§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Northern Ireland Bill, has consented to place Her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (The Earl of Gowrie)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill he now read a second time. The Bill seeks to give effect to such proposals in the Government's recent White Paper as require legislation. The Government's policy is summed up in the title of the White Paper, Northern Ireland; A Framework for Devolution. I stress the word "framework". This is essentially enabling legislation. It is designed to offer to all the people of Northern Ireland and their political representatives the chance of taking back more responsibility for their own affairs. It sets out the broad terms under which the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom would be likely to devolve back more powers and more responsibility. It is therefore firmly based on the principles of free will and consent, which principles are of course the bedrock of modern democracy. It is our view that any hope of political movement and development in Northern Ireland, with all that implies for peace, stability and the economy, must rest firmly upon such principles.
Our proposals are being made in the context of direct rule of Northern Ireland. Direct rule from Westminster goes on while the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives decide whether they wish to work what has rather pithily been called "do-it-yourself devolution". Direct rule goes on if they decide not to take up the offer of devolved powers or to take back only partial responsibility. But the opportunity on offer at least has the valuable secondary effect of creating a focus for political activity in Northern Ireland. It is irresponsible for successive British Governments to urge the people of Northern Ireland to make a greater political effort to resolve some of their special political problems without at least offering them a forum in which they can try to do so.
I therefore ask your Lordships to recognise most clearly that these proposals do not in themselves end direct rule. Direct rule has served Northern Ireland well. Anyone who visits Northern Ireland today, and compares it with the situation there eight to 10 years ago, will find a much calmer surface and much more evidence of ordinary life. Direct rule has provided greater stability; it has been successful in lowering the temperature there; and it has redressed some old grievances. But it is not, and it was never designed to be, 900 a substitute for seeking longer-term stability. As the House will know, it is subject to annual renewal by Parliament; and later this afternoon I shall be asking for your Lordships' consent to a renewal. There is, simply, a central problem to direct rule. Because Northern Ireland politics operate in a completely different context and along different lines to politics in Great Britain, it means in the end that neither the unionist nor the nationalist community in Northern Ireland can identify with the succession of British Ministers who govern them or with the political parties in the House of Commons who send us across the sea to do so.
The aim of policy, therefore, is for direct rule to continue to hold the ring, as it were, while at the same time the Government offer the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives a chance to hammer out together just, durable and practical institutions. In our analysis, these alone can isolate and defuse the politics of violence and restore the confidence of the world outside Northern Ireland in the Province.
We should make no mistake about it—the confidence of the world outside is essential to arrest the frightening economic decline of Northern Ireland, let alone to start to reverse it. We are heading for a permanent level of male unemployment of about 25 per cent. of the workforce; and that means well over 40 per cent. in some areas. More people in the manufacturing sector of the economy are now out of work than in work. There is greater private investment from Great Britain in the Republic of Ireland than there is in Northern Ireland. Proportionately to Great Britain, 6 million people are unemployed. Per capita spending by Government is higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom, but as fast as the Government pour money, as fast does it drain out the other end as the bedrock of the economy crumbles. The erosion is despite what has been described as the highest educational attainments of a physically comparable part of the United Kingdom, despite an excellent and expensive industrial infrastructure, a tradition of manufacturing skills, enviable industrial relations, and a very strong social morality of hard work and thrift. This erosion is despite the efforts of my honourable friend Mr. Adam Butler, who I think works harder than any Minister whom I have ever met, to sell the Province in Great Britain and abroad; and despite the equally tireless efforts of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
The economic problems are twofold. There is of course structural decline. Even without world recession, there would be formidable problems of transition in the economy. But the second difficulty, the troubled image of the Province in a world where marketing is so important—I do not mean only the marketing of goods, but also the marketing of the places to make the goods—makes it excessively hard to get on with the job of making the transition from an old to a new industrial society.
Of course the troubles are not only a matter of image. Things have improved, thanks to the fundamental steadiness of the Ulster people, thanks to the RUC and its good security co-operation with the Garda in the Republic—to whom all credit—thanks to the expertise 901 and the discipline of our long-suffering troops. But murder, heartbreak and tension have not been driven from the land. Time after time politicians in the Province criticise our security effort. We understand why they do this. We have not denied men, money, or material to the security effort. Our only constraint is that in a free society law and order must itself be subject to law.
But it is only fair to us, and only fair to the British taxpayers who put British Governments in office, to ask that Northern Ireland also tackles the alleviation of its own suffering. That effort requires a recognition that the special political circumstances of the Province need a special political response. We want to see political movement, however slow or frustrating; and movement must be with the grain of Northern Ireland, rather than against it.
The central political problem of Northern Ireland is not complex. I apologise to the many noble Lords here who are very expert in Northern Ireland affairs if I go over fairly simple ground. The central problem is that there exist there two communities which have separate and strongly felt identities. Over hundreds of years there has effectively been no intermarriage. The children do not share the same system of education. There is no reasonable or foreseeable prospect of this changing.
The majority see themselves as British, and aspire to continued union with the rest of the United Kingdom. Their loyalty is to the Crown. Their social and cultural values are linked with Britain's, although there is of course sometimes a distinctive local and fundamentalist character. By and large they are Protestant, and their religion is a mark of identity, as well as a matter of conviction.
There is also a substantial minority, about a third of the whole population, who see themselves as Irish. Many of them aspire to Irish unity, or elect representatives who do so. Their social and cultural traditions are Irish; by religion they are Catholic, and again religion is a mark of identity, as well as a matter of conviction.
I do not want to over-emphasise the divisions between the communities. Personal relationships can be very friendly indeed. There is a body of law to tackle discrimination. Voluntary organisations rooted in a community effort to reconciliation do excellent work. I am thinking, for instance, of the admirable Housing Executive, under the inspired guidance of Mr. Charles Brett, which has successfully taken the sectarian sting out of housing issues, though of course it is usually, and inevitably, not able to cross the sectarian boundaries in physical terms.
Lines of division do not always coincide exactly. There are Protestant nationalists, and Catholic unionists. Nevertheless, they coincide more than sufficiently to strengthen and perpetuate identities which are at once a source of pride as well as a source of division. The divisions are all wrapped up with the fundamentals of human life: religion, patriotism, marriage, education, politics, culture, shelter, and work. As the White Paper makes clear, these differences simply cannot be ignored or wished away. Differences on this scale, and affecting the deepest levels of identity of people, simply do not exist in the rest of the United Kingdom. 902 In my view, that alone should reassure those who are anxious lest devolution for Northern Ireland re-open devolutionary politics in Scotland or Wales.
If Northern Ireland is to know peace, stability and economic improvement, there must be found, sooner or later, a political structure which is suitable to Northern Ireland's unique and, foreseeably, unalterable circumstances. It must be a structure within which the two identities can respect and accommodate each other; not compromise, not change these deep convictions, or change them only at a pace which suits those who hold them, but respect and accommodate them. The White Paper and the Bill provide the structure or framework for such a policy. In essence that is all that they do.
It may well be that the devolution of powers on offer will not be taken up, or will be taken up only partially. It may well be that the Anglo-Irish parliamentary institutions, which might be of special interest to nationalist members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, will not immediately come into being, or will not immediately be used. The Government can only provide the framework within which the two identities can respect and accommodate one another. The Government cannot provide the will.
All policy in the respect of Northern Ireland affairs must ground itself in the realities of Northern Ireland, its history and demography. I believe that that means considerable humility and modest expectations for policy. We are not here unveiling the Mark IV or the Mark V model for a solution of the Northern Ireland issue. We are offering the people of Northern Ireland themselves the opportunity of devising political structures to cope with the demands of the realities of their own situation and to cope also—which, in my view, is equally important—with the demands of the realities of the sovereign Parliament at Westminster.
My Lords, I can give the essence of the proposals in the Bill very quickly. I shall be delighted to go into any points of detail, if asked, when I come to wind up. The Bill gathers together the necessary legislative provisions for a Northern Ireland Assembly, and if the Bill is passed there will be elections to this Assembly, probably before the end of the year. The Assembly could then decide to propose full devolution of powers under which all the existing Northern Ireland departments would come under the control of a Northern Ireland Executive; or, if they found it too difficult to secure the necessary wide acceptance throughout the community, they might propose partial devolution, under which one or more departments about which there was broad agreement could be devolved while the rest stayed under the Secretary of State's control. For example, both communities have a clear mutual interest in agriculture and commerce.
Such partial devolution could lead on later to further or full devolution. Conversely, if the arrangements lost the broad support of the Assembly, the devolved powers could return to the Secretary of State until fresh proposals were agreed. If full devolution is agreed, an Executive would be appointed. Provided it retained support within the Assembly, it would retain power subject to Assembly elections every four years. However, if the Executive lost the broad support of the Assembly, devolved powers could again be "rolled 903 back" and the Assembly would revert to its earlier consultative role, or be prorogued. Or it could be dissolved and fresh elections held. The essential point is that there will be no breakdown of government if either full or partial devolution breaks down, as the umbrella of direct rule remains at hand. This has been called "the un-boycottable framework".
Whether or not devolution takes place—and the vast majority of representations made to the Secretary of State and myself have asked for it—I must stress that from the beginning the Assembly will have an important scrutinising and deliberative role. It is easy enough, of course, to deride this role as nothing more than a talking shop. There has been no proper focus for political activity in Northern Ireland for nearly a decade now. It is surely inconsistent for the sovereign Government and Parliament to ask for political movement in the interests of security and the economy and not provide the focus where this could take place. The Assembly will be required, before devolution, to establish committees in relation to each of the existing Northern Ireland departments. Since the membership of these committees will reflect so far as practicable the balance of parties in the Assembly, there is, I think, at least a reasonable chance that the system will accustom members of various groups to get into the habit of working together constructively.
These, broadly, are the constitutional arrangements which will be set up by the Government's Bill. They may seem novel, but they are at least flexible; and they do not impose a solution which would require anyone to compromise fundamental and probably irreconcilable principles, be these unionist or nationalist.
My Lords, before I sit down, may I deal quickly with the principal objections which have been made to this modest Bill—modest though not uncontroversial; but I do not think anything in relation to Northern Ireland is ever uncontroversial.
There is the objection about majority rule: the objection that democracy means that the will of the majority prevails. This leaves out, I think, the central truth that in modern democracies the role of opposition is in many ways as crucial as the role of government. As the White Paper puts it in paragraph 19:Given the importance of the two identities and traditions in Northern Ireland, the application of simple majority rule would (as in the past) leave the minority in perpetual and ineffectual opposition where they can become prey to those who seek change by violent means.Nor is it conceivable, in my view, that Parliament would restore simple majority rule in Northern Ireland.
Then there is the objection to devolution based on the premise that what is needed is the total integration of Northern Ireland into the administrative system of the United Kingdom: a plan involving enhanced powers for local government. This is superficially attractive until one gets to know Northern Ireland and tries to get to grips with its special difficulties. In no way would integration accommodate minority aspirations or enable them to find legitimate expression. Legitimate nationalist politics would be weakened, and the beneficiaries would not be unionists but the men of violence on both sides. In my judgment, too, Roman Catholics who do not support nationalist politics would mistrust the additional powers for local government likely to accompany such an arrangement. 904 Whatever the rights and wrongs about alleged abuses in local government before direct rule, the fact is that the present troubles started with perceptions of abuse at local level. And how can one imagine local government along British lines without housing or without education? What would happen if, with a strong unionist majority of Ulster Members in the House of Commons, a Prime Minister from another party, say, appointed a nationalist politician as Secretary of State? Northern Ireland is of course part of the United Kingdom, and it will remain so until its inhabitants freely determine otherwise. But it is not geared to the British party political system, and I believe that it is a dangerous fantasy to suppose that it is ever likely to be. In simple terms, its colours are not blue and red, but orange and green.
The mirror image of full integration is, of course, an imposed Irish unity. That, too, is a very dangerous fantasy. Even from a nationalist perspective, the idea that a fifth of the population of the whole island could come under Dublin administration without their consent is total folly, and in my experience that idea has very little support indeed in the Republic itself.
Last of these principal objections is one from the minority side. It is the objection that the Irish dimension to the White Paper is nebulous, that it does not go far enough. I have heard this objection from politicians, but most people from the minority community to whom I have talked, and indeed most serious commentators on Ulster affairs, have recognised that this Government have gone a long way, further than previous Governments, formally to recognise the legitimacy of a political tradition which aspires to Irish unity. Both the White Paper and the Bill recognise that accommodations to this tradition are important to political progress in Northern Ireland and to the progress of relations between the United Kingdom as a whole and the Republic.
We have said that we would be happy to see inter-parliamentary institutions in which the Irish tradition in Ulster could play a part if it wanted. So, too, of course, could the majority tradition play a part, but there would be no question of coercion. It all conies back to the same thing. The growth of stable political accommodations must depend on the exercise of free will and self-determination. In respect of the minority we have made it quite clear that a co-,herent policy for Northern Ireland cannot ignore the susceptibilities of the Republic—and that is a considerable step forward from their point of view.
My Lords, given the common security threat and the land border, it is surely also a fantasy to suppose that the Republic has no proper concern with Northern Ireland affairs. There is the effect of the troubles on internal security and on the Irish judicial system. There is the huge cost of the security co-operation with the RUC. Southern Irish politics, no less than Northern Irish politics, hinge on the 1921 partition settlement: all credit, therefore, to people in both parts of the island who are attempting to escape from the prison of history. Then there is the very physical presence, as well as the political issue, of the land border. Above all, there is the inalienable fact that a third of the population of Northern Ireland consider themselves Irish.
That is why the Government have tried to recognise 905 and honour the minority identity as being in the main Irish, just as they recognise and honour the majority for being British. The one recognition in no way threatens the other, and to suggest otherwise is a mischievous and wilful misreading of the White Paper. If I may put it another way, this recognition of the minority is the other side of the coin to the constitutional guarantee to unionists of their position as part of the United Kingdom. Some commentators have complained that there is no such recognition of the minority in the Bill. Surely this ignores the way devolution hinges on proof positive of its acceptance across the whole community. But I acknowledge that the Bill is a legislative instrument of an internal, limited and essentially enabling kind. The policy of the Government is contained in both the Bill and the White Paper.
Thus we have sought to establish a framework for Anglo-Irish relations in which representatives of the minority, as well as of the majority if they wished, could, in time, take part. As with our plans for devolution, the speed at which things develop is a matter for the sovereign Government and their Parliaments. You cannot force the pace of growth if you want the roots to go deep and the soil to endure. Anglo-Irish relations—like Northern Ireland devolution —can roll forward or roll back. At the moment—and I much regret having to say this—they are not as close or good as they might or should be.
This has been rather a long speech and I must make an end. I have talked such a lot about the British and Irish tradition that perhaps I could close by letting the English tradition get a word in. Our policy is firmly in the English empirical tradition of starting with the facts as you find them and then building step by step, slowly and often painfully, on foundations of patience and tolerance, not expecting too much, pleased with the progress that is attained. For what my personal views are worth—and I had the startling experience for a Member of your Lordships' House of listening to these discussed in another place not always with unconditional approval—I believe strongly that good policy starts from the real rather than the ideal world.
I believe that for the foreseeable future neither the British community in Northern Ireland nor the Irish community there will be in a position where one can refuse to recognise the other or accommodate the other in any stable political system. There are few signs that the unionists wish to sever their British connection; and why should they? There are few signs that the nationalists will give the United Kingdom the deep-seated allegiance which all other political groups in the Kingdom do give. The reality of this divide does not, in my view, exempt either community from taking on greater political responsibility, responsibility which taxpayers throughout the United Kingdom may reasonably ask Northern Ireland to start trying to undertake.
Northern Ireland and its people form one of the most attractive parts of the United Kingdom and one of the most attractive parts of the island of Ireland. Its record of achievement over the centuries is quite out of scale with its size. Except for this ancient, intractable and, from both points of view, fundamental divide, it is a marvellous place to live, or raise a family or work. Surely, we should not in the 1980s continue 906 to be wrangling over one of the great political issues of the 1880s. We need the plural and secular structure appropriate to our own times. The people of Northern Ireland deserve them. This Bill offers a choice and chance to the people of Northern Ireland to fashion a system appropriate to their special excellences and to their special difficulties. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(The Earl of Gowrie.)
