§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I beg to move amendment No. 125, in page 4, line 24, after 'If', insert'within three years from the coming into force of this Act.'
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
With this we may take the following amendments: No. 105, in page 4, line 24, leave out from beginning to 'it' in line 31 and insert'If no proposals have been submitted by the Assembly that could, in Her Majesty's opinion, lead to the making of an Order under section 2 above or, if any such Order is or has been revoked, to the making of a further Order under that section within twelve months of the commencement of any relevant proceedings in the Assembly, and it appears that'.No. 104, in page 4, line 30, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'.
§ Mr. Dunn
I admit at the outset that the drafting of the amendment may be defective and that it might not achieve what we seek.
338 I said in an earlier debate that there was a danger that the Assembly could become a talking shop. From the evidence of previous debates on the Bill, some hon. Members would do admirably in a talking shop. If they were in the Assembly, I would be full of fear. I say that in good humour.
The hon. Members for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) expressed sharply their fear that if the Assembly had no useful work to do and there were structural difficulties it could end up as a body with no power or responsibility and as no more than a debating chamber. I do not share that view, because the Assembly would have considerable revision opportunities and wide scope for discussion and giving advice.
However, I am worried that a small group may attempt to thwart the wishes of the Assembly or a majority of Members may act in a dilatory fashion and make no reports or recommendations to the House or the Secretary of State. Therefore, in order to avoid returning to the fail-safe procedures in clause 5, we need to include a specified time limit in the Bill.
It may be said that a time limit is not necessary because the Secretary of State can revoke any order or a report or recommendation leading to an order, but even before an order is made the Assembly could act in such a dilatory fashion that, without a time limit, the Secretary of State would find it difficult to come to the House and say that the Assembly was not working as the Bill proposes that it should.
The Secretary of State and other Ministers have made it clear that the Assembly will not be required to make recommendations—it can make its own decisions in its own way—but it is not necessarily wise to leave the Assembly in a position where it would not do its job as an advisory body, but preferred to criticise Government Ministers, while having no responsibility for the outcome of those criticisms.
Whatever else may be the intention of those who support the Bill, I ask the House to agree that there should be some constraints. Those elected to the new Assembly should be told that they are not given carte blanche to do exactly as they wish. They have a responsibility to consider matters and to report to the House of Commons either through the Secretary of State or directly. They should be given a clear time scale indicating that, if they take too long, the patience of the House will run out.
§ 7 pm
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), with his experience as a former Northern Ireland Minister, has spoken in a most agreeable manner. There is great force in his amendment. I am persuaded that I should support it even to the Division Lobby. I hope that my saying that will not discourage my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State from accepting the amendment, which accords exactly with the call of Ministers for constructive contributions and attempts to improve the Bill even if hon. Members do not agree with its purposes.
The hon. Member for Kirkdale may feel at ease over his remarks. I do not believe that, this time, the Social Democratic Party in this House will be pursuing a course at variance with that of the Social Democratic Forum in Northern Ireland. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Social Democratic Forum in Northern Ireland is, if one 339 cares to put it this way, another junta concerned to integrate the Province fully into the United Kingdom and to ensure that the Province, like other parts of the United Kingdom, is governed through appropriate institutions of local government. That is the position of the Social Democratic Forum. It is different from that of the Social Democratic Party in this House whose members should go over to Northern Ireland to acquaint themselves with what Social Democrats in Northern Ireland want.
This time, however, the Social Democratic Forum will, I believe, support the amendment that the hon. Gentleman has proposed. The hon. Gentleman is right. We are creating what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has called a monstrous Assembly. It is not right that it should be left to its own devices year upon year without producing anything of value. If it does not come forward with responsible and sensible proposals, it should be sent about its business.
There is always the danger that the Assembly would not be responsible. The fear is that it would be utterly irresponsible not only in law but also in fact. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), in an earlier debate, should have looked forward so blithely to the new Assembly when he had just treated the Committee to reminiscences of what the previous Northern Ireland Assembly had been like. The hon. Gentleman or, if it was not him, another hon. Gentleman, told hon. Members about Professor Kennedy Lindsay dancing upon the table. In fact, his whole party was dancing on the table because he was a one-man party.
I recall also that there was a riot in the Assembly. After the riot, there was an inquiry into its causes. A friend of mine, a Unionist Assembly man called Peter McLoughlin, asked his impressions of what had happened, said that he was sorry that he could not say because Mrs. Paisley was sitting on his head. When the hon. Member for Belfast, West looks forward to a repeat performance of the Assembly, we should be warned. I believe that Ministers should also be warned about what may be coming upon them. This irresponsible body will feel absolutely free to belabour Ministers and to blame them for all the ills of Ulster. It is natural that this should happen. The Assembly will have the freedom but not the responsibility.
It is the intention of the Bill that the Assembly should come forward with great proposals for the renewal of devolution in Northern Ireland. If it does not and if, through its own divisions, disagreements, tumults or even riots, it cannot do this, a fixed term should be put to its labours. Its service, if that is the word, should be ended. I am persuaded by the arguments put forward so agreeably by the hon. Member for Kirkdale. I shall, of course, listen to other arguments, but I am at present persuaded by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux
I am sure that it was not intended, but the hon. Gentleman unfortunately gave the impression that failure to form an Executive would arise from the inability of representatives in the Assembly to come to some agreement. The actual problem is that two road blocks have been placed in the way of any such progress by the Government in the Bill in the shape of the 70 per cent. weighted majority and the requirement for cross-community consent. I am sure that there will be no progress whatever regardless of how much good will and co-operation exists in the body itself.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. It is most unlikely, to put it no higher, that anything coherent can come out of this. I do not think, however, that this is a reason for wishing to crab the amendment moved by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Farr
I should like to speak to amendments Nos. 104 and 105 standing in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and myself. I was interested in the reason given by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) for his amendment. The hon. Gentleman speaks as a former Minister with considerable knowledge of, and dedication to, Northern Ireland. I was impressed by what he had to say. The only difference between his reasoning and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East and myself is a matter of time. We agree with the principle that some limit should be expressed. The amendment of the hon. Gentleman specifies three years while my hon. Friend and I propose one year. As the hon. Member for Kirkdale and, indeed, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) have remarked, the great fear is that the Assembly will simply become a talking shop. It is our hope that if a time limit is written into the Bill, it will concentrate the minds of Assembly members.
We see nothing good in having no time limit written into the Bill. If my right hon. Friend is not prepared to accept the amendment standing in the names of my hon. Friend and myself, perhaps he will accept the amendment so ably moved by the hon. Member for Kirkdale. Let us have some time limit.
Amendments Nos. 104 and 105 could be taken separately. Amendment No. 105 proposes that a passage from line 24 onwards on page 4 should be left out, and replaced by the words in the amendment. All that it does is to say what the Bill says, in perfectly sound English, in a different way. It was conjured up for me by one of the parliamentary draftsmen with great expertise. Of course, one has to be careful, because "Her Majesty's opinion" comes into the amendment. That is why it is rather a cumbersome amendment. It incorporates the 12 months time limit which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East and I would prefer. We believe—as, probably, do some of our hon. Friends—that if the Assembly cannot produce something meaningful within 12 months, it had best not sit at all.
