§ 4.10 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.775
§ Clause 2 [General or partial suspension of direct rule]:
§ [Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
Lord Ellenborough moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 30, after (" unless ") insert ("(a)").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 3, which is in the names of the same noble Lords as was the previous amendment, I should say that this is merely a paving amendment for Amendment No. 5 and, with the leave of the Committee, I will speak on both amendments. I hope that the amendments are clear. Their purpose is to provide for a referendum to be held after the Northern Ireland Assembly has been set up but before devolutionary powers are granted. The amendment is drafted closely in line with the provisions for the referendums which were submitted to the electorates in Scotland and Wales; that is to say, there is a requirement that, to be effective, not less than 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of the implementation of such devolutionary measures as may be submitted.
§ In my opinion and, I believe, in that of some other noble Lords, and that of a not insignificant number of Members of another place, the present provision in the Bill for ensuring the knowledge and approval of the Northern Ireland electorate of what is perhaps to come is inadequate, unconvincing and divisive. I make no excuse, therefore, for bringing up this matter. Various referendum proposals were discussed in another place late at night. Some of their proceedings were a little difficult to follow; there were a lot of Divisions. But one thing was clear. I do not think that more than half the Conservative Party was present in the Divisions, and not more than about a quarter of the entire House. I think, therefore, that this is a matter which could usefully be discussed again this afternoon.
§ As drafted in the Bill, any devolutionary proposals must have the support of 70 per cent. of the members of the Assembly. I trust that I am not being offensive when I suggest that perhaps a few of these members may turn out to be somewhat maverick. I believe it is not unknown for Northern Ireland Members sometimes even to fail to take their place, certainly at Westminster. The other provision is that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the substance of the proposals is likely to commend widespread acceptance with cross-community support. How? I do not understand this.
§ Are the Secretary of State and my noble friend and their colleagues going to conduct random polls on street corners and down leafy lanes and ask such questions as, "Are you a Protestant?" or "Are you a Catholic; and if you are a Catholic, are you a Catholic Unionist or a Catholic Republican?" and so on? I think that all these questions will be very divisive and most unfortunate. I do not see how the Secretary of State is going to judge what constitutes cross-community support. Will be have to rely on his own judgment and that of his advisers or the judgment of the ballot box? I am afraid that experience has shown that the judgment of individuals, however experienced, is often false when tested against the results of the ballot box. Your Lordships will remember Mr. Heath in 1974.776
§ The Secretary of State has said that he would take all proper steps to ascertain public opinion. The only way to be sure, or as sure as can be, is to conduct a proper referedum on such a vitally important constitutional matter. The people of Northern Ireland are entitled to be consulted in the same way as were the people of Scotland and Wales on such a vital matter which affects us all in the United Kingdom. I do not think it is any answer for the Secreatary of State to say that Northern Ireland is so different from Scotland and Wales. Of course, it is different. We all know about the separate idenitities of the two communities.
§ But there is no hope for us if the great majority of the two communities are not to become interested, involved and engaged in the wider United Kingdom context: that is, if Ulster is to remain part of the United Kingdom and to enjoy a worthwhile existence as part of the United Kingdom. Also, I do not feel that it is any answer for the Secretary of State or my noble friend to say that a referendum is unnecesary because an Assembly will have been elected. The Assembly elections are due to take place this year and it may be a couple of years or more—I hope, never—before the actual question of devolutionary proposals arises.
§ I appreciate that yet another election would be most unfortunate. It would certainly fill my noble friend Lord Brookeborough with great foreboding. Another election would be unfortunate but I do not see how one can get away without having a referendum on this matter. I think it is absolutely vital to bring home to the Northern Ireland electorate the possible or probable consequences and risks of devolution in the real sense.
§ I think that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said on Second Reading that Northern Ireland stands at the crossroads. It does, and at the crossroads there are four roads. But two of the roads are closed. First, the United Ireland road. That is a closed road unless one day there becomes a united British Isles, which I fear is not likely to happen for a century or two. The second is the independent Ulster road. That, we know, is not on. It might even lead to civil war.
§ Then there are two other roads. One of them is not really a road at all. That is the road that the Northern Ireland people are being invited to take. I would call it a narrow, diversionary, devolutionary lane leading to nowhere, except at best an inward-looking, isolated backwater cut off from the mainstream of the United Kingdom. By all means, the people of Ulster must be allowed to choose their path if they so wish. I should have thought, and indeed I believe, that Ulstermen would wish to choose the main road and would wish to become properly involved in the affairs of the United Kingdom of which they are an important part, and become involved in the mainstream of the United Kingdom, of its economy and social affairs and so on, and not just a Province always in need of financial help, with the guilty feeling that they are perhaps rather a nuisance with no more than a kind of associated status. Ulster has a right to know what the devolutionary path means, and the risks involved. It will be an Ulster where its 17 seats in the House of Commons may not be tolerated for long. It may be an Ulster whose representatives in another place are seldom given office, as was the practice in the days of Stormont. I know that it was only a convention but 777 it was a convention fairly strictly adhered to. With one or two fairly minor exceptions, there were certainly no high ministerial appointments.
§ I find it remarkable that in the last world war about half of our leading and successful generals were Ulstermen. To name just three: Alexander, Alan Brooke and Montgomery. How extraordinary, and what a waste of genius and talent, had these distinguished men, to whom we owe so much, been debarred from high office if they, or men of equivalent calibre, had been in the political field representing Ulster constituencies at Westminster. Even on a good day they would have been lucky to have risen much above the rank of a PPS or a Junior Whip. A referendum will bring all these matters to the attention of the Northern Ireland electorate.
§ Lastly—and I hope that my noble friend will not despair at this—I would refer to the dangers of the West Lothian anomaly, which I feel are highly relevant here and which again can only be brought out by way of a referendum. I was utterly astonished by the comment of my noble friend Lord Gowrie on Second Reading that we had lived with the West Lothian anomaly for 60 years and that it had never bothered him much. Well of course it has been a dormant disease and it really only came out in virulent form in 1978. I say to my noble friend that it should bother him. He should be having sleepless nights over it, as the problem will come to the fore when devolution looms as a reality.
§ If, in the days of Stormont, all was well and the issue was dormant and quiescent, that was because what was constant during the whole 50 years of Stormont rule was that the Unionists with their steady two-to-one majority would always co-operate with whatever Government there was at Westminster, and there were no knife-edge majorities at Westminster during that time. Therefore their 12 seats were tolerated. Those days are now over and done with and Northern Ireland is to have 17 seats. If it is also to have a devolved government, then be sure the day will come on which the votes on Northern Ireland members determine an issue for the rest of the United Kingdom in a way the Government of the day do not agree with. That will be the day when it will be argued: "Why should they decide the fate of our Government when they have an effective Parliament and Government of their own"?
§ I will say no more except that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has told us that he looks on Ulster as a wanted and valued member of the United Kingdom. In that case, surely, Ulster has a right to speak its mind on such a vitally important matter as the issue of devolution and, as in the case of Scotland and Wales, it is the classic instance for the use of a referendum. I beg to move.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of High Cross
I make no complaint that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, mildly rebuked me for not taking part in the Second Reading debate. I should have apologised to the Committee that I was unable to be present that day. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, for drawing my attention to this Bill, which I admit would otherwise 778 perhaps have escaped my notice. I must ask the indulgence of the Committee because I have no special qualifications in this matter. But I have applied myself to reading in Hansard the proceedings in this House and in the other place.
I am struck that many of those who have the most extensive knowledge, the most direct experience, of politics in Ulster are among the most sceptical about the merits of this Bill and I fear about the prospects of that success which we all wish the Government if it goes ahead in this form. The delicate matter that this Bill for one reason or another departs from the apparent intention of the Conservative Party, as expressed in its election manifesto in 1979, reinforces the general arguments for a referendum among the population who will be affected.
I must tell the Committee that, speaking personally—and directly to the Social Democratic Benches—I should be much happier if there were an amendment down to support a time limit of one year or up to three years to this ingenious constitutional experiment such as was moved by the Social Democrats in the other place. From reading over the debates and other background material, it is clear that there is a great deal of debate and argument about the precise state of public opinion in Northern Ireland on this and on other matters.
No one seems to doubt that the political leaders from Ulster and the media are almost unanimous in their opposition to this Bill. I would say that this unpromising circumstance need not be fatal to ultimate success if sufficient support for this Bill and its implementation can be enlisted and demonstrated from ordinary people. I must say, as a Londoner unfamiliar with the Irish scene, that, when I come to look at opinion polls, I find them very difficult indeed to understand. Their findings are often contradictory and ambiguous. I believe the reason is partly that people—especially Irish people—sometimes mean different things by the same words when embodied in these electoral polling questions.
I have been agreeably astonished to discover that we are not faced in Northern Ireland—as is widely popularly imagined over here—simply by two completely monolithic and polarised blocks to be characterised as Protestants and Catholics. Some Catholics support, or seem to vote for in referenda, the continuation of direct rule which they support sometimes even more fervently than some Protestants, though clearly for slightly different reasons.
It is all very well for the noble Earl and other Ministers to dismiss direct rule as everybody's second choice: it keeps on coming back to me that there might be a preference for an outcome that is tolerated by a large number of people rather than for one which is regarded with abhorrence by a significant proportion of the population. You find in these expressions of public opinion that so-called Protestants, even card-carrying unionists, are divided, some of them believing in complete integration, others in a whole range of different forms of devolution, whether administrative, executive, legislative or some form of power sharing. Even those who favour legislative devolution disagree about its purposes and likely outcome. May unionists will support legislative devolution because they think they are interposing a stronger barrier against 779 a united Ireland, while others might support a Belfast parliament as a stepping-stone to further constitutional arrangements with Eire.