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl for his very lucid, comprehensive and detailed introduction to this Northern Ireland Bill. The noble Earl has said that it is a modest Bill. In text and in drafting terms, the Bill is a comparatively small one. It consists of seven short clauses and three schedules. However, it is hardly necessary for me to draw the attention of the House to the fact that in legislative terms, in constitutional and political terms, this Bill looms large to the citizens of Northern Ireland and is considered by them to be of crucial importance to their future happiness and wellbeing.
There is little doubt that the Bill presents the Northern Ireland people with an awful dilemma, the dilemma of a political crossroads, a crossroads where they earnestly look for signposts which show the way to democratic and political stability, to a soundly-based economic future and to the end of the communal strife and politically-inspired terrorism. It is not the fault of thousands of peaceable and law abiding citizens in Northern Ireland if it appears to them that the signposts created by this Bill are clouded by anxiety and fear, by political mistrust and by years of social deprivation. These fears, this mistrust and the loss of political direction and vision were clearly manifest and expressed during the debates and the proceedings on the Bill in another place.
During its passage in another place, my rough calculations are that the Bill had 10 days for debate, some of the day and night sittings lasting over 15 hours, with a total of 109 hours of debate with 62 Divisions.
As a citizen of Northern Ireland, I readily appreciate and understand the concern about this Bill. This concern was marked by the protracted nature of the debates in another place and the ongoing public debates throughout the Province. The problems of Northern Ireland are a legacy of history and are emotionally deep-seated. It is right and commendable that our elected representatives should extensively debate, probe and question every proposal and issue in the Bill which may affect the people of Northern Ireland. It is right that all concerned about the intractable nature of the division in Northern Ireland should approach the Bill with a degree of scepticism; but let it be scepticism with an openness and a frankness which is ready to listen and be influenced by fairness, by facts and a commitment to the ideal of social justice and for the common good. Surely, there is nothing useful to be achieved in the long term for the people of Northern Ireland by attitudes of negativism or by actions for mere party political advantage.
Personally, I am pleased by the number of speakers listed to take part in this debate on Second Reading. Many noble Lords who are to take part have considerable experience and knowledge of government in 907 Northern Ireland and I shall look forward with interest to hearing their part in the debate. I believe, and have every reason to think, that this House will give the Bill the attention, scrutiny and sense of commitment that is demanded and which it warrants. It should have priority of attention not only because of the relevant constitutional matters but because of the need for a real sense of response to the Northern Ireland people at this time, a response to show that the efforts of this House are earnestly and genuinely directed towards positive and constructive ways to a real hope of promoting justice and peace and to pave the way forward for a better Northern Ireland for the people.
During the Committee and Report stages in this House there will be an opportunity to debate and probe in detail the proposals and policies in the Bill. The Bill raises a number of issues. There is the question of the franchise under which the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly are to be contested; matters arising from ongoing Anglo-Irish studies and their relevance to Northern Ireland; the existing domestic and international relationships between the two sovereign Governments and Parliaments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland; and the respective roles and functions of the new Northern Ireland Assembly under devolved powers. There are the beneficial aspects of the cross-border co-operation at present proceeding and operating at various levels, including Government administrative and non-government levels, and particularly the crossroad co-operation on security and economic affairs; there are the questions about possible changes that may arise concerning the European Economic Community and regional affairs. These are some of the matters which I am sure this House will wish to consider during the Committee stage.
In considering the Bill, we have the advantage of the Official Report of the lengthy debate in another place. We also have the White Paper that the noble Earl has mentioned, Northern Ireland: A Framework for Devolution, Cmnd. 8541, and a considerable number of press reports and comments arising from public discussions of the proposed measures and the side-issues concerned. There is also the extremely useful comprehensive outline to this House which was given by the Minister in his introductory remarks.
During the debate in another place, there was a considerable input by honourable Members of a wealth of consitutional expertise. There was also a welter of probing arguments, with reasoned and informed response from experienced Parliamentarians and with the very helpful views and opinions expressed by Members of Parliament who have gained direct knowledge and experience through ministerial and official Government duties in Northern Ireland.
Arising from all this, it appears to me that already we have such a surfeit of works surrounding this Bill that the real issues affecting the lives and future wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland are in danger of being buried in verbiage. I want to assure the House that I am not in any way suggesting that we should curtail discussion or debate. Indeed, I consider that political debate and parliamentary democracy should be upheld and be seen to succeed against those who 908 adhere to the policies of physical force, tyranny, terrorism, death and destruction. But surely there is a time when Parliamentary democracy must decide on a consensus and take suitable action to promote progress on actions to strengthen parliamentary principles and procedures and to fill the political vacuum. Of course, I must heed my own words and I do not wish to add unnecessarily to this Second Reading debate.
The position of the official Opposition as regards this Bill was made clear by my honourable friends in another place, the right honourable Don Concannon and Mr. Clive Soley, the official Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland affairs. During the debate they indicated that, in spite of its inadequacies in certain areas, the Bill is broadly in line with the policies of the Parliamentary Labour Party for devolving power back to Northern Ireland. It was stated by my honourable friends that the provisions in the Bill for rolling devolution could succeed if they attained the maximum measure of cross-community support for the relative administrative and executive matters.
In my opinion, the merits of this Bill require to be appraised in the light of the claims made in the White Paper, which I have mentioned earlier. I should like to quote from page 17, paragraph 66, of the White Paper as follows:The proposals offer an opportunity to move forward from the political sterility of recent years to a system of devolved government, with all the benefits which such a system could create for the prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland.On page 4, paragraph 11, the report states:The Government believes that an elected body in Northern Ireland is the right forum for the Province's special problems to be tackled. That is why there is an urgent need for an elected Assembly. The Assembly must have substantial functions so that it can inject an important element of local responsibility and influence in the day-to-day conduct of business. Although political differences in Northern Ireland centre on constitutional matters, the people are no less concerned about jobs, wages, schools and health than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Assembly should enable them to influence such matters.I fully realise that a number of those matters which have been referred to in the White Paper require to be dealt with in some detail during the Committee and Report stages, but I should like briefly to deal with two further issues. They are the constitution and security. As I understand it, the Bill leaves unchanged the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as a constituent part of the United Kingdom as is provided for in Section 1 of the Constitution Act 1973—that is, that there can be no change in the status without the consent of a majority of the Northern Ireland people voting in a border poll.
The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, mentioned in his introductory remarks matters concerning the two traditions in Northern Ireland. It is my view that each of the traditions must seek to reach an understanding on how to work together for the common good and to see how far it is possible to compromise, to respect each other and to find an accommdation without making an unaccceptable sacrifice. I believe the Bill is an honest attempt to give the Northern Ireland people the opportunity to control their own destiny, in so far as that is possible in a world that is becoming more and more interdependent.
Within the context of the Constitution Act, responsibility for dealing with political terrorism and security must remain for the foreseeable future as a 909 reserved matter. However, in the context of this Bill and the effect of the functioning of the proposed Northern Ireland Assembly, we must not rule out the possibility of a continuing resurgence of terrorism and violence, nor of the need for the prevailing role of the security forces. This certainly raises within Northern Ireland matters concerning the security, the fears and anxieties of all people in the Province and of the brave boys who come from this part of the country to Northern Ireland.
I should like to quote from a book entitled Foundations of Peace and Freedom, the foreword to which was written by my noble friend Lord Caradon. He says this:Violence is evil but one of the main lessons I have learnt is that a worse evil is fear of violence. If there is a fear of violence then the effect of violence is multiplied. It is a positive duty to us all to do what we think is right and not allow violence, so often mean and cruel, to dictate what we should do. We cannot just hate violence and hope that it will go away: we must advocate and work out practical and constructive policies for peace. The more we hate violence the more we must have the will to work for conciliation, for settlement, for agreement.As the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said, what we lack is the will.
We on these Benches believe that this Bill represents an effort by the Government to give the people of Northern Ireland a chance to develop a form of devolved government that is best suited to the needs of the Northern Ireland people. There are four elements which I consider help to meet these needs. The noble Earl spoke of a framework and I believe the four elements are cornerstones. There is flexibility of the provisions which provide for the choice of devolved matters to be decided by the Northern Ireland people in agreement with the United Kingdom Parliament. Flexibility—there is the fact that the Bill is concerned with practical matters affecting the lives of people and it gives them opportunities to join and share together in doing something rather than talking at arm's length through press statements or press announcements. It is the practical matter of getting together and trying to accomplish something for the Northern Ireland people that is important.
The Bill provides for decisions and action about devolved matters to be influenced by cross-community support, which I believe will work for the common good, and the legislation and the changes that may emerge through these devolved powers will be underpinned and subject to the approval of both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament. So these four elements—flexibility, pragmatism, cross-border consensus and United Kingdom approval—convince me that they pave the way forward for the people of Northern Ireland.
Already we note that the political parties in Northern Ireland are in the process of selecting candidates and organising themselves ready for the possibility of an October election for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Considerable activity has already taken place in most of the parties in Northern Ireland. It would be foolish and misleading to give the impression that the Bill will dramatically and suddenly bring about change in the political and economic affairs of the Province. But I am convinced that the Northern Ireland people, and their elected representatives and community leaders, will react wisely to these provisions and accept this 910 responsibility to restore dignity and self-respect to the Northern Ireland people, and secure a happier and more peaceful future for the present generation and their children. I believe that this Bill gives us that opportunity.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I rise with some embarrassment to apologise to the House, because the only way I can get home today is by accepting a lift from somebody who refuses to stay to the end of the debate. So that I shall find myself not staying to the end of the debate and I am very sorry about that. Also, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for letting me come on in front of him—he usually comes on in front of me—so as not to be delayed.
Having said that, I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Earl on his opening speech. I thought that it was a particularly vivid picture of the problems, as one sees them from over there as a member of the Government. I was very much impressed by what he said. I also found his comment about the need for Government to have an Opposition, and the hopelessness of a permanent minority as an Opposition, to be a very strong point which I have not heard made before.
One of the things which most of us find most important about this Bill is that it would give professional politicians the chance to behave like professional politicians. This is something which, apart from the Members of the other place, they simply do not have at the moment in Northern Ireland. I was very pleased that my old colleague and friend, if I may so call him, Lord Blease was able to give such an ungrudging welcome to the Bill, and it is very important to remember that, if we can all move forward together, so much the better.
We on this Bench fully support the Government in their efforts to make a limited move towards devolved government. Direct rule is a sensible and practical way of keeping the wheels rolling and, at the same time keeping the lid on the tensions and violence which seem to be indigenous to the Province. What a marvellous place it would be without them. But direct rule carries with it no solutions. It is essentially a holding operation and, sooner or later, some way must be found of persuading the 1½ million inhabitants of the Province to work together enough to have their own devolved government. Only then will they be able to make their own arrangements with the South, and, indeed, with us over here, and until such arrangements are, in fact, made by them, and not by us for them, they will never hold. But the devolved government that we look forward to must be one that takes proper care of its minorities. So any British Government must keep trying, must persevere in persuasion and suggestion, until some agreement is reached on this question which will make devolved government possible.
It will be attacked—indeed, sabotaged—by partisans from one side or the other But anyone who has read the nine issues of Hansard on the Committee stage in another place will have read the same arguments so often that he will hardly want to hear them again. We have no desire in this House to delay the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, spoke of the danger of 911 its being buried in verbiage, and I think that he was on to a real risk. We abhor anything that sniffs of filibustering, and I have no doubt that the Bill will go through this House without too much rancour.
I repeat that we on this Bench support the Government unequivocally and consider the present team a pretty good one. I may say that we do not support it with a great deal of optimism, but on the simple ground any Government must keep on trying. Our reasons for this rather defeatist attitude are obvious, but had better be stated. Any British Government are under pressure, as the noble Earl said in opening this debate, from the majority faction to set up a Stormont-like Government with simple majority rule. This would not satisfy the minority and never could. On the other hand, from the minority faction there is always pressure for a move towards further integration with the South. We reject both courses and, in each case, we find them unacceptable to the other faction.
If we were to suggest, as the Labour Party is too apt to hint— and the noble Lord, Lord Blease, did not hint today— that, sooner or later, integration with the South is the only sound policy in the long run, no Protestant would negotiate with us. And if we were inclined to pursue devolved government, without some measure of power-sharing, we should find that no British Government could ever agree to the desertion of the minority. So there is only one way forward. This is the way that the Government are trying to go and we must support them in doing so.
I suppose that the worst inequalities between Protestants and Catholics have been greatly reduced in the last 20 years and the noble Earl made some reference to this. The noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, made some important innovations— too many, in fact to keep his seat— and there have been more under the Sunningdale Government and then under direct rule. Things are legally and technically better, though, doubtless, there is still some way to go. It should be possible, now that the worst abuses have been ironed out, to work out a modus vivendi under which the Northern Ireland people could govern themselves and this is what the Government are trying to do.
About 10 per cent. on each side are unreasonable and the danger is that the other 90 per cent. should begin to lose interest. The result of this will be that direct rule will continue and the worst outbreaks of violence will be contained, but no move towards a solution will take place. This is why we urge any Government to go on trying. I know that this sounds very defeatist. I think that any other attitude is so optimistic as to be unreal.
Meanwhile, we want to be very careful to avoid reference to political relations between the North and the South. Changes here can come only after there is some degree of devolved government and will, for many years, at least, almost certainly be confined to trade and security relations. But, on the other hand, we do not support the right honourable gentleman Mr. Enoch Powell, either, in his demand for further integration with the mainland. We believe that Northern Ireland's problems are so different from our own, as the noble Earl said, that they require different and special treatment.
We believe that the ordinary people of both corn 912 munities long for peace and will support the British in our efforts, through the RUC backed up by the Army, to defeat the terrrorists. We also believe that the sharing of responsibility, implied in devolved government, will do much to encourage ordinary people on both sides to work with the security forces against all terrorists, from whichever side they came; and that, of course, is the biggest weapon that the security forces have can.
As to security itself, we believe in no quarter for the terrorists. The IRA commits its beastly crimes in favour of an objective which is unobtainable, contradictory and incomprehensible. They kill and maim for the cause of a united socialist Ireland. The North will die rather than accept unity and the South will fight rather than accept socialism; at any rate, in the very odd form put forward by the provisionals. They want the troops out and so do we, but the only way to get them out is for the IRA to stop their atrocities; and one of the saddest features is that their atrocities provoke equal atrocities from the Protestants, by way of retaliation. In all history, there has never been a sillier, crueller or more futile terrorist movement, and we shall continue to fight against it until it is extinguished.
This Bill is not directly concerned with economics or unemployment. As the noble Earl pointed out, unemployment is the worst evil in Northern Ireland, even including terrorism—25 to 40 per cent. is the figure quoted and it is a terrible figure. But though we need much more to be done to cope with it, this is a subject for another day.
I should like to end by echoing a word of warning, given in another place by my right honourable friend Mrs. Shirley Williams. It is essential that the proposed Assembly should very quickly be given some real power. Otherwise, it is likely to become a very tiresome talking-shop, criticising everything that the Government do or propose, and eventually, deservedly, being shut down. The only way to avoid spectacular failure of this kind is to make sure the Assembly has some real responsibility quickly. We learned how responsible Northern Ireland politicians on all sides can be during the brief period of the power-sharing Government and we admired their achievements. But we also know that, without some responsibility, their natural independence turns them into filibustering critics, and that must be avoided at all costs. We shall look at the machinery for this more clearly in Committee. We warmly support the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, the noble Earl the Minister has introduced the Bill with his customary skill. May I congratulate him on his versatility after his duties last night on the Employment Bill. I have listened with interest and encouragement to what the noble Lord, Lord Blease, has said, and to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, on the Social Democratic Party Bench. I shall attempt to show why we on these Benches and our colleagues in the other place support the aims of the Secretary of State in what has been dubbed a "package of rolling devolution." We believe this to be a brave attempt that deserves every encouragement.
913 The Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973 laid down the conditions for an Assembly in the Province of 78 members, but the Northern Ireland Act of only the following year, 1974, was passed to dissolve that Assembly and— let me quote the exact words—to make temporary provision for the government of Northern Ireland".I emphasise the word "temporary", as others have done before me. It is noteworthy that eight years later we in this House shall shortly be debating yet another interim period extension order on that Act. I believe that this re-emphasises the importance of the Bill we at present debate.
