§ 3.9 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw) rose to move, That this House approves the Anglo-Irish Agreement (Cmnd. 9657) signed on 15th November by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is fatally easy for those who have had responsibility in Northern Ireland to live in the past rather than face the future. Today I intend to avoid that danger. But I cannot escape two personal reflections which are relevant to our consideration of this new Anglo-Irish Agreement.
§ The first is that, contrary to the unfortunate impression given by some politicians in the Province, there are many people there who only want to live in peace with their neighbours and to carry on a normal 798 life in the beautiful country which is their home. Amidst all the trouble and difficulties no one should forget these friendly and warm-hearted people to whom we in the rest of the United Kingdom owe our understanding and help as their fellow citizens.
§ Secondly, it has become so dangerously easy to destroy, and equally so immensely difficult to construct, plans to end the conditions of violence and intimidation which lead to despair that the temptation just to keep going on becomes almost irresistible.
§ Yet no one here, in Northern Ireland, or outside, should be under any illusion. The status quo is not an acceptable option. No one in your Lordships' House needs reminding of the terrible toll taken by violence in Northern Ireland over the years, the appalling loss of life of young soldiers, policemen and civilians, the damage to property and the disruption of community and commercial life. Nor can we forget the tragedy and anxiety felt by families throughout the United Kingdom from events in Northern Ireland and, indeed, here also on the mainland. Surely, we all share responsibility to do all in our power to isolate and defeat the men of violence.
§ I am therefore seeking the approval of this House to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which I believe marks a useful step in Anglo-Irish relations. It offers a substantial opportunity, a chance to build, to the people of Northern Ireland, both Unionist and Nationalist. it can contribute significantly to the aim, which we all share, of peace, stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
§ I want first to stress that it is not the agreement some have made it out to be. It is not "joint authority" by some other name; it does not give the Republic of Ireland a veto over the exercise of our powers and responsibilities in Northern Ireland; and, above all, it does not derogate from our sovereignty.
§ But neither is it, as some have argued, an agreement which will change nothing. Of course, it will not solve all Northern Ireland's problems. But we hope that it will change things in Northern Ireland, in a measured and responsible way, in the direction in which successive governments have wished to go.
§ Underlying the agreement is recognition by the two Governments of the differing aspirations and cultures of the two communities in Northern Ireland. This is essential. Each of the two must be able to feel secure in its own identity and tolerant of the other's. The agreement offers important safeguards to both.
§ The majority in Northern Ireland wish to retain the link with Great Britain. We have never wavered from the position that a change in the status of Northern Ireland could come about only with the consent of a majority there. The present wish of a majority is against change.
§ Both Governments accept all this and have affirmed it in a binding international agreement. There are no ambiguities; I do implore people who think that there may be to look at what the agreement actually says on this. It says that there will be no derogation from the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Government; responsibility for the government of Northern Ireland remains with United Kingdom Ministers accountable to Parliament.799
§ Thus it is that Her Majesty's Government are seeking the approval of this House, and of another place, to an agreement which affirms the commitment of both Governments to the principle of majority consent. It is entirely consistent with that commitment for us also to say, as we have done, that if at some future date a majority of the people in Northern Ireland were to consent formally to a united Ireland, the Government would introduce and support in Parliament legislation to that effect.
§ Contrary to what some may say and feel, that should give no cause for misapprehension or uncertainty among Unionists. Their loyalty is, absolutely properly, to the Crown in Parliament. Only by an Act of the Crown in Parliament could the status of Northern Ireland be changed. That position is not altered by the agreement, and I earnestly hope that all sections of the community will remember that in our system of parliamentary democracy the decisions of Parliament are binding and must be respected.
§ As well as reassurance for the majority, we also believe that we cannot make progress towards reconciliation in Northern Ireland unless we can also reflect, understand and take account of the minority viewpoint. We need to create conditions which will provide the minority with the confidence that they have a role to play in the affairs of Northern Ireland. It is here that the Irish Government have a vital contribution to make. Of course, they already raise with us many questions about events in Northern Ireland, particularly where they affect the minority community. What the agreement will do is to formalise this procedure so that the Irish Government's views and proposals can be taken into account in a more structured and methodical way.
I shall now explain briefly how the agreement sets out to achieve this. It provides in Article 2 for the establishment of an intergovernmental conference. This will extend and build upon the framework of the existing Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. The conference will serve as a framework within which—I quote from the agreement itself—
the United Kingdom Government and the Irish Government work together;
(i) for the accommodation of the rights and identities of the two traditions which exist in Northern Ireland; and
(ii) for peace, stability and prosperity throughout the island of Ireland by promoting reconciliation, respect for human rights, cooperation against terrorism and the development of economic, social and cultural co-operation".
§ The conference will deal on a regular basis with matters relating mainly to Northern Ireland—on political issues, security and related matters, legal matters including the administration of justice and the promotion of cross-border co-operation. We are committed to consider carefully these views and to make determined efforts to resolve any differences. That means neither that we are obliged to accept the suggestions that are put to us by the Irish, nor that the Irish are granted a veto. It means simply that we will try our hardest to reach agreement. But we are realists. It will remain the clear responsibility of the British Government to take final decisions.
§ We welcome this arrangement on two accounts. First, it will enable the Government better to take 800 account of the minority views. It creates conditions whereby the minority community can be confident that they have a vital role to play in the affairs of Northern Ireland; and we hope too that it will increase their confidence in the institutions of Northern Ireland.
§ Secondly, we welcome it because it provides a new framework for more effective co-operation in a wide range of economic, social, cultural and security matters. Our foremost priority in Northern Ireland must be the complete eradication of terrorism which has menaced both Northern Ireland and the Republic, and indeed the mainland of the United Kingdom, for many years. This requires the closest co-operation between the United Kingdom and the Irish Goverments as spelt out in Article 9 of the agreement.
§ We therefore very much welcome the Irish Government's commitment in the agreement to work with us to ensure that those who adopt or support violence do not succeed. We hope to make early progress against terrorism which is to the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland. We look forward to tackling this problem with the Irish; for the conference will help us to raise matters of concern, too, such as the improvement of cross-border security. We also welcome the Irish Goverment's intention announced in the communique to accede as soon as possible to the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.
§ The confidence of all law-abiding citizens in the security forces and the courts is essential if they are to be wholly effective in upholding the law and in dealing with terrorism. The security forces in Northern Ireland are already highly esteemed throughout the United Kingdom for their dedication, bravery and professionalism, and I should like to take this opportunity of paying a special tribute to them.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I should add also no less a tribute to the judiciary, who have maintained the highest standards of impartiality and integrity of which we are proud. But we must never relax our efforts to secure the support of all sections of the community, including the minority, for the security forces and for the judicial system in Northern Ireland. Relations between the security forces and the minority, cross-border security co-operation and public confidence in the administration of justice are issues which will be for the intergovernmental conference to consider.
Article 8 also mentions, as one possible approach, the idea of mixed courts. We have made it clear, and I shall repeat now, that we cannot see any easy or early way round the very considerable difficulties in the way of that particular proposal. We have undertaken to consider this possibility entirely without commitment.
Let me now say something about the response to the agreement. It is clear that responsible opinion from many parts of the political spectrum accepts that the agreement is a constructive approach to the problems of Northern Ireland and offers hope of tackling the violence. I am one of those perhaps who can say with all honesty that I very well understand the anxieties and fears expressed from among the Unionist majority 801 of the community in Northern Ireland itself. However, I believe these fears are not well-founded.
It is claimed that the agreement is unprecedented; and that it is in itself a breach of sovereignty. But there is nothing unprecedented, nor any breach of sovereignty, when neighbouring states set up machinery to work together for common security and well-being. How can there be a breach of sovereignty when the final decisions rest with us, as they must and will? I very much hope that as time goes on more and more people will see the agreement in its proper perspective and that it is well worth the effort to make it work. Of course this will be difficult, but only in that way can progress be made towards peace, stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland. I hope those Unionists who are (in my judgment, understandably) voicing their grave doubts will carefully consider this aspect.
The arrangements set out in the agreement do not represent an alternative to the search for devolution: indeed the agreement reaffirms both Governments' commitment to find an acceptable form of devolved administration in Northern Ireland—and that means one which would secure widespread acceptance throughout the community. We want the people of Northern Ireland to take over responsibility for the every-day decisions which affect their lives, but there needs to be agreement across the community.
Both Governments, however, recognise that devolution can be achieved only with the co-operation of constitutional representatives within Northern Ireland of both traditions there. We hope that the agreement will encourage the elected representatives of both communities to come together to discuss arrangements for forming a devolved structure acceptable to both. And should a devolved administration be established, the intergovernmental conference would cease to consider any matters which would become the responsibility of a new local administration.
No single agreement will solve all of Northern Ireland's problems. I know from firsthand experience the complexities of the situation in Northern Ireland, the depth of divisions and the magnitude of the task in trying to reach a solution. I have learnt the hard way through experience that progress can only be made slowly, one step at a time. I firmly believe that this agreement offers an important step in the right direction—it offers a real opportunity to make progress towards reconciliation between the two communities in Northern Ireland and to tackle cross-border terrorism in a determined way. It contains reassurances for both communities that their rights will be safeguarded. It will create an improved climate of friendship and co-operation between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It is thus in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland that we do not let this opportunity pass. The people within the rest of the United Kingdom will certainly expect them to work constructively for its success.
That is the reality of the circumstances in which we find ourselves and the circumstances in which we as a Government thought it right to seek an agreement of this kind. We did so in the full understanding that it would not, and could not, produce a solution at a stroke. No agreement could do that. What it does 802 offer—and I very firmly believe this—is the chance to make progress in a situation where for some years progress has not seemed possible.
My Lords, I commend the Motion to this House.
§ Moved, That this House approves the Anglo-Irish Agreement (Cmnd. 9657) signed on 15th November by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald.—(Viscount Whitelaw.)
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for the speech with which he has opened this very important debate. The noble Viscount has at least two qualifications to speak in this debate and to be heard with care and with respect. First, he was, as he has reminded us, for a period the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; and, secondly, he is completely sincere, I believe, in his desire to achieve a settlement or at least the practical beginnings of a settlement of this intractable problem.
My own credentials are less obvious. I can, however, see the Wicklow Mountains from my home on a clear day, and the nearest city to us is Dublin, 60 miles away; so that I know Ireland very well. It would be easier for me, logistically at least, to be a Member of the Dail than a Member of this Parliament! I have also known the leaders of Ireland, north and south, including Mr. de Valera, with whom I discussed these problems in years past. And although he remained passionately in favour of a united Ireland, he had come to recognise the realities of the position and that there is no simple solution to the island's problem.
The history of the past 70 years demonstrates very clearly—from the Curragh mutiny and the Easter Rising to the present day—that finding a peaceful and permanent solution to the Irish problem has been and remains the most difficult continuing task in British politics. Everyone wants the problem to be resolved, but on his own terms. The failure to resolve it is costly in terms of lives, in terms of suffering and in terms of resources. It is a running sore that saps the strength of Britain and of Ireland. It gives our critics both East and West the opportunity to cast doubt upon Britain's commitment to human rights and to the freedom of the individual. The central, most important, injunction of the Christian religion is that we should love one another. That people, including ministers and priests, should invoke their religion, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, encourage violence and kill and maim each other without mercy, in its name, makes a savage mockery of Christianity.
It is against this background that we must look at this agreement. If it gives hope that it will help, even in a small way, to bring an end to this senseless and evil conflict, then I believe strongly that we must give it our support. It makes no great fundamental changes, as the noble Viscount has indicated. Indeed, like all moderate compromises, it attracts criticism from one side because it goes too far and from the other because it does not go far enough. The press over the last few days has demonstrated this. For example, the Spectator, over the weekend, contained three successive articles that reflected three differing and conflicting viewpoints of the agreement. This shows 803 the confusion that exists in the minds of intelligent and well-meaning people on the issue.
We can, and no doubt we shall, in the debate take different views about some of the details of the agreement. And there are some important questions to be asked. Before doing that, I would like to follow the noble Viscount and look carefully at the general Unionist reaction to the agreement especially as it was reflected in the meeting in Belfast on Saturday. It was angry, suspicious, highly charged and, of course further inflamed by public exhortation. But the views of Unionists and their leaders such as Mr. James Molyneaux, whom I like and respect, must be carefully taken into account.
Their apprehensions are clear. They think, or they are persuaded, that the agreement is the first step, the slippery slope to the abandonment of sovereignty. I remember well this slippery slope argument when we were debating devolution for Scotland and for Wales. But if the agreement is clear about anything, it is clear about this. As the noble Viscount has said, Article 1 and Article 2(b) set this out unambiguously. I take liberty to repeat what he has read out:There is no derogation from the sovereignty of either the United Kingdom Government or the Irish Government".That is a specific statement. It is plain, furthermore, that the decisions of government in Northern Ireland and the responsibility for administration in the Province will remain with this Parliament where Ministers with executive authority are accountable.
The agreement also emphasises what has been made plain again and again by successive Governments and Secretaries of State; namely, that the status of Northern Ireland will remain unchanged so long as the majority of the people there so wish. It goes further than this and says that they—that is, the British Government, and, more importantly, the Irish Government—recognise that the present wish is for no change.
Let me say to the House and especially to my friends in the Province that this reform is negligible compared with the step that the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland took when we entered the European Community. Northern Ireland, with us, did then concede sovereignty. Its extent was defined and debated in this House and in the other place. It is misleading, in my opinion, to try to argue or especially try to frighten people into believing that sovereignty is at risk in this particular document. It is not so.
This is not a constitutional step, in my view, in the same category as our entry into the Common Market and the documents which were signed at that time are clear evidence of this. A derogation of sovereignty in a real sense to the Irish Republic would need major legislation in this Parliament. That, in my view, would also justify a referendum on the precedent of the referendum on the European Community and on devolution to Scotland and to Wales. This agreement, my Lords, does not. And we and the people of Ireland should get that into perspective at this time. My personal view is that the Irish Government, in this agreement, are in fact making more positive concessions than the United Kingdom or Northern Ireland. It is the Irish Government, it is the Irish Prime 804 Minister, who are making significant concessions in this document. Anyone who is familiar with the history of Ireland will appreciate that what I am saying is true. Finally, the fact that Northern Ireland will continue to send Members to the House of Commons, to the British Parliament, should itself be sufficient reassurance on this document.
What I have said thus far reflects the policy of the party I represent, which would seek unity between the two parts of Ireland based on agreement and provided that consent is there—achieved by negotiation between the Government of the Republic and our own and with the support of the people of both the North and the South.
The House will recall the conclusions of the New Ireland Forum. We supported many of these, as noble Lords will recall. These proposals were of course rejected by the Prime Minister and the Government at the time. We remember the Prime Minister's words well. But this agreement is a step in the direction proposed by the Forum. I also believe that the British people will give this agreement a fair wind. But, as the noble Viscount has indicated, they will want to see how the Government here, and for that matter how the Government in Dublin, propose to make it work effectively. So far as our own Government are concerned, we shall expect practical steps to be taken to ensure that a clear understanding of what is involved exists both among the Nationalist and among the Unionist communities in the Province. This is of the first importance. They must be told the nature, the purpose and the potential of the agreement. This implies a well-planned programme of consultation with both communities within Northern Ireland.
Consultation is of the first importance. It is consultation that involves not only the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—we deplore the treatment that was meted out to him in Northern Ireland the other day—but consultation also between his colleagues in the Cabinet and in the Government with the communities in the Province.
I have one or two practical questions to put to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, who will be replying to the debate. First, the intergovernmental conference, as the noble Viscount has said, is obviously to be a focal, joint authority. It will be of interest to know how often the conference will meet and what will be its precise role. How often will it meet at heads-of-government level? I believe that the conference should also meet at the top level, and that the Prime Ministers should be committed to meeting together at least once a year.
We again accept that the role of the Republic will be consultative—a very important point—but cross-border co-operation is, in my view, essential if terrorism is to be tackled. Article 7 and Article 9 are crucial in this regard. One of the tests of the success of this document will be a reduction in terrorist violence. This in itself would help to gain Unionist understanding and support.
The role of the conference on security and legal matters needs careful definition and clarification both for practical reasons and in order to assuage the fears of the Unionist community. This is also why the role of the Irish Government under the agreement must be made absolutely plain from the start. As I see it, this 805 role is limited to that of—and I quote from the document—"advancing views and proposals" on those Northern Ireland affairs specifically mentioned in the agreement. That will not apply to matters which are the responsibility of any devolved administration in the Province. It does, however, make for a closer practical relationship between the two Governments without affecting the relationship between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland itself.
I further note that the secretariat which is set up under Article 3 will have no executive functions. This again is a point which should be noted by Unionists. The secretariat is to be a channel of communication and will service the conference. I hope that the Minister can assure us at the end of the debate that this will be set up expeditiously so that it can begin to prepare the ground for regular meetings.
I should be grateful to the Minister if he can also say a word about the Baker report and its recommendations which concern the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 and which will depend on action taken in and by this Parliament. Other actions which can or should be considered are a review of strip searching procedures at Armagh prison, a repeal of the Flags and Emblems Act 1954, and some action on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. All these measures can be initiated by this Government and can help to pave the way to a successful outcome.
Again, Article 10 refers to the need,to promote the economic and social development of those areas of both parts of Ireland which have suffered most severely",and, of course, we support this. We have read references to the possibility of economic aid from the United States, and it would be interesting to know whether this is likely to be forthcoming and whether it will be by way of direct investment from the United States Treasury or private investment, or partly public and partly private. There must be doubts about a direct United States Treasury grant in aid. Perhaps we can be told the thinking of the Government on that point. The rebuilding of the Northern Ireland economy is no small matter after the damage of the years, but it must be tackled, not least by the people there, by Unionists and Catholics alike. But let both sides realise that there can be no real chance of economic growth and progress without the clear hope of stability. This again is why this agreement is important and why at the end of the day it is the people themselves in Northern Ireland who must settle their differences.
Having set their hand to this small reform, the Government's immediate task is to seek to create confidence in both communities, to allay the fears of the Unionists that this is not the end of the Union, and to give the Nationalists confidence that there is a decent life for them as equal citizens in the Province.
In giving the commitments in this agreement Dr. Garret FitzGerald has done a most courageous thing for which he deserves the utmost praise and respect. I congratulate him and all those who have worked with skill and patience to produce this agreement. I also appeal to those who oppose the agreement, or to those who have doubts about it, to give it a chance for the 806 coming three years. At the end of the three years there will be a review and a time to judge its value.
But those who seek to destroy it by violence, terror, misrepresentation or misleading rhetoric will carry a heavy burden of guilt before history. This small but active group do not represent the majority of this remarkable community—I use the world advisedly; it is a remarkable community—who, as the noble Viscount said, have made a great contribution to the history of these islands. I believe that the fervent desire of the great majority of the people of Northern Ireland is for a stable and peaceful future for their children.
I note the point that the noble Viscount made about the existence of two cultures. However, when we consider the huge area of common interest and sympathy which exists between us in these islands in the arts, in sport, in our legal traditions, in trade and industry, in the development of democratic institutions, in our common heritage and in our common interest in survival, is it not a tragedy that there should be any risk of the failure of this modest attempt to create a bridge between us?
I hope that the leaders of the churches of all denominations, the leaders of industry and the trade unions, and all people of goodwill will give this agreement the chance to succeed, for the Province deserves a period of peace and stability.
For their part let the Government determine to implement this agreement, and we shall support them. Let there be no turning back, whatever the difficulties, because I believe that the objectives of this agreement are good and honourable; and that is what matters in the end.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, debates are more interesting if a speaker occasionally differs from the speaker before him, but I am unable to differ from the noble Viscount or my noble friend Lord Cledwyn. What I have to say, therefore, will become variations on the same theme. I shall underline one or two differences in a slightly different way, but I speak for the two parties of the Alliance and I think that I must therefore say what I have to say. Although I could almost say, "I agree", sit down, and leave it at that, I think that would hardly do justice to our growing voting strength in the country to which I shall not refer again.
We welcome this agreement as a real step forward. We have within our two parties done a pretty thorough study of the Northern Ireland problem and at both our party conferences the recommendations put forward in our report—which we called What future for Northern Ireland—were accepted. They are largely in line with the agreement we are here to discuss. I think one can say that our views are a hundred per cent. bipartisan with the Government.
We welcome the agreement because it recognises the basic principles which are absolutely essential if peace is ever to return to Northern Ireland. These principles, which have been stated twice already, I shall state again. They are at the centre of our report. The first is that Northern Ireland shall not cease to be a part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland. Everybody has 807 known this for a good many years. But this document reaffirms that from both sides in a very definite official way, as the noble Viscount pointed out. It is not quite the same as it was before, even though the words are not very different. It is stronger and more reliable.
Secondly, both the Unionist and Nationalist traditions in Northern Ireland—as both noble Lords have said—are legitimate and valid, and any approach to a settlement must take account of that fact. That principle was not only acknowledged in the Northern Ireland Forum Report, but it has also been acknowledged by the Unionists themselves in The Way Forward, which is the recently published document by the Ulster Unionist Council. It explicitly states that it is the responsibility of the Unionists, as a party representing the majority, to make the minority feel that Northern Ireland is also theirs. That is a very significant statement which tacitly admits the alienation so often denied. In our document there is a report from Professor Whyte, who is a great expert on divided societies, saying that there is no other way of producing reconciliation than something which we call "partnership in government" but which was known at one time as "power-sharing".
We realise that any movement forward in the Northern Ireland situation will be received with indignation and fury by one side or the other although, until the disgraceful assault on the Secretary of State, we had hoped without violence. However, the two principles which I have just quoted are agreed between the two parties in formal papers of their own. The question is how to implement them? There are two complementary ways of doing so: first, partnership in government in which the minority has a share in government as of right. As I have said, that is the only way in which a plural society can be governed. So far the Unionists have not been prepared to allow that to happen. We hoped that it might emerge from the present Assembly but the SDLP this time—very wrongly in my opinion—refused to play. However, if power-sharing is established we then come to the second question; namely, how can the principle of equal respect for both communities be implemented? The answer can only be, as stated in the agreement, through giving the Government of the Irish Republic, to whom many members of the Nationalist majority look to represent their interests, an advisory role with regard to matters affecting the two communities.
I want for the moment to try to convince the Unionists that the Government, in what they are doing, and we in supporting them, are not their enemies trying to chuck them out of our island community, but are their genuine friends trying to find a stable way of keeping them in it. In other words, I want them to stop fuming for a moment and to try to see the problem from the point of view of the British nation which supplies the troops and the money, and in thanks for which our troops are murdered, our mainland is attacked by terrorists, our rule is attacked and libelled from all sides, from American senators to Dr. Paisley. We want a change and we must have a change. As the noble Viscount said, the status quo is simply not an option.
I am proud to be English and prouder still to be British. I am proud to look on the Scots, from among 808 whom my family came South, and on the Welsh, with whom I have worked very closely in my earlier days, and indeed in this House, as my respected fellow countrymen. I am no less proud to look on the Northern Irish, whether Protestant or Catholic, as my friends and fellow countrymen. I do not have the slightest intention of supporting any move to push them out of our Union, and I personally see no reason why such a thing should ever be attempted. There are some British citizens who want to see a united Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has given his party's approval to that; we do not give our approval. We hold the matter open. Some people want a united Ireland but there is a certain number of people in England who do not want that at all. However, the majority of people in England—and I think that I speak for them—do not mind which way the future goes so long as it moves towards a contented Ireland, both North and South, and, above all, so long as we can begin to move towards stopping the killing.
In the short run, as the right honourable Jim Prior said in his last speech as Northern Ireland Secretary, an agreement of this kind is likely to increase terrorism because the IRA know very well that the only thing that can defeat them is reconciliation. They dislike the agreement with much better reason than the Unionists. In the long run, the agreement will be judged, as other speakers have said, by the extent to which it helps towards a real reduction in terrorism; but that must be in the long run.
There are two matters beyond all others which make it difficult to eliminate the IRA terrorist acts, and this agreement is constructive on both of them. The first is that some—not all, but a significant number—of the rank and file Catholic population are sufficiently nationalist to have some sympathy with the IRA or have sons and brothers with them, or are persuaded or intimidated even if they do not approve the violence, into conceding shelter and help. This means that the IRA have safe houses into which to disappear. This part of the population is suspicious of the police and is not helpful to them. By and large, they do not, I think, rejoice at the murders carried out by the IRA and they could be persuaded gradually to see the Royal Ulster Constabulary as an impartial police force in favour of law and order and not a sectarian one in favour of Protestant domination. Let me say at this point that I do not see the RUC as that at all and nor do they themselves. I join with the other noble Lords who have spoken in paying tribute to them, to the Army, the judiciary, and indeed to the prison officers, all of whom walk through that country under instant threat of death every day of their lives.
The particularly courageous behaviour of the RUC at one or two recent provocative Protestant demonstrations has done something to help in this connection, and, as has already been said, Article 7(c) of the agreement expresses very clearly the intention that both governments mean to do something about it.
Secondly, the IRA have naturally even more friends across the Border than in the North and can—and often do—operate from there and flee back there. The Unionists have for years been asking for more thorough Border co-operation with the South. This agreement offers it in a most comprehensive form. Article 9 spells it out.
