§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)
I beg to moveThat the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 8th June, be approved.The order extends the period of direct rule by 12 months until July 1983. It is the eighth such successive order, though this year it is presented to the House in circumstances which are rather different from usual. I shall not take the House through all the circumstances that make the presentation of the order different from usual because they were debated at length during the Committee stage of the Northern Ireland Bill. Suffice it to say that it remains necessary to renew the direct rule provisions that provide that legislation that could have been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly can instead be passed at Westminster by Order in Council, and that the executive responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Administration should be exercised by the Secretary of State.
We have debated at length the circumstances in which any new Assembly for Northern Ireland, should the Bill come into operation, would be able to take back powers from this House. My hon. Friends will be glad to hear that. I shall not go into that tonight.
I commend the order to the House. The Government recognise both the strengths and the weaknesses of direct rule. Over the years it has secured a measure of acceptance in both parts of the community. Its impartiality is generally recognised and it has enabled the Northern Ireland Departments to discharge their duties efficiently. On the other hand, it has procedural and legislative inadequacies. But its main weakness is a political one—it does not meet the exceptional political needs of Northern Ireland. That is why the Northern Ireland Bill represents a positive and constructive attempt to respond to those needs.
If elected representatives in Northern Ireland can reach agreement on arrangements either for partial or full devolution acceptable to both sides of the community, the machinery of direct rule can, at the proper moment, whenever that might be, be brought to an end in respect of some or all Northern Ireland Departments.
Meanwhile, it is self-evident that the Government should seek to renew direct rule, even if, as I hope, the Bill is soon on the statute book. While the House and Ministers of this Government are responsible for the administration and legislation of Northern Ireland, I can assure Northern Ireland that we shall continue to exercise that responsibility with the vigour and respect that we owe to the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
I shall not delay the House for long and the Opposition will not divide the House on the order.
We regard it as inevitable that direct rule from Westminster will have to continue for the time being. When it was introduced it was never intended to be permanent and many in the House, not least the Secretary of State, know far better than I of the numerous attempts that have been made to end it.
It is significant that various opinion polls taken in Northern Ireland demonstrate fairly clearly that direct rule 1000 is most people's second-best option. It has been greeted with a degree of acceptance, though various people would give priority to their first-choice options.
It is also clear that direct rule has helped with civil rights. Many improvements made in that area, by both Labour and Conservative Governments, have been to the advantage of the population in general. Some civil rights matters still need to be dealt with and I hope that we shall have an opportunity to do that fairly soon.
There are areas where direct rule could be improved, particularly as regards the unelected area boards for education, planning, social services and so on. We could give some thought to elected representatives and perhaps trade unionists serving on the boards with some o f the existing councillors.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The hon. Gentleman has made a remarkable and important observation on behalf of the Labour Party. Will he clarify it, because it concerns a matter to which many hon. Members representing Northern Ireland seats have given considerable thought?
When the hon. Gentleman refers to elected representation on health and education boards, does he mean elected persons belonging to other bodies, such as district councils, being seconded or appointed to the boards or does he have in mind the possibility of a system of at least partial direct election to the boards? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates the significance of the matter and perhaps he will clarify his remarks.
§ Mr. Soley
I am always anxious to clarify matters for the right hon. Gentleman. It is good that he is not pursuing yet another plot or ploy. I welcome that.
The sort of thing that we are thinking of is that each area board could—I give this as an example—be made up of one-third Government appointees, one-third district councillors and perhaps councillors elected from those in the area, and one-third trade unionists elected through trade union machinery. There are other possibilities and structures that could be considered in that way. There should be none of the nightmares or panic stations that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to introduce into the debate.
§ Mr. Powell
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his clarification, as far as it goes. He was speaking very fast and his words degenerated at one point, if I may say so, into a gabble. If I did not hear exactly what he said, perhaps he will forgive me for the lapse. He appeared to refer to an election from among elected representatives. Is he thinking of an election on top of an election, which would mean that persons would be elected to a district council and that then an election involving a group of such persons would be held to select those who would in part man the boards? I am sure that my hon. Friends will be as grateful as I am to know that the Labour Party is giving some thought to the democratising of the boards, which are badly in need of it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not begrudge us a little more clarification of the electoral processes that he has in mind.
§ Mr. Soley
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not hear me. I shall repeat it for him. Before doing so, may I say that I agree with him that there is a need to democratise the boar s? That is an area of agreement and I welcome it. I said that each area board could, for example, be made up of one-third Government appointees, 1001 one-third district councillors elected from councils within the area and one-third trade unionists elected, perhaps, through their own trade union procedures. That is one possible model. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understood that. If he did not, I suggest that he reads the official record in the morning.
§ Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Basildon)
In answering the question of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), the hon. Gentleman appeared to be quoting verbatim from a document. It might be useful to know the source of the quotation so that we can read it ourselves.
§ Mr. Soley
I was not quoting verbatim, but it was close to it. If the hon. Gentleman had been in his place for the previous debate—I do not criticise him for his absence as I know that he is frequently involved in Northern Ireland debates—he would realise that I have the Labour Party's policy statement in front of me.
