HC Deb 02 July 1976 vol 914 cc808-79

11.39 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

I beg to move, That the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 27th May, be approved. As the House will recall, the arrangements for direct rule under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 are renewable for a maximum of one year at a time. I have said on a number of occasions that at present there is no alternative to continuing direct rule. I am therefore seeking the approval of the House today to an Order extending the statutory basis for direct rule for another year from 16th July.

However, the Government's long-term aim is to see a devolved system of government established in Northern Ireland which will enjoy widespread support across the community. The Government regretted that the Constitutional Convention was unable to produce a constitutional solution which commanded sufficiently widespread public acceptance. The Convention failed in its immediate purpose. We have to face this fact. The Convention was nevertheless very useful. It showed just how hard it is to solve the constitutional problems of Northern Ireland—it is just as difficult for Ulstermen as for anyone else. Furthermore, the Convention enabled people to meet who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to do so.

I do not wish to say much today about the talks that are currently taking place between the official Unionist Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party. I am not involved in the talks, and it would not be helpful if I were to rush in with comment at this stage. I am always ready to entertain constructive and responsible ideas from those in Northern Ireland. I have always believed that a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland will have to be worked out in Northern Ireland itself.

I would make two other points. The first is one I made to the Chairman of the Constitutional Convention in a letter I sent him last January, when I said that: Experience in recent years has made it plain that no system of government within Northern Ireland will be stable or effective unless both parts of the community acquiesce in that system and are willing to work to support it". That remains as true as ever it was and means that no proposals for the future government of Northern Ireland could be put into effect without the right degree of public support.

But—and this is my third point—the problem is to get the timing right. I have no faith in instant solutions in Northern Ireland or in speed for the sake of speed. We have had—I use words that I have used recently—too many false dawns before. I hope, therefore, that any temptation which people may feel to rush to this or that deadline will be resisted. I am satisfied that there are no early deadlines which need prejudice the orderly progress of discussions.

It has been suggested that it would be technically possible to recall the Convention within the next couple of months. My view is that this would not be the right way to proceed. The Convention has met and completed its task. I do not see that we could turn the clock back.

The important thing is to make sure that the preparation of the ground is thorough and the spadework sure. Given this, I am sure that we can provide satisfactory ways of carrying forward an agreement that can command sufficiently widespread public support. Any agreement must, of course, be acceptable to this House, but my letter of 14th January to the Chairman—which was published a White Paper—set out many of the points to which the Government would attach importance. In particular, there can be no question of the Army being placed under the control of a devolved Administration.

For the present, however, direct rule will continue and the Government have been considering whether any changes should be made in the procedures. I have discussed this with a number of hon. Members, and there was a most useful debate on 10th June which touched on these matters, and in which a number of ideas were put forward, including suggestions by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). The Government have taken these and other views into account in reaching our conclusions.

First, if the House agrees, the Government thought it would be right to remove the limitation in Standing Orders on the number of meetings of the Northern Ireland Committee which may be held in a Session, thus providing greater opportunity for debate on Northern Ireland matters.

I turn now to legislation. During the first period of direct rule, and again since July 1974, legislation dealing with matters which were devolved to the Northern Ireland Parliament and Assembly has been made by Order in Council. This must continue to be the main way of legislating for Northern Ireland. But I think that we can improve the opportunities for scrutiny and debating these Orders, of which there can be 20 or 30 in a Session, covering a very wide range of subjects.

Thus, for example, I shall be introducing this autumn Orders amending the Northern Ireland laws on compensation for injury to persons and damage to property. Compensation arrangements are steeped in the special features of Irish law and history. Incidentally, I have had inquiries on this and I have heard comment from time to time that they ought to be speeded up a bit to get it done. I repeat that they are steeped in the special features of Irish law and history. The changes must be based on this special legal background. It needs. Northern Ireland legislation, and I shall proceed by Order.

Northern Ireland Orders generally are published as proposals before they are formally laid in Parliament, thus allowing time for consultations to take place with interested parties in Northern Ireland, and Members are equally free to comment at that stage. I intend to ensure that, as a matter of routine, copies of these proposals are sent to each of the major political parties in Northern Ireland. Given the increased time available in the Northern Ireland Committee, it would be possible, if Members so wished, for some of the draft Orders to be discussed in that Committee as a preliminary stage before they were finalised and formally laid before Parliament.

The existing arrangements for the draft Orders once laid to be debated, either in Committee upstairs or on the Floor of the House, will of course continue. I hope that more advantage will be taken in future of the scope for holding longer debates in Committee than is normally possible on the Floor of the House. We shall, however, be willing to consider the possibility of an extended debate on the Floor of the House, such as that on the recent industrial relations Order, in a few cases where there seems to be special justification.

It has been suggested that we should more frequently apply Great Britain Bills to Northern Ireland. The Government are glad to accept this suggestion in principle. Where special adaptations are necessary for Northern Ireland in what would then be a United Kingdom Bill, we envisage that, where necessary, it would be a simple arrangement to provide for technical adaptation and amendments to previous Northern Ireland measures to be made by an Order subject to negative resolution.

These technical adaptations and amendments are important. They are not concerned with policy. They are the means by which we shall maintain the currently existing Northern Ireland statute book. This statute book is derived from the historic corpus of law relating to Ireland. It provided the law for devolved government. It is, therefore, important that we should maintain the Northern Ireland statute book for the devolved system of government in Northern Ireland that we hope to see in the future.

There are some areas of change in Northern Ireland which will require a full Bill in Parliament. The Fair Employment Bill provides an example of this. We shall continue to introduce legislation in this way when it concerns matters which have traditionally been dealt with by legislation in this House rather than by devolved legislation in Northern Ireland. I would hope, subject to the constraints of the parliamentary programme, to have a Northern Ireland Bill on the administration of justice in the next Session.

Overall, the Government will be looking closely at the need for legislation in fields which we have previously thought it appropriate to leave to a future devolved Government. In particular, we shall now consider whether to legislate to bring Northern Ireland law more closely into harmony with laws in other parts of the country. One example—it is only an example to illustrate the point—is the area of homosexuality and divorce. There are obvious difficulties about such subjects in Northern Ireland circumstances and it would be wrong to act precipitately. But I would welcome the views of people in Northern Ireland, including those of the Advisory Commission on Human Rights, on such subjects. In particular I would welcome the views of Northern Ireland Members.

There has been some comment by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments about Northern Ireland subordinate legislation. The Orders in Council made under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 are not, of course, strictly subordinate legislation They replace the Bills which would have been passed by a Northern Ireland Assembly and inevitably follow the shape of Bills. This is a point which I know the Committee understands. It gives rise, however, to a real difficulty for the Committee in carrying out its remit. There may be further points to be explored here and I shall be glad to discuss this with the Committee.

There has also been criticism by the Joint Committee of the absence of examination of Orders which were previously subject to negative resolution in a Northern Ireland Assembly. The Government will be glad to accept the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Down, South that the Northern Ireland Committee should consider once a year the reports of the Northern Ireland Examiner of Statute Rules who looks at such orders.

Finally, among the procedural changes on which I would welcome the views of the House, it might be useful, if the chairmen and members thought it right, for existing Select Committees—for example, the Expenditure Sub-Committees and the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries—to include Northern Ireland services within the scope of their examinations, where appropriate. I welcome the scrutiny which the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster gives to the Northern Ireland Departments. The accounting officers of these Departments appear before the Public Accounts Committee on the same lines as those of Whitehall Departments. I am, moreover, arranging to lay before Parliament, and so bring within the purview of the PAC, the accounts of a number of Northern Ireland public bodies which by law have to be laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly but which have not hitherto been laid at Westminster.

The question of Northern Ireland representation at Westminster continues to be raised. I accept that Northern Ireland is under-represented and that this becomes more apparent the longer that direct rule continues. I also have to accept that representation at Westminster from Northern Ireland has to be considered in the context of Northern Ireland itself with its divided community, and, indeed, its history. That is why I wrote in the terms that I did to the Chairman of the Constitutional Convention on 14th January when I said:— The Government does not feel able to recommend re-examination of the question of the number of Northern Ireland constituencies returning members to the United Kingdom Parliament in advance of an agreement on a system of government commanding the most widespread acceptance. I have also to take into account the current talks between the official Unionist Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party where, I understand, a range of possibilities concerning devolved government in Northern Ireland are being discussed which are germane to the whole subject of representation. My conclusion is that Northern Ireland representation is a serious matter, but I cannot today go further than to admit the deficiency and to repeat that the problem must be considered in the context of the wider issues of the future government in Northern Ireland.

I should like to say a word about administration under direct rule. The House may be interested to know that, on the appointment of Mr. Robert Kidd as the new Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service with effect from yesterday, I have made some small organisational changes. The Department of Finance and the Civil Service Management Division have both become Departments in their own right with their own Permanent Secretaries, instead of being the direct responsibility of the Head of the Civil Service. This will free the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service from many of the day-to-day departmental responsibilities and give him the opportunity, working directly to me, to co-ordinate the activities of all the Northern Ireland Departments and the allocation of resources among them. This will not only assist me during the continuation of direct rule but will, I am sure, be an improvement in organisation, in the context of any form of future devolved government.

I have been talking primarily about procedural and administrative changes, but we must not forget the day-to-day problems with which we have to deal. There are two matters which dominate affairs in Northern Ireland—the economy and security. I shall say more on security later today, but I should now like to say something about the economy.

As the United Kingdom emerges from the present recession, there will be some beneficial effect to the economy in Northern Ireland—indeed, the seasonally-adjusted index of industrial production has risen for the last seven months. But the deep-seated structural weaknesses of the Northern Ireland economy, which is still largely reliant on a few older industries, will remain and the history of violence over the last few years does not encourage new investment. I cannot, therefore, be optimistic about the level of unemployment, which in some parts of the Province is very high indeed. However, the Government are doinng everything reasonably possible to preserve existing jobs and to attract investment to create new ones. The newly established Northern Ireland Development Agency has an important role to play in this.

Moreover, I am expecting very soon the results of the wide-ranging review of economic and industrial strategy. Remembering the need to contain the cost of any extra activity within existing public expenditure limits and that the resources available to Northern Ireland cannot be magically increased, I hope that the review will point to ways in which we can most profitably direct our efforts. There is no doubt, however, that the most significant single factor which would lead to increase in investment and reduction of unemployment would be for violence to cease in Northern Ireland.

Direct rule is necessary. We cannot opt out of our responsibilities for Northern Ireland, especially in view of the economic social and security problems of the Province. As a result of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, of which we are today proposing the renewal, I am directly responsible for the work of the Northern Ireland Government Departments as well as that of the Northern Ireland Office. With the assistance of the two Ministers of State and the two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State, I am responsible to this House for the full range of government functions in Northern Ireland from health and social services to commerce and industry; from education to agriculture; from housing and local government to security policy and law and order. The Government have onerous responsibilities in Northern Ireland, and responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland. We will not neglect any of these. I commend the Order to the House.

11.58 a.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

We on this side agree with the Order, which will ensure that the interim period is extended from 16th July of this year. This is an area in which the official Opposition are basically in agreement with the Government, but I have a number of comments to make about the way in which Northern Ireland is at present governed under direct rule. We fully understand that there is no alternative to direct rule at present, and we regard it as necessary. We also think that it is a form of Government that should be ended as soon as possible. We believe that it should be positive direct rule, as the Secretary of State said, but also that it should be sensitive direct rule.

Let me explain what I mean by that phrase. We should like to see better communication between the Government in Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland. I have suggested on more than one occasion how this could be done. I suggested an advisory forum, but that idea was coldly received by the Government. It is true that the Convention enabled people to talk, meet and discuss politics, and I do not suggest that it should be revived, but now that time has elapsed since the Convention the Secretary of State should re-examine my suggestion.

The purpose of the suggestion was to provide a group of people prominent in Northern Ireland life and widely acceptable on whose opinions the right hon. Gentleman might think fit to rely. I felt that this was especially important in the economic sphere with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt in the closing passages of his speech. This is a time of considerable economic danger, and there are difficulties in the process of obtaining new investment.

It was suggested that such a plan would cause political complications and would involve no executive powers. That is true, but it is surely not impossible to find such a body as a channel through which the ordinary citizen, without access to Ministers, could have his or her voice heard more effectively.

Leaving that point, I come to the question which the Secretary of State has been discussing of devolution and the representation of Ulster in this House.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

We have an Economic Council which is representative in that way, and it meets frequently. We could not do it last week, because I had to cut it short in order to get back here to vote.

Mr. Neave

Possibly that difficulty will be overcome in the future. I need not refer to the past. As the right hon. Gentleman says, there is an Economic Council. But will he look more at my idea of an advisory forum covering other areas than economics which would represent the views of the ordinary citizen, so far as that is possible, and do what the Government and we want to do, which is to pave the way eventually for devolved government?

We agree with the Government about devolution. We remain in favour of devolved government for Northern Ireland. We do not at this stage wish to take up a doctrinaire position on the exact forms of the institutions to be set up, and it would not be helpful at a time when talks are taking place, as the right hon. Gentleman has described. We would be willing to discuss the question of structure when that was timely, should we be invited to do so by any of the parties. It would be preferable that similar consultations should take place with the right hon. Gentleman and the Government as well before a further constitutional plan, following the report of the Convention, becomes the subject of public debate in this House or anywhere else.

