HL Deb 09 July 1981 vol 422 cc839-76

Debate resumed.

4.23 p.m.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, if we can return to the affairs of Northern Ireland once again, the two orders we are debating today recur, unfortunately, at regular intervals and there is a danger that it may be felt that one is being merely repetitive in debate. At a time like the present, the public look for some magic initiative. I believe that the Government can only carry steadily on for the time being largely as at present, and that it would be a sign of weakness to change policy for the sake of being thought to have thought up something good rather than from real conviction. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to the desire for some conjuring trick which, alas! is not available. I do not believe that there is any quick, easy solution of the problems of the Province. I am satisfied that the views expressed in the Liberal Manifesto for the May 1979 election are still sound. I speak under the shadow of the death of another hunger striker, Mr. Joe McDonnell, to whom I spoke only four weeks ago. He spoke with humour and obviously had no desire to die. It is a tragic waste of life on which I will not comment further here. Progress towards peace must come from within the Province. Where outside help is required, Great Britain must be prepared to contribute. This we are certainly doing, both with financial aid to a considerable extent and in our efforts to stabilise relationships between the two communities. I should like to pay my personal tribute to the efforts of Ministers to resolve the present crisis. I am sure that a great deal of patience will be required, and impatience with the Irish as a whole must be studiously, even perhaps painfully, avoided.

While we may sigh at the injustice of much criticism against us when we are trying our utmost to help, I believe that we should not forget the history of Ireland and how only 60 years ago it was involved in a vicious civil war, the wounds from which have certainly not fully healed.

Britain was by no means always wise. What is needed today is a full attempt at real understanding on all sides. To suggest that the Irish should be left to their own devices at this stage seems to me a counsel of despair; we must be careful not to react that way through insensitivity or impatience or boredom. It may seem right and logical that Eire and Ulster should be reunited but, as Gerald Priestland, the broadcaster, once said: A new Ireland cannot possibly be built by conquest but only by honesty". We cannot compel; our task is to guide where we can by a continuation of direct rule. In general, I think that we on these Benches can say that the Government are acting with both courage and restraint, although we did disagree with them in their handling of the Representation of the People Bill. That is past.

I offer some criticism now. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will accept that it is made with every desire to help and in no spirit of sniping or for mere party gain. I remain firmly convinced that the parties at Westminster should continue to work with as much accord as possible over what may be termed "the Irish problem". Let me make my points. Mrs. Thatcher may feel she is in between the Scylla of the Republicans and the Charybdis of the Unionists, but I believe that she has shown errors of judgment both in Dublin and in Belfast: in Dublin, a little while back now, when she met Mr. Haughey, but refused to say what they had been discussing; in Belfast quite recently when to rousing cheers from the Unionists, she reaffirmed that the North could remain a part of the United Kingdom so long as a majority so wished. But, as a Catholic said to me, there was nothing in this for them. I was going to ask the Minister when he came to reply whether he does not think it essential that the contentment of both communities should not only be sought but be seen to be sought at all times. But he has covered that point in his opening speech.

Another point on which we question the wisdom of Government policy as put forward by the Secretary of State is this. He plans an appointed advisory council of rather more than 50 members. We have for some years recommended an advisory council of no more than 15 to 20 members and elected—if the House will bear with me—by the single transferable vote form of proportional representation. I will not rehearse the argument behind this plan further than to say that such a council would be large enough to let every significant viewpoint have a voice, but small enough for all its members to have real discussion with each other as well as with the Secretary of State and other political representatives. It would be seen to be representative of opinion and could keep the Government in touch with current thinking, hopefully in time to point the way forward.

Nor do we feel that there need be long delay in the election of such a council which I believe was voiced as one of the objections to such a policy. Beyond that, I repeat that we see no magic initiative that will unlock the door to peace. We have no doubt that there must be no capitulation to violence and that the Government must stand steady as they go. Direct rule must continue for the time being and the civil power must be helped by the army as long as it is clearly required. I quoted earlier from the book Yours Faithfully by Gerald Priestland, when he said: A new Ireland cannot possibly be built by conquest but only by honesty". I now continue that quotation: And if politicians dare not take the plunge, why not the Churches? All of them". For it is the minds and souls of men that have to be won, and I believe there is a deep longing of the majority for accord between the two communities. Despite all the present difficulties, I continue to look forward with cautious optimism to happier times ahead. In Northern Ireland, with its double minority problem, it seems that it is fear that today has the strongest pull. We must look forward to days when the words "compromise" and "co-operation" are both used and understood.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Gardiner

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Blease expressed the view of the Opposition and, while not disagreeing with anything he said, I speak for myself. In these days of gloom, I should like to refer to four hopeful factors, I think, in the Northern Ireland situation. The first factor is the success with which terrorism has been met. The Secretary of State said on 2nd July, last week, at col. 1020: the last two years show a general improvement in the security situation,…With great courage and dedication, ordinary policemen are doing ordinary police duties in increasing areas of the Province. There has been a distinct change in the nature of Army operations over the past few years, and it now acts only in support of and at the request of the police. This change, difficult to handle, has been made without diminishing in any way the closeness of co-operation between the two forces … The gradual decrease in violence, which began in 1977, continued over the succeeding four years, with the result that 1980, although far from peaceful, was the least violent year since 1971. There were fewer murders, fewer injuries caused by terrorist violence, fewer explosions and fewer shooting incidents than for 10 years. The first four months of 1981 saw a continuation of this generally downward trend". Then he referred to the cause of this in the behaviour of the police assisted by the armed forces in very difficult circumstances indeed.

The first thing we should all agree about—and I am sure we can—is that this has been a success story. There has been a remarkable diminution in terrorist offences and we all owe a great debt of gratitude to both the police and the armed forces. The second point which I regard as a hopeful factor is the breakdown in bipartisan policy. What has happened, as I understand it—though I have not been in on it—is that a committee of Labour Members of Parliament interested in Northern Ireland have taken a large blank piece of paper and have put on to it all the solutions to the Northern Ireland problem that anybody has ever suggested or any that they could think of themselves, and their respective advantages and disadvantages. Your Lordships will no doubt have read last week a poll in the Sunday Times dealing with these various suggestions. They had the opinion poll carried out by a professional firm. I am not a very great believer in public opinion polls but I do not doubt that it is quite right to take them into account.

They were polled on all these various proposals. I take them in no particular order. No. 1, troops out. That of course had not support from either the Protestant community or the Catholic community, but undoubtedly it has increasing support from the British taxpayer. It now costs £1,000 million a year—practically £1,000 for the head of every household in Northern Ireland, and whether the British taxpayers' patience one day will be exhausted, we do not know. No. 2, an independent State of Ulster. This was the suggestion of the right honourable Member for Cardiff, South-East, Mr. Callaghan. It apparently attracted no support in the poll: only 16 per cent. of Protestants and only 10 per cent. of Catholics, and I rather fancy that the Labour Party committee thought that it was hardly a good starter.

No. 3 was partition. This received very minor support from either of the two religious communities. No. 4 was for Northern Ireland to be fully integrated into the United Kingdom. This at the moment has the general support of 91 per cent. of the Protestants but only 39 per cent. of the Catholics. No. 5 was for a united Ireland. This attracted only 6 per cent. of the Protestants and 58 per cent. of the Catholics. No. 6 was power-sharing, which to my mind was in a sense surprising, for this was the first proposed solution to the Irish problem which really has a majority of both communities behind it: 53 per cent. of the Protestants and 77 per cent. of the Catholics. It was Mr. Heath who suggested this. It very nearly succeeded the first time that it was suggested. It ought obviously to be towards the top of the list of the possible solutions to the problem of Northern Ireland.

No. 7 was Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom but with its own Assembly with guarantees to the Catholics. It was interesting and surprising to me to find that this was said to be acceptable to 70 per cent. of the Protestants and 62 per cent. of Catholics. Then there is another facet of the same thing, but in reverse: lastly, Northern Ireland to be part of a federal Irish State but with its own Assembly and guarantees for the Protestants. That did not appeal to the Protestants though it did appeal to the majority of the Catholics.

The Labour Party committee was in favour of a United Ireland, whether federated or quasi-federated but they realised that this could be achieved not merely with the consent of the Protestants but with their support. They believe that in time this may well be so. There would have to be changes to satisfy the Protestants in the constitution of the Irish Republic, cast-iron guarantees, finance provided, and so on. They believed, rightly or wrongly, that one day Protestants will realise that in a united Ireland at peace with itself, with guaranteed provisions in favour of the Protestants which would require alteration of the Constitution of the Republic, might well be to the Protestant advantage; they may come to realise that they will be able to lead more successful and happy lives in that situation than in any other. I cannot help thinking that it is a good thing that, whereas only about three weeks ago everybody was saying: "There is no solution to the problem of Northern Ireland", now the air is thick with proposals. I cannot help thinking that that is a good thing, and a particularly good thing if it encourages the people of Northern Ireland themselves to think out all the possible alternatives.

The third hopeful factor was the very brave statement made by the Catholic bishops—brave as they have to be to carry their flocks with them—about the hunger strikes and the subsequent actions of the Commission for Peace and Justice. I shall not say more about that now; I am very sorry that it has failed. I do not know whether some of your Lordships heard the Minister of State, Mr. Alison, on television last night. It is very easy to mishear somebody; it is very easy to mis-recollect what they have said. I thought what he said was that an agreement would have been achieved if Mrs. Thatcher had not personally intervened at the last moment; but I may be wrong, and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will tell me when he replies.

Lastly, there is a factor which ought also to be explored. I do not think it has been explored before. We did not deal with it at all in the Gardiner Report. Perhaps I might remind your Lordships that the Gardiner Committee included the noble and learned Lord, Lord MacDermot, a former Unionist Attorney-General and subsequently Chief Justice; a High Court Catholic judge; a professor of sociology; an English Queen's Counsel who has had a lot to do with the practical working of detention without trial; and Professor Buchan, an expert on terrorism.

We really did see everybody. We saw the Army several times; the police; the chief constable; the superintendents; the CID; the Special Branch; the Chief Justice; the Bar; the Law Society; the Director of Public Prosecutions; detainees in the Maze; representatives of the trade unions; representatives of the Churches and of course all six political parties.

What struck some of us, which we did not mention in our report, was that Western Europe is very divided. There are Protestant countries; there are Catholic countries. There are countries like the Netherlands which are very much divided into two halves, Protestants and Catholics. There are countries like Belgium where there are French-speaking and Flemish-speaking sections. There are many different cultures. Finland is very different from Portugal and so is Austria from Denmark; yet for many years they have all had this common feature—that the young of both sexes get together and propound revolutionary views that greatly shock their elders and betters, and they are rather given to demonstrations.

