HL Deb 23 June 1972 vol 332 cc531-57

12.52 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. My first word must be one of congratulation to the Minister for Northern Ireland, Mr. Whitelaw, and, I am sure, for his co-operation, to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on the new situation in Northern Ireland. What they have done during the last seven weeks has been described in Northern Ireland as a miracle. I would not say that, but I think that what they have achieved is to appeal to the desire of the ordinary man and woman in Northern Ireland, whether Protestant or Catholic, for an end to the violence which has been occurring. In that they have had the most extraordinary success. I want to pay my tribute specially, because I was sceptical when they first began their administration. May I add that I wish the same kind of approach, in spirit and in application, could apply in international affairs. When the time comes for the replacement of our present Foreign Secretary, I should love to see Mr. Whitelaw take his place; and I would appreciate it if the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, were able to co- operate with him in bringing peace in that sphere to the degree that they have done in such a wonderful way in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I think one also would have to express appreciation of the part played by Mr. Hume and Mr. Devlin on behalf of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and to the women of Belfast and of the Creggan and the Bogside in Derry who, most courageously, have so much changed the atmosphere in Northern Ireland.

I am not moving this Bill in a partisan spirit. I am not a Catholic; I am not a Protestant; and perhaps, as a Humanist, I am outside that particular conflict—I will not say above it, but beyond it. If, in what I say to-day, I speak about Catholic disabilities is it because for over 50 years the Catholics in Northern Ireland have been treated as second-class citizens. I should speak just as strongly had they been Protestant disabilities. Perhaps I ought to add in honesty that I appreciate that the religious conflict is a reflection in the communities of a political conflict between Unionism and Republicanism. On that I am committed, but in the long distance, and I would not want that issue to be settled without reason and consent. The tragedy of Northern Ireland is that Protestant and Catholic workers are now divided. I pay tribute to the Northern Ireland Trades Union Congress and the Northern Ireland Labour Party for the efforts they have made to overcome those differences. But many of us hope that the conflict about present issues will be solved, so that the workers, whether Protestant or Catholic, can unite in their struggle against low wages, unemployment and the appalling housing conditions in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I believe that the value of this Bill is that it would contribute immediately to the maintenance of the cease-fire for which we are now hoping; and also lay down the basis of the new democratic society in Northern Ireland to which we hope discussions will lead. I am tremendously encouraged by the degree and the character of the support I have received for this Bill from Northern Ireland; from the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the women in Belfast and in Derry; the Northern Ireland Trades Union Congress, including both Protestants and Catholics, the Belfast Trades Council, again including both Catholics and Protestants, and indeed from the official I.R.A. I think it now possible that the leadership of the Provisional I.R.A. would also give this support.

I think I may now say, definitely and confidently, that if this Bill were adopted, it would mean not only the end of violence in Northern Ireland but also of civil disobedience in the strikes and the withholding of rents and rates by so many people. I appreciate very clearly the danger of violence still continuing, my Lords, as illustrated, unhappily, in the breakaway of the more militant sections of the Provisional I.R.A. I want also to express appreciation of the fact that the Protestants have shown considerable restraint and that it has only been more recently, because of the "No-go" areas, that they have indicated militancy. I believe that this Bill would contribute to the ending of the "No-go" area problem. If violence does cease and if, as indicated yesterday by Mr. Whitelaw, the British forces reciprocate in a cease-fire, the necessity for sending the soldiers into "No-go" areas would cease.

My Lords, I am also encouraged by the fact that on the Unionist side there are now expressions of opinion in favour of what is in this Bill. I listened last night to Mr. Faulkner during a television interview. It is a little difficult to repeat definitely what he said because of the confusion of the interview; but I think I am right in saying that Mr. Faulkner declared both for the ending of the Special Powers Act and for the recognition of civil rights; certainly on that second issue he has said it before. One finds it extremely difficult to imagine that the Unionists in Northern Ireland, under the banner of the Union Jack, will demonstrate in favour of a denial of rights when those rights are recognised in the rest of the United Kingdom. There may still be extremists on both sides, but this Bill would isolate them.

I also want to say that this Bill has the support of the Trades Union Congress in this country, which carried by vote a declaration in its favour. The repeal of the Special Powers Act and the recognition of special rights has also been endorsed by Mr. Merlyn Rees, the official spokesman of the Labour Party in the House of Commons, though I understand that he has some doubt about the timing of the change.

I turn now to the provisions of the Bill. I introduced a similar Bill a year ago. The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, made devastating criticism of the inconsistencies of that draft, and in the Bill as now presented those inconsistencies are corrected. The Bill then included proportional representation. Her Majesty's Government a year later have temporarily accepted proportional representation for the local elections. We this year divided civil rights from proportional representation, but my noble friend Lord Archibald has withdrawn his Bill, in view of the fact that the Government are to apply it for the immediate elections.

The main purpose of my Bill is to repeal the Special Powers Act and to replace it by civil rights. I have made some study of civil rights in many parts of the world. I would say, and I think, truthfully, that the Special Powers Act in Northern Ireland is the most Draconian single Act denying personal liberties in any part of the world. By that I do not mean to say that Northern Ireland is the most totalitarian State. We are all shocked by the denial of liberties in the Soviet Union and in Communist countries; we are all shocked by their denial in South Africa and in other African territories. But the Special Powers Act is more the embodiment of George Orwell's picture of 1984 than any Act that I have known.

