HL Deb 19 December 1973 vol 348 cc410-38

6.55 p.m.

LORD BELSTEAD rose to move, That this House takes note of constitutional developments in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it has been of very great assistance to the Government that the House earlier this; afternoon, before the debate which has just finished, consented to take the Northern Ireland Constitution (Amendment) Bill and the Northern Ireland Orders formally, because it will allow the Northern Ireland Executive to take up its duties on January 1, 1974. So on New Year's Day direct rule in Northern Ireland will come to an end and the Province will once again take on the responsibility for government over a wide range of functions, except those specifically reserved or excepted under the Constitution Act 1973.

In the last two or three months we have been going through the final stages of giving effect to the new Constitution of Northern Ireland. The House will remember that on November 22 it was reported to both Houses that the Alliance Party, the S.D.L.P. and the Ulster Unionists had come to an agreement about the formation of an Executive. This was the outcome of talks in Northern Ireland lasting almost two months at which the parties concerned built up an accommodation based on the wide areas of agreement which were between them.

One element in this agreement, a slight adjustment of Section 8 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, required further legislation, and an Act which the House passed earlier this afternoon gives effect to this. Section 8 of the Act of 1973 restricted the number of appointments to be made under that section to 12, and not all of those, anyway, had to be in the Executive—something which I think is not always appreciated. There was no suggestion in the inter-Party agreement that the size of the Executive should be increased above 12; indeed, the very opposite was agreed. There was a consensus that it should be confined to a maximum of 11. But need was felt for greater flexibility on appointments outside the Executive. The Act therefore provides for an Administration totalling up to fifteen in number, of which a maximum of 11 would be members of the Executive. The Act does just this. It is mainly a technical exercise; it does not seek to deal with any of the fundamental principles set out in the main Constitution Act. Indeed, its principles are those upon which the discussions and negotiations of the past few months have proceeded, and underlie the important steps forward which have been made.

To vest devolved powers in the new institutions in Northern Ireland, it was also necessary earlier this afternoon to bring before the House the Northern Ireland Constitution (Devolution) Order, which ends direct rule in Northern Ireland, and brings into operation the main provisions of the Constitution Act, conferring legislative powers on the Assembly for all Government functions except those specifically reserved or excepted, and providing for the appointment of a Northern Ireland Executive. May I just say, in passing, that the powers and functions transferred are in fact the very maximum allowed by the Devolution Order. The Act stated that the functions in Schedules 2 and 3 could not initially be transferred, and they are the only functions which in fact we have left out of the Devolution Order. In other words, the Executive in Northern Ireland will have initially as many functions as it is possible to transfer under the Constitution Act.

My Lords, this Order could be brought before the House this afternoon only because the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is satisfied, as he is required to be under Section 2 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, that the Assembly has made the necessary minimum provisions in its Standing Orders and that a Northern Ireland Executive can be formed which meets the requirements set out in Section 2 of the Constitution Act.

The House also, of course, approved the Northern Ireland (Modification of Enactments No. 1) Order. This is a technical Order making the necessary amendments to the law of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom to give effect to devolution. In particular, this second Order provides for functions in the field of law and order, including judicial appointments, to be carried out in future by Her Majesty, the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State, and it also provides for the United Kingdom Finance Departments to collect the duties and taxes which have now become "excepted". Those are the first two Orders.

The third Order presented and approved this afternoon was the Ministries (Northern Ireland) Order which will create two new Ministries in Northern Ireland, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Manpower Services. These changes are required to bring the pattern of Northern Ireland Ministries into line with that agreed between the three Northern Ireland Parties. Other changes, such as changes of title and transfers of functions, will be made by separate subordinate legislation.

These then are the separate statutory steps—the amending Bill and the three Orders—which will have to be taken before there can be devolution. It was, however, first necessary to hold a conference at Sunningdale with representatives of the Northern Ireland Parties concerned and representatives of the Irish Government. My noble friend the Leader of the House made a Statement on December 10 in which he informed your Lordships of the agreements reached at Sunningdale, which were contained in a joint communiqué. We are already dealing with the matters referred to in that communiqué, and officials from the North and the South of Ireland and from this country are in touch on the matters on which studies were commissioned. The Government are well aware of the need for urgent action on all those matters and will, of course, continue to keep Parliament fully informed.

It is also the intention of the Government to publish a White Paper on the financial arrangements for Northern Ireland which will pull together and expand on the new statutory arrangements under the Constitution Act, the proposals in paragraphs 83 to 89 of the White Paper and also the discussions about financial decisions which we are pledged to have with the new institutions in Northern Ireland. These again are technical matters, and perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I do not say more about this in advance of the publication of the White Paper.

We are now in a position in which Northern Ireland will once again take on the responsibility for government over a wide area of functions. The Sunning-dale agreement must surely give us cause for hope. I think that agreement was significant because it demonstrated the determination of the three political Parties from Northern Ireland to find a means of reconciling their differences and to discover a way forward while continuing to respect each other's principles. The Parties which comprise the Northern Ireland Executive will have many and difficult problems to face, but I think it is infinitely to their credit that a real start has been made. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House takes note of constitutional developments in Northern Ireland.—(Lord Belstead.)

