§ 12.15 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to moveThat the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1975, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th June, be approved.Just over one year ago traumatic events in Northern Ireland led to the ending of the five-month old Executive and a return to direct rule of Northern Ireland from Westminster. That represented the 844 end of a bold experiment in partnership between the two communities there and the recognition on the part of the Government that a more acceptable and durable approach might best come from the people of Northern Ireland themselves.
Parliament then enacted the Northern Ireland Act 1974, which provided for the election of a Constitutional Convention to consider and report onwhat provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there".Elections to the Convention were held on 1st May 1975, and the deliberations of the Convention are currently in progress. Meanwhile direct rule continues.
The Northern Ireland Act 1974, as well as providing for the election of the Convention, made new temporary provisions for the government of Northern Ireland. These provisions were to have effect initially for an interim period of one year, which comes to an end on 16th July 1975. The Act allows for this interim period to be extended for up to one year at a time, subject to the approval of each House of Parliament. The purpose of the present draft order is to extend the interim period until 16th July 1976.
Hon. Members may like me to refresh their memories about the nature of these temporary provisions. Briefly, the Northern Ireland Act 1974 provided for the reintroduction of direct rule. It enabled legislation for Northern Ireland to be made by way of Order-in-Council at Westminster instead of by measure of the Assembly, and it made provision for the functions of the members of the Northern Ireland Executive to be discharged by Northern Ireland Departments subject to the direction and control of the Secretary of State.
As well as retaining direct responsibility for those matters which, under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, were placed in the hands of Her Majesty's Government, notably the administration of law and order, I therefore became responsible to Parliament for the time being for transferred matters as well, including legislation on such matters as were formerly the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, and for which the Executive was accountable to the Assembly.
845 I and my colleagues exercise these responsibilities continuously whether in Northern Ireland or in London. To help us do so, there is machienry in Northern Ireland to help us co-ordinate the work of the different Departments. For instance, there is an executive committee, which meets regularly under my chairmanship and consists of my ministerial colleagues and the permanent heads of the Northern Ireland Departments. This committee oversees the general administration of transferred services and also considers proposals for legislation. The Secretary of State's Executive Committee, SOSEC, meets regularly and is a co-ordinating body, similar to an executive or a Cabinet because of devolved forms of Government still taking place.
As far as excepted and reserves matters are concerned, I have direct personal responsibility for constitutional matters, security and law and order. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), acts as my deputy with special concern for political affairs and coordination of EEC business. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) has special concern for the police. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) has special concern for the Army. Lord Donaldson, the Under-Secretary, has special concern for prison administration and compensation.
As to transferred services, I take a close personal interest in overall social and economic planning for Northern Ireland, while first-line responsibility for the various Northern Ireland Departments is divided among my four colleagues. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West oversees the Departments of Commerce and Manpower Services. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East has responsibility for the Departments of Education and Health and Social Services. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield oversees the Departments of Environment and Housing, Local Government and Planning. Lord Donaldson takes charge of the Departments of Finance and Agriculture.
The House will understand that this wide range of responsibilities places a very heavy load on all my colleagues. 846 It is a matter of great personal satisfaction to me that they continue to discharge their duties with commendable energy and skill, in what the House will appreciate are not the easiest of conditions, on seven days a week over parts of the Province. Some of the remarks that have been made recently have shown a complete lack of knowledge of the form of government that takes place in the Province.
In the economic field, the Department of Commerce has concentrated on maintaining the momentum of the job-creating industrial development programme and minimising, where possible, the impact on existing industry and employment of the effects of the general recession, from which Northern Ireland has not, of course, been insulated. The Department's efforts to attract new industry and to encourage the expansion of existing firms has resulted in the promotion of almost 5,000 new jobs. This has involved Government assistance of about £26 million in a total of some 39 firms.
Northern Ireland has more of a mixed economy than the rest of Great Britain. It has become more and more mixed over the years, and if it were not for the money put in by the Government there would be sizeable unemployment:. We have had a sort of "National Enterprise Board", I am glad to say, because it was set up by the previous administration. We could build upon that in relation to the NEB for the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ Mr. Rees
I am grateful for that correction. It was set up in those days.
Special efforts have also been made to foster small-scale business enterprises. Indeed, a major decision has been announced to assist Harland and Wolff Ltd. through its present financial difficulties. This involves taking the company into public ownership, and discussions are progressing on the introduction of worker participation at all levels of decision-making within the yard.
The responsibilities of the Department of Manpower Services include a comprehensive range of training and rehabilitation resources. In the year ended 31st March 1975 the total output of Govern- 847 ment training centres amounted to just under 3,400 adults and apprentices, excluding 865 others who completed their training elsewhere under arrangements made by the Department. In addition, under the Counter-redundancy Training Scheme 14 firms provided approved versatility training for 740 employees who would otherwise have been redundant in periods of temporary recession. Thirteen hundred others were provided with both employment and training under the auspices of Enterprise Ulster. The Fair Employment Bill has been published, and there is legislation in prospect on sex discrimination and industrial relations.
I should add about training generally that training facilities in Northern Ireland, in both content and amount, are facilities of which people there should be proud and which we would do well to emulate in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Turning to environmental matters, a variety of measures are in hand to alleviate the seriousness of the housing problem in Northern Ireland. For instance, steps are being taken to stimulate the growth of the voluntary housing movement. The maximum limits on improvement and standard grants have been raised, and in the public sector a rent rebate scheme has been introduced. All areas in Belfast which are scheduled for re-development or comprehensive development will be taken into public ownership by 1980. Other major developments include publication of a discussion paper on regional physical development strategy and the commissioning of a major review of the Belfast Transportation Plan. Under the auspices of the Department of Environment, £2 million has been spent by local authorities and employment given to over 1,000 men on cleaning up areas affected by civil disorders. Only those who know Northern Ireland know the importance of that. In downtown Belfast the need for a clean-up brings to mind the Forth Bridge—as much as is done, there are still areas in which there are very real problems.
