§ Amendment proposed [15 June]: No. 39, in page 3, line 13, leave out from 'Ireland', to end of line 17.—[Mr. J. Enoch Powell.]
§ Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.3.39 pm
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
I remind the Committee that we are also discussing the following amendments: No. 40, in page 3, line 13, leave out'which is not an excepted or reserved matter'
No. 129, in page 3, line 13, after 'Northern Ireland', insert'except the organisation and operations of the Royal Ulster Constabulary'.
Government amendments Nos. 133 and 134.
No. 130, in page 3, line 17, at end insert'unless it is a matter pertaining to the organisation or operations of the Royal Ulster Constabulary'.No. 143, in page 3, line 17, at end insert'which shall include the accounts of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland'.
No. 42, in page 3, line 17, at end, insert—'(2) The matters referred to in subsection (1) shall not extend to any complaints or representations made by any member of the public in respect of his personal circumstances'.
No. 144, in page 3, line 33, at end insert' and—No. 145, in page 3, line 33, at end insert
- (b) the Assembly shall present to the Secretary of State an Annual Report on the accounts referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of this section'.'and—Government amendment No. 135.
- (c) the Assembly shall present to the Secretary of State an Annual Report on any transferred matters for which an order has been made under paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section 2 above.'.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I think it has been accepted by the Committee that, in practice, the Bill cannot impose effective limitations on the matters to be debated by the new Assembly, if it ever takes shape. Although the Assembly will have no real influence and power over a wide range of matters, that will not prevent the members of the Assembly from debating those matters.
The district councils are in a similar position because they have no power over or responsibility for the Government's monetary policies, no powers over major financial allocations through the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland and no real powers over security. Every time that there is a crisis—a security crisis, an upsurge in violence or the closure of a major factory—the district 955 councils immediately go into special session, for which I do not blame them, and produce a unanimous resolution saying only that they have no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.
The Committee is naive if it imagines that the new Assembly will behave in a different way. It will have no control over many matters. Indeed, it will have no control over any matters at first. Judging by remarks made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee over the past three or four days, it never will have real responsibilities as opposed to theoretical ones. But it can protest, pass resolutions and pass votes of no confidence.
At a late hour last night the Secretary of State told the Committee that the House would pay due regard to the Assembly's resolutions. I wonder what view he would take of a resolution that expressed no confidence in the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and in Her Majesty's Government. Would he give that resolution a fair wind and say that he felt that he had a duty to the Assembly Members, although it was critical of the Secretary of State, to bring their resolution to the attention of the House of Commons? Would he say to the House, as he said last night, that he trusted that, being a democratic body it would pay due regard to the resolution?
I am afraid that a new elected Assembly will not be deterred by paper restrictions. Several hon. Members said last night that no matter what devices we built into the Bill, they would not be effective because they would not prevent the Assembly from discussing whatever took its fancy.
The Secretary of State has consistently underestimated the Assembly's capacity to create difficulties. It is all very well for him to say, as he has on other occasions, that it will not cause problems. Like the rest of us, he has a thick skin and is not unduly worried by criticism. But this would be more than criticism. It would not be criticism from the Ulster Farmers Union, the CBI in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry or the Trades Union Congress in Northern Ireland, but an expression of no confidence in the Secretary of State, coming from a newly-elected body representing the people of Northern Ireland in a way that the various other voluntary and trade bodies and institutions cannot be held to represent them. What would be the right hon. Gentleman's position in the aftermath of a unanimous decision by the Assembly, within a month of its being brought into existence, that it had no confidence in Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman could shrug that off, but in the face of United Kingdom opinion and world opinion, would he not have some difficulty in claiming that he had a moral right to govern a Northern Ireland whose freshly elected representatives had said that they wanted the Secretary of State to go? For it would be put in those crude terms. Those representatives would not be in the habit of wrapping things up in civilised terminology, as we are accustomed to do in this place. It would be a straightforward and—let me break the convention and speak illustratively—it would be a blunt, brutal, bloodthirsty campaign. "Prior must go" is what it would amount to.
Such a campaign, spearheaded by a freshly elected Assembly, would make life very difficult for the Secretary of State. It would also have another undesirable effect.
956 The Secretary of State is well aware that at times we feel very strongly on particular issues, because such an issue arose in his previous incarnation as Secretary of State for Employment. At a time when it was popular to bash the unions, we had the courage—as the Secretary of State recognised on a previous occasion—to stand up for his view that we must try to take people along with us, that by and large it must be done by consent and that we must avoid the errors of the early 1970s.
That independence of mind and attitude could not be exhibited again once an Assembly was in action on our home ground. "Acting as a home guard" is not exactly the right description; it conjures up rather too benevolent a picture. The Committee has not really studied the point, or become aware of all its implications.
The Secretary of State said that he would want to ask the advice and opinions of the Assembly. He can therefore hardly blame the Assembly and the representatives elected to it if they give him such advice, and it cannot be treated as just one more opinion. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State, his fellow Ministers and the Northern Ireland Office for the efficiency of their mechanism for consultation on, for example, proposals for a draft order. They are good enough to circulate such proposals, usually with an explanatory note, and they are generally very willing to receive deputations from interested bodies and institutions to clarify and elaborate on any submissions which they may have put in.
Ultimately, however, the Secretary of State, with his Ministers and the civil servants in the appropriate Department, can sit around a table with a mass of paper and on the basis of that they can expect something of value and can form a judgment. If it happens that some fairly powerful body gives a view contrary to that of central Government policy, the Secretary of State has until now been able to set it aside on the ground that that body's view and its advice are outweighed by all the other submissions which he has received. The right hon. Gentleman will therefore make a judgment that is a compromise of sorts between the various conflicting views put in the form of submissions.
That will not be the position once the Assembly takes form, because the Secretary of State will presumably refer a proposal for a draft order to the Assembly. The Assembly, he hopes, will take a view—he will not be disappointed in that; it certainly will take a view—and there is a fair chance that it will be a unanimous view and also that it will be a view which the Secretary of State and Her Majesty's Government will not like and will not wish to approve. This then is another recipe for conflict not just in the Government but between the House of Commons and the Assembly.
Still on the subject of proposals for draft orders and draft orders themselves, a view may be taken in the Assembly and, when the Northern Ireland Committee convenes in this building, that it may come to an entirely different conclusion, because that Committee, consisting of hon. Members representing constituencies throughout the United Kingdom, will perhaps take a more balanced view of an issue which will look quite different to an Assembly consisting solely of Ulster men and women sitting in Belfast.
I have never been able to resolve in my own mind this conundrum: how we shall get over the real danger of conflict. It will be bad enough in the Northern Ireland Committee; it would be 10 times worse on an order of 957 considerable importance which warranted the order being taken on the Floor of the House and not in the Northern Ireland Committee or Statutory Instruments Committee. One view would be taken on the Floor of the Assembly and a contrary view would be taken on the Floor of this House on the same issue. That again is a recipe for conflict and a great deal of tension and friction.
To summarise what I have said, in addition to seeking the opinions of various interested bodies in Northern Ireland on proposals for a draft order, the Secretary of State will seek the views of a corporate body, which will give an opinion which cannot be ignored or rejected because it is the view of a body brought into being by the Secretary of State himself.
If the Secretary of State sought an opinion on something controversial and he had a clear-cut verdict from the Assembly which was clearly in conflict with his own ideas and with the policies of Her Majesty's Government, what would he do? Would he ignore that verdict or would he act contrary to it? If he were to act contrary to it, I am afraid that there would be an outburst of understandable fury in the Assembly.
I want to deal briefly with the point which seemed to be causing the Secretary of State some difficulty. It arose from the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about duplicated representation, where a Member of Parliament represents his constituency, with five or, in my case, 10 Assembly Members milling about over the same territory. The Secretary of State seemed to suggest that that was an argument against devolution and a reason why Stormont should never have existed.
I speak as a Northern Ireland Member who has lived through all the various phases, having come into this place when Stormont existed, when I had in my constituency of Antrim, South four Stormont Members who were responsible to the Stormont Parliament. Therefore, the Stormont Ministers were answerable and accountable to them. No great difficulty arose, because there was a Stormont Member, for example, for the borough of Lisburn, which was approximately in its present form. If a problem was sent to me by a constituent—a matter of roads, planning, health and social services or something of that nature—I naturally passed it to the appropriate Stormont Member. There was no difficulty in his then making representations on that matter, by correspondence, on the Floor of the House in Stormont or in Committee, and in having the grievance redressed without further reference to me.
I was acting constitutionally, as I understood it, in recognising that there was a body, a local Member of Parliament, and a Minister at Stormont who was responsible for dealing with the problem. I was going through the proper channels. I think that that practice was adopted at that time by all my colleagues representing constituencies in Northern Ireland.
The situation changed in 1972 when Stormont was abolished. It was followed by the period of the convention—perhaps it was more than a convention—that I could not table questions on any of the subjects in the Table Office. If I attempted to do so I was told that there was a Minister responsible for that function at Stormont, 958 that I should write to him but that I could not table a question either in the House or at Stormont. Naturally, I could not table a question at Stormont.
That situation continued until the Assembly came into being. It is interesting to note that, from the very first day that the Executive came into being at Stormont, almost a steel shutter came down in the Table Office. Before Stormont was abolished there were, particularly from the Opposition Benches, howls of protest over the fact that for 50 years hon. Members could not investigate everyday affairs in Northern Ireland or table questions on these issues and transferred matters.
A curious silence descended on those hon. Members once the shutters went down for the period of the power-sharing Executive. I do not remember a single complaint being made when those hon. Members were told, "I'm sorry, boys, but you are back to the 50-year problem. You cannot meddle while the Executive lasts. You can no longer meddle in what is probably Stormont's function." With the collapse of the Executive, we moved on.
I now come to a rather more interesting operation. In a sense it is more of a parallel to what the Secretary of State proposes in the form of the Assembly, which initially will not have powers—
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
The hon. Member will be pleased to know that the Labour Party will have something more to say about the matter shortly.
Before I pursue that point, may I put this to the hon. Gentleman? It is beginning to sound as though the hon. Gentleman's main concern is the possible loss of power and influence of Members of this House to the Assembly. Although we all want to defend the rights of Members of this House, it is particularly important that if an Assembly can be set up that is seen and felt to be operating fairly we should not withhold powers from that Assembly.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I shall come to that point. I would say on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends that we shall look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley)—I do not say that facetiously—and to his further contribution on the valid point that he has made? I am glad that, if I have achieved nothing else this afternoon, I have perhaps persuaded him to break his vow of silence and to tell us the view of the official Opposition on the matter.
I think that the Secretary of State was displaying some interest in the point. It is a valuable lesson, especially in regard to that period—perhaps a lengthy period—during which the Assembly will exist but have no real power. A parallel existed while the Northern Ireland Convention was in session. The Convention was brought into being charged with only one responsibility, which was to agree on a constitution and a settlement and a form of government for Northern Ireland, and to do nothing else.
A curious thing then happened. Approaches were made to the Secretary of State by members of the Convention who said, "We are being got at by those who elected us. They wrongly expect us to be able to put right their grievances and to solve their problems." The then Secretary of State decided that he would grant them rights of access to Ministers. In other words, he would treat them as though they were Stormont Members of Parliament, although there was no justification for doing so because they were not, and never would be, in control of Stormont 959 Departments. No Westminster Minister was answerable to the Convention and could not be because they were not intended to do that sort of job.
I shall illustrate that point, which may interest the Secretary of State because he touched on it early this morning. It may clarify his thinking and be of help to the Committee. My problem as the Member of Parliament for Antrim, South was that I had eight members of the Convention in my constituency. When I received a complaint from a constituent about, for example, a planning problem, I would write to the appropriate Minister at the Northern Ireland Office. I would receive a courteous acknowledgement and then, perhaps at the end of three or four weeks, depending on how complicated the problem was, the Minister would reply: "Further to my acknowledgment of your letter of such and such a date, I think that I can do no better than to forward to you a copy of the letter which I have sent to Convention member Mr. Smith", or whoever it might be.
It would not end there, because I should discover that up to five members of the Convention for South Antrim, scattered over all sorts of political parties and all unknown to each other, would be working on the same problem. Six of us would be unwittingly wasting the time of the unfortunate Minister on the receiving end.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Can the hon. Gentleman help me, because my recollection of those days has become a little dim? Is he saying that members of the Constitutional Convention assumed the functions of representatives for the purpose of constituents' problems and grievances, and that they could take those problems to Ministers? Was there then great confusion? Did they refer to Members of Parliament and sent them copies of letters?
§ Mr. Molyneaux
It was not uncommon for them to yield to the temptation and the totally false belief, which I expect hon. Members occasionally encounter, that the more Members of Parliament who were asked to deal with a problem the better. Constituents do not seem to realise that that creates endless confusion and probably delays the resolution of the problem. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) asked whether it led to confusion. I testify that it led to enormous confusion.
I often found that the approaches of the five Convention members in South Antrim were all on different lines. There is a curious inability on the part of many constituents to put pen to paper, so many of the approaches to Convention members would be verbal. It is therefore hardly surprising that they received different versions of the problem; nor is it surprising that when they conveyed their request to the Minister there was great variation in the approach and the outline of the problem. That led to confusion and, and even worse, to delay.
Allegations of negligence could have been made against a junior planning officer by one representative, and then a counter or similar allegation made against a roads officer. That made it very difficult, not only for the Minister in the Department, but for his officials, particularly in the Department of the Environment, to check the various road services, planning services and other departments.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)
The hon. Gentleman is on to a serious and 960 difficult point. Some of the difficulties that I think he is portraying are endemic in the political system anyhow, even here, in what is a well-ordered system. I should have thought that this is something that we could look at sensibly, either between the rules committee of the Assembly and the Ulster Members of this House, with myself perhaps taking a part so that we could come to at least some understanding on how the question should be dealt with in future.
I agree that the hon. Gentleman has raised a difficult and important problem, but I do not believe that it is one that is insuperable, or that it should prevent us from going ahead with what is, I think, an otherwise sensible suggestion.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that constructive and sympathetic response to the points that I have been endeavouring to put forward, perhaps in a clumsy way. I am sure that he would have our co-operation in attempting to resolve the problem, because—as I know he would accept—it is not in anyone's interests, least of all those of our constituents, that there should be such confusion.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
I was a Minister at the time of the Convention and was present when this problem started. At the beginning of the Convention, when we had 78 new members, what the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said was true. There was some confusion among those members as to what exactly were their rights and their obligations to their constituents. However, we learnt to cope with the problem and the members of the Convention coped also.
However, we must understand that the vast majority of Convention members were either councillors or Members of Parliament at the same time, and therefore they were already initiated in the work. I should not be surprised if the new Assembly were made up of councillors, Members of Parliament and MEPs. However, that does not detract from the hon. Gentleman's point. Certainly, at the start of the Convention there was utter confusion, and the Ministers had sometimes in some areas to take up a problem five times from five different political parties. If one party did not get satisfaction, the Minister would find it on his desk from the second.
I think that the question needs looking at, and that some guidelines should be put down to show Assembly Members what their rights and obligations are in this matter.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I know that he was at the receiving end of many missives from me—missiles might be a more appropriate word—and some were worded in strong language, during his term at the Northern Ireland Office.
I know that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North did not mean to suggest it, but his remarks may have been interpreted as implying that some of us might be a little jealous of other people poaching on our preserves. However, he has confirmed that that was not his intention.
We do not object to some of the work load being hived off, but the problem is that in this case, in the foreseeable future, the power to resolve problems will not be transferred anywhere else. The power to resolve the problems and to hold Ministers accountable will remain in this House unless and until an Executive—partial or total—is formed in Northern Ireland. We must be realistic 961 and face the fact that that will not come for a long time, and, in the opinion of some of us, may never come. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of our regarding ourselves as exclusive brethren and that we resent others interfering in our domain.
§ Mr. Soley
"Jealousy" is the wrong word, because that has moral connotations which I certainly did not intend.
If the Assembly is to be effective, leaving aside its acceptability, those in it must have some power and influence. That is likely to be done at the expense, to some extent, of other people. Other people normally do not like giving up power and influence. That is a human reaction, but it may be necessary for Members of this House and other people to accept that if the powers are to be effectively carried out by the Assembly, that will necessarily involve some loss of interest in a particular area, and that may be no bad thing.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I readily accept that, but that is stage two. I have tried to make it clear that I am in no way objecting to some of that power being hived off, provided that, to use the hon. Gentleman's own words, the functions are being effectively discharged elsewhere—at Stormont.
I am not simply concerned about the interim period. We must be realistic about this and face the fact that for a long time there may be nothing other than an Assembly. Even if that Assembly is exercising powers of scrutiny and advice and so on, that will still not equip its Members to deal with constituents' problems as they ought to be dealt with, as they are dealt with in this House and as they were dealt with in the old Stormont Parliament.
I know that we are in a difficulty because the amendment on the advisory powers, to put it no higher than that, and on the limited influence on the affairs of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has not yet been moved. However, I wish to make my party's position clear. There has been an upsurge in the demand for devolution since last November. It reached its peak when there were seven murders in one week, culminating in the murder of Mr. Bradford, my late hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South.
It was interesting that at that time people said that we must get Stormont back to stop the killing. People who took that view then still take it. There has been no great change. It is clear that what is being offered will not be equipped to do that and that even in the long term it will not be an effective instrument to stop the killing, because to stop the killing would imply that the Executive would be in control of the security forces. I can accept all the problems arising from that, but the Convention report made it clear that the members were at that time in favour of the restoration of control over security.
Direct rule came about because the last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland flatly refused to carry on when his Government were being deprived of the control of security and of law and order. If we are conjuring up visions in the minds of the people of Northern Ireland or if they are deluding themselves into believing that they are going to stop the killings—I use the common phrase—and will, therefore, have real power over security, we must come clean with them and explain that in no circumstances will the Bill permit them to have that kind of control.
I am not arguing the merits of that, but it would be wrong to mislead people in Northern Ireland into believing 962 that they had some influence over security simply because we give them an advisory committee of the Assembly to discuss certain matters pertaining to the RUC or to the police authority.
To sum up, my party believes that we must come clean about security. It must be all or nothing. We must at all costs avoid encouraging people to believe that, when the Assembly is set up or an Executive is possibly formed later, there will be a dramatic improvement in security. Unless the legislation is changed radically later, the power to achieve any of that certainly does not lie in any Ulster hands.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
As I understand it, this group of amendments relates to the Assembly before it is endowed with devolved powers and responsibilities. As is already apparent from the speeches we have heard on these amendments, they raise some important and interesting topics which are relevant not only to Northern Ireland but to other parts of the United Kingdom.
This is the phase of what some people call the talking shop—the period during which Members of the Assembly will be able to debate, in practice, almost any subject, but will have no responsibility for the subjects being debated. We are therefore immediately faced with the menace of power without responsibility—power to influence, to cause trouble and to stir up disaffection, to agitate, and to make demands, without the concomitant of a democratic society of taking responsibility for measures to deal with those subjects.
One of the big weaknesses of the proposed Assembly is the absence of any representatives of Government within it. If there is a representative of Government, of the Executive, of those who have responsibility for the use of executive power in a legislature, then arguments, criticisms and questions can always be answered from the authority and background of that executive authority. If no representative of the central Government is present in the early stages of the Assembly, we shall be stirring up a hornet's nest and a great deal of trouble for ourselves in the future. Who knows when we may reach the stage when powers are transferred to the Assembly?
Meanwhile, the great problems of violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland which excite everyone and cause considerable controversy everywhere, and especially in Northern Ireland, will arouse fierce passions and cannot fail to be represented in this very Assembly which does not have the stabilising factor of direct Government representation.
