HL Deb 11 July 1980 vol 411 cc1445-528

11.22 a.m.

The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE (Lord Elton) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Command Paper The Government of Northern Ireland: Proposals for Further Discussion (Cmnd. 7950).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I bring before the House a document which I believe to be a stepping stone on the way towards peace in Northern Ireland. The Paper is entitled The Government of Northern Ireland: Proposals for Further Discussion (Government paper No. 7950). It is concerned to bring closer a better form of government of the Province than that which it now enjoys. Until we are able to secure that better form of government, government in the present form must continue. The present form of government was established by the Northern Ireland Act 1974 and that Act expires unless it is extended by Parliament for periods of up to a year. It is now due for renewal.

Immediately after the end of this debate, therefore, I shall be inviting your Lordships' agreement to a statutory instrument which will secure that renewal for a further period. This is the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1980. Plainly, until we have a new form of government, the existing form cannot be allowed to lapse. The purposes of the order and of this present debate are, therefore, closely related, and I hope that your Lordships will agree to the passage of the order being taken pretty formally. As a corollary of this, of course, I hope that noble Lords will feel free to raise any matters directly con- cerning the order during the debate on the discussion document.

The document before us is a matter of great importance. Your Lordships have already testified to that importance, not only in your speeches when you have discussed the whole constitutional process in the past, but by coming to the House to discuss it in such large numbers today. The Government are aware that Friday is not the most convenient of days for your Lordships to attend; but the pressures on our legislative programme are very severe and the deadlines set for many items within that programme are very inflexible. As a result, either this debate had to be held very late at night and in the small hours of the morning or else it had to be set down for a Friday. I do not think that so important a matter should be relegated to midnight and beyond and I hope that your Lordships will agree that, under the circumstances, we took the right decision.

The principal aim of this Government's policy in Northern Ireland is to return to her people a greater say in their own affairs. As a nation we have pinned our faith upon democracy as the only form of government that is both strong enough to withstand the pressures of change and flexible enough to respond to the needs of individuals. In the rest of the United Kingdom that strength and flexibility is represented by an unbroken chain from the lowest to the highest level of government, with elected representation at every stage. In the Province that chain has been broken. Our object is to mend it. For as long as it remains severed, there is an implication of inferiority which no number of ministerial speeches and disavowals can dispel.

Your Lordships will recall that when this Government took office last year it began at once to take soundings and to explore ways by which the process of mending the chain could be begun, arid in October 1979 we announced our intention of convening a conference of representatives of each of the four main political parties in Northern Ireland for which the working paper (Cmnd. 7763) was published in November.

The convening of that conference was accompanied by a chorus of pessimism and many predictions of instant failure. In the event, one of the main parties—the Ulster Unionist Party—declined to attend, but the others did. The Alliance Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Democratic Unionist Party met with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in a room in the Stormont Parliament building. Those who had predicted that the conference would not meet changed their prediction to one of its immediate failure. In fact, it did not fail. It received, instead, submissions from the leaders of each of the three parties present. Week by week the collapse of the conference was predicted, and week by week it continued its work until, as the Secretary of State had predicted throughout, it was adjourned on 24th March, when the whole of the ground it had been asked to survey had been covered in no less than 34 half-day sessions. It did not generate a final report; it did not result in a final agreement. But then it had not been asked to do either thing. What it had done was to work through an agenda based on the questions addressed to it in the working paper; and in so doing it had delineated both those areas on which there was no agreement among the parties and the really quite considerable areas of common ground.

It was that product which the Secretary of State bore away from the conference, which he had so painstakingly conducted, and, in spite of the regrettable refusal of the Ulster Unionist Party to participate, it was a very worthwhile product. It was also a considerable personal achievement for the Secretary of State to have brought the parties, for so long estranged, into fruitful conversation; and to have done so in the face of almost daily declarations from the sidelines that what he had set himself to do was impossible.

The product of the conference, and the knowledge gained from bilateral talks on a wider range of subjects with a wider range of interest groups and individuals, were the materials upon which the Government had to work in order to produce the next step in our progress towards a devolved form of government.

Some there are, not very many, who would aim to increase the political self-control of the people of Northern Ireland by some kind of duplication of the local government structures established in the rest of the United Kingdom, that is to say, on integration with the United Kingdom. I shall leave aside the historical objections to this solution—though as the noble Lord Lord Blake, will shortly be reminding us, one can never safely ignore history in the Province—and I shall do no more than remind your Lordships that it was the total inability of local government structures to protect minority groups from exploitation that brought about one whole act in the tragic saga to which we are now trying to provide a happy conclusion. But I shall add this extra thought—if local self-government is to be trapped at the level represented by local authority structures in the rest of the United Kingdom, the inevitable result will be to place all serious and major issues firmly and permanently in the cockpit of Westminster.

The stronger and more conspicuous the hand that Westminster takes in Northern Ireland, the more closely will the people of the Province pursue their causes through the channels of Parliament, and the larger will the difficulties and, above all, the very large demands made upon the central resources of the state bulk in the consciousness of the rest of our people. I do not believe that that, in the long-run, will be in the interest of the Province. The arithmetic in paragraph 12 of the Paper makes that very clear. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland want to run as much of their own show as they can and I believe that the people of Great Britain and their representatives in Parliament are anxious that they should. Integration is against the grain of history; it is contrary to the wishes of most of the people of the Province; it is contrary to the wishes of most Members of both Houses of Parliament and it is incapable of securing the confidence of a very large minority of the people whom it is proposed to subject to it.

That last consideration is a vital one. We have from the outset recognised—and everyone simply has to recognise—that no system of government will work if it lacks the confidence or attracts the opposition of any significant sector of the community; and that goes for the majority as well as for the minority. Integration would inspire hatred in many and hostility in a great many more members of the minority. It would not be accepted; it would have to be imposed. The Government are determined not to embark upon any course that leads inevitably to the imposition of a form of Government that could only be imposed against the wishes of a large number of our fellow citizens who would have to live under it.

I spoke of acceptability—or rather the lack of it—in the context of integration, and I used that term—integration—to refer to assimilation of the Province into the standard structures of local government of Great Britain. That would be repugnant to very many of the citizens of the Province. But do not forget this. Do not forget that there are two sorts of integration and two sorts of integrationist and that the second sort desire the assimilation of the Province into the local government structures, not of Great Britain but of the Republic of Ireland. That also would be met with the flat and, indeed, the strenuous rejection of a very large number of the citizens of the Province. Integration in either of its senses is, in today's world, a non-starter and a dangerous one. It may be that we have to provide structures capable of movement in either direction, but to embark upon progress in either direction would be a false and a costly step.

I have said that we are determined to seek agreement, and I have sought to indicate some of the parameters within which it must be found. Nothing durable or worthwhile will be achieved without agreement. Agreement is the only way by which we shall be able to offer peace to the citizens of the Province, and it is for peace that they long with a great longing. It is my belief that terrorism survives in the Province principally because the citizens of the Province cannot at present find within their state the object of a common loyalty. The object of the loyalty of many of its citizens is repugnant or suspect to many more. Thus divided in their loyalties, each community feels itself threatened by the other, and it is in this crack that terrorism of each colour—and let us not forget that there are two—gains its fatal purchase. Surely, therefore, it must be in the interests of all and it must be an overriding priority of Government to achieve, by constitutional development, an object of common loyalty for both communities. Surely we must try to provide the framework within which members of every persuasion can work with the others and discover therein not a threat but a common and overriding self interest in peaceful co-operation.

What more compelling motive than this could there be for seeking to reach a constitutional settlement? I believe passionately that it is for this purpose that I and my colleagues are in the Province at present. There are those in this House and in the country who are filled with an even greater burning impatience. They expect the Secretary of State to drive furiously, like Jehu, towards this goal. That, I am convinced, would destroy any vestige of a chance of success. Stormont Castle demands a completely different tempo from any tune such as that played at Lancaster House, for instance.

On the other hand, I believe there are many who will question whether agreement is yet within our grasp. We are bound to listen with great care and attention to their views on the subject, and to those who live in the Province we must, of course, pay greatest attention of all. But I must say that from where the Government stand there does seem to be a gradual but real movement towards reconciliation. A very great deal is being done among voluntary bodies and between individuals to bring the two sides together. This has been described as a middle-class phenomenon, and some social analysts have described the disturbances in the Province as a working-class war. I think the development of reconciliation has spread and is spreading beyond the confines of the middle class and I believe it has achieved a gradual but perceptible momentum which must not be ignored. It is time that it was recognised and reinforced by institutional means. If that is so—and noble Lords will have their own views on this—then the time is indeed ripe for the step which the Government propose to take. By his slow and careful progress the Secretary of State has now brought us to a mid-point in our quest for a settlement, to the document which I earlier described as a stepping stone.

When I repeated in this House my right honourable friend's Statement in another place on the publication of this document, I was criticised for a very thin Statement. That was because it had not yet been read by anybody, and I did not want your Lordships to commit yourselves to a view upon a necessarily abbreviated and tenuous summary on the Paper that I would be able to present to you. That was the policy of my right honourable friend, and I think it was right. Your Lordships will, I am sure, have read that document with care before participating in this debate and you will not expect me now to recapitulate its entire contents.

Suffice it to say that the Government have suggested two methods for forming an acceptable executive within the outer framework which they propose. They believe that either would be compatible with the basic interests and demands of both the majority and minority communities, and that either would be capable of giving Northern Ireland a successful system of locally accountable Government. If any proposals are to stand up to scrutiny they must have a strong amalgam of practical and political merits. Although we do not say that there are at this stage only two possible starters, both exactly as described in Cmnd. 7950, we do believe that we have not overlooked any possibilities with a stronger claim to both practicality and acceptability.

Your Lordships will have noted that a number of voices have been heard on the media and elsewhere prophesying the imminent failure of this new stage in our constitutional initiative. I should have been worried if they had been silent. They have been with us all along, like rooks following the plough; they cry havoc and keep a sharp eye out for worms left in the furrow. Your Lordships, I trust, are birds of a different feather. What I ask you to give, in your generosity, is your careful and temperate opinions of the document now before the House, and your considered views of how we can help the people of the Province to achieve their own salvation. It is not in our power to force them into amity and mutual confidence. All we can do is to provide the structures within which they can work together, first without fear and later without resentment. It is in the light of the reflections of those people upon this Paper, and upon the reflections thereon given in this House and another place, that the Government will construct their proposals for the new constitution. I hope that your Lordships will join me in urging the political leaders in the Province to shoulder the responsibility of leading their people together towards reponsibility and towards peace.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Command Paper The Government of Northern Ireland: Proposals for Further Discussion (Cmnd. 7950).—(Lord Elton.)

11.38 a.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord gave us a handsome apology for meeting today. I shall make no complaint, but I must myself regrettably make a very humble apology. When an important debate of this kind is put on suddenly on a day which is normally a free day, it does tend to conflict with unavoidable engagements, and I regret to say that I am going to do something I have not done for six years in this House, which is to leave before the end of a debate in which I have spoken. I must humbly ask the pardon of the House.

The noble Lord has expounded the Paper very clearly and has accompanied it with sentiments which I entirely share. On this side we welcome the Government's initiative in trying once again to achieve some measure of devolved Government. The problem remains as intractable as ever, but the Government are certainly right to go on trying. One day, not perhaps this time—and perhaps much later—some workable system will be arrived at, and we wish the Government success in this latest attempt. Let there be no doubt about the feelings on my side of the House. The problem is simple but it is not at all simple to solve. We have two-thirds of the population of the Province wanting one thing and one-third wanting something quite incompatible with it, as the noble Lord said.

But, whatever the politicians and the hard-faced and ruthless men of violence may want, 90 per cent. of both sections of the community want peace, again as the noble Lord also said. They want peace, yes, but however seriously you want peace, if an IRA gunman shoots your friend at his front door before his children's eyes, or if a Protestant gunman throws a bomb into a pub where your friend is sitting, your long-term desire for peace is overtaken by a short-term determination for vengeance. The political parties, with the honourable exception of the Alliance, inevitably exploit this. Thus, it is a situation of constantly renewed obstacles and we must not for a moment underestimate the unlikelihood of a quick solution.

The ordinary people could and would combine and co-operate if left alone, but if confronted by violent and offensive provocation from the other side, they become uncompromising themselves. In the end, some agreement which sticks, for a year or two anyway, on how to devolve the government of the country so that minority rights are fully protected must be found. I was there right through the gradual and finally abrupt failure of the 1973 compromise. The root cause of the failure was the activity of the IRA, which produced the violent reaction of the hardline Protestants and eventually the paramilitary stoppage.

However, do not be deceived. The power-sharing Government worked rather well and was loyally supported by the majority of both sides, until the whole thing was fouled up by the men of violence and began to crumble. The difficulty, as I see it, is that any future compromise, such as the one we are looking for as a result of this Paper, is likely to be wrecked by the extremists in exactly the same way. This is something we must face, but we must go on trying and we must be content if we can get two or three years' improvement before it blows up again.

It is a curious situation. It is the extremists who run Northern Ireland. As soon as ordinary decent people work together—as of course they do already in many walks of life—one extreme group or the other wrecks everything, and the political leaders dare not lead in a moderate direction because of their extremist followers. And if they do, they get the sack or a bullet, as we have seen so often on both sides. We have to go on trying. At least we have got rid of one of the underlying fears or excuses for mistrust in the minds of the Protestants after Sunningdale, the Council of Ireland, which they alleged was the top of a slippery slope.

The White Paper reaffirms the British Government's promise that there shall be no change in the constitution of Northern Ireland without the consent of its people, and here I must pause to reflect on the differences in the mechanism between English and Irish brain sequences. The Taoiseach promised unequivocally that there should be no effort on the part of the South to achieve unity without the consent of the North, yet he then begged our Prime Minister not to renew Great Britain's promise not to contemplate unity without consent. I can see no difference between the two promises; from the Taoiseach it is made and thought to be a good thing, while from this country it is made and thought to be a bad thing. I do not understand it at all. But I can assure my friends in Northern Ireland that the Labour Party as at present led endorses without qualification the reassertion of this promise in the White Paper. Indeed, any attempt to behave otherwise would, in my opinion, lead immediately to civil war.

I think the treatment of the so-called Irish dimension in paragraphs 17 to 22 of the Green Paper is courageous and constructive and in fact says all that can be said at this stage. Let us look now at the two proposals clearly outlined in the Paper and clearly referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton; first, that the assembly should be elected by direct popular election using the PR system and the executive made up in proportion to the votes cast, which would naturally give the Protestant parties an overall majority. Could the minority parties possibly accept that? Do they trust the goodwill and wish for stability of the majority enough to put them into such a dominant position? It would, in our opinion, be much the best solution, and the majority could behave generously and fairly, but I cannot for one moment see the minority accepting it. Nor does Wednesday's debate next door give us much hope.

The second alternative hardly seems more hopeful. The council of the assembly would be formed of chairmen and deputy chairmen of committees equally divided between the supporters of and opposition to the assembly, so that 50 per cent. plus one would be required for a positive vote. The Paper does not tell us what its powers should be—obviously advisory, but also surely with delaying powers and the power to refer back and perhaps even to block. In the event of deadlock, the Secretary of State would decide. This seems to me right and satisfactory and I was surprised that the Daily Telegraph, what my noble friend Lord Bruce described as the Tory house journal, should be so bitterly scornful of the suggestion. Even if the Secretary of State were involved far more than he should be as a result of too many deadlocks, the problems would have been publicly and officially debated, which must be a good thing.

One of Northern Ireland's troubles is that there is no field for the development of democratic politicians, as the Secretary of State said in his speech, whom it needs desperately to produce the next generation of leaders to lead the Province out of its present chaos. The statesmanship of a Sadat does not develop from mere local government; there must be public and open discussion of professional men giving their time and thought to it and open to criticism of an intelligent kind from the newspapers. One does not always get that but it is always worth hoping for. Either scheme would give this opportunity and either would be wholly welcome to us on this side. We must pray that the two sides will have the sense and restraint to come to agreement on some such lines, but I doubt if the minority will accept the former or the majority the latter, so my welcome is heavily tinged with scepticism.

