the question of increased representation. I can see that there was an argument—and might still be one, if Stormont had the powers it used to have—for saying that Ulster was not entitled to full representation here. I do not know what the Convention will decide, but if I am right in saying that if we insist on power sharing devolution will be fairly small, there is a strong case for increased representation. I do not see why the fact that part of the population of Ulster is against the union should be a reason for not increasing representation.
So long as Ulster is part of the union it is here that both those who support 75 the union and those who oppose it should make their points. Personally, I think there could be worse solutions than a considerable degree of local government devolution, accompanied by increased representation in this House, with an Ulster Committee like the Scottish Grand Committee and with a Secretary of State for the Province who, by convention, would normally be an Ulsterman, with a deputy who might, again by convention, normally come from the minority community. There could be departments in Belfast, just as, with the Scottish Office, housing, agriculture and many other aspects of Scottish national life are administered through the Scottish Office by departments in Edinburgh.
I realise that all this runs us into the problem of the Irish dimension. I wonder whether we are not slightly exaggerating the impact of this dimension. Already the links between the minority community and Dublin ensure that Dublin's interests cannot be overlooked in any devolutionary system which is based on power sharing. If there is any devolution, however slight, the representatives of the minority community will be in a position to ensure that Dublin's interests are not overlooked. Even if there were total integration—and there is not total integration with Scotland or Wales—representatives of the minority community would be elected and would be able to speak up for the Dublin interest. Dublin's voice would be heard and its interests would be protected.
Our relations with the Irish Republic are already very close. It is a unique relationship. I can find no parallel relationship between any other two countries. It extends to free movement of population, economic co-operation and understanding between Governments on almost every subject. This has arisen not only because of the presence of a large Irish community in Britain, not only because of our historic associations, but because Ulster is part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the presence of Ulster in the United Kingdom is the guarantee that the Irish Republic still preserves these special links with Britain which, so far as I can see, exist between no other two countries.
76 Dublin accepts, as we do, that Ulster's allegiance to the United Kingdom or to the Republic must depend upon the decision of the majority in Ulster. This does not stop Dublin from proclaiming its wish for a united Ireland, and it should not stop us from proclaiming with equal clarity that we want to see Ulster remain in the United Kingdom. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) made it clear in the debate on the White Paper that we want to see Ulster remain part of the United Kingdom. He made it clear that we have not forgotten the contribution Ulster made in the war, both in the bases it gave us to fight the Battle of the Atlantic and in the long and honourable roll call of seven field marshals out of nine who came from the Province. It is perfectly fair that we should stake our claim and wish, and that our friends in Dublin should say what they would like in the future. After what has happened, I do not believe that a union of all Ireland is very likely in the foreseeable future. The question is whether there is, in the longer term, a possibility of reconciling the claims and aspirations of Dublin, London and Belfast. I believe that there is, but that it calls for the introduction of a third dimension.
There are the English or British dimension and the Irish dimension. The reconciling factor could be the European dimension. The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are both members of the European Economic Community. It is, or was, the ambition—certainly of the previous Conservative Government, and, as I understand it, it is still, subject to satisfactory renegotiation, the objective of the Labour Party, at any rate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—that the European Economic Community should evolve, as it must in the longer run if it is to continue at all, into a European political community. Economics and finance cannot be separated from foreign policy in the longer run. One does not have to be a Marxist to accept that proposition. If one day we achieve a European political community, and if the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are both members of that community, then we shall be members of one another.
77 If that situation should come to pass, I should have thought that the border between the Republic of Ireland and Ulster would be what already to a large extent it is—a purely administrative border. No one knows the time scale ahead of us towards the building of a European political community. At a summit meeting a year or so ago it was laid down that it would take 10 years. It may be done by 1980, or soon afterwards; it may take longer. But I suspect that it will be easier to produce a European political community than to resolve separately the complex of divided loyalties between Dublin and London and inside Ulster.
It is, therefore, to European unity that we should look as the long-term horizon on which the differences between us will be ultimately resolved. Meanwhile, we must get on with the job as best we can, remembering that the more we insist on power sharing the less devolution there will be.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
It is common form in the House to put forward an excuse for not following the remarks of the previous speaker. On this occasion, however, the previous speaker, the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) has delivered himself of a very interesting speech. Therefore, I shall excuse myself by saying that I should like to comment on it in some detail, and not reply to it.
First, the right hon. Gentleman said that it behoved us to talk in terms of a good deal of humility. He will forgive me for saying so, but I thought from all his assertions that his speech was far from humble. However, that has happened to all of us. Those of us who have claimed humility in the past, as I have, have gone on to make dogmatic assertions. The same applies to all of us. But I agree that at least we should attempt to start in the spirit of humility.
The right hon. Gentleman then said that somehow or other the two communities were farther apart than were my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman. I wonder whether that is true. Some of us have interested ourselves deeply in Ireland over the past 18 months. Although we are told—on 78 this side of the water it has been accepted into the common mythology of the problem—that the two communities are this far apart, when one goes to Long Kesh, down the Crumlin Road and in the Shankill, what strikes one is how much the so-called two communities have in common. Therefore, as they have common problems, I should like to leave that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech with a very severe question mark, as to whether, in all things, the two communities are as far apart as we think they are. I was very struck by the day I spent with the lion. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), in his constituency, to find that there were many aspects of the situation which belied the belief that we should accept without challenge the assertion that the two communities were this far apart.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that he disagreed with some of the things that his Government had done but that as Minister of Housing there was very little that he could do about it. Here I have a great deal of sympathy with him, because we know how British Governments, and in particular Cabinets and Cabinet committees, work. We know that there are strong resentments and that there is a code of ethics which makes it very difficult for one Minister, even the most senior of Ministers, to interfere in a colleague's Department. One can see the advantages of not wishing to meddle on minor matters in the business of other Ministers. The memoirs of Hugh Dalton make that very clear. But, on the other hand, I really wonder whether it is good for government in Britain—I am not being personal about it—that the affairs of Ireland should seem to be kept within the orbit of one Department.
I should like to see a system of government on this side of the water, in relation not only to Ireland but to certain other subjects, perhaps including defence, in which it is much more acceptable for Ministers to look into affairs which do not, perhaps, directly concern their Departments and to have a much more realistic view of Cabinet responsibility. If we talk about Cabinet responsibility, we must accept that all members of the Cabinet, on crunch issues, ought to be kept fully informed on matters for which they are nominally responsible, if not in fact responsible.
§ Mr. Amery
I would not wish to have misled the hon. Gentleman in any way, or to claim that I saw the light at the time or during that period. I made my views known at the time and there was collective discussion within the Government circle. It was not only in one Department that it was done. As I say, I do not disclaim responsibility in any way from what the Government of which I was a member did. I merely say, looking back, that to some extent I sensed it at the time and that I thought that mistakes were being made.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I accept that, and I pass to the next question raised by the right hon. Gentleman, which bothers me deeply. This concerns the way in which Irish people tend to regard themselves, rightly or wrongly, as second-class citizens within a United Kingdom framework. The right hon. Gentleman made the point about Ministers. I should like to go one step further. I think I am right in saying that apart from the last Secretaries of State for Ireland there has been no senior British Minister from Northern Ireland, with the exception, at the turn of the century, of one William Ross, who was a Postmaster-General.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)
May I interrupt my hon. Friend on a very minor point? I believe that Carson was a member of the War Cabinet from 1916 to 1918.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Not, I think, in peacetime. The point I want to make—I shall give way on points of fact—is that, as a Scot, I realise that Scotland has been brought into the United Kingdom orbit by having, for instance, in successive Conservative Governments, such senior Ministers as the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir A. Douglas-Home). In the previous Labour Government George Thomson was a member of the Cabinet for a considerable period. This all helped to make the Scots feel that they had a say in the United Kingdom. It was not just a question of having a Scottish Secretary in the Cabinet.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
To complete the record, apart from the example of Lord Londonderry, was not Sir James Craig a Minister in a United Kingdom Government?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I thought that he was chiefly distinguished as a senior civil servant. Again, I am open to correction.
§ Mr. Dalyell
To get back to the major point—I have a feeling that the House is granting the major point—there is a strong argument for Northern Ireland's playing a full rôle in the Government of the United Kingdom. Am I wrong in thinking that many people, to put it loosely, think that they are neither fish nor fowl? This is the position that we are in. Therefore, I must confess that I have considerable sympathy for the first amendment on the Notice Paper. Rightly, I understand that we are to discuss the amendments in more detail—
§ Captain Orr
I regret to inform the hon. Gentleman that, as I said in my speech, it is probable that that amendment will be out of order. I humbly suggest that if he has an argument to put forward we would like to hear it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In that event, I return to the point made in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Lawson). Some of us will have to think very hard if—personally, I do not want it—there should be a Scottish Assembly. If that comes about we shall have to think about the scaling down of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament if we are not to accept the scaling upwards of Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland. We cannot have it both ways It is rather contemptible to do so.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I think that is true. I would go further, to another point—the attitude of the Catholic community and particularly, if I may presume to speak for them, of the Provisionals.
I hope that the House will forgive me for quoting four or five paragraphs from a letter sent by Mr. John Quigley, the spokesman for the Provisional IRA in Long Kesh, to my hon. Friend the 81 Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) and myself, but it is germane to this issue. Mr. Quigley ends his letter by suggesting that it is important for those for whom he speaks that there should be 25 Members representing Northern Ireland.