This happens in every West European country except one, and that country is Northern Ireland. The reason for that is the enormous number of young Protestants who have never met a Catholic and the enormous number of young Catholics who have never met a Protestant. Of course things may be different by the time they get to university age. I believe that in the University of Belfast there are about one-third Catholics and two-thirds Protestants. When Mr. Faulkner came, I remember that he brought with him one or two young Protestant party members who were about university age. They said they had never met a Catholic. And when the Honourable Member for Belfast West, Mr. Fitt, came with his young people, they said they had never met any young Protestants—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble and learned Lord? He is of course aware that he is referring to a system which prevails in England and Scotland and is not criticised here.

Lord Gardiner

Yes, my Lords, I am dealing at the moment with Northern Ireland and it has not had the same effect here as it has had in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland the children are brought up in separate schools with entirely different views of Irish history and of the problems which ought to be common problems to the people of the country. The reasons why we did not say anything about this were two-fold: first, because it would have been outside our terms of reference, which were to inquire into the working of the Emergency Powers Act, and, secondly, because I thought rightly or wrongly that there was no question of integrated schools because the Catholic Church and Doctor Paisley would never for a moment agree—

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, if I may just add one point here, which is in slight opposition to what the noble and learned Lord is saying, there are three schools for delinquent boys in Northern Ireland in which there is no distinction whatever of religion, and they work perfectly well together. So it is a little bit more than the purely mechanical arrangements.

Lord Gardiner

My Lords, I have no doubt they would get on perfectly well together if only they could meet, and I thought that in the Sunday opinion poll the most striking answer to any question was this: "Q. 'Do you think that Protestant and Catholic children should go to the same school?' A. 'Yes'—Protestants, 75 per cent. 'Yes'—Catholics, 66 per cent".

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord give way? He must be unaware of the fact that in large areas of Fermanagh and South Tyrone and in the Methodist College and in grammar schools throughout Northern Ireland there is in fact integrated education in a very, very large way; but in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, which I know about intimately, it has been going on for hundreds of years and is only just now, as a result of the Roman Catholic Church, being segregated. In spite of that, we still have a number of Roman Catholic parents who defy their Church and send their children to state schools. This idea that Catholics never met Protestants may apply in some areas but certainly there are many areas of Northern Ireland, and especially my own area, where this is absolute rubbish. Will the noble and learned Lord excuse me for using that word?

Lord Gardiner

My Lords, I am much obliged: that is the next thing I was going to say. I wanted to ask the noble Lord, Lord Elton: what is the policy, if any, of the Government in relation to the prospect of integrated schools? I am well aware that there are some integrated schools which work perfectly well, I can quite understand that there are areas in which there would be difficulty—

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord once more, as he is giving way continuously, but he places me in a difficult procedural position. We are debating the extention of the interim measure which concerns the constitutional arrangements for the Government for the next 12 months. I obviously cannot take up every aspect of Government policy. It happens that I am deeply involved in the matter he is discussing now and I am sorely tempted to reply to him in kind, but we should then have an interminable debate. I think really that the occasion to go into aspects of policy within the constitutional arrangements must be for another time. I regret that, but I fear it must be so.

Lord Gardiner

My Lords, I should have thought that it would have some effect when one is dealing with the future of Northern Ireland and talking about the answers to the problems. May I conclude by saying just a few words; I was seeking to find out what the Government's view was. I concede that there are areas where there are nothing but Catholic children or nothing but Protestant children. Integrated schools would be possible in many areas, and I believe it would be a big step forward if the Government would take this on board and see what can be done so that young Protestants can talk to their opposite numbers.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I have been chairman of the British-Irish Association now for something like 10 years and I have resisted the temptation to talk on other than non-controversial matters on Northern Ireland since I arrived in your Lordships' House some six years ago. But, if I may, this afternoon I should like to take the opportunity of making a few observations, partly because I am ceasing to be chairman, and of course I make these remarks purely on my own behalf and certainly not in any respect on behalf of the organisations with which I have been associated.

I strongly agree with something that was said by the noble and learned Lord right at the beginning—that we are beginning to see a breakthrough in initiatives which we have not seen for a long time. In particular, I warmly welcome the much misrepresented speech by Mr. Callaghan in the other place, which I think was a very honest and honourable attempt to re-think a position about which he has great and intimate knowledge and for which he carried enormous and terrifying responsibilities. I would say, having watched Mr. Alison yesterday, that I honestly do not think he said what the noble and learned Lord said he thought the Minister had said about the Prime Minister. I think these questions of the hunger strikers are very complex. But since I have decided anyway to give up my neutral stance, if I may, I should like to plunge in medias res and talk a little about the hunger strike. Obviously what I say is "shorthand" because one makes brief speeches in your Lordships' House and it is very dangerous to speak briefly about any issue about Ireland and particularly about anything as terrible as this.

I think many of us would feel that what the men in the H Block have been convicted of are unspeakably awful crimes, and I do not find it in my heart to seek to wish to forgive them for those crimes. I have no doubt other people might feel differently, but that is my own feeling. However, we must accept—and here I risk enormous misrepresentation in what I shall say—certain basic facts. First, these men are not criminals in the ordinarily accepted sense of the word. They are criminals by my criteria and they have done perfectly wicked things, but they ere not your normal bank robber, great train robber or hooligan, for the most part—some are, of course but most of them are what they say they are: politically motivated. That seems to me to be a distinction of great significance.

Secondly, the purpose of imprisonment is reformation: there can he no conceivable doubt about that. That is the common basis of penological principle in the United Kingdom; but how do you reform a man who thinks that the awful crime he has committed is justified? I just pose that question, If you think about it long enough and, if I may say so, if you think about it deeply and with your full soul, you perhaps begin to see some vague light at the end of the tunnel.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, would the noble Lord give way for just one minute? I do not think there is a single living penologist who thinks that the main object of imprisonment today is reformation.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is a great expert in penology. I am just saying that one of the major objects of imprisonment ought to be to reform the characters of those in prison, and I am asking the simple question: How do you rehabilitate these men? I am sure that that is a question that is asked in the Republic and among the Catholic community.

Thirdly, it must always be a possibility that, whatever political settlement is achieved in Ireland, it must entail the ultimate prospect of some kind of amnesty. We can say till the cows come home, under Prime Minister after Prime Minister, that there will never be an amnesty. But those men can point to every conceivable spot on the globe and say, "You always said there never would be, but there was".

I start from the proposition—I shall be misunderstood; I was obviously misunderstood by the representative of the Social Democratic Party on the opposite Benches—that these are points which we ought to ponder, because I find myself emotionally very hostile to those who are trying to explain away the hunger strikes. When I try to think about them honestly, frankly and candidly, these seem to be the issues which are relevant. I do not believe that there is any short-run solution to the H-block problem and I think that we shall see further deaths. But I am, in my own mind, convinced that there must ultimately be some end and it will lie along the lines of the way that I have tried, in shorthand, to argue this afternoon.

The second point that I wish to make again arises from the opening remarks of the noble and learned Lord on the Opposition Front Bench, and from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, for whose immense contributions to Northern Ireland the whole House and the whole country are deeply obliged. He is a man of incredible stature. We surely must as a nation, as a Parliament, impose power-sharing. I see no answer to the problem of Northern Ireland which does not include some kind of political solution which involves both communities.

If you ask the political representatives of the communities, you will always get the answer, "No". I have never yet been present at any meeting between politicians on all sides of the sectarian divide in the North, where I have not found a greater amount of opposition to any proposal than I have found support for it. The conclusion that I draw from that is that we must ask the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, with all their immense weight and political skill, to impose a solution. For that reason, I was enormously grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said, which was that he welcomed the proposal for the new council.

I would go further than that. I would proceed swiftly to impose one of the two options that appeared in the last White Paper. Once you get a new form of Government going in Northern Ireland, the chances are that it will carry on. The important point is that that Government should be seen to be operating, with any imperfections that it has, and that it should go on month after month and, ultimately, year after year.

I would add to that one fact where I deeply disagreed with the last White Paper. It has always been assumed that security should not be handed over to any new administration in Northern Ireland. Anybody can run the drains, the roads and the other services which are local government matters. What is of essential significance in any community, as we have seen only too clearly in the last few days on the mainland, is the problem of policing. Until we have devised some scheme for the acceptability of the Royal Ulster Constabulary by both sides of the community, we shall have achieved precisely nothing. I share very mach the view of the noble and learned Lord on the Opposition Front Bench, a man of great distinction and great experience. The Royal Ulster Constabulary, particularly under its present chief constable, has earned the admiration of every informed person and I am sure that we can build upon this and upon the enormous achievements of our army.

I do not suppose that there is another army in the world which could have done the job which has been done in Northern Ireland over the past 10 or more years. It has been an astonishingly good job, and I really get very cross indeed with my friends in the South who venture to criticise, often in supercilious tones, the young men and women in our army in Northern Ireland. Let them try the Russians; let them try some of those other people whom they are always aiming for in the United Nations, and see what they think of them when they turn up. That is all I would say to those people. But we must build upon this growing acecptability of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, under its extremely distinguished chief constable. We must envisage the creation of a police authority in the North, which is acceptable to both communities, and I do not despair of that.

That brings me to my third point and after I have made that I shall sit down. I want to talk about the whole context in which the discussion is now taking place. Like many of your Lordships, I am proud to call myself a very old friend of Dr. Garret FitzGerald. He is a most distinguished man. I am not saying that Mr. Haughey is not. I happen to know Mr. Haughey less well—indeed, not at all. But I have known Dr. FitzGerald for many years. He may or may not be Prime Minister of Ireland for a long time—I do not know. All I can say is that the kind of voices for which Dr. FitzGerald speaks in the Republic, whatever their own political allegiance may be, are enormously important to us.

There is a deep anti-English undercurrent in the Republic—there always has been throughout the 30-odd years that I have been going there—perhaps understandable, perhaps not understandable, but a fact. Dr. FitzGerald represents the other side of the Irish voice, one which is deeply sympathetic to almost everything for which the United Kingdom stands.

Dr. FitzGerald happens to have been a very distinguished president of the European Community. We are now president of the European Community. Despite the rather low opinion which the general public in this country has of the European Community, perhaps for understandable reasons, I think that Europe offers a possible context within which we can negotiate —the infrastructure exists—where we have great goodwill from powerful allies, Governments of different complexions throughout Europe, on whom we have a right to call for support. I cannot help feeling that if we drive ahead for some kind of imposed power-sharing Government in the North, within some new initiative of a European kind, we might see a settlement in Northern Ireland far more quickly than people have dared to hope.