Few responsible people would probably challenge the view that direct rule from Westminster has served a necessary purpose as a temporary expedient but it is now often said that it is most people's second best answer to the problems of today and not their first choice. Nor was it able to prevent the bitter divisions and strife of the hunger strikes last year which demonstrated so well the background of frustration and fear. And at the back of many people's minds is the perhaps not fully realised view that direct rule is acceptable just because it is not intended as a permanent arrangement.
Whatever we may think of the actions of opponents of this Bill in the Commons, and I deplore them, they cannot be accused of apathy. To attempt to talk out a Bill by a series of exhausting and quite unproductive all-night Sittings seems to me to be a totally negative procedure, but I grant that they believed in what they were doing. In contrast, I support wholeheartedly the idea that the people of the Province should work towards resumed control of their own affairs "by agreement amongst themselves and subject to the workings of Parliament at Westminster."
The search is for an acceptable alternative to the continuation of direct rule. This has often been discussed in your Lordships' House (and referred to today), as elsewhere, and I shall only briefly reaffirm my position. It is perhaps the easiest to "take the medicine as before", but I hope I need not repeat here my distrust of such a course. How much better, if it can be happily arranged, to have a local forum in which elected representatives can express their opinions and present advised policies to West-minister for implementation, pending the day when the Assembly itself resumes legislative duties.
A second option would be full integration of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom. Opinion polls have been quoted to suggest that a remarkably high percentage of both communities would favour such a course. But opinion polls can be notoriously misleading and I am sceptical of the suggestion that there would not be much bitterness against such an irrevocable step. A third option is complete independence, but I just cannot see this other than as a woolly refusal— and a dangerous one—to face facts. There may be generous help coming from the EEC, but Ulster owes a lot to the financial support coming from Britain, quite apart from all other ways in which we seek to help.
Fourthly comes the highly controversial aim of reunification with the Republic. I would not rule 914 this out as something that might in time be mutually advantageous to both North and South, but it is something that we have guaranteed that the people of the North should be allowed to decide for themselves. What better place to discuss the matter freely in than an independent Assembly? The sooner that the people of Eire realise that they must offer carrots and not sticks, the better Nor is it remotely possible that any such arrangement, imposed by a Government at Westminster, would do anything but build up a mountain of resistance and rejection. But it is perhaps worth recalling here the words of Dr. Garret FitzGerald in this year's BBC Dimbleby lecture. I quote:For most people of this Northern Irish Protestant tradition, the sense of being British does not exclude a feeling that they are also Irish.Englishmen must feel some diffidence about suggesting solutions to the problems of Northern Ireland across the sea, and it would surely be advantageous that the people over there should have a greater chance to voice their views in an influential forum, and then have to stand by them. It is much less tempting to criticise others when your own actions are open to comment. But the basic, vital, indisputable essential is the will and the goodwill to take up the challenge. One point that is indeed, it seems to me, going to test this attitude is the election of a presiding officer who will be responsible in his turn, I quote:for the appointment of the members of each committee and of a chairman and a deputy chairman (or two deputy chairmen) of each such committee, from among its members.He will have to be a very remarkable person, trusted and respected on all sides. But I believe he can be found and an Assembly satisfactorily launched. I sincerely hope that that is so.
I have heard this Bill called a "strange Bill". It enforces nothing; it offers so much; it is left to the people in the Province to elect their chosen representatives to an Assembly and to those representatives to decide just how far and how fast to proceed. Subject to the approval of the Secretary of State in Parliament, considerable power and responsibility could lie ahead. Alternatively, they could refuse to co-operate among themselves and the whole thing could come to nothing. The parties have to demonstrate their co-operation to the satisfaction of Westminster.
Perhaps I could end on a personal note. Two evenings ago I decided to forgo the pleasures of a late night sitting on the Employment Bill and attend a performance of the "Dream of Gerontius"—purely as a penance, of course—in Westminster Cathedral. I was rewarded for my virtue and found the process not entirely unpleasurable. Afterwards, my mind returned to the affairs of Northern Ireland and I found myself drawing a parallel between the demands of an excellent concert performance and the demands necessary to get a successful assembly off the ground. In each case there has to be a respected leader or conductor, and in each case there has to be wholehearted teamwork and co-operation and the happy elimination of differences of opinion. Hopefully, there is enjoyment in the work and a sense of fulfilment in the best use of considerable talent.
Subject to the Committee stage, I wish the Bill well and the people of Ulster God-speed. I trust that this action will avert the dangers which have been 915 referred to, of the gradual slide into semi-permanent violence and economic ruin.
§ 4.29 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford
My Lords, being a bishop in the Church is a bit like working for a trans-national corporation. You have the opportunity of getting around and seeing events through the eyes of your brother Church leaders in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, I find myself in these debates on Northern Ireland always acutely conscious of the fact that I shall be followed by three former Prime Ministers of that Province My credentials to speak are these. For the past six years I have been meeting regularly with representatives of the principal Churches in Ireland. Alas! except on particular occasions, these meetings have not included Roman Catholics. The meetings have given me a sobering insight into the depth of the historic divisions which still set Catholic and Protestant over against each other. They have also offered a glimpse of the really heartening initiatives which are taken to bridge those divides by couragous pioneers for peace on both sides of the divide.
My colleagues and I began to meet on a regular basis shortly after the constitutional convention met and had experienced the ignominy of having its proposals turned down by Parliament. I recall that at that time our Northern Ireland colleagues warned us that the people of the Province would put up with direct rule for a period—was it 18 months or 2 years?—so long as the violence was reduced, but that no one should expect them to accept colonial status indefinitely. As we know, direct rule has gone on now for over six years. Some commentators have even suggested, and without cynicism, that it is the one form of rule that can succeed in Northern Ireland. One can recognise the force and sincerity of such a judgment, but we are bound to reject any approach to the problems of the Province which dismisses the issue of participation so completely. For this reason I welcome the Government's initiative in bringing forward this Bill and shall give it my support.
We have said for long enough that there is a political vacuum in Northern Ireland, but I am assured by some of my Irish friends that, with a local mandate, worthy people will come forward and responsible co-operation will emerge. One trusts that they are not too optimistic. I recognise that the Government's proposals deal only with structures and possibilities; they offer, in the words of the White Paper, a "framework for devolution", and not the reality. But that is, surely, a wise approach. As the White Paper makes clear, it must be for "the politicians of Northern Ireland…to work out an acceptable scheme for themselves".
I recognise also that these proposals, even if fully implemented, will not of themselves deal with the pressing and tragic matters of unemployment and violence which loom so large in the Province, or dispel overnight the deep-rooted suspicions which are a feature of the religious and communal life of the Province. These are but first steps on the road that we are taking, in the realistic recognition that there are no instant solutions to such intractable and longterm problems.
916 Realism is necessary in everything to do with politics —but so also is vision. The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, himself a strenuous critic of all forms of unrealism, in religion or politics, spoke of "the relevance of an impossible ethical ideal". Without such an ideal, without a vision, our politics becomes simply a matter of keeping out of trouble; of standing pat. In the setting of Northern Ireland, our ideal, the goal for all of us, must be the gradual development of self-governing institutions which have the support of the whole community there. The people of the Province have been remarkably patient over the past six years, but I do not think we can reasonably expect growth in political maturity, and the development of democratic instincts, if they are not given the opportunity to exercise those skills in a local setting, which this Bill will provide.
Before I finish, I want to reflect on one aspect of the Government's proposals which has been the subject of criticism—that is, the requirement of special majorities and the participation of minority parties in any devolved institutions. It is asked: Are these requirements not undemocratic in bypassing the will of the majority? I recognise the force of this criticism, yet the willingness of a minority to abide by a democratically-arrived at decision is one of the marks of a mature democracy, as it is of the local darts club. Nonetheless, it is not the only expression of the democratic principle. In the tradition of the Society of Friends, for example, there is another, yet more demanding practice, whereby discussion goes on and on until a consensus emerges which all can freely accept. Do not let us therefore idolise majority rule as though it were of the essence; it is not. Our concern must be, as I have said, with what is most likely to contribute to the development of democratic instincts. Given the past tragic history of Northern Ireland politics, where the minority felt itself to be systematically excluded from decision-making, it is essential that the institutions of devolved government offer real opportunities for the sharing of power, and political responsibility between the majority and the minority.
Now it may be in due course, if and when it appears that a willingness to work together in this way has become ingrained in Northern Ireland politics, that more conventional institutilons relying on majority-decisions will take their place. May I however, at the risk of straying out of order, suggest that a Northern Ireland which had learnt the lesson of shared decision-making would have much to teach the rest of us; and that a resolution of many of the dilemmas which face us in British public life might come about if we were to move in the same direction. It is just a thought.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Lord O'Neill of the Maine
My Lords, I would like to start by congratulating the noble Earl the Minister on the span and width of his speech. I have not previously heard speech quite like that one from the Front Bench in your Lordships' House. I welcome it and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blease, that it was very wise of the Minister to speak in this way.
I have found that there is an understandable tendency for people in Britain to find it very hard to under 917 stand the situation in Northern Ireland. Therefore I welcome the noble Earl's remarks very much indeed. For myself, I must admit that, to anyone in your Lordships' House who has asked me since I came here in 1970, I have always said that there was no solution of this problem. But despite the fact that I am on record as having said that, and despite the fact that I still believe it to be really true, nevertheless I support the proposals put forward to this House by the Minister.
Direct, rule is fair, but it leaves local politicians without a platform. It has in my view encouraged Protestant extremists and it has led to a certain disintegration among the SDLP. Both Paddy Devlin, in the first place, and then Gerry Fitt broke away from that party, to some extent, admittedly, because they disagreed with its policies, but also because—certainly in the case of Paddy Devlin—there was no platform on which to operate. This must be a bad thing, and if for no other reason, I would support the Minister in his proposals.
The two things which have been talked about most in the past two or three years are total integration and the possibility of restoring power to the local authorities. In my view, both would be absolutely fatal. In so far as total integration is concerned, the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland would never accept this. To a lesser extent, we have to bear in mind the views of the Dublin Government as well. When I was in office, I was always told that the population figures were approximately two-thirds Protestant and one-third Catholic. But I have read recently that these figures are now starting to change and at the next count they will be more like 60 per cent. Protestant and 40 per cent. Catholic. To carry out a policy of total integration with 40 per cent. of the population against you would be an act of total folly.
In so far as restoring power to local authorities is concerned, many people in my day, many Catholics, would say to me privately, "We really have not got anything against Stormont. We do get fair treatment from the administration here in Belfast. But what we object to, and with good reason, is our treatment by the local authorities". Of course, it was the original squatting by Austin Currie that really started this whole business. So to restore power to local authorities who have a history of denying houses to people, denying jobs, and boasting about it, would be an act of total folly; and yet it was one of the possibilities being suggested not so long ago.
May I remind your Lordships' House of some of the actions of a previous Conservative Administration between 1973 and 1974. Almost incomprehensibly, just before the Sunningdale Conference Mr. Whitelaw was whisked back to London and Mr. Pym, knowing nothing whatsoever about Northern Ireland, was pitchforked into the conversations at the Sunningdale Conference. This, to my mind, was extremely unwise. And not content with this, an election was called, which killed off the tender plant of power-sharing government, because, as some of your Lordships have tried to explain this afternoon, politics in Northern Ireland are totally different from politics here. While the election here might have been fought on who governs Britain, the election in Northern Ireland was fought on the usual basis of Protestant and Catholic. I am not saying that 918 the power-sharing Executive would have survived in the long run; all I am saying is that it was killed off by the calling of that election.
So I would like to be so bold as to suggest that, bearing the folly of these actions in mind, the present Administration should not follow in those footsteps and should not remove Mr. Prior from office just as the new Assembly is starting to come into being. These things have happened before. They could happen again. While I am not suggesting that the noble Earl should comment on these remarks I am making, I am making them with good reason. The people of Northern Ireland have suffered by being treated in a kind of colonial way over these matters. It takes one back to the ruling of Ireland when the Lords Lieutenant and the Irish Secretaries were changed whenever the Government changed in London; a policy was being pursued, and then three years later it was all changed again. So I hope that this will be borne in mind and that wiser counsels will prevail.
My Lords, I do not wish to weary the House any longer; there are many others who wish to speak. I feel, on balance, that another effort should be made, and I wholeheartedly support the Secretary of State in his action. I was in another place and heard the support he got from Mr Concannon, quite rightly, and I feel that we must support him. If, however, again looking into the future, once again extremists bust up the new Assembly, then London may be faced with the problems of ruling a part of the United Kingdom which requires thousands of troops to maintain the peace, assuming that the people of Britain have the patience and the desire so to do. I have much pleasure in supporting what the noble Earl said, and also the ideas he has put forward for the formation of a new Assembly in Northern Ireland.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, it is with some considerable diffidence that I follow a former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in the remarks I have to make. I also appreciate that there are other noble Lords in our House today with considerable experience of Northern Ireland, direct, personal and almost daily involvement in Northern Ireland. But I think it is also important, particularly in view of what the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said about the responsibilities placed upon the rest of the people of the United Kingdom and the burdens which the rest of the people in the United Kingdom have to bear, that others than those directly connected with Northern Ireland should say something on this important matter. I speak also to support my noble friend Lord Blease, who has this unique connection with the trade union movement in Northern Ireland, which also has a unique connection with the trade unionists of Southern Ireland, with a common organisation.
Listening to the noble Earl, one was almost disposed to say, "Excellent, I will sit down and say nothing more", because I think the noble Earl reflected in his speech everything that I feel about the situation and about this particular Bill. I referred on one previous occasion to the reasons why I was interested in Northern Ireland problems. If I may just introduce a personal note, I remember the number of Labour Party visits that I made to Northern Ireland before 1968 and the 919 number of visits subsequently. Nothing will ever eradicate from my memory taking part in a delegation only a few days after the terrible burnings and bombings of 1968, and seeing, as one who was a fireman in London during the blitz, the state of Bombay Street, talking to the people of the independent state of Bogside in Londonderry, and above the wall talking to the other community. Those thoughts will never leave my mind, and that is 14 years ago. Therefore, we must ask, how much longer? It is now 10 years since we have had direct rule, except for a short interval of some months which everybody thought would be temporary, only just an interim measure.
Although there are differences, I believe there is a pretty widespread desire that there should be some form of devolved administration in Northern Ireland. At present there are important issues on which elected representatives of Northern Ireland ought to be declaring their views and taking decisions. But these remain with this Parliament. There are many Orders in Council dealing with important issues of Northern Ireland for which there is little or negligible accountability. I believe it is essential that there be some machinery, an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to help to decide those issues.
I recognise that over recent years there have been efforts to try to seek solutions, White Papers, proposals, consultations. But this does not mean that we should clutch at any straw. Another failed move could have most unfortunate consequences for Northern Ireland and, I believe, for the United Kingdom in general. There will be people who will say, "What, yet another effort?" But, when I saw the White Paper which was published in April, my immediate reaction was that the proposals in the White Paper deserved most serious consideration, the approach based on the importance of cross-community support which appears in the White Paper.
The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, quoted one paragraph in the White Paper. My noble friend Lord Blease quoted another paragraph. Strangely enough, I wish to quote two further paragraphs in the White Paper. Therefore, there must be a number of good paragraphs in it:Paragraph 13. The Government adheres to the view that in any administration in Northern Ireland there must be reasonable and appropriate arrangements to take account of the interests of the minority which are acceptable to both sides of the community. This is no more than a recognition of the reality that in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland nothing else can provide stable government on a lasting basis.Paragraph 21 says:The Government's proposals accordingly embody the principle, shared by the main parties in Parliament and recognised internationally, that any new structures for the government of Northern Ireland must be acceptable to both sides of the community. This is the prerequisite for setting up a devolved administration and restoring responsibility to Northern Ireland for the conduct of its own affairs. In the Government's view this principle is both right in itself and unavoidable in practice; no system of government which is unacceptable to either side of the community will work effectively.I believe that the rules of your Lordships' House do not permit any quotations from anyone other than 920 Ministers in the other place However, I am allowed to paraphrase. Gerry Fitt, for whose common sense and courage I think there is general and widespread respect, has said that he passionately believes that the only hope for Northern Ireland is a devolved governmental structure that will receive the support of a cross-section of the people of Northern Ireland. The Labour Party's policy document dealing with Northern Ireland affairs states:The success of devolved Government depends on it receiving the confidence and the support of a substantial cross-section of both communities".For that reason, straightforward majority rule must be rejected. I believe that the issues are as follows: Is devolved administration desirable? How is the devolved Government to be set up? How can we ascertain what is acceptable on a cross-community basis? The Government could easily have decided to put forward direct proposals as to what they believed should be the actual proposals for devolution and for the functions of a devolved administration. I believe that they have wisely decided not to do that. For myself, I could not have supported any proposal which would have relied solely upon the views put forward by a majority vote of the Assembly. It is essential that there should be proposals put forward to Parliament, to both Houses, which command the wide respect of both communities.