If the House will forgive me, I want to go in some detail through this letter. The first point is the very one made by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion about the EEC. I do not know whether he likes to be in company with the Provisional IRA, but he is in its company at the moment. Mr. Quigley says:None of our leading Irish politicians, North or South, seems to appreciate that in future social and economic direction will come not from London, Dublin or Belfast, but from EEC HQ. Brussels, and in the Common Market the people of Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, must work as a unit.This is the Provo view. Mr. Quigley says that this is inevitable and then he turns to the solution. This is not the time or place to discuss the merits or demerits of the Common Market, but it is of some interest that the Provisionals are on the same point as that made by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion.
Mr. Quigley continues:I suggest Westminster pass a simple Act of Parliament setting up Northern Ireland as one constituency electing, say 53 Members of Parliament (Stormont) by a system of proportional representation.Then he tells my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central and me:You will note that under the present system Members are elected on a Catholic/Protestant basis. The trade unions, the farmers unions, the commercial associations are not represented as such. Under the suggested scheme the trade unionist of Belfast could vote for his nominee in Derry or Newry or Portadown. Similarly, the farmer from Antrim could vote with his fellow farmer from Tyrone, Fermanagh or Armagh.The first election under the proposed scheme might possibly be fought on the old sectarian basis, but the scheme would eventually result in Members of Parliament being elected on a social or economic or cultural basis and would eventually breach the forts of sectarian bigotry. The scheme should be extended to the election of Members for the Westminster Parliament electing, say, 25 Members instead of the present 12.I do not hold any brief for suggesting this should be the basis of selection. All I am saying to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and to others who 82 have spoken is that it matters to a certain section of the men of violence that they, too, get what they conceive to be proper representation in this Parliament.
I turn now to the speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and his exchange with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Frankly, I thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was speaking a good deal of truth, because it matters to people, not only of his viewpoint but to others, not in any sense to be second-class citizens but to be genuine members of the United Kingdom, no less than the Welsh, the English and the Scots. I wonder whether—I put this in an interrogative sense of humility—some people in Ulster, not necessarily only Roman Catholics, have in the past said that they want to leave the United Kingdom because they feel that they are not fully fledged members of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends ought to take seriously, even if it is not in order, the substance of the amendment. We cannot go on like this.
§ Mr. Orme
My hon. Friend talks about second-class citizens. Many people in the United Kingdom would say that the representation that comes from Northern Ireland, which was initially backed by devolution and representation at Stormont with a new Assembly and larger measure of devolution, is greater than in any other part of the United Kingdom.
§ Captain Orr
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. The answer is absolutely plain. It was not a larger measure of devolution; it was considerably diminished. Power over internal security was taken away from the Parliament at Stormont. It was simply power to divide the cake without so much Treasury control, 83 but all the essential powers were reserved to it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If this is going on for some time—not my speech—I must insert the view that if the same thing were to happen to Scotland I should be pretty vexed with Under-Secretaries, Ministers of State and possibly Secretaries of State—Ministers of State and Secretaries of State may be different—who came from, say, Ireland. The Scots would kick up a great deal of trouble if Under-Secretaries were to be appointed from among other than Scottish Members. This is a normal gut reaction. Therefore, I get concerned about the time that Westminster will take, because trouble will fester.
Breaking my own inhibition about humility, I should like to ask another question. As a visitor to Belfast I was struck by the fact that this beautiful architectural jewel—Stormont is a very beautiful place—is outside the city. It may be that there are too many ghosts about—I do not know—but I wonder whether, if this Convention is to be successful, it should have its venue at a place which is not only remote from the city but has many other associations. Stormont, by its very setting, strikes some of us as incongruous in relation to the realities of Northern Ireland. I should prefer my right hon. and hon. Friends to have their base not in Stormont Castle but in a more central place, if possible, even if this is sheer symbolism. Is it wise to have the Convention in a place which is not only remote from the city but has so many other remembrances?
I am concerned with the conditions for success of the Convention, and I come to the question of the chairmanship. Here again, I do not wish to tell the Irish what to do. All I know is that I am not sure that I can name a paragon of virtue from Scotland, England or Wales who could act as chairman. Therefore, I wonder whether it would not be sensible to look across the water, far across the water, across the Atlantic to find someone who could not conceivably be thought to be acting on behalf of the Secretary of State.
What we are looking for is some prestigious American politician. Because he is too old and probably too committed, sagacious old Sam Irvin would not do, but it should be somebody like that, con- 84 ceivably someone like the former Mayor of New York, Mr. Lindsay, or ex-Congressman Emelio Daddario, or someone else who could be thought to have the genuine interests of Ireland at heart, some American or Canadian not associated with us. I am not sure that anyone who might be thought to be associated with us on this side of the Irish Channel would have all that chance of success. Therefore, I put it seriously that we should think in terms of looking to the possibility—I put it no higher—of having an American or Canadian.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
I have been following the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest and with a certain amount of sympathy up to this point. However, it seems to me that there is an inconsistency. He says, and I sympathise with this view, that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should himself derive from Ulster. and yet he says that we should look to someone not only outside Ulster but outside the United Kingdom to be chairman of the Convention, a key rôle. Can he reconcile that inconsistency?
§ Mr. Dalyell
If someone could be found internally who would be acceptable, that might be all right. However, in talking around at a recent conference—and I had better be careful because it was a private conference that some of us attended—I could not find any consensus about who ought to be chairman. Three or four names were mentioned, but as soon as one went to the next man and asked whether a name would be acceptable there was an ejaculation "No, not him; that would be ridiculous". Unless someone can come up with the name of an Ulster man who is acceptable—and I gravely doubt whether such a man exists—we have to go elsewhere.
I agree with my right hon. Friends that the alternative to the Convention is so mind-boggling that we all have to hope that it is a success, even though to do so may be against the better judgment of some in the cold reality of the day after. But it is important to look again at the subject of internment. The other night I voted with my right hon. and hon. Friends because at least they had made a start, but I am sure that the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) is important. I agree that many internees should 85 be given the opportunity to participate in the elections if they wish to do so.
There may be a balance of risk, but after what happened at Rathcoone the other night my belief is that this would be far more acceptable to the Protestant community than ever before, and it is worth considering. Let me say in passing that I am glad that the Commissioner—I do not know whether my right hon. Friends had anything to do with it—decided to release yet more internees and, in particular, the internee whose case was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), Miss McKee, in the women's gaol at Armagh. I hope that all goes well, and I should like to say publicly to her that I hope that she will not in any way take advantage of what has happened, for she owes it to a great many people—I am not putting it pompously—to behave herself and not to get into trouble. I say to my right hon. Friends "Thank you; you are doing the right thing, but you have to understand that in the context of the situation with which you are dealing it is symbolically important that those in Long Kesh have the opportunity to participate in the election".
This is neither the time nor the place to argue that the British Army has to come out fairly soon—although I still believe it—at short notice, although not necessarily from this point in time. If the Convention is to have some kind of success, my right hon. Friends must try to keep the soldiers off the streets as much as possible. When Britain is seen to be around in a military capacity, any idea that comes from the other side of the water is—I will not say damned—almost damned on that account. How right my right hon. Friend is to say that the Convention must be its own master. We must try to give the impression that in no sense is the Convention our creature. It must be, as I am sure the Minister of State wants, indigenous to Ireland and seen to be so.
I hope that direct rule and the work of the Minister of State and the Undersecretaries will not go on too long, because time is not on our side. One can have nightmares about what might happen if they go on too long. A situation like this is bound to fester, and on that account speed and expedition are an absolute must.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
This debate has unexpectedly proved to be of greater substance and has occasionally ranged wider than some of us expected. I am happy to take part without making the kind of excuse rightly mentioned by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). Having been on occasions puzzled and on others irritated by his previous interventions and contributions, I am pleased to be able to pay tribute to a speech which many in various parts of the House will agree added greatly to the debate and will set the tone for much of what follows.
It would be unfortunate if we were to reopen too widely issues over which we have gone previously. Whatever we feel about our arriving at this point and whatever we may feel about what has gone before, there seems to be almost total agreement that the Bill is a necessary next step, and even though some feeling was strongly expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who thought that this situation should not have been allowed to arise, the fact remains that the Bill is the only direction in which we can now proceed.
The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said that stability was the key to the situation, but he omitted to recognise, as his hon. Friends have sometimes conspicuously failed to recognise, that stability is a problem for both communities and that there will be no stability in Northern Ireland if the aspirations of each side are not recognised by the other. It is not enough to say that stability will be provided if the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the Union is recognised and seen to be recognised. There are other members of that community who have other aspirations, which are threatened by statements that Northern Ireland will remain for all time, or will in some way be pressured or forced by other parts of the United Kingdom into remaining, within the Union. Stability will be found only when each group feels that the other group is recognising its aspirations.
Most of us are anxious to get on to the spadework of the Committee stage of the Bill. The only point I should like once gain to draw to the attention of the Minister of State is the issue of 87 under-representation as it arises in the context of the Bill. Although I strongly agree with the general views about under-representation and with the fact that even in the context of the Kilbrandon Report the case is irrefutable for a fair United Kingdom parity of representation for Northern Ireland, I can see the point of the argument that we must wait for the constitutional Convention to see what part of devolution, if any, arises out of it and, therefore, what degree of representation may be appropriate in that context.
But that is not what the right hon, Gentleman has been saying today and in previous debates, and when the question has been put previously the strong impression has been given that that option is not open and that, whatever the constitutional Convention recommends, the representation of Northern Ireland in this House will remain below what it ought to be. At the very least the Minister must make his position clear in the context of the Bill. Does he want to close the option and say that the Convention cannot recommend a system which in any way depends on fair representation at Westminster, or does he not? I can see no argument for closing the option however much the Minister may feel that it is inappropriate to make a change at this juncture. I do not see how those who take the Republican view about Northern Ireland can possibly argue that as long as, and only as long as. the House remains responsible for the affairs of Northern Ireland they should not be adequately represented. Having argued on their behalf and in the general interest for proportional representation so that they should be fairly represented—and they are right to claim that they never were fairly represented at Stormont—I cannot agree with them that there would be anything undesirable in the Province being adequately represented at Westminster.