As for education, the five new education and library boards have now been in operation for just over 18 months, and the reorganisation has been achieved without major disruption and in a way which has allowed the continued develop- 848 ment of the services for which the boards are responsible.
In secondary education, a feasibility study is being carried out by the Department's senior chief inspector, following the recommendation of the Burges Report that the 11-plus procedure should be eliminated through a re-structuring of the education system. The study, which should be completed within a year, is concerned not with theoretical arguments for and against reorganisation but with the practical possibilities of achieving it within the resources of existing buildings and in the light of local circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East the Minister of State, who is responsible here, is talking with the education bodies about the practical problems of ending the 11-plus.
Over the past 12 months there have also been important developments in community relations. The amalgamation of the Department of Community Relations and Education will allow an integrated approach to these inter-related areas of activity.
I am glad to report that the last 12 months have been an encouraging period for the work of the Department of Health and Social Services. Not only is there now full integration of the health services but, uniquely in the United Kingdom, these have been linked with personal social services under single authorities, the four new health and social services boards. This approach will, I believe, pay particular dividends in the provision of services for the total needs of groups like the elderly and the physically and mentally handicapped.
For the agricultural industry, the past year has been a problematical one in the United Kingdom as a whole, but particularly in Northern Ireland, which is more dependent on the products which encounter the greatest difficulties; namely pigs, eggs and beef. Different reference rates for the "green pound" for the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic were introduced on 7th October 1974. These different rates placed meat processing in the Republic at an advantage over the meat plants and bacon factories in Northern Ireland, and tended to encourage smuggling of livestock to the Irish Republic and a resultant loss in throughput and employment in processing plants in Northern Ireland. However, I am pleased 849 to say that, with the help of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, I was able to take action to neutralise the effect of the differential and provide real assistance to the industry in Northern Ireland.
The Department of Finance, apart from maintaining the financial machinery of government in Northern Ireland, has continued to press ahead with the Government construction programme in spite of the troubles and difficulties about the supply of materials. As well as carrying out a programme of building on behalf of Northern Ireland Departments and of work for the Post Office, the Department has borne a heavy load of work on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office in respect of prisons.
I hope that this brief survey of the work of the Northern Ireland Departments will have given the House a fuller understanding of the range of activities with which my colleagues and I are concerned in the administration of transferred services in Northern Ireland. I only wish that the work of these Departments could be discussed in the Northern Ireland Committee. There is not a devolved form of government. The Ministers who work with me are about their business every day of the week, but only on this occasion, when I list the work done, is there any mention of it in the House. The Northern Ireland Committee was constructed for that purpose, and I believe that the fact that there has been no use of it is bad for Northern Ireland. Such a survey would not be complete without a mention of the extremely hard work and devotion of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, many of whose members are working under extremely difficult conditions.
I turn again to the order. One of the main reasons why it is required is that it would not be right to introduce any fresh arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland while the Constitutional Convention is at work. The purpose of the Convention is clear and specific. The Convention is not a Parliament, and its members are not Members of Parliament. The Convention's sole task is to make recommendations to Parliament at Westminster about the future arrangements for government in Northern Iraland. The Government take the view that it is for the people of Northern Ireland, through 850 their elected representatives, to take the lead in shaping together their future institutions of government.
The House will understand why it would be inappropriate for me to assess the Convention's progress to date. Although the Government will assist the Convention in any way they can, they will not interfere in the Convention's work. I would say, however, that the Government welcome the constructive way in which the Convention, under its Chairman, Sir Robert Lowry, to whom I am pleased to pay tribute on this matter and many others, has settled to its task.
As the House knows, the Convention agreed its rules of procedure in early June and is now addressing itself to its main business. The initial span for the Convention's life is six months, but the Government would sympathetically consider extending this period, provision for which was made in the Northern Ireland Act.
Whatever the outcome of the Convention, the government of Northern Ireland has to be carried on. The draft order does no more than allow that to happen. For the time being there is no practical alternative to the present arrangements, and I hope that the House will, therefore, accept the need to approve the draft order.
§ 12.30 a.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
We are a little puzzled by the mention by the Secretary of State of the Northern Ireland Committee, because at Business questions on successive Thursdays we have been pressing the Leader of the House fur the Northern Ireland Committee to be used. It is no fault of the Opposition that the Northern Ireland Committee has never met. Of course, we agree——
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether we can call the Northern Ireland Committee to discuss education, industry, and all the other issues that are being advanced? I should be very happy to arrange it with the Northern Ireland Members and to start next week.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I think we have heard that suggestion with great sympathy, and, although I am the last person to be a "usual channel" I certainly see 851 no reason why the Northern Ireland Committee, which has never met, should not meet and do some useful work.
Of course, we agree with the Secretary of State that the government of Northern Ireland must be carried on. The existing system must continue while the Constitutional Convention is preparing something else, and, I trust, something better. We pray for the success of the Convention, and we acknowledge the conciliatory speeches and the constructive attitude of Unionists and non-Unionists alike in the Convention. This is something which has already been admirably demonstrated in a number of district councils and other public bodies.
As I understand the position, the Convention operates under a different time-scale from the Northern Ireland Assembly. Under article 3 of the order the Assembly is to continue in suspended animation for another year, until 16th July 1976. The Convention, for its part, is subject to automatic dissolution either on the date of the presentation to Parliament of its final report or six months after its first meeting, whichever comes first, unless the Secretary of State extends the duration of the Convention for up to three months at a time.