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, we really have quite a lot to say this evening. I am a little disappointed that the noble Lord, who is always so co-operative, did not go more fully into the wider question which certainly the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough—and I, to some extent—wish to raise. I do not wish to be critical, but I am frankly a little surprised, because I am told that the Government have acquired great merit with the Northern Ireland Office in getting the House to pass the Orders "on the nod". The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will know that it was in fact the advice of the Opposition that it should be done in that way. We gave the Government their Orders and the Bill "on the nod" so as to ensure their timetable and in order that we could have a proper debate. However, if the Government wish to get the credit for co-operating with the Northern Ireland Office rather than that the Opposition should get the credit, I suppose they are entitled to get such satisfaction as they can in these difficult times.

I will now depart from this somewhat contentious note because I wish to repeat my congratulations to the Government and to the officials who have worked with great patience in bringing about the situation in which we now find ourselves, with the possibility of devolving on Northern Ireland, and on their elected representatives, responsibilities which quite frankly I would be the first to admit we have inadequately discharged in Parliament and in this House.

If noble Lords on the Government Front Bench would speak a litle more quietly, they might hear me addressing them. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, would ask his noble friends to be a little quieter because it is rather disruptive and, as they may judge, I am in a reasonably tetchy mood, stimulated by the extravagances of the noble and learned Lord who sat on the Woolsack.

I will now turn back again to the bipartisan approach which we have in these matters, and it is a measure of the value in a situation of this kind that the Government and the Opposition have been able to work together closely and, if I may say so, with the very closest co-operation from the Northern Ireland Ministers responsible, first, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and now the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. In this matter of praise, we have already paid such tributes to the former Secretary of State that I do not think they need be repeated. Clearly he is very much needed in this country at the moment, but certainly I would wish to congratulate the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. There is one question that I should like to ask. A great deal is now being transferred to Northern Ireland Ministers in the Executive—I am not sure whether they are Ministries or Departments; there is this brief period when I think they are called "Ministries" and then they become "Departments". I am not quite sure which it is, and it would raise an interesting question for a specialist in time. The question I wish to put is this: is there to be a reduction in the umber of Ministers in the Office of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? I should hate to see the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, out of a job and I would certainly be willing to commend him and give him a reference for another Department. But there is no doubt that the Ministers in the Office of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have carried a very heavy burden indeed. As Mr. van Straubenzee has pointed out, they have tried to discharge the role of a number of Ministers—I am sure they visited hospitals with great energy and will be happy not to have to work so hard. Will there now be a reduction in the numbers?

While we are on numbers, may I repeat a criticism that has been made in another place and which I think is relevant, as to why the Government have thought it fit to specify in such precise terms the size of the new Executive, and in effect the number of people who can be heads of Northern Ireland Departments. The figure of 12 was magic; the figure of 11 does not seem to be magical and the number 15, which is obviously in the best judgment of Ministers now the right figure for the moment, may not be the right figure in the future. If we had had time it might have been worth while amending the Bill to give the Government power to alter the numbers by Order without having to produce a Bill.

Perhaps when the noble Lord replies to the debate, he can give a reason for this. I acknowledge that it is an important matter, but I should have thought that every time they wish to make an adjustment it would be much simpler to do it by Order rather than having to produce yet another Bill to be passed formally through all its stages when an Order would do equally well. We have had so many Orders in relation to Northern Ireland which have really been large Bills; we have gone through them and have not been able to amend them. It is rather a contrast. I make no criticism of what the Government did in regard to the Bills that came before us as Orders, but perhaps the noble Lord would like to comment, because I personally do not see a satisfactory answer. May I say that I do not regard it as a matter of the first importance, but it is a technical point. If there is a necessity to introduce another Bill in the future, it might be as well for the Government to take powers in that Bill to alter the numbers more simply than by Order.

My Lords, I understand we are likely to have a Paper on the financial proposals and the future financial arrangements in Northern Ireland. Here, a matter of very great concern to us all must be the anxiety and the effect of the crisis which is now really threatening this country with the most disastrous consequences, as anyone will know who is concerned in industry. It would be a most terrible blow to progress in Northern Ireland if they suffered that sort of danger. It has been a problem that successive Northern Ireland Governments have sought to cope with. I must say this in defence of previous Northern Ireland Governments; they were much more interventionist in trying to get industry into Government. There has been the underlying problem of unemployment. We have been well aware that the Government have been pumping money, very rightly, into Northern Ireland in an attempt to improve the employment situation. Of course, if we do seek the sort of situation which may develop in this country if no settlement is achieved, and I will not attempt to go into the debate we had earlier this afternoon, this could have quite catastrophic effects on the prospects of peace in Northern Ireland. It is necessary to repeat again, and the Government have always been careful to say this, that we have taken only the first step towards a settlement in Northern Ireland, but the dangers are very great indeed. None the less, it is quite remarkable that it has been possible to take this particular step. It is not only necessary for Northern Ireland technically. I do not believe Parliament could go on legislating in the way it has been doing in so many matters, simply by Order. There is a need for an Assembly and an Executive. Administratively this is highly desirable; but, more strikingly, it provides the first real promising step towards peace in Ireland.

My Lords, I should just like to ask whether the Minister can tell us anything more about the Council of Ireland. It must have been a matter of very arduous negotiation, and clearly much will depend on how it has progressed. When the Statement was made, we deliberately did not comment, knowing at the time that we were to have a debate. It is gratifying and satisfactory that both Ministers and Parliamentarians, the Members of the Assembly and the Members of the Dail will be associated with this Council in fact. We shall wait with a good deal of interest to see how, among others, matters dealing with security will be handled. In this context, can the noble Lord tell us anything more about the police authority, about which an account was given in another place? It may be there is nothing the noble Lord can add to the Statement of the Minister, but it is important that we should continue to know about such matters.

