This afternoon I intend to set out in detail the results of recent political developments and discussions. It is, however, important to see these in the correct perspective of the general situation in Northern Ireland. Serious acts of violence continue. Nor are these confined to any one group of terrorists or criminals. Our primary task, therefore, must be to eradicate violence from the community and, of course, the reasons behind the violence.
The eradication of violence is a major task for our security forces, police and Army. Their achievements in the pursuit of terrorists and criminals and in the detection of crime are impressive. But no one should be under any illusions. Still more has to be done. In this work our security forces deserve all the support that can he given to them. Certainly their bearing and morale are beyond praise. But, just as it is true that political actions on their own cannot cure violence, so it is equally certain that we owe it to our security forces to provide the best foundations for their work. That was the purpose of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, passed with the overwhelming support of this House, which provides the basis of what I have to say.
Now that the first stage of consultations leading to the establishment of devolved government in Northern Ireland have been brought to a conclusion it is right that I should report to the House the nature of the agreements which have so far been reached. The House should be the first to know the full nature of these agreements, and I am grateful to the Northern Ireland parties concerned for refraining from comment until I had the opportunity this afternoon to disclose the details of those agreements.
Over the past seven weeks I have had a series of intensive discussions in Northern Ireland with the Alliance Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Unionist Party. The Northern Ireland Labour Party, while supporting the principles of the Constitution Act, agreed that I should confine my substantive discussion to the three parties. All the other parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly had previously made it known to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to me in discussion that they were not prepared to participate in an Executive.
The three parties with which I have been in discussion were, however, prepared to operate the Northern Ireland Constitution Act and had indicated their willingness to search for a basis upon which an Executive might be formed within the provisions of that Act. I am grateful to the House for its forbearance in accepting that it was essential that these talks should be conducted on the basis of confidentiality. I would also like to pay tribute to the spirit in which the party leaders and the delegations held to their initial agreement that confidentiality should be maintained.
It is now my duty to give the House an account of the talks and their conclusion. Throughout I have had three objectives in mind. The first is that any agreement reached must be within the terms of the Constitution Act, and the parties agreed from the outset that talks should be on this basis. The Act requires me in due course to bring before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council devolving powers to the Executive and Assembly.
To do so two requirements must be fulfilled. First, the Northern Ireland Assembly must have made satisfactory provision by its Standing Orders in accordance with Section 25 of the Act which lays down certain essentials about procedure. The first statutory requirement has been met in that the Standing Orders of the Northern Ireland Assembly have now been passed. I am satisfied that they conform with the requirement of Section 2(1)(a) of the Constitution Act. Some of the Standing Orders were the subjects of debate and disagreement. I am only required in considering the Standing Orders to satisfy myself that they contain the provisions specified in the Act.
There is, secondly, the requirement
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.
Clearly, there must be a large measure of agreement between the parties on major policy issues. Those parties, having made known their position, must declare their willingness to work together and to bring about the practical arrangements necessary for that purpose. An aim of my talks, therefore, was to use my best endeavours to bring about the maximum possible measure of agreement between the parties.
Third, and most important, Her Majesty's Government have to keep in mind their continuing responsibilities to this House, if the devolution order is to be made, for those matters in Northern Ireland which continue for the time being to be reserved to Westminster. One of our purposes in dividing responsibility for government and administration in Northern Ireland between the Assembly and the Executive, on the one hand, and this Parliament and Her Majesty's Government, on the other, was to reduce as far as possible the number of contentious issues which might make it difficult for the parties in Northern Ireland to reach agreement.
I am glad to say that we have made a good start in achieving this object. All three parties have reached agreement on a statement of aims and policies in the social and economic sphere. This achievement should not be underrated, because there are big differences of approach and philosophy on some of these matters between the parties in Northern Ireland just as there are between the parties in this House. These differences have been resolved by good sense, a spirit of compromise and a willingness to put the welfare and prosperity of all the people of Northern Ireland in the forefront.
Her Majesty's Government have taken note of these economic and social aims, and, while our position must be reserved as to the financial or other support which we shall be prepared to give any particular element of the programme, it is the firm intention of Her Majesty's Government to afford significant assistance to Northern Ireland in its economic and social rehabilitation. It was this willingness to reach agreement that created a situation at the beginning of this week in which it was possible for the parties to consider both with me and among themselves the possibility of agreeing to form an Executive.
It has always been understood among the parties that it would be in no one's interest to form an Executive unless there was agreement on all the issues under discussion. The major matter outstanding is the Council of Ireland, which involves the Government of the Republic of Ireland. We hope soon that the parties which have signified their willingness to serve in the Northern Ireland Executive will meet representatives of Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland to discuss how a Council of Ireland might be set up. I will say more about this later.
The intention is that this preliminary conference will lead to the formal appointment of a Northern Ireland Executive and, subject to the approval of Parliament, to the devolution of full powers to that Executive and to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The composition and nature of such an Executive has now been agreed. I reminded the House earlier of the nature of the support which the Act makes a pre-requisite to the formation of that Executive. Under a later section of the Act it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to appoint persons to hold office under the new structure. Under Section 8 of the Act the Secretary of State is restricted to 12 such appointments, not all of which have to be within the Executive. When we came to these discussions we found this provision somewhat restrictive. There is no intention on my part or on the part of the parties concerned to increase the size of the Executive. On the contrary, it is proposed that the Executive should be confined, both now and for the future, to 11 persons. If this is so, there needs to be some flexibility in making additional appointments outside the Executive.
The agreement which has been reached will, if the House agrees, since further legislation would be required, involve an Executive of 11 and an Administration of 15. The Executive will comprise six members of the Ulster Unionist Party, four members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and one member of the Alliance Party. Mr. Brian Faulkner, Ulster Unionist, will be the chief executive designate, and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), Social Democratic and Labour Party, will be the deputy chief executive officer designate. Mr. Oliver Napier, Alliance Party, will be the legal member and in charge of the Office of Law Reform. In regard to this appointment, I should make it clear that his duties will in no way conflict with the position of my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General, as the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland.
The further allocation in the Executive is as follows: head of the Department of Finance, Ulster Unionist; head of the Department of Commerce, Social Democratic and Labour Party; head of the Department of Health and Social Services, Social Democratic and Labour Party; head of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning, Social Democratic and Labour Party; head of the Department of Environment, Ulster Unionist; head of the Department of Education, Ulster Unionist; head of the Department of Agriculture, Ulster Unionist; and head of the Department of Information Services, Ulster Unionist. The four appointments outside the Executive will be the Chief Whip, Ulster Unionist; the Office of Manpower Services, Alliance Party; the Office of Community Relations, Social Democratic and Labour Party; and the Office of Executive Planning and Co-ordination, Social Democratic and Labour Party. This allocation was agreed between the parties, and the leaders of the parties will nominate those whom they propose will be appointed to these posts. There will, in addition, be a Deputy Chief Whip outside the administration, who will be an Assembly member of the Alliance Party.
Next I come to the Council of Ireland. In the White Paper which the Government published in March this year, we said that the United Kingdom favoured, and was prepared to facilitate, the formation of such a body.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope I made it clear that this proposal, which would reduce the Executive from 12 to 11 and would provide four other posts outside the Executive, would mean an amendment of Section 8 of the Constitution Act and, therefore, fresh legislation in this House.
Next I come to the Council of Ireland. In the White Paper which the Government published in March this year, we said that the United Kingdom favoured, rind was prepared to facilitate, the formation of such a body. We also pointed out that, if the Council of Ireland was to be more than a mere statutory concept and become a useful working mechanism in North-South relations, it must operate with the consent of both majority and minority opinion in Northern Ireland who have a right to prior consultation and involvement in the process of determining its form, functions and procedure. Because agreement in Northern Ireland itself is a necessary precondition to a successful Council of Ireland, Her Majesty's Government have up to now refrained from expressing a view on the form a Council might take. But, in the light of discussions which I have had, it seems to me now to be helpful to say what propositions about a Council of Ireland we would be prepared to agree to and support in discussions with the Government of the Republic which must shortly be undertaken.
It has become clear in my talks that there is a general wish that a Council of Ireland should be confined to representatives of the North and the South of Ireland—that is to say, that there should be no representatives of the United Kingdom Government on the Council. This is acceptable to Her Majesty's Government as regards devolved subjects, although arrangements will be necessary to safeguard Her Majesty's Government's interests in the areas of finance and other reserved subjects.
As to structure, Her Majesty's Government think that the Council should consist not only of representatives of the Government of the Republic and of the Northern Ireland Executive—that is, at governmental level—but also, on a separate advisory and consultative basis, of representatives from the parties from the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We also think that the Council should have its own secretariat.
In order that decisions of the Council should carry the greatest possible degree of support among the people of the North and the South, we think that its decisions at governmental level should be taken on a basis of unanimity.
In additon to those functions operating in the area of subjects which will be devolved to an Executive, we think that the Council should be able to play a useful rôle in relation to certain subjects reserved for the time being to the United Kingdom Government. If this were to happen, Her Majesty's Government would, of course, need to be represented on the Council, at least when these subjects were under discussion. What our rôle should be and how United Kingdom interests should be represented is a matter which needs to be agreed, but there is scope here which can bring great advantage to both North and South, particularly in the vital area of security.
There has been introduced in the talks the imaginative and important concept of a common law enforcement area, and we think that there should be discussions on this and on the question of extradition procedures and what rôle the Council might play in the law and order field. It will be a clear advantage to all sides if advances can be made in the law and order field which will bring to bear all the resources of the North and the South to deal with the problem of terrorism, and if imaginative arrangements can be made both of a judicial and an organisational kind. Now I must turn to what is being called a tripartite conference
That is a very important matter, which must be one of the subjects to be discussed at the talks when they take place.
Now I must turn to what is being called a tripartite conference. If we are to make the advances on a Council of Ireland to which I have referred, it is essential that there should now be urgent discussions between representatives of the Government of Ireland and those persons who will be members of the Northern Ireland Executive. This conference will be held as soon as possible, and will, I hope, reach a clear understanding. I also intend to invite the leaders of those parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly who have indicated that they are not prepared to participate in an Executive to discuss with me their views on a Council of Ireland, so that these will be known at the time of the conference. It will be necessary, thereafter, to hold a formal conference between Her Majesty's Government, the Government of the Republic and the Northern Ireland Executive, which will have been appointed by then.
My talks with the parties also covered other matters which are of interest to the people of Northern Ireland. So far as policing is concerned, Her Majesty's Government have made it clear that the Royal Ulster Constabulary will continue to provide the police service for Northern Ireland. The Government have also stated that their aim is to achieve the ending of politically motivated violence from whatever source, to ensure that there is effective policing throughout Northern Ireland so that the Army can be progressively withdrawn from its present rôle, and to bring about a situation in which public support for the police and identification with it are essential parts of effective policing. No single set of proposals is likely to achieve these aims overnight. Time will be necessary. The full co-operation of the Government of the Republic is essential in this task.
Another of these matters which we discussed was detention. In the summer of this year, Parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, which, as the House will remember, was based on the recommendations of the committee under Lord Diplock, which also had as members Professor Sir Rupert Cross, Mr. George Woodcock and Sir Kenneth Younger. These provisions are subject to annual review. It is under the provisions of that Act that people are detained in Northern Ireland by independent commissions. I have during the talks reaffirmed Her Majesty's Government's firm view, that they will bring detention for all sections of the community to an end as soon as the security situation permits, as part of their wish to bring about a lasting peace.
With the very real political progress of recent weeks and the desire of the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland for peace, we hope that the men of violence will be increasingly isolated and rejected and that the security situation will improve. The Emergency Provisions Act vests in the Secretary of State executive power to release detainees and I wish to see not only progress in the security situation but also, in parallel with it, a progressive reduction in the numbers detained. As an earnest of this, I hope to be able to bring into use my statutory powers of selective release. If the security situation permits, I intend to do so in time for a number to be released before Christmas. Those released may be required to give a suitable undertaking about their future conduct, but. I emphasise that executive decisions on releases must depend on the security situation. Continued progress will, therefore, clearly depend on further improvement in the security situation generally.
In the meantime, procedures for review provided by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 have already led to some releases. The reviews by the commissioners will continue. I should also stress that everything possible is being done to bring persons suspected of terrorist offences before the courts rather than have them detained under the Emergency Provisions Act. I can assure the House of the enormous amount of progress made in this respect.
I have also undertaken to consider compassionate cases on a wider basis than hitherto, and other preparatory measures are in hand, including the recruitment of more social workers to help with the administration of these arrangements and the introduction of various training schemes.
I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will feel that a start has been made in implementing the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, to which they gave such generous support. If, indeed, progress has been made, much of the credit must go to the wholehearted encouragement which Her Majesty's Government have received from all parts of this House and Parliament.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who said in his book that all-party co-operation in this House was vital to any successful solution to the desperately difficult problems of Northern Ireland. In particular, I should like to thank the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) and the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) for the understanding and the very proper and constructive criticism they have given to me on many occasions. However, we must be clear that this is not a time for self-congratulation in this House. We have set out upon a very difficult operation. There are those in this House and outside who are convinced and determined that we should fail. They are, clearly, entitled to pursue their aims by constitutional means. But let there be no illusions in this House or anywhere else, they are not entitled to blur that line between constitutional action and force.
We have made a good start, I believe. I applaud the statesmanship of those who, despite their differences of the past, are now turning to work together for the future good of the whole community. There are many people in Northern Ireland, in the rest of the United Kingdom and, indeed, throughout the world who will wish them success.
A summary of those debates, even in the context of the tragic statements of bombings and killings which seemed to punctuate the whole of the year—from what the Secretary of State said today and from what I was able to check before coming into the House I calculate that 905 people have been killed since the emergency began—is that a majority of this House supported the political approach, the elections by proportional representation, the power sharing and the acceptance of the Irish dimension along with the United Kingdom dimension.
The elections have been held, and that was a turning point; the power-sharing discussions seem to have gone on and on; the Secretary of State has now announced agreement between the three parties, the official Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance on power sharing. The parties concerned, given the very strong feeling in Northern Ireland which enmeshed the communities deserve the praise of this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) deserves congratulation as do Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Napier.
Above all, to the Secretary of State who played a vital part in these negotiations, I offer on behalf of the Opposition our unreserved congratulations. The fact that he has reported last night's events to the House this afternoon is an indication of his feeling for the House, and I wish that other Ministers would do the same. It is something to have the Press listening to what is said in the House rather than Members of Parliament finding out what the Press has learnt before them.
The Secretary of State shows an understanding of the Irish situation. He showed a realistic flexibility in all the negotiations he undertook. I observe that he is most fortunate not to be the Secretary of State for Employment in a Westminster Government, trammelled by the rigid rules of phase 3 trade union negotiations. I repeat the congratulations from this side of the House, and in so doing take up a point that he made when he expressed words of praise for this House for its handling of this problem, words of praise which are all the more worth while in view of the knocking of politics which is heard sometimes. This was an example of how a major and difficult problem should be sensibly discussed. He has said that the breakthrough is only the beginning and that it must not be allowed to develop into a false door.
It is to the current situation and the future steps that I must now turn. First, I deal with the Executive. What will be the timing of the order—I am not asking for a precise date—under Section 2(1)(b), since there will have to be an amendment to the Act? Do I take it that the amendment will have to be made before the order is made permitting the Executive to begin work officially? In that respect does it mean that the Executive, even though it has been formed, will not have to sit around waiting for the order and that at least to some degree, without being too formal, it can begin thinking about its work as a body? It would be silly, bearing in mind the power this House will have, if it has to sit around unable to even consider the problems.
There have been a number of statements from the talks, and the right hon. Gentleman referred today to the very real change in the agreement between the three parties with their different philosophies on social and economic affairs. I presume that we can await, and we would be right to await, what in effect will be the Queen's Speech to the Assembly in this respect. But what about the other Executive agreements on matters which are for this House? A statement was issued the other day by the Press office of the Northern Ireland Department. It contains three, if not four, things about which we should know more. In it the Secretary of State said.
In particular, the White Paper provided that a Northern Ireland Executive would act as an Advisory Committee to the Secretary of State on all reserved matters; and that there should be democratic participation in restoring to all parts of Northern Ireland the full benefits of a normal police service.
What does this mean? How will it be done?
The Secretary of State continued in the statement:
As the Prime Minister has already made clear, the RUC will continue to provide the police service for Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman repeated that today. The statement continued:
Much has already been done to reorganise it. More is needed to expand the RUC and its Reserves in order to provide that policing becomes effective throughout Northern Ireland … The Government will welcome any constructive suggestions to these ends, and a group under the Minister of State, Mr. van Straubenzee, is now at work.
What is the status of the group? Is it a departmental committee or a Civil Service committee under the chairmanship of a Minister? We ought to know more about these matters.
The statement went on:
The Government intends to reconstitute the Police Authority to introduce into it a number of elected representatives from the Assembly.
What is happening on that matter? What proportion of the various groups in the Assembly will be on the police authority? Will it only be those who are on the Executive or will it comprise a wider grouping of members?
The statement continued:
District Liaison Committees with elected representatives will be set up. …
What is happening about that?
The statement went on to say, in regard to the Council of Ireland concept:
The Government is in favour of such discussions"—
discussions at a tripartite conference—
including the concept of a common law enforcement area and the question of extradition processes.
—which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned today—
A study has been put in hand of these questions.
What does that mean? Is it a study by civil servants in Stormont Castle or a study carried out in co-operation with the Government of the South? This Press statement on law and order is very important. Law and order is very much under the control of this House, and we ought to know more about what is going on.
I do not agree in that wide sense. The statement on law and order is a matter for the House, and we ought to know more about it. However, social and economic matters, for example, are questions for the Assembly, even though I and other hon. Members are extremely interested in them, and in my view would be appropriate for inclusion in the equivalent of a Queen's Speech.
Before turning to the question of the Irish dimension, which was the other major aspect in the right hon. Gentleman's statement, I wish to mention briefly internment. The Opposition have always made clear that society must act against the gunman, that this action must be taken through the process of law. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about this today and made a number of points which we shall wish to study.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a political break-through. It may be a major step, but it also may be that it will be a long time before we get that final settlement in Northern Ireland which we all desire. However, it is extremely important that at this time we do not forget a matter which strikes me every time I visit Long Kesh. Over 1,000 people, about a hundred of them juveniles, are imprisoned there. Some have been sentenced under the due processes of law, and not for terrorism, but a large number are held there under the Detention of Terrorists Order.
Each time I visit Northern Ireland and see the bombing and killing I realise what the situation is about, but we must not forget that it is not a long-term solution to the problem of Northern Ireland to keep a large number of men locked up in this way in Long Kesh, outside the due process of law. It is easier said than done. I am not suggesting an easy solution, but in the present euphoria it is something we must not forget.
There is no Bill of Rights, but various parts of a Charter of Human Rights are set out in the White Paper. I hope that very soon we shall know what the Government will do about the agency to investigate discrimination in employment and patterns of employment. As we move along on the approach of the White Paper, with its broken-up Charter of Human Rights, it is important to know more about that. I believe that the Minister of State is heavily involved in the setting up of that agency, or, at least, was involved in the initial work with the trade unions and employers.
As regards the Irish dimension, we can start with paragraph 112 of the White Paper, with its three parts about effective consultation and the provision of a firm basis for community action. There is there a point which many people in Northern Ireland ignore, and which is often ignored in this House, when it speaks of discussion on
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".
We can start with that and end with the elaboration in more detail that the Secretary of State gave today in what he said about the discussions with the parties in Northern Ireland.
What legislation shall we in the House have to be ready for if there is movement on the All-Ireland Council, the Irish dimension? The magazine Fortnight, which discusses the problems of Northern Ireland, recently suggested that Section 2 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was still operative. It talked about 40 members for this, 40 for the other and so on. I made inquiries in the appropriate place and was told that that section had been repealed in 1925. Yet a magazine whose articles are always worth reading, whether one agrees or disagrees, argued that a piece of legislation amended 48 years ago was still the law of the land. If such errors can be made, it is important to get the matter right.
Is legislation necessary in forming the Council of Ireland? Would it come from London, Dublin and Northern Ireland or from London and Dublin? I am sure that I am telling the Government Front Bench what they already know, but it is important to get it on the record for the rest of us who will consider the necessary legislation. I understand that the formation of such a council will not require legislation at Westminster, that, although international relations, including treaties, are excepted matters under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, Section 12 of that Act empowers the Northern Ireland Executive to consult on any matter within the authority of the Republic of Ireland and enter into agreements or arrangements with any authority of the Republic in respect of any transferred matter. Therefore, it is up to the Assembly.
However, if a Council of Ireland is to assume powers in respect of reserved or excepted matters, legislation at Westminster will be necessary, and if it is in respect of transferred matters, legislation by the Assembly will be necessary.
If in the months ahead an all-Ireland institution is agreed by all those concerned, it seems as though the setting up of the Council—not what it does, but the actual institution—does not require legislation in this House. I am surprised at that. I can see that it would affect the Government in the South, and that they would require their legislation. Until I obtained the information, I had thought that we should be ready to have legislation of that kind, but I am advised not. I hope that the Government will put us right on the matter. It seems rather strange that, while we shall be consulted on the powers, we shall not have to say "Yea" or "Nay" or be consulted on the structure.
