HC Deb 02 December 1983 vol 49 cc1147-66

Order for Second Reading read.

1.10 pm
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The luck of the draw—how I wish that that luck had been a little better—has given me the privilege of seeking at a relatively early stage in the life of this Parliament to implement one part of the policy on which members of my party were elected to this place in June. It was a policy which earned my party 65 per cent. of Northern Ireland seats in the House of Commons, a proportion that the Conservative party, with its unprecedented success, has not equalled in Great Britian. However, no one could or would seek to deny the right of the Conservative Government to administer and legislate on the basis of their democratic achievement. It will be noted that I was on my guard not to use the expression "election pledge". My party was careful, as any party should be, to distinguish between actions which lie in a party's power to achieve and those which clearly should be presented to the electorate as objectives, desirable perhaps, but not necessarily within the power of the party to command.

When we told the electorate that we should sooner or later obtain an end to direct rule, that was a pledge. It was a pledge that we were entitled to make because we know that sooner or later the House will be unable to deny to the people of one part of the United Kingdom that which it accords to another. This argument has been consistently advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of my party. My right hon. Friend has further pledged: Whatever the future of the Assembly, we must get rid of direct rule. Not for us vain attempts to bridle it—only its removal will satisfy us. For it is monstrous that such a system devised in 1972 for one year should have been preserved for the succeeding 10 years. That has surely made a mockery of the word 'temporary' by which the process is described. That annual renewal of direct rule has the effect of implanting in the minds of our enemies the belief that Ulster is held on a 12 month lease. How can there be political stability on the basis of one year at a time? How great is the encouragement for terrorists to overthrow a system which is claimed to be only temporary? That is not, however, the part of our policy with which I am currently concerned. I am concerned with our stated policy that We will seek amendment of the Northern Ireland Act 1982 so as to transform the Assembly into a structure acceptable to Unionists. That is an objective which could be construed as giving special treatment and a special constitutional framework to our Province and one, consequently, which we cannot demand as of right. However, devolution is a prospect which successive Governments have repeatedly held out to Ulster and which was the professed purpose of the Act which my Bill seeks to amend. The object of my Bill, therefore, is to enable the Act to achieve what its authors declared to have always been its intention.

As the Act reached the statute book last year, it held out the prospect of devolution but only as a tantalising and unobtainable result, always just out of reach, like the luscious fruit which hung a few inches above that unfortunate character in Greek mythology.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for his great assistance in bringing the Bill before the House. [Interruption.] It does not behove the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) to question my right hon. Friend's parliamentary awareness. My right hon. Friend needs no lessons in parliamentary awareness from anyone. From the wording and construction of the Act, not an atom of real responsibility or administrative, let alone legislative, power was to accrue to the Assembly unless the condition of power sharing was fulfilled. My Bill seeks to delete those sections of the Act.

We are not accustomed to power sharing in the House. It never occurs to us that the two main parties, although the programmes on which they were elected have more in common than do the policies of Unionists and Republicans in Ulster, should share power in the Government of the United Kingdom. Therefore, we have never believed that the insistence on power sharing in Ulster, which contradicts the principles of British democracy, was genuinely aimed at the extension of democratic devolution to the Province. We see it rather as a dangerous ambiguity on the part of those who, at least in Ulster, wish to be all things to all men. We cannot accept a structure by which those who lose an election are given parity with or a veto upon those who win an election. My Bill puts to the acid test the seriousness of the Government's professed wish to devolve legislative and administrative powers to a locally, democratically elected Assembly in Ulster.

However, we do not wish to be misunderstood We are ready to accord to any minority that secures the election of some of its members, and that seeks to attain its ends by constitutional means, whatever rights the fact of that election properly secures for them. That is the reason for a further provision in the Bill, which I hope will be given a Second Reading today.

There is a fundamental distinction between the legislative powers and the administrative powers of an Assembly, although I acknowledge that the two are linked in the 1973 and the 1982 Acts, as they were linked in legislation enacted for Northern Ireland in 1920. The distinction is that legislation lays down major policy, and creates the framework within which the country is administered. Therefore, legislation must be proposed and can be enacted only by those sharing similar aims and acknowledging collective responsibility for what they introduce and carry into law. In the context of a power to change or to make laws, power sharing between those with opposite political views is even more inconceivable in Ulster than it is in the House.

However, the same considerations do not apply to administration. Here I need not belabour the theory, because in all parts of the United Kingdom, including Ulster, administrative power sharing is busy at work in local government. Local government decisions are taken by a majority vote, whether in committee or in the entire body of the council. Minorities not only have a voice in debate, but are accorded a place and influence, sometimes a distinguished one, in the workings of the authority, proportionate to their electoral support and their personal qualities and contributions.

Last year, before I was elected to the House, some of my collegues on the Official Unionist Bench proposed amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill on this very point. It always appeared to us that the Government, in framing the Northern Ireland Act 1982, made the attainment of any degree of local devolution even more unattainable by treating legislative and administrative devolution as inseparably linked. My Bill would cut the cord between those Siameses twins.

The Secretary of State, so far as I can judge, is an exponent of gradualism. After all, he built into his Act a mechanism for inch-by-inch devolution. In that same spirit my Bill proposes to make it possible to devolve administration, however gradual, to the Assembly without attaching to that devolution the veto of power sharing.