We can build upon the extraordinarily constructive achievements of the Northern Ireland community, which have taken place despite the terror; things of which the noble Lord, Lord Blease, could speak frequently for hours; things which have happened in Northern Ireland which are quite astonishing achievements in any country and which, if we could just ensure the conditions of peace, would become the normal conditions throughout Northern Ireland. So, with those three brief but very strongly felt points, I should like to say that I hope very much that the debate will contribute some small step towards a solution of this intractable and dreadful question.

5 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, very much for his clear statement which I found of very great interest. May I, at the same time, say how much I support everything that my noble friend Lord Blease said in his, as always, very clear and concise statement. I think it would be impossible ever to start talking about Northern Ireland without stating one's firm belief in the work that is being done by all the people who are there to strengthen the structure of the security services and to improve life for the people themselves. One does not often think of the ordinary people who are concerned so very deeply in keeping that fabric and way of life together: those people who are concerned with the schools, the youth centres and so on. Without all those people, the whole fabric would collapse. Now that we on this side of the Irish Sea are faced with the social conflicts which they have known for the last 12 years, we should give very special thought to those who go on with their daily lives with determination and hope, despite all the obstacles and tensions which exist and which have existed for many years.

May I also say how much I welcome the outline proposition put forward by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It would seem to us all to be eminently appropriate that in this way at least some of the decisions affecting the life of the Province should be made by some of its own elected representatives. I can only say how sorry I am that this proposal has been received so far with a certain amount of gloom. Nevertheless, I hope that Northern Ireland's political leaders will agree to look seriously at it before closing the door upon it.

Since the last renewal debate in your Lordships' House, the affairs of Northern Ireland have, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said, undergone a significant number of changes. More recently, there have been a considerable number of ideas and initiatives emanating from various quarters. I do not suggest making a new initiative today. So far as this debate is concerned, I am sure that your Lordships will agree that it has never before taken place in such a climate of political ferment and public unrest. However, when one looks at this renewal order it is very important to present these changes as one sees them contributing to the present situation in Northern Ireland and therefore the present effect of direct rule there.

In my view, the most important and positive development since last year's debate has occurred in Dublin with the opening of the dialogue between the Government of the Republic of Ireland and Britain. There can be no doubt that if ever a problem existed depending on the co-operation of two sovereign states for a solution, this must be the problem of Northern Ireland. I know that many of us here in your Lordships' House must wish these joint studies well. The newly-elected Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, referred, I know very well, and I have great respect for his intellect. Although he has clearly got difficult days ahead from his own political standpoint, the very fact that it was he and his Fine Gael Party who presented the considered and serious paper on the possibilities of future association for our islands must prove his resolve not only to continue the joint studies but in every way he possibly can to strengthen them.

Over here, on this side of the Irish Sea, an active debate has been going on about Northern Ireland and its future, a debate to which politicians, public and the press have contributed and which in my view represents the very deep concern that is felt over the future of Northern Ireland's people. Within a few months the Labour Party, although it has been very much berated by the noble Lord on the Front Bench, will be bringing out the report which its study group, with all seriousness and conscientiousness of purpose, has been working on for the last 18 months. Leading politicians have expressed new attitudes which have been received in many different ways. Some of us believe that while direct rule must remain, nevertheless there must be a recognition that the obstacles threatening the successful enactment of this particular system are growing rather than receding. This realisation confirms the need for forward thinking and an open mind for other available frameworks within which to deal with this problem.

In Northern Ireland itself we have seen the election of a hunger striker to Westminster. Whatever underhand and undemocratic methods were used by the promoters of this election, the message nevertheless is clear that the Catholic community in Fermanagh was voicing its anxieties. We are still faced with the intractable and tragic problem of the hunger strikers. Britain has suffered very seriously from adverse publicity abroad. It has been used by the Provisionals ruthlessly in order to misrepresent and discredit Britain in other countries, primarily in the United States of America. Another result of these hunger strikes has tragically been the further swinging away of the two communities one from the other. This can only be heartbreaking to all those people who over the last few years have genuinely and steadily brought the two communities closer and closer together in the community work and the work of reconciliation in which they have been engaged.

Finally, there are the ever-deteriorating economic and social conditions in Northern Ireland, conditions which may largely contribute, as confirmed by Mr. Herman, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, in a recent report, to the security problem. It is on this issue that I should like to put one point to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. Let us acknowledge the fact that it is only through the European dimension that leaders of Northern Ireland's political parties have ever found agreement. This has recently been demonstrated by the fact that Mr. John Hume, supported by Mr. Paisley and Mr. Taylor, has put down a motion asking the European Community to evaluate the economic and social impact of Community membership so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. The reason for their accord within this context arises, of course, because the European interest is confined to social and economic concerns and does not impinge on the constitutional front. Thus, the European framework is providing a good framework in which to settle matters and might well be used to reach agreement on a more far-ranging number of issues.

Let us also acknowledge that social conditions in Northern Ireland are infinitely inferior to those in the rest of Britain, as confirmed by the Community assigning to Northern Ireland the highest level of priorities, along with four other European nations, none of which is in the United Kingdom. So arising from this premise I would like to urge the Government to think again, in this special case of Ireland, of making some, if not all, of the funds allocated by the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund additional to the funds from its own Exchequer.

This would have two positive results. First, it would benefit the tragically low social and economic conditions existing in Northern Ireland today. Secondly, it would strengthen Northern Irish trust and reliance upon the European framework as a means of finding agreement in other areas. While there can be no doubt that Britain's responsibility is to maintain direct rule in Northern Ireland, surely she must use these other dimensions, these other frameworks—that is, the joint studies going on in Dublin, the European framework and even the findings of the Labour Party policy group—to give her policy a more forward look and so remove any accusation of being stuck in this position of having indefinitely to maintain direct rule.

5.9 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I had the honour—or was it the duty?—in 1974 of introducing this order into your Lordships' House for the first time. I have prepared a few remarks which go a little wide but I hope they will not be out of order. May I begin by saying how much I enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, in particular her remarks about the Common Market, a point of view that we here are very interested in.

There have been three suggestions this week about what to do in Northern Ireland. The first was the Government's suggestion which has been fully described by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and which we support as an extremely modest step in the right direction. I liked in particular the idea that it will be, as it were, a standing commission which will go on discussing the one thing which has got to go on being discussed: how to get the two sides to come to some agreement before we get to devolution. Of course it has other duties, like dissecting and examining legislation and having a look at what the Northern Ireland departments do. In fact some of its functions will be rather like the functions of this House, which is a matter of mild interest.

Secondly, there is a forecast of what the Labour Party's proposals may turn out to be, as understood from leaks in the press and speeches which I heard in the other place last week and which I have heard this afternoon. I pause here to congratulate the new Taoiseach, who has been congratulated by other people and for whom I formed a great admiration when I was there and he was then Foreign Minister. He said some very sensible things, and I want to give one short quotation: When we see the frightening violence of Belfast and Derry being re-enacted in the centre of Dublin … we know that our part of Ireland is lurching into serious trouble. When we learn of attacks on the property and places of worship of Protestants, we realise with a particular horror that the troubles of the North have spread beyond the border. When we are told that by the next Fianna Fail annual conference we will be able to see the way forward to Irish unity more clearly, without any indication of how it is to be achieved, two entirely predictable but disastrous results follow: The men of violence and the intimidators, North and South, are encouraged by the evident irresponsibility of the Government to pursue their evil campaigns"— he is referring, of course, to Mr. Haughey's Government— The Unionists of Northern Ireland, those who should be reconciled by Dublin to considering a common future with us, are provoked to further intransigence. Irish unity is once again postponed.". Those words are highly significant. He has pinpointed the dangers of even talking about a united Ireland without, as he put it, any indication of how it is to be achieved. The very mention of a Council of Ireland was enough to wreck the Sunningdale agreement. Most Englishmen—of whom I am proud to be one—and I think most Scots as well as most Welshmen, have no objection whatever to a united Ireland. In fact, I think most of us would like to see it, but we know that a million Protestants in the North will not negotiate at all with such an objective in view, however remote, and even to mention it makes the prospect of any agreement more hopeless than ever.

So I regard the Labour proposals, if we are right in thinking that they are making a suggestion of this kind—and I hope in due course to be corrected over this, but if we are right—at the best as self-defeating; and, as both the British Government and the South have specifically renounced any question of action without agreement, it is verging on the irresponsible to make proposals which make agreement impossible.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? Does he not think it possible to persuade—

Several noble Lords: Order!

The Earl of Longford

What is wrong, my Lords?

Lord Sandys

My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl would address the House rather than the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, in the course of 35 years in this House I have seen noble Lords occasionally turn round to speak to their Lordships, but I will obey the instructions of the acting Leader of the House and address him personally. Will the noble Lord behind me—and, I am bound to say, the sooner they come off that ridiculous Back-Bench and place themselves somewhere where they are more accessible, the better—will he agree that it is at least possible in a democratic world to try to persuade other people who do not agree with you to start with?

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I not only will agree with that but we have been trying very hard, at least for the last eight years, and so far have got very little distance.

The third proposal—if I may continue—was from my greatly respected late Leader, for an eventual independent Ulster. I first heard a version of this from a very prominent Protestant in 1975. He had earned his prominence not only at Stormont but in his own house, when he answered the door bell and was shot through the face by an IRA gangster. He said that both Protestants and Catholics loved Ulster and were proud of being Ulstermen and if they were on their own he thought they could get on well enough to run the country in an orderly way. The proviso was, of course, that the British Government should guarantee them financial support up to the current level of the cost of running Northern Ireland for a number of years and those who did not like the idea would be assisted to move either over here or South. That was in 1975. It was very much like the Callaghan proposals, but I am quite sure that it is not something that we should think of seriously at this stage. Both sides have already repudiated it outright in the debate in the other place last week and we have to go on trying to persuade the Protestants to make genuine and foolproof concessions to the Catholics and—no less difficult—to persuade the Catholics to accept them. Then, as I think everybody who has spoken has agreed, we can perhaps go along the only way which has the faintest hope of success, which is some agreed measure of power-sharing when we can get agreement. Until then we have to go on more or less as we are.

I want to turn for a moment to the distressing scenes in the United States, which we all know about and were horrified by, when our future King was shouted at as "murderer". It is no good talking to the Irish Americans. They—some of them, at least—have supported so many murders, directly or indirectly, that we are past argument, but they are a small part of the United States millions and it is worth trying to convince the ordinary decent citizen of our reasonable and unself-seeking behaviour in circumstances of appalling difficulty.