Nothing in the proposals will deal with the most important of Northern Ireland's problems; namely, security, unemployment and economics. I shall not discuss those now; my noble friend Lord Blease, who is to sum up on our side, lives there and knows the matters very much more closely than I do and will talk about such things. However, I do not want anybody to think that our support of this Paper means that it produces solutions to the main problems, because it clearly does not. But a devolved Government, without being a sufficient or even a necessary condition for solving these dreadfully difficult problems, would be a most useful contributory factor and would, I think, be welcomed by the majority on both sides of the divide.

Meanwhile, we have to plod on. Our soldiers will continue to be shot in the back and our policemen to be murdered on their beats. Many tributes are paid to these brave men and I wish to add mine, but I want especially to praise the morale of the prison staff—governors, assistant governors, officers, instructors and welfare officers—and I had a good deal to do with them when I was there. In the Maze riots and Drumlin Road riots they behaved with exemplary bravery in very frightening situations. Above all, I admired their patience and quiet courage and restraint in their difficult everyday duties and their daily journey to and from work, with a real risk of being murdered before their children's eyes every working day of their lives. There was no sign of their taking it out on the prisoners, whose friends were murdering their colleagues, and this is a very creditable thing I say without the faintest hesitation.

I do not think any new political initiative will solve these basic problems, but I believe that a devolved Government, however creaky and unsatisfactory, would be a step forward. I read with distress the comments of the politicians of the majority. I think that the political leaders of both sides, most of whom are my acquaintances, and some of whom are my friends, must be less intransigent and face the realities of their future.

Two things are not going to happen under any British Government. There will not be unity with the South without consent, and there will be no devolved majority government in the North without proper and real safeguards for the minority, which must involve their having some say in government, if only of a negative kind. Why cannot the leaders give a little and come together on this basis? The Secretary of State was absolutely right; it is useless to continue to insist on something that you know you cannot get. So, with a good deal of gloom, I commend the Government's initiative to try once more to make the leaders of these charming, but uncompromising, people see sense.

11.51 a.m.


My Lords, I like the comment that, "No one who isn't confused really understands the Irish problem today". It gives me hope. As I talk with more men and women from Ireland, and especially from the North, I find them delightful, but sometimes contradictory, even of what they themselves said earlier. Only a few days ago someone said to me that the security position in Northern Ireland had greatly improved over the last few years, but later he went on to say that in some ways it had greatly deteriorated. So, if in what I say I in any way appear to contradict myself, I hope that your Lordships will bear with me.

For a start I am sorry that we do not seem to be discussing a Green Paper, since, without any political leaning, I like The Times cartoon comment that: The Orangemen won't like that for a start. I have listened with great interest to what the Minister has had to say, and to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, with his previous experience of Northern Ireland affairs. The Liberal Party, as well as the Labour Party, offer general support and encouragement to the Government in their endeavours to discover a satisfactory form for a return to devolved rule in Belfast. I shall speak first of the political problems before us, and follow this up with some reference to the parallel and vital need for reconciliation and co-operation. I do not propose to deal here with the security position, which we accept should remain under control by Westminster for the foreseeable future. I should like to say how much I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has said in his praise for the prison staff at the present time.

As for economic reconstruction, I should like to say that I think that the people of Ulster deserve what financial support we can give them at a time that is even more difficult for them than it is for us. But it should be made clear to those who call for British withdrawal that we are still contributing some thousands of millions of pounds annually towards the cost of the Province's public expenditure. Independence for Ulster really would not be very practicable.

Let me summarise my party's views as I see them. We support the attempt to set up again a devolved form of government with an assembly of around 80, and of course we like the idea that elections should be by the single transferable vote form of proportional representation. We support the Secretary of State in his attempt to promote the idea of partnership in government, and we fully agree that it is vital that there should be some safeguard against the minority always having its wishes overridden. But how this can best be achieved and how reasonable harmony can be brought about is a question largely for the people of Ulster to determine.

Given such a safeguard, the Catholics should cease to demand reunification of North and South so long as this is demonstrably against the clear wishes of a large majority in the Province,. including, I understand, quite a number of Catholics. And what would be the value of a so-called "guarantee" that the North could remain in the United Kingdom as long as it wished, if the guarantee was given today and casually swept aside tomorrow? I like to think that we may look forward to a time when the Irish are proud to be reunited, but in the meantime the Republic must make its case wisely; it must persuade, it should not coerce.

Lastly, we, too, do not believe that total integration of the North into the United Kingdom would be any sort of solution, against the wishes of the SDLP and the Catholic minority. The key word is of course compromise, and we must hope that all parties, learning from the bitter experience of the past 10 years, will be prepared to give as well as to take. Although the use of STV at the election might appear to make a referendum superfluous, we still believe that it might constitute a valuable means by which grass-roots voters would be seen to accept and support constructive proposals. It could also have widespread publicity value, signalling to the world an understanding, democratically arrived at.

Finally, on the political side perhaps I might refer to the letter of the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, published in The Times on Wednesday, in which he forcefully made the point that we should not rule out the possible need to continue direct rule. It worried me to read in the press some weeks ago that the Government initiative over North Ireland had "failed". To my mind, the only real failure would be to give up trying; that is, trying very hard to solve the present difficulties. The continuation of direct rule would we believe be only a second best answer, but personally I would never classify it as "failure".

I believe that, on the basis that good news is no news, we get an exaggeratedly gloomy picture of what goes on in the Province today, but do not let me suggest that I am unaware of the many tragedies that have been brought about directly by the terrorist campaign yesterday and today, and which will, alas!, be brought about even tomorrow, too. But I find reassurance when I read such articles as that by Eric Moonman in The Times on Wednesday, headed: Away from the violence—a record Northern Ireland can be proud of That article ends with words that your Lordships may recall: People who care about the mentally ill can be found anywhere in the world. But in Northern Ireland I found a deeper level of concern, perhaps born out of the troubled years, which makes its workers very determined and shows itself in a caring efficiency Here is hope that good can, and will, come out of the troubles.

Perhaps I might mention two more quotations that seem to be relevant. Dr. F. S. L. Lyons in the W. B. Rankin Memorial Lecture, delivered before the Queen's University of Belfast in December 1978, had this to say (as reported on page 26 of the published booklet): This picture of normality functioning bravely amid subnormality is not one that is sufficiently understood elsewhere. To a limited extent it has been recognised in the Republic, but in England, where the journalism of catrastrophe has such hypnotic power, the idea that good can sometimes come out of Ulster has proved singularly difficult to grasp. In a statement by the Corrymeela Community in a book published in 1975 there appear on page 54 the following words: We in Corrymeela must be more courageous and unwearying in seeking new ways of understanding and new formulae for mutual cooperation. The qualities supremely needed now are patience, courage, imagination and hope. We have previously talked in debate of the need for patience and courage. It is fair to add now the need for imagination and hope. Finally, perhaps I might make one specifically Liberal point. If elections to an Ulster Assembly are to be by single transferable vote, because of its much greater fairness than that achieved by first-past-the-post, perhaps the same principle may in due course be felt relevant at Westminster. I say no more.

11.59 a.m.

The Lord Bishop of CHELMSFORD

My Lords, first, may I make apology to the House because by reason of other responsibilities I shall have to leave before the end of the debate. A representative of one of the British Churches might perhaps be forgiven for sitting silent in the debate that we are now having. The Churches, we have to admit, have an ambivalent record in the history of Ireland, both North and South. They have contributed much that is glorious, both in the past and today, in a more ecumenical age, but there is also much that is shameful.

The British, too, have a mixed record in Irish affairs. It is not necessary to subscribe to all the myths of Irish nationalism in order to recognise that our ancestors, in Government, Parliament and society, were too often insensitive to the aspirations of the Irish, and too often subordinated the needs of Ireland to short-term exigencies of British politics.

It must be said, however, that over the past decade we in Britain have gone some way to restore the balance. Whatever our judgment may be on the policies that successive British Governments have pursued since the outbreak of the present troubles, no one need doubt that in terms of money and political energy, and supremely in the lives of very many Britons, civilians as well as servicemen —some of whom have been mentioned—this country has given deeply and in many ways to help the people of Northern Ireland in their travail. We have been willing to do this. It is understandable that on occasion the sense of frustration at the absence of movement in Northern Ireland should lead some people in this country to support the call "Brits out"; but I believe such an attitude, if reflected in firm decisions, would represent a dreadful abdication of our responsibilities, and a shameful abandonment of our friends.

We should, however, be clear as to what our help is ultimately directed. It is not an expression of imperial condescension; the belief that without us the people of Northern Ireland could do nothing. It is rather directed, as we have heard, to enabling them to take responsibility for their own future, in partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom and, we must hope, in co-operation with their neighbours South of the border. We have an important contribution to make in holding the ring, and tirelessly and patiently exploring new possibilities for a political order in Northern Ireland; and successive Governments have demonstrated this patient work. It is of the essence of the belief in democracy which we share that people must themselves take responsibility for the way in which their common life is ordered. It is therefore an unavoidable responsibility of the people of Northern Ireland, their political spokesmen and representatives, to reach sufficient agreement on where their common interests lie to enable constitutional advances to take place.

One takes it for granted that constitutional advance is necessary. Mention has already been made of the letter written by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, to The Times recently, in which he said that there are many moderate people in Northern Ireland who would prefer a continuation of direct rule to the other options open to them. That is true, of course. I have, together with other British Churchmen, regularly over the past four years, visited Northern Ireland for talks with representatives of the Irish Churches, and have been reminded constantly that there are respects in which the administration of direct rule could be improved. It has worked, and it represents a tolerable way of governing the Province. Nevertheless, it is a makeshift. As the White Paper says, it is not a permanent answer: it cannot be for a people who for 50 years experienced a measure of legislative automony and a separate local administration. More importantly, so long as the nettle of institutions of government is not grasped, I do not believe we shall make serious progress with the reconciliation of the two communities. It is only when the people of Northern Ireland themselves actually get down to the job of operating together a system of government that the deep, inherited mistrust and the stereotypes of each other will begin slowly to dissipate.

Having said that, I am aware, as of course all of us are, that security and jobs represent for many people in the Province matters of greater moment than new constitutional devices. To them I believe we have to reiterate our conviction that the discipline of democratic government, once accepted, will itself enable the people of the Province themselves to begin to grapple with these issues, though we have to be realistic in recognising that there will be no magic answers to either in the future, any more than there are now.

My Lords, I am no constitutional expert, and therefore I shall not bother your Lordships with reflections upon the proposals set out in the Paper. However, I should like to make one point in respect of the first alternative put forward—that of a power-sharing executive. I, in company with many others, profoundly regretted the collapse of the executive after its brief life of six months in 1974. I would not say that this model is the only way of ensuring the consent of both communities; but I think we should be prepared to see it given a fair wind, and should not too hastily dismiss it on the grounds that it is foreign to our democratic institutions. Anyone with a long memory will know that in British local government something like this existed for many years until it was (regrettably, as some may think) superseded by greater reliance on strict party majorities.

Again, if we look across the Channel, the Swiss Conferdation has for many years been governed on this basis, and in consequence has been substantially delivered from the communal rivalries which were a feature of its earlier history. It could be that in future our political interests in this country might turn out to be better served by constitutional structures which associated all the political parties in government rather than, as at present, only that party which can command a majority of seats. That is by the way. Our responsibility should be to ensure, so far as possible, that options are not ignored simply because they have not been tried before. That way lies political sterility.

May I make one further point? I am conscious, as all of us must be, that deep in the heart of many members of the majority community in Northern Ireland lies the feeling—all the more potent when it is inarticulate—that the minority community do not really accept the legitimacy of the state of Northern Ireland; and there is, alas!, much in the history of the Province since 1921 to confirm the majority in this feeling. If we are to expect the majority community to accept constitutional innovations which have the effect of giving them less than outright political control, it is reasonable to look for clear indications from the minority—and I have the SDLP specifically in mind here—that they accept the reality of Northern Ireland as a constitutional entity, and are committed to working for its prosperity and political stability.

That is not to say, of course, that there should never be any change in the political relationship between North and South. "Never", surely, is a word we should be cautious about using in politics or in other fields. As paragraph 18 of the Paper reminds us, the British Government are committed only to the principle that any change should be the result of the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland. It says: Those who aspire to Irish unity can pursue their own objectives by legitimate and peaceful means". In this context, I feel bound to say that I found unhelpful the Irish Government's statement, to which reference has been made, issued after the present Paper was published, that: The problem [of Northern Ireland] cannot be solved in a Northern Ireland context alone", and that a declaration by the British Government of their interest in encouraging Irish unity by consent would advance the situation". In an obvious and tragic sense the problem of Northern Ireland is and always has been its dual relationship with the rest of Ireland and with Britain. But it is one thing to recognise that, quite another to speak of "encouraging Irish unity"—at least short-term.

My Lords, the Churches in these islands have experienced in their own lives and in the ecumenical movement something of the pain and uncertainty involved in moving out of entrenched positions and into closer relationships with each other. Over the road, at the General Synod, we have been agonising about this ourselves this week. We are in no doubt that, despite that pain and that uncertainty, it is the right course, and one which brings with it renewal and a real sense of liberation into new possibilities. It is my belief that if with our assistance the people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Roman Catholic, can take the risk of leaving the safety of entrenched positions and immobilism, they will be greatly rewarded. Government by consent in Northern Ireland is not the millennium; there, as here, there are many other intractable problems to be worked out. But the achievement of political institutions based on consent and backed by the will to work them of the people of the Province is something we all long for, for which we should all work and for which we should all pray.

12.10 p.m.


My Lords, it would be a very over-confident and rash person who did not feel a keen sense of apprehension in addressing your Lordships for the first time, but in my case my apprehension is increased by the fact that the subject for debate today is Northern Ireland and the custom of your Lordships' House is that maiden speakers should be unprovocative. Nevertheless, I feel that there are a few points which it is possible to put forward in an unprovocative way and which perhaps come appropriately from the Cross-Benches.

I first visited Northern Ireland in 1940 as a sailor and, like so many other people, was moved by the contrast between the fine qualities shared in common by both communities and the appalling divisions between them. More recently, I have been in an official position where I could closely observe the persevering efforts of successive British Governments of both political parties to try to resolve these divisions and thus put an end to violence while providing democratic Government and civil liberties.

I do not propose to draw directly on that experience in addressing your Lordships, but I should like to start by making two general points. The first is that we have to deal with Northern Ireland as it is and not as we should like it to be or as it might be in some other part of the world. The situation in Northern Ireland is unique, in that the Province is not homogeneous politically or culturally and because the political parties divide mainly not over the economic and social questions which are the bread and butter of the ballot box in most other countries, but rather over constitutional issues, with the majority community wishing to maintain the Province's status within the United Kingdom and the minority community wanting not only a guarantee of civil rights and some participation in the institutions of government but also, in most cases, at least the prospect of eventual reunification with the Republic of Ireland. In other words, both communities feel threatened: the Protestants by the Catholic majority in Ireland as a whole and the Catholics by the Protestant majority in the North.

This situation is not going to change quickly. The task which the Government face, therefore, is to put new life into the political process without prejudicing the legitimate—and I emphasise the word "legitimate"—interests of either community. Thus, the majority community must remain reassured that, so long as they wish to stay part of the United Kingdom, that wish will not be bargained away, but they have to remember that, since for the foreseeable future they will remain a permanent majority, it is also a legitimate interest for the large minority community to feel that the Government should not be the permanent preserve of one party and that they should have some say in their own affairs through their own political parties.

The White Paper I think faces this dilemma well. I agree in particular with the statement in paragraph 20, which says: … the majority community should be confident that Northern Ireland cannot be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom without the consent of a majority of its people; the minority community should accept and respect that fact; and in response the majority should ensure a positive role for the minority community in arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland. And it is in the interests of both communities to recognise and develop the links that exist between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland". My Lords, my second general observation is that I am convinced that there are no short cuts or simple solutions to this problem: integration, dominion status, re-partition, independence or withdrawal—all are open to serious objections of one kind or another and they would all run the risk of doing a serious injustice to one or both communities. The essential thing seems to me to be to devise arrangements which, in the short term, will provide reassurance and a say in the running of their own affairs to both communities coupled with the certainty that in the longer term the United Kingdom will continue to respect the wishes of the majority of all the people in Northern Ireland in respect of their relations with the United Kingdom and with the Republic of Ireland.