I was glad when the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) agreed that the area boards could be democratised because that is an essential part of the passage that I was summarising. If right hon. and hon. Members wish to have a copy of the policy statement, they will be able to obtain copies from the Labour Party's headquarters at a reasonable price. I recommend it as good reading. A great deal of work went into it by many committed people over a long period. If it had been given considerable attention and careful reading, it might have contributed to our recent debates on the Northern Ireland Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and I referred to it in those debates.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
Like the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I believe that there should be a greater degree of democracy within the area boards. I am, however, confused by the hotch-potch that is set out in what the hon. Gentleman calls the Labour Party's policy document. How does it come anywhere near close to being democratisation of the area boards? It seems that it would be as bad a system as the present system of appointments made by the Secretary of State and his Ministers.
§ Mr. Soley
I do not think that it would be as bad. It is a question of degree. We know that we shall not have a perfect democratic system in the short run. The hon. Gentleman and other members of the Unionist parties are among the last who should give lectures on this subject. If the hon. Gentleman reads the document, he will understand that it is one possible structure.
The important part of the aims of direct rule legislation is to bring together some of the attempts to link the communities in Northern Ireland. That is an important part of our policy. As our medium-term goal we must try to reach an understanding with the political leaders in Northern Ireland on the need for closer political co-operation between the parties. If we could achieve that either under direct rule or, as we hope, through the Secretary of State's Bill, we will be making significant progress, and we should all welcome that.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
We in Northern Ireland have had direct rule for a considerable time. I make no apology for bringing the House back to consideration of the most important thing for any individual—the right to live. We have heard many criticisms in the House of what happened when Stormont was in existence, when Ulster's special constabulary held the border and protected the whole community, and when there was calm and peace in Northern Ireland.
The House needs to be reminded that in some days of direct rule more people have been murdered than in years under the Stormont Administration. The House needs to be reminded that in some hours under direct rule there have been more murders than in all the years of the Stormont Administration. Tonight, I thought that at long last we would hear from the Government Front Bench a firm and determined challenge to the present upsurge of IRA activity or any other terrorist activity whether it be from the so-called Loyalist community or the Roman Catholic or Protestant communities. I was saddened to think that tonight, from this House, the IRA was given a message from the Government Front Bench that the gloves would not be taken off and that action would not be taken to deal with the situation.
The people of Ulster are near to breaking point. Sections of a community cannot be mutilated and murdered without a breaking point being reached. The breaking point has almost been reached. We have had some sad and terrible happenings in Northern Ireland during the past few days. At the beginning of one week a police officer was blown up. That was followed by the shooting of a UDR soldier and the setting up in a Belfast street of a rocket launcher and an attack on a Royal Ulster Constabulary police station. An ex-officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a Roman Catholic, was murdered and a UDR officer had his legs blown off. All that happened in one week of activity. Surely the time has come when the gloves have to be taken off, and what the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said must be faced up to, that the Republicans with the guns in their hands cannot and will not be appeased.
Many hon. Members talk about Southern Ireland, but they should read the history of the Irish Republic. If they did so they would find that when the Government were set up in Southern Ireland events similar to those in Northern Ireland at the moment were taking place. The irregulars led by De Valera were out to destroy the Government that had been elected. There then came to office a man by the name of Kevin O'Higgins. He realised that the only way to put down such a problem was to do so ruthlessly. There was no saying "Let us win the community from its allegiance to these people", because it had already been admitted by those who held that view that the community had no allegiance to those people. After all the bombings and killings, the people in Northern Ireland are told continually that they should outlaw the terrorists. The community cannot outlaw. Only the force of the Crown and the security forces can outlaw them.
There was a struggle in the South, which was successful. When the men of violence realised that they could not succeed, De Valera was prepared to go into politics rather than carry on that military war.
The House should remember that one of the terrible pages in Southern Ireland's history was the civil war, when 1003 the people fought one another and when the irregulars were doing what the IRA are doing in Northern Ireland now. The Government now must face up to this situation. Will they take on the Irish Republican Army and defeat it? The IRA must be defeated. There is no other way in which we shall have peace.
During the past months there was an event that was not headlined in the press. Three police vehicles moved into a farmstead on the border of Fermanagh. Into those vehicles a husband, wife and their family climbed. The police vehicles took those people to the ferry. They left Northern Ireland, probably for ever, to settle in Canada.
Why was that family, who had lived in Northern Ireland from the plantation days, driven from its home? Simply because, as the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) said, their allegiance was to the British Crown and to maintaining the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. That family was driven out because all round them man after man, farmer after farmer was murdered. I sat in one of those homes with a group of men, who said that the next time I came to Fermanagh, I would be attending one of their funerals. I attended funerals of three of the men in that group. That is what happened and is happening.
We were told by the police, rightly so, that they could not defend us. What do people do then? The hon. Member for Armagh said that he found it difficult to speak to his constituents. If hon. Members' constituents said to them that they were in danger and that they had gone to the police, who said that they could not protect them, what would they advise those people to do? There is only one thing that they can do—defend themselves. That is what is happening and has to happen along the border. That is why, when a farmer is sowing his crops, his wife stands with his double-barrelled shotgun protecting him as he goes about his daily work. That is happening not somewhere outside the United Kingdom, but inside it.