One can foresee difficulties on security. Many people in Northern Ireland have an interest in stirring up trouble, in arousing dissent, in provoking violence. One can imagine that the IRA will be anxious to exploit the opportunities it has, and may have, in discussion of subjects connected with security, and one wonders how long the experiment will last before either, according to the way in which the Secretary of State may look at it, we make progress and power is devolved, or the House of Commons becomes convinced that the experiment is useless and, if anything, has only exacerbated the situation. I confess that my judgment, for what it is worth, is that the result will be the latter rather than the former.
But while the Assembly is in existence, as an institution it will be a serious rival for national attention with the House of Commons itself. It will provide a focus for 963 national controversies, which will be debated there. Its level of interest for the media will no doubt be at the national level and it will have the weakness that there will be no countervailing weight, influence or power by central Government. Is it not bound, therefore, to promote a sense of irresponsibility among the Members concerned?
I am particularly impressed by the arguments about the relative positions of Members of this Parliament and Members of the Assembly and the way in which their duties and responsibilities will be exercised. I can well understand from the examples given by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) that there will be confusion over who is responsible for dealing with constituents' complaints. From what we can foresee, it appears that there will be no fewer than five Members of the Assembly for each parliamentary constituency. Therefore, each Member of this place will have the embarrassment, if I may so describe it, of having five persons within what it is expected will eventually become a law-making Assembly representing the same area that he represents here. Considering the matter further, hon. Members in this place will have less and less power.
That is my reaction to the comment by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) during his intervention to put the Labour Party's point of view. His eyes were simply and solely upon the Assembly and he said that, in order that it should have a useful function, it was essential for its Members to be given some power. He did not examine the whole concept and see that such powers can be given only at the expense of this place. Presumably, he underrates the difficulties of the West Lothian question which will arise. [Interruption.] There will be a revolution, says the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon)
§ Mr. Stanbrook
That is a peaceful form of change at any rate. Devolution has at its heart a weakness for our democracy. We have not heard, or at least I have not read, that the SDP's constitutional remedy for such constitutional difficulties that we may have in this country is similar to that of the Liberal Party, which I understand is to have a whole series of Governments within a federal system. Such a system would result only in increasing bureaucracy and the burden of government on ordinary citizens.
As I have said before in these debates, I believe that legislative devolution is incompatible with the unity of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North is quite prepared to accept that, it would seem. He is anxious about that part of the United Kingdom only because, as I understand it, Labour Party policy has not yet developed to the stage of seeking devolution for every other region of the United Kingdom. At this stage, the Labour Party is prepared to consider a system for Northern Ireland that will have the effect of diminishing the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom over that region.
§ Mr. Tom Arnold (Hazel Grove)
Will my hon. Friend say why that would be incompatible in future if it was not incompatible before 1972?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
The principle is the same and I still believe in it. I have always thought we have been correct in our approach to the problem of devolution. The fact that Stormont was an anomaly is what we are talking about 964 when we cite it as a precedent. If my hon. Friend is saying that Stormont was a good precedent and that what existed in Northern Ireland for 50 years until its abolition was a good example of devolution, no doubt he will make that case in the de bate when he may advocate devolved assemblies for Scotland, Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, one cannot say that the constitutional framework that was developed for Northern Ireland on the secession of Southern Ireland from the United Kingdom was satisfactory. I do not believe that even my hon. Friend would say that. The circumstances and difficulties which led to its abolition are the very circumstances and difficulties that we are discussing today and for which we are still trying to find solutions.
I do not favour any form of legislative devolution. One of the chief objections is that very problem—the importance, significance and usefulness of Members of Parliament.
I was interested in what was said about the conflict of powers, duties and influences where there is more than one legislature for an area. Although not a parallel case, there is a similar cage which should be of interest to the Committee. I refer to the effect of the system of proportional representation that has been adopted in West Germany for the purposes of its central legislature. That country has what is known as the topping-up system of proportional representation.
Recently, I met a member of the German Federal Assembly who had been elected in the normal way, having had a majority of the votes cast in his constituency. Unfortunately for him, there is also in the same Assembly a Member who was the candidate whom my friend defeated in the election—defeated so well that my friend had an absolute majority of the votes. Nevertheless, the other legislator is in the German Federal Assembly because he is one of its topping-up members. He was not elected to represent that constituency, but he does, and he behaves in the constituency as if he were fully authorised and justified in carrying on his duties as a legislator. And why not? After all, that is the provision; that is the way that the law in Germany works.
What is worse for my friend is that he is a member of the Opposition and the topped—up member who represents the same constituency, and lives there, is a member of the Government party. The result is that the other gentleman, who my friend says is not democratically elected, and who was rejected by the constituency and obtained only a small minority of the votes, appears in that constituency to have much more influence and power—and, within the German system, which must be different from ours, much more favour and privilege—because he is a member of the Government party.
That seems to be a fundamental weakness of the German system, but it illustrates the point that we shall encounter if we reach the stage at which, in Northern Ireland at least, a Member or Members of the Assembly affects to operate at a legislative level when there are Members of this House who are concerned about national affairs and, under our law, responsible for them.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
I have followed closely the hon. Gentleman's argument against devolution. I noted with interest that it was one of his hon. Friends who rose to defend it. I suspected that hon. Members opposite would be jumping to their feet to defend the Stormont Administration. As that did not happen, I put 965 it to the hon. Gentleman, as the people of Northern Ireland would, that at a security level Northern Ireland was better off during the days of its devolved Parliament and Government. It was better off on an economic level, and there was certainly a greater feeling of constitutional security. Our present situation is undoubtedly evidence of constitutional decline since direct rule. So the view in Northern Ireland is that during that period devolution was good for the Province.
The simple argument of the hon. Gentleman seems to be against legislative, as opposed to administrative, devolution. I felt that he was rebuking his hon. Friend for suggesting that what took place prior to 1972 might have been a good example of devolution. However, does he not agree that if there were any differences, on the traditions in Northern Ireland, about types of devolution, they were about administration, not about legislation, and that therefore his case does not really stand, because there was no dispute on legislation?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Naturally, I defer to the hon. Gentleman's far greater experience of the application of the devolution principle under Stormont in Northern Ireland. I accept to a great extent what he says. However, I doubt that anyone could say that the old Stormont system could have survived the reign of terror and violence that has been perpetrated in more recent years, since the abolition of Stormont. Perhaps Northern Ireland was relatively more peaceful during the years of Stormont's administration, but equally one could say that Stormont's abolition was a political remedy for what in essence was a security problem that might have been more properly resolved by military means.
I do not know. I do not affect to have great expertise in the matter. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the old Stormont system worked well, I must accept, in principle, that it should have worked well, because it was based on the fundamental democratic principle of rule by the majority. Since its abolition, the normal democratic principle has been suspended and almost no progress has been possible, or, indeed, offered or considered by the United Kingdom, which does not command the support of the minority.
I said before that I do not see how such a principle can be defended. Certainly it cannot be defended indefinitely. That is why we are always talking about interim solutions for Northern Ireland. Sooner or later we must revert to the normal democratic principle that the majority has its way after the minority has had its say. That should apply to Northern Ireland as much as it does, thank goodness, to the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Is my hon. Friend saying that we could go back to a system where a devolved Government exists and the minority always submits to the majority's decisions? Does he not prefer to bring the Northern Ireland people into the wider framework of the United Kingdom, so that the minority can rest completely secure under the protection of this Parliament?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If I gave the impression that I was an advocate of the Stormont system or its re-establishment, I wish to withdraw such an impression. My view is that peace on a long-term basis 966 will be obtained in Northern Ireland only when we treat Northern Ireland, constitutionally, in the same way that we treat every other part of the United Kingdom. That must mean a full system of local government with proper and full democratic representation for the population in this House.
We have made some progress and we look forward to seeing more members from Northern Ireland in the next Parliament. I hope that we shall eventually restore another tier of local government. Once that is done, Northern Ireland should be administered in the same way as are Wales and Scotland, and we shall no longer be holding Northern Ireland, constitutionally speaking, at arm's length, which I believe is one of the causes of the present most unsatisfactory position.
I was dealing with the relationships between the legislature and others concerned in representing a constituency in other bodies, but we all have problems. I am sure that hon. Members have problems in replying to constituents' letters. It is understandable that the average member of the public in this country with a grievance may not know precisely where to go for a remedy, but he usually knows that he has a Member of Parliament to redress his grievances. I am sure that I am no exception in that respect. As a result, we receive many letters, complaints, telephone calls and representations from constituents about subjects which concern local government alone. It could even be said that that extended to the European level, because we are expected to cope with problems which are supposed to be the responsibility of Members of the European Assembly.
I always tell constituents who ask me about roads, housing, and so on that they have councillors who were elected to represent them and who are actually members of an authority that has legal power over those matters. Therefore, individual councillors to whom I refer constituents' letters can take action. A councillor is not merely a legislator as are most of us. We can talk, draw attention to grievances and express our contituents' opinions, whereas he, as a committee member or, in any event, as a member of an authority, can, with his colleagues, take collective decisions. When people understand that, they understand that they are part of a fully functioning democratic system such as we fortunately possess here.
However, one can clearly see the difficulties that will be caused by this sort of duplication of responsibility in Northern Ireland at whatever stage is reached under the Bill. I believe that it is tragic that the Government did not accept the view that a fully democratic system in Northern Ireland simply needed an upper tier of local government. We have already debated that issue, but my point is that the Assembly which we are creating will be something of a misnomer—something which will be the subject of much ignorance and misunderstanding. It will also be involved in a great many questions over which it will have no control, responsibility or power to take action. Yet there are so many matters that need to be discussed concerning the average British citizen, the average man in the street or family in Northern Ireland. There should be a discussion forum for those problems.
Most of those problems would, if they existed elsewhere in the United Kingdom, be covered by local government. The hon. Member for Antrim, South referred to roads, planning, health and social services. Clearly those important subjects relate to individuals in Northern 967 Ireland. If there were a fully developed democratic system there, there would be authorities, councils or a forum in which those subjects could be not only discussed, but decided at local level.
It seems to me that the Government are wrong to lead people away from a perfectly healthy development, with normal democratic processes, which gives the same sort of democratic government that we have elsewhere in this country. Instead, they give the impression that the new Assembly and all the new processes and machinery of government which would be involved would be beneficial. I do not believe that. I think that it will increase people's problems. However there is the outstanding problem of the resolution of matters that concern local government alone, which cannot be resolved by district councils under their existing powers. They are naturally resolved elsewhere in the United Kingdom by an upper tier of local government, whether that means county councils or regions.
§ Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Committee is indebted to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) who has outlined what will be the real practical problems related to democracy and representation when the Assembly is formed? I remind my hon. Friend that there will be five Members of the Assembly for each constituency. My hon. Friend referred also to European Members. Will the hon. Gentleman explain what powers an hon. Member in this House will retain when representing his constituency?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I have already referred to that difficulty. I do not know what problems my hon. Friend is referring to with regard to his local Member of the European Assembly. The European Member who represents many constituencies, including my own, is also, perhaps fortunately for me, a Member of this House. Therefore, it is possible for me to ease our problems and avoid duplication of effort by personal contact. If we had to have an Assembly in Europe, I think that it would work better on the basis of a dual mandate provided it could physically be operated by the Members concerned. Personally, I am not averse to the idea of our electing from among our own number those whom we wish to form the delegation to the European Assembly every year.
§ The Chairman
Order. That is an interesting speculation but it has nothing to do with the amendment. Will the hon. Member please confine himself to it?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Yes, I agree with you, Mr. Weatherill, that it is an interesting subject. I shall not go into it further but I believe that it is important in relation to the powers which will be exercised, or perhaps influenced, by the new Assembly, on subjects for which a proper system of local government should be provided. I hope that the Government will find a way of converting all the good will and well-meaning concentration of attention upon the need to provide adequate representation for people in Northern Ireland in a democratic fashion into a local government structure. If we can transform the Assembly into a local government authority or means by which local government can be transacted—administrative devolution rather than legislative devolution—we may get something out of all this business.
We have made so many political initiatives in Northern Ireland and every one that has failed has made the next one that more difficult to succeed. This initiative looks like 968 going the way of all others. However, out of the difficulties, which have been created in the past and what I fear will be the result of the failure of this initiative, it is possible that we shall face the inevitability of integration, which must be the proper answer for Northern Ireland. It should be treated, in constitutional terms, similarly to any other part of the United Kingdom and be given full democratic rights, including that of local government. It could have a body such as the Assembly if necessary, or even more than one body as we said in our election manifesto, and in that way I am sure we would be providing solutions which would endure.
§ Mr. Soley
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate on behalf of the Labour Party. Having listened to the debate, particularly to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), one of the reasons why I am pleased to be speaking now is that I feel that the Committee is trying to improve the Bill and not just to filibuster. I say that recognising that the Right-wing members of the Conservative Party and the members of the Unionist Party, who have very strong feelings against the Bill, have every right to filibuster. I support them in that right, but they must not expect the Labour Party to join in a filibuster.
In the past two weeks, we have gone through three nights and are about to embark on our fourth night on the Bill. It is significant to look at the progress made with the Bill. I see the two small but significant moves made by the Government towards the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). I welcome those moves. We did that with the minium number of speeches, whereas we have had masses of speeches, as you know to your cost, Mr. Weatherill, indeed as we all know, from the Right wing of the Conservative Party and the Unionist Party. Those speeches have achieved very little.
It does not surprise me that little has been achieved, because what those hon. Members are doing—and we accept this—is filibustering.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Often it takes some time for us to be able to read our words in the Official Report. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has only just come into the Chamber. I am sure that he would wish to hear the significant remarks made by the hon. Gentleman about the important concessions that have been made to the Labour Party without the necessity of much debate by it. It is a view to which I have often pointed, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Antrim, North would wish to hear it.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Gentleman anticipated me. I was about to say a little more on that subject. I do not think he gave fair representation to my remarks. I said that there had been small but significant moves towards the position put by the Opposition. I suggest that the reason is that the issues were well argued over a relatively short period, and that the argument was put together well. We did not need to continue to do what the Right wing of the Conservative Party and various Unionist Parties felt it necessary to do, namely, to batter away at the Bill to prevent an attempt at rolling devolution in Northern Ireland.
That is what the debate is about, and as I and my right hon. Friend have said before from the Dispatch Box, the 969 people in Northern Ireland will be looking at this filibustering attempt as a party political game being played over a subject that is of great importance to them. I do not think that hon. Members should try to give the impression that there is some deal cooked up. It has to be dealt with on the basis of whether one tries to find a workable and fair form of local government for Northern Ireland. We say that the Secretary of State is making a serious attempt to find a fair form of government for Northern Ireland. We support that attempt.
§ Sir John Biggs—Davison
The hon. Gentleman is very fair, but he should not say that the defence of the Union—we regard the Bill as a threat to the Union—is a party political game. It is not party political. I hope that it is a national game.
§ Mr. Soley
If that were the case we would have seen a different series of amendments and heard many different speeches. I made the point, and I was about to make it again, that the problem for the Conservative Party is that it still does not know whether it is the Conservative and Unionist Party. I know that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) thinks that it is, and he is determined to fight in that corner. I know that some people feel that the Union can be sustained only by having a Northern Ireland that is recognised as being a different entity within that Union. That is a fair position within the Tory Party. Let us not pretend that that is not a massive and major split within the Tory Party.
While we are on the subject, let us look at the position of the Unionists, because it is difficult in these debates to know who is speaking for the Unionist cause. It is not just between the Democratic Unionists and the Official Unionists. It is also within the Official Unionist Party. So far as I understand the issue, the hon. Member for Antrim, South wants Stormont back. That does not sound to me as though that is what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) wants. The right hon. Member for Down, South seems to be looking for a completely integrated position. Those are fair and reasonable arguments, but let us not pretend that that is what the arguments have been centred on over the past days and nights.
I cannot let this occasion pass without mentioning a certain subject. As I am sure all hon. Members are aware, having sat through 15 June, that today is 16 June, which is a significant date. It is the date chosen by James Joyce for his hero Leopold Bloom to take his travels through Dublin in the early part of this century. It is significant, too, that the BBC, which always manages to broadcast these programmes when I cannot hear them, is putting out tonight an excerpt that deals with Leopold Bloom deciding to protect Stephen Dedalus on that journey, and to protect him from the dangers of the night. I am sure that that symbolism is not lost on the Secretary of State. I can only conclude that the Secretary of State is really Stephen Dedalus and that the Government Chief Whip will be appearing any time now in the form of Leopold Bloom to protect him from the serried ranks of the Right wing of the Conservative Party and, indeed, from the Unionists parties. We should not miss that historical aside.
Some of those who are prone to speak at length in the debates may be minded to get a copy of "Ulysses" from the Library. That book has about a thousand pages, and 970 it is often relevant to the problems of Northern Ireland, not least in the section dealing with the Cyclops and Prejudice. I would advise them, however, that I have taken the book out of the Library on the ground that, in the hands of some hon. Members on the Conservative Benches, it could be regarded as an offensive weapon.
§ Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Basildon)
The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for about 10 minutes. Although he is critical of some for what he terms a filibuster, I do not believe that he has as yet addressed his remarks to any of the amendments.
§ Mr. Soley
Perhaps what the hon. Gentleman means is that I am being too generous in giving way to interventions. I am glad to welcome back the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor). I am sorry that he was not with us last night but, no doubt, he will be in the Chamber throughout the night doing his usual job.
I want to move on to the amendments. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has tabled two amendments dealing with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to which he has not yet spoken. I do not want to deal with those amendments in my remarks until we hear what he has to say. I do not know what are his plans on those amendments, so I shall not deal with them now. The Government amendments dealing with reserve powers are significant and substantial, and the Opposition welcome them. They give the possibility of much wider debate and discussion, and potential influence and power in the Assembly. Those reserve matters were taken originally from the 1973 scheme.
I note that local authorities in Northern Ireland can discuss security. It does not seem unreasonable that the Assembly should also have the right to discuss what local authorities are discussing. The main sticking point for the Labour Party, as well as for the Government, is that the excepted matters such as defence and certain other aspects of security could not be devolved. Again, we note from the amendments, it is the policy of both Official Unionists and Democratic Unionists to try to get back all local powers, both reserved and other excepted powers. I do not feel that we could support that. That would be unacceptable to us because it would not give that cross-community support, the need for which is recognised in the White Paper, the papers published in 1973 and 1974, and in so much of the discussion that has taken place since then.
Significantly—I stress its significance—the problem has not been recognised to a great extent, with honourable exceptions, by other members of the Conservative Party and the Unionist parties, who have been seeking to block the Bill in the debates of the past days and nights. As I have said many times before in the House and elsewhere, it is pathetic nonsense to pretend, whether or not one agrees with it, that there are not two different national identities in Northern Ireland, which have had deep and lasting effects on the way in which Northern Ireland politics are conducted. If we try to duck that fact and talk around the problem instead of facing up to it, those problems will continue.
The problems may have grown much worse in 1979, but they have been present off and on to a greater or lesser extent for many years. They have a long history, and they will be dealt with effectively only when we face up to the way in which the division of Ireland took place in 1920.
971 That is one of the reasons why, when we looked at that point thoroughly in the paper prepared by the Labour Party, we concluded that the only sensible and progressive way forward for all the people in Northern Ireland, both the Unionists and Republican sympathisers, was to move towards a united Ireland, with consent. We still hold that view.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Does it follow from that that the hon. Gentleman and the Labour Party will support measures which, in their view, will tend towards the dissolution of the Union and oppose measures which in their view would tend to strengthen it?