The proposals for devolved powers described in the White Paper as the "outer framework" should go a long way to restore to the people of Northern Ireland greater control of their own affairs. I am particularly glad that, following the consultation with the parties, the Government have come down against what was called the local government option. Apart from the considerable disruption and expense which this would have caused and to which the White Paper rightly draws attention, it would have had something of the appearance of a charade, particularly, since the divisions which have to he healed are mainly at the provincial level.

The proposals for associating the minority representatives with the executive are obviously more difficult and more controversial. I was not altogether surprised to see that one newspaper referred to them as "democratically grotesque". But a conventional solution would not match a situation which, in itself, is highly unconventional, and both history and geography point to the need for special arrangements in Northern Ireland unlike those in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Neither the option for provincial representation in the executive nor the option for a Council of the Assembly with certain blocking powers, subject to the overriding orders of the Secretary of State, will be easily accepted by both communities. It was not perhaps surprising that in some quarters disagreement has already been expressed. But I hope that they will not be too easily rejected either. Both communities are being asked to accept something which falls short of their full objectives in return for positive benefits and positive guarantees. This, I think, in present circumstances is what the principle of consent in Northern Ireland ought to be about. Nor are there no grounds for hope. In Belfast people have been talking together who have not talked together for a very long time. The level of violence has been reduced although it has not yet been defeated either North or South of the border. At the community level, admirable work is being clone by a number of voluntary and Church organisations, and the cautious words of paragraphs 21 and 22 of the White Paper could also provide a new way of looking at relations with the Republic of Ireland.

The first need, however, is to reach agreement on renewed political activity within Northern Ireland on a basis acceptable to both communities and separately to see how relations between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland can be developed for the benefit of all, with our common membership of the European Communities as a new and helpful factor. Progress on each of these fronts could well reinforce progress on the other.

The question which critics have to ask themselves is this: what happens if this chance is missed? I have not referred hitherto to the economic situation in Northern Ireland. This is a time of recession and in Northern Ireland they are feeling the recession on top of all their other economic problems. A political settlement is desperately necessary to allow economic recovery. The concluding section of the White Paper makes it clear that, failing agreement on the White Paper proposals, the Government will go on trying, and that one possibility would be a kind of rolling devolution in progressive stages to an elected assembly. That would be a very minimal approach which would satisfy few in the Province and would probably not command the necessary international support. It has also been argued that many people feel that a continuance of direct rule would be the least worst option. This could indeed become inevitable, but its disadvantages would be very real and I cannot feel that it is desirable.

The task of the Government in Northern Ireland, if I may say so without disrespect, is in many ways like the proverbial man on the bicycle: so long as he keeps pedalling, however slowly, he will stay upright; but if he loses all momentum he faces disaster. While the war against terrorism would of course continue, the prospect of indefinite direct rule would sooner or later lead to a vacuum and the demand for a new initiative.

New initiatives cannot be produced at will out of a hat like a conjuror. The ground for them has to be carefully prepared and they require great ingenuity if they are to have the chance of commanding the necessary acceptance, both in the Province and more widely in the international community. I believe that the Government, following their consultations with the parties, have come forward with reasonable proposals. They may well require some amendment in the light of further discussion, but they provide a basis for reconciliation and for devolution if the will for these is there. That is why I hope very much that the message that will go out from this debate today will be one of general endorsement for the White Paper and of encouragement to both communities to study it with the attention it deserves and then seize the opportunity which it presents.

12.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to offer my warm congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, on a really excellent maiden speech. With his very distinguished background, one certainly expected that we would get a good one. In fact, it was an excellent speech, one that was knowledgeable, analytical, contructive and helpful to us in Northern Ireland. Those of us who come from Northern Ireland will be very grateful to him for what he has said today, and would offer the hope that he will take other opportunities to help us in our affairs. I certainly offer to him my warmest congratulations.

I am probably the first speaker today who actually lives in Northern Ireland. I want to make it plain that I personally would like to see a devolved Government returned and I think that very many of my fellow countrymen would want the same. I should also like to say that, so far as I am concerned, I would be willing to support any of the solutions which have been put forward in the White Paper, if agreement can be reached—some, I must admit, with less enthusiasm than others. If agreement could be reached, certainly I, for one, would be wholeheartedly behind them in trying to make them work.

The difficulty is to try and make progress on this, and I am bound to say that the White Paper has aroused practically no interest at all in Northern Ireland. It is really one might say almost a non-event. That may be partly because there are no Northern Ireland politicians who are attempting to sell it. It may be partly because people think that none of these things is likely to come to pass. It may be partly because they are punch drunk with other horrors.

I still live in the middle of what was my constituency in the Stormont days. I still often see people who took part in politics and then have seen them since this document came out, and the subject has not even been mentioned unless I raised it myself. I am afraid that this is not getting off to a very encouraging start. I cannot see why this moment has been selected as a hopeful one. I cannot see what has happened in recent times to make it more likely that agreement will be reached now than when the ill-fated convention dispersed five or six years ago. The personalities are much the same. The scenario is certainly better, but again there are still a lot of deaths. As has already been said, if they see their neighbour being shot on a tractor nearby, people's worst passions are aroused and the prospect of rational debate recedes a very long way away.

I entirely agree with the premise in the White Paper that the minority must be represented in whatever form of Government there is to be. As the White Paper says, it has been the problem over the years that the minority have always been in the position where they never had any hope of becoming the Government party. That is bound to be an unhealthy situation in any country, and of course it leads to irresponsible opposition and all sorts of problems of that kind.

The difficulty about all this is that the main parties, Protestant or Catholic, hold completely and utterly diametrically opposed views. The majority parties say they arc not prepared to share power with the minority. The minority parties say they want no devolution unless they have a share in the Government. How that is going to be reconciled, I simply do not know. There is no doubt in my mind that, as long as the violence continues, the majority are going to continue to believe—and very many of them do, my Lords, so do not underestimate it—that this situation is brought about by the minority, or, if it is not brought about by the minority, then the minority are in sympathy with it. While it is not a view that I share, it is no exaggeration to say that it is very widely held.

Of course, if you hold that view, you are very unlikely to want to be in partnership in Government with people whom you think have either a connection or are in sympathy with violence. It is simply distrust, and was made worse even yesterday by the fact that the SDLP, the main minority party, visited Mr. Haughey in Dublin to discuss with him this White Paper. The SDLP is a very strong, healthy, well-organised party and should he able to solve its own problems within its own knowledge of Northern Ireland without having to go elsewhere. This creates further distrust and makes compromise agreement, whatever you like to call it, more difficult. If one looks at the SDLP side, they believe that over the years they have never had their rightful share of the cake, and they believe that they will not get it until they actually form part of the Government and are able to ensure that they get it.

The problem is that to get devolution we need compromise and that means that we need some goodwill and trust. It simply is not there at the moment because of the deaths, the bombings and all the rest of it, and in my view it will not be there until that is brought under control. As for the paper itself, much of it is very much the 1970 mixture that led to the executive of 1974. Like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, I thought that was a good system. I thought it worked well and it might well have succeeded had not so many other things been hung round it at the Sunningdale Conference. Had it not been for that it might have worked, and I am very glad to see that none of those things have been included in the present proposals. But, to put it at its lowest, the executive did nobody any harm.

Subscribing as I do to the view that the minority must participate, I do not feel that it is terribly important which of the various systems proposed are followed. The only one I have grave doubts about, if I understand it correctly, is the council or the assembly proposed in Paragraph 57. I question whether that would work. I do not believe that any body which could propose a veto on an elected Government could create anything but trouble and quickly produce an unworkable situation.

The only other point I would make on the details of the White Paper concerns the number of the proposed seats for the Assembly. I believe that 80 seats arc far, far too many for a population of 1½ million. I look back to my own days in politics and the pressures in a small constituency are very great. One small and active pressure group can make the life of a Member of Parliament (as many of us know) extremely difficult and the smaller you make those constituencies the more subject the members of the Assembly are going to be to these local pressure groups. I should have thought that something of about the size of the old Stormont would be quite large enough.

However, the nub of this thing is to get agreement and to get something set up and I am bound to be gloomy, frankly, and say that I think the Secretary of State is probably trying to achieve the impossible at the moment. But I should like to emphasise that, even if he fails—and I do not want him to—it is terribly important that no attempt should be made to try to impose a solution. That would be a total and complete disaster, and I beg the Government not to try. In my view, whatever is set up in those circumstances will be boycotted by part of the population, and laws that are passed by an unrepresentative body are not going to be obeyed. Then if an effort is made to enforce them, we shall be back to all the old troubles on the streets that we have had over past years and we are going to have all sorts of difficulties and problems everywhere. Therefore, I hope Her Majesty's Government will not try to force a solution on Northern Ireland if agreement cannot be reached. My own view is that it is far better to go on as we are. Most people are relatively happy with it and I am quite certain that in due time the climate will change, and then I have no doubt it will be quite simple to find a solution.

12.36 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, in view of his selfless service to Northern Ireland. He pointed out quite fairly that he is the only speaker up to now who lives in Northern Ireland. There will be a speaker from this side who also lives in Northern Ireland and I hope he will be able to infuse a little more optimism into the discussions, though I am sure he will not say anything that is not based on realism.

I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, in his tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who spoke so impressively, dispassionately and wisely. The noble Lord, Lord Moyola, showed no embarrassment at being sandwiched between two Roman Catholics, but in the bad old ecumenical days in Northern Ireland a Protestant thought he was equal to two Roman Catholics and the Roman Catholics thought the same, the other way round. But in these latter days I am sure that kind of rivalry does not exist and I am sure that the noble Lord is very happy to be between us and if the Duke of Norfolk had been speaking immediately after that he would not have minded that either, and so the whole arrangement seems to have been very sound.

I find a great deal of what is good in the White Paper. There are many passages that deserve quotation but the other speakers have been mercifully brief, and I must try, not quite as successfully as some, to follow that example. I will quote one sentence from paragraph 15, which runs, The key to stability in Northern Ireland is the healing of the divisions between the two communities". I am sure that we all agree, and certainly the two Front Bench speakers would agree, that the White Paper must be judged by the extent to which it points the way in that direction. Perhaps I might be forgiven for referring a second time to a long conversation I had with Mr. Brian Faulkner, later Lord Faulkner, not very long before he died. It was at an Oxford conference after the power-sharing executive, which had done so well up to that point, had been destroyed by the Ulster workers' strike.

I remember Mr. Brian Faulkner speaking with unqualified enthusiasm about the mutual confidence that had developed within that executive. That is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, made effectively earlier this morning. Yet, a few years earlier, Mr. Faulkner would have regarded it as impossible for Protestants and Catholics to be working together in an executive like that, because 10 years ago in the days of Mr. O'Neill—to whom great credit, in my eyes, is always due for his great, if finally unsuccessful efforts to bring about reconciliation-I spoke to perhaps the most liberal-minded member of Mr. O'Neill's Cabinet. I suggested a coalition Government at that time, in which Catholics would be included. An initiative in that direction had been taken just before by the Northern Ireland Labour Party, but otherwise I was the first person to recommend it. This distinguished member of Mr. O'Neill's Cabinet said that it was inconceivable. I suggested that surely this was the only rational answer, and he said, "Yes, of course it is, but you do not understand, my dear chap—this is Northern Ireland". That is what was said to me by a member of the Cabinet in 1969.

It was true enough in that connection, but are we always going to accept it? Northern Ireland has Protestants and Catholics, Jews and atheists, though perhaps there are not enough of either of those, but can we never expect anything but this irrationality? It is going to be a byword for irrationality always. I cannot myself accept that of any part of the human race, let alone of a Province whose fine qualities, even if we do not live there, if we know it at all, we admire.

The moral, surely, of Brian Faulkner's experience is quite simple. Owing to the sad and peculiar history of Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics living there will never trust each other until they have worked together closely enough to remove the hereditary suspicion. I remember that while Mr. Faulkner was still Prime Minister, before the suspension of Stormont, he did, at the end, include a Roman Catholic—the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, will remember him well—a non-party Roman Catholic. This gentleman, who, I believe, got on well in the Cabinet, told me afterwards that he felt he had to live down the suspicion and when he went there he, a Roman Catholic sitting there with all those Protestants in that holy of holies at Stormont, felt there was an atmosphere that you could cut with a knife. But he lived it down very quickly, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, will remember.

Power-sharing in a Cabinet, an executive or whatever we like to call it, is far the most obvious and reliable way of achieving this, as the Government, I hope, recognise. I am not quite sure that they express a clear preference for one option or the other, but I hope that I read a preference for the first option. I respect the careful thinking that has gone into the production of the second option. It is rather weird, perhaps—I will not go so far as to call it grotesque—but, then, the situation is rather weird, and I am not saying, therefore, that we should rule it out because it is a little strange.

But, as was pointed out by the spokesman for our own Labour Party in another place, the second option appears to give the Catholic minority a purely negative role. So, on the face of it, it is not satisfactory. I do not think that one should, here and now, begin ruling out anything, but on the face of it that is the great weakness. I shall certainly, myself, go on believing that the first option is by far the most sensible and most likely to succeed, until the opposite is proved to me.

But the first task, clearly, of the Secretary of State is to persuade the party leaders to continue talking in a constructive spirit. I agree with what was said about pedalling along on the bicycle in order to keep moving rather slowly, rather than fall off. It is too early to forecast success, but it is the bounden duty of everyone on this side, following the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, to wish him well, and to applaud the courage, tolerance and goodwill with which the Secretary of State is pursuing this objective.

The debate in another place makes rather depressing reading. I cannot say that the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, exactly cheered us up, but as he lives in Northern Ireland he may feel that he knows the situation rather better than some of us who visit Northern Ireland quite often, but do not actually live there. However, I hope that he was somewhat too gloomy.

It is good news, at least, that the Reverend Ian Paisley seems anxious to continue the talks. People say that he wants to be the Prime Minister of Ireland. There is nothing disreputable in wanting to be Prime Minister. I believe that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack once wanted to be Prime Minister, and very nearly was. He missed it only by a whisker.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, I very nearly was, but I once said that only an ass would want to be.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I cannot quite accept that. With enormous and rather obsequious deference to the noble and learned Lord, I cannot believe that he just got there by accident. I think that he had taken the usual steps to approach the Throne. But let us just leave it like that. However, Mr. Paisley may want to be Prime Minister. Why not? Let him try. It may be that he will finish up, as other provocative politicians have finished up, as a responsible statesman. He may even be buried in Westminster Abbey, though, of course, at one time he made protests that a Roman Catholic, a Jesuit, was actually preaching in Westminster Abbey. However, he will have forgotten that, I hope, or his sponsors will, when the time comes to bury him there. At any rate, we must hope for good results in the end from the Reverend Ian Paisley and others.

Now there is the question of the Irish dimension. It is not actually referred to under that name, but the idea is well spelled-out in the White Paper. But it was mentioned by the Secretary of State in his speech. There are different ways of looking at this. Personally, I have long believed—this will not be a secret to older Members of the House, and I am not the only one here who believes it—that a united Ireland is the only solution which could bring peace and prosperity to the neighbouring island—that is, to the 32 counties. The House may not take my views as weighing as much as they weigh with me, but if the House wants what may be thought a more balanced judgment, let me read out a brief extract from last Sunday's leading article in the Sunday Times, which I have no reason to suppose suffers from any Irish bias. The extract reads: The discussion paper exercise may be defensible as a last demonstration that a solution within Northern Ireland alone is not to be had. I do not think that that is the motive behind it, but that is what the Sunday Times said. It went on: But once that has been again made clear by the failure of the local talks planned … the Government will have no excuse for not broadening the discussions. On the agenda will be exactly the kind of new common institutions for the British Isles which Mr. Haughey of the Irish Republic has already suggested, with matching changes"— let it be noted— in his country's constitution"; that is, in the Irish constitution. The Sunday Times is looking in those directions.

The noble Lord, Lord Moyola, seemed to think it strange that the SDLP should go outside Northern Ireland to seek advice or to hold discussions. The Unionist Party have not traditionally been very slow to move outside Northern Ireland to seek discussions. I do not want to be provocative—this is an ecumenical occasion—but there was a time when they went outside Ireland to obtain arms, with the strong support of the Conservative leaders of the day. Some of us were not very old at that time, and some were not born. The idea that the Unionist Party do not come to Westminster to hold discussions is fantastic. So I cannot accept the argument that the proper course for the politicians in Northern Ireland is just to stay there and never talk to anybody outside.

