§ 8.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th June be approved. [26th Report from the Joint Committee]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Dissolution) Order 1986 be approved, and I should also like to speak to the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1986. The orders were laid before your Lordships on 12th and 4th June respectively this year. I shall speak to both orders together; but naturally I shall move the second order formally later.
§ I should like to deal first with the Northern Ireland Assembly (Dissolution) Order. As your Lordships will be aware, under the Northern Ireland Act 1982 the Assembly is charged with monitoring the work of the Northern Ireland departments. Its principal task is to propose arrangements for new devolved government. It is carrying out neither function. In those circumstances, the Government seek approval for the renewal of direct rule for a further year.
§ Regarding the dissolution order, two conditions must be met before the Assembly can be dissolved under Section 5(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1982. It must appear unlikely, taking account of the Assembly's proceedings, that widely acceptable devolution proposals will be put forward: and that it must be in the public interest to dissolve it.
§ The Assembly set up a Devolution Report Committee in 1984 which produced three main reports. They contained some constructive elements, but also ideas which in the past had failed to win parliamentary approval. Admittedly the absence of the SDLP made the Assembly's job more difficult. The committee's record shows that the Assembly tried, but it could perhaps have been more positive. The parties might have tried to agree a scheme among themselves which they could have put to the SDLP. However, flexibility was lacking and no proposals were put forward which seemed likely to command widespread acceptance. The Assembly wound up the committee on 13th March this year as part of the protest by the unionist parties against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
§ As part of its duties, the Assembly's scrutiny role was a success. I should like to pay my personal tribute to its success in that role. The committees which monitored the work of the Northern Ireland 1122 departments considered a wide variety of matters. In my own area of responsibility, agriculture, they submitted very illuminating and most interesting reports which were laid before the House. My Ministerial colleagues—my right honourable and honourable friends—were similarly impressed. I have to say to your Lordships that we accepted 75 per cent. of their recommendations on no fewer than 32 proposals for draft Orders in Council. I take this opportunity to stress the Government's tribute to Assembly members for their diligent and useful work.
§ Elected representatives with their roots in Northern Ireland were thus able to show how they could make the most of the opportunity to influence its administration. The Unionist parties decided to suspend the scrutiny function on 5th December last year. The Alliance Party, always a moderate influence, withdrew. The suspension was confirmed on 13th March this year. We regret that the Unionist parties have closed down a channel of proven value to the Government and to Parliament. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State warned in another place that questions would arise about the future of the Assembly. The public interest cannot be served by the expenditure of public funds on a body which has chosen not to discharge the functions which were envisaged by your Lordships and by another place.
§ I should also add that the manner in which the Unionist parties are now using the Assembly contributes to our belief that the public interest is best served by dissolution. Weekly debates on aspects of the Anglo-Irish Agreement have increased intercommunal tension. The Royal Ulster Constabulary as a force, and the Chief Constable, are repeatedly attacked. Democratic processes have been scorned; street action and physical confrontation have been commended.
§ I invite noble Lords to glance through some of the records of the proceedings of the Assembly in the past three or four months. I am not often given to flights of fancy, but I think your Lordships will find that some of the proceedings in the Assembly certainly have been lively, but more than irresponsible. It is for that and for various other reasons that I therefore seek approval for the order before us this evening to dissolve the present Assembly.
§ The order will not abolish the legal basis for a Northern Ireland Assembly. We are considering the position of the Clerk and staff against that particular background. I hope that that message will go tonight to the Clerk and the staff in the Assembly. A date for an election to a new Assembly can be fixed by an Order in Council at any time. We shall try to create the conditions for a new election. We shall introduce an order in the next Session to enable what we call "I" voters to vote in the Assembly elections. Those persons are electors who are resident in Northern Ireland, and many of them are Irish citizens—that is, citizens of the Republic—who cannot vote in local or Assembly elections, but who may vote in parliamentary and, your Lordships will be pleased to know, European elections.
§ Our objective is the establishment of a widely acceptable devolved government. We still face difficulty in reaching it. Unless and until the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland are ready 1123 not merely to discuss the possibility of devolution in principle, but to do so with a real openness to the views and sensitivities of the others, it will not be reached. I believe that those parties ought to come together as soon as possible.
§ Perhaps I may in passing ask your Lordships to consider the cards which the Government have laid on the table for both Unionists and Nationalists in order to help them to work together. Let us take the Unionists first. There is the Prime Minister's offer to discuss four matters which they believe to be important. Those are devolution and the possibility of a round table conference; secondly, the future of the Assembly; thirdly, arrangements for handling Northern Ireland business at Westminster (that is, in this House and in the other place); and, fourthly, new means of consultation between the Government and Unionist leaders. In addition, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that his door is open for talks without preconditions—and I stress those two words—on any issue of concern to them.
§ Let us glance at the situation of the Nationalists. The Anglo-Irish Agreement provides a structure within which their concerns are being reflected and discussed. The latest meeting of the conference on 17th June this year recorded some significant advances. Of greatest importance for the whole community is the agreement between the RUC and the Garda on a number of specific measures of co-operation in the fight against terrorism. The Anglo-Irish relationship is working particularly well in this vital area. But we are also moving on subjects of particular interest to the minority community.
§ At the last meeting we stated our intention of taking practical steps on two of these—first, the question of the "I" voters, to which I referred a moment ago; and, secondly, the position of the Irish language. The conference has regularly discussed relations between the security forces and the minority community, and questions about the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. Those of course are two areas where the Nationalists have long had strong feelings.
§ We therefore believe that the necessary elements are on the table for all sides of the community. There is no need for what we might term a new pack of cards. We do not believe that integration of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, which is being discussed forcefully in some quarters, would bring about either greater peace or political stability.
§ This would provoke a sharp political reaction. The Ulster Unionist Parties would be divided, and, as your Lordships will be aware, many of them are suspicious of integration. The Democratic Unionist Party would be strongly opposed on the grounds that the British cannot be trusted with permanent control of the fortunes of Ulster. The Alliance Party—at least we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, if I am wrong—argue strongly against it, but I ask the noble Lord to reserve his powder and he will be able to have a go at me in a minute.
§ We understand that the SDLP would be hostile because they would perceive this as thwarting their aspiration to Irish unity. They would also regard it as 1124 inconsistent with the Anglo-Irish Agreement which reaffirms that the Government want responsibility to be devolved within Northern Ireland on a widely acceptable basis: and the SDLP would be hostile as they would perceive it to be a return to local councils run on majority rule lines, which before 1973 were responsible for some of the worst discrimination. The Irish Government and Opposition in the Republic would, we believe, share the hostility of the SDLP. As for Sinn Fein, they would exploit the inter-communal tension and the blow which integration would represent to the SDLP.
§ The administrative consequences of integration would be great. To change local government structures, as is sometimes suggested, would mean a substantial reorganisation of the Northern Ireland departments. They look after most GB local—as well as some central—government functions. We are of the opinion that this would be disruptive and costly. Even if some additional powers were given to local authorities, the Secretary of State, without any local political base, would be permanently in charge of a wide range of policy matters affecting the people of Northern Ireland.
§ If, as the integrationists want, all Northern Ireland primary legislation were to be enacted in your Lordships' House and the other place by Bill, this would place a huge new burden on Parliament. As your Lordships will be aware, there is a 65-year legacy of separate Northern Ireland law. We believe that there would be less scope for legislative provision for Northern Ireland which differed from that for Great Britain. There is a demand for this. For example, there were 13 Orders in Council in 1983 containing separate provisions; 11 in 1984; 9 in 1985; and four to date in 1986, and we are not even half way through the year.