§ Mr. Soley
By and large, yes. We are not in business to preserve the Union if we are talking about a united Ireland. Clearly it would be nonsense to talk about a united Ireland and to talk about intergration or full involvement of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. The two are obviously contradictory, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that. There has never been a difference between the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour Front Bench on that issue. It is a contradiction in terms to talk about a united Ireland by consent, on the one hand, and a United Kingdom that includes Northern Ireland, on the other.
§ Mr. Powell
Therefore, if on the whole the Labour Party wishes to see the Bill pass into law, we may assume that, in its view, the Bill tends not to strengthen and protect the maintenance of the Union, but to move in the direction of its dissolution.
§ Mr. Soley
Again the right hon. Gentleman anticipates me, and I hope not without reason.
An attempt has to be made to get the two communities in Northern Ireland to co-operate with each other, above all in political matters. At the moment, on both the Unionist and Republican side, paramilitary groups are able to operate because there is a degree of alienation from the existing political system. In putting it like that, I recognise that it is slightly over-simplified, but all right hon. and hon. Members know that the major problem is the existence of paramilitary groups on both sides which are not only killing other people but which are prepared themselves to die for a cause that they believe to be right. Whether or not we like it, it is a fact. It is a fact for me in facing up to the reality of the Unionist paramilitary groups, just as it is for someone else, with a contrary view, who must face the fact that Republicans are prepared to kill and die for their belief. We cannot duck that.
Yet sometimes when listening to this filibuster throughout the past few days and nights, I thought that the Right wing of the Conservative Party and some members of the Unionist Party had a desire to avoid facing up to that problem. I do not dispute that there is a difficulty about which side of the equation to come down on, or whether other alternatives are available. But it is incredibly dangerous and short-sighted to pretend that a problem does not exist and has not existed since long before 1969. It is not new.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that the Opposition do not think that the problem does not exist? The difference between us is how to deal with it.
§ Mr. Soley
Yes. The difference is how we deal with it, but I feel that the hon. Member is ignoring it. I put him in the camp of those who have said relatively little about how we deal with the concept of different identities.
I cannot remember when it was, but we have had long debates about what was the identity that the two communities talked about. The right hon. Member for Down, South does not like that phrase and I understand that. There are many communities in an area.
Part III of the White Paper is clear about the existence of two identities in the sense of a national identity. It is that problem that the Right wing of the Conservative Party has consistently avoided, and it has done so because of a belief in Northern Ireland being a proper part of the United Kingdom. It does not question how the border was drawn in the first instance. I defend its right to do that, but we have had a problem because of that since 1920 and we shall go on having that problem until we face it and deal with it.
I shall return briefly to the amendment before you, Mr. Weatherill, tell me that I am straying too wide. I recognise that the hon. Member for Antrim, South was making the point that there is a difficulty. If powers are devolved, some of those exercised by hon. Members in this House will be sought after by Members of the Assembly. That is true, but it is true of Members of the House anyway. We know that we deal with council matters at times. Occasionally, if a person is not satisfied with a councillor they come to us. There are areas where there is a lack of clarity. That does not make the case that the Government should not try to give the Assembly wide discretion, and a wide range of subjects for discussion. As I understand Government amendments Nos. 133 and 134, that is what they are doing. They are widening the subjects for discussion and taking out reserve matters. That is to be encouraged. What matters at the end of the day to the Labour Party is whether it does anything to bring the two communities together. If it does, it helps the Labour Party towards its policy.
However, if I were in the Conservative Party I should also want this Bill even if I were a full-blown Unionist because I know that the political situation in Northern Ireland is different from that of the rest of the United Kingdom. It is not like Scotland, Wales or any other part of Britain. Therefore, we have to make special political social and economic structures for it. If we accept that we are almost inevitably forced down the road of looking for forms of government to deal with the problems that people wish to bring up in the normal way locally, and that are seen and felt by a majority of citizens to be fair.
It is the Conservative Party's problem to find that answer, as it is the problem of the Labour Party. I make no secret of the fact that the Bill is not the Bill that the Labour Party would have brought in, but it is a Bill that, on balance, ought to be given a fair reading. I do not feel able to say to the people in Northern Ireland that we shall destroy, filibuster and mess up this Bill because it seems to me that many people in Northern Ireland want to have a shot at making it work. If they do, good luck. As long as the Bill does not prevent the Labour Party from fulfilling its long-term policy aims, I see nothing against it.
I stress to the right hon. Member for Down, South that the Bill does not lead us to a united Ireland. I wish that it 973 would. I wish that I could believe, as he seems to believe, that there are people in the Northern Ireland Office who are determined to achieve my goal for me. If he knows that such people exist, I should be grateful if he would arrange some sort of introduction for me. I am always looking for a little help.
§ Mr. Budgen
Is it the hon. Gentleman's view that such people do exist in the Northern Ireland Office?
§ Mr. Soley
On the whole, I found the Civil Service to be hardworking and loyal to the policy that was being carried out, but perhaps I am slightly old-fashioned in saying that.
The Assembly must have some ability to discuss, debate and eventually move on, if possible, in the way that the Secretary of State would like, as long as it receives cross-community consent. I can see no objection to it being able to look at certain matters relating to law and order, and other such subjects. If we fail to let it do that, we shall fail to recognise what is basic to both the Tory and the Labour Party, that whatever view one has of the future of Northern Ireland, whether it is an integrationist or united Ireland view, or anything in between, there must still ultimately be a form of Government there. It must be felt and seen to be acceptable to the vast majority of the community across the national identity divide. If we can achieve that, it will be a success for whichever party achieves it. It will be a success, above all, for the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I should like to move the amendments that stand in my name—
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot move any of his amendments now. They are grouped with the amendment that we are now debating, No.39. Although the hon. Gentleman cannot move his amendment now, if he wishes to have a separate Division at the end, I shall consider that.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
On a point of order, Mr. Weatherill. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) has made an extremely important speech on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, and it calls for comment. He has made observations about the view of a number of Conservative Members. I should like to know whether it will be possible to return to the amendment that he was discussing as well as deal with the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths).
§ The Chairman
Order. If the hon. Member looks at the Notice Paper he will see that there is a wide grouping on amendment No. 39. Of course it will be in order to return to what the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) has said on behalf of the Labour Party, and to what other hon. Members have said.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am grateful to you, Mr. Weatherill, for saying that it will be possible to have a Division on the amendment that I have tabled. I take the point made by my 974 hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). You are entirely the master of the grouping of the amendments, and I accept unreservedly your decision to group the amendments together. However, with respect, it has placed the Committee in a slightly difficult position in that the matter to which I wish to address myself is specific and limited. It concerns only the Royal Ulster Constabulary, whereas many of the other amendments touch on much wider issues. This is likely to be at the least an untidy debate. Hon. Members may find that that they wish to speak, for example, on the matter to which I am addressing myself, but at the same time wish to go back to the many other issues raised by the other amendments, including those tabled by the Government.
I am not complaining, Mr. Weatherill—it would not be right to do so—about your selection of amendments, but I hope that you will have some regard to that point when you call other hon. Members to speak, and also when you take account of the time—which may be a critical factor—before you possibly agree to a curtailment of the debate. I make that point in the general interest of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
I have an interest to declare—which the Committee knows well—in the police service. For that reason, I have been tempted to intervene in almost every debate that has taken place on this complicated Bill so far. However, I have resisted that temptation, which was not always difficult late at night, for two reasons. First, I think that it is right to assemble all the arguments that I wish to make in one place, which I shall do now. That inevitably will mean that I shall have to detain the House for a little while, and I apologise for that. Secondly, I think that the control of the organisation and operations of the police service is central to the future security of Northern Ireland.
I start by referring to an incident that took place in Londonderry last week. Three police officers of the RUC were searching a shed for reported stolen property. One of the items that they found was a stolen television set. When police constable David Reeves started to pick up the set, an IRA bomb, booby-trapped into it, exploded and killed him outright.
David Reeves was 24. He was the seventh member of the security forces to be murdered in the Derry area over the past nine weeks.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am horrified to hear that the figure is eight rather than seven.
Police constable Reeves' companion was another police constable. He was not killed, but I hope that his relatives will forgive me for saying that at first sight it might have been, in some respects, better if he had been. The stretcher bearer said of him, as they carried him away, "The injuries that he had were horrific—his legs, stomach, right shoulder, head and face. He was suffering terribly, but there was nothing that we could do. He just kept muttering 'I wish that I was unconscious, I wish that I was unconscious.'" That officer had just turned 21.
A third policeman who was also present when the booby trap went off was luckier. He suffered only severe blast injuries to his legs, arms and face and, in addition, had a broken foot. He was a member of the RUC reserve, and he had just turned 20.
975 I make no apology for mentioning that incident, because of what transpired at the end of it. As the injured police officer was being carried to the ambulance, a gang of youths gathered around and screamed abuse at him.
§ Mr. Griffiths
All the more reason, then, why we should take account of incidents of that nature. Can one imagine in our country a more distressing or heartrending confrontation than that between a savagely injured policeman crying, "I wish that I was unconscious, I wish that I was unconscious," and simultaneously a gang of his fellow citizens chanting in his ears "Let the bastard die"?
I have related the details of this incident in the context of my amendments for two reasons. First, because they underline the brutal—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there was an even worse incident at the Unity Flats? The police officer was dying and the ambulance services, the police and the army were stoned while they were trying to get their wounded colleague to hospital.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes, Sir. In fact, I was in Northern Ireland at the time, and I was well aware of the details of that incident. The hon. Gentleman's intervention merely serves to underline what I am saying, that the Royal Ulster Constabulary has to undertake its duties in the midst of a brutal and cruel situation in which its members regularly do their duty in fear of being killed or mutilated.
I mention the incident, secondly, because I want to declare not only my interest and pride in the connection that I have with the British police service, but—I hope that I shall carry right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House with me—to pay some small tribute to the men who die and are horribly wounded in Northern Ireland in the interests of the maintenance of law.
Recently we have witnessed the glorious victory in the Falkland Islands. All of us were deeply concerned about the casualties that our Armed Forces faced in that enterprise. Of course I share in every respect the feelings of grief of the families of our soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Falklands. However, in Northern Ireland over the past 10 or 15 years the casualties have been much greater, and there is a danger of taking them almost for granted because they are not so dramatic—at least, they are dramatic, but they are less noted in this House.
I believe that the whole Committee will join in that tribute to the RUC. I know, too, that one of the main reasons why my right hon. Friend has introduced the Bill, which generally I support, is because he wants, above all else, to do all in his power to bring an end to such suffering and brutality, which should have no place in the United Kingdom. It is for that reason, above all, that I generally support the Bill.
I agree with the words in the White Paper:Political stability, economic recovery and the defeat of terrorism go hand in hand …There is a direct link between the creation of a durable and fair system of government and the ending of the violence".I agree with that, and I support my right hon. Friend's search for a way out of this horror. Of course the Committee must judge whether he has found a suitable way out, but I applaud him for trying.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Is it the hon. Gentleman's judgment that the constitution proposed in the Bill will lead to greater political stability?
§ Mr. Griffiths
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my speech, the answer to that question will become apparent.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his attempt. None the less, I have some reservations about the Bill, and they are generally set out in my amendments. I am particularly concerned about the possible effects that the Bill will have on the organisation and operations of the RUC. This matter goes to the heart of the security situation in Northern Ireland for particular reasons that are to be found in the history and character of the RUC.
Unlike most British police forces, the RUC was originally set up with a broadly political purpose, not only to uphold the Queen's peace and maintain the law, but to safeguard more or less the settlement that led to the creation of the Province of Northern Ireland. That was one of its tasks, and implicit in that task was its duty to help protect the border. That is why the RUC, from its very inception, was armed. That is why I acknowledge, although I regret, the existence of a few members of the minority community who have never accepted the border or the separate existence of Northern Ireland, and who want union with Southern Ireland. That is why that group of people has never fully recognised or accepted the RUC. That is a reality, and it is one that we should face.
So we are talking about one of the most sensitive political as well as security questions in Northern Ireland—perhaps the most sensitive. I choose my words with care, because after many years of exposure to the work of the RUC—it goes back quite a long time, to the Hunt report, the B specials, and so on—I have learnt that careless and inflammatory words uttered in this House or outside can undo or make immeasureably more difficult the work of the RUC, and can put lives at risk. No words of mine should be construed as in any way a criticism of, or an attack on, the chief officer of the RUC.
My chief concern in the amendments is to preserve the immense progress that the RUC has made over the past 10 to 15 years. Over that period, thanks to the efforts of successive Governments, the RUC has become larger, stronger, better paid and better equipped. More than all of those advances, it has become much more acceptable to all elements of the Northern Ireland community, except, of course, to the IRA and the Republicans.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
The hon. Gentleman says that the RUC is not acceptable to the IRA or the Republicans. The difficulty that we experience in Northern Ireland is that the police, who do such a marvellous job and who are even-handed in the maintenance of law and order—to use the language of the British Government—are not supported by the major Republican party in Northern Ireland, the SDLP.
On occasions such as the terrible atrocity referred to by the hon. Gentleman, the SDLP pays lip service to the RUC and expresses regret, but at other times it attacks the RUC. Until it stops attacking the RUC there is no basis for political stability in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I understand and to some extent share the hon. Gentleman's concern. However, the point that is 977 critical to my amendments is that I wish to preserve the change that has taken place in the position of the RUC in Northern Ireland over the past 10 to 15 years.
§ Mr. Soley
Statements such as that made by the hon. Gentleman a few moments ago need to be considered carefully if we are to preserve even-handedness. There are problems of paramilitaries on both sides of the divide. The RUC has trouble arresting those on the Unionist side. Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the paramilitaries on the Unionist side are also responsible for having killed a significant number of the security forces?
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
Did I hear the hon. Member correctly when he said that paramilitaries on the Loyalist side have been guilty of a large number of murders of the security forces?
§ Mr. Griffiths
It is only fair to say that the intervention of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) was much more directed to the intervention that was made in my speech than to anything that I said myself. I hope that there is nothing that I said that is other than even-handed.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Would my hon. Friend, who knows about such matters, care to tell the Committee about the RUC's extraordinary success in bringing to book gangs of murderers who claim the title of Loyalist and abuse it? They have had remarkable success and there can be no doubt of their even-handedness.
Perhaps I should confine myself to saying that the RUC is one of the best police services in the world. It has done its duty without fear or favour of any man.
The crucial change that has taken place in the RUC over the past 10 or 15 years is not that it has become bigger and better equipped, and possibly even more efficient, but that it has become much more acceptable. It has become almost wholly accepted by virtually all the community, save for the IRA and a few committed politicians.
The reason for a change of such immense value can be summed up in a word. The RUC has, in every respect, become a British-style police service. By that I mean that it has become, and it is seen to have become, five new things. It is seen to be non-sectarian. It is seen to be politically neutral. It is seen to be totally impartial as between the majority and the minority groups within the community. It is accountable not to Ministers or to Governments, but only to the law and the courts. Above all, its members are committed to carrying out the law in accordance with the oath of all British policemen to do their duty without fear of favour and with malice or affection towards none.
The RUC has become identified with the rest of the British police service. That is an important change. It was not the case some 20 to 30 years ago.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the RUC is a very professional police force. However, I would not stress the word "British", because it is a most professional police force, equal to any force anywhere in the world.
It has another attribute. It has now become accountable to those whom it serves. It has recreated the system 978 whereby it polices by the consent of the community that it serves. In addition, there is a police authority to which it answers and with which it discusses the further expansion and extension of the services that it provides.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. However, the important point is that the RUC has transformed itself over the past 10 or 15 years from a force that was thought to be political and sectarian, and, to some extent, the instrument of Government. Whether it was, is beside the point. It was so perceived to be. Now it is not so perceived to be, either by those who serve in it or by the vast majority of the citizens of Northern Ireland who know it to be a British-style police force; one that is independent, politically neutral, non-sectarian and prepared to carry out its duty with fear or favour to none. That is a precious achievement. It is one of the most important changes that have taken place for the good in Northern Ireland in many a long year. My only concern is that nothing done by the Bill or the Government should put at risk that transformation.
One of the engineers of that change has been the Police Federation, in which I have an interest. The Police Federation has worked with those in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to achieve the integration of pay and conditions.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Edmund-Davies was the product of the Police Federation.
The Police Federation has worked hard to achieve a consistency of training. The forces on this side of the water benefit greatly from the experience and know-how of the RUC. The Police Federation has brought about a consistency by means of representative bodies charged with the duty under statute to look after the welfare and efficiency of the forces. Above all else, the Police Federation has played an important role in improving the cross-border co-operation with the Garda that has been of such immense importance in the task of policing the border.
On many occasions it has been difficult for the Government to speak to the Government of Southern Ireland about security matters. However, when representatives of the Garda attended the meetings of the Police Federation conference in Britain and Northern Ireland, we achieved a practical working relationship, which spilled into the operations, into the intelligence gathering, the work on the ground in Crossmaglen and elsewhere, that has been of immense importance. The irony—I shall return to it shortly—is that the same Police Federation that has helped to achieve those advances in the RUC is excluded from any participation in the activities of the police authority of Northern Ireland. That is a scandal.
What is it, above all else, that has enabled the RUC and the Police Federation to move forward to become a service that is non-sectarian and politically independent and seen to be so? The one big factor that has helped to bring that about is, oddly, direct rule. It is that the Secretary of State became responsible for the RUC. It is that this House started to examine the organisation, management and political attitudes within the RUC. It is that the RUC became more involved with the British Civil Service. It is that more and more the RUC over there became mixed up with the police service, its management and political control over here. That is my essential point.
979 This House, the British Secretary of State, the United Kingdom Civil Service and the links with British forces on this side of the water have done more than anything else to bring the RUC to a position where it is more accepted by the whole of the diverse community in Northern Ireland.
Above all else, the wish of the men and women of all ranks in the RUC is that they should retain that link with the British Secretary of State, the British Parliament, the British Civil Service and their colleagues on this side of the water, whether in the federation or in the day-to-day operations of mutual aid between the forces.
I cannot put the argument more plainly that I did in a speech in Belfast. I took the precaution of showing it to the Secretary of State before I made it because I am anxious to say nothing in Northern Ireland to make my right hon. Friend's life more difficult. I shall quote a short extract from it. I said:Whatever plans may be under discussion for the return of powers and duties from Westminster to Northern Ireland"—this was before the White Paper and the Bill—the members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary have no wish ever again to find themselves under the tutelage of a sectarian or of a party political police control in the Province. They prefer to remain a strictly British-type police force responsible via its chief constable to the Queen, to Parliament and to the courts of the United Kingdom. They also expect to be treated like any other police force in the United Kingdom, accepting the same responsibilities, receiving the same pay and conditions, accountable to the local community for their local public relations, but operationally independent of any political pressures.The Northern Ireland Police Federation would resist any suggestion that the RUC be returned to the control of local politics in Northern Ireland and I am sure that they would be right to do so …The RUC also look to the Secretary of State to implement in full the reforms of their police authority as recommended by Lord Edmund-Davies. These reforms, admitting the Police Federation to their authorities' meetings because they have so much to contribute, have been adopted in England and Wales. It is very disturbing to find that the Northern Ireland police authority in this respect is dragging its feet.I can only repeat those words to my right hon. Friend. The views of the RUC are identical today. I regret that over many months since those words were uttered the response from my right hon. Friend's Department has been, for all practical purposes, a brush-off.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The hon. Gentleman should make it clear that the police authority is not in any way controlled or elected by the people of Northern Ireland. Its members are nominated by the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I know well the composition of the police authority in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it suffers in many respects because no representatives of an elected body, or of magistrates, sit upon it. It suffers even more from its obstinate exclusion from all of its councils of Police Federation representatives who, in this country, have been able to enrich the discussions of many of our police authorities on many non-confidential matters. That is not done in Northern Ireland and the authority is the poorer for it.
