HL Deb 09 July 1993 vol 547 cc1659-89

12.40 p.m.

The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th May be approved [32nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this draft order renews the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, by which government by direct rule continues in Northern Ireland. As it has become customary over the years I would like, again, to give your Lordships an account of the Government's stewardship in Northern Ireland over the previous year.

Regrettably, as your Lordships will remember from the recent debate on security, the use of violence for political ends continues to threaten the lives of the men and women of Northern Ireland. Your Lordships will, I am sure, remember many of the 75 brutal murders by terrorists in Northern Ireland last year, and many of the 37 that have been perpetrated since the beginning of this year. Neither can or will the number of bomb attacks in towns acrossNorthern Ireland be forgotten—Belvoir Park, Bangor, Portadown, Magherafelt, Newry, Strabane, Newtownards and, of course, Belfast.

It remains our first priority to bring this terrorism to an end from whichever organisation it comes and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the RUC and the security forces that support them. Their steadfastness is matched by that of the ordinary men and women of Northern Ireland who continue to go about their daily lives with stoicism and determination. The Government for their part will continue to look for further measures which will assist, by being effective and proportionate, in the defeat of terrorism. Such measures must also take into account the importance of developing the highest level of community confidence in, and support for, the security forces in carrying out their arduous task. The support of all sections of the community for the security forces is essential in the fight against terrorist violence. The Government will also continue to provide the police and Armed Forces with all necessary resources and, as an integral part of this, the Army will support the police for as long as is required.

The police and Armed Forces are having significant successes against terrorists. Last year, 405 people were charged with terrorist related offences, including 101 with murder and attempted murder and 354 people were convicted of terrorist offences. This year, as at 27th June, 182 people have been charged with such offences. Furthermore, important finds of firearms, rocket and mortar launchers, ammunition, explosives and other terrorist equipment continue. For example, on Tuesday 6th July, two vehicle borne bombs containing 1,600 kilogrammes of explosives were intercepted by the police as a result of a vehicle checkpoint. In addition, the security forces, through their sheer hard work, have prevented and deterred numerous attacks. They will continue to do so.

I particularly stress to your Lordships that both the numerical level and the equipment of the security forces are kept under careful review. The adequacy of the criminal law, by which those guilty of terrorist offences may be brought to justice and judicially punished, is similarly subject to regular examination. I can therefore assure your Lordships that the Government remain determined and unrelenting in their commitment to the defeat of the terrorists.

On the economic front your Lordships may take heart. Northern Ireland has held up well under adverse national and world-wide economic conditions. Unemployment is down. The total at 104,500, or 13.9 per cent. of the workforce, is of course higher than we would wish but it has come a long way from the 1986 peak of 17.6 per cent. Output levels in Northern Ireland have risen by 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. over the past year, which compares favourably with figures for the United Kingdom as a whole of around 1 per cent. Those figures show the resilience of the economy in Northern Ireland and of those who work to create its wealth and employment. The Government will continue to work in partnership with business to reinforce the progress already made.

This strategy is well demonstrated by the successful year of the Industrial Development Board which has attracted 10 new projects and around 2,000 jobs by way of inward investment. Equally encouraging is the high level of demand for the IDB's export services which have yielded export orders of £120 million.

The joint initiatives between the IDB and its counterpart the Irish Trade Board continue to bear fruit. The successful exhibition mounted by the Irish Trade Board and IDB in Chicago earlier this month, in which 25 Northern Ireland companies participated, is an excellent example. I was there and can bear witness to the strength and determination by all exhibitors to promote trade on behalf of the island of Ireland.

LEDU is also responsible for impressive achievements on the small business front, including a record number of 1,429 new business start-ups and a 4 per cent. net rise since last year in employment among LEDU's companies (approximately 1,000 jobs).

Neither should we forget the important contribution made to the Northern Ireland economy by tourism. Almost 1.3 million visitors came to Northern Ireland in 1992 compared with 1.186 million in 1991, and the Government will continue to encourage the growth of the tourism sector. In addition to our own support for the tourism infrastructure the European Regional Development Fund has provided over £35 million in the period 1990–1993, which generated investments worth £51 million.

I am also able to report the successful completion of the privatisation of the electricity supply industry in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Electricity plc, the transmission, distribution and supply business, was floated on the Stock Exchange on Monday 21st June.

One of the department's aims in privatising NIE was to broaden and deepen share ownership and the flotation of NIE proved very popular. Some 40 per cent. of the shares available to the general public have been allocated to Northern Ireland citizens and almost 50 per cent. of NIE employees applied for and have received shares. Such support for the future of the company is very encouraging.

Along with constitutional politicians of every party, the Government are in the business of encouraging job creation and preservation. On the community relations front, we have gone on tackling adverse conditions in those areas characterised by disproportionate disadvantage and inequality in Northern Ireland. The Making Belfast Work initiative continues to be at the heart of this campaign with a further £24 million made available for this year. High priority is also given to the Targeting Social Need initiative, through which government policies and programmes are targeted more sharply at the areas and people in great need.

A short time ago I paid tribute to the security forces but I also wish to pay tribute to the individuals and organisations whose efforts at local level have encouraged better community relations. The work continues and shows a growing desire within the community for positive change in the relationship between the two traditions.

I should now like to turn to developments on the political front. When I addressed your Lordships last year there had been, during the preceding weeks, intensive discussions between the British Government and the four main Northern Ireland parties on what has come to be known as strand 1; that is, discussions on the relationships between the people of Northern Ireland, including the relationship between any new institutions and the Westminster Parliament. In addition, all the participants had recently agreed to the Irish Government joining the discussions to consider issues in strand 2; the relationships among the people of the island of Ireland. That took place on 6th July and subsequently, on 28th July, the two Governments held the opening meeting on the third strand, dealing with future relationships between them.

The talks continued until the summer holiday and resumed in the autumn. They closed on 10th November. The following day I repeated to your Lordships a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the political talks. This indicated that we had not as yet succeeded in our ambitious task of securing an overall settlement; that is to say, "a new beginning for relationships and between the peoples of these islands".

I will not repeat that Statement except to say that the talks had witnessed a substantive and detailed engagement between responsible and representative political leaders on issues of the first importance. That was a considerable achievement. Much was done to identify common ground between the participants and to enlarge it, and also to increase their respective understanding of, and respect for, others' positions.

Although those talks came to a close, the independent chairman, Sir Ninian Stephen, expressed the view that their objectives remained valid and achievable. The two Governments also agreed that further dialogue was both necessary and desirable. The four Northern Ireland parties agreed with that, and undertook to "enter into informal consultations with a view to seeking a way forward".

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has also indicated in another place that he remains very keen to assist on the re-opening of dialogue. to establish how we might build on the advances of the past two years. At Downing Street on. 16th June, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach reaffirmed the desire of the two Governments for further talks. That position was reaffirmed by the two Governments again yesterday, at an IGC meeting in London. The Secretary of State has been in contact with the four main Northern Ireland parties and there are issues which require further and private consideration, but the Government's overall aim is to continue to develop the common ground and to work towards the kind of settlement which can be widely agreed and which provides the best chance of achieving a less antagonistic way of living in a divided community. We firmly believe that the people of Northern Ireland hope for and expect no less, and they certainly deserve no less.

To achieve that will hasten the day when conditions in Northern Ireland are such that direct rule can be brought to an end. The Government wish to increase the opportunities for democratically sustained political responsibility in Northern Ireland and we very much hope that that can be realised in the context of a widely agreed foundation for reform.

However, it is regrettable that more progress needs to be made before direct rule will no longer be needed in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. It is therefore necessary to make provision for the renewal of direct rule by means of the order, a draft of which we are at present considering. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th May be approved [32nd Report from the Joint Committee].—(The Earl of Arran.)

12.51 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, in our earlier debate this morning we heard the estimate of £3.1 billion for the upkeep of Northern Ireland for one year. I say it slowly—an estimate of £3,116 million. Without these massive subventions for the upkeep of Northern Ireland, the Province could not exist as an economic or political entity. However, the same conditions apply to the Republic of Ireland, which depends on massive subventions from the European Community. One only has to read the newspapers over the past week or fortnight to see the tenacious fight that the Irish Government put up within the Community for many billions of pounds. I believe that they achieved an agreement which means that for every day for the next seven years £3 million will be given to support the economy of the island of Ireland.