So far as Mr. Haughey is concerned, I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—it is the only point in his speech which gave me a little concern—who indicated some doubtfulness as to what Mr. Haughey was intending. May I read just one passage from a fine speech? I will present the whole speech to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—


With respect, my Lords, I have read it.


My Lords, the noble Lord did not seem to have read it. That was the only difference between us. Mr. Haughey said: It is not any blueprint of mine that is important. What is important is the extent to which the Ireland I favour would have to be changed and altered to accommodate those whose traditions and attitudes are different from mine. This could only be ascertained in a meaningful way through patient dialogue and discussion. So I think we can regard Mr Haughey as not having a closed mind. But he has closed his mind, and done so very firmly, in regard to violence. He has ruled out any possibility of trying to overcome the border by force, not that that would be possible. But he has ruled out that possibility. He has made it clear that he is ready to join Britain in every possible step to overcome terrorism and subversion, and we can all join him there.


My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point, I do not wish to go down in history, in the unread Hansard of this debate, as having said anything that I did not say. I was puzzled by the perfectly clear statement of the Taoiseach that he did not contemplate anything but unity by consent, if it ever came, and that he should, at the same time, think that a major obstacle to such unity was our Prime Minister's reassertion of exactly the same point.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I am afraid that that is not a logic worthy of the noble Lord, who was a moral philosopher and to whom a great book on moral philosophy was dedicated. It would not have been so dedicated after that slight confusion of thought. What Mr. Haughey said was that the particular pledge given in that way—the noble Lord was not in politics at that time, but I was in the Attlee Government and I protested against it at the time that it was given; it was given in understandable circumstances and I do not blame the Government for it, although both I and my noble friend Lord Beswick protested against it—was considered to be very provocative. It marked a kind of decision that the British Government preferred that Ulster should remain disunited. This is the historical context with which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, is clearly not familiar. That is the answer to the point that he legitimately raised.

The long-standing factors which provided a sort of rational justification for a divisive outlook have now lost their meaning. Nobody suggests today, although they did for centuries and right up to the last war, during it and after it, that Britain has a defence interest in keeping control of Northern Ireland. The defence argument is used no longer, but historically it has been a very important argument.

There is also the economic argument. There was a strong argument for the people in the North wanting to remain on their present side of the border, but in the days of the European Economic Community that argument has disappeared. Also, in an ecumenical age nobody who calls himself religious could take any possible pride in anything which divided the community—anything which smacked of sectariansim. So those arguments have gone and nothing is left except the evil legacy of these factors which may or may not have had some justification in the past.

I, for the reasons just given, believe that of all the poignant problems in the world this problem—so small geographically and statistically and yet which has loomed so large in our eyes and which leads to so much horror and bloodshed—is the most soluble. I hope and believe that this generation will solve it, and I wish everything good to the Secretary of State in his gallant efforts in that direction.

12.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank Her Majesty's Government for having produced this White Paper. I should also like to thank the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench for having made it clear that Her Majesty's Government are under no illusions that this is a solution but, rather, a further step in the long process of hopefully trying to distil a solution. This is the realistic way of looking at it. In reading the White Paper, I refrained from flattering myself that perhaps the Secretary of State had picked up a few ideas from the submission that I sent in. Rather, in the words of the management consultant, I identified areas of parallel thinking.

There are two things which I welcome in particular about the White Paper. First, no institutionalised Irish dimension is included. I say with respect to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that it was that which caused the previous executive to fall. That was the main point—more so, may I say with respect, than the violence. Secondly, I welcome the fact that it is emphasised that, for anything to work, there has to be the participation of the minority in Government.

The White Paper is published against the backcloth of two main options. One is whether or not direct rule should continue. The other is whether or not we should persevere in our attempts to find a formula for devolution. As I have said before in your Lordships' House, there are arguments in favour of direct rule. There are some who say that it would be better to cease this discussion and controversy and to say, "We are going to have direct rule for the next 10 years, so nobody need say any more about the problem from now on."

It can be said that direct rule is non-sectarian and also, in Northern Ireland terms, non-political. Furthermore, the Northern Ireland Office provides a most convenient target for any politician who feels that it is too long since his name last appeared in the newspapers. I think it would be missed in that respect. I say also that it would be far better for direct rule to continue than for there to be produced for devolution a formula that failed. If it failed, I think we should be in real trouble. The terrorists would look upon it as a victory and would think, "One more heave and we shall achieve our aim". The people as a whole would be totally demoralised. So I urge Her Majesty's Government most sincerely to be as certain as they can be that whatever formula is reached—if one is reached—and which they decide to put into operation, it is going to work.

Having put forward some points in favour of direct rule, I must qualify them by saying that one of the main disadvantages is that it is expecting too much of Ministers with responsibility for several departments, each of which previously would have had its own individual Minister, to carry out their duties—having to attend this House, or another place, weekly, and in the case of the right honourable members in another place having also to look after a constituency at home. It is therefore, in my view, not surprising that there is a three- to four-week gestation period between writing a letter to a Minister and receiving a reply. Nor is it surprising that the literary style of that reply so often indicates that it has been written by a civil servant. If direct rule were to have to continue, it causes me to wonder whether it would be worth strengthening the team, either with more Ministers or with more Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Another point which occurred to me this morning, though I have not yet thought out its implications, is whether or not it would be a good thing to include several of the Northern Ireland members in another place in the Northern Ireland Office team of Ministers.

A further point is this. In the old days, Ministers were able to move around and be seen at agricultural shows, race meetings and various other events throughout the Province. The security situation now is such that it is much more difficult for them so to do. This is yet another reason why every effort should be made to improve security in Northern Ireland. May I say in passing that the noble Lord's right honourable friend who is responsible for industry and agriculture made an extremely good impression when, a couple of weeks ago, he visited Ards Borough Council, of which I am a member, addressed them and answered questions. He did it with authority and with obvious personal knowledge. This gave the members of the council a new insight and disabused them of the idea that the country was entirely governed by civil servants. For that we were most grateful.

Having talked about direct rule, I certainly advocate devolution if it can be achieved. The Ministers would have more time. It would be easier to get personal access to them, as it used to be in the old days of the Stormont Parliament. Furthermore, when I was in the Assembly, once the executive had started to function in 1974 I found that if I tabled a question for oral answer on Monday it almost invariably appeared on the Order Paper before the end of that same week, which meant that the matter could be dealt with promptly, and furthermore I could ask several supplementary questions without having honourable Members shouting "Order, order" at me. This was an advantage because, with the way things are now and with the delay that occurs before one gets a reply to a letter, quite often the opportunity to get something done, or even to stop something being done, has been lost by the time the Minister's letter has arrived, by the time one has written back to say "Yes, but and developed the argument and then received a further letter from the Minister. This is not the Minister's fault and I hope your Lordships will not think that I am being rude. I quite realise the problems that are involved.


My Lords, I would not suggest that the noble Lord was being rude but I could wish that he was specific. It is a matter that Ministers constantly have under review, whether their responses to communications are received in time to be of use, because there is not much point in writing a letter after the subject has ceased to be of interest, is there? Therefore, if the noble Lord will be kind enough, after this debate has concluded, to draw my attention to particular cases, I will pursue them. I was not aware that this was a matter of general complaint, certainly in my department, and my honourable and right honourable friends will be interested to know where the complaint should lie so that it may be put right.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that kind offer. One example I had in mind was the case of the ritual slaughter of cattle, which I mentioned yesterday. By the time I received a reply from the noble Lord's right honourable friend the slaughter had been going on for something like three weeks and my constituents were on my hack about it. Another example is the sewage scheme in Portaferry; but I will not bore your Lordships with that fascinating topic at the moment. What I will do, with your Lordships' permission, when I get home is to look up the file and let the noble Lord know of any particular cases.

Returning to the subject of devolution, another advantage of having local Ministers is that they have local knowledge. I think the best Minister of Commerce we ever had, the late Lord Faulkner, was himself a businessman in Northern Ireland with a long-established family firm; he knew the problems and the opportunities for business in Northern Ireland and he had his finger on the pulse of the business community. Similarly, most of our Ministers of Agriculture were farmers themselves, I think including the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, and one of them had been president of the Ulster Farmers' Union. So they had personal knowledge of the local situation and that was a great advantage.

There is also the matter of accountability to the electorate. That is where the main resentment lies in relation to direct rule, that electors and particularly elected members of councils, can feel that they are being "brushed off" and they have no opportunity to make the Government or the individual members accountable for their actions or decisions.

I wish that I had been able to come better informed to this debate today. At the beginning of the year I wrote to the Secretary of State, suggesting to him that it might be useful if a delegation of noble Lords who live in Northern Ireland could see him, probably during the course of his parallel discussions with the constitutional conference. At the time he reacted favourably to this idea, but unfortunately he has not yet felt disposed to see us. I think it might have been helpful if we had been able to have a discussion with him prior to this debate, but it may be that another opportunity will arise.

However, while I agree that Her Majesty's Government are right in not trying to force the pace at this stage, I hope that as things progress we shall see leadership on the part of Her Majesty's Government. Knowing some of the Northern Ireland politicians, I think leadership is what will be required at the end of the day. That raises the question as to whether or not it might be desirable to have a referendum when Her Majesty's Government have decided on what options to go for in regard to devolution. I am not expert on public opinion research but I do know that all hinges on the type of questions asked. They must be questions to which the answer can be a plain "yes" or "no". They must be questions which refer to matters that the public understand. Alternatively, one can give perhaps more than two options and ask them to mark the ballot paper "one", "two" and "three" in order of preference; but I suggest that if Her Majesty's Government come up against deadlock with the politicians, who are looking over their shoulders at the more extreme members of their parties, perhaps they might find the electorate as a whole to be more reasonable and amenable to making progress.

Turning briefly to the White Paper, I find it difficult to see how the second suggested format would work. Having a council of the assembly seems rather like introducing a bicameral structure into a unicameral framework. I should be the first to defend—and often do defend—the successful working of the bicameral system which is in operation, and has been for centuries, at Westminster. But your Lordships' House, which it would seem would be the nearest equivalent to the council of the assembly, is a House of Parliament where the debates are public, the Official Report is available to the public, the press are present, which means that it is democratic and noble Lords can vote according to their consciences. But this proposal would look more like having two Cabinets; and I cannot see that as being democratic or quite how it would work. However, before writing it off completely, I should need to have more details of exactly what is in mind.

Therefore, my Lords, I think the first option is the best. One thing I should certainly rule out would be the election of the chairmen of committees by the electorate as a whole. In passing, I fully support the committee system of government. If the public as a whole were invited to elect the chairmen of committees I am afraid it would not necessarily be the best candidates who would be elected, it would be the best publicists; and I should not be happy about that. But if the chairmen of committees were elected by proportional representation from the Floor of the House, proportional also according to their party's strength in the House, I think that would be quite democratic. Furthermore, it is the job of the party leader to know the particular aptitudes and experience of his party members, and therefore presumably to present candidates whom he feels could make the best possible contribution to the executive.

There is one thing about the executive I should like to mention. If it were possible to remove the power of veto, to which I referred previously, whereby if any chairman of committee or member of the executive were to walk out, the executive would no longer be able to function within its terms of reference. If that situation could be removed I think it would strengthen it greatly. I am not absolutely clear as to how it could be done at the moment, except for the suggestion that I made that there should be deputy chairmen who could stand in in the event of the chairman walking out.

I think this is a very helpful White Paper, although there is no doubt that further work needs to be done on it. I understand that Her Majesty's Government are going to allow a period for discussion and I hope there will be discussion. I was sorry to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, said, but I have a nasty feeling that he is right. I hope that the political parties in Northern Ireland will make it their business to try to circulate this White Paper as widely as possible, with a view to getting as much public reaction as possible, and I hope that they will be able to pass on that reaction in a constructive way to Her Majesty's Government before the next step is taken.

1.10 p.m.

The Duke of ABERCORN

My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on a really remarkably able, penetrating and perceptive maiden speech. Naturally, we much look forward to hearing him on many occasions in the future. I should also like to be associated with the remarks made in this House last week in regard to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State. I would like to add the word "good humour" to the qualities of resilience and courage he has demonstrated daily in Northern Ireland. Again I should like to say how fortunate Northern Ireland is in the calibre and quality of successive Northern Ireland Office Ministers in Northern Ireland, all of whom have shown a tremendous concern and interest in our affairs.

Likewise, much thought and concern have been given in producing this discussion paper that we are debating here today. Although there are only few surprises in the content, I welcome the clarity with which the Government state their case and their options. Naturally, I wish the Government well during the next round of talks, and, like my noble friend Lord Moyola, I support the Government view that minority participation in a meaningful way is fundamental and essential.

However, the talking point among the non-political element in Northern Ireland at the present time is not centred on Option 1 or Option 2 of the paper, but rather on whether the healing of divisions between the two communities which is the accepted key to stability in Northern Ireland can be achieved by the proposed devolved Government, which will inevitably raise tensions in Northern Ireland, or by the continuation of low-octane direct rule. I believe that this is the fundamental question.

Naturally, politicians are much more obsessed with politics and political institutions than the public. Not being a politician, I am attempting today to represent the feelings and opinions of the public, often described as the silent majority. I do believe that it is supposition and not fact that the majority of the population wish to move in the direction of devolved government. The passive response to this paper does not indicate an indifference to our political future, far from it, but it emphasises that the majority of the country believe that economic and security stability are the essential ingredients to achieve political normality. Only through achieving these two respective stabilities can the Government successfully expect to establish a political forum including the all-important middle ground opinion.

My Lords, it is unfortunate that the spectre of Stormont appears to haunt successive Administrations, as though the past hangs heavily over the present, thus forcing politicians to attempt to convert a redundant institution into a different type of model, instead of improving the framework of direct rule. Therefore, in spite of the good intentions of politicians here at Westminster, this psychological hang-up threatens to make them prisoners of Stormont's past. However, there is a distinct similarity between Stormont and direct rule since both were transitory in origin. Stormont continued to serve Northern Ireland for some 50 years. Therefore, cannot an improved system of direct rule continue to administer Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future?

Again, since Northern Ireland has suffered so much during the last 10 years, I believe, and I believe very deeply, that the country at the present time needs a low profile and breathing space. The political tensions of the early 1970s and indeed the mid-1970s were time-consuming, distracting and totally unconstructive. I can assure the Government that the community are not only war-weary but also politics-weary. Since so many people dread a return of local politicians shouting at each other night after night in sterile argument on television, as the main overriding concern in the community at present is employment, I should like to question the practicality of devolved government in place of the growing acceptance of direct rule. I really cannot see how the establishment of an assembly can achieve the necessary economic reconstruction of our economy, as mentioned on page 3 of the paper. Is it really practical to expect newly-elected politicians, however talented, but obviously inexperienced in administration, to tackle the really important and crucial economic decisions, such as the Harland and Wolff announcement made last week? Is the political uncertainty of an assembly and the proposed election next year going to assist or hamper the efforts of our new jobs promotion drive in America?—our lifeline for new jobs does lie in America.

During the next round of talks I trust that the Government will be working out a contingency plan in order to improve the framework of direct rule in the event of the forthcoming talks not succeeding. How could direct rule be improved? There is deep and genuine concern in regard to the growing power and rigidity of bureaucracy in Northern Ireland. I believe the Government should consider the establishment of an advisory council, its members consisting of management, unions, professional bodies, voluntary workers, agricultural specialists, who would thus truly represent the opinions and concerns of the public. Minister and civil servants could then be answerable to questions. In fact this council could act as a form of Select Committee. Again I would suggest that this House could be increased by a wider representation from Northern Ireland.

My Lords, on page 4, paragraph 16, the paper states: that will to work together must come from the people of Northern Ireland themselves. The Government really must accept that, once outside the sterile arena of politics, ordinary people in Northern Ireland get on extremely well, and, through the common meeting ground of sport, voluntary schemes and organisations, people are slowly but actively assisting in the reconstruction of our society. The remarkable people who run these voluntary organisations have shown tremendous courage, tenacity and faith during the last 10 years and have proved beyond doubt that they are no longer prisoners of the past. Again, countless thousands of other people representing every facet in Northern Ireland have proved that the heart of Northern Ireland is sound. I am now convinced that this heart needs strengthening—not political surgery—and this can only be achieved by a long recuperation from politics.

