HL Deb 15 June 1971 vol 320 cc538-75

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I wish to begin by expressing a view which I am sure will be endorsed by the whole House: it is that we recognise that there can be no military solution to the situation in Northern Ireland and that we must seek a political solution. We all share the horror of the events in Northern Ireland; we want the soldiers, who have such a difficult task to perform, to come back as soon as they can. I have little doubt that the great mass of the people in Northern Ireland share our attitude on that matter and believe that it is the extremists on both sides— as was indicated last week-end— who cause the difficulties. I do not claim that this Bill provides the solution, but I hope it is a contribution. The eventual settlement must result from a patient and continued process designed to decrease the antagonism which is deep-rooted in history. It must be wide-embracing, social, economic and psychological as well as political. I have endeavoured to express this wide approach in a Motion which I have on the Order Paper. I want now to emphasise that the proposals in this Bill should be regarded as a part of, and inseparable from, this broader approach, but nevertheless necessary to it. If a new climate is to be created a beginning must be made to removing injustices and establishing fundamental freedoms.

My Lords, I recognise the value of the recommendations which were made in the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and of the reforms initiated by Mr. Callaghan, but they are slow in application and the situation in Northern Ireland indicates that they have not had a sufficient impact to change the situation psychologically. They have not brought a new climate of confidence and co-operation. The Bill proposes five directions towards this end: first, that religious discrimination should be made illegal; secondly, that there should be freedom of political discussion; thirdly, that the minority should be allowed equitable representation on public authorities; fourthly, that fundamental human rights should be guaranteed; fifthly, that discussions between North and South should be authorised with a view to co-operation in the common interest.

I deal first with religious discrimination. I do not think that anyone who knows Northern Ireland doubts that it exists. It would be surprising if it were otherwise. One of the blackest volumes in British history has been the discrimination placed on the Catholic community in Ireland. The effect cannot be removed in a day, but I hope that it may be contained by the proposals in this Bill. I recognise that certain valuable steps have been taken. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 forbade legislation which directly or indirectly promoted discrimination. A little more than a year ago the Stormont Government passed an Act making incitement illegal. There has been only one announced prosecution under it, quite recently.

In 1965 the reforms led to the appointment of a Commissioner of Complaints. I have read his recent annual report, which points out two limitations upon his functions. First, he cannot deal with what he somewhat strangely describes as "democratic discrimination"— that is, discrimination practised by local authorities. The Government of Ireland Act forbade legislation but it did not forbid administrative actions, and in the sphere of public bodies it is mostly administration by local authorities which is disturbing. This applies particularly to appointments of staff. Only a minimal number are Catholics. I take the example of County Fermanagh. Until recently at least, there were no Catholics on the staff of that local authority, although there is a marginal Catholic majority in the population..

This also applies to the Judiciary, as indicated by last week's protest, signed by 100 lawyers. who complained of the selection of personnel, not only in legal representation but also in the staffing of the courts, which had the implication that decisions may not always be impartial. The main complaint of discrimination among local authorities has been in regard to housing. I welcome the contribution which has been made by the Commission which is now administering Derry City. It is building its new estates on the basis of need and it is finding that the great majority are Catholics. But little change is taking place in the other areas, despite the recommendation of Stormont that a points system should be adopted. This has been largely ignored by the other responsible local authorities in Northern Ireland..

The second limitation which the Commissioner of Complaints points out in his annual report is that he has no jurisdiction whatsoever in the private sector. This is mostly a matter of employment. Many years have passed since the noble Lord, Lord Brookeborough, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. said, when he was Minister of Agriculture: I would appeal to Loyalists, therefore, wherever possible to employ good Protestant lads and lassies. But this practice of priority in employing Protestants still applies. I have been reading a survey by Kathleen Boehhinger, an American social scientist, in Fortnight, an independent and moderate review, and in that survey she indicates that in the case of five leading Belfast firms, some employ no Catholics whatsoever, one employs only 5 per cent. of Catholics and another employs only 1.4 per cent., although one-third of the working population of Belfast is Catholic.

The report of the Commissioner of Complaints is very similar (and I have some knowledge of this subject) to the reports of the Race Relations Board a few years ago. He states that one-third of the complaints fall outside his powers. When that complaint was made by our own Race Relations Board, we extended the Act to cover employment and housing. If the Race Relations Act were extended to Ireland and included religious discrimination, which is the worst feature of discrimination, it would remove the restrictions to which the Commissioner of Complaints drew our attention. It would do something more: it would extend the contribution of persuasion and conciliation, which I regard as the most important part of our own Race Relations Act, and that might make a considerable effect on the situation in Northern Ireland to-day.

The second part of this Bill deals with freedom of speech, particularly to advocate the reunion of the whole of Ireland. Advocates of that view to-day in Northern Ireland are too often regarded as disloyal and even as traitors. Even some speeches of Ministers have indicated that. This is not a matter of acts of subversion or riot; it is a matter of the expression of opinion. Indeed, Unionist speakers have argued that discrimination in Northern Ireland is not based on religion but is based on political issues in this sense. I find this advocacy of the reunion of Ireland being outside the pale of loyalty extraordinary in view of the fact that the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 accepted and anticipated the reunion of Ireland. Section 2 began: … with a view to the eventual establishment of a Parliament for the whole of Ireland ", and it authorised the immediate setting up of a United Council of Ireland. I appreciate that this clause was subsequently deleted in the Act of 1922, but it is an impossible situation that those who now urge a return to 1920 should he regarded, because of that advocacy, as subversives. One might take a parallel: before Governments in this country urged that Britain should enter the European Community, those who had urged that limitation of sovereignty might in a parallel sense have been regarded as "disloyal" or as "traitors". That would have applied even to Sir Winston Churchill. My Lords, in my view it is much less likely that those who hold this view will become rebels, resorting to violence, if the right to advocate their views is recognised by specific enactment.

The third proposal in this Bill is that proportional representation should be applied to public bodies in Northern Ireland. Proportional representation is mathematically accurate. It has been criticised on the ground that it is politically unstable, and the experience of France suggests that there is something in that view. I am not arguing that proportional representation should be universally adopted or that it should be applied in Britain: I am arguing that it should be applied in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland. Parliament has applied proportional representation in special circumstances. There is the instance of the colony of Guyana.

This proposal does not set a precedent. It is for the re-introduction of an electoral system which was previously in operation. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 applied it to the whole of Ireland. It remains in the South. When Stormont wished to repeal it, the British Government at first objected and, with some reluctance, gave way. The present system in Northern Ireland is particularly unfair in local elections. I take the example of Derry City. I have read the analysis of Enid Lakeman, who is a specialist in this subject. She points out that there are now 12 Unionists and eight Nationalists. If the representation were proportionate to the vote, it would be exactly the reverse. There would be 12 Nationalists and eight Unionists. I strongly urge on this House that fair representation on public bodies in Northern Ireland would contribute to the acceptance of political methods of progress and decision.

May I say one word to those who belong to the Labour Party, as I do. I hope that their opposition in principle to proportional representation will not mean that they will vote against this Bill. It would still be possible for them, if they so desired, to move the deletion of this clause when the Bill comes, if it does, to Committee stage.

