Consultation, Agreements and Arrangements with Republic of Ireland

Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Constitution Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th June 1973.

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Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down 12:00 am, 20th June 1973

I beg to move Amendment No. 28, in page 9, leave out lines 5 to 18.

This is a somewhat comprehensive amendment. I do not necessarily stand on its wording. It is designed to draw attention to a point in the Clause which requires considerable explanation. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will explain it to us.

On the general question of relationships with the Republic of Ireland, the position of most Ulster people is well understood. We have always been willing to live on good terms with our neighbours in the South, provided that it is recognised by the Irish Republic that we are part of the United Kingdom, that our constitutional position is plain, and that the Irish Republic has no right to interfere in internal matters concerning the United Kingdom.

7.45 p.m.

It has always been the desire of successive Northern Ireland Governments that there should be co-operation across the border on matters of mutual interest. Equally, it has always been accepted that such co-operation should be as between one sovereign authority and another—in other words, that the co-operation should be between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, both being sovereign powers.

The practice has been that Ministers in Northern Ireland Governments have gone to the South of Ireland, have seen their opposite numbers, and have entered into various administrative arrangements. However, I understand that anything agreed between them which required legislation of any kind was a matter for the House of Commons.

It seems that Clause 12 now goes beyond that. It permits a Northern Ireland Executive authority to enter into agreements or arrangements with any authority of the Republic of Ireland". I agree that it does so only in relation to transferred matters, but transferred matters could be very wide. They could be all the matters that are already in Schedule 3. But the clause goes further than that. It allows a Northern Ireland authority to enter into agreements or arrangements, but provides that where legislation is required to give effect to those agreements or arrangements that legislation can be passed by the Assembly.

This is treating a portion of the United Kingdom as if it were not a part of the United Kingdom. It seems to be giving a subordinate legislative body power to enter into negotiations with a foreign power and to legislate in a treaty sense. That opens a dangerous door. I cannot see the House of Commons devolving power upon, say, Kent County Council to negotiate with the French Government about the Channel Tunnel, or something like that, and power to legislate on the matter.

I prefer relationships with the Irish Republic to be conducted on the basis of the two sovereign powers—the United Kingdom, on the one hand, and the Irish Republic, on the other. Subject to that, and as agents of the United Kingdom, Ministers in the Northern Ireland Government, Executive, or whatever it be, should have the right on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to consult their opposite numbers in the Irish Republic. All I am suggesting is that any resulting legislation ought to be passed in the House of Commons rather than transferred to Stormont. This is one area in which I would resist that degree of devolution.

Photo of Mr Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North

Is it not analogous to the power that the Stormont Parliament had to legislate on fisheries, electricity, power and such matters?

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

No, it is not. I recall that when we negotiated an arrangement about the River Foyle Fisheries in 1951, I think it was, we had to have a Bill in the House of Commons to give effect to it. It could not be done by a Bill at Stormont. I believe that that should be the pattern for the future. If we allow such a matter to become the subject of a Bill at Stormont we are conceding that Northern Ireland is not quite part of the United Kingdom. It would be giving the Assembly some kind of authority to negotiate with a foreign power. I do not like that. I prefer the position as it was before—the Stormont authority may enter into a discussion with its opposite number in the Republic and they may agree on what they should do about the Foyle Fisheries, but the Bill should come to the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I am following the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument with interest, but I find it contradicts what he said previously. For example, he talked about the loss of power of the Assembly and the fact that there are reserve powers, and so forth. Now there is a chance for the Executive to have powers. Bearing in mind that the Bill excludes specific items which can be discussed with the Republic, but states that others can be discussed with the Republic, is there not a contradiction?

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

I think not. I said that this was the one sphere in which we should not devolve power, because we are dealing here with a power devolved for operation not within Northern Ireland but with a foreign State. I do not believe that the House of Commons should devolve upon any subordinate legislature power to deal with a foreign State. That power should remain with Westminster. That is the defect that I see in the clause. I may be wrong in my reading and understanding of it, but that is as I see it. I prefer to retain the old practice.

