I beg to move,
That the draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Dissolution) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 12th June, be approved.
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 4th June, be approved.
I understand that it will be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Speaker, if we discuss these two orders together.
The draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Dissolution) Order 1986 relates to the dissolution of the existing Assembly. I emphasise "the existing Assembly". This Assembly would in any case reach the end of its normal life on 20 October. I made a statement to the House last week in which I set out our decision on this matter and our proposal to bring forward this order today. In that statement I sought to make clear the background to our decision.
The Assembly effectively has two central functions. The first is to consider and report on how a devolved Northern Ireland Administration could be formed. The second is a scrutiny role in relation to the Northern Ireland departments. For the reasons that we rehearsed last week, it has not been possible to achieve the first of those functions. In respect of the second — the scrutiny function, which started well and which was proving to he a valuable instrument in the administration of the Province—it is interesting to note that, in the case of the recommendations from the various Scrutiny Committees that we established to monitor the work of Northern Ireland departments, the latest information I have is that 75 per cent. of the Committee recommendations have been accepted in respect of draft orders and comments on them.
Unfortunately, that useful work was suspended by the decision of the Members themselves in December and was then formally abandoned in March. The Assembly was charged with two central functions but for some months it has been discharging neither. As long ago as last December I warned that if the Assembly did not discharge its proper functions it would put its continuance at risk. I have since reinforced that warning and did so twice in May. As there was no change in the situation. I subsequently invited the leaders of the main Unionist parties to come and discuss the position of the present Assembly. As the House knows, they refused to do even that
Is it not the case that all those admirable functions that were performed by Committees of the Northern Ireland Assembly could well be performed by appropriate Committees of this House?
The advantage was that the functions were being performed by people with a more intimate and closer knowledge of circumstances in Northern Ireland. I respect the great knowledge of the Province and the history of the whole of Ireland that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) has, but I should be very surprised if he were to maintain, or if anyone were to pretend, that hon. Members of this House who do not represent Northern Ireland constituencies could claim to do the detailed scrutiny work as effectively as those whose homes are in the Province.
The leaders of the main Unionist parties were not even prepared to discuss the position with us. I hope that the House will accept that I gave the Unionist leaders in the Assembly every opportunity to resume their proper functions so that the Assembly would be able to continue. I regret to say that it is because of their failure to discharge their proper functions, and obviously because, not least, some quite serious questions could be asked about the application of public funds to a body set up to carry out certain functions under an Act of Parliament when those funds are not being used for that purpose, that the present action is being taken.
I should like to make it clear that the disgraceful and childish antics in which some Members of the Assembly, and especially the members of the DUP, indulged more recently of occupying a telephone exchange and requiring eviction by the Royal Ulster Constabulary did not enter into my considerations. I was concerned solely to see that the Assembly discharged the functions for which it was set up.
If this order were not made, automatically there would be fresh elections to the Assembly after the dissolution on 20 October. The order does not abolish the legal basis for the Assembly. It simply abolishes the present Assembly which, allowing for the normal recess that it might have taken, would have had only about another month or six weeks of normal sitting days.
The order dissolves the present Assembly and leaves open the date of elections to a new Assembly. It is important to make that point because of some of the exaggerated comments by some spokesmen in the Northern Ireland parties. I noted the comments of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who complained that all platforms were denied to him. I have described the hon. Member by his proper title. He is a Member of this House, and as such he has access to the most important forum in the United Kingdom. He makes little use of it, and so he cannot say that he is denied the opportunity of expressing in a democratic forum comments on behalf of the people that he represents.
In the event of the Assembly being reassembled for whatever reasons, and assuming that that came after round-table talks, would the Assembly have to operate as is presently conceived in the legislation, or could the legislation be amended according to what came out of those talks?
I shall say something shortly about how I see the future of the Assembly and the way forward.
I should like to deal with the allegation that somehow the Government are trying to suppress free speech or free comment or democratic expression. When I look at the situation that has developed in the local councils in Northern Ireland, at the situation in the Assembly and at the empty Benches in this House, I note that it is not decisions of the Government that have brought any of those circumstances about. They were brought about by the decisions of people in the Assembly or in the councils or by those who were elected to this Parliament. I regret their refusal to discuss the problems with Ministers. They loudly complain about people's refusal to listen, while at the same time they refuse to talk or to take any part in discussions. The inconsistency of that position will be apparent to all hon. Members.
I recognise that there is a great difference between the situations in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but does the Minister recognise that they seem to have one thing in common? I refer to the Government's attitude to the governing of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The wishes of the representatives of the majority of people in Northern Ireland about the arrangements that are made are not given effect in this House. They wish to have more discussed here. Similarly, the representatives of the majority in Scotland wish to have devolved government and the Government are setting their face against that. Does the Minister not see anything curious about this? Why is he so unresponsive to the views of the majority of elected Members from Scotland and Northern Ireland about the way their countries should be governed?
I cannot deny that I see many things that are curious in both situations. I shall come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) because I want to talk about alternative approaches in different parts of the United Kingdom. The issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised is important.
I should like to complete the point and then I shall give way.
We look forward to the creation of a new Assembly on an acceptable basis, but the charge that the Government sought to bring about the dissolution, or that we have been unreasonable or not willing to talk, simply cannot be sustained. I hope that it is now understood in Northern Ireland that I am more than ready to listen to people's points of view and to talk to anybody who wishes to have discussions about a constructive way forward. I shall say more about that later.
If the dissolution of the Assembly is approved by the House, and that decision is confirmed by the Privy Council, there will then be a period during which I shall be anxious to see that as far as possible we can maintain effective methods of consultation. One of the arrangements that operated in the Assembly was that draft instruments or draft orders were issued for consultation and the Assembly was invited to give its views. I propose to continue the practice of sending to the party leaders in Northern Ireland and to interested hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies in the House any such documents that come forward so that they can continue to he informed about matters. We shall, of course, be willing to receive any of their comments.
Is the Secretary of State aware that before 1982, when the practice that he has just described prevailed. there were frequent consultations between Northern Ireland Members and Ministers? Those often resulted in substantial and desirable modifications of the orders that were eventually brought before the House. There is no reason why that procedure should not be fruitful.
It will be a fascinating argument when it starts. I am sure that both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland will enjoy it.
Could my right hon. Friend address himself to the question that was raised by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), the spokesman for the SDI'? Does my right hon. Friend recall the year 1978, when he and I voted in favour of the proposition that, before Scotland and Wales were governed differently from the way in which they had been governed before, there should be a referendum in both countries to test whether that which was acceptable to the House was acceptable to a majority in Scotland and in Wales? Why, if he and I were correct to insist on a referendum then, are we not correct to ask for a referendum in Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend knows the answer before I give it. It is that Northern Ireland is not being governed differently from the way in which it was governed before. I know that my hon. Friend is referring to the Anglo-Irish agreement, and the government of the Province is no different after that agreement. He will recall, as he knows it word for word and I would not presume to tell him anything about it, that the agreement brings no change in the sovereignty of the House and the Government's responsibility for Northern Ireland. That is the essential difference between this case and that about which he was talking.
It was suggested that we should simply not have the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order at all, and merely allow the order to lapse, and that its non-renewal was a possible course to take. I put that on record, because I know that it is a matter in which many hon. Members have taken a close interest. I leave aside for the moment the political background and implications of such a decision. I hope that it is understood, now that discussions have taken place, that, quite apart from the political considerations, the technical problems would make it impossible simply not to renew the order. That would lead to major problems for the House and to major gaps in the executive authority and powers in the Province, which would severely hamper administration.