The next clause of my Bill deals with fundamental human rights. The rights which I list reflect the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. I am not urging that in the present Emergency there may not have to be some modification of human rights, but under the present law in Northern Ireland these rights can be, and are, denied. There is the Special Powers Act 1924. It is not dependent on a State of Emergency: it is current law. It is alleged that all the rights to which I shall shortly be referring have been denied in practice in Northern Ireland, in circumstances other than that of an Emergency. The regulations of the Special Powers Act are so blatantly a repudiation of elementary human rights that I propose to read a summary which has been provided by a solicitor:

  1. "(1) Arrest without warrant;
  2. (2) Imprisonment without charge or trial, and deny recourse to Habeas Corpus or a court of law;
  3. (3) Enter and search homes without warrant and with force, at any hour of day or night;
  4. (4) Declare a curfew and prohibit meetings, assemblies (including fairs and markets) and processions;
  5. (5) Permit punishment by flogging;
  6. (6) Deny claim to a trial by jury;
  7. (7) Arrest persons it is desired to examine as witnesses, forcibly detain them and compel them to answer questions, under penalties, even if answers may incriminate them;
  8. (8) Do any act involving interference with the rights of private property;
  9. (9) Prevent access of relatives or legal advisers to a person imprisoned without trial;
  10. (10) Prohibit the holding of an inquest after a prisoner's death;
  11. (11) Arrest a person 'who by word of mouth ' spreads false reports or makes false statements;
  12. (12) Prohibit the circulation of any newspaper;
  13. (13) Prohibit the possession of any film or gramophone record;
  14. (14) Arrest a person who does anything ' calculated to be prejudicial to the preservation of peace or maintenance of order in Northern Ireland and not specifically provided for in the regulations '."
Is it any wonder that Mr. Vorster in South Africa has said that he would give up all regulations of apartheid if he could have that last regulation?

I draw the attention of the Minister to this fact. Under subsection (2) of Section 6 of the Government of Ireland Act it is laid down that an Act of Parliament of Northern Ireland shall be subject to an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom, and "so far as it is repugnant to" the Act of the United Kingdom Parliament shall be void. Is there anyone in this House who can say that that series of denials of liberty is not repugnant to the whole tradition of democratic liberty which exists in this country? It seems to me unbearable that such an Act should be enforceable within the United Kingdom.

The last proposal in my Bill is that discussions should be authorised between Northern and Southern Ireland. Before the events of the last years there was a meeting between the Prime Ministers of North and South, and we all welcomed it as a movement towards conciliation. We must get back to that atmosphere. I am suggesting that this Bill will help. There is a great field of co-operation between Northern and Southern Ireland: their economies are complementary. I hope that such proposal as is made in this Bill may lead to a reconstruction of the Council of Ireland. Who knows but that in time it may lead to the re-united Ireland which the Government of Ireland Act envisaged? This Bill, by Clause 6, would empower discussions.

I come to the last point that I put to the House. This Bill is criticised on the ground that we ought not to interfere with the affairs of Northern Ireland. This country contributes over £ 100 million a year to maintaining the Administration in Northern Ireland. Should we not have a right to have some regard as to how that money is spent, particularly when that Administration, as what I have said indicates, is contrary to the deepest principles which all of us in this country hold? But beyond that, there is Article 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, which says: Notwithstanding the establishment of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, or anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Northern Ireland and every part thereof. "Over all persons". That surely means a particular responsibility of this Parliament for personal liberties anywhere in the United Kingdom. Our belief in democratic toleration and freedom has been the pride of Britain. We shall forfeit any right to that pride if we do not enshrine this principle in every part of the Kingdom. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Brockway.)

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support this Bill, and in doing so I should like to make it plain that, in general, although obviously not in every particular, this is the attitude of the Liberal Party. Perhaps I may take up the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, immediately on the last point he made, and to forestall the criticism that is sometimes made, that it is peculiar for a Party that is in favour of devolution to support the restriction of devolution by legislation in this instance. This, I think, is the result of a misunderstanding. The Liberal Party have always been in favour of the devolution of government to a great degree as a general principle, but we have always held one reservation about it, and that is in the field of civil liberties and human rights. It is often thought—and I suspect is thought by the noble and learned Lord who usually sits on the Woolsack—that an appreciation of the existence of the doctrine of original sin is confined to the Conservative Party. That is not so. The heart of man is wicked, or at least so weak as to have the same effect; power corrupts, and the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. These elementary facts have been known to Liberals as long as they have been known to Conservatives, and I think the last one is probably better known to Liberals than to Conservatives.

We therefore hold that people's liberties should be preserved by units as powerful as possible and as far away as possible from the pressures of locality and personality. Civil liberties should be enforced by the most powerful force that we can find. We think, for instance, that it is a considerable step forward that the United Kingdom have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights; and we look forward to the day when the United Nations itself will have powers in this field. But meanwhile the least that we can do is to ensure that civil rights in any part of the territories for which this Parliament is responsible are reserved to the central United Kingdom Government, or that in any case where they are delegated there is a proper and satisfactory means of appeal to the central authority.

This, I believe, was inherent in the whole concept of the establishment of devolution for Ulster. Alas! through years of neglect this has not been enforced, and as a result it becomes necessary at this time to spell out firmly the responsibilities of the Government of the United Kingdom towards the citizens of Ulster. Indeed, as many of your Lordships will know, many of my colleagues and I would like to see the whole question of human rights and civil liberties spelled out in considerably more detail for the whole of the United Kingdom. But in the absence of any general legislation it is, I believe, right that we should produce special legislation for Ulster, the most troubled part of our Islands.

This Bill really falls into two parts. One part deals with civil rights and liberties—and here it is clear that more needs to be done. Mr. Faulkner said recently that civil liberties is no longer an issue. I do not believe this: it is still a very real issue for a great many people in Ulster. We have just had the first Report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Northern Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned, and it is by no means an encouraging one. It is fairly common ground among informed people of all Parties that there has been gross discrimination over a period of time in Northern Ireland on grounds of religious and political affiliation; and the finding of the Commissioner for Complaints, Mr. Benn, that he has found no such discrimination, is either a sign of the most startling conversion since St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or betrays a fault in the machinery for detecting such discrimination. Indeed, there is such a fault. Mr. Joseph Quigley, writing in the Irish Times of May 22, mentioning a number of the cases which the Commissioner for Compaints had had to deal with, came to the conclusion: The Commissioner for Complaints is attempting an impossible task. He is trying to reconcile the views of those who feel they have been mistreated or abused in a discriminatory manner with the views of public bodies in control of local government, education et cetera, who may genuinely believe themselves to be acting in the best interests of the ratepayers (or college or the council)' but whose decisions give rise to allegations of partiality, many of which arc well grounded in fact. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to as "democratic discrimination." I merely quote this as one symptom of the reality that civil rights and civil liberties are a continuing problem in Northern Ireland and that we shall not have even the beginning of an approach to the solution of the problems of Ulster until discrimination not only disappears but is seen to have disappeared by the enormous majority of the inhabitants of that territory.

I now turn to proportional representation. Because I am a Liberal, your Lordships will naturally expect me to be in favour of proportional representation for Northern Ireland. But in fact the argument is the other way round. Because proportional representation would so obviously be good for Northern Ireland it bolsters my belief in proportional representation generally. It has often been said in arguments against the introduction of proportional representation in Ulster—and may indeed be said again to-day—that when proportional representation was ended in that province the results of the next Election under the "first past the post" principle were indistinguishable from the results of the last Election under proportional representation. This of course is true, but it is to miss the point. In many situations P.R. will change the representation by numbers of Parties in Parliament, Government or whatever it may happen to be. On other occasions, it will not. What it will do is to change, over a period of time, the nature of the representation within those Parties.