I am in no sense suggesting that we should not talk to and negotiate with the Irish Republic. The River Foyle Fisheries agreement would not have come about without serious and meaningful negotiations. I am submitting that the power to ratify and to give legislative effect to such negotiations should not be devolved but should be retained in the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Chigwell

I am a little puzzled by the argument advanced by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). I may have got it completely wrong. I thought that Clause 12 was comparable with what went on in the time of the Stormont Parliament and Government in that it was then possible for agreements and arrangements to be made across the Border, subject to legislation.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

The legislation would have to be in the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Chigwell

I thought that arrangements were made across the Border—I speak subject to correction by my hon. Friends who have greater knowledge of this matter—and that the legislation was enacted at Stormont.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend, because I have had some advice. The example of the Foyle Fisheries is wrong. At that time Westminster legislated to give Stormont power to pass its own Act on the Foyle Fisheries, which Stormont then did.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Chigwell

I hope that the anxieties of my hon. and gallant Friend will be allayed, because I should not like anything to be said or done in this House that would set back practical co-operation between the North and the South.

I was very much struck by an interview which Fortnight had with the Minister for External Affairs of the Republic, Mr. Garret FitzGerald. It contains some material which my hon. and gallant Friend will find disturbing, even dangerous, but some parts of it are encouraging. For example, the Minister said: We accept that under the Treaty of 1921, which is part of the foundation and origin of this state"— that is the Irish Republic— that the six north-eastern counties have opted out and that we cannot expect them to come back into any all-Ireland framework except with their agreement. Earlier in the interview the Minister recognised the sensitivity of the North when he said: We recognise the sensitivities of the Northern majority to anything they see as a Trojan Horse involving the imposition on them gradually and in some hidden way of national unification, as we would call it. Any arrangement for a Council of Ireland or any arrangement for the joint sharing of responsibility where we have to do jobs constructively together must be so designed that it respects these sensitivities. People in Northern Ireland must be able to see not merely that they are not being pushed into something that is going gradually and outside their control to develop into a unification that they don't see themselves at this time as ever likely to wish or seek for. The syntax seems to be involved, but I am reading Fortnight.

It is interesting that those remarks were made by the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic. There are other parts of the interview that are somewhat disturbing, but I should not like anything to be said or done in this House that would make it difficult for co-operation to take place between the two parts of Ireland without prejudice to the national sovereignty of either part.

8.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

We welcome the clause. Perhaps it does not have the clothing that was envisaged in the White Paper for the development for the Council of Ireland, but I think that the experiment that will be entered into by the Republic and the new Executive can only augur good for the island as a whole.

People on the Executive who have strong views have nothing to fear from meeting members of the Republic and arguing in their corner in a way which represents the views of the people who elected them to the Assembly. Coming together in that way, bearing in mind the limited powers that they have for dealing with certain issues, may well lead to further developments on such matters as internal security, which can be of benefit to both communities.

If, for instance, the Assembly felt that the limited powers given to it were not sufficient to enable it to introduce legislation following any discussions or proposals worked out with the Republic, it could come back to this House of Commons and the matter could be discussed by the sovereign Parliament. That safeguard is always there.

We welcome the fact that a basis is being provided for discussions with the Republic. At the beginning these discussions must necessarily be on limited matters, but this can be extended. These discussions and the development of a Council of Ireland will lead to nothing but good from the point of view of internal arrangements. I do not think that there is anything to fear from this position. On the contrary, I think that it should be encouraged.

We all recognise that the border is the basic political issue. We recognise the powers that exist. The hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) reported Mr. Garrett FitzGerald as saying that nobody in the Republic envisages taking over the six counties without the agreement of the people in that area. Every body recognises that. There has been a good deal of realistic thinking both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.

Having discussed the matter with political leaders on both sides in both the North and the South, I realise that nobody expects an easy solution for the ultimate aim of many people, which is a united Ireland or the absence of resistance to such a proposal by people who will be represented in this Assembly. That is why it is important that those who represent large sections of the majority should be in this Assembly and play a part on the Executive. People whom they represent should know that their voice will be heard. I do not think that there is any need to walk cautiously through the tulips, as it were. The clause should be welcomed.