My Lords, there is one matter I would wish to press very strongly. In this House we have been accustomed to dealing with quite a number of Northern Irish matters. Orders have come before the House, some of which we knew comparatively little about, and as I once pointed out, either to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, or to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, it was quite an education process to deal with so many matters. Even though at times I felt we dealt with them inadequately, my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy and others made a real contribution. I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy here this evening. It would be unfortunate if now we were to lose touch with Northern Irish affairs, because there will be continuing difficulties. No doubt from time to time some Orders will need to be made—and I will be a little careful about the terminology—which have not been transferred; in other words they are reserved, or whatever they are called. Presumably these will come before the House.

In order that we do not lull ourselves into a feeling of false security, it is important that we should have periodic Statements on matters of importance to Parliament, not just when a bomb goes off, ghastly though that is. But in a way that I regret to say the inhabitants of this Island have never done, we will attempt to come to some sort of understanding of the situation in Ireland. One of the great difficulties has been the ignorance of politicians, the general public and everyone else of the realities of the situation in Northern Ireland. Even now, I suspect the number of Ministers in this or any other Government who have any inkling as to the nature of the situation, of the people and the problems in Northern Ireland, is probably restricted to those Ministers who themselves have been directly involved, and have spent time in Northern Ireland. I regard this as an important matter. So many of the misfortunes in the past, particularly during the early days of this Government, have been due to this type of misunderstanding. I am not trying to make a Party point, but it is true that Mr. Callaghan had a greater feeling for Northern Ireland. When the present Government came into power, neither the Prime Minister nor Mr. Maudling got the feeling of the situation. I hope we can maintain the present knowledge, and I press very strongly on the Government, that if Northern Ireland is to remain in the United Kingdom, which seems to me firmly guaranteed, until such time as a majority of the people wish otherwise, then we need to understand the situation better.

My Lords, in another place they are accustomed to having Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland. But knowing the attitude of another place even to Scottish affairs, and of this House to Scottish or Northern Irish affairs, I hope we shall be able to maintain our knowledge. I hope that the Government and Ministers will take it upon themselves to seek to persuade Members of the United Kingdom Parliament in either House to be involved and aware, and not to turn their backs on the problem. All along we have had to bear in mind that citizens of the United Kingdom were suffering a degree of destruction of which we have had only a small taste, and have been living in very dangerous conditions.

I knew well the father of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the sort of experiences he had close to the Irish Border at the time of Partition in 1920. We must show an understanding of the remarkable achievement that has now been brought about. Mr. Fitt and Mr. Faulkner have been able to work together to come together, and indeed to show an attitude and a colleaguely approach which a few months ago, certainly several years ago, would have been inconceivable. They have done so in the face of tremendous pressures. I have the very greatest admiration for those members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party whose lives have been threatened and who, with their families, have suffered actual interference and threats; in one case the wife of one of the S.D.L.P. leaders was physically attacked.

Again I think one must give credit to the pledged Unionists. It is not comfortable to find your Party splitting and suffering the sort of violent attacks, and again physical attacks, they have suffered. I should like, therefore, and I am sure it would be the view of your Lordships' House, to express some real admiration for those who I believe have risen to the occasion, to encourage them to continue to do so with our full sympathy, and to note that on January 1 this new experiment will start and to wish it the very best of fortune.

I do not propose to discuss the Orders in detail; full explanations have been given in another place. Having made these my one or two points, I end by again congratulating the Government and all those who have taken us at least this far along the road.

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say what a pleasure it is to me that it should be the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, speaking to this Motion. He has known me and my family for a long time, and his detailed knowledge of Northern Ireland is something of which I am very well aware. The sympathy with which he dealt with the subject has given me great heart. I should like to mention a number of the matters which he raised before going on to the main tenor of what I was going to say. The first is that I feel that Northern Ireland has a right to be spared the major part of the financial crisis. There is nothing more damaging than idle hands, nothing which will create more trouble than people who are laid off on three-day weeks, and laid off further where public spending programmes are cut. We have managed to get our unemployment down to a very low figure and it would be disastrous from the security point of view if it was ever allowed to rise.

May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, if, when the Government are presenting the White Paper on financial arrangements, they will bear in mind that in the past Northern Ireland has had unjust criticism levelled at it because its accountancy was separate and as an area it could be said to be in deficit within the United Kingdom. Lord Kilbrandon, in his Report, made it very clear that because our accounts were separate people were able to say that Northern Ireland was in fact a liability on the United Kingdom. Of course, in the present state we are a liability. The question is whether there are not other parts of the United Kingdom which are also. Our right, being members of the United Kingdom, is that we should get the same or better fiscal arrangements in order to deal with our geographical situation. Will the noble Lord bear in mind that if what comes out shows that Northern Ireland is being heavily subsidised, this will place us in an extremely difficult position unless other areas of the United Kingdom are shown in the same light.

One thing which we as Unionists in Northern Ireland have decided is that never again should Parliament in the United Kingdom be so out of touch as it was in 1968. I therefore welcome very much what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said. This noble House is part of Parliament; therefore I have felt it my duty, apart from my great pleasure, to be here. I would endorse the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that other noble Lords should come to Northern Ireland, just as Members of another place do, and acquaint themselves with the problems on the spot. I do not know what the financial arrangements are, but I can tell noble Lords that it is jolly expensive travelling backwards and forwards; and if there were any way in which this expenditure could be financed, I believe the whole Parliament of the United Kingdom would benefit.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned a subject which I feel very strongly about: the wording of the various assurances that Northern Ireland shall remain part of the United Kingdom so long as it shall so wish. I feel rather hurt about that. I should like to have a welcome, but at the back of that wording, in brackets, is the implication that "We wish to goodness you did not want to stay with us". I hope that noble Lords here will see that that is not meant. Tonight we have had the right perspective of the position of the United Kingdom, with Northern Ireland taking second place to the state of the nation. That is the correct perspective. We are part of the United Kingdom, and it is quite right that we should take second place, and I welcome the opportunity of speaking on the Motion and not on the Bill.