My concern for the moment is whether the Bill could lead to the return of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to political control in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has given some assurances. When I expressed my anxieties he referred me to paragraph 54 of the White Paper which states: 980Once a durable and stable system of government is established in Northern Ireland, the Government will consider whether any of the 'reserved' matters in the 1973 Act should be placed in the 'transferred' category and become the responsibility of a devolved administration.We are discussing an amendment which may change the situation.
The White Paper continues:'Reserved' matters include law and order responsibilities which are of great importance and concern to the people of Northern Ireland and about which the Secretary of State will wish to keep the Assembly, and also an Executive when established, fully informed.Two points arise from that. First is the commitment by the Secretary of State, as and when he gets it right, to devolve effective control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary back to Northern Ireland. That is the big issue. The second involves the arrangements that the Secretary of State wants to make in the meantime to keep the Assembly, and the Executive when established, fully informed about the RUC's activities.
Keeping the Assembly and the Executive fully informed is the halfway house. We have not reached complete devolution, only partial devolution. Al that stage the Secretary of State will want to provide the Assembly and the Executive with more information about the RUC and security matters. It may be said that that is the least that he can do. What kind of an Assembly or Executive would exist if they were not allowed to discuss, comment and debate the most important, vital and politically contentious issue in Northern Ireland—law and order?
In practice, even if the Secretary of State attempted to prevent the Assembly from debating these matters, it would be impossible as well as impolitic. The debates of the last few days have shown that if hon. Members want to discuss a subject, with the best will in the world from the Chair, they will do so. In reality, confronted with points of order, calls for statements and efforts to make the business of the House impossible, no Government over here could prevent an Assembly from debating and commenting upon the RUC's operations
§ Mr. Budgen
I hope that my hon. Friend will give way in the event of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) wishing to give his views. My hon. Friend will remember that the right hon. Gentleman was, during his first period as Home Secretary, responsible for Northern Ireland. He could have a significant contribution to make to the Committee's discussions about responsibility for security in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the arrival in the Chamber of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) whose activities both as Home Secretary, and in other capacities in Government I remember with clarity and some affection. On many matters concerning the police service and, indeed, Northern Ireland, he and I from time to time had the most cordial dialogue. I shall welcome any contribution that he wishes to make. None the less, I hope that I may be allowed to make my own speech for the moment and allow the right hon. Gentleman to contribute if he wishes at a later stage.
Once we have started down the road to devolution—
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins (Glasgow, Hillhead)
Speaking from my experience on these matters, one of the things that I should like to see is some progress made on the Bill.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I have said with some regret that I would need to detain the Committee for some time. I am sorry that as a result of my over-indulgence to some of my hon. Friends who have wished to intervene, my speech will be much longer than I intended.
§ Mr. Budgen
I hope my hon. Friend will say that he will give way quickly to the right hon. Member for Hillhead because the right hon. Gentleman will wish to say why he wants the Bill to make progress. He was in the past a positively adamantine opponent of devolution. Now, with dexterity, he appears to be a supporter of devolution. It will interest us to hear his views. I hope my hon. Friend will not delay the Committee's deliberations to such an extent that the right hon. Gentleman is excluded from our debate.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I can only conclude that I have failed to engage the attention of my hon. Friend so that his attention has wandered to all types of extraneous and adventitious matters such as the arrival of the right hon. Gentleman.
Once we have started down the road to devolution there is no way in which the Assembly could or should be prevented from debating police and security matters. Indeed, from the Government amendments and my right hon. Friend's statements it is clear that he accepts that. But here is the worm in the apple—I refer here to a point that the right hon. Gentleman made with such force the other night. Once the Assembly exists and once any devolution is agreed the day-to-day performance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, whether we like it or not, will be dragged into the politics of that Assembly. There is no way that that can be avoided.
Some may say "Why not?" The police, after all, are a proper subject for parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed, they are all too frequently the subject of animated debate in the House. But there is a fundamental difference. The House can properly debate, comment on and criticise the activities of the police service because in the end the House is responsible.
We control the policy in so far as Ministers are accountable to us. We control the purse strings. The House requires the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Secretary of State for Scotland and, indeed, as things now stand, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to account to us for whatever is done, in the broadest sense at least, in police and security matters. But that would not be the case in Northern Ireland. For what we should confront—it is the worm in the apple—is halfway devolution in which the Northern Ireland Assembly could and would—it could not be prevented—debate, condemn, criticise and call for details about the police service, but never would it be able to do anything about it.
In the purest sense of the word—the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) coined the phrase before—it would be an irresponsible Assembly. That is a serious matter. There is another cliche too—that power without responsibility has been the prerogative of the harlot through the ages. An Assembly which can comment, debate, criticise and condemn but which in no way will have any effective power to take any action about it will be in exactly that position. The dragging of the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the jungle of Northern Ireland Assembly politics without that Assembly itself 982 having to accept responsibility for what it did or said is a desperately serious matter. The Assembly could talk but could not act. That sums up the Irish dilemma and the Irish characteristic over the generations.
I have dealt with partial devolution. I now turn to the full step—total devolution and the return to Northern Ireland of control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I have followed the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest and a great deal of agreement. There will be many subjects during partial devolution that the Assembly may discuss but it will have no power. Some will be important. Am I right in thinking that the hon. Gentleman has admitted that the Assembly cannot be prevented from discussing police and security matters and that, therefore, his amendment is not aimed at that? Am I correct in believing that he considers that his amendment will not rule out discussion of the police during partial devolution?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Once an Assembly is set up, it would be inconceivable that debate about the most important single issue in Northern Ireland could be prevented. My amendment, as the right hon. Gentleman will understand, is to enable the House to debate the matter and to expose to the Secretary of State and to the Government the anxieties that many hon. Members, including those like me who support the Bill, feel about this particularly sensitive and difficult matter.
I turn to the second case of full devolution. Is this really what the Secretary of State wants to do in respect of the security, the law and order and the police service in the Province? I must again refer to his correspondence with me. He told me that once devolution had been achieved and a durable and stable system of government had been established in Northern Ireland the Government would consider whether the police and other law and order responsibilities in the reserved category should become the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Administration.
My right hon. Friend has gone somewhat further in our debates. He has said:In the long run, I hope that matters of law and order can be transferred to the Assembly, but, in the short run, I think that it will be appropriate to have discussions …to see what informal arrangements can be made to try to create a liaison between the Assembly and the Secretary of State on security matters.". —[Official Report, 28 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 857.]If we are to get back to a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland, the control of the police service will have to follow, but I must tell my right hon. Friend that I shall totally oppose that. So will the men and women who make up the Police Federation not only in Northern Ireland but in England and Wales and in Scotland. It would mean cutting the painter. It would sever the umbilical cord that links the Secretary of State, the House, the British Civil Service, the British police forces and the British Police Federation with the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The gravamen of my earlier remarks is that the transformation in the relationships between the RUC and the civil population of Northern Ireland has been achieved largely because of the link that has grown up between this side of the water and Northern Ireland. The RUC has been turned into a non-sectarian, independent British-style police service precisely because of the link with the Secretary of State, the House of Commons, the British Civil Service and police forces on this side of the water. Those links would be lost following devolution.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
My hon. Friend is making a great deal of the link which he claims between the RUC and police forces on this side of the water. Is it not a matter of fact that when the Home Secretary had responsibility for Northern Ireland and when he imposed such things as the Hunt report on the RUC the morale and recruitment of constabulary probably reached the lowest point in its history? In being deprived of the very weapons that it needed to protect itself, it was given cause to wonder what job it could usefully perform. It is only since that attempt of over-much interference from this side of the water has ceased that it has itself created the new role which it now performs so successfully.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I recall graphically the period of which my hon. Friend is speaking. I do not dissent altogether from his animadversions. However, I do not think that they detract from the main thesis that I am putting before the Committee. The great change that has benefited the RUC has largely grown out of the link that it has established with the British police services on this side of the water through the Secretary of State, the British Civil Service and the intimate relations that have grown up with individual forces on the mainland and the Police Federation.
If there were to be devolution, would my fears of political control, the loss of independence and a move back to sectarianism be realised? It must be said immediately that no one can say for sure. I recognise the strength of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday. If the calibre of those who are elected to the new Assembly and new Executive of Northern Ireland is high and they take a broad statesmanlike view of the role of the police in society, my fears may not be realised, and I pray that they will not. However, we can only read the book. I do not need to gaze into the crystal ball. We have only the experience of what happened under Stormont.
During the period of Stormont Government I enjoyed the most cordial relations with Stormont Ministers. Many of them became personal friends. I saw a good deal of the police service as well at the time. It would be wrong to suggest that the Stormont regime, with the RUC, was in every respect corrupt or politically wrong. None the less, during that period the perception that existed, especially among the minority community, was adverse. I fear that once my right hon. Friend devolves the power of the Royal Ulster Constabulary back to a Northern Ireland Assembly, it will become almost a political necessity for every Member of the Assembly to want to use the RUC to achieve political as well as public order ends. Stormont did what I believe a Northern Ireland Assembly, and particularly an Executive, would press for following devolution, and the same things would be done again.
I shall share with the Committee a dilemma which was expressed to me by a senior officer of the RUC. He recalled to me the experience of the French police during Vichy. He spoke of the dilemma that many police officers faced during that time. Under their oath of office they had a duty to follow the commands of the political pen of the Government of that time, who were headed by Marshal Petain, who operated, broadly speaking, on behalf of the Nazi occupation. Under their oath of office the police had no alternative but to follow those commands, even though, as all of us said at the time of the Nuremburg trials and in 984 many discussions since, they had another duty. They had a duty to be respecters of human rights and respecters of all constitutional issues that rise so near to our hearts.
This dilemma for police officers is a very real one. The senior RUC officer said "Suppose that there is devolution and there emerges in Northern Ireland by dint of an election a Government who are headed by, for example, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), a Government convinced of the need to act in certain ways, who might require the police service, if they had control of it, to prosecute those who opposed them." Any Government who were headed by my right hon. Friend, for example, would stay within the law, but it is not inconceivable that a new Administration in Northern Ireland, especially if it were the beneficiary of an election, would seek to impose policies in housing and in other areas that would be against the genuine wishes of the great majority of Members in this place.
In those circumstances, the police service is immediately put in a dilemma. It has a duty to obey the orders of the political head of the police service but I think that we all agree that it has a duty also to something broader, involving human rights and constitutional propriety. The senior RUC officer said "If I were faced with the dilemma of disobeying the orders of my political chief or of going against all those principles of the British police service, I should have no alternative but to resign."
I relate that example merely to demonstrate that senior and junior officers of the RUC have thought about these matters carefully. They have not confined themselves to picking up newspapers to read that the House of Commons is enmeshed in a labyrinth of debate. They are deeply concerned about whether we can devolve the powers of law and order and control of the RUC to a Province which, with the greatest affection and respect that I feel towards it, could well stumble back into a partisan approach to policing, a sectarian approach to the issue of law and order, especially in respect of the border.
I have some anxieties and my right hon. Friend has not so far allayed them. It would be far better if he were 1 o say now that, so long as the majority of the people of Northern Ireland want to retain the British connection—that is up to them—the British Government will retain responsibility for security and law and order in the Province. I imagine that my right hon. Friend will say that he will retain responsibility for security. The border is almost an international issue and involves the integrity of the United Kingdom. He will say that control of the Army must inevitably remain with the House of Commons, but what will he say about the interface between the activities of the police and the Army, which is the critical area of security maintenance in Northern Ireland?
There would be the greatest difficulty if the RUC had returned to it a measure of political control in Northern Ireland whereas control of security, as imposed by the British Army in certain situations, remained on the mainland. The hope must be that devolution will not be able to take place unless circumstances in Northern Ireland normalise themselves to a point at which it is no longer necessary for the, Army to be there. That must be the hope. That is what we are all reaching to achieve. However, I am concerned by the rather cavalier suggestion that has been made in certain statements delivered by my right hon. Friend that it is merely a matter of time, that sooner or later there will be a stable and durable administration and that 985 then we shall be able to get shot of the whole business of control of the RUC by returning it to Northern Ireland. That would be unwise.
I said at the beginning that I would need to detain the Committee for some time. Because of some of the interventions I have gone on longer than I intended, but there is one other dimension that I must add.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I understood the hon. Gentleman to say earlier that an Assembly could not avoid in practice behaving in a way in regard to the Royal Ulster Constabulary which he regarded as injurious. If that is so, why does he support a Bill of which the establishment of an Assembly is the central point?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I support the Bill largely because I accept the proposition in the White Paper that the containment of terrorism and the economic development of Northern Ireland are inseparable from some effort to achieve a better political arrangement. Having made that general proposition, I am bound to say, as I hope I have done clearly, that there are important matters in the Bill from which I dissent and I have done so.
I turn to the final leg of my argument. The Northern Ireland police want to retain their identification with the British police service as a whole, not only for the reason that I have given but for other practical and housekeeping reasons. They want to remain on the same basis as the British police services over pay. The negotiating system and settlements must be the same. They also want to have the arrangements for consultation recommended by Lord Edmund-Davies.
The question the police ask of Parliament is, if they were to be devolved, would this be the case? There is nothing in the Bill that says that it would. All we know is that the Secretary of State has said that he has no intention of devolving this responsibility for the time being and that in any case, if he did, one way or another he would see to it that the RUC continued to benefit from broadly comparable conditions. On this matter he wrote to me as follows:You asked whether the RUC would remain legally and operationally comparable with mainland forces and benefit from the same arrangements for pay and conditions.He gave this assurance:It is the Government's policy to maintain broad comparability in police matters between the RUC and forces in Great Britain and we do not intend to depart from this policy.That is not an unreasonable assurance given by the Secretary of State of one Administration, but I have to ask myself on behalf of the RUC how far we can accept it. It is in the end a matter of trust and confidence. The test I must make is whether the Secretary of State has carried out the other commitments and undertakings that he and his right hon. Friends have given the RUC. If he has not, he will not be trusted to carry out this important assurance which I have outlined on comparability between the Northern Ireland police service and police services in the rest of the United Kingdom.
To give a precise example, I refer to the recommendations of Lord Edmund-Davies—the most important document perhaps on the police service in many a year. Many people think it dealt merely with pay but it dealt with many other and in some respects equally 986 important things. In particular, it improved the arrangements whereby the rank and file of the police service were brought into a dialogue with their chief officers and police authorities to get over the difficult problems that arise between serving policemen and their chief officers and police authorities. The recommendations of Lord Edmund-Davies on this point were valuable; they were welcomed by the House and accepted on behalf of the present Government and, indeed, of the previous Government from the Front Bench by the Secretaries of State.
In regard to Northern Ireland, what exactly is the arrangement? It affects the organisation of the police service there intimately. If I may remind the Committee, it is a test of whether the Government's assurances on devolution can be accepted. Recommendation 50 in paragraph 249 of the report said:Consultations should be started forthwith with a view to the staff associations' representatives attending police authority meetings in Northern Ireland as soon as satisfactory arrangements can be made. We recommend accordingly.In recommendation 53 and others it went into the practical detail of how this was to be achieved.
Immediately or shortly afterwards the Police Advisory Board considered these matters for England, Wales and Scotland. After much deliberation a circular was sent out from the Home Office on 9 December 1980 which said plainly that the Police Advisory Board, to which the Secretary of State is a party, commended for immediate implementation the recommendation on the admission of representatives of police services to the meetings of their police authorities, save only where a confidential matter was to be discussed, in which case the chairman would have the right to ask the staff representatives to withdraw.
The Police Advisory Board, under the authority of the Secretary of State, said that it considered it essential that the recommendations in section B of the annex should be adopted in all forces as the basic framework for the negotiating and consultation arrangements. There was no ambiguity. The recommendations are clear. Recommendation 48 says:Staff association representatives should be allowed to attend meetings of the police authority as observers in duty time as of right.Staff association representatives already have the right to attend as observers but this gives them the right to attend in duty time, subject only to the exigencies of duty. The Secretary of State, for England and Wales, instructed through the Police Advisory Board that that be done. The House supported it, both Front Benches agreed it and it has happened in all the forces in England, Wales and Scotland.
That has not happened in Northern Ireland for a variety of reasons, of which two have been adumbrated by the police authority and are an impertinence. One suggestion is that in Northern Ireland the representatives of the Police Federation have not been admitted because the police authority cannot trust them to keep confidentiality. The representatives of police officers who, in dealing with terrorism, have access to some of the most secure, sensitive and confidential information under an oath of office under discipline, are not to be admitted to meetings of the police authority because it thinks they would blab. That is an impertinence. It should never have gone out from the police authority of Northern Ireland that the men who die there on its behalf can be trusted to die but not to attend the non-confidential parts of police authority meetings.
987 The second ground on which they have been excluded is lack of impartiality. This is a more serious objection and I take it seriously. The consideration is that the police authority, which is a delicately balanced mechanism, appointed simply because there is no other way of getting adequate numbers of representatives of the minority community in it, fears that somehow or other, if the recommendations of Lord Edmund-Davies and the wishes of the Government were to be respected, that would mean that present at its meetings would be members, possibly only one or two, of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland. That somehow would give the impression that the authority was being over-balanced in a sectarian, partial, presumably pro-Protestant direction.
The implication would be that, although the police authority managed to achieve a sense of non-sectarian impartiality, the presence of officers from the statutory Police Federation of Northern Ireland, who are conditioned by their oath of office and their duty to implement the law without fear or favour, would somehow make it partial. That is an insult. How on earth can it be held that the presence of the Chief Constable does not make it a partial body, but the presence of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland would?
I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a direct question that I hope he will put to the police authority in Northern Ireland. Does it say that a member of the executive of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, who might conceivably be nominated to serve, is partial, biased and partisan? If so, let it name him. The generalised slur that the admission of Police Federation representatives to the authority would somehow make it partial and not worthy of trust by the minority community ought never to have been made. I ask the chairman of that authority to withdraw it.
I want to accept the assurances of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in respect of the safeguards that would exist in the event of the devolution of control of the police to Northern Ireland, because I want to see the Bill succeed. The only litmus test that I, the Police Federation of Northern Ireland or the men it represents have is what the Secretary of State did in respect of other assurances, commitments and undertakings given by the Government. That is why the important issue, although not the decisive one, of the admission of the Police Federation to the police authority is critical because of what it symbolises. If my right hon. Friend cannot carry out the undertaking that he gave in that respect, why should he be trusted to carry out the much greater assurances that he has given? I conclude by saying again—although I fear I shall irritate the right hon. Member for Down, South—that, despite my severe reservations, I believe that there is no alternative to my right hon. Friend's attempt to make progress with this political advance in Northern Ireland.
I do not see how the economy, investment and security can be advanced unless there is a move that will involve the people of Northern Ireland with their Government much more. Although I am critical of the Bill in many respects, I have flogged through the Lobbies to support closures against some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, whose commitment to Northern Ireland I completely respect—I have not found it easy to do that—and I generally support the proposals. I believe that my right hon. Friend owes it to the police service and the people of Northern Ireland to think carefully and, perhaps, draw back from devolving control of the RUC away from the 988 House of Commons and the Government because of the risk of unstitching the relationship with British police forces that has enhanced the reputation and established the non-sectarian, non-partisan character of the RUC. If he wishes his assurances to be accepted, I hope that he will implement the undertakings that the previous Government, the present Government and the House have given in respect of the police authority.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams (Crosby)
I should like briefly to take up what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said in an interesting and in some ways disturbing speech. He said that the steady loss of life sustained by the RUC and the security forces is rapidly becoming something that is below the level of public consciousness, and that those men and women do not have the attention paid to them, nor are they accorded the recognition, that their heroism deserves. The Committee should record again its respect and the honour that it pays to those men and women in the security forces and police force, who have consistently upheld law and order in Northern Ireland under difficult conditions.