I think that we all hope that the Convention will report without great delay, but were its deliberations to be prolonged through next year—I hope this is an academic question—could the interim period laid down in Section 1(4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 be again extended or would new legislation be necessary?
The system of direct rule is not satisfactory. Under it administration and government have become more remote and impersonal. The too few right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who represent Northern Ireland—Fermanagh and South Tyrone is almost as disfranchised as Walsall, North—have their work cut out in dealing with the grievances and problems of their people in these days of bloodshed, disruption and distress. Ministers work extremely hard. The Secretary of State has described a little of how they operate.
I single out one point that the right hon. Gentleman made, concerning the 852 training schemes. In Northern Ireland these are excellent and are of particular importance at this moment. But there has been a burgeoning of bureaucracy. It is not the fault of Ministers, and it is not the fault of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, which has a very high reputation indeed. The centralisation of local government under the Macrory reforms has led to an increase of some 10,000 officers. Yet. although the old paraphernalia of Governor, Privy Council, Senate and House of Commons has been criticised as being out of all proportion, under direct rule civil administration has been more costly and more bureaucratic.
At the moment, of course, all this is for the Convention, and on the Convention our hopes rest.
§ 12.35 a.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I endorse the very modest remarks which the Secretary of State understandably made about the efficiency and the hard work put in by his ministerial team. We all admire and appreciate the amount of work that they do, and we also appreciate the intolerable strain under which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues operate in what is probably the most difficult of all the Offices of State, the Northern Ireland Office.
Perhaps I might reciprocate and mention the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about Northern Ireland's advancement in various ways. I have said on several occasions that in health and social services, especially in terms of hospitals, Northern Ireland was very often 10 years ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom, and that development took place when Northern Ireland was, to a great extent, nearly completely financially self-supporting.
There was another experiment. Back in the 1930s, a Unionist Government attempted the nationalisation of road transport. It was not sabotaged by any political party or group. The scheme virtually wrecked itself. I should have though that that might have been sufficient warning to the Labour Party when in 1945 it embarked ill-advisedly on a similar course.
I share the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends that these debates and the 853 debate tomorrow are in the reverse order: much time might have been saved and a far more orderly debate might have ensued if we had been able to take the Bill first and the orders subsequently.
Much has been made of the point that Northern Ireland gets a disproportionate amount of Parliament's time. But whose fault is that? It is the fault of the 483 Members of this House who, on 28th March 1972, voted enthusiastically for the abolition of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. They said that it would break the mould, it would lead to fresh thinking, it would give time for reflection, and the rest of it. As the Bill moved through its various stages, their enthusiasm diminished somewhat, and the number in favour has decreased as successive Secretaries of State have come to the House to ask for another renewal or to conduct another experiment.
It is well to remind the House of the reason for its having to bear the burden which so many Members at the time assumed willingly. The Northern Ireland Members themselves cannot be blamed. They warned of the consequences of many of these hasty decisions.
In their innocence, many right hon. and hon. Members have often talked about temporary provisions. We see the phrase featured on the front page of the document which we are discussing now. We have talked about temporary provisions for four years. Right hon. and hon. Members have consoled themselves with the notion "Here is yet another experiment that we might try", and they have followed that with the exhortation "We may have our doubts about it, but let us give it a try." I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) saying in 1972 that Members were not here to give this or that a try but were here to exercise their judgment. A great many of our colleagues in the House at that time—many of them are still here—were sad at that. Despite the fact that our advice on these constitutional matters have been disregarded so often, we offered our cooperation in making the machinery work—with about as much result and response from those in authority.
In the face of the complaint that Northern Ireland was receiving more than 854 its share of parliamentary time, my right hon. Friend and I suggested on several occasions that in the case of Bills which would afterwards be copied and duplicated in Northern Ireland, the sensible procedure would be to include an application clause in them extending them to Northern Ireland. What was the answer? The answer was that the Government did not think that appropriate.
After the setting up of the Northern Ireland Committee we took the initiative on 13th February. On that day I wrote to the Leader of the House suggesting that as that Committee had now been brought into being we should ask for an early sitting to discuss the very subject which we are now debating—months afterwards. On 17th February the Leader of the House replied through his secretary acknowledging the letter and saying that they would get around to dealing with it. On 26th February I received a further letter from the Leader of the House saying that he thought that if I could agree this with the Northern Ireland Office the Government might be able to take action. But no such agreement was ever achieved. We were never given any reason why this was not considered a suitable subject for discussion in the Northern Ireland Committee. I am sorry that I must correct the Secretary of State on this matter. His memory must be at fault. At no time did he ever suggest that the Gardiner Report was a subject for discussion in the Northern Ireland Committee.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the fact that the Government have lost the Woolwich, West by-election and thereby——
§ Mr. Molyneaux rose——
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Secretary of State's officials spend hours on end discussing the cease-fire with men of violence, who have murdered policemen and members of Her Majesty's Forces, he should take time in the Northern Ireland Committee to discuss this matter with the elected representatives?
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I think that had the Under-Secretary and his colleagues followed our advice, the suspicions which existed in Northern Ireland in the intervening four months, which were described by my right hon. Friend, could have been avoided. We could then have moved on to constructive matters. We should have placed no obstacle in the way.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
Adequate statements were made in this House by my right hon. Friend. Those statements which were open to question and criticism, were made on a number of occasions following security problems in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is given more than its fair share of parliamentary time.
I have seen the correspondence and I have dealt with some aspects of this matter. This is what the hon. Gentleman should address himself to. He has not answered this point. We offered a debate on the serious economic situation in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman and his Friends did not take up that offer, as they insisted upon a debate on security. Therefore, they frustrated the rights of their constituents to have their views aired in the Northern Ireland Committee.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am naïve about economics and high finance. However, as I see it, the ills which are afflicting Northern Ireland, in common with the rest of the United Kingdom, result from the actions or inaction of the Government. This is the place where debates on economics should take place. I can see that at some time when the economic situation permits there might be merit in Northern Ireland Committee discussions provided that there are no other urgent administrative or financial discussions. The basic economic and financial decisions are taken in the House. Northern Ireland is affected accordingly.
