HL Deb 26 May 1977 vol 383 cc1428-60

11.30 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is the third time that I have introduced a Bill which proposes a charter of fundamental rights which the Westminster Parliament and any Parliament established in Northern Ireland would be required to accept. The Bill which is now before the House has three major proposals. The first is that the European Convention on Human Rights (which we have endorsed), with some slight particulars relating to Northern Ireland, should be adopted; secondly, that there should be an establishment for the enforcement of these civil rights through a court of five judges; and, thirdly, that the Bill would not apply to a state of emergency when either the United Kingdom Parliament, or, eventually, a Stormont Parliament, so decided by a three-quarters majority. I am not committed to the details of the Bill. I am, in fact, uncertain about the proposal that the enforcement should be by five judges. There is a proposal by the Cobden Trust associated with the National Council for Civil Liberties for a constitutional court including non-lawyers; and this might be better than my proposal.

I recognise that at the present time there are two authoritative bodies which are considering the proposal for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. There is the Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland, of which Mr. Cyril Platt is chairman, and which has 10 members including Ulster businessmen and lawyers. It was established after the discussion in this House on my previous Bill and, particularly, as a result of the recommendations of the Constitutional Commission in Northern Ireland. There is, secondly, a Select Committee of this House which is considering a Bill of Rights for the United Kingdom which would include Northern Ireland.

Because these two authoritative bodies are now considering the matter, it might seem inconsiderate and inappropriate to introduce a Bill before they have reported. My object is, first, to alert discussion so that when they do report it shall not be in a vacuum of opinion; and secondly, and more importantly, to make a new suggestion arising from this Bill towards a solution of the problem of Northern Ireland. The Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland is likely to report shortly and has already reached decisions on incidental matters.

I want to express what I am sure will be endorsed by all in this House: my deep regret on the death of Lord Feather who was the chairman of this Commission and whose experience and liberal and balanced views would have been of such great service not only to this Commission but to all spheres of political life. It is difficult to believe that the Commission when it reports will not declare favourably for a Bill of Rights. There was a Constitutional Convention—which, in fact, I was the first to propose at Westminster—which broke down on the issue of promoting a Parliament in Ireland which represented all sections; but it was unanimous on the issue of the Bill of Rights, although there were different views as to whether it should be enacted by Westminster or by Stormont.

My Lords, I have the Report of the Convention in my hand. The United Ulster Unionist Coalition, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Alliance Party, the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, and the Labour Party of Northern Ireland all reported in favour of a Bill of Rights. The only Party which took part in that Convention which did not declare its view was the small Ulster Dominion Group. I draw particular attention to what this Convention, representing all the Parties in Northern Ireland, said: The provisions of the Bill of Rights should be fairly comprehensive, using the European Convention on Human Rights as a guide. This would ensure that the area of possible dispute is defined more closely thereby minimising the need for judicial intervention. Where there is the least ambiguity surrounding the principles enshrined in the Bill the likelihood of government inadvertently trespassing into the forbidden area is greatly reduced". The Convention unanimously said: Accordingly this Convention concludes that there should be a Bill of Constitutional Rights to guarantee the stability and integrity of the Northern Ireland Constitution and a general Bill of Rights and Duties to protect the rights of the individual citizen". My Lords, it is also important that, in addition to the unanimous opinion of all Parties in Northern Ireland, there is the recent declaration by the Government of the Republic of Ireland in Dublin recommending the Bill of Rights.

If there had been a Bill of Rights during the 50 years of almost dictatorial control by the Protestants of Ireland, the bitterness and animosity which now divides Northern Ireland would not have been exacerbated. It was the discrimination and the denial of civil rights to the minority during those 50 years which have led to the present division. I recognise that something has been done in this sphere. There was first the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 which gave effect to parts of Article 14 of the European Convention by making provision for the prevention of religious and political discrimination by public authorities. Secondly, there was the more recent Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act which makes unlawful certain kinds of discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and political opinion in connection with employment and occupation.

But discrimination on religious and political grounds still continues in Northern Ireland. It has been very well expressed by the Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland in their Discussion Paper which was published last March. They put the arguments for and against a Bill of Rights. In putting the arguments in favour, they said: There are inadequate constitutional guarantees against the abuse of power by the Government or Parliament". And, again: There are important gaps in our legal system where basic rights and freedoms (e.g. in relation to freedom of expression, conscience and association, respect for privacy and family life, or the right to a fair and public hearing in the determination of civil rights or criminal charges) are not adequately guaranteed".


My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend for interrupting, but if he is going to leave that point, I think I heard him aright when he said that there is still widespread discrimination on religious and political grounds in Northern Ireland. My noble friend left that point there. It is a fairly sweeping allegation which I could not accept. I should be interested to know whether my noble friend had in mind any particular instances of that.


My Lords, I made it clear that I was reading from the Discussion Paper—which was putting first the case for a Bill of Rights and, second, the argument against a Bill of Rights—and what had been said in favour of a Bill of Rights. I do not think that anyone can know Northern Ireland today without saying that there is a continuing discrimination on religious grounds. There has been the Bill dealing with housing and employment. There is the problem of oaths. There was the problem of representation on statutory commissions. There are still comprehensive problems in Northern Ireland about discrimination, about the Catholic minority.

I now come to what I regard as the most important consideration for a Bill of Rights. There is now a new climate in Northern Ireland. We must all welcome the defeat of the Paisley strike, though we should take into account the warning of the local election results which showed that many, although objecting to Mr. Paisley's means, endorsed his objective. The outstanding verdict of the local elections was the growth of opinion in Northern Ireland in favour of a settlement of the conflict between Protestants and Catholics. We must all feel tremendous encouragement by the remarkable success of the Alliance Party in those local elections. The Alliance Party was thought to be a rather precious middle-class elite, but the local elections have proved that it has large support from both Protestants and Catholics in working-class areas, and that is something which we must all welcome.

I congratulate its leader, Mr. Napier, and the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, who is here today and is associated with the Alliance Party, on those remarkable results. I am not sure that we have recognised that, with the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the vote in favour of a power-sharing settlement in Northern Ireland is now 34 per cent. That would have been incredible a year ago.