I am very much against a deadline. The right hon. Gentleman is right about that. What is more, as I said, I do not propose that the Convention should be recalled. What the official Opposition would like to see is the encouragement of gradual progress towards an agreed form of devolution. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there must be the right degree of public support for it. Coupled with this is the question of security, to which, I imagine, we shall all be referring in the discussion on the next Order. But a change would be needed from the policy of Mr. Micawber which is being followed on security matters at present. I hope to discuss that again.

I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about the representation of Northern Ireland in this House. I agree very much with him. It has been widely recognised for some time that Ulster is under-represented here. The Conservative Party said so in its election manifesto in October 1974, and there were also the recommendations of the Kilbrandon Report which we have to take into account. We do not regard devolved government in Northern Ireland and increased representation here in this House as being in opposition to each other.

But the extent of increased representation of Northern Ireland in this House will have to be looked at in the context of devolution in the whole of the United Kingdom and, as I think the right hon. Gentleman said, in the context of the history of Northern Ireland itself. Until then, it would be wrong in our view to recommend any specific increase in the number of seats. We should confine ourselves to the view that Ulster has without doubt too few Members in this House. The present inter-party talks taking place in Northern Ireland certainly are germane to that view.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Will the hon. Gentleman make clear whether he is saying that progress on the representation of Northern Ireland in this House must wait until the discussion of new forms of devolved government has reached a conclusion in Northern Ireland, or that it must merely wait until devolution for the United Kingdom in general has been sorted out in the next Session of Parliament? There may be a difference between the two.

Mr. Neave

There is a difference between the two. I am speaking of the latter, in the context of devolution as a whole within the United Kingdom. I repeat, however, that in our view increased representation in this House and devolved government are not mutually exclusive. Both have to be considered.

If direct rule has to be endured by the people of Northern Ireland, the least that we owe to them is that the legislative procedure here is seen to be fair. The Secretary of State wrote to me about this on 24th June as a result of some private discussion. His first point was that, whenever possible, United Kingdom legislation should be extended to cover Northern Ireland, and he pointed out to me previously that there were bound to be limits in view of the separate Northern Ireland statute book. I think that we should maintain it.

The right hon. Gentleman's proposals need some further study. If we are to make progress towards a Northern Ireland Assembly, with its own Bills, clearly it would be undesirable to extend all Great Britain legislation in this way. We do not wish to be unreasonable, but we shall press for Bills rather than Orders on all major subjects. Many Orders, such as the one on industrial relations which we have already discussed and the housing Orders, are primary legislation, as the Joint Committee reported. The Secretary of State has mentioned compensation arrangements in this connection. That would seem to be a subject more suitable for a Bill rather than proceeding by Order. We welcome what the right hon Gentleman said this morning about a Bill on the administration of justice. We are glad to hear about that.

There are, of course, many Orders on subjects that cannot be dealt with by Bills because of the problem of time. But, although we are not altogether enthusiastic about the idea of a preliminary stage for an Order in the Northern Ireland Committee followed by a debate on the Floor of the House, we accept that that is one way, and we are glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to remove the limitations on the number of meetings of the Northern Ireland Committee.

This still leaves open the disadvantages of the procedure by Order in Council, which does not allow for the amendments which can be made when a Bill is introduced and goes through its various stages. No one should think that consultation is any substitute for legislation, and the Fair Employment Bill is a good example. We must approach this problem with caution and perhaps have mutual consultation about it.

For political reasons, many of these Orders are the method by which Socialism is being automatically applied to Northern Ireland. Some people are in favour of it. On this side of the House, most are not. There is not much opportunity for the ordinary citizen to contest moves towards additional Socialism in Northern Ireland, and this is one of the problems.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Can the hon. Gentleman give an example of the kind of Bill he has in mind? Is it, for example, the public ownership of Harland and Wolff?

Mr. Neave

I was not talking about that. I was talking about the industrial relations order which implements Socialist legislation. We discussed all this on 11th June. I need not go back over that ground. But clearly this is a Socialist Government, and Orders will reflect their point of view. I merely ask that the ordinary citizen in Northern Ireland should have as much opportunity as possible to contest and to amend any provisions of that kind.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will make a little clearer what he is saying in the context of the Bill which he quoted as an example, where it would appear that the same opportunities have been available to those whom we represent as to those who are represented by right hon. and hon. Members in the rest of the House.

Mr. Neave

On 11th June we were discussing an Order which was primary legislation and which reflected industrial relations Bills passed by this House but did not provide the people of Northern Ireland with the same opportunities as we would have during the passing of a Bill. That was what I meant. We shall adopt an attitude of extreme watchfulness towards the instruments as they are published.

I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that there were further matters to discuss. We, too, would welcome a method of considering statutory rules and orders which are not subject to the procedure at Westminster through the Northern Ireland Committee. We are glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's proposal that Select Committees should include Northern Ireland services in their considerations.

We welcome the Order.

12.11 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

I hope that the Secretary of State will understand if I do no more than record our satisfaction with the helpful points he made about the processing of legislation, because I hope that later my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. As the Secretary of State generously indicated, my right hon. Friend played a large and constructive part in putting forward suggestions for the betterment of processing Northern Ireland legislation through this House.

You, Mr. Speaker, will have heard in the past four years many complaints from this Bench about the inadequacies of the system of Orders in Council and the defects in the methods of handling such legislation. We are glad that we are moving into a period when more influence will be given to hon. Members, particularly those representing Northern Ireland. Although we do not suggest that what the Secretary of State said entirely satisfies our grievance—no doubt we shall put forward further suggestions—we are thankful for the fairly substantial concessions he has made regarding the points of view we have put forward over the years.

Most of my working life was spent in the printing industry, where we were well aware that a certain phrase, sentence or paragraph was likely to be used over and over again. The type was not dismantled and redistributed over the type cases as happened in other respects. In case hon. Members think that I may be getting at the Secretary of State, I point out that possibly the greatest offenders are the people in Fleet Street, who nowadays presumably operate on a much more sophisticated level than I did when I was in the printing industry, but I still think that they pursue the same technique. Certain phrases seem to be dropped in as sub-headings or bits to fill out a column. "The political vacuum" is a notable phrase. Another is "The collapse of the Convention".

Let us consider the phrase "political vacuum". This gem is used by a variety of people for a variety of reasons. It is used by people who seek to give the impression that Northern Ireland is bereft of any form of government. It paints a picture of Northern Ireland being a part of the United Kingdom which has no one at the helm. It is nothing to the people who use the phrase that Cornwall and Kent appear to be able to muddle through without a local assembly. The impression given is that Northern Ireland is isolated from any form of democratic process and that the voice of its elected representatives is not heard, still less listened to, in the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in Cornwall and other countries in this country the powers given to local government are much more extensive than the powers given to local government in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Molyneaux

If the hon. Member had been patient, he would have heard me deal with that matter, but I see no reason why I should not divert from what I was saying in order to reply to his question. The third point in the submissions which we have consistently made in this House and outside is that we de- sire for Northern Ireland roughly the same form of local government as that enjoyed by all the other regions and areas of the United Kingdom. We hope that the Government will be persuaded. I do not suggest that they destroyed it. It was destroyed largely as a result of the miscalculations of a former Unionist Prime Minister, who said to me on one occasion "I will not be deterred or delayed in producing my scheme just because outside my door there is a queue of self-appointed advisers such as yourself". If I had got to the head of the queue and gained admission, I might have been able to save them from the disastrous errors which they made.

The phrase "political vacuum" is used, in another sense, by people who would settle for a form of devolution, a structure which would be almost without visible means of support. Their attitude is that something is better than nothing. They would happily embark on yet another experiment and blindly ignore all the lessons of the past and all the lessons taught by the collapse of previous such experiments.

I come to the other phrase, "the collapse of the Convention", I should say in fairness that the Secretary of State did not use it today. I think he said that the Convention had failed to produce a certain type of recommendation. The plain fact is that the Convention did not collapse. It completed the task it was given and it produced its report. Certainly it did not agree, but it was not asked to agree.

It is irresponsible to put into people's heads the notion that the Convention was some kind of government and that when it failed, as it is said it failed, that system of government was wiped out and only then did we return to direct rule, because, as you well know, Mr. Speaker—not that I shall ask you to express a view—direct rule has been with us for the past four years except for one short experimental and disastrous period. There is, therefore, nothing new about it. Since 1972, Northern Ireland has been governed as a part of the United Kingdom. It would be a soothing influence on the minds of the people of Northern Ireland if that fact could be placed squarely before them.

It would perhaps be fair if at this point I were to put into perspective the talks between the Unionist Party and the SDLP. I feel that I have a duty to do what I can to put the facts straight. To date, the operation has been in the nature of a reconnaissance. I understand that roughly one stage of the exercise remains to be completed. When it has been completed, a judgment will be made on whether a basis exists for negotiations to begin, because those participating are not negotiating; they are engaged in an exploratory operation.

I concede that the negotiations at that point must involve a wider representation.

We must not encourage a false impression or lead our colleagues in this place to suppose that some dramatic development will just happen. The reconnaissance operation and the negotiations which may follow—the Secretary of State used the word "may" yesterday, and he will agree that there is a question-mark over the situation—are bound to be within the terms of the Convention deliberations, and the negotiations, if they begin, must be within those terms of reference.

I have little time for those in Ulster who tell use that we on this Bench should not co-operate with Her Majesty's Government in maintaining direct rule. They proclaim that they intend to end it, but do not say precisely how. Perhaps, if we are all patient, some day we shall be let into the secret and will learn what they propose to do. These critics are falling into the grave error of repudiating their British citizenship, and are even close to proclaiming the end of the Union itself.

The Unionists in 1912 did not corn-plain that they were then ruled by a foreign regime—they said the opposite. They said "We want to continue being governed in this way. We do not want any change. We certainly do not want any form of home rule which would endanger the Union." Therefore, to say now in 1976 that, because we have gone back roughly to the position of those days, they would prefer some kind of negotiated independence or some rather vague form of administration is to deny the Union and even to place a large question-mark over their right to call themselves Unionists.

We on this Bench have never suggested that the present system was without defects, but people have the evidence of their own eyes and ears of the steady improvements in the mechanism. We have advanced quite a long way along that road this morning. I do not pretend that those improvements are nearly sufficient to satisfy, for example, those who may have held office in the former Stormont Administration.

A former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland once said that the old system of Stormont provided what he called "close-contact government". One has to admit that, despite the very sincere and genuine efforts of the present Secretary of State and his Ministers, there is something in what has been said by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), speaking for the Conservative Opposition, that that element is perhaps still missing. If, however, the price for a return to such close-contact government is unacceptable, as it was to the majority of those who served in the Northern Ireland Convention and as it is to those of us on this Bench, the sensible thing to do is to use all the processes open to us in this place to secure further progress in our just demands.

There have again been suggestions that we should pack up and leave this place. We are told this by various people at times in Northern Ireland. They say "Come home and leave them to it. That will show them." No doubt the Patronage Secretary might be greatly obliged if we were to take that attitude, because it would simplify his calculations to a great extent. That, however, was not the purpose for which we were elected—to put it more crudely, not the purpose that we are being paid for.

In our view, we are far more likely to serve the interests of the people of Northern Ireland if we engage in the full processes of the machinery of this place. That is far more likely to serve the interests of Northern Ireland than if we were to engage in activities to obstruct the Secretary of State and his Ministers in carrying out the administration of affairs in Northern Ireland. I have repeatedly said to those who talk about such obstruction that even if they were very successful they might make things difficult for the Secretary of State; they might to sonic extent gum up the works. But that is the sum total of their potential achievement. They could not do what they say—bring down direct rule and return Stormont. They might make things difficult for the Secretary of State by illegal and other activities bordering on the illegal, but they could not, by that kind of action, bring back devolved government to Northern Ireland.

Today, we are making provision for the continuation not of direct rule but of government by the United Kingdom Parliament for another year. Beyond that, whether the period be long or short, temporary or permanent, the period ahead could be put to constructive use by all of us. I have given an indication—I hope that the Secretary of State accepts it—that it is our intention on this Bench to act in that context and to continue to act constructively here in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

We must also encourage people at home in Northern Ireland to adopt a rather more mature attitude to politics—for that matter, a more mature attitude to each other. Without giving offence one might suggest that there could perhaps be fewer instant statements. That might to some extent reduce the temperature. It might enable people to have a breathing space in which to collect their thoughts and form a balanced judgment.

While we would be the first to concede that healthy political discussion is to be welcomed—and I hasten to add that we on this Bench do not, because we are the elected representatives of Northern Ireland here, claim a monopoly of the formation of policies—it can do nothing but harm to encourage a whole range of non-elected persons to regard themselves as some kind of alternative government in Northern Ireland. Whatever people may desire or wish, the reality is that the responsibility rests upon this House, and particularly heavily on the elected representatives of Northern Ireland in it. Well-meaning attempts to involve those who are not responsible in that respect—who are not responsible to the electorate—would merely add to the confusion. In the final analysis, those responsible to the electorate must not be undermined.