The hon. Gentleman described the terrible story of what happened to the police constable who found a stolen television set and was subsequently blown up by art IRA booby trap. He referred to the young people who surrounded the ambulance. The Committee should recognise that the depth of denominational and sectarian hatred that that suggests makes the Secretary of State's job of finding some lasting political solution to Northern Ireland so difficult. None of us serves our cause by pretending that that sectarian antagonism is not still present. It contrasts sharply with the experience that we have had so recently on the mainland of the United Kingdom of recognising that sectarian hatred here is now almost dead. Many of us would wish to see that lesson learnt by both communities in Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Martini Smyth
The right hon. Lady referred to sectarian hatred. It would not be sectarian hatred that plunged into eternity the young lad on a cycle, who was blown up by a bomb placed by the INLA after visiting his priest for an autographed picture of the Pope. They were possibly trying to catch the security forces. That was not sectarian. It was a battle against the British people of Ulster, irrespective of religion, by people who are not worried whom they kill.
§ Mrs. Williams
I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. There are no limits to INLA's capacity for destruction and anarchy. The capacity of the extremists to survive would be much less were there not the sectarian strains and tensions in Northern Ireland that do not apply to other parts of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds spoke about the fear felt by the RUC of being passed back to what he described as an authority that might imply sectarian control. He said that that control would not be welcome in Northern Ireland either. I hope that he recognises that the Bill is trying to create an authority that would inspire sufficient trust from all sections of the community of Northern Ireland to make that understandable fear felt by the RUC no longer possible. He was seeking an assurance that there would be no question of devolution of the RUC until that desirable position was achieved.
989 In addition to what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said about the co-operation between the RUC and the British police forces one has to pay tribute to the degree of co-operation that the RUC has established with the Garda Siochana—albeit not as great as many of us would wish. In the past few years considerable steps have been taken in that direction. The proposals of Dr. Garret FitzGerald, the former Taoiseach—while they go further perhaps than the Committee would wish to accept at the moment—recognise that security in Northern Ireland is heavily dependent upon the willingness of the security forces of the Republic to share in establishing law and order throughout the island.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) that there has been a long and elegant filibuster lasting for many hours and that the last three speeches have been refreshing because they have attempted to explore, examine and possibly improve the Bill. The hon. Member pointed out that the dilemma facing the filibusterers was whether they should attempt, with all the obvious intelligence, wisdom and eloquence at their command, simply to delay the almost inevitable passage of the Bill or to use their eloquence, intelligence and creativity to try to improve the Bill to give a better chance for the people of Northern Ireland to live in peace and security.
All of us know that direct rule is a vulnerable and, in many ways, an easily attacked constitutional structure. It inspires charges of colonialism in other parts of the world. Those charges may be ignorant and foolish, but direct rule is not a stable basis for the government of Northern Ireland. Most of us also recognise that neither devolution to Stormont on the old principles, without acceptance by both communities, nor an attempt to establish integration against the freely expressed wishes of the minority community would provide a stable basis for the government of Northern Ireland.
My party and the Liberal Party support the Bill, although there are ways in which we wish to see it improved, because we see no other way of one day establishing a secure basis for the government of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Budgen
On what evidence does the right hon. Lady base her assertion that there has been a filibuster? Unlike me, she has not been in the Chamber for long periods. Is she saying that the Chair has been allowing irrelevant discussion?
§ Mrs. Williams
I pay an immediate tribute to the Chair because I recognise that the capacity of those contributing to the debate to find ways of remaining within the rules of order demonstrates their astonishing subtlety and ability to stay within the rules. However, they do not advance or improve the Bill, which is what I understand to be the job of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Lady's train of thought, but she said that direct rule smacks of colonialism. Does she feel that the peculiar mixture of English and native Ministers in this improbable Executive would be a move away from colonialism?
§ Mrs. Williams
I did not say that direct rule smacks of colonialism. I said that it could be represented as 990 colonialism, and it is frequently so represented, to the damage of the United Kingdom, particularly in the United States. I do not excuse it, but it happens. The Secretary of State is right to attempt to move gradually towards a different situation and I see no way in which he could do it, except by the gradual transfer that he is attempting.
I do not want to detain the Committee, so I shall turn to the three SDP amendments. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) explaining certain problems that the Government had with the amendments.
§ Mr. Soley
I wish to ask the right hon. Lady a question that I have asked before and to which we need an answer. What is the position of the SDP and the Liberal Party on a united Ireland with consent? Would they like to see a move towards that or would they prefer a form of integration on the Unionist model? It is time that we had an answer from the SDP-Liberal alliance.
§ Mrs. Williams
This is not the right moment to answer that question. It does not arise on the amendments and I am not engaged in a filibuster. I shall be delighted to answer the question on Third Reading, which will be the appropriate place to do so.
We believe that amendment No. 143 is important. Northern Ireland Estimates are considered by the House in the debates on the Consolidated Fund which take place three times during the year. My colleagues and I do not regard that as adequate scrutiny of the accounts of Northern Ireland. We believe that part of the purpose that the Secretary of State is seeking to serve would be better met by having the Consolidated Fund debated by the Assembly before it is discussed in the House.
We share the view of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) who referred to the danger of the Assembly becoming a talking shop. We believe that at the earliest possible stage it should face up to the responsibilities that will be implicit in the devolution of government and should have the right to debate the Consolidated Fund. That would be a substantial step forward. As regards amendment No. 144, the Government have moved amendments to allow reserved matters to be discussed by the Assembly. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North said, that is a significant move to which the Committee has not so far devoted much attention. We believe that the Assembly should also be able to report to the Secretary of State on the accounts of reserved matters.
A drafting error was made in amendment No. 145. It should refer not to section 2, but to section 1, which deals with the transfer of powers. I apologise for the error, but we were seeking to ensure that every transfer of power should lead to an annual report by the Assembly to the Secretary of State. According to the notes on clauses, the Government accept that the accounts of transferred Departments should be put before the Assembly, but they do not require the Assembly to report to the Secretary of State.
We believe that it should be possible for the Assembly to object to an individual transferred Department without having to object to the whole process of devolution. That is why we tabled amendment No. 145 and amendments to clause 5 to break the link between the devolution of a single Department, or its withdrawal from the devolution, 991 and the experiment as a whole, which we do not wish to see fail because of irresponsible or mistaken administration in one Department. I hope that that helps to clarify our position.
The alliance is anxious to make sure that at the earliest possible stage the Assembly marries responsibility with the right to debate. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that power without responsibility had been the prerogative of the harlot through the ages, and we do not wish the Assembly to have power without responsibility. The sooner that responsibility can be visited upon the Assembly, the better it will be for the Assembly, the experiment and Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Thank you, Mr. Dean, for calling me in this debate. I was here all yesterday and last night and tried to catch your eye. Many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken in the debates and their contributions will be evaluated by their colleagues. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this series of amendments, especially the one that stands in the names of my hon. Friends and myself.
It is regrettable that some hon. Members have already made a blanket condemnation of those who will be elected to the Assembly. I was amazed because some of those hon. Members have also paid eloquent and glowing tributes—whether they were sincere is for hon. Members to decide—to the calibre of Northern Ireland Members. It is common knowledge that almost every Northern Ireland Member will go forward for election to the Assembly, and yet there has been a blanket condemnation that those who will be elected to the Assembly will be a bunch of irresponsible people.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I shall not give way because I am describing the general attitude that has characterised this debate. We have heard about the jungle of the Assembly and that the people elected to it will be irresponsible.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I do not have much time. I promised the Chair that I would make a contribution. I stayed all yesterday, last night and this morning, and now I wish to develop my argument.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said that the proposed Assembly may be irresponsible in discussing security matters and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He should be aware that local councils in Northern Ireland have a police committee and a security committee. The police committees meet the police officers of their area and discuss the operations of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The security committees meet Army officers. The minutes of both the police and security committees are subject to motions in the local council.
I have heard no one say that the local councils have been irresponsible in their attitude towards security. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds spoke eloquently and movingly about the murder of police officers. Such matters run even deeper in local politics. The people in local politics are neighbours, friends and relations of the men who have been so brutally murdered. With such an emotional tie-up, they are bound to wish to talk about the matters. What is more, the police are on record as saying that they are happy to attend the committees because they 992 find them most helpful. If that is so at local level, it would be nonsense to suggest that those who are elected, not by 2,000 but by 9,000 to 12,000 electors, should not be entitled to discuss the RUC because they are Members of the Assembly. Parliament could prevent such a discussion.
I welcome the Government's amendments. The Government have met us in our request that reserved matters should be discussed in the Assembly. However, the Presiding Officer must walk a straight and narrow path and ensure that the Assembly remains within its bailiwick. All that is needed is for one Member of the Assembly to take out a High Court injunction against the Presiding Officer and thereby legally prevent the Assembly from discussing the matter. It is only fair that the Presiding Officer should be able to permit such discussion on security that could be helpful to Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is right to say that the Assembly will wish to discuss law and order. We should be clear about the present powers in the councils and about the fact that the police have paid a tribute to the council meetings That can be transferred to the Assembly. In the Convention, which was a different proposition, many discussions were held on security. I heard no one, let alone the police, saying that they did any damage.
The Bill does not provide that the reserved mailers should be handed over now. The Secretary of State is not saying that he intends to give control of the RUC to the Assembly. I agree with him that eventually security should be handed over to the representatives of Northern Ireland. The police must be answereable to the community—and who better than the elected representatives? The lion. Member for Bury St. Edmunds put his finger on the composition of the police authority. There have been many discussions about how that authority should be constituted. As I said in an intervention, it is a nominated authority. Local councils have an opportunity to nominate people, but at the end of the day the Secretary of State makes the choice.
It is rather disconcerting in the system of direct rule that civil servants love it because they are not accountable to the locally elected representatives. Many of the permanent secretaries have almost the same power as Cabinet Ministers because of direct rule. I have often joked with them, saying that they make the decisions and hand out the paper to the Minister, who signs it. That Minister is probably in charge of three Departments. He can reside in only one Department one day a week. He cannot do the work of all the Departments for which he is responsible. Many decisions are there fore taken by the permanent secretaries. That practice runs into the police as well. It is suitable for the Chief Constable to say that his boss is in London and that he is answerable to no one else. Those considerations must be borne in mind.
With regard to local matters, the police should be completely operationally independent. They have a responsibility for matters of public concern and to those who are elected from the Province. I hope that the day will return when security is under the control of the Ulster people. I do not say and never have said what the police should do operationally. They must make their own decisions. Operational matters are not for politicians. We should not tell them how to carry out certain police tasks.
I strongly believe that the link between the RUC and other British police forces should be maintained and strengthened. They should have the same pay and conditions. That has always been the attitude of my hon. 993 Friends and I. Nobody wants to see the RUC become the poor relation of the British police forces. I am amazed that the police authority is afraid to let members of the federation into its meetings in case of a leak. In Northern Ireland they would be leaked anyway. It is practically possible to get the minutes of some meetings. The press seems able get its hands on information.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I value the hon. Gentleman's judgment. May I ask him an open question? Does he believe that the presence of the Police Federation representatives in the police authority would lead any of the minority groups in Northern Ireland to believe that it had become biased and partisan?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
My immediate answer is "No" but I cannot speak for the people who would make that criticism. It is a fact—the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has emphasied it—that the RUC is non-sectarian and non-political. Nevertheless, there are fewer members of the minority community—the Roman Catholic minority—in the RUC today than ever before. In the days of Stormont almost one—third of places in the RUC were reserved for Roman Catholics. Almost one—third of the places were taken. That is not so today.
It should also be emphasised that the entire minority population do not support the police. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) will confirm that we took part in a television interview a few months ago with Mr. John Hume, the Leader of the SDLP. We asked him whether he would call upon his people to join the RUC. He said that he definitely would not. He said that, although he was prepared to support individual policemen, his party did not support the RUC as a body. That is the voice of the largest representative party from the Republican side in Northern Ireland. The Committee should be clear about those views. Indeed, members of the SDLP have left the party because of the strength of their views on the matter. Mr. Donnelly, a councillor from North Belfast, was one such.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Questions about the loyalty of the RUC are raised in the House. Is it not a fact that in 1981 the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was driven to an illegal meeting in North Antrim by his bodyguard? At that meeting people produced bits of paper or documents alleging that they were owners, legally, of firearms. Moreover, is it not the case that they threatened the British Government that if they did not do what those people wanted they would use their legal firearms to attack them? Is it not the case that the hon. Member for Antrim, North was driven to the meeting by his bodyguard, who was under the control of the House, the RUC or whatever? Is it not reasonable to suspect that members of the RUC who drove him to the meeting were not, to say the least, in support of any other policy in Northern Ireland?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I welcome the late arrival of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). It is interesting that he has at last decided to take an active interest in a Bill that is important for the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that 994 he stays. I hope that he endures the long night sittings. He can strengthen himself at another place which is, of course, not open to me because of my convictions.
If I attended an illegal meeting, the Secretary of State and the Government, if they did not like my brand of politics, would have immediately ensured that I was amenable to the law. I attended a meeting in North Antrim that was legal. It was not what the hon. Member for Belfast, West implied.
I have never asked the RUC—I do not suppose that the hon. Member for Belfast, West has asked either—for police to drive me around. He is also driven around by the police. I have never asked any police officer to drive me. I am told by the police authority and the Secretary of State, who wrote to me about the matter recently, that I must abide by the security protection that is given to me. That is that.
I do not tell my police officers where I go. That is not their business. It is not for them to know where I go or who I meet. The hon. Member for Belfast, West sometimes tells his police officers "You cannot come, for I have a place to go that you will not be going to." That is well known among police officers in Belfast.
§ The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Paul Dean)
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has been tempted to go a little wide. We should leave bodyguards and come back to the amendment.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I should like to nail as repulsive the slander that the hon. Member for Belfast, West made before he went on to attack the RUC. The two police officers concerned were doing their duty. They took me from A to B. When I arrived at B I did nothing illegal. If I had, the Government would have pounced on me. One man who would have pounced on me is the Chief Constable, with whom I have had dealings at various times. But they were unable to do so because my actions were within the law.
I am not afraid to take the police officers who accompany me anywhere that I go, because I have nothing to be ashamed of. The hon. Member for Belfast, West, however, tells them to stay away because they cannot go where he is going—and they stay away. Having made that attack on the RUC, the hon. Gentleman has now left the Chamber. That is typical, but I shall not attack an hon. Member who is not here.
I should put on record the fact that I have not asked that the police be with me. I do not wish to be under continuous police surveillance any more than anyone else does. However, that is what they want to do. I shall not take that further, as I see that you, Mr. Dean, are becoming fidgety and I do not wish to offend the Chair. I took a long time to get to my feet and I should not like to be ruled out of order now.
I am committed to devolution. I also accept, as I have said before, the opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland at this time to have elections and to put a bridle on direct rule through the valuable committees that can scrutinise the Departments, and I hold to what I have said.
I am also glad that the Secretary of State has told us that under the Bill matters relevant to security may be discussed by the Assembly. Under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act there are many other important reserved matters that the Assembly would wish to discuss relating 995 to other parts of the criminal law, to the economy, to jobs and to other matters which lie at the heart of Ulster's problems.
It would be wrong for the Secretary of State or for any hon. Member to suggest that the Bill will provide an immediate panacea for the terrible security situation, the terrible economic situation and all our other problems. I do not believe that elections to the Assembly and the beginning of the scrutiny committees will provide an immediate remedy. Nevertheless, there will be an input to the Northern Ireland Office that it has never had before. We shall therefore get closer to Ministers. In this context, I welcome what has been said about Ministers coming and discussing certain matters with the elected representatives. That is most valuable.
As I have said before, I do not believe that the second part of the Bill is workable. I hope that this House will have a change of heart when it sees the responsible way in which the Assembly seeks to conduct its business. The 70 per cent. proposal will have to be thrown out, and I have no doubt that there will be many debates here about that.
The elected representatives to the Assembly must have the right to go to the Ombudsman. It does not require a Member of Parliament to take a complaint to the Commissioner for Complaints. The individual concerned has access to the commissioner. But there is no reason why an elected Assembly Member should not take a case to the Omdudsman. Indeed, the Ombudsman came to the Stormont Parliament buildings and Members of the Convention had the opportunity to do just that.
The people of England, Wales and Scotland are well served by the system of local government, whereby there are people to whom they can go with such complaints. In Northern Ireland, the only person to whom people can go is the Member for Parliament because all these matters come under the umbrella of direct rule. Why should not the people of Northern Ireland have 78 or 85 people helping to work for them? It is a disgrace for the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to say that he would object to elected representative working on behalf of the people. I want more elected representatives to fight the cases of the people in Northern Ireland. I frequently come to this House when I could be well engaged at tribunals, commissioners' hearings, planning appeals and other matters affecting my constituents. I should be happy to know that 78 people were available to take on those tasks, which in this country are carried out under the local government system but which cannot be dealt with in that way in Northern Ireland because we do not have that system.
We must have elected representatives fighting for our people. I should not be in the least offended to have them in my constituency. Indeed, Mr. John Hume visited part of my constituency the other day with a Minister of this House. I did not kick up a row and say that he should not be there and that I should. If Mr. Hume or anyone else can do something in North Antrim that I cannot, let them get on with it. I wish them luck. I have plenty of work to do. I should not deter anyone from working for my constituents. Indeed, I should encourage them.
§ Mr. William Ross
The hon. Gentleman should make it clear that Mr. Hume, who is a political opponent of both of us, visited North Antrim as a Member of the European Assembly." Thus he was not simply visiting the hon.
996 Gentleman's constituents; he was visiting his own constituents. In the same way, when the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisly) visits my constituency of Londonderry or any other constituency in Northern Ireland he is visiting his own constituents as a Member of the European Assembly.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I do not know how Government Departments work, but when I go to the hon. Gentleman's constituency the Minister asks whether I have cleared the visit with my representative. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have often telephoned him to tell him that I am going into his constituency and need his clearance with the Government Department. But nobody cleared Mr. Hume with me. Not that I care a twopenny ticket who goes in or what they do—if someone else can get something for my constituency that I cannot, good luck to him. I wish that I knew how it was done. I thought that I knew most of the strings to be pulled with Government Departments. Perhaps there is now a green string, so if I am pulling the orange string it may not be too helpful in some oases.
I have nothing against any individual doing a job of work. I would welcome a series of Assembly Members taking on responsibility, as they did in the past, for carrying out the tasks that are undertaken for English, Scottish and Welsh people through the local government system. I therefore object to any Member of Parliament saying that he would not wish anyone to have that right. The amendment to prevent elected Members of the Assembly fighting their constituents' cases is ridiculous. I in no way support it and I shall certainly vote against it. Indeed, I hope that hon. Members opposite will tell Assembly Members from their party not to sit around doing nothing but to work for the people, because that is the purpose of electing Members to the Assembly.
It has been said that we wish excepted matters to come back to Stormont. That is not so. Under the old Stormont system, there was quite a list of excepted matters and there was never any agitation by Unionists at that time to get those matters back . On the present excepted list, however, there are some matters which used to be on the reserved list, as the schedules to the two Acts show. Some of those could certainly be reserved rather than excepted matters. Indeed, that representation was made to the Secretary of State, but it fell on deaf ears and he made no response to it.