We need to come down hard to the realities. Let no hon. Member think that there will not be serious killings and bombings in Northern Ireland. We had an example this past week. The bomb, which probably was one of about 1,000 lb, would have devastated the heart of Belfast. It devastated part of West Belfast because the security forces could not detonate it. Such bombings will continue. Business people who have never before been visited by the police have now been told that they, too, are in danger. That is what is happening under direct rule.
The IRA has taken off its gloves to the people of Northern Ireland. It does not obey a code of ethics in its bombing and killing. Members of the IRA kill people even when they are with their wife or child. They care not. But we are told that we should not take off our gloves to the IRA. The Government have a duty to face the challenge of the IRA, and anyone else who wishes to kill, with the resoluteness manifested by them in the Falkland Islands dispute. In Northern Ireland we live daily with death.
It has been said that the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone were disfranchised. They did that when the majority of them voted for their present representation. Although the representative does not come to the House, he gets special privileges on the roads of Fermanagh. A UDR detachment recently stopped his car and wished to search it. He told them that they could not search it as he was the Member of Parliament for the area. They held the car until the police came. The police officer apologised to 1004 him and told the UDR to let the car go and not to stop it in future. Such situations on the border bring security into contempt.
I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Armagh telling us that the Secretary of State had met a deputation of relatives of murdered people whom he brought along. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will give the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) and me the same consideration for a case that we have before him. He is duty-bound to hear people whose friends and relatives have been murdered and who wish to make representations to him. He cannot hear everyone, but having heard the people from Armagh he should hear the people from County Tyrone
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) produced one document. A similar document was given to another man under threat. I did not hear a comment from the Government. The man's life is at risk and he is told officially to keep a dog that barks. When a man's life is in danger and the security forces cannot give him protection and he applies for a weapon to protect himself, that is denied. The authorities dilly-dallied over giving another young man personal protection, and we followed his funeral cortege to the grave. There are serious matters which the House and the Government must consider. I trust that when the Secretary of State replies to the debate he will tell us that there will be resoluteness in the fight against terrorism.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), who is not with us at the moment, said that the RUC was ordered to fire blanks in a certain situation lest there should be some sort of reaction. Since the European Parliament passed a resolution on the use of plastic bullets, they have not been used in Northern Ireland. Has an order been given to the RUC that because of world opinion those bullets are not to be used.?
If the plastic bullets had not been available at the time of the hunger strikes, there would have been a terrible situation. As the police have said very strongly to me, without those weapons with which to defend themselves they would be an easy prey to the petrol bombers. I hope that in his reply the Secretary of State wil tell us what orders are being given to the police in this respect.
I notice that we have not had any reply concerning the weapons which should have come from the United States of America.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Patten)
May I take this opportunity, at the invitation of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), to deal with that point? There was not time to deal with it at the end of the previous debate. It is perfectly true that Her Majesty's Government regret that the United States Government, for reasons of their own, felt unable to supply the further arms which had been ordered for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I assure the hon. Member, as I have assured the House on more than one occasion recently at Question Time, that the RUC is adequately armed and has all the guns for which the Chief Constable has asked.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
We hear the President of the United States telling the world that he is dedicated to liberty and freedom, but when I took a strong stand on the issue I suffered by having my visa cancelled by the United States authorities. That was because I campaigned strongly that 1005 no more money should come from the United States of America for the terrorists. We have the President coming over here to tell us that he is the champion of freedom, yet the very arms that would be helpful in putting down terrorism have been refused by his Government. I wonder how strong the representations made by the British Government to the United States Government have been about those arms.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)
Has the hon. Member noticed that on several occasions I have asked the Government why, if the RUC is adequately armed, the order for the remainder of the arms still stands? Why has that order not been cancelled if the weapons are not needed?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
My information is that the weapons are needed. It was a necessary consignment, and when the first allocation of the weapons arrived, training on them started. If further supplies of weapons have been refused by the United States Government, have the spare parts that are necessary for the maintenance of the weapons that were delivered been received? The first consignment of weapons will be useless if they cannot be maintained, and if the spares for them are not made available. The Government should come absolutely clean with the people of Northern Ireland on this issue.
§ Mr. John Patten
I am delighted to accept the hon. Gentleman's invitation to "come absolutely clean". I reiterate that the RUC is adequately armed, that all requests from the RUC for arms have been met, and that suitable sources of supply of alternative arms have been found for the RUC. But, quite properly, these are not matters which traditionally been discussed in any detail in this Chamber, because any such discussion could aid the terrorists. I do not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we should discuss in detail the arming of the RUC.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
That is an amazing statement, because the authorities made the statement about the arms being ordered. They made the statement, and they said that the arms were denied. Now the Minister tells me that I should not ask him about the tragic failure of a friendly nation to supply arms to put down terrorism, because it might give the terrorists some information. Everyone knows that the RUC did not get the arms.
I notice that the Minister did not come clean about the parts. The parts have not been obtained. I have inside information on the matter, as have other hon. Members who have been told by the police about their needs.
