HL Deb 20 July 1982 vol 433 cc759-70

3.7 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD DERWENT in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Proposals for general or partial suspension of direct rule]:

Lord Ellenborough moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 16, at end insert ("; or (c) proposals for the assumption by the Assembly, in respect of Northern Ireland, of functions performed by local authorities in other parts of the United Kingdom.").

The noble Lord said: On behalf of myself and other noble Lords—Lord Harris of High Cross, Lord Monson and Lord Spens—I beg to move Amendment No. 1. In moving this amendment I should like also, with the leave of the Committee, to speak to Amendment No. 2, to which it is linked. The purpose of these two amendments is to enable the Northern Ireland Assembly, as and when formed, and after an appropriate period in its original form, to seek to be granted the status of a high tier local authority. I believe this to be a most unfortunate omission in regard to the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Gowrie will know from my speech on Second Reading that I find it difficult in my heart and mind to support this Bill. My noble friend introduced the Bill in his usual admirable, eloquent and concise manner, and I really should thank him for the generous references he made regarding my own contribution in his winding-up speech on that occasion. During the course of my speech I questioned the absence of any provision for a referendum, which forms the basis of a later amendment, and also that if the Assembly is found to be unworkable, why it should not be allowed to transfer itself to the status of a high tier local authority like any other in Britain. The present system of direct rule is really integration without local democracy. Northern Ireland has no elected representatives between Westminster and, I think it is, 26 district councils with little more than dustbin powers.

I am fully aware of the abuses which, unhappily, took place in Northern Ireland local government in the past, denying houses and jobs to people and so on, but I see no reason why that should take place in the future, provided there are adequate safeguards. My noble friend will need no reminding of the clear implication in the Government's 1979 Manifesto, that regional councils with a wider range of powers over local services should be established. I often ask noble Lords and Members of another place who live in Ulster, and who are immersed in Ulster's problems and have been all their life, "What is so difficult about this local government business?" I find they do little, other than shrug and say, "It is impossible. It is hopeless. The whole thing is contentious", and I go away thoroughly bemused and bewildered and none the wiser.

I cannot understand the rooted objection to Northern Ireland having proper local authorities provided there are safeguards for the protection of the minority communities in different areas. Indeed, I cannot see how any country—and, after all, Northern Ireland is the size of Yorkshire, with a population of about 1½ million—can exist without local authorities. The whole point is that if it cannot be done, then what hope can there be for any Assembly?

Any lasting solution must be based on treating the Northern Ireland constitution in the same way as other parts of the United Kingdom are treated. That must mean eventually a full system of local government with proper and full democratic representation in the Westminster Parliament. Once that is done, Northern Ireland should be administered in the same way as Scotland and Wales, and we shall no longer be holding the Northern Ireland constitution at arm's length—which is one of the causes of the present unsatisfactory position.

I find it quite incredible that in Northern Ireland such matters as roads, planning, health and social services cannot be dealt with by local authorities. Such important subjects relate to individuals in Northern Ireland in just the same way as anywhere else, and if there were a fully developed democratic system there, then there would be authorities and councils in which those subjects could be discussed and decided.

It is my belief that the new Assembly that is to be created will lead to ignorance and misunderstanding. The trouble is that it will be involved in many issues over which it will have no control, responsibility or power. However, the outstanding problem of the resolution of matters which concern local government cannot alone be resolved by district councils under existing powers. In Britain they are resolved by an upper tier of local government, county councils or regions. That is what is required in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, the reason for this amendment is to give the Assembly the right, if it wishes, to seek and be granted the status of a high tier local authority and bring the people of Northern Ireland into the wider framework of the United Kingdom so that the minority, in the last resort, can rest completely secure and free from discrimination, under the protection of this Parliament. If we can transform the Assembly into a local government authority or means by which local government can be transacted—that is to say, administrative devolution rather than legislative devolution—then something might be achieved of everlasting worth. It is the one practical way of restoring a form of devolved activity in Northern Ireland and ensuring the local government basis that, with all its defects, by and large serves the rest of the United Kingdom pretty well. I feel that the local government option that is so unfortunately excluded in this Bill may well prove to be the only one capable of bringing the reality of power to the Assembly. I beg to move.