809 From the point of view of the British, both of these things are very good and, in my opinion, the majority ought to welcome them. However, as Boyle and Hadden pointed out in the Financial Times last week, it is essential to woo the middle ground of Unionist opinion. In their words,there is little point in making such elaborate arrangements to reduce alienation within the minority community if the result is to create an equal degree of alienation within the majority community".That of course is the dilemma. If the Government had offered less, there would have been no agreement. Joint sovereignty, or at least joint authority, are the least that the Irish Government and the Nationalists wanted. That the Government have totally rejected. They have stopped short of any derogation of sovereignty and, greatly to his credit, Dr. FitzGerald has accepted it. Is this such a humiliating defeat for the Unionists?
Since I made my notes for this speech I have spoken to my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who is to speak following me and who is well capable of giving his own views. I have also read the article in today's edition of The Times by Conor Cruise O'Brien. I have the very greatest respect for the views of both of those men. Both take the view that this agreement is too bitter a pill for the Unionists to swallow. However, they neglect an important new fact. There have always been two intractable positions in the Northern Ireland struggle—that of those who are determined to move towards a United Ireland, and that of those who are determined not to share power with the minority with whom they have to live. Now there is a third intractable position—that of the British nation which will support its government not to allow things to run on as they were. The Unionists do not seem to realise that if they would share power, the excuse for Irish advice would disappear.
Is this agreement really so awful? The suggested conference which all the trouble is about is, as has been stated by both previous speakers, only advisory and has no executive function, and comments from the South suggesting otherwise have been denied again and again. Decisions for the North will be made by the British Government and for the South by the Dail. What could be fairer than that? If we, the British, like to draw a little nearer to the South, why should we not do so? Our culture has been intertwined with theirs from the days of Swift right up to the very present, and it is very much the better for it.
My favourite play is still The Playboy of the Western World. I smuggled a copy of Ulysses in from Paris when I was at school, and I own—and I doubt whether any other noble Lord does—a first edition of Beckett's Murphy. I do not know anyone who has not a cousin somewhere in Ireland. The boot surely is on the other foot. It is the Irish who do not like us, even though if they come to live here, we welcome them and give them the vote.
But if our Government like to discuss the incredibly difficult affairs and complaints of the minority with a friendly Government to which the minority look for sympathy and understanding, who has the right to complain? We offer them no power, no decisions, no executive activity at all. But we shall discuss, for example, the tricky problems of how to improve 810 minority relations with the RUC, and things of that sort; and very useful it should be.
My Lords, this is how I see it, and in my opinion most of the British on the mainland see it the same way. We do not hate the Irish. We do not want to be in any way associated with Dr. Paisley's unchristian and unappetising attacks on the Pope and the Church of Rome and his fellow men who follow the Catholic religion. But we have absolutely no intention of acceding to any change in the constitution of Northern Ireland except as stated in Article 1 of the agreement. Why cannot they believe us?
I have tried to put the British point of view as I imagine it to be, and I believe that the Government's point of view is not dissimilar. We must persuade the moderate Unionists, of whom there are many, to help us give it a try—as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said as well—and move forward to devolved Government. Thus more and more can be left to the local politicians, and in a proper political forum they can gain proper experience instead of quarrelling in a vacuum, as they do now. It is now fairly and squarely up to the SDLP to come forward and offer to cooperate in the Assembly—this one or the new one—with the Unionists and the Alliance. We must give them a week or two, but if there is to be any agreement, they must play their part too.
I wish very quickly to make one or two points on the report itself. No action is recommended on the parliamentary tier, and we think in our parties that it is important that this should be erected as soon as possible. The proposed arrangements for Anglo-Irish co-operation, valuable as they are, do not fully take into account that both countries are democracies and both governments are subject to the popular will, and elected members from all parties on all sides should be involved.
Secondly, we think that conference meetings should be held in London and Dublin as well as Belfast to underline the fact that this is an Anglo-Irish agreement, one between sovereign states. Thirdly, the question of secrecy has caused much ill-feeling, though I do not see myself how it could have been otherwise until now. But from now on, as the Leader of the Northern Ireland Alliance Party suggested to the Prime Minister last week, every conference meeting should publish its agenda before, and its conclusions after, each meeting.
Lastly, though I hardly hope to persuade the Prime Minister of this, the extreme sectarianism of the voting population would be greatly modified by insisting on proportional representation for the Westminister elections as well as all the local elections.
My Lords, I have many valued friends among the Unionists—or I had until I made this speech. Let me beg them to believe our word, the British Government's word, backed by the four political parties, that the agreement means—as both previous speakers said—exactly what it says, no more and no less, and that we will stand by it.
I look forward to reading tomorrow that Messrs. Enoch Powell and Jim Molyneaux have dissociated themselves from the violence committed by their political colleagues on the Secretary of State. Surely, they can do no less. We must try to persuade them that 811 we do not want to lose them, but we beg them to co-operate and give us the opportunity to keep them in a stable province as part of our country. There are no last chances in affairs of this kind. The world has to go on. But I do not believe there will ever be a better or a fairer offer. We are happy to support the agreement.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, in our search to try to find a solution, to try to find some hope in the ongoing tragedy of Northern Ireland, most of us in this Chamber today, and most of the Members in the Chamber on the other side of this building, would want to express as much optimism as we possibly could regarding this agreement. But let us not blind ourselves to the realities as they exist in Northern Ireland, because if we set out with an inordinate degree of optimism and this agreement does not turn out to be what we would want it to be, the despair and disenchantment would be all the greater.
For personal reasons, because I know many Members in this House—people whom I would regard as friends—I should like to be able to stand up in this Chamber today and say with them, "Yes, I agree that this agreement is going to point the road to success". But when I received a summons to come into the House, a summons which all your Lordships received, I was called upon to come into the House and to treat, and to give of my knowledge in the governing of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I took that oath seriously. Whether or not it makes me unpopular, or someone who is always preaching despair, someone who cannot see an answer, I believe with my conscience that I have to tell this House of the situation in Northern Ireland as I see it.
We have heard of two cultures. We have heard of two communities. Let me put it in terms readily understood in the island of Ireland. In relation to Northern Ireland there is a Catholic, Nationalist, Irish and Republican tribe. The people in that tribe want to hasten, and to bring about in varying degrees a British departure from Ireland. The other side of that political and religious divide is the Unionist, British, Ulster Protestant culture and tradition who wish to maintain the present status quo.
We ask ourselves: are those two cultures irreconcilable? Are there any circumstances which could bring them together to accept the boundaries of the Northern Ireland state and to accept each culture as a legitimate expression? I sometimes begin to think that that is now impossible, but yet I do not give up hope. I say here, as I stand on my feet, that irrespective of what my following words might be, I want to give this agreement a fair wind, but I say it in the full and absolute knowledge of the awful obstacles in the way of this agreement ever attaining what it sets out to attain.
I remember very well in all the years I spent in politics the awful divisions which existed between the two communities in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland you do not have what you have in this House, what has been mentioned this afternoon and will certainly be mentioned by other speakers at the other end of the building; you do not have compromise. In 812 this House you do. When you stand here and talk of compromise you are speaking a language which the tribes in Northern Ireland do not understand.
In Northern Ireland there are two tribes, and a defeat for one is a victory for the other. A victory for one is certain defeat for the other. Throughout my political life I have suffered the defeats, and now the Unionist members, the majority party in Northern Ireland, are suffering what they would regard as the most signal defeat that they have suffered since the downfall of Stormont in 1972, which was brought about by a Conservative Government.
What has brought us to this position? Why was this agreement necessary? Let me, within a few minutes, give a potted history. Northern Ireland was partitioned against the will of the Irish people. The vast majority of the people in the island of Ireland did not want partition. The six-county state was created by the British Government. Given the circumstances in which that state was brought into being, with a 65 per cent. Protestant majority and a 35 per cent. Catholic minority, it was inevitable that attitudes would be built up between the majority and minority communities, because they could not agree on the most fundamental issue which could be agreed on in every other country. They could not agree on the legitimacy of the state. Sixty-five per cent. were for the state and 35 per cent. were against it. If agreement cannot be found on the most important issue of all, how then can agreement be found on anything else? It was inevitable, given the circumstances of the creation of the Northern Ireland state, that there had to be discrimination. I am not blaming the Unionists for it. They were part of the problem. There had to be discrimination if the Northern Ireland state was to be kept in being.
So there was this continual confrontation between the 65 per cent. majority and the 35 per cent. minority. Had it been a 5 per cent. minority, or even 10 per cent., there would have been no problem, because one can afford to be generous to a 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. minority. But one cannot afford to be generous to a 35 per cent. minority, because in a very few years their numbers would increase and the whole constitutional question would be thrown into the melting pot again.
I say again that the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland treated the Nationalist Catholic minority, the tribal minority, in a very unfair way. I was in opposition politics in those years. I did not hesitate to take a stand in defence of that embattled minority. So the civil rights movement began, and I took a part in it. We had demands which we believed were very modest and legitimate, and all those demands have been met. Every single demand which we carried on our banners when we went to Derry on 5th October has been met and agreed by a succession of British governments since then: a fair electoral system, a fairer allocation of houses, the setting up of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the coming into being of an ombudsman. They were immediate demands that had absolutely nothing to do with the clamour for a united Ireland or the clamour against it.
That immediately brought a Unionist backlash, which was very sore and bitter when it occurred. It 813 went on for three years. In the meantime, the IRA took advantage of the civil rights agitation and began their shooting war in 1970 and 1971. That war has continued, with untold tragedy for many families in Northern Ireland, in all the years that have elapsed since then.
In 1972 the Conservative Government abolished Stormont. That was a victory for Irish nationalism. It was a defeat for Ulster unionism. They saw the citadel of Stormont, a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people, being wiped out at a stroke by a Conservative Government. I know how bitter they were, and I also know how the nationalist population rejoiced when Stormont was brought to an end.
After 1972, the noble Viscount to whom we all listened this afternoon involved himself in the Irish situation. I have a high regard for him as one of the most courageous Englishmen ever to involve himself; though there may be some doubt about whether he is English or Scottish. He came to Northern Ireland in 1973. He got the Northern Ireland politicians together: a large section of the Unionist Party, the minority party, the Catholic party of the SDLP, of which I was then the leader, and the small Alliance Party. Behind closed doors at Stormont, without the interference of Dublin or any other outside agency, under his direction we were able to bring about the seeds of a power-sharing government, where Catholics and Protestants of the two tribes would be able to enter into an agreement on an executive which would act in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland. We did not need to go to Sunningdale. I would have been quite happy to stop the negotiations then, because that was a tremendous advance on anything that we had ever had: the Catholic community and the Protestant community having their representatives in one executive trying to govern Northern Ireland in the interests of everyone.
However, we went to Sunningdale. When we went to Sunningdale with the representatives of the Irish Government we then had to discuss the Council of Ireland. I was not losing any sleep over the Council of Ireland. I believed it was much more important to see a coming together of the two communities in Northern Ireland, to allow ourselves to build up trust in each other, to see if we could forget all the hatreds and suspicions that we had nurtured against each other for years. Then after a period of one or two parliaments we could begin to consider whether we needed the Council of Ireland; whether we needed to take steps towards the unity of the country; whether it would be better if the country were united in the interests of everyone. But to me that was of secondary importance. By far the most important factor was the power-sharing executive.
When we left Sunningdale we came out with three ministries: Paddy Devlin in Health and Social Services, Austin Currie in Development and John Hume in Commerce. Those are three of the most important ministries that can operate under any government. We formed the executive on 1st January 1974. Then the objections began to be brought to the fore by a certain section of the Unionist Party—not the whole Unionist Party but sections of it who were not represented at Sunningdale. I urge your Lordships to 814 remember those words: a certain section of the Unionist Party and their leaders who were not represented at Sunningdale.
We began that executive, and in the five months that we were in existence there were never any disagreements about housing, about health and social services or about commerce. There was total unanimity and accord on those issues which affected Northern Ireland, but on the Council of Ireland proposals there was interminable trouble. It was interminable because the Unionists were absolutely petrified about the Council of Ireland. I again ask your Lordships to remember those words. They were absolutely petrified because they could see this as the first step towards taking them into a republic.
During the course of the five months, one of my own members in the SDLP, in a speech at Trinity College, when questioned about the importance of the Council of Ireland, said, "Do you not realise that this is the vehicle which will trundle the Unionists into a united Ireland?" One of my own members said that. Can your Lordships imagine what reaction that brought from the Unionist members? They went absolutely frantic because they were hearing from the mouth of one of the partners in the executive that the Council of Ireland proposals were the means to drag them into a united Ireland.
So began the Ulster workers' strike. Every shade of unionism was so opposed to the Council of Ireland that, although at the very beginning the strike was led by the extremists, as the days elapsed every shade of unionism began to withdraw consent from the executive and so it finally fell. It was the most courageous political experiment in the interests of everybody, not only in Northern Ireland but in the island of Ireland, and it was brought to an end because of the Council of Ireland proposals.
Following the defeat of the executive, we had the Northern Ireland Convention, at which no agreement could be found. Then the SDLP went into oblivion because there was no forum for it; it had nowhere to stand. Because of the frustrations that we had lived through in 1974—remember, it was a Labour Government who were in power in 1974 when the executive failed—many people have put all the blame on one party or the other. It was a Labour Government who were in power and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, would say that he has agreed with Mr. Merlyn Rees, who was then the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that there was no way, absolutely no way, that they could contain the Ulster Unionists' objections against the existence of that executive.
The difference now is this. That executive was an identifiable target. Every shade of unionism could say, "We want rid of that", and they eventually succeeded. However, after the failure of the convention to find agreement, the SDLP, because of its frustrations—frustrations which I can understand because I, too, was part of them—began to take an increasingly nationalistic view of the problem of Ireland. They no longer talked about housing, jobs or the standard of living. All they thought of was the nationalist day, the final reunion of the country, the beating of the Unionists, the symbolisms of victory and defeat. I left 815 the party because I could not live with that degree of nationalism that was then so evident.
Then, in 1980, the hunger strike in Northern Ireland took place. I was opposed to that hunger strike. Many of your Lordships will remember the consequences of it. The IRA deliberately put their own men on hunger strike, with the intention of murdering them and so creating the maximum emotion in the island of Ireland. They succeeded in doing so. In the course of that hunger strike the then sitting Member for Fermanagh, South Tyrone, Frank Maguire, died. The SDLP stood back and refused to put forward a candidate in that seat and so allowed the return of a hunger striker, Bobby Sands, to be Member of Parliament for the Fermanagh, South Tyrone constituency.
That was the beginning of the problem that we are debating today. That was where it all began, because the total Catholic population in that area went out and voted for the hunger striker, Bobby Sands, and the Protestant population stood back in amazement and in horror. They could not believe that educated Catholics, who were not farm labourers but solicitors, doctors, and other professional people, all went into the poll to vote for a man who that Protestant population regarded as an IRA terrorist. The polarisation and alienation which emanated from that is part of this debate today.
The IRA, in the form of Sinn Fein, had their first political victory. They received votes from the ballot papers and that was all they wanted; they were then legitimate. From that day on, the SDLP, the constitutional Nationalist party, were in competition with the IRA, in the rise of Sinn Fein, for the Nationalist vote. That competition has continued ever since.
Then in 1982 in the other place, Mr. James Prior, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as he then was, brought forward what I regarded again as a courageous attempt by a British Government to try to find some solution to the Northern Ireland problem. He promulgated the Northern Ireland Assembly. That Assembly was brought into being with the intention that the Catholic community and the Protestant community would go there, would attend there and would try to reach or find some accommodation that would allow them to live together.
However, the IRA won five seats in 1982. They won five seats in that Assembly. They said, "We are not going to that Assembly", and the SDLP, in a most cowardly way, said, "Well, if you are not going, we are not going". Thus, where were the communities to find any accommodation, if the minority community, through its representatives in Sinn Fein and the SDLP, totally rejected what was a valiant attempt to set up that Assembly? I was the only one who voted for it in another place, who supported the Secretary of State. The Unionists did not agree with it. However, when it was created, they attended, they went, and they tried to use whatever structures there were in it.
Thus, since 1982, the SDLP, representing the Catholic minority, with Sinn Fein, have not been engaged in politics. They did not attend the Assembly. They were not seeking reconciliation or seeking any 816 kind of accord with the Unionist population, the majority population.
Then this Government began to have discussions with the Irish Government. I believe that they did it because international opinion, particularly Irish-American international opinion, was laying down the rules that this Government should find some accord with the Irish Government.
Thus we have come full circle—a full and very dangerous circle. We arrived at the position where, when we left Sunningdale, we had the power sharing executive and the Council of Ireland proposals which led to the defeat of Sunningdale. We now arrive at this agreement. This agreement says to the Unionist party, "You did not like the Council of Ireland proposals. You brought the power sharing executive to an end. Thus we have now the Council of Ireland in another form, we now have it in this agreement. It will be known as the conference. Whether or not you like it, we will ram it down your throats". That is how the Unionist party see it. They are ramming down their throats that very part of the Sunningdale agreement which was so unacceptable to the majority. That is the stick. Then for the carrot they say, "We know you do not like this, but if you do not like it, the best thing you can do is to find agreement with the SDLP on some form of power sharing and devolution".
Does anyone in his right mind, or anyone who understands the slightest little bit about Northern Ireland, believe that any Unionist, having the conference, the Council of Ireland, shoved down his throat, will be in any mood to seek to find accommodation with the minority population? I tell the noble Viscount, who will know that I do not exaggerate, that within this past week I have had 500 or 600 letters and as many telephone calls from decent Unionists in Northern Ireland, decent Protestants, who would not have been my political supporters, and to whose political views I should not have been giving expression. They are people who would have voted for the former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O'Neill. They are people who voted for Brian Faulkner. They are people who support the Alliance Party.
They do not want Ian Paisley as their spokesman. They do not accept the ranting, raving rhetoric that we have seen on the streets of Belfast over the past week. They do not support the attempts to beat up the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I, too, have many memories of such behaviour. I remember the first local authority election which I won in Belfast in 1958 and I, too, was beaten up, coming out of the very same place, Belfast City Hall.
Thus I understand the history. There are thousands and thousands of decent Protestant people in Northern Ireland who do not want to be associated with the hysterical thuggery that we have seen so far. However, they are very frightened. They are very fearful of the future.
I take issue with the noble Viscount. He tells us that the Protestant Unionist population should be very heartened by the fact that the Irish Government have recognised their existence; that they are not going out to upset the status quo. This is the first time that this has ever been brought forward in such a form; and it 817 will become an international document in the United Nations.
The Unionist population in Northern Ireland can read. They are not all stupid. They realise that 1920 made them a majority in Northern Ireland, that in 1925 there were the border arrangements and that the 1949 Government of Ireland Act, which was promulgated by a British Labour Government, said that there would be no change. And the 1973 Sunningdale agreement said that there could be no change. This Government do not have it within their power to force Northern Ireland into a united Ireland. They have within their power the right to eject it from the United Kingdom; but this Government cannot force the Unionists into a united Ireland.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me because he must be nearing the end of his speech—
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, surely what has been said by the two speakers before the speech of the noble Lord make it perfectly clear that there is absolutely no intention on the part of the British Government or the British political parties to do any such thing as to drive them into the South. The noble Lord should not say that. He should know better.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, I am saying exactly—if you will listen to what I am saying—that the Unionists realise that Britain cannot force them into a republic; they themselves will decide whether or not they go in. What the Unionist population are so incensed about at the moment is the fact that there will be people from the Irish Government, from the Republic of Ireland, who will be sitting in this conference which will be virtually the government of Northern Ireland. That is what this conference will be. It will be virtually the government of Northern Ireland because this agreement makes it quite clear that the Irish government will be able to pass opinions on every issue under the sun. The agreement makes it quite clear.
To prove that, this Government here are trying to sell this agreement on the grounds that it will help to bring about reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The wording on the front of the agreement says:Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Ireland".That is exactly as we understand it. But the Irish Government's version, as printed by the Irish Government, says:Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom".The Unionist who sent me this said, "What does that mean? Northern Ireland is not even mentioned". One is selling it to his supporters in one way and the other is selling it to his supporters in another way. I can tell the noble Viscount and the House that there is a burning, bitter resentment now existing among the Unionist population of Northern Ireland.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, he may remember that some years ago our 818 country signed an Entente Cordiale with France. I have not noticed that the French have had any particular dictation over what we do.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, what I am trying to tell your Lordships' House is that people in Northern Ireland who are affected by this agreement will see the wording on these documents as to how it is going to affect them. The conference will meet and there will be people from the Republic giving their views. There will be British Ministers and the Minister of State from this House. But there will be no Unionist there, there will be no Protestant there. And the Protestants are the majority of people in Northern Ireland. If only they even had but one observer who would allay their fears and suspicions. I am talking now as a Catholic, as one who knew the jackboot of oppression under Unionism. I do not want to see the Unionist population in Northern Ireland being treated in the same way as they once treated their political opponents. The Unionist also says, "Why has this agreement been brought about?" The Government will say, "Because of the violence that we have had in Northern Ireland". That is what they will say. The Unionist will reply, "But I was at the receiving end of most of that violence. I was at the receiving end of it". You come from one tribe and you see one thing one way; you come from another tribe and you see it another way.
The Ulster Defence Regiment, Irish Catholic nationalism will say, is a sectarian regiment and that at least 10 members of that regiment have been found guilty of terrorist crimes. The Ulster Unionist will say, "Some 150 of our sons, brothers and fathers were murdered in that regiment and they were murdered in the most brutal circumstances". The same thing can be said about the RUC. I think that what the Government are hoping is that all the nationalists in Northern Ireland will get this agreement, that they will read it and they will say, "What a tremendous political constitutional advance we have had! We will withdraw our support from the IRA and the Sinn Fein". But the IRA and Sinn Fein, whatever support they have in the nationalist community, have got most of it at the point of a gun. They have intimidated that community. That community is frightened of them. But there is also a very significant number of supporters within that community.
I believe that this agreement was well-intentioned. I believe that this Prime Minister is very concerned about the ongoing situation in Northern Ireland. I believe that in the implementation of this agreement she will show tremendous resolution. I believe that the government of the Irish Republic under Garret FitzGerald were equally well intentioned to enter into this agreement. But let us not kid ourselves into believing that this is the be-all and end-all.
On the question of input and take-out on this agreement, we know what the Government and the Protestant population will get out of it. But what is the Irish Government's input going to be? We have heard the noble Viscount say that there will be better cross-border co-operation and that the Irish Government have agreed to sign the European Convention on Terrorism. Is that tantamount to saying that there has been less that wholehearted agreement from the Irish 819 Government in its war against terrorism over the past 15 years? That is what it sounds like. Why could not the Irish Government have signed the European Convention on Terrorism over this past number of years when all these ruthless murders were taking place in the island of Ireland?
Does it look as if the Irish Government are now saying, "Give us a say in Northern Ireland and we will give you this greater co-operation"? Is it being too cynical to believe that?—because that is what the Protestant population believe. This agreement is, I believe, an honest attempt to cope with the ongoing problem of Northern Ireland but I would say to the noble Viscount—and he has so much experience of Northern Ireland—"Do not shut out that Unionist community. They are the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. Do not cast them aside!" And I say that as an inveterate and longstanding opponent of Unionism throughout my life. But they are the people who are affected by this agreement.
Let me say this to the noble Viscount. Does he really believe, given the existence of the conference, that the SDLP has now any incentive to have a power-sharing government? If I were the Leader of the SDLP and had succeeded in setting up the structures of the conference, I believe that that would afford my community and my electorate a far greater protection than any thing which I could possibly negotiate with the Unionists.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, the noble Lord has been extremely generous to me in some of the things he has said—far too generous to me. I could be very generous to him by mentioning many of the things which he did for me in the past. I feel as frustrated as he does about some of the things which happened in the past. I put it all behind me. I think we have to. All that I am really asking the noble Lord now, because he has made a very considerable speech of great importance, is that, as he was able to co-operate with me once before in what was an effort for the future, while we may have had our doubts, I hope that he will be able to say at the end of his speech that he will co-operate once again with the British Government and with many people and with those of us—the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and others who have already spoken—in seeking to give this particular agreement the fairest wind that he can.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, may I say quite clearly to the noble. Viscount that anyone in his right mind, with his proper senses, could not do otherwise but co-operate with the Government in this attempt. No one in his right mind would attempt to do otherwise. But I point out again—and I make this my final word—do not cast aside that Unionist majority in Northern Ireland. Do not believe that they are all hysterical bigots. They are not. Many thousands of people in Northern Ireland in the Unionist community want only to live their fives in peace. Do not force them into taking any other action which we could all regret.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon
My Lords, my noble friend the Lord President probably had to listen 820 for many hours in another place to me making Cassandra-like noises from behind him about British policy in Northern Ireland. He may therefore be mildly surprised to hear me today giving a cautious welcome to this agreement; not perhaps as surprised as he might have been, and as I was, to hear the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, standing up as the spokesman for the peers of the Unionist Party, and a rather inflammatory spokesman, if I may say so, at that. But unless one understands—and he was quite right to go into it—something of the history which has bedevilled this Province and has caused the fears and resentments that afflict both sides, one cannot really understand what the problems are.
One does not want, as the noble Viscount said, to dwell in the past, but the past is what, unfortunately, determines the attitudes of the present. Despite the attempts of religious bigots—and not quite all on one side—to introduce a sectarian religious element into the political problems of Northern Ireland, this is really not a religious divide. It is essentially a racial or, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, a tribal division. And we have seen all over the world—in Canada, in Malaysia, in Sri Lanka and in the tribal states of Africa—that racial differences, particularly where the interests of the majorities and minorities sharply differ, can be the most potent causes of bitter strife.