What is the purpose of the first conference? Is it to help consideration? I hope that this part of the agreement which deals with the Irish dimension will be published as a White Paper. It would be only a short one. In the past couple of years those of us who have been involved in discussions with people interested in the matter in both parts of the United Kingdom and in the South of Ireland have found that there is no starting point for discussion. The right hon. Gentleman has made a statement, which we can consider carefully, but on the issues which will be discussed at the one or two conferences I wish that the agreement with the political parties were available in some form.
There are many possibilities resulting from the information I obtained about the legislation that is required. One thing that seems to be sure is that, if it is simply a matter of powers which are in the control of the Assembly, the North and the South can talk together, but if there are matters reserved to this House the situation is different. It is important to have this information, even if a White Paper is inappropriate.
One of the reasons why the right hon. Gentleman managed as well as he did in the past 18 months to get people talking—at Darlington, for example—was the Green Paper, an excellent document which contained everything that one needs when trying to put one's mind to what can be done next. The White Paper before the Act was a development of that Green Paper. I hope that there is a way to make readily available the ideas which will now be the subject of discussion in the newspapers and so on about the possibility of a Council of Ireland, or whatever it will be called.
Of course, the Council must have teeth. Of course, it must be intergovernmental. It is important to bring in all the political parties in the North and the South, and not into the governmental side. We should perhaps consider means akin to the Council of Europe, where Members of this House and other assemblies meet. It would be extremely valuable for many elected representatives in the South and the North to meet their opposite numbers. They would be surprised at the differences of opinion. Sometimes it is put to me that some people in the South regard those differences of opinion as a figment of the imagination of people on this side of the water. It would be admirable if, for example, the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) could inflict—no, put—his views to some of those in the South who believe that parties over here, and not the hon. Gentleman, are a stumbling block to unification.
In view of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, I am sure he will agree with me that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should meet the unpledged Unionist members of the Assembly who were backed by 50 per cent. of the delegates attending the recent meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, to have discussions on the matter.
I do not know about meeting them all. I would not inflict everything on the hon. Gentleman. He might consider meeting the leaders. It would be an excellent idea for the elected representatives in the North to meet the elected representatives of the South. I am not suggesting that they should meet so as to get something done. That might mean that nothing would ever be done.
The concerns of the Assembly must be security, which I have mentioned, and extradition, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. Also to be considered is regional policy. To try to dampen down any euphoria there might be about economic policy, it might be important for all of us to have more information on the economic differences between North and South. It is so easy glibly to say that there should be more economic co-operation between the North and the South.
In "Towards a New Ireland" Mr. Garret Fitzgerald says:
In all the North obtains about seven per cent. of its imports from the Republic, to which it ships four per cent. of its exports.
I believe that Mr. Fitzgerald's book is now two years old, so those are probably 1968 or 1969 figures. He then says:
As for the Republic, four per cent. of its imports come from the North and the North takes about 12 per cent. of its exports.
Mr. Fitzgerald raises another matter which is worth our consideration when we talk about economic co-operation between the North and the South. In pages 75 and 76 he says:
It is clear in any event that the agricultural and industrial economies of the Republic and Northern Ireland despite their rather different structures are competitive rather than complementary.
Even though they have developed rather differently than they might have done had Ireland not been divided about 50 years ago, it does not seem probable that the re-unification of the country would have any very significant economic effect as a result of opening up new possibilities of internal trade.
When we talk about economic co-operation between the North and the South we must consider production. On the little investigation which I have made it seems that the small shipbuilding industry in the South would be severely knocked if the vast yards in Belfast unleashed in only a small way their production on the South. That is a small point. As Mr. Fitzgerald says, there is competition between North and South. I want co-operation, not just for economic reasons but because of regional development.
The events of yesterday are a step forward but they are only a beginning. Let us not ignore the fears of those who are not involved in the talks. Perhaps that is better said by the Opposition than by the Government. I realise how little ice we cut with the Protestant working class of the North. That applies to Liberals or anyone else. It is my view that the unfolding of the package over some months will reassure the Protestant working class that it is not to be sold down that mythical river. It needs no pledges and no Act of Parliament to tell Labour hon. Members that a united Ireland is not in our gift either directly or by sleight of hand.
The facts of life are that the people of the North are their own people and it is the people of the South and not us who will have to deal with them. We are, on the other hand, firmly against complete integration. It is important that a majority
of the people in the North should recognise that. It is not an option that we have in the wings if all else fails. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, after his brief flirtation with the idea, said:
I have never sought, nor do I now seek, to advocate the integration of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom. I do not believe that that would be a solution to the troubles which have troubled Northern Ireland these last five years and longer.
In the end the right hon. Gentleman recognised the force of the objections which were present in the Green Paper. The Government are against complete integration.
I am following the hon. Gentleman with interest. Does he agree that Northern Ireland is grossly under-represented in this Chamber? Does he not agree that in future, so as to get things harmonised, the number of representatives from Northern Ireland should be increased according to the Kilbrandon Report?
I hope that the Province will have a successful Executive which will be different from other parts of the United Kingdom. I do not agree with extra representation, for exactly the same reason as I am against complete integration. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus) is present. Whether the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) or I or anybody else likes it, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone represents by his election the views of certain people in the Province. That is one of the facts of life that have led us to the present problem.
Will my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) reconsider some of his remarks about the Protestant working class? If the Labour Party cannot speak meaningfully to either the Protestant or the Catholic working class of Northern Ireland or any other country, the ideals which I believe the Labour Party stands for and has stood for are not significant in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) is absolutely right. The matter which he mentioned is a matter which I recognise. That is why I was saying that the Protestant working class believes that the British Labour Party would sell it down the river. I am saying that the Labour Party would not. That was the point behind my remarks. To the unofficial and unpledged Unionists I would say that power sharing is not an attempt to force a coalition Government against our parliamentary traditions but an attempt to repair the ravages of a split society.
I hope that the "loyalist" opposition in Northern Ireland will now increasingly play its part in the new Assembly. There is so much to do, for example, in the areas of housing, trade and health. Perhaps it is hopeless to appeal to those in Northern Ireland who live by violence and the rule of the gun, but to them I say that it is the view of the majority of the British people that they will not drive, if that is the way they put it, any British Government out of Northern Ireland by the gun. They are wasting their time. All that is happening is death and destruction involving decent people on both sides, whether they be Proestant or Catholic. On behalf of the Labour Party I say "Give up the killing and the bombing. Use the Act which has just gone through the House of Commons, which is an attempt to bring Protestants and Catholics together."
Last night there was a breakthrough and the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are now in an Executive, with many problems in front of it, but in that there is hope. The Secretary of State's announcement is a significant step forward. It is the hope of the Labour Party that it will lead forward to further developments.
I welcome the statement which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made to the House. I congratulate Mr. Brian Faulkner and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) on coming to a conclusion and forming an Executive in Northern Ireland in spite of considerable obstacles.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have always thought that in any debate the speakers who are selected should represent not necessarily opposite sides of the House but opposite sides of the matter which is being debated. I regret that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has not been called.
I was saying that I welcome the statement which my right hon. Friend has made, and I offer congratulations to him and to all the members of the Unionist Party who have worked to achieve this settlement in Northern Ireland. I believe that the arrangements which have been elaborated by my right hon. Friend provide a workable basis for the establishment of the new Executive in Northern Ireland.
The Unionists have an overall majority. It appears that, although there are now to be 11 rather than 12 places on the Executive, the principle of collective responsibility will apply. As I understand that, majority decisions will be taken by the Executive and, therefore, the Unionists will be in a position to influence the Executive in a way which reflects the strength of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, shown in the plebiscite and in the election of the Assembly earlier this year. In the election of the Assembly, the Unionist vote represented some 68 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland.
I should like an explanation of the powers of the wider Executive. If I counted correctly while this complex statement was being made, there will be some 16 members on the wider Executive. How will these additional members be involved in the decisions of the inner cabinet, as it were, of the Executive? What exactly are the functions of the additional members? How will they affect the balance in the Executive?
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Belfast, West is not in the House at the moment, because I would like him to comment on the intentions of the Social Democratic and Labour Party about the rent and rates strike. I believe that this is a serious obstacle to further progress in Northern Ireland. It is disgraceful that it should have continued for so long. The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) has spoken against it, and I hope that it can soon be brought to an end.
I turn now to discussion of the security situation in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Leeds, South referred to control over the Royal Ulster Constabulary. This is an important point. With the present arrangements, control over the RUC appears to be left ultimately to this House, but I feel that in the end it will have to be controlled by the Executive in Northern Ireland. Only the members of the Executive will be able fully to understand the security situation in Northern Ireland, representing as they will do the wide spectrum of opinion, both Protestant and Catholic. Surely control of the RUC could be vested in the new Executive.
I ask my right hon. Friend also to consider whether the powers of the Ulster Defence Regiment could be widened. Recruiting for the RUC has been very disappointing since the Hunt Committee reforms. If security is to be restored in the unsettled state of affairs in Northern Ireland, the police and the reserve police need to be backed up by a militia in Northern Ireland, and I would see the UDR forming the basis of such a militia.
I speak particularly in view of the degree of preparedness of the IRA which was claimed, and so stated earlier this week in the Press. One is very apprehensive in Northern Ireland in view of the statements made by the IRA about the arming and training of members of the Provisional IRA—training with most modern weapons and even, it is claimed, in the use of aircraft. We saw how the Provisional IRA was able to "spring" several of its men from close confinement in Dublin by using a helicopter.
One must not underestimate the threat of the IRA. We have seen in recent months an increasing number of raids across the border into Northern Ireland. One RUC station near the border has been completely destroyed. It is only by using not only the police but the UDR in the additional rôle I envisage that proper control can be maintained over the border in conjunction with the security forces in the South of Ireland.
The police have suffered bitter casualties as a result of the IRA campaign. They have had 41 police officers killed, and the Army and the UDR 237 killed since the troubles began in August 1969. This makes the total of security force deaths 278 in the past four years. On top of that, 627 civilians have been killed. In total, 905 people have been killed and some 10,000 or more seriously injured as a result of the incidents in Northern Ireland. There have, I believe, been more than 3,600 bomb incidents.
I regret the activities of extremists on the Protestant side in recent weeks and months, particularly the campaign of assassination. But one must remember that the 278 dead of the security forces have been claimed by the IRA as being the result of IRA activities. I firmly believe that, of the total casualties, between 90 and 95 per cent. were the result of the activities of the IRA. That is where the main threat lies, and I am very concerned about the prospect for the coming months. We know that the Ulster Volunteer Force has declared a truce, but the Provisional IRA has not.
I am most apprehensive and would like an assurance from the Government that the tightest and most stringent security measures will be taken in the coming months. I am apprehensive that the IRA will use its utmost force to try to overthrow the Executive and the new Assembly.
In turning briefly to the question of a Council of Ireland, I ask what representations have been made to the Government of the South of Ireland. I have here a copy of the Constitution of the South of Ireland. The very second article is repugnant, not only in Northern Ireland but, I hope, throughout the United Kingdom. It provides that:
The national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands and territorial seas.
I would hope that before any Council of Ireland is set up the Republican Constitution will be amended, that the South of Ireland will abandon its claim to represent the entire island of Ireland, and that it will recognise, not only de facto but also de jure, the existence of Northern Ireland and the right of its people to self-determination.
I welcome the setting up of a Council of Ireland, but its powers should be strictly defined. I would not like to see such a body backed up by some civil service of its own, with powers it could extend at its own wish. If that is the Government's intention, I warn them that it is a formula for disaster.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the fears of many people in Northern Ireland, on both sides of the political fence. I speak now about the Protestant side. There is a great fear of being sold down the river. Unless there is some strict definition of the powers of the Council of Ireland, fuel could be added to the fire, fuel which, in the hands of evilly disposed men, could be used to extend the violence in Northern Ireland.
I conclude by once again congratulating my right hon. Friend and the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland on their foresight in being able to establish this Executive. Each side has made sacrifices in order to get it off the ground.
I shall not detain the House for long because many hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies are rightly anxious to contribute to the debate. Like the previous speakers, I begin by congratulating the Secretary of State. What he has achieved is quite remarkable. In very large degree it is due to his own personal character and persistence. It is a very pleasant thing from time to time to be in the position of saying that about someone of another political party. As the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said, the degree of unanimity which has been demonstrated across party lines in the House has been one of the pleasing aspects of this long, terrible story with which we have had to wrestle.
As a Liberal, I am naturally particularly pleased to see ideas with which the Liberal Party has been associated being introduced; for example, the question of proportional representation, power sharing, the development of some protection of individual rights and the holding of security here in this House. I should like to refer briefly to Sheelagh Murnaghan, the former Liberal representative at Stormont. I think that the Secretary of State would acknowledge that in her way she has done a great deal to promote the very ideas for which the Secretary of State has worked so hard.
I associate myself with what the Secretary of State about the Army and the security forces. They have behaved quite splendidly in tremendously hard and hazardous conditions.
It has already been said that the establishment of the Executive last night by the three parties could not have occurred without considerable concessions on all sides. Putting the matter very simply and bluntly, it must have required very considerable statesmanship and personal restraint for the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) to agree to serve under Mr. Faulkner, considering all that has occurred in the past. That level of willingness to co-operate must be recognised.
It is a revolutionary concept of power sharing. It is a great pity that the revolution should begin in a way which was not envisaged. It was not envisaged that the Executive, in a power-sharing situation, should have to operate against an opposition, even if it was an unofficial opposition. The concept was that all elements in the Northern Ireland political situation would be embodied in the Executive, and that thereafter it would be a question of the Executive operating in a personal relationship, as it were, with each member of the Assembly rather than with coherent groups in this way.
I very much regret the attitude adopted by Vanguard and certain elements of the Ulster Unionist Party. In the end this will not be constructive. I have quoted the example of the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who is doing something that he would not, perhaps, have chosen to do. But the refusal to participate, the boycotting of the Assembly last Monday, for example, when it was intended to debate unemployment in Northern Ireland—
The Assembly does not meet on Mondays. It meets only on Wednesdays. I cannot answer for all my colleagues, but I came over here to take part in a Division and to attend a meeting yesterday. In fact, I have tabled an amendment in the Northern Ireland Assembly and I intend to take part in the debate next week on unemployment. Mr. John Taylor had to be in London yesterday. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is in America. It is unfair of the hon. Gentleman to say that there is an organised boycott. I cannot answer for many people, but there were reasons for the absence of a number of people.
I apologise for mixing up the days. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there was no organised boycott, I am glad to hear it. But certainly the hon. Gentleman will agree that it has been said in the Press very distinctly that there was such a boycott. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there was not, that is a welcome statement.
I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say so.
A new concept of this sort will take a long time to percolate down to the level at which ordinary people feel that this kind of experiment is working. It would be a great mistake to expect of it too much too quickly. It is a very revolutionary change in the way that we are doing things, certainly within the United Kingdom context and must be seen as such.
The Secretary of State was rightly cautious in what he said about the Council of Ireland. Nevertheless, what he did say was very hopeful. He did not refer to the Council of Ireland within, as it were, the European dimension, but that is an increasing factor with contact between the North and the South. I find with interest that this contact is often occurring in places such as Strasbourg. It does not do any harm to the inflow of ideas. In the end, the European dimension can only be of assistance.
Power sharing is one thing, but the solution to the deep scars in the Northern Ireland community will not be achieved unless there is, beyond that, a sharing of wealth and opportunity. I shall welcome the time when we can have debates on Northern Ireland without talking about politics or political solutions but talking about economics, jobs, housing and so on, to a greater extent than we have done in these last years. For me, as a Liberal, this must be one of the basic reasons for the deep persistence of division. I doubt whether the unemployment rate in Londonderry, for example, has dipped much below 12 per cent. at any time since the war. At times it has climbed much higher. It is the same sort of pattern in the north-west of Northern Ireland. This must not be allowed to continue in the future.
Those are matters for tomorrow. Today we must welcome the realism and the strength which has made the establishment of this Executive possible. Again I congratulate the Secretary of State on his courage and persistence in creating the conditions whereby it was established.
The spokesmen for the Labour Party and the Liberal Party have been generous in the praise which they have rightly accorded the Secretary of State. When it comes to a speech from my side of the House I must say "Me, too, only more so."
I regard it as an astonishing feat, and I know that hon. Members will agree with me. While I fully respect the reserve and caution with which my right hon. Friend concluded his speech, he is entitled to a moment of triumph. During recent months there were moments when we would have put long odds against the settlement. We do not like to think how long those odds were at times. However sceptical anybody wishes to be, it has been a triumph against the odds.
One owes a tribute also to those principals taking part in the negotiations. Anybody who knows anything about the Northern Ireland scene may best appreciate the sort of pressures which must have been on those principally concerned—indeed, the risks which were involved for them. One of the principals is a Member of this House, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I should certainly like to pay my tribute to him for his part. I know well the circumstances of the hon. Member's life in Northern Ireland. I sometimes ask myself whether in his place I would have had the courage to play the rôle that he has been prepared to play in recent weeks. When I ask myself that I do not get a clear or convincing answer.
This is a dimension with which we are mercifully unfamiliar here. We may take our time in negotiations, but at least we can do so in reasonable safety. We ought to acknowledge that. Those who sit in judgment of people who appear to drag their feet on negotiations like this should acknowledge that the circumstances in which these events occur in Northern Ireland are very different from what we know here. Nor will those risks be diminished by the settlement. Indeed, it may be otherwise.
The Secretary of State concluded by saying that it was an unhappy fact that there were substantial minorities on both sides who did not want a settlement and who have done all they could to prevent it—by perfectly constitutional means—and who will, still by constitutional means, do all in their power to destroy the settlement which has been achieved.
It would be agreeable to suppose that this development might lead to a cessation of violence. I do not take that for granted. Temporarily, it could have quite the opposite effect. In a sense, those who may have held their hand, hoping against hope that no settlement would be reached, did so in order to see what might happen, and they may now be inclined to enter their own kind of claim. Moreover, the pressures to which both sides have been heavily subjected during the negotiations are likely to increase rather than diminish as the Executive moves into action with the power to act and, we hope, increasingly to take over the reins from the Secretary of State.
One event in the past week—the meeting of the Unionist Council—has illustrated the pressures on one of the participants. It has illustrated also that at least half the party that he represents regards the solution being pursued as unconvincing. The next make-or-break point may well come over the tripartite talks and the Council of All Ireland. I sense that that will be a most difficult region. I think the talks will occur soon. I hope they will be taken at a reasonable pace. Speed may be all-important, but I understand that when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his celebrated visit to Dublin one of the points he was at pains to persuade the Prime Minister of the Republic to accept was that the Council of Northern Ireland must await the formation of the Executive in Belfast and that to hasten matters unduly could lead ultimately to failure and disaster. Having got this far, I hope that we shall not now be persuaded to go faster with the All-Ireland Council than the mood of the North is prepared to accept. If we do, this will be the first point at which the arrangement comes under pressure and risk.
Our best chance of success in avoiding a breakdown will depend on the awareness by the forces involved—I mean the rank and file of the parties engaged—of what the alternatives are to this course of action. The will to make a difficult settlement work can be fatally eroded if it is generally or too widely supposed that we have in waiting some preferable, workable alternative, a safety net, another solution, if this proposal fails.
There are many in the Unionist Party—I judge nearly half the party, if we are to take this week's vote seriously—who regard power sharing as second best and seriously prefer some alternative course. I know that that view is shared by some of my hon. Friends, and I respect their view. They genuinely believe that a better solution, and one which, if we were put to it, we should have to accept, is integration. I can only express a personal view, but I should like to do it now since it can affect thinking about the future. It is that those who believe that are living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
Integration is simply not a viable alternative. The first reason is that it would not be accepted by the House of Commons, either in its present shape or in any conceivable shape that it could get itself into. That is a formidable obstacle to such a move. It would certainly end the bipartisan arrangements that we enjoy with hon. Members opposite. [An HON. MEMBER: "That would be no loss."] An hon. Friend of mine says that that would be no loss, but I disagree. But it would also end the era of co-operation with the Irish Republic and the security problems, of which the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) spoke, would then be greatly exacerbated. We should have given notice to the Republic and to its many friends all over the world that, far from seeking closer association between North and South, the two would draw further apart. The campaign to get the British Army out of Northern Ireland would then be translated into a campaign here, probably, to stop integration and to sever relations with the North. Finally, we should be moving in the reverse direction to that in which, I surmise—it is a difficult surmise to make—the Kilbrandon Commission has suggested we should be moving with regard to devolution.
For all these reasons, it is my positive view that those who talk of integration if things now go wrong are talking of a chimera. It simply would not happen. Yet there are many now campaigning against power sharing who believe that that is the likely alternative.
Of course, conversely, there are those who think that if there were now a breakdown we should simply hasten the unity of Ireland. In the light of the result of the border poll, which some of us attended, I would say that that is totally impossible also. If we tried to force that road too quickly, few of us with experience of the North would doubt that it would lead to civil war.