One of the great disasters of the old Convention was that it became nothing more than a talking shop. When only talk takes place, and large differences in small communities are debated in a small Assembly, the differences become greatly magnified. The right place to hold discussions of national interest is the House of Commons in London. The Assembly in Northern Ireland should, quite properly, discuss local issues and similar matters. If the Assembly were to sit without a time limit on its activities, it would be rather like having a time bomb ticking away for the Secretary of State.
We therefore feel that the Assembly should have a l2 months time limit.
§ Mr. Farr
The hon. Member for Kirkdale suggests three years, but there must be some time limit. In that way, the differences that deeply divide people in Ulster will not 341 be magnified in an Assembly which sits on in a purposeless way, and devolves only into a form of talking shop.
I come now to amendment No. 104. I want, first, to refer to some of the criticisms that have been made. It has been said by hon. Members on both sides that these amendments are destructive and were designed to waste time and spin out the proceedings on the Bill. This amendment, which would change one word—"and" to "or"—is designed to give my right hon. Friend greater flexibility in dealing with the events which might arise under clause 5(1)(a) and (b).
As drafted, clause 5(1)(a) saysthat no proposals are likely to be submitted under section 1 aboveand so on—and(b) that it is in the public interest that the Assembly should be dissolved.It might be helpful if the Secretary of State had the alternative between (a) and (b). We do not think that it is absolutely necessary to have the action described in paragraph (a) dependent on what is said in paragraph (b).
We want the Secretary of State to have the power and the opportunity to act under either clause 5(1)(a) or (b). There might well be an occasion when the Secretary of State felt that it was in the public interest for the Assembly to be dissolved, regardless whether the proposals in paragraph (a) were likely to lead to the making of any order or futher orders. There could be occasions when the Secretary of State decided that, regardless of that, it was in the public interest to dissolve the Assembly.
In our view, this is a helpful amendment to make life easier for the Secretary of State. It is no way destructive. We look forward with confidence to the time when my right hon. Friend—or, in his absence, my hon. Friend—will recognise that the Bill cannot be 100 per cent. perfect, that many carefully prepared amendments have been tabled to the Bill, and at least make the gesture of accepting this simple amendment.
§ Mr. Soley
If the hon. Member and others are to convince us that a detailed argument can be made here, he will have to explain why members of his party and of the Official Unionist Party have been trying to dot all the i' s and cross all the t' s for the Assembly. It is unusual for the Conservative Party and the Official Unionist Party to argue that way. If they continue to argue for the amount of control that they seem to want, I suspect that they will soon tell Members of the Assembly how to clean their teeth every morning.
§ Mr. Farr
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) intervened in a speech that I made last week, but his intervention on that occasion was of more value than his intervention today. This is a meaningful amendment. It is not crossing the t' s and dotting the i' s. If we increase the Secretary of State's flexibility and give him additional powers to dissolve the Assembly, without having to depend on the first paragraph in the clause, life will be easier for him and the framework which he must establish will be better if it is amended as I have suggested.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), I appeal to the Government to accept amendments Nos. 104 and 105.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) said that his amendment might be badly drafted, but he presented it extremely well. However, I am sure that the Minister knows exactly what is behind the amendments, and why they have been tabled.
The Ministers may have been a little discouraged and depressed to find a number of their hon. Friends battling against the principle of the Bill, tabling amendments, making excellent speeches, and voting against them in the Lobbies. I hope that it will not further depress Ministers to realise that some of us who have supported the Bill have done so not with great enthusiasm, but because we believe—I hope rightly—that the Secretary of State has an extremely difficult job, that he is a man of real integrity, and that there is no great harm in what has been proposed. I say that because I do not believe that there is the slightest chance of the Bill producing a devolution scheme. If I thought that it would produce devolution, I would vote against it and campaign against it, as I did on the Scottish and Welsh devolution measures. My belief, rightly or wrongly, is that there is no possibility whatever of a devolution scheme coming from the Assembly. If such a scheme did present itself, I cannot see Parliament or the Government approving of it.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Does my hon. Friend not see how damaging it could be if yet another political initiative proves to be the failure that he predicts?
§ Mr. Taylor
No, I do not. I know Northern Ireland reasonably well because I have many relatives there. If I could find many people in Northern Ireland who thought that there was a possibility that the Bill could produce a devolution, I would agree that such a disappointment could create problems. On the basis of my contacts and relatives, and speaking to those who live in the Province, I find it difficult to meet people outside the narrow confines of the political arena who think that the Bill will lead to devolution.
§ Mr. William Ross
Did the hon. Gentleman say a moment ago that he found it difficult to find anyone outside the narrow confines of the political spectrum? Surely the politicians in Northern Ireland have little time for the Bill either.
§ Mr. Taylor
I accept that nobody has fought against the Bill with more force and professionalism than the hon. Gentleman. I certainly accept that there is no enthusiasm among politicians in Northern Ireland for the Bill.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
My hon. Friend said that the Bill will never get past the talking shop stage. Does he not think that in the talking shop stage there will be a great deal of frustration and ultimately resentment against Westminster expressed by the people of Northern Ireland through the Assembly?
§ Mr. Taylor
I accept that that is a possible danger. However, I do not think that it will happen. My general view is that it will do no great damage and will not create any special problems, although I know that my hon. Friend, and many of those who oppose the Bill, take the view that it will cause a great deal of damage. Some hon. Members have suggested that it would go a great deal 343 further and cause a potential loss of life. I simply express my view that it will do nothing of the sort. It will do no great good and certainly no great harm.
If the Assembly was to carry on for a long period, there could be real problems. We have seen the dangers of an Assembly without powers, which is unlikely to have powers, in the constitutional nonsense and white elephant of the European Assembly, which exists on a similar basis.
There is no doubt at all that the Irish Assembly will be similar to the European Assembly. It will employ consultants to look at Irish problems, whether in relation to roads, the health service or education. It will engage in a great number of visits which will extend the knowledge and experience of the Members. It will take them around the world and add greatly to their experience and general knowledge. Indeed, its members might have the same problems with expenses that have occurred in the European Assembly. By and large, it will achieve for democracy what the European Assembly has; that is, to create an affront to democracy. On the other hand, it will undoubtedly cause a great deal of interest and involve its Members in some useful, entertaining and educative work.
If the situation was to continue, we could have a very real problem. If people of real ability—as I am sure they will be—are elected to the Assembly and simply carry on with general discussions, with no authority and no power, problems could arise which those hon. Members who, like myself, have voted for the principle of the Bill would not like.
The Government have said that they believe that the Bill will lead to democracy. The Government and the Secretary of State have said that they hope that it will lead to devolution. Whether I am right or they are right, I hope that it will be accepted that no good could come from such an Assembly sitting for more than one year, or certainly more than three years, going through many draft constitutions when it is quite apparent that nothing will emerge.