Successive Secretaries of State have come to the House seeking the renewal of the order, and each has said that he hoped that this would not have to he repeated much more often. The basis on which we might forgo renewal does not exist, and, on both the technical and practical considerations, it is necessary to invite the House to renew the direct rule powers contained in the order.
The background both to the decision about the dissolution of the Assembly and that about the interim period extension order shows that this is an appropriate time to take stock of the situation in the Province, and for the Government to make clear their views on the best way forward. There has been more intensive debate in the Province in recent months. One of the consequences flowing from the Anglo-Irish agreement is that it has stimulated a more intensive debate in the Province about what the right way forward should be, and, particularly in Unionist circles, a reconsideration of the position and objectives. It is clear that there is no going back, and that this is the best way forward.
I move on to the approaches to the situation in Northern Ireland that are being debated, my impressions of them and the Government's view on them. The approaches are integration, devolution and even independence, all of which have had their advocates in this debate. I shall deal first with integration. The Government do not support, and would not be prepared to suggest. integration as a policy for Northern Ireland. To suggest that there is no difference between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom is to ignore completely the background of different histories, traditions, community attitudes and political parties. These differences have evolved over centuries, and cannot simply be discussed as minor variations that can be cast aside in a uniform Westminster package. There are fundamental objections, without even adding to them the massive problems of reconciliation of legislation and the whole issue of local councils and how they can operate in ways that protect their electors from discrimination.
The slogan used now to advocate integration is "equal citizenship". The implication is that different treatment of legislation implies less citizenship. Yet we know — and this is the point to which the hon. Member for Sutherland and Caithness referred—that there are differences in the way in which we handle Scottish and Welsh matters, while all remaining equal citizens under the Crown. Total integration is unacceptable, not only to the Government but to the House, and the vast majority of people in the Province, both Unionist and Nationalist. They wish to see more control over their own affairs exercised within the Province. I make it clear that integration is simply not on.
In saying that, I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said which was that the Government are certainly willing to look at ways in which Northern Ireland business is handled in the House and to see whether there are ways in which this could be improved. I recognise that there are points to be discussed over the ways in which legislation and other matters are treated. I confirm that we are ready to consider any constructive suggestion. However, I add that this willingness to look at reasonable changes in our present practices should not mislead anyone to believe that this could somehow lead to the stale of integration that some hon. Members expound.
My hon. Friend is right to say that this matter has been discussed in great detail. Will he make clear the Government's position? Is he saying that the acknowledged differences between the various dependent parts of the United Kingdom—that is, the differences between the English and the Welsh, and the English and the Scottish—are differences of degree, but that the differences between the English and the Welsh and the Northern Irish are differences of kind? If he is drawing that distinction, I am afraid that I do not understand it.
My hon. Friend knows that there are differences, whether of degree or of kind — whatever word he chooses, we would need to debate at substantial length. I would not want to mislead my hon. Friend because I am not fully seized of his point. There are different practices, traditions and realities in Northern Ireland. We recognise the differences between the communities and their aspirations, and the different legislation in Norther Ireland. I leave aside one of the key differences—that the major political parties representing in the House every other part of the United Kingdom do not operate within Northern Ireland, as my hon. Friend knows.
Because of the debate that has taken place, I thought it was my responsibility to the House to make clear the Government's position. It would be wrong if encouragement were given to the view that the Government might be prepared to entertain certain alternatives. I hope hon. Members will accept that I have been willing to listen to any points that they wished to make and not to reject them from a doctrinaire point of view. I have been willing to consider ways in which we could help reconcile some of the problems and attitudes. In my statement I have sought to set out what I believe to be possible, but also what I believe is not possible and where I think there is scope to proceed.
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend has come out so strongly against the possibility of integration. That is his business and he is free to do it. May I correct him on one point? He said that the political parties in this country have not operated in the Province. The Unionist party in the North of Ireland was closely and integrally affiliated with the Conservative party until he and some of his predecessors brought about the present stress.
There is something in what my right hon. Friend says, but he also knows that the background of the traditions and political loyalties in the Province is not the same as the basis of political loyalties in the rest of the United Kingdom. He will accept equally the validity of that point.
I do not want to take up too much time because we have other orders to debate. My hon. Friend will accept that I have given way on several occasions.
I want to set out the way in which the Government wish to proceed. The Government want to see devolved government in the Province on a basis that commands widespread acceptance. We want a basis on which elected people from the Province can again have a real say in its administration. [Interruption.] I heard the groan from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), but history is not encouraging. That is an easy and obvious point to make. If my right hon. Friend were plugged into the debate that is taking place in Northern Ireland he would know that recent events have concentrated people's minds in a different way on the best way forward.
In the debate on the Anglo-Irish agreement I recall the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) saying that if he had known that he would have to face the Anglo-Irish agreement he would have considered seriously sitting down with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) to see whether they could reach agreement, as residents representing constituencies in Northern Ireland. Many such remarks have encouraged me to believe that more and more people realise the importance of making a real effort this time to find agreement.
We now need to start talking, not necessarily in a great formal gathering or in an official meeting. We must start the process of understanding better each other's point of view. Sooner or later there must be talks, and the sooner the better. I may have the wrong impression, but I think that at last people in the Province appreciate that I am prepared to listen to constructive arguments, that my door is genuinely open and that, as somebody who believes both in the value of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom and in the clear rights of the majority in that respect, as well as in the rights of the minority to equal and fair treatment in the Province as part of the United Kingdom, my concern is to see the present log jam broken and a new start made. Nobody who cares about Northern Ireland can want the present sterile and pointless campaign to continue because its main casualty is the good name of Northern Ireland and the interests of all its people.
I was anxious that my right hon. Friend should give way. He is on a very important point and he has stressed how anxious he is to hear differing views. Can he tell the House what opinion he tapped, or what sources of information in Northern Ireland he approached, to enable him to come to the conclusive view that he has put, as representing the Government's view? No doubt it is the result of the local soundings that he has taken. Can he elaborate on that point because it is important that we should know from which sources he has been getting this advice?
I have talked to a wide range of people, some of whom might not wish to be identified because of the intimidation that undoubtedly exists in many quarters in Northern Ireland. Many brave people who care about the future of the Province wish to ensure that their views are known and that their best hopes are understood by the Government. I have talked also to Church leaders and to many others. I have sought to talk to as wide a range as I can of Unionists and Nationalists across the Province as a whole. It is against that background that I have formed my views.
I do not wish to be discourteous in not always giving way. This is the beginning of the debate and no doubt hon. Members will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be interested to hear their views. I am sorry that I did not give way earlier to my hon. Friend.
In finding the way forward there must be a start to talks. My pledge is that I am ready now to enter into talks in whatever form is convenient, without pre-conditions and, if desired, outside any involvement with the Anglo-Irish agreement. I make that offer now. There must be talks. They must start sooner or later, but in whatever form I set no pre-conditions on them. That must be the way to start. I hope that at last others can respond to see whether we can find a basis on which a happier future for the Province can be laid.
I begin by agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman that the Assembly in its recent phase was simply a channel for the abuse of public funds that would have been better spent in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. Perhaps I go further than he does. Last week when I said that was pronouncing the obsequies on the Assembly he took me to task. He said, as he reminded us today, that the proposal was merely to dissolve the Assembly, so that if at any future time it was required it could be brought out of store. So we are not pronouncing the obsequies; we are attending a farewell party.
If there comes a time when all the parties decide that they want to discuss the exercise of power in Northern Ireland by the people of Northern Ireland, I suspect that it may be better to provide a different instrument, if only to avoid casting a cloud over the proceedings by reminding them of former unhappy times—those through which we are now passing.
