HL Deb 22 November 1973 vol 346 cc1217-32

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I will, with permission, make a Statement. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has over the last seven weeks had a series of discussions in Northern Ireland with the Alliance Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Unionist Party in order to determine whether the basis existed for the formation of an Executive as provided for in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. These Parties had signified to him their willingness to try to form an Executive; the other Parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly had made it known to my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that they were not prepared to participate in an Executive.

Before my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can ask Parliament to devolve powers to a Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, he must be satisfied on two issues. First, the Northern Ireland Assembly must have made satisfactory provision by its Standing Orders in accordance with Section 25 of that Act, which lays down certain essentials about procedure. Those Standing Orders have been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly and, while some were not unanimously agreed, my right honourable friend is satisfied that they meet the statutory criteria.

Secondly, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland must be satisfied that a, Northern Ireland Executive can he formed which, having regard to the support it commands in the Assembly and to the electorate on which that support is based, is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community. Agreement has been reached on the composition and nature of such an Executive. It is proposed that both now and for the future there should be an Executive of 11 persons and that the Administration should consist of 15 persons. For this to be done an amendment will be required to Section 8 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, and legislation will in due course be brought before Parliament. Subject to the approval of that legislation, it is proposed that the Executive should comprise 6 members of the Ulster Unionist Party, 4 members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and I member of the Alliance Party.

Mr. Brian Faulkner is the chief executive designate and Mr. Fitt is the deputy chief executive member designate. Mr. Oliver Napier will be the legal member and in charge of the Office of Law Reform.

The further allocation is as follows:

Head of Department of Finance—Unionist Party;

Head of Department Commerce—S.D.L.P.;

Head of Department of Health and Social Services—S.D.L.P.

Head of Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning—S.D.L.P.;

Head of Department of Environment—Unionist Party;

Head of Department of Education—Unionist Party;

Head of Department of Agriculture—Unionist Party;

Department of Information Services—Unionist Party;

Chief Whip—Unionist Party;

Office of Manpower Services—Alliance Party;

Office of Community Relations—S.D.L.P.;

Office of the Executive Planning and Co-ordination—S.D.L.P.

The leaders of the Parties will nominate those whom they propose will be appointed to these posts. There will in addition he a Deputy Chief Whip outside the Administration who will be an Assembly member of the Alliance Party.

My right honourable friend's discussions covered a number of other matters, including the question of a Council of Ireland. In the White Paper on Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals published in March this year, Her Majesty's Government said that they favoured and were prepared to facilitate the formation of such a body. My right honourable friend has now thought it helpful to say that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to agree to the following propositions about a Council of Ireland which will have to be discussed with the Government of the Republic. A Council of Ireland can be confined to representatives of the North and South of Ireland with proper safeguards for Her Majesty's Government's financial and other interests; it should consist not only of representatives of the Government of the Republic and of the Northern Ireland Executive but also, on a separate advisory and consultative level, of representatives from the Parties in the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Council should have a secretariat of its own. In order that decisions of the Council should carry the greatest possible degree of support, they should be taken at governmental level on a basis of unanimity. Her Majesty's Government are prepared to discuss what role a Council might play in relation to certain subjects reserved for the time being to the United Kingdom Government. This would include consideration of the imaginative and important concept of a common law enforcement area, the question of extradition processes and what role the Council might play in the law and order field.

My right honourable friend also indicated that Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to invite representatives of the Government of the Republic and those persons who will be members of the Northern Ireland Executive to a conference to discuss a Council of Ireland. This conference will be held as soon as possible. Thereafter, the Executive would be formally appointed. There would then need to be a tripartite conference between Her Majesty's Government, the Government of the Republic, and the Northern Ireland Executive.

The view of Her Majesty's Government on the question of detention was also indicated to the parties. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland reaffirmed Her Majesty's Government's firm commitment that they will bring detention for all sections of the communnity to an end as soon as the security situation permits and as part of their wish to bring about a lasting peace. The procedure for review provided by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 has already led to some releases. These reviews will continue. In addition, my right honourable friend hopes to be able to bring into use his statutory powers of selective release. If the security situation permits, he intends to do so in time for a number of detainees to be released before Christmas. Those releases may be required to give a suitable undertaking about their future conduct.