I accept the enormous problems that the Government have. Although I rarely agree with the Ministers on other issues, I have a great deal of personal sympathy for them. I hope that they will at least accept that such an amendment would make the Bill a great deal more acceptable and would also underline the judgment of those Ministers who have argued that devolution will follow. Those who think that it will, and those who think that it will not, must surely agree that nothing at all would be gained for Northern Ireland if the Assembly sat for more than three years doing nothing but passing resolutions condemning the British Government, their policies, and the way in which we approach various problems, and at the same time calling for extra authority to be given to every item of expenditure under the sun.
No great problem will arise if we have the Assembly for a year and if, perhaps, each member goes on two foreign visits. It could also add to the economy of Northern Ireland if various consulting firms, who are not terribly busy these days, have some extra contracts to study aspects of Northern Ireland life. Some useful knowledge could be gained. Such an exercise should continue for a limited period only.
I hope that the Government will be able to accept, perhaps not the amendment of the hon. Member for Kirkdale, perhaps not the amendment so eloquently described by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough, but the principle that there must be a real time limit.
344 I hope that the Government will accept that this argument comes in a helpful spirit from someone who has been persuaded by his admiration for the qualities of the Ministers, although not for their opinions, and for the difficulty of their task. In those circumstances, I hope that they will modify what I regard as a relatively harmless Bill and stop it from becoming a dangerous Bill by accepting the amendment.
§ Mr. William Ross
I have listened with interest to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). It is clear that he has some understanding of what it will be like inside the Assembly. Indeed, he has accurately described some of what will happen there.
However, it is evident that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the effect of those happenings on the community outside. It is clear that he does not understand what the situation will be when the Bill becomes an Act. He does not understand what the effects will be on the run-up to the elections.
If the hon. Gentleman understands all those things as clearly as he understands what will happen within the Assembly and the behaviour of the folk who are elected there, he will go much further down the road with those hon. Members who oppose this power-sharing Bill than he has so far. One lives in hope that, having begun on that path, the hon. Gentleman may well catch up with those who have long since traversed all of it.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) when he moved the amendment. It was clear that he was concerned about the effect of the continued existence of the talking shop, long after its defeat is evident to all concerned, when it is seen that it cannot develop into the structure that the Government wish.
The hon. Gentleman would no doubt prefer, as he has claimed on many occasions, that a Sunningdale power-sharing type of structure that has long since been rejected by the people of Northern Ireland, should develop.— [Interruption.] The majority of people in Northern Ireland. They have consistently done so through the ballot box. It has brought us all here. We were all pleased to accept it on that occasion, and perhaps we should be more willing to accept it on all occasions.
The notes on the clauses make it clear what the Government envisage after the election. It might he wise for us to look at that. The beginning of clause 5 points out that the devolution order could be revoked by Order in Council if it is clear within the community that there is no longer widespread acceptance of devolution.
That is a misleading statement. It calls into question the inferences that can be drawn from the word "devolution". To the Government, the Opposition Front Bench and the hon. Member for Kirkdale devolution means a power-sharing structure along the lines of the Sunningdale set-up. It means nothing more than that. The average Unionist in Northern Ireland understands devolution to mean the 1920 structure. The Committee has not yet absorbed or understood that fact. When we talk about devolution, we are not talking about the same thing as the Secretary of State. That is the crux of the matter and that is the basic difference in our approach.
Until that is understood, until the Government understand that those of us in Northern Ireland who are in favour of devolution want our sort of devolution and until 345 they understand that we are not prepared to pay what is for us the unacceptable price of devolved government —Republicans in Government—no progress will be made. We seek a structure that can be used for the welfare of Northern Ireland. The Government are trying to introduce a structure that will prove detrimental to Northern Ireland's welfare and will lead to its ultimate removal from the United Kingdom. That is the difference between us.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
The hon. Gentleman has brought questions of principle to my attention. I know that he speaks with a sincere heart and voice. However, is he saying that if the devolution that he and his colleagues seek is not forthcoming, they will not accept anything else? If so, that implies that they do not want integration and that their party would not contest seats for the Assembly.
§ Mr. Ross
The only devolution that is of any use to my party is devolution that can be used to the benefit of the people. That implies something along the lines of the 1920 Act. If we cannot have that, we shall be better off without the proposals in the Bill. We made our position clear in 1973 and 1974. My colleagues and I sit in the House because we opposed the 1973 Act. We are the victors within our party in the battle over that Act. That is why we are here. We see no reason to change the principle that brought us here.
If the hon. Member for Kirkdale, who served as a Minister for Northern Ireland, did not understand that, I hope that he will understand it from now on. Indeed, I hope that the Government understand that.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
I understand that. However, I asked whether I was right to understand that, in those circumstances, the Official Unionist Party would not put up any candidates in the elections for the Assembly.
§ Mr. Ross
All political parties in Northern Ireland must fear that, if they do not fight, the principles that they espouse will be submerged and that the position that they sought to defend will be overrun by their foes. In those circumstances, we must fight, but we shall do so on our principles, not on the basis of the Secretary of State's Bill. We shall set forth what we want, and, when our representatives have been elected, they will put our view in the Assembly. They will put our view as a majority grouping and, if necessary, in a coalition with those who agree with us on the fundamental principles.
We shall not sell our souls or our principles for position or salaries. We seek majority rule. We are not interested in all the nonsense in the Bill. The sooner that the Committee understands that the better. Once the Committee understands the principles on which we stand and fight and on which we shall be elected, it is more likely to come to reasonable and sensible conclusions about the Bill.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acquit me of any suggestion that I implied that. I would never do that. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman but that does not diminish the great respect and regard that I have for several of those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
If the Assembly's proposals on devolution would be unacceptable to the Government and if the Government's concept of devolution is unacceptable to the people of Northern Ireland, what is the matter with the Bill, as long as we restrict the Assembly's life to a year?
§ Mr. Ross
If the hon. Gentleman had been in the Chamber yesterday, he would have heard it said that the Bill will not only fail, but will cost lives during its failure. Between its birth and its demise it will cause the deaths of people in Northern Ireland. In view of the terrorism in Ulster, that is as inevitable as the sun rising tomorrow morning. There are those who will deny it, but those of us who live in the Province, who feel and understand the situation, who understand the fears of our people and the emotions that will be aroused in the political battles to come, know where it will lead. For many people it will lead straight to the nearest graveyard. We are unlikely to forgive lightly those who introduce and bring into being legislation which cannot be of use to us.
According to the notes on clauses, section 27(5) of the Constitution Act willenable the Assembly to be dissolved if it becomes impossible to make appointments under section 8 of the Constitution Act which will command widespread acceptance throughout the community.That is the power-sharing statement.
From my brief remarks, hon. Members will have gathered that, if the Government are depending on our acquiescence in setting up such a structure, they should stop doing so. They will not get it. It is as simple as that. If the Government understand that, they are more likely to reach an accurate conclusion.