I would add my congratulations to the former Secretary of State, the right honourable William Whitelaw, and to the whole of his staff, for having achieved what I personally thought was practically impossible. It is a major achievement. But it is a very delicate plant which must be nurtured and shaded from sun and frost. Tonight we are discussing an important matter, because it involves the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom's frontiers, and also the government of part of the United Kingdom. I feel that, if it does work—and nobody wishes it to work more than we in the official Unionist Party do—it may be the basis for a new system, some parts of which may be adapted from the Kilbrandon Report. It is therefore of great importance, I feel, that this House, as part of the Parliament, should be kept fully in touch with its operation.

Under the Act and Orders which we have dealt with certain specific subjects are in fact removed from the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland—the Judiciary, traffic wardens, debts, prisons—in fact practically the whole range of home affairs. When Northern Ireland originally had devolved government, in 1920, it was decided that because such a wide range of powers were appropriate to it there should be twelve Members. Lord Kilbrandon, in his wisdom, with the other members of the Commission, felt that the number should be 17. I feel very strongly that, although this may not be the right point in time at which this should be recommended, the number should in fact go up to 17: because if it was right to have 12 in 1920 it must be right to have more now. The average number of electorate per Member in Northern Ireland is substantially greater than the average number here. I feel very much the injustice of this. An increase to 17 would remove completely and absolutely any question of injustice within the electoral system. This was one of the major criticisms which was levelled—whether it was right or wrong is immaterial—at the electoral system in 1968 within Northern Ireland. The recommendation of the Kilbrandon Report was in fact unanimous.

I come here tonight to defend and support the transfer of power—inched, to suggest that in some cases there ought to be more power. I also support the agreed communiqué on the Sunningdale conference. As an official Unionist I am committed, with my Party—and I am Chairman of the Parliamentary Party—to seeing that the proposed transfer of power is implemented, and I am totally committed to that. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned the physical danger that people have put themselves into. The members of the Executive have put themselves into very much greater personal danger than any other section in the country. The evil men of both sides are arming. It is essential to give this new system of the Executive a trial, because there was a great success in the 50 years of devolved government. Sir Edmund Compton correctly summed it up when he said that the ordinary citizens—and, after all, it is the ordinary citizens who matter—very often got better service from Northern Ireland Departments than they got in the rest of the United Kingdom. This is because it is a small community, and because people are closer to their Administration.

Here I should like to say what a pleasure it was to see my right honourable friend in another place paying tribute to the Civil Service of Northern Ireland. This is a body for whom we in Northern Ireland have the greatest admiration. If there was one reason alone why we feel that we must have devolved government, even if it is muted, it is because of the service that has been given to us as a community.


My Lords, I forgot to make that point in my speech. As a former Minister in charge of the United Kingdom Civil Service I strongly endorse that, and I am glad that the noble Viscount has made that point.


My Lords, if I now strike a warning I hope that noble Lords will realise my determination, and the determination of my Party, that this arrangement should be given as fair a trial as possible. I feel that there has been a certain euphoria in Great Britain. It is easy for politicians to forget about the bombs and the guns that have been used in Northern Ireland. At the present moment, because it is comfortable, it is much easier to remember the Constitutions and the communiquées that are agreed: these all breed hope, and therefore they are much easier for people to think and talk about. I should like for a few moments to try to put a little more realism into this and explain why I feel that there has been a certain amount of euphoria.

We, as Unionists, accept the Irish dimension not as a method of unifying Ulster with the South of Ireland, because we are part of the United Kingdom and intend to remain so, but because we believe that we must have co-operation from Dublin in many spheres, and especially over terrorism. Of late this great city, and other cities in this island, have had some of the bitter experiences that we have had. I would say to the noble Lord, although I do not think it is in his sphere, that I feel that people should be sentenced within the ethos of the social area where they commit their crimes and should serve their sentences in that area. I speak especially of those who were sentenced at Winchester. It would be a tragedy if they were transferred to Northern Ireland. There are very good reasons why they should not be. The prisons there are full, and the atmosphere of condemnation within Her Majesty's prisons in Great Britain must be quite different from the hero worship that would occur were they returned to Long Kesh. I would recommend very strongly that this point be noted.

Under what was called the Sunningdale Agreed Statement there were two undertakings which involved Her Majesty's Government and that of the South of Ireland. The first was about the suppression of terrorism, and the second about a Commission to sit on what I would loosely call a judicial system to try fugitives and to punish them. I want to say, because I think it is worth saying, that unless rapid progress is made on these two lines—and I mean really rapid progress—then there will be no Council of Ireland, and, as such, there will be no Executive. We in this House shall then have to deal in our own way with the situation from that point of view. I am not making any threat, and I hope that it is not taken as a threat. But I am saying that it is impossible to sell this package unless those two promises—because they are only promises—are seen to be achievable. Although I have no authority to speak for the Party of the Alliance, I have spoken to a number of their leaders and on this they are strongly behind the Unionists.