Then there are those who think that the alternative might be an independent Ulster. There are one or two hon. Members here who nurse that belief. The blunt fact is that by no conceivable means can Ulster become either economically or militarily independent. I would be the first to pay tribute to the way in which Ulster has sustained its industrial effort and productivity through four appalling years—it has been magnificent—but no one can be under any illusions about the extent to which we have underwritten this effort and the amount of money which has gone, and which I hope will continue to go, into the North, nor the degree to which we shall have to continue to sustain the security services with our manpower for a considerable time. So that cat will not jump.
So, after all these alternatives, what we are left with in the event of a breakdown is nothing better than a continuation of direct rule in some form. That is what we should be forced to if this arrangement broke down even at this stage. Such a continuation would not be under the benign auspices of my right hon. Friend—at least, for his sake, I hope that it would not. I know that there are some in Northern Ireland who, if they have not begun to see the attractions of direct rule, have at least found that the character and personality of my right hon. Friend have made it much less obnoxious than it might have been if conducted by someone else. I doubt whether he will be there to preside over its continuation.
If that is faced realistically, I cannot believe that it is the wish of the majority in Northern Ireland to lose this first and historic opportunity, however fragile, to get a working representative Government—because this is what it is all about. This is the first chance—we can go right back before 1922—of a representative Government for the North. Either they build on the foundations so patiently and painfully laid by my right hon. Friend or they face a future too bleak to contemplate.
There is a feeling abroad among the general public that Secretaries of State. Front Benchers and leading back benchers are staid and sober statesmen who are not easily swayed by emotion. These people would have been surprised to witness the extent of the euphoria which has obtained here today and has been carefully orchestrated so far in the debate—perhaps deliberately so.
It is, therefore, perhaps churlish of me to strike a discordant note, but I must say "Stop a minute and save your breath before the cheering breaks out; you will need it to cheer the next set of proposals which will inevitably come before the House when the present ones, as I believe, break down."
There has been a breakthrough, I suppose. The Secretary of State's statement was greeted as such. It is a propaganda breakthrough which has been carefully worked at and orchestrated up to this point. For the past several weeks the people, especially in Northern Ireland, have been fed a daily diet of talks, crunch issues, cliff-hangers, projections and numbers games now, finally, by some sort of wizardry, the thing is all fitted together and we have a breakthrough.
To garble the words of a former well-known Member of this House, never in recent history has so much been said by so many about so little. The whole thing has been organised, it appears, as a fanfare for the departure of the Secretary of State to another appointment. If he gets the one we think he is in line for, I hope that the miners will be much tougher negotiators than the people who met him in Stormont Castle.
I want to deal with these proposals from a minority point of view. If the principal party representing the minority point of view had achieved anything in these negotiations, I am ready to believe that it would have carried with it most of those on the minority side. But it achieved nothing substantial. In fact, it surrendered all along the line for what, again using a quotation, one might call a mess of pottage.
Let us consider what it gave and what it got. One could set up a table. It accepted the Constitution Act, thereby defining for itself a Unionist position because the Constitution Act lays down that there will be no change for at least 10 years. Therefore, for 10 years at least the SDLP will be Unionist. After 10 years it may become something else but only time will tell.
The SDLP members have accepted the RUC and have supported that as demanded by Mr. Faulkner. The House should be aware by now that there is something wrong with the RUC. It has been an accepted fact in Northern Ireland for years that the RUC is unacceptable in its present form as a police force. Indeed, the SDLP campaigned in the election on that issue and won votes on it.
The SDLP withdrew support from the rate and rent strike. It withdrew—and this was the most shameful act of all—all meaningful opposition to internment and detention without trial. In return for that the SDLP—and this received massive publicity over many weeks—received a share of the less important Executive jobs. One of those jobs involves a debt collection agency for those on rent and rate strike. I refer to the Minister of Health and Social Security, who, in effect, will be a debt collector in relation to the people who voted him into office. That will be an interesting exercise.
I ask the Minister when he replies to tell the House about the changes which have taken place in the administration of the Civil Service over the last few months. Will he tell the House whether a new section is being set up to deal with management and personnel and to group most appointments within the Finance Department so that, in effect, many—and certainly most of the major—appointments from now on will be made from that central body in the Ministry of Finance? Even on the portfolios given to the SDLP it appears to me—and I hope I shall be contradicted by the Minister in his reply—that the vital job of appointing senior civil servants will no longer be within its power. Many promises have been given about releases.
The hon. Gentleman is on an interesting and valid point. Has he any comment to make about the control of finance itself? As we know, in this House each Department must look to the Treasury—in other words, to the Ministry of Finance—for its money. No Department can put through a scheme without Treasury approval. Will he comment on that aspect of the matter?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that to my attention. I thought I said that the Ministry of Finance is the vital Ministry. It was part of the bargain that that would have to stay in Unionist hands—in other words, the system of appointing people still remains in the same hands. Therefore, the vicious circle of discrimination perpetuating itself cannot be broken for at least 20 or 25 years.
To return to the promises, I was saying that promises have been received about releases of internees hedged about in the same language as used on the day when internment was introduced have been told, "If and when security allows, people will be released"—but not until then. That was the position over two-and-a-half years ago, and it is still the position today.
The SDLP was also given promises about Army behaviour. It was given promises about a Council of Ireland. I waited with interest to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about that matter. He confirmed my worst fears. That idea from its inception has not been a matter of organic growth, because all decisions had to be unanimous. It is a crazy situation. If the Unionists or anyone else do not like what is going on, they will merely have to say "We do not agree with you" and out goes the Council of Ireland. The Council as at present conceived appears to be totally meaningless. I say with many of my colleagues: what powers and what sharing, indeed!
The package, wrapped up in glowing promises might find favour with certain people in the Catholic middle-class minority. These are the people who have never felt the lash of a biased judiciary, incessant harassment, internment and brutality in the last four years. Nor in the last 50 years have they had to endure the scourge of economic deprivation and systematic discrimination. This section of the Catholic community, who have been foremost among those who have propelled the SDLP towards acceptance of this Bill, is now examining the package with interest to see where lies the prospect of enhancement and profit.
At the same time as Milton would have said
The hungry sheep look up and are not fed".
it must be said that in the proposals there is not even a crumb of comfort for the downtrodden working class—certainly on the minority side. I can speak only for working-class people on the minority side, but I think it can also be said that there are not many crumbs of comfort for the working-class on any side in the North of Ireland.
The SDLP from this moment on cannot, and will not, escape the logic of the situation which it now faces. Its members have become part of a Unionist administration defined by Act of Parliament. They have officially joined a military and political machine which was specifically designed to crush the aspirations of the people who voted them into their present positions. For how long, we ask, will people in the minority excuse boots on their neck because some of them happen to belong to the Catholics? I believe that they will not do so for very long.
The proposals will probably function, but most assuredly I believe they will not work in the sense of making a contribution to peace and stability in the North of Ireland. I find it hard ever to agree with Mr. Craig, who spends most of his time hate-mongering in a sectarian fashion, but he may be right when he described these proposals as a recipe for further violence. I wish it were not so, but I fear that he is possibly right. The proposals are so full of basic contradictions that they bear within themselves the seeds of their own destruction.
The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about one matter which I, too, wish to take up. Will the Minister in his reply make some definitive statement whether the Executive will operate on a basis of collective responsibility? For example, if the Minister of Commerce—an SDLP man—introduces a measure that is repugnant to Loyalists, as was the resolution to abolish the Mace and the Speaker's Chair, will the Loyalists vote en bloc as they did to restore the Mace and the Speaker's Chair and the old-established practices of Stormont? If they then defeat a measure introduced by a member of the SDLP, will that be taken as a vote of no confidence in the Executive and will the Executive resign? If it resigns, by what device is the Executive to be put together again, and on what basis can the SDLP or the official Unionists go to the country to seek an election back to the Executive?
This is a central point in the whole affair. There are a whole range of subjects which may be contentious. If a proposals is put forward by one side or the other and, following a vote of no confidence, the whole thing collapses, it seems to me that under the Act there is no method whereby it can be put back together again. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some guidance on that.
Finally, I remind hon. Members that the Constitution Act lays down that there must be widespread support in the community at large for the power-sharing Executive. It is clear that there is not widespread support for it. On the Unionist side, Mr. Faulkner got through on the narrowest of possible majorities, 12. I know that the Conservative Prime Minister got the United Kingdom into the Common Market on an equally slender majority, but we hope that we are more democratic in Northern Ireland. No one will suggest that a majority of 12 can be interpreted as widespread support for any proposition.
On the minority side, it is true that the SDLP got 19 of its members elected the Assembly and that no other minority representative was elected. On the face of it, it looks as if the SLDP speaks with one voice for the entire minority. But that is far from the case. The SDLP got a mandate on the strength of certain election promises, all of which have now gone out of the window. It is clear from the result today in a local government by-election, where a Republic Club candidate beat an SDLP candidate in a crunch election in Derry, that the tide is beginning to flow fiercely against the SDLP for the action that the party is now taking.
My hon. Friend should be accurate when he refers to this as an election defeat. Was not the seat already held by a Republican Club member? It was not a defeat for the SDLP.
The defence of the SDLP by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) is extremely touching, but it is not accurate. The SDLP forced out the sitting member on a technicality, alleging that he did not qualify for his seat. The chief electoral officer recommended that he be allowed to retain his seat, but the SDLP saw an opening whereby it could snaffle all the seats, and it forced a by-election. However, the people of South Derry have given the SDLP their answer. I take that as a pointer that the tide is now flowing swiftly in the opposite direction.
I put it to the Secretary of State: there is a debate here, so why not put it to the test? The British system depends very much on elections. Apparently the Secretary of State can ordain an election at the stroke of a pen. I ask him to take up his pen and ordain another General Election in the North of Ireland on this issue to ask the people what they think about it. I am willing to bet that certainly those on the minority side would reject it. The minority population are not interested in sharing a modicum of power ordained by a British Minister. They are interested only in real power sharing with Irishmen in the conduct of their own affairs.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State very modestly denied himself any self-congratulation on what has just occurred. However, I agree that it would be churlish to deny that my right hon. Friend has shown great diplomatic skill and has had considerable success in timing the production of this achievement on the eve of today's debate. It is a remarkable feat. I am certain that my right hon. Friend will move on to the higher spheres that he is expected to attain with all our good wishes and our hope that he will use his considerable talents in whatever new appointment comes his way.
In the near future, following a fair gap since last July, it is clear that we have quite a number of debates to come. We shall have to debate the Council of Ireland proposition. We shall have to debate the new legislation concerned with the setting up of the administration. We shall have the Order in Council itself, which will give us the opportunity to express our views upon the package when the package is seen as a whole.
As my right hon. Friend and others know, I have been opposed throughout to the Constitution Act. I am opposed to the philosophy underlying Section 2 of that Act. Therefore, I cannot be expected to welcome what has occurred. I intend to reserve my main comments for when we see the package as a whole and we come to the substantive debates. At this stage, however, it is as well for this House of Commons to understand exactly what is taking place. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus) put his finger upon the real issues involved.
What we have done by the operation of this section and what the various negotiations have resulted in is the creation of a new political party by statute. It is significant that among the new appointments which are to be made there are to be a Chief Whip and other Whips. That is characteristic of a political party. Let us not be afraid to face the issue. If these proposals go forward, if the further hurdles which exist are overcome and if my right hon. Friend is able to bring forward his Order in Council saying that he considers that Section 2 has been met and the Executive is actually formed, a new political party has been formed in Ulster, the Unionist, Social Democratic and Labour Alliance.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. I shall be coming to elections in a moment.
Let us be clear that we are creating a new political party. After the new political party has been elected we shall try to say that we will not have an election to test whether that new party has the consent of the people. As the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone pointed out, it is plain that it will not have the support of at least a substantial portion of the minority community. That has always been understood. But what is more important is that it will not have the support of the majority of the majority community. That is plain from the figures of the electorate.
Section 2 lays down specifically that the Secretary of State has to consider not only the position of the various political parties and their strengths in the Assembly but the electorates upon which they are based. There is no doubt that if one applies that criterion the majority of the majority community are opposed to the formation of this new political party.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) asks me the question which I imagine will bewilder almost everyone. Presumably the new Executive will rest upon the votes of the people who, in a sense, join the new political party. They will consist of those Unionists who go with Mr. Faulkner together with those members of the SDLP who go with Mr. Fitt and one or two others. That will become the alliance. That will become the new political party. It is that group which the new Chief Whip and his deputy will supervise. If that is not the position, it is difficult to understand what will be the function of the new Chief Whip, and it will be very interesting to know what it is proposed to pay him. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North has asked a very sensible question.
Let us be plain. It is necessary to understand clearly what is happening. We are setting up a new political party by statute which does not command majority support among the electorate. I will not comment any further than to say that in my view that is not a recipe for peace, order and stability.
I welcome and emphasise what has been said by hon. Members on both sides about deeply deploring any suggestion that what is being done should be resisted by violence. It should not. I condemn in advance anyone who might seek to do so. However, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford that attempts will be made to bring about a violent reaction to what is taking place.
While these negotiations have been going on, and since Third Reading of the Constitution Act, there has been an air in the Press and everywhere else that things are getting better in Ulster. I have the figures of what has happened since we last discussed Northern Ireland in this House and I will put them on record.
There has been a total of 65 dead: one member of the RUC, two members of the RUC Reserves, nine soldiers, four members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and 49 civilians. There have been 379 explosions in which 253 people have been injured. So far this month there have been 97 explosions in which six people have died and the overall number of deaths is 20.
That is the background against which we are considering these proposals. It was thought, perhaps, on the passing of the Constitution Act, that things might get better. They have not got better.
I fear that there will be a recrudescence of violence on both sides of the political fence. I profoundly hope that I am wrong. I should be delighted to be proved wrong. But I sincerely believe that this is what we are about to face.
I cannot see that proceeding with something that is not, in a sense, government by consent will mitigate the situation. I have the gravest doubts about what is being done.
Does my hon. and gallant Friend agree that of the 900 killed 614 have been killed in the last 20 months while we have had direct rule for Northern Ireland; that is, since March 1972, when Stormont was suspended? Clearly, direct rule does not reduce the numbers killed; it only increases them. The numbers killed were much smaller when there was some parliamentary body working in Northern Ireland.
I completely fail to understand the relevance of my hon. Friend's interruption. I was talking about the background to the figures and what has happened since we passed the Constitution Act in this House. My hon. Friend may be right about what has happended since direct rule. I pray God that we never go back to direct rule. I should not wish to see that again.
There are alternatives. People have said to me "This is the only scheme that can work. The enforcing of a new political party not commanding majority support upon the community is the only solution. There is no alternative." It is a pathetic argument.
There must be alternatives. One simple alternative that commends itself to me—I realise it does not meet the wishes of other hon. Members—is to accept for Northern Ireland what Kilbrandon put forward and recommended as the right solution for Scotland. Kilbrandon recommended that we should have 17 Members in this House. I think we should have more. But that at least would be a contribution. We could then operate the Constitution Act if we wished. It requires very little modification to retain the Assembly provided that the people of Northern Ireland are properly represented, but at present it is neither one thing nor the other.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that any alternative for Northern Ireland must be acceptable to the people not only of Northern Ireland but of Great Britain? Does he agree that if this proposal breaks down and a further proposition has to be put forward, the British as well as the Northern Irish people must be consulted?
We have had this argument many times, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. I should accept the decisions of this House provided that every part of the kingdom is fairly represented here. I think that the decision of the people of Northern Ireland ought to be accepted. We are now proposing to set up an Executive Government based on a new political party, an enforced coalition, which does not have the wholehearted consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), in a very searching speech, put forward several points, some of which I had intended to raise. However, the hon. Gentleman omitted to ask about the cost of adding to the Executive the proposed new positions? What will be the precise relationship between these new Ministers, as it were, and the rest of the Executive? Will it be the kind of relationship that exists between the Cabinet and Ministers who are not in the Cabinet? Are they to be the same common ministerial responsibility? I think we are entitled to know what the position is likely to be.
There is almost bound to be a recrudescence or acceleration of violence. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will deal with this matter in more detail. Are the Government making any special preparations in advance? What is their thinking on this matter?
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone spoke of the number of people in detention. I am told that at the moment there are about 2,343 people in prisons of various kinds in Ulster. Some are awaiting trial. It is a huge number of people in a very small community. I know that my right hon. Friend and others are concerned about the position, but it looks, if the situation deteriorates, as though we shall have a serious problem. The Minister should tell us what he has in mind for the prisoners and the state of the prison service.
I am sorry to strike what may appear to be a note of gloom. I agree with the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone that euphoria in politics can be dangerous at times. It can mislead people into thinking that something is getting better. It can be a good thing if things really are getting better and some proposition is sensibly founded. But this proposition is not firmly founded in popular support. For that reason, euphoria about it carries a deadly danger.
Judging by the tone of the debate and its development, it would appear that the statesmanlike Members of the House, the "moderates", the "responsibles", the "respectables", have as usual, gone before, and, if I may include myself so as not to be called to order, the rabble have followed after.
I want to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus) in adding my note but not of gloom or despondency. I do not feel that the Executive will work but I am not gloomy about it because I do not feel that it should work. I do not feel that it should be allowed to work, and I do not feel it should even be allowed to attempt to work.
This is because it has been set up in such haste, because it has been set up in such a manner of compromise. The only positive reason that seems to emerge for its setting up is that it enables the Secretary of State to depart with the flags waving and the trumpets blaring. At any time during his period of office, if he guarantees to go, I will blow the trumpets and wave the flags. I do not see any need to set up this elaborate farce simply to allow him to move with honour from a very difficult position to what looks like being an even more difficult position.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)—whom I was once pleased to call an hon. Friend of mine—is not present. The basis of my criticism is not directed essentially against the British Government. I do not expect the British imperialist Government to behave like anything other than the British imperialist Government. But I certainly have a right to expect, as do the people who voted for the SDLP in the last election, to expect them to behave in the manner in which they pledged themselves to behave before the election.
We were told, while these crunch issues were incessantly coming up in the pages of the local newspapers, that there were three main, vital, principal issues at stake for the SDLP. I remember when there were many more. They were whittled down, everything given away, until three last vital issues remained. They were internment, the police and the Council of Ireland. The simple reason why those three issues existed as a bone of contention was that they were the last remaining links between the SDLP and its support in the Catholic working class. The SDLP from the outset claimed it had neither social nor economic disagreement with the Unionist Party. I have never in political history heard of a Social Democratic Party that had no social or economic differences with the Tory Party. That leaves both parties, in the wider political spectrum, in exactly the same position.
If the Executive works, consider the prospect of just one man, Mr. Paddy Devlin, a member of the SDLP, who is likely to become Minister of Health and Social Services. Will that one and the same Paddy Devlin who stood with me on the streets of Northern Ireland and exorted people not to pay their rent, rates, electricity bills or television licences—and I admit responsibility for it because I still do it—turn around to these people for whom he is responsible and out of their unemployment benefit, without their consent, out of their earnings-related supplement, without their consent, and out of their exceptional needs grant, their family allowances, their maternity benefits and allowance, without their consent take the arrears owed to the State by working-class families? Does the Minister believe that Paddy Devlin will retain one ounce of credibility in his own community when he plays debt collector to the British Government?
I come to the three main issues. Again I remember the hon. Member for Belfast, West and his cohorts of brothers in exile standing on the platform with me and other Members of Parliament and those who are now members of the Assembly. We pledged that there would be no move towards a final solution of the problem of Northern Ireland until the question of internment was solved. Now we have an Executive-designate. Now we have the hon. Member for Belfast, West—the flip-side of Mr. Faulkner—standing before us, and we have nothing on internment but a vague promise that if things get better the men will get out.
I ask the House to consider what the reaction will be in the prisons, where there are 2,000 men and women, and in the internment camps, particularly among the Catholic community, when they discover on their televisions tonight that the SDLP has agreed to set in motion the final solution in Northern Ireland and that there has not been one step taken on their behalf. Small wonder if they wreck the prisons and internment camps when they hear that.
What of the Council of Ireland? I remember Mr. John Hume, on his many personality appearances on television, telling us not only that it was to be a united Ireland or nothing, but, much more recently and more soberly, that we were to have a Council of Ireland with teeth. It is a weird Council of Ireland which not only has no teeth but has neither flesh nor bones. It requires only one member of the Unionist Party to register his disagreement over an issue to defeat this, and undoubtedly the Unionist Party will do this because it is not as stupid as the SDLP, I have discovered. Therefore, the Council of Ireland means nothing.
The SDLP has got nothing on internment, nothing on the Council of Ireland and nothing on the police, except that one or two of its members will be able to play chief dog and order a few policemen around their area. That brings us back to the question of where the SDLP always stood in the struggle against British imperialism. If we trace the party and its personalities back to the beginning, I am reminded of one quotation that will be familiar to people who will not consider it to be a mark of statesmanship to turn Quisling. There will be those who remember the quotation:
Far better the grave and the prison alone by one patriot name
Than the glory of men who have risen on Liberty's ruin to fame.
Let the SDLP have its Executive, its positions, its Ministry of Health and Social Services. It has made one significant thing clear. As and from now it is part of British imperialism's plan for Ireland. As and from now it is part of the British establishment. As and from now it is the enemy of the Irish people.