For the moment, another institution is laid to rest and, with it, the hopes which were once invested in it. It would be remiss of us to let this occasion pass without paying tribute to those who tried to make it work. Let us record a tribute to the Speaker of the Assembly, the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), and his staff. It was not neglect on their part which led to the present circumstances. They tried, and they deserve better. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there remain as memorials to the Assembly some thoughtful, well-researched and locally based reports which, in better times, will serve as guides to policy. They demonstrate that politicians who disagree profoundly about many issues may find a basis for co-operation on the practical questions which affect the welfare of their constituents.
Where then is there left to go, bearing in mind that it would have been better if we were not starting from here? Let us begin with what we already have. The Government are inviting the House to renew the arrangements for the interim period. Whatever our respective preferred solutions, we are probably agreed that, for the moment, there is no alternative to continuing direct rule —certainly, some kind of direct rule and, as of now, the 1974 Act. Unhappily, we are also probably agreed that the only argument to be urged in its favour is that there is no agreement on an alternative.
No one who was asked to design a method of government for a free people would have come up with the first schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. Decisions which are of vital concern to the people of Northern Ireland are taken by a Government—I do not mean just the present Government; any Government—in London who do not depend for their support on the electors of Northern Ireland, whose candidates have not sought election there, and who have little to gain from satisfying the electors and little to fear from their displeasure. It is the negation of representative government. I believe that we are all agreed on that.
If those inevitable dire consequences are magnified by the Government's business managers seeking to legislate for whole areas of activity by bringing on unamendable orders at impossible hours of the night, it is small wonder that the anxieties and hopes of the people of Northern Ireland are not reflected in the instruments which issue from the Westminster Parliament.
I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman stated his willingness to discuss the problems of legislation in the House. The official Opposition are willing to participate in those discussions. Indeed, we have suggested them for a long time. We believe that they could do something to improve the decisions which, in Northern Ireland, vitally affect the quality of everyday life.
I believe that the time has come to hold those discussions. I hope that they will be attended by all the parties represented in the House. Any party could attend without renouncing its position on any other issue. Attendance would not entail any concession or treachery to any cherished opinion. It would not even entail a commitment to future discussions. If we found that we enjoyed the experience of talking together, it might become a habit, and that would be another option.
If any party declined to commit itself, even to the adventure of talks about parliamentary procedure, and chose to absent itself from those discussions, I do not believe that that should constitute a veto over their being held, nor on implementing any agreement to which they might lead. Abstentionism is the right of those who choose to practise it. It is not a denial of the rights of other people. That is something which could be done. It could begin now. I recognise that that is a limited proposal. If we are agreed about the need, for the moment, to make the best of direct rule, I believe that we are also agreed that that is only the first step in a long journey.
The problem about the way forward is not a shortage of ideas for constitutional innovations. The debate is not about constitutional devices. The issue is not whether one constitutional arrangement is better than another. People from two traditions have been brought, by history, into a position where they inhabit one territory. There is no geographical boundary line which could separate them. There is no re-partition which would leave the two peoples on opposite sides of the line. Their home is a home which they are compelled to share. The only question is whether they can live together in peace or whether they are condemned for ever to regard each other as enemies. That is not a constitutional question.
There is no shortage of constitutional devices by which two groups, inhabiting a single territory, can jointly take decisions on how to administer their affairs. Those making virtually any proposal in that context can point to an instance in the history and geography of mankind where it has already been tried and has worked. Whatever is lacking, it is not constitutional ingenuity. The question is not whether some different constitutional plant could grow and flourish. The question is, what is it about the soil which causes every plant to wither?
Like the Secretary of State, my visits to Northern Ireland are not always confined to the corridors of power. I go to places which would surprise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker— [Interruption] I promise that I shall riot elaborate. Sometimes I meet not just politicians and community leaders but those who would describe themselves as ordinary people. All the people I meet tell me that their greatest yearning is to live in peace. They do not want to have to look over their shoulders every time they go to an unfamiliar part of town. They do not want to have to bite their nails every time their children come home a few minutes late. Yet, collectively, they seem to be condemned to perpetual confrontation. If there is to be peace, it cannot be imposed by people from London or Dublin. It is a search which can be conducted only by the people of Northern Ireland. It cannot be achieved by asking who will win and who will lose. It will not represent anyone's ideal solution. Peace has a price, and it is a price to which everyone must contribute. Nothing is more idle than wanting to live in a peaceful world while we continue, individually, to be quarrelsome.
I believe that there are some ways in which this House can help in the quest for peace. There are ways in which the Republic can help. We could begin by asking whether it is possible to create a climate more conducive to consensus. What is the reason why, in Northern Ireland, one issue seems to drive all the other questions off the agenda—questions which most of us would see as more pressing? It is not that the questions which are the subject of political debate elsewhere do not arise in Northern Ireland. It is not that the economy is so flourishing that it does not require attention. It is not that the public services and the community amenities are operating so successfully that people are free to look for other things to argue about. The reverse is the case.
People who have been denied jobs, or whose jobs are so badly paid that they cannot give their families a decent life, may be tempted to look for scapegoats on which to vent their frustration. If there are not enough jobs to go round, they see their neighbours as rivals. It is harder to be generous on a falling market. I believe that we can demonstrate the advantages of co-operation in economic matters. That is why I call continually on the Secretary of State to tell us whether the Intergovernmental Conference is discussing those questions, and when he will be able to point to some results.
When the Anglo-Irish agreement was concluded, the Opposition said that it should be given a chance, because we believed that it could be the framework for discussion between the British Government and the Government of the Republic, that it could lead to action which would benefit all the people of Northern Ireland and would manifestly be seen to benefit them.
We do not believe that it is possible to argue that the Republic has no interest in what happens in Northern Ireland, and that what people do on one side of the border is of no concern to the other side. That is not true. It is not possible to argue that people who share a tradition have no legitimate interests in common with people of that tradition a few miles down the road. If people inhabiting the same island have nothing to say to one another but recrimination, everyone will suffer. If they seek actively to promote enmity between two parts of the island, they are bequeathing to their children a chilling legacy.
Of course, it takes two to agree. Of course, something depends on the Republic demonstrating that the fears expressed in such dramatic terms in certain quarters are illusory. It is not for me to tell the Republic how to conduct its affairs, but I have my views as to where its best interests will lie over the next few weeks.
What better vehicle could there be than the Anglo-Irish agreement for demonstrating how much the two parts of the island have in common? I confess that there was a moment when I allowed myself to hope that the two Governments would together find a way of saving the Northern Ireland gas industry. A great opportunity was missed. I was pleased that we were told in the joint statement by the Intergovernmental Conference earlier this week that those involved had discussed the importance of the main road between Belfast and Dublin and had agreed to explore the best way of improving the road link between Newry and Dundalk.
There is a need for public investment in roads and in infrastructure. Perhaps the public funds that have been saved by the dissolution which is taking place today could be devoted, in some measure at least, to that purpose. There are people eating out their hearts on the dole who could be working to meet the needs about which, apparently, the conference talked. They are people who live on the same island, whose needs are common needs. The enemies are want, squalor and idleness. All those people are fighting in that battle on the same side, as allies.
If, whenever we ask the Secretary of State what has been achieved by the agreement, he speaks only of security, that would be a mistake. [Interruption.] I see that he and his colleagues agree. It is not that security is not important but that, as we were reminded this week, by its very nature, one cannot tell people what has been decided or what has emerged from the discussion. If, within the measurable future, the Government cannot demonstrate some benefit to the people of Northern Ireland from the Anglo-Irish agreement, they will reap the worst of both worlds. They will have encountered the aggravation, the misrepresentation and all the imagined conspiracies and will not have reassured those who set their hopes on the agreement.
