§ 3.9 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE (Lord Elton) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June 1979 be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1979, which was laid before the House on 14th June, be approved. It is from this Act that the powers vested in Her Majesty's Government for the direct 660 rule of Northern Ireland are derived. In discussing this order, the House may find it convenient also to consider the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order 1979. With your Lordships' agreement I shall be moving that this order also shall be approved at the end of this debate.
§ Before dealing with the two draft orders, I should like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Blease, in his capacity as official Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland affairs. I am well aware of his long and distinguished record of public service in Northern Ireland, not only in the trade union movement but in many other fields as well. I shall certainly not forget the depths of experience of Northern Ireland from which he will speak in this House, and I think your Lordships will share my view that this appointment is a fortunate one not only for Her Majesty's Opposition but for this House and the Province as a whole.
§ It has become a tradition—and I think a good tradition—for the Motions before the House today to be the occasion for a brief résumé of Government policy in Northern Ireland. I shall in turn speak of political matters, of the economic situation in the Province and of security. To begin with the political aspect, the draft Interim Period Extension Order which we are discussing today allows direct rule to continue for a further 12 months. Regrettably, it is fairly obvious that direct rule must continue for a further period. There is no immediate prospect of establishing any alternative system of government, but the eventual replacement of direct rule by an alternative democratic arrangment remains the goal of Her Majesty's Government. Until it is reached, we have to do the best that we can to render direct rule as fair and as efficient as possible.
§ My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already embarked on a series of consultations with the leading politicians in Northern Ireland. His aim is to find, with their help, a means of restoring greater control to the people of Northern Ireland over their own affairs. We have no illusions about the magnitude of this task. It is no good getting some existing set of constitutional arrangements down 661 from the shelf, dusting them off, and saying, " These work wonderfully well in such and such a country; we'll put them into practice in Northern Ireland ".
§ Northern Ireland is not like any other State or community in the world. There exist within it two political traditions, two different sets of aspirations, two interpretations, even, of history itself and there is continuous tension between them. Any new governmental arrangements in the Province must be specially planned to recognise these divisions and be carefully engineered to accommodate this tension. What we have to do is to devise a system that so matches Northern Ireland's needs that it works not only in administrative terms but in political terms as well. That means that it must be seen as fair and just in Northern Ireland itself, as well as at Westminster. This is no easy task and not one that can be rapidly accomplished, but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already set his hand to it.
§ It will, as I say, take time. There is little room for error and none for indiscretion. It is becoming rather fashionable among the political commentators of the world to remind Her Majesty's Government at frequent intervals that the world is looking to them for a political initiative and to show that by this phrase is meant some dramatic and fundamental advance in one direction or another.
§ We are determined not to remit, for a moment, our work towards a solution, but we are equally determined not to embark hastily or ill-advisedly upon any experimental path. In Northern Ireland false steps cost very dear and credibility, which is dearly bought, is easily lost. We have to prove every step before we take it. In this work, if in no other, our motto has to be " Make haste slowly ". Until we have an acceptable and a workable answer, until new structures of government can be erected, direct rule has to continue.
§ The draft order before the House today is, therefore, a recognition of necessity. It is not a new departure; it is not an end in itself. And it should not be allowed to obscure the Government's commitment to replacing direct rule by a system of government giving greater control of Northern Ireland affairs to the people who live there.662
§ That being the case, we must consider the policies that Her Majesty's Government will be pursuing under the existing arrangements and the circumstances in which they will be doing so. In economic terms, Northern Ireland is in no easier a position than the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, its situation is measurably more difficult. But economically the Province stands or falls with the rest of the nation.
§ The Government have wasted no time in seeking to restore the United Kingdom as a whole to economic health. We are determined to restore incentives, to raise the rate of return on capital employed, to reduce the role of government and to shift the burden of taxation from income to expenditure, all of which we anticipate to be highly beneficial to our community. Northern Ireland will benefit from these changes, as will the rest of the country, and it is right therefore that Northern Ireland should contribute also to the public spending cuts which in the current year will, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced, amount to almost £1.5 billion for the United Kingdom as a whole. Northern Ireland's contribution is £35 million.
§ But simply because the Province is playing its part in cutting public expenditure, let it not be thought that we are not fully aware of the special problems which exist there. The urgent need for new investment and new employment opportunities to boost prosperity generally and to combat unemployment is something to which we will be giving particular attention. The rate of unemployment stands at present at 11 per cent. In the public spending cuts we have done everything possible to reduce to a minimum any adverse effect upon that rate. We have also decided to extend the Meat Industry Employment Scheme until further notice to aid the agricultural industry. We shall be keeping in close contact with the European Community to ensure that Northern Ireland takes full advantage of our membership of the EEC, and it is worth remarking in that context that so far this year £24 million has already been committed to Northern Ireland from the Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.663
§ I would make one final point in this context. In considering public expenditure cuts, we have had particular regard to the need to ensure that the law and order programme is not weakened by lack of funds. Expenditure in this field is not affected by the public spending reductions. There can be absolutely no question of any diminution in our efforts to combat violence and terrorism because of lack of money.
§ This brings me to the question of security in general. In this field the task before us is still a large one. The aim remains that of defeating terrorism, and of extending effective policing throughout the whole of the Province. Since this House last discussed the powers contained in the Emergency Provisions Act in December, the security forces maintained their efforts to bring the terrorists before the courts, and in this they have met with considerable success. The cost of these efforts has not only been in cash, and I know I shall have the full backing of all noble Lords in paying tribute to all members of the security forces—the RUC, the Regular Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment and not least the staff of the Prison Service—for the courage they have shown in their dedicated and loyal service to the whole community in Northern Ireland. I notice that my list does not include the RAF Regiment, but it should be there. All of us admire the determination and fortitude which they have shown in carrying out their responsibilities with skill and restraint in the face of murderous attacks on themselves, their families and their colleagues.
§ In the past three months we have, unhappily, seen an upsurge of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland. The terrorists have refined their organisation, making it harder to penetrate. Attacks on the security forces have increased, and noble Lords will have heard recently of attacks on hotels across the Province which will inevitably affect the tourist industry. Activity has been especially marked in the border areas, and the Government are discussing with the Irish authorities further means of improving the co-operation of their respective security forces to deny the terrorists the advantage which the border offers them.