The Minister must make clear in the context of the Bill that this option is not closed and that any settlement proposed by the Convention which might call for adequate representation here, if that were its recommendation, would not be opposed by the Government. That is not something which many of us would find acceptable.
§ Mr Beith
I recognise that point, and I tried to deal with it earlier in my speech. I appreciate that the Bill cannot deal with the matter. The Government have been at pains to point out the sort of recommendations that are within the Convention's parameters—to use what is now a popular expression—and it is necessary to ask whether within the parameters comes fair representation in this House. I am asking not why this issue was not included in the Bill but whether it is one of the options which the Convention can recommend or whether it is entirely outside what is acceptable to the Government.
With that qualification, and bearing in mind the many issues which can be raised at a later stage, I shall conclude my remarks and indicate general support of myself and my party for the Bill.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I shall be brief because I understand that it is hoped to pass the Bill through all its stages today.
Both the White Paper and the Bill demonstrate that the man in Whitehall does not know best, and certainly not in Northern Ireland. When the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), in a helpful and constructive speech which we all enjoyed speaks of people in Northern Ireland feeling themselves to be second-class citizens within the United Kingdom, I remember debate after debate when I felt most keenly the patronising attitude of some hon. Members towards our fellow subjects in Northern Ireland and their problems, and I resented that very much.
The Constitutional Convention, which is the subject of the Bill, would have the opportunity of outlining a regional system of representative government designed by Ulster people for the people of the Province. Again, I agree with the hon. Member for West Lothian that between the two communities with their different cultures there is a great deal of 89 common ground, especially when they are confronted with a lot of Englishmen.
The problem of who is to preside over the Convention is a difficult one. I hesitate to propose any names, except to say obliquely that the House probably knows that I was very much opposed to the abolition of the office of Governor of Northern Ireland. For half a century Northern Ireland was administered internally and for the most part had its own Government responsible to its own Parliament. The Stormont system has been built up into a tremendous historical bogy. It was, of course, imperfect, but what parliamentary system is not—including even the one at Westminster? But until the final prorogation of Stormont there was no Protestant backlash, no loyalist private armies stalking the streets and housing estates, and the security forces faced fire on only one front. The imposition of direct rule only served to make the violence worse.
The Executive and the Assembly did good work, and I pay tribute to the devotion of Mr. Brian Faulkner and his colleagues—particularly to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)—whether those colleagues were Unionist or not. The good work they did, however, has not endured, and now it is for Northern Ireland to find its way back from the wrong turning which was taken, back to self-government. To succeed, new institutions must take account of the predominantly pro-Union sentiment in Northern Ireland, but they must also—and I refer here to Clause 2(1)—give scope to the law-abiding majority of the Roman Catholic minority. In dealing with this problem the majority might remember the words of a great Irishman, once a Member of this House, who saidMagnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom".I speak of regional self-government. I am an Ulster "home-ruler". I do not entertain the solution of full integration such as is enjoyed—if that is the word, because it is not universally enjoyed by all the people—by Scotland and Wales. Integration, however, is certainly to be preferred either to independence or to absorption into the Republic, both of which solutions, if they are solutions, would imperil the security of the British Isles.
90 With Kilbrandon in mind, I believe devolution to be a likelier future than integration. We must also bear in mind what the Kilbrandon Report said about the numerical insufficiency of Northern Ireland representation in Parliament. I know that the Minister of State said that this was nothing to do with the Bill, and that it cannot be dealt with in the Bill. However, I see that a new schedule has been added to what passes for the Order Paper—
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Very well. The hon. Member for West Lothian spoke about getting the Army out, by which I suppose he means not out of Northern Ireland but back to its garrison rôle. It is particularly important that, whatever comes out of the Constitutional Convention, the policing of the Province should revert to Ulster hands. The formation in the Republic of a form of Home Guard illustrates the point that against people like the IRA the Ulster Special Constabulary was the sort of force suited to local conditions. For the future, of course, we need not a Protestant force but a people's force.
The White Paper and the Bill represent, I suppose, a diminishing of what the earlier White Paper called the "Irish dimension". Yet the Provisional campaign is also a threat to Dublin, and if the Republic desires to conciliate and co-operate with the North there are actions it can take or from which it can refrain. For example, the Government of the Republic should refrain from litigious harrying of our troops at international tribunals. I regret that the hon. Member for Belfast, West should be mixed up in that. The Government of the Republic should also facilitate further the bringing to justice of fugitive terrorists. They could smoke out the IRA nests on their own territory. There is no border to subversion.
I agree with nearly everything said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), but I believe that our common membership of the EEC will not necessarily settle problems of this kind. There is no border to subversion. There is a two-way movement of bombs. Partnership against terrorism could further intergovernmental co-operation in other practical matters. 91 Then again Mr. Cosgrave, following the example of his own father, could place beyond dubiety recognition of the present border with the United Kingdom and, in view of a recent magisterial pronouncement, the territorial waters of the United Kingdom.
If, as a result of Conservative policy, there is at present a certain aloofness between the Conservative and Ulster Unionist Members of this House, it is clear and it is true—it has been brought out by the Conservative shadow spokesman in the previous debate—that Conservatives are also Unionists. We believe in the Union, and it is our faith and desire that the Cross of St. Patrick shall remain in the Union Flag.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)
I do not want to take up the time of the House in trying to analyse the White Paper and the Bill. That has been well done by others. We have heard several excellent speeches which have contributed greatly to the debate, and I merely want to deal quickly with one or two points which I feel need emphasis.
First, I believe that a date should be fixed very early for assembly elections. I am saying this not just because I happen to think it but because I believe it to be the wish and the will of the people of Northern Ireland. There is a very strong feeling on the ground that elections should be held very soon in order to clear the air and implement the principles set forth in the White Paper and the Bill. I emphasise that fact, and I appeal to the Government to take steps to bring about early elections to the constituent assembly in the North of Ireland.
More adequate arrangements should be made for by-elections in the Bill and in any forthcoming legislation. The situation in which the Antrim, North constituency was left unrepresented in the Assembly for nearly a year following the death of the Member shortly after his election in June 1973 was ridiculous. It was caused because of the reluctance or the inability of the Government to institute a by-election in Antrim, North. More definite and adequate provision should be made for by-elections in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Orme
In this measure we are not making any provision for by-elections because the Government do not believe that the constitutional assembly will be on all fours with the previous Assembly, which was, in effect, a parliament. The new Convention will be there to do one job only—to arrive at recommendations. It will not be a representative parliament.
§ Mr. Dunlop
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman says but I am referring to the last Assembly, which was a constituent Assembly. There was under-representation in that Assembly for almost a year.
§ Mr. Dunlop
In any future arrangements for a constituent assembly, more definite procedures for by-elections should be included.
The words "patience", "forbearance" and "humility" have been used in the debate. I do not know whether there will be much humility in what I have to say or much forbearance from the House in response. I am a junior Member of the House. I use the word "junior" advisedly in that I have not been long associated with the House as a politician. I use it not on account of age but in point of experience in the House. As a junior Member, I have been greatly intrigued by the oft-repeated words "power sharing" and "Irish dimension".
I was rather shocked by the Leader of the Opposition when we were debating the White Paper. Even after his own nominated Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had, as we thought, presented the mind and will of the Conservative Party, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), in an emotional outburst, said that there must be power sharing and an Irish dimension.
What about this Irish dimension? Why this positive insistence upon it at all times? The Republic of Ireland long ago declared itself an independent Irish Republic outside the British Commonwealth. It severed all connection with the British Crown and constitution. It introduced its own constitution and coinage—a nuisance to us in Northern Ireland. In every way the Republic of Ireland cut itself off from everything British. Yet 93 there seems to be an overwhelming urge on both sides of this House and among many people outside that the Government of the Republic must be involved in the government of Northern Ireland and have a say in many aspects of it. I would like to know why.
This very Government of the Republic of Ireland are engaged in indicting the British Government, the British Army and, indeed, the British people on charges of cruelty and torture before an international court, and, despite his rather emotional outburst, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is one of the witnesses at that trial. He will be testifying against the British Government and the British Parliament. It makes me a wee bit tired when some of those people who want to serve Northern Ireland within the context of British authority engage in such actions outside the House of Commons.
There is great talk about the boundary, which seems to be so significant, with Southern Ireland, and about why it should be so much taken into account. But Ulster is not the only place in the world with a land boundary with another country. Switzerland is surrounded by other countries, but there is no clamour inside Switzerland for another country to have a share in its government. Yet that seems to be the case with the boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. After all, it has been reiterated time and time again in the House that these six north-eastern counties of the United Kingdom in the island of Ireland are British, that they belong to the British people, that they belong to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Why should any foreign Government be involved in their administration?
The White Paper and the Bill mention the UDR, the RUC and the RUC Reserve. I want to serve my country to the best of my ability. I have offered for service in the UDR and been turned down; I have offered for service in the Northern Ireland Police Reserve and been turned down. I have not been given very adequate reasons why. I want to serve my country, and I, along with some other public-spirited members of my little community, am engaged in a vigilante force in Moneymore and in County Londonderry. We work at night as an un- 94 authorised, unarmed and unhonoured group of people. We go out in rotation to patrol the streets of that little town to ensure that no unauthorised or belligerent people come in and that we can give the security authorities adequate notice of any such invasion.