It must again be emphasised that executive decisions on release must depend upon the security situation. Continued progress will obviously depend on further improvements in the situation generally. Everythings possible will continue to be done to bring persons suspected of terrorist offences before the Courts rather than to detain them under the Emergency Provisions Act. My right honourable friend has also undertaken to consider compassionate cases on a wider basis than hitherto and other preparatory measures are in hand, including the recruitment of more social workers to help with the administration of all these arrangements and the introduction of various training schemes. I hope that the House will feel that a good start has been made in implementing the Northern Ireland Constitution Act. I am sure that we all wish to offer our support to those who are prepared to turn from the past to the work of the future.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I would first of all thank both the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for arranging for this Statement to be made in this House. As noble Lords know there is no statement as such being made in another place, and I take it that what the noble Lord has told us forms part of the speech of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I assure the noble Lord the Leader of the House that this is something that your Lordships appreciate.

Secondly, I would say that I offer my congratulations to the Government, and especially to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and those Ministers such as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and now the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and others who have been coping with such extraordinary patience with this very difficult situation. It is not that I wish to make my remarks only in a congratulatory form, for I think that this appears to be, against very severe odds, as the noble Lord indicated, a promising beginning. There is, of course, a great deal more that has to be done. I suppose their achievement must be shared with that of the Leaders of the Northern Ireland Parties, and I particularly have in mind both Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Fitt. It must have been immensely difficult for them, with the entrenched positions, to have made the undoubted concessions which all Parties have made. Practically every sentence, and certainly every paragraph, represents a concession by someone in Northern Ireland. This is a measure of the realisation by people of responsibility that this is perhaps the last hope for a peaceful solution.

From what I understand of a complicated Statement, I must say that the solution with regard to the Executive strikes me as an ingenious one. As I understand it, it is a sort of two-tier system. it reminds me of the ill-fated attempts to reform your Lordships' House. If I understand it, the Executive consists of 11 Members, on a basis of 6:4:1, and the addition of four others who I presume are Ministers or junior Ministers. I take it that they are Ministers of Cabinet rank not in the Cabinet, which was an expression that was once used. As I understand it, this proposal will give the Ulster Unionists seven, the S.D.L.P. six and the Alliance Party two. I am not sure whether the Alliance Party Deputy Chief Whip is included or not. I shall not go any further than say that this flexibility has obviously contributed to the solution that we have so far in front of us. If I understand the noble Lord correctly, we are likely to see some legislation. I would be inclined to ask him, though I will not press him to-day, how soon that will be. Clearly, as in all matters in regard to Northern Ireland, the House would wish to be co-operative and to expedite the new legislation.

It seems that there are some particularly interesting proposals. For instance, I am glad that, in relation to the Council of Ireland, there is the suggestion which had been made in your Lordships' House that there should be representatives from the Parties and not just from the Governments involved in this. I do not wish to read too much into this, but I notice that the Government said that certain subjects reserved for the time being could he considered, including the question of law enforcement throughout the whole of Ireland. I do not think any of us would ourselves wish to anticipate too much what may emerge, but there is the progress towards a Council of Ireland, which I understand (and perhaps the noble Lord can confirm this) will follow, first of all, a conference in the United Kingdom that it is only after the meeting of that conference that the Executive-Designate will be fully established, and that although it will participate it is still designate.

My Lords, I would only say that if this course meets the wishes of the majority of people of Northern Ireland then we must welcome it wholeheartedly; and, implicit in this Statement is an acceptance, if I understand it aright, by all the Parties in the Executive. There can be no question of, so to speak, hijacking the unwilling Protestant majority into Union with the South until such moment as the passage of time may lead to a united Ireland. And whereas we have always said that no one should give up hope of this, it is a fact that it is now very much up to the Protestants, and the Protestant ultras, to ensure that this works, because this is their best protection in the short run.

As is customary in your Lordships' House, we are particularly careful, in dealing with Northern Ireland, not to say anything that might inflame feelings or lead to further difficulties, bearing in mind that, if our speeches are not reported in the British Press, at least they usually are reported, if they are on Northern Irish matters, in the Northern Irish Press. In this connection it would be helpful if either the noble Lord the Leader of the House or the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, could give some indication as to the possibility of our holding a debate on this subject. I am not pressing, for it today, but at some stage there is no doubt—and I am looking sternly at the Government Chief Whip—we shall insist on it.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, there are simply two points I should like to make on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches. We wish to express our warmest congratulations to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and to the noble Lord the Leader of the House, and others associated with him, and indeed to Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Fitt, for what I believe to be an astonishingly hopeful solution to the problem of Northern Ireland, for the time being anyhow. We know it is only a beginning, but there is now, at any rate, considerable light at the end of the tunnel. I have only one question to ask, and that is with regard to the Council of Ireland, which seems to me to be one of the most constructive and hopeful elements in the whole situation. As I understand it, the Council of Ireland is going to consist of representatives of the Executive, once it is formed, and of the Dublin Government, and it is going to take its decisions by unanimity. That means, I take it, that all members of the Council of Ireland from Northern Ireland and all members of the Council from Southern Ireland must agree on anything before it is decided. I should just like to ask whether that is the case. The others present—the representatives of the Parties—are, as I understand it, in a purely advisory capacity and are to have no say in the vote. I should just like to be assured that that is the case.