It is no good imagining that either side has forgotten the history of the island of Ireland. The southern Irish have never forgotten William III or Cromwell or, probably, even Strongbow. The northern Irish majority have certainly never forgotten William III. Several centuries of arrogance and insensitivity on the part of the British in Ireland—and we must remember that it was only under British rule that Ireland ever was united—were fully matched after partition by several decades of arrogance and insensitivity on the part of the Unionist majority in Ulster. What could be more insensitive than to march with flags and banners in a divided community to celebrate the anniversaries of a seige and a battle which took place 300 years ago? It is as though the English were to march with bands and banners through the streets of Edinburgh on the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. There is no doubt at all that these fears go very deep.
Of course, the Apprentice Boys of Derry marched once too often and once too provocatively in 1969 and the so-called Battle of the Bogside resulted. That resulted, also, in British troops being sent into Northern Ireland in a security role, and much bloodshed followed. Indeed, there was a time—and for all I know there still is—when two terms of service in Northern Ireland was enough to deter many British soldiers from signing on again for another term of service.
After that, the reign of terrorism started which again changed the whole face of Northern Ireland politics and the feelings of the two communities one towards another. I do not think anybody who did not frequently visit Northern Ireland during those years before direct rule can really understand exactly how deep the scars were, when part of the centre of Belfast looked like London during the blitz, when you drove up the Falls Road—if it looked suspiciously empty—with the doors and windows of the car locked and at considerable speed.
821 I remember staying with a Unionist Minister right down on the border. He carried a gun in a shoulder holster at all times, he had bullet-proof glass in all the windows looking over the lough, he had blazing floodlights all around the perimeter of his garden and two armed policemen patrolling around his house all night and every night. I shared a platform, too, with another Unionist Minister who could only croak huskily into his microphone with his jaw precariously wired together, after receiving a blast of machine pistol fire through the windscreen of his car. These were the sort of happenings, to say nothing of the indiscriminate, murderous bombings of shops, hotels and public places, in which scores of innocent women and children died, and the murders and assassinations of prominent personages on both sides.
Let us not imagine that the minority community did not suffer as well. They were being brought under increasing pressure, through fear, blackmail and the threat of physical violence, to give overt and covert support to the IRA. Their moderate leaders were brought under increasing pressure and rendered powerless, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who was himself, as I remember, a target for assassination at one time, knows only too well.
And so it went on. More moderate Unionist Prime Ministers fell, one after another, as the extremists of the DUP began to exert more influence. One can argue indefinitely whether the late Mr. Brian Faulkner ought to have made more concessions earlier or, alternatively, have stood out more toughly against the pressures brought on him by the Heath Government. There are those who hold both views. But, anyway, he fell, and direct rule was introduced.
I opposed direct rule at the time, though I readily concede now that it would inevitably have come sooner or later. I never believed that power sharing would work, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, experienced and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said that the Unionists must accept power sharing and devolved government once again. Nobody has ever been able to explain to me how you have an elected assembly with an executive in which the minority party has a built-in veto over the decisions of the majority, if there are no fundamental basic agreements on political aims and objectives. It has been proved over and over again not to work. My noble friend may remember that in 1980 I tried to dissuade my colleagues from going down the power-sharing road again, and to persuade them that the options that were put up for my right honourable friend Sir Humphrey Atkins to negotiate simply could not and would not be accepted. I was told pretty bluntly, not by my noble friend, that I did not know what I was talking about; but in fact I did. The soundings I had taken proved to be right. And so it will always be. The conditions do not exist for a devolved power-sharing government. We have tried that and failed. We are not, I believe, within years of a situation in which it could succeed.
But now we are offered something new and different. I readily concede that to view with suspicion anything new and different is a fairly sound conservative principle, but I also believe that if all the same old things fail, one should at least look at something new and different with an open mind, which I have tried to 822 do. Of course I see what upsets and alarms the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland. Of course I see the risks, the difficulties, the ambiguities and the dangers inherent in the whole exercise. I do not go for the sovereignty argument at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said, there is no derogation of sovereignty; nor would anyone with a mind less twisted than a corkscrew manage to extract that reading from the agreement. As to consultation, well, my Lords, we consult any number of foreign countries under treaties and agreements—in the United Nations, in the Commonwealth, in NATO, in GATT, and so on. Heaven knows, there is no lack of leaders in foreign countries telling us British what we ought to be doing. One more lot will not make that much more difference. There is no way in which, provided that this thing is handled with caution, with tact and with flexibility and moderation, it should not lead to some modest improvements.
Of course there are risks. If the process of consultation goes even slightly over the brink of dictation or there is an attempt to interfere in what the British Government in consultation with the Irish communities consider right, the dangers are obvious; but there is no reason why that should be, and the agreement can also be terminated, or that part of it can be terminated if these dangers arise. If the Government of the Irish Republic really try, as I am afraid Dr. FitzGerald has vaguely hinted in his own country, to upset the security arrangements by making an attack upon the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment, we shall be in for trouble, because we shall lose the confidence of the security forces, who have recently been doing a quite remarkable job at great personal risk and sacrifice.
The toll of violence now is much less—far less—than it was. Some years ago we reached in Northern Ireland a stage where we were able to remove military forces from most of the Province and revert to normal policing procedures. That was an enormous advance. It is only in very small minority areas that a military presence is necessary. That is something we have to watch. We have to be quite sure that we work tactfully with the minority in Northern Ireland and that the Southern Irish Government work tactfully in respect of the majority in Northern Ireland, because it would be very easy to inflame passions more and to justify the suspicions which have been aroused on both sides.
I believe that, with goodwill and with some tact, flexibility and discretion, this can possibly lead towards what is really the only justification for the agreement which is the hope that it may begin to create conditions where the Irish minority in Northern Ireland may be prised loose from its overt, and, much more important, covert support of terrorism. If it can do that—and without it there is no hope of any political solution in Northern Ireland—it will have been worth while. I hope and pray that it will succeed in this, and in that hope I commend the agreement to your Lordships' House.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ The Lord Archbishop of York
My Lords, I have felt it right to speak in this debate because the Churches, whether we like it or not, are implicated in the 823 problems of Ireland. We would sometimes like to claim that these problems have nothing to do with religion but only with some devilish parody of it. But I am afraid we cannot escape responsibility as easily as that. The problems have an inescapable religious dimension.
I also speak because I have come hotfoot from a meeting of the Assembly of the British Council of Churches, which is in session in London at the moment. The council, as your Lordships will know, contains representatives of the Irish churches, of Ulster Protestants, as well as representatives of the Church of Ireland. The General-Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches is also a member and I have taken the opportunity to consult him.
Yesterday the council issued a statement about the Anglo-Irish Agreement which, if I may, I shall read to your Lordships. But before doing so I think I ought to mention a small preliminary discussion which took place when the agreement was mentioned. There was immediately some criticism of the phrase "Anglo-Irish", which particularly incensed the Scots and the Welsh. This may seem like niggling, but in a context where the crucial issue concerns complex relationships between minorities and majorities and strong nationalist feelings, simple questions of terminology are important. If we cannot get this right in Britain, and if we insist on talking about "Anglo"-Irish agreements, we are not likely to get it right in Ireland.
Let me read the statement to your Lordships:The Assembly invites all churches in Britain and Ireland to recognise that a new phase of relations between the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland is under way and at this critical moment to pray that the discussions now opening around the Anglo-Irish Agreement may point a way to a healing of the wounded relationships between the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland and within Northern Ireland. We hope this prayer will be informed by careful study of the text of the Agreement and a recognition of the complexity of the issues involved.We express the hope that the Agreement may fulfil the expectations of reconciliation associated with it and pave the way for a just and lasting peace in Northern Ireland.We recognise deep feelings of hurt about the process of consultation and the fears arising from the long history of violence and mutual distrust but plead for the exercise of patience and Christian forbearance so that discussions can take place calmly, with candour and within the constitution.We note the constitutional assurances contained within the agreement and we call upon the British and Irish governments to ensure that the guarantees given to the Northern Ireland communities are honoured.Your Lordships will see that the statement gives a firm welcome to the agreement while recognising—as has been made abundantly plain in your Lordships' House this afternoon—that there is much need for reassurance among the Ulster Protestant community.
My informants tell me that some of that reassurance may be forthcoming if the agreement can be shown to produce some fruits fairly quickly in terms of greater security. The point has also been made to me that it would be wise to stress and underline the three-year duration of the agreement as a way of emphasising yet again that nothing vital in terms of Ulster's future has been given away. It is obvious that both governments need to exercise extreme delicacy in handling Protestant opinion, in view of the great danger of fracturing and alienating further the Protestant community on which the present integrity of Ulster depends.
824 We need to recognise that it is a community whose identity is irrevocably bound up with its anti-catholicism and that, in many respects, it has no other raison d'être than that. People do not behave reasonably when their identity is threatened. Having said that, let me stress that the churches are trying to identify and strengthen some of the middle ground on which reasonable consultations can take place.
One of the ironies of the situation is that none of the major churches in Ireland recognises the border in terms of its own constitution. In our church affairs, therefore, there is already consultation and, indeed, common decision-making between those who belong to different sovereign states. It seems to me that those who talk about sovereignty in absolutist terms are simply ignoring the facts. I hope that some of the churches at least can be persuaded to see the agreement as an extension into the political sphere of what they are already doing ecclesiastically. That is particularly true of the Church of Ireland, which could have a vital role as a bridge between the two nations.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that the Corrymeela community, which has been deeply involved in peacemaking efforts in Northern Ireland, has issued a statement welcoming the agreement and recognising its possibilities, but also warning about the fundamental changes in attitudes which will be necessary if the agreement is ever to work.
I may also mention a more modest initiative in which I have myself been engaged. It is a largely academic study of the question of minority and majority rights and responsibilities being conducted by Christians drawn from all the main churches on both sides of the border. That study is aimed at working towards some kind of interdenominational understanding of rights, and particularly of group rights, in pluralist societies. It will not by itself solve any of the political problems, but our hope is that the study may provide a better background of understanding and trust, which is seen by the churches to be rooted in their theology, and against which the politicans can then get to their work.
What is already very clear is that we shall not solve the hugely complex problems of interlocking minorities and majorities in Ireland unless we show ourselves sensitive to minority rights elsewhere, not least in Britain. It is simply not credible to act in Britain as though consensus politics were out of fashion and that the majority must always have its way but then in Ireland to set up elaborate arrangements to ensure that minorities do not feel swamped.
The problem of pluralist societies is a new one in our world and we have not yet begun to find how to maintain them and create sufficient consensus within them for their different elements to hold together. However, such societies are with us in all parts of these islands and the Irish problem is only a peculiarly intractable and vicious example of something that is widespread elsewhere.
In welcoming this agreement, therefore, and in praying that it may win the confidence of all those involved. I hope that we shall also see its wider implications in the kind of consultation and consensus that is needed in other aspects of our public life.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, I consider myself privileged to follow the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York in his message to the House today. Personally, I feel most encouraged, and I am sure that your Lordships very much appreciate and feel helped by the most reverend Primate in his repeating of the statement made by the British Council of Churches and also by the lead given in Northern Ireland by the Corrymeela community to which he referred. Indeed, my own parson is attending the sessions of the British Council of Churches this week and he has acquainted me with the excellent work that is being done with cross-border interdenominational arrangements. I warmly welcome the most reverend Primate's encouraging remarks.
I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Maude, who has himself experienced the situation in Northern Ireland. I was moved as he related to the House his experiences and knowledge of the Irish situation. I welcomed his wise words in giving his support to the agreement. Much attention ought to be paid to them by this House and by all those concerned with trying to implement the agreement.
For me, this is a crucial debate. The issues before us today are acutely controversial and very far reaching. The debate and the decisions directly and dramatically involve the citizens of Great Britain,and the issues are critical also to the lives and well-being of all the people in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.
I welcome the moderate tone of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and the understanding way in which he opened this debate and presented the Government's position. I support also and commend the positive, temperate and constructive case made by my noble friend the Leader of the Official Opposition Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. While not referring to all the previous speakers, having been acquainted with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, in his ministerial experiences in Northern Ireland, I should like to say that his observations, particularly about the present needs of the Assembly, were most reassuring and helpful. I am also pleased that my noble friend Lord Fitt, albeit with the reservations that he expressed from his background and experiences, gives the agreement a fair wind.
Before stating my own views about the agreement, I first wish to place on record my personal position as a Member of this Parliament. The reasons for making this clear will be obvious to noble Lords who know about the current abuse in Northern Ireland levelled at all those who wish publicly to express an alternative judgment or view on the agreement other than a blanket "no".
As a Member of this noble House I fully realise that I speak as an individual and not with the authority of an elected representative who may, or may not, have been mandated to speak on matters concerning this agreement. However, along with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, it will be my endeavour to express as honestly and as fairly as I can the position, as I see it, as it affects the lives and the general wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland, including my wife, my family and my grandchildren.
826 I give my approval to the Anglo-Irish Agreement not as a solution but as a framework for the promotion of peace and stability in Northern Ireland; to help create friendship and effective co-operation among the peoples of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland; and as a means to encourage investment as well as employment measures and the general wellbeing of all Northern Ireland people. I accept what has been stated in the agreement and has been repeated by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, the right honourable Tom King, by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and also in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos.
I accept that there is no derogation from the sovereignty of Parliament concerning the status of Northern Ireland and that the agreement is firmly founded on the Government of Ireland Act 1920. the Ireland Act 1949 and the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. There is no change in Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. I have also noted the remarks made by the noble Viscount in his opening speech that the proposed intergovernmental conference will be a consultative body and not a joint authority. It is reassuring to have that made clear today.
It is difficult adequately to deal with such complex issues in a short speech. However, I shall try to deal with matters which I consider to be immediately relevant to the situation. Over the past 65 years, and especially during the past 16 years, there have been various earnest efforts and valiant attempts to find political institutional arrangements which could provide an accepted accommodation for the two traditions—the Nationalist and the Unionist—within Northern Ireland; an acceptable political formula as a basis for understanding, respect, trust and cooperation so that the wellbeing of all citizens might be promoted with equality and justice. Without this political stability it is my view, and the view of many others in Northern Ireland, that progressive economic development cannot be attained. It is my opinion that this agreement squarely faces the realities of the Irish situation. Unless this agreement is given a chance to work, there is little or no hope for the future in Northern Ireland.
Since Friday, 15th November, when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was announced, there have been many ill-founded rumours which have been given wide publicity. There has been a surfeit of bitter, angry and malicious statements bandied about by public representatives and others at public meetings and in the media. There were the scenes of the disgraceful attack on the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Mr. Tom King, at the Belfast City Hall on Wednesday, 20th November, which were relayed throughout the world by television. On Saturday we had the massive Loyalist rally in Belfast which demonstrated a simple negative, a blanket "no", to the agreement. I use the word "Loyalist" in the Ulster colloquial sense.
However misplaced, however misguided and however demonstrative the reactions of the ordinary citizens to the harsh and sometimes inflammatory language, the sense and feeling of betrayal is real and, in many respects, understandable. This does not mean that I and many others in Northern Ireland condone or 827 agree with such conduct or methods. Indeed, many who claim to be Ulster Unionists have publicly condemned the use of such emotive and wild words and such rash actions.
The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman John Carson, is a Unionist and a former member of the United Kingdom Parliament. During the débâcle at the organised protest against Mr. King, Alderman Carson showed himself to be a man of principled leadership in recognising and respecting the diversity of public opinion and in his appeal for reasonable public behaviour.
Notwithstanding the manifestations of Loyalist disapproval of the agreement, I join with others in Northern Ireland in claiming that the Government must share some of the blame for this Loyalist outburst and predictable reaction. In my opinion the Government's mishandling of the presentation of the agreement on Friday, 15th November, displayed a sad lack of understanding of the Northern Ireland scene. There is an apparent blatant insensitivity to the known fears and feelings of the Loyalist sections of the community and about the historical inbuilt abhorrence of some Unionists to any political constitutional dealings with Dublin. Indeed, I would say that instead of Saatchi and Saatchi it would appear that "Hatchet and Hatchet" were given the PR part of this presentation.
On Monday, 11th November, four days before the public announcement of the agreement, Mr. Tom King replied to questions by press reporters about the date of the Anglo-Irish summit. I quote from the Belfast Telegraph of 11th November 1985. He said:I don't know when there will be a summit. There are still some matters that have to be resolved and still some difficult issues. Until those are resolved we won't know if there will be an agreement…Any discussions involve difficult issues and there are bound to be some difficult issues in the later stages.".That was said four days before the Government's announcement of the agreement. Whatever the reasons for the Northern Ireland Secretary of State's evasive answer—and I can understand those reasons, particularly about the date of completion of the agreement—he admitted in public that there were still some difficult issues. Surely, if all the specialist advisers and highly intelligent and politically aware practitioners working on the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council for some years were having difficulty, could it not have been anticipated that the ordinary thinking Northern Ireland citizens would also have problems of interpretation and definition concerning the text of this agreement, however well written it is?
There can be no doubt about the trauma sustained by the Loyalist/Unionist community and the political reactions to this agreement. It has opened up many old and deep wounds as well as the welter of self-inflicted injuries and feelings of alienation. In turn, this has given rise to much confusion and division among reasonable, law-abiding and peaceable citizens, and, may I say, clear-cut divisions among church leaders and others about the implementation and the wording of the agreement. It is sad that this should have happened in the Northern Ireland situation—that there were not clearly thought out ways for this to have been presented to the public in an informed method, 828 bringing the Northern Ireland community with us in reaching some understanding about the agreement.
The Government, and others, should take every opportunity to ensure that these wounds are not allowed to fester and the sense of alienation to be compounded. I know that the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Mr. King, together with his ministerial colleagues, have already taken some positive and constructive action to meet the reasoned and legitimate needs of the situation.
I have here a letter which, on 15th November 1985, the day the agreement was announced, the Secretary of State sent to Canon Eric Elliott, the chaiman of the Two Traditions Group. It explained in some detail the binding international accord concerning the status of Northern Ireland and also touched on matters dealing with the establishment of the intergovernmental conference. I am aware that similar letters have been sent out to a wide range of community organisations throughout Northern Ireland.
Last week I visited several such community organisations, comprised of people respresentative of both the traditions—and dissenters—in Northern Ireland. I am convinced that there are many people in Northern Ireland who are prepared to give this agreement an earnest chance to work. There are others who require some open and pronounced assurances from the Government about the precise arrangements for the implementation of the agreement. Many people have expressed concern about the simple negative declaration of the Northern Ireland politicians in opposing the agreement outright. It is my view that a blanket "no" to the agreement without a reasoned alternative is a destructive and cruel policy, a political act against the people of Northern Ireland.
Many Northern Ireland people are concerned by the form of the confrontation against the United Kingdom Government and even more by the defiance of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. They are also deeply concerned about the future of Northern Ireland either by the way of integration or by unilateral declaration of independence. Notwithstanding the strong will and the tenacity of the Ulster people, I share with them the realisation that what Northern Ireland needs most at the present time is understanding and the support of friends. Sadly, many of them are frightened by these reactions and fear that Northern Ireland is being isolated still further.
It is my opinion that there is an urgent need for the Government to explain in some detail the elements and principles of the framework of this agreement and the institutional arrangements which will be erected on this framework. I believe that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, Lord Whitelaw, in his opening remarks attempted to clarify a number of matters which are being questioned in Northern Ireland, particularly questions about the status of the intergovernmental conference. I believe that these and other matters should be firmly processed by the Government and made clear.
Some of the questions which have arisen in the discussion groups concern the elected representative voice of Northern Ireland in the intergovernmental conference. I think it is reasonable for any self-respecting Northern Ireland person, and particularly 829 those who are elected representatives, to wish to have an input into that intergovernmental conference. I can only say that Scottish and Welsh Members would ask for a similar kind of representation on that type of body. Questions have also been asked about the methods and procedural arrangements for reporting to Parliament and obtaining approval for agreed decisions and recommendations of the intergovernmental conference; about the manner in which devolved matters are to be considered and approved by the conference; and the manner in which the future role, functions and structure of the Northern Ireland Assembly will be duly considered and approved.
Those are only a few of the reasons—and there are others—which would suggest that before the establishment of the intergovernmental conference sufficient time ought to be given—I suggest perhaps to mid-February—to enable the community groups in Northern Ireland, and others to whom the Northern Ireland Secretary of State has written, duly to consider the agreement and submit their views to the Government. I believe that during this period the Government should also undertake an intensive information programme about the principles of the agreement and the proposals for implementation; and especially that the Government should endeavour to arrange for a structured and objective dialogue with the Northern Ireland Members of Parliament and the Assembly Members.
In my view, the agreement is a flickering light in a very black situation. I appeal to everyone genuinely to try to keep that light alive by building trust with hope and compassion.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Moyola
My Lords, from the outset I shall be honest and say that I am afraid I cannot find it in my heart to give any warm welcome to the proposed Anglo-Irish Agreement. Having said that, I think I should make it plain that I am not here on a Unionist Party ticket. I do not belong to either Unionist Party. I am here simply as a law-abiding citizen of Ulster who does not want to see confrontation, conflagration or holocaust, and I think that any one of those could occur over the next few weeks unless attitudes can be changed.
My concern is not so much with what is in the agreement as with what it has in fact produced already in Northern Ireland in terms of real threats of trouble. Frankly, I do not know whether something of the sort proposed in the agreement was ever a starter, but I am bound to say that any chance it ever had of being acceptable to the majority was defeated by the way in which it was done.
We had discussions for something like a year, and all those discussions were in total and complete secrecy. No Ulster politician was allowed to be privy to what was going on, even had his opinion asked or was in any way involved; and after all it is the people whom Northern Ireland politicians represent who are far and away the most affected. The situation was made a great deal worse because most people in the North of Ireland believe that the leader of the SDLP and indeed some members of his party were quite frequently in 830 touch with the Irish Prime Minister in Dublin, were probably privy to what was being arranged and may well have been advising on it. This of course was a recipe for distrust, and a recipe for rumour and alarmist talk of every sort before anybody had any knowledge of what was in fact in the document.
I am bound to say that this takes me back to what I have said in your Lordships' House on many occasions, which is that we in Northern Ireland feel as though we are nothing but children and that we are not entitled to have any opinion of our own when it comes to governmental matters. Certainly it appears to most of us that the attitude of Her Majesty's Government is that there is no such thing as an objective opinion on any side in Northern Ireland, and therefore the views of anyone in Northern Ireland are never consulted.
I do not want to sound insulting to members of the Civil Service. That is the last thing I wish to do, because I have many friends there; but it is a fact that to a very large extent the Northern Ireland Office is manned by English civil servants. The result of course is that the Ministers there do not understand the nuances or obtain all the insights as to what is going on in the Northern Ireland mind that they would get if they had more people who came from that part of the world. I assure your Lordships that I intend no insult to my friends, the English civil servants. It is just a statement of a fact which undoubtedly makes for difficulty and for much discontent in Northern Ireland. But until that is grasped I am certain that every initiative will get bogged down in some way because of lack of a little bit of objective thought and advice from some of the people of Northern Ireland.
On top of the secrecy the next bit of disastrous handling was having the signing of the agreement in Hillsborough Castle—the residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland for very many years; the residence, if one likes, of the Queen's representative in Northern Ireland. I should have thought that it would have been obvious to anybody that to bring the Irish Taoiseach up to Hillsborough Castle to sign the agreement would certainly imply that the Dublin Government were going to get some control or influence over affairs in Northern Ireland.
It is those two follies—I can only call them that—which have produced the misunderstandings, the alarmist talk and all the happenings which at the moment will not be easy to make lie down and which, unfortunately, are also undermining the trust in the promises of Her Majesty's Government. But now we are faced in Northern Ireland with a desperately serious situation which, as I said earlier, could easily produce a holocaust. The question in my mind and the question to which we all ought to be turning our attention is whether anything can be done to try to reduce the temperature, because no agreement will work in the present circumstances.
I do not think that anything will make the agreement terribly pallatable to the majority in Northern Ireland, but I might perhaps at least suggest two or three things that could be of some help. In the agreement there is much talk about better border security and better security in general. I must also say that that view was not given great strength by something that I heard on our local radio news on Sunday morning, when a spokesman from the south of 831 Ireland denied a report that terrorists who perpetrated crime in Northern Ireland were sheltering at times in the Republic. That is not a very encouraging start towards getting better security, and better security particularly for those who have to live along the borders.
Everyone believes—I am sure they are correct—that the south of Ireland is at times a sanctuary for terrorists who come across and perpetrate their crime, whatever it may be—murder, explosion or whatever else—and then retreat and find a bolthole on the southern side of the border. If we are to help bring the temperature down, that seems to me to be the obvious field in which something must be seen to happen and happen quickly. I am bound to add that there is no sign of anything yet.
This may be an over-simplification, but to my mind there should be immediately, and seen to happen, joint conferences between the two heads of the respective police forces; there should be joint conferences between the GOC in Northern Ireland and his opposite number in the army in the south; there should be joint conferences between the lesser commanders on the ground who only look after areas along the border; and as far as security allows we should at least be made aware that that is happening and, as security allows, be told as much as is possible. My view is that if one is to cool the temperature that has to happen in days, not weeks. The situation is extremely urgent.