I for my part can assure the Secretary of State and the House that we will not fail to do our duty. I must, however, add that that duty could be much more effectively performed if the Government and Parliament could gradually move themselves into accepting the fact that Northern Ireland is under-represented in this House. If we had in this place the full representation to which we claim we are entitled—a claim that is becoming more and more accepted—the representation and the services which we try to give to the people of Northern Ireland would be all the more effective.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)

I would like to follow the remarks made by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) about instant statements. It seems to be particularly apposite in the affairs of Northern Ireland. Since I have been in this House it has come home to me that one of the great strengths and weaknesses of this place is the fact that in the process of accountability Ministers are drawn before this assembly and expected to make instant statements. They are expected to make initiatives and bring forward new plans to deal with situations that may be thrown up at a moment's notice.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that there was a healthy instinct in British political parties to take account of pressing issues and substantial opponents. I agree that it is a healthy instinct, but there is also a fundamentally damaging aspect of that proposition, in so far as it can lead to this place constantly seeking new initiatives and ways forward, when what may well be needed is a period of status quo or calm—a period in which there is no new initiative.

I believe that the Secretary of State is absolutely right in saying that there is no scope or need for a major new initiative in Northern Ireland politics at the present time. Of course he will run the risk of being labelled as an Asquithian "wait-and-see" politician. But it may be that the situation in Northern Ireland is so complex and tense that a major new initiative could create more damage than good. What is called for here is a clear statement of the continuation of direct rule.

When the Northern Ireland Convention ended, many people took the view that this could have certain consequences for Northern Ireland politics, some of which have emerged since as anticipated, and others of which have not. When the Convention ended, I assumed that people in this country would be placed in the front line and that the campaign of terror would be extended to this country. That has not happened—for a very good reason. The reign of terror that exists in Northern Ireland could not be extended here because the IRA saw that it would be counter-productive. That is because of the nature of the two societies.

In this country there is a vast volume of stable and moderate opinion which is capable of resisting attacks of terrorism. We saw this in the Birmingham bombings, where the net result was to produce a revulsion among ordinary people. In Northern Ireland the reverse would have been true. The creation of terrorism there, because of the smallness of the community, produces a counter-reaction, and counter-terrorist organisations spring up. It is in the nature and fabric of Northern Ireland politics that this happens, and this is all the more reason why difficult though it may be, the people of Northern Ireland should resist the temptation to create further para-military organisations outside the workings of the security forces in that country.

The other effect that I assumed would occur when the Convention ended was that politicians in Northern Ireland eventually would be driven to reconsider their position and ask basic questions about the sort of Government and society they wanted to see in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South touched on the conflicts of Northern Ireland in terms of what loyalty means in that country—whether it means the pure and simple loyalty to the Government of the United Kingdom that exists among people in Yorkshire and Cornwall, or something more than that. The important historical view of Northern Ireland's situation is that inevitably and ultimately there will be a devolved Government in that country. Historically, Northern Ireland has always caused trouble to the rest of Ireland. It has always sought some independent rôle, and its colonisation from this country merely accentuated that fact.

The prime concern of the people of Northern Ireland is towards the creation of some form of devolved Government, and that is why I welcome the talks that are taking place between political parties in the North. I think that the solution to Northern Ireland's problems will come about through a system of devolved government.

The Secretary of State also said that if there is to be a system of devolved government in the North it has to be one that is acceptable to this House. This involves, as has been shown over and over again, some acceptance of power sharing. We cannot escape from that.

Within the context of devolved government, there is the matter of harmonisation of the law between the two countries. The Secretary of State mentioned homosexual and divorce law reform. The divorce laws in Northern Ireland date back to the mid-1930s but in Britain we have the Divorce Reform Act 1969. I am a lawyer and I recognise that the advent of that Act has certainly had a beneficial effect on the people of this country who have to go to court. In our courts, people are not faced with the same harrowing experiences as they were before. This is an area that could be considered seriously in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State mentioned the problem of Northern Ireland's industry and investment. Of course he is right to say that the problem of terror must be counter-productive in attracting investment to Northern Ireland. But we would be mistaken to take the view that the existence of the terror campaign itself actually brought about the failure of increased investment in Northern Ireland. That country has economic problems which are similar to those of the regions of this country—the North-East Region, for example, and Scotland in the past. While the existence of the reign of terror obviously does not encourage industrialists to go there, the publication of the magazine Fortnight can do nothing to encourage international companies to invest in Northern Ireland.

The other evening I switched on the television and saw the Secretary of State handing over what I can only describe as one of the ugliest aeroplanes ever built. It was produced at Short's and I understand it has a very good chance of being a real winner in international terms.

Mr. Powell

Not all winners are good lookers.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

In the Department of Commerce we have a new notice, which says "Ugly is good".

Mr. Watkinson

I gather from the Secretary of State's remarks that he anticipates that this aeroplane could be a winner, and provide substantial orders for the aircraft industry in Northern Ireland. I welcome that.

It is my privilege to serve on the Public Accounts Committee of this House. We have had officers from the Northern Ireland Office before us. They are treated in the same way as are officers of other Departments. As the Secretary of State has suggested, this is a process which should be extended if we are to encourage some form of positive direct rule over the course of the next year.

I wish to raise one matter that is not related to this debate, and which, since I shall be unable to be here later I shall be unable to discuss on the second Order. It relates to the problem of terrorism and Government in Northern Ireland. It is of the absolute essence that the Government's approach must be towards the creation and maintenance of a stable system in which the rule of law is respected. That, however, involves the acceptance of the view that criminals must be brought before the courts. That is why I have always firmly supported the principle that detention in that context cannot be tolerated—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I noted that the hon. Gentleman said that he would not be here for the next Order, but the rest of us will be. In the contribution that he is now making perhaps he will confine himself to the first Order.

Mr. Watkinson

I shall do that, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State raised the question of terror, and I wanted to talk briefly about that. It is necessary to maintain the existence of some adherence to the principle of the rule of law. The Secretary of State has been entirely consistent in his approach to this matter. But some of my hon. Friends have had their doubts about talks that have gone on in Northern Ireland between the Government and certain organisations. I refer in particular to the talks with the Provisional Sinn Fein. It is very difficult to maintain the principle of supporting the rule of law when one talks with organisations that appear to have access to illegal bodies.

The approach throughout the application of this Order must be to try to take positive steps forward in the context of direct rule. This is not a period in which a major new initiative is called for. Instead, we must try to move forward by developing what we have. We do not need a fundamental reappraisal of the way in which we govern the Province at the present time.

12.43 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I am glad that there seems to be no disagreement in the House that we should proceed on the basis indicated by the Secretary of State, which is that in a period of direct rule we do not delude ourselves that rabbits can be pulled out of hats and that magic solutions can be produced for Northern Ireland.

We use the term "direct rule" in strange ways in its application to Northern Ireland. There is nothing odd or improper in what we call direct rule. That is simply the rule of a part of the United Kingdom by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is not the best form of government for the United Kingdom, and there is ample scope and much desirability in having for Northern Ireland and for the other parts of the United Kingdom institutions of government which exercise power and responsibility on a more local and regional basis. The whole of the United Kingdom experiences direct rule, however, and there is nothing odd or improper about Northern Ireland being in that position. That position should be changed only when there is a clear basis for changing it in terms of a genuine and wide understanding in Northern Ireland.

By that same token, however, the period in which we have direct rule must not be a standstill period in all respects for the Province. I am pleased that the Secretary of State affirmed that this was not the Government's intention. The greatest mistake we could make in using direct rule would be to put various matters to one side to await some other form of government to deal with them. This House has the responsibility and it must exercise it and govern Northern Ireland. That applies to the industrial, commercial and social economic policies which must be pursued.

Northern Ireland Ministers have had to do a great deal on their own initiative with less recourse to this House that they themselves would have liked. The Secretary of State has rightly sought to find an answer to this problem. I am glad he has indicated that in a number of spheres the Government should no longer take the view that progress cannot be made because direct rule might shortly be ended.

I hope that, whatever views hon. Members take about a number of social issues, they will generally agree that we should now consider them. It is right that those who either favour or oppose changes in the law on divorce, homosexuality, abortion and other such issues should now agree that they should not be left out of account because of some possible future form of government for Northern Ireland. We should form a view in this House, and we should consider the situation in Northern Ireland and then come to conclusions. I am glad that the Secretary' of State sees no reason why we should not have the opportunity to do that.

I welcome also the right hon. Gentleman's desire that Select Committees should exercise a policy role for Northern Ireland, particularly in terms of the strange constitutional variety of nationalised industries which exists there. I am glad that he wants them embraced in a form in which they can be considered by Select Committees.

I have some reservations about the line adopted by the official Opposition about increasing the number of advisory bodies and the bodies which citizens feel will give them further representation on Northern Ireland matters. The danger—almost the curse—in Northern Ireland is that of representation without responsibility. I am a Liberal and I believe very strongly that as much power as possible should be left at local level. But power and responsibility must go together. The most dangerous situation is where the ability to pontificate, to demand and to assert, while claiming rights and powers, carries no responsibility for the consequences of that ability. It is for that reason that we talk about devolved government but we do not proceed until we have found a basis which, while giving power, imposes a responsibility in exercising that power.

There are dangers in allowing people in Northern Ireland to assume that they have a right and status which is not associated with a clear responsibility or with the prospect of being discharged by the electors if they do not exercise that responsibility. This leads to the vexed issue of Norther Ireland representation proper. Under direct rule that means representation in this House. The Secretary of State dealt with it at some length and he mentioned factors to which I think he attached a strange significance. First, he talked about the possibility of devolved government and the implications that it would have. But let us be clear about this. The Government are suggesting that if Scotland and Wales have extensive devolved government they will not lose any of the other representation—which is above a resonable quota—which they have in this House.

There are many hon. Members, certainly in my party, who will not support that aspect of the proposals and will want to see a general United Kingdom quota which gives the same level of representation to Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. They do not see, if I may use the words of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), any incompatibility between devolved government and the same quota of representation in this House. We would not, however, tolerate any part of the United Kingdom being forcibly under-represented.

I assume that the most that is likely to happen, if my ambitions are achieved and I defeat the Government in this respect, is that the representation of Scotland with an Assembly will be reduced to the level of England. That is all I ask for and all that Northern Ireland seeks for itself. Devolved Government cannot be seen by the Government as any barrier to that if they are prepared to contemplate over-representation with devolved government.

The Secretary of State then mentioned the position of the two communities in Northern Ireland and the problems which that presents in terms of Northern Ireland. A smaller number of Northern Ireland representatives in this House means that it is harder to embrace within that representation the full spectrum of opinion in Northern Ireland. The smaller we keep the group of Northern Ireland representatives, the less representative it can be. We have differing views on the electoral system which operates throughout the United Kingdom. The fact that it is not very good at ensuring representation from both communities in Northern Ireland cannot be laid at the door of those who want more representatives from the Province. The fact that the Government may choose to maintain a ludicrously unrepresentative system is not our fault, and it is not an excuse for reducing the number of representatives from Northern Ireland.

The present system results in gross misrepresentation in many parts of the United Kingdom. But we should not say that there should be fewer hon. Members from the South of England because the Conservatives and Liberals are under-represented there or fewer hon. Members from the South-East where the Labour Party is under-represented. The remedy is to change the system so that no part of the United Kingdom is under-represented.

I was glad that the Secretary of State did not repeat today what he has hinted at in the past—that the record of abstentionism and disapproval of Westminster in some quarters should be taken into account in considering representation. I hope he will drop that hint of an argument. There is no reason why either community in Northern Ireland should have visited upon it a collective punishment for the fact that some people in the past have refrained from attending the House and have argued that others should also refrain from attending.

It would totally illogical if the Government said that we had to wait until a form of devolved government had been established in Northern Ireland before changing the system of representation. I was glad that the hon. Member for Abingdon made clear that the delay which he was envisaging went only as far as Scottish and Welsh devolution. Even if we have to wait a very long time for devolved government in Northern Ireland, there is no need to wait that long for fair representation.

I hope that the period of direct rule will result in constructive political developments and fruitful discussions in Northern Ireland. The door to devolved government may appear to be closed, but it can be opened if the broad mass of representatives of both communities put their shoulders to it. It will not open without that effort and a common support for a new form of devolved government.

In the meantime, Northern Ireland has to be governed as well as we can govern it. The ending of the anarchy which has prevailed in some parts of the Province, the restoration of the rule of law and the commercial and social development of Northern Ireland are the responsibilities for the time being of this Parliament. We must ensure that we are equipped to carry out these tasks and that Northern Ireland is made a better place for those who live there.

12.54 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

Whatever our views on this Order, we must accept that it had to be introduced. At present there is no alternative to this House being in full control of the affairs of Northern Ireland.

I welcome the improvements announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, though perhaps for reasons different from those of other hon. Members. There is no Stormont, and it may be a considerable time—though I hope not—before we get devolved government in Northern Ireland. That is why I accept the progressive measures announced today to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland are better governed in the meantime.

I suspect that some hon. Members from Northern Ireland will see these measures as a tentative step along the road to total integration. Their view might be that if we can introduce legislation here it might become acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland, who will then think that there is no need for devolved government. I shall never accept that view. I do not believe that Northern Ireland can be governed on the same lines as other parts of the United Kingdom.

It is an island, and has no land communication with other regions in the United Kingdom. It also has different cultures and backgrounds, and a totally different history, all of which drive one to the inescapable conclusion that however much we try we cannot look to the total integration of Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom.

I agree with the improvements announced by the Secretary of State, but I hope that he will not listen to hon. Members from Northern Ireland—particularly the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—who say that total integration is the answer. It is not.