This is a short debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I know that a number of hon. Members hope to catch your eye so I shall make just two final points. One contribution which we who live outside Northern Ireland can make is to practise a self-denying ordinance. We can decide that, if we cannot impose peace, we at least will not do anything to increase the bitterness. If we cannot build bridges, we will not destroy them. If we cannot heal the wounds, we will not deepen them.
Critics of the Government have complained of the insensitivity of giving the Government of the Republic even a consultative role in Northern Ireland, because that might upset the susceptibilities of the Unionist people. I agree that the absence of consultation when that was done was less than sensitive. I hope that those same hon. Members will appreciate that a proposal for complete integration, treating Northern Ireland as though it were geographically situated between the Humber and the Wash, might offend the susceptibilities of the Nationalist people and even, I suspect, at least half the Unionist people.
The Secretary of State has spoken of the historical and cultural difficulties that might defeat an attempt to devise ways of integrating Northern Ireland into the administration of the United Kingdom. It has never been treated simply as part of the United Kingdom. For virtually all its existence its people have not actually sought that.
Assuming that it were feasible, that the people of Great Britain were to agree to the proposal and the House were totally persuaded, is it to be done only with the consent of the Nationalist people and the Unionist people, or would it be a solution which the people who live in Great Britain were seeking to impose on the people of Northern Ireland? Our debates may not always appear to be achieving a great deal. It would be tragic if they contributed to the divisions, bitterness and recriminations.
There is a message which could go out from the House, one on which we could perhaps all agree. Northern Ireland has had a bad press in Great Britain, especially in the past few months. Many people on this side of the water have lost patience with what has appeared as the intransigence of people in Northern Ireland—
The hon. Gentleman has asked a relevant question. I was deliberately trying not to be provocative. He knows what my answer would be to his question but, if he insists on an answer, it is that the Unionist people have had a bad press on this side of the water.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for clarifying the position. I was not encouraging him to make an anti-Unionist remark. I was trying to encourage him to ensure that he stated that all the people of the north of Ireland are not against agreement, peace or a constructive way forward. That must be clearly understood. especially in relation to the way in which other political parties in the north of Ireland are claiming the term "the people of Northern Ireland".
The hon. Gentleman is right. I accept all that he has said and, in another context, I might actually have put that argument. He will see in a moment why I put it in the way I did. The hon. Gentleman is right—the Unionist people of Northern Ireland have had a bad press.
I have met Unionist people in Northern Ireland who thought that they were not well served by their spokesmen.
It is perhaps ironic that some of the very virtues in the character of the Unionist people have contributed to that image — their passionate commitment to what they believe, their refusal to take the easy way out and their loyalty to their traditions, but much is going on in Northern Ireland of which Northern Ireland can be proud. There are people whose passionate commitment is to building a peaceful community. There are people demonstrating the success of integrated education. There are people holding dialogues across the divide in situations which make greater demands on their courage than anything we say makes on ours.
It is easy for us to debate these issues. Those people are carrying on the debate where it might easily have been silenced. They receive little recognition or encouragement. I believe that they will find a larger place in the history books of the future than they find in the news media of today. They are dismissed as visionaries but, if we are short on anything in Northern Ireland, it is vision. I hope that the House will do all it can to encourage those who seek to keep that hope alive. One day it may be justified.
The Secretary of State has announced to the House in the form of the first of two orders which we are considering that there is to be no continuation in the foreseeable future of a Northern Ireland Assembly which was set up by the Northern Ireland Act 1982. That is a decision which came as a shock and even a surprise to hardly anyone in the Province. The extent to which it is accepted that that was a foregone conclusion might surprise even the right hon. Gentleman.
In the Stormont Chamber yesterday afternoon, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) sitting opposite my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan. Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said across the Dispatch Boxes., "The right hon. Gentleman and I will never sit again in a. Northern Ireland Assembly." It is not surprising that this conclusion in 1986 should be foregone when we remember that all the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland opposed the 1982 legislaton. The present Speaker of the Assembly was among those who voted with the rest of us against it Those who were most intimately concerned with Northern Ireland warned and foresaw that the outcome of that endeavour would be frustration.
There were two reasons for that, which can usefully be kept distinct. The first was that that Act created an Assembly which was given neither power nor responsibility, but over which was dangled the bait that it might perhaps have instalments of both if it could discover the undiscoverable, achieve the unachievable and if it could devise a constitutional way in which those who were elected to serve opposite political objectives could maintain that they had achieved, were achieving, or were contributing to the achievement of that which they had represented to their respective electors.
There was an essential falsity and impracticability in the basis upon which the Northern Ireland Act 1982 was constructed. The Assembly was set an impossible task. It was not impossible because of ill will, but inherently impossible in the circumstances which existed then and which exist still.
I am glad to have the assent of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), who never concealed his view on this matter, however much he was mistakenly abused for stating it.
There was a deeper reason why the Act, over which a veil is now being drawn, was foredoomed to failure and, that is—and I shall use a word which I will instantly qualify—the devolutionary context in which it was seen. I qualify that expression all the more because this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, in two vivid and remarkable passages in his speech, has taken the old, rather boring, antithesis between integration and devolution and given to both of them an interpretation which I believe is enlightening and useful. He has contrasted with the concept of integration the fact that British rights are available to British citizens under different forms of government, if we examine them, and under different parliamentary regimes in the different parts of the United Kingdom. Therefore, in a way he has liberated us from many of the more grotesque implications of a term which has been used more as a term of aggression than enlightenment in Northern Ireland debates. In referring to devolution—I shall return to this later—he referred to devolved administration in the Province, thus making one of the vital distinctions in this subject, the distinction between legislative and administrative devolution.
It is important to understand the background to the attachment to the aim of devolution which all Governments have professed since 1969 — since 1972 when they destroyed one devolved administrative structure in order to attempt to replace it with another, right up to 1985 when they wrote that aspiration into the terms of the Anglo-Irish agreement.
We know the reasons why, at the beginning of the section of the story—that is, in 1919 when some of us would say that what was mistakenly called the Northern Ireland state was created — it was regarded by the Government of the day as impossible that those who had not voted themselves out of the United Kingdom at the 1918 election should remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. Since we are dealing with a period in which the records are open, there need be no dispute or debate about what the motivation was. There was one very clear and definite reason why the people of Northern Ireland were told that they would have to have home rule whether they liked it or not, the acceptance of which Sir James Craig described as the "ultimate sacrifice" which they were called upon to make.
I shall not trouble the House with many quotations, but I think that it is worth putting on record one or two from the Cabinet meetings of December 1919 when the form of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was being decided by the Lloyd George coalition. The minutes of the Cabinet stated that
a united Ireland with a single parliament
the ultimate aim of the Government's policy.
The Cabinet said that the Bill had to be
a measure which paved the way for a single Irish parliament".
A week later the Cabinet said that the Bill should be framed bearing in mind that its "ultimate aim" should be the unity of Ireland.
From 1920, the insistence of the mother country upon home rule in that part of the United Kingdom was motivated by its determination that the interests and political purposes of the United Kingdom required that sooner or later, in some way or other, there should he an all-Ireland state. That is the framework and the background against which, quite inevitably and understandably, the profession of a determination to secure devolution in Northern Ireland was bound to be viewed in the Province.