I gave the terms and the regulations when I introduced a similar Bill a year ago: they appear in column 543 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of June 15, and I will not repeat them in detail now. But, among other things, they authorise arrest without warrant; imprisonment without charge or trial; no recourse to habeus corpus; the search of homes without warrant at any hour of the day or night; the arrest of persons desired as witnesses, and compulsion of them to answer questions under penalities for refusal. The regulations deny trial by jury; they prevent any access of legal representatives or relatives to a person imprisoned without trial; they prohibit an inquest after a prisoner's death. And after all that, a final provision authorises the arrest of a person who does anything calculated to be prejudicial to the preservation of peace or the maintenance of order in Northern Ireland and not specifically provided for in the regulations". No wonder Mr. Vorster has said in South Africa that if he had a provision such as appears in the Special Powers Act of Northern Ireland he could dispense with all the regulations of apartheid.

I emphasise that the Special Powers Act is not an Act merely for the state of emergency; it is current and continuous law. It is 52 years1920—since it was first introduced; it was reaffirmed in the years 1922 and 1923 and has existed ever since. I agree that in certain circumstances some provisions of the Act may be necessary. They would be necessary under a declaration of a national emergency. But the Special Powers Act does not require any special emergency to be declared; it is common law all the time.

The Bill which I am presenting would repeal the Special Powers Act and other Acts which limit civil rights, such as the Criminal Justice (Temporary Provisions) Act and the Public Order (Amendment) Act, in their parts which deny civil rights; and it would involve the ending of internment. The ending of internment has now become a practical policy. If the cease fire for which we are now hoping comes into effect on Monday night there is a real possibility of the early ending of internment without charge and without trial.

My Bill has two other provisions. The first is to extend our Race Relations Act to Northern Ireland, and to make it apply to discrimination on grounds of religious belief. I appreciate of course that one cannot by law end this practice in a day. It has been inseparable for hundreds of years with the life of Northern Ireland, and indeed of Ireland as a whole, economically, politically and socially. I give certain facts which show the discrimination which exists; and I repeat that I should be as deeply concerned about them if they applied to Protestants as they have in historical circumstances applied to Catholics.

I ask the noble Lord just to look at the first rather carefully, because it is immediate. Factories are now being pro- vided for employment, built at public expense, and industries are being invited to occupy them. In the Eastern counties of Northern Ireland, where the Protestants mostly live, 59 such factories have been built. In the Western parts of Northern Ireland, predominantly Catholic, only 15 have been built. I do not want to be unreasonable about this, because I recognise that in the Eastern parts there are neighbouring docks and communications; but I should like to urge that in looking at this problem we should deal with the West of Northern Ireland as we are beginning to deal with the depressed areas of unemployment in this country.

I turn now to unemployment. I take the Catholic towns in Northern Ireland. Unemployment there ranges from 19.8 per cent. in Derry to 26.7 per cent. in Kilkeel. The average unemployment figure for the whole of Ireland is 11.1. I take the Civil Service: the higher grades at Stormont were represented by 177 Protestants and 11 Catholics. I take the Administrative Service: there were 268 Protestants and only 19 Catholics. Turn to the National Health Service: on the hospital management committees, of 456 members only 72 are Catholics. Turn to the public boards: of the 327 members, only 49 are Catholics. This illustrates the overall discrimination against the one-third Catholic population of Northern Ireland. Worst of all has been the discrimination in housing practised by local authorities against the Roman Catholic population. It may be true that local authorities which have had Catholic majorities have also discriminated against their minorities, but the Cameron Commission in 1969 concluded that complaints that housing was weighted against non-Unionists were—and I quote, "abundantly justified". I appreciate that something has been done in this respect. There has been the Londonderry Housing Commission. I recognise that religious discrimination is now outlawed, theoretically at least, in public employment; I recognise that an Ombudsman, a Commissioner for Complaints, has been appointed to deal with complaints. But discrimination is still extensive, even in the public sphere, and is very marked indeed in private employment. I take the Belfast shipyards, where there are 8,000 workers, and among them only 500 Catholics.

The second additional provision in my Bill relates to the imposition of oaths and to the legalisation of the expression of Republican views. Traditionally in Northern Ireland the expression of Republican views has been regarded almost as traitorous. We may now be moving to a new situation where there may be a plebiscite on the subject of the Union of Ireland, and in those circumstances public expression of Republican views would be legal. But the psychological situation is such that it is very desirable that that should actually be stated in law.

More important is the question of the oath. This oath is applied to all members of governmental and public services in Northern Ireland, even in the hospital service. I will read its terms. I … of …. in the county of …. swear by Almighty God that I will render true and faithful allegiance and service to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law, and to her Government of Northern Ireland. Allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen is something which is accepted in this country, even by those who prefer a Republican society, and it could reasonably be accepted in Northern Ireland. But to say that they must give an oath of allegiance to "her Government of Northern Ireland" when that Government has for 50 years been operating against the minority Catholic community is to demand too much. I have just heard of a case where a bricklayer at Armagh, working for a local hospital, was asked to take that oath. When he declined to declare allegiance to Stormont, or whatever succeeds it, he was refused the job. My Lords, that oath is an intolerable thing to the consciences of thousands of Irish people, and something ought to be done to remove it.

