HL Deb 08 July 1985 vol 466 cc63-83

6.50 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to return to the esoteric subjects in Northern Ireland. I beg to move that the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1985, which was laid before your Lordships' House on 4th June this year, be approved.

Perhaps I may first, on behalf, I am sure, of all your Lordships, welcome back the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. We for our part, like I am sure all noble Lords who take a great interest in Northern Ireland, are particularly pleased to see him back in his rightful place. We are delighted to see him back taking such an interest and no doubt carrying on his duties as he sees them towards the orders and the business of Northern Ireland. We are very pleased to see him back.

At this time each year for the past 11 years the Government have sought renewal for a further 12 months of the powers contained in the Northern Ireland Act 1974. In so doing this evening I am sure your Lordships will agree that I should give an account of the Government's stewardship of Northern Ireland affairs during the past year, and indeed of the steps we have taken, and which we intend to take, to promote peace and stability in the coming months. As your Lordships will know from the speeches of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in another place on 26th June and 4th July this year, we are not satisfied with the present state or affairs.

Later this week your Lordships will have an opportunity to debate the security situation, but I should like to begin this evening with a few words about our policy. The security forces in recent years have made substantial progress in bringing those who commit violent crimes before the courts to be dealt with according to the law. The unremitting work to prevent more violence and to deny the terrorists money, weapons, explosives and recruits will continue. We owe the security forces a debt of gratitude which we can best discharge by supporting their impatial enforcement of the law.

Regrettably, the lack of flexibility over the routeing of marches which some organisations have shown recently has led to violence which has put an additional unnecessary strain on the security forces. It does not need me to remind your Lordships that such disregard for the law plays straight into the hands of the terrorists who seek to undermine it. The fact is that the chief constable's suggestions or directions as to routes, or indeed his applications for bans in some cases, are made to preserve public order and to protect both the marches and of course the local community. These are matters for his operational judgment.

The troubled image of Northern Ireland deters people from investing and from developing new projects there. There are some bright patches in the economic scene, but I am sure your Lordships will agree that more are needed. Perhaps we may first take Shorts, the largest manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland. This company has won important orders from the Royal Air Force, from the United States Air Force, and indeed from China. If we look at the shipyard, we see that Harland and Wolff has a full immediate order book, though much work is needed to improve its finances.

But an unemployment rate of just under 21 per cent. throughout the Province, and higher in some places, represents a dreadful waste of talent and must cause deep personal frustration. We will continue to do all we can to alleviate that burden. Output, investment and the number of people in employment are rising. We have a range of special employment and training measures for adults and young people. We shall continue to encourage the development of a thriving and profitable private sector in which lasting jobs will be created, for Northern Ireland is already somewhat over-dependent upon the public sector.

We must develop links with our closest neighbours, including the Republic of Ireland, a fellow member of the European Community, and further afield, if Northern Ireland is to improve its security and to prosper. We have sought over the past year to maintain a dialogue with the Irish Government. Its basis was set out clearly in the communiqué issued after the Chequers Summit last November.

It I may remind your Lordships, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach agreed that the identities of the majority and minority communities in Northern Ireland should be recognised, respected and reflected in the structures and processes of Northern Ireland in ways acceptable to both communities. They—that is, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach—reaffirmed that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom would not be changed without the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland. In other words, the objective is the creation of greater stability.

However the press may speculate, and whatever some Northern Ireland political leaders may allege, subsequent discussions between the two Governments have proceeded within these parameters. Your Lordships will not expect me, above all this evening, to say more about these discussions which continue on a confidential basis. As my right honourable friend said in another place on 4th July, they are reasonably far advanced. Whether or not they will succeed is not yet clear. Whatever the result, it will be fully and openly announced. If there is agreement, Parliament will have an opportunity to discuss it.

Whatever the outcome of the discussions, they will be no substitute for the search with the constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland for a widely acceptable means of returning greater responsibility for the government of Northern Ireland to their elected representatives. When I requested approval last year before your Lordships for the renewal of these powers I said that a new and more positive atmosphere for dialogue existed among the constitutional parties. Their policy documents published earlier last year were more forward looking and tolerant in tone. We tried to encourage this.

Shortly after taking up office my right honourable friend the Secretary of State explored privately with the main constitutional political parties the extent to which they would build on these statements in a practical way. He found a cautious willingness to talk and, perhaps, to move. But the prospect of the district council elections in May this year removed early in the year any chance of rapprochement.

At the Secretary of State's request, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Patten, talked to each of the parties, before campaigning got under way, in order to establish the extent of common ground and to arrive at a closer definition of their differences. As a result we are now better placed to decide on the next stage.

In considering how to take matters forward the Government have had to take account of the district council elections—not, it must be said, because the results were a surprise. As in previous elections, a majority of voters—about 60 per cent.—gave their support to parties which favour continued union with Great Britain. A further 17.8 per cent. voted for representatives of constitutional nationalism, very much the same proportion as in recent elections. But 11.8 per cent. of the electorate voted for Sinn Fein, a party which supports the use of violence for political ends. Public attention focused on the election of 59 Sinn Fein councillors. But history tells us that, when given the opportunity, between 80 and 100,000 electors in Northern Ireland have consistently voted for republican candidates who will countenance violence. That vote on this occasion was lower than it was in the 1983 general election or the 1984 European election.

7 p.m.

An increased Sinn Fein presence on local councils causes difficulty both for the Government and for councillors opposed to the use of violence. It arouses strong and understandable feelings. We knew that this would be the case. But we will continue, within the law, to draw the clearest possible distinction between those in Northern Ireland who believe in and practise constitutional politics and those who connive at violence, from whatever part of the community they may come. We expect councillors to do likewise. And we also know, which would not have been the case if we had banned Sinn Fein, that only a minority within a minority is prepared to contemplate violence.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has recently taken stock, with their respective leaders, of the constitutional parties' present position. During the coming months he will be encouraging them to address seriously and constructively the challenge of working out a form of devolved government which they would be prepared to operate and which would gain widespread acceptance throughout the community.