I can see four definite advantages to Northern Ireland. First, responsible men and women elected by the people could concentrate on their constructive work instead of having to extend half their energies on controlling a local nominating caucus, which is often in a state of almost permanent revolt. I only wish we had the noble Lord. Lord O'Neill of the Maine, to comment on that point. Secondly. moderate Unionists and Nationalists could choose among the candidates of their own Party, eschewing the extremists and supporting moderates without splitting their party vote.

Thirdly, minorities would have a fair representation. I recognise this might include some extremists, but an extremist elected under his own colours is much less dangerous than an extremist manipulating and infecting a larger and basically more moderate Party. Moreover, it is high time that non-sectarian minorities, like the Labour Party and the Liberal Party, were given a chance to mitigate the perilous polarisation of Northern Ireland politics. Fourthly. within all Parties nominations across religious lines would become much easier. In any foreseeable future, the great majority of Unionists will be Protestants and of Nationalists will he Catholics. But who can doubt that all the people of Northern Ireland would benefit by lessening the identification of political with sectarian divisions which does so much to poison public life?

Proportional representation would also break up the intense and dangerous solidarity of various areas. I believe that in the 1920s the councillors from the Falls Road Ward always included a Unionist, and those from the Shankill Ward a Republican. Most of the other stable democracies of Europe have forms of proportional representation. It exists and works well in, for instance, Sweden, Denmark and Norway; in the Netherlands, where religious divisions are a serious problem; in Switzerland, and of course in the Irish Republic. Those who fear that instability comes with proportional representation should reflect that the Swedes have had the same Party in power since 1932, which admittedly may seem a rather short time to those people whose minds are still fixed on 1690. Proportional representation has in the past been imposed by English Governments on territories with not dissimilar problems to those in Northern Ireland. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, should fall into the error of thinking that France ever had a proportional representation system. It never has. It has had a mixed up, bastardised version which never works.

It was said at the time of the abolition of proportional representation in Ulster that the reason for its abolition was the dangerous splintering of the Opposition Parties. I think the true reason was one given by the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, when he said. At Election times the people do not really understand what danger may result if they make a mistake when it comes to third, fourth, fifth and sixth preferences. By an actual mistake they might wake up to find Northern Ireland in the perilous position of being submerged in a Dublin Parliament. I must confess that this takes a view of the intelligence of the average citizen of Northern Ireland which is as lamentable as I believe it is unjustified.

My Lords, the solution of the problems of Northern Ireland is probably a very long way off. It takes as long to get out of a mess as it takes to get in it. I believe that this is one of the great truths of politics. The nature of the solution is still uncertain. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, gave some hint that he saw it finally in a united Ireland. I speak personally when I say that I see some solution within a federal Europe. It is common ground that we do not know what the solution will be. What we have to provide is a framework whereby the people in Northern Ireland can settle down over a long period in peace, and eventually in harmony—because the two will not come simultaneously. We need peace first, and then we shall work towards the harmony. The solution is in their hands, and I am not suggesting for a moment that we shall take it out of them. In many ways I favour more devolution for Ulster, particularly in financial matters. But it is up to us at Westminster, relatively free from the poisons of the immediate situation, to provide a framework within which the people can work out their destiny. I believe that this Bill represents one of the ways in which this can be done, and that is the reason why I support it.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that I do not think that if this Bill were to become law it would do very much to improve conditions in Northern Ireland. I do not, however, intend this evening to deal with the main part of the Bill, and I shall deal only with those clauses which refer to proportional representation. I am perhaps the only Member in this House who has undergone two Elections as a candidate under proportional representation. In the 1920s, proportional representation was very much a question, and I remember being a member of a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of which Speaker Lowther of the House of Commons was the Chairman. That Committee recommended proportional representation for a certain number of the larger boroughs of this country. However, nothing ever came of it. That was just when the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was coming into force. As has already been stated, proportional representation was fixed upon as the proper way of holding Elections, in both the North and the South of Ireland.

The County I represented was Antrim, and under proportional representation it returned seven Members. The Unionists were pretty sure they could carry six, and they ran only six Members. The instructions given to the voters were, "Vote for the six; the whole six, and nothing but the six, in any order you like". In the result, the six Unionists Members were returned. The ballot papers showed a remarkable ability on the part of the voters to mark their preferences properly. There were very few mistakes; the preferences were very clearly marked. I think that in nearly all the constituencies one or two Members got their quotas at the first count and were elected, and the rest came in as the votes were transferred. That is how it worked, and on the whole it worked well.

The way in which elections were dealt with by the candidates when there were six candidates all for the same constituency was that in the larger towns all the six Unionist candidates used to attend the meetings, possibly not all at the same time, but they came and went from the villages. On the whole, proportional representation certainly worked satisfactorily in those first Elections for the Ulster House of Commons. Of course, its disadvantages were that it meant such large constituencies; and one difficulty was: what part of the constituency was any one Member specially to look after? However, on the whole that difficulty was sorted out, and the system, as I say, worked quite well. I see no reason why it should not work all right today if it were brought in again. It certainly would improve to a small extent minority representation, which is what all sensible people would like to see. I am afraid that I cannot vote for the noble Lord's Bill but, so far as the clauses dealing with proportional representation are concerned, I see no objection to them.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, with the present position in Northern Ireland, I always think that we must take great care what we say and how we say it at Westminster, because I know from experience that the most insignificant remarks made here become banner headlines in Belfast and in Dublin. When I was Minister at the Home Office I had a good deal to do with the problems in Northern Ireland and visited there once or twice—once as a guest, at Stormont House, of the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, and Lady O'Neill. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not here this afternoon. I think I was the first Government Minister officially ever to visit the predominantly Catholic town of Newry, which stands just inside the Border, and where, incidentally, when I visited it in 1965, the unemployment position was absolutely appalling—greater than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Since I was at the Home Office I have again visited Northern Ireland, and on the last occasion it was to address the annual conference of a political Party.

On my first visit I was unprepared for the impact of conditions there. The sectarian bitterness and hatred that we here in Britain knew 300 and 400 years ago still exists in Northern Ireland to-day. But it is a mistake to suppose that all the problems in Northern Ireland are religious ones. There are severe economic and social problems. For years poverty and unemployment were much more serious there than in any other part of the United Kingdom. There was a widespread belief that housing and jobs were allocated according to religion. My noble friend Lord Brockway says he feels that that is still so to-day. That there were grievances and lack of civil rights was admitted by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, when he resigned from being Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. The Labour Government throughout the whole of the period from 1964 to 1970 urged the Stormont Government to rectify these grievances. I was myself present at several of the Downing Street meetings when my right honourable friend Mr. Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister, stressed the very great importance of reforms in Northern Ireland.

My noble friend Lord Brockway said that he hoped that some Members on this side of the House who might oppose his Bill would not do so because we thought we ought not to interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland. The Labour Government did interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland and pressed the Northern Ireland Government to bring about some of the reforms which have come about.


My Lords, I am sorry if I did not express myself clearly. My appeal to those on this side of the House was not on the matter of noninterference in Northern Ireland; it was on the issue of proportional representation.