I want to suggest a new response to this promising climate and to urge that a Bill of Rights should be its central feature. A guarantee against discrimination and for equal rights in Northern Ireland is more important even than power sharing. Power sharing may be necessary as a temporary crisis measure, but it is no permanent solution of the problem of Northern Ireland. A coalition between the Unionist supporters of the capitalist economy and the Socialists of the SDLP could never agree on the positive measures required to deal with the appalling problems of poverty, unemployment and bad housing in Northern Ireland. A coalition Government in Ulster would be as negative and ineffective as a coalition in this country between Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and Mr. Michael Foot.

On the other hand, if any Government in Northern Ireland were prohibited by a Bill of Rights from repressing a minority, the fear of majority rule acting as an oppressive dictatorship would be removed. My suggestion to the Government—and I make it tentatively, not binding, not dogmatically, because no one dare to speak about the situation in Northern Ireland with determination—is this. If we believe in the rights of people to govern themselves, Stormont must be restored, but under conditions which will prevent the repression of the minority as practised in the past. A Bill of Rights would ensure this. There is every prospect that it would be acceptable. Every Party in Northern Ireland has endorsed it. Its endorsement might be made a part of a package deal, including the temporary acceptance of a broad Government. but emphasising that such a Government would be limited to the crisis conditions and that the principle of majority rule, as practised at Westminster and as proposed for Stormont's equivalent in Scotland and Wales, should be accepted.

That might not be welcomed at once, but with the growth of disillusionment in violence already indicated in the advancing strength of the Alliance Party and the considerable support for the Women's Movement for Peace, there would be hope for the future. The violence of the IRA and the Unionist para-militarists would increasingly lose their influence. My Lords, a Bill of Rights is the key to the door which will open the way towards the eventual realisation of peace in Northern Ireland. As a contribution towards that universally desired end, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

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

11.52 a.m.


My Lords, I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in bringing this Bill once more before your Lordships' House. It is admittedly a repetition and it occurs at a time when progress is being made in this field; but I am quite certain that the matter is one of very great urgency and I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, is going to speak in this debate, particularly since he himself came head of his particular poll, I understand, in the recent elections.

The progress of the Alliance Party in the last week or so—obviously founded in progress over a much longer time—is one of the most encouraging things in Northern Ireland. It took a lot of bravery in the early stages for the founders of the Alliance Party—among whom I am proud to number many of the ex-members of the Liberal Party of Northern Ireland, and it still takes courage today—to take part at all in the public life of Northern Ireland. However, I think they are now finding a real reward. The Reverend Albert Macelroy, who used to be president of the Liberal Party of Northern Ireland and was a splendid man, used to say that one of the errors made by the British was thinking that you could appeal to the large number of moderates in Northern Ireland. "The bitter truth is", he said, "that no more than 5 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland are moderate at all". I am delighted to see that his pessimistic words—and he was a great pessimist—are being proved untrue, and perhaps we are moving towards a more moderate and sensible situation.

There are very many causes for the troubles in Northern Ireland and many books have been written on the subject, but I think there can be little doubt that one of the troubles is the innate conservatism of the British nation, and that conservatism is by no means confined to one Party. We tend to say: "Let sleeping dogs lie", "Don't cross bridges before you come to them "; and there is the famous phrase which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Peart, a few days ago, If it's working, why interfere with it?", instead of saying, "Well, it may be working, but how well is it working, compared with what, and how can it be made to work better?"

A passion for justice is sometimes considered to be jejeune and bad form. But there is little doubt, I think, that if there had been a strong administration of civil rights and justice from 1921 onwards, Northern Ireland would not be in the state it is today and the state that it has been in the last few years—and if it takes you as long to get out of the mess as it took you to get into it, which I believe is a fair measure, the time to start trying to get out of it is now. I admit that a lot of work has been done. I admit that successive Governments have done their best to preserve civil rights and do away with discrimination. But if the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, cannot accept the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that there is still a great deal of discrimination, I am afraid that I cannot accept his seeming denial of it, because we all know that indeed in the present state of upset, disruption and violence in Northern Ireland it would be impossible not to have such discrimination. I am not saying such discrimination is being imposed by the authorities it is in that area that we have made immense progress—but of course there is discrimination occurring, and on both sides, throughout Northern Irish life.

So progress is being made, but I do not think it is enough just to administer progress. What we need is a built-in, visible and permanent machinery which will assure the people on both sides that they will have justice, because in Northern Ireland you have one of those difficult situations which are not all that common in the world, where both sides are in creasingly frightened, and not just one. We talk about the minority and the majority but, of course, the majority in Northern Ireland is a minority in the whole of the island of Ireland. Both sides are frightened, and both sides need reassurance. It is for that reason that I think we need a Bill of Rights. Like the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, I am not at all certain about the number of clauses in this particular Bill, but that is something we could leave for another time.

I think we must see the whole matter in the light of the debate on a Bill of Rights for this country. The Bill of my noble friend Lord Wade for a Bill of Rights was withdrawn and is now being considered—at least, the whole question of a Bill of Rights is being considered by a committee. Progress is being made on the question of whether in this country we should have a Bill of Rights. I think that we should, although I tend to agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, in his remarks yesterday, which have been reported in today's papers, that possibly a Bill of Rights is only a minor point in the whole field of the political resettlement of this country. Maybe the same is true for Northern Ireland, but Northern Ireland cannot wait. I do not think we should hold up progress there while we are going through what must necessarily be a rather leisurely rethinking of a major constitutional step in this country.

There are, of course, excuses—and, may I say, very good ones—for not applying the full rigour to human rights immediately. There is the whole problem which has been considered in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act and the rights which are removed by that Act, about which my honourable friend, Mr. Alan Beith, protested during the debate on that Bill in another place recently. But on the whole, it is shortsighted not to go for the utmost rigour of justice and human rights as quickly as you can. Of course, we must do our best not to hinder the work of the police or the Army in keeping order. But their work will be far less drawn out, and far fewer of them will be killed, if there is a real basis for justice and civil rights which is applied as soon as possible. It is very important that their work should be seen to be based on the administration of justice, and the support of justice for all. We all know that it is based in that way, but we must make it clearly visible to every citizen of Northern Ireland that that is so.

I do not believe that there will be any hope for that embattled Province, unless we can, once and for all, establish its life, its administration and the relationships of its citizens with each other, firmly in justice which is not only done, but which is seen to be done. Therefore, I welcome the moving of the Bill, and I hope that this debate, of itself, will do something to move on the establishment of a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland in the not very distant future.

12.1 p.m.