§ The dangerous conditions under which the security forces have to work need 664 to be recalled in considering the implications of the Bennett Report. Your Lordships will recall that this report recommended a number of changes in the administrative procedure observed during the questioning of suspects by the RUC and certain modifications to the existing machinery for the investigation of complaints. We had previously announced our acceptance of two of the most important of the committee's recommendations which relate to access by solicitors to persons in custody and to the installation of closed circuit television in interview rooms. The first of these has already been implemented by the chief constable and arrangements for the second are well advanced. Following detailed consultations with all the parties involved, a decision has now been reached with regard to the remainder of the recommendations and the Government have placed in the Library of both Houses of Parliament a summary of the action which is to be taken. Virtually all the recommendations are to be implemented.
§ Despite the sweeping allegations which have been made in some quarters about the RUC's conduct of interrogations, none of the evidence studied by the Bennett Committee led them to believe that there was a widespread practice of ill-treatment. By implementing the report we are demonstrating quite clearly that the RUC has nothing to hide. It is to be hoped that the RUC will now be recognised for what it is: a highly professional and efficient force, dedicated to the service of the whole community in Northern Ireland.
§ I am sure that noble Lords would not wish to see any of the powers contained in the Emergency Provisions Act stay on the statute book for a day longer than is needed. Nor indeed would this Government. But in the light of current terrorist activity they have concluded that it would not be appropriate to let the present powers lapse, more particularly since we in this Administration have had little more than two months in which to see them in operation. But, while we do not yet feel able to recommend that any of the powers should cease to be available, I would repeat the assurance given last week in another place, that all the provisions of the Act will be closely reviewed before the expiry of this order in six months' time, when it will, of course, be 665 necessary again to seek the approval of both Houses of Parliament for the extension of the whole Act or of any of its provisions. For that order, my Lords, and not the one that I have moved, runs only for six months and not for 12. I therefore commend to the House the two orders before us today. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June 1979 be approved.—(Lord Elton.)
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Lord BLEASE
My Lords, first, I should like sincerely to thank the Minister for his kind remarks concerning myself. I am pleased that my first duty as Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland affairs affords me the opportunity to offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on his appointment as Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Minister can be assured that he will have my support, and I feel sure the general support of all in this House, for those measures which are considered best to promote the goodwill, peace and prosperity of the Northern Ireland people. Like his predecessor, my noble friend Lord Melchett, the Minister has spent a lot of time in the Province since his appointment and seems determined to get to know the people as well as the problems as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. I feel sure that this is a wise and helpful approach. I should like also to say that my noble friend Lord Melchett and his other ministerial colleagues of the previous Government set a high standard of application, which was respected and generally appreciated by all sections of the community throughout the Province.
The Minister has already mentioned the tremendous problems facing Northern Ireland, and we all realise the very difficult task and onerous duties that confront the noble Lord the Minister and his fellow Northern Ireland Ministers. There are no easy solutions or simple answers to the deep-seated problems and complex questions which beset Northern Ireland.
Concerning the two draft orders before us today I should like to indicate my support for the proposed measures. In giving this support to the Government I share with many in this Chamber and in another place, as has already been men- 666 tioned by the Minister himself, a deep regret that the current situation in Northern Ireland necessitates the retention of such legislation. Perhaps my personal feelings and approach can best be stated by repeating what Mr. Tom Pendry said when he spoke in the seven and a half hour debate on these orders in another place. He said—and I quote:The orders are in many ways distasteful. I would be among the first to vote against them if circumstances were significantly different from those now pertaining. However, my short experience as a Minister in Northern Ireland compels me to agree to the orders and to recommend them to the House ".We on the Opposition Benches will give every encouragement to the Government in their efforts to find an acceptable way of restoring to the people of Northern Ireland more control over their own affairs. However, it will not come as a surprise when I say that I expect we shall freely disagree with the Government's notions of how they intend to promote the social and economic welfare of the Province.
As a former trade union official who was never elected as a public representative, I wish to make it perfectly clear that I do not claim or pretend to represent the people of Northern Ireland in this House. I have accepted with great pride the honour bestowed upon me by my party, to speak on Northern Ireland affairs from the Opposition Front Bench. I do so as one who has conscientiously tried over the years to get working people in Northern Ireland to focus on the interests and aspirations which unite them rather than on those matters which divide. It is this outlook and experience which make it so easy for me to applaud the tone, as well as the content, of the statement made by the Minister and by the Secretary of State since taking up office in Northern Ireland, and also the statements made by the Minister's colleagues in the Northern Ireland office.
I am glad to see that the Secretary of State has explicitly recognised that there are two political traditions and two aspirations to be understood and satisfied, and that no political progress can be made unless each side recognises, in a positive way, the sincerity of the views held by the other. I hope those concerned will note his blunt and frank statement that:Progress will require movement to new positions ".667 I am afraid he can have heard little in the debate on these two orders in another place that could have encouraged him to be optimistic about an early response to his call for new and fresh attitudes. It is quite natural that our public representatives should be so preoccupied with matters concerning policing and security. There is pressure from all sections of the Northern Ireland community for measures to protect life and property and to deal effectively with the perpetrators of violence.
At the recent annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland statements were approved, commending the security forces for their courage, efficiency and devotion to duty in upholding law and order. Along with other public bodies the General Assembly joined in deploring the carefully planned propaganda campaign attempting, to discredit the police and the prison authorities. Against the background of the systematic allegations about methods used by the police during interrogation procedures in Northern Ireland, there has been a general welcome for the Government's proposal to implement virtually all of the Bennett Report recommendations.
While at this stage I do not think there is much usefully to be gained by pressing the Minister for further information about the full intentions concerning the report, I would simply add that the general principle of strengthening public attitudes to the RUC by attending to matters of resolve and accountability should also apply to all other branches of security. I believe there is much to be gained in the interest of public confidence by a review of the measures and methods used by the security forces and the prison services in respect of relations with the public. The terrorists' campaign and propaganda methods are sophisticated and expertly promoted. This kind of propaganda requires to be countered by experienced journalists and media personnel and their ready willingness for open consultation and the availability of relevant information from appropriately organised officers concerned with the maintenance and respect for law and order. Much public disquiet arises from not having professional communicators readily available at all levels of the security forces. Much could be gained by having a close 668 examination. The public require reassurance on many of these aspects of security acts. But I believe the greatest and most immediate contribution that could possibly be made to the improvement of security would be that very movement to new positions which the Secretary of State and the Minister have stated to be essential to political progress.