So let us look for a moment at the IRA, both Officials and Provisionals, and see if we can find out what they really want. That is something that I have been trying to do now for seven years. Everyone knows what the French resistance movement wanted in the war. They wanted the Germans out and to be left to govern themselves. The IRA want the "Brits" out, but they do not want representative self-government for the Province. They had it under Stormont and did not like it a bit. They want the "Brits" out, but does that mean just the army or does it include the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and his million Protestant friends? Even the IRA would hesitate to think that they could achieve such an evacuation.

What they really want is us out as the first stage towards a united socialist Ireland, Marxist in the case of the Officials and a half-baked Maoist in the case of the Provisionals. As the majority of the population in the South, however much they may sigh for a united Ireland, certainly do not want a Marxist or a Maoist Socialist Ireland, this means revolution and violent revolution in both the North and the South. There is no prospect whatever of the IRA achieving that in either country. If we were to withdraw our troops and the IRA tried to force anything in the North they would get no help, beyond a few volunteers from the South, and would find themselves up against an entirely united million Protestants who would love to fight them, and would certainly win. The South would be far too busy suppressing the rising terrorism on their side of the Border to send help and would be appalled if they were asked to co-operate in governing the North. The whole IRA policy is a fantasy emanating from what the old New Yorker used to call "the department of utter confusion". It makes no sense at all and is based mainly on the survival of hatred from the last two or three hundred years.

So all this cruelty and horror, which they perpetrate with, it seems, such glee, is virtually for nothing. There is no way they can succeed and it is tragic to see brave men, however misguided, risking, according to their own beliefs, their souls by committing suicide and nominating their fellows to do the same. It is equally tragic to see their Protestant opposites behaving no less badly. There is nothing to choose between them, except that if you eliminated the IRA the Protestant para-militaries would disappear, whereas if you got rid of the para-militaries you would still be left with the IRA. It is more tragic still to see our splendid troops, our brave police and prison officers, and many innocent civilians being injured and mangled and murdered, quite apart from the savage knee-cappings, which have already reached some thousands and many have never been reported. The IRA plan will never succeed, and never can succeed, so it is all in aid of nothing.

This brings me to the hunger strikes, but I think owing to the lateness of the hour I will say no more than that I think it takes courage, determination and dedication to starve yourself to death. I respect courage, determination and dedication in themselves, but evil men can have those qualities as well as good men, and one must never allow decisions to be influenced by courage of this sort. We support entirely the Government's attitude towards the hunger strikers.

The discipline and determination of men who for two years have befouled their cells and lived like animals have always been reinforced by intimidation and threats to the family. This fanaticism, this ruthlessness, shared, I hasten to admit, by the terrorists on the other side, the ability to find a steady stream of volunteers, or perhaps nominees, ready to ring the door bell of an enemy and shoot him in front of his wife, to blow up a bus full of women and children, as the Price sisters did, to shoot the census lady as she comes to collect the census papers—these atrocities are hard to credit; and without the intimidation and rigid discipline enforced by the leading caucus I doubt whether so many killers could be found in any group of human beings. I feel that if the American public knew of the complete lack of realisable objectives in the IRA philosophy, they might understand our position better.

In this connection, and in connection with what the noble Baroness said before me, my right honourable friend Mr. David Owen made a useful suggestion, which was that we should ask the EEC to look at our problem from their wider point of view and see if they could give us helpful advice. At the least, we should have an honest voice describing our efforts, which would counteract the lies so widely told about us.

One word about the objective of all the present H-block struggles. The desire is for political status, for prisoner of war status. We have tried this with special category, the one mistake the present Home Secretary has made, which he freely admits, and we have been stuck with it, and my leader in Northern Ireland had the courage to stop it. We can never go back on this. The special category was a terrible thing to live with. The prison governors had no control within the compounds. They were run by a political caucus in a military way, and anybody who disagreed even temporarily was beaten up or had his family intimidated from outside. We shall never go back to this. We support the right honourable lady the Prime Minister fully in her determination not to do so.

We support the bi-partisan policy without reservation. We believe the British Government must, above all things, keep the lid on, and meanwhile go on trying to achieve agreement between the one million and half million differing citizens making up the population of Ulster. We see the present new initiative of the Government as a very modest step in the right direction. I do beg my old friends in the Labour Party to stop edging towards the escape hatch. There is no escape. The British Government cannot escape its responsibilities. The solution can come only after probably a prolonged period of devolved Government, during which the North can make what arrangements it likes with the South over trade, customs, exchange rates, security and so on, and if this works amicably, which it could, but need not, then the situation might one day change. Time has failed, over five hundred years, to exercise its healing powers. But nothing but "the great healer" can in the end do it. My Lords, I have spoken at length, and I promise not to speak on the second order, except to support it.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Moyola

My Lords, over the years, there have been a great many discussions about new initiatives and solutions for the Northern Ireland problem, both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere. A good many indeed have already been mentioned today. Every one of them, I am quite certain, was produced as a genuine effort to be constructive. I am afraid that it is probably going to be my lot to be somewhat discouraging today about some of the suggestions that have been made. I want to say that I am doing it not in an attempt to be destructive, because nobody would like to see peace restored in Northern Ireland more than I should. I would say this—I have said it many times in your Lordships' House and I say it again now. No solution will come until terrorists are in fact defeated. That is the only way in which a solution to the Northern Ireland problem will arise. The reason for it is perfectly simple. Politics, community relationships, whatever you like to call it, are so polarised at the moment that there just is no hope of compromise between the two communities, and between the various political leaders.

It is not unnatural, if your neighbour is shot, that moderation goes out of the window. If the street you live in is the scene of riots all night, if your property is burnt, moderation goes out of the window. If you see millions of pounds worth of damage done in the course of a couple of nights rioting, or you find a road block when you are on your way to some important engagement and you have to go miles out of your way, of course nobody is in the mood to compromise. That is the situation at the moment, and it is virtually impossible to expect that any form of compromise will be arrived at.

The other side of it is that, when feelings are running as high as that, one should bear in mind that the people who come to the fore in politics are bound to be very extreme in their views. If you are going to go to the ballot box with some sort of proposition, with the climate as it is at the moment, you are absolutely certain to get a very extreme and probably unrepresentative result. In my view, moderation at the moment is simply knocked out of the window and it will stay that way until the terrorists are no more; and it is for that reason, simply, that I do not believe that solutions can possibly work at the moment. Once one gets back to peace, then I believe that a modus vivendi will be found, and will be found very quickly.

All that of course means that I am in favour of the continuation of direct rule. I would go further than that and say that what is really needed at this moment is this. Instead of renewing direct rule year by year it would be far better to say that direct rule shall continue at least for the life of this Parliament, if possible for five years and maybe even for longer, because then we in Northern Ireland would know where we stood without any doubt at all.

The constant search for a solution is really doing nothing for stability, because it encourages the terrorists and encourages extreme attitudes by very many people who are engaged in politics. They believe that if they go on adopting an unbending attitude eventually they will wear Her Majesty's Government down and eventually get what they want. I believe it would be far better, therefore, to have a period when they do not have to exercise their voice on these sort of matters. I think it would be better to say something of that sort now—say that we will continue direct rule in its present form and will search for ways and means of improving the present system of government.

It is in that light that I would regard the Secretary of State's proposed advisory council. I am all in favour of his obtaining advice, and advice from people in Northern Ireland. I am critical of what is now proposed because I think, first, that such a council is far too big. I think, equally, that when you have a large body of that sort, given the present polarised situation that I have outlined, you will inevitably get extreme views on every matter that is discussed, and probably little or no agreement. Personally, I would far rather see the Secretary of State appoint some small council of people of goodwill from the various communities. There are people of goodwill and there are objective people in both communities. From them he might get some worthwhile and useful advice on Northern Ireland problems. I give him full marks for trying, but frankly I see very little success in what is now proposed.

I should like to raise one other matter touching on solutions, which I believe people regard as a possible step along the road to a solution, and that is the so-called Dublin talks. The trouble about the Dublin talks so far as the people of Northern Ireland are concerned is the secrecy in which they have been held. This secrecy has done a great deal more harm than good. I am perfectly happy to accept Her Majesty's Government's assurances that no constitutional matters are being discussed, but unhappily there are an enormous number of people in Northern Ireland who do not accept that, who think that they have their backs to the wall because of these discussions, and who think that they will probably be called upon at any moment to make their last stand. If these talks are not to make things worse, let them be held openly so that everybody knows what is being discussed and so that the people in Northern Ireland are not left to have their opinions formed by the activists and the alarmists, of whom there are far too many.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the proposal for independence put forward by an ex-Prime Minister in another place. He dismissed it very adequately, so I shall not dwell on it at all, except to say that share his view that it is something that virtually nobody in Northern Ireland wants. The Protestant population, as he rightly said, want to stay in the United Kingdom and while, no doubt, a considerable number of the Catholic population would like to be in a united Ireland, if independence was on offer they would certainly feel safer under British law and British rule than under the unknown factor of an independent government.

I should like to raise one last point. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, also mentioned that whatever is done should be done by consent. I would disagree with one speaker today; whatever happens it would be disastrous to try to impose something. To try to impose some form of government would lead to it being undone. One only has to cast one's mind back to the end of the power-sharing executive in 1974. If something is imposed, inevitably the result will probably be the end.

I am sorry that I cannot be very encouraging. I should like to see a devolved government in Northern Ireland and I am on record as having said that many times. But I think that in the present situation the best thing to do is not to talk endlessly about initiatives and solutions; we should be talking about direct rule, with which, as far as the people of Northern Ireland are concerned, there is not a great deal wrong. It would be a bit slower; it would be rather more remote than what they were used to in the Stormont days. We should seek to improve the present system and at the same time make it clear that what is needed is a period of stability. During that period of stability Her Majesty's Government should be concentrating their mind on defeating terrorism and dealing with the very difficult Northern Ireland economic situation, which is perhaps the most serious matter of all.

5.35 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I find it a privilege to follow a former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland who showed much courage and public spirit in times of extraordinary danger and difficulty. Of course, like my noble friend Lord Blease and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough (who perhaps will be addressing us), he speaks with the special authority of being a resident of Northern Ireland. But others who have spoken, including my new and much valued friend Lady Ewart-Biggs, have many Irish connections.

I should like to begin by removing any ambiguity and joining in the fullest extent in the tributes that have been paid to the Army and the security services generally and, indeed, to the people of Northern Ireland who, with good spirits have survived and who have this determination to pull through that does them infinite credit. I make it plain that that is my attitude because I cannot agree with my valued noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner that this is a success story. It is very hard to see Northern Ireland as a success story; it is certainly not a story of failure. But I think that the verdict on success or failure has yet to be passed.