The Secretary of State and the Government will ultimately have to do something about the Northern Ireland Act 1982. The Assembly's best friend could not imagine, when contemplating the original non-participation of two of the parties elected to it and the fact that the largest and by far the most representative of all the parties in Ulster can no longer in honour continue to participate in it, that in its existing form it serves any useful purpose. The Bill invites the House to make the absolute minimum of change which could offer some prospect of a future for the Assembly.

I referred at the beginning of my speech to certain things that the House could not in the long run continue to deny Ulster. One of those things, in the words of our manifesto, is democratic local government controlling the same services as in Great Britain". That will have to come.

The House of Commons cannot go on insisting year after year that the citizens of a part of the United Kingdom shall have their vital social and community services administered by non-accountable appointed boards. I hope that the Government will be wise enough and clear-sighted enough to see that the Assembly could, initially, be transformed into a vehicle for fulfilling that basic requirement of fairness and justice for the people of the Province, whom we on this Bench represent. My Bill gives the Government the opportunity, if they care to grasp it, of doing that.

It is in that spirit that I ask the House to give a Second Reading to my Bill and thus enable all these matters to be examined and debated further by the due processes of the House of Commons.

1.23 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland looking at this House today will see what an interest the House of Commons has in Northern Ireland and the future of its citizens. Official Unionist party members tell the people of Northern Ireland of the vast importance to them of this House of Commons and that though they boycott the Assembly, this House must be supported because it is here that the power in security lies. How is it that some of them were absent—indeed, all of them were absent apart from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—from a recent debate—

Mr. James Nicholson (Newry and Armagh)


Rev. Ian Paisley

I shall not be giving way in this debate. This is a Friday. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) does not understand that this is a Friday. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to talk for longer, he will get up and continue to get up. I am making a point and I will make it today.

Where were all those hon. Members on the Official Unionist Bench when the Secretary of State had a statement to make about the Darkley murders? Where were they? This is the House that has security in its control. They were conspicuously absent. The only Member present was an hon. Member not born and bred in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) tried to say that he was present. I want to nail that claim today — he was conspicuous by his absence. Yet he found time later in the evening to vote on the Telecommunications Bill. Surely the death of people in Northern Ireland and the safety of those living there are more important than a Bill before the House.

This Bill was discussed in the depleted Assembly, where more people took an interest in it than we see hon. Members in the House today. I see only two Members of the official Opposition, four Members of the Conservative party and two Ministers.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)

I want to nail the lie of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a fairly new Member. I am sure that he can rephrase what he wishes to say without going outside the bounds of order.

Mr. Walker

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to nail the accusation about my non-attendance in the House. I want to say categorically that I was standing outside the Bar for the whole of the time that the matter was discussed, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) stood next to me. I was in the House throughout the time that the Telecommunications Bill was debated, but the hon. Member for Antrim, North skulked home to Belfast, leaving the people of Northern Ireland disfranchised by his non-attendance here. We were taking steps to protect the jobs of thousands of people in the Province while he and his two colleagues skulked home to do those little things that disrupt the policy for which we are fighting. The hon. Gentleman must not accuse me of something that is completely untrue.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that we can get away from the whereabouts of hon. Members and return to the substance of the Bill.

Rev. Ian Paisley

If the hon. Member for Belfast, North was standing outside the Chamber when the security of the people of Northern Ireland was being discussed, that makes him doubly condemned in the eyes of the people of Northern Ireland. It is disgraceful' for a Member representing Northern Ireland to stand outside the Bar of the Chamber—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) thinks that that is something to laugh about, he should remember the widows and orphans who are weeping in Northern Ireland.

I will not be indicted in this House by the hon. Member for Belfast, North, who was not present and did not take part in the debate. Everyone who rose to his feet following the statement was called by the Chair. The hon. Gentleman did not take part. I will not take from him any accusation about skulking home. I visited the injured and the widowed and orphaned. He cannot tell me that I should not have done that simply because the right hon. Member for Down, South will not visit one injured person or console one person who has been bereaved. The hon. Gentleman will learn that the people of North Belfast will give him their answer at a future date. I leave him to sulk behind the precincts of the Chamber while men and women are being murdered in Northern Ireland and their security is being discussed in the House.

The House can see from that exchange what we are really dealing with today. It is an attempt to tell the people of Northern Ireland that the Assembly should be smashed, in keeping with Sinn Fein policy. I see that there are some Sinn Fein supporters on the Bench below the gangway. Their programme is to smash Stormont. The only barrier to a deal between London and Dublin is the elected forum of Northern Ireland, in which the Unionists have a solid majority and can make known their wishes and take their stand in defence of the Union. If the Official Unionists wish to sweep away the forum and bulwark of the elected representative Assembly they can do so, but the consequences will be on their heads.

Mr. Ken Maginnis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rev. Ian Paisley

I shall not give way. There is an unwritten law in the House that if an hon. Member accuses someone, he should give him an opportunity to reply. I did not need to let the hon. Member for Belfast, North reply, but I did so because of the courtesies of the House. If I had known that he would make such a statment, I should not have given way. His statement was a complete fabrication of the facts that I had put to the House.