§ Therefore, it seems to the Government that integration would cause dissatisfaction in both parts of the community, and we believe that this would lead to greater instability and could easily lead to greater violence. Also, integration does not take account of the reality that Northern Ireland is different. To recognise this does not mean any lack of support for the Union. But special constitutional arrangements are needed to accommodate these differences.
§ May I conclude by hoping that the constitutional parties will now concentrate on the future? We shall set the framework and create the right conditions for movement, but we cannot conjure goodwill out of the air. The parties themselves are responsible to their electors to construct a strategy for the future. We are convinced that a widely acceptable devolved government would have much to offer all the people of Northern Ireland. We look for constructive dialogue with all the constitutional parties about how to establish it. With that, I beg to move the Northern Ireland Assembly (Dissolution) Order 1986.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th June be approved. [26th Report from the Joint Committee]—(Lord Lyell).
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, the Minister and the Government have invited the House to approve the order dissolving the 1982 Assembly. The Minister has 1125 given a fair and comprehensive review of the role of the Assembly, acknowledging its successes and also underlining its failures. He has also paid a well-earned tribute to the staff of the Assembly.
The Northern Ireland Assembly offered in 1982 a chance of a new beginning. It had been the hope at that time that it would produce its own do-it-yourself devolution which would have cross-community support. But we know that devolution never rolled forth, and in the event the Assembly has become the exclusive territory of the Unionist parties.
Although the order before the House cancels the October elections, it leaves open the possibility of a new election for a new Assembly. I believe that it is implied in a part of the Minister's speech that that election will be held if, and as soon as, the Government are satisfied that there is a will among the constitutional parties to work together.
But theoretically after this order is signed, the way forward will be either by election to a devolved administration, as envisaged by the Hillsborough Agreement—and, as I said, the possibility of holding a new election is left open by this order—or integration with Britain. There are those who would hail a move towards integration, but I believe that most people accept that this prescription is not the answer to the complex problems of Northern Ireland. For most of us this is not on, not merely because of the powerful technical arguments advanced by the Minister but also because it ignores history. It ignores the aspirations of the Catholic and nationalist minority. Therefore, this policy prescription, in our view, is simply out.
We believe that sooner or later—and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later—Northern Ireland will come to a form of devolution. That is why we are glad that the Government are standing by their policy of devolution, and continue to stand by the Hillsborough Accord. Whatever lies ahead, there should be no loss of nerve by the Government, and there should be no loss of nerve on the part of the Opposition parties, either.
We urge the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, as the Minister and the Government have urged them, to work together within a framework which recognises the coexistence of the two communities. The Minister has reminded the House that the Government have renewed their invitation to the constitutional parties to adopt a more positive and constructive role. We are just wondering, are the Government appealing in vain to the leaders of the constitutional parties?
Are the Unionists asserting that they will never agree to work together with their neighbours, the constitutional nationalists? If that is their position, then we say that they are shortsighted. If that is their position, we say that they are clinging blindly to the past. That would be a tragedy for all concerned.
What then of the SDLP? Again, the Minister has indicated their response. The 1982 Assembly, as we all know, was inevitably frustrated from its beginning because it was boycotted by the leaders of the SDLP, although not all their supporters went along with this decision.
Now that the Hillsborough Agreement provides the Irish dimension which was lacking in 1982, the SDLP 1126 leaders state that they are prepared to enter into discussions with the leaders of the constitutional parties without preconditions on any subject that may contribute to peace and stability. This is an immense step forward. We would hope that the Unionists would grasp this opportunity of opening discussions with the SDLP to see whether they can establish the basis of a partnership for the benefit of both communities. Those discussions should be opened now without preconditions. We on these Benches do not consider that the Government should be expected to suspend the Hillsborough Agreement as a condition precedent for talks. Indeed, suspension of the agreement would be seen by the outside world as an award for aggression or the threat of aggression. Of course we appreciate that there is much talk by the Unionists of the dangers of sacrificing principle. But what is often forgotten is the sacrifice of the objectives of peace and justice and the sacrifice of human life.
The essential message that we on these Benches would address to all the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland is that they should forget their rhetorical phrases and take part in discussions. They should give and take; but again what is worrying is that it is very difficult, even after 17 years of strife, to get this message across.
Like other Members of your Lordships' House with an interest in Northern Ireland affairs I read the newspapers circulating in Northern Ireland, and in some of the letters which they publish from ordinary folk I see now and again a glimmer of light. The letters remind us that the people of Northern Ireland are people after all: people who weigh in the same balance as most of us the needs of decency, of peace and of justice. I note that the churches, with a few exceptions, are powerful lighthouses in the Province. Indeed, within the last fortnght the new Presbyterian Moderator warned of misery unless political leaders start talking without preconditions. The new President of the Methodist Church in Ireland called for a new positive approach from all politicians. The Catholic Bishop warned that the majority in each community is sick and weary of violence, and that all fervently longed for peace.
If the leaders of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland continue to turn a deaf ear to the message of the Church leaders—the message I have just referred to—and if they persist in addressing themselves to their own militants, they will surely be accused by future generations of having mishandled the opportunity that came their way in 1986. It would be better if the politicians in Northern Ireland who shout about the hour of politics being past were to consider to what extent they have failed politics, and it would be better (if that be their message) if they withdrew from the scene.
I just want to make one or two quick references to the other order which is coming before the House unless the Minister proposes to address himself to the second order.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I shall be brief. The first is that we obviously give our support to the second order. Indeed, it follows inevitably from the first order, 1127 but we give it support with two reservations. The first is that ways must surely be found of mitigating some of the difficulties of direct rule and of legislating for Northern Ireland by Orders in Council. Those deficiencies have often been criticised in this House. They are unamendable, with no adequate parliamentary time for consideration of the orders. They are insufficiently exposed to questioning based on local opinion or involvement in local experience. Will the Government give an indication to the House how they propose to overcome these very real difficulties?
My second point is that since the last renewal of the order the Hillsborough Agreement has been signed, sealed and delivered. That agreement remains intact. Are the Government considering how the intergovernmental conference can be made more directly answerable to Parliament, or is this not a basic consideration for the Government? With those two questions I am pleased on behalf of these Benches to give our support to both orders.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for introducing these two orders. First I deal with the Northern Ireland Assembly (Dissolution) Order. Sadly the word that must occur to us all here is that in present circumstances dissolution is now inevitable. As we have been reminded, under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1982 the Assembly was given two functions: first, to consider and report on how a devolved Northern Ireland Administration should be formed; and, secondly, to monitor and report on the policies and activities of the Northern Ireland Department. Both seemed such eminently sensible and constructive aims that we must deeply regret that the present Assembly has lately been discharging neither function; but it is important to remember that this order brings about dissolution rather than abolition. We must sincerely hope that a reconstituted Assembly will before too long be able and willing to discharge its duties to the full.
I do not think much is to be gained by a lengthy study of the activities or otherwise of the Assembly in the past. I think we probably all here today believe that the refusal of the SDLP to make up its seats and participate in business prevented constructive proposals on devolution from being debated and the Assembly from properly working. I think that this was a tragic mistake, but the SDLP appears to be entirely unrepentant, and its spokesman in the other place, Mr. Seamus Mallon, referred the other day to the Assembly as a white elephant that had turned into a rogue elephant. The task of representing the Nationalist minority was left entirely to that part of the Alliance Party that comes from the Catholic side of the divide.
A week or so ago I watched on television the film "To Kill the Cabinet"—the story of how the Brighton bombers largely failed and how they were caught. We were reminded how bitter and how ruthless the IRA is and how sophisticated and deadly their weapons. Tragically, I think it is remarkable in these circumstances how much goodwill the so-called Unionists have lost on the mainland by actions that seem to many to have been irresponsible. We believe 1128 it is tragic that the party has used the Assembly as a base from which violently to attack the Anglo-Irish Agreement rather than to get on with the duties with which it was entrusted.
