Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Act 1974

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:45 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell , Middlesbrough 10:45 pm, 26th June 1985

I listen always with great interest to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), as I listen to all hon. Members.

We are drawing to a close a stimulating and long debate on a subject which does not take up a great deal of time in the House, yet repeats a familiar pattern, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said.

In a speech which he made in an identical debate on the matter last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) accepted the need for this continuing legislation, and described direct rule as everyone's second favourite option. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster has indicated his favourite option, which is full devolution. Earlier this evening, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) described it as not everyone's first option. He also used the words "a Shakespearean tragedy". Of course, there are many tragic aspects to life in Northern Ireland, and it is with that that all politicians in the House and elsewhere seek to cope in a very genuine fashion.

We on this side of the House have noted—and I think that the Secretary of State also referred to this—the work of the Assembly in Northern Ireland and the degree of accountability to that Assembly. The Secretary of State said earlier that the Northern Ireland Assembly still has a role to play in the affairs of Northern Ireland. He also said that its deliberations had helped him and his ministerial colleagues. I have read most of the reports on the Northern Ireland Assembly that have come to the House, and the various Committees have shown some diligence in their treatment of a number of complex issues, including those dealing with wildlife and historic churches—not perhaps esoteric subjects, but ones which have been duly analysed and pronounced upon.

I was saddened, therefore, to note the rather pusillanimous approach that the Assembly took to a proposed draft Gas (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 which came before the Northern Ireland Committee of the House today. That Committee, I am glad to say, took a more robust stance, if I may borrow a phrase of the Secretary of State which he uses in another connection, on the town gas industry of Northern Ireland: the failure of the Government properly to consult; the failure of the Government to involve employers and employees alike in what is after all a participatory democracy; the failure to exercise vision into the future of a gas industry when there is natural gas round these islands and natural gas available from the Republic; and the failure to rise above the nonsense of a monetarist policy and, for a paltry £12 million a year, to retain the gas industry. It is the withdrawal of that £12 million subsidy which will lead to the loss of 1,000 jobs.

These matters were brought up at the Economic Development Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but in effect, notwithstanding an interesting cross-examination by members of the Committee of the Minister of State, they came to the conclusion, The Committee, having considered the arguments and discussed them with the Minister, is forced to accept that the Government's decision on the matter of closure is irrevocable. Nothing is irrevocable in this life except perhaps death and taxes, and certainly not the closure of the town gas industry in Northern Ireland.

I sincerely hope that the Minister of State, who is not present tonight, for I know that he is in Northern Ireland, will wish to consider carefully the decision of the Northern Ireland Committee not to put the motion on the proposed closure to the House.