I may be regarded as a reactionary by hon. Members on the Government side of the House if I say that I did not go all the way with the remarks of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). He stressed the need to bring Northern Ireland legislation into line with that of other parts of the United Kingdom, but I do not believe that the absence of abortion, homosexuality and divorce laws in Northern Ireland led to the present troubles.

Other legislation in force in the rest of the United Kingdom is far more important. For instance, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 does not apply to Northern Ireland. I should like to see that Act introduced in the Province tomorrow. It is a compassionate and humane measure and is far more important than the other legislation to which I have referred.

I agree with the Secretary of State that there are two views of justice in Northern Ireland—the majority view and the minority view. Throughout the 52 years of Unionist ascendancy government at Stormont it was believed, rightly or wrongly—some opinions were very wrong, others were justified—that the administration of justice meant the administration of Unionist justice. That is why there was such opposition to the police and security forces in Northern Ireland who were empowered to carry out that justice.

I believe that the community for which I claim to speak on certain occasions would have more faith in the administration of justice by this House than by any Unionist ascendancy government.

I hope that in future debates we shall be given the opportunity to express our views on the way in which justice has been administered in the past and how we think it should be administered in the future.

I know that there are different approaches to compensation in Northern Ireland. Some of the more Right-wing Members of the Conservative Party would seek to have compensation paid in a discriminatory way to those who are suspected of having shown or voiced opposition to certain authorities in Northern Ireland. They take the view that they should not be given the same compensation rights as others. I have a specific case in mind, but undoubtedly we shall have the opportunity to discuss others when certain matters come before the House.

How is Northern Ireland to be administered in the meantime? I did not agree with the devolved Parliament that had power for 52 years, but certain aspects of it helped the whole electorate. The people of Northern Ireland had ready access to their own Parliament, their own Cabinet and their own Ministers. In the absence of those facilities, responsibility now lies with my right hon. and hon. Friends who are Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office.

Over the past few weeks especially, I do not think that the Opposition have been helpful in affording facilities to Northern Ireland Ministers to enable them to carry out their onerous responsibilities. I know how often they have had to fly to and from London. I know that last week one of my hon. Friends flew a record 4,000 miles, trying to be here for votes at the same time as he was trying to carry out his duties in Northern Ireland. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State—the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon)—had great experience of flying from Northern Ireland in a helicopter as a result of the close votes that were being held.

The Opposition cannot be hypocritical. If they want Northern Ireland to be governed from this House, they must afford whatever arrangements are possible through the usual channels to ensure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be readily accessible in Northern Ireland if and when they are needed. Past experience indicates that they are sometimes needed there 24 hours a day, every day.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Is it not a fact that the hon. Gentleman took great credit in Northern Ireland for advocating that a certain person should break his pair on one occasion? It was that that brought about the ructions.

Mr. Fitt

I am not responsible for Press stories. We all know what Press stories are in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) made what I consider to be a helpful contribution this morning. I hope that note will be taken of it in Northern Ireland. I understand that the hon. Gentleman was appealing to all sections of the Northern Ireland community to try to get together to see whether it is possible to find some means of reaching agreement. I think he expressed hopes that the present talks will be successful without expressing any guarantee that that will be the outcome.

If that is his attitude in making an appeal to the majority Protestant community and the minority Catholic community to try to resolve their difficulties by getting together, it must be contrasted with the attitude of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Only last week or the week before, an article appeared in the Protestant Telegraph, of which I understand the hon. Gentleman is the editor, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), the former Prime Minister, was roundly castigated for having awarded an OBE to Mike Yarwood. That attitude was taken not because Mike Yarwood was not entitled to it but because my right hon. Friend awarded the honour to the arch-Fenian Mike Yarwood. The hon. Gentleman took the view that a Catholic should not have received an OBE. To say the least, I do not think that that is the best possible way to better community relations in Northern Ireland. Clearly people speak with two voices in this House and in Northern Ireland.

As my right hon. Friend said, we want a period of quiet in Northern Ireland—a period in which spokesmen—they are no longer elected representatives—can discuss the differences that divide us and ascertain whether it is possible to make recommendations to the Westminster Government to bring back devolved government to Northern Ireland.

On the other hand, we have the hon. Member for Antrim, North telling my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State "We do not agree with your security forces. We think they are inefficient. We do not think they are capable of doing the job that you say they are capable of doing. Therefore, we shall create a security force of our own." Fortunately that proposal fell flat on its face. It is to the credit of the Northern Ireland people that they did not fall for that one.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) was advocating the return of powers to local authorities. I should be bitterly opposed to that proposition. Throughout the whole of the Unionist ascendancy in Northern Ireland there was complete, total and bitter opposition to the way that local authorities were being run. On the involvement of the Westminster Government in the affairs of Northern Ireland, many inquiries were set up. Their reports are on record and are to be found in the Vote Office. They are so well known that it is not necessary for me to be armed with them. They prove beyond any possible doubt that certain local authorities in Northern Ireland were guilty of the most vicious form of discrimination.

It was because of the activities of those authorities that the Conservative Government and this Government were fully in agreement when it was decided to limit the powers of the authorities. The proposition that there should be an increase in the number of Northern Ireland seats at Westminster and a return of powers to local authorities in Northern Ireland is tantamount to recreating a Unionist ascendancy. We know what percentage of the population the majority community represents, and we know the history of the local authorities. To return powers to the authorities would be to take a step back. It would defeat every effort that successive Governments have made from 1969 onwards to try to reform society in Northern Ireland and to make it more democratic.

Mr. Molyneaux

Without going into the rather sterile and negative argument about who discriminated against whom in the past—in fact, it was an act that was carried out in both directions—does the hon. Gentleman accept that when I was replying to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) I was not indicating, implying, suggesting or advocating a return of powers to existing local authorities? I was advocating, as I have done previously, the reconstruction of local government, so as to give the people a real say in the running of their affairs, as they have on this side of the water.

Mr. Fitt

Whatever way I interpreted the argument was due to the remarks of my hon. Friend.

Certain local authorities abused their powers throughout the 52 years. In no circumstances would I advocate that housing powers be given back to local authorities in Northern Ireland, whether to the Catholic housing authority of Newry or the Protestant housing authority of Portadown. For better or worse, we have created the Housing Executive, and we have a points system. The Housing Executive has to overcome many obstacles, but over the years I believe that it will be accepted as an impartial housing authority, acting in the interests of all the homeless.

I have criticised the Housing Executive on some occasions, and I shall continue to do so when I consider that it is being inefficient in creating homes, but, having served on local authorities in Northern Ireland, I recognise that the removal of powers that local authorities formerly had has led to a falling-off in enthusiasm. People are not interested in attending meetings of local authorities. The best type of people are not attracted. That is far from saying that powers should be given back to local authorities on the basis that existed prior to the reform of local government.

At present there are 12 right hon. and hon. Members representing Irish constituencies. I do not believe that if we had in the House 16, 20, 30, 50 or 100 Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland the Province would be better governed. We have to have a Government in Northern Ireland composed of the majority community and the minority community. The people will have to overcome their fears and suspicions and recognise that the majority community cannot live without the support of the minority community and that the minority community cannot live without the support of the majority community. This problem has been created by history, and there are many reasons why it cannot be solved in the short term.

There are members of my party and members of the official Unionist party including an Orangeman who organises parades—this may come ill from me today—who are generally interested in trying to create political institutions in Northern Ireland to help the whole community. Perhaps those talks will not be successful, but every Northern Ireland Member should do what he can to try to ensure success for those talks.

My ideas contrast vividly with those of the hon. Member for Antrim, North, who specifically said that he did not want these talks to be successful and that he did not want an agreement to emerge. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have no hesitation in stating that again today, having said it clearly in Northern Ireland. He cannot say one thing over there and another here, although he has many times attempted to do so.

The only future that the hon. Gentleman sees for Northern Ireland is with the majority party—the UUU Party. I am beginning to wonder how many Us there should be. The first one, standing for "United", should be dropped if there is a coalition in the House giving credit and support to my right hon. Friend when he says that he wants to create devolved government in Northern Ireland, because the Ulster Unionists are all speaking with different voices.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North does not want devolved government. He is so opposed to it that he has told his hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) that he will put him out at the next election because he belongs to a party that favours devolved government. Hon. Members are not fools, neither are the people of Northern Ireland. When real attitudes become known, the Northern Ireland people will be able to identify those who want to rebuild Northern Irish society, who want to end the violence at all costs, and are prepared to compromise and concede the doctrinaire positions that they have held in the past. Those people will receive the support of the community.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South said that at present there are local authority representatives in Northern Ireland and 12 Members of Parliament sitting in this House, and that they are the only elected representatives. I agree that in the past there seemed to be some form of isolation between the various groups in Northern Ireland that had a social conscience. There are now community groups, which do not represent anyone in any given district. If they do, it is at the point of a gun. That applies both to the minority community and the majority community. Both have been engaged in a campaign of intimidation. When they have effectively silenced the people—which is easy to anyone with a gun in his hand—they make representations to the Northern Ireland Office and other agencies claiming to represent certain areas and a certain number of people. It is dangerous to allow that trend to continue. Before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State engages in discussions with people of this type, the opinion of the Members of Parliament who represent those constituencies should be sought.

If the remarks that I have just made are reported in the Press in Northern Ireland tomorrow, there will be a host of letters to all the local newspapers saying that the elected representatives are afraid of the community groups, that we have neglected community groups in the past and that they are the people who are closely identified with the needs of the areas. We have heard all that before.

There are sincere and dedicated community workers who can readily be identified, but there are others in that position only because they have been able to wreak fear, havoc, intimidation and terrorism in certain areas. Many people who have their names on the community list have been defeated in past elections to the House, to local authorities and to the previous Stormont Parliament. At least we are entitled to question their motivation. Why, after being severely defeated at the polls, do they suddenly become community workers? I warn my right hon. Friend to consider carefully whom he is speaking to in Northern Ireland.

The talks that are now taking place in Northern Ireland between the SDLP and the official Unionist Party have given some little hope to the electorate. If the talks are unsuccessful they will prove that the official Unionist Party has at last found the courage to tell some of its coalition partners who are identified as wreckers that the official Unionist Party is a long-established political party, with its own political point of view.

The members of the official Unionist Party may not agree with all the views of their coalition partners. They should reserve to themselves the right to speak as a political party representing a political viewpoint. We must not allow political parties to be dominated and intimidated by personalities. I need not say to which personalities I refer. Some are not elected, and others are. We had not heard of some of them until the Convention elections last year. Now they would seem to arrogate to themselves the position of holders of the whole conscience of the Northern Ireland people. I believe that the talks are necessary. Perhaps they will not be a success initially, but at least there is this beginning of an attempt to talk to each other after so many years of avoiding each other, years of fear and suspicion of each other's viewpoints.

It is dangerous to be optimistic in Northern Ireland; the position is always so unpredictable. I hope that in the talks that are taking place, my right hon. Friend, although he is not directly involved, will say that the resolution of the Northern Ireland problem is a matter for both communities in Northern Ireland and that any efforts that they may be making to erase fears and to bring about devolved government in Northern Ireland will have his support. I hope that that support will be found to be necessary in the next 12 months and that at the end of that period, if not before, we shall have devolved government in Northern Ireland.

1.21 p.m.

Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)

I had many things to say this morning, but since listening to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) I am compelled to say other things. That is generally the case. Once again, we have been treated to the usual bandwagon catalogue of 50 years of misrule and maladministration and 50 years discrimination. I am beginning to think that the hon. Gentleman will soon believe those things if he keeps on saying them as often as he does. Possibly the Hansard reporters could go away for a cup of tea in the middle of his speech and then pick it up verbatim from his last speech.

We are talking today about direct rule and its extension to Northern Ireland. I agree for once with something that the hon. Member for Belfast, West said but which is contrary to what the Secretary of State said some time ago: that the people of Northern Ireland welcomed direct rule and that all parts of the community were satisfied with it. I do not believe that is so. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, West that what we need as soon as possible in Northern Ireland is a return to devolved government.

The local government situation has been mentioned. At the moment it is nothing short of farcical. Four large area boards have been created with appointed members who have no elective responsibility. While we have been pressing for a return to meaningful local government, we are not asking for a return to the old system of local councils and urban councils weighted according to the kind of people who serve on them. What we want is a meaningful local government which will be responsible to the local population.

The present situation is farcical. Some time ago a constituent of mine approached me with a drainage problem. Instead of going to his own local councillor, as he would have done in former days, he came to me, because I am the only elected representative who can speak on his behalf to the Ministries. I had to contact a Minister based in Whitehall in order to get the man's drain cleared. In the old days, when there was local government and a responsible engineer, one could lift the telephone and eat the head off the engineer and tell him to clear the drain. Now we have to go through this other ridiculous process. There is a great need for a return to meaningful elected local government with elective responsibility.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West mentioned power-sharing once again. We had a wonderful example of this in Magharafelt District Council, where there is an even balance of Republicans and Unionists. The chairman is an SDLP man. There was a sort of gentleman's agreement when the council was elected that the chairmanship would alternate between the chairman and the vice-chairman. For three years now the chairman of the council, Mr. Paddy Herron, has elected himself by his own casting vote. This is a prime example of power-sharing. It is a fine example of how the SDLP carries out power-sharing.

We have had 50 years of this so-called maladministration and discrimination. It has been brought to an end. I notice in the Official Report of the Secretary of State's speech last year that he mentioned this bold experiment between "two communities"—the setting-up of the Northern Ireland Executive. I disagree with the expression "two communities". There is only one community in Northern Ireland, one community of people. They may have divergent political views, but there is only one community.