I would go further than that. I think that many people are aware that the Royal Ulster Constabulary knows the names of many of the terrorists who go backwards and forwards across the Irish border; those names could be given to the south and I should hope that we would see them picked up; and, if the agreement works, the RUC could be called south to give evidence in whatever proceedings may follow.
The next thing that I think is essential and should be decided quickly is that Northern Ireland politicians, and naturally Northern Ireland politicians on both sides, should be present at the meetings of the Anglo-Irish conference. It would be far better if they had some executive power, but even if they were there as observers they could do a great deal to stem the rumours, cool the temperatures and prevent unnecessary alarm in the Unionist population.
Then there is a third thing. When this conference is held, for goodness sake let it be held somewhere else than in Northern Ireland. I know that rumour has it—and I suspect that it is true—that it will be in some building next to Palace Barracks in Holywood. No doubt the various participants can arrive in helicopters and they will of course have the protection of the Army. That in a way alarms me even more. The last thing that any law-abiding citizen of Ulster would want to see is a confrontation between local hotheads on one side and the Army. I might add in passing that from all one has heard, if I were a Southern Irish civil servant, or for that matter an English one, attending the conference, I should need a King's ransom to get me there in the present climate.
Those are some obvious palliatives. There might be a lot of others. But something is urgently needed to try 832 to cool things down and at least to show that if we in Northern Ireland have to swallow foul medicine it will do us some good.
I hope that I am not over-stating the position. I regard it as extremely serious and as something that has to be dealt with with great energy. Personally I shall of course accept the assurance of Her Majesty's Government, but at the moment I find I cannot accept the apparent inactivity; the lack of communication between the Northern Ireland Government and the people as a whole; the lack of trying to sell this thing; and indeed an air of complacency which at the moment we all perceive, certainly those of us who do not wish to see this sort of confrontation building up. We all feel that such things are sadly lacking.
I feel bound to say those things. I am afraid of what this thing has started, and I should certainly find it hard to Uve with myself had I not said then and in the future we found that a lot of people were dead.
§ 5.37 p.m.
My Lords, though the noble Viscount is not in his place at the moment I should like to thank him for the way in which he initiated the debate and for his kind reference to the warmth of the Northern Ireland people. I can reciprocate by recalling our warm feelings towards him as a congenial and convivial leader as our first Secretary of State. I must also thank the noble Lords, Lord Donaldson, Lord Blease, Lord Fitt and Lord Moyola, for having kindly delivered parts of my speech for me!
To start, I ought to make my position clear as spokesman in your Lordships' House for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. We have always tried to be a constructive party; we have tried to make things work and to build rather than to destroy. In that spirit we should very much like to try to make the agreement work; but unfortunately one cannot make the unworkable work. With regret I must say that in my view—and I do not speak for all my party in saying this—in its present state it is not entirely workable.
One returns to the old cliche that politics is the art of the possible. I am afraid that for reasons that the other noble Lords have mentioned this agreement in its present state may not be workable. Unfortunately, it got off to a bad start. I regret to say that the presentation was disastrous and guaranteed to generate distrust. First, there was the long delay, shrouded in so-called secrecy that was punctured by numerous leaks, which in turn fuelled rumours that to a large extent were most unhelpful. There was no consultation with any of the representatives of the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland, nor with my party, the Alliance Party, which has caused some of our members to ask whether Her Majesty's Government take us for granted. Do the Government assume that the Alliance Party is always going to be helpful and reasonable? I am even asked by members, "Are you too reasonable? If you turned nasty, perhaps they might take more notice of you".
I explain that it is not in my nature to be nasty. I am not made like that. I am always reasonable, as your Lordships will know. I always tell them that any time that I am privileged to speak in your Lordships' House, I am always granted a most courteous and 833 attentive hearing. But we do feel that it was an unfortunate error of judgment that there was no consultation, although we accept that had there been consultation with my party there would have had to be consultation with the Official Unionists and the Democratic Unionists as well. Anyway, this built up to an atmosphere generating distrust, particularly as everyone believed that Mr. John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, was in close touch throughout with Dr. Garret FitzGerald. This was underlined by the final result—the fact that on Wednesday, 13th November, in the morning issue, the Irish press carried almost in its entirety the content of the agreement, actually using the same phraseology as was then released to the public two days later.
At this stage, when the Irish press was reporting the content of the agreement, our Ministers were still saying that no agreement had yet been reached, that they hoped it would be possible to finalise it within a couple of days, and that sort of thing. It was bound to generate distrust. By contrast, the document was only available to the elected representatives in Northern Ireland at three o'clock in the afternoon of Friday for those who happened to be in Stormont. For those who did not happen to be in Stormont that afternoon, a runner arrived with a copy the next morning, Saturday (when the Assembly had in fact already convened to debate the matter) just to make sure that Members had it. It is not surprising therefore that there was a feeling of lack of consultation, a feeling that something was going on behind the scenes that we knew nothing about.
Looking at the document, the preamble and Article 1 cannot be faulted. The developing of better cooperation with the Republic of Ireland, the aspiration towards peace, stability and prosperity, are things with which no one could disagree except those who have done very nicely, thank you, out of violence over the past 12 years. But it seems to me that one of the main purposes of the agreement is to encourage a devolved partnership government in Northern Ireland. The Alliance Party has been alone in its unequivocal advocacy of devolved government of a power-sharing, partnership nature. Therefore, we welcome that.
I fear, however, that rather than providing an incentive for such partnership government, this agreement could well do the opposite. If that purpose was being achieved, the SDLP would have already brought its members into the Assembly of Stormont. But no! Mr. Hume has said that the agreement does not justify their joining the Assembly in Stormont at this stage. Similarly, the SDLP would have expressed its clear and unequivocal support for the Royal Ulster Constabulary and would be supporting the agreement in encouraging recruitment to that body. But no! That has not yet happened. And why, after all, should the SDLP do so? What incentive has it, now that it has a direct input into the intergovernmental conference in the same way as it had direct input into the formulation of this agreement?
Why, after all, should it enter the House at Stormont as a minority party when, so to speak, it already has a seat in the Cabinet? It still does not acknowledge letters from other parties which write asking for consultation. Letters from the Assembly's devolution report committee are not replied to. We have still to see any 834 sign of reciprocation from the SDLP towards the gestures being made in the agreement with a view to making it feel more in support of the institutions and eliminating any alienation that may exist.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, surely the agreement is only being discussed today and tomorrow and does not exist until Thursday. I am not saying that the SDLP will come in on Friday. I think that it should. But until that day, I do not think that criticism is justified.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I hope sincerely that what he infers is right and that after the debate there may be a change of mind. But what I am saying is that so far there has been no sign of it. Mr. John Hume has specifically said that the agreement does not amount to enough to persuade him to bring his members into the Assembly at Stormont. I hope sincerely that the noble Lord is correct and that what I have been saying is wrong.
Similarly, the Unionists are on a hook. They have been driven into a corner and the Unionist electorate is now paying the price for the bankruptcy of its leadership in the past. They would be discrediting themselves were they now to agree to a power-sharing or partnership devolved government. They would be losing faith with their electorate. I do not see how they can bring themselves to do that. They have committed themselves to a position as a result of their sabrerattling in the run-up to the announcement of the agreement. They were encouraged in that sabrerattling by the so-called secrecy that surrounded it and by the periodic leaks and the extensive press speculation about it.
As to secrecy, in passing it is worth noticing that Dr. FitzGerald himself, while in opposition, was all in favour of openness and all against secrecy in his public pronouncements. But that is not the way that it has been this time, unfortunately. In 1973, I was in error in thinking that there was nothing sinister or dangerous about the proposed Council of Ireland. I thought that further consultation—my party has always been in favour of that—could do nothing but good. But, in the event, I was not alone in being in error on that occasion. In the event, the baby of power-sharing devolved administration was thrown out with the bathwater of the Council of Ireland. As more than one noble Lord has said, if the power-sharing executive had survived, we might have been spared all the problems with which we are now faced. Unfortunately it did not. My apprehension today, in 1985, is that the new baby of the proposed devolved partnership government will be thrown out with the bathwater of the intergovernmental conference, because that is what the Unionist and the majority in Northern Ireland are frightened about.
We have always favoured closer links between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, we have advocated a parliamentary tier to the Anglo-Irish Council. I made a major speech earlier this year advocating a parliamentary tier but, like so many of my historic utterances, it passed unnoticed because it was getting near lunchtime and the journalists and many of the delegates felt called to the bar—as indeed 835 happens at this time of the evening also. However, we are on record as having said that.
There is an ill-defined line between consultation and interference. We are in favour of consultation but we cannot accept interference as such. I am afraid that this is a grey area which is much open to interpretation. The former—consultation—is entirely beneficial. There are so many matters of common interest—agriculture, tourism, transport, many other areas—where consultation makes sense. But interference—which I am afraid must be read into this document—would be unacceptable to the majority in Northern Ireland. As I say, much of this is open to interpretation and we shall have to see how it is interpreted.
One matter which, in my view, is not open to interpretation is the sticking point as to the location of the permanent secretariat for the intergovernmental conference. This is to be near Holywood, just outside Belfast—about the most inconvenient place one could find to have such a secretariat. London would have been much more convenient. Dublin would have been more convenient.
In Cambridge, the Secretary of State, speaking a few days ago, tried to defend the Government against the criticism that, whereas the SDLP has a direct input to the intergovernmental conference, the Unionists do not. He said, quite rightly, that the Unionists have their Members of Parliament; the Unionists have their spokesmen in the Assembly. But the difference is that it is fundamental to our democracy that the Order Paper can be made accessible to the general public, that Hansard, the Official Report, can be obtained by the general public, and that therefore the electorate know what business will come up if they make it their business to find out.
They can lobby their Members of Parliament in advance; they can lobby the Government in advance; and after the debate, if they disapprove of what their Member of Parliament has said or failed to say, they can express their disapproval if necessary by not voting for him at the next election. The whole matter is open to the public. I would therefore respectfully suggest that to make this intergovernmental conference at all acceptable it would be necessary for the agenda to be published in advance, preferably for the party leaders in Northern Ireland to be consulted in advance of the sessions, and for its proceedings to be made public in an official report. Thus and only thus can the public be expected to have any confidence at all in this.
Returning to the document, Article 2(a)(iii) and Article 8 make hints at mixed courts, which would be quite unacceptable to the majority in Northern Ireland. We believe also that at present that would not be legal and would require a change in the law to make it legal. Article 4(c) and Article 5(a) demonstrate skilful use of the English language and are very much open to interpretation. One cannot avoid the feeling that they are supposed to be interpreted one way by the nationalist community and another way by the unionist community. But appointments to various bodies such as the Fair Employment Agency and the Equal Opportunities Commission are no business of the Government of the Republic. This should be an entirely internal affair.
836 It is also worth noting that whereas on the ill-fated proposal for the Council of Ireland the Unionists did have the right of the veto, in the intergovernmental conference they will not enjoy that privilege, which makes it therefore less acceptable.
Other articles are open to interpretation. In Article 7 we welcome an impartial complaints procedure affecting all the security forces. That is something which we have been advocating for some time, not just to protect the public but to protect the security forces themselves so that there can be no inference that there has been a cover-up or that colleagues have taken a partial view towards any complaint that has been made against the security forces. In Article 8 we welcome a regularisation of extradition procedures. Article 9, again, is open to interpretation. It could be interpreted, in saying that a programme of work has been drawn up for the Chief Constable, as saying that perhaps he had not been working before. That is contrary to what we have always been told—that security co-operation between the Republic and the North of Ireland is beyond doubt and leaves nothing to be desired. There again it is open to interpretation.
In Article 10 co-operation as suggested is certainly welcome, but the proof of the pudding will be whether or not it will work in regard to security and undermining support for Sinn Fein. Those are two matters which would convince the majority of the population in Northern Ireland that the agreement really means what we would like it to mean, as opposed to the way in which it might otherwise be interpreted.
Finally, my party and I myself would like to see an agreement of this kind working. We realise tht the status quo is unacceptable. There is a logjam which needs to be broken. We want to see progress being made. We should be happy to accept the agreement, subject to the reservations which I have outlined. As the agreement stands, we cannot accept it. I hope that it is negotiable even though it has been signed. But in the hope that the noble Lord on the Front Bench will take account of what I have said, I trust that it may be possible to reform the agreement in places in such a way that we could wholeheartedly support it.
§ 5.58 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships have listened, as I have done, with tremendous interest to the last two speakers, the noble Lords, Lord Dunleath and Lord Moyola, with their very special knowledge as Ulstermen resident in Northern Ireland. I know that they will both forgive me if I do not follow them for that precise reason although I am half Irish myself.
Having been involved in the security aspects of the Province at the very beginning of the present troubles way back in 1969, and having more recently been a member of the Alliance Commission under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Donaldson—whose policy paper has been endorsed by both the Liberal and SDP parties—it may be helpful, if I said a very brief word about the security aspects of this agreement. However, before doing so, I should like to say how very glad I was that the noble Viscount in his most moving and persuasive speech stressed the need to look ahead. I know that the noble Lord, Lord 837 Fitt, and other noble Lords who are Irish—as indeed I am half myself—will forgive me if I say that Irishmen both North and South, no matter where they live, have a great predilection for recalling the past.
If your Lordships will forgive me, I should like to give a very brief anecdote to illustrate the point in lighter vein. When I and Mr. David Alton, MP visited Northern Ireland and Dublin way back last May, we went to Londonderry—to Derry City—where we were received by the Mayor and members of his council and entertained to lunch. One of the members of the council sidled up to me bearing a heavy package and said, "Have a look at this". Inside that package was a great stack of newspaper cuttings vilifying myself and my committee which, in 1969, had recommended the replacement of the Ulster Special Constabulary—the B Specials—by a regiment of the British Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment. It did not make a very happy prelude to what I had hoped would be an enjoyable lunch. Happily, I was able immediately to tell him that one of my ancestors had been one of the apprentice boys who had defended the gates of Derry against the army of King James way back in 1688, whereupon my host was all smiles and said, "That's different; that alters the whole situation". He produced out of his pocket like a visiting card a picture of the monument which records that gallant event and we identified the apprentice concerned!
I come back to the point made by the noble Viscount because the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has gone into great detail about the past. It is no doubt useful as a background to the debate. We have heard also from the noble Lord, Lord Maude. Indeed, I could go back to 1969 and say how I found conditions at that time. Personally, I find no merit in dwelling upon the past. We must look forward.
In that spirit, I have nothing but praise for this joint initiative and for the terms of the accord. I have no hesitation in paying a personal tribute to the Prime Minister for her resoluteness in not being daunted or detened by the vehement denunciation of herself and these proposals by the Unionist leadership in the North.
You will probably have gathered from my noble friend Lord Donaldson that in our policy document to which I have referred and which is called What Future for Northern Ireland?, we went into considerably greater detail, making specific recommendations for co-operation between the two countries. However, we were taking a longer look forward into the future beyond the next election, whereas by contrast, this accord is intended—and it is important that it should do so—to take immediate effect. Surely the intention is that the conference should be the means of considering the whole range of measures to develop closer relationships between the two countries and of making recommendations to Dublin and Westminster. Given the prospect of an early start to the conference, such steps are obviously better worked out by the membership of the inter-governmental conference than spelt out by Dublin and Westminster.
The Prime Minister has underlined the prospect of peace and stability which this accord may afford. For my part, that is its most valuable asset. Again I was so glad that the noble Viscount stressed that the security 838 aspect was the highest priority of the document. The security is of course aimed at the defeat of terrorism. Again I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, had to say about that. He laid great importance upon it and was positive in his expectations of it.
It is all too easily overlooked that IRA terrorism is not simply—or perhaps I dare say even mainly—a Northern Ireland problem. The fact that many more outrages have been perpetrated in the North over the years since 1969 and before, and with appalling figures—2,500 people killed and 25,000 people injured in the past 16 years by acts of terrorism—should not imply that the IRA presents less of a threat in the Republic than it does in the North. The IRA's objectives and operations are linked to those of international terrorism and envisage the overthrow of democratic government both North and South as a longer-term goal.
There is a good deal of room for improvement—and I am sure that those who live there will agree with me—in collaboration between the security forces on both sides of the border. I should like to give one example of that by referring back to the visit which I paid last May. We arrived in Belfast in the immediate aftermath of an outrage in the border town of Newry where your Lordships will probably remember that a police armoured car was blown up and three constables of the RUC were killed, including one woman constable. You may also remember the publicity given to the immediate reactions of the chief constable who stated that the outrage had been set up, planned and executed from the South. I am not disputing whether or not that was so. However, it was the reactions to that statement which were so significant. We were made painfully aware of the reactions in the South when, on the following day in Dublin, we had an audience with the Taoiseach. I only mention that illustration because it transpired that the chief constable of the RUC and the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana had not met for the past two years, and then just in passing at a conference. That omission will be taken care of by Article 9 of the agreement.
The point has already been made, but perhaps I may stress it again, that the security forces alone cannot defeat the IRA; they can only do so if more support is forthcoming not only from the Republic but from the minority community in the North. I really believe that this accord could be instrumental in changing attitudes; and changing attitudes is an essential preliminary towards the practical co-operation envisaged in Article 7 concerning setting up joint consultative machinery and community-based crime prevention groups. Most important of all, it is an essential condition for success in the efforts to increase the minority membership in the RUC which started so promisingly after the report which I presented in 1969. I therefore very much hope that the Government will stick to their guns and see this agreement through. If ever determination—that outstanding quality of the Prime Minister—were called for, it is now.
My final word on the matter is this; it is worth looking at the obverse aspect of this accord being rendered null and void under pressures from whatever quarter. The effect could hardly be other than damaging if not disastrous, not least to this Parliament. After the hopes entertained for it in the 839 Republic and—I do not doubt—among the minority community in the North, there would be deep disappointment, deep disillusionment, boarding on despair and bitterness. Those are hardly the attitudes calculated to create closer co-operation for the security forces which is so necessary.
Although the matter has been referred to already, let not the reactions of the public in mainland Britain be left out of account. There is already a good deal of impatience over communal strife in Ulster and its cost in terms of lives of soldiers serving there these past 16 years. That could turn to exasperation and to alienation between the citizens of mainland Britain and those in the North of Ireland, and that would be tragic indeed.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, I should like to say how much I agree wholeheartedly with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has said. I speak not as one who has ever lived in Northern Ireland, but as one who for the last six years has been spokesman on Northern Ireland in the European Parliament. Therefore it might be considered that what I have to say is that of a worm's eye view and, possibly even worse, a European worm's eye view.
Some of the speeches I have heard tonight do not to me reflect the feelings, the views, culture and traditions of the people I meet when I go to Northern Ireland. I meet people who work together, who co-operate. Perhaps none of your Lordships has touched on the enormous number of congregations, of communities, who work together for the peace of Northern Ireland, and no credit has yet been given to them tonight, nor have they even been recognised as a major political factor in wanting peace and stability to exist in that Province, that part of the United Kingdom.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out, any Prime Minister who has in part of the territory of the country over which she and her Government govern the figures of terrorism mounting regularly to the number the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned, of around 2,500 cannot sit back and wait just "for something to happen". I would urge people to recognise the bravery and courage of our Prime Minister in going forward with this agreement. It is somebody who herself was a victim of an outrageous attack only last year on her and the whole British Cabinet.
It is a amazing that one person could have achieved so much secretly, overtly or covertly, with the head of a government of a country from which come people who have sought her own life and those of citizens whom she has the duty to protect. Much credit must be given to her not only for her courage in initiating these discussions but also for allowing them to continue in the light of what happened to her, in order to reach the agreement that we have before us tonight.
With respect, some noble Lords have said that the situation has not changed with regard to recognition by the Irish Republic, that there is, after all, a Province of six counties; but we are looking at today. It is difficult to imagine that Mr. Haughey, for instance, would have had the courage to go to the Dail and say, 840 "We will now vote on this agreement and say that we recognise that the majority of people in Northern Ireland should choose whether they want to join us or not". Perhaps nobody has given credit to the bravery of Dr. FitzGerald in bringing that before the Dail, and with success. As we know, the majority of the Dail have voted in favour of this agreement. It is a major political advance that the people of the South recognise Northern Ireland's right not only to exist but also the conditions under which they shall continue to exist, unless those people themselves decide to change how they wish to live.
There is one other point I would mention with regard to the detail of the document before us. My noble friend Lord Moyola, in an admirable speech, mentioned the question of dealing with terrorists. But here we have it stated in the joint communique that Dr. FitzGerald has agreed that their Government will ratify the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. That is the agreement which will enable terrorists who are hiding in the Republic to come to the North to be tried, and to be tried under English law or Northern Irish law for crimes they have committed within the United Kingdom.
We hope that Dr. FitzGerald will go forward and ratify this convention as soon as possible, and of course not with any derogations or changes in the definition of the status of a political prisoner, so as to enable such extradition to be carried out as quickly and effectively as possible. Let us also remember that there is a responsibility on the police and judiciary of Northern Ireland, that when they get these people into Northern Ireland they can give them first a fair trial and prove their guilt. This has not always been easy in the past. If we are going to get co-operation, and full co-operation, from now from the Republic of Ireland, we hope that those responsible in the North will be able to handle these matters effectively and efficiently.
I am surprised at Mr. Ian Paisley. As your Lordships know, he is a member of every assembly possible in Westminster, Europe, and the North, and I can admire him because of his logistics if for nothing else. Monthly, or at least yearly, he is asking for an extradition agreement to cover the European Community. He has now got in this document for the first time provision that those who seek a safe haven in the Republic can be extradited. He has got it, and he has been asking systematically for it. But I have heard no recognition from him that there is anything good in this document from beginning to end. Perhaps he has not read it. That may well be so. But it is regrettable, in view of the kind of reaction he is trying to whip up in Northern Ireland.
One of the worst elements of the story of the last week in United Kingdom politics has been that we have people who do not seem to know what they want so far as their own future in Northern Ireland is concerned. We have a Government seeking a solution. They have never come forward with a solution. Every time some group, or party, in Northern Ireland makes a proposal somebody else ditches it. Surely it is time now that people of goodwill should get together to accept that if you have terrorism, the one thing you have to do is to take action to stop it. If we can stop it, if we can reduce it by the proposal before your 841 Lordships' House tonight, we should wholeheartedly support it.
We must at least give it a try. If those who do not wish it to succeed seek to destroy it, they will not be representing the people they purport to represent, because what people in Northern Ireland want above all is peace and stability. Mr. Paisley over and over again in the European Parliament complains about the appalling unemployment in Northern Ireland, about which we know, the appalling social conditions, the appalling housing. He keeps telling us in the European Parliament that it is the worst in the European Community, and he asks: can they have some money?
One billion pounds has gone from the Community since 1973 to Northern Ireland to meet some of the demands of Mr. Paisley and others in the Province. We believe ourselves—and I firmly believe—that this money will be well spent, and has been well spent, in providing for better conditions and for better prosperity and stability, but from whatever party we come we all know that without peace you cannot have economic prosperity. It is simply not possible. Nowhere in the world is there economic progress and social development, with children growing up in an atmosphere of peace and prosperity, unless you have a stable society. Surely this is what the Prime Minister and the Government are seeking to obtain.
I would say a word in detail about Article 7(c) because this is one which has concerned a lot of people, and it is to do with the security forces. When I was last in Northern Ireland I spoke to the Deputy Chief of Police, who happened to be a Roman Catholic. When I asked what was the percentage of members of the RUC who are members of the Catholic faith he said, "Unfortunately, only about 10 per cent."
But why, my Lords? It was only the week before I was there that a Catholic member of the RUC was shot outside his doorstep by, of course, the IRA. What happened last week? Precisely the same again. We must have encouragement even, if need be, from the Southern Irish Republican Government—I do not care where the encouragement comes from—to stop the Irish Catholic minority in Northern Ireland from going behind and working with Sinn Fein the whole time.
What is the one element that those of us who have been to Northern Ireland notice more than anything else? It is fear. When I went to the Maze and met several of the hunger strikers and their families, what was the one element which struck me and still remains as a fixed memory? It was fear, fear of their own people, the menace and threats of their own people on their own families. Unless that can be removed, you will not have peace in Northern Ireland. You will not be able to fight the terrorist activities. And, as was so rightly pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, it is an international problem and not just a local and national problem.
In conclusion I should like to say not only that the European Parliament on Friday morning, without having seen the document, welcomed and supported the initiative which has been taken by the United Kingdom Government, but that it has been one of the 842 greatest elements from this Government to show to the rest of the world what is their real role in Northern Ireland. It has so often been misunderstood. It has been so often considered that they are there as an oppressive régime on the poor people of Northern Ireland. We in this House know that that is not true, but the rest of the world does not. If ever there was a document to prove that it is not true, to prove that the United Kingdom Government are working for the peace and prosperity of the peoples of Northern Ireland, as they do for the rest of the peoples of the United Kingdom, it is this document, and I hope that we shall support it.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, the agreement before us marks yet another landmark in the long, sad history of our dealings in Ireland, a problem which has baffled and exasperated us for so many years. We are concerned today with how to defeat the terrorists. It is not a new problem; indeed, it was much the same 100 years ago, when there were Fenian outrages in Ireland and here in Parliament, financed then as now by the Irish-Americans in the United States and denounced then by Parnell as they are now by Dr. FitzGerald. It is a problem that has been with us far too long.