My noble and learned friend said one thing that surprised me, and it was an interesting comment. I have never yet found him to be wrong on a point of fact, but this might be the exception. He stated that Mr. Alison, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, appeared to be saying that Mrs. Thatcher had intervened to prevent a settlement of the hunger strike. I may not have listened to the same programme, but I did see Mr. Alison on television and he did not say that in my hearing. However, I came away with the impression that that is exactly what had happened. He did not say so, but, from adding up the statements that had been made by the various parties to the argument this morning, I can only conclude that some heavy hand came down and prevented the settlement, although I still do not think that Mr. Alison actually said so. Therefore, I can only express the hope that all concerned will not despair and that they will continue the efforts for peace which came so near success.

I agree with what has been said by my noble Leader this afternoon and by others in welcoming the establishment by the Secretary of State of an advisory council. About two years ago I attended a representative conference and a number of us—they were mostly journalists—came away from that conference trying to put ourselves in the position of the Secretary of State who at that time was Mr. Atkins. We asked ourselves "What on earth would we do if we were Mr. Atkins?" The conclusion that we all reached was that the only positive step forward that we could take was to establish an advisory council. I think that this is a step forward which should be welcomed, and I do so cordially.

But that, of course, is not a policy; it is only the beginning of a policy. This advisory council—it would not be the first of its kind that we have seen in Northern Ireland—might degenerate into a talking shop, and the last state might be worse than the first. I think that some new firmness must be injected into the discussions.

I picked up the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, earlier in this discussion and I shall need to read in Hansard tomorrow the answer that he gave me in order to see exactly what he meant by it. But I should like to raise the question whether it is not permissible to try to influence the thinking of the Protestants in Northern Ireland. Are we to regard them as sacred icons who must be worshipped rather than actually argued with? Therefore, I am not asking the noble Lord, Lord Elton—who does such a good job in his present role, as in one or two others—to be too definite today. But I am saying that coercion is one thing and persuasion is another. We must ask ourselves whether it is not high time that we set out to persuade them. You can set out to persuade someone, and it may be said that the Government have tried to do that in the last few years; but you can exert a certain amount of legitimate pressure. The real question is: what pressure can be regarded as legitimate? I think that is the question to which we ought to be addressing our minds.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, would the noble Earl give way? The question that the noble Earl is posing is of course vital and of the greatest importance. But why should they wish to be persuaded at all to give up their nationality? That is the question that might be asked. As an Englishman—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble Lord has made his speech. It was a very good speech—not a very short speech—and perhaps he will allow me to make my speech, which would be about half the length of his, but I may be optimistic about that. I am raising the question of whether it is permissible to try to persuade the good people, the good Protestants, of Northern Ireland to agree to come into some form of united Ireland. Some people think that must mean a Government under a single Government in Dublin, but I am talking of something which is a federal state within the island: A state in which the divorce laws, and such-like matters, could be decided if necessary—laws affecting the segregation of education —by the local Parliament, in that case based presumably on Belfast. I am talking of a united Ireland in that sense.

I am raising the question in the first place of whether we could move towards power-sharing. That has been the established policy of all the Governments in recent times here. The Governments have been too timid to try to persuade, or to pressurise, if you like, the Protestants of Northern Ireland to join in power-sharing. Mr. Faulkner, later Lord Faulkner, was making a real success of power-sharing at the end of his life. He was overthrown by unconstitutional action. Then the Governments concerned, including our own, chucked in their hand. We must make an effort to resume the process of persuading them to enter power-sharing.

I am a much more timid soul than the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey; I would not dare, if I had any official position, to try to impose power-sharing by force. To say we are just going to have power-sharing whether you like it or not would be going very far, and it would hardly be called democratic government. If you set it up by force it could only be appointed. So I do not see—

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, would the noble Earl—

The Earl of Longford

No, I am afraid I cannot give way at the moment, I am sorry. I am at least going to finish my sentence. The noble Lord must not be so edgy. I am saying that it is a very drastic course to impose power-sharing. I would say to use all the methods in our power to persuade them. Take the economic method. There was an interesting article in The Times last Saturday, which explained—somebody may have mentioned it today—that £1,000 million a year is going to help Northern Ireland. The subsidies we provide for Northern Ireland today represent the difference between the standard of life in the North of Ireland and in the South of Ireland, so The Times leading expert article informed us. Therefore, with the economic factor at our disposal, and in other ways, I would think that we ought to be able to move them towards power-sharing.

I go a little further than the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has gone, and perhaps further than he would be able to go today. The Labour Party is likely, or it seems to be certain, to come out with a new statement of policy. I do not say it has come out with one yet, but it seems certain that it is going to come out with one. It seems extremely probable that it will come out in favour of a united Ireland in the federal sense that I mentioned.

My Labour friends may say, because a spokesman in the House of Commons last week said, that if this were done it would simply be a reassertion of a traditional Labour policy. It was a Labour policy many years ago; perhaps half a century ago. But in all the time I have been in Governments or in Opposition, in other words ever since the war, the Labour Party has never come out firmly in favour of a united Ireland. Sir Harold Wilson said that he favoured it. So it would be a new departure if that was done. It is reckoned that if this is done our Northern friends will realise that the tide is flowing that way and they will enter the negotiation process.

I talked to a young friend of mine, a successful young man in television, who recently spent a fortnight in Belfast and the surroundings. He came back having talked with everybody there, including representatives of the Army and the Government service. He said everyone assumed that the British would have withdrawn in a few years. He might be wrong, but that was his impression having talked to many people, that the tide is flowing that way. The other day I met a farmer in a large way from the North of Ireland. He used rather concrete language. He said, "Put your money on the table, and we will be able to do a deal". So I do not think that we must assume that our Northern friends are actuated only by emotion—by what are called irrational factors. It is at least possible when the matter is looked at economically that they will see where their interests lie.

I hope and believe that the Labour Government will come out with a new statement—something we have not had since the war—saying that a united Ireland is the objective. I hope and pray that if that is so the Northern Protestants will come to the conclusion that it will be wise to come to terms with the future. In that sense they would not have been coerced; they would not have just been left with the veto which they possess at present. I must again make it plain that so far as the immediate situation is concerned I applaud Mr. Atkins more than I can say because of the steady way he goes on. He produces plan after plan. They are all derided about one angle or another, as Lord Donaldson and others have said. Nothing is brought forward except criticism, but he goes on his way undeterred, and so far as I am concerned I wish him everything good.

5.47 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend for his introduction of this order. As a result of it this debate has certainly been interesting and widespread. Before getting on to what I intend to say, I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that to use economic pressure on Northern Ireland to try to persude Protestant people to change their allegiance is tantamount to creating a violent revolution. Maybe if Northern Ireland is costing another £1,000 million than the average in the United Kingdom, the same sort of pressure might be applied to Liverpool, Merseyside, where it must be costing—it cannot be costed separately—the rest of London and the South of England something of the same order per head of population.

The use of economics to persude the people of Ulster would be disastrous. Any understanding which there might be would be destroyed. I should like to say straight away that I join with everybody in the tribute to the Army and the police and all the forces. I was going to speak on the Emergency Provisions Order as well, but other noble Lords have brought in the question of the hunger strikers and the problems about money-raising in America, so I should like to extend my speech a little now and not speak on the emergency provisions.

I join with my noble friend Lord Elton in regretting that we are not now enacting devolution, because devolution for Northern Ireland is the correct solution. What I am going to say tonight is very much in tune with what my noble friend Lord Moyola is saying. We have not indulged in collusion, but I find that our sentiments are very similar. May I pay a personal tribute to the Ministers of the Northern Ireland Government for their efforts. They have an extremely hard task of jetting to and fro, and to add the problems of travelling to the actual problems of very complex matters of Government is something which they bear extremely well. I should like to pay them, and my noble friend Lord Elton, a tribute.

What I am going to say about this order is that I am not optimistic over the new council. Sad to say, I really cannot see it working. I should like it to work. My right honourable friend has said that he wants a Northern Ireland input and advice and that he wants them early, but I do not see how that will be achieved by this particular body. To take but one sphere—the examination of proposed legislation which would be referred to it for comment—there will, I understand, be no Minister present to advocate and fight that measure through. So the medley of politicians, some of whom have been elected for Europe, some for Westminster and some for local councils, will have a vested interest in tearing it apart and thereby improving their own electoral success at a later date. To say nothing of the intention of the honourable Member for Antrim, North and his party, who has declared his intention to destroy it.

There is one other noble Lord here who had the experience I had in the Assembly in 1973 before power was devolved to it and before the Executive existed. Anybody who listened to those debates and witnessed what it was like to debate without power and without responsibility—to have felt the kicks and spits of people determined to destroy something—will know that I view with grave worry an assembly without responsibility. The present generation of politicians will have to be harvested before there can be an agreement acceptable to this parliament as a form of devolution. I am afraid it is my view that this council will fail, for I support my noble friend Lord Moyola in saying that because at present the security situation is paramount, nobody can think in constructive terms.

Anybody who has attended a meeting of 7,000 people and heard the honourable Member for Antrim, North being cheered when he has advocated mining the border knows, especially those of us who live on the border, that the first thing that would happen to those mines would be that they would be picked up and put in one of our gateways. Across the border we have a determined body of very efficient gunmen and, believe me, in our part of the world we think about them and not about power-sharing or anything like that. Direct rule is the least unacceptable position and the Government should make it clear that it will continue for the rest of this Parliament and maybe longer. If they want advice, and certainly they should get it, they should appoint an advisory body of people who have agreed in advance to advise, and they will therefore give advice to the best of their ability in relation to the community.

The Government should also appoint a Secretary of State from this House who should reside in Northern Ireland and thereby partake in the whole of community life there. There is no doubt but that the difficulties of the present Secretary of State, and indeed of the Ministers in the other House, in travelling backwards and forwards increase their problems and make it much more difficult for them to be attuned to the problems of Northern Ireland. This may sound colonial, but at the present time, with the existing security situation and our people thinking the way they do, no other solution is possible. I cannot over-emphasise that every time we have a new initiative there is a further surge away from the middle ground towards extremism. The Government must give up initiatives. They must beat the terrorists and rebuild our economy, and for those who have not been in Northern Ireland lately, the economy is in a tragically bad state, and at a later date, when we come to the appropriations order, I shall deal with that.