Given those massive financial public contributions, one only has to see what would happen if they were not available. I know that it hurts some people for me to say this, but both parts of Ireland have a dependency culture. They depend to a great extent on Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom; they believe that it is an entitlement that they should depend on massive subventions from this Parliament.

In his remarks on the order, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, mentioned the massive sums. He went on to say that politically Northern Ireland had suffered great pitfalls within recent weeks. As someone who lived in Northern Ireland and as a public representative there for years, I have to say that at present in Northern Ireland dangerous tensions are coming to the fore. The reason for that is well known to anyone with any experience of Northern Ireland: we are in July, the time of year when the Orange Order commemorates the Battle of the Boyne. Sometimes it is done as a show of triumphalism, that it is the majority party in Northern Ireland. However, in recent years, particularly this year, the marches and demonstrations will take place in an atmosphere of defiance because the Orange Order and the Protestant community in Northern Ireland at the moment feel a dreadful sense of insecurity. It is because of that dreadful sense of insecurity that we have the loyalist murderers, thugs and gunmen emerging from their community. It is because of the constitutional uncertainty that we have had such an escalation in tension throughout Northern Ireland.

What are the tensions? Let us go over them. It has been a very bad month indeed. We have had a whole series of attacks on the security forces. When I spoke here on 24th June, I illustrated that the IRA took great pleasure in killing Catholic RUC men. The very next day, a former member of the RUC—a young Catholic called Murphy—was murdered in brutal circumstances in a hotel in Belfast. We had that. Then we had the bombs, as has already been mentioned by the noble Earl. There were bombs in Newry, Portadown, Magherafelt and Newtownards, and one was defused this morning in the City of Belfast. All of those activities by the IRA create fear and tension not only within the unionist community but in the law-abiding Catholic and nationalist community in Northern Ireland.

Some people have attached a good deal more importance to another event than it probably merits, but the President of Ireland and the leader of one of the major political parties from Northern Ireland, John Hume, met Gerry Adams. Some people may think that that has no importance, but in the Protestant psychology, those two people met as spokesmen for the IRA who carried out all the bombings and murders of many of their blood relations. That did nothing to ease the tension in Northern Ireland.

Worst of all, was the document that was leaked by Kevin McNamara which set out how he saw the political future of Northern Ireland progressing. When I read that document I was absolutely amazed that such a document could have emerged from a person who is a member of the British Labour Party. I sit where I do because it is the Opposition Bench in this House, the Labour Bench in the House. But I hesitate to think what would have happened if there had been a Labour Government after the last election and that type of idea was floating around. It would undoubtedly have led to massive bloodshed in Northern Ireland. That again is one of the reasons that the Unionist Party and the Protestants feel so insecure.

On top of that, the Taoiseach, the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, told a meeting of Lobby journalists in Ireland that, if the British Government did not get together with them to solve the Northern Ireland problem, he would call in President Clinton. I think that was a cheek and an impertinence. What would President Clinton do in relation to Northern Ireland? Would he send in American troops, as he sent them in to murder innocent civilians in Somalia? Or would he stand back wringing his hands, saying "No, no, I can't send them into Northern Ireland because I refuse to send them into Bosnia"? Can one imagine the fears that were aroused by the alleged threat? I suggest that the Prime Minister of the Republic should go to President Clinton and let President Clinton bear some of the responsibility for the financing and upkeep of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Then we find that yesterday there was another meeting of the Anglo-Irish conference. Four days before 12th July, when tensions are mounting in Northern Ireland, the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, yesterday gave an interview to the Guardian which he repeated yesterday evening on television. As I see it, I have or I had good relations with the labour and trade union movement in the Republic and this country. I was very hopeful when the new coalition government were elected in the south, when Dick Spring became Foreign Minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland. I believed that he came into the situation without any civil war baggage like Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. However, it appears that I was sadly misled, if we are to believe what was said yesterday by the Foreign Minister of the Republic.

What is the reason for the insecurity? I repeat—though I may not receive much support in this House —that the reason that there is such insecurity now is the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. That agreement was organised behind the backs of all the political parties in Northern Ireland, particularly the Unionist Party, which was excluded. What put us in that position? I am sure I shall find support from some of my noble friends in the House. There are 17 Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland constituencies. During the course of debates they frequently complain about the inadequacy of the way in which Northern Ireland business is conducted in the House of Commons. They complain that they are allowed only 90 minutes for a debate and that the debates take place at night. In this House, we have registered those complaints on many occasions. The British Government then take note of those complaints and say, "Well, if all these MPs are complaining about inadequacy, we should set up a Select Committee".

Personally, I believe that there should be a Select Committee to handle Northern Ireland business in the absence of a Stormont. The ideal solution would be for there to be a Stormont but in its absence there should be a Select Committee. But what happens when the British Government put forward that idea? Four of those MPs, the members of the SDLP, go to Dublin and say to Dublin, "No, no, you must object. You have the right to object under the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Tell them that you are not going to have a Select Committee because that is taking people down the integration path." So democracy is denied because of the authority given to the Irish Government under the aegis of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. It would appear to me that, although the SDLP complains about the unfortunate way that government business is conducted, it is prepared to put up with it rather than have a Select Committee that would be able to deal with the affairs of Northern Ireland.

So what should the Government do? I would advocate that the Government, irrespective of objection from Dublin or the minority party (the SDLP) in Northern Ireland, set up a Select Committee in the absence of a Stormont. I should love to see a Stormont brought back again. I happen to have been one of the members of the Executive that was there in 1974. I know from personal experience that the Executive could have continued to govern Northern Ireland had it not been for the Council of Ireland proposals. The people in Northern Ireland, unionist and nationalist alike, at that time would have accepted, albeit reluctantly, the power sharing Executive. The Council of Ireland proposals led to the general strike and killed it.

The present talks were begun by Peter Brooke. They were much too ambitious. Who thought up the notion of strands 1, 2 and 3 and that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed? That threw on people in this House and outside it the responsibility for trying to end in those talks the conflict that has existed in Ireland for 400 or 500 years. The talks were much too ambitious and were not guaranteed success.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, who has many contacts in Northern Ireland, will agree that: it would have been relatively easy in strand 1 of those talks to find agreement. In fact, the talks were 80 per cent. of the way down the road towards finding agreement between the unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland in relation to the governance of Northern Ireland. Then the SDLP said, "No, you cannot have total agreement there until you have got into strand 2." That was the Council of Ireland, brought back from 1974. The unionists said, "We don't want that; we rejected it in 1974." Someone then said, "Ah, we cannot agree to strand 1 unless you agree with us on strand 2." That means that there is no hope of any progress in the talks.

I believe that every effort must be concentrated on bringing about a devolved government in Northern Ireland. After such a power sharing, executive has existed for a period of time, one can then start to talk about stage two and stage three. We must riot try to deal with them all at once; otherwise the whole object is defeated.

In that period the Protestant community in Northern Ireland will need reassurance. It is a frightened community: it needs to be reassured. Giving reassurance to that community will perhaps take their gunmen out of existence. In the vacuum of uncertainty and insecurity the thugs and murderers are emerging from under the stones in Northern Ireland. There is a very dangerous situation. There are two communities—a unionist community and a nationalist community. At the moment there is an air of triumphalism in the nationalist community. The SDLP, supported by the Irish Government, believe that, with the authority of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, they can push the unionist community in Northern Ireland into a corner, as has happened with the Moslems in Sarejevo.

I hope that sufficient consideration will be given to the very dangerous situation that exists. I advocate that, if the Government believe that it is right in the interests of bringing reconciliation to the communities of Northern Ireland, they should set up a Select Committee in defiance of any objections they may receive from the Government of Ireland.