Consider the question of cross-border co-operation. Some elected representatives say that they want nothing to do with the Government of the Republic; others insist on what they call the Irish dimension. Clearly, if the Irish dimension means anything, it must mean a united front on the part of the democratically elected representatives, both North and South of the border, against all those who seek to impose their will on the people by force.
I commend the Secretary of State for his visit to Dublin so soon after taking up office, in order to discuss co-operation on security with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic. It was commendable because it was done in the face of outbursts of criticism from the very people who shout the loudest about security problems. The same lack of logic applies to the issue of power-sharing. If the sharing of power means anything it means sharing of responsibility for security and the restoration of respect for law and order. I hope the Government will encourage some movement by the political parties in regard to these fundamental and vital aspects of security, aspects concerning cross-border co-operation and support for the police.
I am also pleased that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is to play an even greater part in the work of the police authority. For years the trade union movement has been in the forefront of encouraging meaningful cross-border co-operation. I feel sure the Irish Congress of Trade Unions will contribute much to better understanding between the public and the police.
I must express disappointment, however, that the new Administration seems not to have given the same weight as its predecessor to the extent to which social and economic problems fuel sectarian bitterness and are at the roots of civil disorder. It is true that in 1976 my 669 colleagues in the Labour Government imposed cuts of about £42 million in public expenditure in the Province, but they came to recognise, as indeed did the late honourable and lamented Airey Neave, that the Government would have to provide substantial financial assistance to Northern Ireland. This finance is best used for employment and industrial development.
In the debate on these orders in another place, on 30th June last year, the then shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said:We Conservatives recognise that … like other regions with special problems, Northern Ireland needs special measures if these problems are to be solved ".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/78; col. 1717.]In the current social and economic climate in Northern Ireland it is clearly absurd to expect a cut-back in the public sector to be offset by more activity in the private sector. We have massive problems of chronic unemployment and terrible needs arising from urban decay which, given the background of continuing violence, can be tackled only by direct Government action. The previous Administration had only just begun to get to grips with the staggering problems. For example, in Belfast the public agencies were geared up to tackle roads, environmental amenities and housing when the public expenditure cuts were announced. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister would care to comment on the economic and social aspects of the situation, which received only the most superficial and scant treatment in the debate in another place. In particular, I should like to know whether it is the Government's intention to continue to impose cuts in Northern Ireland proportionate to those in the rest of the United Kingdom, and, if so, why the Government have changed their view expressed when they were in Opposition that " regions like Northern Ireland require special consideration ".
It is not my intention today to subject the Minister in this House to a catalogue of the difficulties and problems of the people of Northern Ireland. The Minister will be well aware of the expressed public concern about employment and about economic and social issues. We hope that these will be debated on another occasion very soon. For the record, I would wish to mention a few issues that have been 670 drawn to my attention: the future for the youth employment service and the youth opportunities programme; the development of Enterprise Ulster; the encouragement for small industries and the Local Enterprise Development Unit; the effects of the cutbacks on education and particularly research facilities and grants at Queen's University, Belfast, and the new University of Ulster.
The Minister will also know of the concern of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions about rising unemployment, especially about the contemplated increase in unemployment in the public services and what that will mean. He will probably know also of a special conference which is to be held on 23rd of this month by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Belfast to deal specifically with the problems they now see. He will also be aware of the disappointment expressed by the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights and by the peace people, who had submitted some modest recommendations for changes in the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act 1975. I was pleased to hear that these matters will be reviewed and given consideration and changes will be contemplated in six months' time.
On this side of the House we recognise that direct rule is everyone's second best solution and that successive Governments have longed for the day when acceptable devolution could be negotiated. A year ago Members on the Front Bench on either side of the House were more optimistic about this objective than they are today. But it seems even administrative devolution may fail to satisfy more than a few of the Northern Ireland public representatives. However, I am convinced that government can nurture responsibility only by sharing it. The elected representatives on the Northern Ireland majority community side have experienced frustration at having little control over matters which affect them. Now they must know how the Northern Ireland minority community has felt during all these years. I would hope that they would now wish for others what they wish for themselves. The precept of practising what one preaches must also apply to those who seem to want to share power but not the duties and responsibilities of office, such as supporting 671 the police and other law enforcement bodies.
I have spoken at some length and I hope plainly. I must say in honesty that I welcome the thoughtful and plain speaking approach of the Minister and of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in these matters. In the debate last week the Secretary of State said that we must be quiet, patient and persistent in seeking acceptable forms of government for Northern Ireland. I also welcome his pledge to be fair and impartial on the full range of Government functions for as long as direct rule persists. I have no doubt that given the patience, the goodwill and the generosity which I have found to be so characteristic of both these Houses, and given the joint resolve of both the Government and the Opposition, we can look forward to the time when these orders no longer have to be reviewed and renewed as they are today.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Lord HAMPTON
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on his recent appointment at the Northern Ireland Office. I understand that he is to have special responsibility for education, and we know that this is a subject in which he has no little interest and much valuable experience. The way in which the young are brought up today will critically influence the relations of the two communities tomorrow. We wish the noble Lord every success in his challenging but eminently worthwhile task.
I find myself humbled at following the noble Lord, Lord Blease, with his great personal experience of, and service in, Northern Ireland, but I hope it is accepted that I at least share his aims of working in any way possible for a happy future for this troubled Province. I think I have at least one advantage in coming fresh to the subject; I am not weighed down so heavily as are some with the frustrations and the tragedies of the last 10 years. I am optimistic for the future and I shall say why. But first let me state my party's position. The policy of Great Britain towards Northern Ireland is not infrequently referred to as bipartisan. More than 4 million Liberal voters 672 cannot be brushed aside quite as lightly as that, but let me hasten to add that we, too, do accept that these two orders under consideration today must be passed.