The fact that the Secretary of State has seen fit not to develop the matter but to say at the beginning of the clause in paragraph (a) that an executive authority may consult on any matter with any authority of the Republic of Ireland provides the chance for an open agenda, and I believe that having an open agenda is the way in which to start dealing with this matter.

Photo of Mr Rafton Pounder Mr Rafton Pounder , Belfast South

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), but I know that he would not expect me to agree with him. I am glad that the clothing chosen for the clause is not that outlined in the White Paper which went further and, in my view, was fairly unattractive.

Nor do I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) on this issue. If I shared my hon. and gallant Friend's fears, I should be with him 100 per cent., but I read the clause rather differently, and do so in terms of the cross-border co-operation which existed prior to the imposition of direct rule. There is clearly a common bond between the North and the South on such matters as tourism and animal health. I was associated with the audit of the Foyle Fisheries, and I was surprised to learn that the Act had to be passed by this House. There is also a common bond in the provision of electricity.

Another dimension which has not been raised, but which is important in the context of the clause as drafted, is the EEC implication. Northern Ireland hopes to benefit very considerably from the Community's regional policy and the funding of the Regional Development Fund. One feature which inevitably arises in any consideration of regional funds in the Community context is that they will almost certainly operate on either side of the border, in that the problems of County Londonderry will not necessarily be wildly different from those of County Donegal from the point of view of economic development.

It would make less than sense if, as my hon. and gallant Friend envisages, everything relating to cross-border co-operation came through this House. I am a convinced regionalist, and therefore I want as much power given to the Assembly now as is humanly possible, and a great deal more as time develops. Quite apart from the desirability of a Northern administration to deal with its counterpart in the South in matters of economic mutual interest, so also the situation must arise in a Community context and regional policy as it develops over the next three, five or ten years, or whatever period may be required.

I hope that I have read the clause correctly and that the intentions are entirely limited to economic cooperation. For both these reasons I cannot go along with my hon. and gallant Friend. I cannot stress too strongly my total opposition to and abhorrence of any concept of political discussions between the Northern Assembly and its Southern counterpart.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) is being pedantic about the difficulties which he finds in the part of the clause which his amendment proposes to deal with. I did not quite the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. understand the metaphor about tulips from Orme). If he meant that my hon. and gallant Friend was trampling unnecessarily upon a well-organised flowerbed, I am in disagreement with him.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I was alluding to a popular song entitled "Tiptoe through the tulips"

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

As usual, one finds oneself outclassed and out of date through not being in touch with popular song and literature—[Interruption.] It depends upon the date. I think the House will be prepared to take a little irony occasionally.

I find in this part of the clause the same ambivalence to which attention was drawn earlier in the Bill, and in the whole concept which underlies the White Paper. It is an ambivalence which is not merely a matter of logical and argumentative interest but one which, in the context of Northern Ireland, has great reality and which involves real dangers. This Bill substitutes for the old Stormont and the old Stormont constitution a deliberately different type of assembly—one which is deliberately in a different relationship with Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

This Assembly is undoubtedly one which is being made in all possible ways subordinate to the main legislature of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State plays, in relation to the new Assembly and Executive, a part which no United Kingdom Minister played in relation to the Stormont Government. The range of authority of the new Assembly and Executive will be in most ways, at any rate initially, more limited than that of the former Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland.

Whereas, with that Government and Parliament, the object of this House in setting them up was to give maximum independence and the maximum autonomy, the purpose behind the Bill, or at least behind parts of it, is to make it clear that it is not an autonomous assembly and Government which is being set up in Northern Ireland, but a provincial assembly and provincial executive, and one which remains closely and firmly anchored to the purpose and policy of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

To that extent and in that sense—if I may risk saying so—the Bill is an integrationist measure. It lessens the degree of separation and autonomy of the Province of Northern Ireland. We debated earlier today the disappearance of the Governor, which is understood by people in Northern Ireland to have that significance. It has the effect of bringing Northern Ireland and its six counties closer together with the administration of the rest of the United Kingdom.

With that character of what we are doing in the Bill, there is a contrast in the provision of this clause. We should not contemplate giving this kind of power to a provincial assembly in the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, this House rightly and jealously guards the right of Her Majesty's Government and of this Parliament to authorise and exercise surveillance over arrangements entered into with foreign Powers.