Therefore, I was very pleased that, at the Report stage in another place, an addition was made to Clause 2, which already said that:No recommendation shall be made to Her Majesty … unless each House of Parliament has passed a resolution approving a draft of the Order,and then the following words were added:and stating that its provisions are, in the opinion of that House, likely to command widespread acceptance throughout the community".Heavy responsibilities will fall upon the Assembly for putting forward proposals which it thinks are in the interests of the communities of Northern Ireland. Heavy responsibility will fall on the Secretary of State faithfully to report to Parliament on proposals that he feels have cross-community support. I am satisfied that the Secretary of State and his team of Ministers are competent, with their advisers and all the contacts that they have, faithfully to report to Parliament as to whether the views being put forward have strict cross-community support.
The Assembly, as has been stressed, will have other responsibilities. It will have to determine not only what it suggests should be the functions but also the question of the composition of the executive. The important provision has been stressed that, pending devolution decisions, there will be opportunity for the Assembly to consider important issues affecting Northern Ireland and to establish committees for that purpose. The Government may have to give some assurances in that direction.
I want to see the Assembly discuss the very matters about which the noble Earl spoke. I can recall a debate which I was asked to initiate in your Lordships' House dealing with the economic and social problems of Northern Ireland which, as the noble Lord has said, remain terribly intense. If the Northern Ireland Assembly when it is set up and before there is a decision 921 on what will be the devolved functions, sets up committees to consider economic matters, social matters and industrial matters, it is important that there is the feeling that the views that they express and the decision that they reach will receive the full attention of the Government in Parliament. Unless that is done, cynicism could grow that again it is being treated merely as a talking shop, and that I believe would be wrong.
There are othe matters that I could refer to, but I do not want to take up the time of the other speakers. Any final proposals must be by consent. The Bill provides for a treble basis for consent: first, proposals from the Assembly itself; secondly, the need for the Secretary of State to say that they have widespread community support; and thirdly, the consent of both Houses of Parliament must be given. I believe that the Bill moves in the direction of giving the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity themselves to decide what form of Administration they want and therefore I give it sympathetic support.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, I should like to begin by paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Gowrie on his presentation of the Bill. I have never heard a Bill about Northern Ireland presented with greater breadth. The noble Earl mentioned the achievements of Northern Ireland. I feel that it would be right at this moment to refer to the achievement of the football team in Spain when we equalled the football team of England.
My noble friend mentioned the differences between England and Northern Ireland. That was brought to my notice at quite a young age when I was at school in England at the great college, Eton. In a general knowledge question I was asked, "The 12th of what month is important and why?"—to which I replied, "The 12th July, Orange Day". I got nought; the correct answer was, "12th August, grouse shooting". So my noble friend will understand exactly why I accept the proposition which he has put forward.
I should like to pay tribute to the Secretary of State and to his team. I think that Northern Ireland has been very lucky as regards the Ministers who have been sent from these Houses and in the way in which they have worked and the way in which they have adopted the Province of Northern Ireland and fought for it. Our present Secretary of State speaks with plain unequivocal and clear language which is much appreciated by the people in Northern Ireland. His abhorrence of misery, whether it is the misery of violence or whether it is the misery of unemployment, is plain for all to see and he has earned himself a place in the hearts of Ulster for that reason.
I should like to raise a question which does not directly fall within the Bill, but the Bill is against a background of guarantee to Northern Ireland of its position within the United Kingdom and it is, therefore, relevant. There are three British territories, not identical, but with identical guarantees, which have been given by the British Government. The guarantee is that they can remain British as long as the people so wish. The people in all those three places—Gibraltar, the Falklands and Northern Ireland—although they are not identical types of places, believe that under the 922 voice which has given the guarantee, somebody is saying also, "We hope to goodness that it will not be long before all you people wish to leave". That is the result of about 10 years of plain statement of that guarantee. I believe that it has been one of the unsettling factors in the political situation in Northern Ireland.
There is a general feeling that "they", the bureaucracy, are now so powerful that they can manoeuvre Ministers into a position where there is no alternative but to get rid of those three territories in some way or other. The Falklands issue has a material effect. Everybody denies that there is a Falkland factor in Northern Ireland or in Gibraltar. But there is no doubt that the people in Northern Ireland felt that Governments over long periods of years were trying to get rid of the Falklands and since the guarantee for Northern Ireland is the same guarantee as was given to the Falklands, it has had an unsettling effect.
Therefore, I should like the Government to say that they have faith and attach importance to the union as it stands at the moment. I should like them to make it clear that they will govern Northern Ireland so well and create such prosperity that all Ulster—whatever the community, whatever their religion—will wish to remain within the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State—and he is the first Minister for many years to speak warmly of the union—went some way in another place to say this in answer to a question. But I should like the Government to go further because that is the question which produces rigidity in the election of elected members to Assemblies. I should also like the Minister to clarify the alleged interview of a Northern Ireland Office civil servant with someone else. This was raised in another place and a considerable amount of time was spent on it. I think that it would be very good for the Government if they could use this opportunity to clarify the position.
I should like to make it clear that I support absolutely the co-operation between the Garda and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Without that co-operation, we have no hope of defeating the IRA. Living on the border, as I do, I probably have a great deal more knowledge about what goes on almost daily on the other side, and I am aware of the standard of cooperation.
The stand taken by Dublin over the Falklands has justified our determination in Northern Ireland to remain British. Twice in my lifetime the South has failed to turn up when our civilisation or a major principle has been at stake. But I think that Her Majesty's Government, and especially the Government of the United States of America, would be quite wrong to think that if Fine Gael and Dr. Garret FitzGerald were in power, it would automatically follow that we would get support. What we would not get is anti-British viciousness, which we got from the present Dublin Government. But there is no guarantee that in time of war, no matter what major party is in power in Dublin, they would, in fact, support us. The neutrality factor is very deeply ingrained in Irish political life.
I should like to turn to the Bill, and here I strike a contrary note to every other speaker so far, in that I believe that the Bill is misguided and has dangers. My attack on the Bill is very definitely muted by my personal 923 high opinion of the Secretary of State and his team. As has been said many times this afternoon, the Bill has two parts to it—first, the establishment of an Assembly. The second stage allows the Assembly to be turned into a legislature and Executive. My problem is that I do not see the second step ever occurring. Therefore, my mind is examining whether an Assembly, either toothless or with practically no power, will be of any advantage. I know the Government will say that these committees will have power, but I am afraid that my experience of assemblies, conventions and other things is that they will really be toothless. It is to have 80 elected members who will be powerless, but all of them having a vested interest in bashing the Government. I believe that that will do an enormous amount of harm to our relations with the general public in the United Kingdom.
Noble Lords may ask: What do I believe to be the correct answer? I shall not go into that in great detail because it would take too long. I believe that we should wait until the next election, when 17 Members will be elected for Northern Ireland instead of 11. The political complexion of those 17 is bound to change from what it is at present, and at that point a political initiative could then start.
However, I should like to make it quite clear that I know the benefits of devolution. I shall just quote one man who is totally impartial, Sir Edmund Compton, ombudsman in Northern Ireland. In 1970, in his report, he said that the individual citizen in Northern Ireland gets a better service from the Northern Ireland departments than he gets from a United Kingdom department in similar cases. I absolutely agree with that. My experience bears that out completely, as does that of every citizen in Northern Ireland.
My experience is fairly long and varied. My noble friend Lord Moyola has a longer experience in Parliament than I have, but he did not have the advantage or the disadvantage, as I did, of certain other parts. I was a Member of Parliament; I was a Minister in both his Government and the Government of Brian Faulkner. I was an Assemblyman; I was elected for the convention. Therefore, in speaking on this matter, I speak as having seen an Executive with power, and also toothless wonders. At the moment my problem is that I have very close contact with people in Northern Ireland because I live there. But I have yet to meet anyone, except the politicians, who wants to go through the bitterness and backbiting of an election. We still have Owen Carron as the elected Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. It is only a year since he was elected. Anyone who has been through the traumas of that particular type of election will appreciate that I cannot understand why people want to have more elections at present. Those wounds are too recent to stand the bitterness of another election.
The majority want devolution. The problem is that each party and each person has a different interpretation of the word "devolution". The parties themselves are rigid and their opinions about what "devolution" means are opposite. Due to the method of election, members will be mandated and they will be delegates and not representatives. They will have no room to manoeuvre. I wonder whether the delegates in the Labour Party from the extreme Left will not 924 put their own members in roughly the same position as our people. People in this country disprove of the election of delegates and not representatives. What I think will be wrong is that they will be delegates.
I was elected as an Assemblyman and for some weeks we went without power, and I have never been through such a humiliating experience. At one moment we ended up with one of the elected members advancing towards my late friend Lord Faulkner, kicking and punching at him and then flying a spit, the like of which you have never seen.
If we have an elected Assembly, which has no power, and if it deteriorates into that situation, it will ruin the United Kingdom and relations between the English electorate and ourselves. I was elected on a manifesto which said that I did not approve of an executive being formed if the SDLP did not support the RUC and the Army. This support was not forthcoming. So when Brian Faulkner formed the Executive, in spite of his offer I did not think that I could take up a post within the Executive. However, I did support his attempt to run an Executive on the lines which is now known as power-sharing.
Everyone thinks that the power-sharing Executive fell for two reasons. One was the election in 1974 and the second was the strike. The facts are that the Northern Ireland electorate as a whole considered that the Executive was not legitimate. This failure to accept it as being legitimate was—as my noble friend Lord O'Neill said—underlined by the election, because it sent 10 out of 11 people to Westminister, not on the ticket of Unionism but on the ticket of "Down the Executive". Therefore, in the eyes of the people, they were illegitimate and so they were doomed to fail.
So many things are affected by so many small items of tactlessness. The SDLP used to go down every weekend in their official car to Dublin to get their orders from the Government there. That is how we saw it. That had a material effect on the legitimacy of the Government. The present position about the SDLP is that they are "greener" by far than they were. Indeed, Mr. Hume is considered by many people, including a lot of his own party, to be a messenger for the present Prime Minister in Dublin.
If the elected Members were delegates then, and they are going to be delegated now we have had many more years of violence, I have little hope of anything coming out of it except a talking shop. With the economy destroyed the 80 members will have a vested interest in slamming the Government, because that is the way they will be elected again if they want to be. The noble Earl said that the electorate here, the taxpayer here, had a right to expect that the Northern Ireland politicians would behave themselves. I agree with him. But if we had an Assembly in Scotland with the economy in the same state as it is in Northern Ireland, I wonder whether the effect would not be the same as I fear it will be in Northern Ireland with a toothless Assembly. But maybe somebody wants there to be a rift between the population of Northern Ireland and the population of England.
The noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, mentioned the question of returning local government powers to local government. I would accept what he says on that but I wonder whether the Government should not include 925 in this Bill the power at some stage, if they wanted to, without the Executive being formed, of transferring to this Assembly, with committees elected in proportion to the members elected, with chairmen in proportion in the same way, local authority powers, and not back to local government.
After the last Assembly election, when there was talk of an Executive, I travelled back from the count with two honourable Members from the other place. One of them said to me, "You know, when the elected Members see the amount of money that there is going to be available from being a Minister, I believe they will compromise". I am quite certain that in the present situation of delegated representatives there is no question about bribery of the individual—sadly! But I wonder whether the Government should not consider offering £ 500 million to the Assembly for extra expenditure within the budget of Northern Ireland, because then the whole of Northern Ireland would know how uncompromising they are and what we would be losing.
I do not believe, sadly, that the Bill will add to peace or prosperity. I believe that violence is our main problem and it is at still too high a level, and I believe that we should wait until after the next election. I also fear that this Bill, if passed, could weaken the union.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Lord Vaizey
My Lords, I must first apologise to the House. I have a charitable trust meeting at six o'clock to which I must go. I shall try to come back for the end of the debate. I would have scratched from the list but for the fact that I think it is important for those of us with experience of Anglo-Irish affairs to say why we support the noble Earl in the measure which is before us today. I should like to take the opportunity, since I am following my noble friend Lord Brooke-borough, to try to deal in some ways with the points he has made. This perhaps arrogates to myself some of the rights of reply which my noble friend on the Front Bench will have at the end of the debate.
The administration in Ireland has been devolved since the beginning of history. There was an Administration in Dublin before the 1922 Treaty, and there has been an Administration in Northern Ireland since then. In the United Kingdom we have never had an integrated Administration between the two islands. That is the central fact. It seems to me a separate and important consideration that it is wrong in principle to have a separate Administration without some form of legislative check on it, some kind of Assembly which will have a check on it. It is clear to those of us who take part in Northern Irish debates in this Chamber, or listen to them in another place, that we are in fact quite irresponsible. It is impossible for us, with all the best will in the world, without the detailed local knowledge of the situation in Northern Ireland, to control the actions of the Administration in the North. That is the fundamental and central question, which will not go away however much one talks about direct rule.
The question that the Government have put to themselves is whether the administration locally in Northern Ireland should be Province-wide or should be local authorities. At the last general election for the United Kingdom the Tory Party, in good faith 926 and for good reasons, advanced the argument that the power should be devolved to the local authorities. But for reasons which have been given in the debate, notably by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, that is not possible. So we are back to the question: is it worth trying to get a Province-wide local Assembly which will exercise some of the vetting powers over the local administration which we are unable to exercise?
There are three reasons which lead me to believe that there is a possibility, a chance, that it might work. It seems to me to be centrally the case that some administration of this kind is desirable. I do not think that anybody has for a moment seriously questioned that, except by putting forward the case for permanent direct rule, or unification in some way of Northern Ireland with the rest of the United Kingdom, which I have already pointed out is not practical. That does not correspond with the facts of seven centuries of history. It is desirable: the question is, is it practicable?
I cannot believe that in a Province of 1½ million there are not people who would be available and be prepared to hold office—including the noble Viscount himself who has many times stood for election locally in Northern Ireland. I cannot believe that the electorate is so continually tied up with sectarian politics and attitudes that it will not see that this Assembly is a possible way of exercising control over an administration which they ought to exercise control over in any society which claims to be a constitutional democracy. If we do not make the attempt to do that over the next few years, we are in fact professing that Northern Ireland is not governable except by some modified form of martial law. I am not prepared to make that particular statement, even after the last 14 years of terrible experiences which have taken place there and which have taken lives from every part of the United Kingdom.
The overwhelming argument for a local Assembly of this kind is that it corresponds to the local administrative reality. There are local departments, staffed by local civil servants, taking countless decisions every week of the year, and those decisions must be checked by elected representatives of the people, otherwise democracy loses its meaning. I cannot believe that the memory of the old Stormont is so deeply disliked by the Catholic people, who have now reached 40 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland, that a sufficient number of them would not make a serious attempt to try to get this Assembly in some sense to work.
I admit that the experience of the past 14 years has been such that that is rather a difficult thing to hope for, but I cannot believe it is impossible, and it is important in saying that to emphasise what the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said about Government in the South. It is regarded in the South as totally proper to make extraordinary remarks about our Prime Minister, of whatever party, but if we start making remarks about their politicians, all hell breaks loose; they want the benefits of independence without paying the consequences. For example, it is ironical to read the television commentaries in Southern newspapers, where they do not pay a penny towards the licence, although they regard it as good practice to watch television and criticise it liberally.
It must be the case that the present Administration 927 in Dublin have thrown away years of patient work by both main parties in the Dail as a result of their intemporate attacks on the United Kingdom. These attacks do not come from any deep belief in neutralism or deep conviction that the Argentinians are right or anything of that kind. They arise simply because the Southern Government are in a difficult electoral position and there is a sufficient minority in the South who are prepared to vote for the party which attacks the United Kingdom most strongly. It is cynicism, the abdication of the rule of political leadership, seeking to pander to the worst possible instincts in the Irish electorate rather than trying to lead the Irish people.