My Lords, I am coming to that in a moment. I took a note of what my noble friend said, and I think that when he reads his speech he will find that he in fact dealt with the two matters he has just mentioned. But progress in reform has been slow in Northern Ireland. Had Stormont rectified the grievances sooner, then the situation we have to-day might have been avoided. But this is all water, or perhaps I should say blood, under the bridge.

Eventually, in 1969, after the trouble had begun there was the declaration from Downing Street, as between Mr. Harold Wilson and the Government here, on one side, and Mr. Chichester-Clark, on the other, that new laws would be passed. But these came too late to stop the trouble and, as my noble friend has said, the reforms which have been passed as Acts of Parliament in Northern Ireland have not yet filtered down into the lives of the people there. I was very saddened indeed by the remark of one man whom I have known for many years. He is a very intelligent man, and a very peaceful man in Northern Ireland. He and his friends campaigned for years for full civil rights for all the people in Northern Ireland. On my last visit he said to me that he felt that more had been accomplished in a few months by direct action than they had succeeded in doing in years of constitutional and democratic action. That saddened me very much because I think this is a sad commentary on what happened in Northern Ireland. But the wild people took over and exploited the situation, and the troublemakers to-day have little in common with those who fought to rectify the genuine grievances.

I think we must look at this Bill in the context of the position in Northern Ireland at the present time. The Bill contains a number of important proposals for changing the Constitution of Northern Ireland. Some of these, looked at individually, have a great deal to commend them. There are others about which I have a few doubts. Mention has been made of proportional representation. As has been said, proportional representation was included in the 1921 Government of Ireland Act and it was left open for both Belfast and Dublin to change this if they wished to do so. Until 1929 elections in Ulster were held on the basis of proportional representation, after which this was changed. In general, I do not like proportional representation, but my noble friend will be surprised when he hears me say that I believe there is a case for examination as to whether or not it is right in the very special circumstances of Northern Ireland.

Here we have a two-Party system and whatever Government arc in power we have a strong Opposition. In Northern Ireland there is no two-Party system, no strong Opposition, and I was pleased to hear the noble Lord who has just spoken from the opposite Benches express the opinion that it would be a good thing if there were some stronger opposition in the Stormont Parliament, and of course in the local authorities.

Mention has been made during this debate, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, of the position of the Nationalist and Republican Parties. There is of course another Party in Northern Ireland other than the Unionist Party and the Nationalist Party. I refer to the Northern Ireland Labour Party—not the new Social Democratic and Labour Party, but the Northern Ireland Labour Party. There is also the position in Northern Ireland, as anybody who knows anything about Northern Ireland will realise, that the Protestant working class, who in this country would vote Labour, there vote Unionist, first for religious reasons, and secondly because they believe that that is the only way for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, the Catholic working class, who also would probably vote Labour in this country, in Northern Ireland vote for one of the Nationalist or Republican Parties, again for religious and other than economic and unemployment reasons. In those circumstances, I believe that there is a case for looking at proportional representation in Northern Ireland, and that the Government at Stormont would be all the better for some stronger Opposition.

One of the more minor things in the Bill refers to the waving of flags of friendly countries. In itself this looks quite reasonable. I must say that I would not oppose my noble friend's Bill for this reason alone; but I believe there has been far too much flag waving in Northern Ireland, both green, orange, and red, white and blue. In Northern Ireland flags are not waved on joyous occasions but as provocation, and this is done by both sides in Northern Ireland.

My noble friend has given great thought to this Bill, and I agree with every word he has said in detestation of the things he has quoted. The proposals in the Bill are arguable and I think a good many of them would give rise to interesting debates on the Committee stage. But do we want to argue them now and in a Private Member's Bill? At the present time the Royal Commission on the Constitution—the Crowther Commission, which have not yet been mentioned—are considering the constitutional problems of Northern Ireland. There is a rumour—and these rumours sometimes emerge from Commissions—that the Commission are about to come down in favour of proportional representation. I do not know, but we do know that at this very moment the Crowther Commission are considering the whole of the Constitution of Northern Ireland.

In a debate in the other place on April 6 of this year my right honourable friend Mr. Harold Wilson made the suggestion that when the Crowther Report is published there should be a conference of all political Parties, both here and in Northern Ireland, to consider the proposals; and in that debate on April 6, in column 282 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of another place my right honourable friend said—


My Lords, I am sorry, but I was not sure whether my noble friend was about to quote from a speech made by her right honourable friend in this Session, in which case I think I am right in saying that she would be out of order.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I am not yet used to all the rules of this House. I have in fact paraphrased what my right honourable friend said, although I was in fact going on to quote what he said. However I will now paraphrase. My right honourable friend said that in his view it would be a very good thing if this conference were held after the Crowther Commission had reported, so that all points of view could be put. I hope my noble friend will not press this Bill to a Division because it seems to me that if there are to be constitutional changes—and many of us would like to see them—it would be better to wait for the Report of the Crowther Commission and then proceed in the way in which my right honourable friend Mr. Harold Wilson has suggested.

I should like to ask some questions of the noble Lord who is to reply on behalf of the Government. First, when are we to get the Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, particularly as it affects Northern Ireland? Will this be in time for the local elections which are going to be run on new local government boundaries in Northern Ireland? In my view, this is very important and we should know the particular timetable. As I have said, many of us feel that there should be constitutional changes; but as my noble friend said, we know that these alone cannot restore law and order. We also have to tackle the problems of the economy and of unemployment in Northern Ireland. Above all, there must be a change of attitude among the people of Northern Ireland, with more tolerance and understanding. I think that Northern Ireland has been bedevilled by extremists on both sides, and it is time that the moderate people made their voices heard.

I have been very saddened to learn what has been happening among the children in Northern Ireland. They have been taught to hate each other. While I agree with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend, I feel I could not support this Bill but would rather rest on the statement made in another place by my right honourable friend Mr. Harold Wilson.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, nobody for one moment will doubt, or has doubted, the sincerity and goodwill and the good faith of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway—nor would I. This makes it all the more puzzling to me to understand how he has achieved the feat of producing a Bill which I believe to be almost entirely mischievous and, to a great extent, dangerous.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, thinks he is absolutely right in supporting the Bill; and I noted with a certain—perhaps I should not say "incredulity" but interested surprise admire both, that he believes that the whole of the Liberal Party agrees with him. That may well be so. I should not be a bit surprised at anything the Liberal Party agreed with. But I greatly the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and agree very much with what they said in the course of their speeches as preliminaries to the Bill. Many thoughtful points of view were expressed and many sound statements made, particularly, if I may say so, by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway.

But how does this Bill arise as a conclusion of the terms they have set forth? I cannot see how it can be done. May I skim quickly through some parts of the Bill. It begins in its Long Title with the claim that it intends ."…to make… provisions for equating the civil rights of citizens of Northern Ireland with those of other citizens of the United Kingdom … and then it goes on straightaway in Clause 1 to do exactly the opposite. In Clause 1(2) it makes it unlawful in Northern Ireland but not unlawful in the rest of the United Kingdom, to discriminate in religious matters. That may not matter; it may be argued that religious discrimination is not a trouble in England and Scotland and Wales. But it will be found that under the Race Relations Act—in Section 3(1)(a), if anybody is interested—it will become unlawful for anybody in Northern Ireland to refuse to employ a school teacher, for example, in a Roman Catholic school, solely on the ground that he is, say, a Presbyterian or Hindu. In fact it will be necessary to amend the Race Relations Act not only as regards Section 1 but also Sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 as well. I should not be at all surprised if a great deal of the rest of the Act required amendment as well.