I feel that the continued description of "two communities" does nothing but polarise the situation and exacerbate the feeling between what may be two political communities. I am inclined to quote what my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneux) said on one occasion: that the crucial point is not the altar at which a man worships but the nation to which he belongs. That is, indeed, the problem in Northern Ireland. No Unionist has said that he will not have Catholics in government. What we have said, and what we still say, is that we will not have Republicans in government because, as Unionists, we believe in the union of Northern Ireland and the rest of the country. We believe in the United Kingdom and the Six Counties of Northern Ireland under Her Majesty the Queen. Therefore, we resist any suggestion that we should have Republicans in government, no matter what their religious belief may be.

The Executive which failed so dramatically over a year ago was the most peculiar set-up that ever appeared in any democratic country. We had four key Ministries in that Administration. There was the deputy leadership beld by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who has now left the Chamber. That was tantamount to being Deputy-Prime Minister in this House. There was the Portfolio of Commerce. There was the Department of Housing and Local Government, and there was the Department of Health and Social Security. Those four key Ministries, which ran the country, were given over to members of a political party who gained less than 22 per cent. of the local vote. How anyone can call that democracy is more than I can understand. That was democracy stood on its head.

In this Parliament we have a Government who gained 39 per cent. of the total vote of the country and they are running this country. Time and again in Northern Ireland the people have gone to the polls and have returned Members to Parliament with anything from 52 per cent. to 56 per cent. of the vote. Yet that verdict of the ballot box has been continually disregarded and thrust to one side, with an insistence upon a form of government which is totally undemocratic and unreal.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West talked about a single-party Government running the country for 50 years. No doubt he is aware that there is a Government running Sweden today which has been in office for 42 years—a single-party Government, and a Socialist Government at that. There is no dissident minority there clamouring for places in the Government and perhaps backing up their claim by militant armed activity, with bombings, burnings and shootings. The minority in Sweden accepts its position as a minority, and the majority rules.

One cannot help but ask what the essential difference is between majority rule in Rhodesia and majority rule in Northern Ireland. The Government here fiercely insist on majority rule in Rhodesia, backing up their policy with intense political and economic pressure, and, allied to it, the not inconsiderable diplomatic pressure of the United States through the person of Dr. Kissinger. They insist on democratic majority rule in Rhodesia, yet just as fiercely they withhold it from the people of Northern Ireland.

There is a minority in Northern Ireland, but there are minorities in other countries. The hon. Member for Belfast, West said that it was a single island and the Six Counties were in that island. But that makes no sense whatever. The Isle of Wight is separated from the mainland of England by the Solent, and the Channel Islands are further from England than they are from France, yet all are part of the United Kingdom. It is a stupid and unrealistic idea that the strip of water between Northern Ireland and Scotland, which has been swum across, somehow means that Northern Ireland should be treated as unique and that the minority should be treated as a unique minority. We cannot understand it.

The same standards of democracy as obtain in this House and Parliament, the Mother of all Parliaments, should be applied to Northern Ireland, and the minority there should be willing to accept whatever form of government is brought about by the majority vote of the people, being content to live under a form of British Government adopting and applying British standards, which are the best in the world.

That is why the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland is determined to stay in that position. People have often blamed the politicians of Northern Ireland for the stance of the people. On the contrary. The Unionist people of Northern Ireland are loyal to the Throne, to Her Majesty the Queen and to the constitution of the United Kingdom. That is their instinct. It is part of their nature. I have gone into a little humble home in the mountains of Tyrone, a home where there is not much evidence of this world's goods, yet I have seen in pride of place on the main wall of the living room a picture of Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, surrounded by expressions of loyalty to the Queen and the Throne.

That instinct will never be eliminated from the Unionist people of Northern Ireland. No political party and no legislation will eliminate that feeling, that instinct, which is part of their nature and which leads them to wish to stay British at any cost.

At Question Time on 29th April, when he was asked about direct rule, the Secretary of State spoke of keeping the people informed, referring to additional facilities for keeping Members and the public informed."—[Official Report, 29th April 1976; Vol. 910, c. 541.] One aspect of his many contacts on which we have sought more information is his contacts and conversations with Provisional Sinn Fein. This has been emphasised also from the official Opposition Front Bench, and it has been mentioned many times.

We cannot understand why the only elected representatives of over 1 million people in Northern Ireland are not informed of talks which the Secretary of State has with Provisional Sinn Fein. Some time ago the right hon. Gentleman accorded to that organisation the status of political party and declared it to be legal. Yet when the opportunity arose, as it has done many times, for these people to put themselves before the electorate, to accept and to align themselves with the verdict of the people through the ballot box, they refused to do so. They have never come out to face the people whom they claim to represent. They would rather rely on the politics of the bomb, the bullet and the fire. That seems to be their policy, for they have consistently refused to face the verdict of the people.

When Mrs. Maire Drumm and Kevin Agnew, among others, stand on a public platform and hurl defiance at the British Government and British authority in Northern Ireland, preaching sedition in the open, inciting people to violence—which is an offence nowadays—no action is taken against them. We have heard the bloodcurdling threats of Mrs. Drumm and Kevin Agnew that they will send every British soldier back to Britain in a box, and one is reminded of the threat of Mr. Khrushchev at the United Nations when he said "We will bury you." Perhaps there is some affinity of political outlook between them.

We all look for and desire the return of meaningful devolved government in Northern Ireland. The Convention Report presented to Her Majesty's Government, I make so bold as to say, was a realistic and factual document, giving the most generous terms of participation in legislation and government to be found in any administration in the British Commonwealth or, indeed, in the whole of the civilised Western world. It gave an opportunity for the minority to have a meaningful part in the running of the country. But that document has been largely rejected by the British Government. Could it be that the Government had made up their mind to reject it?

Once again, the verdict of the ballot box has been rejected, and I believe that an opportunity should be given to the people of Northern Ireland once more to record their decision and their desire through the ballot box. This Government and Parliament, the Mother of Parliaments, should accept the verdict of the ballot box, a verdict showing that the two-thirds majority of people Northern Ireland desire meaningful and democratic government according to British standards. It is our hope and desire that this opportunity will soon be accorded.

1.37 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I shall not take up in detail the remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), save to comment upon what he said about Northern Ireland's strong desire to remain within the United Kingdom.

I believe that today's debate has been of great importance for the future of Northern reland. In my view, the Secretary of State's statement marks what one might dare to call a turning point in the thinking of the Westminster Government—I use that term because I do not wish to be partisan in what I say—about the future government of Northern Ireland.

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's statements about the way in which legislation might be handled in the future were not only interesting but revolutionary—dare I say? How many of us, indeed, would welcome the thought that legislation in this place might go to a Committee before coming to the Floor of the House and being debated in the form of a Bill? I can think of at least one group of Members in a Select Committee who feel that, if they had a chance to look at some of the legislation which the Government presented to Parliament, that legislation would have been better thought out and probably more effective when it became the law of the land. In my view, that suggestion, so far as it applies to Northern Ireland, must be regarded as a major step forward, which should guarantee a greater measure of agreement and, therefore, of effectiveness in legislation when it ultimately comes into force.

I was greatly interested also in the Secretary of State's suggestion that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries might look at some of the industries in Northern Ireland. As a member of that Select Committee, I shall have something more to say about that at the end of my speech.

The final matter that I take up from the Secretary of State's speech concerns his new thinking about the represeentation of Northern Ireland in the House of Commons. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said, and I appreciate some of his doubts, but I cannot see how anybody can believe that a greater representation of the people of Northern Ireland in the Chamber can be anything but helpful to the cause of Northern Ireland. The more voices from Northern Ireland that can be heard, the clearer will be the understanding of the problems of the parts of Northern Ireland. Also, any hon. Member faced with the task of representing too many constituents is likely to find that task beyond his physical capacity. Therefore, to have more Members can only be helpful to the individual in Northern Ireland. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Belfast, West found something sinister in that suggestion. Indeed it was no more than a suggestion, because the Secretary of State did not say when the increase was proposed or whether there would be a Boundary Commission to examine the matter.

But if direct elections to a European Parliament take place, no doubt Northern Ireland will have its representation. It would be slightly invidious if a Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland were sent to Europe while Northern Ireland and its people were not properly represented here. I hope that that paradoxical situation will not be allowed to occur. I take great heart from what the Secretary of State said.

I am somewhat timorous about saying too much about the political situation. If we talk of the 50 years of Northern Ireland Stormont Parliament in a pejorative way, should we not also add that those years were years of neglect of Northern Ireland by the Westminster Parliament? Should we not in future see that that situation is never again allowed to exist and that there is a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whose voice will be heard in the United Kingdom Government? And should not that Secretary of State speak for all Northern Ireland, so that no one in the Province will feel forgotten, discriminted against or neglected? I pay tribute to the present Secretary of State, because he has a new grasp of Northern Ireland, which makes me feel slightly optimistic about the future. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Belfast, West said about being cautious about optimism, because situations change so quickly, yet I cannot help feeling optimistic and I welcome what the Secretary of State said.

I turn now to the economic situation. The Secretary of State touched upon the subject in his speech. The economic strategy for the Province is close to the Government's heart at present and the Secretary of State said that there will soon be a statement about the Government's thinking.

I was particularly struck when the Secretary of State said that he felt that any survey of the economy of Northern Ireland should seek to find a way of seeing that it is not totally reliant on old industries. Even if one wished to endorse that, it would be easier said than done, with the Province facing 50,000 or more unemployed. That is one of the highest rates, if not the highest rate, of unemployment in the United Kingdom. It is difficult to see how any new industry could pick up that unemployed mass of people in the short term. For some time to come, the existing industrial scene will have to have within it two salient features—the shipyard and the aircraft company.

I do not wish to encroach on the constituency of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), but I have something to say about these industries because I was on the Standing Committee on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill and the matter came up then, as it will on Report. A few months ago I was privileged to go round Harland and Wolff's shipyard and I met the chairman, Sir Brian Morton, and the managing director, Mr. Punt. They told me that about 9,000 people are employed in the yard. They said that for every person employed in that yard, three others are employed in the Province on sub-contract work connected with the yard. There are, therefore, 27,000 people in the Province who are employed in work connected with Harland and Wolff.

One must wonder about the Government's approach to the shipyard and its future. A number of stories have appeared in national newspapers about this being Harland and Wolff's last chance. There has been speculation about whether the Government will give the company more money, and rumours that the present money is running out more quickly than expected. One must wonder about the Government's intentions for the yard and whether they are convinced that it will be best to leave it in its present individual status, outside what looks like becoming British Shipbuilders. If they do leave it out, will the yard be forgotten when orders come into the United Kingdom? I make that point not because I am attempting to drag Harland and Wolff into the organisation but because I believe that it is in the interests of the economy of Northern Ireland and of its future employment situation. It would not be rational to allow the company to go bust and be forgotten.

The SD330, which has been referred to, may not be the prettiest of our aircraft but it is remarkable that its first customer is an American firm The workers at Short Brothers and Harland can throw out their chests with pride, and the company deserves a pat on the back for success with that aircraft.

When I worked for Short Brothers and Harland in the 1950s I remember a conversation about the future of the company and the economy of Northern Ireland. The then chairman, Sir Matthew Slattery, said that one of the problems was that when Northern Ireland sold its goods it had to carry heavy transport costs which no other region in the United Kingdom had to bear. He said that the two products which Northern Ireland could most successfully sell were ships and aircraft, because no transport costs are involved. With every other product one had to consider the additional transport cost, which would push up the price to the consumer. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) stressed the importance of transport links between the Province and the mainland in a speech some time ago. More emphasis should be given to that problem.

In planning the economy of Northern Ireland. I think we should ask whether we are thinking of a purely provincial economy—if that could be viable, and I am not sure that it could—whether we should be thinking of it as part of the economy of the island of Ireland as a whole. I am not sure that that makes much sense, but it make more sense than thinking of it in provincial terms or whether we should plan the economy of Northern Ireland within a United Kingdom context. That brings me back to the situation of Harland and Wolff and Short Brothers and Harland being left outside the new groupings. I appeal to the Minister to share his thoughts with us on those questions.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Roland Moyle)

I should very much like to share my thoughts, but the Secretary of State will be winding up the debate.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am grateful for the guidance of the Minister.

I then go on to the point that the Secretary of State made—namely, that he thought that there might be quite a lot to be said for the nationalised industries in Northern Ireland coming within the ægis of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. If, as I understand Harland and Wolff is the property of the Ministry of Commerce in Northern Ireland, does the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries at Westminster have any right to demand from the Ministry of Commerce in Northern Ireland that it should be able to investigate the affairs of Harland and Wolff or, for that matter, Short Brothers and Harland?

My second question is, how does the Ministry of Commerce in Northern Ireland tie in with the Department of Industry or the Department of Trade in Whitehall? I have never been quite able to work out the relationship between the Ministry of Commerce and the Westminster Ministries. I am not sure about the financing arrangements which control how much aid the Ministry can give to individual companies, or whether, for instance, the Ministry of Commerce could invoke the Industry Act, or whether a special order is required for that to happen. I am not sure how much liaison there is between the Whitehall Ministries and that Ministry in Northern Ireland.