If the RUC has all the arms that it needs, why were the arms ordered? Why was there a fuss about their cancellation? The time has come when we must discover the truth. Not only should the RUC have arms, but it should be permitted to use them.
I trust that the Secretary of State will take on board the plea that has been made tonight to him by Northern Ireland Members. He spends quite a lot of time in the Province. No doubt, he has learnt that those of us who live there and mix among the people of Northern Ireland and live with these matters daily, realise just how hard pressed those people are.
What can we say of the coming weeks? Will there be a massive campaign of bombing? Probably there will. Will 1006 the people who have been warned by the police that they are in danger of being murdered be murdered? Is there not a case for the Government to say "We do not need some reactionary security measures to deal with the resurgence of the IRA. We need a new policy"? The present policy has not succeeded. The terrorists are still with us. The murders continue. When any of us go to the telephone to ring home, the first thing that we say to our loved ones is "What is the situation? Has anyone been murdered? Have any more bombs gone off?" That is what we have to live with, and that is only a reflection of what the ordinary people of Northern Ireland have to live with. They have massive trouble in employment, housing, health and social services, and so on, but piled on top of that is their desire to live.
I make a plea to the Government to take off the gloves, and let the IRA know that they are determined to put it down. Until that determination is seen, as the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) rightly said, we cannot convince those sections of the community that are under the threat of the gunmen. The IRA collects 50p from old-age pensioners in those areas. The IRA knows the income of all the houses. As the hon. Gentleman said, when someone appears at the door with a gun, one does not argue. One does what one is told.
That is the situation in Ulster. It is a terrifying and tragic situation. I trust that tonight we shall hear something from the Government. As I said in the closing debate on the Assembly, let no one think that the setting up of the Assembly will cure the security ills. Let no one think that it will even cure the economic ills. I plead with the Government to consider the agonised cry that comes from the people of Northern Ireland. I trust that we shall see a change in security policy. If there is confidence that all the weapons required are available, a drive should be made against the IRA. The IRA should not be allowed to make a drive against the security forces. Under direct rule, I trust that we shall see a new security policy that will give hope and confidence and create faith in the hearts of the people who live in Northern Ireland, who want to live there and who want to see a good future for their children.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
It might have been supposed that in passing from the biannual ritual of the renewal of emergency powers to the hardy perennial of the renewal of the temporary provisions Act we had left the scene of the subject of terrorism in Northern Ireland and what is called security. We have had a necessary reminder that the two cohere. There is no necessary dividing line between the two subjects.
I hope that the Secretary of State was attending to what was stated by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will inquire into the specific statements made by the hon. Gentleman and that he will correct any impression that the RUC might be under that there is a privilege attached to hon. Members that renders them immune from any examination or procedures thought necessary for the purposes of security. I hope that this will be made clear in case there has been any misunderstanding in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
We are this year discussing the hardy perennial in novel conditions, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out in his brief introduction. We come to the annual renewal of what is called direct rule with the minds of those hon. Members 1007 who have attended recent debates sharpened, instructed and prepared by the consideration of the contents of the unhappy Bill that went to the other place following the decision in the early hours of yesterday morning. We can now look with different eyes on the question of the renewal of the temporary provisions Act. On all previous occasions, when it has been renewed, there was no question but that my hon. Friends and I would support its renewal.
If it failed to be renewed, we would fall through the floor and find ourselves living under the 1973 or Heath Robinson constitution of Northern Ireland. But that is not now the choice. The difference between the 1973 constitution and the Bill, if it ever becomes an Act, that has recently passed through this House, is, in some matters of principle, not very great. The principle of power-sharing, of widespread acceptance throughout the community of the arbitrary decision of a member of the Government, is common to both measures. Although there are portions of the Bill into which that provision is apparently not inscribed, we have a choice between the power-sharing constitution which the Province unmistakably rejected in 1974 and the power-sharing constitution that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to attempt to impose upon it by his new Bill. It is worth, in this changed environment, looking back at what is meant by direct rule as expressed in the Northern Ireland Act 1974, which we are invited to renew by this order.
When, in 1973, the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was repealed, the legislative and administrative power in Northern Ireland—which had always lain with this House and with Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom but whose exercise by the House and the Government had been in certain areas in suspense during the existence of the 1920 Act—reverted in full vigour to where they had always ultimately lain. Legislative authority in Northern Ireland, which had lain here exclusively before 1922 came back to this House and the administrative authority that had been exercised in Northern Ireland by the Government in the United Kingdom and by Ministers of that Government reverted to Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom overtly and directly.
It might have been supposed that by the abolition of the home rule Act 1920 in Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland had once again become legislatively and administratively in every sense an integral part of the United Kingdom. The temporary provisions Act of 1974 prevented that from happening in each of those two spheres. We ought to be clear exactly how and why it prevented it from happening.
