First, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new appointment. I wish him every success. I also congratulate all those who took part in the recent discussions. Can he give an assurance that the new Council of Ireland will have free powers and will be allowed to evolve? When will its first meeting take place?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those kind words. Many people were involved in the conference, and what he said was a proper comment to make on their work as a whole. The position about the functions of the Council of Ireland is referred to in the communiqué, but studies are being put in hand to report on areas of common interest in relation to which the Council of Ireland could take executive decisions and, in appropriate cases, be responsible for carrying those decisions into effect. Further studies will be made within the Council of Ireland but when it will meet for the first time has not been decided. The Assembly will have to appoint its representatives and the Government of the Republic of Ireland will have to do the same before they can consider, together, how and when to proceed.
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and wish him and all those who took part in the tripartite conference every success. Has the Secretary of State also considered where the Council of Ireland should meet—whether in one place or in various places alternating between Northern and Southern Ireland?
Again, I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. The position is that when representatives of both sides have been appointed they will decide where the first meeting might be.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the agreement now reached, and referred to in the communiqué, has been made possible on the basis of the support given to it in Northern Ireland. I know that the hon. Gentleman has followed the whole process with great interest. Following the elections and the agreement between the parties we have now decided that this is how we should proceed. It is the case that the majority of people in Northern Ireland are behind the proposals.
Since a considerable proportion of the members of the Assembly were not invited to send representatives to the full conference, how can my right hon. Friend say that it has the full support of Northern Ireland? Since the 1925 Anglo-Irish Agreement—which was registered with the old League of Nations—was repudiated seven years later by Mr. De Valera and 12 years later replaced by the Eire Constitution, which claimed jurisdiction over Northern Ireland; can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Eire Government will not do the same thing again?
I also join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend. I hope that the recent talks will introduce a new era in the relationship between North and South. Will the Secretary of State say something about the method of working of the expert working parties? Presumably they will be at Civil Service level. When are they to meet? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Northern Ireland civil servants will be involved?
The Secretary of State will note that the Question is concerned with membership of the conference and not with an invitation to a deputation to attend and simply put its views. Will he now confirm that over two thirds of Unionists voted against the White Paper? Will he also confirm that when an application goes before the Health Services Board in Belfast the question is asked "Are you a Protestant?". and if the answer is "Yes" the applicant is told that he will not be employed? Can that be taken as the right hon. Gentleman's attitude to Protestants?
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's attitude to this matter. He well knows that the progress of these matters, which was difficult, could be achieved only by consent, and that was included in the White Paper. We undertook to invite certain people, including the party leaders, to participate. If my invitation to the hon. Member was not an invitation to do that, I do not know what it was.
Is it not a fact that the White Paper laid down that the leaders of political opinion in Northern Ireland would be invited to those talks and that that invitation was not given to those groups? If people such as myself are attacked as extremists merely because we assert our constitutional rights to criticise legislation—just as the Labour Party criticised the Industrial Relations Act—there is no point in my remaining here this afternoon.