I admit that we wanted to discuss the cease-fire, its consequences and developments in Committee. We have seen the reason tonight, when my right hon. Friend addressed four questions to the Secretary of State, who was given the opportunity to deny and repudiate statements which had been made by various people claiming to be authorities on the other side of the argument and the Pro- 856 visional IRA. The Secretary of State, with all due respect, answered by reading out the juicier parts of the statements he had made in the House, which had not been properly debated. That is why we wanted a debate, and why I hope that we shall be able to address our minds to the questions which were put to the Secretary of State by my right hon. Friend when we deal with the legislation tomorrow.
On 19th June in my letter to the Secretary of State I said that as we were to have debates tonight and tomorrow we should not need to press further our requirement for a debate in the Northern Ireland Committee on the cease-fire. The way is now clear. Why could not that have been done four months ago?
Last week we suggested that the debate on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Bill should be followed by the debate on the two orders and not the other way round. On Thursday at Business questions time the Leader of the House made the astonishing statement, in reply to a question from me, that he had re-arranged the business this way to suit my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself. We are still trying to work that out.
Only 48 hours ago I suggested that the nonsense element might be eliminated from our debates tonight and tomorrow if tomorrow we could have a fairly wide-ranging debate and a winding up speech with some substance in it. Again we had the answer that the Government did not think it appropriate. I could have understood this if we as the United Ulster Unionist Party had behaved as a wrecking party engaging, probably with others, in guerrilla operations designed to bring down the Government. But we have consistently said that we support the Government in all measures, however unpleasant, which we regard as being in the best interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. No one can accuse us of having failed to give that support and keep that promise, even when it has not been easy for us to do so.
Bearing in mind what I said about our common desire to act in what we consider to be the best interests of the United Kingdom—and there can be little doubt that we are also united in our desire to do what is best for the people of 857 Northern Ireland—is it too much to hope that we shall now be able to get down to a more efficient method of dealing with Northern Ireland business?
Section 1 of the Act which we are renewing has been largely put into effect and requires little comment. On Section 2, as the Secretary of State said, the Convention is now under way. The Secretary of State rightly maintained earlier today that, in his view, the Convention was not a Parliament, and we support him in that view. Secondly, the Secretary of State has consistently resisted suggestions that the Government and Parliament should impose preconditions on the Convention, lay down guidelines and hamstring the Convention in its operation. His judgment has been vindicated by the responsible, constructive approach of those who have been elected to the Convention.
I want to pay tribute to the party leaders present in the House tonight—my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I wish them well and trust that they and their colleagues will not, in the long run, require the full period for which the order makes provision in which to prepare and submit their report.
§ 12.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
The opening statement by the Secretary of State gave us some indication of the tremendous task which has been undertaken by the Northern Ireland Office in running Northern Ireland under direct rule. My right hon. Friend and his colleagues will be aware of the substantial criticism which has been made against them, particularly by the Northern Ireland Convention. All parties right across the political spectrum in the Convention have levelled criticism at Ministers, the latest being last week.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the criticism, on which I hope to enlarge later, if I am lucky, was directed at the system of administration? In fact, I cannot find a single instance of a personal attack having been made by the Convention. However, SDLP Members have made substantial and numerous attacks on Ministers.
§ Mr. Fitt
I was referring to criticism which has been made by all the political party representatives in the Convention about the effects of remote control or indirect government from Westminster.
I feel that Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office have taken on an onerous task in trying to run Northern Ireland in present conditions. I do not believe that they will ever be successful in running Northern Ireland from this House. Perhaps it is because we have been used to having a local parliament of our own, and many people feel that elected representatives there are more aware of the problems that affect the different constituencies.
§ Mr. Orme
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I eagerly look forward to the day when we are in a position to hand over all aspects of the government of Northern Ireland to an acceptable devolved form of Government. But that form of Government will have to grapple with a very difficult economic situation and financial constraint. That point ought to be borne in mind. This afternoon I heard an hon. Member say that Northern Ireland wanted the freedom to carry out its own policies and to spend the money. It is worth remembering that a large proportion of that money still comes from Great Britain as a whole.
§ Mr. Fitt
I fully support my right hon. Friend. Indeed, I was about to make almost exactly the same point.
Most of our debates on Northern Ireland have related to the security situation. Therefore, many people in the Province may not be fully aware of the dire economic problems which will face them in the weeks and months ahead.
The Convention is not a Parliament, but it has been given the specific task of trying to evolve politically acceptable structures. I believe that if Convention Members were made aware of the enormity of the social and economic issues in Northern Ireland, the knowledge might help them to determine acceptable political structures even more speedily.
In this House our debates on Northern Ireland have been mostly concerned with security. I have yet to see a full day or a number of hours devoted to Northern Ireland's social and economic problems. 859 Those are matters of vital importance over and above the security issue. Even if the security situation were settled, Northern Ireland would still face poverty, distress and unemployment. Given those conditions, the situation could be even worse than it is today.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should put forward a common case for a Supply Day?
§ Mr. Fitt
I would agree with any suggestion made from either side of the House that we should avail ourselves of the first opportunity to discuss the social and economic problems of Northern Ireland. As a member of the Convention I accept that Convention members are not fully aware of the massive problems that are involved. For example, only last week I read of a shoe factory closing down in Ballymena, North Antrim. There must be many small factories throughout Northern Ireland that are finding themselves in financial difficulties and facing the prospect of going out of business. Northern Ireland cannot afford the loss of one job. The loss of jobs would only add to the troubles that we have already experienced over the past few years.