I shall stay on that point in concluding my remarks. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the organs of industrial regeneration—which the present Government so often like to tell us about, including the National Enterprise Board, and so on—extend to Northern Ireland in such a way that they can be made operable? I think I am right in saying that if Short Brothers and Harland wants to develop a new project it can still use the Civil Aviation Act 1949 to raise finances.

But what of Harland and Wolff? If it sought money for research and development, from where would it seek it? If it is the Ministry of Commerce is there a limitation on the amount, or would the Ministry of Commerce, in turn, ask the Department of Industry for assistance?

Finally—and I have already touched on the question of unemployment—as one who has believed in the Keynesian concept of public spending at times of high unemployment, although that may now be totally unfashionable and, indeed, archaic in some senses, I suppose that one must be struck by the thought that there are so many people unemployed in the Province when there is so much to be done, if only in terms of public buildings and works. Everyone is aware that there is far too much bad housing in Belfast—housing that desperately needs to be cleared away, even though much is being cleared away. At a time when the Government are faced with the problem of cutting public expenditure, is there still not a way by which some form of public works programme can be devised to mop up some of the unemployment, thus making the Province and some of its cities better places than they have been, so that when the recession passes those who are now drawing unemployment benefit will have played a part in making the Province altogether a better and more pleasant place to be in than it is at present?

1.54 p.m.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

I think that most of us will appreciate the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). He spoke very much along the same vein of thought as occupies my mind.

I find today's legislation, if one can call it legislation, a sad milestone. It is recording our inability to make progress as to how Ulster may be best governed. I think that we must realistically recognise today that, while we now have no alternative but to continue what is rather inaptly called direct rule, it is not a system of government that will bring back law and order to Northern Ireland, it will not end the conflict that exists within Northern Ireland, and it will not create the proper basis for economic expansion.

We have had this system of government for some four and a half years, apart from one brief interlude. If one takes a cold assessment of the present situation, one finds that it is quite frightening. The law and order situation is as bad as, if not worse than, it has been for a very long time. One of the tests of the Government fails in Northern Ireland because they cannot truly say that they maintain the rule of law in every part of the Province—and they are a very long way from doing so. Indeed, as they approach law and order they have to indulge in diplomacy in expressing themselves. Sometimes we are given very strong declarations that we are working towards the primacy of the police—a very right and laudable objective—but, if pressure is launched on the police and quite a number of police die, we then start to look at the language that has been used, and it is modified.

However, what concerns me most of all is the employment opportunities in Northern Ireland. We have had some pretty bad times in Northern reland. I can remember them as a young boy. The 'thirties hit Ulster just as badly as they hit any part of the United Kingdom, perhaps worse; yet I can see the same spectre arising today. We have already had our attention drawn to the importance of industries such as Harland and Wolff, which is of massive importance to the local social and economic community. If anything happens there, the repercussions are widespread. Of course, that happens in other parts of the kingdom when old industries have to face the changing needs of the world markets. However, in Northern Ireland I think it has already been admitted today that the chances of attracting new industries are very remote. Very few people will invest in Northern Ireland as long as its future is one of lawlessness and political and constitutional instability. Even Ulstermen are very reluctant today to invest heavily in the future of Northern Ireland.

The facts of life cannot be ignored. What we must try to do this afternoon as we debate this problem is to realise that what, has been put forward is essentially interim. It would be entirely wrong if we were to feel that this sort of Government in Northern Ireland could continue indefinitely. We are renewing it today for one year. However, let us recognise that we have a duty to try to keep that period as short as possible.

I listened with some interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), who did not see any failure in the Ulster Convention. I thought that it was a most disappointing failure, because the people of Northern Ireland were given a privileged opportunity to advise the Government and this Parliament as to how they saw an end to the conflict in Ulster and how the new institutions of government worked out. Unhappily, we did not succeed in bringing to this Parliament proposals that would have resulted in devolution and some hope of ending the conflict.

Perhaps the Secretary of State is right to say that it is better to forget about the Convention. Certainly I agree with him that we should not have a deadline of that sort hanging around our necks when dealing with such a difficult problem. However, if one lets that sort of mechanism fail or lapse, how does one continue to involve the people of Northern Ireland in working out an agreement that can lead to devolved institutions?

I do not think that the 1973 Act, which is still on the statute book, provides us with any great opportunity to work out devolution. If we are to be excluded from the general examination of devolution in United Kingdom terms, how does the Secretary of State, after the Convention legislation elapses, see this process continuing in Northern Ireland? It is too large a burden for 12 Members representing the Province in this Parliament to undertake. While we may not see an opportunity now for a fresh initiative, I hope that the people of the Province of Northern Ireland will know that it is the Government's major priority to seek an initiative at the earliest possible time that will lead to a satisfactory form of devolution. Most people in Northern Ireland cannot see any way forward which does not include worthwhile devolution.

That raises some awkward points in the interim period. How are we to deal with Harland and Wolff and with Short Bros. if we recognise that sooner or later—and preferably sooner—there must be a worthwhile measure of devolution? The viability or otherwise of Harland and Wolff will be important for those charged with the administration of Northern Ireland in Northern Irish terms.

I doubt whether anybody in this Parliament would disagree with the argument that, whatever happens to the British shipbuilding industry, we can safely conclude that it will not be as large as it is at present. What is to be the basis for rationalising the British shipbuilding industry? Will it provide for such special situations as Northern Ireland, where the industry has a tremendous social importance, assuming that one can discharge that social obligation within reasonable terms of economic viability?

Knowing the great need for devolution, I should be reluctant to see Harland and Wolff dealt with in such a way that it would be beyond the decision-taking process in Northern Ireland. Yet I am anxious and nervous that in the interim period many things could happen to Harland and Wolff which in the long-term might be damaging. I support what was said by the hon. Member for Newbury, who assumed that it would not be denied sufficient research facilities. That is vital if we are to maintain the hope of industry in Belfast so that in turn it can maintain confidence outside. That argument can also be used in relation to Short Bros.

I wish to refer to social legislation. We must look at some of these contentious proposals on the assumption that one day devolution will take place. I believe that much social legislation in Northern Ireland is way behind community needs. I wonder what right we in this Parliament have to try to make up that leeway. When I stood before the electorate, I did not say that I was coming to this Parliament to support or oppose changes in the law on homosexuality, nor did I say that I envisaged a modernisation of the divorce laws. It has been obvious to me this afternoon, when some of these matters were mentioned on both sides of the House, that there is already a serious conflict of opinion about whether we should handle such controversial issues. It is easy to say that of such emotive matters as divorce. The same situation could arise once we begin to tackle the administrative system of Northern Ireland in matters such as health, welfare and education.

The Secretary of State said that we shall shortly receive a consultative document on the reorganisation of education. No doubt we, as Members of Parliament, and other interested people will be very concerned about the contents of that document. We shall appreciate and value an opportunity to convey our views to the Government—but we can do nothing more than convey our views. We cannot convey them with any sense of having a mandate, to do so. It worries me that massive changes could take place in our education structure or in our hospital services that will not reflect accurately the feelings of the people of Northern Ireland, who for years have had an opportunity to say in what way they would like to see those services developed. This might be a subject on which a devolved Parliament and Government would feel that changes could be brought about within a month of their coming into being. It is a difficult matter, but we cannot continue to let it drift.

We need to hasten the process of tackling difficulties that lie in the way of achieving agreed institutions of government. We should not rush too speedily into issues on which there is no clear mandate or test of opinion in Northern Ireland. If that were to happen, it would increase pressures that already exist to see an end to the Union. There is no elected representative on this side of the House who wants to see the integrity of the United Kingdom in any way impaired. We would be misleading the House if we were not to say that, apart from the IRA pressures, there are also pressures from what would normally be regarded as a willingness in the community to think in terms of a changed relationship with the rest of the kingdom. In my opinion, that feeling is growing because of the general dissatisfaction with the way in which the Province is being governed across a whole area of activity.

I am not criticising the Secretary of State or his Ministers. It is the system that has created this situation. People are unhappy about law and order and economic decisions. Pressures arise out of a faulty system to the disadvantage of the need to maintain the Union.

Undoubtedly much more will be said later on the subject of law and order, but today's Order is not without its importance to that very important need. I personally believe that the most effective way to re-establish the primacy of the police in effective enforcement of the law is to act through agreed institutions of government in such a way that we rob the terrorist of achieving the ends of his violence. That is imperative.

This is an interim Order, as the people of Northern Ireland and, indeed, of the United Kingdom as a whole realise. Let us all realise that we have a specific duty to see that an initiative is taken to bring about a more permanent form of government as soon as possible.

2.10 p.m.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

When we look at the present situation in Northern Ireland, with a murder a day, where bombs are a regular feature of life, where intimidation is rife and where the terrorists are many, and then we listen to the Secretary of State proclaiming the successes of the security forces in terms of those who are charged and imprisoned, we have to tell him that such proclamations do not cut much ice with ordinary people in Northern Ireland—certainly they do not with me.

The Secretary of State forgets that these crimes are the result of Government failure. They are the end result of failed policies. They are nothing of which to be proud. If this House in years past had pursued reasonable policies, these crimes would not be committed today and the successes that the right hon. Gentleman lauds would not be a necessary part of our life. The crimes that are solved are simply like putting vaseline on a boil. They ignore the root cause of the problem. Until we consider seriously the root cause, the results that have sprung from it will continue and we shall have more and more excuses, no matter how they are masked, in the days to come.

In the course of our debate last year, the Secretary of State drew attention, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, to the fact that the administration of law and order was in the hands of Her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman should know that the people of Northern Ireland do not believe that those hands have been effective in the administration of law and order over the years.

The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) said that a vast number of moderate people in this country were prepared to assist the police and that therefore the terrorist could not succeed. I remind him that there are a vast number of moderate and reasonable men and women in Northern Ireland, but that when they assist the police their fear is that they will get a bomb or a knee-capping and that, if they do it a second time or in the wrong area, the bullet will not be in the knee but 3 feet higher. If the ordinary moderate men and women in this country were confronted with the same choice, they would behave precisely as many of the moderate and reasonable decent people in Northern Ireland behave. They would be very happy to keep their mouths shut.

It is no defence of the people of this country, who are free from terror and who can speak in safety, to say that the people of Northern Ireland should do the same. The people of Northern Ireland cannot do the same. The people of Northern Ireland pay with their lives, their liberty and their limbs, and with the lives of their children and friends, if they are prepared to stand up against the terrorists.

I say that the people of Northern Ireland have no confidence in the hands that look after their security. They have no confidence in them, because they believe that those hands belong to a Government who have neither the will no the moral courage to win in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) drew attention to this when he said that there was a good case for laws in Northern Ireland being different in some respects from those in the rest of the United Kingdom. I go along with him in that view. I believe that the laws of Northern Ireland in respect of terrorism and the maintenance of law and order can and should be different, until such time as law and order are restored and the terrorist is defeated.

We should never forget—the people of Northern Ireland never have forgotten—that it was this House which tore down the former compromise that existed from 1920. It was this House which, by its foolishness or its evil—and I know which of the descriptions is used in Northern Ireland—created the conditions that allowed the terrorists to flourish. It was this House that surrendered, not us. I believe that this House, having made a mistake, will never have the guts to rectify its mistake in any meaningful way until it is forced to do so by events in Ulster.

These events have grown out of the barrel of the terrorist gun. It is a brutal fact of life that the terrorist has won in Northern Ireland to date, and is continuing to win in the minds and hearts of the people, because the people believe that this Government are being defeated. Therefore, in the long run, it is up to this House to do that which is necessary to restore the confidence of the people there.

When the hon. Member for Belfast, West said that he supported the idea of a period of quiet, I felt that it was a great pity that he had not considered that a period of quiet was needed in 1969, when he was calling the mobs of West Belfast on to the street to take the pressure off the mobs stoning the police in Londonderry. The hon. Gentleman has a lot to answer for, as has his party, in respect of the present situation in Ulster.

As the Secretary of State said, this House asked the people of Northern Ireland how the Province should be governed. In effect, this House asked Lord O'Neill's original question, "What kind of Ulster do you want?" and the people of Northern Ireland gave a very clear answer. Only those who are physically blind and deaf or wilfully blind and deaf can refuse to recognise the clarity of that answer and to recognise precisely what the people of Northern Ireland wanted a year ago and what htey want and expect from this House today.

The Secretary of State said that the Convention Report would not work. How does he know? He has not tried it. He talked about achieving the right degree of public support, but he did not tell us what that was. I can tell him what Ulster believes. Ulster believes that it is capable of running its own affairs and that the right hon. Gentleman is not to be trusted. He may not like this—

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I do not care what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Wm. Ross

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not care what I say. That is what is wrong. He has never cared what the people of Northern Ireland said. He has never listened to them. He has been blind and deaf to what has been said by responsible people in Northern Ireland. Therefore, he cannot succeed.

Ulster does not believe that this Secretary of State has the will to win or that the alternatives who sit on the Opposition Front Bench have the will to win, either. This House refuses to face the fact that its "love thine enemy" policy in Northern Ireland over the past few years has failed. It has failed because the enemy does not want to be loved. This enemy wants to win. This enemy does not care what it has to do to win. It wants to attain its political objective of destroying the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Gentleman said in this House that Northern Ireland wanted direct rule to continue. However, whenever I have asked him how many letters he has received in support of this contention, he has been unable to tell me. He has made some wild claims about the Royal Ulster Constabulary not operating in certain parts of Northern Ireland for 50 years. However, when I put further questions to him, he retreated from these claims. The people of Northern Ireland remember that in its early days the UDR was lauded as the force that would bridge the sectarian gap. Now we are told that it is not accepted by a large section of the community. I am told that in areas amounting to one-third of my constituency the UDR is not allowed to operate, yet, strangely enough, the RUC still operates in those areas.