Viscount Brookeborough

I rise with a slightly ambivalent attitude because I feel that, were local government authority to be devolved, as it were, upon administrative authority—to be devolved upon the Assembly—there would be no possibility of having devolved Government at a later date. But, having said that, I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend in asking for this authority to be put into the Bill, subject maybe to a special order in council, because I am afraid that I am pessimistic about the hope that devolved government will arise. Therefore, I am equally against another session at a later date when it will be seen that, while the Assembly may survive, it is not surviving as a devolved government, and we shall then have to go through some other legislative process in order to carry out some form of addition to democracy within Northern Ireland. That is my ambivalence.

I have been a local councillor in county councils where probably no problems arose in the way in which people have referred to them. I was chairman of Fermanagh County Council for 12 years and I thought that my experience might be of some interest to the Committee. Local councils do have problems and have always had problems. When I took over as chairman of the Fermanagh County Council it was a united council and because we had united five small rural councils we arrived at a situation where we had a six-year housing waiting list. At the end of 12 years we had reduced that to one year. We were building at the same rate as people were coming on to the housing list.

People speak about discrimination. Discrimination is bound to occur where there is a shortage of a particular facility which is wanted. The only cure is to provide enough of the facility. However, we did not begin by standing on the hustings and saying that we were going to abolish this, or were going to reconcile this or that. We set about building houses. That was the basic problem of local government. In my county we had amalgamated the whole lot and so we had no problem in setting about building enough houses for the people.

I also had another slight problem, which I mention to give your Lordships an idea about what happens in local councils, because my noble friend Lord Moyola will probably have something to say at a later date about the number of people who are proposed for Parliament. We found it very difficult to get enough people of ability. On one occasion there was a question of proposing a grant to the Armagh Observatory for a planetarium. In the local council I took a great deal of trouble to explain exactly what a planetarium was and I said: "The great thing about this planetarium is that it will be the only one in the whole of Ireland and we shall lead the whole of Ireland". At the next meeting one of my members came along to me and said, "You let me down a bagful. Look at this", and he showed me a cutting from the Irish Times saying: New crematorium to be built in Belfast"! so your Lordships will realise that there are problems.

However, the problem of local government—and I speak especially from the Fermanagh point of view—in 1921 was that the local government of Fermanagh refused to accept the authority of Stormont and kept on sending its minutes and demands for money to Dublin. It was only when the money did not come that it realised that it came from Stormont. We are in such a period of mythology about the past that it is worthwhile quoting from the minutes of 14th February 1936 of the Fermanagh County Council. The first business was proposed by the chairman, who happened to be my father, seconded by Mr. Johnny MacLachlin, and it was that a motion of condolence to be sent to King Edward VIII on the passing of King George V. It was passed by the council standing unanimously. Significantly enough, the next business proposed by Johnny MacLachlin, a republican nationalist or whatever he was, seconded by a very strong Unionist, was that a vote of condolence be sent to Eamon De Valéra on the untimely passing of his son.

In the present state it is unthinkable that that sort of thing could get through in local government. That is how far we have deteriorated in the last 12 years. If we have an Assembly of the size proposed, I believe that there is quite a chance that that sort of relationship can be established. But do not let anyone think—as has been said—that the relationship between ourselves and the Opposition (and I am a unionist absolutely) was in an aggressive or non-friendly atmosphere. It was not that way at all. That must be put right and we must convince people—especially in the Northern Ireland Office—that there was an extremely friendly relationship over a very large area and that this will return.

But an election is destined for October. That will be followed by a further election for the lower House—the House of Commons—18 months later. That election will be an endorsement or a contradiction. It may establish the validity of those people who are elected to the Assembly; more probably, it will destroy their validity, so that any room for compromise that they may have will be completely and absolutely destroyed. That is the basis of my opposition to this.

I believe that the only way in which to move is to have a general election here, followed immediately by a political initiative, and then it would have some hope because it would have at least four years in which to operate. But I am quite convinced that, if the Assembly cannot have powers devolved upon it, some other method will have to be found. Therefore, I believe that some way should be found within this Bill to enable the Secretary of State, as it were, in extremis, to be able to devolve administrative powers—not legislative and executive powers—on that Assembly.