I take the administrative sphere first. All the administrative powers that were exercised by the former Government of Northern Ireland passed into the hands of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. But there was a difference. There was a difference in administrative structure between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom which, by way of the temporary provisions Act, had a specific and undesirable effect. It so happened that just before the Government of Ireland Act 1920 ceased to exist, the Government of Northern Ireland had taken steps to absorb into its own direct powers, powers of administration hitherto exercised by elected local authorities in Northern Ireland. So the administrative powers that reverted to Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom included not only the administrative powers that the Government exercised in 1008 the rest of the Kingdom but also those powers that, in the rest of the Kingdom, are exercised by elected local authorities.
That was an unintended consequence of the abolition of the 1920 Act. If the supposed local government reform that was recommended by the 1970 report and was effected in 1971–73 had, by some providence been deferred, under what is called direct rule, under the temporary provisions Act there would still be the local authorities in existence in Northern Ireland exercising their proper functions. I am certain that no Government or Parliament of the United Kingdom would, in the intervening period, have dreamt of withdrawing those powers. Because those powers had been transferred, however—before the end of Stormont—into the hands of the Stormont Administration and Parliament, they therefore fell into the maw of Her Majesty's Government and this Parliament, from which they have not since been disgorged. That, then, is one of the differences between what is called direct rule, the effect of the temporary provisions Act and the regime under which, happily or less happily, the rest of the United Kingdom lives and which it does not describe as living under direct rule.
The other compartment is the legislative compartment. As I mentioned earlier, before 1920 the law in Northern Ireland was made by this House. This House enacted all law for Northern Ireland—there was no other legislative power in existence—and it would have been perfectly possible for that to have revived automatically when the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was repealed.
The 1974 Act was passed in order to prevent that from happening—to prevent the full resumption by this House of the powers of legislation for Northern Ireland which had existed up to 1922. The 1974 Act created a system of legislation by Order in Council and subordinate instrument which was to be used, and has been used, where the subject of legislation was a subject that had been within the legislative competence of the former Parliament of Northern Ireland. Hence, the second and only other factual technical difference between direct rule in Northern Ireland today and the form of government of the rest of the United Kingdom—that in addition to direct legislation by this House, as before 1922, Her Majesty's Government legislate, subject in some cases to the decision of this House, by order or by Order in Council.
Why did the Government in 1974 trouble to do that? Why did they not allow the automatic consequences of the repeal of the 1920 Act to follow—namely, that this House would legislate for Northern Ireland as for any other part of the United Kingdom? I am not sure that they envisaged the inconvenience that they were entailing upon hon. Members—inconveniences of which the present debate happens not to be an example, as in approving this Order in Council tonight we are legislating under a United Kingdom Act. They probably did not foresee the consequences—and many blessings would have been gained if the Chief Whip of the day had been more sharp-sighted and had seen the consequences for his Department of the decision expressed by the 1974 Act—of the decision to continue to legislate separately for Northern Ireland in all those compartments that had been within the competence of the former legislature of Northern Ireland, and to do that by Order in Council.
For very shame, this House did not dare to allow the Secretary of State to legislate without the control of this House. At any rate, therefore, matters that would have 1009 been dealt with by statute in the Parliament of Northern Ireland have been dealt with in this House—or in Committees of this House, but normally in this House—by debating for an hour and a half or so an Order in Council.
I ask again, why was this contortion undergone by the 1974 Act? It was done in order to keep a separate Northern Ireland statute book—that was the technical phrase—so that the series of legislative Acts of the former Parliament of Northern Ireland should continue along the shelf in the same coloured bindings and the same style of production as a subordinate but separate series of statutes with their own separate numeration.
I shall inquire in a moment why that step was taken, but before doing so I want to refer to the major non-technical difference between what we in Northern Ireland call direct rule, under which, by virtue of the 1974 Act we live, and the constitution under which our fellow citizens in the rest of the Kingdom live. Besides the two differences—the unintended one that we do not have local government, at least not to speak of, and the intended one, that we are largely legislated for by order and not by Act of Parliament—there is a political difference not to be found anywhere in statute or mentioned in the 1974 Act but in many ways more important than the other two.
In Northern Ireland the question that since 1920 has dominated, and has continued to dominate since 1972, all other political questions is the Union—to be or not to be—with the United Kingdom. As long as that remains the overriding political difference, there cannot flourish those other and subordinate differences of political opinion and aspirations that are embodied by the political parties in the rest of the kingdom.
That difference has a profound effect on the relationship between subject and Government. The balance between pro and anti-Union in Northern Ireland is not likely to change any more appreciably than the balance between Socialist and anti-Socialist in county Durham or, possibly, the balance between Conservative and non-Conservative in Hampshire. My argument would still be valid even if by some political revolution there might be a Tory Member somewhere in county Durham or a Socialist Member—I think there has been on rare occasions—in Hampshire. Nevertheless, the House takes my point.
Although locally we may realise that we shall be represented by one party or another virtually in perpetuity whether or not we like that party, the rest of the kingdom can say "Never mind, that party of that colour for which I do not vote in county Durham may be forming the Government today, but just you wait for a year or two until the general election comes and we shall see those perishers off and there will be installed in Whitehall a Government resting upon a majority which is to our taste." That is why the inhabitants of most parts of the United Kingdom, where a change in political representation is not foreseeable, do not feel as if they are living under a regime upon which they can exercise no influence. The party structure is a national party structure, common to the whole of Great Britain. Every person, therefore, wherever in Great Britain he lives and votes, is caught up in the party system. Through that party system, he exercises, in so far as in him lies, influence, with all his other fellow citizens, on the Government of this country.