We, too, are determined that there shall be no capitulation to violence. We accept that direct rule must continue for the time being. We accept that the civil power must be given military assistance for as long as required. Lastly—and this is our distinctive suggestion from these Benches—we suggest that it could be helpful for a 15 to 20 member advisory council to be elected by the people of Northern Ireland, to voice every viewpoint and to have constructive discussion with each other as well as with the Secretary of State. I might add that when my honourable friend in the other place suggested that this council would need to be elected by proportional representation his words were greeted with non-comprehending derisory jeers. I say no more. We put the idea forward for consideration
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him, I think I lost a word in what he was describing. What would be the constituency of this conference?
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I take it that it is the same as the combined constituencies of the Westminster Members of Northern Ireland.
§ Lord HAMPTON
That is right, my Lords, yes. I shall now briefly deal further with what should, I believe, be both tactical and strategic aims for the Province. Fortunately, there is much accord between the three main political parties on this, and this is one point which gives me grounds for hope. I am glad that " virtually all " (to use the Secretary of State's own words in the other place and the noble Lord's words in your Lordships' House) of the recommendations of the Bennett Report are to 673 be implemented immediately, and I know that this will please the community of the Peace People, representatives of which I recently had the pleasure of meeting. But I should like to make the following points clear. We, too, in no way accept the widespread allegations of torture and brutality thrown out by the IRA. We believe it to be a perversion of the truth by a body which holds that the end justifies any means.
None the less, we believe that Amnesty International, a London-based organisation, was right to show that we at least are prepared to have our methods of interrogation independently considered, that we accept that certain activities have taken place on occasion which we deplore, and that we are now determined that the suggested safeguards should be introduced, so that justice is not only done but is seen to be done. I trust that Amnesty will re-emphasise that there are many countries where the need for an independent inquiry into the treatment of prisoners is very greatly more urgent than in Northern Ireland. We join the Peace People when they say:We acknowledge the difficult circumstances under which the Royal Ulster Constabulary operate, and have great respect for the way in which the overwhelming majority of the Force have gone about their difficult and dangerous duty ".The Army—and they certainly merit a sincere tribute, too—and, as the noble Lord mentioned, the RAF Regiment and the RUC, are serving a vital but in some ways only a negative purpose. Their task, largely, is to prevent terrorism and all the evils it can bring, now and in the future. But there needs to be positive action to bring together what are so significantly and sadly termed " the two communities ". It seems generally accepted that the trouble-makers are only a tiny minority of the populace, and this fact is another which I believe gives grounds for hope. I trust that I shall not be condemned as too ignorant and starry-eyed if I say that I believe that the forces for good can turn even the present grim position to good account. I respect the work of the nonsectarian Alliance Party, and am greatly impressed by the work of the All Children Together Movement. They seek to bring children into happy contact with each other as a vital step towards breaking the dangerous tensions which can otherwise 674 build up between " them " and " us ".
At an ecumenical conference organised by the All Children Together Movement in March of this year, one speaker closed her address with these words:There is now the great opportunity for a deep religious link to be forged between the different Christian bodies which in turn, through our young teachers, could spill out into the classroom and into the community as a whole ".To emphasise my faith in the courageous attitude of so many people in the Province in the present difficult times, perhaps I may here quote words of Mrs. Lineham on her retirement from the chairmanship of this organisation recently. She said:If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war we shall have to begin with children, and if they will grow up in natural innocence we won't have to struggle, we won't have to pass fruitless, idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace until at last all corners of the world are covered with that peace and love which consciously or unconsciously the world is hungering for ".It is my belief that, given time—and I like to believe that it will not need so very long as some people fear the major problems that confront the Province can be resolved; and they will be resolved by the people of Northern Ireland for themselves. In the meantime, it must be no part of our policy to say that we care not whether they sink or swim. No one should not sorrow at the brutalities of today, whether they take place in Ulster or at Westminster. But I believe that we too often forget the many more actions that we can admire, rather than condemn. I am tempted to follow Churchillian oratory, but will limit myself to just two lines:Say not the struggle naught availeth, The labour and the wounds are vain …Out of the present troubles must, and will, come a brighter future.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Viscount BROOKEBOROUGH
My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend on his appointment to Northern Ireland, and to assure him that, whether he likes it or no, he will find himself converted to a good Ulsterman before very long; and I feel very happy with his most thoughtful speech today. I also studied, with great difficulty, the debate in another place in the form in which it was presented, and I found much to encourage me in the approach of his right honourable friend 675 the Secretary of State and the Minister of State. Their approach of caution on political matters shows great wisdom. I have much sympathy with the Secretary of State in coming so new to this very complicated problem, and certainly in regard to political affairs he needs time. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blease, on taking up his task, and certainly his speech—his first from the Front Bench—demonstrates what all we in the Province know of his tremendous knowledge, experience and wisdom.
At the beginning of this Administration I should like to state in a rather starker way some of the problems that are facing the Administration. I want to try to convey to this House the feelings which the statement made by the Secretary of State aroused among those of us who have lived through the 10 years of torture and torment, because, to us, certainly on security, there really is no time for reflection. These feelings are made the stronger by the courageous way that the Secretary of State, with tremendous precision, described the security situation. He told us what of course many of us knew: that the last two years were only a breathing space for the IRA to reorganise, re-arm and re-group, and they are now in a position to be more professional and potentially more dangerous than they ever were. But the question which we must ask ourselves is: Are we back to square one, with increasing violence by the IRA? The law-abiding community, the Protestant community as well as the law-abiding minority community, will ask for clear proof that the Government are responding to this new threat with new and more effective weapons. Indeed, I feel that there must be some criticism of the past Administration, in that this new threat appears to have taken people by surprise.
In the noble Lord's speech he mentioned two crucial issues: the issue of cross-border security and interrogation. The security problems of Northern Ireland when violence has erupted have been solved quickly only when there has been complete co-operation between the Dublin Government and our Government; and, of course, we welcome the fact that the Secretary of State was able to agree with the Foreign Minister on the need for improved cross-border co-operation. But 676 that co-operation appears to be limited to police co-operation. It appears to have ruled out altogether any question of co-operation between the two armies. But to the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland it seems a staggering fact that, 10 or 11 years after this common threat, as agreed by the Foreign Minister in Dublin, we are still talking about improving co-operation. Surely we should be far past that. It is, to me, quite a condemnation of a state of affairs which has existed too long.
