Before calling the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State to move the Second Reading of the Bill, I would point out that there are two amendments on the Order Paper both declining to give a Second Reading to the Bill for reasons which are set out at length in each amendment. I do not propose to select either amendment. Hon. Members supporting them will have the opportunity of registering their opposition to the Bill by using the arguments so fully set out in the amendments and they can oppose the Bill when the time comes.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her interests and prerogative, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
At the end of last March this House debated for two days the Government's White Paper on Constitutional Proposals for Northern Ireland. I think the general mood of the House on that occasion was one of qualified hope that there was at least a prospect that a way could be found out of the sterile politics of violence, distrust and fear which could lead at last to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
In the course of that debate, the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) suggested that in order to allow for early elections in Northern Ireland the proposals in the White Paper for a new Assembly might be hived off into a separate shorter Bill. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister immediately responded to this imaginative suggestion. With the co-operation of all sides of both Houses, that Bill has now passed into law. June 28th has been fixed for the date
of the elections, and all the necessary steps to that end are in hand.
The people of Northern Ireland have responded over a very wide spectrum of opinion by making it clear that they are eager to cast their votes and show through the electoral process what their views are. I know that the House agrees that it is essential to keep up the political momentum. The House is, therefore, invited today to consider this Bill embodying, as it does, the proposals in the White Paper of last March.
Naturally, Her Majesty's Government will propose that the Committee stage of the Bill, since it deals with constitutional matters, should be on the Floor of the House.
Before I turn to the detailed proposals in the Bill I should like very briefly to comment on some of the important broad matters of principle at which the House, particularly in this Second Reading debate, will want to look closely. I shall not go over again the general philosophy of our approach. That was set out in the White Paper and debated fully. But the translation of the language of the White Paper into the language of a Bill highlights certain matters which are of special parliamentary concern.
The House will note at once that the Secretary of State has a prominent position in the Bill, and many may feel that this is better avoided. But the House will also note that in every important respect the powers or duties vested in the Secretary of State are subject to express control of Parliament; and, in the particularly sensitive area of possible discriminatory legislation being passed by the new Assembly, there is the additional safeguard of a reference to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in any case of doubt. I can see no alternative to this involvement of the Secretary of State if the gradual and flexible approach outlined in the White Paper is to be adopted.
It should also be stressed that the more successful the new Executive and the new Assembly in Northern Ireland are and the more that can be transferred satisfactorily to them, the less will be the powers of the Secretary of State. I shall also in due course explain that when the initial devolution order is made, this will immediately leave room for a very wide measure of responsibility and initiative in the new Northern Ireland institutions—in some important respects wider than anything that was possible under the 1920 constitution.
The second general point which it is my duty to draw to the attention of the House is that the constitutional framework in the Bill leaves a great deal to subsequent subordinate legislation. It would have been possible to produce a much longer Bill going into a great amount of detail. This, it seemed to the Government, would have two substantial disadvantages. First, it would have meant delay in bringing our constitutional proposals before the House—and a loss of momentum in the Northern Ireland situation could have the most serious consequences—and, second, a Bill in which every detailed point was settled in advance of the formation of new institutions would have removed that degree of flexibility which, in my judgment, is necessary.
There is one other general point which underlies many of the Bill's provisions. We have sought, in preparing this Bill, to provide arrangements which will be flexible in operation and which will avoid the rigidity of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This I regard as an important advance.
The Bill is firm on all matters of principle, but leaves open the possibility of flexibility on points of detail which the House will in due course wish to scrutinise and make subject to its approval. I think all sides are likely to agree that where there are a number of ways of proceeding which could be equally acceptable, the preference of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland ought to be expressed and given proper weight.
I now turn to the detailed provisions of the Bill.
Clause 1 deals very properly with the status of Northern Ireland and reaffirms the pledge on its territorial integrity. Schedule 1 provides for polls to be held at intervals of not less than 10 years so that the people of Northern Ireland can express their views on this matter. This gives effect to the undertaking in the Prime Minister's statement of 24th March 1972 and follows upon the border poll of 1973. There can be no greater assurance than this to those people who fear that union with the Republic of Ireland may in some undefined way be forced on Northern Ireland against the wishes of its people. By prescribing a period of not less than 10 years before a poll can be held, it removes uncertainty and should for a substantial time take the issue of the border out of Northern Ireland politics.
Clause 2 goes to the heart of the whole Bill since it binds the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland not to bring a devolution order before this House until he is satisfied that suitable arrangements have been made for government by consent. It is left to the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland to provide the conditions which must precede devolution.
First, the clause specifically requires that the Northern Ireland Assembly must have made satisfactory provision in its standing orders for consultative committees which are an essential part of the new arrangements for power-sharing. The object of these provisions is to provide an effective means by which members of the Assembly can become involved in, and influence, the working out of policies and the detailed provision for this is made in Clause 25. The head of a Department is in the chair of the committee concerned with his Department. The balance of parties in the Assembly will, so far as practicable, be reflected in the membership of the committees as a whole. This is a vital exercise in participation in government and will enable those members of the Assembly who do not hold office to take a full part in the development of policy.
But even more important are the provisions in Clause 2(1)(b) which state quite unequivocally the principles on which an Executive must be formed. These provisions are a statutory expression of what is said in paragraphs 52 and 53 of the White Paper. It will in the first instance be for the parties in the Assembly to discuss among themselves how a mixed Executive should come about. But one point must be entirely clear. Whatever machinery is used, the Executive which emerges—as the White Paper says:
can no longer be solely based upon any single party if that party draws its support and its elected representation virtually entirely from one section of a divided community".
Once the Secretary of State is satisfied that the principles in the White Paper and expressed in the Bill are met, he can bring a devolution order before this House, and it will then and Parliament to take the final decision.
It would be convenient here to say something about Schedules 2 and 3, which set out those matters which are "excepted" and those which are "reserved". The whole structure of the Bill is built on these schedules. First, there are "excepted" matters such as foreign affairs and defence, which are, and always will be, outside the competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This corresponds to some extent to the list of "reserved" matters in the 1920 settlement, although the list is shorter. Then there are the "reserved" matters in Schedule 3, particularly in the law and order field, which are for the time being outside the competence of the new Assembly but on which it may legislate with the approval of Her Majesty's Government. There is provision in Clause 3 for powers within this category to be transferred to the new Assembly when circumstances permit. If Parliament felt such circumstances existed, any of the matters in Schedule 3 could be transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This would apply in particular to powers in what might broadly be called the law and order field. In the present circumstances of Northern Ireland with the Armed Services heavily engaged in giving support to the civil power and working closely with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, it must make sense that Parliament, which controls the Armed Services, should retain responsibility for law and order. But, in conditions where peace has returned and stable government exists in Northern Ireland and, as a result, the Armed Services no longer have to carry out their present rôle, the Bill leaves the way open for Parliament to approve the restoration of responsibility for law and order to Northern Ireland institutions.
But in present circumstances it is also important that the Northern Ireland Executive should be able to play its part: as stated in the White Paper, the Executive will be invited to act as an advisory committee to the Secretary of State in relation to his responsibilities for law and order. Further, members of the Assembly will be able to serve on the police authority, and power is taken in Clause 38 to reconstitute the authority so as to introduce elected representatives in it.
Then, finally, there are the "transferred" matters such as agriculture, education, health and social services, which will be exclusively for the new Assembly.
The effect of this is that the new Assembly will have nearly all the powers originally enjoyed by the Stormont Parliament, with the exception of those in the law and order field. But, in addition, the Assembly will now be able to legislate, provided the agreement of Her Majesty's Government has been obtained, on matters in the "reserved" field, some of which have hitherto been outside Northern Ireland's competence. This would be a major development in devolution of powers. Those who say that the Northern Ireland Assembly will have no real job to do should take careful note of this.
The procedure to be adopted for the passage of Northern Ireland measures is set out in Clauses 4, 5 and 6. The procedure in these clauses may appear to be complicated but it is based on two simple propositions. They are, first, that Northern Ireland measures dealing with "transferred" matters will be entirely for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the function of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be that of transmitting them to the Queen in Council. Even if such a measure in some incidental respect enters the "excepted" or "reserved" field, "consent" can be given to it, and this will not be an onerous procedure. There is no Westminster stage for such measures. For all intents and purposes, therefore, proposed measures of the Northern Ireland Assembly on "transferred" matters will be dealt with under this Bill in the same way as were Bills of the Northern Ireland Parliament under the 1920 Act.
The second proposition arises from the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly will for the first time be able to legislate with consent in the "reserved" field. It is reasonable, given that the Northern Ireland Assembly is to enjoy powers of a new kind, that some constraints should be placed on those powers. Clauses 5 and 6 provide for a procedure in two stages. The first is that, before such legislation is introduced, it should be endorsed with a statement that the Secretary of State has consented to the Assembly considering the measure; the consent given at this stage does not involve an approval of the substance of the measure. The second stage involves a scrutiny of the measure when it has been through all except its last stages in the Assembly and is, therefore, in its final form; the Clerk is then required in all cases to refer it to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland so that he can consider whether to give formal consent to the subject of the measure. When consent is given, the measure has to be laid before this Parliament. These provisions should not weigh heavily on the Northern Ireland Assembly and are a reasonable price to pay for being given for the first time a competence to legislate with consent on matters reserved to Westminster.
Clause 7 provides for the exercise of executive authority in Northern Ireland, and makes it clear that the link of the Queen with Northern Ireland is maintained unimpaired and that Her Majesty remains the source of executive authority. There are many provisions in the Bill which give testimony to this fact. I do not accept the argument of those who say that, because the office of Governor will cease to exist under Clause 32, the Queen will be less concerned with Northern Ireland. In fact the contrary is the case. The Queen will be directly concerned with Northern Ireland matters through Her Privy Council and Her Ministers. The House will also know that the Queen has graciously signified her hope that it will be possible for Members of the Royal Family to pay regular visits to Northern Ireland, and arrangements are being made for suitable apartments in Hillsborough House to be kept available for the use of Royal visitors.
The House took an opportunity on a previous occasion to repeat the merited tributes in the White Paper to Lord and Lady Grey on their outstanding services to Northern Ireland. Clause 32, to which I have just referred, provides that a payment may be made to him, which the House will agree, should recognise not only the abolition of his office but also his services to Northern Ireland during a very difficult period.
Clause 8 provides for the appointment of the Executive— —
The Governor of Northern Ireland, who happens to live in my constituency, is the one person in Northern Ireland who is above politics. It is vitally important that the position of Governor, and indeed, Lord Grey himself, should be kept in Northern Ireland, because people of all religions and all political views respect him. I believe that he has a vital part to play, and a more important one, with all due respect to my right hon. Friend, than my right hon. Friend himself.
The problem that my hon. Friend raises is that it is impossible to argue, when producing a constitutional Bill for the future, from the position of one particular personality to the point of an office in general terms. That is what my hon. Friend is doing. He is saying—with this I agree—that Lord Grey has been an extremely outstanding Governor. He then goes on to argue that in the new circumstances, because Lord Grey has been an outstanding Governor, the office must be maintained. That is not an argument which, in constitutional terms, looking a long way into the future, can be substantiated.
One must again repeat the argument that if, as under this Bill, the Queen is to be more directly concerned with the affairs of Northern Ireland than in the past, it cannot be argued at the same time that there is a weakening of links with the Crown. That is the position—the Queen will be in exactly the same position in regard to Northern Ireland in this field as in many ways she is to the rest of the United Kingdom. I should have thought that that was very important.
Would my right hon. Friend confirm or deny that under the Bill the Assembly will not have the right to pass any Act, that it will be able only to pass measures and that those measures will have the force of law when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, whoever holds that office, brings them before the Privy Council and gives them the weight of the law?
Would he not now admit that the Executive of Northern Ireland will have no approach to Her Majesty the Queen and that therefore the people of Northern Ireland who elect the Assembly will not have the privilege that they have had heretofore, when Her Majesty's Ministers in Northern Ireland had access through the Governor?
On the first point, if legislation is passed in the Assembly on transferred matters the Secretary of State will, under the Bill, be bound to submit it to the Queen in Council, with no power not to do so unless of course it is considered to be either impinging on reserved matters or discriminatory. Otherwise, he will be bound to submit it to the Queen in Council. Therefore, the Assembly on these matters will legislate directly.
On the second point, I still believe that the direct connection with the Queen is through a Secretary of State who is one of her Ministers, one of her Cabinet and responsible to this Parliament. I believe that that is a direct access from the people to the Queen. That point can clearly be argued.
Clause 8 provides for the appointment of the Executive by the Secretary of State, on behalf of Her Majesty, which will comprise the chief executive member and heads of Departments; it can comprise up to 12 members, although one would expect it to be smaller than this. To provide some flexibility, subsection (5) authorises the appointment of two persons from outside the Assembly, one of whom may be the head of a Department, and by that fact a member of the Executive. In practice, the parties will need to discuss among themselves who should be put forward for appointment; clearly support would be a vital factor.
All persons appointed by the Secretary of State will have to take the oath set out in Schedule 4. This oath binds those who take it to uphold the laws of Northern Ireland and to fulfil their duties under this Bill in the interests of Northern Ireland and its people. It is, I believe, reasonable to ask those who take on responsibility for the government of Northern Ireland—whatever their long-term hopes or aspirations—to make the welfare of Northern Ireland and its people under the law their overriding concern while holding office.
Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to clarify a point arising on Clause 8, which provides for the appointment of the members of the Executive by the Secretary of State? Is that appointment a formal act, in the sense that Her Majesty's Ministers in the Government of the United Kingdom are appointed by Her Majesty, or is it a discretionary act of the Secretary of State? I ask this particularly because it appears that under the second half of subsection (3) his action must be discretionary. It is therefore difficult to see how it can be other than discretionary in the first part.
That is a very fair point. I would hope that it could be formal, and, if there were agreement among the leaders of the parties in Northern Ireland, certainly that would be the wish of Her Majesty's Government. But if agreement could not be reached, we must face the fact, as must the Bill, that the Secretary of State will have to try to find, with the leaders of the parties concerned, whether such agreement can be reached and whether it is possible to form such an Executive. So in the first instance it comes to both. If it could be formal, that would be a great gain; if it cannot be, because there is not agreement, some form of discretion is inevitable.
Those appointed to the Executive will be served by the Civil Service of Northern Ireland. This will remain a separate service under the Crown and, I am sure, will serve them well in the conduct of the business of Northern Ireland.
There is a number of provisions in the Bill dealing with prosecutions. Clause 10 provides that the Attorney-General for England and Wales shall take over all the duties of his former counterpart in Northern Ireland—this preserves the position as it has been during direct rule—and Clause 34 provides that the Attorney-General shall appoint the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions, who is already accountable to him. The office of Crown Solicitor for Northern Ireland is created by Clause 35. The House will have noted, however, that prosecutions appear in the list of "reserved" matters: this is to empower the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate with consent in this area.
As Her Majesty's Government stress in both the Green and the White Papers, relations with the Republic of Ireland must be part of any settlement. It is our intention in due course to hold tripartite discussions to see what can be done to achieve the objectives set out in paragraph 112 of the White Paper—the acceptance of the present status of Northern Ireland and of the possibility, which will have to be compatible with the principle of consent, of subsequent change in that status; effective consultation and co-operation in Ireland for the benefit of North and South alike; and the provision of a firm basis for concerted governmental and community action against terrorist organisations.
Clause 12 therefore empowers the new Northern Ireland institutions to consult the Republic of Ireland on any matters and to pass measures, which will be subject to all the parliamentary and other constraints to which I have already referred, to give effect to those agreements. We must be sure that nothing in this Bill will place restraints on such action if the people of Northern Ireland support it. The clause is, therefore, designed to enable the Northern Ireland institutions to go ahead following upon any tripartite discussions.
Clauses 13 to 16 simplify the present financial arrangements, which will be operated to provide the larger measure of freedom of decision which was envisaged in paragraphs 88 and 89 of the White Paper. I will leave it to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is to wind up this debate, to deal with the question of financial arrangements in the Bill in greater detail.
I should, however, like to stress that in financial matters it remains the aim of Her Majesty's Government, as set out in paragraph 86 of the White Paper, to work progressively towards the achievement in Northern Ireland of those standards of living, employment and social conditions which prevail in Great Britain.
I now come to Part III of the Bill, which contains important provisions on human rights. There already exists in Northern Ireland a wide range of machinery and practices, not all of it with parallel in this country, to protect people from suffering discrimination because of their political or religious beliefs. All of this will continue, but Part III provides additional safeguards. Any legislation and any executive action in the public sector by central and local government or statutory bodies which are discriminatory on political or religious grounds will be made unlawful. If the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland thinks that any proposed measure of the Northern Ireland Assembly contains provisions which may be discriminatory, he is required first, to refer the measure back to the Assembly; and if, after this, he is still in doubt as to its validity on these grounds, he is required to cause it to be put to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council under Clause 18. Further, if anyone feels that he is the victim of discrimination by any public authority he can, in addition to other existing remedies, seek an injunction from the courts under Clause 19.
I shall come to my hon. Friend's important point. What we are proposing in this Bill, as far as discrimination in the public sector is concerned, and what I am going to say further, together with our commitment to legislation against discrimination in the private sector, add up to that Charter of Human Rights to which the hon. Member refers.
Those provisions will all constitute valuable safeguards.
Further, the Bill provides in Clause 20 that a Standing Advisory Commission should be set up which can look at the adequacy and effectiveness of the law relating to discrimination and suggest what changes need to be made in the light of experience, whether to avoid duplication or to close any gaps. The commission will, on the one hand, help to co-ordinate all the existing machinery; and, on the other hand, it can make recommendations for alteration in that machinery. The commissioner's annual reports will be laid before Parliament. Such reports will also help the Northern Ireland Assembly, to which they must be made available under Clause 20, and the Northern Ireland Executive. I attach great importance to the advice it will give, since we must be satisfied that machinery for countering discrimination, which will include the additional safeguards in this Bill, is apt for the purpose. This points to the need for a continuing review. For example, while it is right that plaintiffs should, as the Bill provides, have recourse to the courts, we must be prepared to consider carefully whether there are other processes—for example conciliation—which may be more appropriate remedies. The advice of the Standing Advisory Commission will help us on such matters.
Coming to the point made by my hon. Friend, I should refer to the undertaking given in paragraph 103 of the White Paper that comprehensive legislation on job discrimination in the private sector will be proposed to this House. Hon. Members will wish to know that I have received today, and am arranging to publish as soon as possible, the report of the working party established last autumn and presided over by my hon. Friend the Minister of State to consider this matter. Its far-reaching proposals are consistent with the interim conclusions referred to in the White Paper and set out in full in reply to a Parliamentary Question of 22nd March 1973. The report will now be carefully studied with a view to deciding, after full consultation, how it can best be implemented.
Provision for the Northern Ireland Assembly is made in Part IV of the Bill.
Clause 24 provides for the appointment of a Presiding Officer from among the members of the Assembly, and for the appointment of a Clerk to serve the Assembly. It will be for that Assembly to regulate its own procedures but some guidelines are given in Clause 25 when the procedures involved are an integral part of the way in which Northern Ireland Assembly measures are subjected to scrutiny. The Assembly is automatically dissolved by virtue of Clause 27 on 30th March 1974, if it has not been posible by then to devolve powers to it; but it is possible under that clause for the Queen to appoint a day for a fresh General Election.
We must all hope that such a dissolution will not occur. No one should be under any misapprehension that this, if it happened, would be a substantial setback to the hopes for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
As I have already said, much remains to be done to bring statute law into line with the provisions of the Bill, and essential powers are set out in Clauses 38, 39 and 41 to make necessary changes by Orders in Council which will attract an affirmative resolution procedure.
This, then, is the Bill. It provides for a constitution which will be sensitive to the developing needs of Northern Ireland. It does not provide for institutions set and immovable, unable to respond to changes in circumstances in Northern Ireland. This would be a prescription for failure before we start.
I hope, therefore, that the proposals in this Bill will provide an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to advance towards peace and stability. There is nothing inherently difficult or unworkable in the constitutional proposals in the Bill. Any constitution is no more than a framework within which free men may co-operate for the good of their community. Any constitution may be subverted. That is easy. It is less easy for those who are the leaders of the community to work within the confines of a constitution and to accept compromises, involving some sacrifice to differing points of view in the interests of the community at large.
The heart and core of what this Bill provides is that the people of Northern Ireland should join together in a broadly based effort, both in the elected Assembly and in the Executive formed from it. The future peace and stability of the Northern Ireland community depend upon the success of their efforts to do so.
The affairs of Northern Ireland have dominated this Parliament and especially this Session. The White Paper debate took place relatively recently. This debate is about a more precise White Paper. We have discussed on many occasions what there should be in the White Paper. It would be easy for me today, and may be for other hon. and right hon. Members, to be repetitive. My aim at the beginning is to avoid that. Perhaps I could deal with those things which are repetitive right at the beginning.
When I opened the White Paper debate, I said that we on this side of the House had asked for most of the contents in the White Paper, and that in principle we supported it. I repeat that. I repeat also in paraphrase the words of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when in the same debate he said that the White Paper in the Government's judgment was the fairest and most balanced judgment they felt they could put forward.
Overall, it is clear from our statements that I support the Bill. I said that we would examine the Bill critically. For this time is required. I accept all the problems involved. But there is need for full discussion on an important constitutional Bill which might well last a long time. My hope is that the discussions will not take place in the middle of the night.
With regard to the status of Northern Ireland, I now turn to the first part of the Bill. Clause 1 states—as the Secretary of State has said—
that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom
I understand that this was part of the original Act, although I notice that the word "dominions" was not used in the Downing Street Declaration. It has been put to me that there may be meaning in this word, more meaning than I was aware of, because the word "dominion" has changed over the years, and it might be important to be clear on that before we get to Committee stage. I put that point deliberately at the outset.
The important word in the clause is the word "consent". I could not depart from that word. I have said it constantly. It was said with great effect by a number of people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), at the Labour Party conference, and it was the basis of much of the discussion.
In this context, the word "consent" means that the North cannot be forced into the South. Even if people were naȹve enough to believe that that could be done or that that was desirable, it just could not be done. "Consent" is a most important word.