1.20 p.m.


My Lords, as one who has no direct or indirect association with Northern Ireland it may be that I should be hesitant to join in this debate. However, I believe that those of us who are outside Northern Ireland have some concern and some responsibility for this problem, and on a previous occasion I outlined my own interest in the matter. I am certain that all noble Lords have listened to the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, with very great interest because he brought the human side of the reality of the situation in Northern Ireland to our attention. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, on his maiden speech, and to add that as a comparatively new Member of your Lordships' House I soon found that the House was eager to listen to speeches of sincerity of the type that we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, today, and which I am certain he will repeat on other occasions.

I should like to welcome the tenor and terms with which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, introduced this document. It would be fairly easy to take all these proposals one by one and comment upon them and criticise them; but I very much doubt whether that would be of much help. I wonder whether the Government have sufficiently prepared the ground before drafting this discussion paper. Indeed, I re-emphasise that it is a dis- cussion paper—a point emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I recognise that it is not sufficient to allow matters to drift and that there must be renewed efforts to achieve a settlement. However, the Government must not attempt to try to move too quickly. Just to add one failure on top of previous abortive efforts may add to disillusionment and even cynicism, and that was the note that I thought the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, expressed in his comments on the situation as he finds it in Northern Ireland.

I am sure that there is a large measure of agreement that it would be undesirable idefinitely to continue direct rule from Westminster. The document makes quite clear that such a course would leave no incentive for the people in Northern Ireland and would stifle initiative. Nevertheless, failure to secure agreement means that direct rule must continue for the time being.

I noticed that the Observer editorial of 6th July stated: But if no agreement can be reached the continuation of direct rule is the best choice. It is perfectly acceptable to the majorities in both communities in Northern Ireland and that must be the criteria. I wonder whether that is strictly correct: or is it that the continuation of direct rule may be acceptable as the least objectionable alternative? Most certainly, direct rule by itself will not end the ruthless and insensate killings and the violence which have taken place on both sides. There is always a possibility that sooner or later people in Great Britain will jib at the increasing cost of our involvement financially, in terms of soldiers lives and suffering and even, to some extent, the effect on our own liberties here. I am certain that there will be general agreement that any institution cannot be implanted on Northern Ireland. As the document states: The will to make the institutions work must come from the people of Northern Ireland. At the outset of the document it is very widely stated that there are four needs which interlock: peace, reconciliation, stability and economic reconstruction. I am pleased to see the link with economic needs. It will be recalled by your Lordships that in December I initiated a debate, in which many noble Lords took part, on the economic and social problems in Northern Ireland. Many of us—and I am sure the people of Northern Ireland also—will look forward to a time when there can be reconciliation and the community issues can be resolved so that political matters can concentrate on the economic and social problems of Northern Ireland which are completely in disparity with those of the rest of Great Britain.

I have mentioned already that there will be some people in the rest of the United Kingdom who may start to question the continuance of the cost if there is continued failure by the people of Northern Ireland to agree on a democratic set-up. The document emphasises that public expenditure is 35 per cent. per head above that of the rest of Great Britain and that of the sum of £2,600 million, only 56 per cent. is financed from local sources in Northern Ireland. I trust that the Government will not overemphasise those figures and will not overreact to them, and that Members of all parties here will recognise that there are serious social and economic problems in Northern Ireland upon which we just cannot turn our backs. These problems were fully covered in our debate last December and so I shall not go into them now. I hope that I did not gather the impression from the noble Lord that economic attitudes may also he involved in putting these two references in the document, and that the Government may be considering reducing the financial help that is given to Northern Ireland. In my view that would be a fatal step to take, and I hope that we may have some reassurance on that point.

We must not allow the grave problems which are growing in other parts of the United Kingdom to cause any reduction of concern over the economic and social disparities of Northern Ireland. I have already indicated that I do not propose to comment on the actual proposals in the document. I have doubts as to whether they are sufficient to reach agreement on, but I make it clear that I would like to see the Government successful. For my part, I do not care who is successful in achieving a settlement—there is no party-politicking so far as this side of the House is concerned.

The document emphasises the one crucial issue: how provision should be made for participation in government of representatives of the minority community. History and experiences over 60 years just cannot be set aside, and in normal circumstances a majority would expect to have majority rights. But in Northern Ireland the majority must recognise the apprehensions of the minority. Each community has something to offer, and obstinacy and intransigence from either side will be of no help whatsoever.

Reference has been made to paragraphs 18 to 22 which include reference to the relationship with the Republic of Ireland. If these paragraphs mean anything at all—and I assume that all noble Lords have read them—and are not just words, then the Republic of Ireland should be urged to give every encouragement and lend the influence it has to help the communities of Northern Ireland to reach an agreement. Further, whether or not an agreement is reached as a result of this discussion paper on institutions for Northern Ireland, there must surely be continued discussions embracing the Republic of Ireland with the maximum possible development of co-operation on economic matters, energy supplies, tourism and maybe other issues as well.

I regard paragraphs 21 and 22 as extremely important. If followed up, they could assist in the development of a better and closer understanding between the peoples of North and South and the United Kingdom as a whole. Meanwhile, we are faced with what to do in the foreseeable future about possible institutions for Northern Ireland. Reference has not been made to this matter, but I hope that I am correct in saying that no political organisation in Northern Ireland has stated that it will not take part in further discussions and consultations. The cynics may say that that is because no one wants to accept the responsibility for failure. Be that as it may, the fact that all arc prepared to participate is helpful.

There are some here who may look on the proposals in the document with reservation and some scepticism. However, I hope that all political parties and politicians in Great Britain will exercise restraint in what they say about this document and its proposals and will offer some understanding for any possible agreement. If the communities and the parties in Northern Ireland fail to reach an agreement, they must be encouraged to discuss and put forward their alternatives. But I believe that all people in Northern Ireland must understand, as the document emphasises, that no British Government could accept any alternative proposal which is not acceptable to both minority and majority communities. On that I believe that all parties in this Parliament are in full agreement. But should any alternative proposals come forward, I hope that the Government will be ready to give them sympathetic consideration.

Time and time again we are told that only a small proportion of people of Northern Ireland support the men of violence. With that I am prepared to agree. Therefore, I hope that a message will go from this House that it is hoped that every political, every religious, every trade union and every social organisation in Northern Ireland will use its efforts to ensure that the fullest possible discussions and consultations take place on this Paper or on alternative proposals that may be put forward. The document must be given a fair chance as a basis for discussion. Despite many reservations, I am certain that we all wish the talks well.

In conclusion, failure to achieve an agreement will naturally be disappointing but not a complete disaster. We may then—as has been mentioned by other speakers—have to look at matters anew; maybe to see how we can improve direct rule; maybe to look at it with a wider vision in the interests of the British Isles as a whole: maybe putting aside some preconceived ideas that we have on a structure for the British Isles as a whole.

1.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and to the House for the fact that I, too, shall almost certainly have to leave before the end of this debate because of a previous very longstanding engagement in the North of England. I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, on a really excellent and well-delivered maiden speech. There had been hints that this discussion paper would be better than its predecessors and, indeed, there are many general assertions, preceding the actual constitutional proposals, which are set out in a simple and straightforward yet elegant way, with which one can readily agree. It is all the more regrettable then that it includes other assumptions—possibly subconscious ones—with which one must take issue.

The phrase "minority community" or variants such as, "both sides of the community", "both parts of the community", "the two communities", and even "the majority community", occur no less than 26 times in the paper. That is nothing new; it is a common feature of all such documents produced by whatever Government over the last 10 years or so. However, by doing this you effectively "institutionalise", as Mr. Julian Amery said in another place two days ago, the concept of two—and two only—rigid, homogeneous, totally distinct groups in the Province: the Protestant-Loyalist group and the Catholic-Republican group. This arbitrary division has two unfortunate consequences; first, to those in the know—by which I mean those who live in Northern Ireland and those who do not live there, but who do know a little about what really happens there—it implies that in the eyes of Westminster and of Whitehall only these two groupings are of any significance, and that anyone outside is virtually something of an eccentric. This has the incidental effect of writing off the Alliance Party, what is left of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, small Left-Wing integrationist parties and so on, and also perhaps many who support other parties for what might be termed "defensive" reasons.

Possibly these people can all take care of themselves. But far more worrying is that this rigid categorisation is bound to have the effect of undermining—and I know that this is the very last thing that the Government intend—the position of Roman Catholics in the security forces. These people are obviously not Protestants and, by definition, they are not Republicans either. Catholics who join the RUC and the UDR are even braver, if that is possible, than their Protestant comradesin-arms, living with their wives and children as they are likely to do in areas where the IRA is more than averagely active. Therefore, anything which however un- wittingly—and I am sure that it is unwittingly—and however indirectly makes them feel even more out on a limb than they already are, is to be regretted.

I come to my second point. To those not in the know—by which I include the great majority who read the British popular press, and many of those who read the serious press as well—this constant talk of majority and minority communities, without precise definition, is also dangerously misleading; because those with axes to grind in the media—and, believe me, there are plenty of people with axes to grind (anyone who knows Puerto Rico as I do and who saw the film on Puerto Rico so disingenuously and cleverly produced on television the other day, which gave a totally distorted picture of the position in that island, will know what I am talking about)—can seize upon this ambiguity on the part of the Government to suppress awareness of the essential conflict between loyalists and republicans, and instead persuade the man-in-thestreet that what is happening in Northern Ireland is nothing but an atavistic, religious conflict between people who need their "heads knocking together", as the saying goes, and that Britain should, therefore, abandon its guarantee to those who fought and died for them, in considerable numbers, in two world wars.

We, of course, know better what the Government actually mean. We know that when this Government, and indeed preceding Governments, say "the minority must have a share of power", they do not mean that Roman Catholic unionists, with a small "u", in whatever numbers—Roman Catholic members of the Alliance Party, for instance—should help to run the Province. They mean instead that those who wish, whether in the short or the long term, to detach Ulster from the United Kingdom should help to run the Province. Therein lies the sticking point for any scheme for devolution.

Historically speaking, institutionalised power-sharing can be seen to work between people of different religious faiths, but not between people of different national aspirations. So long as all Lebanese politicians, whatever their other differences, were united in wanting the state to remain independent and intact within its existing boundaries, portfolios could be happily allocated between Shi'i Moslems, Sunni Moslems, Roman Catholics, members of the Greek Orthodox community, Armenians and so on.

But once outside powers and outside interests started interfering, hidden fears and hidden tensions emerged and the whole thing collapsed, with the quite ghastly consequences which we still see today. If there has to be devolution, therefore, I myself would favour neither of the two options in the discussion paper, but instead the scheme recently proposed in the press and summarised briefly in a speech two days ago by Dr. Mawhinney, the Conservative Member for Peterborough in another place. The two main features of his scheme were, first, that power should be transferred gradually from Westminster to the Province as and when there was a general agreement between all parties; and, secondly, that legislation should only go through if 75 per cent. or thereabouts, of assembly members, of whichever party or combination of parties, voted in favour. This avoids institutionalised power-sharing.

Why devolution at all? After all, the Conservatives were largely opposed to devolution for Scotland and Wales, and the Conservative manifesto made no mention of it for Ulster, merely hinting at integration with the restoration of the upper tier of local government. Naturally, direct rule as such is too quasi-colonial to continue for very much longer and the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, both gave examples of this. Why not full integration then?—so that all people can live in peace within the more relaxed and liberal ethos of the United Kingdom as a whole. I do not like the word "integration". As I have said before, I think that it gives a misleading idea of what is actually talked about. Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom, as many statutes dating back 50 years or more make clear: the word "harmonisation" is actually more appropriate.

Two days ago in another place Mr. George Gardiner and Mr. Julian Amery both drew attention to the fact that failure to integrate would produce great dangers for the Union; the more the institutions of Northern Ireland diverge from those of the rest of the United Kingdom, the more dangerous it was for the Union. The opposite of integration, after all, is not devolution but disintegration. Mr. Amery said that in his view it would keep alive the hope that with a little more pressure, they—that is, those in the South who were trying to press for a United Ireland—would get a little more.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, dismissed the idea of integration and said the people of the Province were opposed to it. But that is not what the public opinion polls show. They show that integration is one of the least unpopular options. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, was perhaps slightly nearer the mark when he mentioned that the SDLP were opposed to integration. Of course they are, but there were people in the South who were just as strongly opposed to Mr. De Valera bringing the Free State out of the Commonwealth, breaking with the Crown and turning the country into a republic. They had to like it or lump it, and I suggest the SDLP could do the same thing. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, was wrong however in saying that all Catholics are opposed to integration. In fact, only two-thirds of Roman Catholics vote for the SDLP and it is safe to assume that many of the other one-third would be well disposed towards the idea of integration.

We read in The Times a few days ago that people in Europe would apparently be offended, but I have personally seen no evidence of that. I have often discussed the Northern Ireland situation with friends in France, Belgium, Italy and Malta and I can say that not one of them has the slightest interest one way or the other whether the border disappears or whether Ireland is united. Indeed, it is worth making the point that most of my friends on the Continent were staunch admirers of Mr. Brian Faulkner when he headed Stormont prior to its dissolution. I think the real reason—this slipped out in a Government Statement earlier this year—is that politicians (I stress "politicians" and not people) in the United States and the Irish Republic dislike the idea of integration. We really should not base the future of the people of Northern Ireland on what Irish-American and certain non-Irish American politicians, who are angling for the Irish-American vote, demand. That leaves us with the objections of Southern politicians, or some of them, because nobody would suggest that Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien would take the Haughey line; and as for the ordinary people of the South, I suspect that many of them would secretly welcome integration, particularly if it led to peace.

The Discussion Paper in paragraphs 20, 21 and 22 refers to the fact that we share bonds of history, culture and language; there is a mutual economic and trading interest … there is a close geographical inter-relationship, recognised in the existence of a common travel area and illustrated by many centuries of the movement of people and trade. It adds: The ties between us are close". That is perfectly true. It is also true of Alsace and the Rhineland, of the Tyrol and Bavaria and, more happily, in a historical context, between Belgium and Holland. Belgium, as is well known, has a considerable communal problem; the Flemings and the Walloons are at each other's throats and there have been battles and riots with at least half a dozen deaths, and Governments fall constantly because of tensions between the two communities. The Flemish communities are heavily orientated culturally towards Holland—but the Dutch would not for a moment dream of interfering in internal Belgium affairs. If a Flemish terrorist—and such people exist—were to murder somebody and was escaping across the border to gain sanctuary, the Dutch would have him out on his ear within seconds. There would be absolutely no question of extradition being refused. I suggest that if Mr. Haughey really wants to gain the friendship of the Loyalist community in the North, he should behave rather more like the Dutch and rather less like the Germans, or at any rate like the Germans in the era between 1870 and 1940.

If, despite all, the Government are still set on some form of devolution, I would suggest one carrot which might make it more acceptable to the pro-Union majority in the Province. I suggest the introduction of a 40 per cent. rule into the periodic border polls, based on the introduction of a similar safeguard in the Scotland Act by Mr. Tam Dalyell and supported, as that safeguard was, by all the Conservatives and a good section of the Labour Party. The 40 per cent. rule provided that devolution should not take effect on a bare majority but only if 40 per cent. of those on the electoral register had voted in favour of the move. One may say that is academic at the moment, since all indications are that not only virtually all the Protestants but a sizable minority of the Catholics are opposed to being absorbed into the Irish Republic, and of course that is perfectly right. But many developments, including what one can only describe as a campaign of psychological warfare, could change things. Usually more than a bare majority is required for any major constitutional change; that applies wherever in the world one may go. If it—that is, a qualified majority—is thought right for such a relatively minor change as Scottish devolution, how much more necessary it is where a change of national identity is a possible outcome!

1.46 p.m.


My Lords, I wish at the outset to join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tan-worth, on his very distinguished contribution. I wish also to express sympathy to my noble friend Lord Elton and his colleagues for the monumental task confronting them in so far as this Paper and its proposals arc concerned, and express our thanks for their arduous labours in Northern Ireland as a whole, particularly in respect of the most urgent task of combating terrorism.