Although I must accept that my right hon. Friend is not prepared to discuss the social and economic issues with members of the Convention, I feel that he should avail himself of the first opportunity, along with his Ministers, to talk to the elected Northern Ireland Members in this House so that we can convey the extent of the problem to our own party members in the Convention. That may help them to realise the enormity and the urgency of the problem. That would probably help them to bring into existence acceptable political structures.
Of course, no one will oppose this order. Whatever problems we now face would be exaggerated if we were not to agree to the order. Whatever decisions have been made against the system of direct rule and the remoteness of Government from Westminster, I do not think that anyone is questioning the integrity or the ability of those who represent the Government.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Mention has been made of criticism within the Convention. 860 That criticism can be read in the reports. In the speech that I made at the Convention I pointed out that we were not challenging the integrity of Ministers but were drawing attention to the fact that people who did not know the situation and did not understand the Ulster mentality had no appreciation of the problems. There is a difficult situation in Northern Ireland. It is not easy to pick up the strings and to carry on with the job.
§ Mr. Fitt
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. In this difficult situation the elected Members of Northern Ireland constituencies must accept greater responsibility for keeping in close touch with the present Government and putting forward the problems that concern our constituents. I am not sure whether we shall have 11 or 12 Members when we engage in our discussions. I am inclined to think that there will be a missing Member. Perhaps there are no problems in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. I do not know about that, but I know that there are many problems in all the other Northern Ireland constituencies.
If there is to be a Northern Ireland Committee, set up under the aegis of the House, I shall be prepared to use every means possible, in conjunction with other hon. Members, to go in depth into the problems affecting our Northern Ireland constituencies.
§ 1.0 a.m.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
I, too, wish to thank the Minister for his comments. I have always deprecated the personal attacks which are made from time to time by certain Members from Northern Ireland constituencies, some of whom are not here this morning. I believe that all 12 of us will be increasingly important as the days go by after today's events. That is something to which I personally look forward. I hope that we shall see something more of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire) than we have seen in the past five or six months.
One would have to be deaf and blind not to acknowledge that there is an increasing sense of frustration and isolation in Northern Ireland concerning the way in which the country is being governed here at Westminster and also about the effects of various instruments 861 of government in Northern Ireland. That system has been described as being remote and impersonal. That puts the matter neatly and nicely. We have district councils which are powerless; I do not expect hon. Members to accept my word for it, so I shall quote from an article in a local newspaper in my constituency, written by a reporter who has the unenviable task of sitting through meetings of the local council:Local government must be completely reorganised with many of the powers enjoyed by former local authorities again returned to the councils. The way the system of local government is being administered at the moment, there seems little point in sustaining an expensive administration at local level. … Non-elected bureaucrats make decisions about vital things like housing, planning, roads and other things which affect everyone. I he same planners are paid by public funds, and therefore the man who pays the piper must have some say in calling the tune.Reference has been made to the various area boards. It should be made clear that not one of them has an elected member. There are people on those boards who come from the district councils, but they do not go as delegates. Everybody serving on the boards is a nominee of the Minister. Many of those nominees are people who have been rejected by the electorate. We no longer have a Stormont administration—an administration on which our system of local government was ultimately based.
We are trying hard to make the thing work with our 12 Members here at Westminster, but we cannot ignore what is taking place in Northern Ireland. There is a lack of identity and there has been an increase in vandalism of which we should be ashamed. There has been a refusal to pay one's way, in terms of rent, gas and electricity bills, and all the rest. I attended a local tenants' association meeting on Monday and the view there was, "The Minister is interested only in screwing out of the working man every penny by making him pay increased rents".
There is a lack of civil pride, and £2 million has been spent on tidying-up operations. When one looks around, one wonders where the money went. Disrespect for the law has also been highlighted. There has been a complete breakdown in communications from the ordinary person in the street right through to various systems of government, and this 862 has led to a tremendous vacuum in Northern Ireland.
What are we trying to do? I have a small bundle of documents here which is a sample of that work. There are 48 orders in council covering a period of two months. Many are already in operation. They cover industrial training levies, pencil and graphic instrument regulations; there is a level crossing order in regard to an automatic barrier at Collybackey. We have teachers' superannuation orders, shipbuilding orders, misuse of drugs orders, motor vehicle testing orders, administration of justice orders, and so on.
That is just a selection of them. We have 19 other draft orders, some of which will affect the lives of people in Northern Ireland quite substantially. We try to give them proper consideration, and attempt to amend parts of them, though we recognise that we are unlikely to be able to do so.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was unable, because of illness, to come here to defend the stand he took on the Community Relations Order on another occasion. That was not a disaster, but the Youth Employment Service Order, which destroyed the youth employment service, was a disaster. Experience has proved that the schools are not in a position to take over the service's functions. We shall see children coming out of school into an extremely difficult economic climate, having received very little guidance. They will probably go straight into the dole queues.
In the Convention last week, Mr. John Hume said the Secretary of State's performance was sub-standard, but that was probably the only personal criticism made in the debate.
Mr. Harry West, an Official Unionist, said:In the British Parliament, the legitimate affairs of our Province get scant attention … and decisions that vitally concern us are made over our heads by people who are not accountable to us in any way.The hon. Member for Belfast, West said:Long distance government from London is completely unsatisfactory in trying to grapple with our many problems. Deep resentment and bitter frustration is caused when matters which we regard as being of weighty concern to Northern Ireland are relegated to one and a half hour's debate at 11 p.m. or 863 midnight and one is talking to a completely empty and uncaring House.My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said:We have been ruled in a worse manner than the colonies. Even the governor in a colony has a council of local people to give him grass roots reaction.Mrs. Dickson, of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, said:It is direct rule by remote control. We have all discovered to our dismay the number of Orders in Council that go through as a result of direct rule without any possibility of improvement, amendment or deletion. All of a sudden, we discover that they have become the laws of the Medes and Persians. Our own representatives have no say or control over them. The present form of direct rule is operated by remote control.