I bring to the notice of the House what was said in the Dail Eireann in the recent debate thereon 8th May by the Irish Foreign Minister. He said:
Let us hope that the White Paper will be the beginnings of a solution, but it is a long road ahead, a road on which we can easily make mistakes and blunders, and probably will, but where we must at all times be trying with sincerity, conviction and determination to work towards the only solution, reunification of this country by consent which means in the first instance reconciliation, the achievement of peace with justice in Northern Ireland"—
and so on. So the Minister responsible in the Republic echoes this word "consent". It is something upon which all of us, at any rate in this House, will agree in the context of pushing into the south.
With regard to the clause as a whole, I confess to having doubts, even with that very firm feeling in my mind. My doubt is over the poll procedure. Taking simple figures, what would happen in 10 years' time, or whenever it may be, if 700,001 people were for, or against, and 699,999 people were for, or against? That is a very small majority, to give a most unusual case, but nevertheless it proves my point. Is it not dangerous to put forward the idea that the status of Northern Ireland could be changed in this way? I do not see it changing as the result of a poll.
I certainly cannot stake myself to consent in the way that I have and then brush aside the method of ascertaining the strength of feeling. I simply make the point, however, that I just do not see that the status of Northern Ireland will be changed in this way. Even if there were a majority, at some time or another, by a simple counting of heads, for a change of status, to believe that that would be accepted by the present majority is naive to the extreme in the situation of Northern Ireland.
Is not the hon. Gentleman coming down to the very point about which the people who hold to the Union in Northern Ireland are disturbed, that all these promises made in this House are valueless because by an Act of Parliament this House can change them? This House made a promise about Stormont. Stormont was wiped out. It is now making another promise, which can also be wiped out.
It is not for me to defend the Government's point, but the Government's intention is quite clear. It is that that should not be so. This has been the intention of Governments over the years. I was not arguing the point that the hon. Gentleman put. I was saying that I believe in consent but that I have doubts about the method of achieving it.
I am not looking into a crystal ball and I am subject to all the difficulties of looking forward in Northern Ireland. But my reading of the future is not of any sudden, overnight change which might occur. I see it to be a realistic acceptance of the feelings of the North in the North and of the feelings in the Republic, and closer ties growing from year to year between the two parts of Ireland. Beyond that general statement, I do not know what would be the ultimate. But I believe that constant co-operation between the two, in a loose-knit all-Ireland council, not in any sort of Trojan horse, is a means of proceeding to the future, and not out of a mere counting of heads, which would not be acceptable to the communities in the North. The long-term future is best dealt with through an all-Ireland council.
The objectives mentioned in the White Paper were threefold. Perhaps I can remind the House of objectives A and B. There would be a conference later this year to discuss how three objectives may be best pursued—the acceptance of the present status of Northern Ireland, the acceptance of the possibility, which would have to be compatible with the principle of consent, of subsequent change in that status, and effective consultation and cooperation in Ireland for the benefit of North and South.
This is the way forward. It is the great hope of the Government's thinking, to my mind, and it will require pragmatic acceptance of the North by the Government of the South.
In the debate in Dail Eireann on 8th May the new Prime Minister of the Republic said:
Can this reconciliation be achieved in Northern Ireland alone? I do not think so. The full measure of the problem of Northern Ireland is that reconciliation between its communities cannot be brought about successfully in isolation from the larger issue of reconciliation within the island as a whole".
The new Prime Minister went on to say:
But this does not mean, and I emphasise this very strongly, that we see a council …as a device to lure it towards an eventual unity which it does not accept. We do not deny our aspirations. But I believe I speak for a wide range of opinion here when I say that we are more anxious to see a process of co-operation, of growth towards reconciliation, get under way than to set a timetable or try to determine in advance exactly what the end result would be.
My question to the Government is this: where is the Irish dimension in the Bill? Surely Clause 12 is only about transferred powers. It is a corollary of Clause 1. It is only about transferred powers, and transferred powers are those that are in the hands of the new Assembly.
This brings me to objective C in the White Paper, which was the provision of a firm basis for concerted governmental and community action against terrorist organisations. I regard this as vital. If 28th June brings success, whatever that means, or otherwise, violence will remain. It is fundamental to our thinking that the Bill and all that it implies is a political approach, but violence will remain. It has become a way of life. There must be concerted action, particularly on the gun traffic, which is on a very large scale, some of it coming in from the Mediterranean.
Returning to objective C, how can meaningful discussions take place about security when security is not a transferred power of the Assembly in the North? I concede straight away that there could be discussions in the conference this year, if that is the purpose of it. I hope that the conference this year takes place earlier rather than later. However, I am in the difficulty of understanding how in the discussions between North and South tinder Clause 12 the question of security can be taken into account.
Another subject which is worthy of our attention concerns the powers of the Secretary of State. I have done research about this. Of course, when one is in office one can have research carried out more quickly and more accurately, but I have looked through the Bill to examine what powers the Secretary of State will have in respect of the making of Orders in Council. I should like to come back to that in terms of the parliamentary procedure shortly.
His powers provide that he can call a border poll under Clause 1 and under Clause 2 he can devolve transferred powers. Under Clause 3 there is provision for the devolution of reserve powers. Clause 27 provides him with powers concerning the continuation or dissolution of the Assembly—a complicated issue when one considers the finesse of the system by which dissolution takes place in this country under the powers of the Monarch, something that is hardly describable in a constitutional text book. His powers concern the conduct of Assembly and local elections. There are provisions in Clause 39 consequent on the Act or orders under Clause 3. Clause 5 deals with control over legislation on excepted or reserved matters. Clause 8 provides him with powers for the appointment of the Executive, as the right hon. Gentleman told us today, and Clause 24 the appointment of the Clerk to the Assembly.
This all makes the Secretary of State an extremely powerful man, and I do not object to that. The more I heard the right hon. Gentleman today—and in the context of recent years—that is inevitable, and it probably will be inevitable in the short term. However, in the longer term, I am sure that this will have to be considered in the light of experience of subsequent Secretaries of State because the present Secretary of State has built up his own expertise and method of proceeding in Northern Ireland over the last 18 months, a method which is peculiarly his own and to which I pay tribute.
This matter causes me concern. I am not seeking to make a funny political point. I do not care from which party the right hon. Gentleman's successors come—or rather, I mean that I do not care in this particular case. I am making an abstract statement. But we must be careful that his office does not become fit only for one man. It has to be accepted now but I would hope that in the light of experience we shall be able to look very carefully at it.
May I turn now to the question of Executive power sharing. I note that it is possible to increase the powers of the Executive and of the Assembly over the years. The key to the composition of the Executive lies in the election results. I should like to take up one point made by the Secretary of State today. The criterion was laid down in paragraphs 52 and 53 of the White Paper. We all know the White Paper well enough now and so I shall quote only one phrase from paragraph 52:
it is the view of the Government that the Executive itself can no longer be solely based upon any single party …".
In Clause 2(1)(b), perhaps for understandable reasons, that paragraph in the White Paper is not explained very well. We wonder therefore what is the status of paragraph 52 in terms of Clause 2(1)(b).
The question of power sharing will be one of the most difficult problems facing the Secretary of State in his period of office. I hope that I can recall his words correctly, but Mr. Faulkner said that there could be no power sharing with any whose primary object was to break the union. What does that mean? There may be someone whose primary objective, whose emotional attitude, is to have a unified Ireland, but who would be content to work the system in the North in the context of consent. The Secretary of State will have his hands full, as will everyone else trying to work the new system, in the light of statements of that kind.
Will the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) use a little common sense in this? Does he think that it would improve democratic government in this country if either his party or the Conservative Party when in government were obliged to have a Communist who was dedicated to the overthrow of this country as a member of the Cabinet?
Does the hon. Member agree that the best way to appoint an Executive would be to give priority to those elected from the various political parties in Northern Ireland? Would not that go a long way towards satisfying criticism?
It is most important for people to put their ideas forward. I should be surprised if it could be done in such an arithemetical way as that, but it is something we should all be thinking about.
There are many hon. Members here who will be engaged in electioneering either for themselves or for their parties, and I wonder whether they have thought about the possibilities of the single transferable vote and considered the fact that in the South of Ireland the Fine Gael and the Labour Party became the majority party not because there was a great swing of opinion towards them but because they formed a coalition before the election and not afterwards. I am not suggesting that anyone in Northern Ireland should do anything about it. But this should be taken firmly into account. We do not operate the STV system here, and in the South of Ireland, where they do, they seem to talk a different language.
I read that and I read the report in greater detail in the magazine Fortnight. It is not my job as a politician from this side of the water to come down on one side or the other. I am concerned only that the people who win in Northern Ireland shall be those who are prepared to work a democratic system.
Does not the hon. Member agree that it is best to wait until the ballot boxes are opened and the votes are counted before being influenced unduly by Thomson's newspapers?
I must confess that is not something by which I am usually influenced and I agree that what matters is what happens on the 28th. This is why we should be turning our attention to the Bill because it is the Bill, when it becomes an Act, that those who will be elected on that date will have to work.
It is important to consider the numbers on the Executive other than the two who will be appointed from outside on the basis of the number of Departments. It has been put to me that it might be more efficient if there were fewer people on the Executive—the figure of nine has been suggested to me and I have no strong views about it. The Secretary of State must have had a size in mind for the Executive when he drew up the clause and it is important that when we come to the Committee stage we should investigate this aspect.
It might be extremely difficult for the Secretary of State to get an acceptable Chief Executive when the time comes. That is something else we shall have to think about, because there are strong feelings in Northern Ireland among the various groups. It is a different matter to have a Prime Minister evolved or elected in the context of a parliamentary party and given the way that our system has developed over the years.
I am not posing the question in this way to make difficulties for the Secretary of State. I am only saying to those who will be involved that there will have to be some give and take or the very appointment of the Chief Executive could take weeks to sort out.
There is also the question of the consultative committees, dealt with in Clause 25(6). It has been put to me that it is necessary for the committees to have access to papers.
I turn to the question of a charter of human rights, on which I find the Bill least satisfactory. I have argued over the past 18 months that the best way to set about the problem was to have a Bill of Rights. Part 4 of the White Paper talks about a charter of human rights. I do not think that there is a charter in the Bill. It rightly talks about the strength of our democratic traditions, but the democratic tradition in Northern Ireland—I am not putting the finger on anybody—has not exactly been paramount in recent years.
The White Paper talks about the acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. The Secretary of State has talked about the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and the Commissioner of Complaints.
The question of discrimination in the private sector is also dealt with. I think that the phrase used was "equality in the private sector". I am glad to hear that the employers and the trade unions have reached agreement in recent days. The trade unions have expressed their pleasure at the outcome.
There is also proposed a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. Clauses 17 and 18 on legislation, Clause 19 on public authorities, Clause 20 on the Advisory Commission and Clause 21 on oaths and conditions of employment are all matters that we have asked for. But I still believe that it would have been better to have a Bill of Rights. I raise the question now only because it might seem in the future to be something that we must still put our mind to.
I bring to the notice of the Secretary of State a White Paper issued in November 1971 by the Government to which he belongs, "Rhodesia—Proposals for a Settlement". It contains a declaration of rights and in Appendix B spells out the sort of thing which I believe would have been a basis on which to judge something such as the Bill we are dealing with in Committee concerning the judiciary, juries and all such matters. Many of our problems in Committee exist because we do not have the criteria that we should have had with a Bill of Rights proper. That is not to be, but the Bill before us contains clauses that have our approval.
Many more matters could be raised now. I prefer to leave most of them to Committee, but I must mention one or two now. The first concerns parliamentary procedure. With the Bill and the two orders to be debated today, a grand total of 44 pieces of legislation on Northern Ireland will have come before the House since the introduction of direct rule. Five of those 44 have been Bills and the remaining 39 have been Orders in Council, of which 27 have been made under the normal procedure and 12 under the urgent procedure. About 24 statutory rules and orders have been made under the negative procedure under the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, all of which would have required affirmative resolutions if they had been dealt with at Stormont.
I raise the point because although I, like other hon. Members' have been examining the Bill for about a fortnight, I am not clear what will happen when the new Assembly is working. Shall we still have as much legislation coming here as before? What type of legislation do we imagine coming? There is no doubt that as much as all of us—some more than others—have been prepared to operate the system because of the problem of Northern Ireland, if a significant amount of orders come before the House, whatever Government are in power, the situation will not be good enough. How will it be dealt with? Understandably, we have lived from hand to mouth since March of last year. Parliament should be putting its mind to the problem, otherwise we shall start again in November to have the same problem of important material being debated late at night for an hour and a half.
During the Secretary of State's speech it struck me that we should have an hour and a half, whether under the negative or positive procedure, to deal with a most important issue—I cannot recall what it was—on the Floor of the House, an issue which matters to Northern Ireland. It is not good enough. The House must find the right answer.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very valid point. He must realise, as do all hon. Members who have followed the course of procedure, that it will be next spring before the new Assembly can even start to work on proposed legislation.
I do not know when the Assembly will start its work. It could well be a good deal earlier, but much depends on other things.
I am interested in the financial control provisions. The White Paper referred to expenditure priorities. One of the important things that many local authorities lack is the ability to give priority. It is the hallmark of a good assembly that it can pick and choose. I do not believe that Stormont did pick and choose very much, but it is important that the new Assembly should do so.
It is not an appropriate matter for the Bill, but where should we see how a public accounts committee will work for Northern Ireland? Is there to be such a committee for Northern Ireland, or will the responsibility fall entirely on the PAC here? This fits in with my argument about priorities. It matters to a body to know that something like the PAC can look very carefully at what it is doing.
My next point may seem small, but it is one that has been put to me. Someone who served in Stormont was known as a Member of Parliament. What will those who serve on the new authority be called—MA, MA (Belfast)? Is that the right nomenclature? The body is called a legislative Assembly, so a member could be called an MLA.
If the dislike between North and South goes to that degree, it will raise enormous problems in the future.
My next point concerns the tone of the Bill. It is rather managerial. We have the "chief executive" and "departments". It is just a little bit like Harrods. That is something which we could leave to the Committee stage.
I support the Bill on behalf of the Opposition. It is a political approach which takes us to the election and beyond. We are all fond of talking about turning points in Northern Ireland. It seems that Northern Ireland consists of a series of turning points. In anybody's language 28th June will be a turning point. As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, we shall find out who leads whom. That will be most important.
It would be a mistake to think that because March 1974 is a sort of deadline, people can afford to play about from July until March. It would be wrong to think, "There is yet another date to which we can push things without coming to a decision." My hope is that March will not be yet another turning point and that people will work with the Secretary of State to make the Act, as it will be, workable. That will be the culmination of all that many on both sides of the House have had in mind for the last 18 months.
A solution can be found to the problem in Northern Ireland. Such a solution needs the support of those who accept the White Paper. The hon. Member for Antrim, North has talked about the "Thomson poll". I readily accept that all polls have weaknesses but the Thomson poll indicated that only 18 per cent. seemed to be really against the White Paper and only 3 per cent.—which is a very small number—talked of making it fail by violence. That is the part that interests me. Whatever the political views, are we prepared to make it work democratically? The 3 per cent. are the people who matter.
There has been—I do not put this in an academic sense—a most valuable study about moderation. Of course, moderation is a much-misunderstood word. It means what it says to many people. A book by Budge O'Leary, "A Study of Belfast Politics, 1613–1970", culminated in a detailed research of recent years. There is no doubt that there is a majority of people who supported the White Paper and who are prepared to work along those lines in Northern Ireland. Moderation is not sitting around. It is involvement and adopting a positive approach. It is only through the political approach contained in the Bill that we can get to the position of withdrawing British troops.
There is much talk about withdrawing British troops without a political step forward. I maintain that to do so without making that step would mean bloodshed. It is important to get the political decision and it is important for us to plan for the withdrawal of British troops. That must not come as a surprise at the end of the day. The Bill deserves support. It leads in the only possible direction which it is possible to follow at the moment. I, on behalf of the Opposition, wish it well. I hope that it will make speedy progress in Committee consistent with proper scrutiny.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) has put his finger, with his usual skill, upon some of the difficulties which will arise. They are difficulties which make it impossible for me or some of my hon. Friends to support Second Reading. The hon. Member for Leeds, South talked about moderation. Moderation, like liberty, is a greatly misused word. It is taken by people to support all kinds of strange views. There is one party in Ulster which now has practically appropriated the word "moderate", as if nobody else in the entire Province were moderate.
I find myself in the position of being once more the discordant note. That is not a position which I like. We have reached a situation where it is obvious that the Bill will be carried by a great majority. Perhaps the majority will not be as great as some expect. Nevertheless, the Bill will get a Second Reading. I should not like it to get a Second Reading without being on record as having said that it is a defective Bill.
I concede to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as I have often conceded before, that he has made a sincere endeavour to find some way out of the difficulties which exist in Northern Ireland. Those difficulties were consequent upon the suspension of the Parliament of Stormont. I believe that he sincerely wants to see some kind of political pacification. However, the Bill is wholly defective and will not do what the Secretary of State has in mind.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South referred to what is now becoming known as the Thomson Poll. He said that the number of people who were against the White Paper was very small. I can venture a reason for that. There is a considerable degree of illusion—that is, illusion fostered by politicians of all parties in Ulster as to the meaning both of the White Paper and of the form of the Assembly when it comes about. The illusion is that the candidates, when they go before the electorate and when they are elected to the Assembly, will be able to do great things. It is an illusion that they will be able to operate within the Assembly and that they will be able to change the law and the structure which the House is about to enact. That is a dangerous and foolish illusion.
This is an important stage. We are now dealing with a Bill—and we shall continue to deal with it after the Whitsun Recess for several weeks in Committee—which is the most important constitutional measure affecting Ireland since 1920. This is the time when the Bill can be changed or altered. It may not be changeable or alterable after the Assembly is set up unless the House wishes to reopen the subject. I imagine that it will not want to do that.
We are in a crucial situation. The Bill is fundamentally defective for a variety of reasons. My hon. Friends and I tabled a reasoned amendment setting out our main reasons for thinking it defective. It would be possible to go through the Bill at this stage and to list all the matters which we consider are defective and which should be dealt with in Committee. However, even to list the defects would transgress Mr. Speakers' ruling.
Let us consider only the main defects. The Bill is defective—and the hon. Member for Leeds, South unerringly put his finger on the matter—in the very first clause. He asked how the consent of the people of Northern Ireland would be found. He pointed to the terrible dilemma which was involved in counting heads. The defect in Clause 1 is that it does not cease at line 12 with the words "United Kingdom". Had the clause said, "Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom, and it is hereby confirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland, or any part of it, cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom", and stopped there, it would have been sensible and understandable. That is what ought to have been done.
There is no way in which one can say to the people who are involved in questions of citizenship, "You will not cease to be part of this country without your consent". It is tacit and instant. It is surely quite tacit and understood in every part of this kingdom that people will not lose their citizenship without their consent. It is insulting to put it as it is in the Bill because it implies that the Act could be altered. It is also dangerous because it keeps alive uncertainty. There should be no uncertainty about citizenship.
I am not putting this in any narrow sense in pointing out simply that the hon. and gallant Gentleman took another view recently, when he was prepared to accept the Border Poll Act for giving consent, and he pressed his view strongly on the need for a poll on the Government. He cannot have it both ways. I had my doubts about the Border Poll Act and surely, whatever he feels about citizenship, which is not getattable in words, if there were a doubt as to whether after a change had come about in people's feelings about the union there could be a changed relationship between North and South by consent, to have a clause in the Bill to say it could never happen would be foolish.
Any Act of Parliament is amendable. I explained on Second Reading of the Border Poll Bill that the only reason we wanted to go ahead with it was the old-fashioned notion that if a Prime Minister made a promise he should keep it, and that there was considerable doubt then about the future status of Northern Ireland. This Bill, setting out the new constitution, ought to make it clear beyond doubt what the situation is. The main defect among the many in the Bill—it is something that we in this House and the people in Ulster will have to understand—is that the main body of the Bill, the whole superstructure, the whole busines of setting up the Executive, the whole business of what the Assembly will do, the whole system of devolution and the whole elaborate affair as set out in Part II all depend upon an "if" in Clause 2.
What is the "if"? It is in the most imprecise terms possible. The hon. Member for Leeds, South referred to the words. I invite the House to look again at subsection (1)(b):
that a Northern Ireland Executive can be formed which, having regard to the support it commands in the Assembly and to the electorate on which that support is based, is likely
to be widely accepted throughout the community.
That is one of the "ifs" in having regard to the support commanded by the Executive in the Assembly. The wording does not refer to its being assured of a majority in the Assembly, which is the normal democratic process, the principle that we in this House, in all its history, have fought for—the principle that Her Majesty's Ministers shall be such as to command majority in the elected Chamber. It is also the accepted doctrine in every local authority in this country that the executive, whatever it may be, shall command a majority, even if it be a majority of only one. That is the principle from which we are departing.
What the Bill is saying is that the Secretary of State shall have to be satisfied that a Northern Ireland Executive can be formed having regard to the support that it commands. But it goes farther. It says
… and to the electorate on which that support is based. …".
That is a new doctrine.
With due respect, this Parliament cannot consider suddenly that it will revolve these powers. It cannot be so until the Secretary of State comes forward with legislation to consider it. The House could refuse it through its right of veto. But it is only a power of veto. It has no power to initiate it. This devolution cannot take place unless my right hon. Friend is satisfied about certain things which are so terribly imprecise.
Will my hon. Friend not agree that the elected representatives from Northern Ireland are the only people in this House who have a mandate in Northern Ireland, but that they can in no way under the Bill initiate a motion or any trend to get more power to the Assembly?
That is true. This discretion we gave to the Secretary of State, but we do not give it in any terms of precision which can be really understood by the House. The Secretary of State has to be satisfied about some very extraordinary things. He has to be satisfied about the support that the Executive has in the Assembly. It is a subjective decision if it is not based upon a majority of the Assembly
… and …to the electorate on which that support is based …".
It is an extraordinary conception. We would not agree in this House that Her Majesty's Government should, because of the electoral support commanded by the Liberal Party, give it a large share in the Government.
Then there is a phrase which is even more imprecise—
… is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community …".