The last sentence of the first paragraph states that at the end of the day the Government might seek the election of a new Assembly which might enable a fresh administration to be formed which would revive that confidence. All those who read that paragraph carefully and understand its implications will be forced to the conclusion, which is in keeping with what we were told during our talks with the Secretary of State,If at first you don't succeed,Try, try again.That is the basis of the Government's policy and the principle upon which they introduced the Bill. It is nothing more or less than a quicksand for us and for their hopes. As long as the Government insist on the hurdles and conditions laid down, the Bill cannot succeed because we will not sell our principles.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), because his comments are sincere. I have spoken with him on many platforms in the Province. He has made similar comments on those occasions and I have made the same kind of statement. We have both said that we want an Assembly or Parliament that gives us real and meaningful devolution rather than a talking shop or, worse, a power-sharing body which, as the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) reminded us, was said by a Member of the SDLP to be a vehicle that would trundle us into a united Ireland. The hon. Member for Londonderry and I have much in common in terms of the kind of devolution that Northern Ireland should have.
We must examine the amendments to see what they can do. The amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) recommends a three-year 347 time scale. Whatever one thinks of the benefit of having a time scale, one must accept that three years gives the Assembly a fair chance.
The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) suggests 12 months. Whatever protestations he makes to the contrary, I believe that the motive behind his amendment is to ensure that devolution never takes place in any form, rather than to help bring the Assembly to a close if the agony persists.
The two proposals are clear. One is aimed at scuttling the prospect of devolution after one year and the other provides a reasonable chance. We should ask whether there should be a time scale. One can decide that in three ways. First, one can leave the Secretary of State to exercise discretion about whether there is a prospect of achieving devolution by reference to proceedings in the Assembly. That is the Government's proposal. Secondly, one can exercise a time scale. The third option, which is covered in a later amendment, is to allow the Assembly to decide whether hope still exists.
The time scale proposals show a lack of confidence in the people to be elected to the Assembly and their desire for devolution. If Members of the Assembly want devolution they will move towards it in the hope of achieving a devolution that will maintain itself and be to the benefit of the people.
The hon. Member for Kirkdale suggests that the Assembly should come to a decision within three years. An agreement on devolution is not likely to be reached in a plenary session of the Assembly, but in a committee or behind the Chair. Moves afoot will not be known widely. How would the hon. Member for Kirkdale feel if after 2 years 11 months the Assembly is making real progress in such sessions, but the guillotine falls and the Assembly goes out of existence? Surely it would be better for Members of the Assembly to decide. They will not be irresponsible, although people in any chamber can be irresponsible. I am not worried that the Government might be criticised, because they are criticised by bodies throughout the country.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
I have taken that into account. Perhaps sub-committees will be established to examine specific recommendations and to report back to the Assembly. There are some complex problems, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman goes a little further than the words that I propose. Clause 5(1) uses the phraseIf … no proposals are likely".If there are likely to be proposals, the hon. Gentleman's fears will be unfounded. However, the hon. Gentleman has put doubts in my mind, and if I have doubts it is up to the Government to clear them up as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Robinson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My proposal is contrary to both the time limit and the Government's proposition. I would leave the decision to the Assembly, because it will not want to meet without the prospect of agreement. If I were a Member of the Assembly, after three years, knowing that there was not the slightest prospect of devolution, I should not wish to continue there. The Assembly is the right body to take the decision.
Let us not imagine that the Assembly's only business is to decide on constitutional proposals for devolution. It has other immediate pre-devolution functions. It has 348 scrutiny, consultative and deliberative roles. The talking shop image is intended to discredit the Assembly before elections take place. The Assembly has a useful role to play.
Whether we say one year, three years or four years, the time will not be entirely wasted if the Assembly carries out useful functions. The Government should leave as much latitude and give as much hope and optimism as possible to allow Assembly Members to achieve devolution. Perhaps I am an optimist, though the game is stacked against us. The proposed 70 per cent. requirement linked to cross-community support makes it difficult, if not unlikely, for a proposition to emerge from the Assembly. Nevertheless, those of us who really want devolution in Northern Ireland are prepared to try. Unlike some hon. Members, I agree with the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) that we have nothing to lose.
It is said that death will result from the acceptance of these proposals. Does any hon. Member really believe that the IRA needs an excuse to kill, bomb and murder? The IRA has been doing that for years in Northern Ireland. Members of the IRA plan their campaigns, and they will continue to kill in Northern Ireland, because the present security policy is inadequate. Perhaps the Assembly, with the power to discuss security issues, will focus the Government's attention on that.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)
From what the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said, the Official Unionist view on devolution is clear, but I am not clear about the Democratic Unionist Party's view. If the hon. Gentleman is talking about a majority Assembly in due course, which is not on offer. Is the DUP thinking about an element of power sharing?
§ Mr. Robinson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to outline the DUP's view on devolution. I could do it more easily by referring him to the Vote Office, where he will find a copy of the Northern Ireland Convention report, which proposes majority rule devolution but gives minority parties in the Assembly a meaningful role. It also safeguards the rights of each individual, and a Bill of Rights was proposed.
There is no difference between the Official Unionist Party's policy on devolution, as stated in its manifestos, and what we believe. However, many people in Northern Ireland are beginning to wonder whether Members of the Official Unionist Party believe what is in their election manifesto. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) told us that he did not wish to have legislative devolution in Northern Ireland. He is entitled to that view, and I respect him for stating it openly, but we had legislative devolution before 1972, and legislative devolution was proposed in the Convention report, which ostensibly is the policy of his party.
The Democratic Unionist Party believes in legislative devolution, where the people of Northern Ireland decide through the ballot box who will be the Government, without a rigged system such as power sharing. We are against power sharing, for reasons that were outlined earlier. The right hon. Member for Down, South and his colleagues do not believe in legislative devolution. That is contrary to their election manifesto and the people of Northern Ireland will judge them on it.
I trust that the people of Northern Ireland will elect Assembly Members who not only believe in devolution 349 but are prepared to go into the Assembly and, although the possibility of achieving meaningful devolution will be difficult, if not impossible, will have the courage to try.
Mr. J. Enoch Powell
One need not prove, or argue, after this debate, the importance of the SDP amendment and the issues attached to it. Perhaps the narrowest of them is raised by the amendment of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) which innocently but effectively substitutes "or" for "and" in line 30. If "and" remains, the subsection is a declaration that the indefinite continuance of an Assembly that will not arrive at acceptable devolution proposals is nevertheless in the public interest. The amendment alters it to say that the purpose of the Assembly is to arrive at devolution within the terms of the Bill, but, if it cannot, it is not in the public interest that it should continue to exist indefinitely.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), despite the declaration with which he concluded his speech, said that he would have no interest in being a Member of an Assembly which, after three years, or some other period, failed to arrive at acceptable proposals. He would not be interested in an Assembly which found itself at a dead end on devolution.
§ Mr. Robinson
What I said was that I would not be interested in being a Member of an Assembly after three years if it did not hold out the prospect of achieving devolution.
That is good enough, because we are talking about a visible prospect. I do not say that the hon. Gentleman would not have the patience to carry on if he could see an acceptable solution six months after the initial three years. I am not dealing with the length of the period. The hon. Gentleman has confirmed that there would be little point in belonging to such an Assembly if it could do only what is set out in clauses 3 and 4.