1010 That is not the case in Northern Ireland, dividing as it does on a different issue from that on which the rest of the United Kingdom politically divides, and it is thereby insulated or exiled from the political system that is the party system of the United Kingdom as a whole. That is the third, biggest and most significant difference; the least analysed and most severely felt, difference between the Province and the rest of the kingdom.
Having for the sake of completeness, although it will reappear, recorded that third, significant psychological element in direct rule, let me revert to my question—why the 1974 Act? Why was the 1974 Act passed to preserve separate legislation for Northern Ireland in the absence of a Northern Ireland Parliament? We all know the answer. It is because from the moment that Stormont was suspended in 1972, one Government after another of the United Kingdom professed their intention to restore something like, and something described by the same name as, that which they had suspended, and after 1973, had destroyed.
That is a paradox, and a remarkable fact, which should be seen to be more remarkable than even those of us who were in the thick of the debate of those years perceived it to be. I confess that I never sufficiently rigorously asked myself the question—why do one Government after another, not just a particular Government but a whole series of them, have this in common, in whatever else they differ? They all say that they want Northern Ireland to be governed, not quite as it was between 1922 and 1972, but differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, and under some form of devolution other than administrative devolution—legislative devolution.
That principle is common to them all, and that is the reason why we have tonight before us an order to renew the Act which kept Northern Ireland in that artificial situation.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Does the right hon. Gentleman think it fair to accept that Governments in Westminster, when looking at the Government of Northern Ireland have been faced by the political parties in Northern Ireland, each one of which has expressed the ambition to have a devolved Government? Therefore, would it not follow that if the Government were to deny the parties of Northern Ireland the right to have a measure of devolution, the Government of Westminster would be dictating to the Province in a way that the parties in Northern Ireland might resent deeply?
§ Mr. Powell
It is a most attractive theory that the explanation for this persistent behaviour on the part of Her Majesty's Government and the Parliament of the United Kingdom was a desire to fall in with the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, even though when they examined those wishes they would find them to be mutually contradictory, although covered by the same word. The hon. Gentleman has made a try.
I resorted to hypotheses that were almost as far-fetched when I contemplated, during these years, this extraordinary phenomenon of one Government after another doing this paradoxical thing of keeping open the foundation of the very structure that differentiated Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
I took part in the debates and voted against the abolition of Stormont in 1972. With hindsight, perhaps it is noteworthy that 1011 Westminster was responding to the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, but only of the minority community, and particularly of the Irish Republican Army one of whose objectives was the destruction of Stormont.
§ Mr. Powell
Perhaps the hon. Member was more clear-sighted than I at the time. Although I voted against the abolition of Stormont, I did so on the ground that I saw no evidence of any thought about what was to replace it, or any logical intention such as we have explored in the Chamber this evening. I was not prepared to destroy one system of government unless I was told what was intended to take its place. That was why I went into the Lobby against it. I do not repent having gone into that Lobby, any more than the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson).
In recent years the means of arriving at the solution to the conundrum has been placed in our hands. Increasingly, as the events of the last two years have evolved, the motivation has become clear. It has been a motivation which has operated consistently upon all Governments since the Home Office ceased to be the relevant Department for Northern Ireland and since the Foreign Office became the effective Department for Northern Ireland in 1972. The Under-Secretary appears to be a little puzzled by that statement. If he is not, I shall not waste the time of the House by explaining what he already understands. If he is puzzled, he should make an inquiry—I am sure that it can be dealt with in his Department—and he will understand what I meant by my reference to the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. John Patten
I am not puzzled but a little bemused. I can remember the Prime Minister inviting me to join her Administration as an Under-Secretary in the Northern Ireland Office. I always understood that to be the Department of State responsible for Northern Ireland and administered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Powell
In that case, the Under-Secretary could benefit from a little enlightenment. As long as the Home Office was the responsible Department for Northern Ireland, it was primarily Home Office concerns with which the Home Office was bothered—the external relations between Northern Ireland under the 1920 constitution and the rest of the United Kingdom and common matter such as drugs, crime, fugitive offenders and the rest of that ilk. But create a new and separate Department of Government and it becomes a Department which deals with external affairs which at last gets the deciding voice in the affairs of Northern Ireland, by a comparable logic to that which gives the Treasury the deciding voice between the other Government Departments when expenditure is involved.
The Under-Secretary might have been a little puzzled at the fact of which he knows well—that Cabinet decisions concerning the Northern Ireland Bill were taken not by the Home Affairs or Constitutional Committee of the Cabinet but by the Overseas and Defence Committee. It was treated, as it has been treated over the years, as a matter of external affairs in which the dominant Department was, and is necessarily, the Foreign Office.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to you and to the House for a digression which was intended for the benefit 1012 of the Under-Secretary. As he happens to serve in the subordinate Department, it seemed unfair to deny him at least a gleam of enlightenment.