My Lords, it is only just over a year since your Lordships' House debated human rights in Northern Ireland on the previous Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned, and which he himself introduced, and I should like to make my attitude to this Bill clear from the outset. I can well understand the reasons which have prompted the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, to introduce this Bill, and I join with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, in saying that I think it is very valuable that we are able to have another opportunity to debate human rights. I think that the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, made has taken us yet another step along the road in considering this subject, so far as it refers to Northern Ireland. But because the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland has not yet published its final report on this question, and because also, a Select Committee of your Lordships' House is sitting on this very subject as a result of the Bill of a year ago of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and at the instigation of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, will not be asking the House to proceed to a Committee stage of the Bill.

I understand the noble Lord's motives, because on the occasion of the Second Reading of the noble Lord's Bill last year, it was certainly thought—it was thought by me, and I know it was thought by the noble Lord—that in the reasonably near future the Standing Advisory Commission would be following up its discussion paper, which it had published in March of that year, with a final report on Northern Ireland human rights. However, the death of the Commission's first Chairman, Lord Feather, occurred only four months later, and only a month after that there was the death of his successor, Mr. Rankin. The loss of two chairmen in such a short period of time undoubtedly delayed the work of the Commission.

Lord Feather was appointed in 1973. Clearly, his long experience of labour relations, his shrewd judgment and his warmth of personality fitted him admirably for the work of the Northern Ireland Standing Commission, and the Commission's annual report for 1975–76 testifies to this. Mr. Rankin had a special qualification to succeed Lord Feather, because he had been chairman of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Commission; but then, a month later, he was not there, either. It was not surprising, therefore, that Press interviews of last December with the Commission's new chairman, Mr. Plant, recorded that the final report on a Bill of Rights was not yet ready, although the chairman recorded that of 40 meetings which the Commission had held since March 1976, 35 had involved work on the question of a Bill of Rights. So that, today, it is really only the Government who can tell us how soon the Commission is expected to report, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, may be able to give us some indication of that.

Meanwhile, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, gives us an opportunity to return to this subject and in doing this, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I shall take a slightly different line and say that I think it is right to recall why the Commission was set up, what has been the nature of its work, and to refer particularly to the security situation in reference to this. The Commission was set up, as the noble Lord reminded us, in 1973 by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, and when it started work the position was that that Act, building upon previous legislation, prohibited religious and political discrimination by Government, local authorities and appointed bodies; and, of course, the latter are comparatively more numerous in Northern Ireland than they are in Great Britain.

In addition, there were the two Ombudsmen who were appointed at that time—the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints in Northern Ireland, who hears complaints against local government and statutory bodies. As the noble Lord said, there were then passed the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act and the Sex Discrimination Order for Northern Ireland. Then, your Lordships may remember, not very long ago there was the Police Order of 1976, which established the Police Complaints Board, so setting up an independent means of investigating complaints against the police. These measures, taken together, go at least some way towards what the 1973 White Paper called a "Charter of Human Rights".

What should be the next step forward and, in particular, should there be a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland? From those two questions, I think that two more specific questions arise. First, does the security situation, of itself, require the people of Northern Ireland to be protected from the effects of emergency measures which may trespass upon individual liberty? Secondly, what should be added to existing provisions for the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland?

With regard to the first question, the committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, was appointed in 1974: To consider what provisions and powers, consistent to the maximum extent practicable in the circumstances with the preservation of civil liberties and human rights, are required to deal with terrorism and subversion in Northern Ireland, including provisions for the administration of justice, and to examine the working of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973. Those were the Gardiner Committee's terms of reference. If one turns to Chapter 1 of the report of the noble and learned Lord's committee, one finds that it examined the nature and the claims of terrorism, and also the international obligations of this country, and concluded that: The rule of law must be maintained in Northern Ireland, not only for the sake of its people but for the sake of all those in the United Kingdom and beyond who want freedom and peace instead of anarchy. Then, the committee went on to consider the assertion—because this assertion is made, although it certainly was not made by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, today —that the emergency provisions passed by Parliament constitute a basic violation of human rights. The Gardiner Committee concluded: We are unable to accept this argument…Where freedoms conflict, the State has a duty to protect those in need of protection. The committee concluded that the 1973 Emergency Provisions Act did not trespass upon the liberty of the subject, nor did the 1973 Act breach any international agreement. Then, at the end of Chapter 1, the Gardiner Committee made this recommendation: A solution to the problems of Northern Ireland should be worked out in political terms, and must include further measures to promote social justice between classes and communities. Much has been done to improve social conditions in recent years, but much remains to be done. The Gardiner Committee then ended by advocating consideration of the enactment of a hill of Rights.

I join with both noble Lords who have already spoken today in saying how pleased we are to see the advance which the Alliance Party has made in the recent local elections in Northern Ireland. I hope that this may show that more and more people are coming to the view that a consensus is needed to provide a political settlement in Northern Ireland. I feel that what the Gardiner Committee said disposes of the assertion that some entrenched clauses are needed to deal with the security situation, in so far as measures passed by Parliament may entrench upon human liberties.

The second question to which I should like to turn arises, as I said, in considering human rights in Northern Ireland. Should they be consolidated and should they be added to, all in one Bill? The answer to that question is that we do not know. What we do know is that to write the first 18 Articles of the European Convention into this Bill must affect the relationship between the courts of law, the Government and Parliament in this country. Enough was said to make this absolutely clear by more than one noble and learned Lord—my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning—in the debate on the Bill of Rights of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, on the same day as the previous Bill of Rights last year of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway.

If the relationship between the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislature is to be upset by importing into a Bill of Rights the first 18 Articles of the Convention, before discussing human rights in Committee Parliament needs the benefit of advice. This advice will, we hope, be forthcoming in the next report of the Northern Ireland Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said that for any clauses to be effective in a Bill of Rights it is an absolute requirement that somehow they must he entrenched in the Constitution and able to protect people's rights and liberties and yet not able to be reversed by a subsequent Government and another Parliament of a different view.

I wonder whether I could add one more point. I thought it was a pity that when the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to the Paisley strike he did not refer to one human right which I think we need more and more. This human right is the right for the general public as a whole to be protected from being held to ransom by small groups of people who happen to hold strategic jobs in our modern, urbanised society. I say this particularly because, as we all know, the continuance of the Ballylumford power station was absolutely essential for the continuance of normal life in Northern Ireland at the time, although the reason why I say it goes wider and has a United Kingdom context as well.