It was an interesting and helpful intervention by the Secretary of State when he pointed out that action of the previous Stormont Government and Parliament, on the lines indicated in paragraph (1)(b), had had to be, even under the former constitution, specifically authorised for the purpose by this Parliament. That brings out the contradiction between the general status of the new Assembly and Executive and this power, unlimited as regards transferred subjects, which we are to give to that Assembly and Executive at large.

I believe that this ambivalence is dangerous, because it expresses the intention to do two things at the same time, and two things which ultimately are irreconcilable. On the one hand, we are saying to the people of Northern Ireland, "Your Province is being bound more clearly, firmly and evidently than before to the rest of the United Kingdom. There- fore, your fears are to that extent groundless; your aspirations are to that extent fulfilled," and yet, at the same time, in the desire to span irreconcilable opposites, we are saying to the new Assembly and Executive, "You are entrusted with the power, and, by implication, invited to exercise the power, to enter into arrangements with the Republic of a sort which no subordinate body would be allowed to enter into with any other external power, arrangements which, in the White Paper, are candidly seen as leading in the direction of what those who take another view describe as reunification."

There is the same contradiction at the heart of these provisions as lies at the heart of the White Paper. This is the reason why, with some of my hon. Friends, I thought it right to vote against the principle of that White Paper. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise the real difficulty of the power in paragraph (b) and the real dangers that it imports.

After all, if consultations under paragraph (a) reach a point, on a subject or subjects, at which it is considered that there should be a formal agreement between the two countries—the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland—there cannot be the slightest objection to that matter being brought before this House and the normal authorisation obtained. But at this stage of this operation, I believe that we stand to lose more than we gain by including in the clause the lines that my hon. and gallant Friend proposes to delete.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , South Antrim

I seek some clarification of the very first line of the clause. How do we interpret the word "a" in "A Northern Ireland executive"? I go on from that to the word "authority". On page 2, where the Northern Ireland Executive is referred to, it stands alone without the word "authority" attached. Therefore, what is gained by referring to a Northern Ireland executive "authority"? What is the interpretation of the word "authority"? Will it be some kind of body that is set up for an entirely different reason? For instance, will it be some kind of transport authority? Could it be the Northern Ireland Housing Executive? Does the phrase include or authorise all such bodies?

8.15 p.m.

Paragraph (a) provides power to consult any authority in the Republic of Ireland. We notice that here again it is not a department of the Eire Government but just some kind of authority. I should like the term "any authority" defined, as well. Could this consultation take place with or without the consent of the appropriate department of the Government of the Repubic? Could it possibly take place—could arrangements be entered into—without the knowledge of that Government?

Does the reference to "executive authority" mean a department of the new administration or the head of a department, or will it just be some body? This is not clear. The phrase "may enter into agreements" also occurs. Again, does this imply the approval of the Assembly, or is it simply the sanction of the Executive?

I have always felt that the old Stormont was always at a disadvantage when engaged in these cross-border negotiations. I say that not for any political reason but simply because Stormont did not have the scope, and knew that it did not have the scope, to engage in international discussions. It therefore never developed the expertise and knowledge that was necessary to meet, cope with and negotiate with a sovereign Government.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) referred to Foyle Fisheries—a matter that was dealt with by the Secretary of State. If that kind of thing were to arise again, can we assume that this House would be asked to approve legislation, if it proved necessary?

The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) somehow linked this clause with the Council of Ireland. I have no doubt that he was correct, because this is probably one of the Bill's few indirect references to the council. The hon. Member may forgive me if I say that to this extent he has let a sizeable cat out of the bag. It is being said by some people in the Assembly election campaign that they do not object to a tripartite conference.

None of us would object to a tripartite conference between three Governments, but what was proposed in the White Paper—I do not know what is intended now—was clearly a conference to be called soon after the Assembly elections, consisting of the two sovereign Governments—Westminster and Dublin—plus, not a Northern Ireland Executive or Government but a collection of the leaders of political parties who might be elected to the Assembly. If, instead of the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster, a council were to evolve as the superior body, to which these negotiations were subject and by which they were scrutinised, our fears would be confirmed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) rather naïvely asserted that if there were to be any political overtones he would find himself at the parting of the ways. I am afraid that I am already there.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

The speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was very interesting, but I am not absolutely certain about what he was arguing. I always follow his speeches with the greatest interest because their logic is such that the House of Commons and the country, in a sense, hang on his words to find their ultimate end.