Like its predecessors, this constitutional experiment has come to its predicted fate. As the House proceeds to approve the draft order, as I am sure it will, there is one practical point I should like to put to the Secretary of State. Very shortly we are going to put an end to the life of the Assembly. He did not announce the precise date and I appreciate that that may depend upon the convenience of the sovereign in relation to the holding of the necessary Privy Council. However, he can ensure that when the date is fixed it is such as to enable there to be courteous, reasonable and understanding treatment of those who, for a number of years, have given their services to this institution. There have been some unpleasant rumours of less than courteous and considerate treatment being intended.
I am glad to have the Secretary of State's assent, and I am sure that he will see that that does not happen. I know that it could not possibly be his intention.
With that behind us, we ask, "What next?" Part of that debate is laid before the House in terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order, but the whole of the debate is not summed up within the confines of that order. Last week, in answering questions after his statement, the Secretary of State recognised candidly that there was a certain absurdity in a form of government in which, between the Secretary of State and his Department and district councils which were little more than parish councils, there was no administrative machinery with any democratic input from the people who were governed. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right and he is right in saying that there cannot be British rights for British citizens, in the connotation which he gave to that phrase unless there is in Northern Ireland, as there is in the rest of Great Britain, representative local government in the sense of representative administration. — [Interruption.] I am not such a pessimist as the hon. Member for Foyle.
I would advise the right hon. Gentleman that he has a very short memory. Those hon. Members who argued for integration and for giving power to local authorities in Northern Ireland on the same basis as on this island also have short memories. It is precisely because of serious abuse of those powers by local authorities in Northern Ireland that we find outselves in our present position. The parish councils to which the right hon. Gentleman referred have shown no sign that they have changed their attitudes in any way. I certainly would not want to be a member of the minority community in Northern Ireland in one of the council districts if they had substantial power over planning, housing, education or any other serious matter.
Well, I have three district councils wholly or partly in my constituency. In one there is a large majority and in another a small majority which is anti-Unionist and in the third there is a Unionist majority. Within the scope of their administration those councils behave as effectively and their officials administer as effectively as in the corresponding bodies in Britain. I see no impracticability if the anxieties persist which the hon. Member for Foyle has expressed, in a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland being given powers of intervention and regulation which exceed those — though they are considerable and have recently been increased—which are held by central Government in Britain.
I make two suggestions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the context of the glaring gap which he rightly identified. First, he should move gradually and not in bold leaps. We have a structure, to which the hon. Member for Foyle has not been entirely fair, on which it is possible to build, having due regard to the circumstances and to the past, which has been mentioned, and to the anxieties. If we do that we shall be encouraged to go further. If rolling devolution was a failure we might well find that rolling local government was a practical success.
In that context I ask the Secretary of State not to be dismissive—I know he did not intend to be—of what was said last week by his hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). A great deal can be said for an outside mind or minds being brought to bear upon the structure of local government in Northern Ireland. After all, there is widespread respect for the architect of what we now in retrospect see to have been the ill-fated reorganisation. or destruction, of local government which occurred in the last year or two of the Stormont Administration. The Secretary of State could well derive assistance, in presentation and in substance, by seeking outside advice, clearly respectable and valued advice, upon the directions in which local government could be developed in the Province. That is one of the directions in which we must work.
Another direction in which we must work is more directly connected with the second order which is before the House. When a previous attempt at what lay behind the purposes of the Northern Ireland Act 1982 collapsed in 1974 it was natural — I make no complaint of the Government of the day for having done so— that the 1973 legislation what I might call the Sunningdale power-sharing legislation—was put into cold storage for the time being. A system of administration, which, as the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said, no one would willingly invent or commend, was installed on a year's purchase while people reassembled their notions after the collapse at the beginning of 1974.
In 1986 neither the Secretary of State and the House nor the political parties in Northern Ireland seriously believe that in the foreseeable future there is the prospect of either the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 or the Northern Ireland Act 1982 producing the basis of a devolved administration in the Province. Yet nevertheless, year after year, for fear of admitting what everyone knows and what everyone privately, and often publicly, admits, we continue to re-enact a system of government which is intolerable in a part of the United Kingdom and which is deeply resented by a large part of the people of Northern Ireland. It is resented not only by the Unionists, but they live in the part of the United Kingdom where the laws are made — this is the most sensitive impact of a Government upon the citizen—by the Secretary of State in a form which is neither satisfactorily debatable nor amendable.
We must find a way in which the making of the laws in Northern Ireland can be brought into an acceptable accord with the ways in which the laws are made for the rest of the United Kingdom. It may well be that the models of Wales and Scotland will be an example of the way in which the different circumstances in Northern Ireland, which the Secretary of State mentioned, can be taken into account. His analysis of that provided the agenda for considerable reflection, discussion and work upon that theme.
For the time being I do not dispute that, lacking foundation, or at any rate the foundation being cluttered by the legislative wreckage of 1973 and 1982, it is unavoidable that the Secretary of State should bring the order forward. I hope that it will be the last full year that the regime runs. I hope that in the following 12 months a way will be found, which will be honourable and acceptable to all in Northern Ireland, whereby the legislation which is imposed upon the citizens of Northern Ireland is enacted in a manner which is felt to be as fair and as democratic as the manner in which legislation is enacted for Wales, Scotland or the rest of Great Britain.
Both the contributions of the Secretary of State and of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West have taken us further in this debate than we have yet been in the years since 1972—and, I am tempted to say, since 1969. To some extent, I have taken a leaf out of the book of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West in putting considerable emphasis on getting things in the immediate future into a tolerable condition, so far as we can do so without incurring dangerous symbolic implications and impacts upon the more distant future.
In this debate we are essentially considering how we carry on and what work we shall do together in the next 12 months. There is material for that in the two speeches which we have heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and the Secretary of State this afternoon.
It is my first experience. For that reason I want to make three points.
First, I am sad that once again an initiative in Northern Irish terms has failed. I say that as one who opposed the setting up of the Assembly and its continuance and considered its ending with some satisfaction. I am sad because I witnessed the initiative and was part of it in 1974. I was also part of it in 1976, the period to which the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) also referred. I see the same initiative again in 1986. I ask myself essentially the same question as the right hon. Member for South Down asked himself from an entirely different perspective: is the approach to this problem the right approach or is it hanging on to an approach that has failed and may even continue to fail? That is the key question that must be at the back of all our minds at present.
I disagree fundamentally with the right hon. Member for South Down. He made a very pertinent and erudite speech but he missed a point, which is the one certainty in the entire position in Northern Ireland, which we ought never to miss. It is that if we could persuade every Nationalist living in the north of Ireland to leave or to go to the shores of Lough Neagh one morning and jump in,, the problem would be over. The problem would then have redefined itself in terms which would allow for an accommodation, either within an integrated British sense or within an integrated Irish sense. On the other hand, if' we could encourage all Unionists to go to the shores of Belfast Lough on a designated morning and jump in at the same time, the problem would again he over.
Neither of those two things will happen. Nationalists will not leave Northern Ireland, nor will Unionists. We are left with the one certainty that whatever way we try to grapple with the problem, from whatever dimension we approach it, we arrive at one constant point, and that is that we have two sets of people living in a small part of a small island who must accommodate each other within the smallness of their political lives or, if they will not live together, die apart. That is the reality which is not catered for by the theses which the right hon. Member for South Down has so eloquently postulated.
Irrespective of one's theory and the dimension from which one looks, and irrespective of the ideological standpoint one begins at, that is the crunch reality and the one with which we must all deal, whether we favour, as I do, unequivocally, the creation of Irish unity, whether we favour integration or see devolution as perhaps a halfway stage to either, or perhaps as a way of partially washing our hands of the problem.