It is interesting to notice the way in which the Official Unionists have acted. In Northern Ireland, an attempt is being made to tell the people that this fight in the House is for full-blooded legislative and executive devolution for Northern Ireland. The Official Unionist spokesmen have been telling the people that they will make the Government declare their position and that they want a Stormont with real powers and authority.

Strangely, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) did not quote from the Official Unionist manifesto. That manifesto told the people of Northern Ireland that they would be represented " in true tradition" at Stormont. "In true tradition" at Stormont is not shown by the boycott of the Assembly, which is also Sinn Fein policy. Perhaps the Official Unionists have adopted the Sinn Fein policy—"We, ourselves, alone". The Official Unionists also said that they would strive constructively to use the Assembly as "a further step". How can they strive constructively to use the Assembly when they have withdrawn from it?

The manifesto also states: We pledge, as our forebears did, to work for the best interests of Ulster within the United Kingdom, and will seek to transform the Assembly into a positive instrument for the well-being of Ulster". The Official Unionists are striving, not to bring about Stormont, as their forebears did, but for its complete annihilation.

I come to what I call the "Enoch Powell" policy, which the right hon. Member for Down, South has advocated continually in the House. He made similar representations during the passage of the Bill. The right hon. Member went to the constituency of the former hon. Member for Londonderry and made a speech in which he said that Stormont was dead and buried and would never be resurrected. Today, he finds himself in great difficulty. No wonder he is not present. The right hon. Member when addressing a meeting of the faithful in the Ballymageough Orange hall in his constituency, was reported in the "Rathfriland Outlook" as saying: He didn't believe that the Government would fall into the trap of devolved government for Ulster". His right hon. and hon. Friends are now telling the people that we are here today to make the Government give us devolved government. The right hon. Gentleman, however, said that the Government would never fall into that trap but rather would take a more careful approach with the involvement of local government". We were told today that the cord of the Siamese twins must be cut. That is a bad metaphor, because if the cord is cut both will die — and that is exactly what will happen. The Government have already declared their policy on this. Perhaps the promoter of the Bill has not read the appropriate documents. He should have taken more care to make the Bill consistent when he drafted it.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

In referring to inconsistencies in the Bill, is my hon. Friend drawing attention to the fact that the 1982 Act makes frequent reference to widespread acceptance throughout the community? That is just the kind of phrase that the Bill seeks to delete, but it does not delete them all. Could it be that the promoter wishes to delete such references only in respect of certain aspects of the Act?

Rev. Ian Paisley

Yes, if the promoter wished to be consistent he should have deleted all references to widespread acceptance, but he has not done so. The Bill was clearly drafted in haste and without due care and attention.

Perhaps, however, the promoter and sponsors are not clear about their intentions on some points as there is a great division in the Official Unionist party on this. Some Members of that party want full-blooded devolution, both executive and legislative. Others wish to bring in a second tier of local government by the back door, which is exactly what the Bill seeks to do.

Way back in 1976, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said: Ulster needs a regional Government now. It needs a regional Government in which — as in the present government of metropolitan regions in England—all political parties would automatically participate in proportion to their elected representation."—[Official Report, 13 December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1045.] When the people of Northern Ireland talk about a regional Government they think of Stormont, because the old Stormont was always regarded as a regional Government, but the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley was referring to something very different. The attempt today to delete legislative devolution from the Act and to leave only administrative devolution is an attempt by the Official Unionists to turn Stormont into a second tier of local government.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said that it was not possible to have legislative devolution because of power sharing. Power sharing is obnoxious to the hon. Gentleman, or so he would have us believe. However, his right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley said something quite different. He said that all political parties would automatically participate in proportion to their elected representation.

We all know what happened in the city council last night. Members of Sinn Fein and the People's Democracy justified the death of Councillor Armstrong. They publicly justified the use of the Armalite. We also know what Gerry Adams said in the Republic of Ireland at the weekend. He said that the person who murdered Councillor Armstrong was fully justified in doing so. He said that anyone who put on the Queen's uniform or that of the Royal Ulster Constabulary was a legitimate target and that those who kill them are justified in doing so.

I would not associate myself in any way with Sinn Fein, the People's Democracy or any others of that ilk who publicly stand up in a council chamber and say that the death of another local councillor is justified because he happened to be a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Indeed, when Councillor Armstrong was referred to as "Councillor" in that debate, they shouted out, "No, you mean major." It is clear that those people want to kill and maim the people of Northern Ireland, yet they want to have some part in the government of Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, all of their acts are aimed at the destruction of Northern Ireland.

There is no need for any Executive in order to have legislative devolution. How are the laws of the United States enacted? They are enacted in the elected chambers of Congress. No Cabinet members are present and they do not operate the system that we employ. There is no reason why legislative devolution could not be introduced into Northern Ireland without an Executive. It is clear that right hon. and hon. Members opposite believe that legislative devolution, if given Northern Ireland, would in some way tend against the Union. That is in spite of the fact that, for many years, Stormont had legislative and administrative devolution. In 1976, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley—he was then the Member for Antrim, South—said that he regarded legislative devolution as repugnant to the integrity of Northern Ireland. I do not believe that. I believe that Stormont had legislative and administrative devolution and that that was a safeguard for the Union. The same consideration is important today.