My Lords, along with everyone else I should like to congratulate the Government. It was in March of last year, I think, on the introduction of direct rule, that I had the honour to congratulate the Government on their choice of Secretary of State, Mr. Whitelaw, and also of his then deputy, the present Leader of this House. I suggested to the House that this choice was a brilliant choice, and so it has turned out to be. How human were the words of the Secretary of State to the Press on the steps of Stormont Castle last night, when he said: We should not be human if we were not pleased with this result". I also think that great wisdom has been shown in setting up an Executive Designate. Anybody who knows anything about Ireland knows that there is more than one slip between the cup and the lip. It occurs to me that if difficulties arise about the formation of the Council of Ireland after the conference has been held, then the Government can say, "Well, we are not in a position to continue with this Executive". I am not suggesting that that will happen, but am just pointing out the wisdom of not setting up an Executive but rather setting up an Executive Designate.

May I add to the tributes which have been paid to the leaders in Northern Ireland for coming to this agreement a tribute to the Alliance Party, because Mr. Oliver Napier was obviously hoping for two seats on the Executive, and the fact that that number has been reduced to one (I am talking about the first-class seats; I am not talking about the ones to which the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition referred) shows that the Alliance Party, which, after all, is the only Party which really straddles both sections of the community, have had to make sacrifices as well as the Unionist Party and the S.D.L.P.

This is a happy day for all of us, and we must all hope that it will turn out well. But, as I said on the telephone this morning to a Dublin paper that rang me up, to follow Mr. Faulkner's horsey expression of having "won by half a neck" at a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council the other day, there are still many hurdles which lie in front of the Government. Therefore, while we must all be delighted with the out-turn of events, we should not be too euphoric; we should realise that many difficulties lie ahead. But, despite that fact, we can do nothing but pay tribute, and once more may I say what I said in March of last year: the selection of Mr. Whitelaw to undertake this job was quite brilliant. If ever a personality was required for a particular job, in my view Mr. Whitelaw and his excellent deputy at that time—and I am paying tribute to the noble Lord. Lord Belstead, as well—had that quality, and that has produced the result.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder whether it would be your Lordships' wish that I should try to reply to some of the points which have been made. I am most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Gladwyn, from the two Front Benches for the way in which they have received the Statement. The Statement forms part of my right honourable friend's speech. It is not in exactly the same words, and the Statement was in fact designed for your Lordships' House. I would also agree, if I may, with the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, that the Parties in Northern Ireland are to be most warmly congratulated, not only for the position achieved so far, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, has so rightly said, but also for the way in which the talks were conducted, which allowed those talks to keep going on a reasonable basis of confidentiality and not to be broken into while they were under way.

I can confirm that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is correct: the Execu tive is on a 6:4:1 basis, with four more appointments outside the Executive. As to the legislative timetable, although the timetable in this House is of course entirely in the hands of your Lordships, it appears to me that if we are amending the Constitution Act and taking a devolution Order under Section 2 of that Act, the probability is that it will be agreed between the Parties and through all the usual channels that those pieces of legislation will come from the Commons to your Lordships. Therefore we are to some extent dependent on the House of Commons' timetable and at this moment I am not aware what that is.

Despite the questions asked by both the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, whom I believe I can satisfy in a moment, I do not think that the House will expect me to prejudge matters on the Council of Ireland before the Conference referred to in the Statement. It is the fact that as a result of the Statement the British Government are making the suggestion and therefore in that sense are to be the hosts; but I am afraid that at this stage I cannot tell the House either where or when the preliminary conference would be held. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked me the direct question: would unanimity mean, in fact, what it says? The answer to that is, Yes. This is given in the Statement as the view of Her Majesty's Government; and we do, of course, still stick by the three objectives which are to be found in Paragraph 112 of the White Paper.