1.6 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, it is a long time since I listened to a speech with every single word of which I agreed. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, pointed to the immediate dangers in Northern Ireland. In my view he is absolutely correct. He gave us the background to that situation and drew attention to the agreement of 1985. In my view, that agreement has been responsible for nearly all the evils that have come about since. We have probably been set back by about 15 years as a result. I wrote to the Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, three months before the agreement was signed, imploring her not to pursue what was purported to be the intended agreement. My reason was that none of the things that she expected from the agreement—increased security or anything else—would come. I also advised her that the number of people murdered in Northern Ireland would increase from then on. That, indeed, has been the case.

That is now water under the bridge. As the noble Lord said, there is now a sense of triumphalism, which is quite beyond all bounds, in the SDLP and in Dublin. Unless our Government make the situation clear and tell Dublin to get out of the way, we are in for serious trouble. I had not intended to refer to security today because I spoke at some length on the subject only three weeks ago. The noble Earl the Minister then described my view as grim. Unfortunately, in the few weeks since then, nothing has happened to make me wish to withdraw one word of what I said. I believe that the situation can be contained and improved but very firm action is required by the Government to remove the notion in Dublin and in the SDLP that they are winning and can push the unionists, Protestants, or whoever, almost into the sea.

I must come back to the Northern Ireland Act, which is today's business. I confirm, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, that the great majority of people in Northern Ireland wish for devolution. He is right to say that they must get rid of stages two and three and settle the immediate problem of Northern Ireland—devolution. We know that the Secretary of State is doing his utmost to work in that direction. But we also know that it will take a long time to make progress. The leader of the SDLP has declared that he is not interested in devolution. Therefore we must continue with direct rule. I support the Motion that is before us. I am pleased to be able to advise the House that opinion polls have consistently shown that the continuation of direct rule is regarded as the least unpopular option with the majority of people in both sections of the community.

I wish to acknowledge the signal service to Northern Ireland which has been performed by successive Secretaries of State and their teams of Ministers. They have had to grapple with many problems of which they may not have had previous knowledge. Very often Minsters have had two departments to look after, as has the noble Earl, Lord Arran. They also have the Whips of this House and another place summoning them at inconvenient times. They have suffered considerable disruption to family life and we are indebted to them for their efforts. If they have not achieved as much as they would have wished, it has not always been their fault. There are and have been political advisers, briefers and minders resident in the Northern Ireland Office and I would not wish to speak of them in the same terms. It is only right to express thanks to those Ministers who have come over to Northern Ireland and done their best for us before I attempt to mention some of the defects in direct rule and make some suggestions for improvements which I hope will be constructive. Some Ministers are better than others but that does not detract from my remarks.

The basic problem in Northern Ireland is that we only have fragments of democracy. We have 17 Members of Parliament elected to another place. However, the legislation for Northern Ireland continues to be dealt with by Order in Council, as was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. That means that Northern Ireland Members of Parliament have more influence on what goes on in Didcot than in Ballymena. That is a continuing disgrace which should be corrected without delay. We have had 20 years of direct rule but nothing has been done about the glaring defect in democracy.

At the other end of the spectrum we have our district councils where councillors have responsibility for clearing rubbish and library boards and have a small input into planning. Between the district councillors and our MPs we have no democratically elected input into government. Everything else is the responsibility of the departments in Belfast, which are themselves responsible to the Ministers who assist the Secretary of State. But it is difficult for Ministers, who change quite often, to get a grip on their departments. That is not surprising as sometimes departments are reluctant to be gripped.

It is not surprising that Northern Ireland has become a bureaucratic state and that bureaucracy continues to draw funds and power to itself. There is no effective way of calling civil servants to account for their actions and decisions apart from the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. There has grown up a proliferation of agencies and quangos over which the public and local politicians in particular have no influence. The members appointed to agencies and quangos are appointed by the Minister of the department concerned. That means that they are chosen by civil servants. It is more than a passing thought that many of those members are chosen for their ability to accept the status quo and not to rock the boat.

On the economic front, industry faces a bewildering array of bodies and regulators—IEB, LEDU, IRTU, FEC, EOC, T&EA, the Northern Ireland Economic Council. I doubt that if I gave your Lordships the full names of those bodies, your Lordships would be any the wiser.

In the past week I have made soundings quite widely and must advise the House that there are strong feelings within the business community that bureaucracy does not hear what it is being told. Departments go through the consultation process as they are required to do. Consultative papers are issued with bewildering speed and do not provide time for carefully thought-out responses. That can make it easier for departments to ignore replies because they may not be as detailed as the original proposals and in their view the arguments are not well set out.

The effectiveness of direct rule would be greatly improved if there was a genuine partnership between the departments, industry and business. There should be much more informal discussion before departmental views are set in concrete. There should be a follow-up to written responses with further discussion. That must be a two-way process with departments prepared to accept that they do not know all the answers and business and industry must put their best foot forward to assist. That will take some time and will not be easy. In 20 years we have lost almost a generation of people who would otherwise be involved. We need to pull forward younger people who are capable and able but who, under existing circumstances, do not consider it worth their while to talk to departments. We can have a new beginning and a great deal can flow from it.

I wish to include the trade unions, whose opinions are important and valuable. In Northern Ireland we have been fortunate over the past 25 years; our trade unions have worked unceasingly to keep sectarian conflict from the shop floor. Their success has been almost 100 per cent. and employers feel a strong sense of partnership with the trade unions in many matters.

There is no need for any new agencies, quangos or any formal procedures. If there was a serious effort on behalf of government departments, the situation economically and with the business community could be much improved. I know that it can work. It used to work in the past when I was active in these matters. Before direct rule informal discussions between civil servants, politicians and people from industry or business were common—often one to one, sometimes in informal groups of two or three or half a dozen. They were frank, open discussions based on mutual respect. If decisions were taken against one's point of view, at least one understood the reasons for it.

Important to industry and the economy in Northern Ireland are the two development agencies, the IDB (Industrial Development Board) and the LEDU (the Local Enterprise Development Unit). They have achieved much over the past 20 years to strengthen the industrial base in Northern Ireland. However, around three years ago the strategy for the IDB was reset. It was reset at a time when government policy was as dry as dry can be. The new strategy sounds fine in theory. It is basically to improve the competitiveness of companies. But the problem is one of implementation. How does one define "competitiveness"? How do we link steps which companies can take to increase competitiveness?

Equally, translating textbook concepts of market failure to the infinite complexities of the real world poses great difficulties. I have quoted almost verbatim from the report of the Northern Ireland Economic Council, Economic Strategy in Northern Ireland. The words ring true to me and to everyone I talk with in the industry. The present strategy is just not practicable. I believe that steps are being taken to work out some indices of competitiveness but that will only make the complexity worse. I can do no more than urge that the IDB be authorised to consult closely with the Northern Ireland Economic Council, which can be relied upon to give sensible and practical advice. It should also consult the other representative organisations.

I wish to turn to three matters of great importance to industry in Northern Ireland. Problems have arisen as a direct result of the communication gap about which I have been speaking. Northern Ireland Electricity has just been privatised; the sale was described as successful. It produced £700 million for the Treasury. However, industry remains in a state of shock at the new electricity tariffs which came into effect on 1st April. Those were introduced without notice or explanation. There are around 30 large users in Northern Ireland who take more than one megawatt. Their businesses are extremely important to Northern Ireland for the wealth that they generate as well as the number in direct employment. They are required to pay increases varying from 22 per cent. to 58 per cent. higher than prior to 1st April. Industrial users below the one megawatt level are required to pay an increase of 15 per cent. Increases of that order are serious to any business. But some will have to decide whether or not they can afford to continue to manufacture in Northern Ireland.

In recent weeks many of us have spent a great deal of time trying to discover how these large increases could have come about. We may be naive but it had been put about that the object of privatisation was to provide competition, improve efficiency and bring benefits to the consumer. The present structure and arrangements for transferring costs within the electricity power system are extremely complicated, and this is not the place to go into them, but it seems extraordinary that such a small regional electricity system should be quite so complicated.