To abbreviate what might otherwise be an even longer and—who knows?—even more instructive discourse, I should like, in putting forward to the House my solution to the conundrum "Why the 1974 Act and why, therefore, the order?", to revert to the Conservative Party's election policy for Northern Ireland, of which the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) reminded us at an early stage in the proceedings on the Northern Ireland Bill—it seems a long time ago.
The Conservatives said:A Conservative Government would seek to establish a regional council or councils with control over specifically local matters, which are not at the moment subject to any effective democratic scrutiny as they are elsewhere in the United Kingdom.The Conservative Party went on:We do not believe that a more ambitious scheme to devolve executive and legislative power to Northern Ireland would be successful in present conditions. In our view the talk of recreating political stability"—have we heard that phrase lately?—should begin fairly modestly with the establishment of a new framework of local government which the Province has lacked during the last few years.There was what one might have thought was the logical conclusion from the events of 1972—even if we were to continue legislating in a peculiar fashion on Northern Ireland it would at least be rendered administratively homogeneous and we would be given the same administrative democratic opportunities as the rest of the United Kingdom.
It was astonishing that from the moment of entering office the Conservative Government behaved like all the previous Governments since 1972. They threw overboard what they said and started to talk about more ambitious schemes of administrative and legislative devolution.
I am sorry if I am trenching on the time in which we might hope to hear from the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). I will bear that in mind as I hasten to my close, because the hon. Member and I have been conducting in recent weeks, if not a duet, at any rate a sort of dialogue of which this debate ought fittingly to be a continuation.
What happened to the Conservatives when they came to Office? Who nobbled them? Who sandbagged them? Who put a bag over the head of the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) as soon as he walked into the Northern Ireland Office, snatched away the policy to which the Conservative Party was committed and substituted the same old policy, for the purposes of which the 1974 Act was devised—the same policy, one might say for the sake of brevity, that we find, in a modern edition but still recognisable, in the Northern Ireland Bill?
So there was a more acute problem with which observers such as ourselves were faced in the past three years. There was an intensification of the paradox and the puzzle of the years since 1970. What hit the Conservatives?
By ill luck, it was only in the later stages of our deliberations on the Northern Ireland Bill—the day before yesterday—that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made an important statement. A piece of grit is necessary to produce a pearl and if the pearl produced by the right hon. Gentleman was the result of some gritty, irritating 1013 matter than I had served up to him in the debate, perhaps I should not apologise too abjectly, as he suggested, for having done that.
Having repudiated any suggestion that there were—I hardly dare to quote the words—undertakings given to the Irish Government over the constitutional future of Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State said:There are no such undertakings at all.What about the other reason for departing from the policy of the Government, that we would automatically lose the co-operation that we are getting from the Irish Government over border security? The right hon. Gentleman took a different attitude on that. He said:With regard to the accusation that Mr. Haughey said that he did not like local government reform … I do not need Mr. Haughey to tell me that. The nationalists and a good many others can tell me that, and they have done so.He continued:Where a State has a land border with another State, and where we have had so much trouble with security, it is not necessarily wrong to take the views of that other State into consideration when considering the importance of security aspects. We would be extremely negligent if we did not do so. On that point there is no problem."—[Official Report, 29 June 1982; Vol. 26, c. 788–9.]On that point, observe that the right hon. Gentleman was not talking about taking the views of that other State on police matters into consideration. He was talking about taking the views of that other State on constitutional matters into consideration. He was saying that when there is a hostile country on the other side of the boundary which is forming the base, and providing the inviolable base for the terrorist attack on Northern Ireland, one has to take the views of that other State into consideration.
Could it be that when the new Government came into office in 1979 those who met them and took them in kindly said "We are sorry to have to tell you, but if you do what was in your manifesto you will not get co-operation on security from the Irish Republic. So, in the interests of security and in order to avoid further outrages such as those which have been recently committed, you had better not engage upon a constitutional course, namely, the candid declaration and establishment of the status of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. On the contrary, you had better at least appear to be making political progress, which is what the people on the other side of that border are always wanting. You and we both know, don't we, Secretary of State, what they mean by political progress?"
§ Mr. Powell
That is mere childishness. The Secretary of State is unwilling to face the fact that there is a major constitutional issue here, which he has never understood. The behaviour of successive United Kingdom 1014 Governments since 1970 calls for an explanation which has never intelligibly been rendered. The right hon. Gentleman never gave an intelligible explanation throughout the proceedings of the Northern Ireland Bill why he and his predecessor departed from the promises to which they were committed when they came into office, and from which it was prophesied they would depart under certain influences and pressures.
§ Mr. Powell
The right hon. Gentleman and I will be judged by the events. We shall be judged by what will subsequently appear.
§ Mr. Powell
No. We shall be judged also by what will happen. In these past days we have learnt at last why it is that Northern Ireland, by the 1974 Act is to be kept separate, and over again, when the chance occurs, to be forced into formal separation from the rest of the United Kingdom. It is because Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are being blackmailed by the Irish Republic, which says "Either you show political progress in constitutional matters in the direction that we want or else we shall turn the screw as we have the power to do. We have the power from out territory, inviolable to you, to maintain, intensify and modulate the terrorist attack upon this Province."