It became inevitable, I suggest, that the Alliance Party would withdraw and then that the Assembly should be dissolved. I shall be interested to hear any comments that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, may choose to make. The lack of accord in the Province is clearly a tragedy. From this side of the water it seems so obvious that it would be better that Stormont should take as many decisions as possible, rather than Westminster. People with first hand experience of problems should deal with them rather than those who have to rely for the most part on what they are told. We wholeheartedly support the Government in their declared desire for devolved government, along with their maintained commitment to the Anglo-Irish agreement. Discussion must be the basis for finding a happier way forward and we sincerely hope that the Unionists will take up the offer of meeting the Prime Minister and will return to the other place to argue their case there as of course they are fully entitled to do.
I turn now for a moment to the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order designed to continue direct rule. It is sad to look back at the debate in your Lordships' House last year and realise how little progress has been made. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, commented last July that the Assembly's detailed scrutiny of proposed legislation and other policy matters had been valuable. He re-emphasised this tonight. Alas! that of course for the time being has ceased.
He also commented then that formidable difficulties stood in the way of agreement, and unfortunately that is still very true today. I think, however, we should pause for a moment to pay tribute to all who have striven so hard in the search for reconciliation and the search must go on. We do not believe direct rule is the answer in any but a temporary sense, but for the time being it provides a fair framework for the the administration of Northern Ireland. It would be more satisfactory, however, if the Unionist Members in the other place would take advantage once more of their opportunities at Westminster.
I understand that this extension order is before the House today for the 13th time and this must give pause for thought. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, will allow me to quote what he said last year. He said then (at col. 67 of Hansard for 8th July):The Government proclaim to the world that they want to return as much responsibility as they can to Northern Ireland as soon as possible, but, as this has not after 12 years proved to be feasible, we are entitled to ask: when is it likely to be feasible? We are entitled to ask this question as the need for progress becomes daily more urgent".The answer, sadly I believe, is that progress is as hard today as it was then. It is difficult to make different comments now from what was said last July, so I will be brief. Then I asked two questions which perhaps I may now be allowed to repeat. First, I said that this House agreed 12 months ago, without challenge, that it was necessary for the eleventh time to renew this order. Had anything happened since then to make us change our minds? I said then, and unfortunately I 1129 repeat now. "Quite simply I think, and sadly, the answer is no." Secondly, I asked whether there was any question that the British seek to maintain colonial rights over the Province and enjoy at Westminster the power they hold. I answered then, as now, certainly not.
The need for reconciliation between the two communities in Northern Ireland remains paramount, the difficulties formidable. That is the stark truth, even if all too obvious. We accept that the Northern Ireland Act 1974 must continue to be operated and that this 1130 order must be passed. How you get harmony between the Unionists and the Nationalists I do not know, but it is our task to find a way. Discussion and debate must take the place of obstruction and discord. The people of the Province sometimes seem to want to make difficulties for themselves and recently several people have asked me in despair, "Just what do they want?" The answer should surely be: a society free from fear and want where all can live and work happily side by side. But their actions seem often to belie what should be their aim. Somewhat sadly, but without hesitation, we on these Benches support both these orders.
§ 9.4 p.m.
My Lords, I rise in your Lordships' House this evening to apologise, to say that I am sorry that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not worked. The noble Lord's right honourable friend in another place, Mr. James Prior, has been accorded some acclaim and some disapproval for having introduced the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982. I feel perhaps I should confess that it was on 1st November 1979 that I ventured to suggest to your Lordships' House that there should be an assembly of that sort set up. Indeed, I was reading the speech which I made on that occasion again this morning and it was interesting to see how very close the provisions of the 1982 Assembly came to what was suggested in that debate.
I honestly thought that it was going to work and I have no doubt that if the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, had been leading the SDLP at the time, with his colleague who left at about the same period, Mr. Patrick Devlin, a good friend and adversary of mine—if they had both been in the leadership of the SDLP then the Assembly would have worked. It is most regrettable that the SDLP did not take their seats. It is most regrettable that, having scored what is undoubtedly a major political triumph in having pulled off the New Ireland Forum to start with, and now the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Mr. John Hume, instead of being generous enough to take any sort of reciprocal action in giving and being accommodating, I am sorry to say took the attitude of, "Let's face down the Unionists. Let's stick their faces in the mud." This, my Lords, is most regrettable and is not an environment in which progress can be made politically or in any other way.
Having said that, the Unionists are by no means free of blame. They had the ball at their toe at one stage and if they had been generous enough genuinely to welcome the SDLP into the Assembly, there could have been a very different course of events. The Unionists—both parties of Unionists—were at no time wholehearted in acceptance of the SDLP into any power sharing situation. My party, the Alliance Party, was sneered at as being the party that supported power sharing.
It is hardly surprising, in the light of that environment as well, that the objective of a devolution which would be acceptable to all sections of the community in Northern Ireland was not achieved. Another way in which the Assembly could have worked perfectly successfully would have been if the electorate had thought fit to vote for enough members of the Alliance Party (which represent both sides of the community) to form a majority. But, regrettably, that was not the case.
We are faced now with the situation that inevitably the Assembly has got to be wound up. It is a sad day and it is a sad thing to have to admit; but I think that there is no alternative and, as the noble Lord on the Front Bench has said, the Assembly has not been doing its proper work since the beginning of December. I can see no alternative to it. Therefore, having been in favour in 1979 and in 1982 of a political initiative in order to try to break the log jam, in order to try to defuse the political vacuum, now, quite honestly, I think that any further initiative for the time being would be counterproductive. I think 1132 that we have probably simply got to face up to having direct rule for the foreseeable future and try to let things settle down; because I cannot envisage any initiative which would be productive rather than counterproductive at this time.
Meanwhile, the Anglo-Irish Agreement remains. The noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench spoke about the opportunity for discussions between the political parties without preconditions. Unfortunately, it is the fact that the Unionists regard the existence of the Anglo-Irish Agreement as being a precondition. That is why they will not enter into discussions. But that is as it may be. We await results from the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
A right honourable Member of the other place visited Northern Ireland the other day and commented that, as far as the economy is concerned, as far as employment is concerned, we could not see any results having arisen from the agreement so far. On security, we cannot say that we have seen any results so far, although we have been told that there has been a tremedous advance in the co-operation and mutual working between the police north and south of the Border. Yet the IRA were able to set off a 500-lb van bomb outside Cloughmills police station the night before last. Murders and similar acts of terrorism continue.
I think that the Unionists would be much more impressed if they saw positive results coming out of the agreement rather than talks. Furthermore, we should all be more impressed if there were more openness about the inter-governmental conference. A press statement, a communiqué afterwards, says what it wants to say. In fact, most of us know that not a great deal is done in the inter-governmental conference whether it be at Maryfield or elsewhere. Most of the business is delegated to sub-committees and those subcommittees could get on with their work in the way that communication has gone on between North and South for years and years. But that is as it may be. The inter-governmental conference, I suggested, should have been suspended to give the Unionists the opportunity to come in and talk. But Her Majesty's Government did not think fit so to do. The way things are, I have reason to suspect that the Anglo-Irish Agreement will be for the chop anyway shortly after the next election in the Republic of Ireland.
That is something that we have to ride out. I am afraid that it will be looked back on as being a well-intentioned but unfortunate concept. It has alienated the Protestants; it has caused differences between people who were previously in accord; it has caused tensions and it has imposed tremendous strains upon the police, as well. We shall just have to ride that out. Meanwhile, I repeat that I am sorry that the Northern Ireland Assembly did not work. I thought sincerely that it was going to work. We shall just have to bide our time and see what happens.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I want to speak to the Interim Period Extension Order and to raise very 1133 briefly three matters which clearly fall within the responsibility of the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office. These concern the Social Security Bill now before your Lordships, integrated schools and long-term prisons. It is well known that Northern Ireland is the poorest region in the United Kingdom. It is geographically remote and it has suffered very considerable violence over the years. There is high unemployment which is, alas, still rising and there is heavy long-term unemployment. If that were not bad enough, there are many people on low incomes; and fuel costs are higher than in the rest of the country. These are special factors affecting the Province and I submit that they deserve special consideration.