In the Second Reading debate (at column 944 of Hansard) the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, quoted a hopeful poinion poll from the Irish Times as showing that three out of four in the Province favour this Bill. The noble Baroness—quite rightly—contrasted this constructive attitude of the populace compared with the less constructive attitude of Northern Ireland's political leaders. This idea of a referendum gives us an opportunity to educate the politicians. If a referendum would show that larger numbers of ordinary people, real people were interested in these kinds of developments and shared the aspirations of the noble Earl and the other Ministers, then it might have an influence on the rather unalluring attitudes expressed by at least some of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland in the other place. It seems to me that, when this Bill moves forward and when progress becomes difficult under Clause 1 regarding the assumption of powers, there might be a stronger perseverance and determination to succeed if the people were given an opportunity to declare their commitment for this attempt in a referendum.
I would say, on the example of the EEC referendum, which is a good one to reconsider, that that experience suggested to me two lessons. In the first place, it showed that in a campaign of two or three weeks it was possible to get a grand debate going in the press and the media and at public meetings. That was educational and helpful in many ways. Secondly, I may say that the favourable vote for the EEC has led even opponents of that outcome such as myself to stay with the commitment, even when the going in Brussels has got as rough as some of us predicted at that time. It shares a sense of perseverance and commitment that might make all the difference to the success of this measure.
On Third Reading in another place, at col. 831, the Secretary of State acknowledged sadly that there was no great support for it. Yet in our Second Reading here the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said that for all the opposition by party leaders and the media—and I quote from col. 952—on the question of Northern Ireland,people are queueing up to get into the Assembly.I welcome that indication of enthusiasm for this measure and I urge the noble Earl to consider the merits of a referendum. I should like a referendum before the Bill comes into operation, because if a referendum demonstrated that this ingenious experiment had widespread support, then it seems to me it would encourage many people to overcome their doubts of a kind that were expressed by, among others, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Lords, Lord O'Neill of the Maine and Lord Moyola, during our Second Reading Debate.
So I would say to the Minister: if he believes there is a new readiness to participate in constructive progress, a referendum could draw these new elements of which he speaks into the arena on the side of the Bill. It seems to me we might then be more hopeful that the resulting campaign of education by referendum would make some impact on the still, I fear, confused and 780 bewildered thinking in Northern Ireland and of our compatriots, our fellow countrymen in Northern Ireland, whose true interests are united by far more than divides them.
§ 4.32 p.m.
The Earl of Gowrie
It may well be that other noble Lords wish to come in on this issue of a referendum, and therefore I shall not make any references to that before your Lordships have said whatever you wish to say. I would intervene at this point only to try to clear up what I believe is a deep and critical misapprehension in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. I think the noble Lord is of the view that the Government are putting forward, as it were, a novel and ingenious constitutional solution or proposal to try to solve political problems in Northern Ireland. It is not quite like that. As I said on Second Reading—and the noble Lord who has again, with respect to him, made a Second Reading point, must therefore forgive me if I repeat my Second Reading point—all policy in respect of Northern Ireland must ground itself in the realities of Northern Ireland, its history and demography. That means considerable humility and modest expectation for policy. We are not here unveiling the Mark IV or Mark V model for a solution to the Northern Ireland issue; we are offering the people of Northern Ireand themselves the opportunity of devising political structures to cope with the demands and the realities of their situation, and to cope—this is equally important—with the demands and the realities of the sovereign Parliament at Westminster.
I did not dismiss direct rule. My betting, for what it is worth, is that for the foreseeable future direct rule in whole or in part will remain the form of government for Northern Ireland. When I talked about it being a second-best solution, that was not dismissive. In a society as polarised politically as Northern Ireland, for everybody to have a second best is a considerable commendation of the system. It is simply that the Government feel that after 10 years of direct rule some of the disadvantages of direct rule which I felt obliged to spell out at Second Reading should be made clear, and that the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives should have a chance to return to a form of government of which they have experience and which in some ways was seen to have suited them.
Really, that is all that we are doing. We are putting on offer a set of proposals to the people of Northern Ireland which they can take up or refuse, as may be. If, to quote the words of the noble Lord, this is regarded "with abhorrence" by them, then of course they will not take up the offer. Nevertheless, in making the offer we do have the valuable secondary effect of creating simultaneously a focus for some legitimate political activity in Northern Ireland, which focus has been denied to the people for nearly 10 years. The noble Lord must get the essentials of the policy right before he condemns the details.
§ Lord Monson
If we had more time available I should like to try to defend my noble friend Lord Harris of High Cross against some of the noble Earl's strictures because, whatever he says, I contend there are some quite novel features in the Bill we have before us. 781 However, I do not want to waste too much of the Committee's time, and therefore I simply want to say that I gladly support the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, in his desire that the Ulster people should be allowed the same choice as the Scots and the Welsh people in shaping their own destiny. After all, to deny them that choice is surely effectivelytreatingthem rather like second-class citizens; it suggests they are too immature to be able to decide their own future.
My only reservation about this amendment is that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, should have gone further, and that the amendment should have been so drawn as to ensure that the referendum takes place before the Assembly is set up, at the very substantial cost to the taxpayer of three-quarters of a million poinds, and not afterwards. Furthermore, I believe the referendum should have been phrased in such a way as to ask the Northern Ireland electorate to list all the five or six well-known options for the future of the Province in order of preference—for example, total integration, continuation of direct rule, devolution, absorption into the Irish Republic and so on.
As full integration appears to be the second choice of most people, according to public opinion polls—and, of course, I accept my noble friend's strictures on opinion polls; naturally one cannot rely on them totally—it seems to me quite possible that full integration would have come out on top under this system. If I may stick out my neck and quote figures, since others have done so, let us remember that full integration, harmonisation, appears to be acceptable at least, if not necessarily welcome, to no less than 74 per cent. of the population. Of course, it will be argued that the holding of a referendum would delay matters for a few extra months: but what of it? Why the seemingly unnecessary haste?
In this connection I do not believe that I can have been the only member of either House of Parliament, or indeed the only member of the general public, if a letter published in yesterday's Daily Telegraph is any guide, to have been taken aback—I put it no stronger than that—by a statement said to have been made by the Secretary of State last Wednesday, which was reported in last Thursday's Times. The Secretary of State is alleged to have told the press that elections to the new 78-seat Assembly will take place on 20th October—not will hopefully take place, or will with luck take place, but will take place.
Admittedly, this Bill has passed all its stages in the House of Commons, notwithstanding that some of the stages were truncated, but at the time when this statement was alleged to have been made the Bill had received only its Second Reading in your Lordships' House. We are not a rubber-stamp and there is no guarantee, nor should there ever be any guarantee, that the will of the Government will automatically be done. We have a duty to scrutinise and occasionally to reject. I do not suppose for a moment that we shall reject on this occasion, but, theoretically, we have the power to do so. I realise that this sort of thing has occasionally happened before under both Conservative and Labour Administrations, but that does not make it any more desirable. Having got that off my chest, I welcome the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
Unlike my predecessors, I shall not make a Second Reading speech. 782 This is becoming a very long debate, and it is going over exactly the same ground as we went over on Second Reading. I am opposed to a referendum at this moment, because, until the parties have got together in an Assembly and have laid down the terms under which that Assembly can operate, the people have no idea what they are voting about. If they succeed—and we are all a little doubtful that they will, but we think it is worth trying—in finding a modus vivendi by which the different parties in Northern Ireland can run an Assembly in a limited way, then, if you have a referendum, you will get an enormous majority for further devolution. On those grounds, and in order to hurry things up, I hope that the Government will reject this amendment.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lord Moyola
I should like to add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and say that I, too, am opposed to the idea of a referendum. A referendum is very much the same as another election, and in Northern Ireland we already have far too many elections. We have an election to another place, we are to have an election to an Assembly, we have local government elections and we have the constitutional referendum. Every single one of them always puts up the temperature. Sooner or later, every single one of them degenerates into a sort of sectarian slanging match. It does nothing for the peace of the place and is of very little benefit to anyone, added to which every extra form of election is an additional burden on the police and army, from the security point of view. So for that reason alone, I would be very much against another referendum added to the list of elections. But surely to goodness, once there has been an election to the Assembly, it will be absolutely plain to the electorate why they are electing representatives, and it does not seem to me that one needs to have it rubber-stamped yet again after the Assembly has reached a decision.
Lastly, I am bound to say that a referendum would probably confuse the issue even more, because, whether we like this Bill or not, nobody will get out of it all the things he wants, or anywhere near all the things he wants. The result may very well be that a great many of those people who are somewhat dissatisfied will simply not bother to turn up for the referendum and, in the end, we shall simply have achieved an answer that is a lemon. So, for those various reasons, I hope that the noble Earl will resist the amendment.