We invite the Government to accept, by substituting "or" for "and", what they have professed all along. This is a rolling devolution Bill. The Secretary of State did not say "I shall set up a scrutinising Assembly without responsibility". He said "I shall give an Assembly the opportunity to arrive at devolution, either in one leap or gradually". To substitute "or" for "and" is to accept that an Assembly that has no visible prospect of achieving the intentions of the Bill is not in the public interest. If it is in the public interest, we need a different approach, a different Assembly and a different concept. I hope that, if they can do no more, the Government can accept the amendment, because it appears to correspond to their intentions and view of the Bill.
What period should we set which would provide a reasonable expectation of achieving the Government's objects? The hon. Member for Belfast, East says that we should leave it to the Assembly because the Assembly will not continue its existence if it sees no prospect of success. The hon. Gentleman is relatively young and of a generous disposition. He thinks the best of and imputes the purest and most noble motives, unsullied by personal or pecuniary interest, to his fellow men. However, the belief that an Assembly will terminate its existence, the emoluments that flow from its existence and the privileges and influence that might attach to its members, simply because it honestly declares that it will not get anywhere 350 with an acceptable form of power sharing that would persuade a Government to create a devolved Assembly, is not realistic. Neither of us can prove our conjecture. He has his view of human nature and I have mine.
§ Mr. Robinson
It was said earlier that the right hon. Gentleman might stand for election to the Assembly. The right hon. Gentleman did not deny it, so some hon. Members may suspect that his silence was assent. If we forget about my generous disposition and the fact that I am not three score years and ten, if the right hon. Gentleman were elected to the Assembly and the three years elapsed, would he not take the proper and honourable course of pulling up stumps and saying "Let us go home"?
I do not say that an individual Member might not fail to seek re-election, but he might decide to apply for the Assembly equivalent of the Chiltern Hundreds. No doubt some Member may be of a resigning disposition who, bored and frustrated after one year or three years, would say "I shall have no more of this." However, I doubt the likelihood of an Assembly of 78 or 85 Members terminating its existence by resolution. That is improbable and, in this House, we legislate on probabilities. I conclude that it is for the House, having brought the Assembly into existence, to provide that if it cannot perform its function within a reasonable period its existence should be terminated.
The question then is what is the reasonable period? We have a choice in the two amendments between three years and one year. I am slightly inclined to think that one year might, in all circumstances, be cutting it too fine, but my view is that three years is unrealistically long. If the Government accept the principle that there should be a specific terminus in the clause, I for my part would not cavil if they arrived at an intermediate position between one year, which I would think is the minimum and three years, which seems irrationally long.
It seems unrealistic to suppose that it could take as long as three years for an Assembly to become aware of whether it would agree upon anything that was likely to commend itself in the terms of the Bill to a Secretary of State or, as the terms of the Bill may eventually be, to the House of Commons. I believe that in principle the SDP's amendment is right, but I think that the figure written into it is too large rather than too small.
I shall address myself to the question posed by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and posed yesterday by the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter), whom I seem always to lose at the moment when I want him most. Both hon. Members have asked "What is the harm in a lame duck Assembly? What is the harm in the continued existence of an Assembly which knows, and which everyone else knows, will not achieve the purpose for which it was created by statute?"
To understand why my hon. Friends and I are convinced that such a survival would be dangerous, it is necessary to understand the purpose behind the Bill on the part of those who were working away at it long before the Secretary of State had any notion that he would have the misfortune to find himself at the Northern Ireland Office.
The intention is to have an Assembly for the sake of having an Assembly, but that was not always so. It is a refinement that was arrived at after certain experiences and 351 failed attempts. We had an earlier version of the plan. I am sorry that it is necessary for this purpose again to refer briefly to the immortal passage in the daily notes for candidates. I must confess that as a recipient in years gone by of daily notes for candidates during elections I never treasured them on the assumption that hidden inside them there might be, if not a time bomb, an immortal jewel or a torch which in two or three years' time would illuminate the dark corners of politics. However, it has happened and it is a reality.
The document exists, and it can be verified. It referred to the new Government comingunder considerable pressure to launch a new, high-powered political initiative on Northern Ireland with the object of establishing another 'power-sharing' government in the province, which could pave the way for a federal constitution linking Ulster to the Irish Republic.That was Mk. I, and we have Mk. II. I expect that Mk. II was introduced at some time in 1980. It is really the crude Mk. II. The crude Mk. I is the unimproved version which did not learn from 1974, the version which intended to rush the Sunningdale fence. After contemplating for some time the unlikelihood of obtaining a power-sharing Executive which could do the dirty work, which was the idea behind Sunningdale, and which was why the Sunningdale Executive perished, someone asked—I do not know quite who he or she may have been—"Why do we need an Executive to do the job? Surely we can do it with an Assembly. Nothing can prevent us from getting an Assembly elected. If we have elections for an Assembly, everybody must take part. Therefore, we can always get an Assembly elected." The true purpose behind the Bill, as illuminated by the notes for candidates of 25 April 1979, is the creation of an Assembly. In the immortal words of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Rees) in October 1979 "I can tell you, Enoch, there will be an Assembly and you know how I know that there will be an Assembly." It is the Assembly which is now the working piece for paving the way for a federal constitution linking Ulster to the Irish Republic. Between Mk. I and Mk. II the development which facilitated the transition from Mk. Ito Mk. II was the Anglo-Irish Council and its parliamentary tier, which is the new version or expression of what was crudely expressed three years ago as the federal constitution linking Ulster to the Irish Republic.
That has been elaborated in the three successive meetings which the Prime Minister has had with successive Irish Prime Ministers. That has now become the Anglo-Irish Council with its parliamentary tier in which Ulster, via an Ulster Assembly, is to be represented as a third finger. That is the mischief of an idle Assembly. It will do the work that Satan has intended for it. It willpave the way for a federal constitutionby entering into a federal institution. The Anglo-Irish Council, with the parliamentary tier, is a federal institution. It is because that is understood by people on both sides in Northern Ireland that my hon. Friends and I, alas, are all too sure that we are right when we say that moves in that direction, with legislation which could have that effect, will be the cause of additional and avoidable bloodshed.
It is not, as the hon. Member for Belfast, East suggests, that the IRA requires an excuse for murder, but it needs encouragement. It needs the encouragement of faith that it will get its way. It needs the encouragement of being able to tell itself colourably that that is what Her 352 Majestry's Government want too. It needs to think that the Government of the United Kingdom, the hated English, are themselves about the business of paving the way for the entry of Ulster into a federal constitution linking it with the Irish Republic.
All terrorism thrives on hope. All terrorism dies where hope is removed. The damage of the Bill and the damage of an Assembly without an overt purpose—I am answering directly the question of the hon. Member for Southend, East—is that it inspires all too justified hope on the part of those who, if this is to happen, mean to be on the bandwagon in circumstances which will give them and terror the upper hand when the bandwagon is rolling.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
I cannot recall an earlier occasion when I have disagreed with the right hon. Gentleman, but is he honestly saying that an Assembly packed with Members of the sort that we have in the House of Commons, of great quality and conviction, would be used as a vehicle to bring about Republicanism? Bearing in mind the convictions that Northern Ireland Members have expressed and the personal bravery that they have shown, does he think that they could be foxed, misled or used to become vehicles for Republicanism?