But this only highlights our demand for a third force, a genuine Home Guard which people like myself, who, perhaps because of age or general unfitness, cannot get into the regular forces, could join and thereby offer some defence against the depredations of the Irish Republican Army, with which all the people in the North are just about fed up. We do not want to face another winter of actions by the IRA without some local defence so that we can defend our homes and the districts with which we are familiar.
I can understand the difficulties of the British Army, especially the new units, in trying to do police work, which should be done by local people. I was stopped one day by a young British lieutenant in Cookstown, which is only five miles away. He asked my name. I gave it and said that I came from Moneymore, County Londonderry. He asked "Are you a resident of Cookstown?" That shows that he did not know much about the local geography. I do not blame that young man, but the lack of local knowledge is a serious handicap when the Army is trying to carry out police duties. That is not its job. There should be some provision for a Home Guard to defend our homes and districts. We know not only the geography but where the people live and what they do. I appeal to the Government on these relevant points.
I felt sorry for the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who voiced a strong note of pessimism. He seemed to be anticipating not only the make-up of the Constitutional Convention but its conclusions, and struck a hopeless note about how it would end and what the situation in Northern Ireland would then be. I do not take that view. If we can have early elections and bring the people of Northern Ireland together to talk among themselves, as the Secretary of State told us, with no interference from London or Dublin, we shall be able to resolve our problems and evolve a scheme to govern the Province to the satisfaction and with 95 the blessing of all its people and to its peace and prosperity.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)
The key subsections of the Bill are Clause 2(1) and (2). It is my general view that they are nearly meaningless. Subsection (1) says that the Convention will consider…what provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there.The term "provision" has not been closely defined, and it is not known what the powers to determine the provision will be.
If, for example, acting under precedents, the Convention recommended straightforward "one man, one vote" constituency elections to a local parliament, that would be a provision, but it has been shown that it is unlikely to be an acceptable one. The Government have, therefore, charged the Convention to do something while at the same time they have set down strict parameters.
What is meant by the phrase "what provision"? The only answer is one which is…likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community".In most democracies, the test of widespread acceptance has been the ballot box, which has a long history of excellence as a means of testing the acceptability of a set of proposals or an individual programme. What we do not know under subsection (1) is how "widespread acceptance" will be assessed. Will it be done by counting heads, the normal democratic process, or by some subtle sliding scale'? Would it be proposed to lose a few at one end in the hope of gaining a few more at the other? Does one move towards some grand coalition by dropping the left wing of the Labour Party and the extreme right of the Tories, in the certainty that eveyone else would have widespread acceptance?
If that is what we think we are asking the Convention to do, we delude ourselves beyond measure. There is but one issue that will come before the Convention, and that is the issue of the separate and continued existence of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. Until that is clear, no provision for the future govern- 96 ment of Northern Ireland is likely to command widespread acceptance. If that is doubted at any point, "widespread acceptance" ceases to be a possibility. We may as well accept that before we pass the Bill and ask the Convention to do the impossible.
There are times when what is euphemistically called "power sharing" looks appallingly like unimpeded progress towards minority rule. There have been times when we on this side fought hard to ensure that there should be no independence for Rhodesia before majority rule. We are now fighting equally hard to pass a Bill which will provide that there will be no independence in Ulster with majority rule. If that is what we want, my right hon. and hon. Friends are capable of achieving it, but let us be clear what Clause 2(1) will do.
We are asking the Convention to make provisions, or, later recommendations, and at the same time are telling it that that which we wanted for Southern Rhodesia and other parts of the world which were our colonies we will not allow for a part of our own United Kingdom. That is a curious constitutional doctrine. However bad the history of parts of local government in Northern Ireland under Stormont, however appalling the levels of discrimination against which the civil rights movement fought in the late 1960s, I see no reason why this House, the Mother of Parliaments, should be called upon in one day to shuffle through a Bill containing this underlying defeatism about the whole democratic process of "one man, one vote".
Subsection (2) says:The Convention shall transmit to the Secretary of State a report or reports".My right hon. Friend clarified his intentions to some extent today, saying that it was intended that the Convention should submit an interim report first and that then, if further questions arose on a different area of provisions, there could be a second report. But he then, as I understand it, suggested that in such reports it would be proper for the Convention to submit details of conflicting views expressed within it, even though the report was a report from the Convention as a whole.
The one thing which I greatly fear is that this House, in which the Ulster 97 people are not over-represented, may be called upon to adjudicate on the reports of the Convention and to act as a court of adjudication for the Convention so that if there is a difference of opinion in the Convention the matter will be fed back to this House for a decision. I have grave doubts about whether this House is competent, except in the most strict constitutional sense, to perform such an act. No doubt constitutionally we must have that responsibility, but I question whether we have the technical competence on any other level.
I welcome paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 dealing with the rôle of the Parliamentary Commissioner and Commissioner for Complaints in Northern Ireland. As a member of the Select Committee dealing with the Parliamentary Commissioner during the previous period of direct rule, I should like to know whether there is provision for the Convention's reports to be submitted to that Select Committee.
May I once more ask that it should be made clearer how the Constitutional Convention is in reality to determine the phrase "widespread acceptance" when it is firmly indicated to it that it can accept only the British or Irish dimension and occasionally is not allowed to accept the Ulster dimension?
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The reminder of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) that majorities also have their rights is timely and will be helpful to our debates.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) suggested that perhaps someone from outside the United Kingdom or Ireland might be a suitable chairman of the Convention, and he mentioned a couple of names from North America. While the idea is an original one and there may be such people to be found, may I express the hope that the Secretary of State will not accept the two gentlemen to whom the hon. Member referred because, to my certain knowledge, neither of them is uncommitted in the Irish matter and would be disastrous if chosen.
One trouble about discussing Northern Ireland is that phrases which are innocently descriptive in themselves acquire special meanings because of events which have taken place, and sometimes different meanings to different people. For example, "the Irish dimension", what- 98 ever it may have meant once, now means, in the view of many people, a gradual slide towards a united Ireland, and to harp upon this phrase evokes memories of Sunningdale. To insist on using it makes those who regard it with anxiety believe that we are trying to resurrect Sunningdale.
Similarly, the phrase "power sharing" seems to mean that both sides of opinion should have a say. No one could quarrel with that. But as things have turned out it also means to a large number of people that the minority should have a permanent veto. To give a permanent veto to a minority is a drastic step for a majority to take and, I should think, as a matter of practice cannot possibly be imposed from outside. The vice of Sunningdale was that it sought to impose, after what was thought to be inadequate consultation, a solution which the majority could accept, and that is why Sunningdale died.
It is true, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said, that as each constitution falls it becomes more difficult to set up the next. However, I welcome the Convention in principle as it holds out some hope that a voluntary agreement about power sharing can be reached. There are many examples in the world where power sharing is systematised and made precise. A small country, about the same size as Northern Ireland, in which it works is the Lebanon, where the different Governments posts are strictly divided by traditions between the two religions and inside the religions. Therefore, everybody knows that the president must always be of one religion and the vice-president of another religion. The system is observed, and the Lebanon, which does not have every advantage in the world, manages to keep going in a way which gives satisfaction to its citizens.
But power sharing is a very delicate operation, and I am glad that Her Majesty's Government appear not to be insisting too strongly on a particular course of action for the Convention. To do so would diminish the value which the Convention might have in the eyes of those who take part in it.
That is not to say that this House and the Government have no responsibilities in the Convention and its decisions, for several important reasons. First, Ulster 99 is part of the United Kingdom, and I very much hope will remain so. It is just as much part of the United Kingdom as is Wales or England, and that is a matter of sentiment and patriotism. I was sorry that the Prime Minister, in a moment of anger, I suppose, or perhaps anxiety with his many duties, should have referred to our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland as spongers. In my view, they are no more that than the people in the development areas of Cornwall, Wales or Salford.
Secondly, it is important that we in this House should have a say in these matters because the integrity of the territory of the United Kingdom is of prime United Kingdom interest it is important for the strength and defence of the country. From the defence point of view, we need the bases and garrisons which exist there in normal times. Now, negatively speaking, we do not wish so large a proportion of our troops to be involved in Northern Ireland. Unless we can extract them in due course, our interests are very much at risk. Therefore, if the Constitutional Convention can agree and thus reduce the tension, it will be desirable from the point of view of the defence of the United Kingdom.
It has been observed, and it is perhaps a truism, that guerrillas are much more easily dealt with by local people with local knowledge than by visiting troops. The Regular Army is much better used to guard the frontier and the integrity of the national territory than to undertake police duties such as those it is performing now. I therefore hope that the Government will not neglect any step which they can take to increase security before we have to make further constitutional decisions—whether by increasing the local defence forces, whether by taking further steps for the security of the border, or whether by issuing identity cards, if that is useful.
Psychologically speaking, it is desirable that the convention should assemble with a firm background and that there should be an end to the constitutional uncertainty. One way in which that could be done would be to say that Ulster is regarded as part of the United Kingdom, as in fact it is, and that there should be no more ifs and buts and no more talk of periodic reviews or border polls. Those 100 are nothing less than an invitation to extremists to go on trying to get their will by force.
In pursuance of this air of certainty, I go along with the proposition that Ulster should be properly represented in this House, perhaps not immediately, because we have the Convention to consider, but it would be intolerable if Ulster alone were not to be properly and decently represented here. If the Secretary of State gave assurances on these lines, the Convention could feel that it was building not upon sands which might shift at any moment but on solid foundations for the citizens of Northern Ireland and their children.