There is still time for the Assembly to contribute to the search for agreement, as Parliament charged it to do. The Assembly's detailed scrutiny of proposed legislation and other policy matters has been valuable. My ministerial colleagues and I have been able to take account more accurately of particular local sensitivities. But some of its plenary debates have not helped the cause of greater understanding or of reconciliation. This was not what Parliament intended. The Government do not underestimate the difficulty of the Assembly's task; we shall have to decide some time early next year whether a fresh Assembly should be held in the autumn of 1986.

The test which Parliament has decided that new devolved arrangements must meet is that of widespread acceptance throughout the community. That was defined in the White Paper which preceded the Northern Ireland Act 1982 as acceptability in both parts of the community. There is a practical as well as a philosophical reason for this. If new institutions are to be stable and above all durable, they must win the confidence of all the people of Northern Ireland as a whole. Simple majority rule, as in the past, would leave the minority in perpetual opposition and would not bring about a stable society. A system which did not command widespread acceptance would not survive. That is why we continue to insist that this must be the basis for any new arrangements.

We know that formidable difficulties stand in the way of agreement. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and his predecessors have been patient. But after a while we wonder why those who claim to want political progress so readily find reasons for avoiding talking to each other. It is not in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom as a whole that our patience should be unending.

Meanwhile, direct rule provides a fair framework for the administration of Northern Ireland, despite its imperfections. I should like to echo my right honourable friend's tribute on 26th June to the Northern Ireland Civil Service and other civilian public servants who have contributed greatly in their own ways to the improvements which have been achieved over a decade. Thanks to the fundamental steadiness and skill of the Northern Ireland people, resources from the Unted Kingdom and the work of the security forces, much has been achieved in Northern Ireland. But we want people to enjoy greater safety and prosperity. We shall therefore continue to do our utmost to bring to an end terrorism; to promote reconciliation and partnership between both parts of the community and to ensure that the identities of each are reflected in society. It is to serve these objectives that the powers contained in the Northern Ireland Act 1974 remain necessary. It is for that reason that I commend the order before your Lordships to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 4th June be approve. [24th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Lyell.)

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I join the Minister in welcoming my noble friend Lord Underhill back to his seat in the House. No one is more pleased than myself to see him back by my side.

We are grateful to the Minister for surveying the scene in Northern Ireland over the last 12 months. But the arrangements for direct rule under the Northern Ireland Act are before the House this evening for renewal for the twelfth year. With a dozen annual renewals behind us, the prospect of undergoing this annual experience until possibly the end of the century tells us a great deal about the magnitude and the complexity of the Northern Ireland problem. Of course we acknowledge that direct rule has brought some benefits to the Province. It replaced a discredited parliament which collapsed in 1972 and it has slowly been implementing a series of reforms in a number of areas. In particular it has undertaken some housing reforms which were long overdue. But we also acknowledge that direct rule is not the answer to the appalling problems of Northern Ireland. In the Minister's words it is an "imperfect solution". What is sad is that the crisis which led to its introduction shows no signs of early resolution. Indeed the years have not been kind to the Province.

During the 12 years that have elapsed the nature of violence in the Province may have changed. It may possibly have lessened, but it has continued. Moreover it has continued with apparent political backing, apparent democratic support in some corners of the Province. I was interested when I read the report of Sir George Baker that he could refer in his 1983–84 review to "hostile areas" within the Province. Those are his words. He also spoke of the need to make arrests at a time of day or night when the street would not be roused. It is very difficult to see how the violence will end unless there is a political solution.

The Government proclaim to the world that they want to return as much responsibility as they can to Northern Ireland as soon as possible, but, as this has not after 12 years proved to be feasible, we are entitled to ask: when is it likely to be feasible? We are entitled to ask this question as the need for progress becomes daily more urgent. We on these Benches would like to pay tribute to successive Secretaries of State who have tried strenuously to create the conditions aimed at bringing about community reconciliation and reconciling political institutions. They have tried to open the door to wider participation in Government. Indeed they have tried to push the parties towards that open door. But those initiatives have been resisted; they have been repulsed; a constitutional convention failed to produce consensus. The power sharing executive, notwithstanding the courageous efforts of my noble friend Lord Fitt and others, was soon brought tumbling to its knees, The present Assembly is still boycotted, although it has a potential function as a sort of midwife to the new life.

I acknowledge that hitherto the 1982 Assembly has only achieved its minimum. But that achievement has helped to mitigate to some extent some of the difficulties of direct rule. I should have thought that probably its greatest impact to date was on the proposal for a housing order when we recall that the Secretary of State accepted 16 of the 28 specific amendments passed by the Assembly. That is as good a record as that of the other place and of this House. If the opponents of the Assembly say that this is not much, then that is far better than nothing and I should have thought that the Government should be careful before taking steps to dismantle the Assembly.

Nevertheless, we accept that the Assembly has not achieved its maximum potential. It has not achieved its principal task of producing an agreed proposal for full devolution of powers to the Province. A year ago the noble Lord the Minister was hopeful that the constitutional parties in the Province would put their heads together to examine and devolve ways and means of accommodating each other's requirements. I have listened very carefully to what the Minister has said tonight and I shall read carefully in tomorrow's Hansard the report of his speech. However, one has the impression that those talks or those efforts have not been successful; but I note that the offer is now back on the table. I would agree that part of the tragedy of Northern Ireland is the tragedy of the extreme position taken by the constitutional parties therein. They want the pattern of Government to change but to change only in their own favour, on their own terms, even though it is apparent that change would lead to a permanent dissatisfaction on the part of the minority; and with the passage of time—and this is the twelfth year since the reintroduction of direct rule—one tends to grow weary with the violent speeches which demonstrate no respect for others.