On Second Reading we deal with the principles rather than with the nitty-gritty. I should like to deal with the principle of the 70 per cent. issue. Those who read the debates of this House will know that my hon. Friends and I opposed the 70 per cent. provision in the original Bill. The 70 per cent. should be changed to 70 per cent. of the House when it takes its vote, rather than 70 per cent. of its entire membership. What would happen here if we were tied by a law which required that 70 per cent. of the entire membership of the House had to agree to legislation? Not one piece of legislation would be passed. The Whips already have enough trouble, especially on Fridays, to keep even token forces present.

I am opposed to the 70 per cent. rule, but if we must have it, it should apply to 70 per cent. of those who attend. The 70 per cent. rule makes it impossible for those who are prepared to carry the burden of the Assembly's work to do so. It is important that that should be said to this House and that the House should know exactly the strictures under which it has placed the Northern Ireland Assembly.

To expect widespread acceptance is nonsense. There will never be widespread acceptance in Northern Ireland when representatives of Sinn Fein and the People's Democracy stand up and tell us that they can justify the killing of public representatives. Are the Government saying that they should accept Sinn Fein Members of the Assembly, that they are prepared to give the green light —an appropriate colour—for proceeding in that way and that without it no progress can be made? The need for widespread acceptance should be swept from all provisions.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not the Government's position. When we talk about "widespread acceptance" we mean the involvement of the constitutional nationalist community and its representatives in a political party — the SDLP. No one has suggested that any of the criteria involved in widespread consent involves the consent of Sinn Fein or others who advocate violence.

Rev. Ian Paisley

That is an amazing statement, because the Minister has not written that proviso into legislation. He should write it into the Bill. He has the opportunity to carry out his pledge and say in the Bill that only constitutional nationalists, whoever they may be, are involved. In the city hall last night the whole of the SDLP voted in favour of a gunman and those who advocate murder.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

There is grave doubt about the SDLP's position as a constitutional party, bearing in mind that the SDLP, to a man and to a woman, in Magherafelt council voted in favour of honouring one of the mass murderers in Ulster, Francis Hughes, by naming a street after him and thereby uplifting his name in the south Londonderry community. The chairman of the Magherafelt branch of the SDLP, when Lord Mountbatten and 19 British soldiers were murdered, laughed and said, "I shed no tears over them." When he was told that many were Roman Catholics, he said, "Yes, but they were not Irish." Are they constitutional politicians?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be tempted to go down that road, because if he does he will be moving a long way from the Bill.

Rev. Ian Paisley

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Minister intervened and told the House that the Government's policy was that widespread acceptance involved only the SDLP. I am entitled to give an answer. I invite the Minister to act upon his assurance and to amend the Bill so that it is clear that the Government have only constitutional nationalists in mind.

By the look of things, the SDLP will be replaced by Sinn Fein. When Sinn Fein grows—God forbid that it should, but it looks as though it will—what do the Government do about "widespread acceptance?" We must face reality. It is wrong for any Government to give a veto to any political party in Northern Ireland. All parties must submit themselves to the ballot box and take the answer from the electorate. That is the only way in which the issue can be decided.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said that the Assembly serves no useful purpose. We know that the hon. Gentleman's energetic attendance at Committees of the Assembly would not make it serve any useful purpose. What answer will he give to the people of Northern Ireland about that statement? Was no useful purpose served when the farmers of Northern Ireland were given intervention grain? Will he tell the intensive farmers of his community that no useful purpose was served when the hon. Gentleman's constituents attended the Agriculture Committee and said what was needed? Will the hon. Gentleman tell the farmers of Fermanagh and South Tyrone that the Assembly served no useful purpose when it forced the hand of the British Government on the issue of LFAs and put the application before Europe? I visited the hon. Gentleman's area and I listened hour after hour to his farmers. They said that they wanted the LFAs. Is that no useful pupose? What about the representation? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh may laugh, but there is nothing to laugh about. He was enthusiastic in those days. He attended the Committee. No one worked harder than the hon. Gentleman. He told us what a good job we were doing and to keep at it. He need not now intervene and say, "No useful purpose".

What about the bread-and-butter issues? What about the housing orders and the changes? I have been a Member of Parliament since 1970 and all the time that direct rule has been in operation. I know a little about the House. I never have the opportunity to bring a Minister to a room and question him on what he is doing, but I can do that at the Assembly. I never have the opportunity in the House to question the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on his policy for roads and hospitals in the Ballymena area, but I have an opportunity to do so in the Assembly. We did not agree, but at least I was able to represent the views of my constituents face to face with the hon. Gentleman. I never have the opportunity to do that in the House.

What about the proposed fishery order, which was so repugnant to the people of Northern Ireland? What about all the changes which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and the Assembly agreed were good and supported? The hon. Gentleman now says, "No useful purpose". He had better learn that the only things that one gets in politics are those for which one works hard and makes sacrifices.

I have learnt in my short life as a public representative that one can achieve only the "possible". The "impossible" will never be achieved. The first part of the Assembly is good. If that is taken away, we revert to direct rule without a bridle. Hon. Gentlemen appreciate that they are having difficulties in getting their proper proportion of representatives on the Committees of the House. Difficulties are faced in that area. They have experience of the Northern Ireland Committee. We all know how effective that has been in the past and what we have achieved through it.

I understand that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley told his fellow Unionists, "We are doing well in Westminster. We got a debate on UHT." So we did, but the Minister who replied to that debate did not mention Northern Ireland. It was not even considered.