Perhaps I may ask, in passing, whether the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied with the number of weapons that the RUC has. I believe that there are many areas in Northern Ireland in which the police would like a few more weapons, so as to be able to do their job properly and have a margin of safety, rather than work on a threadbare policy.

The plain fact is that the terrorists whom we face cannot go before the community, because they know they will not be supported there. They fear the ballot box. We do not fear it. That is why we are here. We prefer to go before the people with our solution, which is the same as that which emerged from the Convention Report, and we support it. The right hon. Gentleman should dust it off and take another hard, long look at it if he wants to do something for which the people will work and vote.

The plain truth is that votes have been cast aside. The terrorist has been allowed to dictate policy. The longer terror is allowed to flourish, the deeper its roots will grow. We have seen what it has done to ordinary men and women and we know how dishonest and wicked it has made many people. We know how it has twisted hearts and minds and has destroyed Ulster. The longer terrorism is allowed not only to send down its roots but to spread its vile foliage of violence, pillage and death, the harder it will be to tear it out. It has lasted for seven years—seven years too long.

The Secretary of State has spoken in the House about the penumbra of Northern Ireland politics. We in Northern Ireland politics have often walked in that half shadow. But the right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the umbra—the very heart of the shadow of politics and life in Northern Ireland. What is going on in the shadows? That is the question which the right hon. Gentleman has never fully answered. If he wants to take away that sunspot, that shadow over Northern Ireland politics, and to let the sunlight come in again, he must stop talking to para-military people behind closed doors. He will say that it is his officials who talk. I do not care: he must have sent his officials to talk.

What is going on in the heart of the shadow between the Secretary of State and non-elected people of all types in Northern Ireland? That is where the real darkness in Northern Ireland lies. Deals are suspected of being made. I do not say that they are being made; I simply say that it is suspected that they are made. The people in Northern Ireland believe that these things are going on, and whenever people believe something it does not matter whether it is true or not; they will act upon what they believe. I ask the Secretary of State to take away the shadow and to talk plainly in the House to the people. We, alone, have been sent to speak for the people of Ulster. If other people to whom the Secretary of State or his officials have talked want to be in a position to talk fully, clearly and openly, let them come to this House and speak here. Then all the world will know what is going on.

We are told that this is temporary legislation. Temporary legislation creates uncertainty in the minds and hearts of the people. It gives comfort to terrorism. It gives hope to those who wish to bring about change. We do not want anything that is temporary. We want a permanent solution. We want certainty, before uncertainty brings an even more desperate destruction upon us. Will the Secretary of State propose some thing next year that is permanent, without carrying out an experiment? Will he present something that will work and will grow out of that which has gone before?

I agree with what the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) said about restructuring education in Northern Ireland. We have a slightly different system of education from that of the rest of the United Kingdom. It is a system that has grown up. It has been an experimenting system in many parts of the country. Some of the experiments have worked, and some certainly have not, but at least we have been willing to try. I should hate to think that we might be faced with a single system imposed upon us without due consultation.

As education is a matter that cuts across party political lines and the sectarian divide—it concerns all parents in Northern Ireland and indeed, many of the older pupils—I ask the Secretary of State to ensure that sufficient time is devoted to it. We do not want anything to be done hastily. We want the matter to be quietly and carefully considered without people taking up fixed positions. If people take up fixed positions in this matter they have to defend them, and often the defence is not sensible or logical.

Before the Secretary of State starts altering the hospital service in Northern Ireland, and specifically the facilities for the mentally handicapped, particularly in the western part of the country, I ask him to consider the work being done at the Stradreagh Hospital, in Londonderry, where a splendid system is coming under attack by some departmental heads in Belfast and, for all I know, the Secretary of State. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to go along to see what is being done for the mentally handicapped in the western part of Northern Ireland and carefully to compare the system that exists there with the new system operating in the rest of the country. I ask him to consider whether the system could be improved elsewhere by going back a step, rather than by destroying what exists in the West and bringing it down to the level in the rest of Northern Ireland.

I could say a great deal more on this subject, but we have had a long debate, and many other hon. Members wish to speak. I trust that the Secretary of State will take account of what is said today and will try to meet us at least on some points.

2.26 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), I found much to welcome in the speech of the Secretary of State. I welcomed the tone in which he discussed the question of the representation of Northern Ireland in this House. I welcomed also his reference to the fact—I hope it is a fact—that there will be legislation early in the next Session dealing with the matter of compensation. He said that there had been delay because this subject was steeped in Irish history and Irish law. However, I do not understand why more than 15 months should elapse before legislation is introduced. I am glad we have had a firm assurance that at last legislation will be introduced.

I welcomed, too, what the Secretary of State said about the extension of British legislation to Northern Ireland. Earlier this year I took part briefly in a debate on an Order which extended to Northern Ireland the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971. I had the privilege of introducing that measure. I could not understand then, as I cannot understand now, why that legislation could not automatically apply to Northern Ireland.

I last took part in a Friday debate in the House when we were discussing the non-controversial Dangerous Wild Animals Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) that there is good reason for saying that legislation dealing with the control of dangerous men should be different in Northern Ireland from what it is in the rest of the United Kingdom, but I cannot understand why legislation controlling dangerous animals should be different in Belfast from what it is in Beckenham or why there should be different rules governing the control of tigers in London from those in Londonderry.

Clearly there is a substantial case in many instances for extending British legislation to Northern Ireland. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us a little more about the criteria that will be used in deciding which measures should apply to Northern Ireland. I am not sure that I entirely agree with what he said about the extension to Northern Ireland of previous legislation for Great Britain. He referred to divorce law and homosexual law reform, and he could have mentioned abortion as well. That is another knotty social problem.

But how are we to proceed in these things? As the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) said, the Members from Northern Ireland have not really discussed these matters on the election hustings. The Secretary of State said that he intended to consult widely with public opinion in Northern Ireland. I wonder whether he has considered consulting all the people in Northern Ireland. Some time ago, the Secretary of State for Energy said in a pamphlet that such measures as divorce, homosexual law reform and abortion law were precisely the sort of matters that lent themselves to a referendum. In the past, Northern Ireland has taken the lead with referenda in the United Kingdom.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would say that, next time there is a General Election in Northern Ireland, a referendum will be held at the same time in which the electorate will be asked to say whether they wish the British laws on those three specific subjects to apply to Northern Ireland. It would be a simple question to put, and I see no reason why the electorate of Northern Ireland should not be competent to answer it. One thing is clearly underlined by this debate. We have not yet got a proper answer to the whole problem of how the opinion of the people of Northern Ireland can be heard in this House.

2.33 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I shall be putting it mildly if I say that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have no motive for opposing the Order. There is certainly a compelling negative reason for that, because if the Order were not to come into effect in the middle of this month, the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 would revive. If I dared, I would say that there is at any rate one subject regarding the governance of Northern Ireland on which I have detected no hint of disagreement whatever. That is that the 1973 Act belongs to the past and not to the future, that it was unworkable, and that it entailed disasters upon that Province. I have refreshed my memory of the roll of honour of 24th May 1973—the nine Members who said as much before the event, and who sealed it with their votes. I shall only recall a few words of my own, where I said: we are not devolving responsibility to an Assembly or a Government in Northern Ireland; we are creating the maximum incentive to dissent and not to acquiescence and cooperation; and we are not establishing responsible organs of representation or Government."—[Official Report, 24th May 1973; Vol. 857, c. 720.] So it has proved to be, and none of us wishes to see that legislation back—a reflection which perhaps ought to commend a certain humility to those still in this House who supported the Act and to those who introduced it.

Of course, the measure which, as it were, suppresses the 1973 Act, and which by renewing we enable to continue to suppress it, is itself, by its very nature, interim. However devoted one might be to French proverbs about nothing lasting except what is provisional, there is no mistaking that the form of governance of Northern Ireland under the 1974 Act, which we are renewing, is not a permanent system of government suitable for any part of the United Kingdom. From the point of view of those who live under it in Northern Ireland as citizens of the United Kingdom, as inhabitants of what the Government themselves in their factual document a year or two ago described as an integral part of the United Kingdom, there are four major respects in which they are at a disadvantage as compared with the rest of their fellow subjects, four kinds of inequity and injustice under which they suffer and which our own presence on this Bench is the expression of their demand to see remedied.

These four defects are as follows. First, the laws under which we live in Northern Ireland are not made as they are made for the rest of the United Kingdom. Secondly, we are not represented in this House as the inhabitants of the rest of the United Kingdom are represented. Thirdly, we do not enjoy local government—in the old-fashioned sense of the term—in Northern Ireland, as our fellow citizens elsewhere enjoy it. Fourthly, we have not been conceded, to put it at its lowest, the right to devolved government or devolved legislative power which is busily being devised for other parts of the United Kingdom, parts which, by their situation or traditions, have certainly no greater claim than we have to such a measure of devolution.

I want to examine the state of affairs today and the effect of this Order in the light of those four remonstrances which we present in this House on behalf of those who sent us here.

The first is that we are not legislated for as our fellow citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom are. The right hon. Gentleman put before the House today, in introducing the Order, a very substantial package of proposals for the amelioration of law-making under the 1974 Act. I believe that the more they are studied—they are detailed and numerous—the larger the improvement, taken as a whole, will be seen to have been. When I say that every item in that package has been proposed and pressed upon the Government, not once but many times, by the representatives of Northern Ireland in this House, I am in no way seeking to derogate from the credit due to the Secretary of State. Indeed, I am adding to it by saying that he has done what he should have done so far as he has gone—he has listened to what has been said to him by the representatives of Northern Ireland in this House.

Although I am exaggerating, I am I believe not greatly exaggerating when I say that today is the first occasion since before 1922 when the representatives of Northern Ireland, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland, have succeeded in influencing and moulding according to the wishes of those they represent, to however limited an extent, the form of constitution under which they live.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is enjoying one of his absences from the Chamber; but had he been present he would have noted that I referred without party qualification to the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. In this matter, as in a number of others, the hon. Member for Belfast, West, like the rest of us, has been a representative of those who sent him here, and is entitled to join in whatever we can claim as a result of our activities and representations.

I will not weary the House by running through all the items which the Secretary of State has put forward and which we shall be exploring in practice. I want to emphasise two points only. First, the prospect, where there is still to be substantial legislation by order, of being able to consider draft proposals, then debate them in the Northern Ireland Committee, and then finally deal with them as Orders on the Floor of the House, is no mean improvement, and no mean approximation, within the available limits, to the equivalent of legislation by means of Bill. With good will on both sides of the House, and the openness of mind which the Secretary of State and his Ministers have often shown, we have here a means of doing what we have been hitherto denied, namely making amendments to proposals before they take the form of law. This is one of the measures mentioned this afternoon which we shall practice, sharpen, and develop.

My second point is that we must not be too mesmerised by the concept of a Northern Ireland statute book, the existence of which somehow limits the extent to which the people of Northern Ireland can have their law made as the people of the rest of the United Kingdom have their law made.

The law applying to Northern Ireland can be divided into three categories. First, it is the law which applies to the rest of the United Kingdom, as made by this House. Secondly, it is the law which applies peculiarly to Northern Ireland, as made by this House both before 1922 and since, though between 1922 and 1972 it was confined in a more limited sphere. Thirdly, it is the law made by the Parliament of Northern Ireland in the 50 years from 1922 to 1972.

This is not a single corpus of law or a sacrosanct statute book. The Parliament of Northern Ireland inherited a statute book which was the creation of this Parliament; it made its own additions and, within certain limits, its own amendments to it; and all the time this House added to the statute book of Northern Ireland. A future devolved Parliament of Northern Ireland, if there is to be one, will be in no way inhibited by the fact that it will become responsible for this or that part of the law which has been made by Order, or by United Kingdom Act of Parliament.

Of course there are great technical difficulties due to the fact that so much has already been enacted for Great Britain which has been, or is to be, repeated by Order under the 1974 Act—certainly for some time to come. There are laws applied to us by Order, which would have been better dealt with by Bills. There is also the necessity to take account of special and different conditions which apply in Northern Ireland, though there is nothing which prevents or has prevented this Parliament from enacting by means of Bill legislation which operates differently in different parts of the United Kingdom.

In general, however, I hope we shall find that, given the principles which the Secretary of State enunciated today, more and more of the law by which the people of Northern Ireland are to be bound will be made in the same way as the law is made for the rest of their fellow citizens, with the same opportunities for public discussion and criticism, for amendment and for debate in this House. Thus we shall have moved a considerable stage further today, now that substantial note has been taken of this grievance, and substantial steps have been attempted towards the removal of it.

I now come to representation in this House. As has been mentioned by several hon. Members who have spoken, the Government have today recognised much more frankly than any Government in office had previously recognised the fact of the under-representation of Northern Ireland in Parliament. To recognise a fact like that is in the House of Commons the formula necessary for remedying it; for it cannot be right that a population is deliberately under-represented here.