That is exactly what I am saying. That is exactly what is being said by those who, for the purpose stated, intend that there shall be an Assembly, whatever else there is. "Power-sharing Executive or not," they say, "let us have an Assembly." Let me put one simple proposition to the hon. Gentleman. Let us suppose that there is an invitation to such an Assembly to participate. Why not? There will be one-third of that Assembly who will go off like larks. There will be one-third or one-quarter who will say, "Yes, of course, let us book our tickets". What will the remainder do? Will they remain sitting there and say, "Good riddance to them", or will they say, "We shall not allow those people to speak for Ulster. We shall be in on the act. We shall go along and see what happens. If Ulster is to be discussed in this Anglo-Irish Assembly, as the Prime Minister arranged, which is a fair implication, in her conference with FitzGerald last November, we ought to be there as well." That is how it will happen. That is one of the ways in which it will happen. It is not difficult to envisage.
Therefore, the answer to the question by the hon. Member for Southend, East, "What is the hope and what is the harm in an Assembly in vacuo?", is that an Assembly in vacuo is what Satan wants. It might be thought that even for one who sometimes mistakes the Foreign Office for a nest of vipers, the reference to His Satanic Majesty is inappropriate. If so, I should like to leave a thought for the Committee to ponder.
Whoever wrote—it must have been written before 25 April—what was published on that day in the notes for candidates was aware already of what was said to the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) when he entered upon the office that the present Secretary of State now occupies. He was told, "You ought to understand that you cannot carry out your election manifesto, because there is an agreement in existence already with which it is incompatible."
Whoever wrote those words and sent them to be printed during the election knew that that would happen. But how did he know that it would happen? It was because he knew 353 that it had already happened. The Civil Service has a habit, when it suspects that there might be a change of Administration—some of us who observed the political scene during the early months of 1979 had a vague notion that there might be a political change of Administration—of getting in touch in advance with those who might be their new political masters to prepare to carry out their wishes in accordance with their election manifesto. Great students of election manifestos are the civil servants.
Therefore, it is not beyond probability that the late Airey Neave, who was murdered at the end of May, had already been told what the right hon. Member for Spelthorne was told early in May. It is for us to decide what reply the late Airey Neave made when he was briefed. All that we know is that he was murdered before May was out. All that we know is that whoever was assisting and working with him in the Conservative Party organisation, whether he did it in piam memoriam or for other purposes, wrote those words into a place where in due course they would be found.
Perhaps those who think that there is no harm in the Bill—no good, but perhaps no harm—might reflect on those matters.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)
I support the amendments in the belief that the Government could accept, if not the details set out on the Order Paper, at least the intention and purpose that underlie them. The Government could accept them without doing violence to their ideas or the internal consistency of clause 5 and without modifying, except a little for the better, their admission in the clause that the Assembly may be unworkable. For there is no point in any part of the clause unless it is to provide for circumstances in which the Assembly will be unlikely to achieve the purposes of devolution, move away from direct government, covered by clauses 1 and 2, and operate in a way that is contrary to the public interest.
Moreover, the intention behind the amendments should be acceptable to a wide range of opinion in the Committee. It is acceptable to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). The amendments are acceptable to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) who, broadly speaking, perhaps a little reluctantly, supports the Bill. They are acceptable to me and to the Social Democratic Party. Even among those who are seeking different forms of devolution, the general intention of the amendments should be acceptable.
The amendments alter the clause only in altering the timing of the Secretary of State's consideration of the success or otherwise of the new Assembly. The criteria for dissolving the Assembly are left entirely to the Secretary of State. There is no attempt to constrain him in any way. It is still his judgment, as it is in the clause unaltered by the amendments.
The only constraint on the Secretary of State is to force him to consider the proposition of dissolving the Assembly within a certain time limit. The right hon. Member for Down, South suggested two years as a happy mean between the one year suggested in one amendment and the three years suggested in another. I am prepared to leave the period to the Government. Whatever the period 354 chosen, it is not stated that the Secretary of State must act within that period. It is stated only that the Secretary of State must consider the situation within that period. The Assembly is put under some pressure to seek the objectives in clauses 1 and 2 coherently and not to dilly-dally and waste time in seeking to fulfil the objectives of the Bill.
The wording of the amendment at present also constrains the Secretary of State slightly in the opposite direction. It seems to imply that he would not be able to consider dissolving the Assembly under the terms of the amendments before the period stated in the amended clause. If it forces him to consider the viability or otherwise of the Assembly within a given period—thereby putting pressure on the Assembly itself—it also prevents him from prejudging the Assembly in advance of the period stated—whichever one may be chosen—should the Government accept the amendments.
The only other point that I wish to make is about the wording suggested by amendment No. 104. That would change from "and" to "or" the preposition linking clause 5(1)(a) and (b). As it stands now it seems possible to argue that if the Assembly is not moving at all to the position provided for under clauses 1 and 2 it is necessary at the same time for it to be contrary to the public interest that it should continue. It is almost impossible for it to be in the public interest for a failing Assembly to continue. Equally, as it links the ability of the Assembly to move towards devolution with it being within the public interest, it is possible that leaving "and" would place an undue restraint upon the Secretary of State at a marginal period when the other roles given to the Assembly were being adequately and successfully carried out within the period but had not yet arrived at the point where one could say that a private agreement had almost been reached on the devolved role.
Giving a date would place a limited restraint on the Secretary of State. Changing "and" for "or" would give him greater freedom of action than the present clause does. I ask the Government to consider seriously the arguments that have been put forward. I can see no way in which the amendments damage the Government's intention, much as I may disapprove of it. The amendments remove some of the hazards that the Assembly could bring to the national interest of the Province and the United Kingdom, and give slightly greater freedom of action to the Secretary of State in his appallingly difficult task.
§ Mr. Budgen
I shall be brief because I recognise the reality of the debate that we are having. We have been brutally and effectively crushed by a cynical guillotine, and it is plain from the lack of passion that the Government know that they can disregard what we say and need not bother any further to persuade us or anyone else. They know perfectly well that the bulk of the amendments that were tabled will go undebated.
None of us can prove what the consequences of setting up the Assembly will be. The most optimistic of us are those who support the Secretary of State. For him the setting up of the Assembly will lead not merely to constitutional stability but to a period of unparalleled personal happiness for each of the citizens of Northern Ireland and unparalleled prosperity for Northern Ireland. He unfolds before us a vastly euphoric scene. On the other hand, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. 355 Powell) takes an extremely pessimistic view. None of us knows what the ultimate result of setting up an Assembly will be. It is a subjective judgment.
I suggest, albeit from the crushed position from which I speak, that it might be useful if the Secretary of State would be good enough—I say this humbly, knowing that we now have no lever to apply—to explain what principles he believes should be applied in deciding whether the Assembly has failed. In the days when he was trying to persuade us, he was fair enough to say that there was a possibility that his scheme might fail. He has devoted great energy to getting it through the House, crushing the opposition and curtailing debate. I hope that he will be good enough to give us objective guidelines so that in certain circumstances we shall know that the Government will say that they have failed and the initiative will be ended.