May I deal first of all with the question of suppression of terrorism? The position to-day is that compared with last year—and I do not think enough people in the United Kingdom fully realise this—the security position on the Border, so far as we are concerned (and I am talking about the ordinary citizen), is worse than it was last year—or, rather, I should say, worse than it was in February last year. It is worse in Londonderry; it is infinitely better in Belfast. People have rather been fastening on the fact that it is so much better in Belfast and forgetting the other area. In the past few days we have had near the Border three bombs in Newtown Butler, and Belcoo Station, Belleek, Crossmaglen, Killylea, Clady and Newton Hamilton were rocketed. That is an alarming record and these people are all very fearful of what is going to happen.

I spent the day before yesterday in Newtown Butler and the rest of the weekend by the Border. There are not enough troops showing their presence. I realise that security in a Border area comprises two things. It is apparent security—that is to say, the actual appearance of troops, to give an appearance of security—and really active security to get rid of the terrorists. I am not in a position to say whether or not the deployment of troops is right, but in the light of the Sunningdale communiqué there must be a massive and rapid increase in security in those areas or we cannot "sell" the agreement.

Within 15 miles of my home there is still a training camp. If noble Lords would come with me, I would take them for a drive (I did it the other day) to a village and out on the farm, where I sat talking to the farmer and saw two "boyos" run back across the Border. The house was 50 yards from the Border. You may say, "Those stupid people—going there". But one cannot have one's citizens there if their public representatives do not go there with them. I reckon that about 15 minutes elapsed before they could get these people out of this house to try to do something. We know that this house exists; surely the Dublin Government knows it. In fact, we know they do, because the security forces know it and they have been in touch. The present Southern Government has done infinitely more than the previous one, but there is still a great deal more to be done. I have my doubts as to whether they have the resources and whether their troops are well enough trained to take on anything much more, but I know that we must save the Sunningdale Agreement; and the only way we can do it on the security side is by the United Kingdom increasing the amount of security on the Border.

There are still laws which state that no man may cross the Border with a vehicle unless he crosses on an approved road. I cannot see why action should not be taken in respect of the unapproved roads. They need not be actually blocked, but anybody crossing them at any time should at least be given an uncomfortable time for some hours. If people come across after 10 o'clock at night, say, detention for two or three hours in the cold until 6 o'clock in the morning would deter people from crossing the Border as freely as they do at the moment. It is by movement across the Border that these bombs and bullets are carried.

I want to talk about the agreement on the fugitives. This is a very complicated subject. It is to be dealt with by a Commission, on which the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Irish Republic are represented, and I appeal to the noble Lord to get out an Interim Report, even if we cannot have the Final Report, to show that something will be done. It is an intolerable situation that we in Northern Ireland extradite people who have committed crime, or have been accused of committing crime, to the South, when there are many murderers, some hundreds of people, in the South for whom extradition orders could be issued if there was any chance of the orders being executed. People accused of the foulest murders in humanity are going about in the Irish Republic. I say to this House that we as Unionists cannot sell this packet to the people of Ulster unless we have action on those two elements, because the whole of the Sunningdale agreement is based on trust. In the past, we in the North have not had much reason to trust the Irish Government. Judging by past performances, we feel that we are not on a winning wicket. But, of course, trust must grow—and we hone it will grow, because it is our intention that this should work.

Here I have to ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to give me a little clarification. In the last few days, Mr. Cosgrave, President of the Republic, has struck a fairly major blow against trust. He is quoted in the Irish Press on Sunday and he is reported to have said something which I think is very significant: There is no question of changing our Constitution with regard to our claim of sovereignty for all Ireland". The report went on: The fact that the declaration"— and this declaration will be placed before the United Nations— would be enshrined in an international agreement with the United Nations has no special significance. There could be no change in the extradition laws. So that is three things he said. We understand the difficulty of a change in the Constitution being made. It would call for a referendum and that is unpredictable. But to put it in those bald terms does not give us a feeling of trust.

Secondly, he said, or is reported to have said: The fact that the declaration would be enshrined in an international agreement with the United Nations has no special significance. There could be no change in the extradition laws. I say to this House that I feel that it is very difficult for us to have trust with that sort of statement being made, and I should like the noble Lord to comment on that. I understand that the registration of the Sunningdale declaration with the United Nations is in fact a most significant step. Unlike the 1925 registration, international law has vastly increased and public censure of anybody being so bold as to deny registration would be very great. But are we right, or is Mr. Cosgrave right?

I want now to turn to one or two subjects which worry us as Unionists. The franchise is going to be a transferred power to this Parliament. The control of electoral arrangements is going to reside here. Perhaps I had better explain to the House that in a Northern Ireland Election, as opposed to a Westminster Election, before being eligible to vote any person from outside the State has to reside within Northern Ireland for seven years. I should like an assurance that there will be no change in that rule because were that not retained we should be in great danger of being swamped by people from the Irish Republic. It has always seemed very strange to us that a citizen from a foreign State can get a vote so very easily within the United Kingdom.

The second matter which I feel is worth while noting is that responsibility for publicity abroad is being maintained within this Parliament. Can we have an assurance that this will really be done? Six weeks ago I was in Detroit. I followed after a particularly vicious Irishman who was raising money. He had in fact raised millions of dollars for the I.R.A., and so far as I could ascertain nothing had been done by our information services to counter this action. There is an organisation there called News Watch which would willingly have undertaken that task had they been given the facts. I am not asking for propaganda; I am merely asking for facts. After all, we have representatives in most of the big cities of the U.S. I was told—in fact it is public knowledge—that a tremendous amount of money has come out of America. If this is going to be done will the noble Lord say how much our own Minister concerned with information is going to be allowed to do abroad? This is a most important matter. A large amount of money was raised on false information on emotion from an Irish emigré.

