§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)
I beg to move,That the draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Day of Election) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 14th July, be approved.I shall make a comparatively short opening speech and be prepared to answer questions if hon. Members would like me to do so towards the end of the debate.
The draft order appoints Wednesday 20 October as the date on which election of Members to the new Northern Ireland Assembly will take place. The Assembly was dissolved with effect from 28 March 1975 under section 1(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The order, if approved, will be made under section 27(7) of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. The Northern Ireland Act 1982 is now on the statute book. I firmly believe, as I have said before, that the opportunity that the provisions of that Act offer to the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, to work out among themselves, at their own pace, arrangements for an acceptable form of devolved Government should be grasped.
The Act does more than that. It provides the opportunity for the Assembly to become immediately more closely involved in scrutinising the day-to-day government of the Province and with the urgent problems that face Northern Ireland. It is right that the voices of Northern Ireland's elected representatives should be heard as soon as possible, responsibly and constructively debating the main issues of the moment.
I have made it clear that Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office will co-operate fully to help the Assembly in its debates and work. Despite the doubts of some who have spoken in the House in the past few weeks, I am convinced that there is a growing expectation of and a desire for progress in the Province.
There has been much speculation about how the Act will work in practice. We should now put such speculation behind us and turn our minds to putting the Act's provisions into effect at the earliest reasonable opportunity. That is why the Government have decided that elections to the Assembly should be held in the autumn. The choice of 20 October is designed to strike a balance between allowing sufficient time for the chief electoral officer and his staff to prepare for the election and the Northern Ireland parties to campaign effectively after the holiday season and avoid the approach of winter with limited hours of daylight and the risk of bad weather.
We have decided that the election should take place on a Wednesday, like local elections in Northern Ireland, so that the counting of votes, which will be a lengthy process in the larger constituencies, can be completed before the weekend. As hon. Members know, the elections will take place on the basis of the present 12 parliamentary constituencies and will return an Assembly of 78 Members. The order setting out the election timetable and the rules for the conduct of the election will be laid shortly, thus providing sufficient time preparation by the electoral staff and the parties.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
The order announces that the election will take place on 20 October 879 1982, but throughout the passage of the Northern Ireland Bill great importance was attached to the need for cross-community support and better relations with the Government and institutions of the South. We agreed with those sentiments on the Opposition Benches and with others that were stressed in the White Paper. We wish to see the widest participation in the election that is proposed by the order.
There is, however, a problem over the contents of the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975, which, in effect, disqualifies a member of the legislature of any country outside the Commonwealth from sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The White Paper recognised the unique relationship between Britain and Ireland and the inevitable link between the two communities. It stated:So long as the existing institutions of the State are respected, those who favour change should not be debarred from playing a full part in public life.Any person from anywhere in the Commonwealth can stand for election to the Assembly. If he gets enough votes he can participate in the Assembly. I am advised that someone from Hong Kong, Zimbabwe or anywhere else in the Commonwealth can stand for the Assembly and, if elected, can take his seat.
However, the existence of the 1975 Act means that other persons who were born in and who are living in Northern Ireland cannot sit in the Assembly. I understand that the criteria for disqualification from the House is being reviewed and that the Lord President of the Council will receive a report later this year. It was said in another place that the outcome of the review will have its implications for the disqualification criteria for the Assembly. I think that it is generally agreed that the law on disqualification is not satisfactory and that there are inconsistencies.
I trust that the Secretary of State will find a solution to the problem or will be able to give a full explanation to the few citizens of Northern Ireland who will find themselves unable to take their seats in the Assembly if they secure enough votes to win the election. I understand why a few hon. Members are tittering, but it is obvious that there is a problem for the Secretary of State that should not be compounded. If we are to get cross-community support and the widest possible participation of people in Northern Ireland, we ought to look at those problems.
Careful explanation by the Secretary of State is needed. There is no better time for him to do it than this evening. Those who are members of legislatures outside the Commonwealth are not debarred from standing for the Assembly. However, if they gain enough votes to win a seat in the Assembly, they can then be debarred by petition and disqualified. However, once elected, the persons have a choice. They can choose either to continue to be part of the legislature of any other country or to take their seats in the Assembly.
There is a need for clarification. There is confusion on the issue. It is vital that the Secretary of State spells out in detail the position of those caught under the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975. I am sure that the Secretary of State, as well as my right hon. and hon. Friends, would wish the election to be as smooth as possible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] My right hon. and hon. Friends have great confidence in their Front Bench spokesman, as I keep telling Conservative Members. They leave it to me to speak on such issues.
880 I am sure that the Secretary of State would like to see the election run as smoothly as possible, with the widest spread of candidates. As we have said before, we all believe that cross-community support is vital. I hope that the Secretary of State will make that clear. It is vital for the good start of the operation of the election, whether it is on 20 October, 27 October or 1 January. This situation needs careful explanation. There should be the widest participation. I hope that every party in Northern Ireland involves itself in the election. I desperately want that to happen because that will bring about a better chance of success.
All those who are not interested in the matter do not wish the operation of the election procedure to be successful. I have listened to that point of view often enough in the House. I want the election to proceed with the widest possible choice and the widest possible participation in Northern Ireland. I do not wish to see anyone disqualified. That requires careful explanation. The situation has not arisen out of the Secretary of State's choosing. It should be made clear whether the people I have mentioned can stand for election, and what happens to them if they stand and win enough votes. Do they have the choice of going back to the legislature or giving that up and sitting in the Assembly, if they desire?