The House has listened to an attack on the SDLP from the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey). It was a bitter, uncompromising attack which I think will bring home to Members in this House the sort of problems and pressures which have been faced by all the parties taking part in the discussions. I do not intend to enter into controversy with the hon. Lady except to say that it is easy for her to make a bitter, forget-nothing sort of speech but that there are many of us who recognise that we must compromise and try to create new political institutions for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland, not for some long forgotten Irish Republican dogma of the hon. Lady—
I think it was quite clearly pointed out, both in what I said and in what previous speakers said, that the present Executive holds nothing for the ordinary people in Northern Ireland. It is self-admitted to be exactly the same, socially and economically, as what we had before. Politically it is Humpty Dumpty and it would be better if he had never got on the wall.
The hon. Lady has made her point and the House will note the pressures, from the two extremes on either side, upon the parties in the middle who are trying to create these new institutions.
I want to move to other matters and say that, for many of us who have lived through the last four or five years, this is a very important occasion. One recognises it as a very major step forward though, using the words of the Duke of Wellington, it seems at stages to have been a "damned close run thing".
Others have paid their tributes to the Secretary of State today. I merely wish to add mine by emphasising one quality which was of vital importance to Northern Ireland, and that is his patience in listening and in discussing. In addition to that, there is his capacity for sheer hard work. I would go further and say that I do not believe there is any other member of the Cabinet who could have brought us so far in reaching this agreement, as did my right hon. Friend.
I should also like to put on record the major achievement of the three political parties which took part in the negotiations because, unlike the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster, they were prepared to put Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland before purely political considerations. They showed courage and determination to compromise in trying to create a new mould, and I agreed with a certain amount of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said in that respect.
The House will know that I have felt that the White Paper approach is the correct one. I freely admit that it cannot guarantee success, but I feel that it offers the best chance of some form of stability and the best chance of creating new political institutions in Northern Ireland. But I think the House will accept it from me more readily than from others if I say that we should not be carried away by euphoria. I cannot emphasise that too strongly, because there are very many hurdles and problems still to be overcome. This is a big step forward, but it is not the end of the journey.
Before the hon. Gentleman passes from that point, may I say that this House well knows that as a member of the Alliance Party he has all along been the principal supporter of the White Paper. For that reason I would ask him whether he thinks that his party has been very scantily rewarded for that loyal service, because his party is to be allocated the job of being in charge of legal reform. The Secretary of State made it quite clear that that job would not interfere in any way with the functions of the Attorney-General, so it appears to be a totally new and ill-defined job. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can tell me what he thinks will be the job with which his party has been rewarded.
I am deeply touched by, and appreciative of, the concern of the hon. Gentleman. What has been put together is a package of compromises, and I do not think it serves any useful purpose to start unwrapping each layer and examining every little piece. I acknowledge that this is a set of compromise proposals.
What I was saying before I was diverted by the hon. Gentleman was that there are still some very considerable hurdles to come. The biggest and most difficult of them, though it will not, I believe, be impossible, is in relation to the Council of Ireland and the tripartite talks. I was very glad that my right hon. Friend emphasised today that the Council of Ireland could operate only on the basis of the consent of the majority and minority in Northern Ireland. It is easy to build paper institutions but, as the Secretary of State stressed, they can operate only on the basis of consent and, in this case, unanimity. A pattern cannot be imposed.
My right hon. Friend stressed that the bodies to which he referred would have their own secretariat. One hopes that they will have a certain dynamic behind them and will not be of the purely Civil Service type, and that they will also include people from the universities, trade unions and industry and people with broad experience of public life. As I understand it, there are to be preliminary tripartite talks before the Executive is endorsed by this House, and I should like to know whether each of the three parties will go to those talks as individual parties rather than as a loose form of Executive. Also, what will be the procedure for decision making at these talks? I assume that there will have to be a basis of unanimity, but it is important to get this point clear.
It is important to stress that there are bound to be very considerable strains on the system during the first three, six or 12 months until the institutions start to operate effectively, and very considerable powers of statesmanship will be required of the parties concerned. Furthermore, they will have breathing down their necks the two extremes, one of which we have already heard today from the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster and the other we shall no doubt bear later in this debate. In addition the parties may well be operating against a pattern of violence inspired for political reasons, not by the political parties but by other elements, in order to try to destroy the Executive.
I assume that my right hon. Friend will very soon be moving to another post, but I beg the Prime Minister to recognise, as I am sure he will, that the job is not yet over. There is still a great deal of work to be done and it will be necessary to have a figure of major political significance in the post of Secretary of State. Hon. Members have referred to Section 8 of the Act, which deals with the requirement of "widespread consent" for the Executive. This is something of which one can only make one's own evaluation, but it is my belief that a very broad cross-section of the people of Northern Ireland want to give these institutions a chance. It is interesting to note that three parties comprising a total of 48 out of the 78 seats are endorsing these proposals. That is at least a base upon which to start.
There is, however, one problem I must pinpoint which is of great importance. The Loyalist coalition represents some 27 out of the 78 seats. Its support rests on the votes of many ordinary, decent Protestants throughout the community. I shall not comment on some of the leaders of those political parties because that would be irrelevant. These ordinary, decent Protestants have fears and anxieties. One of the lessons of Northern Ireland in the last 50 years is that we must not produce a system in which one section of the community is alienated, as was much of the Catholic community, because that would only create enormous problems.
I do not want those who are represented by the Loyalist coalition to be totally alienated from the system, because that would create a tremendous problem for the future. When the Executive comes into being, therefore, it must pay particular attention to this and to try to bind up the wounds over the next few years. I was pleased to hear what the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said, that this was not a sell-out to a united Ireland, and that is my belief. It cannot be said too often. As the hon. Member said, a united Ireland is not this House's gift.
We have gone part of the way politically but there are still many problems. Although I have had my differences with Mr. Faulkner, I wish him well in his post as Chief Executive. I wish the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) well in his post as Deputy Chief Executive and I will give all the support and backing that I can to the new Executive when it is formed.
I intervene with reluctance and hesitancy in a debate of this nature on such grave matters, particularly since I represent an English constituency and I have no Irish ancestry. I have put forward in Irish debates a particular point of view which, though not shared by many hon. Members, is shared, I believe, by a considerable number of people in Britain.
Before I get on to the more controversial aspect of my remarks, I would like to say to the Secretary of State and to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) that I recognise the long and tortuous path they have had to tread in recent months in trying to bring about this move forward for their Constitution Act. I say "their Constitution Act" because it has been passed with bipartisan support with both my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman playing a formal and an informal rôle in the open and behind the scenes to bring about agreement. They have conducted themselves as they believe in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole.
Those politicians who are to form the Executive are. I believe, very brave men whatever their political views because they are on the ground and must accept the responsibility, and they know it. They are doing something which I say with great humility I do not know whether I would have the courage to do if I were living in the realities of Northern Ireland.
However, I must now return to my point of view. Like the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), I have not supported the Northern Ireland Constitution Act and have voted against the principle on each occasion that it has come before the House. I did so because I believed deeply, sincerely and passionately that it was based upon the fallacies and mistakes of the past. It is based upon the belief that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and shall remain so as long as the majority of the people in Northern Ireland so wish it.
In my view, that cannot be the basis of any meaningful settlement of the tragedy of Ireland and the tragedy that Ireland has inflicted on my country. I had better retract that, because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) will immediately challenge me because she sees it the other way. Let us therefore describe it as the tragedy of our entangled history over so many centuries which has brought nothing but misery and destruction on each side of the Irish Sea.
There is a state of euphoria among the people in Britain who believe that the Secretary of State has found a way to overcome the problem. I am certain that a fair body of opinion in Northern Ireland, sickened by the death and destruction, desperately hopes that the constitution will work and that the Executive and the power sharing will be successful. However, I cannot share their hope because I believe it to be based upon a fallacy. All we shall succeed in doing is to put off the crisis from this generation and this Parliament to some future generation—not to far distant—and some other Parliament which will have ultimately to recognise that the destiny of Ireland is a matter for the people of Ireland. I entirely share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South that we do not hold it as our gift in Britain to bring about the unification of Ireland even if we thought that desirable. That could come only from agreement among the Irish people themselves.
As I have said so many times, until Northern Ireland is freed from the shackles of Britain and is made an independent and separate State able to negotiate with the South, Irishman to Irishman, both representing independent identities, there will be no real solution.
This Parliament should have recognised these facts and should have set about transferring power peacefully and constitutionally as it has done throughout the old empire to the indigenous people of the territories and colonies. I do not suggest that Northern Ireland should follow the example of Rhodesia or anywhere else, but it should have been given the opportunity to create for itself the sort of State which it wishes to have.
I am not so certain that within a fairly short time there will not be a majority in Northern Ireland who share my view that independence is the best way forward, free from all the inhibitions that continued links with Britain create.
The right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) went through what he saw as the various alternatives facing Northern Ireland. He dismissed independence and said that what would happen if the constitution broke down or power sharing did not work would be a return to direct rule. If the constitution does not work and power sharing breaks down, the most likely reason for the breakdown will be a continuation or an escalation of violence. In such circumstances, to talk about the continuation of direct rule is to say that the right hon. Gentleman believes that the British people will for ever be prepared to see the British Army sent to die for a mistaken policy. That is what will happen if direct dule is considered as the only alternative. We would have to accept that for a long time ahead we would need to send soldiers to Northern Ireland to try to uphold an impossible policy.
No sensible man would object to a united Ireland, whether it be in the short, medium or long term, but has the hon. Gentleman, in the speech he makes so often, contemplated the type of civil war which would break out if the policies he advocates were now adopted?
I do not accept the assessment that an elected Assembly in Northern Ireland, sitting at a round table with an item on the agenda for transferring power to Northern Ireland, would necessarily lead to the vast civil war that the hon. Gentleman, among others, foresees.
My assessment is different. I do not believe that there is any solution to Northern Ireland which does not contain grave difficulties and, I regret to say, bloodshed. But my solution of independence is no more likely to bring about bloodshed than the mistaken policies of successive British Governments. The toll of dead over many centuries, while we have tried to impose a British solution on Northern Ireland, would weigh low against what might happen if independence were granted.
It is a matter of individual assessment, and my assessment is as good as that the of the hon. Gentleman. Putting the lid back on the problem is not a proper course of action. We have missed an opportunity to bring finality to the continuing tragedy of our link over Northern Ireland. Time will tell whether those Catholics and Protestants, or those civilians and members of the security forces, who have recently lost their lives in Northern Ireland died in vain.
Regardless of whether there is a temporary period of peace, I am certain in my heart and mind that sooner or later there will be another upsurge of violence and that men will never rest in Northern Ireland as long as the link with Britain continues. The only basic solution is to recognise that fact and to begin to think along the lines of an independent Northern Ireland, which would continue to receive economic support from Britain until such time as the Irish people can co-operate among themselves to bring peace, harmony and prosperity to their land.
Strangely enough, I find that in the end I am more in agreement with the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) than he might believe.
However, I first wish to join in the chorus of congratulation to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his remarkable patience in achieving the situation now reached. Everyone agrees that it is a delicate plant that will need much nurturing, particularly in the first few months. I see some dangers, however, in the hardy growth of this new plant. These dangers lie under two sensitive heads, religion and violence. I put religion first because I have increasingly come to the conclusion that religion is the source of violence.
In this situation there is the problem of the double minority. In the North of Ireland the Catholics are in a minority. They feel very exposed, and it is possible that they have been subjected to maltreatment over the past 50 years. They would like to be rejoined with the Republic.
On the other hand—I ask the hon. Gentleman to take particular note of this—there is in greater Ireland a minority of Protestants who are desperately afraid of a united Ireland because they would be outnumbered. The reason for their fear is simple. Seventy years ago there were 800,000 Protestants in the Republic of Ireland. At the latest count there were 132,000. It is true that more Protestants emigrated from the South because they did not like the 1920 Treaty, and that more have gone to America and elsewhere, but the underlying reason is that, whenever there has been a mixed marriage between Protestant and Catholic, the children of such a union, owing to the Papal decree Ne Temere, have been Catholic. Therefore, whenever the two communities meet in marriage the children are Catholic, and the Protestant culture and religion find themselves rigorously squeezed out. I say that as a Catholic.
Roman Catholic clerics in the Republic and the North see, and clerics in this country are beginning to see, that the entire character and nature of the Catholic Church has changed since the time when I became a convert nearly 30 years ago. In the old days, the logic was that, as the Catholic Church was the one purveyor of the whole truth and nothing but the truth, any reasonable man must bring up his children in that profession. Therefore, the Protestant partner in a mixed marriage was made to sign an undertaking, which under Republic law was binding until fairly recently, that the children would be brought up as Catholics.
However, ever since the days of Pope John, a different spirit has moved the Catholic Church. There is now a widespread belief that to impose one's views in that way is to infringe very deeply on the most fundamental personal liberty.
The practice in the Catholic Church which has grown un in that church since Vatican II is that, if there is a good reason why the marriage should take place in a Protestant church, perhaps because the bride wants to be married from the church round the corner, so be it, and that if the parents decide that they want to bring up their children in a different faith, they are fully entitled to do so. The wording used in the rest of the world is that parents should use their best endeavours under all circumstances to ensure that children have a proper religious upbringing—no more than that.
When I consider how the tension between the two communities can be lowered, the biggest breakthrough I can see is that the Catholic Church in Ireland, in both the North and the South, should relax the almost Victorian rigours which used to apply and use the modern criterion that parents are entitled to follow their own conscience in such matters, and that what they do with their children is their own affair, so that the Protestants have removed from their future the real fear of genocide, of being obliterated from the map in Ireland. I do not understate that.
Would my hon. Friend seek to apply that principle to the education of children in Northern Ireland, so that their parents could choose what kind of school they should be sent to?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question. I shall come to that very point as the second leg of my argument.
What I am suggesting is that the Catholic Church in Ireland should fall into line with Catholic practices throughout the greater part of the rest of the world, that it should relax the Papal decree Ne Temere, to the point where children of mixed marriages should be educated in the manner agreed by the parents, not in a manner imposed on them by an external body. One of the hopeful things in 1969 was that mixed marriages in Northern Ireland were about 30 per cent. of all marriages. Such a relaxation as I have suggested would do an enormous amount to relax tension and start to create the sort of circumstances in which the new constitution can work.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) rightly said, the Catholic Church must also make a move in education. In Northern Ireland there are two groups completely polarised, not only in terms of religion and race. One is undoubtedly Celt and the other is undoubtedly Anglo-Saxon. They are also polarised in the games they play at school and the history books they read. Everything is designed to separate the two cultures. I do not see any hope for a united Ireland, a united Britain or a united Northern Ireland until the parents and the children live together.
The recent settlement represents a great and well-deserved breakthrough for a Catholic community which has suffered many disabilities over the years, but it is in the moment of triumph that people should be generous. The Roman Catholic Church has a major obligation to show generosity at this time. It is no use clerics passing by on the other side of the street saying "This is a political problem. We leave it to you in Westminster." They have a major rôle to play.
Many of the parish and middle clergy see that quite clearly. It has not yet been brought home on the hierarchy either of Ireland or of England. But I cannot believe that in the twentieth century, after Vatican II, the hierarchy will continue to pass by on the other side when men are dying daily in the streets.
The other great difficulty for the new set-up is violence, which flows from the religious problem. I want to do my little bit to bring home more to people that the pathetic thing about violence is how abysmally counter-productive it is. Let us assume for the purpose of argument that all the men of violence are well-intentioned men who wish to see their world come true. I do not believe it for a minute, but let us assume it. One would have expected them to calculate the end product.
Historians are now prepared fully to admit that the one casualty of both 1916 and 1921–22 was any prospect of Irish unity. The Protestant community in the North were frightened away from any such project. I do not want to job back to the past other than to make the point, but I believe that in 1969, the time of the O'Neill-Lemass meeting and so on, relations between the North and South of Ireland were becoming so relaxed that, if the IRA had not come in on the coattails of a respectable and fully justified civil rights movement, there would have been de facto a united Ireland today, within the terms of our joint membership of the EEC.
The tragedy of the IRA, in so far as one can invest the IRA with any good intentions, is that its good intentions have been totally negatived by the predictable outcome of its own acts. By the same token, the recent outbursts of Protestant violence—designed, we are assured, to keep Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom—succeed only in making my constituents believe that they want no part with any of the people over there. Therefore, both sides' violence is directed against their own best interests.
Both sides suffer from one piece of shortsightedness. They have an emotional conviction that they are soldiers in the front line of battle in a great war, that the war will be over—as though that sort of war will lead to any victor—and the honourable prisoners of war will return in triumph to their villages and communities as heroes.
Like everyone else, I want to see internment ended at the earliest possible moment. But I would not like to feel that anyone who has been sentenced by the courts after a proper trial, whether with or without a jury, can look forward to any such possibility of returning as a hero. Anyone, whether Catholic or Protestant and whatever his motive, who has thrown a bomb or committed another crime should fully understand that he is a criminal and has no chance of remission as part of a general settlement. That has not been said often enough. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will spell it out clearly now.
I welcome the Dublin-London-Belfast meeting which will shortly take place. I have always felt that a lasting solution to the Northern Ireland problem lay in a much closer accord between London and Dublin. There has been a coolness between us for the last 50 years which has been unwarranted by our mutual friendship in other areas. I warmly welcome the visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Dublin earlier this year. It was a visit which should have taken place 30 years ago, but better late than never.
Recently there was an article in The Times entitled "How British is Ulster?". The conclusion was that it was not very British. It was not followed by another article entitled "How Irish is Ulster?". Many people would come to the conclusion that Ulster is neither British nor Irish and that the Catholics in Ulster tend to use the Republic for their own ends in the same way as the Protestants in Ulster tend to use the United Kingdom for their own ends. Perhaps we should consider the possibility that Ulstermen are first and foremost Ulstermen with substantial qualities of their own.
We should envisage an edging towards what I describe in shorthand terms as an English-speaking Benelux situation within the EEC. The Dutch-Belgian precedent is encouraging because the Walloon-Fleming rivalry is surprisingly similar. It was, of course, not totally but substantially resolved between 1825 and 1835. I wonder whether we are not on our way towards a situation in which a totally independent Ireland and a totally independent England, in the closest possible harmony, could be joint sponsors for what is in this situation Luxembourg—namely, Northern Ireland.
It is important that no one should do anything to upset the precarious balance which has been achieved. I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on their remarkable achievement over the past 18 months.
I shall not take up all the points that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James) has raised. I always follow his arguments with interest, and I was particularly interested when he referred to education. I am sure that there is unanimity in the House in that there is a need for more attention to be paid to that end of the spectrum in Northern Ireland, Southern Ireland and some parts of England. In the Six Counties it is a valid point.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), I hesitated to participate in the debate. I represent an English constituency and, not being Irish, I felt that today's debate would be an occasion when all the Northern Ireland Members and anyone else with Irish connections would want to participate. It seemed to be almost an interference to participate, but the scene has shifted somewhat since previous debates. The arguments now are not what they were when we first discussed the matter some months ago.
It appears that we are still very much involved. Indeed, it seems that we are involved as much as ever. I have listened carefully to the debate and I presume to add my small contribution. It will be similar to what I have said many times before when speaking about Northern Ireland.
I do not wish to be churlish. I appreciate the tremendous amount of work which the Secretary of State and his staff have done in arriving at the present situation. I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to be churlish in not recognising the support which he has had from the whole House in support of his objective. Many of my hon. Friends, with differing points of view and differing shades of opinion, have tried as fat as possible to be constructive in their criticism. I have probably been at odds more often than most hon. Members. I must confess that I still am. Nevertheless I have tried to restrain my views in the interests of some kind of solution to the immediate problems, provided it was a solution resembling a permanent solution.
Far too often we have seen violence erupt in the Six Counties only to be damped down by one device or another and then to rise again, be it five, six, seven or eight years later. I hope that this time, because of the greater interest, understanding and involvement on the part of many more people, we will grasp the nettle once and for all, and arrive at a solution which at least resembles a permanent solution.
I have said before where my sympathies lie and I shall develop what I have said previously. The present solution does not lead me to believe that there is any permanency along the road on which we have embarked. I welcome it as an interim solution or a palliative, but I do not see it as the beginning of a permanent solution.
I accept that we all have our different understandings of Irish history. It seems that I have seen this solution before in a different context—namely, when Lord O'Neill of the Maine, as he now is, was trying many years ago to reach a similar kind of solution. He was trying, as I understood it, to bring the minority into government and to allow them more participation. We know the lack of success which met his efforts and we saw the kind of opposition which was mounted. Many of the men who are now in a different situation mounted fierce opposition. I suppose that we must be grateful for their change of heart. However, I do not believe that the leopard ever changes its spots to that extent. I am wary of such a sudden change from complete intransigence and non-co-operation. I believe that there are inherent dangers.
The hon. and gallant Member for Down. South (Captain Orr) mentioned the haste with which events have moved. I know that it is necessary to make haste slowly in Irish affairs. I have felt in the past few days that matters have been rushed unnecessarily. That may be because the Secretary of State felt that he should present some kind of solution.