Although the Northern Ireland problem is one of the greatest urgency, Members of both Houses of this Parliament take little interest in the renewal debates or in the important debates on the important Orders in Council which come before it. Is this uncurious, uninterested attitude not the very ancient Westminster attitude of indifference towards the island across the water? On the other hand, the Dublin Government has been making and continues to make known very plainly that it is anxious for urgent political development. There are differences between the two governments but they have much in common. As the Minister has indicated, we are members of the European Community, and on this issue of Northern Ireland both governments should be in partnership waging the same fight. Therefore, we want the Government to act positively and with determination to a seriousness of purpose behind the Dublin initiative. But sometimes we have an uneasy feeling that the secret talks may be getting nowhere. We listened very carefully to the Minister this evening and I am not quite certain whether he was offering a glimmer of hope, and we shall read his words in tomorrow's Hansard. But from these Benches our hope must be that if the negotiations are successful at government-to-government level this, in turn, will help to create the conditions for political progress at all other levels within and throughout the Province.

Should that come about, then, in the words of the song, "We shall overcome". The roots of violence in Northern Ireland are far deeper than the Act which we are tonight renewing for yet another year. They are deeper than 1972, deeper than 1968, deeper than 1920. And the major solutions which have been tried since 1920, the Stormont Parliament and the 1973 power-sharing executive, have failed; and they have probably failed because they did not provide for or accommodate the fundamental Irish identity of Northern Ireland nationalists. We should therefore be right to conclude that no political solution for the appalling problems of the Province will succeed unless it recognises the nationalist identity.

I hope that we shall not be coming back here on renewal at the end of the century. But of this we are sure: that unless a solution can be found to the problems of the Province within the foreseeable future, then one fears, on the evidence available to us as lay people, that the Province will have reached rock bottom with stagnant living conditions, high unemployment, widespread violence and a shattered society.

7.15 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I may have misheard what the noble Lord said. Did he say that the power-sharing executive failed because the Irish dimension was not strong; or did he not?

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I believe that I was drawing that conclusion. It appeared to me that with the power-sharing executive there was not this recognition of the fundamental Irish identity.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for introducing this order, for reaffirming the purpose of the Act, and for his summary of the current position. I join both previous speakers in saying how delighted I am to see the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, back in his place even though he may not be speaking in this debate.

As has been said quite often, this Act was supposedly for an interim period, and after 11 years it is inevitable that we should ask: how long can or should an interim period last? The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has raised this point. There is a temptation to say that enough is enough but I think that we need to consider the position carefully. There are a number of questions that I ask, and in the first place I answer them myself; but comments from the Minister in his reply would be of great interest.

My three questions are these. First, this House agreed 12 months' ago, without challenge I think, that it was necessary to renew this order for the 11th time. Has anything happened since then to make us change our minds? Quite simply I think, and sadly, the answer is, No. Secondly, is it fair to claim that the British seek to maintain colonial rights over the Province and enjoy at Westminster the power they hold? I answer, No. Thirdly, is this the time for a full-scale, lengthy debate—and again the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, mentioned the lack of interest which is sometimes given to these things. My answer here, again, is, No.

Having briefly summarised my position, I will now tackle these questions a little more fully. First, in the past 12 months, we have had the excitement about the publication of the new Ireland Forum report and the following sense, alas, of anti-climax. We debated the report in full and I repeat that I believe it was a valuable exercise not least in its clear renunciation of the use of force. Unfortunately, no great progress has been made over the future of Ireland as a whole although I believe that the goodwill generated in many quarters has not been entirely dissipated and we are certainly greatly interested to know what further meetings there will be between London and Dublin.

The guarantee given from Westminster over many years by successive governments that the land will never be united against the wishes of a majority in the North must be honoured. It would be disastrous even to attempt a so-called reunification in present circumstances. Nonetheless, it would clearly be to the advantage of all if North and South could only live together in peace and harmony.

I hope that those who have a vastly greater knowledge of the Province than I will forgive me if I am now critical about the attitude of many living there. I accept that we on the mainland are not above criticism ourselves, but my point is this. There are many admirable people in Northern Ireland giving a marvellous lead in work for reconciliation, and they stand comparison with the finest in the world today. But there are also a large number of people unable to throw off the ideas and ideologies of the past. It is here that we have to seek influence, and it is here that our main difficulties lie. I think they often behave stupidly. At the extremes on both sides stupidity merges into the vicious and the criminal, and, apart from a miraculous conversion, there is nothing here that we can hope for. I think it is of no value to have talks with men who openly declare that they are happy to use violence to achieve their ends until they are prepared openly to renounce such ideas.

I turn now to the Portadown march—and the subject has already been raised—which I understand has followed the same route for 150 years and which its organisers insisted should be allowed to proceed, despite offering considerable provocation. My own view is that if these people who call themselves Christians really followed their creed and sought reconciliation, it might be held that 150 years was long enough and that the time had come for a change. And what about the triumphalist march that celebrates the Battle of the Boyne, some 300 years ago? Here is a God-given opportunity to hold a glorious joint carnival of both persuasions, and to forget the past. But I realise that I am crying for the moon.

My conclusion therefore is—and I hope I shall be excused for offering judgments—that the main problem in the Province is stupid obstinacy, and that there is no magic wand that can be waved from Westminster. I cannot agree that full devolution is the present answer to the problem, but there is dignity in the words of the official Unionists in their document The Way Forward. The document reads: The time is now ripe for both communities in Northern Ireland to realise that, essentially, their problems will have to be solved in Northern Ireland by their political representatives and that any future prospect for them and their children is best provided for within the Northern Ireland context. This will require a mutual recognition of each other's hopes and fears. Only rights can be guaranteed, not aspirations, but it is the responsibility of the majority to persuade the minority that the Province is also theirs. Secondly, then, do we enjoy or wish to maintain colonial status there? The answer is quite simply and categorically, No. It would be accepted with joy by the great majority of the people on the mainland if the people of Ireland, North and South, could sort out their own ideas and look after themselves. Direct rule, I believe, is still necessary: but how much better it would be if the people on the spot, who know the problems at first hand, could themselves tackle them! The Northern Ireland Assembly is doing valuable work, although the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, mentioned some problems. But it is of course severely hampered by the lack of so-called Nationalist participation. How sad that the SDLP is afraid to play a part! I accept that it would need very great courage, but the Assembly is unbalanced without it.