§ Mr. Concannon
I shall not give way as I am coming to the end of my speech.
There is confusion on the issue. The only person who can clear it up is the Secretary of State. I wish the assembly and the order success. The sooner we can proceed without any inconvenience to the election, the better it will be for the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
The Bill that we contested so long has become an Act. Now the question is as to when it should be implemented. Having given a good deal of thought to the matter, there is a sense in which I want to say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that I have come to take a slightly different view to that which I took at the beginning, when his proposals were made. On Second Reading the Minister said that the creation of the Assembly would help to restore security and build up the economy in the Province. I found it difficult to see any connection between what he proposed and the objective that it might serve. After thinking deeply and listening to what has been said in other places, I have come to the conclusion that there is a method and logic in what he proposes.
I shall deal with security first. We came to office with Airey Neave's plan, which amounted to the full integration of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom. It was made clear to the present Secretary of State's predecessor that if that happened there would be no co-operation from the Republic. The Northern Ireland Office argued strongly that the door should be kept open for the eventual reunion of Northern Ireland with Southern Ireland and that, if that did not happen, the IRA's attitude would make it difficult for the Dublin Government to co-operate.
The previous Secretary of State tried to introduce a system of devolution. It failed. The IRA struck again. We had a chance to go back to integration, but my right hon. 881 Friend, the Secretary of State, was persuaded to have another stab at devolution to keep the door open. That is what we are now discussing.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
Order. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman is still on his preamble, but I remind him that the order is about the date of the election.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. How is the question of disqualification, raised by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), relevant under the order? If we are to discuss such matters, which appear to be extraneous to the order, surely my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) is equally in order.
§ Mr. Concannon
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I pointed out in my speech that a report was due towards the end of the year about the disqualification measure. I was putting that in the context of the order.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Unless this order or another order to similar effect is passed, the Act which has just received Royal Assent will not be implemented. Therefore, the decision whether to pass the order amounts to a decision as to whether, as well as when, that Act should be implemented. If there is no such order, the Act will be brutum fulmen.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is not in order to debate the Act again. Right hon. and hon. Members will wish to use background information, but it would not be in order to reopen the debate on the Act.
§ Mr. Amery
I bow to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to be as brief as I can. I shall try to give the background information as briefly as I can. Much has happened since our last debate on the matter. Much has come to light since then, including my right hon. Friend's visit to the United States, which he hoped might help the economy.
There have always been hopes that American investment might come to Northern Ireland. The influence of Dublin in that respect would be important. Here again, I submit that the advice of the Northern Ireland Office has been "Keep the door open to the Union between the North and the South." I do not know exactly what transpired during my right hon. Friend's visit to the United States, but I suspect that he made it clear to American critics that we were not going for integration but that we were going for devolution and that, therefore, the door was being kept open.
The original proposal contained in the Act was, therefore, not just an essay in devolution. The whole object of the exercise has been to keep open the door to a united Ireland. That was not made clear to us in earlier debates. We were told that that it was essential to a solution to the problem of terrorism and the improvement of the economy. The Minister of State said in another place that that may take some time—perhaps 20 or 30 years. But the objective is pretty clear.
The rub is whether Dublin will wait. I apologise for not being present when my right hon. Friend briefly opened 882 the debate. We have not yet had a reply to the question about Mr. Abbott's alleged conversation which was raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I do not know why. Several weeks have passed since the matter was raised. But there has been an answer from Dublin. The Foreign Secretary of the Republic has said that my right hon. Friend's proposal, which we are being called upon to implement, does not conform, in the spirit or in the letter, with previous undertakings. When I read that, I wondered whether it was just Irish extravagance of language or whether the right hon. Member for Down, South and Mr. Abbott were right about there being undertakings. Why was Mr. Haughey so much against the agreement? Is it because the proposals do not go quite as far as he thought had been agreed? I have the impression that both in Dublin and in the IRA headquarters they think that we are on the run. The bombings of last week cast a long shadow over the debate. It is a mistake to think that there is no collusion between Dublin and the IRA. I do not wish to suggest that they are working in harmony. Dublin is just as frightened of the IRA as Belfast. Nevertheless, just like the PLO and the sheiks in the Middle East, Dublin finds it convenient to use the IRA and dangerous to pull away from it. What my right hon. Friend is asking us to implement is becoming clearly a policy of trying to secure an end to terrorism and the bad economic situation by appeasement of Dublin and the IRA.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is going very wide again. I must ask him to address himself to the order.
§ Mr. Amery
We are being asked to implement a policy of appeasement. Its character has been underlined by the events of last week. That has happened since the Bill left the House to go to another place. When both the right hon. Member for Down, South and Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien suggest that such appeasement will not work, we ought to think extremely carefully.
It follows that if we had accepted the Neave proposals, the IRA would not have stopped its actions, and American help might have been delayed, but once London's determination had been made clear there would have been new thinking in Dublin and in the IRA. Only if we can give certainty about our determination to keep Ulster within the United Kingdom shall we give confidence to investors and deter the terrorists.