§ Mr. Powell
It is perhaps as well that this debate is taking place so early in the morning, in a Chamber that is almost empty. If representatives of six other counties in the United Kingdom were to hear this description of the way in which they are governed, it might put dangerous thoughts into their heads.
§ Mr. McCusker
I do not necessarily disagree with my right hon. Friend, and I am not saying I agree with everything said in the Convention.
Mr. Kinahan, of the Alliance Party, said:I am sure that people generally feel that there is big brother element dictating what is good for them.Mr. Empey, Vanguard Unionist, said that local initiative was being strangled by Whitehall. Mr. David Bleakley, of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, said:There are a great many people in Northern Ireland who, if the spectre of violence were to disappear, would be happy to accept direct rule provided it could be developed as an imaginative constitutional instrument.I might agree more with that sentiment than with some of the others.
§ Mr. Orme
Is the hon. Member talking about a part of the United Kingdom? It sounds rather strange that people who claim so fervently to be members of the United Kingdom should see themselves as separate and apart, and should look upon Ministers and civil servants from Whitehall as intruders into their part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. McCusker
After 50 years of devolved government there are bound to 864 be feelings like that. If the Government ruled Northern Ireland as they rule any other part of the United Kingdom the people there might think of themselves more as citizens of the United Kingdom. I said that I did not necessarily agree with all those comments. I was using them to highlight the sense of frustration which exists in Northern Ireland as a consequence of the situation in which the people there find themselves. Northern Ireland Ministers are able, intelligent and imaginative men——
§ Mr. McCusker
That is my experience of them. With the best will in the world, it is unlikely that any acceptable form of government will emerge in Northern Ireland for a substantial time. Is there no way in which the Government can rid themselves of the shackles which obviously confine them at the present time, and produce something more suitable than what we have now? Is there not something more that the Government can do in the interim period to ensure that these citizens of the United Kingdom can see themselves being treated more like citizens of the United Kingdom?
§ 1.14 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
Direct rule is applied to Northern Ireland in periods of transition. Therefore, this instrument of constitutional control is regarded as a temporary expedient. There can be nothing permanent about such an instrument which was conceived to meet an interim situation. One longs for the end of direct rule, not only because, in essence, it is a temporary arrangement but because, in practical terms, it is a most unsatisfactory method of governing a part of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland needs and deserves the full impact of an interested and involved House of Commons, producing legislation which is born out of a healthy tension of wills and intellect. At this hour of the morning one is less likely to assist Northern Ireland by rubber stamping dozens of orders in council.
I know of very few people who believe that there is a credible substitute for the constitutional right of having vital issues debated, and legislation formulated, on the Floor of the House, with the Province having its full quota of elected 865 representatives all contributing to that process.
There is almost full agreement on a related issue, namely, that remote rule is totally undesirable. I do not interpret that reaction as relating to the personnel involved in the Northern Ireland Office. Much, rightly, has been said about the industry, concern and integrity of those who have responsibility for governing and administering our Province. Ministers have a most daunting and unenviable task in trying to deal with the tremendous workload, which really requires three times as many people. It is a task which they tackle with commendable determination.
Neither side in this relationship benefits to the desired degree. With due respect to Ministers, they do not acquire the in-depth understanding of all the issues involved in the social, economic and constitutional problems. It was a most interesting and heartening experience to share a platform with the Minister of State some weeks ago, when he unveiled a plaque at a fine new training establishment. I would want to highlight again and again that kind of achievement, and give credit where it is due. The fact remains that in other areas of responsibility there is not and cannot be—because of the tremendous pressures—the in-depth grasp and understanding which is required. In the Province there is an intuitive reaction to the fact that the machinery of government is too remote and that the Ministers are overloaded.
Some weeks ago I wrote to the Secretary of State about a most deplorable situation which obtains in the Province, concerning the misappropriation of £134,000. This is money which was originally sent in the form of statutory payments, but which never arrived. There were 9,500 Giro cheques which were never received by the people to whom they were sent. With a regional government, or in a situation of full integration, such an incident would not be tolerated for a month, let alone 12 months, with the duplication of expenditure involved. This could not have occurred in any situation other than that of direct rule.
I hope to see, sooner rather than later, strong regional government in Northern Ireland. I long to see at least the Kilbrandon quota of Northern Ireland Mem- 866 bers in this House. The long-overdue Northern Ireland Committee would be most useful to Northern Ireland Members, in advance of legislation here. Most of my colleagues would join me in noting that the Secretary of State could not have been more mistaken in stating recently, in the media, that the United Ulster Unionists were not interested in or keen to grapple with such issues as the ailing economy in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman said that because we held out for a debate on the security position in the Northern Ireland Committee before debating anything else. The Secretary of State was absent when it was pointed out that we had asked in vain for a debate on the Northern Ireland situation.
It is a natural reaction to defend our position by asking this House to realise that the issue which was causing optimum concern at the time when the Northern Ireland Committee was mooted was the security issue in Northern Ireland. This is the issue which remains. It is on a par with any other, including that of the economy, because the economic viability of any part of this Kingdom or any other is totally dependent on constitutional stability and the enforcement of law and order.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I know that the hon. Member feels strongly about this. In terms of the security situation, the RUC are almost completely Ulstermen, but security, law, and order are matters for the Floor of the House, like defence and the rôle of the Army. When it comes to matters which were devolved but for which we are now responsible, I take the point that the people of Northern Ireland have greater knowledge. We have not discussed the problem of Harland and Wolff, and all that goes with that. It is wrong that we have not discussed it in the Northern Ireland Committee.