What can the Government do about the Social Security Bill? I suggest that they could make arrangements for paying family credit direct to wives; they could continue single payments to claimants instead of loans which, in my view, are certain to lead to greater debt and greater impoverishment in Northern Ireland in the long run. The Government could avoid cutting housing benefit and they could continue the right of appeal to tribunals which claimants now enjoy.
There is also the question of the loss of jobs in Northern Ireland within the DHSS. These will arise, I understand, largely as a result of computerisation. It has been suggested, though I have not checked these figures, that the losses could amount to as many as 1,000 or 2,000 jobs. Perhaps the Minister can give us the exact figures when he replies. I should like to ask: what retraining have the Government in mind for these people whose livelihood is at risk? Can those who become redundant be redeployed into other needed posts in health and social services?
I now turn to integrated schools. I think it is perhaps important to define what an integrated school is. It is a school that is opened because the parents want it for their children in a particular place. The schools which have opened so far on this basis have been balanced and shared interdenominational Christian schools. They cherish all children, whether they are of the Christian faith, of other faiths or of no faith. The aim is to have a 50–50 balance between Protestant and Roman Catholic children. Where they cannot achieve that precise equality, they wish to keep the ratio within the 60–40 band.
There are already four schools open and I understand there is a new one which is planned to open next September at Newcastle, County Down. Well over 600 children are already studying in these schools and they have considerable waiting lists. Therefore the demand from parents for schooling of this type, to my mind, has been clearly demonstratred at least in so far as the Greater Belfast area is concerned. What conclusion should we draw from this? I should like to suggest that parents whose children qualify should be entitled as of right to free school meals, uniform grants and free transport during (and this is the important point) the probationary period before these new schools achieve controlled status within state education.
I should like to go on to ask that these schools should be entitled to 100 per cent. state aid for their running 1134 costs from the day they open. This would put them in a position of exact parity with the new Roman Catholic controlled schools, which get government help from the planning stage onwards, as I understand it.
I now turn to the review procedure for life and indeterminate sentences. Before I finish, I should like also to mention the discharge arrangements for long-term prisoners generally. Your Lordships may be aware that there is in existence a review board for these indeterminate sentences. Reports are submitted to the board in writing and they are of the utmost importance, because if the facts are not correctly fed into the board the end result cannot possibly be correct. Therefore I submit that it is of the greatest importance that the prison staff who have to submit these reports should be fully trained in character observation and report writing. If possible, I should also like to see the comments given by prison chaplains, probation officers and prison social workers made admissible, as well as reports from prison officers and prison governors. I think also there should be an opportunity for the individual prisoner to challenge reports with which he disagrees.
If the board does not set a provisional release date, the prisoner should be informed of the reasons, provided that those reasons are ones over which the prisoner has some personal control.
On the other hand, where the board does not set a release date I should like to see a speeding up of the ratification which is now required first of all by the judge who passed the sentence and secondly by the Northern Ireland Office. At the present time, this process can take anything up to nine months, which seems to be an excessively long period.
I come now, finally, to the pre-release procedures for long-term prisoners. I should like to suggest that those prisoners who both succeed in getting pre-release work and who have a family home to live in should be released on licence to their home. Where this does not apply, hostels should be provided instead of the present arrangement, which allows total freedom by day to the prisoner while obliging him to return to a top security prison for the night. After all, if he is going to escape he will escape during the day, not during the night.
Finally, where a prisoner is on pre-release work experience and is doing unpaid work there should be financial assistance provided to him so that he does not become a burden on his family.
Those are three areas, where direct rule applies, where the Government can make improvements in a situation which is not entirely desirable at the present moment. I hope the noble Lord will be able to throw some light on these problems tonight. If he cannot, I shall be perfectly happy for him to reply to me by letter.
§ Lord Fitt
In advance of the debate this evening I took the opportunity today to sit in the Gallery of the House of Commons. I listened to the speech of the Secretary of State and that of the spokesman for the Opposition, Mr. Archer. They were reasonably 1135 hopeful speeches. I think they were calculated to bring about the best set of political circumstances in Northern Ireland. Then I listened to two other speeches from those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies—the right honourable gentleman the Member for South Down, Enoch Powell, and Seamus Mallon of the SDLP, who represents Newry and Armagh.
Your Lordships will be able to read those speeches in the Official Report tomorrow morning, and I am sure that, as I was, your Lordships will be filled with a sense of despair that there was not one centimetre of movement in the political attitudes that have existed for so long. As I sat and listened to Enoch Powell I found myself, as I always have done, in total disagreement with the argument and thesis that he continually puts forward in relation to calling for total integration. That is something which very few people in Northern Ireland want, and certainly no one in the political spectrum on this side of the water.
As I listened to Seamus Mallon, I felt more than ever justified that I had given up the leadership and resigned from the SDLP, because that party is as fully and totally committed to its pursuit of Irish nationalism, come hell or high water, no matter how long the political debate may be kept up in Northern Ireland. Its aim is to assert its Irish nationalism in total opposition to the point of view put forward by Enoch Powell—his assertion of Ulster unionism, or Ulster nationalism as some people would say.
It was with a particular sense of poignancy that I listened to those attitudes today, because I was the one Northern Ireland elected representative in 1982 in another place who supported the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Prior, in his promulgation of the Northern Ireland Assembly Act. All the Unionist Members who were there and the various strands of unionism opposed that Act.
In the House of Commons there are, maybe 10 people who are interested in Northern Ireland, and there are one or two fewer in your Lordships' House. They are the people who take part in the debates. They are the people who are interested, who visit Northern Ireland and try to get a feel for what happens. But in another place, and indeed on occasions in this House, when the Division bells ring the Government can always secure their majority. We know the overwhelming majority that the Government had in another place in support of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I suggest that two-thirds of the people who voted for that did not have a clue as to what it was all about; and there are a lot of people in this House who voted for it and welcomed it with open arms who were not very aware of the impact that it was liable to have in Northern Ireland.
I remember, the day after the agreement was signed, reading all the press reports of it. We had press reports coming in from Sweden, from Germany, from France, from Tanzania, from the Congo, from everywhere you could think of, obviously orchestrated by the Foreign Office and by the Irish Embassies and Consulates throughout the world. They all said, in their various unpronounceable languages which would not be understood in Ireland, how wonderful this agreement 1136 was. It was the greatest thing since the £5 note. It was a wonderful agreement that had been arrived at by the two governments.
But the most significant newspaper of them all was the Belfast Telegraph in Northern Ireland—not in Sweden, Turkey or China. It said, "It will not work." That was written by Northern Ireland people and it was read by Northern Ireland people. It is an opinion-former in Northern Ireland, as is its sister Unionist newspaper, the Belfast News Letter, and I have had continuous disagreements with them throughout the years. But they are the papers that form opinions in Northern Ireland. People in the Shankill Road, in Sandy Row, or in any of the Unionist areas are not very concerned about what some newspaper in Stockholm, or anywhere else, says. They live in Northern Ireland and it was there that the decisions had to be taken.
I find myself in total agreement with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, who continues to live in Northern Ireland, and with what I am quite certain will be said by my noble friend Lord Blease, who continues to live in Northern Ireland, with his family and his grandchildren. I do not live in Northern Ireland at the moment, but I am completely in touch with it and my ageing mother and all my relations still live there. So while I do not live there, I am still very much concerned with what happens in Northern Ireland.