I fear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is on a slippery slope. His measure is law. The date for the first meeting of the Assembly has not been fixed, so why should he not delay a little? Why should he not reply to the bombers by saying that we wish to see what the attitude of Dublin, the bombers and the Province will be? He is rushing an election on the basis of boundaries that correspond to present constituencies and not to the new ones.
Nothing would give greater confidence to the majority in Ulster than for the Government to delay the implementation that we are being asked to approve. If my right hon. Friend is not prepared to do that, I am sure that he will understand if those of us who care more than he does about the unity of the Kingdom vote against him.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
We are considering the order at a late hour and many hon. 883 Members—not so much those in the Chamber as those in reserve elsewhere—might naturally wonder "Why the hurry?" It is of a piece with the haste with which the legislation that the order implements was passed.
That was an exceptional piece of legislation, in that it was introduced after Easter—it was post paschal—a season at which it is commonly considered to be belated to introduce major legislation. It had to be got through this House with the assistance of a guillotine and the time for it in another place was so short that serious complaints were voiced in the proceedings there about the adequacy of the opportunity to consider it.
Upon the heels of Royal Assent to the Act, the order is brought forward. It fixes a date on which it will not be possible for the elections to be held on the new constituencies or on a base that everyone agrees is fairer than that which could be provided within the terms of the Bill, which relate to the existing 12 constituencies.
It is a natural ground for bewilderment as to why so much haste has been attendant upon the passage and, now, upon the implementation of the legislation. Those who read the speech of Lord Gowrie in the concluding proceedings in another place would be all the more surprised. He said:The proposals that we are making may need 20 or 30 years to mature, or to take hold.Lord Gowrie had said earlier:The Bill recognises that movement towards this goal—of durable institutions—may be very slow indeed" —[Official report, House of Lords, 22 July 1982; Vol. 433, c. 985–6.]But even those who heard that could hardly have been prepared to be told that it would be a generation before the institutions that were to bring to Northern Ireland the blessings of political stability—the arguments on which the Secretary of State's arguments for the Bill had been based—were dependent on a contingency so remote that many of us here could not reasonably hope to experience it.
What, then, it might naturally be asked, was the haste either to cram through the Bill in the last two months before the recess or to fix the date for the elections at an unreasonably early time when fair and properly drawn constituencies were not available for the purpose?
The answer is that the Secretary of State had been working to a time limit. I point out, first, one of the implications of the time scale adumbrated by the Minister of State in another place. If the devolution proposals and the new institutions of self-government adumbrated by the Bill are viewed by the Government as possibly 20 or 30 years ahead, it is clear that this is not a Bill to institute devolved administration in Northern Ireland. That is not its purpose. No Minister has ever introduced a Bill in the House to carry out a purpose and then declared that it would be 20 or 30 years before that purpose matures—I think that that is the right word—or takes hold.
It is a Bill to set up an Assembly. The business of devolution is incidental to it and remote from the current contemplation of the Government. What the Government were doing and had to do was what the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) way back in 1979 prophesied would be done—that an Assembly would be set up. That is the purpose of the Bill.
The question therefore recurs. Why is there so much hurry to have an Assembly in October? The Secretary of State has explained that it is after the summer and before 884 the winter, but the matter is a little more precise and reasoned than that. It has connections both more subtle and more significant than those with the seasons of summer and winter.
By the end of the year, it is intended that there shall take place the third in the series of top level meetings between the heads of Government of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. Of course, when such meetings take place in November or December the aspiration is always expressed that the next will be after six months. That was the expectation after the Haughey meeting in December 1980 and after the FitzGeraId meeting in November 1981. It is generally accepted by those who arrange these matters, however, that one bids for six months and settles for 12. At any rate, another meeting will be due—indeed, as the Secretary of State knows, it is already being pressed for and the preliminary arrangements for it are probably already being fixed up—before the end of the year in order to continue the series.
We are told that certain unfinished business must be dealt with at the meeting in December—the third meeting between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic. That is the slotting into place of the element that was missing in the arrangements of November 1981 with FitzGerald—the slotting into place of a parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish Council. In order that Northern Ireland might be separately represented there, it was necessary that there should be in existence a separate Assembly for the Province. Indeed, as the Irish Prime Minister reflected on the last occasion, it was the absence of such an Assembly that had been the blemish and the gap in what was otherwise the success of his conference.
It might be thought by some, but not by those who are well informed, that there is a speculative element in the explanation that I have just assigned for the date in the order before us. I assure the House that there is not. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) has reminded the House that a week or two ago, the Foreign Secretary of the Irish Republic complained that in this legislation the Government had broken not only the spirit but the letter of the arrangments between the two Governments.
The Irish Foreign Secretary explained that the Government had not consulted the Government of the Republic on the framing of this legislation, and as a consequence it represented a breach of the spirit as well as the letter.
What is wrong with it from the point of view of the Irish Republic? What is it about the Act that broke the spirit and the letter—the letter in particular—of the arrangments? If one studies the speech of the Foreign Secretary of the Republic in toto, there is no doubt about what he believes the omission to be. It is a specific and binding link between the Assembly and the proposed parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish Council.