One of our contentions is that the initiative will cause great uncertainty in Northern Ireland. One way in which my right hon. Friend can end the uncertainty is to lay down clear criteria for the circumstances in which the initiative will be said by the Government of the day to have failed.
§ Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)
I support the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn). I do not feel that three years is necessarily the ideal time, but the spirit that animates the amendment is one with which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may find himself in sympathy.
In clause 5 we come to the part of the Bill that the pessimistic among us fear may have to be brought into operation sooner rather than later. For that reason I asked my right hon. Friend in an intervention on schedule 1 in the early hours of the morning last week or the week before—it is difficult to tell which in the miasma of sleeplessness that has surrounded us—whether during our discussion on schedule 1 or clause 5 he could let the Committee know what exactly constituted failure for the Assembly and his initiative.
In certain circumstances no one could doubt that failure had occurred—for instance, a general strike similar to that of 1974. Equally, under others it could be clear that the Assembly was getting nowhere and that the initiative had failed. But there are other circumstances where the judgment of failure or success would be more difficult. For instance, my right hon. Friend devoted considerable time and patience to explaining to the Committee on clause 2 that he would be prepared to accept the proposals by committees of the Assembly for devolved government in certain sectors, if he judged that they had attracted cross-community support, and that that support would not necessarily be evidenced by 70 per cent. of the elected members of the Assembly supporting the proposals. If my right hon. Friend is to exercise that judgment, the obverse of the coin must be that the Assembly has failed if he judges that cross-community support has been lost.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will define the circumstances that mean that failure has occurred. It will be difficult to define that. Indeed, it could be a source of argument for those in the Province who are not necessarily men and women of good will. They could drag out the Assembly in such a way that it might encourage the men of violence.
356 8.30 pm
This is relevant to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Kirkdale. If we do not put a term on the deliberations of the Assembly or have an opportunity to draw the whole thing to a close, one of the two disadvantages of the Bill that have prompted me to take such an interest in it will be magnified to an unnecessary extent.
The Bill is an honest attempt to do something to rectify the sad story of Northern Ireland and to put matters right. But, in effect, it does exactly the opposite. It sets in a sort of plaster of Paris the opposing views of the two communities in Ulster. By setting up an Assembly, the Bill institutionalises the very conflict that has led to the violence and economic decline that we all deplore. So long as that is institutionalised within the Province, we lose any chance there may be of bringing that argument to a close. It cannot happen. The only way in which we can hope to achieve something is by submerging the more parochial concerns of Northern Ireland into the greater concerns of the United Kingdom at Westminster.
If no term is put on the deliberations of the Assembly, we shall merely encourage that plaster cast to set hard and we shall make that mould even more unbreakable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) suggested with understandable doubt that the Bill can do no harm. The right hon. Member for Down, South will correct me if I am wrong, but I should like to relate a story that I heard about Lord Hartington, who served in Cabinet for many years during the latter part of the 19th century. It is reputed that he uttered only one sentence during his Cabinet career, which wasIf in doubt, much better not.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
Perhaps I can save myself from undue harassment. Does my hon. Friend agree that what I said was that no great harm would come from this so long as there was a time limit?
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting me right. However, he suggested that the Bill, accompanied by a time limit, would not do great harm to Northern Ireland. There are those of us on the Conservative Benches who dispute that view because we feel that it is virtually impossible for any political initiative, once it has been taken, to be negated, and for the political scene upon which it erupted to remain the same as it was before that intitiative was taken. It is like saying that a match, once it has been struck, is still a match, but the fire has consumed it and the constitution of the match has changed considerably. To a certain degree that is what I fear the Bill will do.
I beg my right hon. Friend to give consideration to the spirit of the amendment of the hon. Member for Kirkdale in order that we may have some chance of curtailing what some of us feel could be a most damaging initiative in the Province.
§ Mr. Concannon
In the amendments we have a choice between a 12-months and a three-months guillotine of the Assembly, or at least of its scrutinising, consultative and deliberative functions. I believe that if we were to push the Assembly into going into devolution too quickly, that would be a tragic mistake.
Once the Assembly is elected, it will be wise not to consider any devolution propositions for at least a year. What is necessary at the beginning is for people to find out 357 whether they can work with one another, so that some of the distrust between the various sections in the Province may be overcome.
I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), in that I do not think that any devolution proposals will come in the first instance from the floor of the Assembly. They are likely to arise from discussions between the various parties and sections within the Assembly and from those other areas in which, as hon. Members know, arrangements tend to be made. It is from those areas that package deals might arise.
Having stressed the need for caution on the part of the Assembly, I still believe that the Minister should give the view of the Government on the timetable for devolution proposals. In saying that, I bear in mind the flexibility that the Government wish to put in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will explain to the House the circumstances in which he would use the relevant clauses in the Bill to wind up the Assembly. I do not think that we should put the Assembly in a straitjacket. We should give it a reasonable time in which to set about its business. I am not impressed with the period of one year; indeed, I think that even three years would be too short a period, if anyone were thinking of a timetable. The Government should explain what they intend to do with the clauses and when they will bring them into action.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
I have listened with great care to the arguments in favour of a time limit under the provisions of clause 5(1) and noted the reasonable way in which they were advanced I can understand the wish expressed by many hon. Members to concentrate the minds of those who are elected to the Assembly on bringing forward proposals for devolution. Therefore, I can see the argument which underlies the amendments in favour of a time limit. I shall explain to the Committee why, having listened carefully, I am unconvinced by the arguments.
If my reply is brief it is no discourtesy to the Committee. It is due partly to the constraints of the timetable motion and because, in essence, the point that underlies the amendments is simple. I remind the Committee that we are talking about something that the Government profoundly wish will never happen. We hope that the Assembly, when elected, will do useful work, that it will lead to devolved government in Northern Ireland and that it will not be necessary for it to be dissolved.
The twin pillars of clause 5(1) are that no proposals are likely to emerge and that it is in the public interest that the Assembly should be dissolved. While the aim of the Government at the end of the day is devolution and the restoration of devolved government to the Province, it is at least possible that that may not happen but that the Assembly could for a prolonged period do useful work on behalf of the people. In any case, I agree with the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) that devolution is not likely to be rushed. As a Tory, I tend to believe in evolutionary rather than revolutionary solutions to political problems. I hope to see the Assembly beginning to work together and its committees developing a system of working together and tackling departmental problems and forming a sound basis for eventual devolved government.
358 Several hon. Members have asked for more clarity and certainty about the future of the Assembly and the way it will work than I can give. Sometimes, when I listen to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I remember that fellow, whose name escapes me, who said:I wish I was as cocksure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything".
Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Perhaps it may add to my credentials that when the 1973 Act, with its catastrophic end, was going through the House, I predicted exactly what would happen to it and the reasons why it would happen.
§ Mr. Scott
I envy the right hon. Gentleman his certainty. I have no magic way of foretelling how the work of and relationships within the Assembly will develop. Certainly neither the Government nor the House of Commons would be at this stage of the Committee proceedings unless we, the Government, and it, the House, had been convinced on Second Reading that this was the best chance of restoring devolved Government to the Province.