Thirdly and lastly, is this the time for a full-scale debate? It is quite clear that the Government do not believe so, since they have allocated no more than a supposed dinner-hour. I tend to agree. There is a great danger of being unduly repetitious. There is so much that could be said, but most of it has been said before. The problem will not go away, and I think it may need much more patience in finding a solution than some people are happy to accept. In the meantime, we have no doubt that this order should be accepted.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend for his introduction of the order and to say that I welcome it. I also welcome very much the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is back in his place. He is a great contributor on Northern Ireland matters.

I should like to correct the noble Lord, Lord PrysDavies, on two or three things which he said. The first was that when the Government of Northern Ireland, of which I was a member, was abolished—in my view unjustly—we had on the statute book more legislation protecting civil rights than any other part of the United Kingdom. The great bulk of it was passed before we were abolished. Perhaps I might mention particularly the Housing Executive, which was already fully set up.

The next point I should like to correct the noble Lord on is the fall of the Executive. The Executive fell primarily because the Prime Minister of the day decided to call an election some eight months after we had been elected—and I was a member of that Assembly. That made us "not legitimate" because it swept to power men who were determined to sweep away the Executive. It was simply that. The fact that it fell at a workers' council strike was merely that a workers' council strike could take place because we were not considered legitimate; and that is in fact what happened. The Irish dimension part of the Executive—and noble Lords' right honourable friends in another place would support me in saying this—was far too harsh and too pro the South. That was a major factor in allowing the Ulster Workers' Council strike to take place. That is my analysis of it, and I believe it to be correct.

I should like to underline the debt of gratitude which my noble friend has acknowledged as being owed to the forces of law and order. Nobody knows better than I do what they have contributed. My right honourable friend in another place said on 26th June at col. 973 of the Official Report: Direct rule is a firm and fair framework, and in many ways we should be proud of it". He also said, at col. 973: Meanwhile, direct rule must continue". I believe that the Government have been presenting their case abroad in too much of an apologetic manner. The achievements of direct rule have been considerable. We criticise direct rule where it pinches, but I would guess that the noble Lord, Lord PrysDavies, is not uncritical of the Government's handling of affairs in Wales and in other parts of the country. It is perfectly justified; and the Government should not present their case abroad in an apologetic fashion just because the political parties in Northern Ireland cannot be forced to form a coalition which would allow devolved government.

I should like direct rule made permanent and improved. It is too easy to repeal: we know that it is very easy to repeal should the miracle happen and the political parties come together. The very temporary nature of the annual renewal is a foolish distraction. It increases instability in Northern Ireland and it encourages the IRA to say, "One more push and we'll get them out". There is nothing that would cause more dismay to the IRA than to make direct rule permanent, because that would explain to them that legislatively it is permanent. Sherlock Holmes said: When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". And the truth lies in direct rule: that is the key.

There was a poll conducted in October 1984, and, in line with all the other indicators and voting strengths, it showed that there was a broad consensus (dare I use the phrase "widespread acceptance"?) of 58 per cent. of the Protestants agreeing with 50 per cent. of the Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland on the satisfactory nature of direct rule. The Government really must come to accept that, not only in that sort of poll but in voting, that is in fact the case. It has widespread acceptance, and it should be accepted.

I should like to join—and I have done it before—in paying tribute to the public servants of Northern Ireland. They are one of the outstanding achievements—relics—of devolved government. I have seen other major parts of the United Kingdom where promotion for civil servants lies in London. I have to say that I believe that our civil servants fight harder for Ulster because they are in Ulster and in Ulster they will remain. Their availability and accessibility to people throughout the Province is so great that I believe without doubt we have the best-administered part of the United Kingdom. Whatever happens, it is vital to our community that they remain a separate civil service.

7.30 p.m.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State rather sadly complained about the inability of Northern Ireland parties to agree on a form of devolved government. There are a number of elements in this complex situation on which I should like to comment. The first element is Her Majesty's Government; the second is the Dublin Government; and the third is our Northern Ireland political parties. The facts of the matter are that flexibility is available to only one element; and that is Her Majesty's Government. Whatever they propose, their re-election will not in any way be affected by their proposal.

If one then turns to the Dublin Government, their actions are circumscribed by the need to retain the age-old theme of calling for a United Ireland. The two parties in Dublin are interested in either retaining or achieving power and all their actions must be judged in that way. They have no flexibility. In Northern Ireland our parties are imprisoned by the past 15 years. The Unionists are attacked by the DUP so that they cannot move; and the SDLP is attacked by Sinn Fein so that they cannot move. The reality is that for any leader to be seen to be flexible is tantamount to electoral defeat. One only has to look at those who have tried to be flexible; the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, the late Lord Faulkner, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, Mr. Craig and Mr. Paddy Devlin. Where are they? They are in the wilderness—although I am glad to see that the wilderness of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is very close by.

The case is put forward that direct rule must be made permanent. The Secretary of State in another place commented adversely on Unionist tactics in local councils. He suggested that they were building support for Sinn Fein and not destroying them. With that I think to a large extent I agree. There are a number of cases where an extremely good job is being done, but one cannot expect local councillors in the heat of the moment always to take wise decisions. I feel that the Secretary of State and my noble friend were probably not quite sympathetic enough to the problems which faced local councillors.