May I thank the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, for being here to-day, for supporting the Executive Designate and for giving us his reasons for doing so. I think it is fair to say that this is a "package" and for that reason it is wise (and here I would agree with my noble friend) that the Executive is designate; and that it depends on Westminster approval of the devolution order. To that extent it is important that it is an Executive Designate. The Alliance Party have only one seat on the Executive proper, but they also have the most important position of the Office of Manpower Services, which is an appointment outside the Executive, as well as the Deputy Chief Whip appointment. I agree with my noble friend that there are still difficulties ahead. I think that all of your Lordships with your experience will know better than I that one of those difficulties is going to he how the security situation unfolds. All we can do on that matter is to hope and to keep our eyes firmly fixed on this important point.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, as one who has known Mr. Whitelaw intimately and who had the privilege of speaking off the Record some years ago to the old Stormont, may I first utter my sincere congratulations to Mr. Whitelaw and his colleagues on their patience during the critical days of negotions. May I ask the Minister whether he is aware that everybody in this country admires the way in which the Catholic community and the Protestant community have reached a compromise on the structure of the new Stormont and that they would appeal to the extreme Catholics and the extreme Protestants to come into this great venture of creating a new and real Stormont for Northern Ireland, a Stormont which will reach out its hands to friendly co-operation with the Government of Eire? I congratulate Mr. Whitelaw and his colleagues on what they have done.


My. Lords, may I record my own conviction, bearing in mind the warning against euphoria from the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, that this is the best bit of news to come out of Northern Ireland in my lifetime and, I think, in the lifetime of the oldest here. I simply add to the heartfelt thanks in which I join all the other speakers, a tribute to all those who had anything to do with this whether in Ireland, North or South, or in this country. In particular, we cannot sufficiently express our admiration for the Secretary of State, Mr. Whitelaw, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and, now, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead.


My Lords, may I add my congratulations to Her Majesty's Government for this Statement and say how particularly pleased I am about the proposals for a Council of Ireland. I have always spoken up for such a Council. I hope that these proposals will be put into practice. It is extremely pleasing to hear that the suggestion has been made that Members will be drawn from all Parties of both Governments. I should like also to take up the point made by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that this Council, if it comes to power, should not be used, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, to "press gang" the majority of Protestant opinion in Northern Ireland to Union if they do not so wish it. I hope myself that through this Council, both sides will get to know each other and like each other, and that over the passage of the years, it may be 20, or 30 or 50 years, this will come to pass.

I should like to mention something about the Executive, this 6-4-1 structure, because I consider that Mr. Faulkner is the man to lead this. He certainly has great talents and he will need them all. It is so evenly balanced that one is rather inclined to think there may be a danger that one may not get government at all, but stalemate. I hope that with Mr. Faulkner's leadership and tact this will be overcome and that the Council will be a great success.


My Lords, speaking from the Opposition Benches in this matter and having just returned from Northern Ireland, may I echo what has been said by other noble Lords. In particular, may I echo what was said so pertinently by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, about the human approach to this problem. So much of past tragedy has been a case of reasonable Englishmen trying, without success, to cope with the sensitivities of Irishmen who feel and think in a somewhat different way. For that reason, this country and Ireland have the greatest reason to be eternally grateful to the Secretary of State and to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. If I may, I will make one other observation. In my recent visit to Ireland, it was touching to hear from people of all types the admiration and gratitude they felt, particularly to the Leader of your Lordships' House, for the sensitive understanding of what they were all trying to say and do.


My Lords, may I add my congratulations to those already expressed, not only to the Secretary of State but to the whole of his team. I hope they will be conveyed to him. I should like to add my word of caution because this is very much a beginning and there is still much to be done. Will the Government make clear that what they are asking the politicians of Northern Ireland to do—and I am proud to be one of them—is to mix oil and water?—because within the Parties and especially within the S.D.L.P. there is not only a range of opinion from extreme nationalist and extreme unionist but also, above all that, a very Left-wing element and a very Right-wing nationalist element. We are not only dealing with the problems of Left and Right but of nationalists and unionists. This is asking for an enormous amount of give and take.

Will the Government also make clear that political activity is no solution to the security problem that will be pursued with maximum intensity. Speaking as one living right on the Border, it is my opinion, from the feelings of the people there, that we are bound to be in for a period of very great activity of a very nasty kind; because it is in the interests of both factions that this Executive should not take effect. Would the noble Lord agree that the Secretary of State has, within the terms of the Act, got the only possible solution in the formation and balance of this Executive and that this has been supported by the Border poll results? I should like to ask the noble Lord this vital question on collective responsibility. Once the Cabinet or the Executive has made a decision—not only in the Council of Ireland (and this is vital) but outside—the Executive must go forward with executive responsibility in the same way as they would have done had they been a Cabinet, because without that this Government simply could not take place, in my opinion.