When the Bill on the Assembly was going through another place, I had high hopes that it may succeed where other political initiatives had failed. I was all too well aware that it may be boycotted. I am sure your Lordships know that it was the Irish who made the word "boycott" what it is today. Prior to Irish involvement with Captain Boycott, it was just another surname. I do not know whether he was a relation of Geoffrey. But the word "boycott" became in the English language associated with abstention, sending to Coventry, etc. That has happened throughout Irish political life. I was the leader of the SDLP, and we boycotted Stormont from 1971 until its abolition in 1972 because we did not like some of the decisions that were being taken there. The Unionists up to the present moment have been boycotting the Assembly because they did not like the decisions that were being taken by the British Government. So everyone is in the boycott game and the abstention game.
As I sit and watch it from the rarefied atmosphere of the House of Lords I can see that there are two parties to this conflict. It would be totally and absolutely unfair continuously to point the finger at one of them. There are two parties to this conflict. I should like to believe that people will stop saying—I heard Seamus Mallon at it today in another place; I hear John Hume at it as well—"We are willing to enter into talks without preconditions". That is totally and absolutely untrue because they have in their hands in the form of the Anglo-Irish Agreement the biggest political precondition they have ever had. That is the biggest political precondition they have had. Read the speeches in tomorrow morning's Hansard.
The Unionists are saying, "Our precondition is: get rid of the Anglo-Irish Agreement". The Nationalists are saying, "Our precondition is: keep it". That is 1137 exactly what it means. One side has not been more intransigent than the other. There is total intransigence on both sides. Each of the political parties in Northern Ireland is out to achieve total victory over the other. I have said before in this House and I repeat: there is no compromise in Irish politics. People do not know what that word means. They do not know how to spell it because they have never had to use it. In Northern Ireland there are victories and defeats. The Nationalist population is now seeking total victory over the Unionist population. The Unionist population is seeking victory over the Nationalist population. It has ever been so in relation to Irish politics.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, said he supposed that if I had still been in the leadership of the SDLP in 1982, in company with Paddy Devlin, a former socialist colleague of mine in that party, we would have been able to bring the SDLP into the Assembly. I am sorry to have to tell the noble Lord that it would not have been possible, because that was why Paddy Devlin and I left the SDLP. Had we been there in 1982 and suggested bringing the SDLP into the Assembly, both of us would have been expelled. The SDLP is essentially a Nationalist Party; that is its whole raison d'être. It is a Nationalist Party as opposed to a Unionist Party. Paddy Devlin and I comprised a very small socialist element within that party. Unfortunately we were not able to bring the party along the road that we had charted out for it, and we left it.
So we now find ourselves with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The Irish political parties make mistakes too. They boxed themselves into a corner. They have done it repeatedly throughout the centuries, Unionists and Nationalists alike. But this Government have also done exactly the same thing. This Government have boxed themselves in with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. First of all, they totally excluded the Unionists from any part of the discussions in the run-up to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. In 1973, when I was Leader of the SDLP, the then Secretary of State, who is now Leader of your Lordships' House, called a conference in Darlington in a rather peremptory way. I did not like the attitude that he then had. We told him in quite specific Northern Ireland terms that we were not going, and we did not go. That is the attitude.
The Unionists were told—in fact, they were not told; they read it in editorials in some of the Irish newspapers—what was happening during the discussions which led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They read in editorials in the Fianna Fáil newspaper, the Irish Press, what was likely to be contained in that agreement. There could be nothing more calculated to drive the Unionists into the Sea of Tranquillity than to read in an Irish nationalist and, by their standards, republican newspaper what was happening in relation to how they were to be governed in the future. Those leaks were very accurate.
This Government then said, "That is the agreement. You either take it or you lump it. Look what the people of Stockholm said about it, or the people in Peking. They are in agreement with it". The Unionists said, "We are not in agreement, and it is an agreement that will affect us". So one had the almost total opposition of the Unionist Party and of the Protestant 1138 people of Northern Ireland. As I have said before and now repeat, they are people who are not loud-mouthed bigots. They are people who do not have any great esteem for the gospel as preached by Ian Paisley. They are the moderate people of Northern Ireland who feel that in some way or other their birthright has been placed under attack by an agreement in which they had absolutely no part to play.
As I said, the Government have boxed themselves in. They have said, "The agreement is there and it is going to stay there, come hell or high water". I want your Lordships to think for a few moments about what that phrase means: "Come hell or high water". It means very severe community disruption in Northern Ireland. We may sit here, and others may sit in the House of Commons, and tut-tut about the terrible consequences of that agreement and about what is taking place. But the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and my noble friend Lord Blease have to live there and will see the consequences at very close hand.
The two most important items of legislation relating to Northern Ireland now are contained in the two orders that we are discussing at this moment. One concerns the dissolving of the Assembly. The other relates to the extension of the 1974 Act that makes for a continuance of direct rule. Each is contingent upon the other. If the Assembly had been a success, then we might have had rolling devolution and there would have been no need to discuss a renewal of the 1974 Act. So the two orders are before your Lordships because of the inability of the political leaders in Northern Ireland to get together and decide how to bring about a system of government under which both communities can live.
I agree fully with what has been said by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies about the unsuitability of total integration. The Unionists should be told that total integration is a non-runner and that it is not acceptable to any section of the British Parliament. We have heard none other than our present Prime Minister saying that Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley. I do not know what the Prime Minister had been doing before she made that comment, but certainly none of us thinks that Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley.
The very name of the state of Northern Ireland indicates how different it is from England, Scotland or Wales. When one talks about those three countries, one is talking about three entities; England, Scotland and Wales. But in the case of Northern Ireland, one is talking about the northern part of another island and another political entity. Its very name is an indication that it is totally different from the other three countries contained in the land mass that is the island of Great Britain. So some means must be found to find a system of political structures that will enable progress to take place in Northern Ireland.
I repeat, I listened today with a great sense of despair to what was said by the representatives from Northern Ireland. I looked at the parliamentary Order Paper for another place. It said that if the two orders are not completed by eight o'clock the Speaker will then impose a rule and call an end to the debate. Two of the most important orders that affect the future and the continuing future of everyone in Northern Ireland and 1139 the Speaker says that if they are not finished after a four-hour debate—it started at 10 minutes past four—he will close the debate anyway. That is an indication—
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and long-standing friend Lord Fitt for giving way. Is he being fair when only one Member of the Ulster Unionist party was in attendance at that debate? As a former MP I represented a constituency in England. I would have loved a four-hour debate on the area I represented. It is a fact that Northern Ireland, for its population, gets the most beneficial treatment of any region or area in the United Kingdom—far more than anywhere else. Therefore, I do not accept the premise that my old friend and noble colleague has put forward.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, the debates which my noble friend Lord Dean would like to see and to have more time allotted to are debates about the everyday lives of people in relation to housing, employment, and so on. However, the debates in relation to Northern Ireland are about the constitutional position in Northern Ireland.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, there was no one there, but what would have happened if all the Unionist Members had been there this afternoon and all wanted to make speeches? Would the Speaker still have insisted on saying, "You can have four hours for the debate and after that all the English Members will want to go home because it is a Thursday night and we cannot allow you interlopers to come over here and take up all the time of the House"? Let us be honest. Given the fact that Northern Ireland had a Parliament from 1920 to 1972, then an Assembly, a Convention, and then another Assembly, it quite understandably divorces and isolates Northern Ireland matters from the minds of Members who represent constituencies on the mainland and Members of your Lordships' House. That is why I say that I do not think we can go back again to the position when the Act of Union came about, before Stormont, the Irish Free State or the Parliament in Dublin came into being. Those days are gone, and gone for ever. I listened to the Secretary of State say today that there may be two other options—that there may be an independent Northern Ireland. I do not think that is a runner either because an independent Northern Ireland calls for majority rule and we have seen what majority rule was like under a Unionist government for 50 years in Northern Ireland.