I ask the House to forgive me if I read my concluding words. I indicated to the Minister generally what I was going to say and I have passed on to him what I am now going to read. I appreciate that hope in Northern Ireland is balanced on a pinpoint. I do not want to do anything which would unbalance it. I recognise that all I ask in this Bill cannot be applied tomorrow in the midst of the present overriding issues, but I appeal to the Minister to say that in principle the Government accept, and will seek to implement in early practice, the desirability that the civil rights which we enjoy in Britain shall be accepted in Northern Ireland. This should be followed by the repeal, in continuing legislation, of provisions which deny those rights and, in conjunction with the ending of organised violence, by the termination of internment without trial, by the repudiation of discrimination on grounds of religious belief (I admit that goes beyond our British practice but it is appropriate to Irish circumstances); and by the ending of the imposition of oaths which are unacceptable to the consciences of many citizens in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister will be able to give these assurances. Meanwhile, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

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

1.19 p.m.


My Lords, the fact that I am not going to detain your Lordships for very long to-day is no sign that this is not a subject of importance. The reason why I intend to be brief is partly because we have, over a period of time and quite rightly, discussed these problems in depth and there is no point therefore in going over the same ground all over again. Also, as I hope to be able to say a little later, I am not certain that this is the right time to say very much on Northern Ireland though I think it is the right time to say something. What we should be talking about at the moment is less what should immediately be effected than the kind of Northern Ireland—Ireland even—which we want to see emerge at the end of the horrors which have occurred over the past four years; a kind of Northern Ireland and a state of affairs in Northern Ireland which should have existed before those four years started. Here I should like to say what the members of my Party, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and a number of other people were saying for a long time before the real disturbances occurred, that the Special Powers Act should never have been passed. I do not entirely go along with the description of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who said it was the worst Act of its kind. I think that Mr. Vorster was possibly putting a debating point in the quotation of his remarks that was referred to. I would prefer to live under the Special Powers Act than under the legislation which exists in South Africa or Sri Lanka.

The Special Powers Act was a very bad Act and an appalling one to have at a time when there were not occurring the present troubles, the present violence that we have, and the present campaigns and terrorism that we have. As soon as it is humanly possible I want to see the Special Powers Act repealed. I should like there to be a pledge that the Special Powers Act will be repealed as soon as possible. That is something we ought to be able to ask of this Government: a pledge for the future that the Special Powers Act will be seen hereafter as a temporary and not a permanent measure. I am not certain that the particular form of this Bill is one that I would have chosen. I am not certain that it goes far enough; and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, may have feelings about this himself. To give equal civil liberties to those that exist in this country is probably at this time not sufficient. There are considerable doubts and arguments as to whether in a country like this a Bill of Rights is the right basis for civil liberties. I think that it is, but I recognise the power of the arguments of those who say that it is not. I believe that in a country like Northern Ireland, with a strong minority which feel that they have been deprived of civil liberties over a long period of time, there is a psychological necessity for citizens to say, "These are our rights", and not to say, "In this society we trust the rule of law and justice to remedy our wrongs. There is a concensus which is working for the good of all people". One of the troubles in Northern Ireland over a long period of time and, to a certain extent, rightly, has been the feeling that this concensus did not exist for the protection of all the citizens and that there was a clear differentiation between first and second class citizens.

I should like to see a situation where what comes out of this difficult period when we come to build up the new Northern Ireland and the future Ireland is a Bill of Rights stating in detail and unarguably, quite definite civil rights upon which the members of all communities and all religions and opinions can rely. I will not take up your Lordships' time with some of the remarks that I was going to make about the details of the Bill. If this Bill were to go forward from a Second Reading to the Committee stage there would be some interesting matters to debate and some Amendments which we might possibly have to insist upon. There are obviously many things that this Bill does which we want to see effected now. There are some provisions in the Special Powers Act and some regulations which are in force in Northern Ireland which seem to be entirely indefensible. The banning of political movements which are not committed to violence and which repudiate violence seems wrong. Such questions as inquiries with regard to people who are in custody ought to be dealt with immediately.

For one of the first times in my life—and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and his supporters will appreciate have to say that this is not the time to pass this Bill, or to give it a Second Reading. I am not the kind of person who often says about reforms, "This is not the time", because I know that it is the chief weapon in any conservative reaction to reform to say, "This is not the time". One usually finds then that it never is the time and there never does become a time. There was a time for the passing of this Bill: before the present troubles started or when they had just started. There will be a time for the passing of this Bill, or something similar to it, when the present troubles are over, which we hope and pray may be in the not too distant future. However, we must not be too optimistic; we must always remember the unfortunate fact that as a general rule it takes as long to get out of trouble as it takes to get in trouble. It will not be easy to restore Northern Ireland to the situation that we should like to see.

