HL Deb 03 March 1977 vol 380 cc829-35

7.50 p.m.

Lord MELCHETT rose to move, That the draft Transport (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, laid before the House on 10th February, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that this draft order be approved. May I, with great sadness, preface my remarks with a few words of tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, whose tragic death today in a riding accident has removed one of the major figures of the post-war years in Northern Ireland. Much of the industrial progress of the Province stemmed from his imaginative and far-sighted planning as Minister of Commerce; and in recent years he devoted his talents, great energy and skills to the task of seeking to create in Northern Ireland genuine partnership and reconciliation within the community. His death is a great loss to Northern Ireland and to this House, and I know that I speak for the whole House when I extend our deepest sympathy to Lady Faulkner and to the rest of his family.

My Lords, the order which we are considering this evening is a miscellaneous transport order, the main purpose of which is to enable the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, with the consent of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, to transfer to a subsidiary company the functions, assets and staff previously transferred to the holding company from Belfast Corporation at the time of local government reorganisation. The proposed order would also enable the Department of the Environment, with the approval of the Department of Finance, to make grants to the holding company and its subsidiary companies; to rebate fuel tax duty incurred by bus companies; to provide for grants by the Department of the Environment for concessionary fares on passenger transport undertakings; and to permit alteration in the membership of the Transport Users' Committee. It increases certain fines for offences on railways, and enables the making of regulations about offences for fare evasion on buses. It also confers functions on the Department in relation to the railway company under certain EEC regulations; and, finally, it repeals spent provisions in railway legislation.

The proposal was published on 14th September 1976, and was given a wide distribution to statutory and non-statutory bodies, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Press, in addition to the agreed distribution through Parliamentary channels. The order as now presented includes several points made by these bodies during the consultative period. The draft order was debated in the Northern Ireland Committee in another place on 16th December 1976, and, while many points of interest about its implementation were raised, the debate did not reveal the need for any modification to the content of the order.

My Lords, I do not intend to mention every article in detail, but I should like to say a little more about the most significant, and that is Article 2. This article would enable the holding company, with the consent of the Department of the Environment, to transfer to a subsidiary company all or any of the functions previously transferred to the holding company from the Belfast Corporation Transport Department. In effect, this means that Citybus, which at the moment is no more than a trading agency of the holding company, could be translated into a self-contained subsidiary. It is envisaged, as agreed by both unions and employers, that a merger of the Belfast transport undertaking with Ulsterbus is the longer-term objective. For the present, however, the disparities in terms and conditions of employment render this unattainable, and the present proposal to set up Citybus as a separate subsidiary is seen as an interim solution. A merger remains the ultimate objective, and discussions between unions and management will continue towards that end.

My Lords, I have mentioned only the most important article in any detail, but I would be happy to answer any questions that I can on any part of the order. As noble Lords will see, this proposal is not far-reaching in nature, and each of its miscellaneous provisions is designed to achieve a limited objective. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Transport (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, laid before the House on 10th February, be approved.—(Lord Melchett.)

7.54 p.m.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I should first like to thank the noble Lord for his kind tribute to my noble friend Lord Faulkner. From these Benches I would say that we have heard the very sad news that he died this afternoon after a riding accident, and there is no doubt that Northern Ireland has lost a great friend and a great political leader. It was as Brian Faulkner that many of us knew him, though I might say at this moment that I personally did not know him but was looking forward to meeting him, I having just been allocated this job with my noble friend Lord Belstead. But many knew him, and knew how well his Premiership went from 1971 to 1972 and, equally, how well, after the difficult period of the break-up, he led all the representatives in Ireland to try to counteract the enormous difficulties that faced Northern Ireland at that time. That, of course, as the noble Lord knows, was in the Assembly. My Lords, it is tragic indeed, as it was only a few days ago that we saw him take his seat in your Lordships' House; and I have already said how much many of us, on all sides of the House, were looking forward to hearing his wise words and counsel on the problems and the difficulties of Northern Ireland. It is a tragic day for all of us in your Lordships' House that we have lost such a great friend and a great brain on Irish affairs. I end this part of what I have to say by expressing from this side of the House our very deepest sympathy to his wife and to his family.