I have a question to ask my noble friend. Perhaps I may read a statement from the County Fermanagh chairman who was elected by the SDLP, without whom he could not have been elected. He said: I unequivocally support the IRA in its armed struggle". What would your Lordships do if you had to sit next to those people knowing that every murder has taken place as a result of somebody fingering somebody else? I should like to ask my noble friend whether this is seditious; and whether he should refer it to another authority?

But, in allowing Sinn Fein to be elected, a problem has been created which I feel the Government have not really thought through. The Government themselves withhold what has been described as the "courtesies". But what about Her Majesty's Lieutenants, who are appointed by the Queen to stand instead of the Queen? What about the High Sheriffs appointed by the Lord Chancellor and the Privy Council Office? How should they behave to the men of violence? I do not think that they are getting much direction. I feel that the Government should be very careful before they ask, from their safe haven in Northern Ireland, others to do what they are not prepared to do themselves.

I should like now to turn to the subject raised by the Secretary of State and by my noble friend of the Dublin/London relations. At the outset, I want to say that I support completely close ties between Dublin and London. Whatever I say after that does not alter that fact. The question I should like to try to answer is: why is there mistrust in Ulster of the fact of the unequivocal guarantee and after the famous Chequers communiqué and the statement of "Out, out, out"? I fear that the problem has been built up over years.

We in Ulster have had to learn a different meaning for words. Perhaps I may take your Lordships through one or two examples. A very short while before we were abolished, Lord Faulkner received a telegram from the then Prime Minister which said that direct rule was pure speculation. In fact, the decision had already been taken. In April, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw said that he would not negotiate with gunmen. Active gunmen were flown to London. The advantages of direct rule were explained to them but it was not called negotiations. When we said that it was "negotiations", this was hotly denied. The first Labour Secretary of State did the same. My noble friend Lord Gowrie in dealing with the hunger strike said that he was not negotiating with the hunger strikers. We all know that negotiations took place and they resolved the problem. Words have a different meaning now, and this has added to the mistrust.

Further to that, this is the first time that negotiations between Dublin and London have occurred without any Unionist voice at the table. In every other case throughout there was a Unionist voice there. We also have a feeling—a slight admiration—that Dublin are rather better horse-dealers than our own people in this country. I think there is a slight fear that they may not quite see what is being done.

We also know, and we have seen from papers released, that throughout the history of Northern Ireland there has been an intention, or advice to Ministers, that they ought to do something for the existing Government because the next Government will be so much worse. Indeed, we feel that there is a sort of intention to help "dear Garrett". That is part of our problem. Further to that, we have the Foreign Minister, who gives instant judgment, instant criticism of all our institutions. The Government have said that they have a special relationship with Dublin. Could that relationship extend, for instance, to stop the verbal onslaughts on our forces and our courts? If they have to allow it, then I think that the Government themselves have to defend those institutions. What happens at the moment is that Mr. Barry or a Minister gets up and criticises the courts, or the police; the only people to defend our institutions are Unionists. Then they are attacked by the SDLP. The whole thing adds up to making a less credible situation.

In my view, the Government must either tell their special relations that it is time they stopped making public attacks and did it privately if they feel they have something to have a go at. Direct rule has been going for 13 years and the Government cannot dissociate themselves from our courts. They are this Parliament's courts. The judges are appointed by the Queen. They should be defended robustly. I should like to know what would happen if, say, the French or Belgian Government attacked our courts in this country. I can tell your Lordships there would be some pretty rapid action by the Foreign Office calling the ambassador in.

I know that my noble friend will deny it hotly, but in these latest talks the fact is—it is put around fairly widely by the Dublin Government, and I go down to the South quite a lot—that the Dublin Government asked for the right to have joint courts; that is, for a Dublin judge to sit in our courts. This, of course, was turned down by the Law Enforcement Commission and we had the noble and learned Lords, Lord Lowry and Lord Rawlinson, from this country; and that was turned down flat. During the negotiations, for some unknown reason, our negotiators did not appear to turn that down flat as an encroachment on our sovereignty, because, after all, the judge is appointed by the Queen and sits in the Queen's place in the court. So to put in another judge from another jurisdiction—and a jurisdiction which claims sovereignty over us—must be offending against sovereignty. It is to me quite unthinkable.

But the problem is not only unthinkable. The problem is far worse to me, because, just like the Forum report, our Government allowed expectations to be built up that somehow there was going to be a great new solution coming out and when the answer came out, "No, no, no", there was considerable disappointment, although those of us who had some idea knew that nothing from the Forum report was any use as a solution.

I am not sure what a solution is, anyway, or what it means. We have had different words and I do not know what "solution" means now. But the failure to stop these expectations being built up leaves us—and I am talking about the United Kingdom—in a position in America where we are the worst intransigent lot of people, and America is one of the places where we keep on losing our propaganda war. So we must stop the expectations of brilliant solutions which are going to solve everything. The mistrust which has been created has allowed those disgraceful scenes at Castlewellan and Cookstown, and the rioting in the Shankhill, to take place.

I ask your Lordships to remember that we in the Stormont Government banned every march on 12th July for one year, so it can be done and I hope and pray that the Orangemen, who are a disciplined body—and I am one—will respect the law. But had those marches been banned immediately after the "Out, out, out" statement, I do not believe that the Member for Antrim, North, could have whipped up such evil acts as he managed to do and the frenzy that he got going last Thursday or Friday. I condemn totally those riots and that position, and I hope that the Orangemen will remember their solemn obligation—and it is a solemn obligation—to support the forces of law and order. I can only tell your Lordships that I am doing everything I can to make sure that they do, but I am only one.

The Government—and this is sad, because they ought to trumpet their achievements—have put themselves in a position where it is almost impossible for them to take any decision in this field, no matter how innocent, without the people of Ulster suspecting the very worst. That is very sad. I ask the Government very seriously to look at making direct rule permanent. I welcome this order.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, despite the somewhat thin House, I think we should remind ourselves of the importance of this debate, sandwiched as it is into the middle of the Committee stage of a Transport Bill. We are discussing an arrangement that has obtained for the last 11 years, a system that limits the powers of district councils, allows no higher tiers of local government, and reserves all higher administration to Ministers of the Crown and certain appointed boards. This is a deeply unsatisfactory situation, even though it may be the second or third choice for many people in Northern Ireland.