§ Mr. Bradford
In the absence of the Secretary of State, it was suggested that we might arrange to discuss the grave economic situation in Northern Ireland, and we have received agreement to this.
At the beginning of tonight's proceedings my right hon. Friend remarked, rightly, that we wanted to clarify much of the confusion which had grown up 867 over misunderstanding and lack of information. The Northern Ireland Committee could have dealt with that quite adequately.
The Minister of State knows only too well the concern which the Ulster Unionists—I venture to say also the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)—have in the ailing economic situation, because he has received multitudinous deputations, representations and approaches from Northern Ireland Members. This is because we realise that direct rule must remain with us for a little longer.
We ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to accept our gratitude for the great deal of work and effort he has expended in receiving deputations and representations. He, in turn, could accept our argument that the inaugural debate in the Northern Ireland Committee should be on security and that we could then commit to the committee other important issues as they arise. That would increase representation in this House and would assist Northern Ireland to cope with an inadequate and temporary measure, such as direct rule.
§ 1.24 a.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
As the first speaker after the momentous news about the Woolwich, West by-election, and since we are talking about non-controversial matters, I am sure that our happiness will be shared by hon. Members opposite.
I welcome this order. One hon. Member produced a bundle of documents and said how difficult it was to absorb them, but we have had similar matter from the EEC. Most of the directives and documents which come for us to approve without amendment come as late at night as this.
The only difference between documents from the EEC and those that hon. Members get from Northern Ireland is that the EEC ones are on double-sided foolscap and are far more numerous. That is something we have to learn to live with.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who spoke about the need for more jobs in Northern Ireland, touched a strain about which all hon. Members feel very keenly. Can he not get the Government to interest them- 868 selves more readily in a scheme which I know exists in the EEC headquarters in Brussels? Whether we like it or not, we are in the EEC. For years a scheme has been gathering dust in the pigeon holes in Brussels to make a development area of the area which runs south of the border into the Republic and north into Northern Ireland. The whole area from the east to the west coast would be made into an industrial and agricultural development area to create more jobs. The scheme is there, and Community funds are available.
It is because of the failure of British and Irish delegates to the EEC to agree on the progress that should have been made in this respect that the scheme has gathered dust for a number of years. However, it is still there and it is still available.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
That scheme would not at present be acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland, because we feel that any development by the EEC should be on a United Kingdom basis and not on a North and South basis.
§ Mr. Farr
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am merely suggesting that instead of being prejudiced against the whole scheme before the details have been examined, delegates from both countries should have the common sense to discuss it to ascertain whether a form of progress can be agreed for the use of Community money to provide more jobs with which no one can disagree.
The unlikely possibility has been raised of the Convention recommending some form of full integration. It has been said that there are some advantages. One of the advantages of full integration, if it ever came about, would be that the appalling rate of murders and crimes in Belfast, which we were discussing a short while ago, would be reduced considerably. In England and Wales about 89 per cent. or 90 per cent. of known murders are solved. With closer integration, and given the new A Squad which the Minister is now establishing, perhaps backed up by the expertise and knowledge of Scotland Yard and the use of its sophisticated equipment and "know-how", a considerable impact on the problem and considerable assistance to the A Squad would be made.
869 Finally, I should like to ask the Minister a question about the Convention. When the Convention result is announced and the findings declared, will those findings eventually be made public? When the recommendations of the Convention are received by the Government, will the Government consider them for a certain time and then, perhaps, present them to the House for debate, together with a Green Paper or a White Paper setting out the Government's recommendations? In other words, shall we have a debate on the Convention's recommendations, or will the Government consider them and then have a debate coupled with a Green Paper or a White Paper?
I should like to say once again how much I welcome the order.
§ 1.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
I realise that I have few moments left to cover the points I had previously prepared. I want to refer to the Gardiner Report and matters arising from that. As the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) said, everything returns to the security situation.
I have just seen the Secretary of State gesticulating towards me. I am not sure what his signals mean, but I think I get the gist.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I was inviting the hon. Gentleman to have his say, because I do not need a lot of time.
§ Mr. Mather
That was the answer I was hoping for.
The Gardiner Report is one of the most important reports we have had out of Northern Ireland. I very much regret to say that its history is a very sorry affair. The report was in the hands of the Government before Christmas. It was published in January. Over a long period we pressed the Government to publish the report, but there was delay after delay. Since January, when the report was published, this is the first real opportunity we have had of debating it. There are many things in the report which we should be debating, and which need urgent action.
It is a great pity that hon. Members who have made visits to Northern Ireland were not able to give evidence to the Gardiner Committee when it was at work, because hon. Members who frequently go over there and inform themselves 870 about the security situation are very well aware of many of the matters which the report raised.
I am very glad to see that the report deals with the question of those who direct, organise and train terrorists, as distinct from those who actually commit terrorist acts. I am not absolutely clear whether that is covered in the legislation.
§ Mr. Mather
The right hon. Gentleman indicates that it is covered.
It is absolutely right that those who go about hooded or masked should now be dealt with. It has been an affront. With parades of paramilitary people flaunting the law, it is high time that this matter was dealt with.
Another very interesting point which is mentioned in the Gardiner Report is the question of the news media. I think that it was the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who tonight cited the example of a well-known member of the IRA who was interviewed on television. This is a very difficult problem. The Gardiner Report said that this matter involved a "degree of responsibility" on the part of the media, and something of "a spurious glamour". The amount of publicity that members of terrorist organisations are given by being interviewed on television has worried hon. Members for a long time.
One very revealing part of the Gardiner Report saysThere can be no question of introducing censorship in a free society in time of peace".This is the absolute nub of the problem. We have not grappled with the problem of how to deal with a situation that is short of war—a situation of terrorism. In a war situation one would have censorship and the rules and conventions of war. But in a situation of half-war one has none of these things.