I recognise the Government's anxiety, firstly, to do something radical to improve the situation, and, secondly, to take advantage of the fact that in Dr. FitzGerald they have by far the most sensible and realistic Irish head of Government that they have had for years or are likely to have in the future. So one must start by wishing to welcome an agreement to which both Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic can subscribe.
When we come to study it the agreement before us seems to be based on a calculation, or perhaps one should more accurately say a gamble, that if representatives of the Government of the Republic can, through the Conference, put forward views and proposal on their own account or on behalf of the Catholic minority about the most important aspects of policy in Nothern Ireland, then nationalists may withdraw support for Sinn Fein and the IRA, so that the terrorists lose their support and the level of terrorism is drastically reduced. If that really happens then obviously it will be an enormous gain. There is one encouraging sign, as the noble Viscount pointed out: the announced if belated intention of the Irish Government to ratify the European Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism.
But will there really be such a dramatic improvement? The prospects seem to me to be far from certain. And some of your Lordships will have read the powerful and sombre article by Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien in this morning's edition of The Times. Nevertheless, to secure a desirable but highly speculative gain some time in the future the Government are proposing to pay now a heavy price. First, they have concluded this agreement with a foreign Government without consulting or taking into their confidence the majority of those British people affected. The Government must find it hard to reconcile their very reasonable insistence that union leaders should consult democratically the members of their unions before coming out on strike with their 843 own signing of this agreement without consultation with the people of Ulster. I was impressed by the resignation of Senator Mary Robinson from one of the coalition parties in the Irish Government because, as she put it, the agreementbased on an intergovernmental structure aloneandnegotiated without the involvement in any way of the majority community in the North … would be unacceptable to all sections of Unionist opinion and not just to extremists".That is the view of a knowledgeable Irishwoman in Dublin.
How can we expect any agreement to work if the majority in the North are not prepared to accept it? The Northern Ireland Secretary says now that he is:prepared to engage in discussions and sensible consultations with anybody".But is it not now too late? The agreement is signed and unalterable. We apparently refuse to contemplate a referendum in Northern Ireland because we know all too well what the result would be. But elsewhere we have laid great stress on the principle of self-determination. Indeed, we are doing just that in today's debate on the Falkland Islands in the United Nations General Assembly.
When I was one of Her Majesty's representatives overseas I constantly pointed out, on television and in newspaper interviews, that in the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and Northern Ireland the fundamental factors determining our policy were the wishes of the inhabitants. It is true that this agreement explicitly recognises in Article 1(a) and (b) the need to respect the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland on the status of Northern Ireland. But it seems to me to undermine our whole case overseas if what we are doing now is seen to be profoundly unwelcome to the majority. How can we pretend that in concluding this agreement we are respecting their wishes?
Secondly, the agreement commits us to the grave and, with great respect to the noble Viscount, unprecedented step of giving a foreign Government a role in the administration of part of the United Kingdom and the right to speak for a minority of British subjects there. We must be the only country in the world which is contemplating voluntarily letting another state take a hand in its internal affairs.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, this is simply not what is said in the agreement and it is not what is being said by the Government. The noble Lord is wrong to put it forward, in my opinion.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, it is true that we retain our full sovereignty but we are allowing a foreign Government a role. This is what the whole agreement is about.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, in this case it is not merely a foreign country but one which has deliberately chosen to be foreign and, which under Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution, lays claim to the territory of 844 Northern Ireland. Again, I quote a politician in the Republic. Mr. John Kelly, a member of Dr. FitzGerald's party, said in the Dail:I ask the House to picture an arrangement arrived at between the Northern Unionists and the British, which would put British Ministers into Merrion Street, in whatever capacity, and British police officers into Garda headquarters. How would we react? We should not imagine that Unionist feelings at the present juncture are any less strong".I do not imagine that Ministers would contemplate allowing Argentine Ministers and officials into Port Stanley or Spanish Ministers into Gibraltar on a similar consultative basis. And if we concede the principle that a foreign power can speak for a minority in the United Kingdom, where will that process end?
Article 2(a)(i), (ii) and (iii) nevertheless gives foreign ministers and foreign officials, responsible to a foreign Government, the right to deal—that is the word—with political and security matters and with the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. But apparently British and Northern Ireland Ministers and officials are to be given no such opportunity to deal with these or any other matters in the Republic. Why not? Nothing has been said about amending Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. Again, why not?
Article 1(c) of the agreement says that we will introduce and support legislation in Parliament if a majority in Northern Ireland wish to establish a united Ireland. that seems reasonable enough, but will we similarly allow the Scots and the Welsh to go their own way if they so wish? In other words, where would we stop in breaking up the United Kingdom? If this agreement does lead ultimately to Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom, can we be quite certain that the union with Scotland will continue to stick?
It is reported that the secretariat of the Intergovernmental Conference is to be in Belfast. If this body were to be simply to facilitate co-operation between the two Governments, it would clearly be most conveniently established in Dublin, London or Brussels. To put it in or near Belfast would make it clear that it was intended to oversee the running of Northern Ireland, and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. I hope, therefore, that the Minister who will answer for the Government will be able to tell us that it will not be established in Northern Ireland. Dr. FitzGerald is reported to have said in his broadcast after the signing that the agreement was,as near to joint authority as can be".Do the Government accept that interpretation?
To those in Dublin who want a united Ireland this agreement must look like the thin end of the wedge to prise open the door to joint control of the Province. Is it not probable that before very long the thick end of that wedge will be controlled, not by the sincere and conciliatory Dr. FitzGerald but by Mr. Charles Haughey, whose attitude to the IRA is very different? What happens then?
Much was said at the press conference about devolved government. I was concerned at the proposals some time ago for devolution in Scotland and Wales, believing that these would lead to a loosening of ties between different parts of the United Kingdom. Happily, those plans were abandoned. Thus I do not understand why devolution should now be thought to be good for Northern Ireland. I have, 845 indeed, never understood why we have not offered to the people of Northern Ireland the option of permanent intergration with the rest of the United Kingdom, or why British political parties do not operate there. It has always seemed to me that full integration would be much the fairest and most sensible course, and yet we have always shied away from it. I wonder why.
This agreement seems to be notably one-sided. The only explicit reference to reciprocity that I can see is one sentence:Some of the proposals considered in respect of Northern Ireland may also be found to have application by the Irish Government"—as weak a formulation as I can conceive. Even The Times, which welcomed the agreement, admitted that itis unbalanced to the disfavour of unionists".And I must confess that I do not feel comfortable at the instant offer of massive American funds—a pat on the head for us, it seems, for taking a step of which not merely President Reagan but Mr. Tip O'Neill and, significantly, Senator Edward Kennedy, warmly approve.
A letter to the Daily Telegraph of 20th November suggested that if a referendum disclosed that a majority supported thewrecking policies of their local leaders, why not let them have Northern Ireland?".To the writer of that letter, perhaps, Northern Ireland is a far-away country of which we know little. We need close co-operation with the Republic, above all in security matters, but in our anxiety to secure this agreement we seem to have been carried away by our national penchant for conciliation to make concessions which I do not think ought to have been made. As a result, the majority in Northern Ireland are convinced that their interests have been sacrificed.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made an eloquent and moving plea that they should not be pushed aside. Spokesmen from the majority in the North have pointed out that they, whose families fought and died for Britian, are now ignored and treated like second-class citizens, while the Irish of the Republic, who took no part in the war and closed their ports to us, which cost the lives of many British seamen, and who only recently were not to be numbered with our friends over the Falklands, are given unprecedented concessions.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, will the noble Lord please give way? I am not a member of the Irish Republic but I recall that there were about 40,000 Irish Republicans who took part in the services during the last war and fought very valiantly for us. I hope he will accept that comment.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I entirely accept that comment. Of course it is true. I was talking about the line taken by the Irish Government rather than the whole of the Irish people.
Most people in this country are, I think, put off by the ranting of people like Mr. Paisley. However, if some of the Unionist leaders do now often seem to us to be extreme, we must remember that it is we who cut the ground from under the feet of their moderate 846 forerunners like Mr. Faulkner, and we who are now presenting them with a fait accompli which they bitterly resent.
I am sorry to say that I oppose this agreement. I do so for three reasons: because I do not believe that it will work; because I think it wrong to have negotiated it behind the backs of the people of Northern Ireland; and because I believe that it breaches the integrity of the United Kingdom and discriminates against a substantial number of its citizens. I hope, therefore, that your Lorships will think very carefully before you approve it.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, although I respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who has just spoken, I think, in this case, the examples that he gave of the dangers of setting up similar frameworks with other countries are really irrelevant in that we have set up this framework in which a friendly country has a consultative role in dealing with a problem which we have failed to deal with in any other way. Thus in this case the arguments surely can be seen in an entirely different way.
I should like to start by saying this. It would be true to say that the affairs of Northern Ireland have been often debated in this House, debated from every aspect of security, of the economic area and the social area. However, although these subjects will be debated again, the debates from now on will be affected by one fundamental change; namely, that the affairs of Northern Ireland will never again be seen as purely internal matters. That is a historic concession that the British Government have made in signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It is for the Prime Minister's courage in doing that, and in confronting and opposing long-held attitudes and assumptions, that I, for one, admire her.
As my noble friend Lord Cledwyn said, the Irish Government have also made an important and fundamental concession; namely, to give the pledge that they will seek no change in the status of Northern Ireland until the consent of the majority is forthcoming. For them, this is an equally great concession. Surely it would be right to recognise the tenacity, patience and perseverance of the Irish Prime Minister in coming to this decision, both against very great opposition at home and while holding an electoral position which is also very vulnerable at the present time.
I am sure that all those of us who have argued in this Chamber for closer co-operation with Dublin and for Northern Ireland to be put higher on the political agenda, will applaud the long and painstaking work that went into formulating this agreement and will also welcome it in itself as tangible evidence, as being an act of reconciliation between Ireland and Britain. As I say, that in itself, without thinking of anything else from the agreement, is of epic moment.
However, what about the people who will be most directly affected by this settlement—the people of Northern Ireland? As we know, the leaders of the Unionist tradition have already, I must say most logically, pointed out that, in spite of the fact that it will be their community who will be most affected by it, they were not in any way consulted and had no part 847 in the process of drawing-up the agreement. This has been reinforced by all those speakers today who have come from Northern Ireland. Regardless of from where they have come, they have agreed on both the process of drawing-up the agreement and the method of presenting it. Many of them have expressed great outrage in the majority community and have committed themselves to opposing it at all means at their command.
We must most fervently hope that they will recognise that those two major safeguards have been written into the agreement. They are safeguards which might indeed have been written into the agreement by themselves—that is, as I have already said, that not only is a guarantee for the union now built firmly into an international agreement but also if a devolved administration in Northern Ireland were set up, then any devolved matters would not be considered in the inter-governmental conference. These, seen absolutely at face value, without any kind of emotional content, must be very strong safeguards in their interests.
Thus it is very much to be hoped that the leaders of the two unionist parties and indeed the leader of the Northern Irish Alliance Party—although we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, that they will take no part in, and that they are most concerned about, the settlement—will take heart from the assurances given by the two Prime Ministers, and indeed perhaps from the debates that are taking place in both Houses today.
Lastly, so far as concerns the minority community, of course their leader, John Hume, favours the agreement. I feel that his supporters may well be a little sceptical as to whether the agreement will change anything. I think it is for this reason that we so much hope that the SDLP leader will make strenuous efforts to contribute to the success of the process set up and thereby regain the support which his party lost to the Provisional Sinn Fein, and remedy the sense of alienation that has been felt by so many members of that community. Thus, there can be little doubt that a very epic moment in Anglo-Irish relations has taken place. However, of course we are all concerned for the immediate future. It is important to recognise that the handshaking between London and Dublin, admirable as I think it is, is only a prelude and that the difficult part is still to come.
Being someone who was in Algiers during the trauma of Algerian independence in 1962, I cannot but recognise one or two chilling parallels. For example, to begin with I remember the running sore that the Algerian conflict was for France as a country. Next, I remember, in the same way as the French settlers felt betrayed by General de Gaulle, who was a French leader they thought they could most trust, in the same way, the Unionists feel a keen sense of betrayal—misjudged as I think it is—from a leader and from a Government that they believed most sympathetic to their wishes. Nor can I forget the terrible backlash from those enraged French settlers and the havoc they caused after the Evian agreement of April 1962 and the hatred and the lack of sympathy that those settlers through their intransigence brought on themselves from the French of metropolitan France. Finally, I recollect the systematic campaign of 848 provocation that the OAS, the terrorist organisation representing their interests, waged against the Arab community in order to wreck the Evian agreement. But in the end, as history relates and as your Lordships will remember, the General held firm, and in spite of a terrible sacrifice in human terms the agreement was honoured.
I am not saying that there are any real comparisons between the entire Franco-Algerian episode and the one concerning Northern Ireland today; but I am saying that the next few months will call upon the determination and courage of many people in Britain and Ireland, North and South. The agreement, after all, is a basis only for setting the necessary machinery in motion, but it is upon the working of that machinery that so much will depend. It therefore seems imperative that more should be done—and the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, has said this himself—that the momentum created by the signing should not be lost and that so much could be done to dispel the fears that have been caused and that the inter-governmental conference should meet with the minimum delay and the permanent secretariat be promptly set up.
The first meetings of the conference no doubt will be concerned initially with security, with the courts, with cross-border co-operation; but I believe that social issues should not be pushed too far down the agenda. Otherwise, there is no doubt that the sense of grievance and disadvantage felt by the many Roman Catholics whose educational qualifications and job opportunities are lower than Protestants—in spite of the many efforts that have been made to counter this—will mean that they will continue to help sustain Sinn Fein whose electoral success, it must be remembered, provided the urgency behind these Anglo-Irish talks.
This leads me to my last point. There has been talk and mention in the debate today of the rumours of economic help for the Province. I do not know whether this will come about; but if it is the case, I would plead that a proportion of any such investment should go to supporting that great body of people involved in voluntary and community self-help initiatives which go on in the areas of great need in Northern Ireland. Not only does such work tackle the really serious social problems which are so divisive, but it also improves the understanding and communication within and between communities. Lagan College, for example, set up as an integrated school by voluntary bodies, and in fact the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, had a lot to do with it. I think there is so much more of that work that is needed before any kind of settlement can be made to work. Surely, without the work of reconciliation, there is really no hope in setting up any elaborate or sophisticated machinery for the future of the Province. No kind of machinery works without an oilcan; and, in my view, the work of reconciliation that goes on among those voluntary organisations provides the essential oilcan.
My Lords, perhaps I may end on a slightly personal note by saying that since I became involved and interested in Anglo-Irish affairs more than nine years ago I have tried to maintain an attitude which is not influenced by religious or territorial bias. Indeed, my only prejudice has been and continues to be against violence. Instead, I have found myself motivated by 849 considerations regarding the future of the Northern Irish people, the men, women and children of both traditions, and indeed the people of both Irelands. I believe that the opportunity presented by this agreement has a chance of strengthening the forces of peace in their fight against violence and also gives the people of Northern Ireland a better hope of leading normal peaceful and useful lives. It is for that reason that I support this Motion.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, although I am not and never have been a member of her party, I have found myself time and again over the past six or seven years leaping to the defence of the Prime Minister, both in public and in private, often on occasions when her own political friends and colleagues have remained strangely mute. So your Lordships will see that it is much more in sorrow than in anger that I say that I think she has got it wrong this time round. The lady is for turning, after all!
It is a thousand pities that she has turned away so completely from the admirable and fairminded policy of total integration associated with the name of the late Mr. Airey Neave (my noble friend Lord Moran also commended integration). Had she not done so, things might be different today. The policy of total integration had much more wide-ranging support across the political divide in Northern Ireland than does the present Anglo-Irish Agreement. Although it was not the first choice of very many people, total integration was acceptable as second best by more than 70 per cent. of Protestants and by more than 50 per cent. of Roman Catholics.
The Prime Minister once said, "Ulster is as British as Finchley". This was never entirely true, mainly due to mistakes made in the early 1920s. But she had the power to make it so. Instead, we are now headed in quite the opposite direction. As the Spectator said in its leading article last Friday:The agreement would be perfectly understandable … if it were intended as a first step to a united Ireland. As such, it would be a cunning way of undercutting the Union by softening up British opinion, isolating Unionists and establishing a precedent of southern Irish intervention.".This analysis finds support south of the Border. In an opinion poll published in a recent edition of the Irish Times, 2⅓ times as many people in the South thought that the agreement was more likely to lead to Irish unification as thought the opposite. Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien comes to much the same conclusions in his article in The Times today. Within Ireland, north and south, it is not just Unionists (with a capital U) who believe the agreement will be counter-productive by loading the dice against the Unionists. Let me give six short quotations which have to do with the agreement:[It] is fundamentally flawed in its approach to a reconciliation—the middle-of-the-road Belfast Telegraph.[It] is likely to further divide the communities and fuel antagonism between them—the Democratic Socialist Party in Dublin.I do not believe it can achieve its objectives of securing peace and stability within Northern Ireland or on this island as a whole—Senator Mary Robinson, who resigned from the Irish Labour Party over the issue. 850It is vital to understand the emotional repugnance which the Northern majority feel towards what is a deeply unwelcome structure wished upon them by two governments they do not trust—Mr. John Kelly of Fine Gael, speaking in the Dail; my noble friend Lord Moran referred to another statement of his earlier.The…most serious weakness of the agreement is that it is an external agreement, not an internal one. The Unionists appear to have been deliberately excluded and treated in a most offensive manner—the leader of the Workers Party in Dublin. Finally,It is a rotten deal, and extremely dangerous…I fear we are in for years of increasing turmoil, leading towards a terrible climax—that internationally respected socialist, Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien.
Of course there are many others on both sides of the Border who are unhappy about the agreement in addition to those quoted above, including, as we have already heard, most of the non-sectarian Alliance Party, and bishops of the Church of Ireland, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church and the President of the Methodist Church of Ireland. A majority of those recently polled by the Irish Times in the south believed that the agreement would not improve relations between the two communities, and an even larger majority believed that it would not reduce violence.
Returning to this side of St. George's Channel, one thinks of absent friends. We all regret for a hundred reasons the sad and untimely death of Lord Vaizey last year. He was a good and genuine friend of Ireland and the Irish. He was a prominent member of the British-Irish Association, which I think he had something to do with founding, yet he was totally devoid of that guilt-ridden sentimentality which so often colours English establishment attitudes towards the Irish Republic. Despite his friendship for Ireland, he could be sharply critical of certain aspects of the Irish character and of Irish political attitudes, and I cannot help but suspect that he would not be entirely happy with this agreement if he were here today.
Then there is the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. He has been in India for some weeks now and one certainly would not wish to drag him back here to the sort of weather we have been having. But I am certain that we would hear a few sharp comments from him, were he here today.
Next there is opinion in another place, and I suggest that the Division lists tomorrow will not accurately reflect the underlying feeling of unease within the Conservative Party. We all know that those disparagingly referred to by the press as "a handful of right-wing Conservatives" will vote against, as if loyalty towards the United Kingdom within its present boundaries and loyalty towards those who have fought with one in two world wars was a prerogative of right-wingers. But there will be others who will swallow their feelings and vote for the Prime Minister out of loyalty.
The other day. a very well-known Conservative back-bencher, a former junior Minister but one who does not normally speak about Ulster (so your Lordships will not be able to identify him), said to me, "This is Algeria all over again". He was of course referring to the betrayal aspect. (I should like dearly to follow the noble Baroness on parallels with Algeria, but I do not think I have time). This individual will 851 almost certainly vote for the Government, but with enormous reluctance. I suspect that there will be a great many who will go through the Division Lobbies in support of the Government, but with a heavy heart.
There are of course other Conservative MPs, those who say, "Let's stop making a fuss about sovereignty. The important thing is to avoid violence". This is of course a valid point of view, but I should remind them that it was also the point of view of those who opposed the sending of a task force to South Georgia and the Falklands.
What we are promised as a result of this agreement is a condominium in all but name. Professor John O'Connor, a lecturer in international law, demonstrates conclusively that the Irish Government's rights under this agreement are much more than merely consultative, as the noble Lord, Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, assumed. In nearly every condominium since the dawn of history, one partner turns out to be more energetic, more motivated and more involved than the other, and this one will be no exception. It reminds me a little of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium over the Sudan, with Britain this time round playing the role of Egypt.
The Irish Ministers will be virtually acting as agents for the SDLP, which tends to receive between 18 and 27 per cent. of the vote in Northern Ireland elections. British Ministers, by way of contrast, will certainly not be acting as agents for the monarchist majority, as I call them, by which I mean not only those who vote for the two Unionist parties but members of the Alliance Party and those who have no political affiliation but who are loyal to the Crown. Indeed, in so far as there is likely to be any pressure on British Ministers from mainland Britain, it will come from southern Irish voters living in marginal mainland constituencies. And heaven help the monarchist majority if a Labour Government ever come to power in which Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Ms. Clare Short and Mr. Ken Livingstone are prominent members.
Furthermore, it is not as if the relationship of the Republic to the United Kingdom were the equivalent of, say, that of Norway to Denmark. At a person to person level, the Irish people are as friendly as any in Europe; indeed, as friendly as any in the world. I have many happy memories of times spent in the south of Ireland. But at an official level, it has traditionally been a very different matter.
I would not deny that as a free and independent country, and so long as she stays at arm's length, as countries normally do from one another, the Republic of Ireland has every right to hold, and to have held over the past 40 years, different views from ourselves on such matters as Adolf Hitler, General Galtieri, the British Royal Family, laws affecting individual freedom and conscience, such as those touching upon divorce, contraception, abortion, censorship and the upbringing of children of mixed marriages. But once she is given the legal right to interfere with the laws and the institutions of part of the United Kingdom, these present and past attitudes start to matter very much indeed.
That the Republic is at last agreeing to extradite terrorist murderers on a consistent basis will only 852 partially dissipate the resentment caused by the fact that it has taken so long for her to fall into line with other civilised nations; and the constitutional claim to part of the territory of the United Kingdom, which persists despite the agreement—there seems to be no intention of removing it—will continue to rankle.
It has already been said by people in both parts of Ireland and in this part of the United Kingdom that the agreement will hinder, not help, intercommunal reconciliation, in that it will impede the possibility of the creation of a sense of Ulster identity. The situation is analogous to that in Cyprus. There outside interference, by first the Greeks and then the Turks, prevented the creation of any sense of Cypriot nationhood, with the tragic results that we see today—and I have recently come back from that island.
What has not been remarked on is that the new arrangement tacitly implies that successive Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland since 1972 have not been even-handed, that they have not protected the minority, despite them having a virtually free hand in Ulster with no local government opposition to speak of, and with Parliament always ready to rubber-stamp primary and secondary legislation designed to achieve that end. I myself find it impossible to believe that successive Secretaries of State have failed in their duty to be even-handed. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, told us earlier that every single one of the demands of the civil rights movement has already been met, and met some time ago. So I am increasingly inclined to believe that the agreement is, at any rate in part, a desperate public relations exercise designed to stop Irish-Americans from sending arms and money to the IRA. I am interested to see that once again the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, shares my belief in that regard.
I should like to ask four specific questions of the noble Lord who is to reply. To what extent will the security forces be overstretched by the requirement that UDR search patrols be accompanied from now on by members of the RUC? More importantly, will the hot pursuit of suspected terrorist murderers be permitted by the Government of the Republic?—because if that were agreed to some of the opposition to this agreement among the monarchist majority, as I call them, might evaporate. Have the Unionist document The Way Forward and Sir Frederick Catherwood's subsequent proposals been totally rejected? Have they been put in the wastepaper basket or are they being dusted down and reconsidered? Why are the intergovernmental ministerial conferences to be held entirely in secret? Why can we not have open government? I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, touched upon this point.
The biggest minefield in the document, though it will not be stumbled on for a number of years, I suspect, is the mechanism for bringing about a united Ireland if a majority vote in favour. I stress the word "a". In her 15th November press conference, the Prime Minister substituted the word "the", which puts a totally different construction on the agreement. As a barrister, she should surely know that the misinterpretation or misreading of a single word in a lengthy legal document can have cataclysmic effects.
853 Unlike all recent legislation governing constitutional matters in Northern Ireland—legislation introduced by both Conservative and Labour governments—there is is no safeguard built into these provisions requiring, in addition to a poll majority, which can be as thin as can be imagined, evidence of widespread support across all quarters of the Northern Ireland political spectrum as a precondition for unification—"agreement across the community", in the words of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House when he was speaking about the prerequisite for devolution. All that is required for unification to take place is a majority, or to be precise, a clear majority.
A clear majority is a majority of one, provided that this majority is confirmed by half-a-dozen recounts. If as a result of demographic changes—we know that the Republicans in Northern Ireland have a birthrate more than twice the western European norm—and of emigration of disillusioned Unionists from the North and immigration of Republicans from the South attracted by lower inflation, higher wages and social security benefits, 50.001 per cent. of the Ulster electorate voted for unification, both governments, whatever their secret misgivings—secret misgivings there would certainly be—would be forced to legislate to this effect even if 99 per cent. of Unionists had voted against.
The options of a three-or-four-county Ulster seem to have been ruled out entirely. (I was interested to read that Mr. Merlyn Rees suggested in his recent book a redrawing of the Border. I have always thought this an excellent idea, but this seems to be ruled out by the agreement.) A better recipe for chaos and bloodshed can hardly be imagined. As one Front Bench speaker emphasised this afternoon—I am afraid I cannot remember which one—nobody wants to force Unionists into a united Ireland, but this is what they might be obliged to do under the terms of the agreement. This, I think, is what Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien was getting at today in his article in The Times.