Finally, may I turn to one or two matters which are contained in Parts I, II and III of the Bill which give rise to further questions, so far as I am concerned. I welcome this Second Reading, for it gives me the opportunity to ask these questions and get the Government's views upon them as well as those of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. First, the noble Lord has claimed that at the Constitutional Convention of 18 months ago all the political Parties in Northern Ireland supported the principle of a Bill of Rights. That is so, but their views undoubtedy differ as to how such a Bill should be drafted.

May I take one example from Clause 6 of the Bill which we are dealing with at the moment. Clause 6(1)(b) provides that everyone shall have the right to work for or advocate the establishment of a single parliament for the whole of Ireland; while paragraph (c) gives the right to propagate or associate for the purpose of propagation of republican opinion". Those activities are already legal in a free country such as the United Kingdom. Provided that they are pursued by legal methods, they no more need to be provided for in a Bill of Rights than the right to walk along the pavement or cross the street. However, to go out of one's way to include these provisions in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland raises the question as to why they have been included at all. Not only is their inclusion unnecessary but they contradict the spirit, if not the letter, of Section 1 of the Constitution Act 1973 which guaranteed that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom so long as the majority of the people of Northern Ireland so wish.

So far as Parliament is concerned, this is no Party political matter. There is no Party political difference over the guarantee of the Northern Ireland Border. That guarantee was given by the Labour Government under the late Lord Attlee between 1945 and 1950. It was given again by my right honourable friend Mr. Heath at the start of direct rule in 1972. It was included in the 1973 Act following the Border poll, at which a large majority of those voting in Northern Ireland voted for the maintenance of the Border. If the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, believes that Clause 6 of his Bill meets the wishes of the political Parties in Northern Ireland for a Bill of Rights, then I must tell him that he is sadly mistaken.

Also, I was interested to read Clause 8(c) which provides for proportional representation for periodic Elections, which presumably include General Elections. Again, this is a matter about which opinion is deeply divided throughout the United Kingdom. I do not imagine that the noble Lord would propose to introduce proportional representation for Northern Ireland alone at General Election times. Finally, Part III sets up a court with five judges to enforce the provisions of the Bill. I agree entirely with the noble Lord that some form of court must be provided and it seems to me, for what my view is worth, that this is the right way to go about it. However, I should be very interested to hear today from the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, the Government's view about the practicality of setting up a five judge court at a time when the Judiciary in Northern Ireland are working under very heavy pressure indeed.

These are Committee points. The broad question which remains is whether a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is appropriate in isolation from the rest of the United Kingdom, whether it is appropriate to Northern Ireland governed directly from Westminster or should await devolution to Belfast, and whether the contents of a Bill of Rights can be drafted so as to receive support from a wide spread of political views in Northern Ireland. The answer to those questions must await the report from the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights.

12.16 p.m.


My Lords, first may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for having taken this initiative in introducing a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland once again. Also I should like to thank the other noble Lords who have spoken in an interesting and constructive manner. My attitude is fairly predictable. It would be a surprise if I and my Party did not support a Bill of Rights. We have urged it right from the Darlington Conference in 1972. I spoke, I think last year, in favour of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Wade. That is our attitude. However, we recognise, as I think all noble Lords recognise, that a Bill of rights is no instant solution. It is no panacea, no cure for all our ills; but we reckon that it would help and anything that helps is well worth undertaking.

On the whole, we should prefer a Bill of Rights that covers the entire United Kingdom but, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said, it may be some time before legislation to that end can be prepared. We feel that it is more urgent that there should be a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. That is why, even though we should prefer an overall Bill, I go along with what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is urging. I should like a Bill of Rights to be quickly introduced for Northern Ireland, short circuiting whatever delays there may be over having an overall Bill for the United Kingdom.

In supporting such a Bill, one should look mainly at its long-term and educative effects. However, recent events cannot be entirely disregarded. I apologise if I appear to digress for a few moments—I shall not be long—but it is relevant to the point. I am not old enough to be able to recall Nazi Germany in the years immediately prior to 1939, but I have read and heard about it and I have seen films about it. To paraphrase the words of St. Paul, I suppose it would be true to say that then I saw through a glass darkly; but now I have seen Fascism in action face to face, both in 1974 and a couple of weeks ago. I do not just respect but would defend the right of anyone to withdraw his labour if he so desires; I would not just respect but would defend the right of anyone to close his shop if he so desires. But what is completely unacceptable and intolerable is when a minority intimidates and brainwashes a majority into doing things they do not want to do and assenting to things with which they disagree.

I could write a manual on how a minority can thus coerce a majority. It really is frightening. There are all sorts of techniques, which I will not go into now, but the main point is that every individual shopkeeper, every individual worker, and their families, are made to feel out on their own and that the majority are against them, whereas that is not the case.

In my own home town the strike was beginning to bite on the second day because the people were bewildered; they were like sheep without a shepherd. So we called a meeting which was very well attended by shopkeepers and factory workers and immediately the mood changed because an element of solidarity entered into it. They recognised that none of them wanted to stop work; none of them wanted to close their shop, and that broke the strike in my home town. They realised that they were all together as opposed to being out on their own. I can assure your Lordships that it is a frightening experience to see a population being demoralised in that way. What is required is leadership and I must pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the way he stood firm, and also pay tribute to the Security Forces—the RUC the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Regular Army—for the way in which they maintained public morale at that time. However, there is a limit to what the Secretary of State can do and I often pray, "Good Lord, bring a leader from out of Northern Ireland who will lead us all against the evil one".

When the stoppage came to an end everyone was relieved and it so happened that the local government election, to which several noble Lords have referred, came at an opportune time. I should like to thank those noble Lords who have paid tribute to the Alliance Party. The result was encouraging although I hoped that it would be better, but in my own area we did particularly well. However what it has done is to sort out the Fascists from the rest. For too long the Fascist tail has been wagging the Unionist dog and if I were in the leadership of the official Unionist Party I should be glad that they are now separated and I would make it absolutely clear that the sham of the UUUC is now dead.

The reason why I have been saying this is that the ordinary Protestants who were not involved in the Action Council were frightened in the same way as the Roman Catholics were. The majority of people were frightened and this shows how frightened the population would be supposing the Democratic Unionist Party were to get a majority in any future Stormont Parliament. The "Democratic Unionist Party"—Humpty-Dumpty could not have changed words round as well as that. Democratic?—it is a Fascist Unionist Party. So, if there were a Bill of Rights it would give people a lot more confidence and they would realise that in a devolved Parliament or Assembly, which I hope we shall have again, at least there would be an entrenched safeguard that would statutorily protect people from the sort of activities that we saw a couple of weeks ago.