There are all sorts of moves and motives afoot. God knows that the Government need a success story more than anything else. Perhaps this is not the story, but they certainly need the Secretary of State's talents in other directions. It is almost as though the Prime Minister was saying to him "Come on, hurry up, let us get out of this. We need you over here. Wrap this thing up. Whatever you have to do, wrap it up in some fashion and get back here. We are in real trouble." I fear that a cabinet of men of the calibre of the Secretary of State would not get the Prime Minister out of his present trouble. I do not blame him for trying.
The Prime Minister has landed us with a hotch-potch that few people in the Six Counties will understand or accept when we begin to delve into it. What duties does the Minister see the Chief Whip exercising in this kind of set-up? What is the Chief Whip to do in this kind of enforced, legalised statute-imposed coalition? I think that many people will be misled or will not understand the functions of the Chief Whip, as we know the post, in the new set-up. We are far from the beginning of a permanent solution. This is a good attempt but we have by no means seen the end of the problems in Northern Ireland, and I hope that there will be no attempt by the Government to claim any such thing.
I was disappointed by the Secretary of State's references to the Council of Ireland. I make no apologies for the fact that I have pinned some hopes on the Council of Ireland because I see it as part of a long-term move towards a permanent solution. I mentioned it months ago when arguing for a bill of rights, a Council of Ireland and the beginning of the end of partition. I have not shifted from that position. The Council of Ireland, therefore, is more important to me than it appears to be to the Secretary of State. I do not think that it has been given the kind of powers, teeth and importance that many of us hoped for when we read the White Paper. The council was envisaged as long ago as 1920 and many of us hoped that it would be a much more powerful body than is envisaged now.
For example, it does not seem that the Council of Ireland is to be given the power to make any kind of major decision. I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would at least be able to say that he could foresee the council having, for example, overall supervision over the police forces, North and South. It is something that he might have thought about and suggested as one of the functions of the Council of Ireland, amongst others. But that would have needed some initiative from the right hon. Gentleman himself. It would have needed him to say that that was how he envisaged the Council of Ireland. But he has not said it. He has left the Council of Ireland up in the air, as it were, with no apparent powers.
Little has been said in the debate about partition. I have not shifted from my view that partition caused the problem. Partition has kept it going for 50 years, and I do not see a permanent solution while the border remains. I am perhaps in a small minority of Members of this House, but I firmly believe that there is no permanent solution outside the ultimate reunification of the 32 countries, despite all the difficulties. I had hoped that we would be firm, even with all the difficulties and troubles, and would have said "Any road which does not lead to the ultimate reunification of Ireland is not on, but we will discuss all the access roads, the slip roads and the rest which will lead to it."
In trying to achieve that, does not my hon. Friend accept, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said, that it does not lie within the gift of the British Parliament but that reunification can come only by the will of the people of Ireland as a whole? Does not my hon. Friend also accept that what I am advocating—two independent Irelands—is much more likely to create the circumstances in which Irishmen speak to Irishmen and would be more likely in the end to lead to some understanding than if Northern Ireland continued in some form or other as part of the United Kingdom?
I recognise and accept my hon. Friend's argument. He has put it many times before. I cannot however, accept his phraseology about "our gift". Such phrases, especially in the Irish context, serve only to stir up antagonisms, because there is far too much talk of making gifts and concessions to a very proud and independent people. I opposed the holding of the referendum for these reasons, and I believe that this is where my hon. Friend makes his mistake. In that referendum we did not consult the people of Ireland. We consulted only a few. Had we consulted the people of all Ireland, we would no doubt have had a different result. It is not true to say that it is within our gift to give reunification. I would like to consult the people of all Ireland to see what they wish to do.
However, I am convinced that, until the border disappears by agreement or by arrangement—I have not given up hope—there will be no permanent solution. But people sometimes say "Why keep on talking about partition? Why bother when the people of the Six Counties have said that they want to remain part of the United Kingdom?" One has to look deeply to find whether they have any allegiance to the United Kingdom.
I must ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider that last remark. It was at very great cost in the last two world wars that Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom. We provided our men for the Armed Forces of the Crown and we provided vital bases for Britain. Indeed, it is doubtful whether Britain would have remained free if she had not the Ulster bases available in the Battle of the Atlantic.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's censure. I most certainly did not mean that the people of the Six Counties did not contribute to our victory. I remind him, however, that hundreds of thousands of people from the Republic also took part in the struggle and made sacrifices. But that kind of numbers game does not get us anywhere. There was universal sacrifice by Irishmen of both North and South in the two world wars and we are all very grateful to them.
One can go on and on with this argument. Winston Churchill said that he never thought of Ireland and her problems without remembering people, and he mentioned particularly Paddy Finucane, who played so heroic a part in the Battle of Britain. Therefore, as I have said, I do not think that a numbers game really produces any positive result, but I accept completely and without reservation the tribute to the part played by the people of Northern Ireland.
As I was saying, people sometimes say to me "Why talk about partition?" At a recent discussion in which I took part, it was wrapped up quite well by a person who said "It is almost like saying' Why talk about Socialism?" We know that capitalism will be with us after the next election, so why talk about Socialism at this stage?"
The answer is, of course, nearly the same in both cases. I said to that gentleman that, as a Socialist, I believed that capitalism was the cause of my problems and complaints against society. While capitalism is still with us, I strive to change those parts of society that I can manage to change right now. But it is not forgotten that the main cause of these problems is the system itself.
The same is broadly true of partition. I believe that it was the cause of the problem of Ireland and is still a contributory factor. I think that it will remain. But that does not mean to say that I shall not strive to change those parts of it which can be changed now until the ultimate complete end of partition comes about.
My complaint is that we have not given any firm declaration of intent that one day partition will be ended. We have rather gone in the other direction and kidded a lot of people that we do not seem to think that partition will ever be ended. But I believe that it will be ended. I believe that that is the only practical solution and the only permanent solution. It was for that reason that I voted against the provision of the new constitution of Northern Ireland which seemed to perpetuate partition of the 32 counties.
I come to another serious bone of contention. Without some real movement on the question of internment, there can be no progress. During a recess in 1971 I spent some time, with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. O'Halloran), trying to have Parliament recalled when Mr. Faulkner, the new Chief Executive, introduced internment. Internment was wrong then and it is still wrong. On many occasions I have said that were we discussing prisoners in Santiago, Guatemala, Rhodesia or South Africa, or in any other part of the world which was far enough away to be safe, we would be having mass demonstrations, debates, early-day motions, and so on, to try to secure their release. But because it is in Britain that hundreds of people are in gaol without trial, there is hardly a whimper. It is to our discredit that we have allowed this to continue for so long.
I have spoken to people who have not participated directly in the troubles but who have been "lifted" every time there have been moves towards internment. I am told that some people have spent up to 15 years, over a period, in gaol or in camps because they were openly self-confessed Republicans. We would not tolerate that if it happened anywhere else. But we have tolerated it and it is happening here. There can be no beginnings of a solution until that is ended.
I have discussed that matter recently with people who are directly involved in the problems arising from internment and harassment, in the minority areas at least. There can be no move towards a permanent solution until we have given a firm commitment that internment will be ended, a commitment unlike that given by the Secretary of State today, which was the same commitment as we have had previously, and following the decision to introduce internment. It is "if and when", and perhaps "but". But it must be much more definite than that. We must say that we intend to end internment, detention or imprisonment, whatever fancy word is used for it. People are incarcerated without charge or trial, and that must cease. There must be a definite date for the end of that kind of thing.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford in his thesis about withdrawing troops now.
I did not say that. I must correct my hon. Friend. I have not said today, nor have I said on any other occasion, that Britain should withdraw her troops immediately. I have always said that certain things must be done first.
I have always believed him to be an advocate of the complete withdrawal of British troops. I do not agree with that at present. I certainly agree that we ought to be in a position immediately to withdraw troops from those stress areas where they have caused much harassment, hardship and distress, particularly in Belfast and Londonderry. Firmer commitments could have been given in that respect. It should have been said that we intend to withdraw troops, perhaps putting a date on final withdrawal, and that we intended to replace them immediately with, perhaps, people's police. There are people in the stress areas who would be prepared to take on that job. Hon. Members may smile—"She smiled sweetly and that is all she said".
There is something to be said for asking people to take responsibility, in their neighbourhood, for the kind of law and order which they can implement immediately. This ought to have happened long ago. From my visits and discussions there, I have learned that this idea is not so far-fetched as some hon. Members may think. It could apply in both communities. Perhaps then the forces of both communities could be brought together, because we would have nurtured that kind of responsibility in the streets. We ought to have been able to say that we would withdraw the troops from those areas on that basis, perhaps putting them in barracks pending total withdrawal, and putting a date on that.
The Secretary of State failed to mention that factor as deliberately as I should have liked, but I had hoped that he would say much more about the ultimate withdrawal and the withdrawal of troops immediately from the stress areas.
I was disappointed about the Bill of Rights which we tried to introduce some time ago by a Private Member's Bill. The Government have now lost that completely. Although there was a time when they even mouthed the phrase "Bill of Rights", they have now watered it down to such an extent that it almost no longer exists. It should be revived. I had hoped that the Secretary of State could have announced the date for the end of internment and the withdrawal of troops. Had he done so, we should have been at the beginning of the road to a solution.
I agree with one thing that was said by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard). That was the way in which he described the constitutional proposals enunciated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North used the term "palliative". That is the right word. A palliative deadens pain and hides the real trouble which is not therefore cured. That is what is happening, and will happen, as a result of these proposals.
Some political commentators forecast that the Secretary of State would return to the House today to be given a hero's welcome. But my right hon. Friend reminds me—I say this kindly—of a Roman general returning to the capital from some outpost during the declining days of the Roman Empire, with a small band of captives—in this case the members of the Northern Ireland Executive—as evidence of the success of his venture but keeping hidden a situation fraught with the most dreadful dangers. But the Secretary of State returns here, if the Press is to be believed—as the saviour of Britain, industrially and economically. However, my right hon. Friend will find that the trade unionists will not be bought off by his charm and affability, as were the political leaders of the law-abiding majority in Northern Ireland.
I look forward with interest to the day when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland cements together, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the militant trade unionists and the land speculators in one happy body. Somehow I do not think he will succeed in achieving that.
We are all agreed that there should not be a feeling of euphoria as a result of what the Secretary of State had to say. That is right. We all hope that the enforced power-sharing Executive will lead to harmony. But I fear that it will introduce an era of political instability in Northern Ireland and will result in the renewal of violence to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) referred, a renewal of violence by the IRA, which has made it perfectly clear that it will maintain the struggle to achieve a united Ireland. I pray that the campaign of terror does not escalate. I condemn, as I have always condemned, violence from any quarter, irrespective of the reasons which promote it.
I deplore one innovation introduced by the Secretary of State in recent months. That is the way in which the religion of those arrested is announced and the religious convictions of convicted persons are made public. That only helps further to divide the community. This practice should be stopped. I hope that the Minister of State will take note of that and persuade the Secretary of State to abandon such a bad practice.
The Secretary of State's announcement has revealed the deliberate creation of twice the number of Departments which formerly existed as being necessary for the proper administration of Northern Ireland. This is being done to provide political largesse to enforce power sharing, and it is hardly an auspicious beginning for the Executive. Obviously, it was necessary in the juggling act which the Secretary of State has performed, but when the responsibilities of some of the additional departments are examined it will be found that previously their work was largely undertaken by civil servants. For example, the work of the Department of Law Reform was undertaken by a civil servant.
The last holder of that office was Dr. A. J. Donaldson, who is highly esteemed and is a foremost constitutional lawyer. While he was the director of law reform, political considerations in the reform of law were kept apart. If this Department is created it will become a talking point in the Assembly. It is wrong that controversy over law reform should be introduced in this way into the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The work of the Department of Information Services was also previously undertaken by civil servants, but here is a new Department created in order to give a job to one of the boys. I do not know whether the holder of this and the other additional posts will be paid, and how much. Certainly the Unionists will occupy posts which are relatively unimportant, such as the Department of Information Services. Nobody can say that it ranks as a major department. So, while on the surface it appears that there is a majority of posts in the hands of Unionists, that majority merely has charge of three important posts—the Chief Executive, the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture.
With regard to the Department of Finance, which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus) mentioned, that Department will be continually under the surveillance and control of the Treasury at Westminster. It will not be able to spend a single penny without Treasury approval. So, though it is an all-important post and other Departments are subject to it, the person holding it will have to come here with cap in hand to get his money.
It is interesting to remember that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that the Northern Ireland Constitution Act was the law of the land and could not be changed and was not negotiable. But the Secretary of State has a proposal to change that Act to create the additional departments.
As part of the package deal, we have to have a Department dealing with housing. Is not this a bad and retrograde step? The Northern Ireland Housing Executive was established at the request of the Government, the then Labour Government, to take housing out of the political arena. Support for that approach, which is a sensible approach, was contained—I am not certain about this—in the Cameron report, which backed up the decision of the Labour Government. Therefore, the decision to create a Department of Housing brings housing back into political controversy. This is the saddest victory for political convenience that the Secretary of State has been able to arrange.
There is one other post which the Unionists will hold—that of the Department of the Environment. It has merely been hived off the important Ministry of Development, which is in the hands of the SDLP. What it will do I do not know but certainly housing is in the hands of the SDLP along with local government and planning. I do not think that the Department of the Environment is all that important, although I agree that pollution, which must be one of its concerns, is something that we should all avoid and I am sure the person looking after the department will have a busy time. But I do not regard it as a post of consequence in the new Executive.
I fear that we shall face a winter of violence. I hope that it will not happen, but we have to be realists and face the fact that it may happen.
The Conservative Party has traditionally stood for the maintenance of law and order. I have refreshed my mind by reading the old campaign guide for the last General Election. It reminded me, if I needed reminding, that the Conservative Party prides itself in taking a stand against the manifestations of disorder. But it was this Conservative Government which gave way to the men of violence in Northern Ireland and showed the law-abiding majority that violence paid substantial dividends.
Concessions were wrung from the Secretary of State even by those men who were arrested, charged and convicted in the ordinary courts of the land for acts of violence. He took the disastrous course of creating a special category of political prisoners, so that we have the extraordinary situation that a so-called political prisoner, convicted of a serious charge, enjoys privileges not given to an ordinary prisoner who may be guilty of a similar or less serious offence.
This is a sad situation, but it is not the only achievement of this Government in Northern Ireland. It was not the Labour Party, which is well know to have a romantic attachment to the concept of a united Ireland, and which draws much of its support from the 1 million registered voters of the Republic living in Great Britain, which destroyed people's faith in political pledges. It was left to this Government to sow the seeds which may destroy the Unionist Party as we know it—although I am confident that there will emerge a new, progressive Unionist Party which will again benefit Northern Ireland.
Certainly, the Government have helped permanently to undermine the faith of the Ulster majority in the honour and probity of a Conservative administration. I have to say these things, because this is what the ordinary men and women in Northern Ireland think those who were and are strong members and supporters of the Unionist Party.
In March 1972—that is not very far back in Irish history—after a most painstaking and careful analysis by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of the Ulster situation, they came to the considered conclusion that all that was required was for the Stormont Government to hand over control of law and order to Westminster. There was no suggestion at that time that there was a need to wipe out the Stormont Parliament or Government, to send the Queen's representative packing with a pension or to insist upon a compulsory coalition between Unionists and Republicans. At that time. Mr. Faulkner said categorically that he could not remain in office if he had to hand over responsibility for law and order. That is why we had direct rule.
But what has happened since March 1972, under the direct supervision of Her Majesty's Government, to make the Government change their minds so fundamentally? When I asked in the House for one example of discriminatory legislation passed by Stormont, the Secretary of State had to admit that there was non. What happened was that the IRA enormously stepped up and intensified its campaign of terror and destruction, so that hardly a town or village in the Province has not been visited by these evil men. The Secretary of State, the epitome of law and order, felt that he had to treat personally and directly with the IRA on one occasion.
During this period, the SDLP—I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has returned; I thought that he was at the Palace and that perhaps he might have been detained there—was continually upping its demands with every new and frightful excess of savagery by the IRA. New demands came thick and fast, and it seemed that every demand was met with concessions by the Secretary of State.
No wonder Mr. Austin Currie, with his eloquence, when addressing one great SDLP gathering, told the people "Why stop now, when we are winning?". They did not stop. Certainly they have won, but they won because of IRA violence. That is the message that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone conveyed to the House, along with the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey)—that the SDLP got in on this wave of violence. But, once returned to power, it has kicked those who raised it to power.
The Ulster people clamour for the ordinary rights of British citizenship enjoyed in other parts of the United Kingdom. They wish for nothing more than to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic. But, as time goes on, they find themselves treated less favourably than English, Welsh and Scottish citizens.
Much has been made—the Secretary of State referred to it today—of the amount of money—which has been poured into Northern Ireland, much of it to pay for damage wrought by terrorism. Of course we are grateful for this financial relief, and a vast and expensive programme of reconstruction will clearly be necessary to set the Province on the road to recovery. But money alone is not enough. What we want is peace and trust in Northern Ireland between the communities. We want reconciliation, and that is what must come. But it cannot come while there is violence, and I do not believe that the Secretary of State's announcement will bring it about.
The Government must think carefully before they force the majority to abandon the basic rights of British citizens and accept constitutional arrangements which will create deeper divisions and greater bitterness and ill-will among the majority. The lasting effect of this cannot be assessed. However should the attempt to establish or maintain a new power-sharing Executive with Republicans fail—there are many reasons why this proposed coalition of irreconcilables may not succeed—I can only pray that the feelings of betrayal and frustration which would then engulf the Roman Catholic minority will not produce a holocaust of inter-communal strife on a scale far greater than anything that we have experienced so far.
If this happens, it will not be the responsibility of people like myself, who have sought to show that the system is unworkable and inherently dangerous. It is wrong for the Secretary of State or any of his hon. Friends to condemn us for expressing these feelings. It is our duty, as public representatives, to convey to Members of this House and to this Government what people in Northern Ireland are thinking and what they fear for the future.
There is no question of a refusal to share power with a religious minority. A broadcast by Independent Television News immediately after the meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council said that the unpledged Unionists were opposed to power sharing with Roman Catholics. After the meeting of the Ulster Unionists' Standing Committee, the BBC nationally broadcast the same statement. But it is a complete distortion of the truth.
We are opposed to power sharing not with Roman Catholics but with those whose aim is a united Ireland. We would not expect to see in this House at any time those on the extreme Right being forced to share power with those on the extreme Left. That is a very slight analogy of the enforced power-sharing Executive which the Secretary of State has announced.
I want to see in Northern Ireland an administration which will allow the representatives of all political parties to play their part in the formulation of policy. Already the Northern Ireland Constitution Act provides an interesting development, with the suggestion of departmental committees. This could be developed and amended to provide opportunities for good, constructive work by those who wish to participate in the process of Government.
The proposed Executive will not be able to put forward controversial legislation. The 1968 Education Act would never have got through this Executive because the SDLP and the Roman Catholic Church were bitterly opposed to it, yet that is an Act of the Northern Ireland Parliament which has benefited all children throughout the Province. It would not get through the present Executive. Therefore, I fear the Executive will be reduced to producing the lowest common factor of legislation which is acceptable to the Right, to the Left, to the Unionists and to the Republicans. This is not a recipe for the progress we all want to see.
There is no future for Northern Ireland except as a totally integrated part of the United Kingdom with increased representation in this House. Only in this way can we create a fair system acceptable to the majority and the minority, safeguarding the living standards of the whole community. It would diminish the all-too-frequent opportunities for parochial animosities which dominated most debates in the old Stormont Parliament and which we are already beginning, to see in the new Assembly. The system which I envisage would provide greater opportunities for the development of good will and trust in the Assembly and, through the machinery of consultative committees, among the people in the country. It would restore faith in the political process among people in the Province. There is neither trust nor faith anywhere in Northern Ireland today, and both are essential if we are to make progress.
In my judgment, a compulsory power-sharing Executive re-created at least every four years, and perhaps even more often, with border polls and the stresses and strains which this will lead to, will not establish the conditions of trust, confidence, security and harmony so essential to the growth of democratic institutions. For that reason, I cannot greet with any pleasure the speech of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
This is the first time I have spoken in a debate, under you, Mr. Murton, as Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I take the opportunity of expressing to you my personal congratulations and good wishes on your elevation.
The formation of an Executive-designate represents a remarkable personal success for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I genuinely join with others in expressing my congratulations for what has been achieved. Before going further into the important statement which the Secretary of State made this afternoon, I wish to make one comment about the speech by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard). The hon. Gentleman said that during his speech a Conservative Member smiled. I was not smiling—I was wincing. If ever I heard a recipe for total disaster in Northern Ireland, it was in the argument that the hon. Gentleman was advocating.
There are some questions arising out of the Secretary of State's statement which must be asked and some observations which must be made. In making them, I must assure my right hon. Friend that I do not seek to probe the issue in any sense of churlishness, but I am motivated by two considerations. I refer to my high personal regard for my right hon. Friend and my deep concern over the future of Northern Ireland.
For five years the province of my birth, upbringing and home has been mercilessly bruised and battered politically and physically. The Ulster people have endured and suffered a tragedy on a scale never to be forgotten. A growing and relentless mood of understandable despair has characterised public attitudes.