Control of the police is mentioned in the agreed Statement. How firm is the commitment of the Government to return the control of the police to the Northern Ireland Executive? I do not believe that any Government have much credibility unless they have control over law and order. At the moment we do not have control even of the traffic wardens. That does not add to the status of a Government; yet we are expected to attend a Council of Ireland and to sit as equals. I would ask the noble Lord how an Assembly with no control over law and order can legislate effectively even on such simple matters as punishments, health and that sort of thing.

I want to issue this one further word of warning to-night, that it is not easy to commend these arrangements to the loyal majority, and your Lordships should not be surprised at the suspicion which they have aroused in the hearts of many Ulstermen. If you look back over the last four years, as I and many thousands of Ulstermen see them, the trouble was in fact started through what purported to be a simple civil rights campaign; but that demand, accompanied by malicious and efficient propaganda, set about to magnify every defect in the Stormont régime, and from the start it was actively supported by those only only in Ireland but elsewhere who plotted revolution in Northern Ireland and the dismemberment of the United Kingdom. When they succeeded in making Ulster ungovernable without the use of massive military intervention the Army was sent in, not for legitimate duty, the defence of lawful authority, but, so we were told, to hold the ring, to act as an umpire between the rebels and the rest of society. It was that particular act which caused the trauma of distrust and suspicion.

All these humiliations were borne patiently by the vast majority of Ulster men. They also bore the constant attacks of the I.R.A. This produced a different form of trauma, but trauma no less. The Ulster people saw themselves stripped; they saw their reserve police disbanded and they felt more distrust. This was just after their Government had produced a White Paper. Perhaps I may quickly read what they suggested: A far-reachng effort to secure the constitutional new deal in Ireland as a whole under which Northern Ireland's rights of self-determination would be recognised by treaty; that there would be common policy and action for the suppression of illegal organisations including the concept of a common law enforcement area in Ireland making the return of fugitive offenders automatic, and that a joint inter-Irish, inter-governmental council would be set up with equal membership from the Belfast and Dublin Governments to discuss matters of mutual interest, particularly in the economic and social spheres.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might interrupt the noble Viscount. I am sure the House has been listening to him with very great sympathy. We have debated these matters, and I had rather hoped that we were not going back, as is so much the wont in Irish history. There are other points of view which I have heard expressed against the Unionist Government. In this House, on the whole, we have rather sought to avoid this. I am not saying it is not valuable to know people's feelings, but I think the noble Viscount may lose a little sympathy if he goes too deeply into these matters.


My Lords, I accept that, and I apologise to the House. Perhaps I may say in short that the trauma of having one's Government removed is something which, personally, I felt so strongly that the bases of all my previous judgments were shattered; and what I am trying to say to the House—if I have taken too long I am sorry, and I see I have been going much longer than I have ever taken before—is that because of this there is grave suspicion, and people's judgments of even the most innocent of settlements, the most innocent of propositions, are not sound. Their perspective is lost. I was trying to show why that occurred, and I merely state that now. I was not trying to go back; I was not trying to justify it, because the water is under the bridge and we have to deal with the present. I was trying to explain why I feel that this House should show immense sympathy and restraint, and that the pace which has been set so far can prove too fast because we have to rebuild trust, which is the most important item. I should therefore like to finish by saying that I welcome the passing of the Bill and the Orders, because if ever anything was right it is to say that united we shall stand and divided we shall fall. I apologise to the House for taking so long.

7.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we realise how deeply my noble friend Lord Brookeborough feels on these matters, and we have listened to him with great care. I will take only two minutes, if I may, to say how much I agreed with two or three of the things which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said. He said that what we are discussing this evening is one step. Of course that is right: it is one step, and no ground for euphoria. But I think that many of us feel that there are grounds for hope; and if we think back to about a year ago—I was thinking back while the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was speaking—we shall recall that at that time so many of our hopes had proved dupes that we should have felt very relieved indeed if we had known that by the present date things would have progressed so far as they have. I am one of those who have great hope that the Council of Ireland will get its roots into the ground. I think of it, as my noble friend said, not so much as a step towards unification but as a recognition that there are many problems of common interest to the North and the South, and a means by which those common problems may gradually find solution. That is the way I think of the Irish dimension.

As regards the Eire Government and our relations with them, as a layman I suppose I have no special knowledge at all but, again, it seems to me that the present Government in Dublin is one with which it seems rather easier to make contact and to keep contact than was the case with some of its predecessors in days gone by. Where I want to support the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, particularly is in his reference to the work of the Ministers in our Northern Ireland Department during the last year or so—the Secretary, Mr. William White-law, and the other Ministers—particularly because of three things. They have, taken immense trouble (it is clear, I think, to everybody there that they have taken immense trouble), they have shown exemplary patience, and they have displayed what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I thought—very rightly, described as "feel". In this matter that must be of immense importance, and it must be the hope of all of us that in the future that will continue.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, held out a terrifying prospect, I thought, of one or more Ministers receiving bowler hats. I can only say that should that occur and a bowler hat be dished out, I am sure it would be the wish of us all that it should be appropriately embellished with laurel leaves when it is issued. Lastly, I should like to support the hope expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that in the future our debates on Northern Ireland should not be associated only with crises, disasters and things of that kind, but that we should hold debates regularly so that we can discuss the progress that we all hope will be made; and in saying that, I join with others in expressing the best wishes for the future of the new Constitution.