The Government have devised a number of complicated formulae which will control the charges and transfer of charges. The regulator has been handed these formulae and has been charged with ensuring their compliance. Major users have met the regulator who has endeavoured to explain his terms of reference. The regulator has engaged international consultants, Putnam, Hayes and Bartlett, requesting them to recommend ways in which competition and efficiency might lead to lower charges for electricity. At present all the facts are not available. The Government have released no information on the terms of sale of the generating stations, but from the information available it is clear that the Government did not just sell the assets of the generating stations; they sold guaranteed cash streams to the new owners sufficient to fund borrowed money and generate profits based on the costs of operating the stations pre-privatisation and whether or not they actually dispatch power. All they have to do is to make capacity available. All costs are fixed for the expected life of the generating units except for fuel used. Since the sale of these stations the new owners have reduced labour costs; they have improved maintenance and appear very happy with their purchases. It does not seem that any cost reductions will pass through to the user for the life of these contracts, some of which extend as far as 2020.

The rules for the transmission and distribution business of NIE permit NIE to pass through all fixed costs from the generators plus its own costs, and 75 per cent. of those will be permitted an annual increase of 3.5 per cent. above the retail prices index. The high proportion of fixed costs means that if the total load should fall unit prices will increase.

How much are these new rates above the average in Great Britain? Last week an analysis was made of the load patterns of 24 large users in Northern Ireland above the 1 megawatt level. These load patterns were repriced on the tariff of one of the more expensive regions in Great Britain —the south west region—whose tariffs on the whole are about 5 per cent. above the average on this side of the water. It transpires that these 24 large users will pay on average 33 per cent. more for their electricity in Northern Ireland than they would in Devon or Cornwall. That is the reason for the state of shock. I have with me a copy of this analysis.

All manner of reasons have been given for this difference. The system is small; it is dependent on oil fuel; it has got to find money to pay for interconnectors, and lots more. But 30 per cent. and more above GB rates is quite outrageous and no reason has yet been given which can justify the difference. From the information available one can only conclude that the overriding objective of government in selling off the Northern Ireland electricity system has been to provide cash for the Treasury without regard to the economy of Northern Ireland or the interests of customers there. I invite the Government to present information to show that that is not the case.

I must acknowledge that the Secretary of State has set out a trust fund of approximately £12 million which will be used to cap the increases that I have mentioned to 9 per cent. this year. I understand that it is the intention to assist with two-thirds of this sum in the second year and one-third in the third year. I ask the Minister: is the amount of the trust fund sufficient to make such payments?

The news is widely welcomed that a 250 megawatt intercorinector with Scottish Power is expected to be in place in 1997, but it does not appear that there will be any benefit to the user arising from competition or lower prices from Scottish Power via the interconnector until at least the year 2012. I wonder whether that is correct and why contracts should have been set up with so little regard to the users. Already there are rumours of large companies planning to relocate outside Northern Ireland. These new charges are a very serious threat to continuing development of the manufacturing industry and they also cast doubt on the ethics of government decisions today. I have only touched on the fringe of this very complex subject but it seems that industry is trapped to remain at a substantial disadvantage in Northern Ireland.

There are two other privatisation proposals pending which are causing widespread concern, particularly after the privatisation that I have just mentioned. Belfast Harbour is a trust port administered by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners under Deed of Trust for the benefit of importers and exporters in the city of Belfast and Northern Ireland generally. It has been consistently profitable; all profits have each year been reinvested in new development. This year development costing between £40 million and £50 million is in hand. Years ago, when I was a commissioner, auditors from the audit office who visit trust ports each year told me that they regarded Belfast as the best run port in the UK. No one has ever described Belfast port as inefficient. However, enabling legislation is now in place which allows the commissioners two years in which to express a view about privatisation, at the end of which the Government may decide to privatise Belfast Harbour with the authority of a negative resolution. This legislation is similar to that in place for trust ports in Great Britain except that the decision to privatise must be made by affirmative resolution for GB ports. I suggest that it is quite disgraceful to discriminate against this single port in Northern Ireland by making it subject to a negative resolution.

It has now been announced that if the port is privatised 100 per cent. of the proceeds will go to the Treasury. The assets of Belfast Port which have been built up over 100 years are, according to the original trust Act, in trust for the rate payers of Belfast, and certainly are not the property of government. Belfast Port, like other ports, has benefited greatly by European regional development funds. This has been above the 50 per cent. level but EC grants to private companies, which Belfast Port would be if it were privatised, are limited to 50 per cent. However, the other two trust ports in Northern Ireland, Londonderry and Warrenpoint, are below the size limit for privatisation and they will remain eligible for higher grants.

It is of interest that the Republic of Ireland has recently decided to reorganise ports under state ownership which will entitle all ports in the Republic of Ireland to the highest rate of grant aid from the EC. Belfast Harbour is at present run by a balanced Board of Commissioners appointed by the Minister of the Department of Economic Development. What sense does it make to privatise it and put it at a disadvantage compared with all other major ports in Ireland and thus handicap industry and commerce throughout Northern Ireland? The Government presently have power to do that by negative resolution.

I now turn to Belfast International Airport. The Northern Ireland Office has proposed that Northern Ireland Airports Limited, which runs Belfast International Airport, should be privatised by trade sale. Belfast International Airport is of strategic importance to business and industrial life in the Province, and all interested bodies—the CBI, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and so on —are alarmed at the prospect of a trade sale which means that ownership and direction will pass outside Northern Ireland.

There are additional complicating factors. Northern Ireland Airports shares the main runways and flight control with the MoD at Aldergrove, which remains the principal military air facility in Northern Ireland. It is vital therefore for security and other reasons that Northern Ireland Airports remains in co-operative and friendly hands. I can claim some knowledge of the security problem at Aldergrove having served 16 years on the board in the early stages of development of the airport.

I understand the reasons for opting for a trade sale following reports made by the consultants Hambros and Touche Ross sometime ago. It appeared that the consultants were not confident that the profits then being generated would support a public flotation. Since then there have been management changes, profits have much improved and management is determined to maintain and improve the present level of profits. I am confident that investigation will show that it is now practicable to privatise the airport by means of public offer within Northern Ireland, subject to the necessary legal constraints in connection with security and the MoD operation. Incidentally, guidelines issued to the Treasury on privatisation urged them not to make up their minds too soon because situations can change.

I have spoken on these three matters of very great importance to all who live and work in Northern Ireland, but it seems that the interests of the Northern Ireland economy have not been of high priority. That is one of the weaknesses of direct rule. Schemes such as these may be approved by Ministers who are not in possession of all the facts. These schemes or plots will have been thought up and implemented by the permanent residents of the Northern Ireland Office and other departments. That such things can and do happen emphasises the importance of the open discussion and partnership of which I spoke earlier.

Many have taken heart from what the Prime Minister said last Thursday. He was speaking in connection with an extraordinary proposal for joint sovereignty in Northern Ireland made by Mr. McNamara. The Prime Minister said that the Union is vital for all parts of the United Kingdom and has the democratic approval of the people of Northern Ireland. He also said that the Conservative and Unionist Party stand four square behind the union. The way in which the privatisation of NIE has been arranged and the plans for the other two privatisations do not line up with the Prime Minister's statement.

I am sorry to have taken up so much time, but in the view of business people in Northern Ireland, these affairs, which noble Lords might consider to be the nuts and bolts of the economy, are considered to be of very great importance. In the past seven days I have made soundings among leading people in business and industry and I have been overwhelmed by the strong feelings—nearly all to do with the lack of communication. I was showered with papers and briefings on all kinds of subjects with which there is not time to deal today.

In conclusion, I have been affected, as have all others, by the recent bombing and the efforts of the security forces in finding bombs. I know of the courage and disregard for personal safety of the police in clearing people out of the way when there have been quite inadequate bomb warnings. It has been quite remarkable. The work of the bomb disposal teams, who are on duty 24 hours a day—and have been for 25 years—is also remarkable. I believe that they have managed to make safe 3.000 to 4,000 bombs of all sorts and sizes. Their courage is indeed remarkable and we owe a lot to them. I wish to support the Motion.

1.35 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I was especially interested in the concise, informative and practical introduction of this order by the Minister. He dealt with a number of issues which I feel are deserving of some attention. I have also listened with considerable interest to the speeches of my noble friend Lord Fitt and the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh. The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, raised a number of challenging issues which I am sure will continue for some time to have the attention of this House.