What does that mean? Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have a majority in Parliament. There have been Governments in the United Kingdom with small majorities in Parliament but with a minority vote in the country. But no one could say that a Government or even a local authority was widely accepted throughout the community unless by the term "widely accepted" one simply means that the community is content to obey that Government while they are in office. It would be helpful, before we go into Committee, if my right hon. Friend or one of his colleagues could tell us more about the criteria. Are they still the criteria laid down in the White Paper? Upon what will they be based? That is one fundamental defect.
I turn to the second major defect. My right hon. Friend and hon. Members have spoken about the extent of devolution. The argument is that, in these improbable circumstances, there would be a considerable amount of devolution. That is not what the Bill provides. It provides for powers very much less devolved than the powers of the old Stormont. The Secretary of State referred to the excepted matters in Schedule 2. He said that the schedule was not quite as short as that containing the excepted matters in the 1920 Act. He did not say that it was considerably larger.
To begin with there are certain law and order powers which are permanently reserved to this House. Among those are such things as the appointment of the police authority. There has not been much publicity about that. It is not thoroughly understood in Ulster that all the rules governing elections, including those affecting the franchise not only in respect of the Assembly but in respect of local authorities, are permanently reserved to this House.
I will explain. This is the core of the argument. The explanation is that the rest of the United Kingdom is fully and properly represented in this House. It could be argued that Scotland is over-represented. The argument in favour of the Bill has been that the under-representation here will be continued on the grounds that we are getting a degree of devolution which justifies it. My argument is that it does not, and that what we are doing is substantially reducing the amount of devolution. We are even removing certain financial powers which resided in the old Stormont.
Stormont voluntarily gave up a considerable degree of devolved power over financial matters to preserve the parity position. No such power will reside in the Assembly. The only extra power it will have in respect of financial matters is in the allocation of the resources once those resources have gone out. The old Joint Exchequer Board and all the other paraphernalia that used to exist have gone. The total amount to be spent is decided by the Treasury. The degree of devolution is not sufficient to justify the under-representation in this House. If that under-representation continues then this Bill is wrong and inequitable.
I do not believe that the Bill is workable. My hon. Friends and I think that it would have been better if we had proceeded on the basis of handing over the local government powers in the first instance and then regarded the Assembly as something which would consult the Secretary of State about the future constitution. I would not have had this long schedule of excepted powers. It would have been wise to wait until Kilbrandon reported. It would have been wise to see what form devolution took in the rest of the United Kingdom rather than to create something which is anomalous. In the meantime it would have been sensible to increase the number of Northern Ireland Members in this House so that we were on all fours with the rest of the United Kingdom while considering devolution within the United Kingdom.
There is so much uncertainty in this Bill that it will recoil upon us. The illusions being created in Ulster are dangerous. The disappointments which will follow upon the failure of this measure will, as a consequence, be far worse. I am deeply distressed that I have to inject this note of pessimism, because I am a natural optimist. There are major defects in the Bill which we shall try to remove in Committee. I want to see a return to the democratic process. I do not believe that if this measure fails it will be the fault of those who are elected to serve in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It will fail because this House has not recognised the dangers inherent in the legislation.
I will endeavour to be brief and, because of that, I will not take up the points of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) or reiterate the points which have been made by hon. Members and with which I find myself in agreement. I listened carefully to the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for
Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) with whom I find myself much in agreement. I and my party will support the Bill, subject to scrutiny in Committee. Our reason for doing so is best summed up in an extract from the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) during the debate on the White Paper when he said:
The answer to the rejection of this White Paper either here or in Northern Ireland would be a continuation of the violence and bloodshed and the heartbreak and despair that we have had to suffer through the nightmare of these past four years in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that anyone with a spark of humanity and compassion, irrespective of his political ideals or political ambitions, could in any way say or do anything which would prolong this agony for one minute longer than necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 1566.]
The hon. Member's comments are equally applicable to the provisions of this Bill.
I do not believe for a moment that a constitution will end the suffering and agonies in Northern Ireland. I do believe that the Bill contains the basic framework upon which everyone in Northern Ireland, Protestant, Catholic. Bhuddist, Hindu, Republican and Unionist, can build a better future for themselves. These proposals, although in some respects imperfect, present a real opportunity, which I fear may be the last, to all the people in Northern Ireland to choose the road forward to a just and lasting peace and social progress.
I cannot accept the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South on Clause 1, which provides for the holding of polls. Even if the repeated assurances of successive Governments and successive Prime Ministers are not enough to assure the people of Northern Ireland that they will not be dragged into the Republic against the wishes of the majority, surely it is enough for them to see that promise enshrined in legislation. It is ridiculous to say, as I understood the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South to say, that a full stop should be inserted in Clause 1 before the reference to the poll, and that if the majority in Northern Ireland change their mind we should amend the law. If the majority decide that they wish to join the Republic, one cannot seriously say that they must not do so because the Bill says that they cannot.
There is a difference between the State in Scotland and the State in Northern Ireland. Scotland does not have its own legislative assembly—I wish it had.
On the bringing into effect of the Assembly and the Executive, I refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) in our debate on the White Paper. She made the points I wish to make much better than I can and at greater length than time permits today. I was interested that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Enoch Powell) seemed to agree with her.
There is room for concern about the power of the Secretary of State in implementing these proposals. He retains power to dissolve the Assembly and even has power not to bring it into effect should he so wish and should the Assembly not meet his subjective requirements. Does that mean that the Secretary of State may reject the Assembly although a majority of the people have elected it through a fair electoral system?
My sympathies in those circumstances might be with the Secretary of State, but we cannot accept the will of the majority as expressed in the border poll and then reject the will of the majority as expressed in the election of an Assembly. Although I may or may not like the complexion of the Assembly or the Executive which comes from it, we cannot say that we will have the Assembly only if it complies with our wishes. That is the negation of democracy.
It is important that the Assembly should be seen to be an effective instrument to deal with the domestic policies of Northern Ireland. I add to what the hon. Member for Leeds, South said about the nomenclature of members of the Assembly. The Assembly must not be seen as a toothless talking shop or as an extension of the present Advisory Commission. I should like the Assembly to be seen and referred to as a legislative assembly and, perhaps, for its members to be referred to as members of the legislative assembly, as the hon. Member for Leeds, South said.
Although I welcome the intention of Part III which deals with human rights and discrimination, I have grave doubts that it will be effective in securing that intention. It is not enough to establish a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. There should be an anti-discrimination board or a human rights board—the name is perhaps unimportant. Such a board should have legally enforceable powers and be able to undertake specific investigations, including the subpoenaing of witnesses if necessary in inquiries into allegations of discrimination.
I echo what has been said about a Bill of Rights. Members of the Liberal Party have for many years spoken of the importance of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. One member of the Ulster Liberal Party on a number of occasions has tried to introduce such a Bill. I dearly hope that one of the first things the new Assembly will do will be to introduce a Bill of Rights. That would show that it was intent on being an effective Assembly, conscious of the need for social justice in Northern Ireland and intent on bringing about the just and lasting peace we all want in the Province.
Hon. Members will remember that in the debate on the White Paper the leader of my party my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) suggested that the Executive should be elected by the Assembly on the proportional representation system. I echo what my right hon. Friend said, and I hope that we shall be able to deal with this in Committee.
Eventually it must be recognised that the people of Ireland are all living in the same island and that they have a future together. I trust that it will be possible not just for the respective Executives to liaise together—a step which I would welcome—but for the Parliaments of the Republic and Northern Ireland to meet regularly to discuss their problems and aspirations. That may be a far-off hope, but it is a real hope, and I welcome what the Secretary of State said about this.
The Assembly elections next month will give the people of Northern Ireland an opportunity to show that there is a way forward, that there is an alternative to violence, from whatever part of the community it comes, and that they are capable of coming together and moving forward together in a democratic way. I hope, therefore, that the House will give its support to the Second Reading of the Bill.
When the House at the end of March considered the White Paper upon which the Bill is founded, I voted against it because I believed that it contained inherent, fundamental contradictions, and that those contradictions would merely prolong the causes and therefore the duration of the strife which has afflicted and still afflicts Northern Ireland. It is not surprising that the Bill in implementation of the White Paper displays the nature of that contradiction even more clearly than it was to be found in the original document. For that reason tonight I shall again go into the Lobby against the Bill with my hon. Friends who represent Northern Ireland constituencies.
Many of the major provisions of the Bill illustrate the nature of the contradiction, but they must be examined at the next stage. Tonight I want to concentrate wholly upon what is called in the White Paper "the central issue", namely, the contraption for power sharing which was foreshadowed in the White Paper and which is now before us in legislative form.
On 28th June our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland, or such of them as choose to do so, will go to the polls and elect an Assembly. They will vote according to the party of their choice and according to the party which they consider best represents their point of view. But when that Assembly comes together it will not proceed, by eliciting a majority, to erect upon the basis of that majority an Executive responsible through it to the electorate. When those elected to the Assembly come together they will not be a legislature and there will be no Executive. What will happen will be that the consequences of that election will be surveyed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and he will be obliged, before any legislative or executive powers are conferred, to apply his mind to no fewer than four separate matters.
As regards the potential Executive, my right hon. Friend will have to consider
the support it commands in the Assembly".
That may not be too difficult to bring to an issue by means of a vote. But then he must go on to consider something which would never be considered after an election in relation to this House or, so far as I know, to any other elected assembly: he will have to consider
the electorate on which that support is based".
He will have to look beyond the people who have been elected to ascertain who are the people who voted for them and who sent them there.
Having considered those two matters and formed a view on them, my right hon. Friend will have to consider whether the Executive which he has in mind
is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community".
As my hon and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) pointed out, that is a vague and general phrase. It is a most fearsome responsibility to have to endeavour to foresee the degree of acceptance within the whole community—is a Government eve accepted in a whole community any where?—which a potential Executive, an Executive that does not yet exist, could hope to command. Having done all that, finally my right hon. Friend will have to decide whether
there is a reasonable basis for the establishment in Northern Ireland of government by consent
—fundamental indeed, but essentially unseizable matters.
My right hon. Friend will have to decide yes, or no. He will have to decide whether or not this whole proposal is to start. If he decides that it is and presents an order to this House transferring the legislative and executive powers, let there be no mistake: he takes responsibility, and this House behind him takes responsibility, for affirming all those propositions in regard to the Executive and the Assembly.
Nor let my right hon. Friend suppose that that is a momentary responsibility. Let not this House suppose that it is a transitory responsibility of which we are shot at the moment when that order has been presented and accepted. So long as the Executive continues, so long as this Assembly or its successor remains in being, there will always be the fundamental question: does it comply with what Parliament considers to be the initial, indispensable, subjective conditions for devolution and for its coming into and remaining in existence?
If there were any doubt about the continuing, pervasive, total responsibility of the Secretary of State in this House and of this House itself for the working of this constitution in Northern Ireland, one would need only to look at Clause 8, which deals with the composition of the Executive. My right hon. Friend was most helpful in his reply to my intervention in his speech; but the Executive is bound to be composed upon the responsibiilty of my right hon. Friend. Even if my right hon. Friend should fortunately find that, as it happens, he needs to exercise no judgment whatever and wants to use none of the supplemental powers contained in Clause 8(3), nevertheless, since he has those powers and since Parliament has given him those powers, his responsibility for the composition of that Executive will remain.
Let us consider what flows from that ineluctable fact. First there will be a premium upon showing that the Secretary of State was mistaken. There will be a premium upon showing that there is not a reasonable basis, that government is not being carried on with consent and that there is not wide acceptance throughout the community for the Executive or for the Assembly.
What would be the position of government in this country if Her Majesty's Ministers in this House were constantly open to the question being asked of their validity on the basis that it could be argued that their actions were not
likely to be widely accepted throughout the community?
It means that there will be built in, by the very nature of this constitution, not the incentive to acquiesce, not the incentive to co-operate, but the maximum incentive in the opposite direction. That is in the very nature of the proposals that we are invited to enact.
The second consequence is that we shall be setting up neither a responsible Assembly nor a responsible Executive. This Executive cannot be responsible. At any stage this Executive can say to the electorate, "We would have wished it otherwise. These are not really our policies. These are not really our opinions. But in order to come into existence at all"—I am making the most favourable assumptions as to the composition of the Executive under Clause 8—"we had to form a coalition not with those who were of like mind with ourselves but with those who were put there because they were not of like mind with ourselves. Therefore you cannot hold us responsible in the spheres which have been devolved to us for any failures, deficiencies or errors. We are not in control." It is the fundamental precondition of responsible Government and of a responsible Parliament that it is in control. By the very framing of this measure neither the Assembly nor the Executive will be in responsible control.
The third consequence will be that this House will be greatly mistaken if it supposes that by passing an Act of this kind it is devolving any responsibility from itself on to an Assembly or an Executive in Northern Ireland. It will remain the prisoner of the past 12 months and the prisoner of the contradiction embodied in this Bill—[Interruption.] Do hon. Gentlemen opposite want to decide who is to interrupt me?
We were having a slight demarcation dispute. I take the right hon. Gentleman's point about the Executive. In view of the time, I shall not develop it. But it is a subject which people ought to be discussing because it is most important. But I have failed to follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument about the Assembly.
The point is that, in an Assembly such as that in which we are sitting at the moment, there is no doubt about the responsibility to the electorate of hon. Members who comprise the majority. We shall be held to account at the polls in due course for the deeds or misdeeds of my right hon. Friends the Ministers whom we have supported with our majority. There will be no such necessary relationship between any majority in the Assembly and the policies of the Executive.
On a related but rather broader point, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are not discussing giving independence to a foreign country? We are dealing with the devolution of powers in a part of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman is not drawing that distinction.
I will meet the thought in the hon. Gentleman's mind before I sit down. I want to establish at this point that by the very nature of the Bill and as a result of what was described in the White Paper as "the central issue", we are not devolving responsibility to an Assembly or a Government in Northern Ireland; we are creating the maximum incentive to dissent and not to acquiescence and co-operation; and we are not establishing responsible organs of representation or Government.
Why, then—and it is not an academic question which just gets itself asked here this afternoon—why are we, of all assemblies in the world, engaged in this extraordinary operation, creating this extraordinary contradiction, whereby those of different opinions, just because they are of different opinions, are to be compelled, upon pain of not having any existence at all, to take joint responsibility?
We know, of course, that different shades of opinion ought to be represented within an administration. There is no problem about that. Indeed, there is a necessity that in any administration different shades of opinion should be represented. But that is not the reason. The reason is that my right hon. Friends are endeavouring the impossible, they are endeavouring to combine that which is fundamentally contradictory, they are endeavouring to pretend that one can bring together into a structure of Government within the United Kingdom those who approve and those who disapprove the membership of that territory in the United Kingdom.
This will not, because it cannot, endure. Sooner or later we must come to one of two possible courses—and there are really only two possible courses so long as the union is to be maintained. The first is that a genuinely responsible assembly, however limited its powers, should be reestablished in Northern Ireland. By that I mean an assembly which behaves like any other assembly, which has an executive thrown up by those in the majority and bearing responsibility, through that majority, to the electorate for its own actions. That is one course.
The other course is that we should frankly accept what by this Bill we are trying to conceal from ourselves—the fact that, since the Stormont constitution and the settlement of 1920 were last year destroyed, the responsibility for the government of Northern Ireland has come home to us, has come home to this House, and must be exercised in the proper way with the full representation of the people of Northern Ireland, just as the government of every other part of the realm is exercised.
One or other of those courses sooner or later we shall have to take. I have not been at any pains—and at a time when that view was less popular than now—to conceal my view as to which will be the end result to which we shall come. It will be literal and full acceptance of the meaning of the union which is asserted by the majority of the people of Northern Ireland in its full constitutional terms within the United Kingdom.
But that is not what this Bill is doing. This Bill is attempting the impossible. This Bill is the evidence that Her Majesty's Government, whatever be in Clause 1, are not committed to one or other of the two stark alternatives—union or separation—which the people of Northern Ireland see before them. As long as that contradiction is kept alive, as long as that ambivalence of Her Majesty's Government endures, so long will the strife in Northern Ireland, which arises out of the fear or the hope which the ambivalence creates, go on and on. It is because I believe that this Bill will prolong it yet again that I shall vote against it tonight.
There are times when it is my opinion that Parliament does not adequately or accurately reflect the feeling of the population at large. But I think in the House today we see what may be described as a fair summing up of the attitude of the people of the United Kingdom to the present constitutional Bill, and the forthcoming new Executive and Assembly.
Those who had power for 50 years are somewhat scared at the prospect of losing it. They have fallen out among themselves and are determined that one or other group of them will ensure their own power. On the other hand, no one is particularly interested and that is why it would appear in the House this afternoon that we are about to witness the spectacle of nobody speaking from this side of the House and the Government being torn apart by its own backbenchers.
My attitude towards the Bill establishing the Assembly in these circumstances is that while I do not have very great support for it, there is not much point in or even much necessity for me or those who support my policies destroying it. That will be quite adequately and effectively done by hon. Members on the other side of the House.
I cannot see how the Assembly or the Executive will work. I cannot see it because, as has been eloquently explained by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), it is impossible, it is illogical. The Assembly is built not to work, it is built on a number of principles that cannot work, and it is based on a lack of democracy. It is impossible, as I have said before, to hold the guillotine of March 1974 over the heads of an assembly and then call it a democratic assembly, because then it is compulsory.
I believe that the politicians of Northern Ireland are a great deal less stupid than the politicians on this side of the water. They will know what is wanted of them by their political masters and they will at least pretend to give it to them until they find themselves in a position of power. Therefore the Secretary of State may well find himself in a position in which as witnessed so many times in Northern Ireland, he is the newest white hope of liberalism, and there will emerge from the elections such an Executive, wallowing in liberal hopes and glories, that the Secretary of State will not recognise them.
But we shall recognise them. We shall recognise them as we recognised Mr. Brian Faulkner when on both sides of the House hon. Members got up to say what a great day it was for Northern Ireland when he was elected. We knew it was the same old Brian Faulkner in his new Prime Minister gown. We knew exactly the same with the white hope of liberalism, Terence O'Neill. We knew with good old Chichester-Clark that it was the same mentality, the same dealer in politics of Northern Ireland pretending to be different in order to get into power. We are told that people who would not share power yesterday will share power today, but wait until he has it and see who keeps the sweet in his back pocket.
That is why I think the Secretary of State will discover that the members of his new Executive, after all this talk of power sharing, will have only one thing in common—that every last one of them is more interested in getting himself elected to the Assembly than in seeing the Assembly solve the problems of Northern Ireland.
This Bill does not come forward in isolation. The Assembly will not be elected in isolation, just as the local government elections are not taking place in a vacuum. While this move forward, if such it can be called, is taking place, there are other moves being made simultaneously which move it backwards. The problem cannot be solved piecemeal. Hon. Members cannot sit in the Chamber of the House of Commons and push this Bill through and then sit upstairs and push through the other Bill, because nobody is being fooled. The House cannot pass the constitutional Bill on the one hand and the Emergency Provisions Bill on the other, because, as the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said in opening the debate, this means turning around so often that invariably one ends up facing in the same direction as one was in before one started turning.
Therefore, while we have internment, by whatever name, in Northern Ireland, it does not matter a jot what we have in the constitutional Bill. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House are correct, because members elected to the Assembly, or at least those with any principles left, will abstain, will be obliged to make it unworkable.
The majority of non-Unionist candidates in the local government elections are standing on the pledge of non-co-operation with the State. They are not making anything work. The Social Democratic and Labour Party is the sole party with the majority of its support in the Catholic community which is standing on the policy of attendance at local government elections. Every other group, excluding the Unionist Party, the Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Labour Party, is standing on a policy of non-co-operation until internment in Northern Ireland ends. Their policy will be the same for the Assembly. It does not matter what arguments may be put forward from the other side of the House, the great strength of feeling in the Catholic community will always be that Stormont failed because internment was introduced and while internment is maintained nothing will prosper in Stormont's place. Nothing will work because there is no will to make anything work and nothing will be allowed to work.
It is purely academic to go on talking about turning points, future prosperity and peace or anything else. We cannot have a pseudo progressive political policy and at the same time have the British Army continue in the old 1971–72 military style. That is my general attitude towards the Bill.
As I do not want to miss the spectacle of seeing all the arguments against the Government come from their own benches, it is my intention to be brief. I wish to refer only to one point in the Bill dealing with discrimination. This brings us back to internment or detention without trial. Subsections (3), (4) and (6) of Clause 23 provide that, despite anti-discrimination measures, no measure done for the purpose of safeguarding national security shall be deemed adjudged under this yardstick of discrimination. Further, a certificate purporting to be signed by or on behalf of the Secretary of State to that effect shall be conclusive evidence that it was done for that purpose.
Does it mean that a Catholic living in a Catholic ghetto and whose neighbours may be seen to be Republicans, because of his place of residence, his religion and the political overtones of the area, is likely to be detained without trial and will have no comeback against such a decision? Does it mean that there is no recourse, whether we like it or not, against the factual situation—we are dealing with the question of either religious or political discrimination—that Catholics outnumber Protestants—there is no point in using euphemisms—in Long Kesh by approximately 10 to one? Is nothing to be done about that situation under the yardstick of discrimination?
Further, subsection (6) provides:
No provision of this Part of this Act shall render unlawful anything required or authorised to be done by any Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, whenever passed.
There is no yardstick of discrimiination in this country except in regard to the Race Relations Board. That means that rather than some slightly progressive legislation in Northern Ireland being extended to this country, where there should be no discrimination on religious grounds, any Act which may be adjudged discriminatory here will not be applied to the yardstick. This appears to me to be a "holier than thou" attitude by the Westminster Parliament.
I should point out that if at one time the people of Northern Ireland asked for or cheered the arrival of the British Army, if at one time they cheered the downfall of Stormont and the arrival of the Secretary of State, the position now is that many people are disillusioned. They feel that Westminster and Stormont are very much fish out of the same old barrel. They do not feel it is a suitable safeguard for them that an Act was passed here.
I believe it would have been better if subsection (6) had been left out and the part of the Bill dealing with religious discrimination had been extended to this country.
Those are the main points that I wish to make. To the Catholic community it makes very little difference what happens in the Constitution Bill because, in the long term, it is not the way that West-minister rules us to which we fundamentally object, but the fact that it rules us. The struggle, whatever way it goes—hopefully through political channels—will never be over until we have successfully asserted that Westminster has no right to rule us and ceases to rule us.