Lord Monson

It has been very interesting to hear the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, with his very wide experience. As I said on Second Reading, I believe that 60 years ago much closer harmonisation of the customs, laws and institutions of Northern Ireland with those of the rest of the United Kingdom would have been good for Northern Ireland and good for the United Kingdom as a whole. Despite the wrong turning taken by the Province—or, to be more accurate, foisted upon the Province at that time—I think that it would still be good for Northern Ireland if greater harmonisation were aimed at, even at this late stage in which we find ourselves today.

Apart from other considerations, I think that it would make the Province less inward-looking than it tends to be. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that most of the people of Ulster would welcome, or at any rate accept, such moves; or at the very least that they could be fairly easily persuaded to accept them. Fortunately, this amendment is drafted in such a way as to obviate reliance upon such guesswork or circumstantial evidence, because, unless 70 per cent. of the Assembly were to vote in favour of the Assembly taking over local government functions, or unless such smaller percentage as the Secretary of State believed to represent a wide cross-community support so voted, and unless, in addition, both Houses of Parliament agreed, by passing the relevant orders, the Assembly could not involve itself in local government matters. Surely these are safeguards enough.

Finally, I think it is worth mentioning that this amendment would go some way, albeit by a circuitous route, to help the Government fulfil the promises made in their 1979 election manifesto.

The Earl of Gowrie

I have listened with great interest to the views of my two noble friends and the views of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, as to whether the Assembly should be able to assume functions which are performed by local government in Great Britain. However, I must remind the Committee that this is, of course, rather a separate issue from the question of whether more powers should be granted to the existing local councils in Northern Ireland, and we must make that distinction clear in our minds.

As I explained on Second Reading, the Bill is designed to form a framework within which the Assembly's main initial task will be to see whether it wishes to formulate proposals for full or partial devolution. I think that it will be a considerable task and will be quite enough work for the Assembly to be going on with in its own right. To suggest that it might also formulate proposals for the assumption of responsibilities exercised by local authorities in Great Britain would surely be a diversion from this critical task. An even bigger diversion would be the actual transfer of these responsibilities to the Assembly before there was the establishment of a Northern Ireland administration, because, as we all know, it is in the act of trying to make such an establishment that it will be seen whether the necessary cross-community support can be achieved. As we stated in paragraphs 38 to 44 of the White Paper, it is for the Assembly to recommend to the Secretary of State what form any devolved administration would take and how devolved powers should be exercised. For this purpose, the Bill complements the Constitution Act 1973, in that it allows for the devolution of executive and legislative powers in respect of the transferred matters which are there defined.

In shorthand, the transferred matters are broadly matters now conducted by the various Northern Ireland departments. The Government believe that the best solution to the problems in Northern Ireland is a devolved administration acceptable to both sides of the community and to be responsible to a locally elected Assembly.

I know that my noble friend Lord Ellenborough complained that we were treating Northern Ireland as if it were at arm's length by comparison with Scotland and Wales. He was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, when the noble Lord sought much closer harmonisation with procedures in Great Britain. But if the noble Lords will do me the kindness of referring back to my attempts to explain this difficulty at Second Reading, they will see that the great difficulty is that in our democratic system politics depend on party, and party structures in Northern Ireland are wholly different from party structures in Great Britain and do not even exchange power at the same time as they do as the result of British general elections. There is no conceivable scenario where one could have a Labour Secretary of State for Scotland during the tenure of office of a Conservative Prime Minister in Britain.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that he thought that many people in Northern Ireland would be happier with closer harmonisation with the system of local government in Great Britain. Some unionists would be happier, but no nationalists would be, and unionists would hardly be likely to be happy if we were proposing that nationalists could have much closer harmonisation with a system of local government that pertains in the Irish Republic. This is simply to state the facts of life as we find them in Northern Ireland.

It therefore seems to us incumbent on the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives to try to work out within our broad framework—which is, of course, a unionist framework—what forms of accommodation to the nationalist and unionist divide, the Catholic or Protestant divide, or the majority or minority divide, according to how you define it, would be most appropriate in order to get away from these fundamental and largely irreconcilable differences, and for some input into the bread and butter issues to be made by the people of the Province.