Faced with this situation, Her Majesty's Government have resolutely, and I think rightly, pursued a so-called "twin-track policy". This means that they have sought to improve Anglo-Irish relations and to reach new agreements on matters of mutual concern, while at the same time striving for accommodation between the rival traditions and political parties within Northern Ireland. This policy is necessary because our two countries are interdependent. Troubles in Northern Ireland have huge repercussions in the Republic and not everything, by any means, was settled by the Treaty of 1922 or the Constitution of 1937. In your Lordships' House last 7th November I mentioned some of the principal matters for negotiation between Britain and Ireland and I do not intend to repeat myself today.

However, all recent Northern Ireland elections, including the one in May this year, have shown clearly that consent does not now exist for a change of sovereignty with regard to Northern Ireland. All major parties in both countries accept that consent is of the essence, and consent for changes of sovereignty is most unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future. For these reasons it is necessary to work for internal political accommodation, as well as for international agreements.

7.45 p.m.

Equally rightly, the Government have for some years emphasised that progress must be attempted in three areas simultaneously—political, economic and security. These three areas interlock and have endless complicated repercussions on each other. Failure in any one of them hampers progress in the others, because Northern Ireland suffers simultaneously the clash of aspirations, unemployment and attacks on law and order. Tensions over politics, economics and security are made worse by the religious overtones of these questions.

It is, for instance, difficult to argue with a biblical fundamentalist, just as it is hard to convince one who sees his own cause as so righteous that it justifies violence against innocent third parties. Infinite patience is required until enough people are persuaded that the problem is serious, that our two islands, as well as the north and south of Ireland, have to live together and must find ways of working out difficulties that affect us all.

The Government are to be congratulated on their resolute approach to various issues that have come up recently, such as the name of Derry in County Londonderry, new schools where a strong parental demand exists and bilingual street signs, of which I recently saw a good example in the Oldpark area of Belfast.

I commend the Government also for their determined stance over the question of marches and parades, when these are offensive to local residents. I hope that we shall no longer see some Unionist politicians demanding stronger security measures and at the same time refusing to accept police advice about the routeing of marches, thus wasting the time and effort of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Equally, it would be good if someone in some position of authority could explain to your Lordships' House why the SDLP think it right and proper to participate in district councils, to sit in the other place here in Westminster and in the European Parliament, but fail to take their seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

If we accept, as I think we must, the existence in Nothern Ireland of two main traditions in politics, aspirations, culture and religion, it follows that each is legitimate, provided that it seeks to persuade and not to intimidate. We need not just mutual respect between two different mentalities, but more positively parity of esteem and equal status and opportunity for the members of each tradition. Unionist and Nationalist symbols both deserve recognition.

As the Kilbrandon Commission recommended last year, the Flags and Emblems Act 1954 should be repealed. The Public Health and Local Government Act 1949 needs amending. Northern Irish electoral law still requires some minor modifications. There should be equal treatment for cross-border candidates to the Northern Ireland Civil Service and to the Civil Service of the Irish Republic. Royal and British symbols should not be thrust upon citizens of nationalist views in the north.

The Housing Executive and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland have both set standards of good practice in these matters. Other government departments and statutory bodies will, I very much hope, follow this good example. All these minor but important details lie within the control of Her Majesty's Government. One can understand that they might form part of a package deal yet to be revealed. Nevertheless, they stand on their own merits and, if introduced before any major agreement, would show a welcome sensitivity on the part of direct rule.

As I indicated at the start of my speech, direct rule has led to serious anomalies in the machinery of government. There is, for instance, the so-called "Macrory Gap". This means there are no permanent, let alone elected, interdepartmental co-ordinating bodies between the district council and the Secretary of State. Each department of Government tends to plough its own furrow, because there are no multipurpose higher local authorities able to represent the total needs of counties and cities. This is particularly serious because much of the population, wealth and commerce of Northern Ireland are concentrated in the two city regions of Belfast and Derry. Belfast influences most of Southern Antrim and Northern Down. Derry's ambit reaches at least as far as Strabane, Dungiven and Limavady.

In view of the known heavy unemployment, the backlog of bad housing, poverty and the various side effects of violence, I ask the Government to look again at the co-ordination of statutory, voluntary and local community services. This is all the more necessary, following the winding up of the Belfast areas of need and given the continued availability of substantial EEC funds through the regional and social programmes. Perhaps the Government would suggest to the Assembly that it should appoint committees to examine the needs and opportunities of the two major city regions and to make recommendations for a better co-ordinated approach. This at least might be a useful first step.

It is important to end on a positive note and I shall do so by emphasising that there is much good news coming from Ulster. Sporting champions abound, the arts are flourishing, the quality of education is high. Small businesses are multiplying while the prospects, as has been mentioned, for aircraft and shipbuilding have improved. Even traditional linen is enjoying a boom that no one would have expected 10 years ago. Many hope that lignite, or brown coal, will soon be in production. Northern Ireland is also a very lovely and a most hospitable place for anyone wishing to take a holiday.