Then the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley said, "We are opposing the Select Committees." However, it was my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) alone who opposed them when motions in respect of them last appeared on the Order Paper. Mr. Speaker called him and asked whether he was objecting to all of them. It was my hon. Friend's objection, not that of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and his hon. Friends.

Those right hon. and hon. Members had better take stock of their actions in the House. The people of Northern Ireland will learn from this debate that the place where they really can be heard and make their presence felt is the Assembly of Northern Ireland. There must be a change. That Assembly must have proper legislative and administrative powers. We must have a full-blooded devolution and not some cosmetic exercise of a second tier of local government.

1.56 pm
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has paid me the compliment of quoting extensively from speeches that I delivered in the House in 1976. I shall not concern myself with correcting the inaccuracies. I say simply that at that time I was speaking as leader, and with the authority, of the United Ulster Unionist coalition. At that time the hon. Member for Antrim, North was my deputy leader. He did not object on that occasion, and he did not resign. It may be that in that finely balanced Parliament considerations of patronage were not entirely absent from his mind. At any rate, he appeared to agree with and supported me loyally in all that I did and said during that period.

Rev. Ian Paisley


Mr. Molyneaux

No, I will not give way.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The right hon. Gentleman must give way. He has made an accusation against me.

Mr. Molyneaux

No. I was conveying my thanks—

Rev. Ian Paisley

I challenged the right hon. Gentleman on his speech at the time.

Mr. Molyneaux

—for his paving operation for my short contribution—

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a right hon. Member to make a totally unfounded accusation in the House? He knows that he made that speech without consulting the UUUC, that there was a row in the UUUC about it and that afterwards it broke up.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is a matter for the Member who has the Floor whether he gives way.

Mr. Molyneaux

I take it that there is not time today to seek an opportunity to table a manuscript amendment thanking the hon. Member for Antrim, North for the tribute that he paid me earlier. Time is passing, so I shall have to deny myself that courtesy.

Rev. Ian Paisley

This is a lot of nonsense.

Mr. Molyneaux

It will come as no surprise if I as leader of the Ulster Unionist party repeat that my party is pledged above all else to the maintenance of the Union. Without the Union we could not regard ourselves as the Unionist party. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are supporters of the Union. They support the Union unless and until the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise. That is a perfectly sound position.

The Prime Minister was commissioned by the Sovereign to form a Government to govern the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. and the right hon. Lady can be commended for the leadership that she has provided not just for the United Kingdom but for regions further afield which are under neither her jurisdiction nor the sovereignty of Queen Elizabeth II. The Prime Minister has not been reluctant to advise them on the ordering of their affairs, and other Heads of Government might profit from taking heed of the refreshingly candid views of the right hon. Lady from time to time.

These matters aside, the Prime Minister cannot be accused of suggesting that the burden of governing the United Kingdom could be lessened if she disposed of a portion of the United Kingdom, and apparently she has no intention of redrawing what might be called her prime ministerial constituency boundaries or suggesting any reduction in the total acreage of the estate under her management.

The Secretary of State has accepted the stewardship of one of the four component parts of the United Kingdom. This morning's newspaper seemed to forecast his re-entry into the debate on economic affairs. In other words, he may, if the forecasts are right, seek to modify Government policy by the use of his own personal standing in Cabinet, with behind him the prestige, if not the authority, of the Northern Ireland Office. If he can bring himself to accept my hon. Friend's Bill, and give the Northern Ireland Assembly real powers, who knows, in due course he might be able to say to the Cabinet that he is expressing the support of the Northern Ireland Assembly for his policy and claim to speak on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. I hasten to say that that claim might be disputed by others, depending on their electoral fortunes at any given time.

For a variety of reasons, the Secretary of State can have no vested interest in abolishing Northern Ireland, removing it from the United Kingdom and thereby sawing off the branch on which he is sitting. The Secretary of State is influenced by worthier motives. He has been delegated by the Prime Minister to govern Northern Ireland, and he has received from the Queen the seals of office and been charged with the duty of governing that part of her realm.

In fairness, the Secretary of State has shown a greater commitment than his noble Friend Lord Gowrie, who, when he was asked in another place to come out more warmly and enthusiastically in favour of the Union, said that it would be quite all right for an individual to do so, and quite all right for a political party in what he called a "non-governmental" capacity to do so, but it would be quite improper for a British Government to do so as they believe in self-determination, and to come out in favour of the Union would be taking sides and would be "loading the question". Although the noble Lord is to be congratulated on his candour, I cannot believe, nor do I believe, that he was expressing the view of the Government as a whole. His attitude is, quite properly, that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom unless the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise. That for me is the true meaning of self-determination.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, has provided the Government with an opportunity to give evidence of their good faith in a form which more than anything else would knock the stuffing out of terrorists. The Government could show that they meant what they said when they declared that the purpose of the 1982 Act was to provide a full legislative and administrative means of achieving what has been the declared objective of the Government since 1979 —to give to the people of Northern Ireland more control over their affairs. That is precisely what the Bill aims to do, to Facilitate the resumption of legislative and executive functions by the Northern Ireland Assembly". In the Government's aim of control over their own affairs by the Northern Ireland people, "control" is the operative word because an Assembly without control in its second year is a failed experiment. It need not be a failed experiment. The Assembly's standing would be dramatic ally increased if the Government were to accept my hon. Friend's reasonable and practicable proposals for making it possible, after a year, to move on to the second stage of the Act now that the time-serving first year of the Assembly has been completed. Only the Government have the power to take that decision, a decision that would breathe new life into the Assembly. Only the Government can save the Assembly.