I speak as a Unionist—not as an Ulster Unionist because I am English—and as one who believes, as we all do, in the unity of the Kingdom as our foremost concern. For that reasons, these proposals worry me. I find them difficult to understand. It would be impertinent and presumptuous of me to condemn them out of hand and I can only say that if, against all expectations, agreement is reached, then that is fine; and if they work, better still. I fear however that there are too many untried contrivances, blocking mechanisms and rather Heath Robinson devices for there to be very much chance.

I feel that in the search for the magic formula, of the two alternatives in the Paper, possibly the second might have the slightest chance or better chance. That is the one whereby the council of the assembly would have delaying or blocking powers over legislation introduced in the main assembly, which would have an executive derived from the majority. I have heard it said that that might well mean that a certain Dr. Paisley might become executive or prime minister, which I would not have thought was quite the best recipe for the quietest life. I fear that all too likely there would from time to time be deadlock, and presumably the Secretary of State, acting as a sort of referee, would have to make unpopular decisions, which would be a receipe for political chaos and there would be embarrassing interventions from Westminster.

My noble friend Lord Elton will probably not be pleased when I say that I believe the people of Northern Ireland should be alerted to the dangers arising from the setting up of a devolved assembly because I think it would weaken the ties which bind them to the rest of the United Kingdom. In saying that, I am in no way condemning the old Stormont Parliament, which I believe was much maligned, and until the last few years of its existence it did quite a good job. In a very fine letter to The Times, this was pointed out by my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who unfortunately cannot be here today. I know what his views are, and by and large he thinks that direct rule is the best answer.

I believe that circumstances today are very different. I am not speaking just about the violence, but more in the political context. There must be a danger that if there is a devolved assembly or Parliament in Northern Ireland, sooner or later the position of their representatives in another place—the House of Commons at Westminster—will be challenged and will come under question. If the Government at Westminster have a large majority, probably the matter will not arise, but the situation could be different if there is only a narrow majority. One need recall only the monumental devolution debates in the last Parliament. We do not want to go through all that again to know what might well happen.

There will be objections as to whether it is proper for Northern Ireland representatives in the House of Commons to vote on matters that have been devolved to Northern Ireland's own assembly. I do not think that it is any argument to say that that never happened during the half century or so of Stormont, because during almost the whole of that time there were big majorities at Westminster. The only time that there was any trouble was during the period of the Wilson Government in 1964, when I think the then Labour Government had a majority of only three. There was some trouble over steel nationalisation and it was questioned whether or not it was proper for the 10 or so Ulster Unionist Members to vote.

I do not believe that the fact that race, religion and history dividing the two communities in Ulster in any way solves this problem and I should have thought that if there is to be a problem, in this respect it will be accentuated in the next Parliament when Northern Ireland representation in another place is increased from 12 to 17 seats. Consequently, for those and other reasons I believe that there is much to be said for continuance of direct rule, together with the establishment of proper regional councils, as I understand was envisaged in the Conservative Party manifesto. I believe that there is much support for this approach, as has been indicated in many editorials that I have read recently. I noted an editorial in the Belfast Telegraph, a rather long extract from which was quoted by a Member in another place. I shall quote only a short extract which says: If the Government decide direct rule is everyone's least unacceptable choice and that ordinary people in both communities are more interested in security and jobs than constitutions and votes, this would not mean defeat. The Times editorial of 3rd July, in rather more positive vein, declared: Before going down that road"— meaning the road to devolution— the Government should re-examine the merits of direct rule. The White Paper is too modest about it. It is widely acceptable in Ulster itself, especially as it has been accompanied by more effective security policies. It has noticeably reduced cross-community tensions. It is almost everybody's least worst option. The "colonial" corners could be knocked off it with a little more finesse. True, it was transitory in origin. But so was the Province of Northern Ireland when it started 58 years ago. I certainly agree with what that editorial said about the colonial corners. I wish that we could move away from all this talk of provinces, direct rule, and so on. I think it rather insulting to talk about Northern Ireland as a Province. If direct rule continues, there will not be any wild cheering in the streets, nor will flags and bunting be put out; nor do I believe that there will be any great dissension. There will not be riots, or anything worse. I sincerely believe that the great majority of the population, including many, if not most, of the Catholic minority groupings, would feel far safer in the saner, wider context of the United Kingdom as a whole where the bitter divisions and suspicions that divided Ulster simply do not exist, and are not relevant. I feel that the Westminster model has not done too badly in protecting minorities and various groups over the years. Of course nothing will satisfy the hardline militant republicans.

So I hope that the Government will not waste too much time on discussions of this paper, if they run into difficulties, and I feel that quietly to continue direct rule would be by far the best approach for Northern Ireland.

1.56 p.m.

The Duke of NORFOLK

My Lords, I, too, wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, on his maiden speech. His wide experience in Whitehall as Secretary to the Cabinet meant that it was no surprise to any of us that he was able to contribute enormously by what he said. His analogy of the need for the Government to keep going forwards—he spoke about going forwards on a bicycle without falling off—is a most apt analogy for the whole of this debate, and is typical of the depth of the noble Lord. I hope that we shall often hear him speaking in your Lordships' Chamber.

I totally welcome the Government's Paper. It is a discussion paper and I consider that Parts I and II are extremely wise. They have gone into the whole problem in great detail and many are the things they have said that are exactly in the right balance. The most important point is that they say that they are trying to get the highest level of agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland. This is a very important base from which to start. The arrangements that were made at Sunningdale went too far and too fast. One must come back to a proper base from which to start again.

The problem of the Province of Northern Ireland is a British problem and is a problem within our own family. I have deep feeling about this because I happen to be a Roman Catholic and one of my great-grandmothers was a Kilmain, a Protestant from Northern Ireland. I have within my own family the knowledge about the problems of the religions and the complications of the Protestant and Catholic divisions, but thank God! they are being healed now.

But as I say, this problem is within our own family. We do not have to go to Moscow to solve it; nor do we have to go to the United Nations in New York to solve it. We have to solve it among ourselves, within this Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Moyola, was in the Irish Guards. I was in the Grenadiers, in Guards Armoured. The problem is within the United Kingdom and we must solve it. This is the opportunity for me to say with all humility one or two things that I believe most sincerely.

I wish to turn for a moment to the question of religion, which is one of the big points in all the discussion on Northern Ireland. We know that in Northern Ireland a third of the population are Roman Catholic and two-thirds are Church of England Protestant. One uses the terms "Catholic" and "Protestant in regard to Northern Ireland, although one does not like using them any more. However here one uses them as a short way to discuss something. I shall not talk about Ecclesia Anglicana, which is a much better term than Protestant. One uses these short terms for the purposes of the debate. As I say, in Northern Ireland a third of the population are Catholic and two-thirds are Protestant. In that respect Lancashire is exactly the same. In regard to Northern Ireland one hears this dreary story, rather in the way in which Churchill, in a famous passage, described the endless bloodshed that takes place. In Lancashire, thank God!, the Catholics are not shot by the two-thirds Protestants; nor are they in Yorkshire, where I live.

This question of the ending of the Reformation and the arrival of this wonderful ecumenism is something which is taking place in our own country—in this part of the United Kingdom, I am trying to say—but is not taking place in Northern Ireland; and I only wish it would. Let me describe what is taking place in this ecumenism. I can do no better than to quote what took place—and it is some time ago now—when Archbishop Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, went to see the Pope, Pope Paul VI, in 1966. Pope Paul VI, 14 years ago, received the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Sistine Chapel, where, with Lord Peart, I have had many a party. We have drunk Martinis in the Sistine Chapel—and that was no mean party! But at that time Pope Paul VI was seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury. Pope Paul VI said to the Archbishop of Canterbury: By your coming you rebuild a bridge which for centuries has lain fallen between the Churches of Rome and Canterbury. Your steps bring you to a home which you can call your own". Let us now move on four years to 25th October, 1970. This posed quite a problem for the authorities at the Vatican. It was the canonisation of the 40 Catholic Martyrs of England, one of whom, Philip Howard, was my direct ancestor. He died in the Tower for the Catholic faith. Forty of these martyrs were commemorated, and made into the 40 Martyrs of England. I might mention that, roughly speaking, during those awful penal times there were about 300 Roman Catholics put to death by Queen Elizabeth, Edward VI and so on; and Mary I, Bloody Mary, got it even, just the same way. What terrible times those were! About 300 are in Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

To return to what happened in Rome, on 25th October, 1970, Pope Paul VI had to make some speech about the canonisation of these 40 martyrs. What did he say? He said this: There will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and usage proper to the Anglican Church, when the Roman Catholic Church is able to embrace firmly her beloved sister in the one authentic communion of the Family of Christ; a communion of origin, Faith, priesthood and Rule". Thereby, my Lords, Pope Paul VI threw the document called Apostolicae Curae, saying that Anglican orders were invalid, out of the Vatican window; and no longer is that such a bone of contention. Your Lordships all know how the present Pope, when he went to Ireland, talked all the time about the need to stop violence and in no way talked about the disagreements between the Church of England and the Church of Rome. On the religious front there is a tremendous move forwards, which I find to be such a wonderful thing.

Now let us go further. I have talked about the religious front because I think it is one of the central points, and it is particularly central in the Republic of Ireland. It is of importance in this country, in this part of the United Kingdom, but it is of particular importance to the Irish Catholics, because they have a different attitude towards the Catholic faith from some of us in England. I am not saying they are any holier than us; I am not saying we are any more right than they. But I think the Roman Catholics of Ireland need sometimes to have the broader measure that we have in England—and, of course, I include Scotland and Wales, too, in that remark.

At this point I really feel that one should be a bit more daring. This is a discussion document. I wanted to say stronger things last November when there was a debate like this, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, "For heaven's sake, don't!" He was right, because that might have started things going a bit wrong. But now I feel that there is no great harm in my being a little more forward and, I hope, conciliatory—in no way provocative, but totally conciliatory—in trying to achieve an answer to this ghastly problem taking place within our own family. Both the Parliament at Westminster and the Dail at Dublin want to achieve a solution to the problem of the Province of Northern Ireland, or of the Six Counties, as they call it. I will prove it to your Lordships; it is very simple. They have never, thank God!, erected a frontier. There is no iron curtain between the two. I have served for two years in Berlin and in East Germany and have seen that awful iron curtain between East and West Germany. In the North and South of Ireland, there is none of that. They want to see a solution; our Government and the Government of Eire want to see a solution.

As has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the Minister, Mr. Atkin, in the other place, the solution can only lie in having agreement; and it is to be agreement not just in the two communities in Northern Ireland; it is to be agreement with the community here, in this part of the United Kingdom, and in the Republic of Southern Ireland. It is essential that the Republic of Southern Ireland is brought into this. I had a talk with the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, about this a moment ago. It was to my mind right and proper for the SDLP to consult with Mr. Haughey. Why not?—it is one island. What are we talking about if they do not consult with each other? It is the same as people from the Province of Ulster coming back and consulting here. Being a Catholic in this country, in a certain sense I feel that I am talking a bit for the Republic of Southern Ireland.

I will, I hope, with a great quietness, humility and restraint, try to say something now that I hope will be constructive. It concerns the solution to this terrible problem, which has meant endless deaths; and I believe 1,000 people have been shot, not shot in battle but in the back. We spend over £1 billion each year. Would not the Prime Minister like to have this money to use otherwise? I should. Burning London buses and all the rest of it! It is a most terrible situation.

The problem can only lie in recognising that you have this Catholic, Celtic Republic of Southern Ireland—those are the natives there. The Celts are the natives of Wales and Scotland; but the natives of Southern Ireland are the Catholic Celtic people there. And on top of them, was imposed by history—much of it disgraceful—the Protestant plantations. There were plantations in the reign of Henry II. They were Anglo-Saxon plantations then. But these plantations took place and they were never assimilated. The plantations (if you like) are the settlers; and the Anglo-Saxon Protestants have been settled in Ireland. When the 1922 separation took place they tended to be chiefly in Northern Ireland and that became the independent part of the United Kingdom, still under us. They have been there, these Protestants, these Englishmen, these friends of mine, for 300 years. Nobody can say that they have not the right to be there. They have been there longer than the United States has had them and other Irishmen there. They have been there. It is their land.

How are these two communities to live? We all know that it has been said that the past is the past—and, my goodness, I agree with that remark. Terrible things were said. Take the Carson remark, "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right". That is no longer said. The past is the past. People are dead—De mortuis nisi nihil bonum. All noble Lords will know that. And I will not criticise the past. What are we doing to try to solve this problem where we say to the Protestants of Ulster, "You will never leave the United Kingdom", and we say to the rest of Ireland, "You want to unite your island". To my mind this Paper is starting a move forwards, which is a wonderful thing to be doing.

Two solutions have been talked about, not in this debate but in the press and at other times, which I think need great study. I am saying this because I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is listening quietly—I am honoured that he is listening quietly to me. I think that one of the solutions which combines a solution to these two opposites of how we are going to make Northern Ireland part of England and leave it part of Ireland, is to have a condominium in the North. Why should not the North of Ireland, Ulster, the Province of Ulster, send its Members of Parliament to England? Why should it not also let those Members of Parliament have a seat in the Dail. Why should not subjects like trade, education—


My Lords, the noble Duke refers to the Province of Ulster. Three of the Ulster counties politically are under the control of the Republic of Ireland.

The Duke of NORFOLK

My Lords, may I say that I fully understand the point. I am a Yorkshireman and I am making generalisations, but I fully understand what has been said. May I continue? There is one solution there, I think, whereby you would certainly satisfy the essential promise that the Protestants of Northern Ireland, the two-thirds of Northern Ireland, should never leave the womb of the Parliament of Westminster. But one has to solve the problem of how the one-third of Catholics are to take part in being part of the island of Ireland. This could take place if one had condominium. This could take place if one started with condominium, and it might go to bigger things and gradually in that way one might have many more subjects transferred to such an agreement.

It would all be very simple if Southern Ireland would join England again. That would solve everything. I am talking about 1800 and Pitt. We could have the Southern Irish Members coming over here. The discussions of your Lordships are very interesting, and to add the Irish brogue of the Irish Peers would make them even more lively. However, it is not possible to have Southern Ireland join England. Maybe it will come to that. But I am saying this is a first solution, to have a condominium concept. I am in no way being original. That concept has been put up by Mr. Garret Fitzgerald, one of the politicians in Southern Ireland.

Another concept that ought to be thought about in great detail is that as we are all now in the Common Market—I hope I am not saying too much, but I am saying it with total sincerity and I know that the SDLP are saying this—there could be a confederation of the United Kingdom: Scotland, England, Wales, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, to group like Benelux and achieve unity that way. The problem: to bring Southern Ireland and Southern Ireland Catholics back into our fold. That is where the problem lies.

I am already speaking for longer than I have ever talked in your Lordships' House; so I will move on. I can only say that I for one welcomed when the Prime Minister, Mr. Haughey, saw our Prime Minister and they decided that there was a unique relationship between the two countries, Southern Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is part of the same family. I feel that out of that must have come some very good conversations. I do not know what they were, but I like that wonderful expression "unique relationship".

There are other communities in the Common Market, Christendom, Europe, where we all belong, where there is this Protestant/Catholic problem. Holland lives somehow or other immensely more happily than Ireland. They are Protestant—William of Orange, and all the rest of it—and Catholic, and they live happily together under a good Queen. We have a wonderful Queen and we could live happily, like Holland.

I too will not be here for the whole of this debate because about to start in Westminster Cathedral at the moment is a Mass of over 500 Benedictines and nuns. It is the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict. With your Lordships' permission, I am going to go to that Mass. At 5 o'clock—and I recommend that your Lordships should attend—they are going to Westminster Abbey. The monks of Ampleforth, who are the monks of Westminster, went to Dieleonard during the Reformation and then to Ampleforth during the French Revolution. They are being welcomed back with Benedictine Anglican monks. The monks are going to Westminster Abbey to sing Vespers at 5 o'clock this evening. They are going to the great Abbey Church where the Kings of England are crowned. It is a Royal peculiar, and that to my mind shows the spirit of our country. May that spirit take place in Northern Ireland too!