Having said that, my Lords, like the noble Lord I do not wish to detain the House on this draft Transport Order. Obviously, we welcome every move that is designed to improve the transport situation in Ireland. There is only one question, I think, that I should like to ask, and it is this. There seems to be some conflict between the taxi-cabs, or the black cabs, and the buses, and it appears to me, without going any deeper into this Instrument, that Citybus are losing out through want of control over these black cabs or taxis. I would ask the noble Lord whether there is any movement in Northern Ireland to counteract this. Of course, one fully realises that the black taxi-cab drivers are not very fond of the buses; they affect their own services. I also welcome page 6 of the order, in that you pay to get on a bus now rather than pay when you get off. I wonder why those paragraphs on page 6 were not brought forward before. It would have meant less embarrassment and difficulty for both the bus driver and the conductor. Having said that, I will not detain the House further. I repeat that we are indeed sad tonight at the tragic accident to Lord Faulkner.


My Lords, on behalf of the Liberal Party in this House I should like us to be associated with the tributes which have been paid by the two noble Lords who have already spoken. It is a real tragedy that this should have happened so soon after the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, had been introduced into this House, when so many of us were hoping to benefit from his experience and his political contributions. We extend our sincerest sympathies to his widow and to his family.

7.59 p.m.


My Lords, it is some time since I spoke in a debate on a Northern Ireland order, although at one time it was my task to introduce a large number of such orders in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, does now. I intervene this evening only to pay tribute to Lord Faulkner of Downpatrick. I first met him when I was a Minister at the Home Office and he was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland—the last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland before the Prorogation of the Stormont Parliament in 1972. Later I saw him frequently in Northern Ireland after the introduction of direct rule. My Lords, I came to admire his quality as a politician. His characteristics were great skill, high professionalism and exceptional toughness.

Brian Faulkner was a determined man and an effective leader of the Unionist Party. When the power-sharing experiment came to its brief period of fruition, it was Brian Faulkner, the former Unionist Leader, who headed the first Executive in which both communities were represented. As we know, the experiment lasted for only a short period but it was not for any lack of effort by Brian Faulkner that it was so. His death today is a double irony in that Brian Faulkner's political career was over. It finished some months ago when he left active politics. It is also ironic for a man who spent most of his career in public life—and the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Brian Faulkner was the youngest member when he was first elected to the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont—for a man who had spent so many years of his life exposed in public positions at personal risk that he should end his life so suddenly in a hunting accident.

I should like to add my sympathy to his wife, his family and friends. Brian Faulkner's place in the history of Northern Ireland is assured. I conclude by expressing the hope, as we remember him in this House this evening, that the principles for which he stood and for which he fought so hard will in the end take root and lead to the creation of a more stable, happier and more peaceful society in Northern Ireland.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity of associating myself with everything that has been said. I have just come back from ITV where, in conjunction with Jerry Fitt, I was paying a tribute to Brian Faulkner. People in Northern Ireland know that Brian Faulkner and I rather parted company a few years ago; but it was one of the happier events in my life that when he took his seat last week I had a reunion with both Brian and his wife, Lucy, and I am very happy that this should have been so. Of all the various facets of Brian's political life, I hope that he will be remembered for the great efforts he made as chairman of the Executive in the power-sharing venture to which the noble Lord has just referred. Had it been possible for the Assembly to survive, had it been possible for that power-sharing Executive to have survived, it might be that the troubles with which Lord Melchett is trying to deal today would not have reached their present peak. However, that is all a matter of history. But I hope that Brian will be remembered for his efforts there rather than for anything else.

I feel that among the minority he may perhaps be recalled as the man who was the architect of internment. I hope that they will try, at this time, to forget that and to remember that this was the man who risked his political life and his political future in trying to establish a power-sharing Government. It is a tragedy that this has happened; although knowing Brian as I did and knowing that the hunting field was perhaps more important to him than anything else, I think that he probably would have been happier to end his life in this way than in ways which are so open to people in Northern Ireland.

It is a great tragedy that this has happened and, once again, I should like to associate myself with the words of the speakers who preceded me.


My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Long, raised the question of the black taxis in Belfast. As he may know, they do give rise to considerable concern and there are, unfortunately, grounds for believing that the existence of the illegal taxi services in Belfast may have resulted in a loss to the city buses in the last financial year of £1.5 million or more. This certainly cannot be regarded as a satisfactory state of affairs. I can assure the noble Viscount that the Government are, and will be, keeping this situation under careful review.

Other than that, the thrust of the comments, somewhat naturally, on this order has been on the tragic death of Lord Faulkner. Once again, I should like to associate myself, my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office, all those in Government and on this side of the House with the remarks made by noble Lords opposite and, in particular, to express my warm agreement with Lord Windlesham's hopes for the future of which he spoke.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

8.4 p.m.