§ Lord Ellenborough
Before my noble friend rises, may I say that the whole point of having a referendum is that it will be held, not before the Assembly elections, but possibly a couple of years afterwards. When the Assembly elections are held, the question of devolution proposals will not be uppermost in the minds of Northern Ireland electors. It is only a year or two later, when concrete devolution proposals are being put forward, that that will be the case. That is why there should, surely, be a chance for the Northern Ireland electorate to express their opinion at the time when devolution proposals are forthcoming. I think my noble friend Lord Gowrie, has said, once or twice, that he does not expect any devolution proposals for a long time. Obviously, he has no idea of how long, 783 but he does not expect them for another two or three years. So I cannot see the objection to having a referendum in that case. I should have thought it was absolutely vital. It would be a gross disservice to the people of Ulster not to have a referendum at the time when concrete devolution proposals are put forward.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
Perhaps I may respond very briefly, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to something that I said on Second Reading. When I was talking about the opposite situations of the people's wish for this Assembly, which was contradicted by the political parties, I said that in order to illustrate my great trust in the good sense of the people of Northern Ireland who wished to give this a try. So far as referenda are concerned, so much depends on how the question is phrased. That goes for any referenda which have ever been held. Again, I do not entirely agree with the principle of referenda within our political system. In a way it constitutes a vote of confidence in a certain policy, and I agreed with the Minister when he said that, in this instance, a vote of confidence would be demonstrated by the fact that the candidates would present themselves for election to the Assembly.
The Earl of Gowrie
I have to confess to being a little puzzled by the point at issue here, though I know it is strongly felt. It was certainly the subject of much discussion in another place. Leaving aside the practical issues and anxieties connected with holding a referendum on this kind of issue in Northern Ireland—and my noble friend Lord Moyola, with all the weight of a previous distinguished Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, has itemised those—and leaving aside any philosophic objections or anxieties about referenda, in general, which the noble Baroness has just outlined, I still do not quite see why we should need a referendum on this issue.
The Assembly, which has the task of producing devolution proposals, will be elected by the people of Northern Ireland and will, therefore, be broadly representative of their views. As the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, reminded us, that is the way by which we can count the heads, count the opinions, and count the weight of support for any proposals. It therefore, surely, must be that the main justification for holding a referendum would be to assist a Parliament at Westminster which, at the end of the day, has to decide whether to accept any proposals for devolution in that decision. But Parliament will know which parties, and which Assembly members, are in favour of these proposals and will be able to take that into account perfectly well, when deciding whether the cross-community support is sufficiently widespread for it to accede to any proposals that are made. So I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Monson, in suggesting that, in some way, the people of Northern Ireland are being denied any choice over their destiny.
Straying back into remarks that I made in the previous debate, the criticism of direct rule—which, as the Committee will know, I very much defend and very much support—is that they do not have much choice over their own destiny now. We are therefore proposing that at least some choice should be offered to them.
§ Lord Monson
The noble Earl will, I am sure, agree that they are not being offered the same choice as the people of Scotland and Wales.
The Earl of Gowrie
Yes, but where the noble Lord and I have to agree to differ is over whether there is any correspondence between the situation facing Scotland and Wales and the situation facing Northern Ireland. That is an irrevocable difference between us. At the simplest level, a very large percentage of the people of Scotland and Wales do not vote for politicians who do not acknowledge the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. That is the particular pickle that we are in in Northern Ireland.
It could not have been better put than it was by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State when he said that if there was not a problem in Northern Ireland there would not be a problem. It may lack something in Ciceronian eloquence but it certainly puts its thumb on the button of the issue. Of course, the Committee in your Lordships' House would not be having to suffer proposals from successive Governments of a somewhat novel feature in connection with Northern Ireland if there were not novel features about Northern Ireland. That is our difficulty. Therefore, it comes back to the simple issue that we are looking for mechanisms by which cross-community support could be negotiated—not imposed by the British Government or the British Parliament but negotiated by the electorate and their representatives in Northern Ireland.
I hope that this amendment will not be pressed to a Division. It would, with respect to the noble Lords who propose it, be an eccentric move. It would, in a sense, be a way of saying, "Here is an election. The election provides an Assembly. The Assembly makes proposals to the sovereign Government and Parliament and we must now have another election about the election". The people of Northern Ireland are not fools. They are a highly developed political race, if I may put it that way. They have lived with this problem for a great many years. They are acutely aware of all its ramifications. They know perfectly well what this election is about. I think that the proposal is, in a curious way, somewhat insulting to them and I hope that it will be resisted.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ 4.53 p.m.
Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 2, leave out lines 32 to 34.
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 4. It is essentially a probing amendment. When I first read the three lines of Clause 2(2) which my amendment seeks to delete, I was puzzled. The more I studied them the more puzzled I became. I checked with officers of the House, of great experience. They confirmed my suspicion that an addendum of this sort in a statute is virtually without precedent. In the ordinary way, a draft order contains an explanatory memorandum which should tell Members all that they need to know. Any gaps in their comprehension can be filled in by the Minister when he comes to introduce the order. Having carefully considered the merits or the demerits of the order, as the case may be, the 785 Members then cast their votes accordingly. It is not normally thought necessary for Members to go further and for the law to require them to attach a testimonial or seal of moral approval to the order. Such a tag may be often implied, yes; but spelled out in black and white, no.
§ The Committee may ask: Does it matter very much either way? I think that it might. I believe that these extra words positively invite Parliament to cast doubt upon the judgment of the Secretary of State of the day, whoever he may be—because it may not be in the lifetime of this Parliament that devolution proposals are put forward—if, under Clause 1(4)(b) he has declared that he is satisfied that the substance of the proposals is likely to command widespread acceptance throughout the community and that between 50 and 70 per cent. of the Assembly are in favour.
§ That is on the one hand. On the other hand, it reflects upon the integrity of the Assembly by giving Parliament the power to tell the Assembly, in so many words, that a 70 per cent. majority vote is insufficient for the suspension of direct rule, notwithstanding that Parliament itself has approved that 70 per cent. figure. It implies that a greater majority—of, say, 80 per cent. or 90 per cent.—would now be needed in order to obtain parliamentary support. Of course, Parliament always has the right to reject the order mentioned in Clauses 1 and 2, and any other orders for that matter, but surely the three lines in question are totally superfluous and dangerous in that they positively invite Parliament to treat orders made under the Bill with undue suspicion. I beg to move.
The Earl of Gowrie
As I have suggested in previous debates on amendments, the essence of the proposals being put forward by the Government is that there can be no question of any devolution order being made unless and until Parliament has satisfied itself that the provisions of that order would be likely to command widespread acceptance throughout the community. That is, quite simply, the ultimate test for any devolution proposals. To remove this provision now, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, seeks to do in his amendment, would therefore remove a very important safeguard not only for the whole principle upon which the Bill rests, but in particular for the minority community. In theory, it would allow for the possibility of a devolution order being made, even though its provisions did not command cross-community support. I cannot stress too strongly that the 70 per cent. is only a trigger mechanism which ensures that a proposal is debated at Westminster. The Secretary of State is obliged to lay before Parliament an order or a proposal for an order which commands 70 per cent. support. It means that the order must be debated by Parliament. It has no greater signifiance than that.
Given the experience in Northern Ireland, as I have recently argued, it is our firm view that only broad cross-community support, and arrangements which achieve that support, can provide stable, lasting or effective institutions. Surely this principle has been at the heart of the attitude of Parliament as a whole towards Northern Ireland's political affairs since direct rule was initiated. Direct rule—which, as I explained earlier, continues until and unless full devolution 786 proposals are made—depends upon this principle, That principle will surely weigh very heavily with any future Government or Parliament.
We therefore believed that it was quite right for the Bill to be absolutely clear on that point. That is why we put down a Government amendment in another place, so that there was no ambiguity between the issue of the 70 per cent. and the issue of the cross-community support. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, would restore the ambiguity which, perhaps culpably, we originally had in the Bill. We have greatly improved the Bill, I think, and made it much clearer. I hope the noble Lord will find it in his heart to agree with us that, whether or not he likes the provision, it is at least quite easily understood in its present form.
§ Lord Monson
I do not disagree with a word which the noble Earl says about the desirability of having widespread cross-community support: I intend to come back to this point much more strongly on Amendment No. 7. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, may not have read my amendment fully. I am not suggesting that we leave out the entire subsection. If this amendment were carried, Clause 2(2) would still read:(2) No recommendation shall be made to Her Majesty to make an order under subsection (1) above unless each House of Parliament has passed a resolution approving a draft of the order.Those words would still remain within the Bill, and I am not suggesting for a moment that they should be deleted. The amendment would just delete the extra three lines, which are just a flowery enlargement of that subsection and which appear to be without precedent so far as I can ascertain. It is that which I cannot understand, and perhaps the noble Earl can explain why those words appear in his Bill and not in most other statutes.
The Earl of Gowrie
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, used a metaphor about these "flowery" lines. In fact these lines—far from being flowery—really outline the nettle which it is necessary for the people of Northern Ireland to grasp if they are to devolve the power.
§ Lord Ellenborough
I do not want to go back to the last amendment, but a lot of these flowery provisions would be quite unnecessary if only a referendum was to take place. If one has a referendum, then one can quite easily gauge cross-community support by breaking down and monitoring various parts and regions of Northern Ireland. That is what was done at the time of the Scottish referendum, when there was a breakdown of such places as the Lothian region, Grampian, Strathclyde and so on. In a referendum, it would be perfectly easy to see whether or not cross-community support was forthcoming.
§ Lord Monson
I suppose the real reason for the insertion of these three lines is that the Government suspect that, in the absence of their appearance in the Bill, each House of Parliament would not take the trouble to study the order in question and would be voting in a vacuum, as it were. However, I do not want to make too great an issue of this; there was no point of principle involved—it was a genuine probing 787 amendment and, with that, I beg to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 5 not moved.]