We must be content with a little. The Secretary of State has met us fairly on this first part, and I am grateful for that. I do not want the Assembly to have a run-in with any of its Members. I want the Presiding Officer to say exactly what we can discuss within the terms of the Bill. As I have already emphasised, matters of law and order are of the utmost importance and we need to be able to discuss them fully in the Assembly.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm, as I believe he was saying, that there is a distinction between amendment No. 40 and the Government amendment in that the Government amendment does not include excepted matters? As the hon. Gentleman said, there could be difficulties that would lead to a High Court injunction—for example, if defence matters are discussed on the assumption by Members that they were debating security issues. It would be much easier if the Government accepted amendment No. 40 to ensure that there would be no legal proceedings.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why I must press my amendment to a Division. It is an important point.
We have a second string. We can tell the Secretary of State that we want a debate on an excepted matter and he has the power to direct the Assembly to discuss it. However, I should prefer the Assembly to have the freedom to discuss such matters. When excepted matters were discussed in Stormont—for example, when EEC membership was in the offing—the Stormont Parliament had a discussion and a resolution on the matter.
I hope that no difficulties will arise in the Assembly because no one seeks to deny freedom of speech to those who are elected. After all, the Assembly will not be making decisions, but it does have the right to discuss such matters.
§ Mr. Peter Lloyd (Fareham)
Clause 3 begins with the words:During any period for which no Order is in forcefor devolution. For reasons that we examined at some length in our discussions on clauses 1 and 2, I fear that that period could be a long one. Therefore, unless the whole exercise is eventually wound up, the clause will, in practice, be extremely important as a long-term arrangement and not just a stepping stone to a more complete devolved arrangement.
As a result, the arrangement in clause 3 will underline the absence of normal local government, or devolved government, democracy in Northern Ireland, far more clearly than direct rule has ever done. The Assembly will prepare reports requested by the Secretary of State that he can adopt or ignore as he pleases. Copies of those reports will be laid before the House but may be largely unread. What is more, they will appear to be from an Assembly that is not responsible for its own agreed view, but expected, as the notes on clauses so helpfully made available by my right hon. Friend indicate, to show the range of views and contributions in the Assembly—as if it was, in effect, checking up on homework done and, presumably, on how co-operation between representatives of the two communities is developing.
The resultant natural frustration that that will generate in the Assembly will be exacerbated by the fact that the majority will inevitably be ready to take on the powers that they see the Bill promising. That is what they will seek election for, and that is the objective of the Bill. Therefore, the majority of voters, and the majority of Members of the Assembly, will see no valid reason why their elected representatives should not take on the powers that appear to have been promised.
When they do not get them, will they blame the minority for thwarting the majority, or the Government for making what they regard as anti-democratic rules? One thing is certain: resentment will surely follow. The situation will not prove to be one in which a powerless Assembly will do, at worse, no harm as so many of my hon. Friends who support the Bill believe. Its very powerlessness will sour relationships because, for the majority, its powerlessness will have what seems specific, unfair and remedial causes both in the Bill and in the behaviour of the minority.
The public opinion polls, some of which were quoted by my right hon. Friend, showed that voters are not unfavourably disposed towards power sharing in the 998 Assembly as an idea. But the polls will not I believe show the electors to be tolerant of a power-sharing formula which, in effect, prevents the majority from assuming any powers. Nor will the majority of electors be tolerant of a minority that exploits the formula as, of course, it will have a proper right to do. It is, I fear, inevitable that relationships between the majority and Westminster, and between the majority and the minority in Northern Ireland, will deteriorate, although I appreciate that my right hon. Friend's hope and intention is to improve them. That hope is based on the expectation that a common format will emerge and that trust will be built up between the communities on housing, health and on the economy as they find that they have objectives in common and are able to fashion common ways of achieving them.
In the early hours of this morning my right hon. Friend asked why the critics expected the worst and why they are so pessimistic. I do not think that I expect the worst. There are many more dangerous and unpleasant possibilities than the deteriorating relationships and exasperation that I envisage.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have not confused the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman came here confused, remained confused, and no doubt will go out confused. He will be less confused if he reads in Hansard the debates and exchanges that he has missed. [Interruption.] I do not believe that the worst is likely, because the worst can be very bad. I expect human nature to take its normal course and that will rob my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.]
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
On a point of order, Mr. Dean. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make sedentary interventions? If he wants the hon. Gentleman to give way, he should ask to be allowed to intervene.
The Second Deputy Chairman
I have not heard anything out of order yet. It is difficult for me to hear the debate if there are sedentary interruptions.
§ Mr. Lloyd
No doubt the Assembly will genuinely seek to influence Ministers, at least at first. No doubt Ministers will seek to create opportunities for themselves to be influenced and to leave room in their decisions for an adjustment along the lines of what the Assembly might bring itself to say. Ministers will want the Assembly to be seen to have an effective role and to be achieving something, even if it is unable to reach an agreement that allows it to have devolved powers.
However, I suspect that these efforts, in the long run, will be unlikely to provide enough evidence of the sustained effectiveness of the Assembly to allow it permanent self-respect and the feeling that it has a permanent contribution to make.
As the prospect for real power is slight, the pressure will increasingly be to criticise Westminster and to impress constituents. Certainly Assembly Members will appear better tribunes and make larger headlines that way. The competitive element between the representatives of the two communities as well as within communities will 999 provide natural pressures in that direction, especially when there will be no responsibility of office or power, or the likelihood of that, to restrain the Members.
I am not suggesting that I think the Members will behave irresponsibly. I simply believe that, given the frustrations that exist in Northern Ireland, the criticisms voiced by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will continue to be voiced. In an Assembly without any powers, I believe that the hon. Gentleman will genuinely and rightly feel not that he is being irresponsible by making louder, stronger and more detailed criticisms but rather that he is acting responsibly on behalf of his electorate.
§ Mr. Lloyd
It is neither a compliment nor an insult. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am trying to address my remarks to the clause and the amendments as accurately and as clearsightedly as I can. If the hon. Gentleman will only listen to the debate and try to catch the eye of the Chair, he will be able to give a considered response to those issues to which he has clearly given very little thought during the weeks that the Bill has been before the Committee.
The Assembly shall certainly expect the attendance of Ministers. There will be a temptation, to which it will be difficult not to succumb, to show how in some respects Ministers could do better for Northern Ireland and how in others they are failing Northern Ireland. I believe that such instances will increase as frustrations develop.
The occasion for the attendance of Ministers is not defined. My right hon. Friend said earlier this morning that these things must sort themselves out when the Assembly is in being and that Ministers should go not on any predetermined basis but when circumstances are propitious. That will provide another occasion for argument, particularly as relationships become frayed and the prospect of real responsibility recedes. I understand why my right hon. Friend does not wish to commit himself to hypothetical situations, but this is one situation that will arise. Hypothetical though it may be at present, it will become a very real one if the Bill is put into effect. The circumstances for Ministers to attend the Assembly will, I believe, become less propitious as the demand for their attendance grows.
In the main, the amendments seek to reduce restrictions on the topics that the Assembly can discuss. That is quite right, especially as the Assembly will discuss what it wants anyway. It will not allow itself to be restricted when there is something that it has a thorough mind about which to speak.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) gave an extreme example, but it is all too unlikely to be rare. He said that if the Assembly met after a bombing or a murder it was not conceivable that it would not discuss that matter and the security arrangements surrounding it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) showed in his moving and horrific account of one such incident why that should be so. Therefore, the Assembly will not accept artificial restrictions on its debate, especially as it has been taught to think of itself as a devolved legislative Assembly in embryo.
How can such a body with that idea of itself be so confined? The Secretary of State will have contributed to 1000 that assumption by reserving the right and power to ask the Assembly to consider any matter that he feels appropriate. Therefore, the only barrier that the Assembly will see to free discussion will be the Secretary of State and whether he intends to ask it to discuss something or has a desire to muzzle and manage it. That is not how my right hon. Friend will see this. He will see his role and actions as trying to help the Assembly behave and operate as realistically and constructively as possible, but the Assembly will behave according to its own pressures and perceptions, not according to his.
Amendment No. 129 recognises a reality that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds developed most effectively in his speech. Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 seek to delete the restriction to debate matters that are not excepted or reserved. Government amendment No. 133 does the same, but only for reserved matters. It is helpful, but it does not go as far as common sense and reality would determine.
Amendments Nos. 144 and 145 have been tabled by the SDP-Liberal alliance. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) is not present, because she spoke to them. I understand that they have been tabled as a further check by this House on the Assembly. I ant not sure whether this would be an effective check, but I believe that such a course would be felt by the Assembly to be a patronising arrangement that smacks a little of the colonial relationship that the right hon. Lady earlier deplored. Assembly Members will see themselves as responsible not to this House but to their own constituents, and we should recognise that fact if we are to have one.
The right hon. Lady also argued that the Bill's critics had been totally unconstructive. The fact that she has not attended these debates frequently has led her into an error. I hope that she will at least read some of the contributions to our earlier debates. By doing so, she will see that what is at issue is not, as she believes, a lack of understanding of how serious the problem in Northern Ireland is, but rather that the critics hold a different analysis of the problem from the one she holds.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to do a disservice to my right hon. Friend or to put her in a situation that she did not create. She referred only to some of the contributions that have been made, not to all the contributions. I am sure that, had my right hon. Friend been present to hear the hon. Gentleman, such a thought would have been far from her mind.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I should not like to do the right hon. Lady an injustice. However, I am sorry that she has not taken into her argument any conception of the nature of the criticism that has come from both sides of the Committee. The right hon. Lady seems to believe that the way forward is to adopt the formulae proposed in the Bill and for people to sit round the table and say "We must find the solution, mustn't we?". The Bill's critics believe that that underestimates the nature of the problem in Northern Ireland, that it will institutionalise the very divide that we wish to ameliorate and that it will cause an instability that we wish to see the Northern Ireland institutions help to banish.
The right hon. Lady also felt—I do not think that I am being unfair to her—that we were not improving the Bill. 1001 I fear that she is probably right, but that is because none of the amendments to improve the Bill has found favour with the Committee. They have been voted down. Nevertheless, our long debates will be extremely worthwhile. They will not improve this Bill, but I am sure that the seminar and the learning process that we have been operating, and which I am sorry that more right hon. and hon. Members have not been present for, will improve the Bill that must inevitably follow the failure of this one. What we are doing now has an immense value, albeit, I fear, a long-term one.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
I should like to take up my hon. Friend's point about these debates having been something of a seminar, and endorse and underline it. I have sat through, perhaps not as many hours as some hon. Members, but about 20 or 30 hours. I have only asked questions and made some points of order. I have not yet made a speech that lasted more than two minutes.
However, I can assure my hon. Friend and the Committee that I have gleaned much from what I have heard from both sides of the Committee. The parliamentary process has been enormously valuable because of the exchanges, and the education that it has implanted in some of us. If more hon. Members from all parties had heard some of the arguments that have come from many different quarters, people would be a good deal more disquietened by the content of the Bill.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
I gather that the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) made some remarks about me during my absence from the Chamber. He will realise that all of us have on occasions to make telephone calls about our constituents' problems. It might have been better had he waited to see whether I would return to the Chamber.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I withdraw any imputation that the right hon. Lady deliberately absented herself from the Committee. However, as I am not able to determine when I catch the Chairman's eye, it is sad for both of us that I should do so when the right hon. Lady has to make a telephone call.
I shall repeat what I said—the right hon. Lady in her criticisms by the critics of the Bill seemed to display an ignorance of the basis and the analysis on which these criticisms by the critics were based. I hope that, as they were well set out in the earlier stages of discussion in Committee, she will take the trouble to read them. That will not necessarily change her view, but at least she will comprehend the view of the Bill's opponents.
Government amendment No. 135 concerns the power of the Secretary of State to get the Assembly to produce reports on any matter that he may wish or determine. The amendment is I believe a mistake because it helps to confuse the purpose and expectations of the Assembly, and suggests that it is something to be switched on and off by the Secretary of State as he may or may not find it useful.
I have understood from everything that my right hon. Friend said, and from the nature of the Bill, that the objective of the Bill is to set up an Assembly that will lead, by the formula that we were discussing in clauses 1 and 2, to the devolution of powers. It is not something that provides the Secretary of State with advice, argumentation and information when he feels like it. The purpose and 1002 intention of the Assembly is to have an independent existence of its own, responsible to the electorate in Northern Ireland. The purpose of the amendment seems to run across that.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I rise not to filibuster but rather to put on record some facts that need to be put on record that arise out of the debate, and to welcome the more constructive attitude that has entered the debate this afternoon.
I appreciate that perhaps today more consideration is being given to amendments. This afternoon, we have had a wide-ranging discussion, in which the basic philosophy of political parties has been examined. Through the good offices of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) we had a wide discussion on the place of the police in Northern Ireland.
I put on record my appreciation not simply of the present serving members of the security forces, but of those who in past years and difficult times have served Northern Ireland, maintaining the rule of law. At times they have been criticised simply for doing so. They have been falsely criticised, sometimes as a result of the media portraying pictures of a reaction, rather than a full follow-through of an incident in street rioting.
In that context, I should also like to clarify some confusion that has arisen as a result of a speech by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). To do so, I put on record my opposition to paramilitaries from the Loyalist family, who have done some dastardly things. I have opposed them consistently. The hon. Member gave the impression to the Committee, and through the Committee, in Hansard, to a wider public, that a significant number of security forces have been killed by Loyalist paramilitaries.
I have done some investigation and found that the number of members of the security forces killed in Northern Ireland during the 12 years is approximately 638. I say "approximately" because only yesterday a good friend of mine, Lexie Cummings, was murdered in Strabane. I do not know who else has been murdered today.
While there are some who say that the problem is not as bad as it was, I represent a constituency where there is much terrorism, and succeeded an hon. Member who was a victim of terrorism. In the past two weeks we have had incidents virtually every day in which former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary have been attacked in their homes. For example, the wife of one of them was injured when she opened her door, which was booby-trapped.
It is because of what is happening in my constituency that I reacted as I did to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) when she talked about denominational hatred. The young man that I told her about, who was killed on his bicycle, was from my constituency.
I found out the number of security forces killed in these 12 years. My memory is not perfect and those who know me recognise that, unlike others, I do not claim infallibility. However, I can only remember one member of the RUC who was murdered by Loyalists. That was in a riot, when I could have been a victim. I refer to the murder of Victor Arbuckle in Shankill. It could have been colleagues of mine, who were in the road that evening, trying to bring some sanity to an incensed crowd. I remember a member of the UDR who was murdered in the stoppage in 1977. Of course, I deplore the 638 deaths, but 1003 the Committee should not believe that a significant number of people were murdered by the Loyalist community in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Soley
I know that the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) believes that the paramilitaries should be condemned, wherever they are. I share his belief. I know that the hon. Gentleman is worried about the figures that I quoted, but they came from The Times in 1981. I shall see that he gets a copy. I used the word "significant", because the figures given for killings of security forces by paramilitaries on the Unionist side run into two figures, and therefore they could not have been chance killings. On a significant number of occasions they must have been done with premeditation. I shall see that the hon. Gentleman gets a copy of the paper.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I shall be glad to have it. I have never been too happy about relying on press figures, because I have suffered from them too often in the past. However, I shall be happy to examine them. Certainly I take the hon. Gentleman's point.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds spoke about the coming together of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the rest of the British police forces. That coming together may not have marked so much a transformation in the RUC as a transformation among politicians and members of police forces in Scotland, England and Wales who, as a result of the situation, had to work closer with the RUC and began to understand its problems and the calibre of its members.
One of the great tragedies of the period 1921 to 1968 in Northern Ireland's history was that many people who should have known better, having put Northern Ireland in a difficult position, withdrew from it. In that connection, I query some of the proposals in the Bill. I reject the inference that the RUC, if it were under some sort of supervision, even by questions in the Assembly, would become a political football. The hon. Gentleman's reference to the officer who said that if that happened he would resign reflects the calibre of the members of the police service in Ulster who serve the law in every part of the community. Even in the days of the much-maligned Ulster Special Constabulary, they applied the law even-handedly.
Perhaps here I might say a word about the history of the matter. In 1.921, the security powers were reserved and the infant Northern Ireland Government had no say in the internal security of the Province. My late father was one of those who pleaded with the leaders at that time to come back to Whitehall and ask for more say in local security, because otherwise there would be a continuing blood-bath. People are rather naive if they believe that security will be helped by devolving an Assembly in Northern Ireland which has no say in security there. Perhaps I might draw from the experience of those who shared in the unlamented Executive that fell in 1974, who said that never again would they become involved in a situation where they had no power over internal security.
One of the difficulties that faced members of the young Royal Ulster Constabulary was not simply that it had to do border duties and other activities of that nature, but that it had inherited the legacy of the Royal Irish Constabulary, of which a large percentage were Roman Catholics. They were slain by those who did not like to be British. I 1004 confirm the figure which has already been mentioned that, although successive Unionist Governments maintained 33⅓ per cent. vacancies for Roman Catholics, no more than about 11 per cent. were ever taken up. As a result, it was always under strength. In legislating for Northern Ireland, we in this Committee must be careful not to handicap the police services in their work, if the purpose of this Bill is to ensure the security and stability of the Province.
We have come a long way since the Hunt report. I remember in those days coming with a deputation to the Home Office, where the then Home Secretary graciously received us. That was in 1970. I thanked him for his gracious welcorae, and said "You have really put yourselves out". He said "What do you mean?", because he had done nothing more than come out of his office to welcome us. I said "You have the Home Office just like the friendly cop shops that we have in Ulster", because at that time there was a corrugated iron fence outside it while reconstruction work was being done.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the then Home Secretary even thought that the RUC should change its uniform?
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Yes. At that time an attempt was made to lower the standards of the RUC, even to the extent of giving them a baggy, secondhand blue uniform, instead of the green uniform which its members wore with pride throughout the years. I shall not say any more on that subject, although it is an important subject, and as I live and work in the Province I hope that the Committee will consider carefully what it is doing.
I want to consider the political discussion. We had a fascinating insight into the policy of at least one party in the House today. That party confessed that it is not terribly interested in the unity of the British nation. Rather it would be inclined to encourage the further break-up of the Union. I believe that it is making a mistake. It is entering the same political wilderness that the Liberal Party went into as a result of its past attitudes to the Irish people. I regret that we may be seeing the emergence of a one-party structure in the United Kingdom.
As I understand it, the mood of the British people, certainly in the aftermath of the Falklands campaign, is that we are one people. The Ulster Unionist Party is proud to be part of that people and proud to be Unionists. Perhaps I have misunderstood what has been said. However, while it may be a gooe thing to encourage Irish nationalism for the ultimate reunification of Ireland, when was Ireland ever united, apart from with the United Kingdom?
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I appreciate your point, Mr. Dean. I was following an earlier line in the debate. Unfortunately, I do not think that you were in the Chair at that stage. I shall try to curb myself and not go too far along that way.
I view the amendments in the context of a union with the United Kingdom. I agree with the emphasis of my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in his arguments against some of the amendments and against the Bill. He has been castigated by some hon. Members as being an integrationist and, therefore, an abolitionist of 1005 any form of devolved government. As I understand it, he is arguing as a Unionist within the context of this debate. He has placed emphasis upon a centralist Government.