In passing, I shall refer to one matter mentioned by both my noble friend Lord Fitt and the noble Lord, Lord Cooke—that is to say, the proposed devolved Northern Ireland Assembly. I was surprised to hear my noble friend saying that he would like to see it set up immediately. From memory, I believe that he was a member of two assemblies. There were more attempts to set up assemblies. I agree that an opportunity should be given to the people of Northern Ireland to deal with those matters which require action. That can be read in more detail in another submission I made that opinion is not available at the present time to bring about that assembly in any democratic fashion. My noble friend and I can have a discussion about that outside the House.

After a debate on this order lasting two and a half hours in another place on 24th June, the renewal of this order was made without a Division. Therefore, my remarks will be brief. Since the legislation was debated 12 months ago, we have had publication of the Opsahl Commission report on Northern Ireland. It is entitled A Citizen's Inquiry. A copy of the report has been placed in the Library by the Commission.

My submission to the Commission was among about 554 written submissions made by about 3,000 people. I feel that it is relevant to this debate that I outline five of the points which I expressed to the Commission. I believe that they are particularly relevant to what has already been debated in this House.

The first is that the hopes for the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 have clearly not been fulfilled. Secondly, the major reason for the failure and the lack of complete success for the subsequent talks was the total rejection of the agreement by the unionists. In my view, that was due in part to the exclusion of the unionist Members of Parliament from the Anglo-Irish preparation talks. No responsible or self-respecting Welshman, Scotsman or Englishman would have allowed those talks to take place without being involved in them. It was a disgrace. However, that happened and we are trying to rectify the position as it exists today.

There was also the failure of the Government effectively to deal with the disputed claims of the republic over Northern Ireland and Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. The third point that I made to the Commission was that there must be a commitment from all the Northern Ireland constitutional parties that they will participate fully in any agreed settlement. It cannot be done piecemeal.

My fourth point was that I believe that Northern Ireland's immediate future can best be served by a continuation and democratic reform of direct rule. In my submission, I also included my belief that there should be a resumption of the "talks" on agreed principles, and that Articles 2 and 3 should be at the top of the agenda. They should be given a priority place, together with a major reform of the provisions of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. An international agreement is in place and any future discussions must be firmly based on change and on the agreement being made more generally acceptable.

My fifth point was that future talks should include provision for a three-year strategic programme for Northern Ireland for good government, covering security, economic development, social need and a Bill of Rights. I am concerned and depressed because all the talks are about international affairs and all the definitions relate to international law which is beyond the understanding of the ordinary people in Northern Ireland. I feel that that is completely wrong. We should be discussing the bringing together of people. Even if the border were removed tomorrow, it is the people of Ireland both North and South —and particularly the people of Northern Ireland—who must learn to live together. That can be achieved only by friendship and agreement.

I make this speech following the discussion that has already taken place on this order and with a view to clearing the decks for a new round of talks. I invite the Minister to consider the verbal exchanges that took place in another place on 1st July, as reported at col. 1090 of Hansard. Perhaps I may paraphrase a question that was raised during Northern Ireland Questions. It was said that the first paragraph of the Anglo-Irish Agreement does not spell out that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom, and that as long as the South of Ireland insists on its legal claims over Northern Ireland, there will be a question over Northern Ireland's constitutional position. Those points were put to Sir Patrick Mayhew. I shall now quote from his reply. The Secretary of State said: The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is correct. One of the reasons why I believe that it would be helpful to have a successor to the Anglo-Irish Agreement is that it would provide an opportunity to express, by agreement, an unambiguous statement of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. I have said previously that I consider that those two articles in the Irish Constitution are unhelpful to the process in which all participants in the talks last year were engaged".—[Official Report, Commons, 1/7/93; col. 1090.] I hang the rest of my remarks on that logical and reasoned reply. I invite the Minister to consider drawing to the attention of the Secretary of State the views expressed in this debate and the support for his efforts to establish a suitable framework for a new round of talks. The framework should include the following: first, a suitable redefinition and clarification of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement; and secondly, the provision of a British-Northern Ireland-Republic Committee, appointed from the elected parliamentary representatives of Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic, to consult and deliberate on economic, social and cross-border matters of mutual interest and for the common good. Finally, the fiscal implications of all proposed provisions and measures should be fully explored and publicly presented before legislative changes are undertaken. I believe that this is the bottom line of all the ideological, philosophical and academic aspects to the statements (both public and private) that have been floating around. With those remarks, I support the order.

1.44 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, this is an "interim period extension" order and those words describe, in a nutshell, all that is worst about the system of government in Northern Ireland. First, an interim period extension after 19 long years is rather a contradiction in terms. The dictionary definition of "interim" includes "for the time being", "temporary" and "provisional". However, that system must provide for the most uncertain government in the world—an ideal breeding ground for subversion.

Secondly, enough has been said in another place about the unsatisfactory nature of this largely undemocratic system of government. All parties in your Lordships' House and in another place are, I believe, uncomfortable with these frequent Orders in Council.

It is not necessary to dwell on the order for too long. After all, it comes before us every year. But it is worthwhile looking forward to see whether it is reasonable to believe that the system of government could be changed. Accepting the inadequacy of what we have, only two options are left. The first is devolution to an assembly or whatever; the second is fuller integration with the remainder of the United Kingdom. Devolution must be the favoured option and, indeed, the Government would seem to prefer that. However, it can come about only with the participation of the SDLP and Unionist parties and then by the assembly, or whatever, showing that in practical terms it would be responsible enough to have serious powers devolved to it. Those two areas are where we have had serious problems over the past 20 years.

The participation of all parties in a system of government in Northern Ireland is just not possible at present, in my view, regardless of how optimistically one views "the talks". I do not believe that John Hume and the SDLP have any intention, regardless of the formula, of taking part in devolved power sharing in Northern Ireland. There are two reasons. First, John Hume wishes to see a united Ireland, and he is permitted that wish. He says that that should come about only through the democratic wishes of the majority. As we all know, if that is ever to happen (which is doubtful), it is a long way down the road. However, he feels that between now and then he can achieve a united Ireland through other means. Why else would he be talking to Sinn Fein which has an Armalite in one hand and the ballot box in the other? It is a view held by many people, including commentators in the Irish press in Dublin, that Mr. Hume does not wish to see power sharing within the Province alone.

The second reason is the Anglo-Irish Agreement. John Hume's closeness to the Irish Government leads him to believe that he holds more power through them than he would have by contributing to a locally elected forum. In addition, he believes that he is closer to a united Ireland than ever.

I believe that Mr. Reynolds should disillusion him and should tell him the truth about what is possible. He should stop kidding him. The South does not want the North in its present state, with horrific terrorism, racketeering and immense cost to its rather shaky economy. The message must be clear, "Stop fooling around and pretending that you are some great statesman, Mr. Hume. If you are, go back to your community and sort things out with your fellow countrymen. You cannot do it from the outside".

The second stumbling block is that a successful democracy is bound to be a healthy one. Indeed, that is the key to a community operating as a well ordered and soundly structured society. It is like a pyramid, similar in structure to a traditional village community, with the working people at the base, then the business and professional people, and further up, the controllers and representatives of higher authority. In Northern Ireland, that system has broken down, and the longer it goes on, the more irretrievable it is.

The people at the base, especially those in Belfast and Londonderry, would do anything to change what is going on. I refer, for example, to the peace people and all those involved in cross-community groups. But where are the middle strata? They have largely opted out of politics arid security. They cannot be found supporting the peace people, yet they are the educated ones—doctors. teachers, accountants, business managers and prosperous farmers. They have the education, the man-management skills, the large resources, and homes outside the worst trouble spots. They should be influential. They can lead by example and influence those whom they manage and whose welfare is largely their responsibility. That middle stratum is vital in supporting and producing representatives—in our case MPs—and in influencing them in the requirements of society at grass roots, business and every other level.