It is to be regretted that the people of Northern Ireland could not look in on this debate today because in a few hours, in which our time is and must be limited, we must come to a decision. If some of us had the spirit of our fathers, we would probably filibuster and take up the time, but that would make us unpopular everywhere. Having had two lengthy speeches from the Front Benches we have exactly four hours to discuss the situation, with the reply still to come.
We have a very thin attendance in the House on this occasion when the future of Northern Ireland is to be decided. This is a serious matter. I trust that the people of Northern Ireland will remember that. I counted six Opposition Members and 14 backbenchers on the Government side during the Secretary of State's speech. Therefore an attendance of 20 hon. Members, taking out Northern Ireland representatives, is the parliamentary interest that has been shown, with the exception of hon. Members who are engaged elsewhere on parliamentary business. We must make exceptions for them. This is a matter that people in Northern Ireland need to remember.
Something is going on in Northern Ireland that needs to be said, and said, in this House as the sounding board. No party in Northern Ireland really agrees with the Constitution Bill. All parties are talking of change. We have an interesting situation in Northern Ireland where members of the Alliance Party are declaring that, if they are elected to local government, they will change the whole structure of local government and get a majority in the boards that are important to Northern Ireland. How in the name of goodness can people elected to district councils get power to do that?
has told us that he will make changes. I understand that the SDLP has declared that it will not go into the Executive until tripartite talks are held between Dublin, Belfast and London and there is some kind of agreement with what Dublin wants.
We have the amazing situation that parties are not prepared to come out and say "We are against the Constitution Bill and want it changed". I am on record as saying that I want the Bill drastically changed. Although the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) made a speech in which he said that the Labour Party supported the Bill, it was a critical—constructively critical—speech because in it the hon. Gentleman put his finger on many points that we want changed. I believe that we should vote for the changing of the Bill rather than give it our blessing today.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said that two courses were open to this House: either to accept union as a fact, as it is accepted in Scotland, in Wales and in this country, or to have the Westminster Parliament totally responsible in a proper democratic way for the ruling of Northern Ireland. Members of the House know how I stand on this issue. The latter alternative would have lifted the political parochialism of Northern Ireland into the wider context of United Kingdom politics and it would have dealt with the matter, I believe, in a responsible manner.
Alternatively, the Government could have set up a parliamentary Assembly with proper responsibility. No Parliament can work except if it has responsibility. But what have we? We have an Assembly. There is no need for anyone to say "We will not work this Assembly". The Assembly cannot work, it is impossible to make it work. Just imagine this House having Standing Orders and a constitution similar to what it intends to impose on Northern Ireland. Imagine the Front Bench, the executive, being appointed by an outside body in whose opinion the people on the Front Bench had been elected by people whom it had analysed. Is the ballot in Northern Ireland a secret ballot or is it not?
There are Roman Catholics in my constituency who have voted for me. Everybody knows my principles regarding Protestantism, but will the House say to me "No Roman Catholic ever voted for you"? How can that be known? Are we to stand and watch whether people are wearing Sacred Heart badges or two-and-a-half Orange insignia on their breasts to be able to tell us who votes for whom?
The House is asking for something in Northern Ireland which is impossible. I say this with great grief because I have sought in my time in the House to be as constructive as possible for the Government. When other Members have gone home, I have sought to spend time in discussing, not controversial matters, but matters that will help the ordinary people of Northern Ireland whether they be Roman Catholics, Protestants or anyone else.
Let me say to the House today—and I do not intend to take any further part in debates in this House until after the elections are over, because I believe that the time has come for the House to hear what Northern Ireland has to say—that it will have to listen to the people of Northern Ireland. The House cannot turn a deaf ear to them.
Why did we not have a consultative Assembly? Why did not the Secretary of State say "Let us see who speaks for whom"? Why could not the people of Northern Ireland have been elected to discuss what they wanted and talk to the Secretary of State? Then the Secretary of State could have said, as a Minister of the sovereign Parliament, "No, we cannot give you that. We will have to disagree on that point". We could then have found out what was agreed and what was not agreed.
But, alas, today the Secretary of State has the terrible task—I pity him—at a certain date next year of having to make the decision to wipe out an elected Assembly. This Assembly was not elected on a franchise drawn up by the Stormont Parliament. It was elected on a franchise drawn up by this House. This Assembly was not elected the way I or the other Members of the House were elected. It was elected on proportional representation, as easy as one, two and three, as the advertisement pertinently puts it on the "box" each night to the poor, ignorant people of Northern Ireland—" And you can vote for as many as you please—return the whole 26 candidates in Omagh and show there is no discrimination in your vote".
This House may smile, but it will not be able to turn a deaf ear to that Assembly no matter who is returned to it. We would be far better keeping that in mind today when we are discussing this constitution.
Three matters are all-important to the people of Northern Ireland. One is the union. I ask the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope)—and I can understand both how he as an Englishman feels on this matter and what he says—to think of the people of Northern Ireland. They were told in 1920 that they were part of this country, and part of this country they would remain. A Labour Government, led by Mr. Attlee, told them that their Parliament would be the custodian of the constitution and that only by a majority of the Parliament could the constitution be changed.
Then, at one stroke, Parliament was gone. The Government should have been honest and said "It is finished", but we were told that it was only prorogued. We were told that we could have a border poll. I believed in, and advocated, a border poll for one reason: in order to enable the majority of people in Northern Ireland to say democratically, "We want to remain within the Union". But the border poll came far too late. It should have been acted upon immediately. Even some Labour Members of this House know that they themselves voiced the criticism that if the poll had come in time it might have been valuable, but it was far too late.
Then we come to the White Paper. What does that tell us? This, I would say to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, is where the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland has been undermined. The White Paper, on the subject of relations with the Republic of Ireland, talks about a tripartite conference and places this as number one on the agenda:
… the acceptance of the present status of Northern Ireland, and of the possibility—which would have to be compatible with the principle of consent—of subsequent change in that status".
The people having already decided they did not want that change, the first item on the agenda in the policy of the Government stating they want to take the border out of politics is to change that very border.
I want to hear the Government say this evening—and they will need to say it—when the tripartite conference will take place. There is no mention of it in the Bill. I want to know what our relations are to be with the South of Ireland.
As to the second matter, I regret that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does not realise the feeling in Northern Ireland at the removal of the Governor of Northern Ireland. He would, I think, do well to have a little conversation with his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). This is not a question as to the popularity of Lord Grey. It has nothing to do with that. I believe I was the first in this House to praise Lord Grey, and I repeat that statement today.
In the constitution of the United Kingdom, how are the laws of this country formed? They are formed by the Queen, the Lords and the Commons of this realm. How were the laws of the Stormont Parliament formed? They were formed by the Queen, the Senate and the Commons of Northern Ireland, the Queen being represented by the Governor.
We are being told today by Mr. Faulkner—this is what I resent—that we are being given a better Parliament than Stormont ever was. We hear people saying that the Unionist Party has won its point and that the days of Stormont are coming back again. But let us be honest: the Assembly is not a Parliament. It is an Assembly that can pass measures, but those measures will not become law unless the Secretary of State, acting as the Queen in Council, passes those measures. They then become Acts.
I am surprised that the Secretary of State thinks that we in Northern Ireland are so naȹve as to think that he will actually consult the Queen and ask whether she will have a piece of legislation as an Act or not.
I am not arguing whether the Secretary of State can stop its being done. I am asking how laws are made in Northern Ireland. The Bill will not create proper parliamentary machinery in Northern Ireland. No one should be deceived about that. This is why we are making the case about the Governor. We want him to stay not because he is a good man but because we want a proper parliamentary instrument. If the Government do not want to give us that instrument, let them say that this is not a Parliament but only an Assembly that will pass limited measures and that the old parliamentary powers are gone. Then everyone will be clear. But the political parties in Northern Ireland are saying to the people whom they want to woo to the polls that this is a Parliament, and others are saying "We can get more powers if we do certain things."
At the end of the day the people of Northern Ireland will have to be heard. The people of Northern Ireland, the people who owe allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, feel that an attempt is being made to placate those who believe in the destruction of the link. The postal votes that have been sent out were sent in envelopes like the one I have here, bearing the words "On Her Majesty's Service". But the words "On Her Majesty's Service" have been blacked out on every envelope. I wonder why.
I discover from the Bill that it will be illegal for the Assembly to ask someone who is to be appointed to a responsible post to take an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty. We are asked today to pass a Bill which makes it illegal to ask that person to take such an oath. Hon. Members of this House have to take the oath of allegiance. All Members from Northern Ireland took that oath of allegiance, but in the Assembly no Member will be asked to take any oath. The Executive will take an oath, but not of allegiance. These are the things that the people of Northern Ireland are concerned about.
Clause 12 is an amazing clause. It says that the Northern Ireland executive authority may do certain things in relation to the South. The clause refers to
transferring to any authority designated by or constituted under the agreement or arrangement any function which would otherwise be exercisable by any authority in Northern Ireland".
What this provision says is that authority which is part of the sovereignty of Northern Ireland can be taken from Northern Ireland and vested in a body in the Republic of Ireland or associated with the Republic. That is a serious proposal. I wonder what the explanation is. It has not been given so far.
What about the reserved powers? Will the Secretary of State have the right to enter into an agreement with the Republic of Ireland and hand them over? In a debate in the Dail, which has been mentioned today, there has been talk of a Council of Ireland which will eventually become the joint security power for the whole of Ireland. If the South of Ireland sincerely wants good relationships with the North of Ireland, it can have them tomorrow by recognising the position of Northern Ireland within the union. That is the hub of the matter and should not be forgotten.
On 28th June the people will speak. I am a democrat: we have to abide by what the people say. Already the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) has told us that a large section of the Roman Catholic population will not attend or consent to the Assembly. She mentioned parties that were prepared to attend but she left out the party that I represent. We will attend the Assembly. I believe in the democratic principle.
It is most likely—I put it no higher than that—that the majority which is thrown up in the Assembly will be totally unacceptable to many hon. Members here. But it will be a majority and its voice will have to be heard. I hope that, in the Assembly, across the denominational divide, some way will be found to allow that Assembly to say to this House "This is what we must have. It is essential that we have it, and without it this Assembly cannot work."
From this debate two things have emerged. The first is that the Bill has very few friends. With the exception of my right hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading, I have not heard one speech which has not expressed the gravest doubts about its success. I hope I am wrong, but I fear that that is the common feeling. Second, one notices that most hon. Members in their speeches have opposed the Bill not on any doctrinal grounds but on the ground that, in their view, the constitution, whatever view is taken, is simply unworkable. That is the fear that I would wish to emphasise.
Those who are elected will not be responsible and those who are responsible will not be elected. Power is so fragmented that, in the end, no one will be able to discover who takes the ultimate responsibility for decisions. I hope I have not overstated the case when I say that; the person who will be responsible, the Secretary of State, will not be elected by Northern Ireland electors and the people who will be elected will not have ultimate power. This is a statement of fact, and I find it hard to believe that a Bill based on such a principle can, over any long period, be workable.
One remark made by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) which has been made repeatedly from both Front Benches and by many Irish Members is that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. I have a fear that from that statement stem an enormous number of fallacies. When Lloyd George sent the Black and Tans into Eire, his excuse too was that Eire was part of the United Kingdom; indeed it was—but not for long.
I do not believe that Irishmen, from North or South, wish to be governed by—though some may wish to have affiliations with—the United Kingdom. It is a dangerous belief upon which to base oneself that the people of Ulster form part of the United Kingdom. I do not want to go too far into history, but for the 400 or 500 years that Englishmen have tried to govern Ireland they have not succeeded. In the last year, Englishmen—the fact that they are Englishmen, however virtuous they may be, imposes upon them an enormous drawback from the very beginning—have governed Ireland by means of the Army. They have governed in the same sense as Cromwell's major-generals governed.
I do not think we have understood the full shock of removing a country's Parliament. I am a little ashamed, after years of political life, to discover for the first time in 1973 that, in a part of the United Kingdom—this time I use the phrase—we have had to abolish democracy altogether. So great an enormity was this thing we did. Now perhaps we seek to put it back. But are we putting it back in such a shape as to be acceptable?
I turn now for a moment to what I will call the English dimension. It is natural that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench think all day in terms of Northern Ireland. We may well bear in mind that the Northern Irish electorate is something like one-fortieth of the electorate of the United Kingdom. If Irishmen have views, so have Englishmen. I find it a little horrifying to read Clause 1 of the Bill. It has been read and I shall not read it again. The gist of it is that Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty's dominions and the United Kingdom and cannot be changed without the consent of the majority of people of Northern Ireland. That is one-fortieth of the electorate. Thirty-nine-fortieths have no voice at all. There is a sense in which I argue that we must give a little more thought to what Englishmen are thinking as well.
The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point, and it would have been the point I would have made to his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), that in effect we might find the time coming when English people on this side of the Irish Sea will assert themselves with regard to Northern Ireland, and the views expressed might not then be popular with the hon. Gentleman.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, could I say from this side of the House—I have not consulted anyone else—that if the electorate in this country decided that Northern Ireland were no longer to be a part of the United Kingdom, I would accept it? I wish that this House and the Government would say clearly that they no longer wanted the union, that the Labour Party would say that they no longer wanted the union and that we should be on our way, I would be quite happy with that decisison, if that were the decision.
I am not saying whether it would or would not be part of the United Kingdom. My only argument is that the English people have a right to voice their views on such a decision. I should like to quote from a poll conducted by
the Opinion Research Centre which was reported in the Sunday Times:
The White Paper's proposal of a Stormont Assembly with the Opposition sharing in power is backed by 7 per cent.
I could give many other figures as well as that 7 per cent. I will not bother to do so because hon. Members can get them themselves.
It is with that in mind that I turn to the British Army. May I first take the example of the United States of America. I am not going to argue the rights or wrongs of the Vietnam war. I will argue only this: that it was because the American Army became divorced from public opinion at home that ultimately that nation and that army were both broken. One cannot sustain an army in a position in which heavy casualties are being taken and where it does not have the most loyal and devoted support from home. I argue from that that if we continue over a long period—I try to choose my words carefully because I admire what the Army has done and would not wish to say anything that detracted from their record—the Army will be placed in an unfair position. Over a period of years, taking heavy casualties, and being in danger, acting in support of a policy which the people at home repudiate, as I believe they do, the Army is placed in an impossible position.
That is the immediate point I want to make. It is useless making it unless one seeks towards the end to suggest a constructive solution. That would demand more time than Mr. Speaker would like me to have. I have no doubt at all that the remedy must lie in the devolving of further power to the Irish people and to the Irish Parliament.
I talk first in terms of security forces raising more Irish policemen. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) in the last debate suggested the possibility of Roman Catholic policemen and exclusively Roman Catholic policemen in Roman Catholic areas. I take the point and I also understand the difficulties. I believe that an English soldier in khaki is incapable of preserving order with consent in a Catholic area. We must accept that fact.
That must lead one to think about who is to take his place, whether one thinks in terms of Roman Catholic police or whether one thinks of enlarging the Ulster Defence Regiment or of raising Irish regiments. In the end, one has to return power to the place where it naturally belongs, and that is Northern Ireland itself.
That is the gist of what I seek to say. I say it as not representing an opinion that is only my own; I say it to some extent because I believe that a huge number of my constituents, a large number of English people, share that view. As the years go by, difficulties multiply and casualties increase, that view is bound to be heard more strongly.
I have said my say. When the Bill was introduced to Stormont I was critical. I have not said anything since because I did not want to make the task, once the decision had been taken, more difficult. Heaven knows, I do not want to make it more difficult now.
Finally, I ask my right hon. Friends to consider whether it is really logical that an English Secretary of State, responsible to an English Parliament, elected by an English electorate, can from Whitehall govern Ireland in the way that this Bill to all intents and purposes imposes on him.
There is much in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) with which I disagree. There is the suggestion—if I understood it correctly—that there were circumstances in which, in terms of the English dimension, this House would pull back from Northern Ireland. That is something which would be a recipe for disaster and must not be encouraged.
On the occasion of the debate on the White Paper I said that the proposals that it contained were not the first choice of many people in Northern Ireland, but that as a second alternative they would have the support of a wide cross-section of the people of Northern Ireland. That was my view then and that is my view now. Of course, others may disagree with that assessment. That is their right. It is equally my right to give my judgment and my assessment. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that we are not discussing a parliamentary Assembly and it is dishonest to pretend that it is. It is a new type of structure based not on cabinet responsibility but on bringing together a broadly based Executive. It is my assessment that it is the alternative that one must endeavour to breathe life into, to try to make it work, but I entirely accept that it is not a parliamentary Assembly.
I am encouraged in my view—the hon. Member for North Antrim will no doubt be unhappy if I refer to The Sunday Times—by the fact that 56 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland, broadly speaking, are in favour of these proposals and 28 per cent. are broadly in favour but would like to see certain changes. That is about 84 per cent. I by no means accept absolutely the accuracy of public opinion polls. I am not arguing that. It shows, however, that there is a broad cross-section of people who are determined to give those proposals a chance.
In my view politicians in Northern Ireland are divided into two categories, those who are constructive and those who are wreckers. The House must make its own assessment from some of the speeches which they have heard, from both sides of the House, as to the category into which people come. It is important to notice that, according to the poll, only about 10 per cent. are prepared to oppose and make these proposals unworkable.
Although the amendment tabled by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has not been selected, he has in his speech covered some of the ground. My hon. and gallant Friend knows that I agree with him on one point when he says that the element missing from the proposals in the White Paper is increased representation here. That is a serious defect.
Nevertheless, I find the amendment curious, and I fear that my hon. and gallant Friend has fallen under the Svengalilike influence of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. My hon. and gallant Friend presented a most eloquent though destructive case against the Bill. He seemed to be saying that we should wait for Kilbrandon, that we should wait a bit longer after that, that we would increase the representation here at the next election, and we should then wait a little longer still.
Northern Ireland cannot wait, and I was interested to see that the leader of his party, Mr. Faulkner, expressed a contrary view to that put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend. If I had to choose whose side I was on in the argument, I should go along with Mr. Faulkner.
The hon. Member is reading a bit too much into what I said.
I have some sympathy with my hon. and gallant Friend, because no doubt he has become a little confused by the waltzing around in which Mr. Faulkner has been engaging. First he says in June 1972 that he will veto the Government proposals; then he put forward at Darlington a blueprint, which is quite unrealistic and then he pretends that the blueprint has been accepted. As I said, I have some sympathy with my hon. and gallant Friend if he is feeling a little confused. To some extent, the real problem is that so many of my hon. Friends have become the prisoners of the ambiguity that exists, and that is something that we should try to put right.
The people of Northern Ireland can be divided into three groups. There are those of whom I am one who wish to make the Bill work. They know that it will not be an easy ride by any means, but they are determined to make every effort to make the Bill work. Secondly, there are those who say that it cannot work and that they will wreck this measure. That is an honest viewpoint. I disagree with it, but at least one knows where they stand. Thirdly, there are those who say that they will change things after the election. Here I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South. That is a dishonest view to take, and it is an illusion, because that option is not on.
The Bill will be considered in detail in Committee, but there are certain major and fundamental cornerstones to these proposals which will not be altered. One ought to be under no illusions about that. There is, therefore the choice of saying that we shall try to make the Bill work or saying that we shall destroy it. Those are the only choices open to the people of Northern Ireland.
There are many points which I should prefer to deal with in Committee. I content myself now with saying something about power sharing at Executive level. I have made it clear—and I stand by this—as we are moving into a new type of Assembly, and there must be a sharing of power at Executive level. I do not pretend that it will be easy—God knows that it will not—I recognise that Clause 2(1)(b) has been widely drawn.
My view is that there is no alternative to drawing it widely. My hon. and gallant Friend was able, with his brilliant analytical mind, to deal with the difficulties, imperfections, illogicalities and—
That is the right word, but I think that we are in the old difficulty of how to describe an elephant. One knows an elephant when one sees it, but the difficulty is to describe it. There is a certain parallel here. One has to see whether one has been able to put together something that is a broadly-based executive. We shall in due course know whether we have succeeded, but in the meantime it is easy to poke fun at the idea, which is what my hon. and gallant Friend did.
I must not allow myself to be carried away by giving zoological examples. I admit that I should have preferred a tighter definition of power sharing. In fact, the Secretary of State has extremely broad powers in this respect, but I have no doubt that they will be exercised responsibly.
A number of hon. Members have said that the Bill gives the Secretary of State powers which, in normal circumstances, it would be considered undesirable to give to a Minister, but we have to face the fact that because of the need to get this Assembly to work one needs the maximum of room in which to manoeuvre and the maximum of flexibility. I therefore view these powers as being necessary in the present circumstances. Nevertheless, when the Bill is considered in Committee I think that we must try to distinguish much more clearly than is done now between the ceremonial and substantial functions of the Secretary of State.
It will probably be necessary at a later stage, if the Assembly works, to review and revise the powers of the Secretary of State.
I have been following the argument very carefuly. Earlier on the hon. Gentleman said that after the elections it would be impossible to make a change but he has just said that later on there will have to be a change in the powers of the Secretary of State. That is bringing us back to the contention that the voice of the people of Northern Ireland will have to be heard.
I may not have made the point as clearly as I should have done. I accept the hon. Gentleman's first point. What I am saying about the powers of the Secretary of State is that there is no question of the hon. Gentleman's party—or any other—winning power and forcing a change in the rôle and powers of the Secretary of State. I am not saying that. I am saying that in the medium term it may be desirable to leave the Secretary of State with a wide discretion but in due course the House may wish to reconsider the matter if the Assembly works well. That is the point that I am trying to make.
The other matter about which I am not happy is the right of the Secretary of State to appoint two extra members to the Executive. I can see the argument for retaining the maximum of flexibility in the short term, but this power should not be retained beyond the medium term, and perhaps in Committee I shall table an amendment to limit this power so that it cannot be used beyond the first three or four years.
I come back to the consideration of what will happen to the people of Northern Ireland if the politicians on both sides combine to make these proposals unworkable. Obviously, the world will not come to a total end. Life will go on. The sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening. Neverthless, public opinion in Britain will go very sour, and in Northern Ireland we shall in my view have lost the last opportunity for a generation to make a new start.