We should use this debate to look a little deeper at where we are going. I am not sure about the clause that we are now considering. As far as I understand it, it deals with what the Assembly can do when it is doing nothing. It does not deal with the Assembly's powers when it has full devolution. It is, as it were, the mark-time position. In that context, some of the amendments may be useful because they will give the Assembly something else to talk about.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
That is a point on which the Secretary of State and others who have taken part in the debate are in error. My hon. Friend rightly says that the clause does not deal with the circumstances when full devolution has taken place. Nor does it deal with the subject matter of partial devolution. It deals with the Assembly's activities in addition to and apart from those involved in partial or rolling devolution. The clause refers exclusively to strictly non-devolutionary attitudes, whether in a state of complete or rolling devolution. I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that.
§ Rev. M. Smyth
I appreciate my right hon. Friend's clarification. I understand what he is saying and I hope that the Committee does too.
As a Unionist, I look forward to the day when we will have a united kingdom again. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) quoted the words of one who is certainly admired by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), saying that when Patrick chased the snakes from Ireland they went across the Atlantic and became Irish-Americans.
In addition to that emigration, we should look to England and Scotland. There are many Irish people living in our nation who would be delighted to see future plans to accommodate a United Kingdom, of which their native land is part and parcel. It is in that context that we oppose the Bill's emphasis which may enable it to be used by some to the detriment of that union.
I have one further qualification concerning the powers of the Assembly and, particularly, those of the Presiding Officer. When the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke earlier about the Presiding Officer walking the straight and narrow, before he completed the word "path" I was thinking of the Assembly's president walking the plank. There might be those in this Committee who would try so to fetter both the Assembly and its Presiding Officer that no respectable person would be prepared to offer himself as a candidate. The Committee must examine the powers that the Assembly has and not to so restrict it that it is emasculated.
My final point arises from the comments of the hon. Member for Antrim, North concerning any elected representative working on behalf of the people. I share his view. I also recognise that the House has conventions, particularly in the context of an election on the basis of proportional representation where one may have five Members for one constituency, resulting in a nonproductive use of resources as a result of them being asked to do the same job by their constituents. I would be a wee 1006 bit concerned at the situation that would arise by, for example, each of those five people writing to the Minister, who will have to respond to each in turn.
The sooner that we return to one man, one vote in identifiable constituencies with an elected Member from each, the better. Accordingly, as we continue to examine the Bill and make helpful comments for the good government of Northern Ireland, I hope that the Secretary of State will—
§ Mr. Budgen
Does the hon. Gentleman propose in the future to vote for any form of proportional representation in England in the event of there being some deal by which it is proposed?
§ Mr. Smyth
I shall wait to see what is suggested.
I speak of the practicalities. I question whether we make good use of the franchise. I deplore that we in Northern Ireland have a different voting system from the rest of the Kingdom. Confusion is caused. I was elected by the first-past-the-post system, but in two weeks' time in part of my constituency I shall encourage people to vote in the local council by-election when electors have to express their preferences by putting the figure 1, 2 or 3 against the candidates' names. I should like a universal franchise. I prefer the first-past-the-post system.
§ Mr. Blackburn
This is the first opportunity that I have had of addressing the Committee with you, Mr. Dean, in the Chair. I hope that you will accept my warm and sincere congratulations on your appointment which is so well deserved.
I am always delighted to follow a speech by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). We all remember with great affection the former Member for the constituncy, the Rev. Robert Bradford, whom we mourn even now.
I am offended by and reject the allegation that hon. Members are filibustering. The allegations come from some hon. Members who have not been in the Chamber throughout the debates. They have not gained the benefit of the debates which are a credit to the House in dealing with constitutional matters.
§ Mr. Proctor
Has my hon. Friend noticed that some hon. Members who accuse us of filibustering have contributed more to the discussions than the hon. Members whom they criticise?
§ Mr. Blackburn
That is true. When I cast my eye round the Committee I reflect that many hon. Members present, like myself, have completed 34 hours continuous parliamentary duty. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has not had much opportunity of catching the Chairman's eye during our long debates. The allegations are without foundation and I reject them.
I should like to direct my comments specifically to—
§ Mr. Blackburn
This is the first occasion that I have addressed the Committee. To say that I am filibustering is absurd. I ask the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) to withdraw his remarks. I have been in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Soley
I said not that the hon. Gentleman had not been in the Chamber, but that he had not been here much. The hon. Gentleman has voted, but I sat here throughout 1007 last night and the hon. Gentleman's presence was not overwhelming. He was here all right, but not as much as he would have us believe.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am obliged to you, Mr. Dean.
I should like to address my remarks to amendment No. 129 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I am not filibustering. The amendment is important. I direct my comments to my Front Bench because I hope that even at this late hour we shall hear from the Secretary of State that he is prepared to accept the amendment, which is saturated with common sense and founded on good reasoning.
Let us consider who might oppose the amendment. I have sat through the debate on the group of amendments and have not heard a single word which is hostile to the amendment. Elected representatives here and elsewhere have not objected to it. Members of the European Parliament do not object to it. I have had the privilege of visiting the Province and in my discussions there at no time did I hear anyone in Northern Ireland speak in anything but complimentary terms of the amendment and its implications.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds has outlined the Police Federation view. It is interesting that I had the opportunity of serving for many years in the federation. I still have a positive connection with it. I know that the view expressed by my hon. Friend is right in line with the policy thinking of the federation.
I have had the opportunity of speaking to the fine men and women in the Province who form the thin green line that keeps democracy alive there. From my discussions with them I can tell the Committee without any doubt that there is not a dissenting voice within the Northern Ireland police service in relation to the amendment.
I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) stress again that there is no difference between serving police officers in Belfast and Birmingham. They take the same oath of allegiance to the Crown. The British police service encompasses the fine men and women of the RUC.
I am delighted to inform the Committee that the universal thinking of the Police Federation in England and Wales is so closely related within the terms of amendment No. 129 to the thinking of the RUC that the reaction to stories about the deaths and dreadful injuries caused by explosives to members of the RUC will be eased a little—I put it no higher—by the recent announcement that the Police Dependants' Trust will in future encompass serving police officers in the RUC.
Unashamedly, I shall always be counted among hon. Members who support the men and women of the police service. I do that humbly and sincerely. In my visits to the Province I have received nothing but kindness and courtesy from the fine men and women of the RUC.
To ensure that I am not numbered among those who are filibustering, I should like to ask the Secretary of State before he replies to the debate to think again before he opposes amendment 129. I should like to be able to support the Government but my support depends on the reaction to amendment 129, for which I feel so strongly.
There are important lessons to be learned from our proceedings on the Canada Bill. I shall never forget the 1008 comments during that debate from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He stressed then, and I would steal his words to say, that we, as the House of Commons, being sovereign in these issues, must make sure that our work, which is constitutional and will affect every person in the Province, is done in a manner which is a credit not only to the Committee corporately but to the legislation itself. It is simply not good enough to produce legislation to create an Assembly, and having created it to say that we will then leave it to sort out the problems. Within the terms of the constitution, those who are elected to the Assembly should know in clear terms the code of conduct and regulations governing it. It is the solemn duty of the Committee to create that legislation.
I ask the Secretary of State to accept amendment 129. I hope that there are other aspects of the Bill that can be amended in such a way that at the end of the debate, and when the Bill receives the Royal Assent, we will be glad to say that we were associated with that legislation In that spirit, I commend my comments particularly to the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) said that he had heard no one speak against the amendments of his hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). It is with diffidence and regret that I tell him that I do not agree with the amendments. I do so not because I disagree with what was said or because I have less respect and regard for those for whom his hon. Friend spoke.
For a short time during my stay in Northern Ireland I had responsibility for the administration of the police.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
There may be a misapprehension about the thrust of my speech. I made it clear that I wanted the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its arrangements discussed in the Assembly. I did not say that I did not want the matter discussed. So, in that, we are at least in agreement.
§ Mr. Dunn
I assure the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that I was going to refer to the fact that he had specifically said that this was a proper topic, and that from time to time, within certain guidelines, and under proper control, elected representatives should have the right. I shall return to that matter later in my speech.
I had great regard for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Its men and women served with great distinction. do not completely share the view that some of them did so with fear. They were aware of the danger that surrounded them in their day-to-day operational duties to keep law and order in the Province. I share the sorrow and regret of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds about the terrible, brutal and mindless murders of men who were trying to serve the community.
§ Mr. Dunn
The House will forgive me if I use the word in my own way. I meant mindless in the sense that those who did it were not even concerned that a human life had been sacrificed for the brutal terror of which they were part. I have said that several times from the Government and Opposition Dispatch Boxes. Therefore, it is not without thought that I use the word "mindless" Brutal murders by terrorists from wherever they come should be outrightly condenmed by all hon. Members without reservation.
1009 Innocent men, women and children suffered the same fate. They were brutally killed, murdered and maimed. Their property was destroyed. There is no way that we can give any reason or accept any excuse for such happenings.
When I was responsible for police administration it was a great privilege to come into contact with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and to serve them in some small way as they serve the people of Northern Ireland.
Professional policing can be effective only if it has the consent of the community it serves. That implies, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North said, some accountability to the people they serve. There must be some communication and exchange of views. I would completely reject any interference, political or otherwise, in the day-to-day operational control of the police. I completely reject the enslavement of chief constables in the performance of their duties. Nevertherless, chief constables must always take account of the fact that in order to serve the men and women of their force they must create good relationships with the community they serve and with the elected representatives or, indeed, as in these circumstances with those who were appointed to the police authority.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
The important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) was not so much that there should not be discussions of police affairs by representatives of the people as that there should not be political interference by what one might call Ministers. From time to time, there was interference by the Minister of Home Affairs in the old Northern Ireland Government with the decisions of the Inspector-General, as he then was, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about local representatives having some say and some interest in the affairs of the police. Does he agree with the Unionist Party's paper of 1976 in which the view was put forward that there should be regional councils in Northern Ireland and that councillors from those regional councils should be represented on the Northern Ireland police authority?
§ Mr. Dunn
I recall the Unionist paper to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I had great sympathy with the principle that lay behind the proposals contained within it but I did not go so far as to embrace the local district council proposals. A devolved Assembly could fulfil the need for that form of government just as easily and probably more efficiently, but that is merely a personal view.
I did not disagree with the argument that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds advanced in support of amendments Nos. 129 and 130 but I disagree with their drafting. Why should Members of the Assembly not be able to talk to or know the police force that serves them in the community? It is not a secret police service and its members would not wish it to be. When I was a Northern Ireland Minister they wanted me to be aware of the jobs and the tasks that they undertook on behalf of the community. They did not want all the operational duties that they performed to be made known to the public because that would have defeated some of their purposes. However, there is no reason why suggestions should not be made about how the police can best serve the community, including operational duties. Of course, 1010 suggestions could not be imposed upon a police force. A police force should not have to do exactly what the elected representatives wish it to do. That element of compulsion would be unacceptable.
I say to those who support amendments Nos. 129 and 130 that their support is misplaced. If they want accountability and consent, an enhanced relationship and a further improvement in the performance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, they should not place such constraints in the Bill.
It would not be in the interests of the police if they were to press the Secretary of State to make representations to the existing police authority that the terms and conditions of the Edmund-Davies recommendations, which are already applied in Britain, should automatically be applied by the police authority in Northern Ireland. If there is a reluctance by the police authority to accept that the Police Federation should have a right to attend its meetings and if the Secretary of State imposes that duty upon it, that will not create good relationships and it will not make one whit of a contribution to solving the problem that has been brought to our attention. Communications in the past between the Chief Constable and some members of the police authority might not have been all they should be. Attention should be given to that possible shortcoming first. If that happens, further discussions will follow as surely as night follows day.
I appreciate the way in which the Secretary of State responded in detail to the debate this morning and gave advice to my right hon. Friends and myself. I appreciate his kindness in writing to me in response to an issue that I brought to his attention. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept that there must be further opportunities for the Committee to discuss financial control of transferred Departments that will come within the responsibility of the Assembly when full or partial devolution takes place. Further accountability should be introduced in the reporting-back structure. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that that would happen. When we discuss later parts of the Bill I hope that that will be spelt out in greater detail. I feel that it would not be completely satisfactory to depend upon the present system, which in my experience has not always provided satisfactory answers. I recall many occasions when I had to talk to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) during the passage of the Appropriation Bill. The system was never satisfactory and now we hava chance to improve it.
§ Mr. Proctor
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) made a kindly reference—I think that it was kindly—to my absence from the Committee last night. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) has said that occasionally one has to leave the Chamber to make a telephone call. My reason for leaving the Chamber for a day or so was because I had to go to Brussels to represent a constituent who is incarcerated in Angola. He was one of the Angolan mercenaries. I went to make representations on his behalf at the Angolan embassy. I apologise to the Committee for being absent yesterday, and I am glad that I have been given the opportunity to make amends by making an early contribution to our debates today.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman had some fun about the part played by Unionism in the Conservative Party. He described us as being Right-wingers. I prefer to call myself right. At the 1979 general election I may have been the only candidate to stand as an official Conservative and Unionist Party candidate. That was made clear in my election manifesto and it was the designation that I chose for my ballot paper. I do not know whether that had something to do with the rather large swing in voting in Basildon during the election. That is something that I shall leave for other Members to consider.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) drew attention to the opening words of the clause, which read:During any period for which no Order is in force under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of section 2 above".He said that that means that the clause may be in operation for rather a long time. I agree with him. What might be seen as a temporary clause might become at least a longstanding one, if not a permanent one. For that reason, and for many more, the clause and the amendments are important to the Bill.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) referred to police matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has tabled amendments Nos. 129 and 130. He spoke with great eloquence about the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He praised the RUC and I, like other hon. Members, wish to associate myself with his praise. He set out some horrifying and sobering examples. He was right to do so because there have been occasions in Committee when we have forgotten to refer to the violence that takes place in Northern Ireland from time to time. He referred to the casualties that have occurred over the years in Northern Ireland not just among the Royal Ulster Constabulary but among the Army. He compared that attrition of the security forces with the news media coverage given recently to the Falkland Islands and the sacrifices made there by our Armed Forces. May I place on record that one of my constituents, an 18-year-old paratrooper, was one of those who died in the attack on a machine gun position at Goose Green?
The proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds on the police was that an Assembly in Northern Ireland without devolved powers—as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) indicated, under the Bill no devolved powers would have gone to the Assembly at the stage when clause 3 and its provisions were triggered—should not deal with police matters, for several reasons. His reasons for not allowing the Assembly to discuss police matters were persuasive. We are not talking about a local authority. Some hon. Members have already referred to the fact that local authorities in Northern Ireland from time to time discuss police activities. We are proposing to give to an Assembly power to debate police matters, but this will be an Assembly which subsequently can take legislative decisions. I am worried about the interaction between administrative and legislative devolution on police matters. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make the position clear in regard to the legislative powers that the Assembly might have in police matters. 1012 The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) misconstrued the opposition of some hon. Members to the Assembly. He felt that we were critical of future elected Members of the Assembly. I do not believe that we have been critical of any democratically elected representatives. We have been critical of the system in which they and we as democratically elected representatives will be trapped.
§ Mr. Proctor
As my hon. Friend wisely says, it is a system which will force them into a certain form of conduct. This provides the link to amendment No. 39 and related amendments on exactly what sort of Assembly there will be if clause 3 remains in the Bill. Hon. Members have said that the Assembly will become a talking shop and a forum for irresponsible debate. It will become a shouting shop and much discredit will rebound on the House for having established it. That is not because any fault rests with the elected representatives but rather because of the system being set up in the Bill.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds did not remain in his place throughout the debate on this group of amendments because it might have helped him to understand the feelings of some of us on other parts of clause 3. As I understand it, my hon. Friend said that he could support the Bill in principle. I think that he said he could support some of the principles advanced in the White Paper but that when he came to read the small print as it affected him he thought that this was a bad clause. If he took altruistic view of the matter and gave the same amount of attention to other proposals in the Bill, he could not with a ay logic oppose clause 3 and not oppose all the other clauses and schedules. What he was opposing was basically the principle enshrined in the Bill. Therefore, I did not regard my hon. Friend's speech as full endorsement of the Bill; his thought processes did not influence me to that conclusion.
Amendment No. 42 deals with constituency cases. In answer to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Crosby, the amendment is particularly persuasive in that Members of Parliament who sit in this House should continue to deal with cases raised by their constituents in the absence of devolved powers for the Assembly. I think that it is what the amendment says. I hope that the Secretary of State will give due attention to it.
Dealing with a kindred point, the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) referred to the form of election in Northern Ireland for local government representatives as being distinct from that for the rest of the United Kingdom. I agree that there should be a common system of election throughout the United Kingdom for all tiers of government, national and local. The best procedure for election to this House is the tried historic procedure of one man, one vote. I disapprove of any notions of proportional representation.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does my hon. Friend believe that members of the public will think that those of us on the Government Benches who endorse a system of proportional representation in Northern Ireland are in favour of proportional representation in the remainder of the United Kingdom and are thus, perhaps, preparing for a deal with the SDP?
§ Mr. Proctor
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who voted for that measure do not take that view, though it is difficult for them to reconcile it.
§ Mr. Proctor
They might be misunderstood in their constituencies and by their local party associations. It is for my right hon. and hon. Friends to square the circle.
§ Mr. Budgen
My hon. Friend assumes, as does the Secretary of State, that because there is a problem there is a solution. It may not be possible to square the circle.
§ Mr. Proctor
I thought that it was impossible to square a circle. Under clause 3(1)(b) the Secretary of State has powers, amended if the Government amendment is carried, to allow the Assembly toconsider any matter affecting Northern Ireland (whether or not it is an excepted or reserved matter) which is referred to it by the Secretary of State.There are definitions of excepted, reserved and transferred powers. Paragraph 27(a) of the White Paper defines the term "excepted" matters. It states:For which responsibility would remain permanently with Westminster. This category comprised various matters of national importance inappropriate for consideration other than by Parliament, eg the Crown, Foreign Affairs and Defence.Does the Secretary of State propose to allow the Assembly to debate any of those matters? Does he propose to allow it to discuss relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? My amendment proposed such a question, but it has not been selected, so I shall not press the matter.
In the past the Crown, foreign affairs and defence could have been discussed only by Parliament. I am worried that this might allow the Assembly to discuss such matters. Will the Secretary of State answer that point?
Clause 3 and this group of amendments are among the principal reasons why I oppose the Bill. I have not concealed my view from the Committee. The danger of the Bill is that it gives legislative powers to the proposed Assembly that would antagonise sectarian opinion in the Province. It will undermine the essential governmental uniformity of the United Kingdom and it does not cope adequately with the diverse requirements of Ulster for proper, effective and meaningful local government.
Similar initiatives have failed before and they will fail again, because no mutually acceptable concoction of contrived power sharing can be worked out.
§ Mr. Prior
I intervene again to take up a number of points raised in the debate. At times, I have felt that our discussions have been taking on a considerably more encouraging air and some speeches have recognised the considerable difficulties in the present situation in Northern Ireland.
Although my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) says that some Ministers feel that if there is a problem it is up to them to find a solution, I do not remember his saying that when I was resisting further amendments to the Employment Bill. But that is another matter.
§ Mr. Budgen
My right hon. Friend forgets my speech about the necessity for a generous gesture. We all change our positions at various times within the coalition. My right hon. Friend learnt from the Industrial Relations Act 1972 and wanted less legislation. We are now going 1014 through another process of self-education, and if the Bill fails in the House or in Northern Ireland it will be clear that devolution is dead for at least a decade.
§ Mr. Prior
It is the duty of politicians and the Government to seek a solution. We are proposing the establishment of an Assembly, first without powers—though it is a matter of how quickly powers can be devolved to it—but with certain abilities and tasks from day one.
I am not generally encouraged by the speeches of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), but not only did he say that he thought that the Assembly could be made to work, but he added that he thought that it would be responsible and that there was a need for it. That encouraged me because I believe that there is a need to fill the political vacuum that has existed in Northern Ireland for a number of years.