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4 [Assembly committees in relation to departments under control of Secretary of State]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
I wanted to raise two points for the sake of clarity. They concern the question of committees which the Assembly will set up. It is quite often forgotten that when the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the Government of Northern Ireland was first set up, matters of interference in everyday affairs was of a very limited extent. It was quite easy to define the areas of responsibility. For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture was to do with the agriculture of Northern Ireland. As time has gone on, and especially during the war, more and more of the work of various Ministries, especially the Ministry of Agriculture, has been carried out as agents for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Such has been the good relationship, and such has been the outstanding ability of the civil servants in those departments, that the civil servants and the Government at Westminster have made the maximum use of these civil servants with their particular expertise—not only on Northern Ireland but also on other matters. They have in fact been given access and are commanded to come to Cabinet sub-committees of civil servants. The relationship between the Government of Northern Ireland on that level and the Government of the United Kingdom has been quite outstanding. Half of the achievements of the Government of Northern Ireland, which are outstanding, has been entirely due to the good relationships which exist on that.
I am extremely worried that if we get Assembly committees, whether it is before devolution or after devolution, which poke their noses into matters which are not really their affair by statute and by reason, but which have become the affair of the department by reason of custom, we shall end up by having a rift between the Government in the United Kingdom and the Government at Stormont. Perhaps I can take as one example a matter I am hoping to raise with my noble friend on Thursday, which is the question of EEC policy towards feedingstuffs. Technically, that is no affair of the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, yet by reason of custom they have acted as agents, and this has become a very important part of the Government of Northern Ireland. I would like an assurance from my noble friend the Minister in that regard.
The next point I should like to raise concerns the question of the relationship between Northern Ireland and Dublin. We have not had an opportunity in this House to discuss the White Paper which laid it out. I believe we could discuss it under the amendment to the Act at a later date, but perhaps the Com- 788 mittee will allow me to raise it now, because the Assembly could establish a committee to deal with relations with Dublin. Therefore it seems to me to be relevant.
Of late, certain of our politicians and people of public note have been maintaining that on them falls the mantle of Craig and Castle. They have said that they will not go down to Dublin to meet Members of the Irish Government. But on 21st January 1922, just after Mr. Winston Churchill took over as chairman of the Cabinet sub-committee on the devolution of power to the whole of Ireland, North and South, he records that the first meeting between Craig and Collins took place. Thereafter in that book, which is the volume IV of Martin Gilbert's book, frequent meetings by Craig and Collins occur. More than that, recorded in the book is that Sir James Craig, or Lord Craigavon, went to the border, where he was met by the IRA and was escorted down to meet Eamon De Valéra. So there is no reason why Ulstermen in their own position should not go down to Dublin. I venture to say that if one examines the records at that point, they show that, almost without fail, the Ulstermen won that particular battle.
There are also the myths that the Northern Ireland Government were stiff-necked and utterly refused to have anything to do with the Government in the South. In my father's diary for 23rd February 1949, it is of interest to read, as I did just the other day, that,I understand McBride has requested the British Government to arrange a meeting with myself. It was turned down by the British Government without reference to me.My point about that is the mythology which has grown up and the injustice of suggesting that the Northern Ireland Government were not prepared to meet the Irish Republic. The facts are that, constitutionally, the British Government for many years entirely refused to allow that to occur. The first meeting of Governments on that level was in fact on the ship going to Ottawa for the Ottawa Conference, of which my father was a member. It is equally interesting to read a letter describing how the members of the Irish Government vied with each other to sit at my father's table. There are so many myths, but what I am saying is that the more we are appealed to and lectured to that we must reconcile and go down to the Dublin, the more difficult it becomes for people to do so.
This is a complete reaction to 10 years of being told that we did not do what in fact we were doing. If one looks at the record of the Foyle fisheries, of the Erne drainage and of the railways and electricity, an enormous va-et-vient went on between Dublin. My noble friend Lord Moyola, who is not here, and who led a Government who passed more reform legislation than any other Government in the world in the shortest space of time possible, established extremely good relations with his opposite number. This went on time and again. So I do appeal on this matter that there should be no pushing and lecturing, because really an enormous amount did occur.
§ Lord Blease
The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has raised very important matters concerning the operation and functioning of the proposed Assembly. I should like to raise a question with the Minister about the facilities available to members of the Assem- 789 bly. In the event of establishment of the Assembly, there will in my view be several stages in the process of evolving devolution. The three stages I see are the conciliation and advisory stage, the partial devolution stage and then the full devolution stage, should that happen.
Concerning the Assembly chairman, the presiding officer, the chairmen of the different committees and the membership of the Assembly, they will have, as I understand from the Bill, an administrative staff that will be financed to carry on the normal administrative work of the Assembly. There is the question of inquiries into departments, the drafting of proposals, the sort of legislative framework in which they are supposed to operate. They will be required to study this in some detail at different stages.
The Civil Service will be working directly to Ministers, and in my view there would sometimes be a question of loyalty to the Minister or confidentiality as regards the Minister, and there is the question of confidentiality of discussions taking place within the Assembly. I think it important that there should be some sort of independent specialist advice available to the Assembly. The question I am putting to the Minister is, do the financial arrangements for the Assembly provide for the setting up of some form of consultancy, either full-time on secondment or part-time, to provide professional economic advice and legal advice on such matters as the EEC, and relationships with Parliament, and general protocol? I think it very important that that facility should be known at this stage in the evolution of the Assembly, before a general election for the Assembly.
The Earl of Gowrie
Unless other noble Lords wish to speak, perhaps while it is fresh in my mind I may answer the point made to me by the noble Lord, Lord Blease. I hope he will forgive me if I do not get it entirely right, because we are, of course, dealing with the future and I do not have, as it were, an exact model in my mind to which I can refer. Obviously it is in the interests of the Government to provide the funds for the committee system and the Assembly to work effectively. While the committees have no formal powers to summon Ministers or officials, or to have access as of right to departmental papers—and there are obvious reasons for this; constitutionally, Ministers are accountable to your Lordships' House or to another place and they really cannot be accountable to anyone else—though there are no such formal powers, we have made it very clear that Ministers will want to be as helpful as possible to the committees in every respect, and that would presumably involve their having the information necessary to do their job. We in our turn will be looking to the committees and to their officers for guidance, and it would be a waste of time and the guidance would be imperfect if the raw material for debate and scrutiny were not made available. I can assure the noble Lord that our hearts are pure in intention, and if, as things grow up, there are shown to be blockages in the system we would seek to try to put things right. The Assembly committees are, of course, serviced by the Assembly itself, and obviously it would be open to the Assembly to seek outside or specialist advice within its overall budget and its cash limit.
790 My noble friend Lord Brookeborough, who has, of course, direct experience of working in a parliamentary system in Northern Ireland, as well as in your Lordships' House, raised, I thought, some extraordinarily interesting points. I should rather like to digest them. My advice is that it would be open to the Assembly to establish a committee on relations with the Republic should it wish to do so, but of course that would be for the Assembly to decide. My broad feeling is that if you leave the North of Ireland to make its arrangements with the Republic it inevitably does so on a mutually satisfactory basis. If you try to suggest that North/South arrangements are to be imposed on Northern Ireland people get agitated and excited, dark deeds are whispered of and suspected, and not much of practical value takes place. That does not mean, of course, that the United Kingdom as a whole must not or should not conduct its own arrangements with the Republic of Ireland itself.
I can say to my noble friend that the arrangements whereby a Northern Ireland department acts as the agent of a United Kingdom department are not subject to Clause 4(1)(a); that is to say, they are not within the ambit of the Assembly committees. The agency functions in question are, therefore, not in the devolved sphere. I hope I have answered the principal points of substance that have been put to me, but, if any noble Lord wishes to say anything further on clause stand part of course, he is very welcome to do so.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
May I ask the noble Earl this? In the previous Executive, matters of agriculture were answered by the Minister for Agriculture, even where they were agency matters. Is that going to be the same? Perhaps my noble friend would look at it and let me know.
The Earl of Gowrie
I will look at it. My instinct is to say, yes, but I will make quite sure and write to my noble friend.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
May I ask the Minister a question on one point, regarding the actual power of the relevant chairmen of the committees once devolved? What power and what influence will they have in relation to, say, overseas investors? Will they be in a position to negotiate orders from foreign Ministers, or again will they be in a position to negotiate with the relevant departments of the EEC Commission? Will they be in a position to influence funding from the Regional and Social Funds? What I do not quite understand is what they will be responsible for, when they take over their responsibilities once their departments have been devolved, in the foreign international field.
The Earl of Gowrie
Obviously members of what is an Assembly within a region of the United Kingdom are circumscribed in the amount of foreign policy they can conduct. That is not a transferred matter. But the noble Baroness, as did my noble friend Lord Brooke-borough, puts her finger on an interesting point which is the practical day to day negotiations within the EEC of a devolved Ministry. As I shall be explaining to your Lordships on, I think, Thursday, when we have the appropriations debate, we are, in 791 fact, setting up a rather different structure for Northern Ireland in terms of the Industrial Development Board and the appointment of its chairman and chief executive. These are answerable to the Minister and would be answerable to a devolved Minister—if I may use that shorthand. But in practice most of the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day negotiations will probably be taken by the chief executive and the chairman of the Industrial Development Board. However, that does not preclude, of course, a Minister acting in the interests of his department—obviously that would be foolish. On the other hand, as I have said, where the committee or the devolved body is acting on an agency basis for the other Ministries in the United Kingdom, it is not in the devolved sphere. Therefore, I think that it is likely, in practice, that some grey areas will arise. I would only say that we cannot really construct a perfect model without a wind tunnel, and the wind tunnel will be the operation and growth of this institution itself.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 [Dissolution of Assembly and revocation of Orders]:
§ 5.21 p.m.
Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 4, line 45, after ("command") insert ("and is not likely in the foreseeable future to command").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 6. However, first I must apologise to the Committee for having confused Amendments Nos. 5 and 6—perhaps I need stronger glasses. I like to think that this is a constructive amendment which will find favour with the Government. Of course all the amendments in the names of my noble friends and myself are constructive amendments, but in some cases we are confronted with the great philosophical divide mentioned by the noble Earl, which it is difficult to leap. I believe that no such philosophical divide exists in relation to this amendment.
§ This particular amendment is, in a way, a mirror image of an SDP amendment which was moved in another place, divided upon and attracted considerable support, not only from the Social Democrats but from the Liberals, quite a large number of Conservatives and Unionists and also one or two Labour Members. In brief, its aims were to permit the British Government to dissolve the Assembly if, after a period of three years, no progress had been made, and it had degenerated into an unconstructive, quarrelsome talking shop. A similar amendment permitting the dissolution of the Assembly after only one year, was tabled by a number of Conservative Members, and it is noteworthy that The Times newspaper came out very strongly in favour of this amendment in at least two thoughtfully-argued leading articles. However, the Government rejected both amendments on the grounds that they would tie their hands excessively and might compel the Assembly to be dissolved just at the moment when things might be starting to gel, when a consensus looked possible or when a favourable outcome looked imminent. This amendment is designed to prevent the Government, in another hypothetical situation, from unwittingly and 792 disadvantageously tying their own hands in the way which those other rejected amendments might have done, which I think would be to everybody's detriment.
§ None of us who support the amendment is, to put it mildly, an enthusiast for devolution. But we do feel that, if by any chance, the Assembly does start to work, it would be the height of folly if devolution had to be reversed or put into limbo because of some perhaps very temporary loss of support from a small section of the community. Yet Clause 5(3) as at present drafted virtually forces the Government to do precisely that. It is true that the word employed in line 1 on page 5 is "may" and not "shall", but nevertheless the present wording means that the Government would come under strong moral pressure to revert wholly or partly to direct rule the very moment the operation of an order appeared to cease to command widespread inter-communal support, even on a short-term basis. It is not difficult to envisage the possibilities for blackmail—by which I mean of course, moral blackmail—which could emerge from this.
§ Let us suppose that a particular group in the Assembly demanded that the Assembly pass a resolution condemning the use of plastic bullets, or baton rounds as they are now called, and threatened, if the resolution were not passed, to withdraw its support and, it would claim, the support of those it purported to represent in the Assembly. Let us suppose that another group, not necessarily in the same part of the political spectrum as the first one, demanded that a message of sympathy and solidarity be sent to a hunger-striking terrorist, and made the same threats of withdrawal of support. In the general Province-wide passions of the moment there might well be a genuine loss of cross-community support for the Assembly, but in those circumstances, as on previous occasions, it would be unlikely to last long. In view of the enormous disruption, expense and possibly even tension and violence that could result from a premature reversion to direct rule, whether in whole or in part, this amendment is designed to ensure that it can only occur if the falling off in cross-community support appears to be more than just a temporary phenomenon. I beg to move.
The Earl of Gowrie
Clause 5 which the Government, of course, hope will never have to be put into effect, provides for the dissolution of the Assembly and for the revocation of any devolution orders which may be made. Clause 5(3), which the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, seeks to alter, deals with the revocation of devolution orders themselves. It may be of assistance to the Committee if I briefly say what it does. If it appears to Her Majesty, after taking into account any relevant proceedings in the Assembly, that the continued operation of a devolution order does not command "widespread acceptance" throughout the community, then such an order can be revoked. This provides a safeguard in the event that the initial agreement, or series of agreements, leading to devolution, is not sustained and in the event that the package loses the necessary support of the Assembly. The Committee will notice that the provision also embodies the essential principle of "widespread acceptability" to which I spoke at an earlier stage this afternoon and which must 793 underline the continuance of any devolution agreement.
I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has, as it were, come forward with open arms to try to meet us. As a critic of devolution, he is nevertheless trying to prevent with this amendment the revocation of a devolution order simply because its continued operation does not command widespread acceptance throughout the community at one particular moment. But, should the noble Lord's amendment be accepted by the Committee, I think that we should have the danger of over-hasty revocation owing to temporary difficulties. This would be impossible since an order could only be made under Clause 5(3) if there appeared to be no hope that the situation would improve in the foreseeable future. Obviously the Government would be very reluctant to see the provisions in this clause used; they are fail-safe provisions. So the idea that the Government would be trigger-happy to use them is a misplaced one.
Perhaps I could reassure the Committee that we do not have any intention of over-hasty use, and I would remind the Committee that revocation would, in any case, involve a resolution of both Houses of Parliament after careful consideration by the Government of all the circumstances as they existed at the time. I honestly do not think that the amendment is necessary. I think that we have the necessary flexibility to get people to cool off or think again and only to use such provisions as exist in Clause 5 if it is quite clear that there is no hope of reconstituting the order. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will not press his amendment.
§ Lord Monson
Of course, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his explanation and for his assurance that the Government would not contemplate over-hasty action under Clause 5(3). I do not feel particularly strongly about this—why should I—not being an enthusiast for the Assembly. I was merely trying to ensure that, if it did come into being, it would work properly without great expense to the taxpayer, and so on.
But if the Government do not intend to act over-hastily, is there any harm in putting it into the Bill in the way in which I have suggested? I merely think that my words would spell out what the Government say their intentions will be. Evidentally it is a matter of fine judgment. In an earlier clause they spelt out their intentions very precisely—notably, in Clause 2(2). Here, apparently, they do not feel the necessity to do so. However, as I have said, I do not feel very strongly about it and, if no other Member of the Committee has anything to say, all I can do is beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ 5.32 p.m.
Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 7:
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Status of Northern Ireland not to be changed unless widely accepted throughout Community.
- (a) for the words "the majority" there shall be substituted the words "at least 70 per cent."; and
- (b) at the end there shall be inserted the words "and unless each House of Parliament is satisfied that any such altera-
794 tion in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community".")
§ The noble Lord said: In this Bill, as to a lesser extent it did in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, the British Parliament is declaring as a matter of principle that no constitutional changes, even of a relatively minor nature—of course, many aspects of devolution would deal with relatively minor matters in terms of how they affect people's lives—should be imposed upon Northern Ireland without evidence of genuinely widespread support throughout the community. This is a principle which is now almost universally endorsed in both Houses of Parliament.
§ The purpose of this amendment is to take the logical and the honourable step—and there is no point in taking it merely because it is logical; the important point is that it is an honourable step—of applying this admirable principle to the vastly more important question of national identity by amending Clause 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 so as to ensure that Northern Ireland will not cease to be part of Her Majesty's Dominions or of the United Kingdom unless Parliament is satisfied that such a major step would be "widely accepted throughout the community". I take those last words precisely from Section 2 of the 1973 Act, which follows upon Section 1, which we are discussing. They trip slightly easier off the tongue than the amended wording used in the present Bill.
§ It has never been my view that in Northern Ireland the words "Roman Catholic" are synonymous with "nationalist". Nor is it the view of those who know the Province very much better than I; for example, the honourable Member for Epping Forest—himself a staunch Roman Catholic—Sir John Biggs-Davison, who has, indeed, written many books and pamphlets on the subject. Apart from anything else, to equate Roman Catholic automatically with nationalist is to insult Roman Catholic members of the security forces—the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and, indeed, the British Army, who in many cases have laid down their lives protecting the United Kingdom against its enemies.
§ Moreover, statistics would seem to support the view; I do not refer only to opinion polls but also to the pattern over the years of election results. Year in and year out parties, which might broadly be labelled nationalist, tend to get around 25 per cent. of the total poll—it fluctuates somewhere between 23 per cent. and 27 per cent.—and, of course, the Roman Catholic population in Northern Ireland is a good deal larger than 25 per cent. of the total.
§ However, it must be said that there are others who challenge this viewpoint. The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, speaking on Second Reading, declared that one-third of the population of Northern Ireland considered themselves Irish. I hope that I am not misinterpreting him, and I know that he will correct me if I am, but when he says that they consider themselves Irish I assume that he means that they consider themselves under no circumstances British or wishing to be part of the United Kingdom.
§ In the same debate the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine—who I am sorry is not with us this afternoon, who perhaps has a greater knowledge of the long-term demographic trends in the Province— 795 affirmed that 40 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland considered themselves Irish and that virtually every one of them would oppose integration, despite, it must be said, opinion polls which seem to show that 47 per cent. of Roman Catholics would, indeed, accept integration.
§ If the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, and to a greater extent the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, are right and we who take a different view or judgment are wrong, evidently the continuing demographic disparities between the communities could lead to Northern Ireland being voted out of the United Kingdom by a majority of 50.1 per cent. to 49.9 per cent., with every single individual in one of the communities having voted against such a step. I am bound to say that this seems to be a recipe for conflict on an almost Lebanese scale. Certainly, I believe that most people in the Republic would be aghast. I am sure that Dr. Garret FitzGerald, if he was still around, would be horrified, as would be most of his Fine Gael Party and as would the moderate Irish Labour Party. Even most Soldiers of Destiny, one might think, would agree in private, though not perhaps in public. The only people who might welcome such an outcome would be a few members of the Fianna Fail Party, the IRA and the INLA and, of course, many Irish Americans safely esconced, as they would be, between 3,000 and 6,000 miles away from the scene of almost certain conflict. As I say, almost anyone living nearer the scene would be worried in the extreme about the tensions and violence that would almost certainly erupt.