Sadly, such people seem to take very little part in this vital role outside their own professions. Like many others, I have admiration for their determination, which has kept businesses going over the past 23 years of the troubles. However, as they are dependent upon the community for their success and prosperity, do they not have a larger responsibility to lead and support it? Non-involvement has led to an unhealthy, fractured society. The representatives in public life can react only to the emotion and referenda that we seem to have daily in the local press. They have little or no power, even at council level, and that is said to be the reason for the lack of talented people becoming involved.

The Secretary of State, in a speech to the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool on 23rd April talked about giving authority and accountability to the people. He said: This in itself would have the benign effect of encouraging citizens of calibre to come forward into public life in greater numbers than at present and from quarters, such as the business world, inadequately represented at the moment". But which comes first—more power, or more responsible people? Is it the chicken or the egg? But if the chicken is dead or impractical, there can be no egg.

I see the problem, for much of which the Government, in retaining this form of direct rule, are responsible. However, it is no good that section of the population sitting back doing very little. It has been said, "For evil to prevail, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing." The question has to be asked: how can a responsible Westminster Government devolve significant powers to a community which does not seem to have the social responsibility to manage those powers? If the answer is that they cannot, as it may be, can my noble friend the Minister explain what the Government intend to do to encourage those people to take part? In addition, if the answer is no to devolution, that leaves full or closer integration and a stable base for a number of years, not just one at a time. The most important change must be to accountability and responsibility. For a start we should have a Commons Select Committee and Bills instead of Orders in Council.

The benefits of a stable base for, say, a period of five to 10 years before review, would be increased responsibility and encouragement of the middle stratum to take part. Also, the SDLP might take part in normal politics rather than run to Dublin the whole time. The Unionists would be less frightened of possible betrayal and of the SDLP achieving its aim by undemocratic means. The most important point is that the terrorists would find that they had nothing, on either side, to fight to achieve or to defend in the short term.

No doubt my noble friend the Minister will wish to say that that solution does not have universal support. That reply is largely redundant: nothing will have total support. However, the Government use that argument only when it suits them. They did not use it for the Anglo-Irish Agreement or for the privatisation of many industries.

I support the Motion for the time being only. In the meantime, the Government must make a move towards providing a stable, no-nonsense base from which to work for the future and for devolving power to the Province.

1.55 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, perhaps I may preface my remarks by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, on his magnificent contribution. It was all the more telling because he has never been a unionist of any kind. Secondly, I assure the Minister, whom outside the Chamber I would call my noble friend. that nothing I am about to say should be taken as a criticism of him or of the present Secretary of State, who is doing no more than follow the path marked out over the decades by successive British governments.

It has been some time since I have spoken in one of these debates. I was only provoked into doing so by a remark from the Government Front Bench on 29th June. I was supporting an amendment to what we know informally as the Maastricht Bill. It was an amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, which sought to identify how much of our cohesion money would go to countries which made territorial claims upon the United Kingdom, its colonies or other possessions. In doing so, I expressed astonishment that a treaty which (among other things) sought to encourage friendship and co-operation among the different nations and peoples of the community, did nothing to discourage such inherently unfriendly claims. Later, I intervened to point out that (in the case of Ireland, even though not yet in the case of Spain) such claims could only encourage the terrorists to maintain and even, perhaps, intensify their efforts.

In reply, the Minister (I acknowledge he was merely speaking to his brief) said that the new clause, if implemented would highlight unnecessarily and in an unwanted and unhelpful manner certain problems. What an extraordinary reaction, if one looks at it objectively, and yet how typical of the British establishment's attitude towards the Republic of Ireland.

Any British government would have criticised Chancellor Kohl sharply had he not abandoned Germany's claim to the western provinces of Poland. The British Government have no hesitation in condemning Spain's claims to Gibraltar and the Argentine's claim to the Falklands. In the latter case, a recent dignified and impressive statement by the eight Falkland Islands councillors, rejecting the Argentine's offer of friendship until such time as it renounced its territorial claim, is worth quoting. The eight councillors wrote to the Argentine Foreign Minister, Dr. di Tella, on 28th April 1993. Among other things they said: these assurances offer little comfort while your country's claim to our home and our homeland remains outstanding … It is Argentina's continuing territorial claim which contaminates"— that is a good word— what should be a normal and natural relationship between neighbours". To that I would add only, hear, hear!

Yet the British Government's praiseworthy resolution, and adherence to principles of normal, civilised intercourse between nations, evaporates as soon as Ireland is mentioned. One is forced to conclude that if many of Northern Ireland's problems are the fault of successive governments in the Republic for demanding constantly that the goalposts be moved to the disadvantage of the unionist majority, even more at fault are successive British governments for encouraging those demands by failing to resist them and acquiescing in almost everything and criticising practically nothing that emanates from the Republic. That has had consequences both farcical and disastrous. First of all, farcical. In 1982, an order was rushed through Parliament liberalising the law relating to homosexual behaviour between consenting adult males in Northern Ireland. The then Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, warned the House that unless the change was implemented speedily the United Kingdom would be a pariah among nations, and pilloried at the bar of world opinion for being the last nation in Europe to make such conduct not criminal in a part of the Kingdom.

Yet, over 10½ years later, only just the other day did we read that the Republic has at last liberalised its own laws. Did the United Kingdom ever criticise the Republic in public or in private over its failure to abandon what the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, had effectively described as illiberal, reactionary outmoded laws? Your Lordships can be certain that they did not.

Next, the disastrous consequences. It is accurate to say—the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, more or less confirmed it in his remarks—that the Sunningdale Agreement, providing for the setting up of a power-sharing executive, was going extremely well until Irish Government representatives asked for a Council of Ireland, essentially as a bargaining counter, not expecting for one moment that the request would be granted. However, the British Government, desperately anxious to please as always, immediately granted the request, producing the inevitably disastrous reaction among unionists which destroyed the experiment.

If negotiator A constantly bends over backwards to placate negotiator B, that is bound in time to provoke two reactions in negotiator B. The first is a certain contempt, even if it is well concealed. The second is a suspicion, perhaps well-founded, that he is being patronised by negotiator A. After all, if one party to negotiations always defers to the other party, there are only four possible reasons for him doing so.

The first is when the other party is militarily powerful and aggressive, such as Communist China vis-à-vis Hong Kong. We can rule that one out. The second reason is when other parties are unpredictable people from strange and exotic civilisations, such as 19th century explorers, missionaries and traders might have encountered in their travels. But the Irish form part of our common European civilisation, so we can rule that one out too. The third reason is when you suspect that the other party is mentally unbalanced. Despite saloon-bar clichés about mad Irishmen, we can rule that one out as well. Finally, we have the situation where nervous parents are dealing with an aggressive and bloody-minded adolescent. Terrified of a violent outburst they tiptoe around deferring to his or her every whim. This, I fear, is much nearer the mark.

Ever since 1918 the British Establishment has subconsciously imagined that the Irish are going through a difficult adolescent phase which will not last indefinitely, and that provided they are treated with kid gloves and given hand-outs from time to time they will eventually relent and return gratefully to the fold. If that analysis were ever true, which I doubt, it certainly has not been true for 30 years or more. The Irish are fully grown men and women and they have no intention ever of returning to the British fold.

Therefore, constantly to make allowances for them, and constantly to lean over backwards to avoid any possibility of giving offence, is not an act of kindness but an insult, in that it implies that they are immature. Mature men and women are not worried about being spoken to courteously but frankly and are more than capable of accepting criticism where it is due.

On my rare visits to the South of Ireland on holiday I always find that most people I meet are friendly, helpful and generous, with the rare gift of being able to enjoy themselves hugely in a relaxed and unmenacing fashion. We could do with more of that over here. If they have a particular vice—and most nations and peoples do; certainly the Welsh, English and Scots—it is a tendency, not universal but widespread, to lapse from time to time into a self-pitying sentimentality. The excessively emollient British Establishment attitude does nothing to help them to cure themselves of that vice. Unfortunately, it reinforces it.