After the experience we have had with that Government—their public statements rather than their private actions, because the noble Viscount was perfectly correct that, at the security level, the present Dublin Government have behaved extremely well—what they have said in public has, I believe, made it politically impossible for any Government in this country seriously to consider any attempt at a divestment of Northern Ireland into some kind of unified Ireland. That cause, if one believed in it, has been set back very considerably by the experiences in the South.
I believe that if the Protestant people could be assured that that is the case—that the North is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so for the foreseeable future—they would have every incentive to try to make the Assembly work. I believe, too, that there is every incentive on the part of the Catholic people to seek to make it work. An opinion poll commissioned by the Irish Times and published a few weeks ago was extremely important in this context because it showed that the great majority of Northern Irish people wish to have some sort of devolved Administration and are prepared to make it work.
I do not see that the present Secretary of State and the noble Earl, who so ably represents him in this House, could do other than to seek to proceed by some kind of devolved Assembly in the present circumstances. And every time it is argued that it should be put off—until after the next United Kingdom election or after this, that or the other—it makes it that much more difficult to get it on the road. At present in Northern Ireland it is very important to try to get democratic local institutions going again, and to see that, come hell or high water, they are kept on the road until at last they draw widespread support from the community.
Over the years that I have listened to and taken part in these debates, I have been to the North, gone to the South and talked to all manner of experts and participants in these affairs. It is a very difficult question, one to which there is no solution, and in that the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, is correct. But I cannot believe that in the United Kingdom it is not possible to get some form of agreement, and I think the balance of the argument must lead your Lordships to support the Government in giving the Bill a Second Reading and getting it through. Otherwise, if we are not prepared to take that type of risk, we shall be failing to give the lead to the people of Northern Ireland which as I said, the Government of the Republic are failing to give to the people of Southern Ireland.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, since the Act of Union of 1801, and increasingly during this century, it has become clear that there are no simple solutions either for Ireland in general or for Ulster in particular. Four major proposals have been floated in recent years, as others have said, concerning Northern Ireland. To run over them briefly, they have been a United Ireland, integration, a new kind of partition, or even independence for the six counties—but I suggest that, for various different reasons, each of those is a potential recipe for disaster. We are faced, as the Minister said in his introduction, with loyalties, identities and aspirations which are often incompatible. Strong national and religious feelings sometimes make compromise almost impossible to attain. It has been rightly said that the situation demands both political and theological techniques for any improvement.
I come to the part that we in Britain can perhaps play, faced with this situation. I suggest that we need to see that our own past and recent actions are part of the whole problem; we need to admit that we misused religion for a very long period for political and strategic ends. We have encouraged idolatry and we now suffer some of the consequences, and I think that current violence is not entirely unconnected with injustices that have taken place in the past. All of this demands deep changes of attitudes from people in Britain, and these changes are likely to be as great as those we may hope to see coming in the future among Irish political parties and Irish Churches.
In practice, we must understand that the British in Northern Ireland are not simply peace-keepers between warring Irish factions; neither are we arbitrators nor referees. Britain and Ireland are interdependent, and so are the North and South of Ireland. What we must try to do now is to replace a love-hate relationship with one of mutual respect based on mutual forgiveness for past wrongs.
What is the task facing any British Government in Northern Ireland? First, they should advance helpful constitutional forms that give practice in co-operative effort. Secondly, they should increase the amount of self-determination in Northern Ireland through a series of confidence-building steps. This Bill does both of those things, but by itself it is not enough. There is a third duty facing British Governments, and that is to find the resources and direct them towards widening the common ground in a much-divided land.
I appeal to the Government not to appease sectional interests but to foster normal community interaction. I am thinking, for instance, of such things as local community development and of the Belfast Areas of Need. I acknowledge that valuable work has been done in the past in some of these fields, but I fear that much of it may have become abortive. Above all, I suggest that Governments need to strengthen the creative minorities that exist in the institutions and communities of Northern Ireland. We should strive further to reach a state of affairs where law and the administration of justice begin to be seen as a chosen norm and not as a form of coercion. Any visitor to Northern Ireland, in my experience, can readily discover the wealth of creative talent there is in the place. As to resources, I will mention only the one somewhat vexed word "additionality".
929 The Bill is a small step forward in the whole process of change and adjustment. Already from many quarters it has had quite a lot of cold water poured on it, and the prophets of gloom and doom have been very active. I think that we should refuse to be downcast. To my personal knowledge, honest men who care for the common good in Northern Ireland will stand for election to an Assembly. Various other forms of encouragement have been mentioned today from different sides of the House. I shall add only the very positive statement that came from Mr. Haughey on 24th March, when he said that change in Northern Ireland could come about only with the consent of the people there. I am further encouraged by looking back to the Question asked in your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lord Dunleath on 1st November 1979 The words that he chose were almost prophetic. He asked for a framework for an elected Assembly as a first step towards devolution. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, took a very gloomy view of this and spoke of such things as "toothless wonders". I sincerly hope that he is wrong, and I feel that the times to which he referred—six, seven, eight years ago—were worse times than those that we are now experiencing. I incline much more to the view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. I would argue that an Assembly will have a worthwhile job to do, even if it cannot agree on devolution.
I think it is a useful thing to make direct rule more accountable, to put questions to Ministers, to channel grievances, to meet European Members of Parliament, and even commissioners from the EEC. Other functions could include discussing draft Orders in Council, debating the annual reports of the numerous appointed boards, as well as the reports of commissioners and committees of inquiry. Another function for an assembly would be to draft a Bill of Rights. Curiously enough, this idea has received support from such varied quarters as the Standing Commission on Human Rights and a number of ex-paramilitaries. These useful functions have been so far largely neglected in a situation in which Northern Ireland Ministers are probably likely to change fairly regularly. From a narrow base of functions, much wider powers could, one hopes, develop.
I think it is important that today's debate should address itself to public opinion in Northern Ireland, and to its future elected representatives. It has been rightly said that majority rule in the sense that one community-of-identity permanently insists on monopolising public life at the expense of a smaller community-of-identity, is unacceptable. I trust that Northern unionists who wish to remain British will understand how strongly opinion in Britain feels on this very point. I appeal to unionists to explore constitutional means whereby the minority may feel truly at home within the state. I very much hope that unionist leaders will continue to educate their people in concern for justice for all in a mixed population.
It is equally important that we should address ourselves also to Catholic opinion, especially to those who incline to a nationalist or republican point of view. I do so having called already today for changes in British attitudes, and as one who hopes to see considerably more Catholics from Northern Ireland not only in your Lordships' House, but also in another 930 place after the next general election. To my brothers in the North I would say, please read the White Paper of April 1982, stand for the assembly, vote for it, and help to make it an instrument of peace and progress.
To all I think we should say that conflict in Northern Ireland may appear small in scale, but it is large in significance. The eyes of the world may be said to be on that country. I should like to quote from the report of 1976, which came jointly from the Protestants and Catholics, and which was entitled, Violence in Ireland. It stated:All political leaders should he encouraged to see their task as that of reaching agreement with their opponents, rather than achieving victory over them; and to this end they should he open to any reasonable settlement proposed".This Bill in itself is not a settlement, but I believe that it can open the way to better times. That is why it deserves a second reading and a constructive Committee stage in your Lordships' House.
§ 5.35 p.m.
The Duke of Abercorn
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Gowrie on the presentation of the Bill. However, is it not ironical that the Bill, which has been drafted with the important ingredients of maximum flexibility, sensitivity to political entrenchment, and recommending gradual evolution, should receive, even prior to publication—in fact even prior to conception—such a negative response? In fact it has received almost universal condemnation from Northern Ireland politicians and the media, when in my opinion positive thought has never been more opportune and important. I say that because the salient and stark fact of economic life in Northern Ireland today is that after almost 14 years, continuous years of violence and tragic loss of both life and property, the country has been brought to a state of severe economic decline which now threatens the whole fabric of society in Northern Ireland, since there are severe cracks emerging in almost every sector of the economy.
In this grave situation I cannot stress too strongly to the people in Northern Ireland the need to appraise the Bill, not in the narrow confines of political partisanship, but in the best interests of Northern Ireland. Again, it is important to assess the most likely remedy to improve social and political stability in Northern Ireland, which is crucial for the attraction of new investment. There is no doubt that many people in Northern Ireland, perhaps the majority, have become accustomed to direct rule and would prefer a continuation of this system which, as my noble friend has said, direct rule brought considerable benefits to the community.
Indeed, when this House two years ago last debated the merits of the previous White Paper on devolution, I advocated that a continuation of direct rule was preferable to a considerably less flexible framework for devolution than contained in the present Northern Ireland Bill. However, since that debate two important, and indeed encouraging, aspects have emerged. First, there is an increasing and welcome trend in Northern Ireland for its people to become more and more directly reinvolved in their own affairs. For example, the Royal Ulster Constabulary is more and 931 more taking over the role of the Army, demonstrating tremendous professional skill, dedication and courage. Secondly, during the last two years there has been a grave deterioration in our economy, and there is serious doubt whether the present deindustrialisation trend can in fact be reversed.
It should be remembered that between 1950 and 1975 Northern Ireland was extremely successful in attracting new industrial investment. Thus the total manufacturing employment in the Province was relatively stable, since growth in this new investment counter-balanced the continuous decline in indigenous industry. However, this in-flow of new investment has, sadly, come to a virtual halt, resulting in an appalling increase in unemployment. As this House is only too well aware, high unemployment invariably feeds discontent, and plays a significant role in providing fodder on which street violence breeds. Although there are several reasons for the halt in this vital lifeline of new investment, the paramount reason is that the outside perception of political instability is the most damaging and negative factor, which results in the tendency to rule out Northern Ireland as a place for plant location even without consideration.
Therefore, unfortunately, direct rule has failed to counteract this damaging perception of instability. Since clearly our economic, political and security problems are remorselessly interrelated, is there an alternative to direct rule or devolution which in the present situation would unlock these interwoven problems and create the right environment for stability, without escalating violence? I do not believe that there is an alternative. For example, from time to time there is vague talk (in my view, extremely dangerous) of a proposal for an independent Northern Ireland. This, I believe, is a total non-starter both politically and economically, and would result in emigration on a scale not witnessed since the potato famine, resulting in probable poverty worse than even the poorest areas of Southern Italy.
But I believe that the current situation calls for Northern Ireland politicians to participate more constructively and fully in the affairs of their country, and to concentrate their energies on matters of universal concern, such as schools, hospitals, jobs and wages. In recent years local politicians have tended to sidetrack these vital issues, not only due to a pre-occupation with the security situation, which in my view rightly is the most emotive issue in Northern Ireland, but also due to the fact that Northern Ireland people have not been in a position to influence policy more effectively, resulting in an unhealthy growth in bureaucracy.
It can be argued ad nauseam whether the timing for such an initiative as is contained in this Bill is right. Surely, in the prevailing economic climate, and as the proposals do not require any political group to compromise their deeply-held beliefs, the time must be right to offer Northern Ireland politicians the opportunity to gradually take over the administrative responsibilities, as outlined in the Bill.
Assuming that elections do take place, the elected members will bear the ultimate responsibility of the success or failure of the Assembly. The results of failure are only too obvious—not only an increase in uncertainty and instability, which could play right into 932 the hands of violence. It would also show a clear abdication by our politicians to act responsibly when the vast majority of the community have for so long demonstrated a remarkable degree of responsibility, resilience and, indeed, restraint.
In the event of failure, it is essential for the Government to act promptly and to accept that direct rule is and should be a long-term arrangement which is capable of much improvement in detail. Success would not only gradually establish a foundation for stability, but would also considerably assist in regenerating a feeling of hope, confidence and pride in the community; since there is the recognition, at times dormant, that ultimately we alone can solve our problems, but there is despair that the resolve, particularly among the politicians, is lacking. Surely Northern Ireland, more than any other part of Western Europe, deserves a better future, and it is for this reason that I support this Bill.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Moyola
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken before me, I should like to thank the noble Earl for the way in which he introduced this Bill and for the excellent assessment that he gave of the state of affairs in Northern Ireland. But saying that is not going to prevent me from being perhaps a little critical of the Northern Ireland Office. I have no fault to find with the Bill itself, or very little: the fault I have to find is with the timing. At this moment I just cannot believe that it is going to be given a chance to work, even when Royal Assent has been achieved.
I do not want to repeat myself too often—I have said this many times in your Lordships' House—but as long as violence continues there is going to be very little give and take between the two communities. I look at the thing pretty basically. I look at what I think is going to happen rather than what I should like to happen. I am afraid that what I think is going to happen, based on the political facts, is that when the Bill is law we are going to have an election, and it is possible—I will not put it any higher than that, but it is possible—that the Democratic Unionist Party, headed by the reverend gentleman who sits in another place, may be the largest party in this Assembly.
If that happens, there is no way, as I see it, that the SDLP, the party of the minority, are going to go along with the DUP and co-operate to form any kind of Administration. The DUP have said many times that they do not want any connection of this sort. I would not presume to speak for what the SDLP might or might not do, but I think it perfectly possible that there might be a boycott of the proceedings; and if that happens, the whole thing falls to the ground and the very party that the Bill seeks to embrace has gone from the scene.
Looking at it from the Unionist Party point of view, may turn out to be the largest party. That, I think, is the more probable, but it is at this moment competing with the Democratic Unionist Party for votes, and the result, of course, is a hardline attitude, hardline leadership and something which is going to be equally unacceptable, as I see it, to the SDLP. I would say in parenthesis that in my view, certainly, for the Unionist Party to try to beat the DUP at their own game is complete folly: they ought to be concen- 933 trating on the things that matter, such as the economy, employment, bread-and-butter issues and all the rest. But that is by the way.
The conclusion I come to is that while this Bill tries, and tries very properly, to provide the minority with a part in the Government of Northern Ireland, I think all that is going to happen is that our affairs are going to get into the hands of extremists who do not want the Assembly to work and who certainly give us little hope of agreement on anything. Having said that—I know it is very negative—many people will say, "If you do not try something how are you going to progress?" I accept that as a criticism, and I hope that in a minute I can come back to it.
But I think there is another aspect of the thing, and that is the effect that these proposals, measures or whatever you like to call them have if they fail. If they fail they do nobody in Northern Ireland any good because failure is straight encouragement to the terrorists, to the IRA or whatever you call them. They think that Her Majesty's Government have had another slap in the eye, that they have been defeated again, and that if they have another swing, perhaps the Government will pull out, which is of course what they want. Therefore, my feeling is that this is incitement to more violence and more loss of life.
I think, too, that if it fails it is encouragement to the political parties to be more extreme. Each of them will think that, if they can keep "upping the ante", then sooner or later they will wear down Her Majesty's Government into giving them what they want. If something of this nature is to be done, then it has to be absolutely certain that it is going to succeed.
That brings me to the point that I connot help but wonder who is giving the Northern Ireland Office the feeling that this is a sure-fire thing. I cannot believe that it was any of the Northern Ireland politicians after what was seen of the debates in another place. Many of us who have been involved in the politics of Northern Ireland will have told the Northern Ireland Office very much what I have said. I cannot help but wonder where they got their information from where they got the high hopes or beliefs that this thing is likely to succeed.
I still feel strongly that we should progress faster if there was more talk and if the views of the Northern Ireland people were gathered by the Northern Ireland Office rather more widely. I still feel, and I think most of my countrymen feel, that the Northern Ireland Office follows what the press put around 12 or 15 years ago: that everyone in Northern Ireland was totally prejudiced to their own point of view, strictly bigoted in favour of their own point of view and unable to give a fair assessment on anything. This is part of the problems with which we are faced and may well he the undoing of this particular measure.
Reinforcing that, nobody listened in 1973, at the time of the Sunningdale talks, to the noises that were coming out of Northern Ireland—and that, in itself, killed the Executive, which, at one time, looked as though it had made a promising start. Nobody listened then and I am afraid that nobody has listened over this particular measure.
My Lords, I said that I would try to say something about what you might do if this thing fails. I want to make plain that I am in no way an integrationist. I am 934 totally against that. I want a devolved Government and I should like to see it, but I do not think that this is the moment. I think we need it, for the adequate reasons given by a number of speakers, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson; but, having said that, the question is how one gets progress; and you get that only if you get the climate right.