That means that any country or Government dealing with terrorism in a free and completely open society has a very difficult job. This was amply proved in the case of the Americans in Vietnam and the effect of television on their campaign in this country.
I am also glad to see that cross-border traffic is dealt with in the Gardiner Report, as is the question of proxy 871 bombs. For a long time now, hon. Members who have been to Northern Ireland have been asking for effective action to be taken on cross-border traffic.
Furthermore, the use of identity cards is not turned down in the report. We have frequently heard that the one thing which would help the Royal Ulster Constabulary more than anything else that could be done would be the universal issue of identity cards.
I think that the most important part of the Gardiner Report——
§ Mr. Mather
No, but I checked with Mr. Speaker that I should be in order in raising the Gardiner Report in this debate.
The section on prisons is the most important part of the report. It reveals a highly unsatisfactory situation. I realise that that is not entirely the fault of the present Government. They partly inherited it. The report calls for urgent, emergency action on prison buildings, and I should like to know whether the Government will carry it out. Has any action been taken? In paragraph 9, in the general introduction to the report, the Gardiner Committee says that the most effective protection against terrorism and subversion isthe recognition by government that it must act with speed to demonstrate its determination to sustain its authority".In the whole history of our involvement in Northern Ireland in recent years it has so often been a matter of too little, too late. So often the action we have taken has been hesitant and faint-hearted. When we face such a situation there is only one thing to do, and that is to convince the terrorists that their defeat is inevitable. Once we have done that, more than half the battle is won.
§ 1.37 a.m.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I agree that, while the debate is on the government of Northern Ireland, the Gardiner Report is relevant, in so far as I am responsible for security in Northern Ireland, and I make no complaint about the remarks that the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) has made. But the detail will come up in the 872 morning. The point the hon. Gentleman mentioned about hooding, and so on, is met in the legislation, and we shall have a chance tomorrow and in Committee to put our minds to it.
To delay in bringing the legislation before the House is caused not by narrow political considerations but by the complicated nature of the legislation. It is important that we get it right, for those in the security forces in Northern Ireland.
I shall have something to say about prisons tomorrow. We have carried out the proper procedures for what will be known as the Moy Park Prison in Northern Ireland. Representations have been made by representatives of the UUUC in the House, and they have every right to make them. I am very conscious that consideration of the representations has delayed the building of the prison, but, in a society in which ordinary people are going about their business, to take their land from those people is not something that I would do with an easy conscience. What I have done instead is to have built cellular accommodation on the land we have at the Maze Prison. This has enabled me to overcome the fact that there were delays in planning procedures.
Under the Northern Ireland Act, the Convention report must be laid before Parliament. I cannot now say what recommendations will be made to Parliament, but the report of the Convention as a whole will come to Parliament.
The Convention can be extended by up to three months at a time. There is no theoretical limit to the number of three-months' periods by which we extend it under the law, just as with the interim period in the order. If we saw fit, we could extend it for another 12 months in 12 months' time. That is the law, and it is what the hon. Gentleman asked me about.
With regard to the Common Market, all I can say is that I do not know of any cross-border studies which are covered with dust in Brussels—studies that one could pull off the shelf and carry out, but because we are in the Common Market I have asked my right hon. Friend, who had views about the Market—that is why I thought it would be a very good idea if he had responsibility for the Common Market—to see what we can do under the Market arrangements 873 between the United Kingdom and the Government of the South. It is not a matter for Northern Ireland and the Government of the South; it is a matter for Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom. That, again, is the law and not a quirk of my fancy.
On the question of local government, I do not want to go into arguments which were put long before this administration or the previous one. The Macrory reforms altered the powers of local government in Northern Ireland and put them into the Stormont administration. It is not a case, as someone said, of no responsibility at all. Any hon. Member or right hon. Member from Northern Ireland has the right to raise these issues, because the Minister in this House, working with me, is responsible for all that is done.
There may be arguments about the number of Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland—we can discuss that at another time—but it is possible for all these issues to be brought to Westminster. Northern Ireland is not without representation. I simply make the point that with 1½ million people and 1 million voters it is a smaller area than the metropolitan county in which I live in Yorkshire. Whatever the arguments in this respect, what hon. Members are putting forward, as I understand it, is an argument for devolved government in Northern Ireland, out of the history of the last 50 years, whatever was wanted in 1922, and when we get these pressures—which I fully understand, without arguing the rfights or wrongs at the moment—it is for devolved government that people are——
§ Mr. Powell
It can also be an argument for genuine local government as it is enjoyed in Great Britain.
§ Mr. Rees
It could be that, but again, because I think we have to face the reality of Northern Ireland—which I have tried to do on so many issues—all I point out is that within Northern Ireland I find a strong desire for a form of devolved government—and that is what was put at the Convention the other day.
The point that I am anxious to make is that all 12 Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland have the right to raise in this House all those issues for which I am responsible, with my right hon. and hon. Friends.
874 I should like to make one last small point about the orders. They arise out of a former devolution, and the quicker we get a form of government which prevents the 1½ hours' debate the better. But a large number of those orders would not have been debated in the assembly of a Northern Ireland Parliament, because they are orders that are not debated here unless prayed against, so a large wodge does not form the best of arguments. A small wodge would have made the point more fairly. When we have time to debate these things fully, as we shall, the big wodge and the small wodge will fall into place, together with devolved government and integration. In the meantime, we are waiting for a report from the Convention in Northern Ireland. We wish them well. We shall read the report with interest, and the House will debate it with interest.
The people of Northern Ireland understand Northern Ireland better than do people from the outside, but we have a part to play as part of the United Kingdom and we shall go on doing that.
§ Question put and agreed to.