So far as the local government elections were concerned, I think it was encouraging that there was such a hard fought battle. I can remember the time when a local government election passed without one noticing it because, all over the Province, a Protestant councillor would stand unopposed in a Protestant area and a Roman Catholic councillor would stand unopposed in a Catholic area. At least this time there was a fight and I think we can discern progress in that. For that reason, too, the fact that there is a certain fluidity in Northern Ireland politics, I consider that this Bill would be opportune at this time.

I conclude with two requests. First, I should be grateful if my noble friend Lord Melchett would do as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, asked and let us know how the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights is getting on. Round about Easter there were Press reports that the Commission had come down in favour of divorce reform and reform of the sexual offences legislation. I do not know whether or not that was a leak, but to my knowledge that part of the report has not yet been published. That was quite a few weeks ago and, whereas I understand that the work of the Commission was much delayed by the tragic deaths, first of the noble Lord, Lord Feather, and then of my old and trusted friend Brian Rankin, one of the biggest losses Northern Ireland has sustained was the death of Mr.Brian Rankin. I understand that there were delays due to that, but a lot of people are wondering what is happening and are looking for action. So I would ask my noble friend whether he can throw some light on that, and if he will do what he can to expedite the publication of the report and put an end to speculation.

Secondly, I wish to raise a point which both my Party and I have made before. It would be tremendously healthy if there were a completely independent complaints tribunal for any complaints against any branch of the Security Forces—Army, police, Ulster Defence Regiment. I will quote an example. On the 2nd March the BBC, in their "Tonight" programme, broadcast a lengthy interview with a gentleman who alleged at considerable length and in great detail how he had been ill-treated and brutalised by the RUC during interrogation. At that time the police, understandably, I think, said that they could not comment on the matter because it was under investigation. That was nearly 12 weeks ago and I have not yet seen any resolution of the matter.

I was in the Security Forces myself and if some of my colleagues in the Ulster Defence Regiment had that sort of allegation made against them I should want the matter cleared up with the minimum of delay. If an error was made it should be admitted and any necessary restitution should be made, but if the allegation was false that should be broadcast loud and clear, if confidence in the Security Forces is to be retained. I ask the noble Lord to give some thought to that and to give us his reaction during his winding-up speech. I commend this Bill to your Lordships and hope that it will receive a Second Reading today.

12.29 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think I have mentioned the word "Ireland" in this House since I have been here. If I have mentioned it, it has certainly not been in any spirit of controversy, because it seemed to me that we were confronting a situation in which it was so easy to say something that might do harm, and almost impossible to say anything that could necessarily do much good.

I was a colleague, and a day-to-day colleague, of my noble friend Lord Brockway from 1950 continuously for nearly 20 years. We worked together on human rights. I think it might be important to say on this question of human rights that I agree it is not a panacea; we never thought it was a panacea. We never contemplated situations like Molucca, improbable situations, impossible situations, in which someone has to decide between two wrongs, and deciding between two wrongs is a much more frequent political duty in other fields. I was chairman of the Human Rights Committee at Strasbourg and worked with Mr. Golsong who became clerk of the court and who was passionately in favour of this court.

I listened with great pleasure in the last debate when the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, from the opposite Front Bench, firmly made the point that for a proud country like Britain to submit herself to the judgment of an international court on human rights was an act which redounded immensely to the credit of Britain. Whether or not it was found that things had happened in extraordinarily difficult situations, situations where some measures of cruelty become almost inevitable, this was an act of statesmanship and judgment for which, unless they are politically motivated, no one will condemn Britain for saying, "We are prepared to accept international justice fairly administered and to support it"

My Lords, I was born with a deep love of Ireland. I recall a visit to Wormwood Scrubs Prison. I went to see some Cypriots, and I met some Irish prisoners who had been convicted of crimes in 1938. I will not go into the crimes of 1938; it is part of history and it is not a pleasant part of history. When they assured me that they wanted to go back and do useful work, I saw Mr. Chuter Ede, who was then Home Secretary, and found him receptive. We organised a little committee. I am not suggesting for one moment that I was the dominant personality; I rarely dominate. But that did result in a quiet and, in the atmosphere of that time, almost uncontroversial release of those prisoners who had been convicted of grave crimes. I think it is common ground that they went back and many of them worked in social service, and so the political emotion was diverted into decent courses while 20 years were to go by, and those 20 years I do not want to recall today.

I came here today to say that, in my view, perhaps the time had come when it might serve a purpose—and on that I would certainly take the advice of the noble Lord on the Front Bench who is to reply to the debate—to have a free and frank discussion. My noble friend has not perhaps chosen the ideal moment, after recent events. So far as Committee stage is concerned, it would have taken place after the Election in the South. But my noble friend has put cogent arguments, which I accept, why the matter should not proceed then. The tone and temper of this discussion has been such that I doubt whether I have heard a word with which I feel any strong disagreement. I thought the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was one with which I found myself perhaps in more agreement than most, because I do not much believe, and never have done, in doing good by force of law or by force of punishment.

In or about the early days of the time when we talked about human rights we had before us the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, but we were thinking largely of the four freedoms as enunciated by the late President Roosevelt in a famous speech towards the end of the war, and a fifth which I first heard enunciated by my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek, freedom from contempt, which we now understand and which I think everyone would accept. In the last debate the noble Lord, Lord Home, spelled out, in a speech of great care and great reserve and great thought, some of the difficulties in the concept of human rights in a world in which every nationalist country—the 50 or 60 more than existed 20 years ago—is completely responsible, is free from interference by the United Nations in any way. Obviously I am thinking of Uganda. It is a problem. There are no easy solutions in this field.

Clearly two things have come out of this debate. First, the atmosphere of this debate has shown that in the present climate of opinion we could produce, when required, a discussion on this problem and on the situation which might be to advantage, and that we could particularly consider this issue of human rights after the report has been made. I think I have put my two points in one sentence, and I will leave it at that. I shall listen to what the noble Lord, whose record in this matter is one beyond reproach, says in reply to the debate. We all hope he is able to say that the situation is showing a little more light and a little more hope.

12.38 p.m.