If there were any doubt about that, the Secretary of State in his recent visit to Washington made the matter clear enough. He was explaining the lack of an Irish dimension in his devolution initiative. There is a reference to the Irish dimension in the White Paper, but there is nothing about it in the Act. That is where the breach has occurred in the spirit and the letter of the arrangements.
The right hon. Gentleman said:Nor do I consider that this is in any way a breach of any undertakings that have been given.885 That is a remarkable thing for the right hon. Gentleman to have said, because he has always maintained that there are no such arrangements or agreements. Why did he not say "There are no arrangements"? Why did he say "I do not think there has been any breach of any arrangements or undertakings that have been given"? Why did he not say "There are no undertakings at all"?
§ Mr. Powell
But the right hon. Gentleman also said:I think you would recognise that the parliamentary body would take longer to get going.The missing element will take time. It did not have to be put in the Act. There is no intention of breaking the undertaking that is part of the understanding arrived at between the Prime Minister and Mr. FitzGerald in November 1981. There is no intention of breaking it because it is something that can be filled in later on. The right hon. Gentleman continued:But this is something that we can continue to work away at.That is what the Assembly is for. The overt element that evidently the Irish Republic considered that, on the basis of the agreements between the two Prime Ministers, it was entitled to expect is not in the Act. However the essential thing, an Assembly that can be so worked upon that it will provide the third leg of the Anglo-Irish Council—and thus the route of political progress towards the united Ireland which is the objective of the Irish Republic—is in contemplation, and is there.
This is not a new story. The right hon. Gentleman is involved in an annual cycle that goes back at least three years and probably further. It was very marked in 1979 when a meeting took place on 5 October between Ministers and officials of the two Governments. That produced agreement on certain security measures. It was hailed in the press at the time as a remarkable achievement in cooperation between the two countries against the terrorist. But there was a quid pro quo, stated clearly in part of the communiqué, following the meeting, that did not achieve great publicity. It stated:The Ministers also discussed the prospects for political progress in Northern Ireland.Everyone who knows the language recognises what "political progress" stands for in the vocabulary of this intercourse. The communiqué added:The Irish Ministers emphasised the importance of an early initiative leading to acceptable political institutions which both sections of the community in Northern Ireland could support and sustain.They were going straight for power-sharing. At that stage, they were not going, as they are now, primarily for the instrument of the Anglo-Irish Council and the parliamentary tier. The warning, however, was clear. They emphasised the importance of an early initiative. Delay, they argued, is dangerous. Their co-operation, such as it is, is dependent upon there being no unreasonable delay in implementing what they regard as the spirit of the letter of the agreements made. It is for that purpose that the House, having had the Bill forced through it, is asked to write the date of 20 October into its implementation.
It is a false and dangerous cycle in which the Government have got themselves involved. It is the cycle, as the right hon. Member for Pavilion has remarked, of 886 appeasement. It is the cycle of the annual attempt to buy off blackmail. It will not succeed. It cannot succeed. That process never can, and never does, succeed. It is because some hon. Members wish to prevent the consequences of that hopeless attempt being inflicted upon this country and particularly upon the Province that we have opposed the Act and shall oppose the order.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), from the Opposition Front Bench, referred to those who would not be able to stand or who, if they did stand, would not be able to take their seats. His remarks had nothing to do with someone from Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada or some other part of the British Commonwealth. The reference was to Mr. Seamus Mallon, deputy leader of the SDLP, and to Dr. Robb, a constituent of mine, who, according to the press, is about to join the SDLP. Mr. Charles Haughey, in his wisdom, nominated both these gentlemen to become Members of the Dublin Senate. They accepted their position in that House of the foreign State of the Irish Republic. By so doing, they disqualified themselves from getting into the Assembly.
If they are as keen as the right hon. Gentleman maintains they are to get into the Assembly, they can simply resign. They have a choice. Do they want to serve the people of Northern Ireland, or do they want to sit in the Dublin Senate? If Mr. Mallon is interested in the people among whom he lives and works and whom he represents, let him resign from the Dublin Senate and attend to his business in the county of Armagh. As for Dr. Robb, I prophesy that if he stands anywhere in Northern Ireland he will lose his deposit, unless he is lucky enough to get a safe SDLP seat, which is hardly likely at this election. If the Secretary of State attempts to tamper with that matter, he will go a long way towards causing far more upheaval in Northern Ireland than at present, so he should leave well alone. Perhaps after the 30 years that the noble Lord mentioned have expired, those men will be in a different frame of mind.
Only one people—not this House—can stop a united Ireland, and that is the people of Northern Ireland. There is only one way for a Democrat to believe that the voice of those people can be heard, and that is through the ballot box. We have been told that there is a great change of opinion and that the wind of change is blowing. We have been told that various people will win seats, that there will be a great cross-community support, that orange will fade to yellow and that green will tincture the new mixture of colour. I do not believe a word of it, and 20 October will tell the true tale. People will know then what Northern Ireland really believes.