On this occasion, however, the right hon. Gentleman was not being very logical. He said that this was an integrationist measure and that it was tying Northern Ireland closer to the rest of Great Britain than it had ever previously been tied.

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to have been advocating for a long time that Northern Ireland ought to be integrated, essentially, into the rest of Great Britain. If that is so, the idea of having a semi-autonomous Assembly in Northern Ireland is beside the point. If we accepted the integrationist argument, there ought not to have been a Stormont or anything else following it, because it is logical that the place where decisions are made in an integrated Great Britain is the House of Commons. Taking this argument further, if we have a body such as the Assembly in Northern Ireland, we must equally argue for an Assembly in Scotland, Wales and other areas which have peculiar nationalist characteristics. The right hon. Gentleman has, to some extent, missed the point.

I would not go as far as the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and suggest that the cat was let out of the bag by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who thought that it was the first step towards a Council of Ireland, knowing the fears of the hon. Member that that is one tiny steps towards a united Ireland. No one has been advancing that argument, certainly not since I have been in the Chamber today.

Listening to the argument, it seems that by allowing the Assembly to have these powers in paragraphs (a) and (b) is not necessarily an integrationist measure, although to some extent one needs to have integrationist policies to get flexibility. That may seem to be a contradiction, but it is not. It is the logical situation at which we must arrive if Northern Ireland is to have better relations with the Republic.

I should have thought that this was a sensible provision. What are the problems? Whether or not one likes it—many people do not like it—the two areas of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland exist and are associated with each other. They have common problems. Whether those are in relation to the Common Market is irrelevant. They need to work together to solve their common problems, be they problems of electricity supply or of many other issues. They need to be discussed. Joint authorities may be needed.

I should not have thought that this was a question of the North becoming integrated with the South, or of the South being accepted into the North. It is common sense. What is the point of having consultation in paragraph (a) if it does not lead to an agreement under paragraph (b)? The one is dependent upon the other. I should have thought that this was a logical argument. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) shakes his head. All that he does by doing that is to reveal the problem that we have had in Northern Ireland for 50 years. Some people do not want to enter into discussions with the Republic of Eire.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be fair. I have never argued that one should not enter into arrangements to the mutual benefit of all, such as electricity supply arrangements, arrangements about common fisheries, and all such things that are to the benefit of the people. All that I am saying is that the arrangements affecting the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland could be negotiated at local level but must be entered into on the basis of sovereign powers.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying that the arrangements must be entered into here at West-minister, by us, with the Republic of Ireland—

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

—with the Assembly having very little power indeed, less power than Stormont had. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman arguing that it was incorrect for Stormont to enter into arrangements without the consent of the House of Commons at Westminster?

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

It could have been, yes.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

That is an interesting argument. I can remember, over the years, that my hon. Friends on the then Government side of the House of Commons wished to discuss Northern Ireland matters but were always told that they could not raise issues about Northern Ireland and that it was not possible to discuss such questions because they were matters for Stormont to discuss and to decide upon. Now, however, the hon. and gallant Gentleman is arguing somewhat differently, under different circumstances. We were not then talking about matters of foreign policy.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

This goes to the heart of the problem and shows that the hon. Member does not understand the argument. We are talking about relations with a foreign power. The Irish Republic chose to leave the United Kingdom and to become an independent republic. It is, therefore, a foreign power.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that in this part of the Bill there is no question of entering into joint foreign policy arrangements with the Republic of Ireland. We are talking about matters of general interest to both North and South. If we can consult on any matter with any authority of the Republic of Ireland, we can follow that up by a logical entering into arrangements or agreements with any authority of the Republic.