My Lords, I must start by apologising profusely to the noble Lord, Lord Hale, for rising as he was about to start his speech. It must have been something to do with being unaccustomed to speaking in your Lordships' House at this time of day. I assure the noble Lord that in no way was it a hint that he should curtail his speech!

My Lords, I believe that most thinking people will agree that there is plenty of room for extending the protection given to individual rights and freedoms in the United Kingdom as a whole. A typical example cropped up the other day, in a well publicised case, where a man and his wife were detained by the police for 72 hours before being charged, even though there was no suggestion whatever that they were implicated in any terrorist offence, where, of course, different considerations would apply. One realises that this is perfectly legitimate under the existing laws of this country, but a great many people, including, for example, the former chief constable of Herefordshire, believe that it should not be.

The question is how best to enlarge these individual rights. Six months ago, I was a fervent supporter of a concept of a Bill of Rights, but the more one goes into it in depth, the more pitfalls appear—for example, the extreme difficulty of getting agreement from all political Parties and all other interested parties as to what should go into such a Bill and the necessary rigidities inherent in any such Bill. One wonders whether some considerable enlargement of the Ombudsman's powers, combined with certain more modest legislation, might not almost as effectively, and certainly more speedily, secure the objectives which we all seek.

However, of one thing I am certain, and here I am afraid that I must disagree with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. It is quite wrong that we should have a Bill of Rights which is confined to one part of the United Kingdom, rather than a Bill which covers the whole of the country, particularly an all-embracing Bill such as this—all-embracing to the extent of, in my view, being insulting and hence counter-productive. One reason for saying that it is insulting can be found in Clause 5 where every sort of protection is set out, although most of it is superfluous because the rights therein protected have not for many years, if ever, been at risk. The protection is granted to the minority—yet no such protection is granted to the majority culture, language or religion.

I am sure that that is a totally unconscious and inadvertent omission on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. The noble Lord is a fair-minded man and this is not simply a conventional platitude. It was just over 30 years ago since in a mild sort of way, I first crossed swords with the noble Lord. I was a callow schoolboy and he was speaking at an election meeting in the constituency where my school was situated. I put a rather "clever clever" question to him in the hope of catching him out, but Mr. Fenner Brockway, as he then was, stunned me by replying with the most perfect courtesy and consideration which, of course, totally took the wind out of my sails. It is those qualities of courtesy, consideration and a consistent effort—although it may not always he successful—to see the other person's point of view which continue to endear the noble Lord to your Lordships' House. Therefore, I totally acquit the noble Lord of any desire to deprive the majority of their rights.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of an influential body of opinion in the noble Lord's Party and, indeed, outside his Party. For many decades—not merely since 1968–69—these people have given the impression that they care nothing for the interests or the fears of the majority. Indeed, they give the impression —fairly or unfairly—that they would lose very little sleep if the majority were to be sold down the river or, more specifically, handed over lock, stock and barrel to another country—a country incidentally in which until fairly recently many human rights were conspicuous by their absence, and one or two still are.

My Lords, if I now turn to examine the Bill in greater detail it is not because I wish to make Committee points but because I wish to say why the Bill as a whole is unacceptable. Clause 1(2) would extend the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976 to Northern Ireland and, indeed, extend the provisions of that Act so as to cover discrimination on the ground of religious belief. It would be a great mistake to extend this very defective Act—defective, given that the many excellent Amendments carried by your Lordships' House in Committee were, for the most part, rejected in another place—to Northern Ireland, particularly if it is the intention to extend the scope of the Bill.

On a slightly lighter note, Clause 4 provides: Men and women shall have equal rights and the same legal status in all spheres of…state…life". There is nothing wrong in that, except I suggest that Ulstermen would soon claim the right to retire at the age of 60, to claim maternity benefits and so on on the grounds that they deserve the same rights and status as their wives. However, the rights do not apply only to state life. The equal rights apply curiously enough to social life, although I cannot think what that means: one can only visualise mixed rugby football teams, and so on. Further, they extend also into private life. How can an Act of Parliament extend equal rights of men and women into private life? I do not know what that means, but can only suppose that it is intended that perhaps Ulstermen should be compelled to wash the dishes and make the beds in one week out of every fortnight, or something like that.

On a rather more serious note, I have already criticised Clause 5. I believe that most of the protection afforded therein is superfluous, particularly as regards the Established Christian religions. If Northern Ireland was ever to become a more cosmopolitan place, it might lead to difficulties because Clause 5 imposes no barrier whatever upon the types of religious rites practised. I should have thought that Article 9.2 of the Schedule provided adequate protection here, while at the same time protecting the rest of the community, in that it only permits religious rites subject to the protection of public safety, public order, health and morals and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Still more serious is Clause 6(1)(f) which would permit flags and emblems of any country or friendly relations with the United Kingdom to be displayed. We all know what flag the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has in mind. It is perfectly true that on a de facto basis, apart from a little contretemps at Strasbourg, we have friendly relations with the country in question, and one would not wish it to be otherwise. But on a more moralistic level, can one really be said to be on totally friendly relations if that country lays claim to part of one's own territory?—a claim that is not shared by all the inhabitants of that country it is true, but which is nonetheless institutionalised in that country's constitution. Until that constitution is changed, this subsection will be totally unacceptable to the people of Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said that in his view it was discrimination that was responsible for all the violence and bloodshed in Northern Ireland over the past eight years. I must beg to disagree. If A is allocated a slightly larger council house than B, that does not in most parts of the world cause B to go out, plant a bomb in a bus station and blow people to smithereens. On the other hand, nationalism does—not only in Northern Ireland but in Europe, Africa, Asia, America and other parts of the world. So it is nationalism and the encouragement of irredentist and nationalist feeling that one must look to as the cause of violence and destruction.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has already pointed out that in Clause 8 it would appear that the principle of proportional representation will be extended to General Elections as well as to local elections. I do not believe that that could seriously be intended. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, may be surprised to hear that in one respect I feel the Bill does not go quite far enough. I refer to paragraph 1(e) of Article 5 of the Schedule which provides for: the lawful detention of persons…of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts or vagrants; I did think that in 1977 we had passed the stage of being able to detain people merely for answering to those descriptions, unless some misdemeanour was also involved. To conclude, despite its undoubtedly good intentions, I believe that it would be a mistake to proceed with the Bill.

12.50 p.m.