§ This amendment is designed to avert such a dangerous potential situation and, in doing so, it uses the formulae already provided for in this Bill and in the 1973 Act so as to provide that there could be no change in the constitution and status of the Province without widespread cross-community support. There are, in fact, many precedents for a referendum or plebiscite geared so as to favour continuance of the status quo. The first example—the one best known to the Committee—is the Scotland Bill, which provided that devolution should not come into effect unless 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote voted in favour plus an actual majority of 50 per cent. of those who voted. Secondly, one might instance the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1920s, where many referendums were held, but where no referendum could effect a change from the status quo unless an actual majority of those entitled to vote had so voted.
§ More recently—indeed, extremely recently—within the last two or three weeks, one could cite the proposals for Unity between the Church of England and the Free Churches. Such has been the opposition from some Anglicans that it was ruled that unity could not be achieved unless and until the bishops, the clergy and the laity had all separately voted by a two to one majority in favour of such a move. As we know, although the bishops and the laity did so, the clergy failed to do so: I think that only 61 per cent. or so were in favour.
§ My fourth example comes from Belgium. The Committee may perhaps remember that during World War II King Leopold went into exile. In 1950, after the turmoil of the war and its immediate aftermath had 796 subsided somewhat, it was proposed that he come back to Belgium. However, the Government of the day, realising that there was strong opposition to this step because of the King's alleged lack of vigour in resisting the German occupation of his country, decreed that there should be a referendum before he returned and furthermore that a simple majority would not suffice; that there would have to be a 55 per cent. majority in favour of the King's return before he would be allowed to do so. In the event there was a 57.1 per cent. vote in favour of the King's return. But such was the passionate opposition of the other 42.9 per cent.—there were strikes and riots in which firearms and I think on one occasion hand grenades were used, with many injured and two or three killed—that the Government soon realised that this was no good, and within a few months the King abdicated in favour of a Regent.
§ What is the moral of all this? The moral, I suggest, is that when there is such passionate opposition to a disturbance or change in the status quo then even providing for a 57 per cent. majority for change is inadequate to prevent passionate resistance and violence. Only a majority of 67 per cent. or more one might guess would have been sufficient to avert it, particularly where the opposition to change is concentrated largely or entirely in one community, as to some extent it was in Belgium where the opposition was concentrated among the Walloon population rather than the Flemings; the same applies to a greater extent in Northern Ireland. With these matters to reflect upon, I beg to move the amendment.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Vaizey
I tend to dissent from the noble Lord, Lord Monson, in his lengthy peregrination around the world seeking qualified majorities. But I, with great respect, suggest to the Committee that this is a good idea for letting sleeping dogs lie. There is not any parity between the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Assembly. The Assembly is acting in the difficult and particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, and therefore, the whole argument about widespread consent throughout the community is highly relevant to the day-to-day proceedings of the Assembly.
The United Kingdom Parliament is dealing with a massive central constitutional issue; namely, should it, or should it not, expel a part of the Kingdom from the Kingdom? That is the sort of issue which comes up once perhaps every generation, perhaps even less frequently. It was raised the last time in 1922. The population movements about which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, spoke, though dramatic, are dramatic in the glacier-like sense that they only occur remarkably slowly. The possibility of a Roman Catholic majority in the North certainly does not arise, so far as my understanding of it is concerned, until about 2020, if not later. A great deal will have flowed down that glacier by the year 2020 before the existing 1973 Act is even triggered off. By that time the whole question of the relationship between the Republic and the United Kingdom may well have undergone several permutations and changes.
I would have thought that it was most unwise at this 797 particular juncture, in a Bill dealing essentially with the problems of the local jurisdiction of the Province and not with United Kingdom-wide provision, to start initiating what amounts to a major constitutional change in the United Kingdom. After all, the Assembly has been on the statute book for nine years—that is not a big innovation—but to change the conditions upon which it might be conceivable to consider the expulsion of a part of the United Kingdom from the United Kingdom would in itself be a major constitutional change. I hope, therefore, that the Committee, having considered the peregrinations of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will leave them on the table and not accept the amendment.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
I put my name to this amendment because from the beginning when the Northern Ireland Government accepted the question of a referendum it has always worried me exactly what it means. Is it point 1 per cent? Is it point 0.1 per cent? When in time do the United Kingdom Government consider that the point has arrived on figures at which Northern Ireland should in fact be expelled? I felt that this was a useful probing amendment to find out the views of the Government.
I think we are due for a referendum. I think there may be a referendum either next year or the year after. Therefore, this might be the last chance we should have to discuss it. I am not meaning that at that referendum there will be any change in the wish of the people of Northern Ireland, but it raises the question which I raised with the noble Earl before on the question of the guarantee. The noble Earl answered me before when I asked what does the guarantee mean. It was said that a lot of people in Northern Ireland felt that so long as the people of Northern Ireland wished to remain part of the United Kingdom they may do so—then in brackets, in a very soft voice, "We feel, we hear, and we hope it won't be long before you wish to go out". I do not feel, ever since that guarantee has been made, that sufficient importance has been attached to the unity of the United Kingdom to give us a feeling of confidence that we are being governed, and will be governed, in a way which could persuade the people of Northern Ireland in regard to a referendum.
I believe that the Government must come out and show their attachment to the unity of the United Kingdom—not to Northern Ireland—and make it clear that this is their duty. If that were done, in my opinion the politicians who would be elected to this Assembly would have much more confidence in dealing with the various subjects, especially of external affairs, which it is hoped they will deal with in a way that has not been done before. Then I believe that the elected members will have much more room to manoeuvre from the rigid manifestoes on which they are going to be elected at present, if my guess is right. It is for that reason that I put my name down to this amendment.
I should like a fuller reply from the noble Earl. There have been various acts by the Government which confirm, in the view of people in Northern Ireland, that no step is being taken in Government which would in any way bind Northern Ireland any closer. Rather the opposite. The fact that Harland and Wolff were not brought into British Shipbuilders 798 was a matter which will make people consider that this was in preparation for an eventual assumption of unity. There was also Short Brothers and Harland. All of these facts, where they are not done separately, confirm the view which I hold, that the guarantee that we could remain part of the United Kingdom so long as we wished was not warm enough and did not pay enough tribute to the importance—and I believe it is of strategic importance and of importance to the strength of this country and the defence of this country—of Northern Ireland's remaining British.
The Earl of Gowrie
May I deal with the point put a few moments ago by my noble friend Lord Brooke-borough. He will know that I tried to answer him at an earlier stage at Second Reading on this issue; namely, that the Government did not show enough enthusiasm for the continued unity of the Kingdom in this context, and he was critical for that reason. It is not that the Government are not enthusiastic. As individuals, or as members of a particular political party, we can of course express our enthusiasm as vigorously as my noblefriend expresses it. But there is an inconsistency surely in resting your policy, as successive British Governments have done, on the principle of self-determination in this issue, and then, as it were, trying to load the question in such a way that goes against the principles of self-determination.
Successive British Governments have consistently said that it must be for the people of Northern Ireland themselves to decide what their constitutional position should be. Perhaps I may briefly be subjective—after all, when my noble friend uses phrases like "warmth" or "insufficient warmth", they are indicators of subjective emotions, so perhaps I may be subjective for a moment—to point out that I have said on many occasions that, in my view, the realities of Northern Ireland (indeed, the realities of Ireland as a whole, of the whole island) are such that neither of these two fundamentally divided communities is ever likely to prevail over the other. One can see no evidence of a pure majority situation prevailing or of the minority changing their aspiration or their particular ties with the Irish Republic. Therefore, we have constantly tried to point out to people that the thing to do is to make accommodations across this fundamental and fore-seeably—nothing is permanent in human life—irreconcilable divide and get on with the job of making that beautiful part of the Kingdom a better place in which to live and work. May I reserve my warmth therefore very strongly for that principle?
As for the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, they really do two things. They propose, first, that border polls would require a 70 per cent. majority. That would, in our judgment, be quite inappropriate because a border poll is of an altogether different character from any test to determine whether the Assembly's proposals for devolution should be submitted to Parliament or the Secretary of State. As I tried to explain earlier, the purpose of the 70 per cent. test in Clause 1(4) is to provide a guide—it is no more than that—to the level of acceptability required if arrangement for devolved government are to enjoy support across the community. It does not in any way guarantee that any proposals will automatically be put into effect, though it does, as I explained, 799 guarantee that any proposal should be debated in Parliament.
The fundamental tenet of our approach, as I have explained several times this afternoon, is that no system of government which does not command cross-community support can be safe, stable or durable and that this therefore is much more important than the percentage figure indicated as being a broad and possible guide. The provision contained in Section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 is essentially different in that it is what I believe constitutionalists and lawyers call the sine qua non, to which I would more slangly refer as the bottom line—that without which there can be no change in Northern Ireland's constitutional status as an integral part of the United Kingdom—but I shall return to that at the end of my remarks.
On the second amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, seeks to make any change in the constitutional status of the Province arising from a border poll subject to each House of Parliament satisfying itself that the change is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community. I understand the purpose of the suggestion and I have considerable sympathy with it, but I cannot accept it, not least because it appears in the Bill in a very different context.