An English acquaintance of mine last year spent four weeks—it was actually his first visit—living in a cottage near Cookstown. He was moved to poetry (incidentally, another Ulster specialty) and he wrote: Man cannot live by fear alone … Yet fear is the milk Suckling the generation here". He went on to say: No one has the answer. We are all too enmeshed. There is no nostrum, No political proposition To make fear illegal. Only trust does that When heart and heart respond, Then risk rebuff and pain To hold the other's hurts And recognise one's blame; Asking For deep forgiveness". That, my Lords, is the deep, poetic and true intuition. We all need forgiveness—we English as much as anyone else. We need to ask for it and to offer it, for we are not bystanders or impartial referees. We are participants, involved by an involvement of many generations. Forgivingness and forgivenness, these are the solvents we require. That is the antidote to paralysing fears, the bridge that can build trust, heal memories and help minds, now closed, to be once more wide open. Somehow we have to find ways of bringing forgiveness and politics into closer conjunction. In this process there is much we can learn from the victims of political violence who have so often found that they must themselves be merciful to their enemies in order to be able to live with themselves.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether he could answer one question. He suggested that those of Republican sympathies in the North should be shielded so far as possible from symbols of the monarchy. Does he, I wonder, believe that the converse should apply—in other words, that those of Unionist sympathies in the South (such as remain) should also be shielded from symbols of Republicanism, and if not why not?

Lord Hylton

My Lords, the point I was trying to make is that bodies such as the Housing Executive and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights use a plain letterhead; not decorated with lions and unicorns, crowns and other objects, just simply black words on white paper. This is something from which useful lessons can be learnt.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I think it is fortunate that this is to be a short debate because I do not think anything that we can say in this House tonight can be beneficial to the very dangerous situation now existing in Northern Ireland. I have seen many 12ths of July throughout my lifetime. While it was always a time of high emotion, a time of triumphalism and a time of defiance, I believe that this year it is much more dangerous than that which I have seen over those past 10 years. The reason for that is the events of last year since that Act was last renewed. We had the Forum report. We have had the Anglo-Irish talks. Most of all, we have had the Sinn Fein electoral successes where 59 Sinn Fein Republican IRA supporters were elected to local authorities in Northern Ireland. To consolidate all these terrible issues in the eyes of Unionism we have seen something happening to which I would have been bitterly opposed. That appears to be the coalescing of the SDLP, the constitutional Nationalist Party, with elements of Sinn Fein through rather contentious council elections for chairmanships. I know from a contact which I still have there that there is a great deal of emotion now existing in the majority community.

So far as the minority community is concerned July has always been a very dangerous month. We have seen on television in the past fortnight pictures of what happened in Portadown. Anyone looking at those pictures would be inclined to believe that the police were acting in a far more military way with the people in Portadown than they were in Castlewellan and in Cookstown. In Northern Ireland the police are caught. If they have to uphold law and order they can be caught. They have been caught over the past two or three weeks in Castlewellan by an Orange mob and in Cookstown by an Orange mob.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, the Castlewellan mob was not Orange. It was made up entirely of what are called "Loyalists". But there was no Orange organisation and no Orangemen there.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that correction. The noble Lord who has just spoken said that words mean what they mean in Ireland and here. The word "Loyalist" is open to a good many interpretations. The Loyalists in Castlewellan and in Cookstown made very vicious attacks on the police. I saw the police trying to defend themselves, as indeed I saw them yesterday with a Catholic mob. All I can say is that Ireland is cursed with anniversaries.

We have far too many anniversaries in that tragic little island. The Chief Constable of the RUC in his report said that last year we had more than 3,000 marches. Why does any community need to have so many marches? Because those marches mean what they are. Some of them are classified as Sunday parades. I think a very small minority of them may be church services, but the vast majority of demonstrations in Northern Ireland marches are an attempt by those taking part to assert their domination over the other tribe. When the other tribe get their opportunity to march, they are out to show their defiance and that they are not going to be dominated by the other tribe.

This will probably be the shortest length of time that I have spoken on Irish affairs in this House. I take part in the debate only to advise people in Northern Ireland—because this House does not really matter. This is a very dangerous week which will culminate in all the marches and all the emotions. There is a seething cauldron of emotion in the two communities this week. I advise everyone who lives in Northern Ireland to be very careful that nothing is said or done which could bring real tragedy not only to Northern Ireland but to the whole of these islands.

8 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, the debate has been notable not only for the return of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill (from whom I hope we shall hear a great performance at the next chance that we have as he becomes more and more fit) but for the valuable thoughts and fascinating remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, of which I take note. He made an interesting comment: that this might be one of his shorter speeches. It was valuable all the same. In the short time that the usual channels have granted us for the first debate this week on the situation in Northern Ireland I believe that we have covered an enormous amount and done justice to the subject, to everyone who has spoken and to Northern Ireland. By the by, I do not think that we have irritated too many of the usual channels or your Lordships generally.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, pointed out that this was the 12th year of direct rule and referred to various aspects of it, some of which were touched on by my noble friend Lord Brookeborough. I suggest to the noble Lord and to my noble friend that successive Governments have taken a conscious decision that the special needs and problems of Northern Ireland would best be met by a devolved structure of government. I accept what my noble friend says, but successive Governments right through have taken a view, and we remain of that view. We are actively working towards that end.

It would be contrary to that aim to dismantle the separate legislative and financial arrangements which Northern Ireland built up during 50 years of devolved government. They have been tailored to meet the needs of the circumstances in Northern Ireland. If we abandon them, I fear that it would be interpreted in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the world as a rejection of devolution. Direct rule procedures support the aim of this Government, and I believe of all Governments over the past 50 years, of restoring a structure of devolved government in Northern Ireland which, as we have heard from my noble friend, was certainly not all bad and I believe had many things to commend it.

I shall attempt to cover one or two more of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, raised. He examined fairly carefully the role of the Assembly. I believe, and I think that my colleagues in the Government would agree, that in its present phase it has enabled the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, to scrutinise the work of the Northern Ireland Department. So far as my responsibilities are concerned, I know that to be true in no small way. I suggest that the deliberations of the Assembly have been useful, and that members of the different parties have demonstrated a practical approach to day-to-day issues such as housing, employment and—if I may take a dig here—agriculture. The principal role of the Assembly is to make proposals for devolution which are likely to command widespread acceptance. I believe that it is on progress in this task that it will come to be judged.