Politically speaking, as a Unionist I have seen the sad spectacle of a powerful party rent asunder not electorally but from within. There has been the unedifying sight of policies being personalised and personalities relentlessly vying with one another for the popular limelight. There was nobody more blindingly angry and embittered than I when in March 1972 Stormont was destroyed. I believe that the decision was wrong-headed and misguided, but Parliament, by a massive majority thought otherwise. I admit that even at that unfortunate time I maintained a conviction which I held ever since I first entered politics.
I have a deep commitment to the concept of regional political devolution. For that reason I supported the Second Reading of the Constitution Bill in this House earlier this year. Although I welcomed what happened on that occasion, I did so with considerable reservations. That Act is far from perfect and contains an element of contrived artificiality which I found somewhat repugnant. Nevertheless both sides of the House by a vast majority considered that it offered a possible solution. Indeed, it may offer a solution despite its grave inbuilt weaknesses. Some four or five years of agony in Northern Ireland have passed. Even half a solution is well worth trying rather than seeking to contrive a variety of arguments on the lines that, unless one gets the whole cake, one does not want anything.
I believe that that Act represents all that is currently on offer. This has been the argument advanced by the British Government through the summer. Although this may be a small point, I personally regret the need for any amendment of that legislation. I say this not because I believe that 11 Executive members are enough or more than enough, and indeed there may be a strong argument for the additional five persons. What is causing me anxiety is that at the first test some form of alteration is required. No matter how obvious or uncontroversial that alteration may be, it is a bad start. I say this in no aggressive sense.
I would not disagree with that argument. But there is always a danger in putting in a fixed figure. It can appear to be good, but any flexibility has gone and one finds at the first test that one is up against a legislative situation which requires amendment.
In an emotion-charged situation in Ulster today it is easy to side with the felings of emotion. Indeed, it is politically popular so to do. But is it in the best interests of Northern Ireland for emotionalism to dictate the course of politics? At the end of the day it is cold, hard reasoning and logic, and that alone, which offers the best solution. As in any society emotion has its place, but we must seek to curb and control it. For that reason, despite, all the pressures on those who feel emotionally, we must do our utmost to subordinate those feelings to arguments based on reason and logic. The Constitution Act may prove to be unworkable, as may the Assembly and the Executive, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said, integration is not on offer. To me UDI is as repugnant a concept as is the continuance of direct rule with all the problems that inevitably stem from it.
I missed hearing the speech made by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) but I remember reading a speech made by him not very long ago in which he said that total integration was the last resort. I am not certain about that, but that was what I read in the Press.
My hon. Friend is a much more avid newspaper reader than I am and I must admit that I was not aware of any feeling on the part of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford either for or against integration. I was seeking to take up his argument that integration was not on offer.
UDI is as utterly repugnant as is the continuance of direct rule. We are left, therefore, with only one other course, which is to see whether a local Assembly can be made to work. In my view it is totally wrong to approach a situation, merely because one does not like it 100 per cent., by saying "I do not like it 100 per cent., so I do not like it at all." This is the black-and-white type of argument which has motivated so many discussions in Northern Ireland. The legislation may be seriously deficient, but that can only be determined conclusively after it has been tried.
There are many people who share the view that the Assembly should and must be given an opportunity to get off the ground. I do not believe that this is motivated necessarily by a sense of war weariness. I think it is more the desire to see a local Assembly in existence and operating with all the limitations that it will suffer initially. Once it is in operation and has had a chance to prove itself, let a judgment be made.
Accepting as I do the overwhelming priority to be the eradication of violence in all its varied and hideous forms and of those who perpetrate it, the only way that this can be accomplished is by the vigilance of the security forces, who deserve high praise for their courage and determination, and by the revulsion of public opinion against violence and its perpetrators. In a democracy the only effective outlet for public opinion is through its elected representatives. As a consequence, back we come again to the need for the new Assembly and the need to give it a chance.
Entrenched positions cemented over many decades of history, and sometimes a turbulent history at that, will not be changed merely by ministerial exhortations. It has been my experience during the 20 months of direct rule that a major cause of political distress at home has been the apparent unevenness of Westminster pressure on the two main political parties in Northern Ireland. The feeling existed that the Unionist Party made many concessions but that they were not matched by corresponding concessions by other political parties. If anyone takes the trouble even cursorily to study my right hon. Friend's speech today, it is clear that very real concessions and compromises have been reached by the two main participants. I do not exclude the Alliance Party out of any sense of unkindness. It was not in a position to make concessions of the kind likely to be required of both the Unionist and the Social Democratic and Labour Parties.
Those people who have felt so strongly in the past about a spirit of compromise which they have felt to be a one sided operation will realise, I hope, in the light of what they have heard today from the Secretary of State, that there has been a genuine concession. I believe that this will do much to alleviate the sense of public suspicion which existed prior to today's announcement.
As a pledged Unionist, in Assembly terms, I must confess that the package looks to me to be attractive, reasonable and workable. But if the Executive is to have any chance of success the compromise must not exist just for today, on day one. It must be able to withstand the stresses and strains which inevitably will be placed upon it, in what form one does not know and at what time one does not know. But nothing is more sure than that there will be immense pressures, possibly in a few weeks from now. It is clear that infinite patience will be required.
For a variety of reasons, Her Majesty's Government have wanted to get the Executive and the Assembly off the ground. But there is a danger in excessive speed. As a result of fatigue people may reach agreements which in the cold light of the following day appear much less attractive. That is one of the dangers of haste and, although this important start has been made, I hope that the rest of the package will not be put together at a galloping speed.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) made a great deal of play about the creation of a new party, and the rôle of the Chief Whip and who he is to be. But if one accepts that in a crisis situation there is a case for some form of coalition of people whose views are very different, it can be justified if—and it is an "if" to which the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will no doubt provide an answer in due course—there is a common will towards a common goal. That is the essence of any coalition, and I should like to know what the approach will be because of the pressures which inevitably will be put on the Assembly and the Executive.
I apologise if my remarks reflect a sense of anxiety. They are not made in any spirit of doom or criticism. We have been through five years of this, and as a result we are slightly apprehensive. After a long and hard winter it is easy to imagine that the sudden appearance of a swallow means that summer is approaching. However, the poor swallow may have lost its way or may have fallen out of the nest. That may be the situation with which we are now confronted.
In the re-creation of a regional political structure in Northern Ireland, I believe that the Executive and the Assembly will succeed. But only a gambler would make a firm prediction at this stage. I wish them well.
I understand and sympathise with many of the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder).
I give a warm welcome, but with caution, to the announcement which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made today. I say "with caution" because it is clear that this is only the beginning of what must be a very long and hard road for those who are to take part in this power-sharing Executive. I say "with caution" too because whenever I speak in Irish debates I do so with trepidation and humility as an Englishman with no Irish blood. It is well known and well said in many parts that the English do not understand the Irish question but that as soon as they begin to come near to doing so the Irish change the question. That may have been the case, but I hope that it is not on this occasion.
It must be the overwhelming interest of all of us to see progress towards peace and stability in Ireland. But, as is the case so often, perhaps tragically so, it takes a catalyst to produce new opportunities for progress. This has been the case recently in the Middle East, and it seems to me that the melting pot of the turbulent history of Ireland produces a catalyst with dangers and disasters but also with new opportunities. As I see it, it is our task to find new opportunities to seek progress.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) set out one or two of the options that this Government have faced over the past few months, and I want to say how much I agree with my right hon. Friend. The first one is to consider a commitment to unity between the North and the South. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) suggested that this should be a firm commitment. However, I believe that it would be totally disastrous in the present situation.
The second option was some form of UDI or independence for the North. Again, I believe that that would lead to a lowering in the standards of living of the people of the North, and that could be disastrous.
The third option might be some form of total integration with Great Britain. I believe that, too, would be utterly disastrous, for obvious reasons.
Therefore, we have a fourth option, which is the present course or a variation of it. That is the right policy to pursue. I take that view for two reasons. First, most of us by now recognise that the Northern Ireland situation is unique and that we must, therefore, find a unique formula to sort it out. Secondly, in view of the different interests and aspirations of both the minority and the majority in Northern Ireland, the only way to seek peace is by compromise and moderation.
We all have our own ideas how in the long term this may evolve, but one thing above all else required to reach the agreement that was reached last night was courage on the part of the leaders of all three parties who have agreed to take part in this Executive. Often it requires more courage to pursue the policy of moderation than to take extreme views.
I believe that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has shown outstanding courage and deserves success and credit. I hope that the people who support the hon. Gentleman and his party will follow him through thick and thin in making this power-sharing Executive work.
I say precisely the same about Mr. Faulkner. He, too, has shown great courage in leading moderate and sensible Unionists. We wish him well.
The leaders of the Alliance Party—this is no disrespect to them—although they have not had to show quite so much by way of concessions to join the Executive, have also shown courage, and I wish them well.
I cannot make all these comments without referring to the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), who, in my view, has shown the greatest degree of statesmanship in this House. One of the crucial aspects in the development of the Irish situation has been the bipartisan approach by both the Government and the Opposition. I believe that all credit should go to the hon. Member for Leeds, South for the leadership that he has shown in this respect.
On the security side, the record of the British Army in Northern Ireland is quite outstanding. I do not believe that any other army in the world could have achieved success with the patience and perseverance that the British Army has shown.
I should like to see a positive effort on the part of the British Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Southern Republican Government towards a more effective policy in terms of joint security—for example, joint law enforcement and co-operation between the police and the armies of the North and of the South. For all those in the North and in the South who want peace and stability—that is the majority of the people—a co-ordinated effort must be demanded.
I turn now to the Council of Ireland. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford that we must approach this matter slowly, carefully and cautiously. The first and most important priority is to get the Executive working effectively. Following that, we can get the members of the Council of Ireland to meet and work together. I hope that at the top of its agenda will be the maintenance of security and law and order in the North and, secondly, the possibility of functional agreements in the industrial and commercial spheres which would be of mutual benefit both to the North and to the South.
My last point concerns the response of the Southern Republican Government to the announcement of the agreement this week. I hope that they will respond not only in terms of closer co-operation on security, but by examining certain articles of their Constitution and making a firm gesture to both Great Britain and Northern Ireland which will help the situation. The biggest gesture would be to drop that part of their constitution which lays claim to the whole of Northern Ireland. That would not only ease the political situation but would be a statesmanlike response to the situation in the North. I should like that to happen as soon as possible.
Everyone who believes in peace prays that all those in the three parties who are taking a lead and showing so much courage will persevere and make this proposal work. The Northern Ireland situation in the last four years has been eating like a cancer into the health and confidence of the United Kingdom. If we can make this proposal succeed we in the United Kingdom and in Ireland can again hold our heads on high with the rest of the world.
Over many years now I have engaged in debates in this House on Northern Ireland. Indeed, since 1968, 1969 and 1970 many watersheds, as they were called, have appeared in the debates. I honestly believe that this is the greatest watershed we have had since the recent outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland in 1969 and 1970.
Many solutions have been tried and many possible permutations of victory have been put forward by various people involved in the struggle.
The Secretary of State has put forward a proposal which has been arrived at by the leaders of the Northern Ireland political parties freely and without cornpuction. But, again, the problem of Northern Ireland must be faced by the Northern Irish people. No solution can be imposed by any source outside the island of Ireland.
The dramatic developments which have taken place since the elections in June in Northern Ireland are a clear indication of a desperate yearning for peace and an end to violence by the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland — Unionists. Nationalists, Republicans and others. We have seen so much death, tragedy and destruction rent in our land by the men of violence, and I believe that the Northern Ireland community as a whole is now prepared to make concessions which in the past would have been unthinkable.
I understand that during my unavoidable absence this evening bitter speeches were made from this side of the House by the hon. Members for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) and Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus). Indeed, since my return I have heard the speech by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and a snatch of the speech by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster). I believe that, having expressed their sentiments, those hon. Members must be asked one question to which an answer is demanded. That question is: what is the alternative to the present Executive? What would they do to stop the killing and the murders in Northern Ireland? What are they prepared to concede? Are they prepared to continue with their demands, and not to see the arguments or point of view of their political opponents? Do they want to claim total victory over those whom they regard as their opponents?
The first criticism following the announcement last night about the Executive came from the Provisional IRA. I believe that I and my party were called arch-collaborators and traitors. I ask myself now in all conscience: with whom am I collaborating? Am I collaborating against the interests of the Northern Irish people? Am I collaborating against the interests of the men and women, boys and girls who live in my area of Belfast and are absolutely terrified out of their lives at present? Even I, as an elected representative, do not want my young daughters to go out into the streets on these dark winter evenings for fear that a car may come along and mow them down with shotgun bullets, as has happened to others so often in the past.
The hon. Gentleman said that he had heard the snatches of a bitter speech by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and myself. I think he has made a mistake, because, had he heard my speech, he would have realised that I welcomed this proposal. Perhaps he can tell me what is his attitude towards the rent and rate strike.
I apologise if I have misrepresented what was said by the hon. Member. I will certainly answer the question. In the recent election in June, held under the terms of the Constitution Act, the people of Northern Ireland were given the chance to say whether they wanted to bring into operation a new political system whereby it would be possible for all people in Northern Ireland, majority and minority, to participate in the elected Government of their own State. This was well known before a single vote was cast in those elections. My own party made it clear during the contest that we wanted to participate in a form of administration in Northern Ireland which would be acting not in any partisan way but in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Will he not admit that his party, in fighting that election, not only said that it wanted to take part in a non-partisan administration but said quite clearly that it would not do so until there was an end to internment?
The election manifesto of the SDLP can he had quite easily. What we said was that we wanted to bring to an end the disaster of internment. We said we wanted to bring into being in Northern Ireland an acceptable police force with which the whole community could identify. We said that we wanted to bring into operation a Council of Ireland, some means or institution whereby the people of the whole island of Ireland, North and South, would begin to get to know each other in the 32 counties. What we said was that, given a favourable development and an end to violence, we would call for an amnesty for political prisoners.
We recognised that many young boys and girls had been caught up in the wave of violence which has hit Northern Ireland. We said clearly to our electors that this was our policy. The Unionist Party under the leadership of Mr. Faulkner also said that it wanted to see worthwhile political institutions coming into being in Northern Ireland and that it was prepared to work within the framework of the Constitution. The Alliance Party said it would do the same.
Everyone knows that the word "democratic" in Northern Ireland is much-bandied about and much misunderstood. When the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) or Down, North say that something is undemocratic in Northern Ireland, we know what they mean. They mean that they do not like it; it does not fall in with their way of political thinking. Mr. Faulkner's Unionist Party was returned with 21 seats, the SDLP 19 and the Alliance Party eight. After much misgiving and thought, and deep consideration for all the feelings of our electorate, we decided that we would take this courageous step.
I have no hesitation in saying that it was courageous. I am not being unduly modest about this, and I am not terribly concerned about the criticism which could be levelled at me by those who are determined to wreck this. I think it was courageous, because I did not find it very easy to sit down and talk to Mr. Faulkner, a Unionist, and I am certain that Mr. Brian Faulkner, as a Unionist, did not find it very easy or palatable to talk to me.
We are all prisoners of our past. The situation in Northern Ireland was not brought about over a short period. We are all prisoners of three or four centuries of Irish history. Since the partitioning of Ireland in 1920 there has existed a one-party State. One party was in government for 50 years, and there was never any possibility that that Government could be removed by the wishes of the electorate. That was because the very basis on which the Northern Ireland State was founded was in itself anti-democratic.
For the first time in European history a State was set up on the basis of majority and minority populations. Throughout those years there was arrogance and contempt from the Unionist Party towards its political opponents. The minority suffered deep distress and oppression. Throughout my political career, since I first began to understand what politics was about, it was my constant endeavour to try to change the one-party State of Northern Ireland and bring to an end the oppression and the distress which had been suffered by the minority population.
But in doing this I never at any time placed myself in the rôle of a minority representative; in other words, a Catholic representative. I have always claimed, and will claim until the day I leave politics, to be a Socialist. When I came to this House and allied myself with the Socialists represented here the battle began.
Both Governments are entitled to some credit for at last trying to grapple with the problems brought about by Britain interfering in Ireland in the first instance. After the elections it was decided that we would try to bring about a form of community government, a form of government which could enlist the active support of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland who want peace.
Over the last few years, and particularly during last year and this year, a massive wave of revulsion has engulfed the Northern Ireland people in their opposition to the violence that has been going on. I cannot draw any distinction between murders committed in differing circumstances. Those who knifed and cruelly butchered my colleague Senator Paddy Wilson because of his political beliefs are just as bad as those members of the Provisional IRA who blew the brains out of a 15-year-old boy on the slopes of the Cavehill in Belfast. Nothing that has happened in Northern Ireland, or that will happen in the future, can justify such actions.
I have always been opposed to killing and violence in Northern Ireland. It is only rarely that we see the hon. Lady in this House. It is only rarely that we hear her speak in this Chamber. It is rarely that we see the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the Chamber. If they were representing their constituents as they should be doing, they would attend this House and take part in the various activities in which public representatives must engage if they are doing their job of representing their constituents.
No. I have given way too often. The hon. Lady attends here at intervals of five, six or seven months, and when she does come to the House she makes a destructive speech. She utters not one sentence or syllable that could in any way bring peace to Northern Ireland or end the killings.
I state without fear of contradiction that the hon. Lady is a total and absolute irrelevancy in Northern Ireland. All that she has sought to do during the last two years in this House—
Despite what the right hon. Gentleman says, I shall abide by the decision of the Chair.
Is it in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for an hon. Member to attack me personally and then not allow me the right to reply? I should have given the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to intervene during my speech but, unfortunately, he was not in the Chamber then.
It is usual for an hon. Member who attacks another hon. Member to allow that hon. Member to reply at some stage, but it is for the hon. Member who has the Floor to say when.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has attacked me and, in his absence, my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus), for not attending the House more often. In days gone by the hon. Gentleman did not regard attendance at this House as the right way to represent his constituents. That was once his idea, and it remains mine. The interests of my constituents are served by my fighting British imperialism, and I consider that I do that adequately without presenting myself here.
In one day Paddy Devlin helped more people who needed his help and sought it than the hon. Lady will ever do in her lifetime. The hon. Lady comes here and makes speeches that are bitterly destructive, yet she wants to continue to represent her constituency. The days of the charisma of Bernadette Devlin have gone. We have discovered who the little girl is and what she is capable of doing, and now the electors of Mid-Ulster will be ashamed of her.
Perhaps I may now forget about the hon. Lady—and it is very easy to do that at this point in our proceedings—and come back to the debate. The three parties which received a majority of votes at the recent election—Mr. Faulkner's Unionist Party, the SDLP and the Alliance Party—after much misgiving decided, against a background from which they could gain no confidence whatever, to enter into talks to try to bring about a form of administration in Northern Ireland which could be accepted by all the Northern Ireland people. I believe that we have done that. I believe that we have at last begun to think about politics in Northern Ireland.
I have heard criticism from the UVF, the UFF, the Official IRA, the Provisional IRA, the hon. Member for Antrim, North—from the far reaches of the Bible belt in America where he is now—and from the hon. Member for Down, North. It does not surprise me in the least. It was inevitable that criticism would come from such sources. Notwithstanding that, I am determined, and the party that I lead is determined, to continue with the negotiations that have begun with the other political parties.
There is not as yet an Executive in Northern Ireland. There is an Executive-designate, because we recognise that some of the more difficult problems, such as the Council of Ireland, an acceptable police force, and the bitter, burning question of internment, have to be settled to the satisfaction of those three parties before the Executive can come into operation.
So, although I say that, given favourable circumstances, there will be an Executive, I am not prepared to say that the coming into being of that Executive is an absolute certainty. But the SDLP, the party which I lead, is prepared at all times to put the interests of the people of Northern Ireland above their own party political position. If the political parties involved in these discussions had been thinking only of their own parties, the discussions would never have begun.
Last Tuesday when the result of the Unionist Standing Committee meeting was made known from Glengall Street, when it was announced that Mr. Faulkner's Unionists had won by the slim majority of 10, there were people on the Republican side of the community who were inclined to laugh and sneer and say "Ha, ha. He got through by only 10 votes and he will never succeed in another contest such as that". I am glad that Brian Faulkner was successful in that contest.
I ask hon. Members to look at what happened at that meeting. For the first time in Northern Ireland's history 379 Unionists stood up and voted for the policy of Mr. Faulkner, who said "I am prepared to share power with the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland as represented by the SDLP" For the very first time we had Unionists from a Protestant background, people from the majority party, people who had given, and who were even at that time giving, their allegiance to a party which had complete and absolute control of everything in Northern Ireland: yet because of the bitterness and revulsion that has swept the country, because of the killings and the violence, those 379 Unionists were prepared to make this concession—and I recognise that it was a concession—and said that they were prepared to share power with other political forces in Northern Ireland.
But the people who were not prepared to make any concessions were those led by the hon. Member for Antrim, North, who, I repeat, is in the Bible belt getting a few more converts, and by the member of the Vanguard Party, Mr. Craig. It would pay us at some time to analyse the speeches made by so-called Unionist representatives in this House. I believe that there are some people here who are still members of the Unionist Party but are bitterly opposed to everything that the Unionist Party, as led by Brian Faulkner, is trying to do at this moment.