We have to have certain integrationist policies at present in order precisely to achieve a more flexible approach to the problems of Ireland as a whole. Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that the only hope for Ireland in the long run is that the North and the South should meet together and should enter into agreements on all sorts of issues, economic and otherwise, which are beneficial to both sides of the Border. Surely that is logical. I cannot see the logic of the arguments advanced by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Perhaps that is because they are so backward looking on this question and he cannot see the wood for the trees in relation to the present needs of Northern Ireland. I do not say that those arguments are bigoted, because the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not personally bigoted in that sense.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , South Antrim

The hon. Gentleman said that if one had certain economic interests in common with another nation, one could subordinate all political considerations and enter into an agreement, lumping the whole thing into one. Does he subscribe to the idea that Rhodesia and Zambia ought, perhaps, to reach that kind of agreement? Their economic problems are very similar, and one depends to a great extent on the other. Would it not make sense for them to drop all their political and ideological differences, and so on, and to link up far more closely?

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

If the hon. Member thinks that I came into this House last week he can think again.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Member seems to think that I did. I will not be drawn into a discussion about Rhodesia and Zambia. We are discussing a Bill designed to deal with the problems of Northern Ireland and its constitutional future. There are vast differences in the historical backgrounds of Rhodesia and Northern Ireland. The arguments which have been put forward even by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who made a powerful case, are not I submit, in the best interests of this country, the people of Northern Ireland or the people of the South.

8.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North

I want to touch briefly on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), with which I agree. I shall try to expand that point and explain how the new Northern Ireland 'Assembly, a provincial body with limited powers, would be psychologically at a substantial disadvantage in direct talks and contact with the Southern Government which is a sovereign power. The Assembly will also suffer from a lack of expertise which also comes from being a provincial Assembly. It is important that we in this Committee should understand that and that efforts should be made to help the self-confidence of the Assembly.

That means that it is essential that the full range of expertise to back up these facilities should be given to the new Executive and that it should have the full moral support of the Westminster Government with no feeling of being put under pressure. The new relationship between Northern Ireland and the South will develop only slowly. It will not come by press-ganging the people of Northern Ireland and it can come only if it is approached with self-confidence. That was the theme of my hon. Friend's speech, and he was absolutely right.

The Government are correct in not dealing with the whole development of this relationship until after the Assembly elections. I hope that any talks on a Council of Ireland will not be rushed unduly and will be left until the Executive is working in Northern Ireland. The Executive has a vital rôle to play. I emphasise that it is important to build up confidence. The new Government in the South are much more realistic than their predecessors. My hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) referred to the interview with Garret FitzGerald in which there was much good sense about our position inside the United Kingdom with a close working relationship on matters of specific interest to Northern Ireland.

I end with a prophecy. If the Bill works and if the Executive gets off the ground and the parties indulge in power sharing, I believe that the Republic of Ireland will recognise Northern Ireland, and that is vital if this relationship is to develop. Of course, the question arises as to what form of recognition, and there are some who have said that a de facto recognition would be a great step forward. I agree, but it would not be enough. If we are to approach this relationship with confidence it will be necessary for the Republic to amend its constitution in order to recognise Northern Ireland and on that basis of much greater confidence the new relationship could be established.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Inevitably in discussion on this amendment we have tended to get involved in the whole issue of the clause and it has been something of a debate on the Question, That the clause stand part of the Bill. In seeking to answer the points raised it is inevitable that I should approach it in that way. Perhaps I could begin by examining the parts of the clause on which there is agreement and clarify some of the procedural matters. It seems generally agreed that consultation is right and sensible. It would be surprising if that were not the case because consultation has continued for many years on a wide variety of matters. Therefore, it would be absurd if anyone were suddenly to say that consultation now is not a good idea because it was going on under the old Stormont Government, when there were consultations on matters of mutual concern. Indeed, it would be completely impossible if there were not consultation.

So one starts on the basis that that is generally accepted. It is true that not all but nearly all the Northern Ireland political parties favour some form of further co-operation with the South and that they would like to see co-operation in such fields as tourism, regional development, electricity and transport. That, again, is, I think, accepted. Virtually all the political parties have said so and have accepted that such cooperation could indeed be very beneficial.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) that it would be a terrible mistake for anyone, in the current feelings and emotions in Northern Ireland, to try to rush any of these developments. It would be a great mistake to try to run before one walked with the result that one never walked at all. It has to be remembered that such institutions did not walk in the 1920s, and it was not Belfast's fault that they did not walk at that time, but, I think I am correct in saying, Dublin's fault. One has to look at the history of this and face the fact that one must walk before one runs. I hope that everyone concerned will take account of that.