If that is the reality, we must not shirk it. From whatever ideological point we start, we are being irresponsible if we do not look at that reality and see how we can cope with it. People must ask themselves this question: if there was integration of the type advocated by the right hon. Member for South Down, and the various pieces of machinery whereby legislation could be vetted and judged here, would that of itself be a contribution towards allowing the two sections of people to live together in the way that they must?
That would take one thing from them — their own constructive element in building that part of their lives. We would be catering for a situation which, I must confess, I find to some extent condescending and humbuggish — that if we hand down to the people of the north of Ireland that which is properly examined here it would be satisfying to the people of Northern Ireland. Anybody who knows anything about both sections of the community there would know clearly that that would not satisfy them because it would remove from them the one great dynamic —the means to create their own future in a way that is uniquely Northern Irish. The Secretary of State has been giving his views on the north of Ireland in relation to this island, but the one thing that we can say with some certainty is that it is uniquely different.
Let me make a further point on using the council structure as the basis for an administrative structure in the north of Ireland. I have belonged to a district council since the creation of the present local government structure in 1973. It is not in the constituency of the right hon. Member for South Down. In those 14 years, not only have I not had access to power within that council—power to do things or to prevent things being done — I have not been successful once in 14 years in being elected to a subcommittee of that council. The work of sub-committees ranges from placing children's playgrounds on housing estates, collecting bins to sometimes assuming responsibility for burying the dead. That gives a fairly accurate assessment of how local government is still working in a very partial way.
Let there be no doubt about it. We are are not talking of parish councils. That is a folksy type of idiom and is inaccurate. I speak as a parish councillor. That terminology would be resisted in political terms by the political representatives of the Nationalist community because not only have we seen what happened in the past but we are seeing what is happening to this very day. Look at Craigavon, Armagh and Ballymena. Look all round the councils of the north of Ireland. Anybody who would even toy with the notion of making those the basis of an administrative structure would be very foolish indeed.
There is a spurious argument, which has been expressed many times, that the Assembly, the wind-up of which we are now discussing, should not be wound up because it gives a platform to those people who are using it. My party and its leader regarded the Assembly from the word go as something which could not succeed because, as the right hon. Member for South Down pointed out, it had not the power of decision. It could not decide on anything whatever. Again, he missed the basic point that that type of political condescension does not attract people in Northern Ireland. We said then it was a white elephant and it was. Subsequently, I said that not only was it a white elephant but it had become a rogue elephant as it charged its way into the telephone exchange and blasted itself out of existence. I could even stretch that analogy further and say that it became "Buzby babes" overnight as it put itself out of business.
Might the hon. Gentleman and his party consider going back into the Assembly if a fresh order created new elections to that Assembly, if the conditons were right?
My party, as its leader has said consistently, is prepared to enter into discussions to reach agreement about what will take place in the north of Ireland and, having reached that agreement, then to go from a position of strength to the electorate to seek a mandate, and then to go into any Administration with the strength of that mandate behind us. In that way we could tackle problems which are almost insurmountable and which would require the weight of that mandate to enable them to be tackled. That is our position and will be our position.
There has been much discussion of the Anglo-Irish accord. I do not want to go into the details or workings of it, or even the non-workings of it, but it has done one thing which is crucial to the resolution of our problems —it has posed two choices. It has posed the question to Unionism and to sections within the Unionist community: "Can you live with the concept of equality and justice for all people in the north of Ireland?" Until that key question is answered positively, there will not be a proper solution. Devolution will fail in those circumstances, integration will fail in those circumstances, and every other approach will fail until, within the machinery set up by both Governments, the Unionist community at large can say that it can live with the principle of equality for all and with the principle of justice for all.
The hon. Gentleman appears to have forgotten the warning that he gave at the beginning of his speech. The question is not simply whether we can live with equality and justice, but in what state we are to live in equality and justice with all the other members of that state.
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman clearly the basis on which the community that I represent wishes to live within that state. There is only one basis and that is as equals under a proper system of justice—nothing else. If we have to continue to live within the north of Ireland, if the creation of Irish unity, which I want to see happen, will not happen, as I accept, next week, next year, or perhaps even the year after, I want to live as an equal with a proper system of justice. That is the challenge which has been thrown down to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. It has not yet been answered and, until it is, none of the attempts being made will come to fruition.
If those twin aims of the Anglo-Irish accord are realised, if the British Government have the courage and the will to carry through the much needed changes that will realise those aims, and if the Irish Government also have the will to face the challenges of those twin aims of equality and justice, Northern Ireland as we know it will be changed. Unionism as we know it will become an anachronism. Nationalism, as it has always been defined, will become almost an anachronism as well. The political faces of both communities will be changed. The events of the next six months will prove whether that challenge can be met by the communities of Northern Ireland. the political parties in the United Kingdom, or the Government of the Republic.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the Assembly is not dead. I suppose that it is in a coma. He reminded me of certain companies in California which advertise the facility for popping one's loved ones into a refrigerator and bringing them out again at a later date.
However, in this debate we are burying not the Assembly but the policy which has been pursued by successive Secretaries of State since the abolition of Stormont. As I understand it, that policy rested on devolution based on power sharing and an Irish dimension. It has been pursued energetically, consistently and in an undeterred way by five Secretaries of State. I do not know whether they were the right men for that job. The political climate of Northern Ireland is very different from the Machiavellian gentility of the usual channels here, or from the passive broad acres of East Anglia. I do not know whether it was a good idea for three ex-Chief Whips and two East Anglian country gentlemen to do the job, but I am not sure that anybody could have done it, because there is a basic inconsistency in the formula of devolved power sharing and a foreign dimension. There are few examples of successful power sharing. The Lebanon was often cited as one of the best. I played some part in designing a power-sharing constitution for Cyprus. However, the ruins of both are apparent to all.
The introduction of the Irish dimension was bound to be fatal simply because it meant that the Irish Minister would be supporting the minority community, while the Secretary of State, as was his duty, had to take note of the interests of all of the Province. He could not be the supporter of the majority, and so the concept was an unequal one from the beginning. That policy has been tried and has failed miserably. Sunningdale failed because the Irish dimension was too much for the majority to swallow. The Assembly failed because the SDLP found that the Irish dimension was not enough, and Hillsborough has been too much for the majority.
It is time to recognise that this concept cannot work because it is strange to the Unionists, it is not conciliatory to the Nationalists, and, meanwhile, the IRA continues to go about its deadly business.
The Secretary of State said that he still stood by the policy because it is logical. Maybe it is, but Ireland is not known as the home of logic. The policy has clearly failed and the speeches that we have heard from distinguished right hon. and hon. Members representing the Province show that they are completely unreconciled to that basic concept. Nothing is more dangerous in politics than to he tied to the practice of what is obviously a dead policy. After 15 years we need a new approach, but for the moment it must continue to be direct rule.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discussed the decision to suspend the Assembly, and talked about local government being at present no more than parish committees. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could follow the advice of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and move gently towards something else. Improved arrangements for the transaction of Northern Ireland business could perhaps be pursued here, in the Palace of Westminster. The block presented by the Hillsborough arrangements still remains and I urge my right hon. Friend to put it on the back burner, and to try to limit it for the time being to trans-border security.
The issues at stake are complex and I am sure that the Minister will understand my view that they are by no means limited to Northern Ireland. It is almost 100 years to the day since Joseph Chamberlain and Hartington broke up the Liberal Government in order to stop Gladstone's onward career towards home rule. They realised that such a course would lead to the break up of the kingdom. As a result of that remarkable Cabinet crisis, an alliance of the Liberal Unionists and Conservatives was formed. It stood the country in good stead in the years that followed. Hon. Members on this side of the House, in believing that their policies were right, and that the policies of the Opposition would have been disastrous, were often able to continue with their work, thanks to the support of the Unionist party.