2.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, for his maiden speech, which I considered to be an excellent one, regardless of the fact that some of the views he professed do not agree with mine; but that is secondary in the overall picture. I also wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for having given us the opportunity to discuss the paper today. People have said that Friday is not a suitable day to get it in properly, but I say that any day when we can discuss Northern Ireland with a view to bringing about a settlement of the predicament is a good day.

Having said that, I must immediately say, as I have said before in your Lordships' House, that I see no hope of a settlement in Northern Ireland other than the unification of Ireland, with Ireland again becoming a geographical and political entity. Be under no illusions; we are here discussing a country which was formed 60 years ago under the threat of further war. Does it not amaze everybody here today to think that after 60 years we are still trying to find a suitable remedy and a suitable government—after 60 years? Does it not point without question to the fact that, as it stands today, the thing is a monstrosity and cannot prevail indefinitely?

I know there are many people here today who have sincere convictions about Northern Ireland and about Northern Ireland remaining part of Great Britain, or the United Kingdom. But what we have to consider is: What is in the best interests—strategic, financial and ethnic, if you like—of the 32 counties of Ireland and Great Britain?

We live in dangerous times. We have read about the invasion of Afghanistan. We read about pressure from the Eastern bloc. We in Great Britain are in a dangerous predicament. We have to depend, and we are pleased to depend, on NATO and on our friends in the western world. In the Republic of Ireland you have at least 3 million people, God-fearing people who have no time for the Communist way of life. These people are friends of Britain and want to be friends of Britain, but you set yourselves up as the arbiter of what is good for Ireland.

I am an Irishman. I was born in Ireland and was brought up there. I know the thinking processes of the Irish—and they have them, regardless of what you might think in your jokes. They are 99 per cent. in favour of a united Ireland. When you talk about the majority in Northern Ireland, you are talking about a minority in Ireland. They have a perfect right to live in Ireland, and I would be the first to decry the Republic of Ireland if the Protestants of Northern Ireland were not rockbound in a constitution which looked after their interests, having come into a united Ireland. There are federal methods, and many other methods, whereby a country can live in peace.

The noble Duke referred to the Protestants who came to Northern Ireland 300 years ago. Of course they have a right to be there, but Britain has no right to interfere. This is an artificial border. This is something that was forced upon the vast majority of the Irish people. Take it from me, my Lords, the Irish people resent it and will continue to resent it, and there will be turmoil. This is where you give an opportunity to terrorists and the IRA. Let your Lordships rest assured that I have no time for, and the vast majority of the Irish people have no time for, the IRA. Mr. Haughey has no time for the IRA, regardless of what some people in Northern Ireland may tell the press. Your Lordships can take it from me that he has no time for them.

I should apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, because I, too, may not be able to remain until the end of the debate. But if everybody speaks with the same brevity as I intend to speak, I shall be here until the end of the debate. I am not using that as blackmail, in any way. Your Lordships will remember that Mr. Haughey recently came to see Mrs. Thatcher. They had full and frank discussions, and he came away very pleased with the approach that was made by the Prime Minister.

I concede to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that this paper for discussion is something that could, and should, be looked at, because it is an advance on the predicament that existed in Northern Ireland not many years ago. That was the time when a young man applied for a local government job and was asked his religion. Was he a Protestant or was he a Catholic? He said "I am an atheist", and the next question was "Are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?" That is how far the situation had gone.

So that Britain has no time to spare. There is pressure, and the western world is waking up to the fact that this is an artificial arrangement which, in the long run, is not fair to North or South. There are rumblings in the United States. I am talking not about the people who are sending money to the IRA, but about the ordinary God-fearing people who resent the pressure that has been brought to bear on the Republic and the people of Ireland, and the fact that they cannot take over and hold their own country. I would be the first to say that if and when unity comes about, we must have a cast iron constitution which will look after the interests of the minority Protestant community in Ireland. In my opinion, it could be left to any group of jurors in the world to see that it was carried out in a fair and honest manner.

I said that I was going to be brief, and I intend to be brief. Mr. Haughey has stated—I quote, although it may not be verbatim—that the Irish people look forward to the day when Britain will withdraw from any active participation in Irish affairs and thereby bring about a final settlement of the Irish question. With that in mind, I say: let us go forward, let us work and let us pray that this unification will come about because, when it does, this will be a happier nation, and Ireland will be a happier nation.

2.32 p.m.


My Lords, I shall take the hint from the noble Lord, Lord Leonard, and be as brief as I possibly can. However, I shall be an exception to most of your Lordships in not apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, because I have every intention of being here when he winds up the debate.

Before I turn to the main points of my speech, I should like to add my tribute to the maiden speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth. It was a most remarkable and very memorable performance. Like many other noble Lords, I look forward to hearing him often in the future.

I should also like to pay a tribute to successive Northern Ireland administrations of both parties and particularly, since he represents it here in our House, my noble friend Lord Elton. I can imagine few more heartbreaking tasks in politics over the last few years than being involved in this question. It is also a dangerous one.

If I appear to criticise mildly some of the proposals in the Command Paper, it is certainly not through lack of appreciation of the enormous difficulties which are posed by the most intractable problem of our time. I am slightly sceptical about the need to bring forward just now these proposals. I sympathise with the views expressed by my noble friends Lord Moyola and the Duke of Abercorn and also by my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine in the letter which he wrote two days ago to The Times because he was unable to be present at our debate this afternoon. With their roots there, they have a knowledge of Northern Ireland which I certainly lack. My own credentials are inferior, based upon a certain study of 19th and 20th century history. I wrote a life of Bonar Law but I am not the only Member of your Lordships' House to have been involved in historical research and writing. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, has contributed very notably to that same subject. Nevertheless, I have studied the subject.

Although I very much hope that one of the options put forward in the paper may be acceptable, I doubt it. I share the doubts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and several other noble Lords who have spoken on the subject. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, that it is not at all clear that this is a very good moment to have raised this particular matter. Of course I agree that direct rule is a second best, for all sorts of reasons, some of which are set out in the Green Paper and some of which have been mentioned by noble Lords during the debate. Obviously it is a second best and it cannot be a permanent solution. I certainly would not be in favour of any move towards what is called integration. I think that would be undesirable at the moment. The most that I would be in favour of would be a continuation of direct rule on much the same basis as at present. The danger of a set of proposals for devolution which fails to get agreement from both the majority and the minority—and I repeat it will be difficult to get that agreement—the danger is that it will set things back. In any case I am not at all clear what it will do in itself to reduce and diminish the terrorism and fear which is the great threat to that unhappy Province. I am not at all clear that it will affect that issue in any way. It is at least possible that the process of negotiating this kind of settlement may stir it up. All the evidence that I can ascertain—and obviously this is impressionistic and one cannot be dogmatic—is that among the general public in Northern Ireland, as opposed to the politicians, direct rule is the least contentious institution among the various options.

It was said by somebody (I cannot remember who) of the French Third Republic at the time of its inception that the reason for its creation (and indeed one might say for its survival) was that, of all the alternatives presented, it divided France the least. I think that at the moment it might well be true—and after all, in politics, choices are so often not between ideals but between the lesser of evils—that of all the alternatives presented in Northern Ireland at this moment, direct rule divides least.

I wonder whether I may just finish by giving a quotation which seems to me to be of some historical interest. It was written by the great-grandfather of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, in October 1872 in the Quarterly Review. He was discussing the Irish question, which of course, then as now, was a question which seemed intractable. Lord Salisbury wrote this: The optimist view of politics assumes that there must be some remedy for every political ill and, rather than not find it, will make two hardships to cure one … But is not the other view barely possible? Is it not just conceivable that there is no remedy which we can apply for the Irish hatred of ourselves? That other loves or hates may possibly some day elbow it out of the Irish … mind, that nothing we can do by any contrivance, will hasten the advent of that period? Lord Salisbury went on to suggest: May it not, on the contrary, be our incessant doctoring and meddling, awaking the passions now of this party, now of that, raising at every step a fresh crop of resentments by the side of the old growth, which puts off the day when these feelings will decay quietly away and be forgotten? He then continued: One thing we know we can do in Ireland, because we have done it in India and elsewhere with populations more unmanageable and more bitter. We can keep the peace and root out organised crime Perhaps in the context of what is happening today that might have been somewhat optimistic, but Lord Salisbury ended the passage with these words: But there is no precedent, either in our history or in any other, to teach us that political measures can conjure away hereditary antipathies which are fed by constant agitation. The free institutions which sustain the life of a free and united people sustain also the hatreds of a divided people. My Lords, it is for this reason, striking possibly a dissentient note from that adopted by most noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, that I regard it as possibly premature to bring forward constitutional proposals at this stage. Since they have been brought forward, I only hope that they work, but if not I agree with other noble Lords who have spoken: I hope we shall not hesitate to reinstate—or rather I suppose I should say, continue—direct rule, and shall not he in any hurry to engage in constitutional devices for a good many years to come.

2.40 p.m.

Viscount INGLEBY

My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, but I cannot go along with him entirely and I would hope to take a slightly more optimistic view. First, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on his maiden speech, although it is rather difficult to congratulate somebody gracefully who is sitting immediately behind you. I should also like to say how much I share the views which the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, has expressed.

I know there are many people who feel that the division of Ireland is a tragic thing and that it is basically wrong, and I would agree there. But I would ask them also what they feel about the division of the former United Kingdom of Great Britain. In Scotland and Wales I think the great majority of people feel it is right that they should continue as part of the United Kingdom. Is it right then that our neighbours, who are only 20 miles away from Scotland and 60 miles away from Wales, and whose capital is nearer to our capital than Edinburgh, should continue separate from us? After all, it was only the wrongs of the past that led them to separate from us. Can we not forget the past, and, like the two Prime Ministers who met recently, concentrate on the unique relationship between the two countries? Should not our longterm goal be a renuited Ireland within a reunited United Kingdom? This obviously will not happen tomorrow; this is a long-term aim.

What can we do now? If we are going to work together, as we hope, in the future, surely we must start working together now. That, to my way of thinking, means a coalition government of some kind. This is surely a time of emergency in Northern Ireland; no one would question that. A time of emergency demands emergency measures. People can work together if there is a will to do so. There must surely be many Christians on both sides, and we as Christians know our own weaknesses, we know our own shortcomings, we know our own need of forgiveness. So surely we can forgive others and work with them. The politicians may not seem very keen at this present time on a coalition government. One wonders in fact, if a referendum were taken, what the ordinary people of Northern Ireland would feel about it.

I should like to end, if I may, by quoting from a letter written by a Christian minister living near the border on the northern side, working for renewal and reconciliation. This is what he says: Inevitably because the roots of division are so deep this will be a long-term operation. For my part, I would want to really thank our friends in Britain for exercising such patience with us. Please stay with us longer and encourage those of us who are trying to extract those roots of bitterness and hatred by the power of God's forgiving love. Behind the headlines there is something good happening, and God's plan for us is a plan for good and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope.

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, this Government's paper has been very thoroughly debated, and so I, as the ultimate Back-Bencher, want just to look very briefly at some of the background to both Northern and Southern Ireland. Those who study culture and anthropology seem to be fairly well agreed that Ireland can be divided into three. There are, if I may call them so, the Irish-Irish, the Scots-Irish and the Anglo-Irish. The cultural differences between these groups have been, and still are, reinforced by political and religious differences. The three tribes have been predominantly Catholic, Presbyterian and Anglican in their religious outlook. I very much agree with Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien when he said: If religion is a red herring, then it's a herring about as big as a whale". I think that the Latin poet Lucretius if he were to survey the Irish scene today would repeat: Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum", or, in English: Such evil deeds could religion prompt. That is a gloomy note and I think that there is a corrective to that solution. The corrective to my mind lies in the idea of pluralism. What is the meaning of pluralism? The Reverend John Brady SJ, a Catholic scholar, has defined it as follows: The basic attitude of mind that will help society to cope with its divisions and to live at peace with itself. The Reverend John Morrow, a Presbyterian and now the director of the Corrymeela community has written: There would seem to be some obligation on us to teach respect both for people and even for beliefs with which we profoundly disagree". Therefore, pluralism is not indifference; it is not mere tolerance such as might arise when one has almost ceased to care for one's own values: pluralism is the honest acceptance of differences and for a Christian I would suggest that it is a first step towards the Commandment to love one's enemies. Moreover, it is a prerequisite to power-sharing. Pluralism will, of course, have some very practical consequences: it will mean the acceptance of mixed marriages and mixed schooling where they are desired; and it will even mean—and in this respect my noble friend on the Front Bench may perhaps take heart—the acceptance of mixed teacher training colleges. I submit that, above all, it means a respect for consciences and particularly the consciences of those who approve and practise such things as birth control and divorce.

The Pope has been mentioned today already. I should like to quote one thing that he said at an ecumenical meeting in Dublin last year: We must by example as well as by word try to move citizens, communities, politicians towards the ways of tolerance, co-operation and love". As a Catholic I beg the Catholic Church in Ireland—as the majority religion there—to put out some practical olive branches now. Pluralism, on the other hand, will demand very major changes in attitude from some of the political and religious groups in Northern Ireland. It can and must be a two-way process.

However, I suggest that pluralism by itself will not be enough. For 400 years or more the British and the Irish and the tribes within Ireland have inflicted very deep wounds on one another, wounds that continue from generation to generation and which create and bring with them fears, hatred and suspicions. Some of those wounds can perhaps be forgiven and some of the consequences of the wounds can be put right. But in the main, wounds are facts and cannot be changed. Therefore, there is a need for repentance, a need for being sorry, for asking for forgiveness and for forgiving. In this century Auschwitz, Dresden and Hiroshima need to be repented and to be forgiven. In the same way the aching and painful injuries and crimes of the British and the Irish need repentance and forgiveness. Forgiveness and acceptance, if they are real, will be certain to spill over into politics. We have seen this with the ancient quarrels of Britain and France, France and Germany, Germany and Poland. I believe that it is our duty to devise appropriate gestures and institutions to enable forgiveness to work both individually and corporately in the British and Irish context.

Religion and culture interact upon each other and necessarily affect politics. Politics and foregiveness presuppose a deep renewal of religion; they presuppose a return to the Gospel and to the insights of some of the great reformers, such as Wesley and Calvin. Again, as the Pope said in Dublin: We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, knowing, with St. Paul, that there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither bond nor free; there is neither male nor female; for we are all one in Christ Jesus".

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened carefully to the speakers in this debate and I am very much aware of the breadth of experience, the deep concern and the earnest efforts that they have brought to bear on the difficult search for peaceful, lasting and just solutions to our Northern Ireland problems. As a comparative new Member on our Opposition Front Bench, I hope that I do not in any way appear patronising if I say that the speeches today have been both responsible and helpful. I should wish to follow in that positive way, for I am convinced that the influence of this House is considerable in many respects in regard to many of the matters raised here today.

First, I should like to thank the Minister Lord Elton and all noble Lords who have taken part for their goodwill and continuing concern for the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland. I should particularly like to welcome this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, for a very sensitive and understanding speech about Irish affairs which was warmly delivered. Indeed, he will certainly be a welcome addition to this House, and I hope that he will take part in many of our debates.

There are many in this House and in another place, especially among those who hold and have held the burdens of ministerial office for Northern Ireland, who have sacrificed much in personal and in family life in efforts to help and to give leadership. It is encouraging to many of us that this desire should be so manifest as to uphold fair play, dignity and social justice with tolerance and generosity which transcends party political outlook and organisation. I believe that it is the example of this sense of human values, justice and fair play that can best help to heal the divisions between the two communities in Northern Ireland, and enable the emergence of the will to work together for the common good. This discussion paper has been covered widely and in much detail by the Minister and by succeeding speakers, so I shall attempt to be brief, but I am sure noble Lords will understand that I must try to do justice to the seriousness of the issues under discussion, as well as to the work and the thought that has gone into this political initiative.

A number of attractive proposals and points have been raised and, indeed, I am resisting the temptation to try to respond to some of the matters on which I have a point of view to express. It appears to me that there are two options for the future government of Northern Ireland, which do not risk an increase in community tensions and further political instability. The first, and the preferred option, is devolution of power to a local administration, with which the minority as well as the majority community can clearly identify. The second option is a continuation of direct rule, with whatever necessary procedural and parliamentary adjustments are possible, until such time as the political climate in the Province changes. There are two other proposals which have been canvassed but which, in my view, are not practical in the present context or in the present climate. The first is a return to devolved majority rule and the second is the unification of Ireland as a unitary republican state.