I should like to tell you about the security situation as seen by people living close to the border. There are, in the County Monaghan salient, gangs of up to 20 men who can operate freely across the border. They live there, and providing they operate within 15 or 20 minutes of the border they can get back to the safe haven of the Irish Republic. These are most efficient gangs. They have up-to-date NATO-type equipment or Warsaw Pact-type equipment.
May I give just two examples. In the last few months there was a prison officer who went to a wedding in Clogher, seven miles from where I live. He was murdered in front of the church. Two of my friends were at the chapel in Lisnaskea, again seven miles away. They were murdered on the chapel steps. The gang which did the last murder are believed to have something like 20 murders to their name. Whatever the number of them is, they are criminals of the highest order to whom another death means absolutely nothing. To my mind it is a condemnation of successive Governments that we have allowed a friendly country to harbour these armed criminals.
I wonder what would happen if there were gangs able to operate across the French border from the German side. What would happen then? In the South the Dublin Government says, " We cannot operate against them because they are not breaking the law in our country ". But if this was to happen over the borders in Europe, whatever the laws were at that moment, some method would be found to change the laws and put these men out of circulation. It is because of the failure to deal with this problem that we in my part of the world find it difficult to believe that both Governments have the will to win and to deal with this problem.
677 Having described that, what do our Government and the Irish Government propose to do about it? We were told that there is a plain clothes police force of the Garda which has been operating on the border. It has been operating for some months but I do not see much result, and it does not impress me at the moment. What else are we offered? Rather like naughty boys, we have been told as a Government that we ought to be operating the Criminal Jurisdiction Act. That Act enables the courts in the Republic to try people for crimes committed in the North. But that Act will not work. Although there have been one or two occasions when it has been possible to work it, Dublin knows, and we know, that before it can be implemented we have to produce a prima facie case on which the Republic's courts can operate.
The only way to secure convictions is by interrogation by men with all the necessary background and knowledge to produce confessions. It has been said in a statement that the Irish Government is considering allowing Royal Ulster Constabularymen to make a trip across the border in order to conduct interrogations together with the Garda. I do not take much comfort from this, for two reasons. First, it is highly unlikely that the southern Government will implement this recommendation, and I should like to ask the noble Lord what news he has on this matter.
Secondly, and this is almost as important, the first act of the present Government in Dublin on coming to power was to abolish the law enabling terrorist suspects to be held for seven days for interrogation. We know from our experience that 48 hours is simply not enough to achieve the desired result from people so deeply involved and so hardened in the job. This concession, even if it came off, would be of no value. So far as the cross-border situation is concerned, there appears to be no advance at all.
May I now look at the question of interrogation in Ulster. The Secretary of State has said:The successful interrogation of suspects is a vital weapon in the armoury of the security forces and I will not see it needlessly blunted ".The truth, as I see it, is that this weapon has already been needlessly blunted by his predecessor, and that process has been 678 taken a stage further with a confirmation that almost all the Bennett regulations are to be applied. A distinguished member of the legal profession said to me the other day, " If the Bennett rules were to be applied in the extreme, in the case of interrogating a schoolboy caught stealing a bicycle pump they could not produce a confession." The facts support this claim.
Ever since the publication of the Bennett Report there has been a definite decline in the number of confessions made by important terrorists. It is terribly important, in interpreting the statistics about convictions and confessions, to make a distinction between the top men who are hardened and the small fry who are naturally ready to confess rather more easily. The problem we face—the dilemma that all Governments face—is where we protect the ordinary law-abiding citizen at the expense of people suspected of crime. In my view, it is possible that we have gone too far, at the expense of many lives.
What is the danger from all this, and what am I worried about? It is simply that the IRA violence, which was so graphically described by the Secretary of State, is bound to go on increasing. Last night the 299th soldier died as a result of a radio-controlled bomb, probably detonated from across the border. This would be an appropriate time for me to join with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in paying tribute to all members of the security forces. My admiration for them is unbounded. But the danger is retaliation. If we do not get convictions, if the security forces are not seen to be achieving results, then we shall have retaliation. I regret to say that there are renewed signs of paramilitary activity on the Protestant side.
There was mention of the EEC election results. The result of that election has been the dominance of the Member for North Antrim of another place. In the election to another place his cause was helped by transport and buses from the UDA and the Loyalist paramilitaries. Why has that gentleman managed to make such a success? It is due to the utter disillusionment with the handling of security. That is why he has had such a tremendous success of late.
The political implications of this are quite profound. To me it is as plain as a 679 pikestaff that devolved government, based on any agreed principles, is not going to happen in Ulster. I believe that the Government, and the Opposition Front Bench, probably accept that. The problem is that we have to offer a sensible, agreed form of devolution and then, when it is rejected, to get on with government, and with making direct rule more accessible and more amenable. What is required after that is a definite British policy designed to make local government democratic and accountable by restoring the proper powers to it.
However, my solemn warning is this: it is just not good enough to produce no response to the IRA challenge. There are other solutions. Why should we not get agreement with the Irish Government to have hot pursuit across the border after these armed gangs? After all, it is accepted under international law. To rule out the death penalty and executive detention will leave us in a position where retaliation will occur.
There must be a security initiative and a political initiative. I am not suggesting that this political initiative should not be carefully thought out over a proper time, but there must be the summoning of a conference to register the fact that for the moment devolution cannot be achieved, and to start the task of reviving local government. Without those two initiatives we would, I believe, suffer the worst eruption we have seen, and I therefore support these orders.
§ 4.1. p.m.
§ Lord HYLTON
My Lords, I wish to follow on from what my noble friend Lord Brookeborough said about detention and interrogation, and ask the Government whether they would examine very carefully the state of affairs that prevails in the Netherlands where, as we know, the Dutch Government have been up against some very tough terrorists. I understand that there a man can be detained for up to six or seven days before he is either charged or released, but that during that period there are considerable safeguards built into the system to make sure there are no abuses or even suggestions of abuse.
I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for the brief resumé he gave of the Government's approach to Northern Ireland and I hope he and other 680 Front Benchers in your Lordships' House will consider whether we should have a full scale debate on this subject at an early date. As has been pointed out today, we have had nearly 10 years of military involvement in Northern Ireland, 10 years of violence and terrorism, 10 years without a satisfactory solution, and at the end of that period it is estimated that perhaps some 20,000 people are still giving support to the Provisional IRA of a more or less active kind.