I simply do not understand Clause 2, because it says: It shall not be an offence in Northern Ireland to… work in accordance with the law… for certain purposes; and in subsection (4) It shall not be unlawful in Northern Ireland… to work within the law for the propagation of Republican opinions. The idea that it can be unlawful to work within the law is, I confess, something of a novelty to me; I do not understand what this clause is supposed to represent at all.

Clause 3 is the shortest of all the clauses, and perhaps it epitomises to a certain extent the whole content of the rest of the Bill. It says: It shall not be an offence within Northern Ireland to display the flags or emblems of countries in friendly relations with Her Majesty. That is splendid. One of the countries in friendly relations with Her Majesty is obviously the Republic of Ireland, and as your Lordships know, the flag of the Republic of Ireland is a tricolour of green, white and orange. Your Lordships know also, no doubt, that the green represents, roughly speaking, the South, and the orange, roughly speaking, the North.

These are words that were spoken when this flag was first introduced and presented and brought into use: The white in the centre signifies the lasting truce between the orange and the green, and I trust beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous brotherhood. An admirable and splendid dream—and "dream" is one of the words that is associated with flags. The flags of nations are not composed solely of bunting; they are made of dreams and history and blood. This flag is no exception, and it is dangerous to tamper with the history of flags. Those words I have quoted: by whom and when do your Lordships suppose they were spoken? They were spoken by a gentleman called Thomas Francis Meagher when he was presenting the flag to the Young Irelanders in 1848. Young Ireland was a body that existed for the sole purpose of securing the repeal of the Union; so the early and original symbolism of this flag, in spite of its pious aspirations, is hardly one to commend itself to the Unionists of today; and since then in those Unionists' eyes the symbolism has undergone a certain change.

That flag is now the flag of the Republic of Ireland, and the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland actually states that the powers of the Government of Ireland extend over the whole of the 32 counties of the Island of Ireland, but temporarily, until re-integration may take place, that legislation does not run within the six counties of the North. This flag, therefore, states for all to read who can understand that the six counties of the North are a part of the whole country that is governed from Dublin. That is the symbolism that is visible when you stand and look at the flag from the North, from the point of view of the Unionist, and that is the flag that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, wishes to legalise, as provocation, which it unquestionably is, rightly or wrongly, in the hands of certain ill-disposed people. What will flow from it is this: if it is legal to fly that flag, it is illegal for somebody else to pull it down. How long shall we have to wait before the spectacle arises of policemen or troops using force to prevent that flag being pulled down by an enraged crowd? This clause will produce that situation, of British troops fighting to keep the flag, of the Irish Republic flying in the North of Ireland. It only needs a little imagination to see that that is bound to happen. I am very much surprised that any noble Lord should put forward such an idea without using the modicum of imagination necessary to look forward and see that that is bound to be the result.

Clause 4 deals with proportional representation. The greater part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, was made on this aspect, and almost the whole of the speech of my noble friend Lord Rathcavan. I have nothing to say about it. I am personally rather inclined to be in favour of proportional representation. But it has no place in this Bill, which is supposed to be a Bill of Rights. Proportional representation is not a human right. The right involved here is the right to representation in Parliament. Proportional representation is one of the many methods which can be used to secure that representation. There is nothing in this Bill which belongs in a Bill of Rights.

Let me turn to the next clause, Clause 5, which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said deals with fundamental human rights. It does, but not in any sense that would qualify any of these provisions for inclusion in a Bill of Human Rights. It introduces no new rights. It lays down no rights; it protects no rights. It merely transfers the authority indicated under this heading from the Government in Stormont to the Government in West-minister. In doing that it has this effect: that it discredits the Northern Ireland Government by implying, first, that they are likely to resort to unjust and oppressive measures; and, secondly, it implies that they are not to be trusted with the responsibility for the maintenance of law and order within their own borders. In its totality, this clause represents a long stride towards direct rule. There is no question of that; it does, and it is intended to. Direct rule is something that is ardently desired by one group of persons, the Irish Republican Army. and nobody else on earth. Nobody here wants it. Nobody in Northern Ireland wants it but the hard core of unscrupulous, murdering gunmen. That is the intermediate step which leads to the total breakdown of law and order in Northern Ireland, which the I.R.A. and nobody else is trying to achieve; that is the end to which Clause 5 will work.

Clause 6 is totally admirable, though it has nothing whatever to do with human rights. The idea is splendid, but I submit that there is no reason whatever why it should be included in any Bill. It is the greatest possible mistake to try to deal with this kind of matter of co-operation between Parliaments in an Act of Parliament. Of one thing I am sure: that is, that the relations between Great Britain, and England in particular, and Ireland have been bedevilled for centuries by one particular recurring source of trouble; namely, the passing of ill-considered and dangerous Acts by Parliament at West-minister. It is a long time since we have had any such Bills brought here and passed. My Lords, I do not think your Lordships will pass one now.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, I did not intend to intervene in the debate, but I should like to add a few words in support of some of the previous speakers. First of all, the mover of the Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to a new climate to be created. This is the real kernel of the future in Ireland, and we appreciate this. But every time we have a debate on the problems of Northern Ireland, it seems to me that we are doing what we so often criticise the Irish for doing— we never get out of the hog. We continue to talk about what has happened in the past, and give no encouragement to what is going on at the moment. I do not believe that this Bill in itself—I do not want to go into detail, which would be far better done in Committee; that is, if the Bill goes to Committee—is going to create a new climate. I think it will only exacerbate a situation already, to coin a phrase, "sufficiently dicey". I do not think it is going to help the forces of law and order in Northern Ireland today to tinker further with the powers already devolved upon the authorities in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that there has been sufficient time for these things to get through.

Every morning one wakes up to read in the paper, or hear on the wireless—and your Lordships must be as bored with this as we all are in Northern Ireland—" Bang! ", there goes another store; "Bang!", there goes a customs post. Soldiers, policemen and civilians are shot. Of course nobody in Northern Ireland wants to live in that sort of situation, but it is not being brought about by the people of Northern Ireland, or the people of Southern Ireland; it is being brought about by people with extremist minority viewpoints.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question? If he has read the papers during the last day or two he will realise that the British troops are being attacked by Orangemen, who persisted in making their demonstration in a Catholic area in defiance of their own Prime Minister.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his interjection. When I talked of extremists, I am sorry if my words were taken to mean that I was talking only of one section. There are stupid people in every country in the world. It is intolerable that people who profess their allegiance to Her Majesty should in any way exacerbate the situation of their Government, or of their soldiers who are there for the specific purpose of enabling a better climate to prevail. I heartily agree with the noble Earl's intervention.

I was talking about trying to create a new climate. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, also touched on this point by saying that first of all you need peace. This is what we all believe. How are we going to get peace? How are we going to stop these hit-and-run bombers? That is what we have to concentrate on at the moment. I believe that the legislation on the Statute Book and now being introduced is sufficient at the present moment, and that the introduction at this time of extra legislation—and mention has already been made of the Crowther Commission—would be a mistake in timing.

I agree with much of the sentiment that was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. There is not a human being of Northern or Southern Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales, or in any part of the British Empire, who does not want to see peace where they live. But there arc some human beings who like to destroy peace, and I believe that at the moment that is what we are up against.