I move on to the amendment. Following agreement, there should be consultation, and my hon. Friend wishes to stop at consultation. I come to the different view which he took, supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder). I have had the benefit of some advice on this, needless to say, but I think the content of the Bill as a whole goes some way to answer my hon. Friend's point on exactly what happens under the transferred matters.

I disagree with one point of my hon. Friend and that is that I believe that once the matters have been transferred to the new Assembly it will have very considerable legislative powers on transferred matters. I regard that as important and I want to see it. I know that he does not. I fully agree that there is a difference between us, but I still believe that important devolved powers can be transferred.

Perhaps I could interpose here in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) that "executive authority" is defined in Clause 7(6) which sets out clearly the bodies which are involved.

The executive authority can enter into an agreement or an arrangement with any authority of the Republic of Ireland in respect of any transferred matters. Of course, some such agreements or arrangements might need legislative power. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was going so far as to say that even if they did not need legislative power in the Assembly the executive authorities should not be allowed to enter into any agreement or arrangement. If he was, he was going a very long way, because surely on matters transferred to them it would be a great disadvantage if the executive authorities were not able to make any arrangements or agreements at all even if these did not require any legislative backing in the Assembly. Probably he was not going as far as that. It is open to them, and they can do that.

On that question I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North that on one point I slightly disagree with him—about lack of expertise for any agreements or arrangements which might be made. I would put the Northern Ireland Department in a very high position in expertise on any of these matters. I would have great faith in its expertise in such arrangements or discussions—very great faith indeed. I have had experience of seeing what it has done. I would be very confident of its powers in any discussions or consultations there might be.

We come to the administrative position. Here I think I can answer my right hon. Friend's point. If any such agreement or arrangement required legislation in the Assembly—and it could only be in the Assembly if it were a transferred matter—under paragraph 7 of Schedule 3 the exercise of such legislative powers, if they were required to give effect to any agreement or arrangement made under section 12 of this Act ". would then become a minimum reserved matter. Therefore, it would require the consent required in such cases, and the last word in such matters would rest with the House. That goes a long way to answer my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South and his amendments.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

That is very interesting. Is my right hon. Friend saying that if any measure were required to be passed by the Assembly it would require authorisation in this House, either before or after? Would it be an Order in Council approving it, or what?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

It would then come under the category of the minimum reserved powers, with all the filters which were discussed before of consent by the Secretary of State, answerable to the House for legislation by the Assembly on reserved matters as opposed to trans- ferred matters. There would be all the safeguards that we have previously discussed and passed with regard to legislation by the Assembly on reserved matters. In fact, the Assembly can legislate on reserved matters only with the consent of the Secretary of State and with all the safeguards in this House. The whole point of paragraph 7 of Schedule 3 is that it moves legislation in connection with Clause 12 from the completely transferred field into the minimum reserved field.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

As soon as it requires legislation?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

If the agreement or arrangement requires legislation, my hon. and gallant Friend will find that that is so under paragraph 7 of Schedule 3.

On that basis, I argue, first, that it is reasonable that there should be consultation; and, secondly, that it is reasonable that on transferred matters the new Executive should be permitted, without coming to this House, to enter into agreements or arrangements, provided they do not require legislation. But if such agreements or arrangements require legislation it can legislate only with the consent of the Secretary of State answerable to this House.

I believe that that is a reasonable basis. In view of that condition and the answer I have given, I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

I had not appreciated what my right hon. Friend has just told us, that paragraph 7 of Schedule 3 gives that cover, as it were, to the House. It is possible, is it not, for the Secretary of State, at any time he wishes, to devolve that power upon the Assembly, as it is in Schedule 3 and not in Schedule 2?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Of course that is so, but, just as with the initial devolved order, any further devolved orders will have to come to this House.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

I fully appreciate that.

We have made the substantive case that we wanted to make about the treatment between sovereign Powers and so on. In view of my right hon. Friend's assurance, and subject to our having a chance to consider the matter again, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.