No, it is a sad occasion here tonight that we have to agree to the dissolution of the Assembly and to agree to direct rule for another year. I am inclined to agree with what has been said; but for me to agree to this after having had the experience of Sunningdale has certainly brought about far-reaching consequences in my own mind. Perhaps the time for initiatives has gone. I think there is a feeling now in Northern Ireland that the Assembly, on which so many people based so much hope, did not achieve what we set out to do.
1140 We should not attempt to push another initiative just for the sake of being seen to be doing something rather than nothing. There is a strange belief in this House and in the other place that it is better to do something than to do nothing, but that is not necessarily true. I think that the Northern Ireland policital leaders will now have to take stock of these two orders and what has happened to them tonight. They have to ask themselves, not ask people in this House or people in another place, what future do they see for Northern Ireland. The only future that there can be is one that will be brought about by agreement between the two communities in Northern Ireland. This House can help to bring about such a solution. It cannot impose any solution.
I believe that a great responsibility now rests on the two sets of political leaders in Northern Ireland. I find that some of the criticisms that are now being levelled at one section of the community appear to be just a little unfair. There are two sides to the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is recognised in Northern Ireland, and it may as well be recognised here in your Lordships' House.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I listened with care to what the Minister said. I understand the reasons for the Government's decision. The Minister paid a generous tribute to the good work that was done by the Assembly but at the end it clearly was not doing its job and the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, has told us with clarity and fairness why it failed.
Yet inevitably its dissolution must be a further discouragement to the majority in Northern Ireland who are already discouraged enough. To me it is extraordinary that the Government, just a few days after their announcement, should have chosen to have a meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Belfast—an action which I should have thought was bound to inflame Unionist opinion. Of course, it is important that they should be discussing security with the Government of the Republic. I think that we have all been impressed by the outstanding work of the RUC and the police over here in catching Mr. Magee and his associates; but IRA murders continue and Evelyn Glenholmes is still at large. Why cannot security matters be discussed quietly and without publicity in London or Dublin instead of making the meeting an occasion to cock a snook at majority opinion in Northern Ireland?
The Assembly has been dissolved and yet another experiment in devolution has come to a full stop. So what do we do? I believe that time is not on our side. The Hillsborough agreement has not produced peace and stability in Northern Ireland and before very long we may have a Government in Dublin that is led by Mr. Haughey. What happens then? What will the majority in Northern Ireland think about Mr. Haughey having a say in their affairs?
I suggest that the Government must devise, and devise urgently, some way in which moderate, reasonable opinion in Northern Ireland can make itself heard and listened to. I think that this is immensely important. I suggest that, as devolution has failed again, and despite the obvious difficulties spelt 1141 out by the Minister, we should begin to treat Northern Ireland more like other parts of the United Kingdom—for example, like Wales. When we look at Northern Ireland and at Wales, what is the most striking political difference that hits one in the eye? Surely it is the strange refusal of the main British political parties to operate in Northern Ireland. I am a Cross-Bencher and I do not know what moves political parties, but it strikes me as very odd that they all abstain from recruiting members or fielding candidates in this important part of the United Kingdom. It seems to me that this has very bad consequences. A Northern Ireland voter normally has a choice only between one of the two Unionist parties, the Alliance, the SDLP, or, I am sorry to say, Sinn Fein.
All these parties are Irish parties. Nearly all their candidates are one-issue men and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has told us that there is no compromise between them. Would it not be much better if people in Northern Ireland had the opportunity of voting also for a Conservative, Labour, Liberal or SDP candidate, who, if elected, could use his influence in one of these parties, and would it not be a good thing that they sometimes should give some thought to the other issues which affect the United Kingdom? It might, I suggest, take their minds off total preoccupation with the intractable problems which are special to Northern Ireland.
I do not suggest that we need make a dramatic or instant change, but I think that we have to recognise that devolution has not worked and will not work in the immediate future. It seems to me that we should as a matter of common sense examine the alternatives. That, I believe, means treating Northern Ireland and its citizens more like other parts of the United Kingdom, with Parliament giving the same careful scrutiny to Northern Ireland legislation as it does now to matters affecting Scotland and Wales. I think that that might help to reduce tension, improve the atmosphere and promote stability and confidence.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, first, I should like to join with my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Prys-Davies, in welcoming the Minister's introduction to the order and the manner in which he presented it to us. At this late hour I feel somewhat restricted. Like my noble friend Lord Fitt, I am conscience bound: I should like to indicate to the people of Northern Ireland at least that a word or two was said here on their behalf. I have examined my heart, as I am sure other noble Lords have done, and seek to represent the views of the people of Northern Ireland and to say something that would be helpful. At this late stage I shall not be tempted to go down the road followed by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and deal with the integrationist point of view. We shall have an opportunity to deal with that later next month.
We have had a forthright exchange of views and have many times covered the well-trodden ground of Northern Ireland affairs. I think it will be acknowledged that this is a crucial period for the people of Northern Ireland. That is all the more reason why a few minutes should be spent listening to what yet another person from Northern Ireland has to say about the situation.
1142 On 12th June the Minister delivered a Statement to the House on the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was stated (at col. 411 of Hansard):I wish to emphasise to the House that the dissolution of the present Assembly in no way conflicts with our desire for devolved government nor our commitment to the Anglo-Irish agreement. Devolution remains the Government's preferred option and I hope that we shall see a future Assembly playing a responsible and valuable role in the Province. The sooner that happens, the better …Only if we are prepared to talk together and discuss these matters can we hope fully to play our separate but complementary roles in building a better future for the people of Northern Ireland".There are three points in that quotation to which I wish to make a positive and, I hope, helpful response. The first is that devolution remains the Government's preferred option; the second is that the Government hope that we shall soon see an Assembly playing a responsible and valuable role in the Province; and the third is that the Government remain ready to discuss with all constitutional parties in Northern Ireland the building of a better future for the people of Northern Ireland. Time prevents me from putting the case that I should like to put in support of those three important aspects of the announcement. However, I wish to declare that it is my opinion that the Government cannot just stand by and allow events to dictate the way forward. They should now take sensitive, constructive and positive action to initiate matters in Northern Ireland. In that respect I disagree with my noble friend Lord Fitt. I believe that the Government have a responsibility for bringing forward leadership at the present time.
One of the actions that I would suggest is that they should now initiate a ministerial conference, chaired by a senior Government Minister such as the noble Viscount, Lord Whitlelaw. The people eligible or entitled to attend such a conference should be elected Northern Ireland Members of the United Kingdom Parliament and official representatives of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland.
I would further suggest that, as a prerequisite for the convening of such a conference, the agenda should include among other matters a reaffirmation of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom as stated in Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Secondly, on the agenda there should be condemnation of, and pronounced opposition to, all forms of terrorism, violence and coercion as a means of furthering political objectives aspirations and constitutional change.
There has already been mention of the need in Northern Ireland for the return of responsibility and accountability to the people of their elected representatives. I have always regarded this as absolutely necessary. If there is to be accountability, there must be responsibility. The agenda should include consideration of the appointment of Northern Ireland elected representatives to a security committee that would be given a reasoned and responsible consultative and advisory role in respect of overall policies and principles for upholding law and order in the Province and security of life and property. This was missing from the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The people of Northern Ireland have a right to a say and a share of the responsibility for maintaining law and 1143 order. It cannot be done in any other way on their behalf.
