HL Deb 26 January 1971 vol 314 cc817-20

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the cost of Northern Ireland to the United Kingdom of over £300 million per annum, it would not be profitable to the United Kingdom for them to promote the union of Northern Ireland with Eire.]


My Lords, it is far from the case that Northern Ireland costs the United Kingdom over £300 million a year. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and the greater part of the money paid from the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund to the Northern Ireland Exchequer represents the yield of taxes paid by the inhabitants of Northern Ireland itself. As for the remainder, there are other parts of the United Kingdom where the yield of taxation does not fully meet the cost of the services. Nor is this a matter of finance. Section 1 of the Government of Ireland Act 1949 affirms that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Her Majesty's Government have reaffirmed on a number of occasions that this issue is solely a matter for the people of Northern Ireland themselves.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his Answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that those of us who were hoping for a shilling off income tax and at the same time to teach Dublin to laugh in church will be somewhat disappointed? Is the noble Lord also aware that on November 18 I got from his noble Leader some figures in a rather complicated document in answer to a Written Question? Would the noble Lord not agree that if both the Republic and this country enter the Common Market we shall in effect be back to square one? If so, would it not be efficacious, a good idea, a wise precaution or whatever you like to call it, to hand the responsibility over to Dublin before that takes place; otherwise, we shall be saddled with the expense and tribal warfare for ever?


My Lords, we cannot speculate in that way on what might happen if the United Kingdom or Eire acceded to the Treaty of Rome.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware what satisfaction Her Majesty's Government's reply will give in Northern Ireland? May I further add that I feel that this Question is a little unfortunate at the present time; for is the noble Lord aware that the implication behind it is that the Army should be withdrawn? But for the presence and involvement of the troops in Northern Ireland to-day we should have something aproaching a civil war, and then the Government in Dublin—the moderate, sensible Government in Dublin—would fall and the extremists would take over in Northern Ireland.


My Lords, the Question referred to the cost of services provided in Northern Ireland; but I think that all noble Lords in this House would like to support what is done by the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland. They are to be visited shortly by my noble friend the Secretary of State for Defence.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that if we go into the Common Market, in spite of what was said just now, any dispute between the Northern section and the Southern section of our neighbouring island would become increasingly meaningless? Would he not also agree that if we go into the Common Market any burden on this country to support the rather weak economy in Northern Ireland, in Ulster, will certainly be able to become, to some extent, the responsibility of the Community?


My Lords, I did say that we should not speculate on the future. What the noble Lord has said will be borne in mind, but it goes outside the Question.


My Lords, leaving aside the somewhat squalid, sordid and irrelevant subject of the Common Market, may I ask the noble Lord this question? Does anybody—including the noble Lord and his colleagues—believe that what Parnell, Gladstone, Arthur Balfour, Asquith and Lloyd George failed to achieve is within the capability of Ted Heath? Has he not enough trouble?


My Lords, are the Government aware that if the pubs in Ulster were closed on Saturday nights Northern Ireland would become an asset and not a liability?


My Lords, will the noble Lord answer my question?


My Lords, could the noble Lord explain the difference between the Unionist Party and the Conservative Party? Most Members on the other side have the letter "U" before their names. What union does that refer to?


My Lords, I do not know what Question noble Lords have in front of them. I feared that the Question on the Paper would provoke a general debate on Ireland—and it has.


My Lords, a far more patent reason for the ending of partition is the already ardent desire for it of the great majority of the Irish people—and it will become the desire of the majority in Northern Ireland as the Catholic proportion inexorably rises.


My Lords, I should like to repeat what the Prime Minister said in answer to a Written Question in another place on November 10: The status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom will remain unchanged unless and until the people of Northern Ireland themselves want to change it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, col. 129; 10/11/70.]


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a large majority of citizens of Northern Ireland do not want it to be changed; that they want to stay with us?