It is therefore for the Assembly, once a devolved administration has been established, to consider the points made by the three noble Lords who have spoken. It would be possible for them to consider whether the assumption by the Assembly of some or all local authority-type powers would be desirable. It would of course be perfectly free to do this once it had assumed devolved powers, because local government is a transferred matter.

It is not quite so simple as that, because it might be that the Assembly would make decisions about local powers which involved electoral changes or habits, and electoral changes are not a transferred matter, so the Assembly would have to come to the British Government and the British Parliament with its proposals; and those proposals might need legislative changes which are outside the scope of the present Bill. But the whole tenor of this policy is to be as flexible as possible and as adaptive as possible to the peculiar and special circumstances that we find in Northern Ireland. Certainly I, for one, would not wish to discourage the Assembly from looking at the points that the noble Lords have made.

We have considered carefully the arguments for a single tier of regional government comparable with that of a regional council in Great Britain. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, from the Cross-Benches strayed into the domestic arguments or domestic issues of the Conservative Party. I would remind the noble Lord that the manifesto to which he drew my attention uses the phrase, "in the absence of devolved government". Indeed, at an earlier stage in opposition, my late and much missed right honourable friend Mr. Airey Neave suggested that a regional council might be a form of intermediary stage before a fully devolved government.

But, having looked at the matter most carefully, we remain of the view that in fact the thing to aim for is the restoration of devolved government, in that it holds out the best prospects for peace and stability in Northern Ireland. It also seems to us only honourable that, after nearly ten years of direct rule, we should at least offer the chance to the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives to take back a form of government which was by no means wholly to be criticised—there were many excellences in the Stormont system—and which, after all, constitutes the political folk memory of the Province, if I may put it that way. We can all go back to 1921 and say that this or that aspect of the settlement was desirable or undesirable, but the fact of the matter is that, for over 50 years, Northern Ireland experienced a form of government which it seems to us only our duty at least to offer back to them.

In this view we are strengthened by the fact that devolved government is the preferred option of the major Northern Ireland political parties. It is clear to us that, in terms of broad cross-community support, which the Bill has made it quite clear is a sine qua non of any stable system in Northern Ireland, a devolutionary system is more acceptable than the setting up of a super-regional council. In view of these remarks, which are only statements of the realities of Northern Ireland, I hope that my noble friend will not seek to press his amendment.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

I wonder whether the noble Earl would be patient with us, because I recall in the Second Reading debate that he made a great deal of the forthcoming Committee stage. Indeed at col. 953 he talked of how important it was for the House to have a proper opportunity to consider the details of the Bill in Committee, and said that he would allow sufficient time for that preparation to be made. It seems to me that he has not fully replied to the support of this amendment, which is concerned about the totally unsatisfactory condition of local government at present in Northern Ireland.

It is well understood that since 1972, when the Macrory reforms came into operation, there have been 26 district councils, which replaced a larger number of urban and rural district councils. They have mostly quite minor functions, but there are no longer any county or county boroughs above them, and Stormont has gone. Indeed, ever since the introduction of these district councils they have been in a kind of limbo because the dissolution of Stormont in effect decapitated the whole structure, or hierarchy, of local government.

Therefore, all the major functions for which local government in this country is responsible, including planning, health, education, roads and housing in varying degrees, have in Ireland no elected authority to answer to the voters. I do not doubt that one group who are well satisfied with that arrangement are the civil servants who are quietly, in a sense, usurping the functions of democratically elected councillors.

The point I cannot understand about what the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said is that Clause 1 of this Bill makes provision for complete or partial transfer of a whole range of functions. He said that, if these were completely transferred, then, in effect, you would also transfer with them the substance of local government authority and supervision. But suppose this new Assembly, daunted by the task of taking back all of these powers or the greater part of them, could turn its attention instead to some more modest and manageable set of functions to do with the local government administration. Instead of trying to create in one act of magic a kind of mini-Westminster at Belfast, this at least is an option.