I have not spoken of the long term. Many long-term solutions have been offered in the past, but each has vanished as a mirage. Let us see what the Convention brings. After the long confrontation over the past few years, each side in the conflict may now have a more precise idea of the strength of the other. It may be that both sides will realise that neither can have absolute victory, and in those circumstances they may make a success of the Convention—the success which has eluded us during the past 10 years. It is indeed a daunting task, and I hope that the House will give a message of good will to the Convention and of hope that it will succeed in its task.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
However much good will there may be for the Convention—and there is a good deal on both sides of the House—it is right that the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) should strike a note of scepticism, which will be shared by all those who have examined this seemingly intractable Northern Ireland problem. If the Convention, with the majority that will inevitably be thrown up within it, is to come forward with the kind of proposals which I suspect are looked for by the Secretary of State, only if the most careful guidance is given to it all the way through its deliberations will it produce a solution which is acceptable to the House.
The Convention will require time, and for that reason I want to refer briefly, though in slightly different terms, to what has been urged on the House this afternoon by many speakers. The Bill is not 101 a vehicle by which we can change the representation of Northern Ireland, but. it should be considered within the terms of whether that representation is or is not to be changed. Both parties in their day have rejected any change in the present representation, and I understand the Labour Party's concern that there might be such a change; but what is proposed?
The proposal is not for integration. All one can ask is what Kilbrandon thought was fair on the basis that there was a devolved assembly, and that would probably take the figure up to 18 or 19. Full representation in the House would take the figure into the twenties.
What would happen if we changed the representation here? It is often thought that the Opposition benches would be reinforced, but nothing could be further from the truth. If the representation from Northern Ireland were increased to 18, inevitably west of the Bann there would be smaller constituencies, but all the best electoral studies show that the balance would not be greatly different from that which pertains today. There would be more Members from west of the Bann and there would naturally be more from Ulster and Down, but on balance the difference would probably be only a seat or so in party terms.
It would be of great advantage if there were a more diverse representation. I suspect that I should take with me several hon. Gentlemen who represent very different interests in suggesting that in return for greater representation for Northern Ireland it would be nothing but an advantage to the House to have three or four SDLP members.
§ Captain Orr
My hon. and learned Friend would no doubt concede that it might be a great advantage to the House to have a member from the Northern Ireland Labour Party?
§ Mr. Miscampbell
Certainly, if it were possible, it would undoubtedly be an advantage. I leave that aspect with this one observation. It would not be an obvious disadvantage or disaster to one party or the other for the representation to be changed. There is not much to be gained or lost one way or the other in internal British terms.
102 There are other advantages. It has been said that in the end the House will have to decide whether it accepts or rejects what is produced by the Convention. It is right that those who will have the advantage or disadvantage of that new constitution should have at least reasonable representation in saying "yea" or "nay" to it.
There are two reasons for considering changed representation. I do not believe that the Convention is likely to produce an acceptable solution in the short run. It may be impossible to produce an acceptable solution—I do not know. In any case, it will take time, and if it takes a year rather than months it is wrong that there should not be representation here.
The last and most powerful reason is that if in the end there is to be some form of power sharing—I would rather say shared responsibility—in Northern Ireland, the only way in which that can come about is by growth from a small beginning, so that when it is seen to work more and more powers are taken. One recipe for disaster is to place upon the assembly full responsibilities for matters which are highly controversial. If there is shared responsibility it will be difficult for the assembly to stick together.
Some local councils in Northern Ireland work well with a degree of power sharing. That is not just because of good will but because, unfortunately, local councils have had so much responsibility taken away from them that they can easily decide who should or should not empty the dustbin. If the assembly which we hope will come from this Convention is to succeed it must grow from reasonably modest beginnings. If we take that view, we cannot at the same time say that there will be modest beginnings in Belfast and modest representation here. If we were to say to the North of Ireland "So far as the imperial Parliament is concerned, you will go to the standard which Kilbrandon thought reasonable, and after that we shall start slowly in the North of Ireland to build an assembly with shared responsibilities", that would seem to be a hypothetical approach. Bearing in mind how little change it would make here, I would regard it as wrong for that to be ruled out of court, as happened in 103 the past on the part of both major parties.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry West (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I have been greatly impressed by the degree of sympathy expressed on both sides of the House for the measure we are now discussing and for the note of realism in many speeches. Admittedly, one of the speeches from the Labour benches rather spoilt the picture by introducing the allegation of discrimination in local authorities. I hope that when hon. Members feel disturbed about the political propaganda which has been put out in the past about discrimination in local authorities, and, indeed, in central Government, they will take the trouble to read the Cameron Report in respect of allegations made against discrimination in central Government and also Professor Rose's report on his investigation into alleged discrimination in local authorities. Those reports clear both central Government and local government of any allegations of that nature. I hope that hon. Members will turn up those reports to verify what I have said.
We are in this debate discussing the future structure in Northern Ireland, and there has been speculation about what will come out of the Constitutional Convention. The burning issue of under-representation in this House will undoubtedly get an airing. We did not campaign on increased representation in this House from a selfish interest, because we well know that if there were increased representation in this House the minority parties would benefit.
I should like to put on record what under-representaion in this House means in terms of the United Kingdom. Scotland, with 71 Members of Parliament in this House, has a representation of one hon. Member per 73,000 of population. In Wales, with 30 Members of Parliament, the representation is one per 75,500 of population. In England, with 511 Members of Parliament, the representation is one Member per 89,700 of population. In Northern Ireland, with 12 Members of Parliament represented here, the figure is one Member per 128,000 of population. The House will appreciate from those figures the degree of under-representation that exists for Northern 104 Ireland in this House. I appreciate that this is not a matter for discussion today; it arises out of speculation which might accrue from the discussions in the Constitutional Convention.
We have been treated in Northern Ireland recently to a half-page advertisement which has appeared in most of the Press. It is a Government publication. I question the correctness of financing a political document from public funds; I believe that this should not be done. I admit that it was done also by the Conservative Government, but it is undoubtedly a political document which does not set out all the facts, and I repeat that it should not be financed from public funds.
The document makes the point that the first step is to allow time for discussion among various political groups before elections are held. I take it that this refers to the elections in respect of the Constitutional Convention. I wonder what merit there is in allowing time for political groupings to get together for discussion. I thought the whole reason for an election was to allow political groupings to get together representative of the people. The business of delaying the elections is ill advised. The party I represent, and my colleagues in our coalition, will not engage in political discussions until after the election has been held.
The other point I wish to raise relates to the financial relationship that exists between Northern Ireland and the the United Kingdom. I detected in the Secretary of State's speech a note of threat if we did not accept the situation. Feeling in Northern Ireland is hardening over these threats in respect of financial aid from Britain. I should like to deal with the threat or intimidation or browbeating that is taking place. In the United Kingdom as a whole all regions need each other and we all have a part to play. In spite of the recent disagreement, North Sea oil should be at the disposal of the whole of the United Kingdom. England depends very much on Wales to supply water for the industrial areas of the Midlands.
In Northern Ireland we occupy a strategic position, but that is not our only value to the whole of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland we have 105 one of the most efficient agricultural industries in Europe, if not farther afield. This should occupy the attention of Her Majesty's Government in a very real way. If the agricultural industry of the United Kingdom is allowed to drift further into the doldrums, and if some long-term measure is not introduced to cope with the situation, the national situation will suffer in terms of cost of living and other matters. Northern Ireland makes a great contribution to the national larder through its agricultural industry, and I hope that the Government will tackle the situation realistically so that the confidence of the United Kingdom as a whole will be restored and so that production will be increased. This must happen if we are to avoid disaster in two or three years' time in respect of the supply of food in these densely populated islands.
I should like to deal with one or two further points touching the financial relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. In the past, and indeed up to March 1972, nearly all Government expenditure in Northern Ireland was made through the Northern Ireland Government on the basis of an annual budget presented to Parliament. That budget was discussed and negotiated between the Northern Ireland Ministry of Finance and the British Government. Once direct rule was imposed, the United Kingdom Government made large increases in expenditure in Northern Ireland which were no longer subject to the scrutiny or direction of the Northern Ireland Parliament. Some may say that this was done partly to reinforce a political argument to strengthen the case against a hypothetical claim for independence, or to stress Northern Ireland's dependence on Britain and to reflect the fact that such political aspirations as were apparent in Northern Ireland were expensive and unprofitable. There is no desire for independence for Northern Ireland among the political groupings with which I am involved. My colleagues and I in the coalition value membership of the United Kingdom, and we have repeatedly said that we will campaign to stay within the United Kingdom. But we shall also ensure that no policies will be applied to us by the present Government, or any other Government, in an effort to draw our country 106 into a United Ireland. Our financial relationships are of great importance to us.
We also understand that the power to go on making additional expenditures in Northern Ireland and appropriating them to specific objects without consulting the elected representatives of our Province lies in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973.
The simplest and possibly the most accessible source of facts and figures about Northern Ireland's public finances is provided by the successive volumes of the Ulster Year Book. There hon. Members who are interested will find references to the parliamentary papers and public accounts to substantiate what I say and these will give fuller details if they are required.
We have heard several references to industry and commerce. We have the Prime Minister's allegation that the people of Northern Ireland are spongers, and this is fallacious in more than one way. In this House the Prime Minister spoke as though we were to imagine that Government expenditure and the collection of taxes represented the sole flow of payments either way between Britain and Northern Ireland, and as though the economic worth of Northern Ireland was limited to its taxable capacity, which is very far from the case.
There are two other flows of Government money. They are commerce—exports and imports—and the profit from investment in Northern Ireland. Both these are larger in cash realities than the inflow of Government money into Northern Ireland.
I take my facts from what I regard as a reliable source. It is the Journal of the Institute of Marketing. The facts are that since 1969 manufacturing output in Northern Ireland has risen by more than 22 per cent. while productivity has increased by more than 28 per cent. Moreover, in 1972, which is the last year for which precise details are available, the 1½ million people in Northern Ireland exported £937 million worth of goods, and the total trade of the Province was worth £1,854 million. That is not a bad effort for 1½ million people. It represented increases of 9 per cent. and 7 per cent. respectively compared with 1971.