Everyone in this House must echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in paying a real tribute to what Mr. Whitelaw and his colleagues have managed to achieve over the past few months. We know that at this time we are probably in the most difficult and delicate moments that Northern Ireland has had to face. It is absolutely right that we should have been reminded to-day—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for it—of the real, underlying realities of civil rights and the lack of them in Northern Ireland. I do not think that we should take any step, however small, which might have the effect of exacerbating the situation which exists at the moment.

The work that the Government have been doing—and I must pay immense tribute not just to Mr. Whitelaw and his colleagues, but to the whole Government on this, for they are responsible—over the past three or four months has been of inestimable value. We wish them the very best of success and good fortune in the immediate and medium term future. It may well be that if what we all fear might happen should unfortunately happen and things become worse—and that could happen so easily—there could well come a time when it would be right for people from these Benches, of from any part of the House, to get up and say, "There is a completely different line that you should now take". But all we can do at this particular moment is to say to the Government that they have our best wishes and prayers, and to suspend our judgment on other matters till we see the outcome of the present initiatives.

1.30 p.m.


My Lords, slightly perhaps in the spirit of the poet, Austin Dobson, who intended an ode but it turned into a sonnet, I find that I had intended a speech but it has in fact turned, or is about to turn, perhaps not into a sonnet but something rather nearer to the statutory 14 lines than the speech I originally intended to deliver. Part of the reason for this is that some of the things that I had it in mind to say have been said, far better than I could say them, in the last few minutes by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. There is also the fact, which appealed to me very much, that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has presented this Bill with great moderation; and I have a suspicion (though no more than that, and I should not like to say anything stronger) that perhaps in the end he will not proceed with it. He has moved me, on the other hand, to some extent by attributing part of this Bill to me, which has cut a certain amount of ground from under my feet—I am not complaining; I take it has a compliment—by referring to the devastating criticisms that I made a year ago of inconsistencies that I found in the Bill. I cannot entirely accept much in the way of responsibility for this Bill, however, because if I did that I should not be able to oppose it, which I am bound to say that I still do. I think that the inconsistencies have pretty well gone, although I detect one—but I do not wish to be too churlish about that.

My Lords, all I wish to do is to look briefly at one or two of the provisions in the Bill itself. I would begin by saying simply something about religious discrimination. I very much doubt whether one can abolish this by legislation at all. For one thing, religious discrimination in certain circumstances is absolutely necessary. This Bill, as drafted, will end up by prohibiting, say, a church from insisting that teachers in its schools shall be members of its own denomination. That may be put right by a matter of drafting; I do not know. But if it is to be put right by drafting it will mean amending not only Section 1(0 of the Race Relations Act but, I think, Sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 as well; and I pointed this out a year ago. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, overwhelmed by my criticisms on another subject, did not notice this one, or whether he simply thought I was wrong. If he thought I was wrong, I should be interested to hear why. But perhaps he need not bother about that, either.

I am a little doubtful about Clause 2, although I take entirely the point which the noble Lord made about the oath and the undesirability of it in the case of bricklayers in Armagh. I am not at all sure that I take it in connection with a test that might be applied by a Parliamentary candidate or even his agent who wished to employ, say, a secretary. Surely it would be reasonable to apply some test to ensure that that secretary was not in fact working for some cause diametrically opposed to that for which the candidate or agent stood.

One matter of inconsistency may indeed be small, but I notice that in the Long Title of the Bill one of the objects of this Bill is to equate the civil rights of persons resident in Northern Ireland with those of persons resident in the remainder of the United Kingdom". Clause 4 says: In any cause in Northern Ireland for which a jury is empanelled the rights of the parties in respect of objections to individual jurors shall be equal. I think the noble Lord will find that those rights are not equal in the United Kingdom now. The prosecution in a criminal cause is compelled to declare his reasons for objecting to a juror, while the defence is not. We come back to what I take as being the main part of the Bill, Clause 3(1) and (2). I am inclined to agree with everything that has been said about the Special Powers Act. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, I do not go entirely with all the strictures against it of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, but that is merely a question of degree. It is a deplorable Act and I hope it will come to an end. I do not think it ought to be brought to an end in the middle of a Bill of Rights of this kind. I think it should be done by an act of the Government; and I am pretty certain that it will be done, though whether by a straightforward repeal of this kind or another method I do not know and I have no views I wish to put forward.

However, I would add one footnote on this Act which the noble Lord himself has not mentioned, and that is that when it was passed in 1922 it was passed for one year only. The noble Lord has referred to it as a permanent law. I do not know how it became a permanent law. It was originally passed for one year, and therefore is presumably renewed from year to year in the same way as the Army Act. For all I know, although I think this unlikely, it never did become permanent and therefore it has probably lapsed in the meantime; but this may be rather wishful thinking. But how did it become permanent? At least it should go back to being temporary, as it was when it was first passed.