I ask them the same question as I have already asked the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster. What is their alternative? Their alternative has been repeatedly stated, and it is "Get the British Army, get the RUC. Arm them to the teeth. Send them into minority areas. Shoot as many people as you can. Intern as many people as you can. Detain as many people as you can. And, in so doing, give us the right to restore a Protestant ascendancy Parliament in Northern Ireland. Bring us back to the days of 1920 and right up to 1968, 1969 and 1970." That is their answer to the problems of Northern Ireland. I ask this House: can anyone in his senses believe that that is an honest alternative to the problems which now beset our land?
I believe that the three political parties in Northern Ireland which have engaged in these discussions have opened up a new era in Northern Irish politics. For the first time, we have people of different political allegiances beginning to say "In the interests of this whole community, let us think not of party but of people." I still have a lot of suspicions about many members of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, and it would be less than human to say that I have forgotten the misdeeds committed by the Unionist Party throughout my lifetime; they will be hard to forget but, I hope, much easier to forgive. But this step has been taken in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
Let me say this, but let it not be taken as claiming a victory for my own political party. For many years the minority in Northern Ireland claimed that they were being discriminated against in the allocation of houses and jobs. That was indeed so, because on many occasions I had to bring their grievances to the Floor of this House. I said that people in Derry, Newry, Strabane and other areas of Northern Ireland—I may be proved wrong, and if I am I shall be man enough to admit it—were deliberately isolated industrially by the policies of the Unionist Government. The Government did not want to attract industries to those areas, because those areas were anti-Unionist.
Now we have a chance of proving it, because the Minister for Commerce in Northern Ireland, and I announce it on the Floor of the House this evening, will be John Hume. Let us see whether John Hume can direct industry into the city. Let him take the onus upon himself to see whether he can direct industry to Newry, Strabane and all the other areas which have suffered grievous unemployment. Austin Currie will be in charge of development, housing and local government. He will certainly accept the responsibility for creating more houses in Northern Ireland, and creating them on a non-sectarian basis. He will not want to see more houses built purely and exclusively for Catholics; he will want to see them built for people who need them.
Paddy Devlin will be the Minister of Health and Social Security. I know of no man of greater humanity and compassion in the Northern Ireland political arena. I have the greatest faith that Paddy Devlin will also act in the interests of all the people who can benefit from his Ministry. But this could never have happened if there had not been a power-sharing Executive. We could have sulked and said that we would have nothing to do with Faulknerite Unionists and nothing to do with the Alliance. The Faulknerite Unionists could have said that they would have nothing to do with the SDLP, and we should have been back in the trenches with absolutely no hope of progress in helping the people in Northern Ireland.
Now we have been given a chance. The SDLP is in control of three major Ministries and I have the utmost confidence in my colleagues that they will act in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. By so doing it may be possible—or it may be impossible, but I hope it will be possible—to break down the barriers created over so many centuries by the political situation in Northern Ireland. If my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster wants to query me again, let me state now, as I stated when I made my maiden speech in this House, that I am an Irishman and I do not believe there will ever be true and lasting peace in the island of Ireland until Ireland is united.
It is my honest ambition to do everything I can to convince all the Irish people, both North and South of the border, that the ending of that disastrous border is in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. I know this will not happen tomorrow, next week or next month. I do not believe that seeking to fulfil that ambition in any way justifies the killing, the shooting, the bombing and the murders that have taken place. It must be brought about by consent, and that is my intention for however many years I may remain in political life. I intend to bring about a process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
The first step must be to do away with the terrible polarisation that has been created over these past years. I do not believe that the Unionist Party and its supporters, who are in the majority in Northern Ireland, are so unseeing and unthinking as never to accept the inevitability that Ireland will one day be united. I do not believe that those who cling tenaciously to the Republican ideal believe that they can gun and shoot a million of their fellow countrymen into a united Ireland overnight. There must be an intermediate stage, and that stage has begun. The greatest division in Ireland was not the border. The greatest division existed between the two communities on the grounds of religion and of ancestry. But Northern Ireland over these last three or four years has suffered so much, both the majority and minority, that we should be prepared at least to let this Executive begin with God's blessing.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) on having the courage to come over here and make a speech after all the deliberations he has been entering into during the past weekend and the weeks past. I wish him well in his new post. I want to be magnanimous, and I wish him all the best. Whether or not he succeeds is another matter, but he has my best wishes for the future.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not merely on the setting up of the Executive but on surviving so long in Irish politics, an achievement which I think will never be emulated in this House.
Like all Ulster debates, this has an air of illogicality about it, which must be confusing for most people. Many points of view have been expressed about the new Assembly. I shall not go around the country condemning it at every street corner. I am prepared to give it a chance and judge it on its results. That is the fairest way to do it.
I shall say no more about that, but this is the first time I can remember in British history that we have departed from the democratic principle so stubbornly upheld in the rest of the United Kingdom. It remains to be seen how it will work out.
I take up next something that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said about elections. It would be extremely interesting to discover what will be the position if another election is held for the Assembly. Will the majority party leader after the next election, if it takes place, automatically become the chief executive? I ask the question because it is quite likely that someone other than Mr. Faulkner or the hon. Member for Belfast, West will lead the minority party. There are all sorts of possible permutations
With regard to the Council of Ireland, I have always maintained that some form of co-operation between North and South was absolutely necessary, especially with regard to security. I am not prepared to go so far as to say that interference by Northern Ireland in the affairs of the Republic or vice versa is desirable. We must approach the matter with great caution, but I am prepared to back what I have always maintained was necessary, a British Isles security committee.
A common law enforcement area must include the whole United Kingdom, because I have been convinced, not only during the past four or five years but in various past IRA campaigns, that unless concerted action is taken simultaneously in this country, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, it is very difficult to defeat the anarchists. I hope that a step will be taken in that direction so that if any IRA or other trouble breaks out in Southern Ireland, Northern Ireland or Great Britain concurrent action will be taken to stamp it out. It is only if that is done that the forces of anarchy can be defeated.
I turn to the immediate situation regarding security in Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to the Army for its endurance during the past four or five years. It has had a hard task. I plead with the Minister to take a long, hard look at the security of the border. It is a sad reflection on the House that we in the United Kingdom have failed to secure the borders of our own territory. I am convinced that the trouble will continue for a long time unless we can stop the supply of arms across the border and unless we can give security to the people living along the border.
I hope that before long the IRA stationed at Crossmaglen will be obliterated. That is a running sore. It is an area of the United Kingdom which is controlled exclusively by the Irish Republican Army. The Army post at Crossmaglen cannot be serviced by road transport. Servicing has to be done by helicopter. Nightly the IRA is carrying out road checks which should be done by the UDR or the Army. It is a frustrating situation. The IRA maintains that the area no longer belongs to the United Kingdom but to Ireland. It says that it has assumed the influence of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and that it will not stop until it has cleared the last of the Army from the area. That is an important matter which should be considered with all speed.
A matter which has occupied the minds of most hon. Members and most citizens is the shortage of fuel. I understand that the Government are guaranteeing full fuel supplies to Southern Ireland. At the same time I have read in the Press that the reciprocal arrangements whereby we can exchange electricity between North and South have been cancelled during the present emergency. I understand that most of the electricity which would normally have been exchanged is made from the Shannon scheme. I may be wrong about that.
Is it not odd that during the past weekend I was inundated with pleas from the ministers of various churches to see whether anything could be done to enable them to use the central heating in their churches for Sunday services? It is odd that various congregations in Northern Ireland have now to go around picking up gas cylinders and gas fires to try to heat their premises for Sunday services while their normal supplies for central heating are in existence. That matter should be dealt with speedily and a solution should soon be found. It is a frustrating situation.
We all await with interest the formation of the Executive. As the hon. Member for Belfast, West said, many pitfalls remain to be overcome. I am sure that most people in Northern Ireland will refrain from undue criticism. I do not mean that there will be no criticism. However, I am sure that they will give the Assembly and its Executive a chance of showing what it can do.
I must be honest with myself. I will still campaign for full representation for Northern Ireland in this House as well as at the Assembly. That has always been my intention. If that comes about, the Assembly and the Executive will work. In those circumstances it will be accepted by all shades of opinion in Northern Ireland. If we alienate a large body of loyalist opinion in Northern Ireland from the scheme of things now envisaged, we shall be sowing the seeds of grave discontent for the future. I hope that the British Government will consider the matter sympathetically and, perhaps within the confines of the Kilbrandon Report, reach a solution which will be acceptable to everyone in future.
It is not my intention to detain the House unduly at this time of night. I apologise for missing a considerable part of the debate. However, I heard the two opening speeches and many others.
Now is not the time to rake over old ashes. Nor do I consider, to mix metaphors, that it is the time to heap new coals on the fire of religious and political divisions in Northern Ireland. This is the time for hope and the time when individuals in this House and in Northern Ireland ought to be more cautiously optimistic about the future. We have heard today a remarkable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). It must be quite unique to have heard the portfolios for an Executive-designate announced on the Floor of the House. While we were fortunate to hear that speech from the Social Democratic and Labour Party's leader, we should be mindful also that the leader of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, Mr. Brian Faulkner, is not here but that he himself is due a great deal of gratitude for the courageous stand he took in negotiating with his party and with others to get the Executive formed.
I said in a debate a long time ago that, once the individual leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland came together across the political and religious divide and saw the merits in each other, three was hope. I take the view that John Hume, if he could get himself into a bigger circle of affairs and events and be given real responsibility, is the type of man who could play a great part not only in Northern Ireland and Irish affairs but in European affairs.
In the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves, both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland are competitive. But it is a diminishing competitive rôle in terms of the EEC. The border will continuously lose its significance and therefore, if it loses its economic significance, we should be looking to a council of the United Kingdom and Ireland and not just to the Council of Ireland. In this atmosphere the United Kingdom cannot somehow or other stand back.
I will illustrate what I mean. Large explorations are going on in what we call the Celtic Sea. Other explorations are going on in the Republic of Ireland's part of the Continental Shelf. Here is an area for co-operation. There are also massive opportunities for co-operation in agricultural and regional policies. These are the sort of purposeful areas where the United Kingdom and the whole of Ireland can come together in meaningful discussion.
I want to say something directly to the Protestant working class because at this time it is among them that feelings will be most sensitive, and if we are to get—although I hope we will not get it—a dying gasp of hostility to this political settlement it can come initially from them. They may feel at this point alienated in terms of not having a direct political voice. I hope that the remarks of the leader of the SLDP will be taken to heart on both sides of the political and religious divide. He has stated that his representative in the Executive will hope and seek to do good for all the people of Northern Ireland. I am sure and I hope that similar statements will be made by Mr. Faulkner and the leader of the Alliance Party. It is only in an atmosphere of what we might call real politics that the Northern Ireland Labour Party stands a chance of coming through in terms of its representation and its political ethos.
I wish well to the endeavours of the Secretary of State, and I add my congratulations to him. I hope that political events elsewhere and possible political changes will not remove him too hastily from the Northern Ireland scene. Time is needed for people to settle down and to work with each other.
I hope that this is the last occasion on which we shall discuss this activity in constitutional terms. There are likely to be some amendments, but I am sure that they will not be opposed. The bipartisan approach has at times been difficult for the Labour Party and for me personally. But it has been in this atmosphere that people in the United Kingdom have seen that we have had an opportunity to say to the urban guerrilla in Northern Ireland "You will not win." We have the courage in terms of the feelings of the British people. We have had the troops and security forces to withstand the urban guerrilla. We have now created a situation in Northern Ireland where the urban guerrilla cannot succeed.
I am very grateful for the opportunity provided by the debate to discuss matters of great importance to Northern Ireland, particularly those subjects on which I have been invited to concentrate; namely, agriculture, local government and the health and social services.
Experimental policies of the kind that we have been discussion for the greater part of the day should not in any way distract us from the other matters in which the House has acquired an interest, which will be a continuing interest for the House. With consequent involvement, and all that that implies, in matters of detail, it is hoped that Parliament will accept the natural justice of the recommendation of the Kilbrandon Report to increase the number of those of us who will continue to bear these burdens, thus ensuring that Northern Ireland has fair and adequate parliamentary representation. This would be more profitable than the hypothetical type of exercise in which we have engaged today.
We have heard statements by various Ministers that agriculture in the United Kingdom is doing extremely well. No one would quarrel with that statement if he related it solely to Great Britain. But when one includes Northern Ireland the position is seen to be very different. In Great Britain it is true that the high prices paid for cereals produced have undoubtedly boosted average farm incomes. The position in Northern Ireland is very different. In Northern Ireland livestock represents 80 per cent. of the volume of agricultural activity. To feed that livestock it is necessary to import 80 per cent. of the feeding stuffs required. It follows, therefore, that Northern Ireland farmers are far more seriously affected than their counterparts in Great Britain by the rise in feeding stuff costs. When one combines that fact with all the other handicaps, such as remoteness and transport costs, one realises that we are at a serious disadvantage.
We are grateful for the understanding which has been shown in such matters by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. We hope that his representations on behalf of Northern Ireland farmers will be heeded and acted upon by the various Departments in Whitehall. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be convinced of the necessity to expand beef production. I hope that he will be supported in his efforts to ensure, for example, that the breeding cow and calf subsidies are maintained.
We should also welcome the Under-Secreary's support in securing a more liberal interpretation of the EEC directive on the problem areas, areas which are at a special disadvantage because of climatic conditions, quality of soil, the growing season and so on. The extension of the definition of marginal land in this respect would encourage those farmers, particularly in the west of the Province, who are trying to make the most of their limited natural resources.
Turning to milk production, there is concern that Her Majesty's Government may allow themselves to be unnecessarily inhibited by EEC limitations on increases in the price of milk. For example, a permitted increase of 1·6p per gallon would be quite inadequate to meet the increased costs: three times that amount would be much more realistic. I trust that the House can be assured that this factor will be taken into account in the annual price review.
The Ulster Farmers' Union and farmers generally will be heartened by the hopes expressed earlier today by the Minister of Agriculture that the earlier start to the price review negotiations will in turn enable him to make a much earlier announcement. Farmers generally would welcome such an announcement, because it would allow them to plan ahead with confidence, knowing what was in store for them, even if there were some delay in obtaining the ready cash involved.
Turning to the Ministry of Development—I am not sure that it will go under that title in the new cabinet-making processes—I want to mention particularly the problems of Aldergrove Airport. Mainly through the generosity of Governments of both parties in the past, the airport has been brought up to international standards. The runway extension has made it possible to operate and accommodate direct transatlantic flights, and the proposed terminal extension will undoubtedly provide greatly increased facilities for travellers.
But, with this in mind, I am very disturbed by reports that the transatlantic section of British Airways is not making the fullest use of these facilities. It is apparently placing undue emphasis on the attractions of Prestwick and Heathrow, to the detriment of Aldergrove. There is also a suspicion that Aer Lingus, by using various front organisations, is siphoning off traffic which properly belongs to our own State airlines. This appears to be a violation of agreements.
It might help to have some indication of the progress of the plans for the terminal extension and perhaps of the Government's thinking on what might be called the rather more controversial proposals and suggestions for developing the Aldergrove area. Hitherto, it has been the planning policy that there should be no great development, either industrial or housing, in the area lying between the growth centres of Antrim and Craigavon. It would be a mistake to clutter the rural area of Aldergrove with factories or even service industries, and I hope that it will not be done.
One realises that thinking for the future is bound to be affected by security considerations. We have to face the fact that this violence will continue for a considerable time. I am afraid that the superstition still exists in this House that somehow that problem is related to what we have spent most of today discussing. We have to adjust ourselves to that uncomfortable fact of life.
In that regard, most people would accept the need for fairly tight security at Aldergrove, but sound judgment should be shown to ensure that the security arrangements do not do the job of the IRA by making life hell for travellers and airport staff and the unfortunate local residents, who are inevitably treated as potential terrorists as they go about their daily business.
I wish to pay a sincere tribute to the airport staff and the staff of the various airlines that operate from Aldergrove who cheerfully perform their duties under trying conditions. I suggest that their courage and devotion should be an example to some of the spokesmen for the pilots, whose hysterical reactions to minor incidents cause a great deal of the panic measures, which in turn cause much frustration.
I share the fears and disappointment expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), who thought it a retrograde step that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive should now revert to some kind of political control. But at least this will not happen in the foreseeable future.
I wish now to refer to the problem of repairs and maintenance. I am glad to see the Minister of State on the Government Front Bench, because when I recently questioned him about this matter I was asking about the entire area of repairs and maintenance. I believe that the Minister perhaps misunderstood me and assumed that I was dealing with one specific case. This was not so.
There is a shortage of skilled manpower throughout the whole of the Province in the sectors of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive responsible for repairs and maintenance. The position is that, although private building contractors can use a great deal of flexibility in interpreting Government pay policy, the Housing Executive has no such discretion. It must go strictly by the book. Therefore, the Housing Executive finds itself in something approaching a straitjacket. Repairs and maintenance are falling very much into arrear, and some measures are called for. I hope that the Ministry of Development will take an earlier initiative in this matter.
Another difficult and worrying problem involves the sale of houses by the Housing Executive to tenants. In many cases before councils' powers were taken over by the Executive agreements had been reached about transactions on the basis of fair valuations arrived at by Ministry of Finance valuers. When the Executive assumed responsibility for housing, area officers did their best to preserve and maintain some degree of continuity, but the plain truth is that little or no progress was made. The problem has now been passed to a higher level, and a special unit has been formed at the headquarters of the Executive. It now looks as though the whole operation may become bogged down. This creates an intolerable problem for tenants who would be happy to improve houses if they were sure of the future. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into that aspect of the problem.
My final point relates to improvement grants. This is a temporary problem and is not a matter in which we would be creating any precedent from which we might suffer later. The problem is that before the transfer of housing functions many people had applied to local councils for improvement grants. In the friendly, informal way in which these things are done in local areas, in many cases verbal approval was given and owners were assured that work would attract the full grant. Now that the Executive has taken over, it would appear that some obscure official somewhere in the citadel occupied by the Housing Executive has decided that this is a discretionary grant and has said "No, you cannot have the full grant." This has left owners in a most difficult situation because they have embarked on a good deal of expenditure. In some cases schemes have been completed and owners are now being told that they do not qualify for grant. Unfortunately, they have incurred large overdrafts and are being burdened with increased interest rates and so forth. I beg my hon. Friend to assure us that he will do his best to see that a more humane attitude is taken by the Housing Executive to what is purely a short-term problem affecting only this limited number of people who were caught on the wrong side of the changeover of responsibility.
Whatever the structural defects of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and whatever rethinking may be necessary in the future, it can be said that, with very few exceptions, the officers and staff at all levels of the Executive are doing their best to provide for the housing needs of the community.
I return finally to the point which has been made about changes in the Northern Ireland team of Ministers. It is important for the team to be maintained at its full strength. Knowing the burdens which fall upon me as a mere person shadowing three Stormont Ministries, I can appreciate what it must be like for one Minister to run three Stormont Ministries.
For the time being, we have a provisional Executive. I shall not change my view about it, which I do not need to reiterate tonight. I hope that I am proved wrong. I hope, too, that the Westminster Government will fall in with the recommendations of the Kilbrandon Report by giving us the number of representatives and the full parliamentary Government to which we are entitled.
This has been an unusual Irish debate. I concede immediately that all Irish debates in this House are unusual, because they have a special connotation and we all know the problems that exist. But it is unusual in the sense that for the first time we are not discussing proposals which will be put into legislation. In effect, we are discussing the decisions which have been arrived at and the positive proposals which have come out of the agreement reached between the Secretary of State and the three political parties in Northern Ireland.
Much has been said about a bipartisan approach. On behalf of the Labour Party, I can say that what we have done is to support the policies that we believe to be right for Northern Ireland. We have done that when the Government have agreed, as they have with many of them, and when they have not agreed we have opposed them.
I believe that we have been right in our general approach in wanting to see a new political start in Northern Ireland. This debate has been about starting from scratch with a new concept, a new Executive and Assembly and the possibility of real power sharing.
There have been major changes in Northern Ireland. I know that some of the pessimism which exists has been reflected in a number of speeches today. In my opinion, however, that pessimism is not borne out by the facts.
One of the most significant events in recent days was the vote at the Unionist Council. By that I do not mean the majority vote which Mr. Faulkner obtained. What was really astounding was that nearly 400 Unionists put up their hands in public in favour of working with Roman Catholics on a genuine power-sharing basis. That could not have happened or, indeed, have been thought of 18 months or two years ago. But it did happen in the face of all the pressures and difficulties.
We all know that to be involved in Irish politics is not to gain in the sense of plaudits and bouquets. Brickbats come regularly, and one's integrity and honesty are challenged from all sides. But it is astounding that the Unionists—still divided, I concede—could place their crosses on ballot papers or put up their hands saying "Yes, we want power sharing; we want to work with the Roman Catholic community." It is a question not of having a Castle Catholic in an administration, but of having Catholics in on the basis of genuine power-sharing.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) suggested that all the best portfolios had been given to the SDLP and that the Unionists had got nothing. My hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus) said exactly the opposite. Therefore, that comes out just about right.