I shall not refer very much to the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), except to say that he obviously found difficulty in describing an elephant; but he may find the same difficulty in describing what the Alliance Party, to which he now belongs, really means. That is why we are looking forward to the election on 28th June, when the people's voice can be heard—and without his friend Mr. Caldwell, who was rejected by the Alliance Party.
I take exception to the nasty remark the hon. Gentleman made about the amendment tabled by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and my hon. Friends and myself, because the amendment was placed on the Order Paper and signed subsequently by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).
We are discussing the Bill in a very empty Chamber. It is a matter of regret that there is only one hon. Member on the Opposition benches despite the fact that these matters are vital to the continued life of Northern Ireland. The most amazing exercise promulgated in the Bill is the Northern Ireland Assembly. This strange instrument for the exercise of governmental functions is canvassed in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum as making
new arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland.
That is probably the most forthright and honest statement that has been made about the Bill. I half expected to see the Explanatory Memorandum claim that the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill was for the better government of Northern Ireland. The purpose of the Assembly is not to create better government in Northern Ireland. We all know —certainly those of us who are experienced in political affairs in Northern Ireland—that this will not work as it stands. The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), the Opposition spokesman, while welcoming the Bill, expressed such criticism of it that I would expect him to be in the Division Lobby with us tonight when we vote against Second Reading.
The Bill will ease the transition of Ulster into an Irish Republic. In other words, a measure of political surrender of the Ulster majority was to follow the acceptance by the security forces of a certain level of violence as a continuing factor in Northern Ireland affairs. In the meantime, we are to have a system of government designed to protect the interests, and to advance the cause, of those who have to say the least, adopted an ambivalent attitude towards the Republican terrorists. The Bill contains virtually nothing for the protection of ordinary people and for those who have stood boldly against the submerging of Ulster in an all-Ireland republic.
Under the Bill the Secretary of State becomes the fountain of knowledge, the embodiment of the law and the cornerstone of the new establishment. Should the choice of the people of Northern Ireland for Members of the new Assembly not be to the Secretary of State's liking, he can dismiss the Assembly in March 1974. Is this democracy? Is this what we should expect from a Parliament which is supposed to have spread great British democratic and parliamentary traditions throughout the world?
If the Assembly cannot make up its mind quickly enough on a chief executive, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can select one for the Assembly at Stormont. Heads of Departments and the Chief Executive are not removable at the pleasure of the elected representatives of the people. Once the Executive is appointed, the Assembly has no control over it. Is that democracy? Is that what the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to expect after four years of such a campaign of terror and bitterness that would have created an uproar had it lasted only four weeks in this part of the United Kingdom?
Whatever the predominant views of the Members of the Assembly, and however much the Executive is distrusted by the Members, the Executive cannot be removed from power by the Members of the Assembly. Clause 12 of the Bill, which deals with relations with the Republic of Ireland, states that the
executive authority may consult on any matter with any authority of the Republic of Ireland; enter into agreements or arrangements with any authority of the Republic of Ireland in respect of any transferred matter.
The clause goes on to deal with how effect can be given to such agreements or arrangements.
In other words the Executive, which may not have the support of the majority of Members of the Assembly, can act contrary to the wishes of the Members of the Assembly in respect of actions envisaged in Clause 12. This will arouse great bitterness among the people in Northern Ireland.
Yes, that is one of the possibilities. However, the people who stand for election to the Assembly, and those representing the majority in Northern Ireland, will be standing for election because the people expect them to see what they can make of the Assembly. But the people will be gravely disappointed because, no matter how the newly elected Members of the Assembly may try, in its present form the Assembly is unworkable. Without the means to dispose of an unpopular Executive—we must accept that the Executive may be unpopular—no Assembly is capable of concerted or continuous co-operation. Thwarted by the restrictions imposed by the Bill on their freedom as public representatives, the Members of the Assembly may try to thwart one another, with the Secretary of State as the common enemy. I would regret that.
Although I have criticised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State from time to time, I appreciate nevertheless the heavy burdens placed upon him and the sincere way in which he has met some of our objections. But every caucus within the Assembly, when elected, will want him to exercise his veto on its behalf. One may say that there is no harm in that. I am sure my right hon. Friend expects that new alliances will be formed and that groups will merge and coalesce. Under the forces of common interest and short-term gain, that may happen. But as the Assembly cannot throw out the Executive, all objections will be in vain; all eloquence will be wasted; free speech in the Assembly will be useless. There will be no purpose in forming mergers. Votes will be cast for or against a particular motion, and mergers are not needed for that.
In the Assembly we have a near-perfect example of the most objectionable and insiduous of despotisms—the apparently representative institution which is nothing more than a sham. One day the people of Northern Ireland will realise this. It will be a mere appendage to what one might call the pro-consular powers which are given to the Secretary of State. In the Assembly we have a classic example of equality of hostility between the Executive and the legislature. We are setting the stage not for democratic control of policy but for a confrontation between a powerless Executive and a frustrated legislature.
That is a recipe for further disaster in Northern Ireland. It will not bring peace in Northern Ireland, and that is what people there want more than anything. That is why they are grasping at the straw presented by the Bill. Their anger will be great when they realise that it is but a straw. How could any administration survive with honour a continuous trial of strength of this kind? How long will it be before the Members of the Assembly have to admit to the electorate who sent them there to work on their behalf that they have no real power to represent them properly and that on major issues the Assembly is only a talking shop?
I said in a previous speech on the White Paper that it would have been better for the Government to have set up a consultative assembly in the first place. At the very moment when it is so essential for the Assembly and the House to be able to concentrate on the elimination of terrorism and the reconstruction of the Province, energies will be dissipated on endless arguments about the status of the Secretary of State and the reserved and devolved powers.
The normal separation of powers—the legislative, executive and judicial powers —takes a hammering in the Bill. The traditional safeguards of democracy are being gradually removed from government in Northern Ireland. They have already been removed from local government. The elected element in the second tier of local government has been reduced to half the membership, and the Secretary of State, through the Executive, will appoint the other half. Under the Bill the legislature and the Executive are to be inter-related in a most confusing way and the simple fact of democratic representative government is being distorted in such a way that the people do not know exactly what they are voting for or to what extent they will be able to blame their representatives in the Assembly for failure to press forward with what is needed in Northern Ireland.
In opening the debate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he had sought to provide arrangements which would be flexible as opposed to the rigidity of the 1920 Act. I am afraid, however, that the flexibility will create in the minds of the majority of people in Northern Ireland suspicions that the Government are providing stepping stones which will allow Ulster to be absorbed eventually and easily by the Irish Republic.
There has been reference to the polls which are to be held at intervals of not less than 10 years. My right hon. Friend said there was no greater assurance than this that the border would be taken out of politics in Northern Ireland. We know that is not true, however. Year in and year out the Republican parties will fight on the issue of the border. I suggested to the hon. Member for Leeds, South that it would have been far better had the Bill enabled the Assembly to decide when the poll should be held. That would have been far more democratic.
I want to refer to the form of oath or affirmation set out in Schedule 4. In my opinion it is of little or no account. There is no reference to allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. It demands no more of Members of the Executive than an employer would of any person who was paid a salary. This so-called oath must be considered in conjunction with the removal of Her Majesty's representative in Northern Ireland, the Governor, the only person who is above politics. Surely a Government who have been able to devise such ingenious schemes could have come up with a formula to retain the Governor. He and his office have the respect of most people irrespective of their religion or political views.
The people of Northern Ireland will look upon the Bill as representing the ultimate triumph of violence in our democracy, and for that reason I shall be voting against it.
There was a sentence in the paper for discussion which read as follows:
No scheme of Government, however carefully drawn, can do more than present an opportunity of progress.
The most disappointing thing about this afternoon has been that there does not seem to be a glimmer of a will among many to see that there is an opportunity here before Northern Ireland. We are proposing an Assembly which has wide powers and which will be effective only if there is partnership within the Assembly itself.
Nobody need tell me that this will be difficult to achieve. Nobody who has heard the attitudes expressed during this debate can think, if these are repeated across the board in Northern Ireland within the Assembly, that it will work. I at least have good hopes and some grounds for thinking that there are other views and other attitudes that will prevail when the Assembly meets. But if it is to succeed, there will have to be sacrifices by both the majority and the minority, and sacrifices by England itself. The facts of the situation will dictate what those sacrifices will be. There will have to be changes both in the attitudes, and perhaps the privileges that existed previously, simply because of the facts of the situation.
The greatest sacrifice that the majority has had to make has been the abolition of Stormont. Nobody should underestimate the shock that created for the people of Ulster. It was a shock not only because the people of Ulster had taken away from them what they had got used to over a period of 50 years, the passing of their own laws—and this is not so often understood on this side of the water—but because within Stormont were embodied the rights and powers of Ulster to control its own destiny. It was the Stormont Parliament which would have had the right to change the constitutional position in Ulster, if it were given so to do.
The people of Ulster naturally felt unguarded and unsafe when Stormont went. But when we recognise that 50 years of Stormont has ended in the present experiences in the Province, we must ask whether there is any real possibility of
returning to Stormont as we knew it. I sense today that there are a number who in arguing against the Assembly are in fact arguing for a return to the Stormont of old. The facts are that the electoral situation in Northern Ireland will inevitably throw up a permanent majority which will be oriented towards the majority in the country—the Protestant majority. Perhaps I could remind the House of the words of Craigavon—though I do not say that they represent the modern view of the Unionist Party or its supporters. He said that the system would throw up
a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People.
If we are to get peace in Northern Ireland that is an aspiration which cannot be achieved.
Most Unionists who were successful candidates—and perhaps those who were unsuccessful—got many votes from the Roman Catholic community. I dispute what my hon. Friend says.
I thought that I had made myself plain. I said that it was an old-fashioned view and certainly in no way in the mainstream of Unionist politics today, and I mean that. I understand that very clearly. I am going on to deal with the exact point that has now been raised.
The very fact that we are now aiming towards partnership and recognising the need for partnership in the Assembly leads us on to the situation that we must get the acquiescence, at least, and perhaps the encouragement, at best, of the minority in the government of Northern Ireland. If there is a hostile minority there will be no possibility of getting a stable government in Northern Ireland, but there is good hope of getting their acquiescence.
Reference has been made to the poll. I need not rely on the poll, although it may not be as far wrong as all that. There is considerable evidence in Professor Rose's book that as much as a third of the Roman Catholic population has at varying times supported not the Unionist Party but certainly the union with England. I would refer anyone who disputes that to the referendum held a few weeks ago, in which there was no possible explanation of the figures unless one assumed that in those areas where they were able to go to the polls the Catholic population voted in quite a high proportion for the retention of the border.
If it is the position, if there is genuine hope of partnership, surely it is folly to turn away from an Assembly, which I agree is not a Parliament, to try to wreck it and so to turn away from the one direction which will bring into the main stream of Ulster life those people who must be brought in if there is to be stability in Northern Ireland.
The minority also must make a sacrifice. This may, surprisingly, be a greater sacrifice than that of the majority, if my reading of the situation is correct. Regardless of what the Bill says, or of promises or assurances which may be given, nothing brings more certainty and assurance to the majority in Northern Ireland than the fact that there are at present a million Protestants who do not want to go into the South. That fact alone makes unity impossible.
But for the minority there will have to be a sacrifice. They may be able to continue to advocate a peaceful change. But if peace is to come in the North the minority must accept that that change will not come soon or easily. Any attempt to drive the North into the South would do nothing more than turn Belfast into a blood bath. The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said that such an attempt would cause widespread violence, but I think it would lead to nothing less than civil war.
For England, too, there is a sacrifice to be made. I disagree here with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who said that if this country voted for Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom he would accept that. He might but hundreds of thousands would not. No Government can wash their hands of Northern Ireland, because such an act would lead to civil war in an island 80 miles from our coast, with all the consequences which would follow. It is not possible, physically or practically, for England to pull out. England has its responsibilities.
Although it is not always recognised, England also has a moral responsibility, and not just to those in the North who wish to remain in the United Kingdom. It has a moral duty not to change its mind, because for almost 50 years England has treated Northern Ireland rather as the Federal Government in America treated the Southern States. They knew things were not going very well there. They took little notice. We were taking so little notice that we could not even debate matters. Everything was the responsibility of the North, of Stormont, it was said. We know now that, far from that being the truth, the ultimate responsibility lay here fairly and squarely.
Simply because of that, it would not now be possible, for us, having taken on the responsibility, to tell Northern Ireland when the going gets hard, "For 50 years we ignored the problem. Now we have taken it aboard, and having taken it aboard we find it difficult. We shall pull out." I do not believe that any British Government in the conceivable future can get out of their obligations in Northern Ireland.
That is a sacrifice made by this country that we know all too well because of the time we have to devote to Northern Ireland. That is not to forget the sacrifice that this country is making in the loss of a couple of its soldiers every week, and the financial obligations that inevitably will have to be met over the coming years.
I believe that the Bill gives an opportunity for people to turn away from their age-long conflicts in the North and perhaps to stop working for just one section of the community and to start working for Northern Ireland. While recognising the difficulties and the problems that there will be, I have no doubt that the Bill should be supported.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said that he thought that this was the most important Bill to come before the House since the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Probably one can go further and say that perhaps it is an even more important measure, in so far as it brings up to date and modifies what was then an initial experiment.
Tragically, this has been a gloomy debate. Gloom has become a feature of so many debates on Northern Ireland. It has not been just a grave debate—that is something that I could understand—but has been gloomy, full of forebodings for the future. It has been an occasion virtually as dispiriting as the attendance in the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) was thoroughly enjoying the rôle of the independent today. I say that in no sense of criticism. One thing which shines through the debate, and which he rightly highlighted, was that although over the 18 months of direct rule there have been many instances of timing being hopelessly wrong, and everything being done far too late, the Bill in its way is an exception to that. For that reason it is somewhat encouraging.
It is a complicated document. The repeal schedule alone would require a field of QCs to work their way through it. But those are all matters for Committee. Today is a general canter round the course. I have no doubt that the Committee stage will be long and tough, and that there will be vigorous discussion on a number of contentious clauses.
However, for now I give the Bill a reserved welcome. Some parts definitely are welcome, and I shall try to spell them out. Some require considerably more explanation of the Government's intentions. Certain clauses leave quite a lot to be desired.
I am glad that the temptation to have border polls every couple of years or so, which at one stage was feared, has been well and truly resisted. Even so, 10 years is a fairly short time in the lifetime of any community. I hope that in Committee, on reflection, we may be able to extend the period a little.
It would be illogical for me, three months after having thoroughly supported the concept of the border poll, to turn round and say "I got it all wrong." That would be particularly illogical when the Unionist Party was anxious that the border poll should be held. The only point of difference between us and the Government is that it was held far too late. We accepted the concept. It was wished on us and on reflection we accepted it. At the time we were led to understand that there would be periodic polls. Many people thought that the period would be shorter than 10 years. I should have liked to have seen a 15-year period.
I am glad that there is provision for administration by an Executive rather than the suggested alternative of administration by chairmen of committees. That is an important matter. I was very unhappy about the concept of chairmen of committees being put in an administrative position.
I have always believed passionately in the concept of regionalism. I welcome the move towards the Assembly being given the right of allocation of expenditure within the Province. I should have liked to see a position in which the Executive had a negotiating position with the Treasury as to the global amount to be involved.
Although it is desirable that the Assembly should have the right to allocate its expenditure, it is a little patronising in that it rather resembles a children's party where daddy throws down a bag of sweets and everybody grabs. That is a little undignified. I hope that the Exective will be able to have a negotiating position as well as the right of allocation.
The tabulation of excepted subjects, transferred services and reserved services is comprehensive. I hope devoutly that the list of reserved services will one day be considerably reduced in number.
The credibility of the Assembly will be largely dependent upon the powers which it is given not only from day one but gradually during the first few months and years. There should not be a grace and favour approach. The schedule gives the impression which not all of us would wish. I do not know whether I am just a rebel, but by instinct I dislike the approach which applies in a classroom of schoolboys where if they behave properly they are let out early or given what they want. I do not like that in legislation. In part the Bill contains that sort of indication and phraseology.
The House, and in due course the Committee, will be at a serious disadvantage in trying to form a true assessment of the Bill. I have publicly gone on record as looking forward to the day when there will be a Scottish Assembly. As a regionalist I believe in that concept. When we are discussing the credible concept of devolution, the Scottish and Ulster models should be similar. Inevitably one must consider not only the legal powers given to such assemblies but their representation in this House. It will be a little awkward that the Bill should become law before the projected plans for the Scottish assembly are made known to the House. No comparative judgment will be possible.
Some of my hon. Friends would very much like to see the representation from Northern Ireland in this House increased. To me that is a fall-back position. I should like to see an effective Assembly in Belfast and leave the representation in this House at its present albeit unsatisfactory level. What we must not have is virtually a political eunuch in Belfast and truncated representation here. If that were so, we would have the worst of both worlds. That would manifestly be unsatisfactory.
The Council of Ireland argument has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). My hon. Friend seemed to picture a talking-shop, a place where subjects of mutual interest could be discussed. That is fine, but if it goes further into the realms of political decision then many people, including myself, will be profoundly unhappy.
I now turn to Clause 2 and the powers to be given to the Secretary of State and the "boys' own "phraseology in which it is encompassed. The words which I find condescending and unattractive are these:
is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community …
At Westminster, as in any other democratic forum, the machine can operate only if there is a general desire and a consensus to make the institution function. When for any reason that consent is withdrawn, the institution must inevitably fail. That is the delicate flower of democracy. It is regrettable that in Northern Ireland boycotts are not infrequent occurrences. The task of creating a worthwhile local institution will not be assisted by woolly expressions such as
is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community …".
It would deplorable if the new Assembly could be strangled at any time by the withdrawal of support for the Assembly by any group for whatever ignoble or selfish motive it may have. That is an unattractive prospect. I hope
that my right hon. Friend will make it abundantly clear that he will not yield to any such mischievous devices by any political group.
The provision dealing with the Secretary of State's powers has almost an Orwellian aspect which I find frightening in the staggeringly sweeping nature of its powers. We do not want to have a local Assembly cloaked with the mantle of quasi-direct rule. It must be given a meaningful opportunity and a meaningful rôle.
Any strictures which I may make about the Secretary of State's powers are in no way directed to my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State, for whom I have high personal regard. However, Secretaries of State come and go—that is the nature of politics. In this context we must be apprehensive of so much power being given to one person. The long arm of the Secretary of State's powers could spread into every facet of the Assembly and its work, including the appointment of its Executive. Such powers may be considered as those which should be used in the last resort. Nobody can object to that if they are last resort powers. What is much more disquieting is that if at any time these powers should be interpreted as everyday powers then the Assembly will quickly become a puppet show. That is something which none of us wishes to see.
In the Government's eyes the Bill is in part an act of faith after four years of violence. It is coupled with a surprising degree of insensitivity and misunderstanding of the depth of the problems in Northern Ireland. Our faith has been tried sorely. I see the Bill as a calculated risk. It embodies a desire to re-establish some form of local Assembly based on a consensus doctrine. I agree with the formation of such an Assembly, but history teaches me to be wary of consensus politics in the Ulster context.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) made clear what she and others who hold her views feel about making the new Assembly work. There could be a withdrawal of support from a section of the electorate, with serious consequences.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not misinterpret what I was saying. I was not saying that it was the intention of people to ensure that it did not work. I said that there was a belief that it was impossible to make it work and that because of its creation it could not be made to work. I said that while internment exists there will be no will to make the impossible work.
I am grateful for that clarification. I was not trying deliberately to distort the hon. Lady's remarks. I have a genuine wish to see a new Assembly off the ground in Northern Ireland. The alternative is a further period of direct rule. However, I have reservations which, no doubt, I shall be expressing in Committee. The Bill is a long way short of what some of us would like to have seen in Northern Ireland. It is, however, a step towards the restoration of local democracy in the Province and for that reason it is to be welcomed.
When reduced to first principles the issue is clear. There is a choice between establishing a local Assembly which has its powers and composition absolutely defined and an Assembly which is established in broad outline but which leaves details to be finalised by those who are elected on 28th June. I believe strongly that the elected Members should have a substantial say in the form that the Assembly will take. It is wrong for this House not to give an opportunity for meaningful discussion to take place once the Assembly has been elected.
But let us get on now with the election; let us have people who are representative of the current feelings and moods of Northern Ireland; let them come to the fore, and let them have a say in the form of local Assembly that we want. We are taking a gamble, but it is better to get this show on the road, even if it is a gamble. We can work out the small print later. Although I have many reservations, I will support the Bill.
The debate has been sober. Indeed, considering that this is a major debate on a constitutional Bill, the attendance in the Chamber has been deplorable. I recall the days when we discussed minor matters concerning Northern Ireland and when we heard howls of derision and abuse hurled by the Opposition at hon. Members representing Northern Ireland. Yet the Opposition are not here today to help us in our dilemma on this complicated legislation.
The Bill has many good points but many obscure passages as well. I hope that the Government will translate many of those obscurities into reality in their reply tonight. The legal jargon is more terrifying than edifying.
The people of Northern Ireland are getting something new. It is rather like buying a new motor car. They are getting it under more or less a 12 months' guarantee from the manufacturers. If one's new motor car develops certain defects, one takes it in to the local agent or to the manufacturer to have them put right. I forecast that exactly the same will happen with this Bill. There are many things in it which will not work in practice and they will have to be amended if the vehicle is to be kept on the road.
I agree that some advance has been made on the question of the border poll not being held at periods of less than 10 years. I suggest that the period should have been 20 years or that such a poll should not be held at all unless two-thirds of the new Assembly request it.
I have a feeling that the Government are in something of a dilemma in introducing the Bill while awaiting the Kilbranden Report, which I hope will be in our hands before long. I realise that a certain amount of devolution will have to take place within the United Kingdom if parliamentary democracy is not to grind to a halt. Every hon. Member will agree that the amount of legislation coming through this central body is increasing every year and will break the system down completely if some degree of devolution does not come about. It would have been better to have waited until the Kilbranden Report was available so that all regions of the United Kingdom could be on a par.
At best, the Bill is a half-way house and it will remain so until either we get better powers transferred to Stormont or more representation of Northern Ireland in this House. I hope to press this matter in Committee because we in Northern Ireland are grossly under-represented in this House. A half-way house is a house of refreshment, half-way along one's journey, refreshing one to carry on to the end of the road. But if this half-way house does not refresh the people of Northern Ireland to carry on to the end of the road, to beat terrorism and anarchism, it will fail in that objective.