There is an urgent need for policies and concerted action to build a better life for all. That better life for all cannot be built by the Republic or by the United Kingdom Government alone. It must be built by the people in Northern Ireland. That action must be promoted with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
I conclude with what I regard as a statement of hope for the future. It is a statement on behalf of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum—a cry from the heart by young people in Northern Ireland who do not possess, I believe, a recognised voice. It does not become someone of my age perhaps to represent their views, but I consider it a privilege to do so. The Northern Ireland Youth Forum was established in 1979 by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who was at that time the Northern Ireland Minister responsible for education and youth affairs. It comprises young people under 25, who are appointed as representatives of youth in the 26 local government district councils of Northern Ireland.
The statement appears in a copy of Arena, published by the Standing Conference of Youth Organisations in Northern Ireland. The statement reads:The Northern Ireland Youth Forum would like to express its concern over developments on the political scene in Northern Ireland over the last year. We feel that these events can only be seen to have detrimental consequences for youth of this Province. The upsurge in violence has caused much heartache in Northern Ireland and has also led to greater alienation within our community. We are wary of the inevitability of young people being influenced by extremists from all quarters and again totally condemn all acts of violence regardless of the instigators.The Youth Forum is concerned over the number of statements which have been made from various quarters, hinting at violence and civil disturbance. We condemn such statements as they only lead to further divisions, add to the present fears and promote intimidation. We regret that there are constant disruptions in District Councils, Education and Library Boards and in the Health Boards as important work at grass-roots level is being harmed, and young people are among those bearing the brunt of such disruptions. We do not blame any one group for this as it, to coin a phrase, takes 'two to tango'. We see the present situation as unfortunate but may be avoidable.We want a future and would encourage greater dialogue between politicians within Northern Ireland as a way forward for peace and stability in our Province. We call for greater co-operation and closer involvement to help sort out the social needs and aspirations of all people in the North.The Northern Ireland Youth Forum is totally Non-Party Political and has issued this statement independently of any outside [influence]. We have compiled this statement as the democratically-elected voice for young people in this Province who believe it was time our voice was heard. We, the youth of this country demand a peaceful and stable future in which we will be able to live!I believe that that is a plea from the heart. I believe that by presenting it in this House it will be perhaps heard by the elected representatives in Northern Ireland and by those with responsibility so that they may get together to work for the good of the youth of Northern Ireland.
I conclude by asking the Minister to indicate whether active measures will be taken by the Government to continue to promote the desirable consultations. I do not believe that consultations will take place unless the Government help and encourage that form of dialogue.
1144 The second question I should like to put to the Minister is this. Will he use his influence along with that of his ministerial colleagues to promote and encourage relevant consultations with the Ulster Farmers' Union, trade unions and employers' organisations, and with other representative commercial and social bodies in Northern Ireland, including the Northern Ireland Youth Forum?
It is only by awakening the people in Northern Ireland to the fact that their responsibility requires to be exercised in this respect that we shall have the kind of Assembly that we desire. It will not come through any spontaneous action.
In order to counter the widespread "disinformation," may I ask the Minister whether he will encourage all statutory bodies and public bodies —including the Government's information service in Northern Ireland—to maintain open and frank reporting of issues and events in the general public interest? I believe that we have a vacuum at the present time. This is being taken over by those who wish to promote ill-founded rumour and propaganda. It is necessary that there should be alert, honest and frank exchanges of views and information within Northern Ireland.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, as your Lordships will appreciate, we are all immensely grateful for the patience shown and the high quality of the contributions made by noble Lords in the debate this evening, especially on the order that is before us.
If I may try to answer most of the points that have been raised by your Lordships, perhaps I may go through the contributions in order. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, will forgive me if I start with him first. The noble Lord suggested that the Assembly had become the exclusive territory of the Unionists. Of course, that is perfectly true. I think that the most cogent contribution was made by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, who had taken part in the Assembly since its inception. I think that the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, indicated how that came about, and gave many of the reasons why. We are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for his support of what the Government are trying to do and also for his firm thrust that we should not lose our nerve. Certainly on our part there will be no loss of nerve in trying to secure a better future for everybody—and I mean "everybody"—in Northern Ireland.
The main thrust of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and indeed of the noble Lord, Lord Blease (about whose remarks I shall have more to say later), and other noble Lords, has been the worry that there is lack of consultation. I stress that the doors of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister are open for more fruitful and further discussions. Of course, the Unionist Party leaders must speak for themselves. We hope that they will take up the constant offers of further discussions, and for all the best reasons I hope without pre-conditions.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies—and I think I quote him correctly—said that the religious leaders 1145 craved for further talks. Indeed, I note from the newspapers in Northern Ireland that religious leaders are hoping for moderation and hoping for further fruitful discussions and talks. The noble Lord mentioned men of religion and religious leaders. I am sure that he is acquainted with the slightly double entendre of those words in Northern Ireland politics, but not for the worst reasons. Perhaps I should not go too far with my personal thoughts on the men of religion who mix politics as well. I find them interesting and entertaining, and, above all, when they wish they have a great deal to contribute to the political life—indeed, the entire life—of Northern Ireland.
Another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, was the treatment of Northern Ireland business in your Lordships' House and another place. I am sure that your Lordships will accept that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made very clear on 25th February this year in her meeting with the two leaders of the Unionist Parties that she was and still is willing to discuss with them the arrangements for handling Northern Ireland business both here and in another place. She made a very firm commitment. Indeed, it was one of the main commitments that my right honourable friend made on that day, and I stress that the offer remains on the table. I am sure that it would be the wish of everyone that that offer should be subject to further discussion.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, went on to mention the second order—to which I have already spoken and which I shall move formally later—namely, the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order. He referred to the imperfection of the treatment. As far as Northern Ireland legislation is concerned, that may be the case. The noble Lord also asked an interesting question about whether the inter-governmental conference would be responsible to Parliament. I hope that we shall give as much information as we can both here and in another place about the proceedings at the conference when it takes place. I recall stressing to your Lordships that we wish to give all possible detail that we deem prudent. As your Lordships will remember, the conference is a discussion between two sovereign governments and it should be conducted along those lines. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, with his great knowledge of diplomatic discussions, discretion and, above all, good sense, would accept that I am partly on the right lines in putting that thought forward.
We are grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and the emphasis which he placed on the fact that we are dissolving the Assembly and not abolishing it. I explained in the course of my remarks both today and last week why we took this course of action. We are grateful for the fact that the noble Lord has reiterated that it is a dissolution. Of course he noted, as we all have, the use of the Assembly to attack the Anglo-Irish Agreement and members of the security forces. The noble Lord also mentioned that this was the 13th time that the interim period extension order had been renewed. As he said, sadly this is the case. But for the reasons I have explained, my noble friends at this Dispatch Box and other holders of the office that I hold have given I hope not 1146 excuses but sound reasons why we believe that this order has to be continued.
Perhaps I may now turn to the marvellously robust comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. Nobody in this House, let alone in another place—or indeed very few in Northern Ireland—could have contributed more than the noble Lord to political life in Northern Ireland. I have attended as an observer in the Assembly, and I have watched the noble Lord as a very capable and able deputy Speaker. Perhaps he has picked up a few tricks here. The commitment and personal effort of the noble Lord have been a shining light in the political life of Northern Ireland.
He may recall my good wishes in his efforts as long ago as 1973, since I think the first eight speeches I made in this chamber were related to Northern Ireland. I recall the noble Lord and I from somewhat humble positions on the Back-Benches discussing orders and Acts in 1973.
The noble Lord mentioned the need for devolution. It was inevitable that, with the need for devolution and the Assembly not working as it should, the Assembly would be ultimately wound up. I hope that the noble Lord and the House might accept that direct rule works well; but of course it does not allow Northern Ireland elected representatives to decide all the policies for Northern Ireland. Your Lordships' House and another place provide a democratic check; but inevitably Northern Ireland has a separate party-political system. We hope that a devolved Administration within its own responsibilities would more closely reflect local concerns and priorities.