I want to put strongly to the noble Earl that what is proposed in these amendments subtracts nothing from the Bill. They indeed add something for the Assembly, which is that they add a choice, an additional option to those available under Clause 1, for the Assembly to turn its attention to a useful, manageable range of functions which could be conducted from Belfast, subject to exactly the same checking mechanism of the approval of the Secretary of State and of both Houses of Parliament.

May I therefore ask the noble Earl, in considering this, does he not agree that, if the Assembly, for some months or a year or two fails to take advantage of the opportunities we are providing of taking over these large functions, we shall be left with a wholly unsatisfactory arrangement for local government in the whole of the Six Counties?

Lord Blease

I should first like to approach the matter before us from the point of view of remarks made about local councillors in Northern Ireland. I should like also, as a member of the Macrory Committee, which reviewed local government in Northern Ireland, to put forward a point of view expressed by that committee in reply to some remarks that have already been made. As far as local government representatives are concerned, at present in Northern Ireland, there are many committed, dedicated persons in local government in Northern Ireland anxious to do a particular job. Many of them have the qualities, the capabilities, and the intelligence, if that is what is required, to aspire to be members of the Assembly or even to be Members of Parliament. Indeed, I think some could play an adequate part in this House.

However, the matters concerning the present role of local government in Northern Ireland, as has been said, largely arise because of the decapitation of the system by the removal of the Stormont Administration. Many of those local government representatives are now playing a very important role in statutory bodies such as the Housing Executive and others in connection with Northern Ireland, and are playing that role across the community divide in Northern Ireland. The amendment refers to the, functions performed by local authorities in other parts of the United Kingdom", and that was adequately dealt with by the Minister. However, because the Macrory Report has been mentioned, I wish to give some indication of what that report indicated. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, went into the history of local government in Northern Ireland. There has been a history of examinations, reviews and inquiries into the operation of local government in Northern Ireland, and the Macrory Report was established as a major review of local government there. I agree that it was established some 12 years ago. The late Lord Faulkner, then Mr. Brian Faulkner, the Minister of Development, in setting up that major review—I happened to be a member of that body—said on the very day it was established: I want today to put the Government's priorities before you to give perspective to the work ahead of you. Briefly, they are houses, jobs and political stability. In wishing you well in your deliberations, I would like to give you one or two guidelines. Remember that this is Ulster, for better as well as for worse. It is not England, though we are an integral part of the United Kingdom. It is not the Irish Republic, though we are geographically and climatically a part of Ireland". He went on to deal with the population and the rate of evaluation and so on, putting those subjects in perspective, and added: Obviously, beyond the criteria mentioned and the additional requirements to ensure proper public control at the centre and reasonable local involvement at the grass roots level, our Regional Parliament can clearly cover the first point. As to the people having their say in their own locality, I am asking you to explore and evaluate the various possibilities and traditions in local government". In disagreeing with the amendment, I must say from this Bench that I do not think it would contribute one iota at this stage to resolving the problems of jobs, housing or political stability in Northern Ireland. That major review, though it was 12 years ago, indicated that two levels are required in Northern Ireland; an elected regional government as proposed in the Bill, an Assembly, and the present arrangement of the 26 elected district councils.

The proposal in the Bill would not in any way impair the future work of local authorities because I believe that the Assembly, if it can be got under way—with its proposals for devolving power and rolling devolution—will be able to examine the role and functions of local government. And if it so happens that the Assembly can agree on further powers to be given to the local authorities, those powers can be properly put forward in the form of a proposal to be adopted by both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, from these Benches—because of the history of local government in Northern Ireland and because of its present functioning—I do not believe the amendment would contribute one iota to resolving the position, and therefore we cannot support it; and I say that particularly as one coming from Northern Ireland.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

I wish to associate myself—and I think I can persuade my fellow Members on this Bench to agree—with what the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said. The Macrory Report did some- thing which very much had to be done at the time. It may well be that local government now could be introduced and that it would be much better than it was before; but I think a great many people would be totally suspicious of it, which would be introducing a complication at this stage which, as Lord Blease said, would have no effect whatever on the success or otherwise of the Assembly. Therefore, we shall support the Government, if the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, as I think he means to, resists the amendment.

