HL Deb 06 November 1974 vol 354 cc433-5

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to what use Hillsborough Castle, previously Northern Ireland's Government House, is at present being put and what plans they have for the future of this property which is owned by the public.


My Lords, Hillsborough Castle is a Government property. The Property Services Agency of the Department of the Environment are responsible for the maintenance of the building and the grounds. It is for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to decide on their use. In each particular case, he takes the advice of the security authorities. Apartments in the house are kept available for the use of Members of the Royal Family; investitures continue to be held there; and it is used for certain official meetings and conferences. In addition, the house is permitted to be used from time to time for meetings of welfare and charitable organisations, and for visits of an educational nature. Hillsborough Castle will continue to be maintained and used as at present.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for his informative reply, may I ask whether he is aware that Hillsborough Castle itself—with its adjoining 18th century parish church (with its two authentically restored 18th century organs) in the setting of Northern Ireland's most complete 18th century town—would be an ideal situation for concerts, cultural activities, conferences and other worthwhile and properly authenticated events? Is he further aware of the virtual impossibility of holding this type of activity in the City of Belfast on account of the fact that car parking, due to security restrictions, is impossible and that quite understandably people are reluctant to go into the City at night? Would he not agree that it is in the interest of public morale that, against the background of all the trouble which we have, these types of activities should be continued in Northern Ireland and——


Speech !


My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me, I think he is now making a speech.


No, my Lords.


My Lords, I suspect that the sympathy of the House is with me in that respect. Will the noble Lord please put his comment in the form of a question? I think he has already done well. Perhaps my noble friend can then reply to him and if the noble Lord wishes to come back I hope he will do so, but briefly.


My Lords, let me take the last of the supplementary questions first. Of course it is desirable that cultural activities which transcend the religious and other difficulties in Northern Ireland should be encouraged so far as possible. There can be no differences in this House, or anywhere else, on that matter. I am also fully aware that there are difficulties in arranging for activities of this kind in Belfast, for the reasons which the noble Lord has given. However, the fact that Hillsborough Castle with its nearby and beautiful 18th century church and organs would be very suitable for a particular kind of cultural activity does not, unfortunately, overcome the security objections which in the end my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has to give way to. He is advised that meetings of 400 or 500 people, however well supervised, are undesirable in. that place at this moment and in the present climate in the Province of Northern Ireland.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for his reply, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, whether he will kindly read Hansard tomorrow, when I think he will find a question mark after every sentence that I have just spoken.