On 20 October the people of Northern Ireland will say "No" to a united Ireland or to any steps that the House, the Government, Dublin or the United States of America may wish to take to bring Ulster into the Irish Republic. It is not on. The will of the people of Northern Ireland will keep Ulster out of an Irish Republic. The House could set up an Anglo-Irish Council and decide that all Northern Irish Members should be members of that council. The House could also decide that Mr. John Hume, who is a Member for Northern Ireland in Europe, should be a member of that council. but the Assembly, with a Unionist majority which I believe will be greater than any Unionist majority in Stormont—because the people of Northern 887 Ireland are determined to cast a massive vote for the Union at this election—will make its voice heard and say what it believes about such a council. If the House wishes to set it up, the Assembly will have the power to finish it once and for all and to bury it in a Sadducee's grave. If hon. Members are not aware of the analogy, that is a grave without a resurrection.
That Assembly, overwhelmingly Unionist, will be a buttress against any attempt to set up a credible Anglo-Irish Council or to take us down the road into a united Ireland. Winston Churchill said "Trust the people." I trust the people and am glad that the election is coming. I regret that it is not being fought on 17 seats, because I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that it would have been fairer to have it on that basis.
When Unionist spokesmen said that it should be on the basis of 17 seats, the Secretary of State said that we should get away from the politics of confrontation. It is not confrontation; it is fact. The 17 seats would have been fairer for the community. However, I do not mind how many seats are involved, because I know that the people of Northern Ireland will give their answer loud and clear.
I say to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) that it would be an act of folly if the Secretary of State were to change the date. The IRA would rejoice. It would say "We got them to change the date." We have experienced terrible bombings for 13 to 14 years, and this city experienced them the other day. Homes are broken, hearts are sore and tears are shed. The IRA would say that that was all worth while, so the Secretary of State cannot change the date. The election must go on.
I look forward to the election. The people of Northern Ireland will give their answer to the world and to Charles Haughey. Dublin said that not only had the letter and the spirit been broken but that they would take no interest in security in Northern Ireland unless their wishes and will were heeded. That was blackmail of the worst kind, and the people of Northern Ireland will not stand for it. The Secretary of State can look in vain to Dublin for help with his security policy. We need to secure the border. We need to bring back capital punishment for terrorist crimes. We need to pursue over that border those who murder people in Northern Ireland and deal with them as they should be dealt with.
No doubt, in the coming months the people of Northern Ireland will prepare themselves for a great election struggle. On 20 October there will be an overwhelming Unionist voice and it will tell this House and the world where the people stand. For me, 20 October cannot come soon enough.
I am glad that the Minister has learnt that STV counting takes a long time. I am glad, too, that it is to be on Wednesday, instead of Thursday, because I should not stand over a ballot box on the Lord's Day to see myself or anyone else elected. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has kept to the fore the traditional view of Ulster Protestants and that the voting and the counting will be over on Saturday. Dear help the people who have to wait until Monday to creep in on the thirty-third count.
§ 2.7 am
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I welcome the order and I congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing it forward in this way. If it had been delayed, and 888 if he had accepted the advice that he has been offered this evening from various parts of the House, there would have been consequential problems.
I understand what has been said by those who disagree with the Act. I respect their point of view, but I do not share it. I take the view that Northern Ireland needs an Assembly and a voice of its own which can express and advise on matters relating to direct rule, and have a transferred power, fulfilling the conditions contained in the Act.
I take issue with some hon. Members, not least with the right hon. Member for Pavilion who implied that anyone who disagreed with his point of view cared less about Northern Ireland than he does. If I were to argue that to its logical conclusion I could possibly claim to know Northern Ireland a little more than he and to have visited it more frequently. However, that would not resolve the problem. It resolves nothing to make such challenges one way or the other.
I take the view that anyone who contributes to debates about Northern Ireland at this hour of the night must care. Those hon. Members who are frequently in such debates, while not sharing a joint approach on every occasion, demonstrate that they care. The essence of democracy is to listen to all sides.
Those who represent Northern Ireland probably experience a pressure and awareness that is not felt so continuously by those who represent other parts of the United Kingdom. I refer not least to that created by the mindless killing and bombing that we have only recently experienced in London. No doubt there could be serious dangers in the rest of Britain of what is a continuous threat in Northern Ireland. In that regard I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that we should not go forward at this time with the Act. To implement the day of poll would have been seen by some as a capitulation to their demands and terrorism. It is still true that anything can be interpreted to suit one's views according to which side of the divide one belongs, which politic one represents or opinion one holds in Northern Ireland.
The only difference that I have with the hon. Member for Antrim, North tonight is that I hope that there will not be an overwhelming majority of anything. I hope that at the end of the day there is a true representation of all the views that are ever-present in Northern Ireland. It is only in that way that they will be able to convince the House that they are ready and able to take the responsibility of a transferred power. The degree of transfer will be measured by the advice that is given, and clarion calls and loud drums do not always make the best common sense.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said that he wanted a smooth election of the Assembly and that he wished it well. He also put forward the view that Senators of the Irish Republic should be allowed to sit in the Assembly.
If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State were to accede to such a request, I can think of nothing that would be more likely to make the election to the Assembly anything but smooth. Indeed, it would probably drive the Unionists in Northern Ireland into obstruction or even into abstention. We have heard some strong words already this evening from the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. 889 Ian Paisley), speaking for the Democratic Unionist Party, who is about the best supporter that my right hon. Friend has at present of his legislation.