To survive, this devolved Administration would have to be widely acceptable. I seem to remember those two words being quoted by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Mr. Prior, in 1982. They are still relevant today. As we have learned this evening, if all parties in Northern Ireland could learn to work together, we are of the opinion—and I am sure everybody in this place would be—that it would not merely help to promote but would contribute greatly to reconciliation between the two sections of the community.
This particular policy of devolution does not imply any lack of support for the union. What it does is to recognise that because of the divided community in Northern Ireland, which has been stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, the geography of Northern Ireland, and as always in any discussion of Northern Ireland and its politics, its history, it really is impossible to treat Northern Ireland as though it were identical in all respects with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Noble Lords such as Lord Fitt, Lord Blease, and Lord Dunleath, would admit that the longer those like myself, mere Scots, go to Northern Ireland and serve and work there, the more we find that we have to learn. It is a learning process that I love and enjoy; but Northern Ireland is different, and it is for these reasons that we have orders such as those we have before us this evening.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, raised another point when he suggested that the Anglo-Irish Agreement might be suspended. I hope that he and the noble Lords, Lord Fitt and Lord Blease, would accept that the agreement has the potential to offer—I stress 1147 "the potential to offer"—real benefits to both sides of the community in Northern Ireland.
We shall not suspend an agreement which has been overwhelmingly endorsed by Parliament, here and in another place, which represents all the citizens of the United Kingdom. Personally one might accept some of the strictures that have come from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that Members of this House and another place might not have read in detail or learned by heart every item, comma, jot and tittle of the agreement and know every part of it. But I believe that Parliament is representative of the vast majority of citizens of the United Kingdom. We for the Government are committed by the terms of the agreement to hold regular and frequent meetings of the conference. But I stress that the conference will proceed with its work sensitively and in the interests of both communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked me three questions. I am afraid I have two words to reply to him—I hope it is not too impudent, rather like the Empress Josephine—"not tonight". I shall take note of the problems that the noble Lord had with the Social Security Bill about re-training the DHSS employees. I was interested to hear his views on integrated schools. I knew of four and that there are more; but I shall take his views on board, and if I can reply to him by letter I shall do so. I hope he will accept that I shall take his comments on long-term prisoners on board. But I am afraid I came, rightly or wrongly, briefed to deal with the orders that are before us this evening. Let us not forget four more orders later when we have finished these two. I am afraid that this is not the Encyclopaedia Britannica speaking but I shall endeavour to give the noble Lord the usual courteous reply.
When the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, spoke we were glad to have a full report of his doings in another place. It is strange—it seems rare—that the noble Lord was in a place which was open to me and other Members of your Lordships' House but not to ex-Members of another place. It was encouraging that he noted the proceedings elsewhere and doubtless we shall read in detail what took place there. The noble Lord's comments on the vote for the Anglo-Irish Agreement perhaps were not entirely fair; but I think he will accept that politics is not entirely fair. I stress that the vote in your Lordships' House and in another place reflected not a wish to cock a snook at Unionists or a wish to be in any way triumphal. It expressed a wish in all parts of your Lordships' House and in another place that this was another step on behalf of the Government in seeking to bring about some form of reconciliation, some form of improvement in the situation in Northern Ireland. That is what we sought to do.
The noble Lord had one or two criticisms about the Anglo-Irish Agreement. As he will be aware, there are several misunderstandings and misconceptions within Northern Ireland about both the terms and the operations of the agreement. First, let me stress that the agreement is not a step towards a United Ireland. On the contrary, in a document binding in international law on both the Republic of Ireland and on the United Kingdom it reinforces the status of 1148 Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. This cannot change unless a majority of the people in Northern Ireland wish to change that status.
Secondly, in no way is the agreement a form of joint authority. It does not give the Government of the Republic of Ireland a veto over decision-making in Northern Ireland. The conference has no executive role and we the Government here and all governments in the United Kingdom will remain responsible for all the decisions of government and the benefits and the wellbeing so sought after by the noble Lord, Lord Blease. We will remain responsible for all that, as far as the citizens of Northern Ireland are concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, concluded by suggesting that the Government were boxed in. I stress that the Government are in no way boxed in; at least two senior members of the Government, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, are open, if need be, even tomorrow or soon, to the leaders of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland to see what can be done to improve the relationships within Northern Ireland.
I stress to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that there is no question of liking or lumping the agreement. We wish to discuss it. The noble Lord mentioned something, I think from one of the Belfast newspapers, about the birthright of the Unionists in Northern Ireland. As a Scot, I will stress to him that the citizenship of the United Kingdom is the birthright of every single one of us, Scots, Welsh, English and Northern Irish. I hope that everybody in Northern Ireland will accept that it is not just one birthright, that we believe that they are members of the United Kingdom, and we are proud to have them with us.
We are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for his studied contribution to the debate on the Motion on the Order Paper tonight. I stress to him that there is no question of cocking a snook at the Unionists at all; indeed, the Government want a quiet discussion, if I may say so to the noble Lord, of the type he knows for he has spent his life in quiet, constuctive and fruitful discussions. That is what we seek, and I believe that that is the basis of the agreement and the conference.
The noble Lord also made one particular reference to some of my remarks earlier, and I hope I have marked them, but I should like to stress them again to the noble Lord. They were on integration and the administrative consequences of integration and how really grave these would be, so that we cannot change local government structure in Northern Ireland since this would, we believe, wreck the system. Secondly, may I stress to the noble Lord and all integrationalists, that if Northern Ireland primary legislation were to be enacted by a Bill, it would place an enormous burden on Parliament? Indeed, I was trying to compare the situation which might take place, were this to happen, so far as Northern Ireland and Scotland were concerned. I think I mentioned that in 1983 there were 13 Orders in Council concerning Northern Ireland containing separate provisions. For Scotland, major Bills in another place, then in your Lordships' House, I think amounted to four. We all know, I think, how long Scottish legislation takes in your Lordships' House. So with, I hope, the usual good humour, I will 1149 tempt the noble Lord to suggest just how long 13 separate Bills in your Lordships' House as well as in another place would take in one year. I believe it is asking too much of our system of government here and in another place.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, was the final speaker and he just wondered whether the Government should allow events to dictate the operations of the Government in Northern Ireland. I hope not, I hope that we are taking a forceful and firm line. The noble Lord raised the question of the Youth Forum, and he wished for further consultation. I think I have a note here of what the noble Lord has to say about a conference covering various important aspects of the future, all aspects of Northern Ireland's future. But my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State made clear their willingness to listen to constructive suggestions. I would say that at present we do not see much evidence of the necessary will among the parties in Northern Ireland to talk to each other constructively, let alone to come with some agreed agenda to see my right honourable friends.
If I may conclude with one thought for the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, we find advantages in the agreement, we believe that the agreement has much to offer to both communities in Northern Ireland. It is an opportunity to promote reconciliation between the two traditions in Northern Ireland and it provides a forum in which to reflect the concerns of the Nationalist community. We hope to gain the support of the Nationalist community in spite of the somewhat gloomy prognostications of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, earlier this evening. We hope and seek to gain their support for the institutions of the Province, including law and order—and let us not forget either the judicial system. This would represent a very real gain for the majority, whose rights are not affected in any way by the agreement.
There is one thing more. The agreement provides the best prospect for progress against terrorism by encouraging better cross-Border security co-operation. We believe that there have been one or two encouraging steps in this particular direction. I apologise that I have had to try to conclude my remarks at a fairly swift pace. If I have missed any serious points, I am sure that we shall catch up with them and I shall endeavour to see that your Lordships' points are answered. With that, I commend to your Lordships the Northern Ireland Assembly (Dissolution) Order 1986.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.