As for Clause 3(2), this is really coloured by what I have said about the whole Bill. These matters stem from the Special Powers Act. I do not think that as the noble Lord has worded this clause it will altogether have the effect he desires. I think it will stir up a perfect maelstrom of legislation involving other Statutes, because this subsection says that all legislation in respect of the following matters shall cease to have effect …". I have not gone into all this, but I cannot help suspecting that there is legislation of various kinds here and there forbidding some of these things, and that legislation will be repealed along with the rest. So we shall end up with no law whatever saying that these things either shall or shall not be done. I think it would be almost impossible to pass this clause, although in principle I agree with what the noble Lord sets out to achieve. But I do not think, any more than does the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that it would be wise to pass a Bill of this kind at this time, and I hope it will not be given a Second Reading.

My Lords, I have nothing to add except, in the belief that repetition is sometimes salutary and desirable, that we should have intense admiration and gratitude for those Ministers who have worked to the end—well, not to the end but to this stage of peace which we have now reached: Mr. Whitelaw and my noble friend Lord Windlesham, and the soldiers and everybody else concerned. What I feel and suspect that my noble friend Lord Windlesham and his colleagues feel inclined to do now is to hold their breath and play their cards very close to their chest. My Lords, I think they should be allowed to do it in silence, without interference from this Bill or any other means.

1.38 p.m.


My Lords, if during the past fifty-one years the relative number of policemen murdered in Northern Ireland had been no greater than the United Kingdom average; if the number of civilians killed in street rioting or blown to pieces while carrying out their normal jobs had been no greater than the United Kingdom average; if the number of assassinations and attempted assassinations of politicians, the amount of arson and sabotage to property and the number of armed incursions from neighbouring countries had been no greater than the United Kingdom average, then indeed there would be merit in equating the civil rights of persons resident in Northern Ireland with those of persons resident in the remainder of the United Kingdom"; although I am not sure that this Bill is the best method of going about it. But, translated into English terms, the equivalent of over 20,000 people have been killed in the last fifty-one years, 11,000 of these during the past three years. Can anyone suppose that, in such circumstances, there would not be on the Statute Book here stringent, even draconian, emergency legislation to deal with this situation?

For these reasons of security I suggest a great deal of Clause 3 is unacceptable; and much of the rest of Clause 3 superfluous, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who replied to a similar Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, a year ago, pointed out at the time. On a day when the most fulsome, even, I have to say, sickening tributes are being lavished upon the Provisional I.R.A.—indeed, I saw the term "generous" quoted at least half a dozen times in my paper this morning—we should remind ourselves of the fundamental reason for this continuing state of cold war, periodically interspersed as it has been with ferocious outbursts of hot war.

In 1921, those in favour of Home Rule—by no means all of them Republicans as such—formed 74 per cent. of the population of all Ireland, yet under the Settlement they obtained jurisdiction over 83 per cent. of the island's land area. I would estimate that out-and-out Republicans now form no more than 70 per cent. of the population of all Ireland. But from these, a small but fanatical element, anti-British—or anti-Saxon, as they would perhaps put it—and anti-Monarchical, has consistently attempted to deny the right of self-determination to that substantial minority of the population, who include both Protestants and Roman Catholics and who form perhaps 30 per cent. of the island's population, who want to retain their existing nationality and way of life within the small area (17 per cent. of the whole) that remains part of the United Kingdom. It is from this primary intolerance that the counter-intolerance cited by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, stems.

There are many parallels between the activities and propaganda of the I.R.A. and their apologists, on the one hand, and those of the militant Sudeten Germans and their apologists in the 1930s, on the other. But even the Nazis—at least up until 1938—demanded only the incorporation into Germany of those Czech districts with a German-speaking majority of 50 per cent. or above, plus certain strategic salients. The I.R.A. do not merely seek the incorporation into an Irish-speaking Republic of such Republican-sympathising areas and towns as the Bogside and Creggan, Strabane, Crossmaglen and Newry, for which a certain case might be made, but they demand also the capitulation of such overwhelmingly loyalist towns as Portadown, Lisburn, Newtonards, Larne, Carrickfergus, Ballymena and Coleraine—most of them Scottish rather than Irish in character—and indeed Belfast itself, with its 72.4 per cent. Protestant majority.

These I.R.A. objectives are of course common knowledge, but what makes them particularly relevant when considering the superficially innocuous-seeming provision in Clause 2, for instance, are the prophetic words of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, when your Lordships debated a similar Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, on June 15 of last year. Perhaps I may quote what he said: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 51/6/71, col. 559.] Well, my Lords, the "unscrupulous murdering gunmen" have got their way over direct rule; they now have quasi-political prisoner status for their prisoners, some of whom have been convicted of atrocious crimes; and if we are not careful they look like getting their way over other matters as well. The passing into law of Clause 2(2), whether noble Lords realise it or not, would fulfil another of the I.R.A.s long-term objectives, and I suggest that this would really be the last straw so far as the loyal and law-abiding majority is concerned.

In view of the time, I will not deal with Clause 1, and I will deal only with one aspect of Clause 3: namely, subsection (2)(b), concerning the displaying of flags. There are two points which I should like to make in this connection. First, I doubt whether a country whose 1937 Constitution claimed jurisdiction over part of the United Kingdom against the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants of that territory can truthfully be said to be in friendly relations with Her Majesty. The second point is this: Miss Honor Tracy, an author who knows Ireland well and has no illusions about it, wrote in the Daily Telegraph a few months ago that anyone who dared to display a Union Jack in the South of Ireland must have either masochistic or suicidal tendencies. Be that as it may, my Lords, I will conclude by saying this. I can fully appreciate the sincere intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in introducing this Bill to-day, but I believe it to be entirely misconceived, certainly in present circumstances. I hope that your Lordships will decline to give it a Second Reading.