Reference has been made to the propaganda war. Would my noble friend urgently ask his friends to examine the possibility of the appointment of a director of information? He must be a man of what I would call three-star rank—fit to meet a major-general and the equivalent of that in the Civil Service—and his job would be to co-ordinate all Government information (Army, police, the whole lot) as a strategy. He should not be somebody dishing out information—reacting, as it were, or anything of that sort; he should be head of the gang. Before the present Government came to power, I had a long talk with my noble friend Lord Carrington about what was going on in America at that time, three years ago. In propaganda terms, the British Government have had a massive worldwide defeat, and I will give two examples of our failures in the recent past and suggest how they could be avoided.

Fifteen months ago it was well-known to all of us that the last throw the IRA had in their power so far as one could see was a hunger strike and that that was quite definitely a possibility. At that time our prison regime in Northern Ireland was the most liberal and humane in the whole of Western Europe; I have not had the advantage of seeing what it is like in Russia, but I think the bullet solves a lot of their problems. The buildings were good and the overcrowding minimal compared with the problems in the rest of the United Kingdom. But who was told about that? We had to wait until the hunger strike was halfway through before we had the excellent pamphlet which was produced by the Northern Ireland Office, and then we had one explanation after another explaining how very human the prison régime was. In my view, if we had a director of information to plan the strategy, that information would have been spread right across the world long before the first hunger strike came on, and that information should have been updated as the regime was made more humane. The facts should have been stated at least eight months before the hunger strike started.

I come to the question of the election of the late Mr. Sands. As soon as the nominations were closed, the Government of Northern Ireland were faced with the possibility that a terrorist would be given political legitimacy. But there was no planning as to how the propaganda base of that would be dealt with. I do not know if it is well enough known here that the late Frank Maguire's brother promised to stand, and he put his papers in. The wife of the late Frank Maguire was intimidated to make Noel not stand. Surely that is something which should have been blazened across America so as to destroy the legitimacy. What happened was that the Roman Catholic population of County Fermanagh were given an opportunity only to carry out a tribal vote. In my view, those two incidents justify the appointment of a director of information, a man way above the standard of information officers who just answer and put out bulletins; he must be a man of great standing.

Also, during the whole of the hunger strike—and nobody wants it finished more than I do—not enough information has been given out about the amount of intimidation that is going on against prisoners to keep them on hunger strike. Most people will have read the Sunday Times in which it was said there was a tape recording of McCreesh, who was told by his mother and brother to "go and die"; but Sands tried to come off as well, and I should like the Government to say whether all the rest of them at some stage have tried to come off.

The problem of the Commission of Catholic Bishops has not been with the hunger strikers but with the godfathers behind the whole operation, and it is an incredibly difficult job to deal with dedicated godfathers in this situation. The degree of political status they are asking for has been downgraded, but nobody should make any mistake about what is wanted. It is political status; and, even if that were granted, violence would not stop; there would still be incursions across the border to murder my friends and myself. I repeat, let us have no more initiatives after this has failed, and I hope it does not fail. Let us beat the terrorists. Let us have a time of tranquility that the present generation of politicians will pass on—and then we shall get a solution. I support the order.

6 p.m.

Lord Hill-Norton

My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to offer some views on the security aspects of the situation, for I was personally responsible for it not very long ago and at first remove more recently than that. In spite of the Minister's exhortations at the beginning of this debate, I perceive a very clear linkage between the security situation in the Province and the political machinery, both of today and in the future, of which the order we are now debating forms an essential part. It seems to me that what I am about to say does have some relevance to the order itself.

It must be common ground in your Lordships' House—and what we have heard over the past 2½ hours has made it clear that it is—and among men of goodwill outside it that we have a classic chicken and egg situation to resolve. They are always the most difficult to resolve. If the total security situation continues to improve, then plainly the climate for progress in the political field would be that much more favourable. In the end, that would lead to orders such as that which we are now debating being no longer necessary. Contrarywise, if the political situation was more stable, then the security situation would at once improve. These may be very obvious remarks to make, but I have seldom heard them made in public and I have not heard them made in your Lordships' House this afternoon. It does seem to me important to put this linkage before all the people who study this grave and intractable problem.

I myself would suggest to your Lordships that in examining cause and effect, whichever way round they may be, one should look carefully at the statistics for violent crimes over, say, the past four or five years—which have already been mentioned by noble Lords this afternoon. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has said, in every category of crime by which security can be measured and collated, there has been a dramatic and continuous improvement until very recently. The recent and, I hope, temporary break in this progress has arisen, as your Lordships know, almost entirely because of the greatly increased level of violence following the first and subsequent hunger strike deaths.

The feature of this steady improvement which gives me personally the most pleasure and to which I would draw your Lordships' attention, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, is that it has actually come about while the Army's presence has been very significantly reduced and that of the police increased. And I refer of course, to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. This is precisely the correct division of responsibility (or so it seems to me) and the correct use of the Army in support of the civil power. I disagree with the several noble Lords who suggested that the Army's presence should be made more prominent. There can be no doubt that this desirable state of affairs, in which the police have taken over the very difficult and dangerous but specific police function, has come about by a great deal of hard work by both forces, and by excellent co-operation between them. This has been especially marked in the past two years. The RUC is now twice as large as it was when I was Chief of the Defence Staff, is better trained, is better equipped and consequently is much more confident of being able to do this highly dangerous job in a way to which many of your Lordships have referred in glowing terms this afternoon, and I agree with that.

I should like to say a brief word about the cry so often heard—not just in the media but also among ordinary people such as myself on the mainland and reported by the opinion polls to be widely supported —which one might call in shorthand, "get the troops out and all will solve itself". I am sure that that would be a recipe for disaster. I do not feel able to express any firm view as to whether, as many people claim, such a move would lead to a sectarian blood bath; although on the whole I personally take leave to doubt it. What I do feel able to say is that it would be hailed at once by the IRA as a tremendous victory, and it would put both the Protestant majority and the Roman Catholic minority at much greater risk. It would gravely destabilise the present confidence of the RUC, and all these things would make the political solution so anxiously sought on all sides that much more difficult to reach.

May I remind your Lordships' House that for many years, and in happier times, there have been Army units in Northern Ireland—two or sometimes three regiments—just as there have been and still are garrisons in, for example, Catterick and Colchester, and on Salisbury Plain. So why should there not be troops in another part of the United Kingdom? No, my Lords, "Troops out" will solve nothing. The Army numbers are now very much lower than they have been even quite recently, and I hope that they will continue to fall. But until the situation does return to normal, the vast mass of the people in the Province need the Army not out but in—in their barracks, unless and until the police need their support.

I should like to conclude with one further observation well outside the field of security, about which, perhaps, I have special knowledge. From time to time, and very recently in a speech by a former Prime Minister in another place to which several noble Lords have referred this afternoon, proposals have been made that the only long-term solution must lie in an all-Ireland unity by general consent—if I have understood it correctly. I do not feel competent to pass judgment on the merits of such a proposal, much less on the detail of it. Nor do I feel competent to judge its practicability; but it does seem to me that if there is ever to be any progress in such a direction, or even towards a much less far-reaching but satisfactory political solution, then the majority in the Republic should start to treat the majority in Northern Ireland, and vice versa of course, as friends rather than as enemies. Surely, my Lords, that is not too much to ask.

6.9 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, perhaps I could address you for just a few moments since I was brought up in Northern Ireland in my early childhood. I used to speak a lot on this subject but I have held my peace for the past few years. I should like to refer to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. I did so agree with him when he said that if the IRA were to get the upper hand in Northern Ireland they would turn on the Eire Government—or words to that effect. The noble Lord is perfectly right. The whole scheme, if they could achieve it—which they will not—is to achieve eventually a form of Cuba of the West coast of the United Kingdom, which would be only 60 miles away.

To show the international connections, a friend of mine who is a bank manager in Northern Ireland had his bank broken into by four IRA bank robbers or raiders. He had served in the Middle East for some years and he said that one or two of these raiders were Arabs and were not of Irish blood. They were paid killers. I believe that at that time some organisations were offering £1,000 to kill a British soldier.

I do not want to detain your Lordships for long, since I have not prepared a speech. But I wish to support the Government in their suggestion of an advisory council. I quite agree that it might fail, and of course the Government have started many initiatives which have failed—but it has been quite right of them to do so. I did not quite agree with my two noble friends behind me when they said—at least I understood them to say—that it is no good having any initiatives, that we must just have direct rule. It sounded almost as if they suggested "for ever and ever". Certainly I agree that we must have direct rule for a few years until terrorism is defeated. But, in the meantime, I can see no harm in having initiatives.

In my opinion, it is quite impossible to defeat terrorism unless we have the full co-operation of the Eire Government. The Prime Minister should concentrate on trying to convince the Irish Government, with all the power at her hands, that it is in their interests to help us to defeat terrorism. I certainly agree that the Irish Government are doing much to help—but if only they could give 100 per cent. help! The Prime Minister would no doubt have to dangle a carrot, though I shall not go into the question of what the carrot should be. If in the end the initiatives are to succeed, it is essential to defeat terrorism.

To have an independent Ulster as Mr. Callaghan has suggested would be disastrous. To start with, it would not be viable. It would not stop the IRA; in fact, it would probably increase its activities. It would be absolutely absurd to divide Ulster, handing over two or three of the Western and Southern counties and leaving only the Eastern counties, which are mostly Protestant. I know that it has been tried before, but I hope that out of the advisory council there emerges some form of power-sharing that is completely, 100 per cent., fair. That will be terribly difficult to achieve, but—I know that my noble friends behind me may not agree with me here—the Government must use great powers of persuasion; I would not put it stronger than that. After all, the Government have the right to use pressure, when we think of the money that the British taxpayer is pouring into the Province. That cannot go on for ever and ever.

I should like to refer to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, in relation to the question of integrating education. It would be wonderful to have completely integrated education in Northern Ireland. As has been pointed out, there is already a small degree of such integrated education. My family have had associations with Ireland, both North and South, for hundreds of years. My father would never be an Orangeman. We used to employ Catholics and Protestants in the North of Ireland. The media are much to blame here, in particular over the religious question. They really blow it up in terms of "Prots" and Catholics to a degree that is completely untrue. There is a certain element of this trouble, perhaps, among some of the working people and small shopkeepers or farmers. But in the media it is completely blown up out of all proportion. The real fear is territorial. It would be marvellous if only we could convince the people in the North of Ireland that their fear is greater than it need be.