It is unfortunate that we cannot amend the order. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) asked what was the haste. Indeed, there are strong arguments for postponement. The date of the election should be fixed so that the election can be held for Assembly seats based on the new parliamentary constituencies of Northern Ireland. That is the logic of the legislation. In so far as there is any feeling in the Province about the Assembly, it is that that should be so. As one who does not want the Assembly at all, I ask, in a constructive spirit, for the deferment of the order.
We welcome the Secretary of State back from the United States of America. In an editorial, The Christian Science Monitor quotes my right hon. Friend as saying:We must get to the stage where people are responsible for their own decisions or else the extremists will flourish.Judging from recent atrocities, the Act and the prospect held out by the order do not constitute any particular deterrent to terrorism. For what it is worth, it has always been my view that the terrorists are encouraged by every such political initiative, because it gives the impression that Ministers are uncertain about what should be done and are lukewarm in their maintenance of the Union.
In The Irish Times of 14 July Mr. John Hume is reported to have said of my right hon. Friend:He tells the SDLP—and I think he should publicly say so—that he cannot conceive of an administration being formed without the SDLP but I'm quite sure he's not telling that to the Unionists.I do not know whether my right hon. Friend said that, but, if he said something like that, it confirms something that several of us said during our debates on the Bill. The devolved Administration on offer is most unlike ay to be taken up. According to the Minister of State, Lord Gowrie, the twenty-first century will probably arrive before the Act—so hastily passed under closure and guillotine—achieves its aims.
If the House accepts the order, we shall be left with an Assembly that will be expensive. Is it £1 million per annum? It is likely to be troublesome to Governments, to put it mildly, and we could have had such an Assembly without the legislation that the House has painfully enacted. Why have an Assembly? The right hon. Member for Down, South gave an explanation that related not to the good government of Northern Ireland, but to the celebrated Irish dimension and to the parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish Council.
I am a believer in a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. However, this is no way to promote it. If we are to pursue a proper partnership with the other sovereign State in the British Isles, it is essential to make sure of the Union. Otherwise, the people of Northern Ireland will not be carried with us. I wish that that simple point was understood.
The Social Democratic Party has attended the debate. I do not know whether it has resolved its differences with the integrationist Social Democratic Forum in Belfast. However, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made an interesting speech in Yorkshire on 16 July about the SDP's policy ofbreaking the mould of British politicsthrough 890a massive transfer of power, functions, personnel and public spending to 12 or 13 regional or national assemblies of Cabinet goverments".In his speech, my right hon. Friend referring to what he calledLabour's ill-thought out plans for Scotland and Walessaid:After rigorous examination, debate and referenda old style devolution was at the time generaly rejected by politicians and public alike as a costly diversion from Britain's pressing problems.Later he said:Latent nationalism in Scotland and Wales could once again be fuelled by separate insititutions, so threatening the Union.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am finding it difficult to relate the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the order that we are discussing, which is about the date of the election.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I said earlier that I wished for a postponement of the date of the election to an Assembly that I do not want. I shall conclude my remarks by saying, in the Chief Secretary to the Treasury's words, that the order is part of a process that is a costly diversion from the pressing problems of Northern Ireland and is part of a dark process which, again in the words of the Chief Secretary, threatens the Union.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)
The Government still seem to believe that the Northern Ireland people do not understand the effect of the legislation that has been passed. The Northern Ireland people understand clearly that this evening we are being called upon to pass an order for an election to an Assembly that the Government will consider successful only if it brings forward proposals for a power-sharing devolved structure in Northern Ireland. It is a system that the Northern Ireland people have long since rejected and will reject again.
We can leave on one side the 70 per cent. smoke-screen that has been bandied about since the earliest days of this legislation. Everyone in Ulster understands that what matters to the Government and the House is cross-community support. That is the polite way of promoting power-sharing. It is no use any politician in Northern Ireland saying that the first part of the legislation is OK—the election to the Assembly—and perfectly acceptable, because folk in Northern Ireland understand clearly where the election is supposed to lead. The Northern Ireland electorate is not interested in the method but in the end result, which they have already rejected. The power-sharing structure is the second part of the Act and one cannot have the second part without the first. If there were no election the power-sharing structure could never exist.
The party of which I am proud to be a member has been against power-sharing. We had hoped that it was dead and buried and would not be resurrected. It is quite clear that the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office hope to have that resurrection. I believe that they will be disappointed, but I am worried about the pain, misery and sorrow that Ulster will suffer before they are prepared to admit the reality of that disappointment. We have always known that Ulster could get a power-sharing devolved Parliament at any moment that we wished to accept it. The fact that we have been without such a structure for these past years is the clearest possible indication that we are not prepared to accept it. We were not prepared to accept it in the past and we shall not accept it in future.
891 The Secretary of State is setting up an Assembly to give him the answers and the structure that he wants. He will get the answers and the opinions of the people of Northern Ireland, and I believe that he will not like them. He has not liked the opinions that have been coming from the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland in the House. He would love to be able to say that we do not represent accurately the views of the Ulster electorate. He will find out two or three days after 20 October, whenever the results are known, that we reflect that opinion and that what we have said is the clearest voice and the most accurate reflection that he is likely to get.