There are three things to be said. First, one must reduce or end the violence. As soon as that happens, the power of the extremists to block measures like this will immediately disappear. You will get a different sort of person in politics and you will get people into politics who want to rehabilitate the country and make a go of it. The second point concerns the Dublin talks. The Dublin talks always seem to be associated with a blaze of publicity and, as we have many times discussed in this House, they also seem to be clothed in a great deal of secrecy. I never understand why there is so much publicity about them; because talks have gone on between the British Government and Dublin and Northern Ireland and Dublin for many years. It is nothing new.
Equally, I never understand why it has to be so totally secret. The real problem is that, by being so secret and giving the talks so much publicity, every sort of fear is stirred up in Northern Ireland. That, in itself, makes for distrust of any measure which the Secretary of State or the Northern Ireland Office may propose. People are afraid that somewhere at the back of any measure that comes forward is the influence of Charlie Haughey or whoever may be in power in Dublin. This is one of the things that I would stress strongly. If the Dublin talks are to continue, then let them be quite open and let everybody know what goes on, and a lot of these fears will be removed.
Lastly, I frankly think that, if this fails, the only thing that can be done is to make the best of the present situation and to say plainly that no further attempts will be made until the violence ends. I think you will find that, once there is no prospect of some form of Assembly, again the whole face of the political game in Northern Ireland will alter and it will make the whole scene easier. Having said that, I want to make plain that, so far as I am concerned, the Bill is here. The timing, I think, is wrong but in no way have I the smallest intention of obstructing it or of doing anything but trying to make its passage easier and making it easier in Northern Ireland.
I would mention one point of detail about it. In the schedule, it lists the number of members proposed for this Assembly. It is far too big, crazily big. I cannot remember whether it is 78 or 80 members. It opens the way for those large numbers to undergo the most desperate local pressures in small communities. All of us at Stormont suffered from local pressures. Some stood up to them better than others. They were always there and always very difficult to deal with. It is a problem which is created by tiny constituencies. Under PR it may be a tiny bit easier, but still does not remove the fact that whoever is elected will be subjected to very severe and heavy local pressure. I would certainly ask the noble Earl whether he would not have another look at this and consider reducing it. Fifty-two is plenty; that was the Stormont number. Personally I do not think it should be any more than that.
935 My Lords, there is nothing constructive in Northern Ireland politics at the moment; it is all destructive and largely valueless. For that reason, I give the Bill a cautious welcome. I only hope that, if it fails, before launching another initiative of this kind the Northern Ireland Office will bear in mind the fact that, if it goes wrong, then it is we in Northern Ireland who will suffer and face the difficulties.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Lord Ellenborough
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Moyola, although perhaps somewhat intimidating to find myself speaking among such a formidable array of distinguished speakers from Ulster: no less than two Prime Ministers and the son of another distinguished Prime Minister. It is with great regret, as a supporter of the Government on about every conceivable issue, that I cannot bring myself to support this Bill, which I look upon as dangerous, showing inconsistency and an irrelevance to Northern Ireland's present needs.
My attitude to this Bill is quite simply that of a unionist, not an Ulster Unionist, but as a unionist who wishes to keep all parts of the United Kingdom as one and who believes in the unity of the kingdom as our foremost concern.
Devolution for any part of the United Kingdom is a matter for us all and particularly for England, because England represents 85 per cent. or so of the total electorate of the United Kingdom. I have consistently opposed it, in common with many noble Lords, including many of my noble friends some of whom are now members of the Government Front Bench; in the case of Scotland and Wales. I do now so in the case of Northern Ireland, as I feel the principle is the same no matter how different is Northern Ireland internally from Scotland and Wales.
I look upon devolution as a dangerous game, as we all ought to remember from 1978 and 1979. After that experience I never thought to have lived to see the day when a Conservative Government and a Conservative and Unionist Party was so misguided as to introduce a Bill which provides for devolution as its goal. The Stormont Parliament was all right so long as it worked, but we are now in a totally different situation. The effect of this Bill, as I see it, will be to weaken the ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I very much fear, as do many others, that it will foster suspicion—and my noble friend Lord Brookeborough touched on this. Being of a trusting nature, I am sure it is probably a false and an unfair suspicion, but nevertheless there is a suspicion that there may just possibly be somewhere one or two members if not of the Government then tucked away in the Foreign Office who perhaps would not mind too much if gradually Northern Ireland could conveniently be allowed to slip into a United Ireland.
I do not see that this Bill will do anything to combat terrorism: in fact it might well have the reverse effect. The IRA's flagging hopes are always revived by political initiatives and encouraged by moves which separate and distance Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. Certainly nothing can be done by initiatives, assemblies and devolutions to alter the ways of the hard-line criminal terrorists of the Marxist-oriented 936 IRA. As we all know, they can be dealt with and defeated only by the courage, resolve and expertise of the armed forces, to whom no doubt we would all wish to pay our tributes.
Why almost every Secretary of State feels he has to justify his existence by having a go at some sort of weird contrivance or concoction—a sort of witch's brew of devolution proposals—is quite beyond me. It unsettles everybody, arouses illegitimate hopes, legitimate fears and produces uncertainty and extremism. I feel that all that is needed now is a reaffirmation of continued direct rule with such improvements and modifications as are necessary: far better a generally accepted second best than a non-starter. Already this latest "rolling devolution" Bill, as it has been called, has fallen on somewhat stony ground in another place, involving two or three minor resignations of whips and PPSs. It has incurred some very strong opposition from at least a few, if not quite a number, of the more senior and respected Government Back-Benchers and it has involved the use of the guillotine on a constitutional measure. I suspect its demise will gather pace and that it will roll downhill fast.
"Integration" is a word which worries some people and sends others into a frenzy, but there has already existed a form of integration which has been in existence for several years. It is known as direct rule. But it has been direct rule without local democracy in a real sense. I would have thought it was far better to continue administering direct rule, improving local government with the necessary safeguards, increasing representation at Westminster, both in another place and in your Lordships' House, rather than setting up what may prove to be an explosive talking shop. If it is too difficult, and I do not understand why apparently it is, to set up proper local authorities with the necessary safeguards, then I fail to see what hope and point there is in setting up an Assembly as a step towards a devolved Parliament and have any hope in getting it to work. It really seems to me rather like sending someone to university before he has been to primary school.
The people of Ulster are more interested in security and jobs than in votes and constitutions. The danger is that this proposed Assembly, with little responsibility, will degenerate into a forum of dissent and a platform for criticising Westminster. Worse than that, it will highlight and emphasise that everyone in Ireland is either a Unionist or a Republican, Protestant or Catholic, Irish Irish or British Irish. It will accentuate all that is divisive in Northern Ireland politics, encourage bigotry and all the other evil things that we must try to eliminate if there is to be any hope for Northern Ireland.
It is my belief, and that of many others, that the minority groupings in Northern Ireland—I have said this before in other debates—would feel far safer and be able to lead a more normal life in the saner, wider context of the United Kingdom as a whole, where the bitter divisions and suspicions which, unhappily, divide Ulster do not exist. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, mentioned Dr. FitzGerald's recent lecture. Somewhere in that lecture he made the point that the millions of Irish who live in this country have integrated themselves perfectly happily.
One can make too much of opinion polls, and I think 937 the noble Lord also referred to an opinion poll: there was one recently which achieved prominence in February or March, 1982. It was taken by Ulster Television, and it did indicate that 88 per cent. of Protestants and 45 per cent. of Catholics would find integration acceptable. I feel it is essential to achieve a non-national basis; and this can only be done outside Northern Ireland at Westminster, where the two national traditions of Northern Ireland can somehow be merged arid integrated in the wider United Kingdom party political context and where the Northern Ireland representatives at Westminster would have the incentive to join in the party groupings here—indeed, it would be necessary for them to do so—to achieve influence and effectiveness. I do not regard this as a fantasy at all.
Moreover, any desire for devolution that may exist is entirely negative and divisive. It means different things to different people. This is fundamentally because the majority see devolution as a means of ensuring more vigorous security measures and of forestalling any move towards Irish unity that might be foisted upon them at some future date. On the other hand, the minority look upon such proposals, when combined with some form of power-sharing and a vague Irish dimension as an eventual road to Irish unity. in fact, as was stated so well in the recent book of the honourable Member for Epping,One side's devolution is the other side's poison".I particularly dislike and find difficult to understand the cross-community formula in the Bill. It seems to me that this will merely accentuate further the differences between the two communities in the Province and make even more difficult the emergence of cross-community parties based on the approach to the different social and economic problems, as is the system in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I was going to ask two questions my noble friend Lord Gowrie. The first is: Why is there apparently no provision in the Bill for a referendum, as was the case in the Scottish and Wales devolution proposals? Secondly, why, if the Assembly is found to be unworkable and incapable of undertaking provisions that could be transferred to it under the Bill, should not the Assembly perhaps be allowed to transfer itself into a regional council?
Lastly—no doubt my noble friend will give some reassurance on this point later—I very much doubt whether the Government have fully considered the implications and dangers this Bill may have for re-kindling Scottish and Welsh nationalism. I would not wish to dwell too much on this at this stage, but one thing that cannot be glossed over is that if Northern Ireland is to have—as it will have—17 seats instead of 12 in the House of Commons at the next general election, sooner or later there will be objections as to whether it is proper for Northern Ireland representatives to vote on matters devolved to Northern Ireland's own Assembly or Parliament. The reason for the increase in the Northern Ireland seats from 12 to 17, which I remember I supported when the Bill came before this House, is that, since the abolition of Stormont and the imposition of direct rule, Northern Ireland has been grossly under-represented at Westminster. But now this reason is nullified if Northern Ireland is to have a devolved government. I should have thought that we all had more than enough of the insoluble so-called 938 West Lothian problem at the time of the proposals for Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. It may be convenient for my noble friend the Minister, and his Secretary of State, to gloss over this now, but the problem will not go away.
It may be asked, "Why worry too much about Northern Ireland's almost derisory 17 seats as compared with Scotland's 71?" All I would say is that, remember the general election of 1964 and, above all, the two elections of 1974, when another five seats would have made all the difference. In the half-century of Stormont's existence, it so happened that there were virtually no general elections which resulted in an evenly balanced House of Commons, apart from the close result in 1964. Northern Ireland then had only 12 seats and, although the matter was just tolerated, the then Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson, raised it on the issue of steel nationalisation.
In the finely balanced Parliament of 1974-79, Stormont had gone and Northern Ireland legislation was under the control of Westminster. But now, as from the next general election, Northern Ireland will have 17 seats and Northern Ireland constituencies will have achieved parity with the size of English constituencies. Let no one doubt, if and when there is a close result in a general election, it will be argued, "Why should the fate of the Government depend on the votes of Northern Ireland Members, who have their own Parliament and Government?"
So I regret that I simply cannot support this Bill, because it provides for devolution as its ultimate goal. I regard it as a retrogade step which is alien to the traditions and destiny of the party to which I belong to be creating assemblies, whether for Scotland, Wales or, in this case Northern Ireland, in which friction will inevitably arise and endanger the unity of the Kingdom.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I should like first to tell the Minister how very much I enjoyed his introduction. I should also like to congratulate him and the Secretary of State on all the hard work and resolution which they put into bringing the Bill to this House. Secondly, I must admit to a great diffidence in speaking about Northern Ireland in the presence of those who not only live there, but whose lives have been very closely involved in its affairs. The fact that quite a few of them have now left the Chamber makes me feel a little better.
I thought that I would say a little about what seems to me to have brought on the need for these proposals, and a little about what the reactions to them appear to have been. So, first, and as the Minister so clearly outlined, I feel that it is not possible even to consider these proposals without looking for a moment at what has gone before and without looking at all the different options which successive Governments have had to face. Indeed, sometimes it has seemed that successive Governments have been tempted to try to use English logic in an Irish situation, forgetting that in Northern Ireland there has been a totally different situation, politically and historically, from that in any other part of the Kingdom, and forgetting that any proposals put forward might be viewed with infinite suspicion by both sections of a divided community, who have 939 learned by historic precedent that they cannot always accept at face value what is proposed.
The continuation of the option favoured in recent years—that of direct rule—is justified by many on the basis that neither side of the community is fundamentally opposed to it, and, understandably, there is a strong temptation among some to go on with it indefinitely, with but a few modifications. Yet to counter this, and so strongly, there is the unequivocal proof that, on the one hand, direct rule symbolises the total failure of Northern Ireland politicians to achieve agreement, bringing the whole political process itself into disrepute, and, on the other hand, it has resulted in further community polarisation and hardening of attitudes and, most tragically of all, it has failed to bring an end to violence.
There have, of course, during this period of direct rule, been many attempts to fill the political vacuum and, again, it is important to recollect them now, for these different options were not taken lightly; they were considered, discussed, disagreed on, fought over and discarded. They included the possibility, as has been pointed out, of carrying out a local government reform, of instituting another Sunningdale package and of settling for majority rule or total integration.
Thus it would be true to say that a great number of formulas have been mulled over; the reason against the implication of most of these formulas being that their introduction would have intensified the fears of the minority. So, finally, the objective—to contrive a partnership administration which is acceptable to the majority community, and which, at the same time, affords protection to the interests of the minority—has been formulated in the Northern Ireland Bill which is before us today and which, so far as I can see, the House has clearly welcomed. But, as I said at the beginning, it can be accepted only in the light of what has gone before.
May I now briefly refer to some of the reactions to the principle itself which appear to have been expressed in Britain and in Ireland, North and South? Starting with Britain, it is undeniable that a ferocious rejection of the proposals has come from a small group of Conservative parliamentarians. For them, the preservation of the union comes before all else. Possibly, this reactionary view has some following in the country, but, generally speaking. I would say that the proposals have been well received among those members of the public over here who, indeed, have been aware of their existence; for, from my experience, I have found that people on the mainland find it difficult to relate closely to those 1½ million of their co-citizens in Northern Ireland.
Nevertheless, it may well seem entirely appropriate to them that the small and somewhat remote community across the water should have a say in governing themselves. It may even have been discerned by many in Britain that such a proposition could provide the necessary minimum, flexible framework within which the people of Northern Ireland can at least make an attempt at solving their own problems. And most people over here would, I am sure, agree that their are problems which only they can solve.
In the Republic of Ireland, the reaction has been 940 more ambivalent. The present Irish Government, it would seem, has criticised the Government's proposals on two counts; first, that they do not contain enough safeguards for the minority community and, secondly, that such an Assembly would be unworkable. In my view, the first accusation appears to be totally unfounded, in that, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, the major purpose of the structure worked out for the Assembly was to ensure those safeguards. As to the other criticism—that it would be unworkable—all I can say is that we shall just have to wait and see. These proposals will, no doubt, be workable if elected politicians want them to work. Furthermore, surely, risks sometimes have to be taken and it must be true that, in the lives of both individuals and governments, decisions have to be taken which are not based on certitude. And, in this case, the risks involved in the alternatives seem to be greater still. So that is the rather pessimistic view of the present Irish Government.
But Dr. Garret FitzGerald, who has already been quoted today, has expressed another view and one that may well be shared by others in the Republic. He put this forward in his recent Dimbleby Lecture, and I will quote what he said:We all know that there is an urgent need for some kind of interim solution to provide a breathing space in which the people of the island can consider their longer term future, an objective towards which Mr. Prior's initiative is presumably directed. And we know that there is a need also to consider what kind of long-term future that might be; what kind of political solution can be devised that could give the Irish people and above all those in violence-torn Northern Ireland, a prospect for peace in mutual harmony in the 21st century, now not much more than 17 years away—only a little longer than the time that has elapsed since the present period of violence began".That seems to me to be an entirely realistic attitude.
Finally, the reactions from Northern Ireland itself. First, for those of us who take account of the findings of opinion polls, there is, as has been mentioned, the Irish Times who reported that three out of five of those questioned in the Province were in favour of the proposals. Then there are the reactions of the people themselves. These, characteristically, have been both varied and voluble, which is not very surprising when you take into account that the issue crucially concerns them and that they are extremely politically-minded people. This in itself is, in my view, an overwhelming reason for the creation of a political arena in which to demonstrate this. But apart from that, the mood from the start appears to have been one of psychological acceptance. I have felt, from what I have heard from my friends over there, that thoughtful political leaders and members of the public wish to take it seriously. They do not want to confuse the proposals with extraneous issues. In other words, they wish to see it separate from unionism and the Irish dimension. They recognise the Assembly as representing a platform where moderate voices can finally deliver a resounding "No" to the acts of the paramilitaries on both sides of the argument.