It is not necessary to do much crystal gazing if one looks at the public opinion polls, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her colleagues might need to have the support of the Northern Ireland Unionists, not just to carry out policies relating to Northern Ireland, but to carry out those policies relating to national security, defence and the economy which we believe are vital to the future of the United Kingdom. British statesmanship requires that we give the highest priority to ending the estrangement between our party and the Ulster Unionists.
Hon. Members are always glad to listen to the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). I had hoped that he would bring with him today his colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party. This is a new situation, and as such perhaps it could have been the occasion on which the Ulster Unionist party as a whole recognised that the Union must be defended in the Parliament of the Union.
Perhaps it is less surprising that those hon. Members are not present because this debate follows hard upon yet another meeting of the hated Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Dr. Garret FitzGerald is a humane statesman and must therefore share the concern of Her Majesty's Government at events in the Province since the Anglo-Irish agreement was concluded at Hillsborough. If Her Majesty's Government wish to resume contact with the Ulster Unionists, and if the Irish Government wish to contribute to a better relationship between the north and south, and between the Republic and the United Kingdom, dealings between the sovereign Governments of these islands should be conducted not within the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference but within the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. The latter was there previously and could equally well perform the functions intended by the two Governments, including discussion of the Belfast to Dublin road to which the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) attaches importance.
The Secretary of State was looking forward to yet another Assembly. I do not, unless it is perhaps a regional council. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West said that the Assembly was a waste of money, yet he voted for it while I did not. I have looked up the relevant information and it took 98 hours and 14 minutes of parliamentary time for the Northern Ireland Assembly Bill to become an Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) drew a telling comparison with the other Assemblies that were once proposed for other parts of the United Kingdom. He said that a referendum was required by the House before such Assemblies could become effective.
My hon. Friend will no doubt remember better than I that at the time of the Sunningdale agreement the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a clear statement that nothing would be undertaken without the clear approval of the majority of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland. What happened to that democratic commitment in the context of the Anglo-Irish agreement 13 years later?
No doubt a reply to that question will come from the Treasury Bench before the debate is concluded.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State courteously gave way to me when I intervened about the work of scrutiny carried out by the Assembly. My right hon. Friend said that it was far better for that task to be carried out in Northern Ireland because more local people could then be involved. But if that is so, the same argument must apply to Scottish and Welsh legislation. However, I do not think that my right hon. Friend wants to set up Assemblies in Wales or Scotland.
When I was taught the principles of war, I was told never to reinforce failure. However, the Government seem to have reversed that maxim in relation to their Northern Ireland policy. The devolved government that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State still seeks cannot be achieved in a form that is acceptable across the community, or to the House. When will the Northern Ireland Office understand that no term can be put to terrorism, and that Northern Ireland can never settle down, when will it understand that Unionist Ulster cannot be brought to applaud and assist the development of the "unique relationship" with the Irish Republic without fear of betrayal, when Ministers and mandarins continue to deceive themselves and impose their short-lived experiments and—as the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West said—constitutional devices?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State apologised for the renewal of what we call direct rule. The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) made stringent criticisms of the way that it operates. But public opinion polls show that direct rule is the second choice of most people in Northern Ireland. Perhaps a general agreement on second best is better than no agreement at all. Moreover, direct rule made democratic through local government equals integration.
We have always honoured Airey Neave in this House. But perhaps it would be better to honour him by
considering the policy that he put forward than by merely paying tribute to him in words. I shall not be found guilty of the bad taste of citing any Conservative and Unionist party manifesto in this connection, but I should like to quote just a few of Airey Neave's words. They were prescient. because they anticipated the new Ireland forum and what followed it. He was addressing Conservatives in Maldon, Essex, in May 1978, and he said:
Recent attempts to seduce the whole community of Ulster into a Federal Ireland, and similar unpractical dreams, are doomed … We believe nonetheless that both sections of the community would benefit from restoring to Ulster an upper tier of local government".
We have heard all the arguments about the undesirability of enlarging local government in Northern Ireland. The Catholic dustbins of Lisburn have entered into the mythology of nationalist grievance. But we expect Ministers, especially powerful Ministers such as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to hash bigotry, just as we expect Ministers in other Departments to act against political discrimination and local government mismanagement—of which there is plenty in some of Great Britain's big cities. But we know why the Government will not enlarge local government: the SDLP does not want it. Incidentally, there is no SDLP Member in the Chamber.
We are told that we must get rid of the Unionist veto on progress in Northern Ireland. But there seems to be more of a Nationalist veto than a Unionist veto. Why does the SDLP object to enlarging local government? Plenty of SDLP councillors would welcome an enlargement of their functions. Many of them are doing a good job for their people and for the community as a whole, and would like to do more. Indeed, I pay tribute to many Nationalist-dominated authorities which have treated Unionists in a spirit of co-operation. But the SDLP objects, because integration— to use the short word—arrests any slide into the south. I accept that the SDLP wants devolved government, but on its terms.
Northern Nationalism is a legitimate opinion to hold, which we should respect. I certainly do. That Nationalist opinion could be allowed expression through further border polls or, preferably, by the question put in the plebiscite of 1972 being added to ballot papers in elections in Northern Ireland, so that there can be continuing consultation with the people of Northern Ireland. If the SDLP or any other Nationalist party could convert their countrymen in the Province to a united Ireland, we would not stand in the way of that.
There are many Irish Nationalists in cities on this side of the water, and they have learnt to live as a respected part of the British family. They are a minority in Great Britain, but a larger minority in Northern Ireland. What is so distressing about every futile political initiative is that its message is, "There you are. You are separate communities. Stay in the ghettoes." Every political initiative, including the Anglo-Irish agreement, has institutionalised the sectarian divide. Many Catholics want the Union. However, at elections they are almost compelled to choose between parties whose aspect is tribal.
We must establish equal rights, equal citizenship, and full administrative devolution under the sovereignty and protection of Parliament. It follows— I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are on common ground here — that the people of Northern Ireland should exert their proper influence at the centre of power, here at Westminster, through the party system of the United Kingdom. and through political parties or alliances that correspond with those in Great Britain. That is the way forward, and no one has shown me any other.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) has made an attractive case but, as he will anticipate, I shall not go down his road. As a supporter of the initiative taken by the Secretary of State's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), I am saddened by the demise of the Assembly. However, it was right that that decision was taken.
There is no doubt that after its inception the Assembly did some useful work. I have many of the documents still on my hook shelves which show that the Assembly carried out useful work on social security and agriculture in Northern Ireland. I also take the opportunity to pay my respect to the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) who, as Speaker, fulfilled his role in the Assembly with some distinction.
In recent months the magnificent facilities at Stormont have been abused. The Alliance withdrew and Stormont became a venue for weekly attacks on the Government at a not inconsiderable cost to United Kingdom taxpayers. It will now go down in history as yet another lost opportunity. However, the only realistic way forward for the Province must be through a devolved administration with the respective parties acting in partnership and possessing sufficient powers to make and implement important decisions. The siren voices—we have heard them already today and there will be more — calling from the Government Back Benches for total integration may satisfy a few hard liners but will do nothing to reduce tension. Furthermore, they will do nothing in the long run to help revitalise the economy of Northern Ireland. I know that that view is shared by many Unionists.
