Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Act 1974

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:19 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney 7:19 pm, 26th June 1985

I am coming to Assemblymen. They say that hard experience has taught them that the other parties are not to be trusted and will not make any real concessions. I have heard this over and over again but I do not believe that that provides an adequate reason for not trying again.

The disappointment which many of us feel at the way that the Assembly has not so far met the main purpose for which it was created should not blind us to the fact that one of the difficulties has been the decision taken by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues not to have any part in it. It would have been very much easier for the Report Committee of the Assembly in making the progress that I and many others would like to see it make if the hon. Gentleman had at least authorised discussions with it, if not joining it. My conclusion is not the same as that which the hon. Gentleman has drawn.

The search for agreement, for mutual accommodations, in Northern Ireland must continue whatever the outcome of the Anglo-Irish talks. I am taking stock with the political leaders at present. The scheme of legislative and executive devolution that is in the Northern Ireland Act 1982 is practical and coherent. I am prepared to consider other forms of devolution if their advocates can show that they meet the criterion of widespread acceptance throughout the community. I could imagine, for example, a scheme in which executive power only was devolved in some areas of policy. If new arrangements are to be stable and to benefit the people of Northern Ireland and of Great Britain, the constitutional political parties which represent both parts of the community must be prepared to work these arrangements together. During the coming months we shall have to encourage the parties to address these matters actively and seriously.

Meanwhile, direct rule must continue. It is often denigrated and receives scant praise. Too little attention is paid to what has been achieved over a decade by successive Governments and the people of Northern Ireland. I pay tribute especially to the public servants. Many tributes are rightly paid to the security forces, but the Northern Ireland civil servants and other civilian public servants of the Province deserve a tribute during the debate. They and the people as a whole have kept cool heads amidst all the tragedy of the terrorism and the hardship in recent years of a severe worldwide economic recession.

This shows in the combined effort that has been made in the form of resources from the United Kingdom as a whole, the understanding of the House and the performance of the people of Northern Ireland. This shows as we go about the cities and the counties. This shows in the roads, schools, leisure centres, health centres, hospitals and the very high standard of new housing. We shall continue to invest in Northern Ireland for the present and in future. We want the people of Northern Ireland to live in greater safety and prosperity. We are prepared to continue the present substantial effort by the whole country to make this possible. We are not satisfied with the results of that effort so far. We shall continue to do all that we can to eradicate terrorism. We shall continue the search for partnership between the communities.

Meanwhile, the government of the Province must be carried on efficiently, firmly and fairly. I therefore invite the House to agree to extend the life of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 for a further 12 months.