Regarding the Emergency Provisions Act Order, I commend to your Lordships and the Government a document produced by the Northern Ireland Peace Movement which contains eight proposals; I am not sure I would agree with them all and certainly I am not in a position to judge whether some of them may be a little idealistic, and others may perhaps be premature at this time. But, at any rate, I would ask the Government to give them careful consideration, and I do so because the Northern Ireland Peace Movement has done a great deal of work with the victims of violence, with detainees and has done much to encourage respect for the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and its achievements in community work generally throughout the Province are worthy of respect.
I wish to highlight proposal No. 6, which asks whether consideration could be given to the repeal of the Emergency Provisions Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the replacement of both statutes with one emergency law for the whole of the United Kingdom. Such-legislation would in present circumstances have to be active in Northern Ireland and some of its provisions would apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, as is the case at present with the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and all of the provisions would have to be capable of being invoked when need arose anywhere in the country.
There are I believe parallels with French law, which provides for something called an Etat d'Urgence or, at a stage further, an Etat de Siège. I believe there is a need for such general and comprehensive legislation not only because of the Northern Irish situation but also because the two Acts that would be repealed were both rushed through Parliament somewhat quickly. Then, again, in London and England we have to cope with the effects of international terrorism arising out of 681 disputes anywhere in the world, which can lead, for example, to the assasination of ambassadors, as we have seen. Again, we have to be able to cope with industrial disasters such as Flixborough and, in Italy, at Seveso. Then, again, there are the grave dangers from the transport in England and into Scotland of plutonium, on which I have a Question on the Order Paper.
Returning to Northern Ireland, there seems to be great uncertainty about some aspects of the law and the practice of the security forces, and I will give a few examples. A long time ago we had the famous " no-go areas ". Since then we have seen local truces with various paramilitary bodies and we have seen funerals of para-military personnel. We have seen illegal processions and illegal baricades. All these things could be or have been said to be the flexible application of the existing law; one could also call if the non-execution of the law as it stands. That is one side of the question.
There is another and different side of the question, and that concerns various military and security practices for which there may be no legal authorisation, and I am thinking of what is known as " head-checking ". That I understand happens when the Army goes into a house just to find out who is there, whether they are people who are supposed to be there whether they include others or, whether some of those who would be expected to be there are absent. Then, there are plain-clothes operations by military personnel, and again good case can be made out for that; after all, I believe that 18 per cent. of the personnel of the Metropolitan Police force in London are at any one time operating in plain clothes. There are questions of interrogation in depth and matters of the assembly by the Army of population records. It may well be that none of these things are authorised by law, but I should hve thought it highly desirable that, if they are necessary, they should be authorised.
I would ask the Government whether they consider there is in Northern Ireland sufficient, adequate and close co-ordination between the civil Government and the police and the Army. The headquarters of these three bodies are, I understand, in three different places, at Stormont, Nock and Lisburne. Is there perhaps a 682 case for bringing together, physically and geographically, at least the operational sides of these three headquarters? Then again, when the security forces are operating at local level in what have been described as ghetto areas, surely there should be the closest possible linkage between the local administration of civil matters, the police and the Army. Here we may have something to learn from the French system of préfers and regional prèfers.
Still on the topic of security, I would ask the Government what are their views about identity cards, perhaps for everyone over the age of 12. These were mentioned in the Gardiner Report in paragraph 94. In relation to finger-printing, I understand that at present suspects who have been arrested can be finger-printed but that nobody else can be. As for the use of various kinds of existing records such as census data, social security records, bank account details and driving licences, surely the security forces should have access subject to proper safeguards. Incidentally, driving licences in Northern Ireland already bear the holder's photograph, unlike driving licences in this country.
My final question to the Government is: do they see their total campaign in terms of security, of justice, of employment, of social welfare and of political initiatives (if ever there can be any) as one co-ordinated whole? This, I suggest, may well be the lesson that we should draw from the experience of the counter-insurgency campaign that was so successful in Malaya. I believe that it is up to Parliament to make sure that the security forces in Northern Ireland do not in any way have to work with their hands tied. It is equally important that the Government should win the propaganda war against their enemies. If they can do that, they will gain the minds and hearts of the people, and thus succeed in separating the minority who are prepared to use violence, from the vast law-abiding majority. As I said in an earlier debate on the Address, neither violence nor repression is enough, and I would further suggest that reconciliation is absolutely essential.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord PLANT
My Lords, I want to declare an interest in the subject of the debate. As your Lordships know, I am 683 chairman of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland, and therefore I have an interest in the debate. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, upon his appointment and to say that people in Northern Ireland have formed a very favourable impression of the new team. It is also right that tribute should be paid to the previous Secretary of State who, in a very difficult period, did outstandingly good work. I should like also to pay a special tribute to my noble friend Lord Melchett for the work that he did in education, especially among children. It would be remiss of me not to mention the tragedy that befell Airey Neave. I travelled to Northern Ireland with Mr. Neave on several occasions, and I found him a most courteous person and a great comrade.
The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights last year began a detailed examination of the operation of emergency legislation in Northern Ireland, with particular reference to its implications for human rights in the province. Recently we submitted to the Secretary of State advice on three issues. First, we advised that Section 12 and Schedule 1 to the Act, which contain powers to detain people without trial, should not be renewed. These powers, which replaced the former power to intern, have not been used for four years. Secondly, we advised that Section 2(2), which limits the power of a judge to grant bail, should not be renewed. Thirdly, we advised that Section 8, which deals with the admissibility of statements made by the accused, and which the Human Rights Commission regards as unsatisfactory in its present form, should be redrafted as soon as possible. Here we have in mind in particular the definition:torture, or inhuman, or degrading treatment ".The Secretary of State and the Minister do not consider that the present security position is such as to warrant relaxation of emergency powers. However, the Secretary of State said that he intended to keep the recommendations in mind against the day when improvements in the security situation would allow him to look more favourably at the commission's proposals. The commission accepts that violence and terrorism have escalated during the past six months and that a new 684 Secretary of State needs to act with caution in relation to the advice he has received. While fully accepting the considerations exercising the mind of the Secretary of State, the commission was, and remains, convinced that its advice would by no means exacerbate the position. On the contrary, my belief is that it could well do something to remove sources of public criticism and eliminate suspicion in responsible quarters at home and abroad.