The noble Lord also—I hope that I have him right; I shall confirm it in the Official Report tomorrow—raised the question of a permanent change in the views of the minority. I think he said that. He stressed the word "permanent". What is permanent in Northern Ireland? We all realise that the history of the whole of Ireland goes back many years. It would be contentious of me to suggest that we could do anything permanent in Northern Ireland. We can attempt to lay the foundations; but that is as far as I would go—certainly so far as the views of the minority, the majority or even the entire community are concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and my noble friend Lord Brookeborough asked about continuing relations between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Republic. I stress that the Government want to maintain and develop close relations with the Irish Republic. We are conducting a dialogue with the Irish Government which has been useful and constructive. It reflects the firm commitment of both Governments to look for a constructive way forward. The framework for the talks has been clearly laid down by the Government in the communiqué to last November's Anglo-Irish Summit. But the talks do not affect the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. That message goes out clearly tonight, and I am sure that my noble friend will accept it.

We recognise the interest and occasionally the concern that the Irish Government have in developments in Northern Ireland. We want to see whether there are acceptable ways—and I stress the word, "acceptable"—of reflecting that in the way that we manage our relations. The security situation clearly requires much fuller co-operation, and such co-operation saves lives. Those who show concern for the safety of people in Northern Ireland should welcome our efforts to achieve closer understanding, and above all co-operation, with the Republic. I hope that that little thought on Anglo-Irish relations will cover the first major question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton. I was pleased that he answered, no, no and no. He wondered whether we were going back to colonial rights. The answer is, certainly not. That is far from our thoughts.

The noble Lord made what is perhaps a legitimate criticism—what is fair criticism though? None of us regards criticism directed at ourselves as fair. He referred to the ideologies of the past. Many would call them the old traditions, which puts a different slant on events. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, also referred to these. Certainly the noble Lord asked about marches. My general thoughts would be that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State fully supports the professional judgment of the chief constable in dealing with the routeing and other little suggestions for marches.

One of the noble Lord's more cogent points was that there are over 2,000 marches in Northern Ireland. Some are traditional and others may veer towards the other attitudes referred to this evening in the House. I believe that it should be spelled out clearly that all marches are closely examined and the final decision on routeing and everything else to do with them is taken by the chief constable. It is his professional judgment that persuades my right honourable friend in some cases to ban a march. But in all cases it is the chief constable whose judgment is final.

My noble friend Lord Brookeborough suggested that direct rule should be made permanent. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him down that road this evening. We could be here for a considerable time if I did so. I hope that we have another chance to raise that subject later this week, but I ask my noble friend not to take that as final.

My noble friend referred to the chairman of the Fermanagh District Council. I have seen press reports of recent remarks allegedly made by the chairman of the Fermanagh District Council, the Sinn Fein member, pledging support for what he called the armed struggle. I believe that all of us in your Lordships' House, and everyone in the United Kingdom, would regard those remarks, if they were accurately reported, as repugnant, as did my noble friend. All reports of such statements are very carefully scrutinised by the police for possible infringements of the law which forbids incitement to violence. Where appropriate, a report is made to the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, I have to tell my noble friend that Sinn Fein spokesmen have in the past always been careful to keep just within the bounds of what is legal in expressing their undoubted support for violence. I cannot comment further on what is alleged to have been said, or what might have been said by Mr. Corrigan. I found even the allegations simply dreadful and repugnant.

My noble friend raised one or two other points. He referred to Her Majesty's Lieutenant. I think that is well beyond what I can possibly answer tonight. I shall certainly take his thoughts on board and will be in touch with him. I cannot say how quickly that will be, since he will realise, as will your Lordships, that this is an especially delicate situation. However, his comments have been very closely noted.

I appreciate my noble friend's thoughts on, as he said, the possibility of judges from the south taking some part in the judicial proceedings in the north. I stress what I said in my opening speech and I repeat it to make it perfectly clear to my noble friend. However the press may speculate and whatever some Northern Ireland political leaders may allege, subsequent discussions between the two Governments have proceeded within these parameters. Your Lordships would not expect me to say more about these discussions, which continue on a confidential basis. That is why I say nothing more about the allegations that various matters might have been discussed in the talks between the Republican Government and the United Kingdom Government. My noble friend will know that it is never worth while pursuing a hypothe- sis. Certainly I would never classify my noble friend with the persons who might have been referred to in my remarks as "some Northern Ireland political leaders". I am sure that he knows to whom I am referring and will accept the force of my remarks. I reiterate that whatever the force or strength of various political leaders' voices, there is nothing that they can go on about quite so much as the way, the truth or, indeed, the voice that makes allegations; and these allegations may just carry on.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to marches and had one or two other interesting suggestions about the co-ordination of various bodies. Ministers regularly meet to discuss and, above all, co-ordinate plans and priorities to endeavour to achieve a fair balance in the areas raised by the noble Lord. We would be particularly interested in any idea which the Assembly might have. I hope the noble Lord will accept that I cannot go further than that this evening.

The noble Lord also asked about flags. I stress to the noble Lord that the Flags and Emblems Act does not prevent the peaceful flying of any flag or emblem, but the use of, and need for, the Act is kept under review. I am given to understand that no prosecutions have been brought under the Act in the past 15 years. However, the noble Lord will know, as will my noble friend, that this is a sensitive matter which can and does raise strong feelings in both parts of the community.

In passing, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the legendary hospitality of the Ulster people. I know that the Ulster people are a legend and I sometimes need a break to recover from their hospitality. It is perhaps suggested by many of the Ulster people that I take a break in your Lordships' House, but I stress that we are not as scrimshanking as all that.

I took note of the valuable comments of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I enjoyed the little exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about what was "royal" and what was "nationalist". I do not have a letter-heading from my own department, but I stress that, colloquially, it is known in Northern Ireland as "DANI". I do not think one can get more Irish than that.

With those remarks I hope I have covered most of the matters raised by your Lordships. If I have failed to answer any, I shall write to the noble Lords concerned. I commend the order to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.