1.45 p.m.


My Lords, there is a good rule (not always observed) in this House that one does not take part in a debate when one arrives in the middle of it, and I shall honour that rule. Therefore I will not attempt to comment on the remarks made by the noble Lord who has just spoken, apart from saying that I feel very sorry for him. He is consumed by bitterness—understandable bitterness, perhaps, but I just hope and pray that as time passes he will feel that the line he is taking to-day is not the one that he will wish to adopt on a later occasion.

I have two objects in rising to speak, both equally sincere. On the one hand I want to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and his colleagues for what they have been doing. I do not think that in my lifetime I have ever been so filled with admiration for any group of Ministers of any Party. They do not happen to belong to my Party—or at any rate I have not belonged to their Party for nearly 40 years. I have never felt so full of admiration for any particular group of Ministers as I do for the group which the noble Lord represents to-day. I pay my tribute to them, and also to many others—most of them in various parts of Ireland, but some of them here—who have been labouring in this same cause. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, in saying that we are not in any way out of the wood yet; we are at a crucial moment and we must join in prayer. Therefore in one sense the less we say to-day the better. At the same time, I cannot help giving my full support to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in what he is trying to do. He will be the best judge, after the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has replied, as to whether he wishes to push this Bill forward. For my part I leave myself in his hands. I know that he is not likely to take any step lightly, such as going to a Division, unless he feels that it is entirely justified.

1.47 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and to be brief. It is possible to follow that advice more easily because, as the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, said my noble friend advanced his case with a studied and persuasive moderation. I too, however, with my noble friend Lord Longford, should like to join in the tribute which has been paid to the remarkable and, I certainly agree with my noble friend, quite exceptional efforts, in my political experience and knowledge, of Mr. Whitelaw and his colleagues.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Brockway about the importance of the matter with which he deals in this Bill. In my view it is quite inconceivable that there can be anything approaching a stable or contented community in the North of Ireland while the Special Powers Act is in operation. Nor can there be true peace until the sort of discrimination upon which he touched is ended. We must all agree that all citizens of the United Kingdom must have an equal and a common system of civil rights. In my view, also, the denial of these rights, far from achieving a stable society, as Mr. Faulkner and others would seek to argue, has brought us to a point where law and order were ultimately unenforceable. Up to that point I am entirely in agreement with my noble friend, Lord Brockway. I must say however that, evil and bad as the Special Powers Act is, nothing in that Act is quite so evil as the behaviour of some people in Northern Ireland in recent months.

My Lords, it is I believe, even now, necessary to say that it is impossible to overlook the level of obscenity reached by those who have controlled operations of the Republican Movement in recent months. I hope that nothing my noble friends say, nothing that anybody says, will enable a body of mythology to develop in Ireland which can talk about "Bloody Sunday" and overlook the fact that there were those who endeavoured to maintain law and order in parts of that community by sentencing people to have their kneecaps shot off, when one member of the Republican Movement could take someone and shoot him in a corner and allow him to bleed to death. That kind of thing has happened, and although I agree with those who say that we should not do anything to disturb the development of promising events, nevertheless, and in an endeavour to balance the records, I feel that that must he said.

As for the rest, I simply say that the important matters which my noble friend has spoken of and incorporated in his Bill are probably not suitable for dealing with in a Private Member's Bill. That was the view which was expressed in the very favourable speech—favourable to my noble friend—of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I gathered that what the noble Earl himself feels—and what, on balance, perhaps my noble friend Lord Brockway himself would recognise—is that the advances that he wants to make ought to be in legislation advanced by Her Majesty's Government themselves. I hope that it will be possible for the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to give such assurances as will make possible the withdrawal of the Bill by my noble friend, and I believe that he would feel that assurances coming from that quarter, in view of their recent record, would be acceptable.

1.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, on two counts. I understand, first, that he readily agreed to a suggestion by my noble friend the acting Leader of the House that his Bill should be debated to-day rather than yesterday. It was originally on the Order Paper for yesterday, but because of the very heavy pressure of public business I understand that the noble Lord agreed to the debate being held to-day, on a Friday. Secondly, I should like to say how much I appreciate the very generous tribute that he paid to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and also to thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and others who have spoken in the same way. So far as I am concerned, I regard myself as exceptionally privileged to be working for Mr. Whitelaw in his inspiring efforts—and I use the word "inspiring" deliberately—to meet and to surmount one of the greatest political challenges of our day.

As the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, explained in his very moderate speech in moving this Bill, the measure before your Lordships represents a desire to guarantee to all citizens in Northern Ireland equal rights and freedom from arbitrary action by the State. There are still a number of reservations on the technical drafting of the Bill, but those of your Lordships who have looked up the debate on a somewhat similar Bill, introduced about 12 months ago by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, may be aware of some of the objections which were then raised by my noble friend the Earl of Cork and Orrery. There is therefore no need for me to rehearse them again.