As we have seen, this rather constructive attitude is not shared by Northern Ireland's political parties. As we know, only one of these four parties is in favour of these proposals. The Unionist side feel that the proposals do not respect the wishes of the majority and render the devolution of powers unachievable. The SDLP, on the other hand, say that the minority are 941 not being given adequate opportunity to participate in Government and that the proposals pay too little regard to its long-term aspirations. Thus, almost the same conclusions are reached by each side but on wholly different grounds. However, it would seem that this negative reaction is being strongly opposed by popular feelings.
Proof of this has come to me from an article in the monthly publication to the Peace People. This is an organisation with which I am involved. They are deeply engaged in community relations and the work of reconciliation. This is what the article said:At the moment most of the major parties seem determined to reject this opportunity to fulfil their basic function—the resolving of community problems by peaceful political means. But, whatever shortcomings Mr. Prior's plan may have, it opens the way for constructive dialogue, and the economic and social problems of Northern Ireland are far too pressing to tolerate any longer the irresponsible refusal of our politicians to get together to tackle them. The way is open, and if the politicians still refuse to take it, then it will be up to the people to make them or to replace them with others who will".This highly positive attitude is also reflected by the frenetic activities of the selection committees which have already been mentioned. I understand that about half the candidates have already been selected. This can hardly be seen as representing a sense of apathy.
Finally, with the true interests of Northern Ireland's people in mind, what hopes can we place in this initiative? First, perhaps, that the Republic of Ireland, as Dr. Garret FitzGerald has said, will respect the initiative as providing that much-needed breathing space; second, that Northern Ireland's political leaders will seize this opportunity to influence their own future in co-operation one with another; and, third, that the Secretary of State, supported by the Prime Minister and Parliament, will continue to support the principle that the work of the Assembly should involve both discussing and influencing issues which are fundamental to life in Northern Ireland. I am sure that if the elected representatives find themselves in a position seriously to affect such priorities as Northen Ireland's economy, Northern Ireland's unemployment and Northern Ireland's housing problems, and if they feel that they really can exert some kind of influence then, instead of this proposed Assembly developing into a talking-shop, it will constitute a realistic forum for working out Northern Ireland's future. I very much support the Bill.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, first may I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, for having missed the first third of his speech, for unavoidable reasons. I think I can guess the substance of what he said in those first few minutes, although I missed his eloquence.
The noble Earl will not be surprised, I think, to learn that I cannot share the enthusiasm of many noble Lords for this Bill. If I were asked to explain why in one sentence, I should refer the questioner to paragraph 6 of the White Paper, Northern Ireland: A Framework for Devolution which foreshadowed the Bill. It states, among other things, that "Northern Ireland's 50 years experience of devolved government has shaped its politics". Just so. Year after year we have heard politicians and other commentators here in England say, "If only the people in Northern Ireland 942 would get away from national antagonisms, cultural antagonisms, and substitute class and social antagonisms, just as the rest of us do". Without necessarily endorsing the proposition that class and social antagonisms are good things, one sees what they are getting at.
If in 1921 and 1922 the Province had been fully integrated in every sense into the United Kingdom, which is what the great majority of people there wanted—Craig wanted it, and so did the vast majority of the unionist population; they did not ask for Stormont, it was foisted on them—is it not likely, though not certain, that today there would be flourishing Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties in the Province, and possibly some SDP branches as well? Of course there would be nationalists, just as there are nationalists in Scotland and Wales, but it is quite possible that the Irish nationalists would not be much more vocal or violent, after 60 years, than their Scottish or Welsh counterparts, particularly as one of the probable consequences of full integration would have been that the recommendations of the commission appointed to straighten out population anomalies along the Border would have been implemented and that there would then have been fewer disgruntled minorities left on either side of the Border. If this had happened, it is quite possible that "the plural and secular structures appropriate to our times," which the noble Earl said at the end of his speech are needed, might have been partially in existence already.
Of course, the myth of "Satanic Stormont", so cunningly fostered by the Left, mainly the extreme Left, and which is all too readily believed by many people who are by no means on the Left, is a preposterous myth. As many noble Lords have so often pointed out, notably the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, Stormont, by and large, provided efficient and effective government and, moreover, presided over long periods of peace and relative prosperity, allowing for the endemic economic problems suffered by the Province as a result of the decline in its basic industries. Nevertheless, the existence of devolved government, coupled as it was with totally inadequate representation at Westminster, and hence totally inadequate cross-fertilisation, was surely responsible for Northern Ireland becoming vastly more inward-looking and wrapped up in its own affairs than would otherwise have been the case. It prevented the Province from playing its full role on the larger United Kingdom stage, to which, apart from anything else, the gallant and disproportionate sacrifices made by Ulstermen between 1914 and 1918 surely entitle it, and prevented the psychological integration of the Province with the rest of the United Kingdom. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, would appear, by implication, to assent to this proposition.
Of course one cannot claim that total integration 60 years ago would have been an automatic panacea for all the Province's ills, but it is certainly reasonable to assume that the end result would have been better than what has actually turned out. This much has clearly become obvious in recent years to most thinking Conservatives. They saw, among other things, that devolution was likely to weaken the unity of the Kingdom, which was why most of them opposed so strongly the Scottish and Welsh devolution measures. Hence, the sensible and logical steps promised in the 1979 Conservative Party's election manifesto; namely, 943 a promise to integrate Northern Ireland more closely with the rest of the United Kingdom by restoring the upper tier of local government, coupled with affording the Province full representation in the Westminster Parliament.
It is all the more astonishing, therefore, that the present Government have reneged on their promise. After all, every single one of the factors now being cited as a reason for opposing full integration—or harmonisation, as I prefer to call it—was present in 1979, and well-known in 1979; so why the sudden reversal of policy? It cannot merely be because the distinguished chief architect of the original policy was brutally murdered by a Republican terrorist group, which rightly saw harmonisation as a most potent threat to its long-term hopes. But what else has happened since 1979? By a process of elimination, one is driven to conclude that the only explanation must be—and I hesitate to say this—external interference in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom. In other words, threats by a foreign country or foreign countries to stop co-operation against terrorism and to stop action against the smuggling of arms and ammunition if the policy of full integration was pursued. If this is the case (and I am bound to say that no other explanation seems credible) then I believe that the British public should be told. At least we will then know who are our friends and who are our enemies.
Whatever the reason, the original manifesto policy has been totally reversed so that we are now presented with plans for a highly ingenious form—and I do not say that in any disparaging way—of heavily qualified devolution. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill cleverly, but I am bound to say some-what naughtily, describes its purpose as "the restoration of devolved government", thereby suggesting to the untutored that what is proposed is essentially no more than a reversion to the type of government which generally prevailed in Northern Ireland for the past 60 years, and thereby hoping to forestall any invidious comparisons with recent Conservative attitudes to Scottish and Welsh devolution. But there is no reversion to traditional devolution. What we actually have is best explained by an analogy.
It is as if one were to take a badly-damaged vintage Bentley to a bodywork repair shop for restoration, only to find when it emerged that it now had the radiator grille of a Mini Metro; the roofline of a Citroën deux-chevaux, and the rear end of a Volkswagen "Beetle". The garage proprietor might well claim that the rebuilt model was far more suited to today's petrol prices and traffic conditions than the original car—and he might well be right. However, it is only to be expected that the captive customer in Northern Ireland—and I say that because, let us remember, the Ulster people are virtually being forced to buy this particular model, quite unlike their Scottish and Welsh cousins who were afforded the courtesy of a choice when confronted with their own very different models—will want to test this unusual model very carefully indeed before setting out on a long journey.
What sort of features do we find in it, given that we, or rather the Ulster people, do not have much choice in the matter? In my estimation there are some good features, some highly radical but probably 944 acceptable features, and some other features which are not quite so good. Among the good features, one might instance Clause 4(2), whereby the composition of committees must reflect the balance of parties in the Assembly. This is no more than good local government practice in Britain, although not all local authorities follow it.
The most radical feature is the 70 per cent. majority provision, which has been much criticised because it does not conform to normal democratic practices. However, on reflection I believe it has considerable merit. I agree with the Government and with the Opposition—and they may be surprised at this—that there is no point in setting up a new system of government unless it gets fairly widespread support from the various groups and sub-groups in the Northern Ireland community. (Despite what the White Paper keeps on reiterating, there is no question of there being just "two sides". That is far too simplistic a description; there are many different and varying groups in Northern Ireland.) Also, it sets an important precedent. Once one establishes that widespread cross-community support is a moral prerequisite for devolution when devolving such relatively minor matters as, say, fisheries and transport, then it follows that no honourable Government can possibly fail to apply the same principles to the vastly more important question of national identity. I refer, of course, to the periodic border polls. This being an honourable Government, I am sure we can look forward in the next Session of Parliament to a Bill to amend the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 accordingly.
Now for the not so good features. When setting up a subordinate legislature or administration it is one thing to say, "You may concern yourselves with A, B, C and D. You may not under any circumstances concern yourselves with X, Y and Z. Understood? Very well, then get on with it," and then sit back and take the rough with the smooth, just as the present Government are having to take the rough over Mr. Ken Livingstone and the GLC. They have to grin and bear it, and that is democracy. However, it is a rather different matter when central Government reserve the right to interfere constantly with the subordinate administration whenever the latter does something that the former do not like.
In this Bill we have a rolling devolution which is primed to roll, if necessary, backwards as well as forwards. There appear to be at least seven aspects of the Bill in which the normal, standard forms of democracy are hamstrung. First, Clause 2(2) provides that Parliament may decline to sanction a transfer of powers even if all the stringent criteria set out in Clause 1(4) are fully satisfied. Secondly, under Clause 5, Westminster can dissolve the Assembly at any time "in the public interest", as the clause puts it. Thirdly, it can under Clause 5(3) revoke the transfer of powers. Fourthly, the Assembly cannot elect its Chief Executive Member; the Secretary of State appoints him. Fifth, the Assembly cannot elect the heads of departments; the Secretary of State appoints them. Sixth, the Assembly cannot elect the members of the Northern Ireland Executive; the Secretary of State appoints them. Seventh, the Secretary of State can appoint up to two non-elected members, although perhaps in this House we should 945 not make too much of the latter point.
Reverting once again to the motoring analogy, I can envisage a future where the Secretary of State would be acting rather like the late Henry Ford, who told prospective purchasers of his Model T automobile that they could have it in any colour they liked so long as it was black. All of those provisos impart a distinctly colonial tang to the Bill, reminiscent moreover not of one of the more sophisticated colonies, but of one of the more backward ones. Whether one takes much notice of it or not, there has been much criticism of colonialism recently.
Possibly, at Committee stage some minor improvements can be made. I cannot help but feel that the most worthwhile amendment we can make is to empower the Assembly, subject to the 70 per cent. majority rule laid down in Clause 1(4), with which I fully concur, to implement the restoration of the upper tier of local government—local government modified by retention of the twin safeguards of the Norhtern Ireland Housing Executive on the one hand and the Ombudsman on the other. The Assembly could then vote to dissolve itself, its mission completed. That, my Lords, would be true democracy and true self-determination.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Monson, into all the points, which I rather regard as Committee points, in the very excellent speech which he has just delivered. However, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Gowrie—who has just disappeared, but no doubt my congratulations will be passed on to him—for his very good exposition of the Bill.
It is always said that history repeats itself. It does not do so always, but my ancestor John Foster (which is the family name of Ferrard) was the last Speaker of the Irish House of Commons in 1800. In those days, and it is extraordinary really, the Protestants and Orangemen, and himself too, were not at all keen on the union. If he had been alive today, he would have been all for it. I just mention that by way of saying that Irish politics, for anyone who is not involved or who does not know anything about them, are extremely complex.
There is an old saying—not that I equate it with the Secretary of State at all—that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Although I have a great admiration for the Secretary of State in regard to Northern Ireland, I did not have much admiration for him in regard to his Employment Act 1980, which I did not think much of. I have some admiration for him; he is courageous to bring forward this Bill. I hope it will succeed and I will support it. But I should like to say that it is very much a 50:50 chance.
If it does not succeed, we cannot go on having these attempts at power-sharing. If it does not succeed, I think the only answer is to have direct rule. This of course, will be a far tidier answer, a much neater package. It would be quite hopeless to give Northern Ireland independence because it would be non-viable. There are only two solutions, either some form of power-sharing or integration. I agree that integration would be rather like the peninsular war was to Napoleon. If we cannot conquer terrorism, it would 946 be a running sore. Even with power-sharing you will still get terrorism, because the militants, the extremists, obvouisly do not want power-sharing. What the IRA want is, of course, a communist satellite in Ireland. They are not really interested in the unification of Ireland for the love of the Irish people.
There is one comforting thing which has grown strongly over the last few years. The media have always taken great pains to point out, quite wrongly, that Northern Ireland is a religious question, Catholics against Protestants. There is an element of that in certain areas, but that is not the great cause. I know one cannot judge 100 per cent. by opinion polls, but there have been some opinion polls organised by Queens' University, Belfast. I have the figures here; I ought really to have memorised them, but if one memorises figures often one gets them wrong, at least I do. This poll showed that 75 per cent. of Protestants and 67 per cent. of Catholics wished to remain part of the United Kingdom with the North of Ireland having its own power-sharing Assembly. Those are very interesting figures. Another poll showing that even on integration with the United Kingdom quite a large percentage—not as large as for power-sharing, but quite a large percentage—of Catholics, and of course Protestants, also wanted that. So I think that is a very good pointer in the right direction. It shows that the religious question is dying down somewhat.
I do not particularly want to talk about finer points because that will conic up at the Committee stage. But I am not quite sure about this cross-community consensus. I understand that is a consensus of Republicans and Unionists. That is nothing to do with Catholics and Protestants. It would certainly make it a lot easier if it was to do with the religious question, Catholics and Protestants, because I think it will be very difficult to get consensus with Republicans.
One noble Lord, I think probably my noble friend Lord Brookeborough, said that in his opinion the evil genie was the Civil Service. He may well be right. Certainly, as regards the Falklands, which, I admit, is nothing to do with this Bill, they have a lot to answer for. But it is a fact that there appears to be in the Northern Ireland Office—I may be quite wrong; I merely say there appears to be—a desire to get rid of Northern Ireland. I do not know how right I am in saying that. Of course the North of Ireland anyway has such strong guarantees, through the Constitution Act, 1973, that there has to be a majority before they go into the Republic. The Republic of Ireland have now joined the EEC, which was an excellent thing, but by doing that they have lost some sovereignty. Why in heaven's name—it is so childish of them—cannot they come back to the Commonwealth, which I think they left in 1947 or 1948? They should come back to the Commonwealth, where they lose no sovereignty, which they have lost in the EEC. We have republics in the Commonwealth. If only they would do that it would make the task of those wanting to solve this Irish question so much easier. I do not understand why they will not do it.
My Lords, I will not go on any longer because we have heard this whole question ad nauseam in debates. I hope this power-sharing works, but I have great fears that it will not. It would be wonderful if it worked because it would be such a boost to the economy, and I 947 think it would bring great contentment to the North of Ireland. But the extremists are a tough nut to crack. When we have power-sharing security will have to be really tight; we must not let down at all on security.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, I would first like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, on the White Paper. It was badly received by everybody, but in fact it is the basis of this Bill and is a very remarkable and wonderful White Paper. It has been paralleled by the Dimbleby Lecture by Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, which is in a sense another White Paper because everything in this Bill has, so to speak, Dr. Garret FitzGerald's approval. Anyhow, it is a continuation of his thoughts. I had the privilege of giving him lunch the other day here in your Lordships' House, and he had no hesitation in saying that. He sees this Bill as being a wonderful step forward.