I should like to ask the noble Lord to convey to the Secretary of State the satisfaction about the unanimity over the Council of Ireland being necessary before any further development. Noble Lords may not be aware how much the Unionist people of the country fear a Council of Ireland with representatives as opposed to Members of Government because automatically, since part of the representation from the North of Ireland will be wishing a united Ireland. the Unionist opinion will be in the minority, and therefore this is of vital importance. In order to help those of us who have considerable doubts (I support to the maximum what is being done) about the effectiveness of the eventual outcome, could the noble Lord consider the announcement of extra Members of Parliament in another place, because once that is done, under the recommendation of Lord Kilbrandon, people like myself would be fully and absolutely determined at all costs to see that this matter is done. If we had fair representation, there is no ground whatsoever for doing anything but going full blast for this solution.


My Lords, may I be permitted to say a word, and perhaps repair an omission, and express on behalf of all of us our thanks to the British Army for having held the ring for so many weary and long years. I think that probably it is as much due to the Army as anybody that we have arrived, temporarily perhaps, at a successful solution to this problem.


My Lords, as I listened to the Statement being made I was impressed by its modesty. It was almost entirely an explanation of facts. I regard what has happened as an achievement and Her Majesty's Government would have been justified in claiming success. They did not do so, and I think that is an expression of the recognition by all of us that, although these-great changes have been made, the situation in Ireland is still of a critical, evolving character. Nevertheless, my Lords, having said that, one must say that this is quite an historic decision. In Northern Ireland, after 50 years, there is to be, for the first time, an association of the two communities in an Executive, and that is a tremendous fact in the history of Ireland.

Secondly, after 300 years of conflict in Ireland there is now, for the first time, to be a Council of the whole of Ireland. Though some of us hope that ultimately there will be a united Ireland, none of us wants that to take place without the consent of peoples of Northern and Southern Ireland. The establishment of this Council, beginning on rather restricted issues but inevitably developing, seems to me to be a course by which ultimate co-operation and union can be obtained.

I want to say frankly, my Lords, that, generally speaking, I am against coalitions because they cause a compromise of principle, and disillusionment. In this case I think the coalition is absolutely justified because it brings the two communities together. May I make a suggestion to the Minister that I hope will be considered? I hope that the coalition will not be too rigid. I hope that it will not be so rigid that members of the National Assembly and the Parties will be unable to reflect views which are different from the decisions of the Executive. What is happening now in Northern Ireland is deeper than some of us recognise. The ultra-Protestant sections, which are largely working-class, having overthrown a landlord leadership, are now in protest against a capitalist leadership. There are working-class demands from the shop floor about wages and working conditions, unemployment and housing, which are exactly the same as those of the Catholic workers on the other side, though they are divided over the Border issue. In this National Assembly, if the Border issue could be postponed for a time, I want to see a coming together of those on the Protestant and on the Catholic side who are concerned about social and economic issues. If the coalition is not made too rigid; if Members of the Parties have liberty to reflect and vote on those social and economic issues, the National Assembly could create a real hope for the development of democracy in Northern Ireland.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, at the end of a fairly considerable discussion on this Statement, for which I know my right honourable friend will be grateful to your Lordships, I do not think you will expect me to say very much more, except to thank the noble Lords, Lord Maybray-King and Lord Longford, and my noble friends Lord Massereene and Ferrard and Lord Gore-Booth, for what they have said. If I may, I will quickly take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and my noble friend Lord Brookeborough who, of course, has been a valuable and loyal supporter of the Chief Executive Designate, Mr. Brian Faulkner. The noble Lord opposite and my noble friend have enunciated two rather different principles about collective responsibility, and I cannot comment on that at all, except to say that Schedule 4 of the Constitution Act, which allows for the oath for those who are to form the Executive, remains. My noble friend made the point that the coalition is mixing oil and water. That may be, my Lords, but the Parties have agreed a statement of economic and social aims which will no doubt be revealed by the Parties to the Executive Designate when they see fit. The Executive Designate has been formed, which is a considerable step forward. I agree with my noble friend that it is the fact that political activity is no solution to the security problem, and we are grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, paid tribute to the work of the Army.

My Lords, I think my right honourable friend would wish me to say that you cannot blur the distinction between those who seek by lawful means to oppose what the Constitution Act has been trying to do and those who have been seeking by unlawful means to oppose what the Constitution Act has been trying to do. The former have every right to do what they have been doing; the latter are leading us only to more and more violence. May I conclude by saying that I know that during the past twenty months the Administration of Northern Ireland has been enormously supported from both sides of your Lordships' House who have given advice during the debate. I think that whatever the future might hold, and certainly a lot remains to be done, and however the new Executive faces its task—and in that we wish them well—this Statement could certainly never have been made to-day without the twenty months work of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.