Finally, during his intervention when the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, was speaking, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House seemed to suggest—I hope I may have misinterpreted him—that he was looking for unanimity when the time came this evening for a decision on the Motion. Unanimity may well be desirable when coping with a titanic challenge from, let us say, Nazi Germany; though even during World War II I believe a considerable amount of dissent was permitted within Parliament. But I suggest that unanimity is neither necessary nor desirable when dealing with a challenge (titanic or otherwise) from those of one's fellow citizens who, with some justice, in my view, feel ignored and threatened.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I cannot say I agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down. My family has had very close connections with Ireland for hundreds of years, particularly with the North of Ireland. I was very surprised to hear the noble Lord say—at least, I understood him to say this—that this was very bad deal for Unionists. I am a Unionist, and I welcome this agreement. I shall tell your 854 Lordships a little later on why I do so, but first of all I should like to say—I have said this before in the House—that this question of Catholics and Protestants in the North, which television always plays up, is highly exaggerated in that the whole question of Northern Ireland is a territorial fear—I have said this several times—of being absorbed into the South. It is not a religious question. My family, which has been Protestant all the time, has endowed Catholic churches. The Catholic church in Antrim was endowed by my family. We gave them land although we have always been a Protestant family, so I do not agree with those who say that this is a religious question.
It is rather amusing in a way that Mr. Paisley's seat, with one or two others, used to be in the gift of my family. I am not an admirer of Mr. Paisley. I am rather ashamed that somebody like Mr. Paisley should occupy it now. Mr. Paisley's rantings and ravings and histrionics are raising the emotions of ignorant people (they are not ignorant through their own fault; perhaps I should say "simple people") and he has been doing his best completely to destroy any faith in this agreement. That is almost evil: I shall not use the word "evil", but it is almost evil of him. His extravagant language would be heard better at Hyde Park Corner. I wonder how many of the tens of thousands of people who marched in Belfast last Sunday have read the agreement. I doubt whether as many as 1 per cent. have read it. They were all presumably worked up by Mr. Paisley's extravagant language.
The agreement, after all, confers on the North of Ireland tremendous advantages. The chief clause on which the whole agreement hangs deals with what are called the executive powers to be given, so some people say, to the South of Ireland. But they are not executive powers at all: they are completely consultative. To call them executive powers is complete and utter nonsense.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount but if he thinks that they are solely consultative I would ask him to read an article in the Irish Times of 21 st November written by a lecturer in international law which demonstrates conclusively that they are not purely consultative.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, it depends on who wrote the article, does it not? The noble Lord was quoting Conor Cruise O'Brien, a political commentator. He is not a man that I would follow at all, so you cannot go by that.
Regarding Ulster sovereignty, if Ulster lost any sovereignty at all she lost it along with the United Kingdom when we joined the Common Market. The Common Market has executive teeth and executive powers, but the Anglo-Irish Agreement does not. To a great extent it is reciprocative between the two countries; it is consultation between the two countries. The other boon for the North of Ireland is the extradition treaty, for which Ulster and the security forces have been asking for years and years. Now they have it. It has closed the bolt-hole across the Border. The security forces must be absolutely delighted. Even Mr. Paisley has been asking for it. Now he has got it, but he has not said a good thing about the agreement.
855 One of the most important things about the agreement is that it will reduce violence in that the terrorists will be apprehended far more easily. It is bound eventually to make a better image for investment in the Province. That may take some time, but it is bound to come about.
The whole economic position in Northern Ireland at the moment is desperate. The cost to the British Exchequer is £4,254 million a year at the moment. The subvention—in other words, the difference if one deducts the sum that is raised in taxes from Northern Ireland from that which the British Government have to send out there—totals about £1,400 million a year.
Unemployment has now reached a figure of 121,000. The two biggest employers in Ireland are Harland and Wolff and Shorts Aircraft. Last year, Harland and Wolff lost £36 million and had to be heavily subsidised by the British Exchequer. That sum of £36 million represented a loss of £7,000 per employee. From the point of view of the Exchequer, it would have been better had those people been on the dole, but of course one would not want that to happen; I just make the point.
We must remember that the British public are becoming completely bemused by the situation in Northern Ireland. They are sick of the appalling violence. Times have changed since the days when Stormont was set up. My father was somewhat involved in that and said that he believed Stormont would not last more than 30 years. A great number of the British public do not any longer really regard Northern Ireland as being an integral part of Britain. That is very sad, but it is a fact. The public know about the vast amounts of money that pour into Northern Ireland from the British Exchequer. We must remember we are a very different race of people from that which we were even 30 or 40 years ago. Public ideas have changed.
I therefore believe that the Anglo-Irish Agreement will, if it is managed with sensitivity and tact, save Northern Ireland and not destroy it. I am absolutely sure that the sovereignty of Northern Ireland will remain for the foreseeable future; for years and years. I call upon my fellow Unionists in the North to allow the agreement to work. If they do not go along with it then it might fail. I beg of them to be behind it.
Before concluding, I should like to say how much I admire the courage of the Prime Minister and of Dr. FitzGerald in bringing this agreement forward. It was very courageous of them both. The situation in Northern Ireland cannot go on and on. If it ever came to the North declaring UDI, which would be disastrous, the standard of living in Northern Ireland would collapse and there would be the most appalling privation. I hope and I am sure that in the end the agreement will open up a new era in the North and lead to a far happier community.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, I doubt whether there is more than a handful, if that, of the thousands of British soldiers who have served in Northern Ireland over the past 16 years who would not warmly welcome the Anglo-Irish Agreement, though I admit that they 856 would probably view it with that scepticism which is the hallmark of the soldier, reserving judgment until they can see what effect that which the politicians agree with each other has on the ground.
I believe that the view of the soldier has a right to be heard; 382 of them have met their death, in addition to 150 members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, trying to maintain order and uphold the law in Northern Ireland. It has been the consistent view of the military throughout that time that the key to eliminating the threat of the IRA to security on both sides of the Border lies in co-operation with the authorities in the Republic.
My own personal first experience of this issue—we have been warned against going back, but perhaps this shows that things do not change—was within one-and-a-half hours of taking over the post of Chief of General Staff on 1st April 1971. I was summoned to accompany Lord Carrington, then Defence Secretary, to the first meeting between Mr. Heath and his ministers and the late Lord Faulkner (Brian Faulkner as he was at the time) just after the had displaced the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.
I have vivid memories of that meeting. It started off with what seemed to me, a wholly unrealistic—and in the light of my subsequent experience it proved to be—discussion of how to seal off the Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. After the difficulties and disadvantages had been aired, the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, who was then Foreign Secretary, asked Mr. Faulkner how it was that on a previous occasion when the IRA had resorted to violence it had been controlled and put an end to. His reply was clear: that at that time the Republic took firm measures themselves against the IRA. Yet hardly had he finished saying that than Mr. Faulkner began to request the British Government to agree to a whole series of measures in order to pacify supporters who had helped him to supplant Lord Moyola and those who threatened him further to the Right; measures which were bound to have the effect of antagonising the authorities south of the Border. That seems to me to illustrate in a nutshell the whole question we have been discussing this afternoon.
One cannot shut off Northern Ireland from southern Ireland. Anybody who has had anything to do with Ireland in any field, whether it has been merely sport, or anything else, knows that people travel to and fro and that they regard the island of Ireland as one country, even though I absolutely accept that the description given by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, of the two tribes was an accurate one. It cannot be shut off, and the two sides of the Border have a great deal in common, including, let us not forget, the threat from the IRA.
Therefore, the second point that came out of the meeting, and which remains true today, is the need for co-operation between the North and the South in dealing with their needs, including that threat. But as soon as one begins to take measures to bring about that co-operation, as this agreement does, one raises this bogey that it is the thin edge of the wedge of subordinating the Protestants of the North to the Papist hereditary enemy in the South whom the Protestants regard as a Celtic rabble.
857 Both Governments are to be congratulated on their courage and patience in arriving at this agreement. I sympathise very greatly with the Government on two issues. One is that for which they have been much criticised this afternoon—lack of consultation with the political parties in Northern Ireland. The other problem is that of the emphasis which is given to the agreement. We have to be realistic. If there had been consultation with the political leaders in Northern Ireland, there would not have been an agreement. There is absolutely no doubt about that. There would never have been agreement on an agreement.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for giving way. It is not the trouble that there was consultation with one of the political parties only? If there had not been consultation with any of the political parties, that would have been one thing, but the SDLP was brought fully into the consultations. That is what rankles with those who are not members of the SDLP.
§ Lord Carver
No, my Lords, I was simply sympathising with our own Government. If they had tried to have consultations with the political parties in Northern Ireland, there would not have been an agreement.
The problem of emphasis seems to me to be exactly the same as the problem one faces throughout Northern Ireland—if you please one side, you antagonise the other. The more the Government emphasise, or wish to emphasise, that this is an epic, historic agreement which will change the situation and change the security climate and which will lead to co-operation, the more that antagonises the Protestants; and the more the Government tend to tone it down and say that there is nothing in it at all and that the council is not going to be able to do more than make a few noises off, then that antagonises not only the Republic but also the Catholic population of Northern Ireland and, therefore, prejudices the electoral and political chances of the SDLP. We have to recognise that one of the objectives of this agreement is clearly to try to stop the trend of the political influence of Sinn Fein to take the place of that of the SDLP.
I hope that it is the thin end of the wedge—not the thin end of a wedge that the Unionists fear, but the thin end of a wedge which leads to a process by which there is closer co-operation in all fields between the Irish Government and our own Government and between the South and North of Ireland within the European Community. It has always seemed to me that the European Community offers the best channel for progress. But that is the optimistic view, and it is certainly my hope. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made clear, the problem of arriving at the right balance between optimism and pessimism in dealing with Northern Ireland is an extraordinarily difficult one.
I am afraid that history shows us that without a doubt. One can refer back to Mr. Gladstone when he came back from a fishing holiday in Norway in 1869 and to the disappointments, and to the hopes of Mr. Asquith, and, more recently, those of Mr. Heath and the noble Viscount opposite. Through all that long 858 time the hard-liners—the hard line Protestant attitude so graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—have been able to dictate policy for Northern Ireland. It will need an enormous degree of skill, a vast amount of patience and a great deal of determination by the Government, which I hope and I am sure they will show, to ensure that that veto which has been exercised for so long by the antediluvian bigots is brought to an end.
What was the alternative to this agreement? It was implied by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, although not very strongly, that had it not been for this process of seeking to arrive at an agreement, there could have been a possibility, somehow, of the resurrection of a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland. But there was not the slightest chance of that, not a chance from either side. Therefore, what was the alternative? The only alternative was to go on with direct rule, not trying in any way to achieve, realistically and strongly, the support of the Republic. So things would have deteriorated. The political situation would have deteriorated, and the security situation would have deteriorated. That situation I suppose one could say, using the phrase for which Mr. Maudling was so criticised at the time he was Home Secretary, today is "an acceptable level of violence". No level of violence is acceptable, but it is a great deal lower than it was in my day. That is the only alternative and is an unsatisfactory alternative. Therefore, I hope that this House will tonight give strong support to the agreement.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord De Freyne
My Lords, I feel that I am in rather an unusual position as I stand in your Lordships' House this evening to speak on this important matter. I was born in the Republic. I am a Peer of the United Kingdom. At the same time I am also an Irish citizen, holding an Irish passport. I have lived all my life in that country, until approximately eight years ago, yet my allegiance is to the Crown and Parliament. However, as your Lordships can imagine, I have a great love for home. It is for that reason that for a long time I have remained silent, but now I feel the time may be right to say a few words on this subject.
At long last I feel, as do others, that there can be some real hope of solving a lasting and very sad situation. However, I fear that it cannot be done overnight, as some people might think, and the recent weekend of demonstrations in the Province cannot be ignored.
I must touch on one of the underlying reasons for the years of bitterness and hate. One of the main reasons for discontent, as many of your Lordships know—although some would disagree—is religion. Religion is now, and always has been a touchy subject in both parts of the island. But changes have come, slow though they may seem. However, it is sad to think that religion is still being used by those who seek their own ends. These are the people who want the position to remain unchanged because it is to their own personal advantage; in other words, feathering their own nests by misfortune is fortune given to others. These are the untrue Irish leading the true Irish into a quagmire from which they will never get out unless positive steps are taken.
859 Now it seems that the lead many people have been waiting for has come. Let us remember that if the present situation is to continue, I and many other people I think would not like to hazard a guess as to who might be waiting in the wings to take advantage of the confusion. Surely the people of the Province must realise that they are in danger of losing people's patience, sympathy and goodwill.
Finally, I should like to say a word on the role of the media, which I think is most important in both countries. I feel that the media have a most important part to play in the solution of the problem. For the proposal to have any chance of success it has to be supported by the people of both countries and of all denominations. As we all know, the media have a great influence, and therefore have a responsibility to portray not only the negative aspects, but also the tremendous benefits that might be gained from this agreement. I feel that at times too much emphasis has been concentrated on the counterproductive views which are held by some people rather than on highlighting the benefits that could result from cooperation. I look to them as being helpful in this endeavour, which means so much to so many.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I speak today as an eyewitness. This morning I flew back from Ireland in order to take part in this debate; and on Saturday I was present at the demonstration in Belfast. I stood there in Donegall Square in front of the City Hall and I listened to the speeches as best I could—there were some difficulties with loudspeakers, and so on. It was a very large and very orderly demonstration. I think one must also say that it was a very negative demonstration and a slightly tribal one. Nevertheless, it showed clearly the shock and the trauma from which many sections of Northern Ireland opinion were and still are suffering. It showed the strength of the fears and suspicions.
I think we have to understand that Northern Irish people are not exactly the same as English people; that they react to treaties, agreements and current events in many ways which are different from ours. We have to understand that their mentality has been formed very much by history and in ways which are not well known in England. It has been formed partly by the myths drawn from history. We have to be aware of the Unionist consciousness, which can be described, not I think altogether unfairly, as a fortress or a siege mentality, with an outlook which is fairly quick to see betrayal where possibly others would not. Instances of this have been quoted going back as far as Mr. Gladstone or further, and coming right up to today with the present agreement. I think it is our duty to make it clear to Unionists that we understand their anxieties and concerns. Therefore, I was especially glad when the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, mentioned this particular point in his introductory speech.
On Monday evening I attended a meeting in central Belfast of over 30 people who approved the following declaration:We, a group of community workers concerned with reconciliation, working from mainly Protestant areas in Northern Ireland, seeing the very real dangers which face our communities as 860 a result of the recent Anglo-Irish Agreement, voice our opinion that the agreement will not achieve the peace and stability claimed for it. The agreement has already driven a wedge within and between our different communities, which we believe will be very difficult to remove.As community workers from Protestant backgrounds actively involved over the past sixteen years in peace and reconciliation, we fear that the achievements made throughout the years of strife in our Province will be virtually negated through the agreement. We ask the British Parliament and people to take note of our concern about the detrimental effects that may flow from a decision to ratify.".I suggest that this is a very serious warning, coming from people who are dedicated to calming, not to arousing emotions, and who have worked for years to bring the communities closer together, spending their evenings, weekends and holidays on such activities as mixed youth groups, housing associations, youth training centres and a hundred and one other very desirable and very necessary types of community work. They are men and women who know their own people and their own neighbours in the closest detail. What they said was confirmed by the Bishops of the Church of Ireland, who, incidentally, come from both North and South. I should like to quote just one line from the Bishops' statement:We would strongly urge the political leaders involved in the agreement to take very seriously the sense of insecurity and lack of trust that arises for future relationships and structures.".I beg Her Majesty's Government not to brush aside these responsible views.
I come to the agreement itself. In the past I have spoken in favour of such an agreement, most particularly in your Lordships' House on 7th November last year. I am therefore glad that we have an agreement, and I think we need one. I agree with those noble Lords, who spoke earlier, who regretted the manner in which the agreement has been produced and its presentation. Like them, I deplore the lack of previous consultation and ask why no use was made of the various Northern Irish Privy Counsellors, not all of whom come from the same party. Surely they could have been put on their oath as Privy Counsellors and given some information so that opinion there could have been better prepared.
When the right honourable gentleman Mr. Hurd first became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, quite rightly and properly he announced that the Government were following a twin-track policy of which the British-Irish negotiation and search for agreement was one aspect and the search for détente and political co-operation within Northern Ireland was the other. I was therefore very glad when the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, spent some time explaining how the agreement could, and we all hope will, lead to agreement on devolution, because greater local responsibility for public affairs is of vital importance. Without it we cannot hope to have any degree of responsible politics in the North.
I shall just say that I do not think it is necessary that we should expect or work towards a cabinet style of power-sharing, such as there was in 1974. The Social Democrat and Liberal document of last summer and Sir Frederick Catherwood's recent summing up of the Assembly's proceedings suggest that there are many other ways of sharing responsibility.
We now have an agreement, and we all look to the Government and to everyone else concerned to make it work. I appeal, however, for a delay in implementing 861 the agreement—and here I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. I ask for that so that there may be a reasonable period for consultation before the new machinery goes into action. Such a delay, which could be for a stated period, will, I think, help negotiations, whether those take place within the Assembly (which, it is important to realise, the Secretary of State must consult; he has a statutory duty to do so) or on a more private and confidential basis.
I entirely agree with the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Blease, on the need to explain the agreement and to show that it has positive merits for all parties. I think that the proportional representation Bill mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, could be extremely helpful. Above all, we must make sure that there is major Unionist input into the future arrangements. That can come about, as I suggested, through the use of Privy Counsellors, or through the Assembly, and definitely through the Anglo-Irish interparliamentary body which we have been promised since 1981 and which I look upon as more important and more urgent even than the EC monitoring committees in which your Lordships have developed such great expertise. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, that the agenda and proceedings of the conference of Ministers must be published. That will do a great deal to dispel suspicion and insecurity.
I say to the Government and to everybody else that it is no good hoping for the best. We cannot just expect that things will calm down of their own accord. I am glad that Article 4 of the agreement specifically mentions human rights. In your Lordships' House last summer, on 12th July (at col. 461) I called for a major investment of time, effort and resources in human rights in Northern Ireland, both individual and group human rights. As soon as that begins to happen it will be a great reassurance to all.
In conclusion, it is important that we as a Parliament should make a strong appeal to the Northern Irish political parties. We should urge them to be both generous and statesmanlike. If the present leaders cannot find it in themselves to show those qualities, we very much hope that other leaders will be found in the North. I should like to encourage those Unionist councillors or nominated persons who now serve on public boards in such areas as housing, health and education not to resign their posts but to continue to serve the public in the way that they have done so well for so many years. We may yet come to direct elections to those boards if we cannot reach an agreement as to devolution in the Assembly.
Above all, I think that we should call on the SDLP to be magnanimous. I shall not attempt to spell out that word, but I think that that is the one we should hang on to. As a Parliament we should urge Unionists to see that the days of domination by one tradition are over, once and for all. Neither Britain nor Ireland, nor the rest of the world, will stand for it any longer. What we need to build on is the constructive document that came from the Official Unionists entitled The Way Forward. We must urge Unionists to see that it is not enough just to say, "No". We must make sure by our encouragement and support that both traditions in the North of Ireland give to each other essential mutual 862 respect and what I would describe as proportionate equality. With those words I support and approve the agreement.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ellenborough
My Lords, this initiative is certainly brave and well-intentioned, but I fear that if we are not careful it could cause great danger to the long-term unity of the United Kingdom. I have no personal connection with Ulster and I speak as one whose foremost concern is the unity of the Kingdom. If (which heaven forbid!) Northern Ireland breaks away from or is forced out of the United Kingdom, I fear that it will be only a matter of time before there is a rekindling of nationalism in other parts of the United Kingdom.
I have always felt that the best course for Northern Ireland is a continuation of direct rule or preferably integration. Both communities would be far safer, so I feel, in the wider context of the United Kingdom as a whole; and it is best for Northern Ireland to be treated in the same way as other parts of the United Kingdom. I have always opposed devolution; I do not think that it is an answer. I opposed the Northern Ireland Assembly, and that has proved largely useless. It has not resulted in co-operation between the representatives of the two communities. The SDLP members and others have not participated.
I fear that this agreement will please and satisfy few and alarm many. As I see it, the main flaw in the agreement—perhaps the fatal flaw—is that the minority community in Northern Ireland is, as it were, invited and encouraged to look outside its borders for salvation to the Irish Republic, which will be able to pronounce, advise, urge and press on all sorts of matters. That is bound (and who can blame them?) deeply to antagonise the Unionist majority, who see an erosion of their links with Great Britain and a dire threat to the stability and political future of their Province, their part of the United Kingdom. In other words, they feel a sense of betrayal, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in his impressive speech, realised all too well.
There is to be no change in the official status of Northern Ireland, but it cannot be denied that there is to be a most significant and breathtaking change in its unofficial status, reducing Northern Ireland to little more than condominium status. It is true that the Republic's role is to be purely consultative, but what in practice does that mean? It means that a foreign country—never really a very friendly one—can pronounce on virtually unlimited matters of all kinds concerning Northern Ireland. Apart from regular ministerial meetings there is to be a permanent secretariat of Irish officials—civil servants—sitting in Belfast, of all places; yet there is to be no clearly defined reciprocal right for the British Government in relation to the Republic. That is surely a state of affairs that just does not exist in any other part of the world. Small wonder, then, at the deep anger and humiliation felt by the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland!
As other speakers have mentioned, it is highly unfortunate that parts of the agreement were leaked in Dublin before it was announced, and it was crass stupidity for the agreement to be signed at Hillsborough Castle. There are parts of the document, 863 especially those rather ominous passages concerning mixed courts and implied parity of flags, which make me angry, and I am not an Ulsterman. It has naturally enraged and goaded the Ulster Unionists, whose case has gone almost by default through their almost total inability to argue their case coherently. It has been seriously impaired by the raucous utterances and the boorish behaviour of what might be termed the preacher element of the Ulster Unionist leadership, in marked contrast to the more restrained and responsible attitude of the leader of the Official Unionists, Jim Molyneaux. I can only trust that the Ulster Unionist leaders now realise that, if their case is to be put over at all, it has to be put over forcefully, yes, but also rationally and effectively.
There have been suggestions in certain newspapers, notably The Times, that the Government should "hard sell" this agreement. I am sure that the Government should, but it is really no good hard selling an agreement as some sort of detergent if it is inherently faulty. I find it very sad to see the rift, widening inexorably, between the Ulster Unionists and their old colleagues in the Conservative and Unionist Party. But far more serious and far more tragic is the apparent widening rift between the people of Ulster and the people of Britain as a whole.
It should desperately worry us all if more and more people feel that most Ulstermen are merely bigoted fanatics and, as much of the media would wish us to believe, that most people can no longer be bothered to understand Northern Ireland's problems; that the prevailing attitude is that Ulster is expendable; that its loss would not be a fatal deprivation; and that the sooner we get out of Ulster the better. Surely, this is just the time when we in mainland Britain should pause and remember our debt to Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has an unbroken record of loyalty and devotion to Britain and the United Kingdom in both world wars and since, in marked contrast to the less than friendly conduct of the Irish Republican Government, although I would be the first to acknowledge that a great many Irish Republican citizens came over and helped us in the last war. Many of our best generals—
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the noble Lord would not expect the people of the Irish Republic to be loyal to this country, would he? They are a different country.
§ Lord Ellenborough
My Lords, no. Many of our best generals in the last war were Ulstermen; and as Churchill made clear, the last war would have been lost if it had not been for Ulster's bases and ports. As he put it, I believe, without Ulster we would have been confronted with slavery and death. But, who knows, a future war may not be the nuclear holocaust that is all over in 24 hours. There may come a time when we have once more to fight a battle of the Atlantic, when Ulster's ports and air space would be vital. What happens in Ireland is very much our concern. It always has been, and it always will be. Nor should we forget that the ultimate aim of the IRA is a Marxist Ireland, with all its horrifying implications—something that we can never allow in the British Isles.
864 We owe a lot to Ulster, to both communities, and at this particularly difficult and humiliating time for the majority Unionist people we should do everything possible to reassure them. I only hope that we can. I only hope that we can reassure them sufficiently that this agreement will not be allowed in practice to diminish and soften sovereignty, although I greatly fear that it may turn out to do so.
In conclusion, I would say that no Prime Minister, no Government, have suffered more cruelly at the hands of the IRA than the present Prime Minister and her Government. The Prime Minister has a determination to see things through unmatched by any Prime Minister since the war, and has, on more than one occasion, confounded the pessimists. It may just be that some good will come out of this agreement, but only if the moderate silent majorities in both communities in Ulster can really assert themselves and if the Irish Republic can really do something effective in combating terrorism.
I feel that the Government have set themselves an enormous task. I, for one, remain deeply uneasy and sceptical. I do not believe that even now the Government have fully realised the bitter humiliation felt by the Unionist majority in Ulster.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will wholeheartedly support the agreement. I should like to congratulate the Prime Minister and Mr. Garret FitzGerald on this achievement. I would put aside past history. I would put aside the preparation of the agreement and how it was presented. I would look straight at the agreement itself and see what it comes to. I would draw attention particularly to the administration of justice in both North and South. On that matter there should be no disagreement between one Government and another. There should be no disagreement between majority and minority parties. There should be wholehearted support for the administration of justice by the great mass of the people.