It would have befitted the right hon. Gentleman if he had decided to accept majority rule. That is what we are after. He would have served the country and the Province far better if he had stopped hob-nobbing with the Republic and its Ministers, who provide shelter for the IRA and share its political objectives. He should have been trying to defeat that evil organisation rather than dicker with those who share its objectives.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) said that the terrorists are encouraged by every political initiative of this sort. I think that he was more accurate in using that phrase than he realised at the time. It struck me as one of the most telling phrases that has been used this evening. Every political initiative like this is aimed at power sharing, and power sharing is designed in the long run to take Ulster out of the United Kingdom and into an all-Ireland republic.
I have fought that objective all my life, both in politics and before. I shall continue to fight it and I believe that the people of Ulster will remain outside that united Ireland and in the United Kingdom whenever the Secretary of State has joined those who have tried a similar policy in the past.
§ Mr. Prior
With the leave of the House, I shall answer some of the questions that have been raised in the debate. I shall respond first to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), who is entitled to fight for his beliefs. No one in the House would wish to take that entitlement away from him. However, I ask him to turn from his rather dogmatic and doctrinaire view and to think about what has happened to the Province that he loves and the people that he loves over the past few years. The economy, security and the political situation have hardly given him the success that he might have had if he has shown a little less of the doctrinaire approach and a little more generosity of spirit to his fellow beings in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to disqualification. I have taken legal advice so that I may present an accurate account of the law as it stands. Disqualification from the Northern Ireland Assembly has been the subject of recent press speculation and some public controversy. It has, of course, been mentioned this evening.
First, the position on standing for election to the Assembly is that a candidate cannot be validly nominated unless he or she has consented to nomination. In giving this consent the candidate must state that he or she is aware of the provisions of the Northern Ireland Assembly 892 Disqualification Act 1975 and that to his or her knowledge and belief he or she is not disqualified from membership of the Assembly.
Secondly, once an election has taken place, it is open to any person who believes that a Member should be disqualified from taking his seat to lodge an election petition. If the petition were to be upheld, the Member would be unseated and there would have to be a by-election for that seat.
Thirdly, there have been suggestions that I could in some way remove or waive the grounds for disqualification that affect anyone in that position—Mr. Mallon's name has been mentioned—by exercising the power contained in section 3(3) of the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973. However, such a provision in an order under section 3(3) would be outside the ordinary meaning of the words that give the Secretary of State the power. It would amount to repeal of the provision in the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975. In the absence of words in the enacting provision which expressly authorise the amendment or omission of provisions from primary legislation, I am advised that it would be ultra vices to include such provisions in subordinate legislation.
In ordinary language, the purpose of the provision is to enable the Secretary of State to give the Assembly the power to waive disqualification where an honest mistake has been made by a Member and has been rectified. For example, if it were found, by chance, that someone held an office of profit under the Crown, that was pointed out to him after he had been elected and he said that he would resign from his office of profit under the Crown, that would be covered.
However, the provision in question does not get us over the difficulty posed by someone like Mr. Mallon's continuing membership of the Irish Senate. Primary legislation would be needed to change the law in that respect. Mr. Mallon has a difficult choice to make. He must decide whether he can best further the interests of those whom he wishes to serve by membership of the Irish Senate or by seeking election to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I naturally hope that he will choose the Northern Ireland Assembly, but he must be the judge of that.
As the right hon. Member for Mansfield mentioned, there is currently a review of the criteria for disqualification from the House. I understand that the report will go to my right hon. Friend the Lord President later this year. Although the disqualification criteria for the Northern Ireland Assembly are not wholly identical to those for the House, there is a close link between the two. I am convinced that the outcome of the review will have implications for disqualification criteria for the Assembly. I believe that the right course is to await that report and to consider at that point whether any provisions of the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975, including the provision that Members of non-Commonwealth legislature cannot be Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, require amendment. I have thought carefully about that sensitive and difficult issue and have concluded that the way that I suggest would be the right way to proceed. I make it absolutely plain that any changes in the circumstances that have been suggested in the past few days would require primary legislation.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
My right hon. Friend is leaving the matter open. There is a 893 clear issue of principle that he must either say that he agrees or does not agree with. To give the impression that it is a mere technicality that can be dealt with by way of a later inquiry and to leave the matter open is once again to leave an air of instability about something that is extremely sensitive.
§ Mr. Prior
I am prepared to wait until the report has been received by the Committee that is looking at the matter. In time it will be presented to the House. I do not have to state hypothetically what might be my view in future. I am stating the law. I am entitled to my view, and it is that we wait.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Is it not unfortunate to have on the record that a Minister says that he would like a certain gentleman to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly?
§ Mr. Prior
I do not think so. I have made it clear that if it is a case of his standing for the Northern Ireland Assembly or for the Senate, I hope that he will choose to stand for the Assembly. I hope that he will take that decision.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) referred to the Sloane affair. He asked me why we had not been able to deal with it before. I am anxious to deal with the allegations by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) as quickly as possible. The hon. Member for Antrim, South said in his letter to No. 10 that the author of the note about his interview with Mr. Abbott would make himself available to verify the information contained in his notes. Accordingly the head of the Civil Service arranged an interview which took place last Wednesday, 21 July. Mr. Sloane did not bring his original notes with him. He undertook to send them by post immediately, but the latest information is that they have not yet arrived.