I hope that today's reply by the Minister will not be just a restatement of the Government's position, or a slamming of the door on future progress. I hope that the Government and the House will recognise that the conditions and requirements in section 1 of the Act will not be achieved and cannot be achieved. I hope that, that having been done, the Government and the House will face the reality of the fact that if progress is to be made the twin road blocks in section 1 must be removed.

2.4 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I am not sure that this short debate will have done much to improve the image of the Unionist party in the United Kingdom. That is sad, but to some extent inevitable

The debate is not entirely new. Those of us who were in the House during the passing of the original Bill will remember the long days and nights that we had going through many of the arguments and rehearsing them, as we have done today. It is ironic that the Official Unionists, having walked out of the Assembly, are now trying to amend it. They walked out for utterly the wrong reasons at the wrong time. That needs to be said loudly and clearly.

I know that the Official Unionist party was never very enthusiastic about the Assembly. I realise that there is a deep split within that party as to whether it participates in the Assembly. To walk out as a result of paramilitary activity does no good to anyone on any side or with any view on Northern Ireland. It means that the message goes out from the Assembly, and indirectly from the House, that if one wants to bust a political initiative it can be done by the bullet and the bomb.

Although I have never made any secret of my doubts and my difficulties about accepting the Assembly in its current form, it would do my cause no good to recognise that a political initiative can be broken by paramilitary activity. It is a fundamental mistake and one into which we should never slip when debating Northern Ireland or any other matter when violence is being used to achieve political change. I want to make one other point to the Democratic and Official Unionists. One cannot force people to make a political institution work. To say in an amendment, as the Official Unionist party is doing, "We will accept you only if you take part in the Assembly and vote" is, in effect, to say to those who pursue the Republican cause in the North, "If you will not participate, we will go ahead without you."

The problem for the Unionists is precisely the same as for the Republicans. The two sides will not go away. They live in Northern Ireland, and unless one side is allowed to drive out or kill the other it will be the problems which must be faced in the island of Ireland, and the United Kingdom in its relationships with the island of Ireland.

To attempt to torpedo the Assembly at this time is not a good idea. In previous debates I have made clear my doubts about the Assembly's ability to function well, but I recognise, and recognised in the debate in the House last year, that it was an honest and genuine attempt by the Secretary of State to resolve the problem of Northern Ireland. I felt that the Assembly would never work effectively until we gave some meaning to the all-Ireland dimension.

The Secretary of State tried to deal with that by including the 70 per cent. part of the guarantee, which is what the Official Unionists are trying to remove today, and by trying to ensure that any decision taken by the Assembly had genuine cross-community support. I recognise that it was a genuine attempt, but I always felt, and said at the time, that it was inadequate and did not go far enough.

There was another message in all that, which is that if we do not have some form of devolved government working in Northern Ireland, in the short term the only alternative is direct rule. The Unionists and the Republicans need to recognise that at the end of the day that will alienate both communities. Direct rule to some extent plants the seeds of rebellion in both parts of the community because it gives nothing to either. It removes from them, as a number of hon. Members have already said, the power to decide local issues in their own community. Those local issues cannot be decided unless each side of the community recognises the rights of the other.

That is the difficulty today. It is sad that when the people of Britain—I use the term "Britain" advisedly—read the report of the debate they will recognise the deep hostility and strength of feeling between two parts of the Unionist party as represented in the House. They will then begin to understand the difficulties that we face in making Northern Ireland a viable political and economic unit.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) began by saying that he felt that no one should have a veto over an election. I think that those were his words. Would he have used the same words in 1918? If the Unionist party had not chosen to veto the outcome of the 1918 election for an all-Ireland settlement, I wonder how many more people would be alive today and how many people's lives would not have been torn apart by bombs and bullets. If that thought can be left with the Official Unionists, they might be a little less keen on imposing their will on the minority community in the north.

The Labour party's position is clear. We have been developing it and expanding it in recent times and we shall continue to do so. Our position is that one day we must recognise that Northern Ireland has been a failed political and economic border. We have known that for many years and have recognised it. I have said on many occasions in the House that political parties and Governments of both complexions have recognised that implicitly. Members of the Democratic Unionist party understand better than most that we have always treated Northern Ireland differently. The Unionist party has always complained about that but that has told us what we know, that Northern Ireland is treated differently.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is more aware of that fact than most because he knows the way in which the people of England, especially, relate to the people of Northern Ireland. There is a real difference and the hon. Gentleman touched on it indirectly in his speech.

The British Government have to take a view on the border. We must be one of the few nation states to say, "If the people of this part of our state want to remain part of the state they can do so, and if they do not they can go." In other words, the British Government have no views on where the border should be. We would not take the same view if, instead of Northern Ireland, we were dealing with Caithness or Cornwall. If that were the position, we would take a very positive view. We would not allow a veto to be given to those who lived in those areas.