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
There is only one piece that does not fit into the jigsaw. If the conspiracy theory is correct, surely the Republic of Ireland's Government would have been in favour of the Northern Ireland Bill. In fact, they are against it.
§ Mr. Powell
No, that will not wash. When someone is getting his way he does not say "That is splendid, old chap. Thank you very much." No, he says "You are not doing enough yet. This is not enough. Faster, faster." That is what Haughey is saying to the Government.
When one is faced by a blackmailer, as Her Majesty's Government have been faced by the blackmail of the Irish Republic, backed by the United States, during the past 10 years, there is the choice of giving in to blackmail, which is what the Government did, or of defying the blackmailer, which the Government were told was a course too dangerous to take, and from which they therefore shrank back.
§ Mr. Powell
I have given way continuously. I gave way even before the right hon. Lady entered the Chamber.
We are seeing Northern Ireland receiving—it will continue to receive—the consequences of Her Majesty's Government bowing to blackmail, for one never gains safety by attempting to buy off the blackmailer. The only result is that he continues with his blackmail. Look back over the past few years to the series of points at which the screw has been tightened on Her Majesty's Government.
1015 The Government have been pushed forward into further endeavours to force upon the Province inexplicable and unwanted arrangements.
The Secretary of State, more determined than his predecessors, has brought them as far as a Bill, and even that has been pushed through the House. This is the link between constitution and security. As long as the House and as long as British Governments are seen to be legislating and administering for Northern Ireland in such a way as to deny the integral status of Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom, so long there will be no answer to the terrorist attack upon the Northern Ireland and upon the United Kingdom. The blame lies, ultimately, not even with the Government but with the House, which in the last resort is, or should be, the master of legislation and the master of administration.
§ 1.4 am
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I shall make only one point so that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can reply to the debate.
My point concerns the position of the minority, which has been so much in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his complicated plan for rolling devloution. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Catholics of all Ireland were eager for the parliamentary union because that was to free them from rule by what was then truly a Protestant Parliament for the Protestant people. I ask the Secretary of State not to dwell overmuch, as he has in recent debates, on the half century of legislative devolution in Northern Ireland, but to consider the century or more of legislative union, which the Unionists of the day wished to continue at the time of partition. Whether it was Ireland or whether it is Northern Ireland, the rights of the minority are safest under the aegis of this one Parliament here at Westminister. That is the lesson of Stormont.
§ 1.6 am
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Patten)
In the five minutes that remain unexpended in the debate, I shall address myself closely to the order in a technical and rather pragmatic way. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I fulfil that necessary task in commending the order to the House. Without the order, the government of Northern Ireland would collapse. The £3.6 billion that is being spent in the current year could not be spent there. There could be no public expenditure, which is 35 per cent. more in Northern Ireland than it is on this side of the water. The soldiers and the security forces could not be there. The better government of Northern Ireland could not be carried out by Her Majesty's Government under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Therefore, this is a critically important order for the welfare of the people of Northern Ireland, and government there could not be sustained without it. It is vital to renew direct rule for a further year. I wish to give one or two assurances to the House about what is likely to happen 1016 while direct rule continues before partial or full devolution to a Northern Ireland Assembly takes place should the Northern Ireland Bill pass into law, as I hope it will.
I assure the House that the Government will continue to do all that they can to make direct rule in Northern Ireland as efficient, imaginative and effective as possible. I hope that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) will share in that. In his speech he welcomed the fact that direct rule makes it possible for advances to be made, perhaps more quickly than otherwise, in human rights, although I know that he shares the reservations of a number of right hon. and hon. Members about the spread of democracy through appointed boards in the Province.
I should like to outline some of the considerable progress that we have made in recent months and years towards the better government of Northern Ireland by a thorough-going and deep-seated review of the conduct of the government of the Province under direct rule. First, we recently amalgamated the Department of Finance and the Department of the Civil Service to form a new Department, to be called—unimaginatively perhaps, but accurately—the Department of Finance and Personnel. That new Department is beginning to function extremely well.
Secondly, less than a week ago, under an order passed in the House, there was the merger of the Department of Commerce and the Department of Manpower Services to form the Department of Economic Development, which we hope will come into full effect in the autumn of this year. Both developments are part of our attempt to rationalise and streamline the Northern Ireland Departments. There are now six.
Northern Ireland Office Ministers spend a good deal of time out and about in Northern Ireland. We devote particular attention to representations from hon. Members as well as to those from local councillors and particular interest groups. I pay tribute to the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler), who travels ceaselessly to help to further the welfare and commerce of the Province from his constituency, the House, Northern Ireland and all points of the compass. Equally, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), ceaselessly travels the Province talking to councillors.
I hope that in those ways the Government are demonstrating their continued devotion to the better government of Northern Ireland while direct rule continues, although it is the Government's view that direct rule is an imperfect instrument and that it should be brought to end as quickly as possible. That view is, I believe, shared by all political parties in the Province—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).
§ Question agreed to.