When the right hon. Member for Down, South raised the matter in the House, he said twice that his hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South, would be sending all relevant particulars to the Prime Minister forthwith. His letter to No. 10, dated 29 June, was in keeping with that undertaking. I was puzzled that he should write again on 15 July stating that he and his colleague would be available separately to offer evidence and information if that would be helpful, since if either of them had any relevant evidence or information it should have been given in accordance with the undertaking in the House and in the letter of 29 June. I have asked the hon. Member for Antrim, South either to confirm that he has sent the evidence in his possession or to send any evidence that he has about the allegations concerning interviews with Mr. Abbott promised on 29 June.
Whatever else I may disagree with in the article by the right hon. Member for Down, South in the Sunday Express, I see that he has fallen into the habit of putting 894 into inverted commas statements drawn from that set of notes, as if they were specific statements, when he has said in the House that they are only notes.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion alleged that the Northern Ireland Office was keeping the door open to Irish unity. The Government's policy, as I have said times without number on the constitutional position, is enshrined in section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom for as long as the people of Northern Ireland wish. That Act makes provision for periodic border polls to establish their wish. It implies that if the majority vote at such a poll is against continuing as part of the United Kingdom, that wish will be respected. In that way our policy is securely founded on the democratic principle of self-determination, not as our enemies maintain, a quasi-colonial policy of keeping Northern Ireland under British rule, come what may.
It is in that sense, and in that sense alone, that the door is open to Irish unity at some time if the people there so wish. It is a gross distortion to suggest that this consistent policy of successive Governments is a conspiracy to work towards Irish unity. As the hon. Member for Antrim, North said in what I thought was his election speech—I suspect that many people will hear it in the next few weeks and months—the people of Northern Ireland will decide the issue and it is right that they should. I believe and have always believed that the less that is done in London and Dublin behind the backs of the people of Northern Ireland the better it will be. That will deny the right hon. Member for Down, South the view that everything that happens is a conspiracy.
§ Mr. Amery
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Would he remember that it was that type of lukewarm formula, that one would retain British sovereignty over the area for so long as the people so wanted it, that led to so many misunderstandings about the Falkland Islands and allowed the Foreign Office to try gradually to coax the Falkland islanders into union? Many of us are anxious that that is what my right hon. Friend is trying to do.
§ Mr. Prior
The two are not in any way comparable.
Anyone who knows Northern Ireland or its people understands that, irrespective of whether there is one or a dozen Acts of Parliament, if the people of Northern Ireland are not prepared to join the South, they will not do so. Unification can be achieved only by consent. It would not matter whether there was an Act of Parliament; it could not and would not happen. Anyone who knows the people of Northern Ireland must understand that. It is not difficult. They are an independent-minded people. They will not be pushed around, and quite right too. That is the position and remains the position.
I turn now to the number of Assembly members per constituency and why we have gone ahead on the basis of 12 rather than 17 constituencies. I am aware that some political parties in Northern Ireland are critical of the fact that the election will be held on the basis of the existing 12 parliamentary seats. I have said before that the Boundary Commission report on the number of Assembly Members who are to be returned for each of the 17 new parliamentary constituencies would be implemented for the election only if it were received in sufficient time for the political parties and the chief electoral officer and his staff to organise on the basis of the new constituencies.
895 I have not yet received the Boundary Commission's report. There can be no question now of any changes—which must be effected by Order in Council—being made in time for the election of 20 October. However, the allocation of seats in paragraph 11 of schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland Act 1982 is based on the 1982 local government register, which is the most up-to-date record available for the distribution of the Northern Ireland electorate.
I understand that the Boundary Commission will present its final recommendations to me in September. It deserves credit for finishing its unique task—unique in view of the considerable number of new constituencies—as quickly as it has. In no way would it make it possible to hold the election this autumn. I know that it would suit some hon. Members if it could not be held this autumn. It is important that the elections be held as soon as is reasonably convenient so that the people of Northern Ireland can make their decision at the polling booth and the Assembly can start to get down to the important work that must be done.
It is easy to find fault with any system and with any wish that one may have for Northern Ireland. I hope that perhaps we can unite in our desire to see this Assembly succeed and Northern Ireland prosper. Heaven knows, that part of the United Kingdom deserves our support and help. It is my wish, and that of the House, that we can lead it to a more prosperous and stable future.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 66, Noes 11.896
|Division No. 293]||[2.45 am|
|Alexander, Richard||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Butler, Hon Adam|
|Ancram, Michael||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Chalker, Mrs. Lynda|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Cope, John|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Blackburn, John||Dover, Denshore|
|Dunn, James A.||Parris, Matthew|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Roper, John|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Hooson, Tom||Scott, Nicholas|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Silvester, Fred|
|Lang, Ian||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Speller, Tony|
|Major, John||Sproat, Iain|
|Marlow, Antony||Stainton, Keith|
|Mather, Carol||Thompson, Donald|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)|
|Mayhew, Patrick||Viggers, Peter|
|Mellor, David||Waddington, David|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Waller, Gary|
|Moate, Roger||Warren, Kenneth|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Watson, John|
|Neale, Gerrard||Wells, Bowen|
|Needham, Richard||Wickenden, Keith|
|Neubert, Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Normanton, Tom||Mr. Peter Brooke and|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Mr. Alastair Goodlad.|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Farr, John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Mr. William Ross and|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Mr. Christopher Murphy.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Day of Election) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 14th July, be approved.