It is a difficult proposition and anything that forces people to face up to the problems posed by the identities in Northern Ireland is bound to cause them to think hard about whether any progress is possible. That is why we have moved one step at a time by the process of rolling devolution and the establishment of the Assembly.
Generally, the transferred matters that are open for discussion have been acceptable, as have the changes that I propose in the Government amendments. They will give the proper opportunities for the Assembly to have the necessary debates on various subjects. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) emphasised the difficulties of achieving the degree of co-operation between the two identities that is necessary for the police to command the respect of the whole community. I was mistaken in believing that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds had returned to the Chamber and I shall give him a few moments longer.
In the meantime, I shall deal with a matter raised by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams). In my remarks this morning I dealt with some points that she put to me and I have communicated with her and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn). Amendment 145 was her principal concern this evening. I well understand the wish to ensure that no Department or its political head behaves in a manner that we all regard as unacceptable. I entirely accept that there must be full accountability for each Department. But the logic of devolution requires that accountability for that Department—or those Departments that have been devolved—must be to the Assembly before which the heads of the Departments are answerable. If a member of a Department is discharging his responsibilities unreasonably and if there is any question of sectarian bias in the Minister's behaviour—which is illegal under section 19 of the Constitution Act and an additional safeguard—the entire devolution package would be called into question.
Since the devolution package will have taken a great deal to put together, comprising as it probably will some fairly disparate individuals with different views, once an individual steps out of line and becomes unacceptable, other Members of the Assembly would make certain that that individual would be replaced. If that is not possible, regrettably the devolution package would collapse. That is where the powers in clause 5 must be taken into account.
Although I have tried to set out the way in which this Parliament will monitor the total expenditure of Northern Ireland, I do not see how we can do that in the case of an 1015 individual Department but I shall continue searching for some better method of accountability. The manner in which the package is put together is more likely to ensure that an individual does not misbehave. If he does and is not replaced as a result of the persuasion that others exert on him, regretfully, we might find ourselves coming up against the powers of clause 5.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the care with which he has considered the amendment. Amendment No. 145 is related to clause 5 and I shall deal with it separately, but the point that especially worried my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) and myself is the position that might arise whereby, possibly deliberately or as a result of pressures upon him, a Minister might put the entire devolution experiment at risk although the party of which he is a member might not wish to do so. As we feared the possibility that it might be difficult for his party to replace him, we sought another mechanism that might force that Minister to face the responsibilities separately from the experiment.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
How does the Secretary of State envisage the mechanism of replacement to which he referred?
§ Mr. Prior
That is chiefly a matter for the parties that make up the Executive. If we are talking about devolved Departments, as we are in this case, it would be a matter for the parties and the Assembly and not for the House. However, this clause deals with the position before a devolved Assembly.
§ Mr. Powell
Could not the Secretary of State, who is the appointed authority, on a petition or some other motion to the Assembly, dismiss the head of the Department were it not rendered unnecessary by his resignation?
§ Mr. Prior
Those matters are better dealt with under clause 5. We shall return to them later.
I return to the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. I also listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn). My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds set out clearly the delicate problems in Northern Ireland about sectarian violence. That goes to the heart of everything that one wishes to do in the Bill and I believe that my hon. Friend supports its general approach.
I share with my hon. Friend and with the Committee respect and admiration for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I have as close contact with the RUC as any other hon. Member of the Committee and I have grown to admire its officers' professionalism, enthusiasm and loyalty. I am convinced of their professionalism with regard to confidentiality and of their non-sectarian approach. There is no greater admirer of the RUC in the United Kingdom than myself, and I shall give it every support and encouragement. I have met the Police Federation many times and I spend as much time as I can going round police posts and stations. The RUC must undergo a series of risks which it is hard for hon. Members to understand unless 1016 they see the force in operation. Naturally, when one examines any amendments concerning the RUC, one does so seriously.
In the past few years, the RUC has established itself as a member—perhaps a leading member—of the British police family. It had the great success of beating the Metropolitan Police in the final of the Football Association police cup the other day. The RUC is now an accepted and important member of the police family. Direct rule is not crucial to that status. What matters most is that it should be accepted throughout the community in Northern Ireland.
Although there has been an enormous improvement in acceptability, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said, the fact remains, as has been pointed out by several hon. Members, that there is still some suspicion that prevents some of the minority from giving the required wholehearted support to the police force. We shall not get on top of, let alone win, the battle against the forces of evil in Northern Ireland until all of the community, Catholics, Protestants, Unionists, Nationalists —
§ Mr. Prior
Yea, and the SDLP—firmly and properly support the forces of law and order.
If a devolved Administration in years to come became fully accepted throughout the community after it was established—it will not become accepted established unless there is widespread acceptance—and if the Adminstration had shown itself to be durable and stable—that would take some time—the problem of attitudes in Northern Ireland would be so transformed that the worries that make the transfer of law and order out of the question now would be substantially reduced.
All that is a long way off. It would require the approval of Parliament. Ore would be moving from the reserve category into the transferred one. Therefore, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds and the Committee knows that there is no question of any transfer of powers to a devolved Assembly without the House having at least two bites at the cherry. The Government do not intend in any way to make a transfer until they are satisfied with the total devolution that is permitted by the Bill and until they are satisfied that it has been stable and operational for some time.
The amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds are unnecessary. In so far as they would form part of the statute, they would prevent for all time the transfer of those powers to a Northern Ireland devolved Executive and Assembly. We do not want to get into that circumstance. It could be that—I cannot see it at the moment, I wish I could—in the future, under the circumstances that I have described, it would be right for what is at the moment a reserve power to become a transferred one. That time is a good way off. In any case, the House would have to approve it.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I apologise for having missed my right hon. Friend's opening few sentences. I accept, of course, that the House would have to approve any devolution of powers over the RUC to a Northern Ireland Assembly or Executive. Will my right hon. Friend address his mind to this simple point? In the United Kingdom, the London police force is in a special position. The Home Secretary acts as the police authority for London because 1017 There is a national responsibility and certain characteristics of policing in London make it appropriate to be dealt with by a Secretary of State on behalf of the Government. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider that the devolution that might take place in Northern Ireland would be like handing over the RUC to the equivalent of the GLC. I believe that there is a case for retaining the special role of a Secretary of State responsible to this House because of the national implications of policing in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Prior
An emergency still exists. We have not taken even the first step towards devolved Government. The security of the Province is a long way from being that which we all desire.
As a matter of principle, I would not wish to commit the RUC to being put into the same position vis-à-vis Ulster as the Metropolitan Police is to London and to the Home Secretary. Looking ahead a number of years, I believe that if we could get as far as I have suggested, the situation would be transformed and what now appears to the RUC as a thoroughly inhospitable suggestion would not prove to be so by the time that the decision was made here in Parliament. If a request were received from the Assembly for a transfer of this kind, it would then be up to Parliament to decide.
§ Mr. Soley
Perhaps the Secretary of State would clarify this. I would certainly be most concerned if we went down the GLC road with regard to the police. Many people in the GLC area and in the police are worried that there has been a distancing of the police from the community. Everyone is against that. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he was anxious not to go down that road. I reinforce that view. The essential point is the closeness of the police force to the community and the development of that over a period.
§ Mr. Prior
I accept that. I believe that the police force in Northern Ireland has a very special relationship, and an improving and changing relationship with the civilian population generally.
Therefore, I do not think that the amendments are appropriate and I hope that my hon. Friend will not press them.
It has been said that the RUC is worried that the Assembly will discuss matters of law and order. As my hon. Friend knows, the Assembly will have no powers over it.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Inevitably, the Assembly would discuss the matter. No one could complain about that. The worry is that the discussion would take on a far more irresponsible character because the Assembly would be able to debate, criticise and comment on these matters without being under any obligation itself to do anything about them.
§ Mr. Prior
I take my hon. Friend's point. I hope that that situation would not exist for very long. Nevertheless, it is a risk in the early days of the Assembly. Northern Ireland policing is of such fundamental and legitimate concern, comment and criticism, if not always responsible comment and criticism, however, that it cannot be avoided. Even now, one does not have to look at the Belfast newspapers for many days to find considerable 1018 criticism of the RUC or of the Chief Constable. In my view, the Chief Constable does a magnificent job in standing up to the enormous criticism levelled at him.
The RUC is robust enough to face criticism because it knows what a good force it is. If it were not an independent non-biased force it would not be able to take that attitude and accept the criticims that it does. It would be far more self-conscisous and react accordingly.
My hon. Friend referred to the importance of the Edmund-Davies report and the failure of the police authority in Northern Ireland to accept the report's recommendations that would allow specific members of the Police Federation to attend the meetings of the police authority. Frankly, I must put myself at the mercy of the Committee because I am in a difficult position. The police authority is appointed by me. To be a member of the police authority in Northern Ireland is not everyone's first choice of a job. I admire the members of the police authority. They have a rough and difficult task. It is not a matter of breaches of confidence. As my hon. Friend plainly said, the police know how to keep confidences—probably better than many in this House. I have no problems in that respect.
However, I do have a problem. We must seek a delicate balance. It would be easy if I pushed too hard, or the police authority dug in too deep, to find myself in the position where I did not have a police authority or had thoroughly upset the RUC. I have told my hon. Friend in discussions that I have, of course, had with him that we are appointing a new police authority and I felt that it was right that the new authority should be consulted again about the Edmund-Davies proposals. I shall do that, and in view of the expressions of concern in the Committee this afternoon I shall certainly be prepared to press a great deal more strongly for the police authority to accept the recommendations. I cannot promise that, as I must be able to make a judgment as I go on.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Does my right hon. Friend envisage more local authority representation on the Northern Ireland police authority?
§ Mr. Prior
The police authority has just been reinstated. There is a balanced membership, but I cannot answer that question off the cuff. I shall pursue these questions with the new members of the police authority on their appointment next month and no doubt my hon. Friend will give me no peace until he has my answer. However, I beg him to recognise that it is not a straightforward matter, although Lord Edmund-Davies thought that it was. It is not so easy as it is in the rest of Great Britain. I hope that the Committee will not press me further on that point.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I have known my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State long enough to accept his assurance that he will do what he can. I hope that he will not contract out from his ultimate responsibility for taking a decision in line with the policies that the Government have generally accepted and proclaimed from the Dispatch Box. It would be wrong if policies that have been proclaimed by the Government, and the previous Government, were not applied in Northern Ireland because of some resistance.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will also take account of the fact that only today the Home Secretary again sent 1019 to police authorities and others a circular requiring them to improve consultation with the local community and the Police Staff Association. Great offence would be taken in Northern Ireland if the RUC were again to be exempted from that arrangement.
§ Mr. Prior
The Committee will have heard what my hon. Friend has said and will have listened with a fair measure of sympathy. I also hope that it has some sympathy with me, because all the time I am trying to build up the confidence that is absolutely necessary.
I appreciate what the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said about the possible dangers of an Assembly that has an ability to talk without taking responsibility for its actions. At present, there is a political vacuum that must be filled. There will be no lasting solution to the problems of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom until we recognise that the direct rule arrangements are simply not working, at any rate not well enough, and that integration as such is no answer either for the political parties of Northern Ireland or the people of the Province. It is in that light that I ask the Committee to reject these amendments.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Michael Jopling)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 143, Noes 23.1020
|Division No. 220]||[9.06 pm|
|Ancram,Michael||Hamilton, Hon A.|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Heddle,John|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Holland, Philip(Carlton)|
|Bottomley, Peter(W'wich W)||Hooson,Tom|
|Bright,Graham||Howe, RtHonSir Geoffrey|
|Chapman,Sydney||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Clark, Hon A.(Plym'th,S'n)||Lester,Jim(Beeston)|
|du Cann,RtHon Edward||Madel, David|
|Dykes,Hugh||Marten,Rt Hon Neil|
|Greenway, Harry||Meyer, SirAnthony|
|Mills, Sir Peter(West Devon)||Smith,Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Montgomery,Fergus||Spicer, Jim(West Dorset)|
|Morrison, Hon C.(Devizes)||Spicer, Michael(S Worcs)|
|Needham, Richard||Sproat, Iain|
|Parris, Matthew||Stewart,A. (ERenfrewshire)|
|Patten, John(Oxford)||Stewart, Ian(Hitchin)|
|Pawsey, James||Taylor, Teddy(S'end E)|
|Percival,SirIan||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Thompson,Donald|
|Price, SirDavid(Eastleigh)||Townsend, Cyril D,(B'heath)|
|Prior, Rt Hon James||Trippier,David|
|Rees, Peter(Dover and Deal)||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Rodgers, Rt Hon William||Wells, Bowen|
|Ross, Stephen(Isle of Wight)||Wells,John(Maidastone)|
|Royle,SirAnthony||Williams, Rt Hon Mrs(Crosby)|
|Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.||Wrigglesworth,Ian|
|Shaw,SirMichael (Scarborough)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Silvester, Fred||Mr. Ian Lang and|
|Sims, Roger||Mr. Selwyn Gummer.|
|Amery,Rt Hon Julian||Murphy,Christopher|
|Blackburn,John||Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg&Sc'n)||Robinson, P.(Belfast E)|
|Cranborne,Viscount||Smyth,Rev, W. M.(Belfast S)|
|Lloyd, Peter(Fareharn)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|McQuade,John||Mr. K.Harvey Proctor and|
|Molyneaux,James||Mr. William Ross.|
|Morris, M.(N'hampton S)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 21. Noes 128.1021
|Division No. 221]||[9.17 pm|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Murphy,Christopher|
|Biggs-Davison,SirJohn||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Blackburn,John||Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg&Sc'n)||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Budgen,Nick||Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Farr,John||Walker, B. (Perth)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|McQuade,John||Mr. William Ross and|
|Molyneaux,James||Mr. K. Harvey Proctor.|
|Adley, Robert||Brooke, HonPeter|
|Biffen,RtHonJohn||Carlisle, Rt Hon M.(R'c'n)|
|Bottomley, Peter(W'wich W)||Chapman,Sydney|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Patten,John(Oxford)|
|Garel-Jones,Tristan||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Goodlad,Alastair||Price, Sir David(Eastleigh)|
|Gow,Ian||Prior, RtHon James|
|Greenway,Harry||Rees,Peter(Dover and Deal)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'thN)||Rhodes James,Robert|
|Hamilton, HonA.||Ross,Stephen(Isle of Wight)|
|Henderson,Barry||Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Stevens, Martin|
|Lyell,Nicholas||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Maclennan,Robert||Townsend, Cyril D,(B'heath)|
|Madel,David||van Straubenzee, SirW.|
|Marten, RtHon Neil||Wainwright,R.(Colne V)|
|Meyer, SirAnthony||Tellers for the Noes;|
|Mills,Iain(Meriden)||Mr. Selwyn Gummer and|
|Mills,Sir Peter(West Devon)||Mr. David Hunt.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: No. 40, in page 3, line 13, leave out
'which is not an excepted or reserved matter'.—[Rev. Ian Paisley.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 20, Noes 126.1022
|Division No. 222]||[9.28 pm|
|Cranborne,Viscount||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Farr,John||Powell,Rt Hon J.E.(S Down)|
|Kilfedder,JamesA.||Smyth,Rev, W. M.(Belfast S)|
|Walker, B.(Perth)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Winterton, Nicholas||Mr. William Ross and|
|Mr. K. Harvey Proctor.|
|Biffen, RtHon John||Mellor,David|
|Bottomley, Peter(W'wich W)||Mills, Sir Peter(West Devon)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Miscampbell,Norman|
|Bryan,SirPaul||Morrison, Hon C.(Devizes)|
|Campbell-Savours,Dale||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M.(R'c'n)||Parris, Matthew|
|Costain,SirAlbert||Prentice, RtHon Reg|
|Cryer,Bob||Prior, RtHon James|
|Dover,Denshore||Rees,Peter(Dover and Deal)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Renton,Tim|
|Dunn, James A.||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Dunn,Robert(Dartford)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Ellis,Tom (Wrexham)||Rossi, Hugh|
|Garel-Jones,Tristan||Rumbold,Mrs A. C. R.|
|Griffiths, E.(B'ySt.Edm'ds)||Silvester, Fred|
|Griffiths,Peter(Portsm 'thN)||Sims, Roger|
|Hooson,Tom||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Howell, RtHonD.(G'ldf'd)||Stevens, Martin|
|Kimball,SirMarcus||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Lang, Ian||Townsend, Cyril D,(B'heath)|
|Lawson,Rt Hon Nigel||Wainwright,R.(ColneV)|
|Lloyd, Ian(Havant& W'loo)||Wigley,Dafydd|
|Loveridge,John||Williams, Rt Hon Mrs(Crosby)|
|McNair-Wilson,M.(N'bury)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Madel, David||Mr. David Hunt and|
|Marland, paul||Mr. Archie Hamilton.|
|Marten, RtHon Neil|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Amendments made: No. 133, in page 3, line 14, leave out 'or reserved'.
§ No. 134, in page 3, line 16, leave out 'or reserved'.—[mr. Prior.]1023
Amendment proposed: No. 42, in page 3, line 17, at end, insert—
'(2) The matters referred to in subsection (1) shall not extend to any complaints or representations made by any member of the public in respect of his personal circumstances.'.—[Mr. Molyneaux.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 16, Noes 129.
|Division No. 223]||[9.44 pm|
|Amery, RtHon Julian||Morris, M.(N'hamptonS)|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg&Sc'n)||Powell, RtHon J.E.(SDown)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Walker, B.(Perth)|
|Latham,Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Lloyd, Peter(Fareham)||Mr. K. Harvey Proctor and|
|Molyneauxjames||Rev Martin Smyth.|
|Aspinwall,Jack||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Atkins, Robert(PrestonN)||Dunn, James A.|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Garel-Jones,Tristan|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Goodlad,Alastair|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Greenway, Harry|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)||Grylls,Michael|
§ Question accrodingly negatived.1025
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. I am sure that the Committee will agree with the grouping that has been proposed, but would you be good enough to say that, as the effect of the three amendments is distinctive, a separate Division might take place upon each? I hope that that does not appear greedy, but they have different effects and it would be difficult to meet all three points with one Division.
The First Deputy Chairman
I shall consider carefully what the right hon. Gentleman has said and make a judgment upon it.
The First Deputy Chairman
With this we can discuss the following amendments:
No. 44, page 3, line 19, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.
No. 112, page 3, leave out lines 26 to 28.
§ Mr. Powell
We continue with subsection (2) our exploration of clause 3, which explains what the Assembly will do when it has nothing to do.
During the many hours that this agreeable Bill has brought us together in Committee, I have been able to make a close study of the Secretary of State, under whose presidency the proceedings have been carried on. Perhaps the penny has been slow to drop, but I have at last grasped the practised method of the right hon. Gentleman. His method is to make an assertion and to give no reasons for it. The more paradoxical and improbable the assertion, the more devoid of explanation and justification he is careful to leave it.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an interesting feature of our deliberations has been the way in which my right hon. Friend's assertions have grown in force as they have not grown in accompanying reasons?
§ Mr. Powell
A certain florid asseveration increasingly accompanies those assertions. One hopes that they have not yet reached a climax.
There was a beautiful specimen at the completion of our previous proceedings from which those assertions naturally follow, when the Secretary of State made two unsupported assertions. He said that it was perfectly obvious that it was no good to Northern Ireland to be governed as any other part of the United Kingdom. That might seem to be a statement that, on its face, required some justification. However, the fact is that it was left without justification or without a shred of explanation as though it should, despite its paradox, be evident to the meannest intelligence—
§ It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again.