I should say that, while I have listened with very close attention to what has been said in this excellent debate, I have a feeling that the provisions of the Bill itself, as opposed to the quality of the debate and the speeches that have been made, are still modelled quite closely on previous Private Members' Bills introduced over the last few years by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and do not really take into account the present situation in Northern Ireland. The divisions of society in Northern Ireland and the suspicions and ill feelings which have arisen from them have a long history and have produced much sadness. Previous Governments in Northern Ireland, and we must give them credit for it, have made attempts to deal by Statute with some of the symptoms of social disorder. Two such Acts of Parliament of Northern Ireland were the Commissioner for Complaints Act and the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act. And, of course, those two Statutes remain in force.

One of the matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, gave considerable emphasis in his speech and asked me for an assurance on, is the question of oaths. This controversy has recurred in the history of Northern Ireland over the last fifty years and I can understand the object of the provision contained in Clause 2(2) of the Bill. What I can say is that in Northern Ireland legislation which is now coming before this House, noble Lords will find no provisions regarding oaths of allegiance. This applies, for example, to the Education and Libraries Bill which is now available as a draft Order in Council. Nor do released internees any longer have to make any form of declaration. The imposition of oaths can be criticised on two grounds: that they may be repugnant to people's consciences, and that, whether or not this is so, they are ineffective. So there are both moral and political objections. Nevertheless, the problem is a difficult one and while a Private Member's Bill is not the right occasion for legislating in this field, I can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are well aware of the significance of this issue.

What I think is most relevant at the present time is the whole strategy of the Government, the strategy that has been pursued since the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act was passed by your Lordships and in another place just before Easter. If these policies for the restoration of peace and for the economic and social reconstruction of a Province that has been ravaged by three years of civil strife and conflict are successful, then conditions will be created in which every citizen can enjoy the same rights and accept the same obligations as apply throughout the United Kingdom.

I must acknowledge that our policy has inevitably had to include the continuation of the Special Powers Act. This would be repealed by Clause 3(1) of the Bill before us to-day and this, my Lords, is just not realistic. We need not embrace the Special Powers legislation with open arms, but the existence and operation of the Special Powers Act has been an absolute necessity. If the Special Powers Act still endures it is because the people of Northern Ireland have in recent years been subject to a campaign of violence unequalled for decades. It is regrettable but necessary that in such circumstances exceptional measures have been resorted to by Government in order that the civil life of the community can be preserved. But, having said that, I should add that Her Majesty's Government have already recognised that the Special Powers Act, born as it was out of events half a century ago, is in need of review. The Government have indeed announced such a review which is currently in progress. That being the case, your Lordships may agree that the outright appeal of this Act in a Private Member's Bill is not practicable at the present time. But when the Government have completed their review of the Special Powers Act we shall of course be reporting our conclusions to Parliament and it will then be possible to have a fuller discussion on the matter.

Another main provision in the Bill is Clause 1 which seeks to extend the Race Relations Act 1968 to Northern Ireland and to provide that the Act shall prohibit discrimination not only on grounds of race but also on grounds of religious belief. The close involvement of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in the genesis of the Race Relations Act is well known. I paid tribute to it in the debates we had last year, but that does not prevent me from doing the same again to-day. However, I did not then, and I do not now, agree with the intention to extend the Act to Northern Ireland in the general way the Bill proposes.

Since I have had a responsibility for home affairs in Northern Ireland I have not found that discrimination on grounds of race is a significant problem there, and it therefore seems wrong to me to increase Statute Law unnecessarily by prohibiting something which does not cause concern. However, I of course accept that the noble Lord's main objective in this context is to extend the machinery of the Race Relations Board to deal with allegations of discrimination in Northern Ireland on grounds of religious belief. Certainly there have been and continue to be allegations and counter-allegations of such discrimination in Northern Ireland. It is part and parcel of a deeply divided community which my colleagues and I, as well as many others to whom tribute has rightly been paid in this debate, are doing all we can to bring together. These divisions are social, economic and traditional. The religious distinctions are a label and a description as much as a real cause of separation. Thus, policies which are designed to improve this situation must take into account the fundamental causes of the divide.

While the Government's paramount concern has been to bring violence in Northern Ireland to an end, we have been taking many other measures in an attempt to reach a solution to the problems which have troubled the Province for so long. We have done everything we possibly can, and with all our heart, to make plain that violence cannot contribute to any solution worth the name. While we must not expect too much and while great difficulties lie ahead of us still, we can regard the statement made yesterday by the Republican Movement as a welcome indication that the futility of public disorder is becoming apparent to all.

We are also concerned to encourage the growth of a healthy social and political life in Northern Ireland in which everyone can share, both by increased economic investment in the Province and by such measures concerning political institutions as the recent decision by the Secretary of State that the forthcoming local authority elections in Northern Ireland will be held under a system of proportional representation. In this context I should perhaps acknowledge the consideration of the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, in withdrawing his Proportional Representation Bill, which I understand it is his intention to do. As noble Lords will remember, this was originally a part of the earlier Bill of the noble Lord Lord Brockway, and was also due to be debated with the measure before us.