The commission looks forward to the day when it will be possible for its advice to be accepted, but it will, as the Secretary of State has asked, continue to make suggestions to Her Majesty's Government that will in its view provide improvements in the quality of life for all the people in Northern Ireland. Parliament can provide a forum for debate, and my criterion will always be the level of protection of human rights in Northern Ireland. My commission will be looking critically at the remand and detention provisions, at the improvement of Diplock court operations, and at the patterns of use of emergency provisions.
The decision to proscribe the Irish National Liberation Army will be received everywhere with full support. I personally deplore last week's BBC television interview with a leader of the INLA. This did nothing more than give free publicity to a small group of thugs. It is right to accept by and large the Bennett recommendations. Not only does this do something to restore public confidence, but it is also a clear sign of support for and confidence in the RUC. I pay my tribute to this force which is operating under great provocation and difficulty. Two months ago I was the inspecting officer at the passing out parade in Enniskillen of the RUC cadets. There was a fine body of 100 men and women. I spoke to the cadets, telling them that they had a role to play in preserving democracy in the Province. I was somewhat surprised the following day to find that, according to certain sections of the Irish Press, that was quite the wrong thing to have said.
I am glad that the RUC is now getting up to strength. I am also glad that there is to be a complement review and that it is not the Government's intention to prune and slash the security forces. I was a member of the Lord Edmund-Davies' 685 committee on the pay of the police, and I take some pleasure at the fact that the report of that committee has done something to bring police figures up to strength not only in Northern Ireland, but also elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Of course the minority have an interest in the RUC. They feel that they have not sufficient representation. Personally, I believe that that is a great tragedy. No one knows how many of the minority population are in the RUC. After all, one is a policeman—not a Protestant or a Roman Catholic policeman—in the same way as one might be, say, a trade unionist—not a Roman Catholic or a Protestant trade unionist. As my noble friend Lord Blease has said, one of the uniting issues in Northern Ireland is the trade union movement, and I believe it can do very much to help overcome more of our problems. Recently I visited the Castlereagh interrogation centre and saw the difficulties under which the RUC are working. Again, I pay tribute to them working in these conditions, suffering some of the criticisms, the unfounded criticisms, which are levelled at them.
In giving support to these orders, I hope that some way can be found to make all the people of Northern Ireland realise that they, and they alone, can solve their problem. We cannot solve it. We cannot act as referees. It is the people of Northern Ireland who must solve this problem so that they can live in peace, in social justice and security.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, may I start by thanking all noble Lords who have been kind enough to congratulate me on my appointment. I think I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Brookeborough that I am in process already of conversion into a true Ulsterman. Indeed, I make the remark only partly in jest because it is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it has a population which, individually, is generous, charitable, open and friendly; and what we are witnessing is war in Paradise. I think that that is the context in which we have to look at the tragic problems which lie behind the necessity of asking for the agreement of your Lordships to the continuation of these two powers.
Today's debate comes just over two months after this Government took office. 686 We are not old yet in experience or service; but in these two months my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, my fellow Ministers in another place and I have been busy coming to grips with the extreme complexity of Northern Ireland's many problems. I do not think that any of us would yet claim to have mastered all the matters for which we have responsibility but, equally, I am sure that, at least, we have got to know the problems better even if we are not yet sure of many of the answers. At this stage it has been particularly helpful to have had this debate and to have heard the views of noble Lords with long experience of and long involvement in the affairs of the province.
It is tempting for a new Government to rush into a particular course of action to " solve the Northern Ireland problem " as a sort of gesture of their ability to do things in a hurry. There is an understandable feeling that we should waste no time in taking initiatives. But there is also, I think, a good measure of understanding for our determination not to be over-hasty, not to set out on a path until we can see both the path itself and our objectives with clarity. Of course, that understanding will diminish as time goes by, but eight or nine weeks is not a long time. I hope therefore that your Lordships will be patient in the interim.
When these draft orders were debated in another place, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State outlined some of the areas where we shall be laying particular emphasis and, particularly, in the security field. There can be no doubt as to our objectives there. We shall do everything in our power to eliminate terrorism and to restore to every person, no matter where they are in Northern Ireland, the elementary human right to live in peace and safety. It is clear that if they live near the border, then that right may be interfered with differently than if they live elsewhere. Touching on the border question and the cross-border question, to which I shall return, your Lordships will be aware that negotiations over these matters are of an intense delicacy; because, as I said in opening, there are two interpretations of the history of the situation itself. To assume that the values that we have in raising a matter are the values that will be in the 687 minds of those with whom we are discussing them is often misleading. But I shall return to this. However, those who seek to subvert that right of people to live in peace and safety will be pursued and punished. Our aim is a peaceful society, a just society and a prosperous society.
We also recognise that we cannot achieve that aim without political progress. That, and the progress on the security front, must go together in harness. It is here that, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made clear, he will not be rushed. There is no easy answer. He has already met all the leading parties in Northern Ireland. He has heard their views and is aware of their ideals and aspirations. What we now have to do is to seek a means to reconcile their conflicting demands. It will require patience, sensitivity and understanding on our part and it will also require a high degree of leadership and of flexibility on the part of those who represent the people of Northern Ireland. None of that will be easy, but I think that we all recognise that party political progress in Northern Ireland cannot be made without the goodwill and co-operation of the political leaders of Northern Ireland. We, as a Government, are ready to do everything within our power, but only if the political leaders in Northern Ireland respond can our efforts meet with success.
I should like now to deal with some of the specific points raised by noble Lords in the course of the debate. I have attempted to marshal them in intelligible order but, with all these papers, it is rather like having an over-large hand at rummy. If inadvertently, I allow some of the " cards " to escape to the floor or elsewhere, I will endeavour, in going through the record of this debate, to make the omissions good through the normal channels of the post. In that context, several of your Lordships have suggested an early debate on the whole matter. I have two observations on that. One is that we shall have the Appropriations Order to consider later this month and that will be a useful opportunity to deal with matters of economic affairs on which a number of your Lordships have already touched. The other is that it is always open to a noble Lord to put down an Unstarred Question for debate; but I hope that we might do this, 688 as it were, in consultation because I think that the timing of such a debate might well have an effect not only on its importance but on its influence.