The central principle of Section 1 of the 1973 Act—which of course provides the framework within which everything else is set—must be that of the bottom line, of majority acceptance, and this is where the answer to the two amendments really comes together. The bottom line—the bedrock of the Northern Ireland issue—is its constitutional position within the United Kingdom, and I believe it has been accepted by both communities that a straight majority should decide this issue. It would certainly also seem to me that if we amended the Constitution Act 1973 in the way suggested in this Bill at this time, we should certainly open wounds and anxieties which would be quite out of keeping with our modest desire to offer the people of Northern Ireland a chance to take back greater powers and responsibilities for their own affairs. My noble friend Lard Vaizey, if the Committee remembers his speech, as I am sure noble Lords will, made that point very well.
In respect of the 1973 Act, I can give the noble Lord, Lord Monson, some comfort. All that that Act says is that you cannot have a change without a majority—a straight majority, admittedly—in a border poll. Parliament would of course have to consent to any change, and again my noble friend Lord Vaizey sensibly picked up the issue here; that possibly in the very different or changed circumstances which might obtain at the time, Parliament would take another view. All I am really saying, therefore, is that on the big, central, sine qua non, bedrock, bottom line issue, the Constitution Act 1973 should remain our guide, that it has been widely accepted and that it would be a muddle and a disruption to these modest proposals if it were introduced in this particular way into the framework of what we are proposing.
§ Lord Monson
Some ingenious arguments have been advanced to explain why sauce for the goose cannot under any circumstances be sauce for the gander. The 800 Government, the official Opposition and the other parties on the Opposition Benches seem to be leaning over backwards to ensure fair play for nationalists—not Catholics qua Catholics, mind you, but nationalists—and while I do not object to that, all I ask is that there should be some fair play and some reassurance for unionists too, and I mean unionists with a small "u". I do not think there is sufficient evidence that this ranks as highly as it should in the mind of the Government at the moment.
I am glad the noble Earl said he had some sympathy with the second leg of my amendment. Before deciding what to do, I should like to ask him what he envisages would happen if there were a 50.1 per cent. vote in favour of taking the Province out of the United Kingdom, with one entire community being against it. Secondly, does he realise that, as I interpret the 1973 Act, the Province could not be handed over to another country? Indeed, I believe that in international law that would be impossible. All that could happen would be that the Province could be given its independence. May I ask the noble Earl to answer those two points before we go any further?
The Earl of Gowrie
I am not sure that I understood the purport of the second question, but I understood the first very well, and I did try to answer it. The essential point is that the provision in the Act is, as it were, a negative one. The Act says that you cannot have any change without a majority in a border poll. I think, as I said earlier, that my noble friend Lord Vaizey put his finger on it. The situation in Northern Ireland, were you in 49–51 per cent. territory, with all the uncertainties that that might involve, would be so changed, it seems to me, that Parliament would be looking at totally different circumstances from any circumstances that now foreseeably obtain. I also tried to give a personal judgment of how unlikely I thought that would be. But I cannot really be drawn—as no Minister can be drawn—on notional situations.
I would say that the 1973 Constitution Act is firmly in the consciousness of the people of Northern Ireland. There has been no great pressure to change it. It has been widely accepted. A poll based upon it has already been held, and, as my noble friend Lord Brookeborough reminded us, another poll will no doubt be held fairly soon. If the situation were to be rearranged in this particular connection in the Bill, it would enormously obscure what we are trying to do and would tend to make people needlessly anxious about our attempted action. I hope that having thought about what I have said, in particular the point that the proposal is what might be called a negative provision, the noble Lord will see that his fears are misplaced, that we are not trying evenly to apply sauce for geese and ganders, and that he will withdraw the amendment.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
I should like to thank my noble friend for his explanation, which was certainly helpful. However, I really cannot see why the advocacy of the importance of the unity of the United Kingdom prevents what I call warmth in approach and what he might describe as a subjective approach. Surely irrespective of colour, creed or anything else and whatever the figures in the religious divide, the Government will want to ensure that people will wish to 801 remain part of the United Kingdom. It is my belief—unlike what my noble friend says—that at present there is a growing non-unionist population which is Roman Catholic and which is anti-Dublin in a very large way. Those people are only hoping that the unity of the United Kingdom will remain and that the Government will in fact be positive. I am trying to ensure that the election of members is based on a confidence in the unity of the United Kingdom. It is the rigidity with which they are to be elected that worries me.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
I was interested in the noble Earl's remarks about the danger to what is an extremely difficult operation. With our fingers crossed we are all hoping that at last a workable agreement will be reached in Northern Ireland, though we are all very sceptical about the likelihood. To endanger agreement by not letting sleeping dogs lie, (as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, described it), seems to be absolutely dangerous at this stage.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
Will the noble Lord give way? I actually accepted what my noble friend had said. I took up merely the one point on which I thought his response was unsatisfactory.
The Earl of Gowrie
Or rather, not to satisfy my noble friend or any other Member of the Committee. I felt a little guilty that perhaps at the end of a rather exhausting Second Reading speech I had not answered him as fully as I might have done. I believe that, when he reads Hansard, he will see that this time I have answered his point very fully. I do not think that I have anything to add at the moment.
§ Lord Monson
I am grateful to the noble Earl for his explanation. I cannot remember his precise words about the negative provision, but I think that the difference in my view is to the tune of about 5 per cent.—not much more than that. I am not totally wedded to the first leg of my amendment; that is to say, the 70 per cent. idea. It might be over-rigid and perhaps unnecessary, too, and it might make things difficult if, in the event of a tie, an almost split vote, the best solution were thought to be minor border adjustments, which in such a case would almost certainly be the best solution. However, I still feel very strongly that the second part of my amendment is unexceptionable; I do not see how anybody could take offence over it. In a sense it merely reinforces what the noble Earl has said—that Parliament would be required to approve any such order. The amendment simply spells it out in black and white, as is done elsewhere in the Bill. Therefore I reserve the right possibly to come back on that leg of my amendment at the next stage, and with that remark I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.802
§ 6.5 p.m.
Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 8:
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Repeal of s. 1(1)(e) of Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975.
§ . Section 1(1)(e) of the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 is hereby repealed.").
§ The noble Lord said: Section 1(1)(e) of the Act of 1975 disqualifies a member of the legislature of any country outside the Commonwealth from sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The amendment seeks to remove the disqualification. Therefore, it would permit a member of the national Parliament of the Republic of Ireland to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I know that this might have practical, as well as theoretical, significance, given that there are two Northern Ireland residents who are already members of the Senate in Dublin. However, I should like to discuss the matter in principle and without reference to personalities.
§ At Second Reading of the Bill I said that Britain and Ireland are independent, and so are the North and South of Ireland. Therefore, it seems to me rather anomalous that Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly may sit in either House of Parliament at Westminster, but not in the Dublin Parliament. It seems strange that, for instance, a member of the House of Keys in the Isle of Man, or a member of the States of Jersey, or even a member of the House of Assembly in Gibraltar, might sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly, while Members of the Senate of the Republic of Ireland are debarred from presence in the Assembly.
Paragraph 23 of the White Paper (Cmnd. 8541) referred to,
an Anglo-Irish body at Parliamentary level",
in which members of the Northern Ireland Assembly might participate. This amendment is thinking along similar lines. It seeks, in the words of paragraph 18 of the White Paper, to help the two sides of the community to achieve significant mutual respect, and to make sufficient mutual accommodations.
§ I think we all wish Anglo-Irish relations to improve. The noble Earl the Minister, both in this House and in a powerful speech last week to the Irish Club in London, said that good policy starts from the real, rather than the ideal, world. That is the starting point of the amendment. It might be that its language is too sweeping, or that the Government are able to suggest some alternative means for achieving the same purpose. If so, I shall willingly withdraw the amendment. But for the time being I suggest that it removes an unnecessary disqualification, and I put it forward in an attempt to improve inter-parliamentary co-operation and relations generally. I beg to move.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
I hope that the noble Earl will resist the amendment. It seems to me exactly the same as the last amendment, except that it is in reverse. Stirring things up over the percentage of the border poll will annoy one side, and altering the situation as proposed in the amendment will annoy the other side. Since we are trying to avoid annoyance and trying to get people to work together, I think that it would be absolute madness to accept the amendment.
§ Lord Somers
I hate to oppose my noble friend, but at a time such as this, when conditions in Ireland are extremely uncertain, it would be very unwise to remove the disqualification. After all, we do not allow non-British citizens to sit in Parliament. I cannot see why it should be necessary to allow non-Irish citizens to sit in the Irish Parliament. In view of the extremely disruptive elements that there are in both Ireland and, I regret to say, our own country, what is proposed would be a very unwise step.
§ The Earl of Longford
I should like to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord; not that I expect to see it carried, but I think it would be a rather sad state of affairs if, when someone came up with a generous, forward-looking idea of that kind, everyone began getting very pompous and frowning at it. So I am supporting the noble Lord in a mood of anti-pomposity.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
I think we are all agreed, knowing the way the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has carried out his duties in your Lordships' House, that he has sought at all times to be a bridge-builder and to promote understanding so far as Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom are concerned; and I know that, with every best motive in the world, Lord Hylton has put this proposition forward to promote some form of understanding. Really, I am not certain what principle is being argued here. Anyone who examines the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act will find that there are large numbers of officers and persons holding positions who are disqualified under it. Indeed, under this Act a person holding an office under a wages council can be disqualified in respect of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
While I totally agree that we should keep to the matter of principle, I think it would be foolish to ignore the fact that the matter has arisen largely over a situation or an issue which has been created by one person. The noble Lord has already said that there are two persons in Northern Ireland who are members of the Senate of the Irish Republic. The person who has probably been most headlined and has been the subject of many editorials and other articles concerning this matter has a notable record of speaking and appearing on platforms on behalf of the Northern Ireland people particularly in matters of security, terrorism and other things; and he has a contribution to make in connection with the affairs of Northern Ireland.