The Irish dimension has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. I agree that one cannot ignore the Irish dimension, and I am glad that it is forthrightly and agreeably mentioned in the Paper, especially in paragraph 21; the fact that there is a unique relationship between the peoples of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the need to further this relationship in the interests of peace and reconciliation and, indeed, in the interests of mutual prosperity. There are encouraging developments in these areas of cultural, social and economic co-operation, some of them being done very quietly in order to have a meeting of minds and hearts, and I believe that these could be greatly strengthened with the growing political confidence and goodwill of a developed government in Northern Ireland.

Mention has been made of a number of institutional ways by which this Irish dimension could perhaps be strengthened. The condominium approach has been mentioned. So far as I am aware—I may be wrong about this—the Hebrides is the only example we have of a condominium approach, and I am afraid that is not altogether successful. However, I am not ruling out that there are other ways in which the Republic, Northern Ireland, and Great Britain could embrace new ideas and, as it were, federal relationships. But would I oppose any sort of institutional arrangements before people have learned to get together and live together, and perhaps there should be an approach towards a form of Nordic union, where economic co-operation could be strengthened as a first premise.

Much of the reasoning in the Paper is sound and well expressed, though it requires careful study and a further elucidation of detail. It is particularly useful to have paragraph 45, an attempt to put the immediate policies relating to the problems into perspective. This paragraph appears to me to spell out the political requirements to meet the immediate needs of the people and not the ideology of some politicians. These requirements are the effective application of Northern Ireland representatives in the management of economic forces, in the administration of public services and in the allocation of predetermined resources, made available and under the control of a devolved Government.

There are significant principles and powers under the proposed arrangements for finance; that money should be provided from Westminster on the basis of need rather than on resources, and that parity with the rest of the United Kingdom in essential state services should he maintained. It is a tremendous step forward to have these points enunciated in this way. Of course, power in this devolved sense, if it is to mean anything to wellbeing and progress, is power in the allocation of public sector funds, power to make decisions concerning the siting of productive investments and power in respect of manpower policies and opportunities for our young people.

The political power struggle we have is about the control of available finance and policy decisions concerning resources and jobs. One has every reason to suspect that the constitutional issue is often misused in order to achieve manipulation and control over these scarce resources. For these reasons, the Government's second option does not match up to the need expressed earlier, in paragraph 41 of the Paper, in which it is clearly stated that unless the minority community feels able to accept, and identify with, the institutions of Government in Northern Ireland, there is little prospect of political stability in the Province and hopes of peace and prosperity will be impaired. It is in the interests of the majority, as much as the minority, that the form of institutions adopted should meet this criterion. With this clearly defined principle about the reasonable and appropriate arrangements to take account of the interests of the minority, it appears to me that option two could relegate the minority to a negative role, with no constructive power to influence decisions in a positive way.

One course of action not given due consideration in the Paper is the continuance of direct rule. I consider this a pity, because it is obvious from the critical reactions that we have heard and read about the two declared Government proposals, that the representatives of the majority community will not accept the only form of devolution that will work and will produce any chance of political change through agreed minority participation.

I believe that the United Kingdom Government sooner or later will have to bring the future for the Government of Northern Ireland to this stark choice, which is, option one suitably modelled to accommodate both communities, or the continuance of direct rule. That I believe is the stark choice that faces us today. Clearly, none of the three main parties here at Westminster wish to continue with direct rule longer than is necessary in the interests of the Northern Ireland people, but it may be wise for the Government to wait, and to work, for a real shift in attitudes in Northern Ireland, upon which any new initiative would depend for success.

Perhaps the most fundamental point made in the Paper is in paragraph 16. It is that either plan could be frustrated, or indeed either plan could work, depending on whether or not the will was there to make it work. Although newspaper editorials and the general theme of the discussion of the Paper in another place give little hope that there is now that will in Northern Ireland to enable devolved Government to work effectively, I am not despondent. It is important to note that only one of the three political parties that took a full part in the consultations giving rise to the Paper was represented during the debate in another place. The SDLP and the Alliance Parties both still have a major voice in the future political structures of Northern Ireland. The next round of talks may reveal common ground among all the parties and perhaps among other new emerging political groupings.

However, I would suggest that rather than risk a patched-up agreement becoming a fragile arrangement when matched against internal or external political pressures, or against terrorist violence, the Government would be wise to focus on those matters which are uniting ordinary people in their common and shared interests. These matters are jobs, security, homes and the availability of general welfare services to all sections of the community.

My view is that the Government should immediately concentrate on having the principles of option one acceptably moulded, adopted, and agreed and that this then should be approved by the Government before placing it in the form of a referendum to the Northern Ireland people. The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, dealt in a general way with matters relating to a referendum, and I am in agreement with him.

As well as the structures of a devolved Administration, the issues concerning the task of promoting the economic and social reconstruction of the Province should be clearly stated, for it is this aspect that rings hollow in the discussion Paper. It appears to many that all that the Government are offering is a choice of two forms of devolution under which to be unemployed. What attraction has this for young people? People require to have some tangible and meaningful stake in their future, and I believe that this is an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, when he said that the Paper had not been discussed in any detail in Northern Ireland. The Government must make these economic and social matters dynamically relevant in any future talks and in any public discussion. Any pattern for a new devolved Government for Northern Ireland must be based on absolute fairness. Every citizen—Protestant, Catholic, dissenter, or of other groupings—must be confident he has precisely the same rights, opportunities and privileges.

However, my final point is something even more fundamental than the structures of government or the economy. It is the will of the Northern Ireland people to work together. This point is made at the beginning and at the end of the White Paper, and the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, dealt with aspects of it in a way which I feel I could fully support. During the last few days a great deal of criticism and advice have been directed at the Government. I have already referred to the tolerance, the understanding and the generosity shown by the British political parties and by successive United Kingdom Governments over the past decade. I believe that, in turn, the British people are entitled to expect some tolerance, sympathy and generosity to be actively displayed and encouraged by the political leaders and by the people of Northern Ireland towards each other. Certainly the objective is clear. It is that, through peaceful evolution, to deliver the Northern Ireland people from violence and fear, and to set them free to realise in full their great potential.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, at this stage of a lengthy debate the Front Bench spokesman is always faced by a dilemma. I think on reflection that your Lordships would not wish me to pick up every single point made in 17 admirably brief but none the less extensive speeches. So I should like to start by assuring your Lordships that what your Lordships have said and what can be read in Hansard of what your Lordships have said will be taken seriously on board by Her Majesty's Government. I should like to add to that assurance an invitation to noble Lords, both those who are here present today and others who are concerned in this, to give me views on this important subject which I may pass to the Secretary of State.

In a really admirable debate, if I may say so, it was the greatest of pleasures to hear the even more admirable maiden speech of Lord Hunt of Tanworth. He gave us a considerable range of matters to consider, and furnished us with a uniquely useful analogy. Lord Hunt's bicycle is going to be ridden a long way from this day. In the course of this debate it has become clear, and I accept, that the economic position of the Province is a matter of prime concern, and forms part of the context within which the next round of consultation will take place. We have never supposed otherwise. I do not think that this is the time to embark upon an apologia for, or in any way to try to advance in detail, the economic policy which governs the whole of Her Majesty's Government's conduct at the moment. I will say only this, that we have all placed our political lives on the line in following this policy. We all believe in it, and we are all committed to pursuing it.

In the past, I have tried to liken the present position to that of a pilot who finds himself brought to the controls of a stalled aircraft and who has to push the stick forward before he can regain flying speed. The sensations are unpleasant and they may be painful, but they are not as painful as would have been the crash if we had not taken this action in the nick of time.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I put a point to the noble Lord which it may be he is going to deal with—and, if so, he will shoot me down. Is it not possible that, at any rate in the eyes of the Government, the policy might be entirely suitable for the United Kingdom as a whole, and yet have special penalties for Northern Ireland, which might need special remedies?


My Lords, I hope I shall not be thought discourteous if I do not give way again, because I wish to be brief. The point indeed is taken, and I was about to say, in response to another noble Lord's inquiry, that of course the funding of the different regions of the United Kingdom, and the resources which are attributed to them, are given in response to need, and the needs differ from region to region. If the noble Earl will in fact refer again, as I am sure he has already, to paragraph 12 of the document, he will see the extent, and the very considerable extent, to which the particular position and the particular needs of the Province have already been taken on board.

I was also going on to say that the needs of the Province will always be kept in mind; but they must be kept in mind in the context of the needs of the United Kingdom. It is no use vitiating the success of a policy for the whole of the country in order to preserve an advantage in part of it; because then all parts of it will suffer. Of course, related directly to that is the question of unemployment. Indeed, I am aware of the position in the Province and noble Lords have only to read or to listen to the statements of all of my colleagues in the other place to know that we are doing our best about this and have already generated a great deal of new employment as a result of our approaches in getting inward investment from abroad.

The next point on which we are on common ground, I hope, is that nothing will succeed which is not acceptable to any considerable and all considerable parts of the community in the Province. There is no intention to enforce upon a reluctant population a solution which they would not willingly accept. That does not mean that there is not a need, a critical and crucial need, for compromise between the sections. I hope that the pessimism which I detected in the speeches of my noble friends Lord Moyola and the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, and others at the lack of spontaneous interest generated by this paper may not in fact be quite as discouraging a sign as one might fear. What would have been discouraging for me would have been an instant loud and unconsidered rejection of any consideration of the paper. I believe that, so long as this low-key reception is preserved, the possibility is preserved also of rational and yielding discussion.

Of course, just as the economy forms part of the context within which we must proceed, so does the security situation. No one is more aware of that than your Lordships, except possibly the terrorists—who are perfectly aware that it is by playing on the fears of each part of the community that they can generate hostility. That is something which Her Majesty's Government, with some success, are wrestling with at the moment. The success is not complete. We cannot achieve the absolute elimination of disorder to which my noble friend Lord Blake referred in the quotation from a most eloquent speech by the late Lord Salisbury. If that speech tells us nothing else, it tells us, I regret, that the standard of prose in your Lordships' House has declined somewhat over recent years, and we should be grateful to him for encouraging us to improve in that direction. But we are aware of the problem. There is a vicious circle because it is the division within the community which facilitates the activities of the terrorist and it is the activities of the terrorist which tend to perpetuate the division in the community. We must break into this somewhere. Those of your Lordships who say that now is not the time, I beg to consider that the time will never be right if we always wait for every one of the auguries to be as we would wish it to be.

There are, as the noble Lord, Lord Leonard, has said, two minorities to consider. He said that, when you talk about the majority in Northern Ireland, you are talking about the minority in the island of Ireland. That is exactly the point. The noble Lord cannot expect the million Protestants in Northern Ireland to overlook it any more than he does. They feel themselves threatened by any proposal to change their position from one of majority to one of minority. When terrorist bodies exploit the aspirations of one group to extend its territory over that of another, this becomes a mortal fear. Let us be clear, and let those who support the cause of unification of the island of Ireland be clearest of all, that unification cannot come about on those terms.

Unity can only be between friends and between friends who trust one another. It takes time to build trust. It is about building trust that we are trying to make progress this afternoon, this summer and this autumn with this Paper. We wish to give people the opportunity to work together within the framework within which they can do themselves and each other no harm, and within which they can find that they do not pose to each other the threats which they have been brought up to suppose they do. Where threats exist in present structures—and there are many painful memories of the not so distant past where there has been discrimination—we want their causes removed in the light of common, decent, everyday, civilized, constitutional living and conduct. That is what my right honourable friend is seeking to do and to find in this Paper.

The next point which was raised, and which is of course central to this matter and yet slightly off centre in a most confusing way, is the question of religion. My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk said that on the religious front there had been a tremendous move forward. I do not wish to make categorical statements or to make important judgments in the course of this debate because the purpose of this debate is to facilitate discussion, not to reach conclusions. But I fear that in the Roman Catholic community in the Province of Northern Ireland there is none the less a feeling of being threatened in more ways than one. Even with indirect rule they feel themselves threatened institutionally. I say this because my particular responsibility is in education. As your Lordships may have noticed, the school population is declining and our resources are not getting bigger. We therefore are under a compulsion to review the way that we manage our schools and, more particularly, the way that we train our teachers.

I am not going to lead your Lordships into the complicated details and background to this; but I should like to take this opportunity to say yet again in the most public place that I can find that it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government in some way to wind up, eliminate or neutralise the system whereby parents of children of different faiths can send them to schools which are compatible with that faith. In other words, I do not think that the system of maintained schools should be regarded as being under threat merely because we are having to look at the way in which we bring about the training of the teachers to teach in them, and it is not our intention to turn off the tap through which that form of expertise is supplied.

If words of reassurance are called for to the Roman Catholic community, perhaps they are also called for in the light of what the noble Duke went on to say to the other community. On the question of the relationships between Westminster and Dublin, the noble Duke had a great deal to say and recommended to us in passing the system of condominium which has produced some extraordinary results in the New Hebrides recently.

The Duke of NORFOLK

Just one moment, my Lords. The New Hebrides is one condominium. Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was a very successful condominium.


My Lords, the noble Duke will forgive me for a jibe which I found too tempting to pass by. Of course, history is full of examples, and if ever I quote one we have the noble Lord, Lord Blake, to put me right by balancing it with another.

The Paper which we have before us clearly states that there is a unique relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic, that this relationship requires to be furthered in all our interests, and that it is in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland to recognise and develop the links thatexist between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The Paper concludes that new arrangements for the Government of Northern Ireland which secured the support of both communities would make the best possible contribution to both Anglo-Irish and North/South dimensions. That is a highly relevant and indeed incontrovertible conclusion. The Government also recognise the importance to the Republic of Ireland of what happens in Northern Ireland.

There are myriad reasons why the South feels an interest. The Paper refers to each national territory being "inescapably affected" by events and developments in the other. But the Government are quite clear, as they have faced on numerous occasions, that the responsibility for the resolution of Northern Ireland's problems is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, Her Majesty's Government and this Parliament.

Then your Lordships discussed a number of alternative approaches. Unification was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and by the noble Lord, Lord Leonard; integration by the noble Lord, Lord Monson; a condominium by the noble Duke, and so on. At this late stage I shall say only that we have been in the process of narrowing down the alternatives for l4 months and we have got to the narrow consideration that we have now. It is perfectly in order for anybody to raise his head and look at the distant view and to consider where we should go eventually, but it is absolutely imperative that by doing that we should not suggest to anybody whom we are asking to make a compromise and take a risk that we are hell-bent—or Heaven-bent, if you wish—on going all the way to that particular solution. If we were to do that, we should not be joined by those who are the only people who can travel with us in the compromise. Therefore, that brings us down to the options within the Paper and any variations that approach approximation to that which will emerge during the months ahead.

I have detected that some of your Lordships think this is not the moment to introduce this particular approach. Here I feel myself wobbling slightly, as the pace of Lord Hunt's bicycle slows down. I think it is necessary to show good faith in our intentions to restore democracy to the Province and, if we are to sit on our hands and do nothing, that will be in question and we shall fail. We will not go uncarefully about this. I do not think I have ever met a politician who has had the patience, flexibility, courage and sensitiveness of my Secretary of State in conducting the conversations that have got us where we are now. Your Lordships need not be afraid of a headlong rush from him: nor need you fear that we shall be imposing upon any section of a reluctant Province any solution which would have it up in arms and which it would have to regret.

I think those are the greatest reassurances I can give. There are a great number of points that I have to take up in correspondence. I must write to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath; I now have the dates of our correspondence and I think he will be less displeased than he was when he referred to it. I am grateful to your Lordships for contributing the fruits of your considered reflection to this vital subject. It is vital because it costs lives and it costs lives, as my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk has said, "within our own family".

As I said at the beginning, I am committed—it is the only reason why the job is worth doing—to trying to get the Province to the position where all the people in it can live together. I hope that your Lordships will wish us luck in doing that and that you will be patient with those whom we are dealing with, as they are by turns intransigent and forgiving. My Lords, you have been patient and I have talked for longer than I intended. It remains now for me really to commend this Command Paper to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.