My Lords, when one speaks at the end of a long list of speakers one is very conscious that a great deal has been said. I do not want to repeat it. I just want to repeat what has been said often before, that there are three possibilities for Northern Ireland. The first, which everybody agrees is impossible, is for it to become independent. The second is for it to be unified with England totally and utterly, with the frontier redrawn, and having, so to speak, a frontier with the Republic of Ireland that was quite definite. The other possibility is to have integration of Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic. The Bill, and the solution that is being put forward, is masterly because it is a combination of the last two, which have been going on the whole time—namely, that Northern Ireland should be part of the United Kingdom and have a relationship with the Irish Republic.
Practically every speaker in your Lordships' House has supported the Bill; but there have been some diffident voices, notably that of my noble friend Lord Ellenborough, and to a certain extent the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Moyola. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, also did not seem to be too happy with it. The reason that they are unhappy with it is that they rather doubt the sincerity of the Government and your Lordships' House in saying that we are not going to give Northern Ireland away, as it were, to the Republic of Ireland. It has been said by my noble friend Lord Gowrie and it is in the White Paper. The whole point of the Bill is that it goes gradually forward, and if there is any awkwardness we can backtrack on it. As I see it, there is no intention of giving Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland. There is no such intention at all. I should have thought that it was extraordinary that noble Lords should doubt that.
Northern Ireland is to send 17 Members—which is an increase—to the other place. Another thing that could be done—and I mean this seriously—is for the Irish Peers who are connected with Northern Ireland, to be allowed to sit in your Lordships' House. There are a number of them—for example, Lord Antrim. I shall not quote them all, but I think it was a quite stupid state of affairs when, after the 1922 situation, we did not allow the Northern Ireland hereditary Peers to sit in your Lordships' House. 948 Such action might reassure some of your Lordships who are doubtful. Secondly, it would be a very happy situation if there were more Northern Ireland life Peers, such as the noble Lord, Lord Blease. Thirdly, it would be a great step forward in this direction, too, if the Anglican Church of Ireland was also represented in this House. I am even hearing "hear, hear!" from my fellow Duke, which shows that I am doing the right thing. It would show the complete commitment of your Lordships to Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom Parliament.
I add without question—and I have said it before—that I should like to see some Catholic bishops in this House; not, as it were, sitting on the Benches occupied by the bishops at present because that is part of the Established Church, but sitting as Catholic Lord Sopers, if I may put it like that. There could be four, five or perhaps six or seven—whatever the proportion—Catholic Lord Sopers and a Presbyterian Lord Soper too, for good measure, to represent Scotland. I would also have some Northern Ireland Catholic bishops or clergymen in this House too. Such a course might show your Lordships how completely committed we are to Northern Ireland remaining a part of the United Kingdom, as it is now.
The other aspect is that Dr. FitzGerald, who after ail represents 50 per cent. of the Irish vote and probably much more, said to me how immensely pleased he is at the progress that has been made, and he said that he sees this Bill setting up a constituent Assembly—it has been rightly described as a "do-it-yourself assembly", going forward and changing any piece of the constitution or the affairs that will be dealt with by it as it goes along—as being something which, as my, noble friend Lord Gowrie has said, should have no commitments and have great flexibility. When the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and others say that they do not see the need for it, I point out that the need for it is precisely that in Northern Ireland there are half a million Catholics, many of whom are nationalists—
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, will the noble Duke give way? I think that the noble Duke must have misunderstood me. I did not say that there was not a need for it. I made it clear that I was a supporter of devolution as such. I said that if this thing basically went wrong, then we would be far further back and in a far worse state—I think that my noble friend Lord Moyola said exactly the same—than we would be if we had not tried it. My problem is that I am absolutely convinced that the second stage will not occur. My conviction is based on my knowledge of the people to whom I speak and who I meet every single day.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount very much and I apologise if I have misquoted him. I also apologise to my noble friend Lord Moyola if I misquoted him. What I am trying to put to your Lordships is that when it was said that all we need—and it was said in the other place too—is to restore local government to Northern Ireland, I think that we must have an Assembly in Northern Ireland so as to deal with the "Irish problem", as it has been called, so as to deal with the Republic of Ireland's proximity, because the difference between Northern Ireland and 949 Lancashire is that Northern Ireland is part of the island of Ireland and there is an Irish dimension. For that reason we want to have a constituent Assembly, as this Bill suggests.
I see that already there is great progress being made with the Garda and the Royal Ulster Constabulary under Sir John Harman, who are doing a lot together; and Dr. FitzGerald has suggested in his Dimbleby Lecture that he would like to see those two police forces much more integrated, and he would also like to see even a common system of courts. That is wonderful; I see it as great progress.
In my view the end of the road—as I hope it will be—which is no doubt a long way off, is for Northern Ireland to remain totally and utterly, as it is now, part of England. But it should also have a relationship with Southern Ireland which will enable it to be friendly with Southern Ireland. Moreover, the citizens of Northern Ireland should have a dual nationality, as it were—they already have nationality here, and many of them have dual nationality with Southern Ireland—and the relationship of Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic should be a type of federal or confederate relationship.
I believe that as the Bill goes forward and as the Assembly gets into action, with all the caution that will take place and all the goodwill of people like my noble friends—particularly, my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who I thought spoke tremendously about the matter and who has great experience, as does everybody else sitting on my right—we will possibly he able, in the not too distant future, to withdraw the Brtish Army supporting the police.
§ 6.58 p.m.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk has, I think, unveiled—without any notice to me, unfortunately—a masterly plan for all Irish questions which is, perhaps, to have the Province governed by Catholic Lord Sopers! The Protestant, non-Conformist and Catholic traditions would, as it were, meet in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, were he so constituted, and I am sure that that would be extremely well received. But I am grateful to my noble friend for reasserting very authoritatively the fact that nothing in the legislation or in the White Paper poses any threat whatever to the continued position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. The position of the Government about that has always been made clear: the constitutional future of Northern Ireland can only be decided and determined by the people of Northern Ireland themselves. That has always been the position and it remains the position.
I must say that I am very gratified by the way in which the debate has gone and by the way in which our proposals have been received. I thought—if I may say so to him—that the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, put the case against with great succinctness and eloquence. The fact that he was relatively isolated did not, I think, detract from the force with which he put his anxieties. He was reinforced, perhaps at a somewhat more philosophical level, by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The noble Lord, Lord Blease—and, again, I am grateful to him for the way in which he received this on behalf of the official Opposition—put his finger on the need for an Assembly when he 950 said that we want political debate rather than physical force. The fact that political debate in Northern Ireland can be lively even by the standards of another place, let alone by the standards of your Lordships' House, does not detract from that at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, made a point which was echoed by my noble friend Lord Vaizey, which was that the Assembly can enable the people of Northern Ireland to exert an influence on matters that concern them and exert an influence on their politicians and their representatives. I do not see how we can get the character of the representation to change—and many noble Lords called for more responsible attitudes by Northern Ireland politicians—unless the people of Northern Ireland have a chance to put some pressure on them.
The Secretary of State, Mr. Nicholas Scott, and I appeared on a recent television "Question Time" programme in Northern Ireland, and we found out that that was the first time for nine years in which people have, as it were, had direct contact in Northern Ireland with their form of government. This is an astonishing state of affairs and one which we are determined to try to correct. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, made that point succinctly as well. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—who gave me notice that he could not be here—gave a welcome on behalf of the Social Democratic Party, for which I am grateful. He said that the Bill must not be buried in verbiage, and we shall certainly try to avoid that. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, was, likewise, welcoming on behalf of the Liberal Party. He said that opinion polls were misleading, and I agree with him that one must not always make too much of them. Like statistics, one tends to quote the opinion polls that fall in one's favour.
The word "integration" in Northern Ireland has, I think, somewhat different connotations from the way in which it is sometimes used here. Very often integration is simply an interchangeable term for a wish to continue the union. I have known people who have been arguing fiercely with me about the need for devolved government announce that they are also passionate integrationists. So obviously we must be very careful about our choice of phraseology.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford encouraged me very much because he said that he hoped worthy people would come forward as a result of this Assembly. One of the things that we would hope for from the Assembly would be one or two new faces and one or two new voices. I know several people—several unionists particularly—who were champing at the bit to try to get a different kind of articulation—a different kind of voice—out of Northern Ireland.
This is perhaps one of the reasons why I am rather prone to resist the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Moyola that there should be only 52 Assembly members, as there were in the Stormont Parliament. I think that one should give the opportunity for new people to come forward. But there is another reason for that. The figure of 78 is not created by this Bill, but was established in the Assembly Act 1973. There were 78 members of the first Assembly, as indeed of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention. Naturally, we have considered the argument for departing from the figure, but we remain of the view that an assembly of around 80 members, elected by proportional 951 representation, provides a body of the right size in can be which a full range of views represented.
I am most grateful for the authoritative support given to me and the Secretary of State by my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who has played a very enduring and a very significant role in the history of this part of the Kingdom. Much of what he tried to do and much of what was perhaps not right for him to do at the time has informed the thinking of successive Administrations since his time. I certainly share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that it would be appropriate for the Assembly to try to get away whenever it can from the great fundamental constitutional wrangle about Northern Ireland and deal with the very much more pressing, urgent and—I hope—more soluble economic and social matters in the Province. Going round the Province, as we have met ordinary people, there have been representations to us that this is what is needed.
I should like to share the tribute of my noble friend Lord Brookeborough to the football team of Northern Ireland. They were cheered on in Madrid by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who found it most pressing and urgent to attend that particular function, and I am only sad that my right honourable friend's presence did not secure their victory. Nevertheless, they did exceptionally well to get as far as they did.
On the rather more sombre subject of allegations about a civil servant, which my noble friend raised, these were made in another place about a purported record of an academic researcher's discussion with a civil servant. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said in another place that the material on which the allegations were based comprised no official document or material authenticated by the civil servant, who has been named. My right honourable friend added that he would prefer not to comment on the politics or motives of the author of the document, and I think that it is right at this stage to follow my right honourable friend's reticence in that regard. Certainly it seems to me that some of the intimations about the document were pretty extraordinary and pretty hard to grasp.
I was glad that my noble friend Lord Brookeborough, with all his experience—and he really does know the border area in his skin and bones—remains a devolutionist. I am also glad to endorse the praise that he gave for the excellent Civil Service in Northern Ireland. I do not think that any comparable part of the United Kingdom has such a high quality of administration. That, again, is not one of our problems.
Of course, there can be bitterness and backbiting at an election. This was a reason that caused us a great deal of deliberation. We would argue among ourselves that Northern Ireland elections are fought along the characteristic tribal lines; people would get boxed into their old corners and bitterness could ensue. One is always liable to be vulnerable to the enquiry: why not leave well alone, why stir the pot? But the fact of the matter is that, without some political progress in Northern Ireland, the continued flight of investment funds, either inward or outward, can, in our judgment, continue, and it is too grave a situation for us to be able to accept that argument altogether. All democratic 952 procedures have their inherent risks, but my own view is firmly that the people of Northern Ireland deserve an opportunity to make their voices felt. It is up to them to put pressure on these representatives not to allow this Assembly to degenerate into the old tribal chamber.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his welcome. I should like to pay a brief tribute to the noble Lord, in that, of all your Lordships, he has perhaps been most sedulous in making me attend to my constitutional duties as a representative of Northern Ireland in your Lordships' House. He has asked many questions and written many notes, privately and publicly; he has a very great deal of know ledge and a very great deal of expertise about this. But, again, it reinforces one of the things that we have consistently said. It should not be left to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton—admirable though his efforts have been—to make the representations about Northern Ireland. It would be better for a Northern Ireland Minister, or someone from the Province, to take up these issues on the ground where they occur, as well as, of course, at the Westminster Parliament.
I am sorry to sound like a particularly benevolent headmaster in handing out all these prizes, but the fact of the matter is that I thought the standard of debate very high. Obviously the Government are gratified that the reception was, generally speaking, warm. I could not flaw the speech of the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, in any way. He made the point that there had been a bad reception for the Bill by Northern Ireland politicians and by the media there, but he, along with the noble Lord, Lord Blease, pointed out cogently that, in spite of its bad reception, people are queueing up to get into the Assembly. I thought that that was a pretty telling tribute. I should like to pay tribute to his business experience. It was he, I think, who perhaps more effectively than I am able to do, answered Lord Moyola's anxiety about timing when he said that we had to get something moving fairly quickly.
May I answer the other chief criticism of my noble friend Lord Moyola? He was anxious about the effects on Northern Ireland if these proposals failed. In my opening remarks, I talked about our attempt to design them not to be boycottable—the "unboycottable solution." The fact is that direct rule goes on in an umbrella relationship, and an umbrella can be wholly or partially erect or wholly or partially furled. This is I think a great guarantee of stability, as nearly all noble Lords have said, with various degrees of conviction, that direct rule is the second best solution and that direct rule is widely acceptable.
If the Assembly breaks down, or if devolution is not taken up, and it is an entirely voluntary affair, of course direct rule will go on. It is simply our view that after nearly 10 years of direct rule it is the duty of the British Government at least to put more local democracy on offer to the people of Northern Ireland.
I do not think I will answer at this stage the criticisms of my noble friend Lord Ellenborough, because to some degree I tried to anticipate them in my opening remarks. I dealt with the integrationist argument as best I could. I have to say to my noble friend that it seems quite extraordinary to believe that there is a chance of integrating the nationalist tradition in Ireland into the United Kingdom structure, or into 953 British party political structure. That seemed to me as extraordinary as the view of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that Irish nationalism might simply wither on the vine in the way of Welsh nationalism or Scottish nationalism. It is a much more vigorous and enduring plant than that.
On the West Lothian issue, we have lived with it for 60 years and there are some compensations for being a region. To some degree one suffers in terms of additional electricity costs, or infrastructurally, and I do not see why one should not make up a bit of the ante at Westminster. The West Lothian question has never bothered me much, but perhaps it causes other noble Lords anxieties and we can return to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, put her finger on it when she said that the proposals were workable if people want to work them. Our duty is to impress on the people of Northern Ireland that it would he a good thing if they put pressure on their representatives to want to work them.
I should like to close a debate which I found most informative with a short word about the consideration of this Bill in your Lordships' House. It is a short Bill of only seven clauses, and from this Bench I would not for a moment deny that, short though it is and modest though the expectations are that we have of it, it raises extremely important and sensitive matters concerning the constitution. I hope the House will agree that the Government have allowed a reasonable gap between completion of the Bill in another place and Second Reading today.
Likewise we consider it important that the House should have a proper opportunity to consider the details of the Bill in Committee, and it is for this reason that we have deliberately allowed a period of nearly two weeks between the Second Reading today and the Committee stage on Tuesday, 20th July. But there are important considerations connected with the holding of elections which make it essential that the Bill completes its remaining stages and receives Royal Assent before we rise for the Summer Recess. I therefore think it right that I should inform the House that, having sought to allow a considerable gap between Second Reading and Committee, it will in our judgment be necessary to take the remaining stages after Committee fairly quickly. With those words, I once again offer my gratitude to the House for the generally favourable welcome that our proposals have received, and T beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Segal)
The Question is that this Bill be now read a second time? As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"? To the contrary, "Not-Content"?
§ Lord Wynne-Jones
My Lords, is the noble Viscount 954 not allowed to ask a question before the Minister sits down?
§ Lord Sandys
Yes, my Lords, of course the noble Viscount is allowed to ask a question, but it was not heard by the Chair and the Deputy Speaker in fact put the Question.
§ The Deputy Speaker
With apologies, and by leave of the House, if the noble Viscount would like to ask a question I withdraw the calling of the Question.
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, I think that the solution will be if the Question is put again after the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has put his question to my noble friend.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, I have a question before the noble Earl sits down, which he has now done, and I think my noble friend Lord O'Neill also has a question. I asked the noble Earl a specific question on the attachment of the Government to the union. Will he make it clear that the Government consider it their duty to govern Northern Ireland in such a way that it is their hope, will and pleasure that all members of the community, whatever section they belong to in Northern Ireland, would wish to remain part of the United Kingdom?
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I certainly tried to deal with that question in my opening remarks in response to what was raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. If my noble friend returns toHansardon that issue, while I have not dealt with it perhaps in quite the way he would like, I think he will find it satisfactory enough.
§ Lord O'Neill of the Maine
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, what I was intending to ask was whether the Secretary of State would consider publishing the noble Earl's opening remarks as a pamphlet? I have never heard the situation in Northern Ireland better described, and so many people have come up to me in the corridors and suggested that a further publication should be made. Perhaps the Secretary of State would give this serious consideration.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.