I should like to discuss how this agreement deals with that problem. At the very outset, both parties affirm their rejection, their total rejection, of any attempt to promote political objectives by violence or the threat of violence. That is the function of the criminal law. The Government of southern Ireland say that they are also going to join the convention for the suppression of terrorism. That is the objective. If we can get justice administered, we shall do a great deal to solve the problem. Now, my Lords, how is it to be done? Articles 7 and 8 point the way. The laws as to terrorism and to violence are practically the same in both North and South, founded on the old common law of England. Murder is the same in the North and the South. Manslaugher is the same in the North and in the South. Arson is the same in the North and the South. And so is riot. There are some statutory additions like explosives and so forth. Grievous bodily harm and malicious damage are virtually the same. If they are not, they ought to be. And the first step that is advocated and agreed upon in Article 7 is an attempt to harmonise the criminal law of the North and the South. That can be done in the way that I have described. You can have laws against murder and 865 against violence. They should be the same in both the North and the South. That is the first objective in Article 7. Let them be harmonised. But let them be just laws.
The next step is to see that they are justly administered in both countries. There, we have had the problem in Northern Ireland. There, we know that, following Lord Diplock's inquiry, trial by jury was replaced by trial by judge alone. Mark you, those judges in Northern Ireland have done it very well. Your Lordships will remember how the Lord Chief Justice, when presented with the evidence of a supergrass, would not hold it and acquitted the defendants accordingly. That shows true justice going by the evidence. And, when someone was extradited from the South to the North and tried again there, again he was acquitted. That shows justice fairly administered in the North by the judges in the North.
I now come to Article 8. They have a most intriguing suggestion here: that they should consider the possibility of mixed courts in both jurisdictions for the trial of certain offences. That is a most intriguing suggestion. When there have been tribal or customary differences in the past the Commonwealth is the only place where I have known mixed courts to be set up and to succeed. What do mixed courts mean? Although the noble Viscount, the Lord President, had some hesitation, and the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, said that the Northern people would not accept this, would it not be a good thing? I would suggest that these terrorist offences, these offences of violence, and the like, should be tried by a panel of four judges, two from the North and two from the South. It does not matter what religion they are. Those judges would decide according to the evidence and according to the law. I have known judges in both the North and the South.
The judges of both the North and the South are first class, deciding upon the evidence before them without any prejudice or preconceived ideas of one kind or the other, without any political prejudice whatever. I should have thought that four judges of the High Court sitting as a body on these terrorist offences and the like would command respect and the confidence of the people in both the North (when they were tried in the North) and in the South (when they were tried in the South).
That brings me to my next point. They say that they shall consider the policy towards extradition. At the moment, as your Lordships know, if a person commits a crime in the North, a murder or whatever it may be, he may fly across to the South and escape the instrument of justice in the North. Perhaps in law the North can follow him in hot pursuit. That may be a good thing. But often he has gone away for a day, two days or three weeks, and then how is one to deal with him? One has to get an extradition application from the people in the South saying that there is sufficient evidence to send him to the North, let him be tried in the North. Is not this suggestion of mixed courts a valuable one? When the man having committed a crime in the North, or vice-versa, flees to the South, why should he not be tried where he is arrested by a mixed court of both judges, North and South together, determining according to the evidence without prejudice one way or the other? Is not the suggestion of 866 a mixed court well worthy of consideration? I am not saying that it should be adopted. All that is said here is that they should consider the possibility of it.
Linked with this is Article 9 co-operation in security matters by the police and all those concerned with security. What an excellent agreement that is. Why should not everyone—or the majority of both countries, North and South—agree that the police officers should co-operate in repressing crime? I am speaking about crime. The criminal law should be the same in both countries. They should be arrested for those crimes and dealt with according to law and that should command the respect of all communities, minority, majority and the like. Surely if we can get justice administered to all without fear or favour, affection or ill will, in Northern Ireland and in the South, we should have done a very great deal in perhaps setting Ireland on its proper path. I do not know whether one calls it united or not—I do not mind about that. I should like to see justice administered to man and men by courts having the confidence of both countries and the police in both countries following up the criminals accordingly.
On those very important articles, Article 8 and Article 9, I would wholeheartedly support the agreement. Although this is not my province, having looked at the rest of this, I see no objection constitutionally. There is no giving away of sovereignty by the United Kingdom over Northern Ireland. There is no giving away of sovereignty or control. There is just consultation. That seems to me quite a useful thing to do in the difficult situation which has arisen for years in Northern Ireland. I therefore wholeheartedly support the agreement.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, after my long connection with Anglo-Irish relations I am tempted to reply to some of the earlier speakers, but I shall refrain in view of the time. I shall praise only two speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and the noble Lord, Lord Blease, with whom I happen to agree and who are also here, so that they have that double qualification. Other noble Lords have made a valuable contribution in their own fashion. I am not capable of entering into the legal aspects with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, although I have been told more than once by the eminent Chief Constable of Northern Ireland that he receives excellent co-operation now from the police authorities in the South. But I am not capable of going into that issue with him. I endorse all that he has said by way of fervent support for this agreement; and I join the noble and learned Lord and everyone else in warmhearted tributes to the Prime Minister, to Dr. Garret FitzGerald, and to all those who have been in any way involved in producing this agreement. I am of course very happy to think that my own leader in this House and my leaders elsewhere are taking the same line.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, once told me that his father had said to him, "You are paid for your opinions and not your doubts". I am not paid for either, but fortunately I have no doubts about this agreement. I have plenty of anxieties. That is natural in any great enterprise. One would expect some anxieties, and they have been well highlighted by the 867 noble Lords, Lord Moyola and Lord Blease, who speak from the closest kind of first-hand knowledge. As far as I am concerned the Government are taking the right course. I am not at all dismayed by the fact that it took them a long time to reach this conclusion. A Minister in another place—and all honour and credit to him—resigned because he said that our Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, had changed her mind. Cardinal Newman once said that to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. She has not changed yet as often as some of us on these Benches would wish, but in this respect I am very glad—and the Minister must be well informed about this—that she has changed her mind. She has matured and developed. Let us give her full credit for that also.
During the past century there have been half-a-dozen attempts to reach what used to be called a settlement of the Irish question, now called a settlement of the Northern Ireland question. The attempt in 1912 brought this country to the verge of civil war. Noble Lords may be familiar with the picture in the corridor, seen from two angles, in which the House of Lords is defeating a Home Rule Bill—passed by the House of Commons—by 419 to 41. This House was a good deal smaller then than now. That was the House of Lords at its most characteristic but, looking back, perhaps at its most regrettable. That picture is clear for anyone to see in the corridor. That was one attempt, as I said, in 1912. There had been an earlier one.
If we consider the events after the war, we discover that on the whole there has been a bipartisan approach. Mr. de Valera, whose biography I helped to write, once told me that he thought that Ireland would get more justice under a Tory government than under a Labour government. I used to dispute that idea. The point was that if a Tory government reached an agreement, the Labour Party would back them up; and that applies, no doubt, to the Alliance in these days. However, if a Labour government reached an agreement it was liable to be undermined by the Tories—
§ The Earl of Longford
No, my Lords. Mr. de Valera could not be expected to be quite so up to date, because the Alliance was not in existence at that time. Therefore he would have to communicate from somewhere else before he could comment on it! However, that was what he said, and there is a certain truth in it. Now we have Mrs. Thatcher with the Labour Party and the Alliance backing her. I was about to say that now we have all that is best in English politics, but that is just a value judgment beyond my power to make. Anyway, we have the overwhelming support of the two Houses of Parliament for this agreement, and therefore I am very hopeful about it.
Let us consider the real problem. There are many aspects. In my eyes—and I have surveyed it and written about it so many times and for so long—the core of the problem is to establish a better understanding between Protestants and Catholics. The extraordinary relationship between Protestants and 868 Catholics is unique to Northern Ireland. Incidentally, I have been both a Protestant and a Catholic—
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, there may be others in the same boat. At any rate, I am well aware that there can be misunderstandings. But if one has done, as I have done, a kind of sex change, one views the matter all very dispassionately. If it were not tragic it would be comic and ludicrous that in Northern Ireland—which one might say is now almost alone in the world—there is complete suspicion and misunderstanding between Protestants and Catholics. I am not saying that all the bigotry has been on one side. My brother was very well treated by Mr. de Valera. He was a Protestant to the day of his death, but he was made a senator in Southern Ireland. When he died the only Catholics who actually went into the church at his funeral or who were encouraged by their own church to go into the Protestant church where it was all going on, were my family and a few people like Brendan Behan on whom Catholicism sat very lightly. At any rate, there was a vast crowd at the graveyard. That took place 25 years ago. However, it has all completely changed. The Archbishop of Dublin, who buried my brother, told me within a few years after that, that he could hardly remember such a thing had happened.
A completely new attitude has come about in the Catholic Church throughout the world so far as the Catholics are concerned, and, speaking broadly, also on the Protestant side throughout the world. I remember a debate started in this House by the late Lord Arran on Christian unity. I remember that it was when Archbishop Fisher was going to Rome, and it was approved by the House. However, it was a brave act because he was much criticised at the time. That was the initiative from the Protestant side in response to Pope John's initiative in the Vatican.
So there has been this worldwide coming together of the churches which is gathering strength all the time. However, in Northern Ireland—in that one small part of the world—the old suspicions continue. Somehow or other they must be broken down. I do not have time to set out my ideas on this matter at length. However, it was proved at the time of the Sunningdale Agreement—as everybody knew who understood human life at all—that the Catholics and the Protestants in that government could get on perfectly well together. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and Lord Faulkner became great friends. The Sunningdale experiment demonstrated for all time that in Northern Ireland, as in everywhere else in the world, Catholics and Protestants can work together.
However, still the suspicions remain exacerbated by a gentleman such as Mr. Paisley. I do not know what Christians do about a man such as Mr. Paisley.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, one has to be charitable towards him. I think that I have said enough about Mr. Paisley for the time being to indicate my 869 attitude. It is an unfortunate fact that a great many of our friends in Northern Ireland find that man infinitely attractive. He is infinitely repulsive in this country, and that might be so elsewhere. However, in Northern Ireland he still has a spellbinding effect. It is a fact with which we have to cope, and therefore everything must be done to produce this better understanding so that Mr. Paisley either ceases to orate or suddenly becomes an angel of light, which perhaps is not on the tapis at the moment.
The question is: how deep seated is the antagonism between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland? Your Lordships have heard me speak, perhaps too often, about a youth centre of which I am chairman. It is represented here today. Two of our most valued members are girls—a Protestant and a Catholic—from Northern Ireland. One comes from Lurgan and the other from Ballymena. When the Protestant girl was married she asked the Catholic girl to be her sole bridesmaid at the Protestant wedding. I was invited as an old fellow who was interested in the centre, and so I went. It was a Protestant wedding attended by plenty of Catholics. The girl's father was one of the largest farmers in Northern Ireland and was well known to and respected by the noble Lord, Lord Moyola. I am sure that that atmosphere prevails over large sections of life and probably the farming areas that are known so well to the noble Lord, Lord Moyola.
I do not want to suppose that the kind of hatred demonstrated by Ian Paisley represents the ordinary atmosphere of life in Northern Ireland as between Protestants and Catholics. Let us take sport as an example. Ulster is doing very well at sport. Barry McGuiggan, a Catholic married to a Protestant, is the hero of the whole island. He is featherweight champion of the world. If we had a few more Barry McGuiggans and perhaps—at the risk of being uncharitable—one less Ian Paisley, the whole problem would be solved very quickly. Northern Ireland has qualified for the final of the World Cup. Catholics have never been excluded from the Northern Ireland soccer team. If we take, for example, rugger, Ireland has won or shared the championship for three years and won the triple crown twice. I think that last year there were six players from Ulster in the Irish team. Therefore, there are so many aspects of life where all this ridiculous nonsense that we hear from the platforms simply does not exist.
The last time I spoke on these matters here I was taking up the cudgels for some Protestant Loyalists who were protesting against the supergrass system. I twice went to stay with Protestant Loyalists at that time. The noble Lord, Lord Moyola, may say that that proves that I do not really understand Northern Ireland. However, the fact is that I could not have told when I was in that house whether I was spending the night with Protestant or Catholic working-class people. I am told that if I had raised a question about what we call the H blocks here, there might have been some slight difference. However, by and large they are all one people. I am saying that all this difference fanned by history and by the exploitation of rather regrettable public demagogues is, in the end, superficial compared with many of the antagonisms which exist in the world today.
870 In conclusion, let me say that there are two ways of looking at the Protestants of Northern Ireland. You can regard them either as brave, warmhearted, sensible people or as pathological cases as a result, perhaps, of their history. I unreservedly accept the first alternative and that is why I support the agreement so strongly.
§ 8.20 p.m.
My Lords, it is always interesting to follow the noble Earl. I am not going into all the details he raised tonight, but he always has something interesting to say. I welcome the excellent speech made by the Leader of the House. He did such a wonderful job when he was the Minister. I know that because when I went to Ireland and asked him any questions he always answered them most satisfactorily.
I should also like to say something to the Leader of the Opposition, because it is nice to hear an Opposition so full of understanding and not doing anything to jeopardise the good feeling which has been started in this House. It makes a lot of difference on important occasions like this when you get a sympathetic hearing from both sides.
I was also interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, because he has obviously been through a tremendous amount in his country. I told him that I was going to mention his name, but he has put on the record (which is a good thing) all the difficult problems that he found. I hope that in the future he will see that a lot of these problems are likely to be cleared up. He did a wonderful job himself, and we congratulate him on being in this House and still keeping in touch with Northern Ireland.
I thought, too, that the most reverend Primate was most helpful. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, may be interested in this. The most reverend Primate told us that the Church of Ireland was willing to be a bridge. That is a helpful statement, and I hope it works. May I mention finally Lord Grey of Naunton. He was the last governor, and he did his best—and he was a good governor—to simplify things and make them easier. He had already been in Guyana and Barbados, and had great knowledge of being a governor. He was very disappointed when things did not go quite the way he hoped to help them to go.
I heard something on the radio which disturbs me. I have heard it again today. It was said that the Prime Minister had been pressurised by the Americans to bring in this agreement. I do not believe that she was pressurised at all by the Americans. I should like my noble friend to answer this point when he replies. I am sure that it is her idea with Dr. FitzGerald and is not the result of pressure from the Americans. We should clear that up.
I want to say about Dr. FitzGerald that he was wise to go to Northern Ireland. He has been accused of trying to gain an input into the affairs of the North; an input and responsibility which are now in sight for the first time in 800 years. He has been very courageous in the attempt to establish some sort of agreement to help the situation in the North. It was a brave act because it is probably bad for his reputation in his own country and he is risking his career. It is nice that 871 somebody—and Dr. FitzGerald is the somebody I am talking about—is prepared to follow his convictions and not just attack others while accepting nothing constructive. We also ought to agree with the various letters in The Times written by Conor Cruise O'Brien, which have also been helpful.
I speak in this debate today because many years ago I was invited by the Members of Parliament in Northern Ireland to go to stay with them so that I could see the conditions in which people lived. It was the bad time of the bombings and the fires, and so on. Sometimes we were out until one o'clock in the morning with the buildings still on fire. The courage of those people going out at night—also in the daytime, but particularly at night—was remarkable. It opened my eyes to the conditions in which they were living in the Province.
I also went there with a parliamentary delegation, and also for the Council of Europe. Private visits are one of the best ways to get to understand the country concerned. We were invited into houses, we saw how the people were living, they spoke freely to one, and that is what has given me an interest ever since. I also lived in the county of Limerick for three years and I became interested in their way of life. I got accepted.
It was rather difficult to get accepted then in the 1930s when even the British Government were having trouble. In fact the Irish Free State army lent me their horses to ride, especially in the Dublin Show, which was courageous of them, and this was at a time when even British soldiers were not allowed to go over and ride in the show.
In the future political progress will have to be made in Northern Ireland. I have taken an interest in the New Ireland Forum since 1983, when Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Irish Labour Party and at that time the SDLP met together in formal conference and it was hoped that it would be a starting point—in fact it helped—to getting these political parties together, especially in Northern Ireland and Eire. Unfortunately, despite all their efforts, there was no real outcome except their documents, which may have been a guide to what is happening at the present time.
The next point I hope will be useful is that we must get down to the young people. What is going to happen to them in the future with all these awful memories of their daily lives? If there is trouble later among the teenagers, who can blame them? They have probably not had adequate time for schooling, they have not had the normal life of teenagers, and I hope there will be an understanding of them in the future.
I can understand the fears of the Unionists about letting the Irish presence have any say in the future, but if this agreement helps to control the IRA, it will be worthwhile. In thinking about the people we must also think about all the voluntary workers who have been behind the scenes doing excellent work to keep the two tribes, as we were told they were called, together.
I hope that the Unionists will not resign their seats. I hope that they will give the agreement a fair trial, and I hope they will keep their seats until the next election in two years' time. This will give them time to reconsider the various points they have; and not only 872 that—they will also be able to put their views in their election addresses, which will be advantageous to them and to us. Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland both get on very well within the EC and the Council of Europe. I also attended as a leader Council of Europe meetings regarding these territories.
Finally as a recommendation—I do not know whether anybody will agree with it—I should like, if all fails, that they should join the Commonwealth again. I have been into the details of this and I gather that there is nothing to stop them rejoining the Commonwealth. They are a republic, but now there are many countries in the Commonwealth which are republics, including India, and this might be another choice if things do not go as well as we hope they will.
I should like to refer to the excellent support we have had in the past from Northern Irish people, and we must never forget that in the future.
I should, finally, like to say something about Article 6. I agree with the preamble, but I should also like to say that I am delighted to see that there is going to be,the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights;the Fair Employment Agency;the Equal Opportunities Commission;the Police Authority for Northern Ireland; [and]the Police Complaints Board".I think that this will be advantageous in the future.
We have had a long debate. When I read the details set out in the Motion I should like again to echo something which has been said many times following Sir Winston Churchill. If we can get ahead with jaw, jaw, it is better than war, war. This is what we want to do in getting the agreement about which we have been talking today.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, one of my earliest political recollections was in 1921. My uncle, Viscount FitzAlan, was to be the last Viceroy of Ireland, I remember that in my teens I was asked to pray for him. We were all asked to pray for him for it was a dangerous job that he was taking on. Our prayers were heard for, as your Lordships know, he lived long after to give great service. Ever after I was conscious of the Northern Ireland question. In greater or lesser degree I have kept following it closely. I assumed, wrongly, that things were going rather well for the next 50 years.
Then we had the troubles of 1969.I know that there had been disturbances before, but this was when it became a critical issue. There was the report made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. That report I read again yesterday. It is or was a shocker for it showed the discrimination that had been exercised over the past 50 years against the minority Catholics. Whether it was in education, in jobs or in housing, they were second class citizens. All of us to a degree were to blame for this because we as Catholics were not aware—at least I was not aware—of all that was happening, otherwise we might have probed and asked questions earlier in the hope that things would have been made more satisfactory for the Catholics. Not surprisingly by 1969 they had had enough and the troubles began. The tribal quarrels—if that is the right 873 word, which was used by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—came out into the open with the Protestants versus the Catholics.
I shall not go over the next 15 years. Your Lordships will not only recollect, but the history was recalled in detail today by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in the very depressing account that he gave of events. Indeed the only encouragement I found in his speech was at the very end when he was challenged. He said, "I am all for giving this agreement a chance". That was both right and courageous. Indeed everybody who has spoken so far, with perhaps different variations, has made the same judgment.
The agreement has as one of its most important features Article 5. Article 5 pledges the two governments to prevent discrimination, and one must hope that the Catholics, who are fearful of terrorism and are anxious to see this tragic situation end, will be greatly encouraged by the fact that they know that there is a watchdog on their behalf. This is also of great importance to the Unionists, because they in their Way Forward had a most interesting sentence in which they said:It is the responsibility of the majority to persuade the minority that the Province is also theirs.After 300 years persuasion has to be slow and it will be difficult, but it will be made the easier for the Unionists (if that is what they wish, and I am sure it is the wish fundamentally of many of them) by the fact that the Catholics are comforted in the knowledge that the Irish Government, if I may put it that way, are behind them.
We have seen that in Article 6 there is to be a watching brief held by the permanent staff to see that discrimination does not happen again. I am sure it is right to ask only one thing of them—that is, every year we should be told that they have been watching matters and that we shall have a report on the progress of the continuing proper treatment on both sides.
The Unionists' fear, as I understand it, is that the Irish Government or the Irish people south of the Border have a dream of a united Ireland. I do not know what is wrong with the dream, but I have a dream. I dream of a united Europe with England, Scotland and Wales all as part of it. But that will not happen in my day. It may happen in the day of my grandchildren; but what matters at this moment is the reality of today. The Unionists should recognise this and they should accept Article 1, which, in the first paragraph states that:The two Governments…affirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.".What can be clearer than that?
The more one studies the agreement, the more I feel—I think I am echoing the thoughts of many others in this House—that the two governments and above all the two leaders have this about right. I know there are outcries on the part of the Left in Eire. There is an outcry on the part of the Right, from the extremists of the Union. But it is for us all to prove that they are wrong and that the legacy of centuries will be changed, but it must be changed slowly. They must give this a chance. From the Unionist point of view if only they will give it a chance then what they want may come 874 sooner rather than later; namely, devolution. This becomes easier with the knowledge that there is on the Catholic side the Government of Ireland keeping an eye on things and trying to help if anything goes wrong.
To me the agreement shows courage, it is wise and constructive. It shows a possible way out of the status quo. I think one and all of those against this agreement should remember that the people of this country are not prepared to stand by indefinitely with all the trouble and cost that it involves. That is something which those who oppose at this stage should remember very carefully; that our patience in the end may result in something which may be far worse for them than giving all of this a try. It seems to me that this can be the first step—and I should stress the first step—in ending the fears and hates of the Catholics and Protestants. Let us pray that it succeeds and that in years to come the bitter division of the tribes will be a thing of the past.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, at this late hour the best thing I can contribute to this debate is brevity. However, I should like to reaffirm what was said by my noble friend Lord Donaldson a long time earlier this afternoon—that for once we have the unusual pleasure of being wholeheartedly behind the Government in what they are trying to do on this occasion. The Prime Minister obviously decided—and how right she was—that it would not be right to let matters drift any longer, as drifting they had been, because there was no sign whatsoever that they were drifting towards any kind of satisfactory solution. Left to themselves, they plainly were not going to come right. It was a very courageous decision on the part of the Prime Minister to get in touch with Dublin and to be prepared to go against what she knew would be the views of many of the people who supported her in Northern Ireland, and, indeed, in this country, by taking the initiative that she did. It was perhaps equally as brave, or even braver, of Dr. FitzGerald to make the agreement which he has made.
Anybody with any knowledge at all of Irish history must surely wonder that any Prime Minister, especially one who was losing ground in the polls, would be prepared to say, in effect, that he was relegating the possibility of a united Ireland into the indefinite future, which was as near as any politician in Ireland could come to saying that that subject was no longer on his agenda. This was an enormously brave thing for him to do. We in this House should express how grateful we are to him. Without that collaboration, all the courage and determination of Mrs. Thatcher, great as it is, would not have been enough to obtain the agreement.
Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege, as no doubt did some other Members of your Lordships' House, of hearing the Irish Ambassador to London speaking in a committee room upstairs. He said of this agreement: "It is not a settlement; it is an opportunity". That seems to me to be the way in which we should be viewing it. It is not a settlement—and he should say this to the Unionists—it is an opportunity. It is for the Government to say what degree of flexibility or possibility of change there should be. However, it is written into the agreement that it is for three years. I 875 imagine that none of what is down here is absolutely irrevocable and unchangeable. If sensible arguments or proposals are put forward, no doubt there can be adjustments. This is for the Government to say. In any case, it is for a period of three years. It is not a binding treaty. It is not something which continues indefinitely. It is a start.
It is an extremely modest start. It would be difficult to. imagine anything which could be described as an agreement which would in fact do less. The only difference between this and any other alternative is the difference between standing still and taking one small step. What matters is that it is one small step in the right direction. It is not a settlement, then, but an opportunity.
However—and this has come over to me very much this afternoon as I have listened to the debate—it is an opportunity that it is by no means certain will be grasped. It can be defeated or it can be rejected for one of two reasons. This afternoon we have heard a very great deal of one of those reasons. That is that extremists on both sides will decide to wreck it, that they will read into the agreement words which are not there, and that they will not read the words that are there because they are determined that it will operate against their interests and they are voting for no change.
Of course we have heard this afternoon only the arguments of the Unionists' intransigence. Of course one understands their position. One knows that with the majority that have been in power it is very difficult to give up the kind of dominance that they have had. If they refuse to read the lines and only imagine what lies between the lines, they see always the threat that they will be drawn as a minority into a country in which the Catholics would then become the majority. That is because they do not read what is in the print; they put in their own imaginative interpretation of what the future holds.
Then, as one or two speakers have mentioned, there are the extremists on the other side, the extremists who do not want reconciliation. These should be the enemies of all of us. This is where we should be asking for collaboration on all sides in Ireland, against the extremists to whom the ultimate enemy is reconciliation.
Once there is peace in Northern Ireland there is no job for the terrorists to do and, perhaps I may add, there is no money, either, for the protectionist rackets which sustain what is going on in Northern Ireland and which represent a very strong, if relatively silent, opposition to the agreement.