7.57 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate but listening to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and to the very charming and proper things he said about the former Secretary of State, I felt that as chairman of the shipyard in Belfast I could not allow this occasion to go by without saying something myself by way of thanks. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that Mr. Whitelaw talked, talked and talked, and from firsthand evidence, from personal evidence, I know that that is true. The degree of assistance and help that he gave us in a great many ways—and, after all, the shipyard is a very important element in the economy of Northern Ireland; I think we are, if not the biggest employer, the biggest single unit of employment in Northern Ireland—has been of tremendous encouragement. It is true that we have our problems. We still have our problems; but I very much hope that, given a fair chance, we shall be able to show that the work that Mr. Whitelaw did will bear its fruit in the future, and that we shall make the contribution which is proper. I look forward very much indeed to working with those responsible for putting the new Constitution into practice, and I should like to wish them well.


My Lords, as the only Member on the Liberal Benches at the moment I rise merely to say that I agree very strongly with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and others. I believe this is an occasion for gratitude—whether it is qualified gratitude or not I do not care—and not for debate, whether it is acrimonious or good-natured debate. I believe the Ministers in charge have done a miraculous job. Whether it will work none of us knows, but we can all hope and, if we are religiously minded, pray that it will work. I think that is all one can say on this subject.

7.59 p.m.


My Lords, in replying to the debate may I first of all apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—because I was to blame, and nobody else—that I did not make it clear that our debate this evening is due entirely to the request of the noble Lord personally and to the Opposition Front Bench, and for that the Government are most grateful. In opening the debate I sought to say that the Government were grateful to the House generally. I feel I should have said first that we are debating the matter this evening because the noble Lord thought up this arrangement, which has indeed been greatly to the convenience to the Government, and brings the devolution Order, which brings in its turn the whole of the Constitution Act now, into force on January 1, 1974. It was vital, in addition to the three Orders, that the amending Act should also receive Royal Assent to-day, and because that has been made possible by this new procedure the new Executive comes into effect on New Year's Day.


My Lords, I feel rather ashamed of myself. Through the combination of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and my suddenly realising that I had had nothing to eat or drink since early morning I was rather unnecessarily tetchy. It was really because his noble friend was also making rather a noise on the Front Bench. Certainly I would not wish to say more. This, I hope, is our normal bipartisan co-operation on Northern Ireland.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friend Lord Brookeborough specifically mentioned the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and I should like to associate myself with what they said. I think I ought to say that tinder the Ministry's Modification of Enactments Order, the Ministry of Home Affairs will cease to exist as an entity, but not until the appointed day. Once devolution occurs its responsibilities will be transferred to other bodies, mainly to the Secretary of State and to the Lord Chancellor, under that Order.

I think the House might like to know, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, with his former responsibilities for the Civil Service, that the Secretary of State in Northern Ireland will continue to be served in these matters by the same civil servants as at present do the work in the Ministry of Home Affairs. I would emphasise that it is the intention that existing administrative arrangements whereby they are recruited, appointed, paid and managed and carry out their duties should, so far as possible, remain undisturbed. My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, criticised the maximum number of 15 in the Amendment Act as being unnecessarily inflexible in regard to the total numbers on the Executive. As to the arrangements for the maximum numbers permitted thus, I should like to make clear that provided the maximum of 11 in Executive Members and 15 appointments as a whole is not exceeded, it will be at the discretion of the Chief Executive as to whether functions can be altered, can be shuffled, between Northern Ireland Departments.

This power is available under Section 4 of the Ministries Act of 1944 as modified by paragraph 27 of Schedule 5 of the Modification of Enactments Order which we have taken this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, may say that this does not answer the question at all. But I would draw attention to the fact that in having a maximum of 15 appointments under the Constitution, as amended, we are in fact having one appointment for every five members of the Assembly, and for a start I think this is not bad going. If, however, in the future the Assembly wish to create new Ministries, or to dissolve existing ones, this could be done by a measure of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


My Lords, is the noble Lord now leaving that point?


Yes, my Lords.


My Lords, I would only say, sadly, that I am entirely unconvinced by these figures. The figures he has given of the ratio are not convincing because a smaller proportion were Ministers in the earlier Assembly. All I was asking him to consider, and perhaps he would undertake to do so, was that the next time he has to alter the number of either 11 or 15 he might take powers in that subsequent Bill to do it by Order. If he thinks that I have misunderstood his arguments, he may think that this is one of the occasions when he might care to write to me.


My Lords, the noble Lord has not misunderstood the argument. I should like to have a look to see whether there is anything further that I could usefully add. The noble Lord is quite right: the maximum remains under Westminster control. But I would repeat that within that maximum there is a considerable amount of discretion to the Chief Executive, to the Assembly and to the Executive leading it.