That self-pitying sentimentality is particularly unfortunate and inappropriate where Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution are concerned, since every visit to the South confirms my strong impression, and that of many others, that the Irish grow more and more different from the British—not better or worse, just different—every year that goes by, in particular since they joined the EC. In practice as opposed to theory they would never be prepared to alter their laws, habits, lifestyles, loyalties, culture and general preferences to the extent necessary to accommodate one million unionists. The result of the EC referendum in Northern Ireland, where despite what was effectively the promise of massive bribes to vote "yes", confirms that. Thirty-one per cent. of the electorate were prepared to put their traditional way of life above mere financial gain and they must be greatly admired for so doing.

So the refusal to abandon territorial claims without wholly unacceptable strings attached is not only inherently unfriendly and inconsistent with the objective of increasing friendship between peoples of different countries of the EC, but it also bears no relationship to what the great mass of people in the South now want in their heart of hearts. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough reminded us of that.

The British should try to abandon their habits of generations and start treating the Irish as adults—as, for example, they treat the Danes or the Norwegians; people who numerically are each about equal to the Irish—instead of subconsciously treating them as difficult and aggressive adolescents to be constantly humoured and pandered to. In turn, the Irish should not wait for this change in attitude, which may take some time, but should of their own free will unilaterally and unreservedly renounce their territorial claim, thereby demonstrating their maturity and that their protestations of good will towards all the peoples of the United Kingdom are sincere and wholehearted.

2.5 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, this has been a notable debate on a depressing subject. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, that the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1993 is a sad point in the parliamentary calendar of Northern Ireland business, as we contemplate a temporary measure which has persisted for a generation. We all know that it is no way for Northern Ireland. to be governed. Northern Ireland should be governed by its people and that is what we should address our minds to, as we are today.

I thank and congratulate noble Lords who have spoken. I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who in their own ways made most impressive contributions. I agreed with a great deal of what they said. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, but disagreed with a great deal.

I believe that in Northern Ireland three strong and dangerously incompatible sets of forces are operating simultaneously. First, the political parties which represent the two communities are so stuck in their history, traditions and sectarian positions that they believe even now that it is better to play to the gallery of fear and prejudice than to take the risks which are essential for peace and progress. That tendency is exacerbated by the second set of forces, which are the increasingly deadly activities of terrorists of both persuasions. They are now terrifying the civilian population with their reckless escalation of tit-for-tat violence. It must be apparent to anyone who spends time in Northern Ireland—and some noble Lords live there—that in recent months the climate of fear has intensified. Many ordinary people who display exactly the stoicism referred to by the Minister in his eloquent introduction are now seriously rattled by the continuing and growing level of bombing and shooting.

In the twisted logic of the terrorist it has become a capital offence simply to worship at a different church or to be a member of a different community. It is no longer that one has taken part actively in leadership or terrorist activities. It is not simply a matter of terrorism and counter-terrorism; the war is spreading to totally innocent members of the community. believe that we should all remember that the loyalist paramilitaries are now every bit as menacing as the Provisional IRA.

I have noticed how in Italy over the years, with the Mafia, one sees political terrorism and economic terrorism intermingling. I should like to say how much we have supported the Government's efforts to try to stop the encroachment of terrorism into the economic sphere.

The first force is the political parties. The second is the paramilitaries. Finally, and most hopefully in my view, are the ordinary people of the Province. They have a strong and overwhelming wish—over 80 per cent. in a Gallup poll last week—for peace and for some movement forward. It is heartening that the ordinary people of Northern Ireland are beginning to find a voice. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, that too many people have relapsed into private lives and have not felt that they could, in that terrible atmosphere, grapple with public responsibility. That is a true observation. Nevertheless, it is true also that there is a growing popular sentiment which says that talks must be resumed and that progress has to be made. The 500 plus submissions to the Opsahl Commission to which the noble Lord, Lord Blease, referred are a promising measurement of that.

The situation is that the terrorists are increasingly threatening on both sides. The leaderships of sectarian political parties are too stuck in their own stereotypes to make any break with the past and the general population seems to be yearning for leadership, yet it is becoming increasingly insecure about the level of violence. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, there is a spreading crisis of confidence.

In that situation it is for the British Government to be firm and creative. I wish that the British Government would call together for talks the four constitutional parties and put proposals directly to those talks. I hope that they will do that, not jointly with the Irish Government but in consultation with them. I say in parenthesis that I hope that we do not decide to be too beastly to the leadership of the Republic of Ireland. I believe that in Mr. Spring as Foreign Minister and in Mary Robinson as President we now have rational post-civil war leadership of the Republic of a quality and openness that we have not been fortunate to see for a long time. Whatever errors they may have made in their press relations, we are fortunate to be dealing with people of the highest calibre who can make a contribution. It is worth reminding ourselves that Mr. Spring said that Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution—and they are a major problem and a great source of insecurity—are not cast in bronze. The issue about Articles 2 and 3 must be soluble.

If it is known—and it is known—that in certain circumstances the Irish Government are prepared to resile from those articles and to cast them as a long-term aspiration rather than an immediate territorial claim, and if it is known that it is very important for the security of the unionist population to know that that will happen, it cannot be beyond the ingenuity of the British Government under their creative chairmanship to make quite certain that rather than becoming a precondition of resumed talks they become an implicit condition. That is a soluble problem and in many ways it is for the British Government to solve it.

The view from these Benches corresponds rather closely with those put forward by other noble Lords in the debate. We believe that the future of Northern Ireland depends essentially on not thinking of sovereignty as a matter which rests primarily with the United Kingdom or primarily with the Republic of Ireland. We should think of it as sovereignty resting primarily with the people of Northern Ireland responsible for governing themselves within the United Kingdom. Therefore, we are looking for devolution and for power sharing.

There are some other rather urgent areas for the Government's attention that I hope they will address. It was not helpful for the former Minister of the armed forces, Mr. Archie Hamilton, to talk about 25 per cent. troop reductions in Northern Ireland. That cannot be a helpful contribution at this time of great insecurity. Of course, he is now a Back-Bencher and he can say what he wants, but I hope that in winding up the debate the noble Earl will address himself specifically to that possibility—a fear that was started by someone with Mr. Hamilton's seniority.

Secondly, and related to that, I hope that the Government will address what seems to be a real problem in the co-ordination of intelligence in Northern Ireland. That applies to the mainland as well as Northern Ireland itself.

The right honourable Sir Edward Heath referred to the inadequacy of intelligence co-ordination. If we are to have policemen and soldiers of the calibre that we have in Northern Ireland they can only be effective if there is integrated and consistently good intelligence coming forward to them. There is much evidence of a lack of co-ordination, of cross-agency competition and of a lack of clarity about who is in charge of giving them the vital information upon which they depend.

Thirdly, I believe that the Government would be well advised to take seriously the results of the recent survey concerning the social and economic conditions of the Catholic nationalists and minority community. I concede that the Government and others, including many voluntary agencies, have made great efforts to raise the standard of living and the life chances of the Catholic community. However, it is still lagging seriously behind that of the majority community.

As other speakers have urged, I hope that the Government will address themselves directly to the deep and genuine insecurity of the unionists. For that reason, with the greatest of respect to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, with whom I work very closely on such matters, I must say that I do not believe that Mr. NcNamara's proposal for joint sovereignty was in any way helpful at the present juncture; indeed, I think that it has contributed to the insecurity which is the greatest problem in the Province.

In conclusion, what we are looking for from these Benches is rapid progress towards the people of Northern Ireland governing themselves in the context of genuine power sharing and genuine devolution with the introduction of a Bill of Rights to back that up and protect the rights of individuals in the minority community. In short, what we need in Northern Ireland—and this bears on the wise remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough—is involvement instead of indifference; we need responsibility instead of rhetoric; and we need a greater degree of participation instead of the passive opting out of which we have seen too much.

2.16 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, your Lordships will be pleased to he assured that I shall be brief. Sadly, we agree that the 1974 Act which imposed the machinery of direct rule upon Northern Ireland must be renewed for another 12 months. When we debated the identical order 12 months ago, there were grounds for believing that we could begin to contemplate the coming of the day when the Northern Ireland Act 1974 would no longer have to be renewed. Of course, I accept that my noble friends Lord Blease and Lord Fitt did not fully share that optimism. Both of them have a thorough understanding of the mood in Northern Ireland.