I accept that we are not home and dry. We are still on a knife edge in many instances. But the critics on both sides of the House—the hon. Members for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey), Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Conservative Members who are opposed to this concept—have not put forward any tangible alternatives. Each puts forward a concept in which he or she can believe. Each puts forward a policy that a section of the community could support. But can they put forward anything which in the interim can cross the divide between the two communities? These proposals have done just that. I challenge those hon. Members to say that they have put forward any constructive proposals. I believe that the agreement that has been arrived at is the best that can be achieved in the circumstances, and that flowing from it positive results will develop.
I have on several occasions put forward constructive policies, as my hon. Friend will find if he cares to go through previous debates. I am interested not so much in this sharing of power as in what power is shared and on what basis. I have put forward constructive proposals on innumerable occasions. For example, if there is anything to be pleased about, I am pleased that Mr. Austin Currie will be responsible for housing.
One constructive proposal that I have consistently put forward in this House is that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which as a central body was a good idea, not only replacing 73 local councils but amalgamating the debts of those 73 local councils—the debt in my area was about £5 million—should have its debt cancelled. I have consistently asked the Government, and presumably will now have to ask the Executive, to cancel the Housing Executive's debt as the debts of the airlines and railways were cancelled in the past. That would allow the Housing Executive to start its policy anew. I have put forward that policy and a policy for employment. I have, in fact, put forward several constructive policies which are based not on who carries them out but on the underlying politics. I am against the policy when I cannot see how it can possibly be carried out in a power-sharing Executive when half the Executive is composed of Tories.
My hon. Friend wants not only to keep her cake but to eat it. She now comes forward with proposals that she is ready to put to the new Executive. She even welcomes a certain appointment. She speaks of excellent proposals that she has put forward in the past on economic issues, but she has not answered the question I posed: what is the basic proposal that she makes to bridge the two communities? That is the key issue.
I put the same question to hon. Gentlemen opposite, not least to the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), who gave credit to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I realise that hon. Members do not want an increase in the violence; they want a solution. However, they do not come forward with an alternative. Surely the proposal that the Unionists have accepted, under great duress and pressure, to work with the Alliance Party and the SDLP is the only possible development at this time.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says "No." But the answers are not forthcoming.
This is the same sort of argument as we have had within our parties. I say quite frankly that our critics in the Labour Party and at our conference have said this. We were asked at our conference why we were not discussing Ireland. From 630 constituency parties and something like 150 trade unions, not one resolution was submitted dealing with the Irish policy or an alternative policy. That is because there is no alternative policy at the moment. Everyone knows that, if this policy fails, we will have to return to direct rule. The other alternatives such as total integration, UDI or an immediate united Ireland are not capable of achievement now. We have to face this fact, and it was faced by the SDLP and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in a courageous speech earlier today.
My hon. Friend has had to move a long way. He and Mr. Brian Faulkner are now to sit down in the same office. That is something that would have been spoken of as a figment of the imagination only a short while ago.
The hon. Gentleman has repeatedly said that we had not put forward any alternative proposals. I have constantly put forward various alternative proposals. I put forward a simple one this afternoon—that we should accept what Kilbrandon has said and increase Northern Ireland representation in this House. It is no use the hon. Gentleman saying that it is impossible. Neither I nor my party would agree with that view.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman agrees with that proposal, and some of his hon. Friends would want increased representation. But would the minority accept it? Of course not. He knows that that is divisive. What we are looking for is something that will unite us.
The hon. Gentleman is making the point that something is unacceptable because a minority will not accept it, yet he is forcing upon Northern Ireland an Executive which is opposed by at least 36 per cent. of the electorate.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman's party has accepted it. It has not been forced upon it. Those who set out to wreck the Assembly or the Executive by constitutional or violent means—they are entitled to use the former—have to be extremely careful. If they wreck them, they could impoverish those whom they represent. If we were to lose our way now and go back to square one, it would not be quite the same as when we left square one. There will be increasing difficulties. The pressures and the violence will return.
The concept of the Executive has alongside it a Council of Ireland. I could say that I believe in a united Ireland, but I would have to carry a million Protestants with me to implement the policy. We have to convince the people in Northern Ireland on both sides of the argument that this is capable of achievement. I believe it is, but not by violence, threats or trying to push the Protestants into something they are not prepared to accept. We concede that.
I hope that the new Executive—when it becomes possible for it to start, which may be in the New Year—will get down to tackling some of the social and economic problems. The hon. Member for Antrim, South made an interesting constituency speech. He dealt with the bread-and-butter issues in Northern Ireland and set out many of the things which he said needed to be done.
There is now an opportunity for the three parties to fashion policies. Sometimes they may be in conflict with the Government at Westminster. I hope that they will come forward with Socialist proposals. The Secretary of State and his hon. Friends might not agree with what is put forward, but I hope that the three parties will nevertheless have an opportunity to put forward proposals which they think should be carried out. The test of the Executive will be not fine words and declarations but achievements. Its success will depend upon whether the right roads are built, whether it decides to cancel the ring road at Belfast and whether jobs are brought to Belfast and to the area west of the River Bann.
I hope that the hon. Lady will excuse my not giving way, but time is rather short.
The problem of employment at Harland and Wolff must be tackled, as must the whole question of employment in Northern Ireland. The chairman of the new committees and the members of the Executive are not going into a cushy job. They will be answerable to the people amongst whom they live. The hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster and others who are opposed to the Executive know how things operate in Irish politics. They say that they are opposed to the Executive, but the next minute they are on the doorstep demanding that the Minister does various things.
The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) criticised the fact that housing was going back into the political arena. In the past it was under the control of the Stormont administration. I welcome its return to the political arena, because it means that it will no longer be dealt with on a one-sided basis. The hon. Member for Belfast, West will have responsibility for housing. He will have a heavy responsibility on his shoulders, and he will be expected to produce results. People from all communities will want houses, and they will have a right to ask for them.
Perhaps the most important problems in Northern Ireland are those connected with housing, the environment and the provision of jobs. Unemployment in Northern Ireland is running at a rate of 5·3 per cent. Too often in the past people have had to leave in order to find jobs. They have solved their individual problems by leaving the area, but their problems should have been solved for them by the introduction of sound economic and social policies.
The hon. Gentleman criticises those who, he says, oppose something and at the same time demand something from it. The Labour Party continually demands from the Government things which it opposes. It is therefore right to oppose the Executive and at the same time demand that certain rights be given to the people.
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that the new Minister-designate for Health and Social Services should not extract rent arrears from the supplementary benefits and family allowances paid to people on rent strike, since it was that individual who called for the strike?
That last point is a matter for the Executive and the Assembly. It is not for us in this House to dictate their policies. They would resent it if the Secretary of State dictated their future social and economic policies, and they must resolve them. But I shall let my last words stand against what the hon. Lady said. I think that my criticisms were justified.
I want to come to the question of internment, which is a serious issue which has taxed the minds of those of us on this side of the House since its inception. What we are concerned about is that internment should not be with us for so long that it becomes accepted as part of the machinery of State. Internment must be brought to an end. Although it can be discussed in the Executive and the Assembly, we recognise that security is an exempted matter and is therefore the responsibility of this House. But it is wrong that internment should continue alongside the Diplock proposals, the Act, the amendments—some of which we did not agree with—and the new tribunals and courts.
We have made it very clear in the past that we want to see internment ended; in fact, we voted against internment in this House and we think we were right in doing so. We want to see a drastic change, and I am hoping that with the coming of the Executive there will be a reduction in violence which in itself will lead to the ending of internment. We know about what is going on at Long Kesh and about the conditions there. The present position is unsatisfactory and puts us at odds with other Western European countries. Therefore, something must be done fairly soon.
In the Council of Ireland I see one of the real chances for open development within both Northern Ireland and the Republic. The right hon. Gentleman intends that there shall be consultations prior to the setting up of the council, and I presume that there may be meetings with parties in the Republic. He said that he wanted to meet the parties, even those that were opposed to the Executive and to the concept of a Council of Ireland. Reference was made by one of my hon. Friends to a Council of Europe where people could meet. I do not see why the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) should not make his views known to the politicians in the Republic, and vice versa. I believe that there is unlimited scope for the Council of Ireland, although there is a restriction in the fact that decisions will have to be unanimous.
The final question is, will it work? We do not know. If the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West are anything to go by, it will work. But it will not be easy, and there are all sorts of hurdles and plenty of critics and opponents. However, if this idea begins to work and economic and social benefits start to flow, it will give a new vigour to Northern Ireland and a new feeling of confidence. We on this side want to see working-class Protestants and Roman Catholics coming together on the social and economic issues which do not divide them—they are divided only by sectarian differences which have been bred over the generations—and there is a real chance for that to happen.
Therefore, we welcome this step. We in the Labour Party feel that we have played some part in it, but we do not wish to detract from the Secretary of State's ability and achievement in bringing about the formation of the Executive. It would be churlish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman other than fully. Now, however, the matter is moving away from him and the Government into the hands of the people of Northern Ireland. That is how the problems in Northern Ireland will finally be resolved. We wish the people well. There will be criticisms and problems, but this might be the first step in recent years in securing a real achievement in Northern Ireland.
I do not think it can be said that this has been a euphoric debate. This House and those who attend our debates on Northern Ireland are far too familiar with the pattern of events there, and with the ups and downs, to get swept away by euphoria. There has been no euphoria, nor should there have been.
No one has ever believed that the future and the threat of violence can be met by politics alone. Of course they cannot. There is always the danger of violence, there are always the threats and there is always the need to provide every conceivable backing for the security forces to be at readiness against the fears and threat of violence. But, at the same time, if there has been no euphoria it is right to say, as many have done, that this could be a good start, that the possibilities for a better future are there and that what has been brought forward today as a proposed agreement on the Executive-designate provides possibilities on which we can and must build.
I should like to take up a number of points that have been made and elaborate a little on the aspect which began to come through at the end of our debate concerning what seemed to be the bread and butter issues. Yet, basically they are the most important issues, the issues of a roof over one's head, the food on one's table and the kind of life and surroundings that the people of Northern Ireland will have, deserve to have and have a right to in the future. The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) asked about the timing and the various ways in which the pattern of things may develop in the future. Now that agreement has been reached on an Executive-designate, obviously we want to go ahead as soon as possible, and we wish to arrange a conference with those in the Executive who will take part and with the Government of the Republic. We hope that will be in early December. Thereafter, if this House and another place approve the necessary amendments to the Constitution Act, there may be—again if this House approves—the necessary devolution of powers, and it would be our hope that the whole of this process could be completed early in the New Year. That is how we see the future shaping up as of now.
Just as I think we were helpful over the date of 28th June, if the Government wish to move even faster in that timetable, bearing in mind there will be a recess, we would expedite any move the Government made.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend has noted that point.
The hon. Member asked about the economic and social document which he said could be treated as a Queen's Speech by the Executive if and when it comes about. That is right. The document of economic and social aims has been put together by, and in a sense is the property of, the three parties to the agreement. It is for them to decide how they wish to use and present it once the administration of the Executive gets under way.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the status of the committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). It has no statutory function. Its rôle is simply to help the chief constable and the police authority. It reflects the Government's belief that urgent attention should be paid to recruitment and the place of the RUC in the community. For example, thought has been given to the rôle of district police liaison committees in improving links between the community and local police commanders.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the study of law enforcement. This is a preliminary study at official level. But, as my right hon. Friend said, it is a matter for detailed discussion in the future.
No legislation would be needed for the formation of a Council of Ireland. A different question arises over its functions. If it is to assume powers which are reserved or excepted, legislation will be required here at Westminster, and if it is to assume powers and functions on transferred matters, legislation will be required in the Assembly in Belfast. But there is no obligation for legislation on its formation, although the Assembly might feel that it wished to pass a motion to mark its formation.
The formation is a different thing.
The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members asked what was the purpose of the first tripartite conference. It is to discuss the general aspect of the Council of Ireland, to formulate clear views about it in a general sense and to reach the kind of agreement which, together with the agreement on the Executive-designate, could provide the whole package for the process to go forward to the formal conference.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the consultative and advisory level body which my right hon. Friend mentioned, and asked who could be in it. It is very much a matter for discussion in the Assembly and the Executive, and with other interested parties, as to who would go to the second-level body and what form it would take.
As for economic policy in the North and the South, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the trade between the two is fairly small. In a way that is not surprising, because the North has for a long time been geared to the rest of the United Kingdom economy and the South has been geared in a different way. Trade is governed by the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement and other international agreements between the Republic and ourselves. The tariffs have come down rapidly. I believe that those between Northern Ireland and the Republic on everything are due to be eliminated next year. That is rather faster than their elimination on trade between the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic. It can be seen that there are no barriers to trade Perhaps we shall see trade expand as the prosperity of Northern Ireland increases, as it is increasing now, and that of the rest of the United Kingdom increases.
I must correct one point made by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus), who seemed to think that civil servants were appointed by the Minister of Finance. Appointment does not work like that. It is done by the head of the Civil Service, subject for the most senior appointments to the political head of the Department concerned. The hon. Gentleman's rather Machiavellian idea that the Minister of Finance or the head of the Department of Finance under the Executive would pick out all the civil servants can be dismissed as complete rubbish.
The hon. Gentleman dos me an injustice, and the Secretary of State does me an even greater injustice by muttering "Complete rubbish". I do not believe that it is. I did not speak of the Minister of Finance. I said that in the Ministry of Finance a section has been established. Can the Minister confirm or deny that a section dealing with the management of personnel has been set up?
That is not quite what the hon. Gentleman said. There is a Civil Service management division which comes under the Ministry of Finance. It is concerned with the administration of the Civil Service. It is similar to the Civil Service Department here. That is a far cry from what the hon. Gentleman suggested.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) asked "What about the Chief Whip?" He asked what the Chief Whip will do. I do not find any difficulty with that matter. The Chief Whip will whip in the supporters of the Executive. I should have thought that that was obvious. If I have missed anything in the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend, I cannot see it. He asked what the non-Executive members will be paid. I cannot give an answer. The matter is still being considered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) asked for more information on the tripartite talks. He asked who would be the parties to the talks and what their capacity would be I can only repeat what my right hon. Friend said—namely, that the parties who are not prepared to assent to power sharing and the propositions of the Constitution Act will have their views taken by my right hon. Friend in consultation with those parties who will consent to power sharing. Therefore, the parties are the parties to the Executive and to the tripartite talks with the Government of the Republic and the British Government. The purpose will be, as I said earlier, to discuss the broad shape of the future Council of Ireland and other arrangements, and to provide, or assist in determining whether, a basis can be reached which satisfies all those in the Executive, which completes the package and which allows the Executive to go forward.
By definition the Executive does not exist in a legal form. The parties must go as parties to the preliminary talks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) raised an interesting number of matters. I hope that he will not regard me as dismissing them if I refer to them as bread and butter issues. I shall consider them all in detail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South referred, as did the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) to the broader issue behind all the political agreements and the determination to hunt down the men of violence and the extremists on both sides. Behind my right hon. Friend's herculean and patient efforts there is the aim to provide prosperity and a decent life for the people of Northern Ireland. I fully recognise that there is a tremendous amount to do. There are appalling black spots in Northern Ireland.
We have spent much time in the stewardship of the last 20 months in attempting to beam on to the black spots the full efforts and resources of the Government in lowering the appallingly high unemployment rates. At the same time, it is fair to say that on the economic front there has been an almost continuous stream of good news which has been in direct contradiction to the pessimism and gloom of people who have taken a different view of Northern Ireland. It has been in complete contradiction to the efforts and the declared aims of terrorists to destroy the economic fabric of Northern Ireland.
That has been the declared aim of some. What has been the answer? It has been a powerful and continuing surge forward in the Northern Ireland economy. There has been rapid expansion. For example, in the past year the growth rate in manufacturing was 14 per cent. That is by no means a small performance. It seems that 1973 will be the best year for industrial development in Northern Ireland for many years. While there are black spots, and while there is a need for development, the picture is by no means one of complete gloom.
The one area of life in Northern Ireland in which there has been a slump in the figure is in the unemployment total. The figures published today show a fall of 5·2 per cent. The trend is still downward. It is not just a 5·2 per cent. fall in some places because the trend has been downwards right across the board. There are 30 local employment offices in Northern Ireland and every one shows a fall in unemployment. That is not the sort of picture to be expected in a community which is breaking up or edging towards the verge of destruction. It is an even spread of prosperity which is extremely encouraging.
One of the greatest burdens of the past has been the appalling unevenness of job opportunities, with labour shortage existing side by side with areas of appallingly high and persistent unemployment. We all know that a heavy social and political price has been paid for this. It has been one of our central aims to alter this state of affairs and to attempt to bring more help to places like Londonderry, the Newry area and West Belfast, not just West of the Bann. I am sure that if and when the Executive is formed and moves into gear, it will want to push ahead from here in concentrating on reducing the appalling disparities in employment opportunities and employment resources in different parts of Northern Ireland.
I do not think that those who have kept closely in touch with Northern Ireland's economic affairs will be greatly surprised by the fact that, despite all the bad news, there has always been the good news of the economic performance. I think—and perhaps this is an opinion I can give after 20 months of close involvement—that there is, first, a real quality of drive and ingeniousness in Ulster businessmen and work people in overcoming the challenges that they have had to face. Secondly, if I can put in a word from our side, we in the Government have sought to match those qualities with a pretty imaginative approach specially devised to meet Northern Ireland's special regional needs, and I hope that the future Executive would want to develop this approach. Thirdly, I think that there are remarkable achievements by the trade unions and managements in industrial relations.
When one looks at these three elements, one sees that they are the ingredients of economic success which provide that in the future, unless things go very wrong, the prospects of building Northern Ireland's prosperity on a really secure basis are extremely good. I think that that should be recognised in everything we have tried to do so far and in all that I hope that we and the Executive will seek to do in the future.
In industrial development, this year, up to the end of September, 53 new projects have been promoted by the present Ministry of Commerce. Eleven of these are new plants, including six from outside the United Kingdom—from the United States, Scandinavia and Western Europe. This is a question not just of local investment but of people from outside the United Kingdom putting their money in Northern Ireland in very large quantities, thus registering a vote of confidence in the future of Northern Ireland and its people. The continued confidence of firms like Courtaulds, which alone has this year announced its intention to spend over £40 million in Northern Ireland, is a reflection of the amazing ability of Northern Ireland to compete against an appallingly difficult background. This is the economic picture for the present, and it provides a very sound basis for the future, although I am the first to admit that much remains to be done.
I turn now to housing. Our housing performance has not been good enough, and there are problems. We have to pick these up with the Housing Executive. It has had very great difficulties and has fought against appalling odds in getting its housing programme forward. But I recognise that, when all is said and done, the Northern Ireland administration and the Civil Service have performed extremely well against a background of political instability and violence to achieve very great things in Northern Ireland in carrying forward the basis and framework for a better life for its people.
That is the picture now. The simple question remains: if we can move on from here to sustained peace and a stable political settlement, if the people of Northern Ireland have done that well under present conditions, how much better will they do when peace and political stability are fully realised? These goals are not beyond Northern Ireland's reach.
The pessimists have told us in the House over the last 20 months that none of these things could be done. We were told that it was not possible to have elections. Elections were held. We were told that it was not possible to create an Assembly. The Assembly was created. My right hon. Friend was told that it was flatly impossible to reach any agreement in principle on an Executive. But an agreement in principle for an Executive-designate has been reached.
Therefore, when one hears that these things are not possible and will not work, the time comes when the pessimists have to be answered and we have to say that these things can be reached and that the prospects for Northern Ireland's economic, social and political future can be realised in a satisfactory way.
On the security side we know, as I have said, that the danger of violence is always there. But let us not forget that the security forces' efforts are a constant and continuous success. Again and again they score enormous successes in searches, finds and arrests and whittling down by erosion of terrorism, from both sides. Let us not for a moment forget that success has increasingly marked the efforts of the security forces. That deals with the moves towards peace.
As to the political front, we now have the agreement for the Executive-designate. It is vitally important that there has been agreement between political leaders. But perhaps even more important was something put into my mind by the very moving and brave speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). That is that, aside from the political leaders, more and more people in Northern Ireland are recognising one simple, central reality; that this is not just a fancy way forward, not just a gimmick, not just a choice of something that can be picked up and thrown down. This is the only way. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said, there is no alternative, no soft option, no other way. He was entirely right, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South was entirely and tragically wrong.
This is increasingly understood by the people of Northern Ireland. That is what lies behind and gives substance to this start, this agreement for an Executive-designate which my right hon. Friend has achieved.
The truth is that words, arguments and views are slowly but inevitably replacing the violence and gunfire, though the pessimists may deny it. We are beginning to hear in Northern Ireland something that I thought we would never hear—someone listening to the other person's point of view. This is beginning to come through in the currency of debate. We never heard that previously.
There is some way to go yet. Perhaps we can say, at the end of this debate, that the first shoots of true reconciliation are beginning to show through the ice-black earth of Ulster's recent past. If we can move on from here—as I believe the whole House, with one or two sad exceptions, thinks we can, the economic and social vitality of Ulster can be permanently sustained on a basis of peace and prosperity in this corner of the United Kingdom and of Europe.