107 Proportionately, it can be shown, those figures are very much better than those for the remainder of the United Kingdom. In 1972, which is the latest year for which Government figures are available, Northern Ireland's visible exports were £935 million, whereas imports were £937 million. The corresponding figures for the United Kingdom as a whole in 1972 were £9,749 million for exports and £11,155 million for imports. I make no attempt to relate those to the Northern Ireland figures. I content myself with reminding the House that the population of Northern Ireland is about one thirty-fifth of that of the United Kingdom.
As I said before, information on these subjects can be obtained from the Ulster Year Book and various publications of the Northern Ireland Ministries of Finance and Commerce. They can be obtained also from standard reference books, such as the Statesman Year Book.
A large proportion of the produce exported from Northern Ireland comes to Britain. However, much of this consists of goods in transit for further export, and in many cases they go to hard currency areas. The extent of it is not sufficiently quantified, but reasonable estimates can be obtained from year to year.
Against these very high Northern Ireland export figures, which amount on paper to more than three times the value of exports per head from the United Kingdom as a whole—and the Institute of Marketing figure discloses that it is four times—nevertheless our standard of living in Northern Ireland is lower. In 1972 the gross domestic product for Northern Ireland was only £725 per head, against £959 per head in the remainder of the United Kingdom. Personal income per head in Northern Ireland was only £781 as again £993 in Britain.
I admit readily that, as a basis for reaching conclusions, the Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom export and import figures have to be looked at with many reservations and qualifications because we are comparing a much larger area with a part of the whole. But they are in sufficiently striking contrast to in-dictate that the people of Northern Ireland are producing for export from their own region on a much bigger scale proportionately to their numbers than the people in most of the other regions of the 108 United Kingdom. At the same time, while they are thus producing more wealth and delivering more goods to others, people in Northern Ireland remain poorer than people in Britain.
One obvious major reason for this is that, although Northern Ireland enjoys the wages and other local expenditures of its industries, the profits go elsewhere. They go mainly to Britain, whence most of the initial investment came.
On the question of investment generally, apart from the profits of industry, wealth also leaves Northern Ireland in other forms. There is an enormous British investment in Northern Ireland. But, in the absence of a special survey, we can but speculate as to its total extent. A speculative estimate at the beginning of 1973 put the total value of British property in Northern Ireland at £10 million. Certainly a great part of Northern Ireland in terms of land, buildings, business enterprises and other property, much of it the subject of rapid appreciation in these times of inflation, is owned by persons and interests in Britain, and over the years take-over operations have left almost no large locally-owned enterprises in Northern Ireland. On most of this property and investment there must be substantial returns, and, since Northern Ireland is not the home of any substantial rentier class, there is relatively little corresponding flow from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Thus, Northern Ireland is economically very active, is highly productive and has a faster growth rate than Britain, yet it is relatively improverished, like a number of other peripheral areas in the United Kingdom. Its low taxation yield follows from this, and a relatively higher Exchequer expenditure represents only a modicum of justice to a region which, far from being a poor relation or a community of spongers, makes a better proportionate contribution to the trade balance and the balance of payments of the United Kingdom than most other regions.
I make these points to show that the productive energy of the people of Northern Ireland and their exports per head of the population are such that if we had to leave the United Kingdom or were forced out of the United Kingdom and had to plot our own economic course outside the United Kingdom we should succeed.
109 There is no point in issuing figures to try to threaten the people of Northern Ireland into thinking that if Britain as a whole withdrew support from Northern Ireland the Province would founder. A country with the ability to export produce at the rate that I have mentioned could plot its own economic course. I stress that we do not want to leave the United Kingdom. There are other reasons why we want to stay. But I hope sincerely that what I have said will end the threat, which seems to have cropped up in the various speeches that we have heard, about Northern Ireland having to do this and that—or else.
Now that the Secretary of State has returned to the Chamber, I should like to offer him a little advice which I sincerely hope he will take in the spirit in which it is given. I give it to him as I have given it to other Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland. I said to a previous Secretary of State that it was well known that Ulster was a political graveyard of many British politicians, even in recent times. I ask the Secretary of State not to appear to do down the Protestant population in Northern Ireland. I am offering this advice in the hope that relationships will improve.
Since coming to this House I have noted on many occasions that the Secretary of State, when making statements about happenings in Northern Ireland, has referred to the Protestant/Catholic element. I hope that that distinction between religious groups will not occur in future. There is a minority and a majority in Northern Ireland. The longer we go on pinpointing the religious difference, which has little relevance, the longer will this unpleasantness exist.
For example, in mentioning bombed public houses the Secretary of State should try to avoid talking about Roman Catholic public houses having been bombed, thus inferring that it was done by Protestants. That kind of thing is distasteful to the community in Northern Ireland, and I sincerely hope that it will not happen again.
Northern Ireland has been destroyed. Our property has been bombed and some of our friends have been seriously injured or killed. There is something in each of us that gives a degree of loyalty and patriotism to our native soil. In the 110 1939–45 struggle everybody in this House of the proper age made his contribution in one way or another to save this country from being overrun. The people of Ireland, without conscription at that time, also played their part. The cenotaphs play silent memory to those who flocked to the colours to save the mother country from disaster.
We in Northern Ireland are just as patriotic and loyal to our native soil as are people in Britain to theirs. We will fight to the end. Sir Winston Churchill, when stimulating the nation and mentioning the possibility of a German invasion of Britain, said that Britons would fight in the lanes, the roads, the ditches, and all the rest. We in Northern Ireland will do the same if there is any threat of a take-over by Eire.
I have always maintained that there are more ways of taking Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic than physical force. The mishandling of the situation during the last five years and the dreadful conditions that we have experienced have driven many young progressive people from the Province altogether. By this means and by the continuation of this trouble many more of our young, valuable citizens will leave. Our young people, the cream of our community, are leaving the Province. We want a country in which these young people can grow up and prosper. But we must make it plain that if, as a result of the Constitutional Convention, the terms at which we arrive in the final analysis appear unacceptable to this House, we can do little about it. We must be the final judge of the threat to Northern Ireland by a hostile neighbour.
The Eire Government, by claiming sovereignty over our part of the United Kingdom, are offending against the rules of the European Economic Community. I have mentioned this matter previously to the Secretary of State but have had only a feeble answer. It is a fact that this is going on. All these matters are bound to aggravate people in Northern Ireland.
Those of us who may be re-elected will undoubtedly welcome the opportunity of sitting down with newly elected representatives from all sections of the community to work out the salvation of our Province. Whether the coalition in which 111 I find myself at the moment comes out as the majority party or not, we support the idea of this Convention. If another majority party is thrown up in the suggestions which come from the Constitutional Convention, we will take our place as the official Opposition in a properly constituted and democratically elected assembly in Northern Ireland.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
This has been an interesting debate, with a number of thoughtful and useful contributions. I shall serve the House badly if I take any time, because there is a lot of business to be dealt with.
I should like to ask the Minister of State for an assurance on one matter that concerns me. In opening the debate the Secretary of State said that the rules for the Convention were flexible. I agree. Flexibility is the key here. But I am a little fussed about the time that can be taken before we get finality.
For example, in Schedule 2, paragraph 15(1), we have up to six months. There could be endless extensions. If we had only two extensions under sub-paragraph (2), that would be 12 months in all. There could then be a reference back as late as another six months and two more extensions of three months. Therefore, we could easily reach two years, and that two years would start only after the poll, and we do not know when the poll is to be.
What worries me is that if a committee is asked to consider and report and is told that there is no time limit within which it must report, in my experience it takes much longer than it otherwise would. I hope that some pressure in a proper way will be put upon the Convention to report quickly and not allow it to spin out its proceedings because finality is vital.
I think that anxiety about delay has caused many hon. Members today to speak of increased representation. That argument must be based on a pessimistic prognosis for the future. If we had an Assembly with anything like the power of Stormont, which we hope may eventually be the result, the argument for more Members would be much weaker. But it is impossible to reach a solution until we know what powers the new Assembly 112 is to have, and that we shall not know until the Convention reports.
The legitimacy and effectiveness of the Government is the crucial issue at stake In the present situation in Northern Ireland any solution can only be a compromise which, by its nature, is unlikely to please everyone. However, it must be a solution which does not leave large sections of the community permanently alienated or disposed to resist by force. In these circumstances, I join many hon. Members who wish well this attempt to find the solution, and pray that it will succeed.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
First, I should like to answer the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), about the pressure or the time limit on the Convention.
In the proposed Bill there is a six-months' limit, which can be extended by three months and subsequent periods of three months. The pressure, as the Government see it, is that both Houses of Parliament will have to renew the terms of any extension. If the Convention comes back after six months for a renewal, hon. Members will, without passing a final judgment, naturally want to review the progress which has been made and to comment upon it. I think that any Government would allow time for debate on that point. Therefore, without wanting to appear to be exerting pressure from the Government, I think that Parliament would have to be the body that takes note of that point.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) emphasised the difference in wording between paragraph 55 of the White Paper and Clause 2 in the matter of power sharing. There is no real difference. We do not want to get involved in an argument about semantics. When we talk about acceptability and being representative of the community as a whole, we mean that any solution must be acceptable to both communities. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made this clear when he passed his first judgment upon the White Paper.
We want a solution to be arrived at by the people in Northern Ireland themselves, through the Convention and 113 through any proposals that are put forward, and it would be naive for any hon. Member to think that we mean anything other than a solution that is acceptable to both communities in Northern Ireland. The Convention may come forward with proposals which do not meet the terms of this wording, but it will be for this House to decide whether what is proposed meets the standards in the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not think that we can dodge that issue, and the Government have no intention of doing so.