The other point I wish to make is to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. I agree with all that she said. I think that she put the situation better than I can, and in good perspective. I believe that we must try to concentrate on restoring the peace—and I do not think this Bill is the way to do it—and improving the employment situation in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. That will absorb the people and not leave them in the destitute state of unemployment, which is the worst possible factor.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, like the last speaker I was not in a position to put my name down on the list, and in the circumstances it would not he appropriate to attempt a long and detailed argument. In any event, the case for the Bill has been put so strongly and fully by my noble friend Lord Brockway that that is hardly necessary. We have been admonished by the noble Earl who spoke just now, and whom we followed with close attention, and by my noble friend Lady Bacon, with whom I nearly always agree, and have been warned against the dangers of speaking unguardedly on Northern Ireland, or of speaking before the appropriate moment. I am afraid that some of us who have been in this House a good many years feel distinctly guilty in not having spoken on this matter many years ago. For literally 50 years—the 50 years of Ulster is being celebrated, wisely or not, this year—the two Houses of Parliament in this country have kept quiet. We in this country have totally failed (and I think this point can be made more forcibly against people of Irish blood than against anybody) for 50 years, in both Houses of Parliament, to do our duty, bearing in mind our overall constitutional responsibility for all that goes on in Northern Ireland.


My Lords, I know that my noble friend would not like to misquote me. I do not think I said that we should not speak about Northern Ireland, or that we should not speak too soon. I said that I thought this legislation should not be passed until we had had the Report of the Crowther Commission. I am one who has spoken out about Northern Ireland both in this country and in Northern Ireland.


My Lords, I am sorry if I seemed to misinterpret my noble friend. I did not in fact wish to say anything different from what she has just told us. She did warn us that we must be very careful in all that we said. I think that we in this country, in the two Houses of Parliament, have been too careful in the last 50 years. We have been so frightened of saying anything that in fact, with very few exceptions, we have said nothing. For 50 years this discrimination, which is now accepted by all to have been a fact, has gone on against the minority in Northern Ireland—to the great shame of this country. That is simply a fact. If it upsets somebody or some people in Northern Ireland, I am afraid that they must put up with it. It is a pity that it was not said many times in the course of the last 50 years.

I listened with great attention to the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, who bears an honoured name in Northern Ireland, but I am afraid that I cannot agree that this matter can be discussed without any reference to the past. Whether you take the I.R.A. or the Orange gentlemen he was very rightly and properly condemning just now, who were attacking the British troops a day or two ago, they are all products of the past. They are not worse, as human beings, than other people. It is not that the Protestants—and I once was a Protestant—of Northern Ireland would normally behave worse towards Catholics than the Protestants of anywhere else; nor is it that the Catholics would behave worse to the Protestants, if they had the opportunity—though the Catholics are, of course, the weaker party. It is simply the historical conditions that have produced this tragic situation, which now, many years too late—though there may still be time—we in this country are beginning to try to improve. So I believe that we have to discuss the past, although we never discuss the question of Northern Ireland at all.

I am not going to speak for more than a moment or two, but I must say this much. When we speak of this discrimination, which is unlike anything in Southern Ireland, in Scotland, in Wales or in England, we are bound to ask how it can have come about. It has not happened in this island; it has not happened in the rest of Ireland. It could not have happened if, whether for good or ill, the Six Counties had been part of Great Britain. It would not have been tolerated here: Parliament would have stopped it. It could not have happened if the Six Counties had been part of a united Ireland: it would have been stopped by the opinion of the great majority of the people. It is very unlikely that it could have happened if the Six Counties had been a foreign country, because the matter would have been taken to the United Nations. But, as matters stand, this discrimination has continued because the dominant forces in Stormont were allowed to conduct it under the protection of the United Kingdom. That is a historic fact, and I am not going to say any more about it now, except that the moment has surely arrived when action must be taken.

People say, "Wait for the Crowther Commission." We are always told to wait for something. When the Crowther Commission report—and good luck to them!—there will probably be provision for further study, as there usually is after a Royal Commission; and there will then be another year or two. So we shall sit here and have a discussion, very much of this character, with the same sort of conclusion tentatively suggested. I am afraid that I personally, and I think many other people here, take the view that we have waited too long, and I hope that this matter will not be allowed to wait any longer. In my time I have belonged to more than one great Party, the Conservatives and the Labour Party, but I have never belonged to the Liberal Party. But if the Liberal Party are to-day giving a lead, then I believe that, with the permission of my noble Leader, who has said that it will be a free vote, I shall be proud to follow my noble friend Lord Brockway and the historic Liberal Party.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I shall speak only very briefly, but I feel it is important that I should put on record my own personal views and give such advice as I usefully can to any of my noble friends or any other noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Longford has indicated that he will attempt to support this Bill in the Lobby, and I think he said that he has my permission to do so. But I must stress that he does not need my permission. I assure him that I have always taken a very strong view that Private Bills—and I certainly give this assurance to my noble friend Lord Brockway—must be decided on a free vote. None the less, that does not deprive me of my right, or indeed my duty, to express my views on the Bill.

First of all, I must say to my noble friend Lord Brockway that no one has a better right than he to produce a Bill of this kind. No one has had a more passionate record in defence of individual freedom than he has, and he speaks moderately even when he speaks forcefully. But it is very important to look at the consequences of this Bill. We ought not to deceive ourselves, because the House of Lords is such a reasonable place and there are such reasonable people here, and because the Irish behave so well here—whether it is the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, my noble friend Lord Longford or even myself. We are in some way trained to face and solve our problems in this House in a way which bears no relation to the situation that exists in Northern Ireland, and has existed for so long. Because I take the advice of my noble friend Lady Bacon, I propose to say as little as possible in the way of passing judgment on events in Northern Ireland. I happen to agree with her that unwise words expressed here sometimes give rise to great trouble for those who are having to face much greater hardships and dangers than we in this House.

My noble friend Lord Longford said that it is our duty to speak out, and I fully acknowledge that we did not take action very much sooner, as we should have done. I have known the situation in Northern Ireland and I confess that I had not fully appreciated the seriousness of it. But I must say to my noble friend Lord Longford, when he demands that action should be taken, that action has been taken, and much of the action was taken by the Government of which he was a member, whether he was still in the Government then or whether subsequently. But a great deal of action was taken. It is a common error of mankind always to assume, even when action has been taken, that somehow no action has been taken. I would certainly not suggest that anybody on this side of the House should oppose this Bill simply on the grounds of its provision for proportional representation. I do not propose to express any final judgment on that, but I know that there are powerful views held in the Republic of Ireland to the effect that they ought to get rid of proportional representation, and this matter has certainly been raised a couple of times in the last few years.

I fully acknowledge that the Northern Ireland situation is very much sui generis, and I was interested to learn in the very moderate and statesmanlike speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, that we have not shut our minds to proportional representation. On the other hand, I would not follow the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, an inch further at the moment. He certainly managed to extract additional arguments in favour. He took us to Sweden; but Sweden has a very different Constitution and a system of administrative law, and I think I would go no further. But I would say to my noble friend Lord Brockway that I would not reject this Bill simply on those grounds. As he said, this is a matter which could be discussed in Committee. My noble friend Lady Bacon pointed out from her own more recent experience in Northern Ireland the painful fact that people tend to vote according to their religious beliefs. It is for that reason that the Northern Ireland Labour Party, which is a non-sectarian Party composed of people of all beliefs, has been handicapped. We should all welcome a situation in Northern Ireland where there was the same sort of political set-up as we have here, but it is sheer wishful thinking at this moment to believe that this Bill is going to bring about that sort of situation. I would disagree with only one point made by my noble friend Lady Bacon. While noting the importance of the Crowther Report, I would do nothing at this moment—and I should like to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on this point—which would provide an excuse for not bringing about the new boundaries for local government. I also hope that Crowther will not be used as an excuse simply on the grounds that one ought to have proportional representation. It is very important that the reforms which are in the pipeline should begin to bite, should come down and should be visible to the citizen.