My Lords, I think like all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate this morning, the Government welcome the further opportunity for discussion of this important subject which my noble friend Lord Brockway has given the House by introducing this Bill. The subject of human rights, as noble Lords know, is of great topical interest at the moment in an international as well as in a domestic context.

Reference has been made to the fact that your Lordships' House recently gave a Second Reading to a Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, which would, as the present Bill proposes solely in respect of Northern Ireland, incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into the domestic law of the whole of the United Kingdom. This is also a subject of great practical importance for Northern Ireland where it arouses strong emotions. Your Lordships will recall—and reference has also been made to this—that it was a widely held belief that certain human rights were being imposed or denied in Northern Ireland which contributed, it was felt, in large measure to the creation of the civil rights movements of a decade ago. Many of the principal demands of the civil rights movement now belong to the past, because successive Administrations have introduced a wide variety of measures to meet those demands. I will not detain your Lordships with a detailed list of all that has been done. But before direct rule was introduced, the then Northern Ireland Government had taken a number of major steps to implement the fundamental reform of local government electoral legislation; it had transferred responsibility for the allocation of housing away from local authorities to an independent central authority (the Northern Ireland Housing Executive); an independent police authority representative of all sections of the community had been set up, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, mentioned, Parliamentary Commissioners for Administration and Complaints had been established to deal with allegations of maladministration, including of course discrimination.

Since direct rule was established in 1972, the United Kingdom Government have themselves introduced further legislation which protects human rights, and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, gave a comprehensive list. I think that the most important single provision is undoubtedly the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which makes unlawful all legislative and executive actions of central and local government and public bodies in Northern Ireland if they are discriminatory on religious or political grounds.

It was the existence of that Act and the legal redress which it provides for individuals that made me question my noble friend's remark that he felt that there was widespread religious and political discrimination. I would certainly accept that, in an area of the United Kingdom where inevitably people live in some parts of Northern Ireland in separate housing estates, and so on, there is bound to be discrimination in the sense that people work for different firms because those are the firms they can travel to, and so on. But I would fundamentally disagree, if it is being alleged by my noble friend or anyone else in your Lordships' House, that there is widespread discrimination on religious and political grounds in the sense of candidates for appointment to public bodies in Northern Ireland being discriminated against in that way or that the Government's action, or indeed the action of administrative bodies in Northern Ireland, is being conducted in that way. As somebody who has responsibility for appointing people to the area boards administering health and social services and education and libraries in Northern Ireland, I should be very upset if I felt that my noble friend were making that sort of allegation.

More recently in Northern Ireland the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 has made it unlawful for a private employer to discriminate against a person on the grounds of his religious belief or political opinion. This Act also established the Fair Employment Agency for Northern Ireland to promote equality of opportunity and help stamp out unlawful discrimination. The Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order made it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex or marriage in employment or in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

I think that this is a formidable list, and together these measures amount to substantial protection for human rights within the existing laws. However, the Government are certainly not complacent. We intend to take further action in relation to particular matters. We shall shortly be strengthening the independent element in the consideration of complaints against the police, and legal aid will soon become easier to obtain. The independent element in this respect at least is something which my noble friend Lord Dunleath raised.

I draw attention to these matters not simply because they show what has already been done in some of the areas with which my noble friend's Bill is concerned, but also in order to demonstrate the extent to which all citizens of Northern Ireland already enjoy the same protection of the law as in the rest of the United Kingdom, and to show that they have been additionally protected by a number of other measures specially designed to prevent discrimination in Northern Ireland. Moreover, the Government stand ready to take further action if they are satisfied that this is necessary.

The Northern Ireland Constitution Act to which I referred, also established an independent Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights to which many noble Lords have already referred. The Commission has a duty to advise on the adequacy and effectiveness of the law in Northern Ireland in preventing discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion, and in providing redress for persons aggrieved by alleged discrimination on either of these grounds. As noble Lords know, in 1975 on its own initiative—but with the Government's full support—the Commission began a major study of the extent to which existing legislation provides sufficient protection for human rights in Northern Ireland. Its study has included a question of whether a Bill of Rights is needed in Northern Ireland and, if so, what form it should take and how it should relate to existing legislation.

A Discussion Paper which my noble friend Lord Brockway quoted from was published by the Commission last year. I think that that paper showed clearly the scale and complexities of the problems with which the Commission is dealing. It also showed how important the Commission thought it was to consult the widest spectrum of opinion and assess the consequence of any particular course of action fully before coming to any final decisions.

Several noble Lords have asked me when the Advisory Commission can be expected to report. This, of course, is a matter for the Commission, and I must emphasise that it is an independent body so this is not a matter for the Government. But the Commission has recently indicated that its study will soon be completed. I am afraid that I would not be able to be more precise than that, but I would certainly expect that the Commission would be forwarding its report to my right honourable friend during this year. The results of the study, as I say, will be reported to my right honourable friend, but before we have received that report and have had time to consider its recommendations, whatever they may be, there can be no question of the Government taking any decision about whether there is a need for any further legal protection for human rights in Northern Ireland. It is for that reason that I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that the introduction of a Bill and the carrying through Parliament of a Bill at this time would be premature. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend might feel able to withdraw his Bill at the conclusion of the debate this morning.

However, I can assure your Lordships that my views on the timing of the Bill do not in any way mean that the Government have a closed mind on any of the difficult issues raised by my noble friend's Bill. We are keenly aware of the strong arguments for and against making a Bill of Rights part of our constitutional framework which have been urged in recent years not least in the discussions in your Lordships' House. But, I repeat, we do not feel that we should reach a decision about the position in Northern Ireland without seeing the Commission's report.

Having explained, I hope, the reason why the Government would not feel able to support in principle the introduction of this Bill, it might be for your Lordships' convenience if I nevertheless make one or two brief comments about the substance of the Bill. First, of course, the Bill will only apply to Northern Ireland. I understand fully why it has been felt necessary to limit the Bill in this way, but as several noble Lords have pointed out, to proceed on this limited basis would be to pre-judge both the question of whether there should be a Bill of Rights for the United Kingdom as a whole and the work of the Select Committee which your Lordships have established to consider the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Wade.

Secondly, the Bill contains some provisions which have constitutional implications of considerable difficulty. For instance, it purports to limit the sovereignty of Parliament in relation to future legislation, and its provisions about derogation from the European Convention of Human Rights would severely limit the Government's freedom of action in a public emergency like, for example, the stoppage which was called by the Action Council recently in Northern Ireland.