At the same time, let us not deride the fact that we are getting a chance to start back on the road to democratic principles. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that he would be prepared to accept a united Ireland if it were decided by this House, if this House decided that Northern Ireland must leave the United Kingdom. I am on record as saying that I am prepared to accept a united Ireland as long as it is linked with the United Kingdom, but I am not prepared to accept a united Ireland on its own.
The Bill will not stop the violence in Northern Ireland. We have to realise that the Communists and anarchists operating in Ireland, North and South, are determined to make Ireland another Cuba and to attack the soft underbelly of Great Britain. Do hon. Members realise that we have no defences to the West whatever? If Ireland is captured by the Communists and becomes another Cuba, this country will be in a very vulnerable position.
I hope that, no matter what happens, if the Assembly gets off the ground the Government will not turn a deaf ear to representations by its Members, because, in the end, we must realise that they will be the democratically-elected representatives of the people and that their views must be listened to. As has been said—and I agree—no Act of Parliament is sacrosanct. It is no law of the Medes and the Persians. It can be amended. I hope that the Bill will be changed in those respects in which it is not acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland.
We are today debating the future of Northern Ireland. In the debate on the White Paper, I said that I would not vote for or against any good points or bad points. I have made the same decision on the Bill. I believe that the real decision on the Bill will have to be taken by the people who are elected to represent Northern Ireland in the new Assembly. I will not support the Second Reading, nor will I vote against it. I shall reserve my final position until I see its final form. Then I shall make my decision whether I think it will have a chance of working in Northern Ireland. That is my position and I will stick to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) and I were concerned with the Plebiscite Bill which I had the honour of introducing into the House before the Government introduced their own Border Poll Bill. It is not then for me to join in the general criticism and recrimination on the border poll. I believe that the poll was a success in that the ballot was held despite the bullet and the bomb. The people of Northern Ireland, including a substantial number of courageous Catholics—the figure of 27 per cent. has been mentioned in the House today—voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman bandies around figures of people who voted for or against or abstained in the referendum. He has no basis whatever for saying what was the religious persuasion of those who voted. Any deduction he draws about 27 per cent. of one religion or another is quite wrong.
I have spoken to Northern Ireland Catholics who voted for the union in the border poll. They told me, and there is no reason why they should not tell me. All I said about the percentage was that it is a figure that has been mentioned today. I do not know whether it is correct.
If the purpose of these polls is to take the border out of Northern Ireland politics, clearly they should not be held often. The Province should not be repeatedly disturbed by frequently re-opening the border question. One in a generation should suffice. One of the Schedules to the Bill specifies a minimum interval of 10 years. The trouble with minima is that they tend to become maxima. I consider that 10 years is insufficient because in the words of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), to have frequent plebiscites is to keep uncertainty alive.
Even if it were in doubt before, it is now incontestable that the great majority of Northern Ireland people want to remain in union with Great Britain. That fact should be acknowledged here ungrudgingly and with gratitude. In the Second World War we were glad that Ulster was part of the United Kingdom. In this third world war of international terrorism and subversion there can be no desertion of duty, no pulling out of Northern Ireland. Those who talk in such terms seem to think of Northern Ireland as a colonial territory and of the conflict going on there as a colonial campaign. Northern Ireland is not a colony. It is part of the United Kingdom. The defence of Northern Ireland is part of the defence of the homeland.
Northern Ireland is a province of the United Kingdom and no part of the United Kingdom can for long be denied representative Government. I agree with the Government in their choice of devolution in preference to a policy of complete integration. In either case it was incumbent upon them to ensure proportionate parliamentary representation of Northern Ireland in this House. That they have not done. Whatever sacrifice of constitutional principle the Government may have made to the expediency of consensus across the Floor of the House, I ask my right hon. Friend to think again.
The failure either to restore the Northern Ireland Parliament or to provide fuller representation in this House is grist to the mill of those in Northern Ireland who call for UDI. Already in history Ulstermen have harkened to the message of the American Revolution: "No taxation without representation". This grave omission in itself justifies the amendment tabled by my hon. and gallant Friend and other Unionist colleagues together with the Democratic Unionist Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I am sorry that the amendment was not selected.
If legislative devolution be the aim of the Government, it is regrettable that, having heard the debate on the White Paper, the Secretary of State should have provided in the Bill for the abolition of the Governorship. Few changes can be more disturbing to the morale of the loyal and peaceable people in Northern Ireland than those which impinge upon the Throne. The concomitant of a devolution of legislative power is the maintenance of the Crown representative in Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend has vast powers under the terms of this Bill. He is a despot—a most benevolent despot. He discharges his heavy duty with compassion and moderation. He is a combination of a sort of Poynings and a kind of Cromwell. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) also spoke of Orwell. Be that as it may, my right hon. Friend should not be so Cromwellian as to wish to perform himself the ceremonial and other important Vice-Regal functions. I do not believe he wants to do so.
I spoke about this during the debate on the White Paper. I also spoke about the oath. Clause 21 may be excused because it brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. The oath or affirmation printed in Schedule 4 is a miserable, emasculated oath. Oaths have bedevilled Irish affairs before now. Oaths of allegiance played a part in the history of the South of Ireland when it was a Dominion. I would say that it is better to have no oath rather than to have this one. If Clause 21 is justified because it brings the practice in Northern Ireland into line of that in Great Britain then the oath which is good enough for Members of Parliament here should be good enough for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
As the Bill stands, the dictatorship of my right hon. Friend continues in a new form. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South pointed out that my right hon. Friend will not always be Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I shudder to think of what will happen if this Bill goes through as it stands and the office of Secretary of State falls into less benign hands.
The prorogation of Stormont—and the Provisional IRA, whose first demand it was, at once described it as the "abolition" of Stormont—ended a system which, with all its imperfections—and is Westminster without blemish?—gave six Irish counties half a century of peace and enabled us to win the Battle of the Atlantic. It is right that that is remembered. I suppose that this Bill will reach the Statute Book. It needs drastic amendment. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh who said that he would like to see the Bill when it leaves Committee.
It has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and by those who are less devoted to the union than he is, for example, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey), that this Bill will make for non-co-operation. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South spoke of the danger of abstentionism, to which I have referred on a number of occasions. Have the Government any plans for dealing with this? The Bill will be justified only if it emerges as the first stage in the return to the representatives of the Northern Ireland people of responsibility for their own provincial affairs, including internal security, which can be properly and permanently organised only by local forces with local knowledge.
The Assembly which is to be elected is the place where the next great political battle will be fought in Northern Ireland. I believe that the Northern Irish people will find their Grattan and the will to make the election of the Assembly a stepping stone in the recovery of Home Rule for Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
Hon. Members have commented that a mere 10 Members are in the House to discuss this most important constitutional measure. I much regret that a mere half dozen or so backbenchers on the Government side of the House and only the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) on the back benches opposite have thought it worth while to stay throughout the debate on a proposal which might form a prototype for other devolved institutions for Wales and Scotland. Other Members of the House of Commons would do well to follow more closely the debate on the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill.
In the past three years when debates have taken place on Northern Ireland the benches have been crowded and a great deal of destructive criticism has been levelled against the Government for the way they have handled Northern Ireland affairs. It is seen tonight how much easier it is to be destructive than to be constructive.
I welcome the Bill because it provides for steps to be taken to set up new representative institutions in Northern Ireland, but I share the apprehension of my colleagues, particularly of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) whose amendment, to which I had added my name, was not selected.
The people of Northern Ireland are worried about many details in the Bill and the White Paper. I remind the House, as I did in the debate on the White Paper, of the recital at the beginning of that White Paper which repeated the statement contained in the preliminary paper published in October called "The Future of Northern Ireland: A Paper for Discussion".
Paragraph 2(c) of the White Paper reads as follows:
Any division of powers and responsibilities between the national and the regional authorities must be logical, open and clearly understood. Ambiguity in the relationship is a prescription for confusion and misunderstanding. Any necessary checks, balances or controls must be apparent on the face of a new constitutional scheme.
Paragraph 2(d) reads:
The two primary purposes of any new institutions must be first to seek a much wider consensus than has hitherto existed; and second to be such as will work efficiently and will be capable of providing the concrete results of good government.
I invite hon. Members to consider carefully whether the Bill satisfies that requirement set out in the initial paper for discussion and repeated in the White Paper which decries ambiguity and requires that the new institutions must be capable of working efficiently.
How does one interpret the provisions of Clause 2(1)(b)? Is it clear, or is it full of ambiguity? The paragraph provides that if it appears to the Secretary of State:
that a Northern Ireland Executive can be formed which, having regard to the support it commands in the Assembly and to the electorate on which that support is based, is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community.
he shall do certain things. It is for the Secretary of State to determine whether the Executive fulfils this requirement. No Act ever passed by the House could
be more woolly, imprecise and vague in its terms. How is the Secretary of State to decide that an Executive can be formed having regard to the support it commands in the Assembly and to the electorate on which that support is based? Surely, if the election has been held regularly and properly, by definition the Executive must have the support of the electorate.
How can the Secretary of State determine whether the Executive is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community? Have the Government moved completely away from the ordinary principles of democratic government in setting up the Assembly? Does the House feel that the provisions relating to power-sharing can provide effective government? What are the requisites of an effective and responsible Government or Executive and a responsible Parliament?
If it is desired to establish ordinary democratic machinery in Northern Ireland, as I believe it is, the first requisite is to have a Government and an Opposition. But the Bill provides for a form of Government to which no opposition can exist. If the power and the Government of the country are to be shared by both sides, how can there be an Opposition? Who is to fight an election and oppose what the Government are doing? What sort of manifesto could be drafted by an Opposition? If the Government fail in their task in the eyes of the electorate, what remedy lies with the electorate? Whom are they to vote for—or are they to return to fighting in the streets?
That is a possibility, but surely a subsequent election following a period of government as provided for in the Bill can be nothing but a charade.
I invite the Government seriously to consider whether, in their efforts to form a type of Government in Northern Ireland which will meet the requisites set out in Part I of the White Paper, in which there will be participation by the community, they have fallen over backwards in their attempt to obtain consensus of the majority. This will not produce efficient government.
The essence of efficient government is that there should be two or more parties each with conflicting ideas of government which are placed before the electorate. The electors then make their choice. If the party which is elected tries out the formula set out in its manifesto and proves to be unsatisfactory in the eyes of the majority, the remedy is there at the next election. The electors elect the other party which tries out the other philosophy. The White Paper does not provide for that. It sets up little more than an odd type of bureaucracy that is responsible neither to the people in Northern Ireland nor to this House in so far as certain matters are transferred completely into its power and control.
It is with some regret that I have come to these conclusions. As I said in my opening remarks, I welcome the restoration of some sort of institutions in Northern Ireland. However, I believe that the formula set out in the Bill is doomed to failure from the start. The provisions relating to power sharing are totally impractical. Those relating to the holding of the election itself are not conducive to the formation of a sensible, stable administration in Northern Ireland.
The new Assembly, with 78 seats based on the 12 existing Westminster constituencies, will result in each constituency returning six or seven Members by a system of proportional representation. How is the ordinary man in the street to cope with a list of 20, 30 or perhaps even 40 names and to place them in order of priority? The great majority of the names appearing on the list will be of persons completely unknown to him. In the ordinary course of events in the next four weeks, they will have no opportunity to put their ideas to the electorate. As a result, the voter will not be able to choose sensibly from the names set out on the voting paper.
Of those who are returned, who will represent each individual constituent—
I am trying to understand the hon. Gentleman's dilemma about the ballot paper. Is he saying that there will be no means of identifying the different candidates other than by their names? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that descriptions such as "Official Unionist", "SDLP" or "Republican Club" will not accompany each name on the ballot paper?
I should like dearly to follow the hon. Lady into the trap that she seems to be setting. There will be descriptions on ballot papers so far as the law permits. But what I am concerned about is that on my own side presumably we shall have Alliance candidates, Official Unionist candidates, other forms of Unionists, DUP candidates, Vanguard candidates, perhaps UDA candidates, and others. An elector will have to choose between the philosophies, as he knows and understands them, of the parties rather than the candidates.
It may be that a voter who would describe himself simply as a Unionist would prefer to put in order of preference five or six names not reflecting the official tags but his own estimation of the ability of the men concerned to represent him properly. Bearing in mind the limitation in time, it will be difficult for each candidate to put forward his views either by means of an election address or by interviews on radio and television. It will be impossible for candidates throwing their names into the hat throughout Northern Ireland to project their ideas and personalities so that the ordinary elector can fairly and sensibly choose between them.
Once the election has been held, it will be even more difficult for an individual constituent in any of the 12 Ulster constituencies to know to whom he should address any letter, complaint or representation. He will not know which of the five, six or seven Assembly Members covering his area is responsible to him. Will he have to shop around? Will it be a case of picking one and, in the event of his not answering satisfactorily, then going to another? What method is the ordinary voters to use to remedy any grievance that he may have against the administration in Northern Ireland following elections which are based on the formula set out in the White Paper and now in the Bill?
I come to an even more serious complaint. We have been told by the Secretary of State that the reason why the number of Ulster Members in this House have not been increased is that the Government are setting up a Parliament in Northern Ireland. If that is the case, why do not they use the word "Parliament"? Are they frightened of the word? Are they frightened of referring to "Ministers" and "Members of Parliament"? The answer plainly is that it is not a Parliament. I have given several reasons why it is not a Parliament and can never hope to become a Parliament. As the Secretary of State said, it is an experiment in the devolution of power, but it is not devolution using the ordinary machinery to which we in this country have been accustomed.
What argument does my right hon. Friend advance for maintaining the under-representation of Northern Ireland in this House? We have only 12 Members. We have not proper representation. When this House is dealing with fundamental matters such as foreign affairs, taxation or defence, all of which have been and will continue to be the sole concern of this House, Northern Ireland is under-represented. When it comes to other matters which are covered in the Bill, some of which may be dealt with by the Assembly and others of which are completely transferred to the Assembly, Northern Ireland is still not properly represented.
This is another fundamental objection to the formula set out in the White Paper and incorporated in the Bill. One of the main complaints against Northern Ireland in the past has concerned the lack of democracy there. If we are to have democracy and if we are to practise what we preach, we must increase the representation of Northern Ireland at Westminster.
There are a number of other minor matters, but as there may be several other hon. Members still wishing to speak—[Interruption.] A number of my hon. Friends seem to think that I have been given bad advice about that.
I come to the clauses dealing with the Council of Ireland. I have two causes of concern in this context. The first is that the provisions in Clause 12 seem to provide that the Assembly in Northern Ireland will be able to negotiate with the South of Ireland and will be able to enter into binding agreements. If one accepts the argument which I have been putting forward, that the Bill does not set up a proper responsible Government in Northern Ireland following ordinary parliamentary principles, surely it is not right that that body should be able to negotiate and to bind the whole of the United Kingdom even in relation to transferred matters.
The second and even more fundamental matter is that I have always been concerned by the knowledge that the constitution of the South of Ireland sets out clearly that it is a constitution for the whole of Ireland—that is. for the 32 counties of Ireland. It adds in a subsection that, pending reintegration, it shall apply only to the 26 counties which we know as Southern Ireland or Eire.
I would ask the House whether this is not the nub of the problem which we have been facing in Northern Ireland and which has led to the trouble of the past three years. We have on the borders of the United Kingdom—and I emphasise that—a foreign country: a foreign country by its own act, first of all as a result of what happened in 1920 and finally as a result of what happened just after the last war, in 1946, when it broke its ties with the Commonwealth; a country which claims authority over a part of the United Kingdom and which furthermore sets out this claim clearly in its own constitution.
How can we possibly sit down at a table with members of a Government who serve under that constitution and who have set out quite clearly that their desire is the eventual annexation of a part of the United Kingdom? I feel that before a Council of Ireland is discussed, that constitution must be changed. The Government and people in Southern Ireland must recognise—not just de facto by sitting down at a table, but de jure, by law, by amending their constitution—the right of the people of Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, as indeed the Bill does in its first clause.
Perhaps the best thing about the Bill is what it sets out in Clause 1. However, the end of that clause causes me even more concern. It provides that there shall be a poll, and not just the poll we have had, but perhaps repeated polls, to decide whether the people of Northern Ireland still want to remain a part of the United Kingdom. According to the provisions of the Bill, these polls cannot be held at intervals of less than 10 years. I invite my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that minimum clauses very often become the standard. Think how unsettling it will be the conditions that prevail in Northern Ireland if we have a poll every 10 or 12 years. How can one hope to establish stable government in Northern Ireland if, after a period as short as 10 years, the question is to be put again to the people of Northern Ireland whether they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. Think of the stimulus this would give to the IRA to maintain its campaign and, as the 10-year period runs out, to increase the tempo of that campaign.
Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South, I never favoured the holding of a poll in Northern Ireland. I thought that in the circumstances which prevailed in Northern Ireland it would tend only to exacerbate the situation there and that it would not settle anything. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in a recent broadcast to Northern Ireland when we were debating the White Paper that the holding of this plebiscite had taken the border issue out of Northern Ireland politics. I invite him to read the addresses which come out before the election before saying that. The border issue is more a part of the politics of Northern Ireland than it ever was in the past, and if constant polls are held it will remain so.
If the Government cannot be persuaded to drop this senseless proposal, I ask them at least to consider amending the period in the Bill and substituting 20 or 25 years for 10 years. Even that, I think, is too short a period to achieve the end which the legislators, by their own admission, desire.
Another matter which has caused grave concern in Northern Ireland relates to the position of our Governor. A tribute has already been paid during this debate to Lord Grey. We hold him in very high esteem in Northern Ireland. But my right hon. Friend interrupted earlier in the debate to suggest that simply because Lord Grey was a very good Governor was no argument for the retention of the position of Governor. I would ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to think again. The office of Governor does not depend for its strength on the individual, much as we admire Lord Grey. The whole concept of a Governor is to provide an independent root of power—like the Queen in this country—someone to whom, in complex circumstances such as prevail at the moment, any minority can go and speak freely and honestly from the heart. This is the strength of the position of Governor, and this is what the Government are abolishing in their proposal in the Bill. I suggest that the position of Governor provides a factor which tends to maintain law and order in the community, which tends to produce accord in the community and which tends to lower temperatures in the community. By abolishing this post the Government are taking a retrogressive step.
Reference has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davidson to the oath of allegiance, and I should like briefly to agree with his remarks. Surely the emasculated oath which is set out in the Bill, and the even more offensive provision abolishing the oath for those who are taking on positions of responsibility on statutory boards or in local government, cannot be designed with the best interests of Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom at heart. As the Bill itself states, Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and everyone who lives there and works there, if he is working for the good of the country, must owe allegiance to the Queen. If not, people can only be described as aspiring to ends which are treasonable under our own common law and statute law in this country.
That brings me to my main point of criticism of the Bill. Is it envisaged that people who contemplate an object which can only be described as treasonable—that is, who wish to subvert the country and subvert and overthrow the Government—can sit at a table with others in the community and provide for effective, consistent, sensible government in Northern Ireland?
To conclude, I feel that the powers and the influence of the Secretary of State as set out in the Bill will work against the establishment of a proper democratic system of government in Northern Ireland, even to the limited extent of the powers transferred to the new Assembly in Northern Ireland. Too much power is being left in the hands of the Secretary of State. The power relating to the control of internal security which is retained by this House, if we are ever to achieve law and order in Northern Ireland, would be better placed in the hands of those elected in Northern Ireland who understand the security position there and without whose co-operation it will be impossible to bring the subversive forces of the IRA under control.
I should like the power relating to internal security to be transferred to the executive authority in Northern Ireland, not when law and order is restored but straight away. I should like the people of Northern Ireland to be invited to play a full and active part in restoring law and order to all areas in the Province. Until we have not only an effective police force, but an effective militia formed in Northern Ireland which can use its local knowledge and desire to establish law and order there as a prime object of government—it has always been the main object of Government in this House to establish the Queen's peace throughout the land, and it is in this respect that the Government have failed most in Northern Ireland—and this power is taken back into the hands of a local administration in Northern Ireland, we shall never restore either effective government or law and order, peace and security, to our Province.
I have listened to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) with much sympathy and great interest. I confess that as an English Member I cannot speak with the authority of knowing the situation in Northern Ireland, as can those hon. Members of all parties who are able to speak with a passionate interest because they know of and live with the problems of citizens of the United Kingdom who are suffering under such difficulties in Northern Ireland.
An ordinary English Member such as myself can so easily leave this Chamber without making a contribution, but we are debating the constitution for part of the United Kingdom and must make a decision on it. Therefore, it is not wrong for an English Member to contribute his views and thoughts and to reflect in some ways the views of his constituents about the decision that this Parliament has to take. Of course we must bow to the greater knowledge of Northern Ireland Members, but at the same time we must take into account the views of other hon. Members in England.
A little over a year ago we decided to apply direct rule to Northern Ireland. I was very saddened at that event, but felt that it was an inevitable decision that the Government had to take to preserve and maintain law and order in that part of the United Kingdom. It was a courageous and wise act. I hoped at the time—indeed, I made a speech in my constituency to this effect—that we could quickly move forward to some devolution of responsibility back to the citizens of Northern Ireland. That is what I said in my constituency on the Friday night when we made that decision.
Many shades of opinion were put to me passionately and sometimes not so well thought out, because people cannot always see and understand this tragic problem as well from this country as can hon. Members and others living in Northern Ireland.
Recently I found myself in the strange position of being faced with a demand, which I was not prepared to accept, that we should pull out of our responsibilities in Northern Ireland altogether. That point was made by only one constituent, but it was made to me personally and passionately. I confess that for once I lost my wool and declared that under no circumstances would I, as the representative of my constituency in England, desert my colleagues in Northern Ireland and, as it were, leave them to their fate. This was much disputed by my constituent who felt that we should be rid of the problem in Northern Ireland, that this was no part of our problem, that the Irish on both sides were behaving wrongly, that this was costing lives in the British Army and that we should shed ourselves of this problem and get on with the job of making the rest of Britain a successful nation economically, socially internationally and so on.