§ Mr. Kershaw
The right hon. Gentleman's last words have to some extent quietened my anxieties. I thought he was saying that unless both communities accept the conclusions of the Convention the British Government will not accept them either. Is that not too rigid a position to take up?
§ Mr. Orme
We are not saying that. The Government have gone out of their way—members of the UUUC coalition have acknowledged this—to set out the matter in the most open way and leave it to the Convention to arrive at its decision. I think it is recognised that within the specified parameters there have to be standards which Parliament is entitled to ask people to bear in mind when corning to their decisions.
There are those who claim that they want to remain members of the United Kingdom. That view has been emphasised this afternoon. It would therefore be right for the Parliament of the United Kingdom to say "You must make your own decisions, but there are standards which appertain in England, Wales and Scotland and these cannot be ignored in Northern Ireland". That is the point that we are making.
§ Captain Orr
I wish that the Minister of State would not set up Aunt Sallies only to knock them down again. Nobody in Ulster wants a constitution which does not have standards which are normally acceptable throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Orme
I welcome the hon. and gallant Gentleman's intervention. I noted the forcefulness of his interesting speech, but I must tell him that some of the speeches made in this House, and certainly some made outside it, do not measure up to the standards that we have 114 in mind. Certainly on Friday there was one speech which did not measure up to these standards. I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not want to defend that kind of view, but it is right that the Government should state clearly what is in the Bill. This is not said in the form of a threat. We are merely setting out the parameters within which any constitutional conference should consider how it proposes to go forward.
§ Mr. West
The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about standards that are acceptable to this House. If, in the event, the Convention decides by a majority against power sharing, how will the Parliament at Westminster be able to reject that finding, seeing that it does not accept power sharing in its own institutions?
§ Mr. Orme
This is not a numbers game. When we talk about majorities and minorities, we talk about two communities. The right hon. Gentleman does not like my right hon. Friend referring to Catholic and Protestant communities, but that is what we are talking about. We are talking about what was acceptable under the Constitution Act of 1973, which the Labour Party supported. We are talking about standards that are normally acceptable. We are going into this in the hope that both communities will accept what comes out of the Convention and that the standards of the proposals will be acceptable to this Parliament. That is what we are talking about, and that is what we mean by that form of power sharing.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham asked whether the Convention would be held at Stormont, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked whether the Convention should be held in a different place. There are security problems here. It is not possible for the Convention to meet in the centre of Belfast. I do not think that the Europa Hotel would be an ideal site for the Convention. Stormont has the facilities for the Convention. The rooms are available, and the necessary staff are there. It is more than likely that the Convention will be held at Stormont, but no final decision has been made.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether the Convention would sit in 115 camera. The Convention will have to decide that for itself. There may be occasions when it wants to meet in private, as opposed to meeting publicly. We have found that it is difficult to keep things private or confidential in Northern Ireland because, quite naturally, on occasions there is a certain inquisitiveness for information.
The Convention will have to regulate its own meetings. It will be for the Convention to decide whether to sit in public or in private, in the knowledge that people in Northern Ireland will want to know what is going on, just as people in the rest of the United Kingdom will want to know what is happening. There may be occasions on which, irrespective of leaks, it would be advantageous for the Convention to meet in camera, but I repeat that the decision will be for the Convention itself.
One of the issues that has been raised today in some detail is that of the chairmanship of the Convention. The Government considered this matter for a long time before finally coming down to what is proposed in the White Paper. Our view is that the chairman should be an independent person appointed by the Queen, on the recommendation of the Secretary of State, and be, as it were, divorced from what in that sense will be the elected representatives of the Convention. Naturally, the Government would not appoint someone who was not acceptable to the vast majority of people on the Convention. It will be very difficult to find a suitable person. It is odd that some hon. Members have suggested on one occasion that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to resolve the difficulties and then on another occasion have wanted to go to the other end of the world to find someone to chair such a Convention.
I am sure that the members of the Convention will not want a protracted battle over the chairmanship. That is why my right hon. Friend must be in a position to act fairly swiftly, while naturally taking into account the representations made to him not only in this debate but when the Convention has been elected. It would be wrong to say that consultations should take place, because they could be protracted. If Northern Ireland is to resolve its own 116 problems, and the people are to do it through a Convention and make proposals to this House, it would be rather contradictory if they could not accept a chairman from Northern Ireland whom they might find it difficult to work under. Therefore, there is a responsibility on Northern Ireland people themselves.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Do we take it that the chairman will not be appointed until after the election and that there will be consultations with the newly-elected members of the Convention about the person who shall preside over it? I have always held the view that it would be better for the chairman to have been elected, but I accept what the right hon. Gentleman has done. He will pick an Ulster man to preside. However, there is a general feeling in Northern Ireland that the people would like the Secretary of State to preside. Whether or not they want to get at him I do not know, but that is the general feeling.
§ Mr. Orme
My right hon. Friend has ruled himself out by the terms of the White Paper. He has in mind to listen to representations and possibly not put forward the chairman for nomination until after the election, though that is not the hard and fast position. That will, in effect, allow him to take the feelings of suitable people and listen to representations. We are far from having any name or names yet from which to consider the nomination.
§ Captain Orr
I very much welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is very sensible not to proceed to the chairmanship until after the election. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to confirm that the terms of the Bill, although slightly different from the White Paper, do not rule out the Secretary of State? There is something to be said for his involvement with the developing situation from day to day rather than leave the possibility of an ultimate clash between the Convention and the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My right hon. Friend rebukes me, albeit gently, saying "Here is a man who believes that the problems of Ulster should be settled by Ulstermen but wants to go across the Atlantic to find the chairman." Both my right hon. Friend and I attended a conference where it was agreed that there was no obvious Ulster man for the position of chairman, and believing that an Englishman, Scotsman or Welshman might be resented, I thought that it might be a good idea to go across the Atlantic.
§ Mr. Orme
I do not want to get into a debating situation with my hon. Friend. He and I were at the Oxford conference, but there were distinguished people, some of them hon. Members, who were not present. Therefore, I do not believe that it was fully representative of Ulster opinion. It is a difficult question. I have tried to show that we are neither being pedantic nor trying to rush the matter. We must try to get it right.
§ Mr. Stallard
We are all very interested in the question of the chairman. I recognise the precision that is used when we talk about Northern Ireland. I know from the exchanges so far that an Ulster man could be a man from Donegal, Cavan or Monaghan. [Interruption.] This is a serious point. Carson was a Dublin man. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) mentioned Ulster. Ulster means nine counties. Does this imply that we could have a chairman from one of the three out of the 26 counties?
§ Mr. Orme
My hon. Friend is being as subtle as the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The Bill precludes nobody. The White Paper states specifically that the recommendation should be a Northern Ireland person. But, unless, it became almost impossible, it would be the Government's intention to proceed along the lines I have indicated.
I come to the next of the major points which are not strictly germane to the Bill, but which have been raised very forcefully by hon. Members, concerning representation at Westminster. I spoke in an intervention of 50 years of Stormont rule, with a large measure of devolution, which in those days included security, and then the election of the Assembly, which again allowed a large 118 measure of devolution, certainly on economic matters, and which could have led to matters including policing, if suitable agreements had been arrived at. Allowing for those matters, many people could argue that Ulster, both in Northern Ireland itself and at Westminster, was well represented.
I should make it clear that from the Government's point of view, and not least the Labour Party's point of view, increased representation would be strongly resisted at this stage, certainly before the Convention had made recommendations. It is open to the Convention to consider any issue. It is very unlikely that the Government could agree to increased representation outside the terms of the Bill.
It could be argued that increasing representation, rather than allowing Northern Ireland people to resolve their problems in Northern Ireland, would simply transfer the matter to the House of Commons. Rather than diminishing the problems, that could increase them, not least if, as hon. Members opposite suggest, it could mean increased representation for minorities, which might be completely opposed to the policies being put forward by the Government. It is a highly contentious point, and there are strong feelings on both sides.
In the Government's view, to increase representation would be to fly in the face of history and would not resolve anything. Ulster Members must take into account feelings of people in the test of the United Kingdom who might think that the problems should not be transferred to the Floor of this House.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
As the right hon. Gentleman says, this is an important point. He is not, however, coming to the real problem, which is that this House will be the final arbiter of the Northern Ireland situation, being the sovereign Parliament. Therefore, when the recommendations come from the Convention the Northern Ireland people should be properly represented in this House, because it has the final say. That is the nub of the argument.
§ Mr. Orme
I see that. This argument is not strictly related to the debate, but I thought it would be wrong to avoid the strong points that have been put forward 119 and pretend that they do not exist. The hon. Gentleman is saying that there ought to be representation here to consider the recommendations which come from the Convention. That Convention will have a 100 per cent. Northern Irish membership, including its chairman. I would have thought that, that being so, Parliament at Westminster could consider any recommendations without further representation from Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
Will the right hon. Gentleman make one thing clear? In his clear rejection of increased representation for Northern Ireland so that it may achieve equality with other sections of the community, is he also rejecting any increase in representation which would be required if Kilbrandon were implemented? Does he reject an increase of the number to 18, with devolution?
§ Mr. Orme
Kilbrandon is being considered by the Government. It will need legislation. It is not for the Government to decide these matters. They might decide in principle that some changes ought to be made but it would be for a boundary commisison to deal with the matter. That could have a delaying effect upon the Convention. I know the strength of feeling on this issue in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend and I feel that by meeting the immediate demands for a Convention elected in Northern Ireland drawn from the people of Northern Ireland we are going a long way to meet this point.