We are faced with a different problem in trying to achieve a united Ireland by consent. We must recognise that we are trying to achieve reunion between two groups of people who have sufficient cause and sufficent numbers to veto the desires of the other. Both sides must recognise that.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)


Mr. Soley

I shall not give way because of the lack of time. I recognise that the Minister wishes to intervene.

If we are to continue to challenge the attempts to set up a form of devolved government which crosses the divide in Northern Ireland, we shall find it that much more difficult to get a solution within Northern Ireland. However, the Unionist party must recognise that there is a growing feeling in this country and in the island of Ireland that the solution at the end of the day must involve an all-Ireland dimension.

Rev. William McCrea


Mr. Soley

That might be a relatively small or minor matter for some people. It means to me a united Ireland by consent with no veto for other political developments.

Rev. William McCrea

There will never be one.

Mr. Soley

That is the way out of the trap at the end of the day. It will not be achieved by shouting abuse from one side to the other.

Rev. William McCrea

It will not be achieved, full stop.

Mr. Soley

It will not be achieved by one side trying to bomb or kill the other into consent. It will not be achieved by people trying to veto political developments. If today's debate has shown anything, it has shown that.

2.14 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) on his good fortune in winning such a high place in the ballot and on bringing forward a Bill which enables us to discuss a vital matter for the future government of Northern Ireland. I know of the tensions that exist in the part of Northern Ireland that he represents. Therefore, I am especially grateful for the extremely reasonable way in which he presented his case. Although, as he will discover, I cannot agree with the terms of the Bill, I hope to respond in an equally reasonable manner.

In the strict conventions of the House, the term "hon. and gallant Gentleman" is restricted to those hon. Members who use their military, naval or air force titles regularly; but the record of the hon. Gentleman in combating terrorism in Northern Ireland before he came to the House fully entitles him to the title of "hon. and gallant Gentleman."

The long title of the Bill expresses its purpose as being to Facilitate the resumption of legislative and executive functions by the Northern Ireland Assembly". It is a most important and serious subject. I am sure that I speak for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State when I say that we, as the Ministers who operate the system of direct rule, are only too conscious that it is a less than completely satisfactory way of running Northern Ireland, as the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone also said. That is why we are as committed as we ever were to finding a way in which the full range of potential functions can be returned to a Northern Ireland Assembly. That alone would be the basis for long-term peace and prosperity in the Province.

Although I recognise the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman's views, I must say that, having examined carefully the provisions of the Bill, we do not believe that it will bring us closer to the realisation of those objectives. Rather, the Bill would, if it were enacted, widen the divisions in Northern Ireland and make it even more difficult to create lasting and widely acceptable political structures that take account of the Province's special circumstances.

It is almost 18 months since the Northern Ireland Act 1982 became law, and just more than a year since the newly elected Assembly first met. It is common ground that the Assembly has not, in its first year, achieved all that we hoped when it was set up. However, the Government never supposed that it would provide an instant solution to the problems of the Province. Nevertheless, as we were reminded by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), the Assembly has accomplished much that has been worth while for the people of Northern Ireland.

The House may remember that the 1982 Act conferred two new functions on the Assembly. It was to embark directly upon a scrutiny of the activities of the Northern Ireland Departments. Ministers can testify to the effectiveness with which that duty was carried out. The Assembly pursued the function vigorously, but it was clear from the debates on the Bill and from the wording of the Act that the principal function of the Assembly was to bring forward new proposals for the devolution of both legislative and executive functions to the Assembly and to those responsible for it.

As it is only a year since the Assembly was set up, those hon. Members who took part in the debates may remember that several amendments were moved which sought to put a time limit on the realisation of that second stage, and to provide that the Assembly should cease to exist if, after six months or two years or any other period, devolution had not been achieved. The Government took the view that it was impossible to put a time limit on the process. We believed that something as sensitive and new as the Assembly would take time, and that it might be some time before other parties gave their consent to the Assembly. It would have been wrong to curtail the process by putting an artificial time limit on it. It is much too early now to say that it will not be possible, under the terms of the Act, to provide for devolution of power to the Assembly.

However, it is clear that for such proposals to be introduced they must either command the support of 70 per cent. of all the members elected to the Assembly; or, if the Secretary of State believes them likely to command widespread acceptance throughout the community, the support of a simple majority. Hon. Members will remember that, under the Act, the proposals may then be submitted to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who will lay them before Parliament. When proposals have been laid, arrangements for devolution can, with the approval of each House, be given effect by Order in Council. However, any such order must meet one fundamental condition. It must set out arrangements which, in the view of each House, and irrespective of whether the Secretary of State has previously expressed a view on the matter, are likely to command widespread acceptance throughout Northern Ireland. Those are the main provisions that the hon. Gentleman asks us to amend in the Bill.

The statutory background is a little complex. It is not my purpose today to go through the Bill to see how technically it might be amended. I have been in the same position as the hon. Gentleman. I have brought forward legislation as a private Member and been taken through it by a Minister who has explained how it does not match some other piece of legislation. I do not wish to do that this afternoon, for reasons of time, and also because that is not the spirit of our debate. We want to talk about the broad picture.