The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, spoke most helpfully during his introductory speech and the struck a note of optimism which was very agreeable to hear. He produced for us the Liberal proposals which have been in the air for a little while, relating to an advisory council. The suggestion for a small elected advisory council which might in due course develop of its own volition into an executive body may, at first sight, look attractive; but in fact I do not think it has been thought through to the level of practicalities. As a simple advisory council, it would have all the defects of such a body. That is to say, it would not be responsible to anybody; it would be a public platform for criticism of Government which would be difficult to ignore but difficult also to reply to, since one would not be speaking to people with parliamentary authority. I do not see the means by which it would assume the executive powers which I think it is intended should accrue to it without bypassing the people already elected to Parliament or else becoming in itself a re-enactment of the constitution which met so much trouble so few years ago.
I do not want to deploy a great barrage of argument at this stage. I merely wish to leave in the noble Lord's mind the idea that while I shall look in a friendly light at anything that he produces I do not entertain any tremendous optimism about the result of examining this particular point. On the other hand, I follow him entirely in his moving passage about the fact that if we can get the children to live in peace, then the chances of getting the adults, as they become adult, to live in peace are increased. My special responsibility is for education. It is all too clear that the beginning of any stable and happy adult life must be in love, as he put it. I think I will merely make this comment. No pupil taking O-levels this year, to use a yardstick with which your Lordships will be familiar, can remember a time other than the time of " the troubles ". What we are treating as an emergency, they regard as the normal condition of life. That is the tragedy and the peril of the situation.
I have already responded to one of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Brooke- 689 borough about my own conversion. I was glad that he approved of my right honourable friend's consultations on co-operation; although I think that perhaps they were fractionally less tentative than he may have thought. I see the pressures under which his opinions are formed. If you live in a Tom Tiddler's ground, as it must appear to some people on some occasions, then it is difficult to see why the full panoply of armed pursuit should not be carried out across the border. I would say simply that consultations are in progress and matters have been raised and discussed already to which the noble Viscount has alluded upon which I should like to make no statement at all which would prejudge the outcome. I cannot satisfy him at this stage; he must merely know that we understand his position and that co-operation in some spheres may improve.
My noble friend Lord Hylton did me the great kindness of giving me notice of some of his points, albeit in a matter of minutes rather than hours. For this I am grateful. He then raised a number of points to which I shall briefly reply. He spoke of a re-organisation of the Emergency Powers Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act so that they became an integral part of the law of the United Kingdom. A number of the powers that we use are already such an integral part because of the use of the Pevention of Terrorism Act which is a part of the law of the United Kingdom which is put into effect frequently. As to the other points, I believe that there are—
§ Lord HYLTON
My Lords, may I just interrupt? We know about the Prevention of Terrorism Act being part of United Kingdom law, but will the Government look at this point of having a comprehensive system covering the whole which can be invoked when required anywhere?
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I am sure that can be done and it will certainly be looked at because the noble Lord has asked that it should. However, there is an aspect of this of which we should not lose sight: the noble Lord is asking for powers to be available throughout the United Kingdom which are at present only available in the Province. He must look at this therefore first of all from the point of view of Great Britain to see whether it is desirable that it should be 690 extended to Great Britain; and, secondly, he must recognise—as we all do—that anything which appears to savour of what is called integration—that is, making the Province indissolubly part of the United Kingdom—has in itself a political effect on the views that some people have of the negotiations going on. With those matters in mind, I shall certainly ask my right honourable friend to look into this.
As to the liaison between the civil Government, the police and the Army in Northern Ireland, this is a matter which is of course constantly under review. I am not aware of any outstanding cases which suggest that it is not as good as it should be; but as these cases arise, the practice is reviewed on a daily basis. In other words, if the noble Lord is afraid that we are content with any aspect of what is going on and are prepared for things to repeat themselves, he may rest assured that that is not the case. He raised a number of detailed points about conduct of security in the matter of fingerprinting, and so on. I think it best if I reply to detailed points on paper, otherwise I shall be deferring the next business rather too long.
The noble Lord, Lord Plant, made a helpful intervention from his very influential position on the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. Some of the points he made were echoes of what had been said already. I shall wish to read his remarks before replying to the point about dropping certain powers under the Emergency Powers Act, particularly matters of the limitation of a judge's right to grant bail which I think is not absolute but means reference to a judge of a higher court and is not a denial therefore in absolute terms of a liberty. I was glad of the vigour with which he supported the banning of the INLA, and that he shared my own view of the broadcast platform that was given to one of its members.
There was one point which the noble Lord, Lord Blease, raised to which I did not refer as the paper was at the bottom of my notes. I had anticipated that he might raise it. This was with regard to the youth opportunities programme. This consists of a range of training and work experience schemes for unemployed 16 to 19 year-olds and has 691 now, as he will know but your Lordships may not, been in operation for some considerable time. The programme provides places for 6,000 unemployed young people. It is not an alternative to work but provides opportunities which are designed to enhance the young people's vocational attributes and to promote entry to employment. It is as good as it is in large measure because of the noble Lord's interest in the past.
The recently-announced public expenditure cuts have had some effect on the programme. It will however continue to provide the same number of places, 6,000, which were available in 1978–79, but the planned expansion of some basic schemes which provide less opportunity for direct placing of trainees in employment or which are consider to be less justified by reason of the quality of training is not to go ahead. The number of places already approved in the new community-based work preparation units will not be affected. That is the matter which the noble Lord had most closely at heart. At present the Government have approved the establishment under the programme of 22 of these units throughout Northern Ireland to provide places for 950 persons. Thus, while the effect of the cuts will be noticeable, they will bear almost exclusively on planned expansions of the programme and not upon the existing level of provision.
My Lords, I fear that I have detained your Lordships too long on a subject which is both complex and of very great importance. Your Lordships have been kind and patient in this debate and indeed in your approach to our policies. I am sure that if I can benefit throughout my tenure of office with such friendly advice and consultation with people of such eminence and experience as your Lordships, it will be the greatest assistance to me in performing my task. I beg to commend both orders to this House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.