I am sure that the person involved would be most anxious to do what is right in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland. I believe that he has a choice to make. He has a choice concerning the jobs, the happiness, the homes and the wellbeing of the people of Ireland. If he considers that these interests can be best served in the Senate of the Irish Republic, then that is his choice. If he considers that this initiative in Northern Ireland is breaking the log-jam in politics in Northern Ireland, and if he considers that the Assembly can do something for the wellbeing and the betterment of the people of Northern Ireland, then that is his choice. I feel that within the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act he has the 804 opportunity to excercise that choice. He can stand for the Northern Ireland Assembly; and if he is elected, he can then choose to either continue his role in the Senate or take a seat within the Assembly. It is Clause 4 of the Bill which sets that out.
I would hope that this amendment set down by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will be viewed in the light of being an attempt to promote understanding in connection with this matter, but I do not think that the issue that arises from it should be allowed to interfere or in any way to hinder the choice of the Northern Ireland people in connection with the initiatives which have already been promoted in this Bill.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
I should like to support what my noble friend Lord Blease has said. I should like to ask the Minister to look sympathetically at the quandary of these two individuals. They took up their places in the Irish Senate before this initiative by the Government was really under way, and I think they did it with very much in mind the issue which is also in the mind of the Government, I think: to harmonise the two Irish traditions and the two identities, and, indeed, the two allegiances. I think they may well have had this in the front of their minds when they did this.
So, as my noble friend has said, they can present themselves for election. If the electors choose them, it will be very much up to them to decide what is the higher priority. They may well decide that the priority lies in the job that they have to do in the Northern Ireland Assembly. But with it in mind that this seems to be a matter which is crucial in the eyes of the SDLP — indeed, the future of the Assembly is enormously important to us all—I hope the Minister will look at this matter sympathetically and try to find some way to help these two individuals in their quandary.
The Earl of Gowrie
I can certainly assure the noble Baroness and the whole Committee that I have great sympathy with the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and with the very moderate way in which he moved this amendment, which seeks to widen the numbers of those who are eligible for membership of the Assembly.
The effect of repealing Section 1(1)(e) of the Northern Ireland Disqualification Act 1975, as the noble Lord would have us do, would be to permit members of the legislatures of countries and territories outside the Commonwealth to be members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has explained, the purpose of this amendment is to enable members of each House of the Irish Parliament to become members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I understand the concern, in the context of Northern Ireland, which he expressed when he moved the amendment, though I must say to him that I also share the anxieties very succinctly and very well expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, from the Labour Benches, and by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, on behalf of the Social Democrats, as well as by his own noble friend Lord Somers.
The position on standing for election to the Northern Ireland Assembly is that each candidate cannot be validly nominated unless he or she has consented to 805 the nomination. In giving this consent the candidate must state that he or she is aware of the provisions of the Northern Ireland Disqualification Act 1975, and that to his or her knowledge and belief he or she is not disqualified from membership of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Once an election has taken place, it is open to any person who believes that a member is disqualified from taking his seat to lodge an election petition. If the petition were to be upheld, the member would be unseated and there would have to be a by-election.
There have been suggestions that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State could in some way remove or waive the grounds of disqualification which affect Mr. Mallon, who has been mentioned, by exercising the power contained in Section 3(3) of the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973. Section 3(3)(b) provides the Secretary of State with power by order to make provision for the circumstances in which a disqualification imposed by Section 3 of that Act, or any disqualification imposed by the 1975 disqualification Act, may be disregarded. That power cannot be exercised, however, so as to remove any disqualification imposed by the 1975 Act in all circumstances.
Such a provision in an order made under Section 3 of the 1973 Act would be outside the ordinary meaning of the words which give the Secretary of State the power. It would also amount to the repeal of a provision (by the back door, so to speak) in the 1975 Act, and in the absence of words in the enabling provision which expressly authorise the amendment or omission of provisions from primary legislation, it is ultra vires, I am advised, to include such provisions in subordinate legislation.
The effect therefore of the provision in Section 3 of the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973, if exercised, would be to allow the Assembly, by order, to waive any disqualification arising under the Northern Ireland Disqualification Act 1975 where the grounds of disqualification have been removed and the Assembly believes it proper to make such an order. Thus, in ordinary language, the purpose is to enable an honest mistake to be put right without the Assembly Member concerned having to resign his seat. That waiver or enabling provision does not get us over this quandary and hurdle.
I well understand the difficulties which Mr. Mallon's membership of the Irish Senate raises. It is not a simple problem and may I say (I hope with understanding for Mr. Mallon's position) that I agree wholly with what the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said from the Labour Benches, that Mr. Mallon himself must judge where his best interests lie. I know him and I have a great respect for him and I, for one, hope that he will conclude that they would be best served by seeking membership of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but I share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, that he must make his choice. As I have explained, that membership would be incompatible with membership of the Senate in the Republic of Ireland under the law.
A word about the law. The law on disqualification is highly complex and, again, with the noble Lord, Lord Blease, I accept that it is not altogether satisfactory. There are inconsistences. For instance, the episcopally-ordained clergy of the Churches of England, Scotland 806 and Ireland are disqualified but similar clergy of the Church of Wales are not disqualified. The clergy of the Church of Ireland are disqualified even though that Church was disestablished as long ago as 1869. Clergy of the Non-conformist Churches are not disqualified. So this is not altogether any where a satisfactory position.
There is currently a review of the criteria for disqualification from the House of Commons and I understand that a report on that will go to my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council later in the year. Although disqualification criteria for the Northern Ireland Assembly are not wholly identical with those for another place, there is a close link between the two, and I am convinced that the outcome of the review will have implications for disqualification criteria for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I believe that the right course is to await that report and to consider at that point whether any of the provisions of the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975, including Section 1(1)(e), require amendment. I have thought carefully about this extremely sensitive and difficult issue and have concluded that that would be the right way to proceed. In the light of what I have said after this careful consideration and in the light of the great sensitivities over this issue at this time, to which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and others directed our attention, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will acknowledge that I have gone sufficiently far towards him to acknowledge the dilemma and that he will not feel constrained to press his amendment.
§ Lord Hylton
I thought that it was important that your Lordships should have the opportunity to discuss this question of disqualification in your usual careful and unpompous way. I am grateful particularly to the noble Earl for his very detailed, careful and full reply. I was interested to hear him say that he thought that the disqualification criteria were not 100 per cent. satisfactory in all respects. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Blease, that the principle being argued by me was inter-parliamentary co-operation. We have plenty of experience of that in this House, particularly as between this House and Brussels, the European Parliament. We see a fair amount of co-operation between this House and the other place and we hope very much that there will be a great deal of co-operation between Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I, myself—and I am sure I speak for most people—want to see a great deal of co-operation between the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Parliament in Dublin. I do not intend to press this amendment. I appreciate everything that has been said about the great delicacy of the matter and realise that time is relatively short. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Remaining clause agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.807
§ Schedule 2 [Amendments of Constitution and Assembly Acts]:
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 2 shall be the second schedule to the Bill?
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
I wonder whether the noble Earl will explain why the Government are so adamantly set on an Assembly based on the constituency boundaries of the 12 parliamentary seats which are in process of being phased out. Surely, the Boundary Commission recommendations for the 17 new constituencies in Northern Ireland are now finalised and in the hands of the Government or the Secretary of State and only await the requisite order being laid before each House. Would it not be desirable if the Assembly constituencies were made identical with the parliamentary constituencies—whether with 85 seats, as many honourable Members in another place would like, or 51 or 68 seats as the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, would prefer? Can the noble Earl explain why we should not have an Assembly based on the new parliamentary constituencies?
The Earl of Gowrie
The short answer is that the Boundary Commissioners have not fully reported to us. As I said in my Second Reading speech, we feel that the need for political movement in Northern Ireland is very pressing in respect of security issues and the economy; and there is a wide expectation, as I also said, that this election will and should take place. Therefore, it seemed to us better to get on with it, particularly as the point with which the noble Lord is concerned is essentially involved with the Westminster Parliament and legislature and the—in my view—justifiable increase in the number of seats for Northern Ireland, rather than with the more limited role of this Assembly.
§ Lord Monson
I am grateful to the noble Earl for explaining that the Boundary Commission's recommendations are not finalised. Can he tell us how close to finalisation they are? Is it that some boundaries have been agreed upon and that there are a few out-standing? How far have we proceeded?
The Earl of Gowrie
Any parliamentarian—even a non-elected one—who pronounced on the ways of the Boundary Commissioners, would get himself into hot water very quickly. So I must resist the noble Lord, Lord Monson, trying to draw me on that. I understand that they are not very far off completion; but I know no more than that.
§ Lord Underhill
Is it not also a fact that there are separate commissions for Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, and the custom and practice is for all the commissions to be presented to Parliament at the same time?
§ Lord Monson
What will the position be after the first election, when the second election is due to be held, presumably in 1986? Will it still be based on the old 12 constituency system, or will the constituencies be adapted to take into account the new parliamentary constituencies?
The Earl of Gowrie
As the noble Lord knows from my remarks, the system is designed to be as flexible as possible. Obviously, the Government will wish to take the views of the Assembly into account in coming to a view about that.
§ Schedule 2 agreed to.
§ Remaining schedule agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.