I wish to spend my limited time on the principle of seeking to abandon a precept that has been respected by successive Governments as they have addressed them-selves to the political difficulties of the Province. The words "widespread acceptance throughout the community" are, in the circumstances of Northern Ireland, far from being a platitude. The hon. Member for Antrim, North says that acceptance is unattainable, but my view is clear. Those words are simply the statutory formulation of a principle that any new system of government in Northern Ireland must have a substantial measure of support in both parts of the community. The policy that that phrase embodies, when- put to this House over the years, has always commanded large majorities in its support. The need for widespread acceptance of any new arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland is a recognition of the realities of life in the Province, not just a matter of political argument.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone made much of what he described as the reluctance of the two Front Benches to come together. I must reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said within the past week—that had we had proportionately the scale of deaths and damage in Great Britain that Northern Ireland has had to endure over the past 14 years, the people of Great Britain would have come to this House and said that the political parties must get together to arrange our affairs better.

Until 1972 the nationalist population in Northern Ireland was, in effect, permanently excluded from power. That state of affairs would have persisted for as long as the system of political parties in Northern Ireland continued to be dominated by the issue of unionism against nationalism. The result, in my view, was inevitable—serious disillusionment with, and resentment of, these arrangements on the part of one third or so of the population. There was near universal recognition in the House, in the light of that experience, that such a system offered no way ahead and that the only promise of an end to dissension and a return to normality lay in the establishment, as it was put, of government by consent. That remains as true now as it did then. Unless the minority as well as the majority can be bound to the support of new political arrangements, there is little prospect that such arrangements will yield stable and effective government in Northern Ireland or create an atmosphere—this is of central importance to the people of Northern Ireland—in which it will be possible to tackle the Province's pressing security and economic problems.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

When partition occurred in Ireland, was not the then considerable southern unionist population permanently excluded from political power?

Mr. Scott

I wish to cover the inevitable consequences that occurred as a result of what happened in Northern Ireland and the need now to move in a different way if we are to achieve stable government for the Province.

The Bill, in effect, provides for a return to the very system that existed in 1972 and brought about the frustration and ultimately many problems that we face today. I do not believe that it would be possible simply to hand over either executive or legislative powers on their own. Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1982, it is clear that both executive and legislative powers must be handed over together. The Government do not have a closed mind about handing over one or other of those functions. We would look carefully at any proposals that seemed to have widespread support throughout the community. There can be no stable or effective government in Northern Ireland that does not have a substantial measure of support in both parts of the community. That is the simple, stark truth.

The Bill envisages a system that would leave the nationalist population in permanent, powerless and, one could not but imagine, increasingly disaffected, opposition — and, realistically, much of the opposition would be expressed outside the Assembly. I do not believe that the House will see that as a way forward.

We still believe that the Assembly, as it is regulated by the 1982 Act, offers the most hopeful framework for developing a satisfactory solution to Northern Ireland's political difficulties. I stress that it is no more than a hopeful framework. Any who chide it for not being a guaranteed solution misunderstand its nature. We cannot in this House conjure up a form of government that will meet the widespread acceptance criterion. We can only provide structures and offer the opportunity to the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to work together in the interests of all its people. That is the whole point of the Assembly and the Act upon which it was established.

Rev. Martin Smyth

With the SDLP and Sinn Fein having been elected on a policy of abstentionism, how can we move towards acceptance within the next three years?

Mr. Scott

I agree that we cannot get the constitutional nationalists into the Assembly unless the Unionist parties are prepared to sit down with them and find a basis on which that participation can take place. The ball rests within the camp of the Unionist parties. If they want devolved government, they must be prepared to get together with the SDLP and determine whether a basis for participation can be found,

The Assembly has many obstacles to fact in formulating proposals which will command widespread acceptance, not least—and I say this more in sorrow than in anger—the recent withdrawal from it of the Official Unionist party. But in its first function, the scrutiny of direct rule, the Assembly has already done work of great value. It has examined, often in great depth, 11 proposals for draft Orders in Council, and I believe that many here found the Assembly's reports helpful when legislation came to the House for its consideration.

Leaving apart the longer-term devolution prospect, in which I still believe as the right way forward for Northern Ireland, the Assembly still has an important part to play in the politics of the Province. The Assembly has not only considered draft orders, but produced other reports on issues that it has selected for investigation. It has offered an opportunity for well-informed debate on issues of great importance to the people of Northern Ireland. Ministers and officials have willingly offered themselves for searching questioning. The Secretary of State, other Ministers and I have attended 10 times in plenary sessions of the Assembly, and 21 times at departmental committees, though we have always been conscious of our overriding responsibilities to this House. While the Assembly has not progressed to the discharge of its second function—the submission of proposals for devolution in the form the 1982 Act demands—it has shown in all its work an energy and enthusiasm that must, if it could be harnessed to a widely acceptable machinery of Government, be a force for good in the Province.

Certainly, as a Minister with departmental responsibility in the Province, I know the effective and useful roles that the Assembly and its Committees have played. It was a source of great regret to the Government that they have not been able to persuade the SDLP to attend the Assembly and to add its contribution to the work of scrutiny and to join in the drawing up of plans for devolution. Attendance would in no way have compromised its national identity, and it could have done a great deal for the benefit of its supporters.

Equally, the withdrawal of the Official Unionist party is a cause of dismay. We all understand the feelings following the bestial regime of violence that Northern Ireland has endured, particularly its latest manifestation at Darkley. The objective of the terrorists who committed that atrocity is to weaken and destabilise democratic institutions in the Province. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will look—

It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

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