Lord Monson

I have two questions to put to the Minister, and I am grateful to him for explaining the subtleties of the Conservative election manifesto. If devolution fails to get off the ground as a result of lack of support for the devolution proposals, may I ask the noble Earl to say whether the proposals in the manifesto will then be implemented as a second best, as it were?

Secondly, when he says that the whole of the Nationalist population would oppose the restoration of local government—as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, intimated—may I ask whether he would not agree (and would not Lord Donaldson agree?) that the safeguards in Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill—that is, the 70 per cent. provisions, the necessity for the Secretary of State to give a guarantee of widespread support and the necessity for Parliament to approve the making of any such order—would be a safeguard against that happening?

3.48 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie

Going in reverse order, perhaps I may take first the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The central problem in Northern Ireland, as he is aware, is how, given the composition of the populations in Northern Ireland and the reflection of that composition in political terms, do you get the necessary cross-community support for any proposals? The fact of the matter is that there is a greater chance of getting cross-community support within a structure of devolved government than there is outside it. I do not like having to say to the Committee that noble Lords must take my word for anything, but most people who know Northern Ireland would acknowledge that that is the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, also asked what would happen if powers were not devolved, either in whole or partially, as the Bill suggests they might be. As I tried to make clear on Second Reading, direct rule is not affected by the Bill unless the Assembly makes proposals which are accepted by the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom; so the direct rule which has been called everyone's second best option would of course continue in those circumstances. I see this Bill as a kind of Direct Rule (Improvement) Bill. It seems to me to be only right that within a system of direct rule, which is satisfactory in many ways and unsatisfactory in others, there should be at least the chance for people to take back the form of government which they have experienced, and they do not have experience of the forms of government suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, in quite the same way.

Coming to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, with great respect to him, he did not take part in the Second Reading debate, and the points he raised were somewhat Second Reading points. They cut at the issue of why Northern Ireland is not governable along the same lines as the rest of the United Kingdom. That argument was followed in considerable depth and detail on Second Reading by many noble Lords in all parts of the House, and I think it would be wearisome for the Committee if I tried to point out what seem to me to be the obvious facts of life about Northern Ireland at this stage.

However, I have some comfort for the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. Because the Government have designed the Bill to be as flexible as possible, so that the Assembly would have considerable flexibilities in what it could propose to the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom, and considerable flexibilities as to on what it might seek cross-community support, there is no reason why greater powers for local government could not be discussed by the Assembly. I simply think it more appropriate for the Assembly to come forward to us with proposals, rather than for us to impose on it proposals which it might be impossible for it to wear.

Finally I should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge and Lord Blease, for their support. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, would acquit me of any disrespect in this regard if I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Blease, who has the experience which arises from coming from Northern Ireland, as well as the experience of having served on the Macrory Commission.

Lord Hampton

I should like to say, briefly, that from these Benches we support what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Blease and Lord Donaldson, in support of the Government. We oppose the amendment.

Viscount Brookeborough

I do not want to detain your Lordships prior to a very important Statement being repeated, but I would say that there are tremendous anomalies here. For instance, if on a housing estate there is in the road a hole filled with litter, that is for central Government, and therefore Westminster, to deal with. If the hole is in the pavement, that is for the Housing Executive to deal with, and if there is a hole in both the road and the pavement, then there is an argument.

Lord Ellenborough

I realise that your Lordships wish fairly soon to hear two important Statements, but perhaps the Committee will bear with me if I say a few words in thanking noble Lords, who have taken part in the debate on the amendment. I was very interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Brookeborough, who speaks with very great experience; his recollections of local government in Northern Ireland were most interesting. I should like to say more, but what I find extraordinary is that my noble friend Lord Gowrie calls this a Direct Rule (Improvement) Bill. Surely my amendment would merely improve the situation. He said that my proposal in the amendment was a diversion. I would call it a preliminary step, an additional option.

He will keep on talking about the two communities, with their separate identities. We all know about that. But if they are not going to become more involved in the United Kingdom as a whole, Ulster might as well give up. I think that I should be going quite against the mood of the Committee if I were to take the matter any further. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale

This seems to be an appropriate moment after 3.30. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.