There are hypothetical advantages in a time limit, but they are outweighed by the practical difficulties and constraints that this could place in certain circumstances on the movement to devolved government. The basic principle which underlies the whole approach of the Bill is flexibility and the freedom of the Assembly to come up with its own proposals. That flexibility and that freedom apply as much to the time taken over these matters as to other aspects of the process.
In any case, I reiterate that stage one is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) laid great stress on the consultative and scrutinising powers that the Assembly will have in stage one. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I look forward to working closely with the committees which will be set up under stage one and to co-operating with them in solving the problems that confront the Province.
Of course, I recognise that, in the absence of any proposals for devolution in what has been called a lame duck Assembly, such an Assembly, with little responsibility, could degenerate into a source of instability and discontent throughout the Province. If that unhappy state of affairs should arise—I hope it will not—the remedy is already to hand.
What matters is not the period of time, but the conduct of the Assembly. If, as some hon. Members forecast, its conduct is unruly, divisive or damaging, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has power to dissolve it at any time. If, as we hope, its effect in the first stage is constructive and helpful, it would be foolish to do away with it, even if it is not moving towards devolution by a predetermined time when, if I may use the phrase, a guillotine comes down.
§ Mr. Budgen
Will my hon. Friend please respond to the reasonable request by his ally the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) that there should be a clear statement of the circumstances in which the Government would regard it as appropriate to dissolve the Assembly?
§ Mr. Scott
I congratulate my hon. Friend. I believe that he may just have reached a century of interventions. I am sure that we all congratulate him on the way in which he has wielded the willow in Committee.
359 If my hon. Friend has been listening to my comments, he will be able to draw from them the circumstances in which my right hon. Friend might wish to dissolve the Assembly. If it were behaving in an unruly, divisive or damaging way and it was clear that no proposals were likely to be forthcoming, those would be clear grounds for the Assembly to be dissolved, but if it were doing useful work, even if there were no immediate prospect of its moving towards bringing forward proposals for devolution, it would be foolish to dissolve it.
If we were working constructively with an Assembly and Committees so that it was possible to achieve what is currently not being achieved for the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives were able regularly to scrutinise, criticise and work constructively with Ministers in Northern Ireland, that would be useful work on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland and for the future of the Province.
§ Mr. Grimond
Surely the danger is not only that the Assembly may be divisive, but that it may turn into a forum in which people demand more and more expenditure because they have no responsibility for implementing what is done or for raising the taxes.
The hope must be that the Assembly's mind will be concentrated on taking over responsibility. Surely it would concentrate the Assembly's mind better if there were a time limit within which it had to make proposals for taking over responsibility.
§ Mr. Scott
The right hon. Gentleman underestimates the extent to which the present arrangements make it possible for pressure groups and elected representatives in Northern Ireland to demand extra expenditure from the Treasury, even though they have no responsibility for raising the money.
A system of committees working on a departmental basis ought to be able to find a constructive way to overcome the problems facing Northern Ireland and to make constructive suggestions. In the light of the power that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has if the Assembly is unruly, divisive or damaging and is unlikely to come forward with proposals for devolution, I see no reason to cavil, crib or confine it by timetables.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division—
§ The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. The Tellers have returned. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order after the Division.
§ The Committee having divided: Ayes 33, Noes 108.360
|Division No. 236]||[8.50 pm|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Knight, Mrs Jill|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Budgen, Nick||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Lyons, Edward (Bradf'dW)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Macmillan, Rt Hon M.|
|Cryer, Bob||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)|
|Dunlop, John||Molyneaux, James|
|Dunn, James A.||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Murphy, Christopher|
|Farr, John||Penhaligon, David|
|Freud, Clement||Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Rodgers, Rt Hon William|
|Howells, Geraint||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Sandelson, Neville|
|Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Mr. John Roper and|
|Taylor, Teddy (S' end E)||Mr. A. J. Beith.|
|Arnold, Tom||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Moate, Roger|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E)||Moore, John|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Myles, David|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Neale, Gerrard|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Needham, Richard|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Newton, Tony|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Onslow, Cranley|
|Blackburn, John||Osborn, John|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Bright, Graham||Pawsey, James|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Pollock, Alexander|
|Butcher, John||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Cope, John||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Rossi, Hugh|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Scott, Nicholas|
|Greenway, Harry||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul||Silvester, Fred|
|Hawksley, Warren||Sims, Roger|
|Heddle, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hill, James||Smith, Dudley|
|Holland, Philip (Carlton)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Hordern, Peter||Speed, Keith|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Speller, Tony|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Stainton, Keith|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Stevens, Martin|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Kimball, Sir Marcus||Thompson, Donald|
|Lang, Ian||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Latham, Michael||Trippier, David|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Trotter, Neville|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Wakeham, John|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Waller, Gary|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Watson, John|
|MacGregor, John||Wells, Bowen|
|Major, John||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Marlow, Antony||Wheeler, John|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Wickenden, Keith|
|Marten, Rt Hon Neil||Wolfson, Mark|
|Mather, Carol||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Mr. Selwyn Gummer and|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ THE SECOND DEPUTY CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at Nine o'clock.
§ Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill. The Committee divided: Ayes 121, Noes 20.361
|Division No. 237]||[9.00 pm|
|Arnold, Tom||Berry, Hon Anthony|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Bevan, David Gilroy|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E)||Blackburn, John|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Beith, A. J.||Boyson, Dr Rhodes|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Braine, Sir Bernard|
|Bright, Graham||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Moore, John|
|Butcher, John||Myles, David|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Neale, Gerrard|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)||Needham, Richard|
|Colvin, Michael||Newton, Tony|
|Cope, John||Onslow, Cranley|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Pawsey, James|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Penhaligon, David|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Pollock, Alexander|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Freud, Clement||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Greenway, Harry||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Rodgers, Rt Hon William|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Roper, John|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Rossi, Hugh|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul||Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.|
|Hawksley, Warren||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Heddle, John||Sandelson, Neville|
|Hill, James||Scott, Nicholas|
|Holland, Philip (Carlton)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Hordern, Peter||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Silvester, Fred|
|Howells, Geraint||Sims, Roger|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Smith, Dudley|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Speed, Keith|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Speller, Tony|
|Kimball, Sir Marcus||Stainton, Keith|
|Lang, Ian||Stevens, Martin|
|Latham, Michael||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradf'dW)||Trotter, Neville|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Wakeham, John|
|MacGregor, John||Waller, Gary|
|Major, John||Watson, John|
|Marlow, Antony||Wells, Bowen|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Marten, Rt Hon Neil||Wheeler, John|
|Mather, Carol||Wickenden, Keith|
|Mellor, David||Wolfson, Mark|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Mr. David Hunt and|
|Mitchell, R.C. (Soton Itchen)||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Macmillan, Rt Hon M.|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Molyneaux, James|
|Budgen, Nick||Murphy, Christopher|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)|
|Cryer, Bob||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Dunlop, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Farr, John||Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Kilfedder, James A.|
|Knight, MrsJill||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Mr. William Ross and|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Mr. K. Harvey Proctor|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.