I resisted this very strongly indeed. Moreover, I told my constituent that I was one of those Members of Parliament who had read and studied Burke closely and followed his precepts about what I felt were my responsibilities. The latter, I felt, were not only to my constituents but to the constituents of the whole of this great country of the United Kingdom.
I recognise, of course, the awful burden borne today by our troops in Northern Ireland. Some of those troops come from my constituency. One of the greatest regiments in the country originally based in my constituency of Canterbury—now called the Queen's Regiment but originally the 2nd Regiment of the Line, the Buffs—I believe I am right in saying have already served some three tours in Northern Ireland. I know from friends and from what I have been told by my constituents of people who have already suffered loss of relatives, friends and others in the British Army in Northern Ireland.
I am very glad that we are today giving time to pass legislation which will move us on to the next stage. It is not the complete stage, it is not the distant horizon of full achievement in Northern Ireland. But the Bill is at least the next stage onwards from that day a little over a year ago when we took direct rule.
It is, I believe, rather wonderful in a way that the Secretary of State has been able so to contain this situation in Northern Ireland for this country, for this House, for this Government, for Britain, for the United Kingdom, that no matter how dangerous and deadly the situation has been, we are able today in peace in this House of Commons to consider a move back towards the devolution of power in Northern Ireland.
As I said, this is not the whole move, When I read the White Paper the day it was published some months ago, I confess that I thought it was not the whole answer. It is not whitewash by any means, but it is not the whole answer. I can understand the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) complaining, as have other hon. Members, that it is not enough. But I say to them that it is a big step. It is a so much better step than that being advocated by some Members and, I suggest, many in Britain today who would be shot of the problem. At least this Parliament is acting not as a body of delegates but of responsible representatives seriously considering the problem facing Britain and the United Kingdom.
I am extremely glad therefore, that we are moving forward out of the system of direct rule to the much better system of almost complete devolution of power to Northern Ireland. I say "almost complete" because I know that it is not complete—and there is the rub. The Northern Ireland Assembly is not completely a Northern Ireland Parliament.
The Secretary of State will remain and, we know, will have special powers of interference. This is an intermediate step. But the Secretary of State with his powers of interference has another power also which I believe has very important value for all the people in Northern Ireland. He sits in the British Cabinet. This is a most important contribution in representing the problem of the people of Northern Ireland at the very centre of power in the United Kingdom.
Many have agreed—I sympathise with them—that there will not be sufficient representation in this House, perhaps a more important centre of power than the Cabinet. This House, after all, sees itself as the ultimate place of decision. It has been argued that 12 Members from Northern Ireland are not enough. It is hard for me to say so, but I disagree with that view. The Secretary of State speaks for Northern Ireland in the Cabinet, and, in this part of the United Kingdom, a large amount of authority and power will devolve on the people of Northern Ireland through their own new Northern Ireland Assembly.
One could say that the Assembly will be a bit of a cocktail. It is not perhaps the sort of organisation that we had originally thought was proposed. It is not the most suitable mixture of representation and power. But I stress again that this is a step back along the road towards giving the people of Northern Ireland self-government—I hope, ultimately, full self-government.
What impressed me most in the White Paper was the statement on page 5 of the three-fold pattern of obligation. This is what I cling to as an English Member longing to give the fullest and most loyal support to those other members of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland. It says:
The United Kingdom as a whole has an obligation to those of its citizens who live in Northern Ireland to afford them the fullest protection of the rule of law".
The tragedy is that we have not seen the fullest protection of the rule of law working in Northern Ireland. What is keeping us here today to make this legislation is the necessity to get back to that standard.
In one quarter of this greatest democracy in the world, of which other countries are so jealous and to which they look so admiringly, the basis of democracy is not working properly. In this new legislation, we must not forget that we are making a promise. We go on to make another promise, that those who live in Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, also have an obligation to respect the decisions of the Crown in Parliament, and to play their part in creating and upholding an equitable political settlement.
I hear many things said about Irishmen, particularly in Northern Ireland, today—one faction against another, the claim that one cannot trust this one or that one, that they are longing to come to blows with one another. I have not lost my faith yet. I am prepared to give them my trust still, and to ask them to keep the obligation set out in the White Paper.
This is not a pious hope. Let us not forget as we debate this constitutional Bill that this obligation lies behind it. We are not ordering an obligation, but we are saying to people that we believe that they want to respect it. We have to show that we mean what we say. I for my part mean what I say.
In conclusion, this is not perhaps the most perfect constitution for Northern Ireland, but it is the first step on the road back. I understand all the complaints which have been made by those Members from all parties who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. I can only say that I understand them as an English Member. I have listened at Question Time and in debates on Northern Ireland, as far as I could, and with as much understanding as I have been able to bring to the subject. I respect their concern and anxiety. I appeal to them all, from all parties, to support this Bill today as a step in the right direction.
Finally, I remind the House, too, that into Clause 20 of this Bill is written a subject in which I have the greatest interest, and that is respect for human rights. We know over our history of not 50 years, not 200 years but even longer in Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole, that this is a problem which has perhaps not been interpreted in the same way as we have interpreted it in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is now written into the Bill. There is an Advisory Commission on Human Rights.
It is very important that as we legislate for the constitution of Northern Ireland and set up this new national Assembly in Northern Ireland, we also recognise that behind it there is a running sore and a running problem of the full recognition of human rights for everyone in Northern Ireland. This Bill seeks to put right that which has been a problem in the past. I am glad that that, too, is included in the Bill. I commend the Bill to everyone in this House, of all parties.
I willingly join my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) in the tribute he has paid to the Army, and especially to the regiment which has strong links with his constituency. As a member of the wartime Royal Air Force, I was attached for a period of instruction to the Buffs. I would like to think that I taught them something in return, but at any rate I have happy memories of our association.
On a graver note, an earlier speaker in the debate stated that he thought this Bill was to a great extent a gamble. I would like to leave the House with the thought that the gamble since 1969 has so far cost us 800 lives.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in an earlier debate reminded us that we are not here in this House to give things a try; neither are we here to gamble. Many people might believe that Parliament is prepared to gamble, and gamble with lives, because it is not prepared to come down firmly in defence of the integrity of the United Kingdom. They would be reinforced in that belief by our debating a Bill tonight which will perpetuate the uncertainties which have existed in Northern Ireland for the past four years.
Several hon. Members have drawn attention to the powers of veto by the Secretary of State. Let it not be imagined that this veto will operate merely in a kind of visible procedural method. It will be exercised even more effectively by a process of the nod and the wink. Because the Secretary of State will be all powerful, it will be necessary for him only to indicate that he would not look with any great favour on a proposal. That in itself would be sufficient to kill it stone dead. There would, in addition, be 3,100 good reasons multiplied by 78 to reinforce that belief.
But there is another veto—and we are asked to provide for it by Clause 2—which could be imposed, and which I fear will be, by any tiny disgruntled minority. A walk-out on the lines practised on so many occasions at intervals over the past 50 years would in itself be sufficient to bring the entire structure crashing down. We have not forgotten that it was the walk-out by the SDLP from the Stormont Parliament which landed us in this position and which, with the help of the demands and of threats of the IRA, brought about the abolition of Stormont.
But even if those elected to represent the minority in the new Assembly desired to make the system work and to make their contribution to it, there is still the question whether they will be permitted to do so. Will the gunmen allow them to take their place in a democratic structure? I confess that at the moment I see no signs which cause me to be optimistic on that score.
If and when that veto is used, will the majority have to go through all this again? Will the House of Commons go through all this again? Will the House have the courage to retrace its steps and go back and try to work out a rather more orthodox, more viable and more convincing structure? Will the House be prepared to go for what would be the only possible alternative, namely, complete integration with the United Kingdom on the same basis as Scotland, Wales or any other part of the Kingdom?
I now come to the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) about the Commission on the Constitution. Surely there would have been some merit in studying its report before embarking on the creation of what is seen by everyone as an artificial structure in one part of the Kingdom. In reply to a Question earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated that he would study the report of the Commission on the Constitution in connection with the proposal for a Scottish Assembly and that in due course there would be a Green Paper and occasion and scope for public discussion—and no doubt a sounding and assessing of Scottish opinion and a hope that there would be agreement by the majority of people in Scotland —before further action was taken.
Where is there agreement on what is to happen in Northern Ireland? Where is the assurance that even the opinions of those elected to the new Assembly will be heeded? There is no such assurance, but there is instead a clear indication not only that they will be ignored but that if the composition of the Assembly is such as to be unacceptable—I suppose in current terminology this would be the unacceptable face of Unionism—the Assembly might be prorogued or even dissolved.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said at the beginning of the debate that there should be no sitting back during the interval between June of this year and March of next year, and that bearing in mind the pressure that is building up—this was referred to by the hon. Member for Canterbury for the withdrawal of the Army we should work to build a political structure which alone would make such a withdrawal possible.
But two things must be borne in mind, and they are these. First, the plan may not work, and I have to say that my fear is that it will not, in which case there will be no advance whatsoever on the present position. Secondly, even if the plan does work, the IRA will pay not the slightest attention to it. The war will go on in either case.
The British public outside, and hon. Members in this House, should remember that it was the 1969 decision to implement the Hunt Report and break up the internal security system of Northern Ireland which committed the Army to a long-stay basis, with little or no hope of withdrawal. Many of us felt and said that in 1969. But if it is now felt that the Army commitment cannot be sustained, Parliament should go straight to that problem and not fritter away its time and fritter away more lives attempting what is clearly seen by everyone to be the impossible, and merely causing distraction through the exercise in which we are now participating—this useless Bill.
I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster). I do not welcome this particular form of institution to be set up at Stormont. It is neither one thing nor the other. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South and myself, in the debate on the Green Paper, said that we wanted one of two things: either a viable Stormont which would be seen to be stable and would not be regarded as a pushover, or that this Parliament should find the stomach to integrate us wholly into the United Kingdom. We begged Parliament not to go for anything in between. Unfortunately, that is what Her Majesty's Government have done.
If Parliament is not prepared to do better than this, if it cannot erect a better structure than that proposed in the Bill, I return to the point made earlier by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South that there is only one remedy, and that is integration.
I apologise for my absence for the greater part of the debate. Running through the debate has been the theme that no lasting answer can be found to the problems of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority. The question that must be posed, in all its bleakness and harshness, is which majority and whose consent?
It is not sufficient to believe that a majority for this policy can be found only in Northern Ireland. When we talk about the boundaries of the United Kingdom, we mean the United Kingdom as a whole. There has been no attempt to ascertain the views of the majority of the people of the United Kingdom. If we talk about Ireland, we must realise that there can be no lasting solution to the problems of that part of the world without the consent of the people of the island as a whole.
No, I do not intend to give way. I shall speak only briefly because at least one other hon. Member wishes to take part in the debate.
There can be no lasting solution, and not even a beginning of an answer to this centuries-old tragedy, until a test of opinion has been taken in Britain and until a test of opinion has been taken throughout Ireland.
I want to comment on the Government's policy and the policy of my right hon and hon Friends of the Opposition. Great Britain has paid a price in blood in Northern Ireland, generation after generation, by following the mistaken policies of successive British Governments. It is high time that we called a halt to the inglorious deaths being suffered by British soldiers following the mistaken policy of Her Majesty's Government in Northern Ireland.
We are trying to impose on Northern Ireland the unimposable.
No, for the reasons I have given.
We are trying to impose on Northern Ireland a policy which has not a hope of success because it does not command the support of either the majority of the Irish people or a majority of the people of the United Kingdom. So all those who support this mistaken policy carry the burden of the blood of young soldiers which is spilled, generation after generation, on the battlefields of Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland. This policy must come to an end by a test of opinion of the only majority and the only people who have the power to take such a decision—the people of the United Kingdom and of Ireland as a whole.
Perhaps I may say to my right hon. an hon. Friends who have supported the Government with complete integrity and with full knowledge of the realities of the situation that we in the Labour Party will come to be ashamed of the part we are now playing in the re-enactment of the tragedy of Ireland in supporting the provisions in the Bill that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom so long as the majority in Northern Ireland wish it. That is a fallacious doctrine which cannot succeed, because it flies in the face of reality. The sooner my right hon. and hon. Friends and the Government recognise that fact, the sooner we shall contribute to an ending of the bloodshed in Northern Ireland
I know that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) holds very strong views on this subject, and I do not think that at this hour it would serve a useful purpose for me to challenge the points he made and about which he feels so strongly. I rise with apologies because I have been absent throughout the debate for reasons of Select Committee work and it is a discourtesy to the House to rise at the last moment, as I am doing. I am surprised that it is possible for me to do so and I find it a little ominous that it should be the case.
Perhaps I should say to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr)—I shall deal with his amendment in a moment—that when we call for increased representation in this House one question that should arise in our minds is how much of the legislation and the affairs of Northern Ireland the House is prepared to digest. We are at the moment suffering some slight surfeit of legislation and I see this reflected in the state of the benches here tonight.
It is fair to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on one thing. The Bill is in a sense a Part II Bill, because Part I has already gone through the necessary stages in response to the urgent request some of us made that the elections should be held in June and not in the autumn. We should not be dealing with this Bill in the way we are if that were not a fact, and those of us who now contemplate what a general election in the autumn would look like will think that the advice we gave earlier for a June election was indeed right.
I want to deal with the amendment which has been tabled by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South and others of my hon. Friends and towards which in some sense I feel sympathetic. However, I should like to address myself to certain parts of it. It is like the curate's egg—it is good in parts, and with parts of it I find myself in a good deal of sympathy. Perhaps for the purposes of debate I may deal first with those parts about which I feel sympathetic.
I have my own feelings about the Governor and whether or not it is necessary for the office to be abolished. Its abolition probably increases the fears of those who think that the powers of the Secretary of State will not only be strong but will remain strong for a long time, which is not a belief I share. I have a sympathetic feeling towards that objection by my hon. and gallant Friend.
Again, when my hon. and gallant Friends deals with power sharing and the feelings I know he has about that, I feel sympathetic. I do not believe that in a democracy a system has yet been devised in which a majority can be anything but a majority and a minority anything but a minority. If one tries to get a solution between those two positions, the result is a muddle and probably a worse muddle than existed at the start. I share all the scepticism of those who think that power sharing is destined to be a nonsense. I sympathise with my hon. and gallant Friend on these two points.
I now come to two points on which I do not go all the way with my hon. and gallant Friend. The first is the question of representation in this House. It is true that it remains at 12 Members, and that if certain circumstances arise 12 Members would not be sufficient to represent the interests of the North. But the point is that if the Bill increased the representation here, it would make permanent a state of affairs which must limit the powers of the Assembly in Northern Ireland. We can always adjust what we propose to do in the North, and one of the objectives of the Bill is to give the Secretary of State flexibility in the powers he exercises, but we cannot play ducks and drakes with representation in this House. If we have 12 Members it will remain at 12 and cannot be amended in six months' time, and if we have 18 Members we will likewise be unable to amend the figure later.
My hon. and gallant Friend and his hon. Friends probably hope that the proposed Assembly will succeed and show itself to be capable of assuming a degree of responsibility which is not perhaps full envisaged in the Bill. Their amendment is about the lack of responsibility, the lack of trust reposed in the Assembly. If representation were increased here, it would limit expectations of what the Assembly would be capable of doing. In this respect I think that my hon. and gallant Friend is inconsistent in that part of his amendment.
I understand my right hon. Friend's thinking on this matter, but he was not present when I dealt with the point. With many of my hon. Friends, I look upon the increase in representation in this House as a fallback position in the absence of proper devolution. But the point which my right hon. Friend made about power sharing being an essential condition of devolution in the Bill demolishes his own argument that it is a valid alternative to proper representation.
My hon. and gallant Friend has given his point of view, and I have given mine. I will leave it at that.
My second point is to challenge my hon. and gallant Friend on his anxieties about the powers of the Secretary of State. What is all-important is whether the powers are fixed or conditional, whether they are conditional on the success of the Bill or whether they are fixed and immutable. I do not regard them as fixed and immutable. I think they are conditional on what my right hon. Friend envisages working out. He does not give the impression of being a Secretary of State who is thirsting for power and anxious to retain power for as long as he can. My impression is that nothing would make him happier than to see the Assembly become capable of taking from his shoulders some of the burdens he is now carrying. That gives me a certain instinct towards that part of the amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) spoke about a formula here which he regarded as doomed. I hope he is wrong, because this would be a bad message to send out on the subject of the Bill. The Bill will succeed or fail according to the will of the people in Northern Ireland to make it work. If they are given an impression from this House that we do not have faith in its capacity to work, I think that it is very likely to fail. But their will to make it work—not what we say in this relatively unimportant debate—will be the decisive factor. Their will ultimately, and not our wishes, will prove decisive.
A great deal of comment has been made about the attendance this afternoon. If the Northern Ireland hon. Members were taken away from both sides of the House the attendance would be very small. I agree that that should be taken as a warning that hon. Members on both sides are becoming a little tired with Northern Ireland affairs and the pressure they are bringing on the business of the House. There is a feeling of almost desperation about whether something will be done. That reflects in a sense what hon. Members say that their constituents are saying to them.
Rather than finding in our postbags suggested solutions, we are increasingly receiving the suggestion, "Drop it and get out." That should be a warning to everyone in Northern Ireland that there is not an unlimited amount of time. If a change of policy were forced by the failure of the Assembly to work following the elections, the Government and the Opposition might be faced with some unpleasant decisions. Such decisions might not run along the lines of the policies which some hon. Members wish to see introduced.
I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) is proposing. There is far too much time taken up by Northern Ireland legislation. But he must admit that he is one of the hon. Members who in the early stages of the controversy in Northern Ireland wanted more discussion in this House of Northern Ireland affairs.
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that I am still here. I am saying that it is the people who are not here about whom we should be concerned. People are becoming disenchanted not only with the day-to-day business but with the politics of Northern Ireland. We might as well face reality. That brings us up against some difficult decisions.
What solutions have been put forward? It is interesting that once again the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South-West (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey), who come from opposite ends of the spectrum, arrive basically at the same conclusion. First, they say that the Assembly will not work, that it would be wrong to try to make it work and that the solution lies in another direction. The right hon. Gentleman says that the solution lies in full integration with the United Kingdom willynilly or irrespective of the minority. He does not tell us whether he would redraw the boundaries or what he would do with the minority in Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady says that the Assembly will not work because the minority are demanding a united Ireland and nothing short of that.
It is wrong for my hon. Friend to draw that conclusion. That is not what I said. I stand on record as having said repeatedly that we do not want a united Ireland at this precise moment because the kind of united Ireland that I want does not lie on the other side of the border. I accept that it is a long struggle. I am saying that it would be wrong to seek to make the Assembly work and that it would be impossible to make it work because it is of its own nature unworkable.
I understand what my hon. Friend says. She has a duty to explain what would work but she has not done that. She is a superb demolisher, as is the right hon. Gentleman, of issues which come before the House. We must consider what is to be put in their place. I am treating the arguments extremely seriously. The right hon. Gentleman went to the kernel of the problem when he referred to the diametrically opposed views which exist in Northern Ireland.
We support these proposals but there are many points which we shall criticise in Committee. We support the proposals because we see them as providing at least an interim measure between the two stark alternatives. That is the reason for our support of the Bill.
The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Mr. Orr) described the Bill as defective. There may be certain defects in it. There may be alternatives. There is no argument basically about devolution, but Clause 1(1)(b) is open to a great variety of interpretations and a great deal of power will fall upon the Secretary of State. He will have many problems and difficulties. The argument we have heard from some hon. Members opposite is rather odd. They say that the Assembly will not work. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) told of the dire consequences which will fall upon our heads because of this Assembly. Yet he then told us that we shall not see him again until after 30th June because he is fighting for election to the Assembly. There are 1,200 candidates in the local government elections. There are lists as long as one's arm of people hoping to get elected to the Assembly. I do not know whether the Assembly will work or not, but a lot of people are trying to get in the doors. I see this as a safety valve, and it certainly gives ground for hope.
I want to underline some of the points that have been raised, particularly about Clause 1. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) has his view about Clause 1 and he has been consistent throughout. Of course there is great difficulty about Clause 1 and how one would arrive at a decision to change, for example, the status of Northern Ireland.
There was a great deal of pressure among hon. Members opposite for the border plebiscite. The people who were of the persuasion of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South voted very strongly to express their point of view in that plebiscite. But there is a difficulty here which we must recognise. If, in a border poll in 10 years' time, the figure was 51·1 per cent. in favour of reunification, or even 49·5 per cent. in favour, whichever way it went, such a narrow majority for or against would create great problems. I do not think that such problems can be resolved by a border poll.
The Opposition stand by the original suggestion which we have supported consistently—that we cannot force 1 million Protestants into a united Ireland, whether one supports the idea of a united Ireland or not. The question whether the rest of the people of the United Kingdom should be consulted is now coming to the fore. The political developments of the Assembly will determine whether there will be pressure within the rest of the United Kingdom for a reassessment or reappraisal of the position.
I say to those who talk of wrecking the Assembly that in advocating such policies they may bring down upon their heads such wrath as will be difficult to turn aside. I stand by what I have always said, and what all the parties within the Republic have said—that there can be no unification by force, that the majority in Northern Ireland cannot be forced into a united Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman says that it is unworkable. Perhaps he should use his considerable talents to seek election to the Assembly, as some of his friends are doing, and see whether it could not be made to work.
A great number of people are trying to get elected and, in doing so, they have a duty to examine it.
The point has been made about power sharing within the Assembly. The way to deal with this is to move from sectarian balances in Northern Ireland and to reach economic-based political parties. Then the Secretary of State would probably be pleased to drop many of the powers he is given in the Bill. We are not yet at that position. I am pleased that we are not dealing with this in terms of the statutory percentage of Catholics or Protestants and so on. We must move away from that. Naturally there has to be the kind of representation which broadly reflects the people in the community.
In the past I have pressed for a representation in the police force which involved a balancing of two to one and so on. It will not work. It is no solution to the problem. We must move away from that. That is one of the lessons I have learned. We cannot parcel everything up neatly. In doing so we only underline the differences and the sectarian problems within the community.
We still feel that the bans and proscriptions should be lifted. We have the anomalous position whereby Sinn Fein is banned, yet we know that it is putting up candidates in different parts of Northern Ireland. We ought to bring such people into the open, let them stand under their own colours and test the support there is for them through the ballot box.