When the trouble started just over 20 years ago we had a Government in the North of Ireland, the Stormont Government. At that time I made a suggestion which was afterwards copied; I had a long column in The Times about it. I know that I shall be unpopular in some quarters for mentioning it, but if only we had had a council of Ireland! It need not have had political power. The Prime Minister of the North could chair it one year and the Prime Minister of the South of Ireland could chair it the next year. The council could discuss tourism, agriculture and other questions of economic interest. I am sure that from that would emerge a far better understanding. But of course we cannot have such a council at the moment because there is no Government of Northern Ireland. If the advisory council could arrive at a decision on a really fair power-sharing process, I should like eventually to see that lead on to a council of Ireland, with no political power necessarily, but merely for the people to get to know one another better.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, I must begin with a reference to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. There have been a number of speeches since his speech, but it still lingers in my mind. I differed from him in his conclusions, but I am sure that other noble Lords were, like me, deeply impressed by the courage of his utterance. The way in which the noble Lord dealt with difficult problems, with an utter sense of truthfulness in his expression, is an example to us all, and I want to express my appreciation of that.

I intervene in the debate because during a fairly long political experience I have been continuously involved in the question of Ireland. I have strong views, but I shall try to express them without dogmatism. The tragedy of Ireland has been with us for four centuries, and in particular the tragedy of Northern Ireland has been with us for over 50 years. Anyone would be extravagantly bold if he were to suggest that we could repair those tragedies easily or within a short period of time. However I would suggest that, even if it is difficult to make progress, we ought not to go back and so make the situation more difficult.

I believe that today the serious fact is that the situation is worsening rather than improving. There is the polarisation between the extremists of the IRA on the one side, and Mr. Paisley on the other side. There is also the reputation which our Government are now attracting in countries of the world whose respect we should expect. I do not want to hide from your Lordships my opinion that the policy of Her Majesty's Government in recent months has been absolutely disastrous, and has contributed towards that polarisation, the worsening of the situation, to which I have referred. This situation has arisen through the emotion of the hunger strikers and the five deaths. I hope I need not say that I have no sympathy whatsoever with the IRA; their cruelties and murders are something which we must all denounce. But I go on to say this: the Government have been quite wrong in their approach to the problem which has been created. Again and again, the Prime Minister has said: "No political status, no concessions."

The Government have already made concessions. They made concessions in the ending of the obscene dirty protest in Maze Prison. In order to moderate that situation they introduced reforms in the Irish prison system, which we do not have even in the rest of the United Kingdom. They have already made concessions, and so far as political status is concerned it has been known for some time that the hunger strikers are not now demanding political status. In their statement of 1st July they said: "Contrary to Government assertions that we are seeking special privileges, we would like to see our demands introduced for all prisoners". Therefore the issue now is not that of political status at all, and it has not been so for some time.

The Secretary of State, Mr. Humphrey Atkins—and I want to acknowldge this because I have had conversations with him, kindly, seeking solutions—has said that if the hunger strikers would end their strike a further review and changes in the prison regime might follow". When we consider all the consequences involved, this desperate polarisation of the two communities, the reputation which our country is now receiving abroad, surely prestige on procedure should be secondary. Changes in the prison system should be made on their merits, and not be dependent upon whether prisoners continue to eat food. Extraordinary efforts have been made by the Catholic bishops, by the Commission for Justice and Peace, to reach agreement. Two days ago they came very near to reaching agreement. Oh, the irony that another death yesterday, when they had so closely approached a solution, should have occurred and deepened still further the polarisation!

I make this suggestion to the Government sincerely: could not the deadlock be resolved by simultaneous action, by an assurance on the one hand to the hunger strikers that the changes will be made, and by the hunger strikers then calling off the strike, followed by an immediate announcement of the reforms? It is incredible that with these enormous issues involved a solution should be made difficult just on the issue of the time—whether it is on one side or on the other.

I want to add to that briefly. Your Lordships will forgive me for saying that I have for years tried to think on these issues. First, a short-term proposal, and then a longer-term proposal. I do not believe that the present relationship of the British Government to Northern Ireland can continue. Apart from everything else, it is making demands on our boy soldiers which society cannot conscientiously and humanly countenance. Surely we have the right to say to the people of Ulster: "We are not prepared indefinitely to sacrifice our young boys to the heavy cost of governing your territory. You, the people of Ulster, must find a means of looking after your own affairs." I suggest that we should give three years' notice of withdrawal from Northern Ireland. Not immediately—there might be chaos; there might be violence, not only in Ulster but spreading to the South—but three years in which there could be discussion, negotiation, consideration. It would be a challenge to the people of Ulster. They would have to face reality: at first, perhaps, greater polarisation, but then sober consideration.

It is a striking fact that, underneath the emotional response to the hunger strikers, in Northern Ireland at this moment there is evidence that the majority of the people desire peace. A recent opinion poll showed that a large majority desired reconciliation between the two communities, and a majority even declared to end segregation in education. Perhaps in the three years Church leaders will arise who will convince the two faiths of their common devotion to one Lord and the truth of Christian brotherhood.

I shall be even more brief in suggesting a longer-term solution. I proposed it to Mr. De Valera 36 years ago. He did not accept it; he wanted it to be discussed; and by arrangement it was sent to a Catholic bishop in the Republic, who advocated it in a speech. I will read only the headlines of my proposal: that there should be a Federation of North and South; that there should be a Joint Council for the economy of the whole country and for all Ireland's services; that there should be a Confederation of that federated Ireland with Britain, either within the Commonwealth or within the European Community; that that Confederation should have responsibility for foreign policy and for defence; and that there should be a common citizenship between Ireland and this country. I hope that these suggestions will do something to hasten the end of the tragedy of Ireland over these four centuries.

6.31 p.m.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, I should like to intervene briefly for a few moments to take up two or three points that have been made by speakers during the debate, and especially by my noble friend who has just sat down. In particular, I should like to confirm what he has expressed as his belief—that the granting of political status is not a necessary condition of the ending of the hunger strike, as I myself have been assured by leaders of the Provisional Sinn Fein. It is within the power of the Government to end the hunger strike without granting that status, by the improvement, the further improvement, of conditions in the prisons of Northern Ireland; and I implore them not to go on reiterating, "No political status", "No political status", when that is no reason for not taking the steps necessary to end all the opposing worldwide propaganda, all the terrorism and all the suffering that is resulting from the hunger strikes at present.

I also support my noble friend in his call for the Government to announce their intention to withdraw from Northern Ireland within—he mentioned three years; I would say within three to five years. I agree, too, with the proposal he voiced, which was also voiced by my noble friend Lord Longford, that a federal system of some kind or another, inside or outside the British Commonwealth, inside or outside the United Kingdom, is the system for which we should be striving.

I would refer to only one other point in the speech of my noble friend Lord Brockway. He spoke about the need for the Church leaders to show the way in bringing about integration between the two faiths. Here, I must repeat what I said the other day, that it is unfortunately the Church leaders who are opposed to integration in the schools, and I hope that as time goes by they will change their opinions in that matter.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I put a point to the noble Lord before he sits down—if he is going to sit down?

Lord Kilbracken

I was not going to sit down, my Lords.

The Earl of Longford

Then may I put a point to him? What Catholics fear, rightly or wrongly, is that if they give up their own schools they will have schools, so far as religious education is concerned, somewhat similar to state schools in this country, where the religious education, as everybody in the House of Lords knows, is very poor.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, that is an intervention which could have been foreseen, and I must say that it expresses a point of view different from my own; because in my opinion religious education and Church matters should be taken out of the schools and dealt with by the parents and by the Churches. I should welcome any move towards completely lay attitudes in schools, both private and public, in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Finally, I want to take up a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough—he is no longer in his seat, but he will have to forgive me—in which he was referring to incursions across the Border from the Republic of Ireland. I see that the noble Viscount is just re-entering the Chamber. He sought to give the impression that almost the greater part of terrorist action was reaching Northern Ireland from across that Border, in the Border area in which I happen to live and to which I am returning with complete equanimity tomorrow, although it is supposed to be crawling with gunmen.

I do not believe that that is a true account of the situation. I cross the Border between North and South very often. I drive up to the noble Viscount's home town of Enniskillen, or I drive to Belfast. Time and time again, as I cross that Border, which is supposed to be crawling with IRA men, armaments and everything else, I do not see a single member of the security forces—not even a Customs officer, let alone a soldier or a member of the RUC—from the time I leave my home in Leitrim to the time I reach the airport at Belfast. If I do see anybody, it will be on my side of the Border. It will be a member of the Garda Siochana or of the Irish Army, who will stop me, ask me where I am going and ask to look at my papers. But once I cross into the North there is not a smell of the security forces.

I want to know—and I hope someone will give me an answer; I would welcome it—if all these terrorists are coming across to lay mines in the noble Viscount's driveway, why are not steps taken to stop them? Why is the Border there wider open than any other border in Europe? if that is the heart of the whole problem, why are all the Army and security forces in Belfast, in Derry and in other parts of the North? Why are they not there on the Border? Because I can go over there by day or at night by any of half a dozen routes, and nine times out of ten there will not be any sign of the security forces at all.

I put it to your Lordships, firstly, that the Republic is being used as a scapegoat, to take the blame from incompetents in the North—

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Kilbracken

Of course.

Viscount Brookeborough

Would it surprise him—

Lord Elton

My Lords, if the noble Viscount will forgive me, I think I should point out that we have a debate on the matter of security immediately following this one. I think your Lordships will want to keep the issues separate. Up to a point they overlap, and they certainly bear upon one another, but I think that, if noble Lords are going to exchange views on the laying of mines between Leitrim and Enniskillen, we are actually in the wrong debate.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, I of course bow to what the Minister has said, but I would point out that I am merely answering a point that was made, without interruption, by the noble Viscount sitting behind him. Therefore, I do not think I strayed any more from relevance than he did. However, I had finished except to say that I believe that more credit should be given to the security forces in the Republic. I think we must remember that the prisons in the Republic are bursting at the seams with IRA prisoners and that they have been picked up by those forces, the Garda and the army, who deserve credit for what they have done, for the competence they have shown in a job which cannot by any means always be agreeable to them. With those remarks, I will gladly resume my seat.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that he said some curious things about the hunger strike? He gave the impression that if somebody went on a hunger strike about something which was not terribly important then you should give way to him. It seems an odd thing to have said. He seemed to suggest that it was right to stand up against political status but that these people were asking for something less and that therefore we should give way to them. It is something I find difficult to understand.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, I am sorry if I did not make myself clear to my former noble friend. The point I was trying to make is that, as my noble friend Lord Brockway previously said, the impossibility of granting politcal status has been given as a reason for not settling the hunger strike. My point was that in the prisoners' eyes, or mine, the granting of that status is not a necessary preliminary to their giving up the strike.