The noble Lords, Lord Rochdale, Lord Brookeborough and Lord Shackleton, drew attention to the economic situation and how it would affect Northern Ireland. I think noble Lords would want me to say that I know that my right honourable friend will be particularly appreciative of what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale. He has a difficult and heavy responsibility in the shipyards in Belfast, and the way my noble friend pitched his remarks this evening will be much appreciated. My honourable friend the Minister of State is meeting the Economic Council in Northern Ireland this week, and subject to that and any statement which may be made later I should not want to add to what was said by my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State on November 22. I have taken note of what my noble friend Lord Brookeborough has said about the economic situation and unemployment in Northern Ireland. May I draw my noble friend's attention to paragraph 86 of the White Paper and to the three objectives that we have there, which still remain the objectives of Her Majesty's Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friend Lord Amory, drew attention particularly to the need for Westminster not to lose touch with Northern Ireland affairs. Periodic statements were asked for by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, so that, as he said, we may attempt to show some sort of understanding of Northern Ireland. There are many people in Northern Ireland whose hearts would have warmed to the noble Lord had they been present to hear him say that. I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to what was said by the noble Lord and by my noble friend. May I point out that in addition to continuing to administer the list of functions to be found in Schedules 2 and 3 of the Constitution Act, Westminster can legislate on other matters; and this we intend to do on job discrimination during the present Parliamentary Session.

Lastly, my Lords, a point was raised by my noble friend Lord Brookeborough about Members from both Houses at Westminster visiting Northern Ireland. Lord Shackleton has spoken on Northern Ireland many times as has also the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy. It may well be that certain noble Lords would wish to visit to the Province to see things for themselves. If there is this wish, I would assure the House that it is something that I would do my best to assist in the immediate future. The House has drawn attention to the matter of the police, dealt with in the Communiqué. It has been made clear on several occasions that the R.U.C. will continue to provide a police service for Northern Ireland, and though a great deal has been done, as was pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, in a recent debate, more is needed to be done to expand the R.U.C. and its reserve. I think I am right in divining that the House will agree that we must achieve the aim set out in the White Paper and repeated in paragraph 12 of the Communiqué, that there should be democratic participation in ensuring the full benefits of a normal police service.

My noble friend asked about control over the police. Although responsibility for the police is one of the subjects reserved to Westminster under the Constitution Act from January 1, the Government have stated in the Sunningdale Communiqué that two criteria are necessary for any devolution. The first is that security problems in Northern Ireland are resolved. The second is that the new institutions which are being set up are seen to be working effectively. Then the Government would wish to discuss the devolution of responsibilities for normal policing with the Northern Ireland Executive and police, including how such devolution should be achieved. Until that time responsibility for the police remains at Westminster. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred to place of trial, judicial commission and the suppression of terrorism. I well understand the apprehension of my noble friend who lives in Fermanagh in the Border area, but it must be said that the escalation of Border terrorism is a consequence of a diminution of terrorism in urban areas. My noble friend will have noticed that during the Sunningdale Conference, and not without a great deal of thought, the Army closed many more roads on the Border, which was referred to by my noble friend.

We shall not flag in this matter. May I draw the attention of the House to paragraph 10 of the Communiqué, which I think is of the greatest importance, where it says that, people who commit crimes of violence should be brought to trial whenever they may commit them and for whatever motives. Surely this is the safeguard of civilised society. The Communiqué clearly states that representatives of both the North and the South of Ireland fully share this concern. Paragraph 10 also clearly indicates the different ways in which this problem may be considered in the context of Ireland. In the case of murder, the Irish Government have given an undertaking that they will bring before their own courts persons accused of committing murder in Northern Ireland who have fled to the South. So far as persons accused of committing other politically motivated crimes are concerned, the Commission which the two Governments have agreed to set up will be asked to recommend an effective method of bringing these people to justice. I assure my noble friend, in answer to what he said, that matters will be pushed ahead as swiftly as is reasonably possible.

My Lords, may I finally touch on what is perhaps the thing that is uppermost in people's minds, the Council of Ireland—and the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, referred to this. Perhaps I may say that the nature of this Council's functions has still to be worked out. What the Communiqué has done is to set out certain principles to be observed. Perhaps the House would like to know that the machinery for setting up a Council of Ireland would seem to the Government to be as follows. Although international relations, including treaties, are excepted matters under the Constitution Act, Section 12 empowers the Northern Ireland Executive to consult on any matter within the authority of the Republic of Ireland and to enter into agreements or arrangements with any authority of the Republic in respect of any transferred matter. Thus, there is no bar to the Council of Ireland discussing any matters, and Section 12 of the Constitution Act already makes provision for the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate, subject to consent being given, to give effect to agreement reached between the Northern Ireland authority and authorities in the Republic. But if this legislation appears insufficient to create the Council of Ireland agreed upon between the Governments and to confer upon that Council of Ireland the functions which the Governments have agreed should be conferred upon it, it may be necessary if it so agreed, to introduce the necessary legislation at Westminster.

My Lords, I apologise if there are matters to which I have not replied, and particularly some points—electoral law was one—that my noble friend Lord Brookeborough raised. Perhaps he will allow me to write to him.

The House will have noted that studies will be set in hand to see what executive decisions could or should be taken by the Council of Ireland. I am sure that people living in the Province who have studied the objective for the studies and the areas of activity in which joint executive action might be instituted (all set out in paragraph 8 of the Joint Communiqué) will now feel that here is an area in which it must be worth while studying co-operation for the good of North and South alike. But much still depends upon the security situation.

On November 22 the Government gave certain undertakings about detention which it is hoped can be taken in both the short term and the long term. This was referred to again in paragraph 18 of the Joint Communiqué. Subject to the security situation, this remains our policy. On New Year's Day the Executive will come into being. Given a fair chance, my Lords, I believe that this will mean a fresh advance for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, can he answer this question? Do the Irish Republic have to pass an amendment to their Constitution before the Council of Ireland, from their point of view, becomes law? Must they have a referendum?


My Lords, speaking "off the cuff" I am not aware that that is the case. If I am wrong, I will write to my noble friend.

On Question, Motion agreed to.