Hon. Members have touched on the question of violence and whether certain people would be allowed to sit in the Assembly. I draw the attention of hon. Members to the speech made the other evening in the Creggan Estate, Londonderry, by Mr. John Hume. He said the real and fundamental choice facing the Northern Ireland community in both local government and Assembly elections was a choice between politics and war and between political means and violent means of resolving community problems. The SDLP stood firmly, clearly and unequivocally, said Mr. Hume, on the side of politics. I think that is a courageous statement to be made by a politician on the Creggan Estate at this time.
The Alliance Party has made a similar statement, and I hope that all parties in Northern Ireland will follow the example and say that this is an issue of politics not war, of the ballot box not the gun. Such an attitude can do nothing but good.
The right hon. Gentleman must be concerned about the shooting of Mr. Patrick Callaghan who was canvassing on behalf of a Northern Ireland party in the Belfast area the other evening. This was an unfortunate and tragic event and I hope that measures will be taken to protect such people. It will do a great deal of damage if people are prevented from crossing the divide and canvassing in areas which do not necessarily belong to their own sectarian persuasion. It is right that candidates of different political or religious persuasions should expose themselves to the ideas of those who disagree with them.
It is difficult to have a reasonable exchange of views and discussions with politicians of different religious persuasions in Northern Ireland. Here, although there may be violent disagreement, it is possible to have a normal political dialogue. It is unfortunate that one cannot have a normal dialogue with Northern Ireland politicians, but I hope that it will be possible in future.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to be unfair to the people of Northern Ireland. The first time I addressed a meeting at Rasharkin, in my constituency, the Union Jack was seized and burnt, but last night when I addressed a similar meeting many people who had attacked my people at the previous meeting listened and asked questions which were answered.
That is an encouraging sign and I hope that it will continue. It almost seems that the election started in this House this afternoon and that the campaign has got under way. Although there has been a great deal of criticism, different criticisms have been expressed, and that is encouraging because it demonstrates that people have differing points of view. It will obviously be a hard-and closely-fought election.
The Bill does not set up a Council of Ireland but there are to be powers of negotiation. Although foreign affairs is a reserved subject, there are many issues on which there could be immediate discussion between the new Assembly Executive and the Irish Republic—for example, television, power, roads, tourism, economics, the border, and possibly transport and policing. A discussion on these subjects between the two parts of Ireland would be of immense value. Hon. Members should not look too warily at the Irish dimension. Free and frank discussion would be in the interests of the people of the Republic and of Northern Ireland.
We are sorry that there is no Bill of Human Rights. We welcome the private industry report which is to be published shortly on job discrimination. We still feel the necessity for a Bill of Rights to guarantee both for the minority and the majority the basic human rights that are enjoyed throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.
The subject which has caused the greatest amount of argument today is power sharing and the powers of the Secretary of State. I think there will be many problems. After the elections I do not think that it will be for the Secretary of State to act as a Governor in the sense of sending for people. I hope that negotiations will take place amongst the parties that are elected on the basis of putting them in a strong position to be able to say to the Secretary of State, "This is what we want and this is how we think it will work."
We recognise that we are at the crossroads. We are in a great deal of difficulty in regard to Northern Ireland. To those who say that Northern Ireland is underrepresented here, I suggest that these devolutionary measures go a great deal of the way to meet many of their arguments. I have no doubt that improvements can be made. But let no one forget that we are discussing 1·6 million people in the United Kingdom who are to have 12 Members of Parliament plus an Assembly initiating and passing legislation. In this Bill, £400 million has been allocated for subvention to Northern Ireland. I come from a conurbation area of the United Kingdom containing just under 3 million people, many of whom will think that Northern Ireland is being exceedingly well serviced under these proposals. To those who are critical of these proposals I say, "Think what the reaction would be if these matters were explained fully to people in the rest of the United Kingdom."
I fully support the idea of devolution. I am all for monetary support. I want to see the end of unemployment. I want to see economic growth. If we can only get full employment in Northern Ireland, one of the major obstacles to ending the sectarian situation there will have been overcome.
If we can get some form of détente we may see a type of political development which will allow a new police force to resume responsibility for law and order, with the Army being phased out. The Opposition want to see many of the powers of the Secretary of State not being used. We want the Bill which at present we are discussing in Committee to fall into disuse and to be replaced. We want to see the end of internment
If we can get some stability in Northern Ireland we may find that some of the growing irritation which is now beginning to show itself in the rest of the United Kingdom will be de-fused. It is worth emphasising that there is the growing feeling that something has to be done. By this Bill, I believe that we shall be able to achieve at least a beginning.
I take encouragement from the fact that, despite the criticism and arguments of those who say that they intend to see that this legislation does not work and despite the fact that the Secretary of State has taken power to deal with that situation if it arises, we are beginning to see a sudden flood of enthusiasm for the elections, for candidates and for representation in the Assembly.
The Opposition support the Bill. We are critical of certain aspects of it and we shall seek to amend them in Committee. But we believe the Bill to be essential. No other workable alternative has been put forward in this Chamber. On that basis we say, "Yes. We support the proposals."
During the time remaining in this debate it is my hope to say a few words about the very important financial provisions in the Bill. Various hon. Members have touched upon them in the debate but there has not yet been an opportunity to expand upon them.
Before doing that, however, I want to try to answer some of the points which have been raised. It has been a rather lightly attended debate, but most of the fundamental issues have been well and truly touched upon, and I shall try to meet some of them.
It is obviously appropriate that I begin at the beginning with Clause 1, on which a point was raised at the start of the debate by the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees). He asked why Clause 1 contains the phrase
remains part of Her Majesty's dominions".
The simple answer is that this is the precise wording in the 1949 Act and it was thought right and proper, as I believe it is, that there should be no change in that wording. There is no particular reason why there should be. There is no deep and subtle meaning behind this. These are simply the precise words of the 1949 Act reproduced here.
On Clause 1 the hon. Gentleman also raised, as did many other hon. Members, the bigger question of a poll. It seemed this evening that the idea of plebiscites and polls had become an orphaned idea because, while hon. Members opposite have never made a secret of the fact that they do not much like the idea, I was rather surprised to hear my hon. Friends on this side of the House cast doubt on the whole idea, particularly in the light of the enthusiasm they showed for this idea only a few months back.
If there is no wish for a poll, there need not be a poll. All that the clause does it to make provision for a poll to be carried out in accordance with the undertakings given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and in accordance with the 1949 Act and previous legislation. If in 10 years' time it is felt inappropriate to have a poll, there need be no poll.
Who decides whether there should be a poll? With regard to the earlier point, I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman right at the beginning but I have always been against a poll. I was against the Common Market, but none the less I was against a plebiscite in this country, and I do not think that a poll is the answer.
I am asked who decides. Obviously, the answer is that Her Majesty's Government and this House decide whether there should be a poll in the circumstances that exist, but there is no obligation in Clause 1 for there to be a poll.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South also raised—as again did other hon. Members—the question of the Irish dimension and Clause 12. I think there is some misunderstanding here, because Clause 12 does not deal so much with legislation and legislative authority as with giving authority to the Northern Ireland Executive, in the words of Clause 12(1)(a), to
consult on any matter with any authority of the Republic of Ireland".
In other words, it specifically gives the Northern Ireland authorities power to consult authorities in the Republic on any matter and to reach agreements or arrangements with them in respect of any transferred matter.
If, as a result of discussions or administrative arrangements, specific statutory powers were required to enable the agreements to be put into effect, the Northern Ireland Assembly would have to pass a measure in the normal way, and if that dealt with a transferred matter it would be treated under the Bill as reserve legislation. This is the effect of paragraph 7 of Schedule 3 to the Bill. In other words, the measure would require consent and Parliament would have an opportunity to consider it. But this does not rule out in any way the authority of the Northern Ireland Executive to consult any authority in the Republic of Ireland on any matters and to make arrangements that do not require statutory authority. I hope that this makes the extent of Clause 12 clear.
I come now to the nub of the Bill and the matter to which hon. Members on both sides have reverted again and again. The point has been made that in Clause 2(1), and in paragraph (b) in particular, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is given wide powers and wide discretion when deciding the criteria upon which power can be devolved. Let me say quite specifically that of course the Government would be quite prepared to consider any constructive proposals in Committee for the rewording of Clause 2(1)(b) in such a way as to make the matter clearer.
However, we must bear in mind and recognise that, while there is a need of clarity, it would be wrong and against the purpose of the Bill to tie down the Secretary of State too precisely. Indeed, if that were done it might create an absurdly rigid situation of the kind that the whole philosophy of the Bill, with its move towards flexibility, is designed to avoid. Rigidity would certainly go against the spirit of Clause 2(1)(a) in that it would deny to the Assembly precisely the scope for making its own arrangements which the clause allows. I hope that this makes clear the Government's view on Clause 2(1)(a) and (b). If the spirit of the Bill is to be carried out, the main purpose must be not to tie down an established criterion so rigidly as to make it impossible for the Secretary of State to carry out his functions under the Bill.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South also asked about paragraph 52 of the White Paper. He suggested that it did not seem to tie in with Clause 2(1)(b) of the Bill which is intended to give effect to that paragraph. If it does not immediately appear to do so, may I say that this arises from the difficulty of translating White Paper language into legal language. However, the intention is there and I understand that that intention is given force by the words contained in Clause 2(1)(b) as they stand.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the numbers on the Executive. This arises under Clause 8(3) which provides that 12 should be the maximum, but we expect there to be rather fewer. The purpose of having a limit of 12 is to give some latitude if more powers are transferred in future or if more flexibility is needed. That is the reasoning there.
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and other hon. Members asked about a Bill of Rights. The hon. Member said that the Opposition had always hoped for a Bill of Rights. We must look at the extensive provisions being offered in the Bill and accept that it is proposing a Standing Advisory Commission which will deal not only with generalities, but will go in great detail into the practicalities of how discrimination can be avoided in a number of specific areas. It is the Government's view—a practical and soundly-based view—that this goes a good deal further than a general statement that might be embodied in a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights is all very fine and sounds magnificent when written up in 10 clauses, or whatever it may be, but, coming down to the practical details, we believe that our method, a Standing Advisory Commission, has a cutting edge which a Bill of Rights would not have.
Will the Standing Advisory Commission he able to bring forward proposals which the Government could put into legislation to extend and strengthen what is already in the Bill?
Yes, it certainly would be able to bring forward advice of that kind.
One final point raised by the hon. Member for Leeds, South and by other hon. Members—indeed, it has been raised not only tonight, but one almost every night in the last year or 14 months when we have been legislating on Northern Ireland affairs—concerned the time allowed for and the constraints placed upon trying to deal with our affairs within one and a half hours. On orders of major importance there certainly could be discussions through the usual channels to ascertain whether more time might be allowed.
This is a knotty problem for the people concerned. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that a promise made by the former Leader of the House to Northern Ireland Members—that when the usual channels are consulted they should be told what the usual channels have agreed—is carried out so that at the end of the day we might know what opportunities we would have to discuss these matters?
I turn to the financial provisions because these are of crucial importance and affect greatly one's view of the extent of devolution actually involved in the Bill. The main financial provisions are Clauses 13 to 16 in Part II and Clause 37.
I remind the House, particularly in the light of what the hon. Member for Salford, West said, of the Government's broad economic and financial objectives in Northern Ireland. These are clearly stated in the White Paper. In the way of things they may not come through so clearly in the language of the Bill itself. They were, and remain, as stated in paragraph 86: to accomplish as rapidly as possible the task of physical reconstruction and rehabilitation; to create a sound base for the economy and to encourage external investment; and to work progressively towards the achievement of similar standards of living to those which prevail in Great Britain.
If the financial relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is to be judged satisfactorily, it must achieve two things. First, it must work, on the practical and administrative level, so that the various taxes, payments, transfers, charges and so on, are properly and efficiently executed with the minimum amount of staff. Second, in a democracy, it is important that the arrangements are capable of coherent presentation to Parliament and to the people so that people understand what is happening. These are matters of public interest and account so that in the making of new financial arrangements we are under an obligation, as I believe we have recognised, wherever possible to make them as open and uncomplicated as possible. People will not be able to judge whether the system is fair if they cannot understand it.
The Bill gives effect to the scheme outlined in paragraphs 83 and 84 of the White Paper. Some aspects of the financial relationship established by the 1920 Act, and later additions, are discarded and simplified. As several hon. Members have noted, the Joint Exchequer Board, the annual Imperial Contribution, the word "Exchequer" itself, certain statutory special payments to Northern Ireland, such as the Health and Social Services payment, all come to an end. Clause 13 makes clear that the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund continues to exist, and since the Fund continues in existence without interruption it continues to attract all its assets and liabilities as at present. Clause 13 also confirms the continuing rôle of the Northern Ireland Comptroller and Auditor-General, whose reports will be available to this House as regards the period of direct rule, and to the Assembly once devolution has occurred.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South asked about a Public Accounts Committee. If he looks at Clause 25(7), he will see in terms that it is made mandatory that the Assembly shall have such a Committee. Thus for accounts and for expenditures arising from the Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive, that would be the process of scrutinising the public accounts. Matters arising on the Budget of the Northern Ireland office would come before the Public Accounts Committee of the House if it were so wished. However, there will be a Public Accounts Committee in the Assembly.
Clause 14 provides for an important measure of control over legislation which creates or charges expenditure. This procedure is similar to the Sovereign's Recommendation required under Standing Orders of this House and will be exercised by the head of the Department of Finance. A similar procedure operated at Stormont previously.
Clause 15 is the major financial clause since it describes how Northern Ireland shall be paid its share of United Kingdom taxation. This in my view is extremely important. The concept of the Northern Ireland residuary share of reserved taxation goes and is replaced by the Northern Ireland share of the United Kingdom taxes, which is to be determined by the Treasury according to regulations which will be laid before Parliament. Under Clause 16, the Secretary of State will take power to make a general grant-in-aid of Northern Ireland's revenue resources. This is a continuation of the system introduced in the Northern Ireland (Financial Provisions) Act 1972. Under the Bill, the grant-in-aid will be capable of comprising the separate special payments which are to come to an end, as I described earlier. Although Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future will undoubtedly require a large grant-in-aid to supplement its revenue, the assumption of the cost of excepted and reserved matters in London, dealing with law and order, and compensation for the time being, coupled with plausible alterations in tax yields and other feasible changes, like the growth of payments from European sources, suggest that the new financial arrangements should include provision for a possible—I emphasise, only possible—deduction from Northern Ireland's proper share of tax proceeds. This is contained in Clause 15(4), but no contribution would be payable without the prior approval of the House of Commons. As the White Paper says, the Imperial Contribution, which was an annual payment in respect of stated imperial burdens, is discontinued.
What will the financial powers of the new Northern Ireland authorities be?
We will certainly agree to do that. It sounds a very good idea.
Turning to the subject of revenue, the Northern Ireland authorities will receive a proper share of United Kingdom taxation as determined by the Treasury according to rules laid down in a statutory instrument. In practice—I can reassure hon. Members on this—the attribution and the sum will be broadly similar to that produced under the existing system. Most of the previously transferred tax powers will pass to United Kingdom authorities but—this is important—the freedom of Stormont in the past to legislate in this area was somewhat illusory. This is my own view. Northern Ireland will, of course, receive its full share of the proceeds of the former transferred taxes, and the Assembly will be able to introduce new taxes if it so wishes.
There is no reason why there should not be consultation of all kinds necessary. Regulations will be issued by the Treasury and will be available to be seen by the House.
The availability of grants-in-aid from the Secretary of State represents a major addition to the revenue resources of Northern Ireland.
Although there is no need to make provision in the Bill, the new authorities will have the same power to raise money by loans as the former Government. Those who lend to the new authorities will, as in the past, base their security on the considerable revenue resources of Northern Ireland, and its continuing right to borrow money from the National Loans Fund within the limits imposed by Parliament. Borrowing by Northern Ireland will continue to be backed by this considerable range of resources.
Finally, I come to the powers of the Executive with regard to expenditure. Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom economy which itself has to operate within the framework, for instance, of the EEC. The overall level of Northern Ireland public expenditure must continue to be matched with the policies currently governing expenditure for the United Kingdom as a whole. However, as paragraphs 88 and 89 of the White Paper explain, it will be for Northern Ireland to determine the priorities in dividing the available resources for a whole range of important programmes, including education, health and personal social services, housing, roads and local environmental services. Some will say that there will have to be a measure of harmony with policies in Great Britain. To some extent this will be a matter for the Assembly, it is true. It is nevertheless the intention, which will be borne out, I think, that Northern Ireland should exercise its own choices in developing the range of services that fall into this cataegory, and that suit the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.
At the same time, it is worth remembering—this point has not been made today—that the new Assembly will have a number of important functions previously reserved to local authorities. These will now be brought to the central Government in Belfast, the new Assembly under the Macrory reforms, and the power to levy rates will now rest with the central authority in Belfast.
Therefore, in that sense it can be said with confidence that the new Assembly will have functions and responsibilities which did not rest with the former Stormont Parliament. At the same time, as I have already mentioned, the Assembly will have freedom to devise new taxes. As my right hon. Friend began by saying this afternoon, it will have a new power which the previous Stormont Parliament did not have—to legislate on reserved matters.
If one adds up those developments, it becomes quite valid to say that the new Assembly will have considerable powers and considerable scope to legislate. It becomes right to reject strongly the proposition that in some way the new Assembly will be a weakling and that its powers will be useless or invalid. There is nothing in what I have just said to justify assertions of that kind. That should be made clear.
No one will pretend that the problems of Northern Ireland can be magically solved by the set of proposals put forward in the Bill this evening. Those who are inclined to look for cut-and-dried solutions will obviously be disappointed. We have heard one or two comments of that kind this afternoon.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), in a precise and eloquent speech, said that Her Majesty's Government were attempting the impossible. Of course, I concede that in our job in Northern Ireland—and I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends must feel this too—it sometimes does feel as though in our efforts we are attempting to achieve the impossible. One would be less than human if one did not admit that at times one yearned for the world of simple choices and simple courses in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South-West sometimes seems to live.
But, of course, it is not like that. The task before us is not like that. The task before us is to provide a framework in which the divisions, the bitterness and the headaches which cannot be wished away or regarded as non-existent can be channelled, can be lessened and can be brought back into a framework of politics rather than a framework of hatred.
I do not think anyone can proclaim that we are offering magic proposals in the Bill. Nor should it be claimed that the political and constitutional proposals are in some way a contained alternative to the situation obtaining in Northern Ireland. It can be claimed that these proposals will at least make possible the search for peace and stability in the Province and will help at least to establish a climate in which political debate can continue vigorously without receding once again into blind fear, hate and violence.
It is always possible to put the worst construction on measures such as those we are proposing in the Bill. It is always possible to show how, in logic, they cannot work and to show how no new structure is possible, and indeed that only what already exists is right and rational. The proposals in the Bill spring from a different mind than that which would produce those arguments. They flow from the firm belief that it is possible with good will and trust to establish a system of government which can accommodate the inevitable political battles—and those will go on—without itself being destroyed. In other words, the proposals here are for reasonable men seeking to live at peace and in conditions of prosperity. It is our belief that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland fall into this category. That is why we
|Division No. 143.]||AYES||[9.59 p.m.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Gray, Hamish||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)|
|Aliason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Green, Alan||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.|
|Astor, John||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Morrison, Charles|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Grylls, Michael||Murton, Oscar|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Gummer, J. Selwyn||Neave, Airey|
|Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Nott, John|
|Batsford, Brian||Hamilton, Michael, (Salisbury)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Hannam, John (Exeter)||Osborn, John|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Biffen, John||Haselhurst, Alan||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)|
|Blaker, Peter||Hastings, Stephen||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Havers, Sir Michael||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Hawkins, Paul||Peel, Sir John|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Hayhoe, Barney||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John|
|Bowden, Andrew||Heseltine, Michael||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Higgins, Terence L.||Pounder, Rafton|
|Bray, Ronald||Hiley, Joseph||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)||Holland, Philip||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Buck, Antony||Hordern, Peter||Raison, Timothy|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hornby, Richard||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Carlisle, Mark||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Relgate)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Howell, David (Guildford)||Reed, Laurence (Bolton, E.)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Channon, Paul||Hunt, John||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Iremonger, T. L.||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Royle, Anthony|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Jessel, Toby||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Cooke, Robert||Johnson Smith G. (E. Grinstead)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Coombs, Derek||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Cooper, A. E.||Jopling, Michael||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Costain, A. P.||Kershaw, Anthony||Shersby, Michael|
|Crouch, David||Kimball, Marcus||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Crowder, F. P.||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Spence, John|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid,Maj.-Gen. Jack||Kinsey, J. R.||Sproat, Iain|
|Dean, Paul||Knox, David||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Lamont, Norman||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Le Marchant, Spencer||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Sutcliffe, John|
|Elliot, Capt. Waller (Carshalton)||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Emery, Peter||Longden, Sir Gilbert||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Loveridge, John||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Farr, John||MacArthur, Ian||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||McCrindle, R. A.||Tebbit, Norman|
|Fidler, Michael||McLaren, Martin||Temple, John M.|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret|
|Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Maddan, Martin||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Madel, David||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)|
|Fortescue, Tim||Marten, Nell||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Foster, Sir John||Mather, Carol||Tilney, John|
|Fowler, Norman||Mawby, Ray||Tope, Graham|
|Fox, Marcus||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|Fry, Peter||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Trew, Peter|
|Gardner, Edward||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Miscampbell, Norman||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Mitchell,Lt.-Col. C.(Aberdeenshire, W)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan||Moate, Roger||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Money, Ernie||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Gorst, John||Monro, Hector||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Gower, Raymond||Montgomery, Fergus||Walters, Dennis|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||More, Jasper||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Warren, Kenneth||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Wells, John (Maidstone)||Woodnutt, Mark||Mr. Bernard Weatherill and|
|White, Roger (Gravesend)||Worsley, Marcus||Mr. Walter Clegg.|
|Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Wiggin, Jerry||Younger, Hn. George|
|Kilfedder, James||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Molyneaux, James||Soref, Harold||Mr. Stanley R McMaster and|
|Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Wellbeloved, James||Mr. John E. Maginnis.|
|Paisley, Rev. Ian|