That is one reason to doubt whether this opportunity will be grasped. The other reason to doubt it is this. Although at the moment the feeling among the Catholics is far more favourable to the agreement than the feeling among the Protestants, as the months go on the argument may grow, the murmers may be heard, louder and louder, that the agreement is so much window dressing, that it is not producing real results. Those real results have to be results that appeal and mean something to the ordinary Irish Catholic voters, the people who have suffered discrimination over decades. It also means seeing results in terms of 876 human rights; less grandly, results in terms of better opportunities to obtain decent housing, and better opportunities to obtain the jobs which in the past have been given out on a discriminatory basis. Unless, in a few months' time, there is some concrete evidence that the agreement is really making matters different for the Catholic minority, the opportunity will again be lost because they will turn against it, as the Unionists at the moment seem to be turning against it.
Thus the ambassador is surely right; it is not a settlement, but an opportunity. However, it is an opportunity that we must not assume will necessarily bear fruit. As I have said, there are two directions from which it is challenged, from which it may be ruined.
Let me say also that we have talked about the doubts that come from the Unionists, the doubts that may develop over the months if there are not results from the Catholic minority; but how about the great British public? I do not think I am a very nationalistic person, but I think the mainland British have been pretty patient over all this. We have poured in our troops and we have poured in our money. We have had nothing but abuse from, for example, North America. On the whole, we have put up with it very quietly. I believe that if there was a referendum in this country about the future of Northern Ireland, there would be a result which would horrify Unionists and Catholics alike. I doubt how long the British public on the mainland can be expected to put up with it, if initiative after initiative—and, after all, we have tried before—is turned down because one side or another chooses to see the disadvantages and refuses to look for the strengths and the opportunities.
Thus the problem becomes one of how to see that this opportunity is seized. Much that we have heard this afternoon has not been particularly encouraging. I think most of us started this afternoon in a far more optimistic mood than we shall be in as this debate draws to a close. However, can we not ask ourselves what are the things that we can do, as it were, over the heads, or behind the backs of, the politicians? It is my profound belief (not based on a great deal of knowledge of the Northern Ireland situation, I must confess, but on certain signs and incidents that one encounters) that there is and surely must be among the great mass of ordinary people on both sides in Northern Ireland a desire for a quiet life, a settlement and an opportunity to bring up their families in decent security.
We in this House between us have a great many contacts with a great many organisations with which we are in touch which are linked up with organisations in Northern Ireland. Surely there are ways in which we can get through to the oridinary Irish men and women in Belfast in the Churches, in the chapels, in that wide range of voluntary organisations with which a good many of us have been connected in some way or another, who for years have been doing yeoman work in trying to hold the fabric of Irish society together in Belfast. Can we not through these contacts and through the help which is always given by the Irish Office renew our efforts to encourage ordinary people in Ireland to understand that this agreement is in their interests; that it is just a tiny building block of the foundation, but that it is a start?
877 One of the great encouragements I experienced on one of my all too rare visits to Belfast was on a visit to a trade union group in Northern Ireland. When I had talked for an hour or two discussing matters of employment—and the noble Lord, Lord Blease, will remember this incident, I think—I asked the chairman, "Am I talking to Catholics or am I talking to Protestants?" He pointed round the room and said, "Catholic, Protestant, Protestant, Catholic…."— and they had been talking as one group with one interest, to get employment and jobs and a decent living for their own membership. May I pay a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Blease, and to other trade unionists in Northern Ireland? If anyone wants evidence of what trade unionism at its best can do, they can see it in what the trade unionists of Northern Ireland have done over the last decade.
So there is hope there if we can get through. The danger is that the powerful political forces, probably in reality not representing more than themselves and their immediate followers, will whip things up, as we saw them whipped up on television. But there is hope if we can get through to the ordinary people of Belfast and say, "This at last is a chance. It is not inflexible; it is not immutable; but it gives us a beginning". Do not imagine that we have to say to them, "If you fail to build on this beginning you can just go back to things as they were". My Lords, this can never be done. If we do not go forward, we will fall into the abyss.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, it is, but it has always been, an uphill struggle to achieve political consensus in or about Ireland, in or about Northern Ireland. For centuries this has been an elusive goal. I think we will all agree that to seek to make political progress in the Province is a goal which is worth struggling for. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn has handsomely acknowledged the courage of the Government and of Dr. FitzGerald in working towards a practical arrangement which could be beneficial to both communities in the Province.
I would also pay tribute to the skill of the civil servants of both countries who have worked patiently and constructively over the past 15 months. The fact that this agreement has been achieved between the two Governments is in itself a very high achievement indeed. Of course, it has been predictably and swiftly criticised. It has been criticised in two main directions: either as being too limited in its scope or, conversely, as being excessive. Regrettably, it has been denounced by others who are in a position possibly to ruin the basis of the agreement by denouncing it either as a sell-out or as a betrayal.
Sometimes the opposition in the Province has been expressed in extreme language; but we must acknowledge that that reveals deep-seated anxieties and fears and possibly a little bit of self-interest. A sceptical attitude has been expressed about its consequences. But I believe that the agreement, and in particular the proposed intergovernmental conference and its secretariat, are important concessions and should be seen to be important concessions by the Catholic minority community. This initiative should go a long way to satisfy the Catholic minority community that 878 the Government are genuinely seeking to move away from the status quo towards reconciliation.
We believe that it is far-fetched to regard this initiative (which we believe to be in the right direction) to be an inevitable prelude to dismembership of the Province from the United Kingdom. It has been pointed out time after time since three o'clock this afternoon that sovereignty has not been surrendered by this agreement. It has not even been shared. It remains untouched. This is clearly confirmed by Article 2 of the agreement, and that interpretation has been endorsed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. The Government's view, as the noble Viscount demonstrated earlier this afternoon, is that the Province needs a rational and immediately practical development from the existing unsatisfactory arrangements for regulating its affairs and for regulating the relationship between the two communities.
The Government believe—and many Members of your Lordships' House believe—that the agreement will appeal to men and women in Northern Ireland who wish to see peaceful co-existence of the two communities on equal terms. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, pointed out that there is a great deal of positive activity among the communities, and we can build on that basis. The history of the last 15 or 16 years has shown that the arrangements for the governing of the two communities are totally unsatisfactory. How can one justify the killing of about 150 innocent people a year and the maiming of about 1,500 innocent lives a year? Those who resist the agreement must answer the question whether or not we are to conclude from their reaction that the continual suffering of the last 16 years is inevitable and unending. Those who oppose the agreement should at least come up with an alternative constitutional solution which is likely to be acceptable by the communities and which is likely to be supported by the two Governments. By what other peaceful means do they seek to resolve this bloodstained stalemate?
The new intergovernmental conference and its secretariat will be advisory, consultative, and not decision-making. It has not been given an executive role. Dublin's role will be no more than consultative. Indeed, the Prime Minister of the Republic has already been criticised across the waters for accepting responsibility without power. But we can expect that the conference will reflect on the views and the wishes of the current minority community, which makes up about 40 per cent. of the Province, and consider how their reasonable grievances can be met, while at the same time safeguarding the reasonable interests of the million majority in the Province who also have rights which cannot be ignored.
To achieve this objective will obviously be a tricky exercise, but the hope must be that the conference will provide an effective, built-in mechanism of balance between the two communities, and that this in turn will eventually—not in the short-term—lead to a greater enlightenment and to reconciliation. And reconciliation is a major theme to which the agreement returns on a number of occasions. So building on the experience of the intergovernmental council set up a few years ago, the governments are 879 anxious for early progress with early implementation of the agreement.
On my count, there are at least 30 items mentioned in the agreement which the conference can be expected to tackle or to consider. More often than not, the word that is used in the agreement is "consider". No doubt some of these issues are more central than others, but they cover a considerable range of activities. We would not wish at this early stage to go into the detailed items proposed for the conference agenda, but we welcome the fact that the conference agenda goes very wide indeed. There is hardly a subject, apart from sovereignty and defence, which would be outside its terms of reference and we think that that is a very good feature of the agenda.
Many noble Lords have asked: will the conference help? Is it likely to bring about a lasting peace to the Province? We think that it should be said, frankly, that we do not know whether it will succeed and that gives us an indication of the magnitude of the problem. Time alone will reveal whether it is successful. We accept that a majority in the Province have their doubts; but, as I have said, there are also men and women in both communities who support the Government's approach because they believe that it could achieve lasting peace. I am sure that the Government will derive comfort from the message earlier in the afternoon that the British Council of Churches supports the agreement, and we hope that its voice will be heard loud and clear throughout the Province.
My noble friend Lord Fitt, who obviously has great experience of the problems, was pessimistic but nevertheless he was not obstructive. At the end of the day he gave the agreement a fair wind. I have often listened to my noble friend Lord Fitt, who has played a notable role in seeking to implement the Sunningdale agreement, but I have the impression that he has grown weary and rather disillusioned. I suggest that his pessimism may be based on his judgment that neither community can at times avoid role-playing.
My noble friend Lord Blease, although fully aware of the gloom around him in Belfast, was more hopeful in his approach. My noble friend, a trade unionist who is very close to the men and women in Belfast—he moves around them, lives among them—is fully aware that it is their voice which will eventually win the day. So I am sure that the Government will derive comfort from his courageous speech.
He made the point—and it is a fair one—that there is widespread criticism of the lack of consultation with the leaders of the Protestant community, although the leader of the SDLP was apparently well briefed by the Irish Government throughout. That criticism has been made in the course of a number of speeches this afternoon and we have sympathy for it. Yet as my noble friend asked the House: would this agreement ever have seen the light of day had there been consultation throughout? But looking to the future, we hope that the Government will pay close attention to the need for wider consultation.
I hope that they will also give careful consideration to the measures suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, which could reduce the temperature. Is there 880 a possibility that in the future a representative of the communities could have observer status within the conference? I know not. But we hope that the Government will give careful consideration to the measures which were suggested.
A power-sharing assembly could go a long way towards achieving the improved accountability of the conference to elected representatives of the Province. We on these Benches attach a high priority to the general development of shared administration. Indeed, the point has often been made this afternoon that the setting up of the conference can itself be a positive incentive to work towards increased devolution of power. Notwithstanding the pessimism that was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, we trust that the SDLP will make a strenuous effort to make devolution work. We are particularly grateful that the Government have already announced that they will go ahead with elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly next October.
I come to my concluding remarks. We accept that there is a widespread degree of scepticism as to whether or not the agreement will bring about the desired reconciliation, but if I judge the mood of the House correctly the overwhelming majority of your Lordships want to give the agreement an opportunity to see what can be accomplished in the next few years. They want the conference to be given an opportunity to search for—it is a question of searching—an acceptable agreement on a number of key issues that will bridge or help to bridge the differences between the two communities and to search for a way forward which will improve life for everybody in the Province. The agreement, wisely implemented, could bring benefits far outweighing the strains, the difficulties, the resignations and the by-elections of the next few weeks or the next few months.
Of course it will not be an easy task; but because it offers the prospect of a breakthrough we give the agreement our blessing and we hope that the Government will honour its provisions. However, in a notable speech the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made the point that it is not merely a matter of government alone. We cannot shift our responsibility to the Government. The governments have a vital role to play, but we must also bring together all the affirmatives within the Province and in our own country to ensure that the agreement becomes a reality.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate this afternoon and this evening and everybody in your Lordships' House will have listened carefully to all the arguments. For my part, I am very reassured by the support and above all by the welcome, albeit in some areas a broad welcome, that your Lordships' House has extended to our initiative. As my noble friend Lord Whitelaw explained to us when opening the debate this afternoon, this initiative is not the solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. But it nevertheless offers hope—if the opportunity which was so eloquently described by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is seized—of making 881 progress towards lasting peace, stability and above all reconciliation within Northern Ireland. I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is what we, everybody in another place, the huge population of the United Kingdom and indeed of the whole of Ireland, want.
I have also heard some of the fears that have been expressed about the agreement; and the same fears have been expressed elsewhere in more apocalyptic terms. The language sometimes heard may not always be the language of debates in your Lordships' House; the gestures may strike observers on this side of the Irish Sea as at times even histrionic. But such language and such gestures give expression to real anxieties which we shall fail to take seriously only at our peril.
But those anxieties can, I believe, be dispelled by the document that is before us this evening. I ask all noble Lords to read it once again carefully in the light of the debate. Northern Ireland is not about to become a part of the Republic as a result of this agreement; indeed, the Government of the Irish Republic have recognised the principle of consent and that the present wish of the majority is for no change in the status of Northern Ireland. Article 1 of the agreement should be grounds for Unionist reassurance, not for Unionist fear.
I am sure your Lordships will not have failed to notice that some opponents of the agreement in the Republic as well as in another place have gone so far as to criticise the agreement as entrenching the Union. The agreement does not do, as some have falsely claimed, the dreadful thing of giving the Republic a veto in the affairs of Northern Ireland. Article 2 of the agreement is quite specific. Paragraph (b) states:There is no derogation from the sovereignty of either the United Kingdom Government or the Irish Government, and each retains responsibility for the decisions and administration of government within its own jurisdiction".It has been argued that if the United Kingdom listens to the Irish Republic, surely their influence will destroy Northern Ireland; it will undermine the security of the province and trample on the rights and traditions of the majority of its people. I hasten to stress that nothing could be further from the truth. By putting our contacts with the Republic onto a more systematic basis and by developing a closer and more supportive relationship with our southern neighbour, it is our sincere belief that benefits will accrue to all the people of Norhern Ireland—Unionist as well as Nationalist.
I remind your Lordships of what those benefits could be. First, we shall be able to develop more effective co-operation with the Republic in future in our common battle against terrorism. We already welcome the decision of the Irish Government to accede to the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. Secondly, we hope that by enabling the Irish Government to put forward views and proposals on matters of especial concern to the minority, the minority community will in turn develop greater confidence in the public institutions of Northern Ireland and more increasingly accept that those institutions belong to them as well, work for them, protect them, and, above all, share in them.
Such an outcome, if the opportunity is taken, can only be of great value to everyone in the Province. It is for all those reasons that the Government are determined, whatever obstacles are placed in our path, 882 to ensure that the agreement is implemented in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
I should not want your Lordships to infer that in entering into the agreement the Government intend in any way to disregard the views of Unionists. Our policy is based, and will continue to be based, on respect for the identities and, above all, the traditions of both communities in Northern Ireland. We shall continue to listen most carefully to the views expressed by representatives of that community both within your Lordships' House and in another place; to views expressed in the Northern Ireland Assembly; and to views expressed in district councils.
My own door and that of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is always open to those leaders of the Unionist community who have views to express. It is also the case that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister herself has in no way refused to see the leaders of the majority community on matters of major concern to them. By such means the Government will continue to have a clear view of Unionist sentiments. I hope that Unionists will continue to use those channels so that the Government can discharge their responsibilities in the full and certain knowledge of their views.
I remind your Lordships that we are giving serious consideration to arrangements for keeping the community informed about the discussions at the intergovernmental conference and I hope that we shall soon be able to make some practical suggestions.
I shall now try to answer some of the numerous points raised during the debate this evening. The speech following that made by my noble friend Lord Whitelaw was, I am sure your Lordships will agree, a notable contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. I was personally very grateful for everything he said and for his support for everything we are trying to do through the agreement.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me about the frequency of the intergovernmental conference and how often it would meet at ministerial and official level. As the noble Lord will see, the agreement points out that there should be regular and frequent meetings. I am unable to say how often those meetings will take place in practice. As the House will appreciate, much will depend on how often the business of the conference requires it to meet. I cannot say precisely how often there will need to be meetings at official level.
The noble Lord asked also about the heads of government meeting. Both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach agreed to meet again at an appropriate time. Given the commitment of both my right honourable friend and the Taoiseach, that is a very valid undertaking. The noble Lord stressed that cross-border terrorism must be tackled vigorously. Indeed, that sentiment is very much expressed in the spirit of the agreement. Both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have agreed to implement the agreement with determination and imagination. I can stress to your Lordships that the first meeting of the conference will be addressing the subject of cross-border security co-operation.
883 The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, also asked about legal matters. As your Lordships will see, the communique and indeed the agreement make it quite clear that we intend to carry out a certain course of action. My noble friend repeated this and, above all, repeated our views on mixed courts. The secretariat will be set up shortly but not until your Lordships' House and another place have approved the agreement.
We have already given our reaction to the Baker Report at an earlier stage. We have also undertaken to introduce legislation in the lifetime of this Parliament. I hope that information will be of some use to the noble Lord. He also asked about three other items—strip searching, flags and emblems legislation, and a Bill of Rights. I can only inform the noble Lord, and your Lordships, that a number of matters will be considered by the conference, but I could not say at what stage those matters will be considered, in what order, or indeed whether they will be considered. Nor can I say what the conclusions of the conference will be or what policies the Government might adopt in future.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, also asked—as did, I think, my noble friend Lady Vickers—about United States financial aid. I am given to understand that the President of the United States said that he will be working closely with Congress in a bipartisan effort to find tangible ways for the United States to lend practical support to this important agreement. We welcome that, but I stress that nothing has been approved or agreed and we have received no formal offers. Therefore, I would not want to speculate on what these arrangements might be.
We are grateful for the solid support and very kind comments from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. As far as I recall, he asked about the parliamentary tier which is mentioned. This will be a matter for the two Parliaments to decide. However, the two Governments will support it if the two Parliaments agree to it. We shall have to see what support is expressed by your Lordships and in another place for that particular concept. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, also asked where the conference might or might not sit and whether it might take its deliberations to London, or to Dublin, as well as Belfast. Your Lordships will see that there is nothing in the agreement to preclude the conference from meeting outside Belfast, but I understand the intention is that it should normally meet there.
The suggestion was made by the noble Lord and, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, that the conference agenda and conclusions should be published. I note that suggestion, certainly made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson; but we have made clear what the first meeting of the conference will discuss and I would not want to go any further than that tonight. I hope the noble Lord will accept that in the spirit of his noble ally, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that this is a first step and an opportunity.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made a very powerful speech. We are grateful for his support in some areas and for his strong comments. However, I stress to him and to your Lordships that we believe there will be effective government of Northern Ireland carried out 884 by Her Majesty's Government. I suggest that the noble Lord and your Lordships read Article 2(b)—and I make no apology for reiterating this—which states:There is no derogation from the sovereignty of either the United Kingdom Government or the Irish Government, and each retains responsibility for the decisions and administration of government within its own jurisdiction".Several noble Lords suggested that the meetings of the intergovernmental conference should be open and, above all, that the Unionists should have a role. As far as I recall, these were points suggested by the noble Lords, Lord Blease and Lord Fitt, by my noble friend Lord Moyola and by the noble Lords, Lord Dunleath and Lord Monson. As regards the agenda and the conclusions, of course we understand that the publication of these two items might be desirable. As I have pointed out to all these noble Lords, the Unionists already have many means of expressing their views, both through the assembly and through its scrutinising committees in their areas of competence, which cover a fairly wide span in Northern Ireland.
We have also made known through the communique what is likely to be discussed at the first meeting, but I stress that the same communique made it quite clear that we do not normally expect the agenda to be published. Of course, we recognise the concern that the conference should not proceed in conditions of secrecy, and we are looking at ways in which information about its deliberations might be given out. So with that sprat I hope your Lordships might be suitably tempted this evening.
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who raised one other point about the two documents which were signed at Hillsborough. I am able to tell your Lordships that the agreement follows the form of Anglo-Irish agreements since 1946, and it is the substance of the agreement which is far more important: no change in status without the consent of a majority.
We were very grateful for the forthright support of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. We are thankful that he let us know about the statement of the Council of Churches and, indeed, for his welcome of the agreement. I hope that the most reverend Primate and your Lordships will accept that the agreement, at least as we see it, does not last merely for three years. It must be reviewed after three years or, indeed, earlier if requested by either Government. I hope the noble Baroness will also accept this. But it may be of some clarification to the most reverend Primate.
We were very grateful for the forthright comments and speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blease. Indeed, we agree that the aims of the agreement, which we see as being peace and stability, are absolutely essential to be achieved if there is to be investment in the Province and, above all, an improvement in the economy.
My noble friend Lord Moyola was concerned about security co-operation being intensified, and particularly that the chiefs of the respective police forces north and south of the Border should meet. I am given to understand that both Sir Jack Hermon and the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Wren, are expected to be in early contact. I hope that my noble friend will also accept that the agreement makes it clear that 885 consultation between the two will be necessary—and that last word is of particular relevance, I think.
Perhaps I may also say to my noble friend, and to those of your Lordships who are interested in these particular points, that security co-operation will be discussed at the first meeting of the conference. Both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach are committed to implementing the agreement, as they said, with both determination and imagination. Indeed, the Taoiseach spoke in the Dail of confronting terrorism by joint action of the most effective kind. I hope that will give your Lordships and my noble friend some thoughts on the attitude and commitment of both Governments to cross-border security co-operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, was particularly worried about Unionist distrust and, above all, about the lack of consultation. We had to keep confidential the details of all these negotiations, which were fairly lengthy. I believe it is the opinion of your Lordships that without this confidentiality they almost certainly would not have had the success that they have had so far and which we believe they will have in the future.
We are immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his kindness in looking to the future. We enjoyed hearing the history of his family. I think he said that his ancestor had been involved in the closing of the gates. It was a point that had escaped me until I heard various songs sung in Northern Ireland to the effect that the apprentices slammed the gates and of course they spoke Irish, which is something of a difficulty apparently for those who proclaim their loyalty to the Crown. We are grateful to the noble Lord for looking back into history in an amusing way and, above all, looking forward to what we hope the agreement will achieve.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, asked me several searching questions. He asked about the location of the secretariat. I stressed earlier that there was nothing to say that it should be situated in a particular place. But we have our plans and all will be revealed once your Lordships' House and another place have given approval to the agreement.
The noble Lord also asked why the agreement was not reciprocal. I hope that parts of it clearly are, particularly Article 1, which gives the same commitment by both governments on the status of Northern Ireland, and Article 9, which concerns cross-border co-operation. But a wholly reciprocal agreement was not required by the situation of Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord asked in addition quite what I or anybody else made of the broadcast by the Taoiseach. He of all people should know that no government spokesman would interpret words spoken in a broadcast or elsewhere by a head of government. I commend him for his efforts to draw me.
We are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for her optimistic, cheerful and spirited speech. I particularly relished her comparison with the years 1956 and 1962, since the same thoughts went through my mind 10 and 15 years ago when I began my first amateur study of the position of Northern Ireland. But I think that your Lordships would not wish me to pursue that this evening.
886 The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked about the operations of the RUC with other sectors of the security forces. I hope that he will allow me to write to him. As for his thoughts on hot pursuit, that is a matter for the conference to consider. He also asked me about the Catherwood proposals and devolution in general. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be exploring with the constitutional parties how to make progress on those proposals and, indeed, on devolution.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was concerned with human rights and community affairs, as we would expect from him. He was also concerned with Unionist fears. He advocated a period of consultation for the agreement. I am afraid that I cannot go along that road with him. I am sure that he and all your Lordships will accept that the agreement is for Parliament to decide.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, can the noble Lord give us encouragement that the Government will at least consider a slight delay in full implementation of the agreement so that we may have a thorough and effective period of consultation?
§ Lord Lyell
I should love to, my Lords, but if the noble Lord has been present throughout the debate, I am sure he will have captured the will of your Lordships' House that we should at least take this opportunity to do our part to try to implement the agreement. I hope he will accept that the Government really are of this mind.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, made, to my mind, a sparkling speech. I was personally very grateful for his support and for his clear thoughts on legal matters. These will be considered by the conference, and I am sure by other noble and learned Lords in your Lordships' House. We shall all read his remarks with great interest in the Official Report. I am also grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for his kind words and support.
My noble friend Lady Vickers asked particularly whether United States pressure was responsible for the agreement. Perhaps if I say "pressure" that is a little strong. "Influence" might be better. The answer I give unequivocally is, "No." We concluded the agreement—at least my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach concluded it—on its own merits. I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for his support and for a very carefully thought out speech which brought out several factors of great relevance still today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, began the process of concluding the debate in admirable style. I was very grateful for her remarks. I certainly agree with her and with the Ambassador of the Irish Republic that the agreement is in no way a settlement but far more an opportunity. The noble Baroness went some way to suggest that results must flow from the agreement. I would refer the noble Baroness and your Lordships to the commitment of both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach in the communique to implement and sustain the measures set out in the agreement with determination and imagination. Above all, they went on to state that they would encourage the people of both the Unionist and 887 the Nationalist traditions in Ireland to make new efforts to understand and respect each other's concerns with a view to promoting understanding. I stress that the Government will do their very best to fulfil our commitments.
I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. Above all, we will do our best to see that the agreement will appeal to his silent majority, as he put it, in Northern Ireland. We were very grateful for his thoughts that the conference is intended to lead to—and above all to foster—reconciliation. He noted that there was great support from the British Council of Churches. We were very grateful for the forthright support that came from the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and from all his colleagues.
As your Lordships have already heard, and far more eloquently than from me, the agreement that we are discussing is the first step. It is an opportunity to make very real progress in Northern Ireland and in the history which goes back hundreds of years. It was superbly put by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, when he said that we must look to the future. In that spirit I commend this agreement to your Lordships tonight.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty-one minutes before ten o'clock.