Most of your Lordships have accepted and recognised in this short debate that real political advances have been achieved in the last three months, and it is with this in mind that my right honourable friend felt able to announce the conversations which he hopes to initiate shortly with a view to arranging a conference of the people of Northern Ireland. The need now is for everyone who takes part to show understanding and tolerance of others, difficult though this may be. The people of Northern Ireland have suffered very greatly in recent months, and the Government much appreciate the restraint shown by those in the Northern Ireland community who have seen the death of their friends and relatives, the injuries that have been caused and damage to their property. We hear too little about these people; but much depends on them if the conference is to be a further step towards an enduring solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. What conclusions such a conference might reach we cannot tell, but I would not exclude the possibility that some form of guarantee of civil rights might form part of a final settlement.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has again given us an opportunity to debate the all-important subject of civil rights. Even in a situation like that in Northern Ireland over the last three years, no one in any position of responsibility, certainly no one in Government, can afford to overlook the basic human rights of each individual. Thus, any occasion like this, even though we may not always be in agreement in every respect, is to be welcomed. Having said that, and in the light of the assurances I have given, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, may feel able to consider withdrawing his Bill. As he rightly said in his opening remarks, hope in Northern Ireland is balanced on a pinpoint. None of us in this House will want to do anything to unbalance it.

2.8 p.m.


My Lords, I wish first to express appreciation to those who have taken part in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, agreed with the principles of the Bill but expressed doubt about its timing. I was glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, endorse criticisms of the Special Powers Act; and the other points the noble Earl raised could be dealt with in Committee if the Bill should reach that stage. I appreciate how the noble Lord, Lord Monson, feels. He remarked that while the numbers of those who had suffered in Northern Ireland might seem comparatively small, in proportion to the population of the country they were very large indeed. Personally, I did not regard his speech as bitter and I fully understood the intensity and pressure from which he spoke. To the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I express my appreciation, as ever, on these issues.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for the support he gave to the broad principles of the Bill. I hope he will not think that anything I said this afternoon, or have ever said, is in any way an endorsement of the abominable methods adopted by the I.R.A. Certainly I have never intended that. When the noble Lord suggested that a Bill of this character should be introduced by Government rather than by a private Member, I entirely agreed with him, but let me tell noble Lords what my history in politics has taught me. For nine years I tried to get on to the Statute Book a Private Member's Bill on race relations. It was rejected time and again, but as a result of my efforts it was ultimately adopted. Last year I introduced a Bill which included the principle of proportional representation. Within a year it was adopted by the Government. I prophesy that within one year the proposals in this Bill for the repeal of the Special Powers Act, the recognition of civil liberties and the abolition of oaths which are contrary to conscience will be adopted. I therefore could not possibly accept the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that one should not in a Private Member's Bill pioneer issues which later become law.


My Lords, nothing I said suggested that the noble Lord ought not to. What I suggested was that in view of the record of the noble Lords opposite, assurances from them ought to be acceptable.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that separately and afterwards.

Now may I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. Quite honestly the assurances which he has given have not gone as far as I had hoped they would, yet I appreciate that they are quite considerable. First, I welcome his statement that the Government recognise that the Special Powers Act is in need of review and that when that review has taken place the decisions will be reported to Parliament. I welcome that statement, even if he feels that certain of its provisions are immediately necessary. I did not doubt that certain provisions are immediately necessary. I agree that when a state of national emergency is declared certain provisions may be necessary. My objection was to the fact that this is a continuing current law, the law of the land in all circumstances. I hope that when Her Majesty's Government do make the review they will bear that in mind.

I appreciate what the noble Lord said about the imposition of the oath. I welcome the fact that Mr. Whitelaw is not now applying it to those released from internment. I welcome the fact that under the new Order in Council it will be extended to education and other spheres, and I also welcome the noble Lord's statement that Her Majesty's Government are well aware of the significance of this issue. I hope, therefore, that he will proceed from that. I was a little disappointed in his disinclination to accept the extension of the Race Relations Act to deal with religious discrimination in Northern Ireland. Of course I accept the view, which was also expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, that it is not possible to end discrimination by law; it must be a matter of education and experience over a long period. But law does help, as has already been shown in connection with the Race Relations Act. I appreciate also what the Minister said, that the discussions, which we hope will soon take place, in Northern Ireland may include a guarantee of civil rights.

My Lords, I want to say, quite frankly, that the assurances that have been given do not go as far as I should have liked. I am tremendously encouraged by the fact that from every side of the House, to-day, in contrast to a year ago, there has been recognition of the wickedness of the Special Powers Act and of the fact that it is an outrage that it should be part of any law of the United Kingdom. I have two thoughts in my mind at this moment. In this critical situation one would not want to do anything which would even give an excuse for saying that one's action was exacerbating the situation. I have this second thought in my mind. We have had certain assurances from the Minister, and even though they have not gone far enough, they will give us an opportunity to raise this matter again if our hopes regarding the Administration are not fulfilled. I stand by the principles of this Bill, and if necessary will return to this matter. But because I do not want to do anything which could be regarded by anyone as making the present crisis in Northern Ireland less easy of solution, and because I am a little satisfied with some of the assurances the noble Lord has given, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Second Reading and the Bill.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.