Lord Elton

My Lords, to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, I would say that quite technically it was not him but my noble friend Lord Brookeborough whom I interrupted, as he was on the wing to interrupt him. I did not intend discourtesy to him. I wished to anticipate and prevent a debate on the matter of defence developing in a debate on the matter of the extension of interim provisions. While the present situation at the Maze Prison does not relate directly to the Motion which is before the House, it has been raised in discussion so often during the course of the debate that I think it proper to address a few words to that subject by way of preface to my reply to the debate and to address myself in particular to the efforts of recent days to bring an end to the hunger strike.

I should also refer to the death in prison yesterday of Joseph McDonnell. The Government view his death, although it resulted from his own decision to refuse food and medical treatment, with the deepest regret as they do any death arising from the tensions and unrest which continue to beset the Province.

The Government were grateful to the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace for its intervention and for its attempts to secure an end to the hunger strike. The Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, my honourable friend Mr. Michael Alison, held a series of meetings with the commission between 23rd June and 6th July with the objective of clarifying the Government's position, which your Lordships will recall was set out at some length by the Secretary of State in his statement of 30th June. I must make clear at once that these discussions were in no sense negotiations with the hunger strikers through the intermediary of the commission. The belief that they were has led to some misunderstandings, some of which have been voiced this evening.

Your Lordships will have seen the statements which have been made about the latter stages of the discussions with the commission, and suggestions that in some way the commission were misled by the Government. I must refute, in the strongest terms, these allegations of bad faith on the Government's part. The fact is that on the evening of 6th July the commission produced at a meeting with the Minister of State a statement which in the Government's view did not accurately reflect what had been said in earlier discussions. In the circumstances, the Minister was obliged to say that if the commission issued the statement, the Government would have no alternative but to repudiate it. The commission accepted this, but were anxious that the Government should explain its position to the prisoners, and suggested that it would be helpful if a Northern Ireland Office official were to go to the prison when the explanation was given.

Your Lordships now know that the Government's attitude was fully set out in a statement read to the hunger strikers by the prison governor yesterday morning. A Northern Ireland Office official was present. We deeply regret that the statement and its exposition of what would happen when the hunger strike ended did not lead to the strike being called off. I do not think it is realistic to suppose that the problems of timing, to which a good deal of attention is being given, are at the heart of the matter. The fact is that the prisoners, despite the statement issued on their behalf on 4th July, continue to press demands on work and free association which the Government find unacceptable.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, surely the noble Lord must agree that it is astounding that these two high-minded parties—and both sides have paid tribute to the faith of the others—were able to discuss matters, whether you call it negotiations or discussion, for 16 hours and then reach a complete misunderstanding. That seems amazing.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am endeavouring to tell your Lordships what happened. If noble Lords are astounded, that is for them, but we are all disappointed. Our position remains as it has been consistently stated. There are further steps which can be taken under the heading of prison reform when the hunger strike has ended and the atmosphere in the prison has returned to normal. What we cannot do is to make changes under the duress of a hunger strike. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, put his finger on one reason why not. I repeat that the Government regard the commission's efforts as having been helpful and having clarified some areas of difficulty. We do not regard the hunger strike as insoluble if the prisoners and those who support them are prepared to accept the reality of a prison régime which preserves the essential requirements of proper control by the prison authorities; we shall continue to make the most strenuous efforts to bring the hunger strike to an end.

On the matter of the rather serious allegation which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, made—or, rather, he asked whether he was under the correct impression—the answer is, No. I did not see Mr. Alison's interview but he indicated, I understand, that he had been hopeful that the prisoners might decide to end the hunger strike. We were all hopeful and continue to hope. There was no question of my honourable friend being overruled from London on a settlement, as the noble and learned Lord suggested. I cannot emphasise too strongly that the basis of the discussion with the Irish Commisson for Justice and Peace was throughout that they were not in process of negotiating a settlement; so there was nothing to overrule.

One or two other points were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said that the prisoners are not any longer seeking political status. I recognise that there may be a significant development in the apparent recognition by the prisoners in their statement of last Saturday that any changes in the prison régime should apply to all prisoners. I welcome that and repeat the Government's clear commitment to improve the régime in any way that proves possible. It is a difficult prison to run; it contains difficult and dangerous men. It would be irresponsible to promise immediate changes. We have always said that we cannot make them under duress. We are sincerely and wholeheartedly committed to make improvements for all prisoners—if only the hunger strike were to end and the attempt at duress were to end and then we could see what we could do.

I am as passionately desirous as anyone in this House of overcoming this morbid tragedy but we are not in a position to do it on the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. The hunger strike provides a tragic dimension to what we have been discussing. Even without it, it would be necessary to come to your Lordships' House this day to ask for those powers which I have asked for, for a further period of six months. I hope noble Lords will recognise that.

I have not taken first the first point which was raised in this debate. I took the point which was uppermost in noble Lords' minds at the point when we started our deliberations. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Blease, replied first, as is customary. I should like to endorse all that he said—and it was echoed by many speakers—in admiration for the security forces. I have reserved a passage in the brief speech that I shall make on the next order for that purpose.

We very soon came to the matter of the proposals of the former (rather than the late) Prime Minister, Mr. Jim Callaghan. He has certainly started a lot of people thinking, and talking, whatever else he has done. I submit that the proper place for politicians in Northern Ireland to be talking about that kind of thing is precisely in the forum which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State proposes; a forum of locally elected politicians with a platform on which it is suitable to discuss it. I was glad that a great many of your Lordships welcomed that proposal.

If I may then turn to the size of that council, the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, suggested that it should be rather smaller than 50. He was echoed in this by my noble friend Lord Moyola. He thought that 50 was too many. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, suggested 15 or 20; I think my noble friend suggested a dozen. We have not actually set our minds finally on the exact figure of 50. It is something that we shall wish to discuss with the local parties and take their views on in the forthcoming consultations. A figure of about 50 seems more appropriate than 20 or below, particularly if the council is to have—as I imagine it will if it is to oversee or look into the activities of the different departments—different committees. It will find itself in a very difficult position if it has as few members as has been suggested.

Another dimension that was raised in the debate was the question of the Anglo-Irish talks. I believe that the development of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in the past seven months has been of real and lasting value to both countries, which share history and geography, cultural and economic trading links, migration in both directions across the Irish Sea and a more recent common interest in defeating terrorist violence. May I pause here for a moment to say something which will fall gratefully on the ear of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken? That is, that there is a degree of cooperation across the Border which I am very glad to acknowledge in the control of this mutual threat.

All these factors that I have referred to combine—as the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, eloquently testified—to link our two countries inextricably. What we have now begun is a process to recognise those links in our intergovernmental dealings. That must surely be of benefit all round. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, encouraged us to continue these in a European context. In the European context, the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, wanted us to sweep aside the very vexatious subject of additionality. That I can tell her is a much more complex operation than possibly even she would realise, though it is a very interesting proposal and it will be noted.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, asked that some European assistance should be given in considering the problem, particularly in the prisons. He will be aware that the European commission on Human Rights have already investigated this problem and have already given an answer which the protestors did not welcome. It is open to them—and only to them—to initiate another approach by the commission, which cannot of its own volition, come to make an investigation.

What we have not done in the context of the Dublin/ Westminster talks is to abandon our responsibility for the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. That is not a subject of negotiation. It remains for determination by the people of Northern Ireland, Her Majesty's Government and Parliament. The development of the unique relationship between our two countries offers great benefits to both, and it is to be welcomed and, I repeat, not to be feared.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has a long, deep and personal interest in the problems which we are discussing this evening. I welcome his view of the security situation and what he has said about progress made. I welcome the endorsement of this given by a man of such direct experience as the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton. I shall merely welcome it and pass on because I do not want to delay your Lordships.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, mentioned something which must, I suspect, cause a little flutter of apprehension in some dovecotes: the fact that the slogan "troops out" might one day become attractive to British taxpayers. In this he was echoed by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard; and later on there was a very blunt statement by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who would actually give notice of the intention to quit. That of course is not Her Majesty's Government's policy, for reasons that I have already adduced.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, in an interesting speech, referred to the Sunday Times poll giving a 53 per cent. and a 77 per cent. majority in the two communities respectively for a power-sharing agreement. I sometimes think that opinion polls of this sort present us with little more than will-o'-the-wisps because what else have we been straining every nerve for, and exhausting our ingenuity in pursuit of, but exactly this?—an agreed means of power-sharing. It has not been available and that is why we now have to fall back on this more modest step.

A number of noble Lords referred to education. It is not the subject of this debate, but I cannot forbear, since so many noble Lords extended the laws of procedure, from a brief word on this. It is merely this: first of all, it is all very well to say that the whole population would favour mixed Roman Catholic and Protestant schooling. But where you have schools in the middle of Roman Catholic or Protestant communities, then you can only achieve this—at least in the short term, and indeed in the medium term—by transferring the children into the other community. While there is the fear that now exists between the communities in many cases, this would be very detrimental indeed to the children and the experiment would break down. The American experience has given us great concern about this method of operating.

There is a degree of integration. I am not going to name schools, because I do not want it to be interfered with. What is more, there is a great deal of co-operation between schools of different communities in extramural activities. I am happy to promote that in a number of ways. There is an Act on the statute book, the 1968 Education Act, sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, who, sadly, is not here tonight, which actually enables communities and school governors to apply, for integrated status for their schools. So far there has been only one application thereunder.

I am convinced that we are right to make what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—in an excellent speech; and I hope that does not sound patronising, because it was clear, trenchant, to the point and very agreeable—called a modest step towards local self-government. I entirely understand the pessimism of the noble Lords, Lord Moyola and Brookborough. I understand it and respect it. I know that violence breeds extremism; that the narrow political stage of Northern Ireland gives a false stature to leaders who appear unable to deliver anything but extremism to their followers—and I shall have more to say about that in the next order. I understand their pessimism; but, like my noble friend Lord Massereene, I do not altogether share it. I do not accept the consequences that have been ascribed to it.

I believe that the new body will widen the political stage and that it will in due course attract more men of suitable stature to bring the people of Northern Ireland once more together in amity. Appointing a handful of nominees will not have this effect.

My Lords, I do not want to extend this speech further. There is a great deal more that could be said and that I should like to say; but your Lordships have another order to deal with and there are two or three things of some purport that I have to say on that Therefore, I hope that I have convinced you that Her Majesty's Government should have the powers under this order for a further 12 months to conduct to the best of their ability not only the day-to-day government of the Province of Northern Ireland, but also the quest for the peace in which its children and citizens deserve to live.

On Question, Motion agreed to.