My Lords, I do not propose to discuss the Bill in detail. A number of noble Lords, such as the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, have pointed out the possible weaknesses in the Bill, and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, may wish to comment similarly. But even if the Bill was an impeccable Bill I would still not support it at this moment, and I will give my reasons. The dangers to Northern Ireland are too great for us to indulge in the type of political manoeuvring—and I am not accusing the noble Lord—with which we are familiar. It is possible for us in certain areas to pursue policies and say, "Well, the consequences may be bad," or, "they may not be bad". But I agree entirely with the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, that if this Bill were to pass into law the result would be direct rule from Westminster; and I say to my noble friend, who is so deeply concerned for peace and the avoidance of bloodshed, that it is my opinion that to give this Bill a Second Reading would not add to the safety of people in Northern Ireland, even if everything in it were in fact justified.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, quoted a number of political aphorisms, axioms with which I do not disagree, but I should like to add another one: that we are also responsible, or ought to be, for the consequences of the action we take. And I believe that carrying this Bill through and giving it a Committee stage, even though we know it cannot possibly pass into law (which is a practice we have in this House, to give things "a run"), will not contribute to the welfare of the people in Northern Ireland. Though I do not wish to bring the Common Market into it, I happen also to share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. that possibly a more united Europe may in the end make a bigger contribution to solving the problems of Northern Ireland than anything that we in the United Kingdom Parliament can do at this moment. Therefore, I am bound to say that although it is a free vote, I feel this is a matter of such importance that it is not something on which I should stand aside, and if my noble friend decides after this excellent debate to press the Second Reading to a Division I will certainly vote against it. I do not regard this in terms of Party loyalty. This is not a Party issue: and I would certainly advise my noble friends to ponder the consequences of their actions if they in fact decide to support my noble friend Lord Brockway.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. says, this has been an excellent debate, and a timely one in that it takes place within a week of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the first Parliament at Stormont. It is appropriate, too, I think, that it has been initiated by the noble Lord. Lord Brockway. We might recall that the noble Lord was already active, and indeed conspicuous. in public life at the time that Northern Ireland achieved its separate existence as a result of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Although I think I am right in saying that his main campaigns at the time were on the subjects of India and prison reform, his underlying concern with individual human liberties and civil rights is something that has never left him.

But having said that, my Lords, the noble Lord would not, I think, be the only one in the House who would be surprised if I were able to go further and welcome this Bill. I am afraid that I cannot do that, although I will say that it has the merit of consistency with the previous attempts of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, to legislate in this field. Ten years ago, in 1961, the noble Lord introduced a Bill when he was a Member of another place—he will remember it—to make it an offence to discriminate to the detriment of any person on the grounds of colour, race or religion in the United Kingdom. and to incite publicly contempt or hatred of any person or persons because of their colour, race or religion ". A similar measure was introduced in your Lordships' House by Lord Walston in 1962, and in the following year the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, tried again in another place. None of these Bills succeeded but in 1965 the noble Lord had the satisfaction of seeing the first Race Relations Act, to which he had contributed so much, reach the Statute Book. This Act was confined, however, to the problems of racial discrimination, and excluded any questions of religious discrimination. Furthermore, it did not extend to Northern Ireland. the Stormont Government having asked for Northern Ireland to be excluded from the Bill's provisions. When he spoke in another place on Second Reading, the then Home Secretary, Sir Frank Soskice, now the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, said: …the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. There is a clear reason for this. It is a well-recognised constitutional convention that Parliament at Westminster does not legislate in respect of matters within the competence of the Parliament at Stormont except at the request and with the agreement of the Government of Northern Ireland."—[OFFIDAL REPORT, Commons, 3/5/65, col. 941.] Next came the Race Relations Act 1968, making it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origin in the provision of goods, facilities or services. The Act also had provisions concerning employment, housing and accommodation. But, again, this Statute was limited to discrimination on racial, and not religious, grounds. For the same reasons as the earlier Act, it did not extend to Northern Ireland. It is this Act, the Race Relations Act of 1968, which the noble Lord's Bill before us today would apply to Northern Ireland, and extend it so that it applied to religious discrimination there, although not in the rest of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I rehearse this brief history of the noble Lord's activities in this field over the last ten years because nobody can argue that he has not been consistent in his approach. It has remained constant. But during this time, and particularly during the last two or three years, the situation as regards civil liberties in Northern Ireland has been changing. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has just been speaking about the progress which has been made as a result of the initiatives taken some two or three years ago by the Administration of which he was a member.

References have been made to the reform programme, and 1 think we might take this opportunity to acknowledge the particular concern of the present Prime Minister, Mr. Brian Faulkner, who, as Minister of Development, had responsibility for seeing through the reform programme. I should like to applaud the determination and courage shown by Mr. Faulkner, both when he was in charge of that Department and as Prime Minister, in the progress that has been made. The changes have been considerable, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, quite rightly emphasised. It would he wrong to minimise their extent and effectiveness. Some of them, we might note, in fact come very close to what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has himself urged. In 1970, for example, the Stormont Parliament passed the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act, and it is now an offence orally or in writing to incite hatred against, or arouse fear in, any section of the public in Northern Ireland on grounds of religious belief, colour, race or ethnic or national origin. The Northern Ireland Government have also appointed by Statute both a Parliamentary Commissioner and a Commissioner for Complaints to investigate, among other things, any allegations of discrimination by central or local government authorities or their subordinate bodies. These measures are in many ways comparable in their effect to our own race relations legislation. But they are steps which have been take by the Government at Stormont. in consultation with Her Majesty's Government, to meet the needs of their own situation. Successive Administrations at Westminster have concluded that this is the best way to proceed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, asked about the Commission on the Constitution under the chairmanship of Lord Crowther. The Commission were appointed in April, 1969, and their terms of reference were rather wider than she implied: they were to examine the present functions of the central Legislature and Government in relation to the several countries, nations and regions of the United Kingdom. They were not only concerned with the relations between London and Northern Ireland, though the Commissioners have visited Northern Ireland and have taken evidence there. The noble Baroness asked me whether I could give any indication of when the Commission were likely to report. This is a major review of constitutional relationships; the Commission have not yet completed their inquiries and it will clearly be some time before they report. I regret that I cannot be more specific than that at this stage. I think that it is unlikely to be practicable to pin the Report to the local government elections —and this point was mentioned by the noble Lord. Lord Shackleton —due to take place in 1972 on new boundaries. It would be difficult to try to tie in the publication of a Report on such a very profound and wide-ranging subject with a fixed date for elections.

In Clause 4 of the Bill, which attracted much comment from noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, seeks to provide for a system of proportional representation in local government elections and in Elections for the Parliament at Stormont. This idea, as has been said in the debate, is an old one; proportional representation was used in Parliamentary Elections to Stormont for eight years between 1921 and 1929. If there is anyone in this House who can rival Lord Brockway in his very long interest in this subject, it is my noble friend Lord Rathcavan, who told us that he sat in the Stormont Parliament for two Parliaments, through two General Elections, as a result of the system of proportional representation that applied in the 1920s. I think that I am right in saying that he was the first Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament having also been a Member of the Westminster Parliament.