§ Captain Orr
The Minister of State has misunderstood the situation if he thinks that the only demand was for elections to the Convention. The other leg of the demand was proper representation in this House. It is vitally important that he should understand that. With great respect, the argument that this would delay the work of the Convention does not hold up, because elections to the Convention can go ahead. The right hon. Gentleman can ask the boundary commission to determine what would be a fair representation for Northern Ireland in this House on any basis that might be thought necessary.
§ Mr. Orme
I am afraid that I have to say clearly, on behalf of the Government, that this policy is absolutely clear. We cannot at the moment countenance 120 any change in representation. I say that in the fairest manner. I have heard the argument about Kilbrandon. There are hon. Members, not least the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who came to see the Government at the time of the Ulster Workers' Council strike. The demands then were purely and simply for fresh elections and an ending of the Sunning-dale set-up. They had nothing to do with any other points of view. I do not say it is wrong for Members to develop such arguments. But it is not in the Bill. On a Second Reading debate it is probably in order for us to discuss this, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As we have discussed it all afternoon I think it would be a bit late now to decide that it was not in order. I must make it clear that this is not my point of view, not the point of view of the Secretary of State—it is the Government's view that there can be no legislation at present.
§ Mr. Beith
While I recognise what the right hon. Gentleman has said about "at present", may I ask him to do something to dispel the impression he is creating that if the Convention were to recommend, as part of its package of proposals, that Northern Ireland representation in this House should be at parity with that of the rest of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom would not find that acceptable? Will he make it clear that that is not what he is saying?
§ Mr. Orme
I am not closing that argument at all. What I have said is that these decisions cannot be taken ahead of the Convention. If the Convention were to produce recommendations representative of both communities on this point, Parliament would obviously have to consider them. It would be foolish for any party to say that such matters could not be considered. The Government are saying that extra representation cannot be considered at the moment. That is Government policy.
Another major point made during the debate concerned the link with the United Kingdom, the responsibility of this Parliament and the Constitution Act. There was talk about the words of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East being more important than the words written into the Constitution Act. The Government want 121 to make it absolutely clear that the Constitution Act remains on the statute book. The provisions of Sections 1 and 16 will flow. If the Convention comes forward with proposals making it possible to reactivate Section 2, the Government will reactivate it.
I have heard impassioned arguments about the strength of feeling in Northern Ireland. We are under no illusion as to that. Any Government would have to take that into account. However, the rest of the United Kingdom also has a point of view on this issue. Some hon. Members opposite, including the right hon. Member for Belfast, East, have said on occasion that if all else fails UDI is the only alternative. I have had it put to me strongly by those representing working-class Protestants that such people saw a form of UDI as being the answer for Northern Ireland.
I know that that is not acceptable to a great number of people in this House. I know that there are people in the community who support that point of view and the hon. Member for Antrim, North is honest enough to admit it. When we have one argument posed against the other we have also to take into account the views of the rest of the United Kingdom. I have met people in my constituency and elsewhere who have raised this matter with me when I have been speaking about matters other than Northern Ireland. There is a restiveness about the situation which the House and the people of Northern Ireland ought to take fully into account.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the elected representatives in this House who have spoken about this point have made it clear that only in the event of a choice having been made by the majority of people to go into a united Ireland would they prefer to go it alone? We in this House who are from Northern Ireland come here as Unionists and not as nationalists. I completely repudiate Ulster nationalism in that sense. We are not Ulster nationalists but Ulster Unionists. Therefore, we want more representation in the House. It would be churlish of me not to say that uninformed people may say "Yes, we wish to have a UDI", but those of us who believe that we should remain within 122 the United Kingdom, and who would go for independence only if we were pushed into a united Ireland, have always said that that would have to be by negotiation. It could not be by a unilateral declaration.
§ Mr. Orme
I accept the hon. Gentleman's sincerity on this matter. I am not imputing any motives to him. However, I quoted the right hon. Member for Belfast, East in this regard. I could also quote members of the Ulster Workers' Council who made this point to me during and after the UWC strike and who said to me that they were Ulster nationalists. My right hon. Friend was criticised for using that phrase. It is not just one block as it were. There are differing views among both communities on central issues. All that I draw the attention of the House to is the fact that it exists.
§ Captain Orr
The Minister of State is very courteous in giving way. Will he take it from me that only a tiny minority would fancy any such thing? The vast majority of the Protestant population of Ulster want to remain part of the United Kingdom, with all the obligations and all the lights that that entails—and that goes for many of the Catholic community as well?
§ Mr. Orme
I am interested to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman say that. We shall wait for reactions from people, not least some in this House and some in Northern Ireland, to see whether they measure up to that point of view. However, we can leave the matter in that setting.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) asked about the position of Sinn Fein and the Provisionals, and detainees during the election, and about Loyalists and Republicans who are in the Maze at present. There is nothing at present in the law to prevent any person standing for election. Moreover we de-proscribed Sinn Fein and the UVF, and there is no reason why a candidate should not put himself forward as a representative of one of those organisations or advocate the views of such an organisation. There is, therefore, no bar on persons standing for election who wish to advocate the views of, for instance, extremist organisations. We all want advocacy by political means and not by violence. Detainees can vote and 123 stand at an election conducted in accordance with the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962, which is a statute that will apply for the election of the Convention. Detainees can vote if their name is on the register and they are not otherwise disfranchised. It is important to point this fact out because there may be convicted people who would not qualify on this point.
My hon. Friend may ask about the position of candidates and whether they would be allowed to campaign or to come out on parole. That would be a matter for my right hon. Friend. He would obviously look at it in the interests of the election as a whole. But there are certain responsibilities upon him which it would not be possible to decide in this House this evening.
§ Mr. Stallard
My right hon. Friend has replied to a very important question. I think that the whole House would agree that we would want to leave no excuses for anyone saying that he could not participate in the election to the Convention. One of the problems raised by members of both communities when I was last in the Six Counties was the question of political organisations. Many of the people at present detained or interned in Long Kesh, Magilligan and Armagh are there for purely political reasons or be-because of their political backgrounds.
I am talking not of the convicted people but of the detainees and internees. Some of those who were detained in August 1971 are still there, and have never committed a crime. Those who are detained for purely political reasons would have difficulty in organising a political campaign from there.
§ Mr. Stallard
In August 1971 people who had not been involved in anything were detained. Why were they sent there?
§ Mr. Orme
I ask my hon. Friend to watch this position, or to wait for a while. I do not think that he will then be able to make that allegation.
124 I come now to the very interesting speech of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). He made some interesting observations. We may all be in the interesting position of having been a member of a Government which took decisions for which there was a collective responsibility when at a later date we have to express what our feelings were at the time that the Government took those decisions. The right hon. Gentleman put forward his views in a very fair manner. I listened to what he said about power sharing. I refer him to what I said originally about this issue. Much depends on it. I know that the right hon. Gentleman was not making a political debating point about Labour or Conservative policy. But when we talk of power sharing in the context of Northern Ireland, we are not talking about coalitions in a political sense in which parties may or may not become involved on this side of the Irish Sea. We are talking about a power sharing which, in a sense, brings together the Protestant working class and the Catholic working class, we hope, who probably have economic aspirations which are identical but can find no means of politically expressing them together.
That is the difficulty as we understand it. It goes just as much for people with Conservative leanings or Liberal leanings. I make no party political point in that regard. The Government see this issue of genuine power sharing as a first step towards normal political activity within Northern Ireland. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that there were people of different political persuasions in the previous Executive, but they were there as a stepping stone to what we should like to see as normality in political expression. The most important thing that has happened in Northern Ireland flowing from the recent upheaval is that the Protestant working class is beginning to associate itself in economic and in political terms in a manner which we would understand in this country. We want to see that develop.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and others raised the question of the date of the election. There is an amendment down on this question. The hon. Member for Antrim, North misunderstood our interpretation. It is not our intention that people should start the 125 political dialogue before the Convention if they do not want to. We hope that new groups will be formed which are more representative and which have—dare I say it?—a more Socialist basis than exists now.
Again, I say with all sincerity that this point of view has been pressed upon me by leading members of the majority. The strongest arguments we hear for almost immediate elections come from elected representatives in this House. My right hon. Friend and myself do not receive such representations when we are in Northern Ireland meeting representative groups.
§ Mr. West
I hope that the Minister of State recognises that we 12 elected Members have a mandate from the people of Northern Ireland to speak on their behalf. He does not have such a mandate. The House should listen to our view rather than the views of people who have not been elected by the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Orme
I do not think that someone who sat in with the UWC should talk about a mandate. We received representations from the previous Northern Ireland Members that they had a mandate. The right hon. Gentleman was elected on 28th February. Events have moved on since then.
The most interesting point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was when he, having gone on against any form of Irish dimension, finally arrived at it when he talked about the Common Market and the fact that this could melt away the border and all else that exists. I noticed that there was a silence from behind me. On this issue I join forces with most hon. Members opposite. I see no future in this regard. It is not strictly relevant to the problems facing Northern Ireland.
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), the Parliamentary Commissioner was due to report to the Assembly. He will now report to this Parliament when he has any reports to make. No doubt Northern Ireland Members will want to make representations on the question whether the matter should go to a committee. In other 126 words, just as the other matters have been regularised by my right hon. Friend in the Bill, so is the matter of the Parliamentary Commissioner in this regard being regularised.
I have taken far longer than I intended. I have not made a speech. I have tried to answer some of the serious points that have been raised. I may not have satisfied all hon. Members. We believe that the Government's policy as laid down in the Bill meets the main points which have been raised with us. We have stipulated what we believe the safeguards should be. I therefore hope that the House will accord the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Coleman.]
§ Further proceedings stood postponed pursuant to the Order of the House this day.