We would also need to give much careful thought to those provisions of the Bill which would in effect establish a constitutional court in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, raised with me the question of the judges and the amount of work they already have to do. I am sure I can safely say that were Parliament to place a duty on the judges in Northern Ireland they would respond willingly, but obviously there are many detailed implications of a Bill of this sort which would need to be studied with great care, and no doubt the Advisory Commission are considering these points of detail in their study.

Thirdly, some of the provisions of the Bill as it stands are no longer necessary, and no doubt the list I have given to the House has already made that clear. To give a couple of examples, the Bill has the excellent intention of protecting people against discrimination on grounds of religious belief or sex and it prohibits the administration of an oath as a condition of public office or employment, and my noble friend particularly mentioned that; but all these rights have already been safeguarded by the body of existing law which I have outlined. I should not like anyone, particularly my noble friend, to feel that by making these detailed yet important points about the Bill, I am losing sight of the general principles involved. I fully recognise the fundamental importance of the issues raised by his Bill.

Before concluding, I must mention the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, about the Advisory Commission's reports on homosexual law reform and divorce law reform. As the noble Lord said, reports on these subjects have recently been sent to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who is currently considering them. I hope he will be in a position to make some public pronouncement on those reports in the not too distant future. The noble Lord also raised the question of allegations made in a recent television programme; I will, if I may, write to him after I have looked into the matter.

The Government will continue to study the issues raised by the possibility of a Bill of Rights for the United Kingdom as a whole, and, as your Lordships will know, a discussion paper on the subject was issued last year. We also await with particular interest the report of the Northern Ireland Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. In the meantime, I, and I am sure my colleagues in the Government and people generally in Northern Ireland, will have been very glad to have had the opportunity to hear the views that have been expressed in your Lordships' House today.

This has been one of the most interesting and thoughtful debates in which I have had the opportunity to take part since I have had some responsibility for Government in Northern Ireland, and I have found it very interesting indeed to listen to the various points that have been made. I will ensure that the important points are conveyed to my colleagues. I hope I have been able convincingly to demonstrate the Government's concern for this whole area by outlining the steps that have already been taken to safeguard human rights in Northern Ireland.

1.4 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to begin by acknowledging a failure on my part. I paid tribute to Lord Feather, who was the first chairman of the Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland. He died. I did not pay tribute, as I should have done, to Brian Rankin, who followed him. Brian Rankin was one of those in Northern Ireland who stood for the principle of the equality of people, of communities, in a very wonderful way. The Commission not only had the disaster of the death of Lord Feather as chairman but then of Brian Rankin, and I should have paid tribute to Brian Rankin as I tried to pay tribute to Lord Feather. One of my objects in introducing this Bill has been met by today's debate. My purpose was to arouse discussion on this subject before the report of the Commission in Northern Ireland is made, before our own Select Committee has reported and before the Government have made their decision, because one of the difficulties about politics today is that decisions are made by Governments before there has been democratic participation and discussion of the issues involved. As I indicated, one of my intentions in introducing the Bill was to alert that sort of discussion; I feel that today's debate has justified that object. My noble friend Lord Melchett paid tribute—it was almost an unique tribute—to the value of this debate, and I can only say that I hope very much that outside, in Northern Ireland and in the country as a whole, the issues which have been raised today may be discussed so that there may be democratic support for the decisions which are ultimately taken.

There are two points in urging that a Bill of Rights should be accepted. The first concerns existing discrimination. I cannot entirely accept what Lord Melchett said about the disappearance of discrimination in Northern Ireland. Considering the centuries of Irish history, the 50 years when Stormont was dominated by one Party representing the majority—during which there was undoubtedly discrimination—it is impossible to believe, despite the measures which have since been adopted and to which I referred, that discrimination has ended in Northern Ireland. Of course it has not.

Secondly, however, there is the fear that even what has been done in Northern Ireland might be undone by a future Government in Northern Ireland which represented only one community, and one of the values of a Bill of Rights is that it would prevent any future Government in Northern Ireland from repudiating the quite elementary human rights which are described in this Bill.

Those who have taken part in the debate will, I hope, forgive me if I do not refer to their speeches; I have appreciated them all. I must, however, say to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that I was particularly interested to know that when I was the Member of Parliament for Eton and Slough he was a student at school. I do not think he was at Eton College and I believe he was at a Catholic school in the area, but I may be wrong. I got on extraordinarily well with the boys there and one of my happy associations with the House of Lords is to find how many of those who questioned me when I was their MP are now Members of this House. Perhaps I have influenced some of them a little; I deeply regret that I have not influenced Lord Monson to a greater degree.

Lord Monson suggested that my Bill was biased in representing only the evils from which the minority suffered and not insisting on rights for the majority. I ask him to look at my various provisions under Clause 6. Clause 6(1)(a) says that everyone shall have the right to propagate or associate for the purpose of maintaining Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom; I took great care in all those provisions to indicate that I wanted freedom of speech, not only for the minority, but for all points of view, and for the majority in Northern Ireland.


My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for a second? I was actually referring specifically to Clause 5. I should like also to take the opportunity to say I was in fact at Eton, not the other school that the noble Lord had in mind.


Well, I am interested in that; I will not detain the House, but I could tell some wonderful stories.

Lastly, my most important reason for urging the Bill today is that I believe that a Bill of Rights will be a contribution to peace in Northern Ireland. One noble Lord said that there would be differences in Northern Ireland about the character of the Bill. It is one of the extraordinary facts that all the Parties in Northern Ireland—Unionists, SDLP, Alliance—agree that the European Convention on Human Rights should be the basis of a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland. There is no division about that at all. I appreciate that one has to give notice, but I am a little disappointed that there has been no response from the Government to the constructive proposals which I put for moving towards a solution of the present situation. All the Parties are agreed on the necessity for a charter of human rights. Build on that. It is more important even than power sharing because a Government which would be required to accept human rights would no longer be regarded as a menace and a danger by the minority in Northern Ireland.

I ask my noble friend Lord Melchett and the Government to look very carefully at the constructive proposals which I made on those lines, because I believe that they are a contribution towards, or part of the long process of, a solution for peace in Northern Ireland. I have made it quite clear that my objective in introducing the Bill was to have this discussion before decisions are made. In view of the fact that the Commission in Northern Ireland has not reported, and that our own Select Committee has not reported, I beg leave to withdraw the Bill.

Motion for Second Reading, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, by leave, withdrawn.