If proportional representation were to he revived either for Parliamentary or local government elections (and the Macrory Committee on Local Government Reorganisation commented that the idea found some favour) it would need detailed study. The Northern Ireland Government have said that they retain an open mind on proportional representation in relation to local government elections. But the subject is complex; and I would expect noble Lords to agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said: that it would not really be appropriate to impose—for that is what it would be—proportional representation on the Government of Northern Ireland by means of a clause in a Private Member's Bill introduced in the Parliament at Westminster.


My Lords, that was not quite what I said. As the noble Lord knows, I am critical of the Bill on general principles. What I asked was: if we wait for Crowther, how far will this have an effect in delaying the introduction of boundaries? Perhaps the noble Lord was coming to that. This was my concern.


My Lords, I am sorry if I have misrepresented the noble Lord. I referred to the point a little earlier in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, when I said that it would not be practicable to ask the members and chairman of a Commission of this sort to try to tie in their Report with a particular date when local government elections were due to take place. The timing of Lord Crowther's Report is entirely a matter for the Commission. I know that their inquiries are not yet completed and that it will be some time before they can commit themselves to giving an indication of when they hope to report.

The other clauses of the noble Lord's Bill cover a wide variety of proposals, but they do not convey a fair reflection of the current situation in Ulster. Let me quote a few examples. Clause 2(1) would provide that: It shall not be an offence in Northern Ireland to advocate or work in accordance with the law for the establishment of a single Parliament for the whole of Ireland. My Lords, it is not now, and never has been, an offence in Northern Ireland lawfully to work for or to advocate a single Parliament for Ireland, or any other constitutional change. Nor, as implied by Clause 2(4), is it an offence, or has it ever been an offence, for a person to describe himself as a Republican or… to work within the law for the propagation of Republican opinions. It is not an offence, in itself, in Northern Ireland to display a flag or emblem as suggested by Clause 3. The Flags or Emblems Act (Northern Ireland) 1954, which is probably the legislation the noble Lord has in mind, empowers the police to require the removal of an emblem which in the circumstances of its display may occasion a breach of the peace—not, I think, an unreasonable provision in the circumstances of Northern Ireland.

Clause 5 covers a number of other proposals which collectively amount to a misleading impression of current law and practice in Northern Ireland. Moreover, this clause takes little account of the history of Ireland and the reasons for transferred powers. I am sure that noble Lords in all parts of the House would want to think very long and deep before introducing legislation at Westminster in order to prevent the Parliament of Northern Ireland from exercising the powers conferred on them by the Government of Ireland Act. These include the list of subjects in Clause 5; but we must not make the error of thinking that because the Bill seeks to remove these powers they are necessarily in current use. Some, such as the punishment of prisoners by flogging and the prohibition of holding an inquest after the death of a person held in custody, both of which are mentioned in the clause, have not been used for very many years. And within living memory there has been no case of flogging in prisons in Northern Ireland.

Rather than taking a defensive line, however, I would he positive this evening and remind the House of the way in which the Government of Northern Ireland have exercised the powers vested in them since the crisis of 1969. They have enacted, and continue to enact, a range of legislation to provide not only for protection against discrimination but also for other radical social reforms. For example, legislation passed in 1969, gave full franchise, on the basis of one man, one vote, in local government elections—it had already existed in Parliamentary elections—and the vote at the age of 18. This franchise has already been exercised in local government by-elections and will be used in the autumn of 1972, when elections are due to take place to the new district councils. These councils are being created as part of the reform of the whole structure of local government in Northern Ireland. An immense amount of detailed work is already in train to give effect to the Government's decision that 26 new district councils will be established in place of the existing 67 county, county borough, urban and rural district councils and the three development commissions. Certain existing local government functions, which can be more effectively operated on a regional or area basis, are to be centralised under Ministerial control. This will be effected through area boards in the case of education and library services, and also for health and personal social services. Consultative documents have been published for consideration by the interested parties.

Legislation to give detailed effect to these measures of reform and reorganisation will be presented to the Northern Ireland Parliament over the next twelve months, and a new Boundary Commission, provided for by Parliament earlier this year, has already started preliminary work prior to drawing up the new ward and district boundaries. This is to be done so as to include areas of equal voting strength and to allow proper representation of both urban and rural communities so far as is consistent with existing community patterns.

Next, I might mention that the Stormont Government have restated their position on equality of employment opportunity, and that as a result of their action all local councils have made a Declaration of Equality of Employment Opportunity; and the majority have submitted codes of employment procedure for the Government's approval. Also of great importance is the new housing executive which has been set up and is already working out its programme for effecting the major task of taking over full responsibility for housing from the local authorities, including allocation. The Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints have both been in office since the end of 1969. The Community Relations Commission was set up at the same time. The Royal Ulster Constabulary has been reorganised as a civilian police force, following the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

These are some of the ways in which the Government at Stormont have been exercising the responsibilities delegated to them. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, action has been taken; and we perform no service to anyone in Northern Ireland if we underestimate the extent of the reforms that have been implemented. It is a hard road to travel but it is indisputably the right one. The effects of Lord Brockway's Bill, despite all the high idealism behind it, would, I fear, be to undermine the authority of the Government of Northern Ireland and give little credit for what has already been done.

Therefore, while the appropriateness of the Bill's proposals would, I suspect, have met with considerable opposition in the past for the reasons I have given, they are now open to a further criticism; namely, that while the noble Lord's remedy has remained constant the actual situation with which the Bill seeks to deal has altered to a marked extent. To-day, my Lords, the real threat to civil liberties in Northern Ireland is provided by those few extremists who are willing to resort to violence for their own political or subversive ends, as we heard in the debate to-day from the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, who spoke from first-hand experience. It is these men who poison the atmosphere and make the reforms all the harder to introduce. The noble Lord's Bill makes no contribution to the solution of this problem. Nor would it do anything to promote the sort of climate of mutual confidence between London and Ulster which is the essential bedrock for future progress.

My Lords, I do not know what Lord Brockway's intentions are at the end of this debate. He has brought before your Lordships to-day a subject of considerable underlying importance and topical relevance, and we may all thank him for that. He has heard from noble Lords on both sides of the House, and he has heard this statement of the Government's attitude. It is now for him to decide whether the debate has fulfilled his purpose and, as a consequence, whether he feels that he might be able to withdraw his Motion that the Bill be now read a second time. If he does conclude that it is necessary to press the Motion to a Division, I must advise your Lordships to vote against it.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to be very brief and I hope that the various speakers in the debate will not regard it as discourteous on my part if I do not answer the points they made. There seem to me to be two matters to which I wish to refer. The first is the suggestion that we should delay because of the Crowther Commission. In this Bill there is one clause that deals with proportional representation and which would be closely within the terms of the Crowther Commission. If rumour is correct, they may recommend that proportional representation be adopted in Northern Ireland, and therefore the giving of a Second Reading to the Bill this evening would not affect that. The second point I wish to raise, and I admit that this reaches me, is the suggestion that this Bill may harm, rather than improve, the climate in Northern Ireland. I thought

Resolved in the negative, and Motion for Second Reading disagreed to accordingly.

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