But by today the spirit of optimism of the past few years has drained away and been replaced by a degree of pessimism. I cannot go back to the passing of the 1974 Act, but I can recall the mood since about 1987. I believe that the pessimism about the political prospects is greater today than it has been for many a year.

My bleak assessment is based on the following evidence. First, the fact that the Government have been unable to persuade the political parties within Northern Ireland to reopen talks. That suggests very clearly to me that the present leaders of the parties may be prisoners of their past. There is no evidence that I can see of any significant political movement towards the centre. Indeed, the Community Relations Council in the July issue of its magazine refers to the "political stagnation" in Northern Ireland.

Secondly, the local government elections last May —with a turnout across the Province of about 55 per cent.—showed that ordinary people were solid in their allegiance to the republican and the unionist cause and indeed that they had hardened in their loyalties to their faith. Sinn Fein and Dr. Paisley's Unionist Party, reversed their electoral decline. Obviously both camps are firmly opposed to compromise. They have been opposed to the kind of political compromise which London and Dublin have been seeking for some years past.

Thirdly, there is the significant finding of the Opsahl Commission—it is based on evidence which it collected from about 3,000 people—that one must establish parity of esteem in what it called "the legal sense" between the two communities. Unfortunately the commission did not offer a model as regards the structures for achieving that. I believe that that concept requires a leap of imagination on behalf of politicians and policy makers which may be absent.

On top of all that, as we have heard this morning, the level of terrorism and its dreadful consequences is not declining. As the Minister has said, the security forces have achieved some significant successes during the year. The Minister picked out one or two of those for special comment. He rightly paid tribute to the courage and skills of members of the security forces. We on these Benches wish to be associated with his tribute. But there is nevertheless a widespread perception that campaigns of violence are becoming a permanent feature of the Northern Ireland landscape.

The Minister's speech was rather thin on the current political background. I do not say that as a criticism of the Minister, as I believe that that is bound to be the case. If my assessment of the position is fundamentally flawed, the Minister will no doubt quickly correct me when he replies to the debate. Indeed I would he delighted if he could be more positive about the political developments which the Government believe are possible and are durable.

We do not want to maintain direct rule for one day longer than is absolutely necessary. Northern Ireland is a highly literate society. It is a remarkable paradox that a society which equipped itself with an education system and a university has to live under legislation which can be produced, amended and cancelled by a stroke of the Minister's pen and without arty proper parliamentary scrutiny.

To sum up, I would say that, while we support the renewal for 12 months of direct rule. I deeply regret that the political momentum towards a settlement which had slowly been building up since about 1983 appears to have been halted. However, I pray and hope that it has not been reversed.

2.22 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, once again I am grateful to your Lordships for the valuable contributions made to the debate today. I shall reply to as many points as possible within what I hope I may refer to as the sensitivity of time. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is not in the Chamber at present but I wish to comment on his remarks because similar points were made by other speakers, too.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made a number of illuminating observations about insecurity in the Protestant community. I am sure all noble Lords will have reflected carefully on what he said. The noble Lord made a particular point that was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, and upon which I wish to comment. The noble Lord indicated that constitutional uncertainty fed fears in the community and helped to explain the levels of violence. However, as recently as last week my right honourable friend the Secretary of State stated in another place that an overriding objective of the Government in the talks is to secure unambiguous agreement on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. I hope the noble Lord will be reassured by that and will accept that it is a substantial reason for developing political dialogue.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, also suggested that three-stranded talks were over-ambitious. I can appreciate why he may feel that way but at the same time it has been recognised by both governments and the Northern Ireland parties that if a comprehensive settlement is to be achieved, it must recognise all the relevant relationships —hence the structure for talks that was agreed in the previous Secretary of State's Statement of 26th March, 1991.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, made a number of adverse comments about the administration of government under direct rule, and referred to the democratic deficit which currently exists. We certainly recognise that the structures of government may not be regarded as ideal. It is very much an objective of ours to return greater authority and responsibility to Northern Ireland's own elected representatives. To achieve that we believe the way forward lies through the political talks, which hold out the prospect of devising new arrangements which would command support throughout the community.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, then raised the question of the trust fund to limit tariff increases this year. I have nothing to add to the statement made in another place on 8th July this year by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

As regards the Scottish interconnector, NIE took a commercial decision to proceed with the interconnector, which it considered to be the best available option for meeting the capacity shortfall around the middle of the decade. The advantages which NIE recognised that the interconnector offered include the ending of the isolation of the Northern Ireland electricity system, improved fuel diversity and additional capacity to meet peak demands. As regards price levels, the life of the interconnector is likely to be more than 30 years and, assuming that a pool can be established to allow full supply competition, it will be for the regulator to determine prices.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, also raised the question of the enabling legislation for the privatisation of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. I would explain that Northern Ireland Orders in Council are made under the Northern Ireland Act 1974, which Act enables Parliament to deal, by Order in Council, with those legislative matters in the transferred field which in circumstances other than direct rule would be dealt with by a devolved administration in Northern Ireland. The ports order is classed as primary legislation in the transferred category. Such legislation is still drafted in terms of Northern Ireland assembly procedure rather than parliamentary procedure. That assembly-based legislation is, in effect, stepped down by the 1974 Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, also asked about the decision to privatise Belfast Airport by trade sale. I can advise him that the consultation period for legislation introducing the privatisation of Belfast Airport has been extended by a short period and comments are still being submitted to the DoE for discussion. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on the arguments for a trade sale or public flotation until all comments on the draft order have had the Environment Minister's serious consideration. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, will be aware that the issue of the method of sale was raised in another place last week when an undertaking was given by the Minister that there would be a thorough examination of both options before a final decision was reached.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, reported the comments of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place last week. I shall not add to what he said. However I take note of the issues which he believes the talks should address. One of the advantages of the talks process is that it allows the participants to raise issues affecting all the key relationships—within Northern Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Republic and between the two governments.

My noble friend Lord Brookeborough made some interesting comments about the difficulties of returning greater responsibility to Northern Ireland's elected representatives. If my noble friend will allow, I should like to reflect on what he said. However, I am aware that my right honourable friend is strongly of the view that there is much potential talent at political level in Northern Ireland and that were greater powers to be returned, that talent would respond accordingly.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Cheltenham, made some interesting points during his speech. As regards force levels, I believe that he knows that they are kept under continual review.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. He is covering an enormous amount of ground and I would not want to rub his nose in it, but he conflated the names of two noble Lords—myself and the noble Lord, Lord Cooke.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I apologise.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I believe that the result was an honour to both noble Lords.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I hope that we can return to total sanity on this matter.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, was concerned about force levels. Of course we keep these under review all the time. That also applies to the importance of intelligence which is handled with coherence and great care again at all times.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, suggested that the Government should put ideas to the Northern Ireland parties. I can confirm for him that the Government are currently developing a scheme, or sketch map, to give directions and focus to new talks. The Government are happy to discuss their ideas for a scheme with all the participants before it is finalised. However, as the noble Lord suggested, it will be a British paper.

I understand that the noble Lord, Lord PrysDavies, had to leave; he gave me notice of that. However, I say to him, and to the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, that naturally we should all feel happier if, following the conclusion of the talks last November, the various parties had by now found their way back to the negotiating table. But I do not believe that noble Lords would be right to be pessimistic. Both the British and Irish Governments continue to believe that the objectives of the process remain valid and achievable and at the intergovernmental conference restated their determination to continue to make every effort to achieve those objectives through direct discussions with and negotiations between all parties concerned. As noble Lords are aware, the British Government are in contact with the participants from the previous talks and intend through further private consultation to go on developing common ground, thus making progress towards further dialogue. We are firmly of the view that that is what the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland would wish and both Governments will continue to use their best endeavours to bring further dialogue about.

In conclusion, I can only echo the hope expressed by many today that it will not be much longer before the present temporary arrangements for handling Northern Ireland affairs can be put to an end. The Government believe that the best chance of achieving new arrangements lies in dialogues between the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland and the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Your Lordships may be assured that we are working with steady determination to promote further talks to establish a new beginning in respect of the three key relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the two Governments. I commend the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.