True, there is all the history, going back far before 1922, which shows how many heads were broken in the effort to discover some way whereby Ireland could be part, and yet not part, of the United Kingdom. There are all the contortions that were gone through by one generation after another in an effort to discover the right formula for adjusting representation within this House to a particular state and stage of self-government. That is history; but it is past history, because we are now approaching the debates of the coming Session on the great question of devolution in the United Kingdom with the assurance that devolution is irrelevant to representation in this House. We have been assured—even before the system of devolved government for Scotland and Wales is seriously debated; nay, before the Government's proposals on the subject have been unveiled—that the representation of Scotland and Wales in the House will not be interfered with. So no one can say "Ah, but if Parliament were to recognise this inequity and put it right, that would be slamming the door upon devolved government in Northern Ireland". We now know that the two matters are quite separate.

The Secretary of State will be greatly mistaken if he thinks that, once he has acknowledged the unfairness, or the deficiency, as he called it, this subject will ever again be silenced until it is dealt with. He is mistaken if he thinks it will be possible to pass the whole year between this Order and the next Order, to debate devolution and the future constitution of the United Kingdom, and yet allow this matter to sleep. I do assure him that to be seen to desire to achieve equity and remove this admitted injustice to the people of Northern Ireland, is a great element in securing the consent of the people of Northern Ireland to the form of government we are continuing by this Order. I am not saying that a people can always be governed by justice. I am saying that a people can not be governed when there is acknowledged injustice. Under-representation of Northern Ireland is now acknowledged injustice, and as such, I say—in the one place where that statement can be made and not denied—it will not endure.

Thirdly, I come to local government. Again, we lack Banquo: the hon. Member for Belfast, West is not here. [Laughter.] Of course one must think of all possible misconstructions that can be put upon one's words. I do not wish to cast myself in the rôle of Macbeth to the hon. Member's Banquo. One should consider what might come to mind all too readily in the circumstances of Northern Ireland today.

If he were here, I would repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said to him, that we are speaking about the necessity of the people of Northern Ireland having proper local government in the ordinary sense. We are not seeking to go back—I do not believe that there is any going back in this life, in politics or anywhere else—but we do want to see organisations like the Housing Executive and other bureaucratic boards—I do not use "bureaucratic" as a term of abuse—subordinated to a control more intimately local, more directly localised, than the democratic control which admittedly is exercised by this House through the medium of the Secretary of State and his colleagues.

Because this topic is for the moment not at the forefront, it should not be supposed that real grievance is not felt by ordinary men and women in Northern Ireland when they find that the simplest matters of inconvenience in their daily lives and in their places of residence can be dealt with only through bureaucratic bodies, often involving the intercession of their inadequate number of Members of Parliament.

I come then to devolution itself. By that I mean legislative devolution, the right of subordinate bodies within the United Kingdom to make law for their respective areas or provinces. In this context I will offer the Secretary of State another warning. Let him not imagine that devolved government can be debated or enacted for Scotland and Wales and that Northern Ireland and its just claim and demand will not be present at the feast. Nor let him imagine that as that debate proceeds it will be possible to continue to pretend that in Northern Ireland devolution depends upon the fulfilment of conditions that would be repudiated out of hand if they were offered to any other part of the kingdom.

We are told that Northern Ireland is a divided community, a community of which one part does and one part does not identify with the United Kingdom. We are told that therefore some special structure, some not merely undemocratic but anti-democratic structure, will have to be devised, and that unless we can devise and agree upon it, the answer will be "No' to us when it is "Yes" to everybody else. Yet in Scotland there is a substantial and increasing minority which "wants out" of the United Kingdom. The hon. Members of the Scottish National Party in their every speech repudiate membership of the United Kingdom as the future for Scotland. There is no concealing that. Why then are they not told: "You cannot have devolution in Scotland, where part of the electorate 'wants in' and part 'wants out', unless you accept some contrived constitution which will bring together into power-sharing those people who believe that Scotland should be an independent country and those who believe that it should be an integral part of the United Kingdom."?

I warn the right hon. Gentleman that he will not have got very far through those debates in the next Session before the untenability of the conditions which have been invented to keep Northern Ireland out of the picture has become so evident that they can no longer be maintained.

I want to refer to one other speech in the debate today, and I apologise to the Secretary of State for detaining him a moment or two longer. That speech was by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). The Secretary of State did not enjoy that speech. I did not enjoy it, either. But it was right that it should have been made. Here we are, all of us, accepting an Order for continuing what is called direct rule for the next 12 months. Here are we in this House, with the powers committed to us, giving our consent to it. Yet being Members of Parliament, we are the intermediaries between Parliament and Government on the one hand and the people on the other, and when we return to those who sent us here, it is not in the language that is spoken in this House, with its nuances, its suggestions, its hints and its gradualism, that we find ourselves addressed. The people who suffer and who live in fear speak to us as my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry spoke to the House, and we should be in danger of underestimating what we are attempting if he had not reminded us. The Secretary of State, in working out in the next 12 months that to which he has set his hand in his statement today, must never for one moment leave out of his mind the realities to which my hon. Friend recalled the House.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) used the word "evolution". Everything which is good about this country, everything that Parliament has done which has lasted, has evolved. And so I believe that the future of Northern Ireland and future government for Northern Ireland will evolve and not be made dramatically or drastically, and certainly not forcibly. I take the risks of hope and optimism when I say that I believe we have accomplished one stage in that evolution by the Secretary of State's speech. But if evolution there is to be, the implication is that this is a starting-point, not a finishing-point, and that from here we and he shall go on, in this House and in Northern Ireland, building month by month upon the new foundation that we have laid.

2.58 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Responding to the exhortation of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I express the hope that everybody will approach the terrible problem of Northern Ireland with humility. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the well-known French saying about the durability of the provisional. I hope that in this case it will be disproved.

The Secretary of State looks on direct rule as being positive. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) wants it to be made more sensitive, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who at least listens to his own speeches, said that there was no alternative, and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) said that it was a sad milestone. I regard direct rule as necessary and unavoidable but also as regrettable, and I trust that it will be a temporary expedient.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made the point that Northern Ireland was not in the same position, within the realm, as England, Scotland or Wales because its institutions were not adapted to the absence of executive government and a legislative assembly. However we judge the Macrory reform of local government, it was made on the assumption that there was a Northern Ireland Parliament and Government. The reforms drastically curtailed the scope of representative local authorities.

The 26 district councils are sometimes described as mere emptiers of dustbins. That is an exaggeration. Besides cleansing functions, they have duties in connection with such matters as consumer protection, environmental health and licensing. However, it is true that major civic and local services have been taken away from them, and their rôle in education, the library service, health and personal social services, drainage, the supply of electricity and the fire service is confined to nominating local representatives to statutory boards. I endorse the remarks of the right hon. Member for Down, South on this subject.

Not only is there no Northern Ireland legislature, but the Province's parliamentary representation is numerically insufficient and there is not adequate time or arrangements for discussing Northern Ireland business in this House. I therefore join with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) in rejoicing at the conversion of the Secretary of State to the principle of increased representation at Westminster, though I noted that the hon. Member for Belfast, West did not share in the rejoicing. We also appreciate the efforts of the Government and hon. Members in all parts of the House to improve our procedures for dealing with Northern Ireland matters.

The system which is to be extended by the Order is unavoidably and unquestionably bureaucratic. Like the right hon. Member for Down, South, I use the word "bureacratic" in as neutral a way as possible. The system will necessarily be remote from a public which, in the past, has been accustomed to easy access to legislators, Ministers and officials. The hon. Member for Belfast, West seemed nostalgic for Stormont, where there was easy access to the rulers. It is the nature of the system, rather than the men and women concerned, which leads to this result, although the man in Stormont, like the man in Whitehall, is tempted to believe that he knows best.

The Secretary of State chided and even taunted my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon for objecting to the application, under direct rule, of Socialist measures to Northern Ireland. But the right hon. Gentleman did not mention our support on Harland and Wolff, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) spoke with such knowledge, and Short Brothers.

The right hon. Member for Belfast, East mentioned the consultative document on secondary education. This is already causing concern in places of learning and in various sections of the community. I beg the Government to be prudent and not to introduce elements of denominational and ideological conflict. There is enough of that already.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West was voicing the views not only of Roman Catholics when he said that Northern Ireland should not be considered benighted because of its divergence on such matters as divorce and abortion.

The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) welcomed what the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) preferred to call the reconnaissance between representatives of the two main political tendencies. Nearly everyone who has spoken today has cautioned us against being too optimistic. Certainly we must not expect too much too soon. However, if such talks result in agreement on new institutions of regional self-government within the United Kingdom, it may be that the labours of the Constitutional Convention, which those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies have commended, will not have been wasted. If agreement is reached, I hope that the Government will be able to give their blessing and their backing.

3.6 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I agree with the last point made by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), but how one is able to agree, and at what pitch one is able to agree, not just with a sentiment but with the detail, takes us back to the comments of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). Timing is not only for the politicians in Northern Ireland; it is for all of us. I feel that we have to wait a while yet to see what is to emerge.

My purpose in winding up the debate is not to be long. I have said what I have to say about the 1974 Act and the new procedures, which have been generally welcomed. I must make it clear that the system of Orders that we have operated for four years, even with the changes that I announced this morning, will still be the main way in which we get legislation through the House in the foreseeable future.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke about the Northern Ireland statute book. It is true that Westminster and Stormont legislated for Northern Ireland, but, except on rare occasions, only Stormont legislated on transferred matters. It is that body of separate Northern Ireland law that constitutes what we call the Northern Ireland statute book. If there is to be devolved government again, its task will be much easier if it is able to identify separately the body of legislation for which it is responsible—namely, transferred legislation.

The hon. Member for Abingdon spoke about an advisory body system, of which I am not in favour. The advisory body system under the previous Administration was composed of admirable gentlemen. Indeed, I was once invited to attend—[Interruption.] I was not saying that for amusing purposes. They were admirable gentlemen, but I do not believe that the system worked. I am not speaking against the individuals, whom I shall meet again very shortly in Northern Ireland.

My responsibility must be to the House, and a problem arises when economic cuts are made. Consideration is being given to the terms of reference of the Economic Council, and I should like to change them. The problem is that an advisory body wants to spend money, but my responsibility is to the Cabinet and to the House. I gather that the Opposition want to cut public expenditure to a vast degree. If that is so, I should not care to be in the hon. Gentleman's shoes if he meets an advisory body in Northern Ireland.

The members of advisory bodies do not come bearing gifts but requests for public expenditure—[Interruption.] No, I did not say begging. Quite properly they want to do what is right, but only when one has responsibility for expenditure can one decide the priorities that should be used. The same situation arose in respect of defence expenditure in Northern Ireland.

Hon. Members have spoken about advice and easy access. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has returned to the Chamber. Perhaps I should tell him that his absence has been noted by a number of hon. Members. My hon. Friend said that there was ease of access at Stormont. That is true.

I occupy the former Northern Ireland Prime Minister's office, and I gather that people used to ring up directly to the outer office about matters of great importance to them which would not be considered to be of great importance here. That practice would come back with a devolved administration. Until I went to Northern Ireland I had not realised how easy it was for people to get round and about. There is easier access to Ministers in Northern Ireland than there is in the rest of the United Kingdom. That sometimes also applies in the House. People do not always realise how much time is taken up in this way in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Fitt

I happen to be meeting Ministers in Northern Ireland about an industry in which 350 jobs are at stake.

Mr. Rees

That is why I brought my hon. Friend into the discussion.

I am sorry that I missed the speech made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). He raised several matters concerned with the economy. As he is not in the Chamber now, I shall write to him.

The question of representation I find difficult. It is not a matter of logic, or of a strict relationship between representation here and in another assembly. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) referred to legislaion about which he had not spoken to his constituents before he was elected. Most of the legislation that I mentioned, on homosexuality and divorce, I did not mention to my constituents. We cannot be held to pieces of paper that we put out at election time referring to matters about which we feel strongly. When we come to the House there are 634 other Members and we are subsumed within a wider arena, and we have to make a judgment.

I have been in Northern Ireland long enough to understand that, whatever was the feeling in 1922, there is now a feeling that is not so much anti-direct rule as a wish to return to devolved administration. Some people have a strong feeling that they want to be part of the United Kingdom, but on their own terms. They do not wish to take the parts of the United Kingdom legislation that they do not like. The strict logic of being part of the United Kingdom is that if there is a law on homosexuality in the Untied Kingdom that law should apply also in Northern Ireland. That is what being part of the United Kingdom means. I am not offering my personal view on the homosexuality law; I am just saying that that is the logic of being part of the United Kingdom Parliament. Those who want extra representation in the United Kingdom Parliament cannot move away from that logic. Extra representation merely means that the 16, 18 or 20 Members are subsumed within the other 640, or whatever may be the total figure.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we shall have interesting debates later this year and next year on devolution. They will not just be on constitutional matters; they will encompass what the United Kingdom is all about, not just in constitutional terms, a subject about which we have not thought for approximately 260 years.

When I referred to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and said that I did not care, I was not being rude. I said that if he wanted to be rude to me I did not care, which is a different thing.

Northern Ireland is different, and it is in the nature of that difference that one day it must have a devolved Administration.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (In-term Period Extension Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 27th May, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

If I may break the rules for a moment, I should like to announce that Mr. Deputy Speaker who will relieve me—the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton)—has this day been sworn in as a Privy Councillor. I thought the House would like to know.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I am grateful for your intervention, Mr. Speaker. I have with me a note to remind me to say that very thing when he arrives.