Northern Ireland is not unique in that respect. In my view, the restructuring of the whole of the economy of the United Kingdom is almost entirely dependent on the return of meaningful power and decision making to the regions, cities and counties of our country. I attended a meeting at lunchtime today with the development commission, which carries out great work in rural areas. The commission is not responsible to any elected authority. I wish that that similarity could be more widely understood in the Province. I recognise the role played by the Local Enterprise Development Unit and the Northern Ireland Development Board among others, but I believe that they should both be responsible to an elected authority.
Once again, the British Government must go back to the drawing board. Unless some willingness to make concessions and to co-operate is forthcoming from the various party leaders, no new initiative is likely, and Ulster will be the poorer for that. It is surely not beyond the wit of the leaders of society, and especially politicians, to get together and agree on a structure that gives both communities a fair share of responsibility in the daily running of the Province. Failure to make such concession can only mean continuing violence and death and leaves the local population with no hope for the future. What is more, 53·5 million people living in the rest of Britain will eventually and inevitably seriously question why they should continue to fund such a high proportion of the Northern Ireland budget when local leaders refuse even to sit down and talk to each other or to Her Majesty's Ministers.
We want to know how much longer we must wait before the political leaders in Northern Ireland put the future well- being of their country first. That is the future not only of Northern Ireland but of Great Britain, too. When will they accept the challenge to establish a power-sharing Administration which will, coincidentally, immediately lessen the influence of the Anglo-Irish Conference?
Watching the Harland and Wolff workers marching with their banners this week must make those being laid off in our shipyards in the north-east and elsewhere ask why they should continue to support that yard. I have enormous respect for John Parker and his work force. Moreover, the yard is probably the best fitted out in Europe and I only wish that it was refitting the QE2, but I also sometimes wonder why I should continue to back that yard from the alliance Benches. Apart from a few well publicised incidents, when things have gone seriously wrong—obviously Bloody Sunday was one—successive British Ministers have, since 1969, tried their level best to correct the mistakes of the past. On the whole, I believe that we have succeeded and deserve credit, not eternal criticism, for so doing. We just do not deserve the abuse that continues to pour forth from the lips of some of those who purport to be political leaders and, incidentally, Christians.
Housing provision has improved beyond recognition in the nine years that I have been visiting Northern Ireland. Londonderry has a new city centre which won an award last week. There is a new £23 million bridge nearby. Large new bungalows and substantial modern houses occupy attractive sites on farms over a wide area of the Province. Even in Belfast, many excellent homes have been built and renovated. Two weeks ago I visited two firms which have climbed out of receivership with the aid of the Northern Ireland Development Board—Tyrone Glass and Belleek China.
Such success might be hard to believe when listening to Northern Ireland politicians. They continue ad nauseam to abuse those in authority. One even had the gall to try the Prime Minister for treason in the centre of Belfast and sentenced her to the electric chair. A new generation has grown up in that atmosphere, soured by the appalling actions of the Provisional IRA and INLA and the weekly propaganda from both sides. What was it that so soured Patrick Magee, now serving a life sentence, that he chose to try to blow to smithereens the leaders of the country where he grew up? How did he come to hate us to such art extent when he spent much of his youth in the pleasant city of Norwich? I suggest that when he returned to Belfast he became infected with all the sentiment, bigotry and propaganda that still prevail instead of being able to recognise the desperate need for changed attitudes.
The stupidity of Anglo-Irish relations is that, whether we like it or not, we are all widely inter-related. Many second generation Irish sit in this House and even the Lord Chancellor has referred to his Irish antecedents recently. Irish men and women serve in the House and many of us have Irish ancestry in our blood. I have three Irish grandchildren myself. That is what makes the call "Brits out" so stupid. The message that I believe should go out to the Province from this House is, firstly, that the Anglo-Irish agreement is here to stay. and it will not be watered down. Secondly, despite our equable temperament in this land, the time may be approaching when we may feel constrained to say "Work together or go it alone."
That is the type of comment that I would expect from the right hon. Gentleman.
Finally, I would like to pay a special tribute to the RUC. Despite all that it has suffered, I found on my recent visit that morale was high and its determination to see the summer through was evident, despite the likely provocation. Mr. Wright has a serious point when he calls for local politicians to put their act together and stop leaving the RUC to pick up the pieces and do all the dirty work. Mr. Wright echoes my sentiments entirely. I wish the RUC and the Chief Constable well in the tasks that lie ahead. They hold a tremendous responsibility this summer. If they succeed, as I believe that they will, there is just a chance that saner counsels will prevail. In the meantime, I wish that all citizens in Northern Ireland and those outside the Province would sit down, read and inwardly digest the words of the Northern Ireland accord.
I had hoped that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland this afternoon would have shown that there had been some narrowing of the gulf that I believe exists between the six Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office and the majority of the people in Northern Ireland. It is with deep regret that I have to say that I believe that my right hon. Friend's speech gave no sign of a greater understanding by those who sit on the Treasury Bench of the true feeling of the people of Northern Ireland.
In answer to an intervention, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that his justification for the failure to have a referendum in Northern Ireland along the lines of the referendums held in Scotland and Wales was that, whereas the Scotland Act 1978 and the Wales Act 1978 proposed that Scotland and Wales should be governed differently from the way that they had been governed previously, the Anglo-Irish agreement meant that there was no change in the way that Northern Ireland was governed.
I have to say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that neither the Government of the Irish Republic nor the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland agree with him when he says that there has been no change in the way in which Northern Ireland is governed. My right hon. Friend affirms, as he is entitled to do, his earlier argument that no analogy is perfect, but I put this analogy to him. If the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany were to lay claim to the French département of Lorraine, and if there were an agreement between the Government of the French Republic and the Government of the German Federal Republic that henceforth the Government of Germany would be able to put forward views and proposals in regard to Lorraine, and that the French Government would reach agreement on the proposals put forward by Germany for the government of Lorraine, does my right hon. Friend really believe that, in those circumstances, the people of Lorraine would say, "We are governed in the same way under the new arrangement as we were in the past"?
My hon. Friend made the interesting comment that, effectively, there was a change in government, and that that was the view of the significant majority, and also of the Irish Government. Will he give me the quotation to which he referred, in which the Irish Government state that there is now a change of the system of government in Northern Ireland?
Yes, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Irish Republic are both on record as having said in the Dail and elsewhere that the system of government in Northern Ireland was different after 15 November from the system before then. I shall happily give my right hon. Friend exact quotations from both the Irish Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Indeed, one of the tragedies of the Anglo-Irish agreement is that there has been a different interpretation upon the agreement by my right hon. Friend and by Ministers in the Irish Government.
It is not only the assertion by my right hon. Friend that there has been no change in the system of Government for Northern Ireland — a view that is not shared by the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland — which reveals the gulf between the Treasury Bench and the people of Northern Ireland. I was much concerned when my right hon. Friend said that he was prepared to enter into discussions—I think that he genuinely meant this — with anybody in Northern Ireland without preconditions. But this afternoon my right hon. Friend spelt out one precondition that was most unwelcome to some of my hon. Friends, as it was to me. That precondition was that the Government have excluded, without further discussions, the possibility of what my right hon. Friend described as "total integration." Those words have never fallen from my lips. I have never used the words "total integration".
It was noticeable that, in the most recent two questions that I asked my right hon. Friend, he answered a question that I had not asked. For the sake of accuracy, I have the Official Report here. On 5 June, I asked:
is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a growing body of opinion in the Province which believes that the best way forward now is through integration, which would offer proper safeguards for the minority in Northern Ireland?
My right hon. Friend replied, not to the question that I had put to him:
some concept of total integration would raise difficult issues." —[Official Report, 5 June 1986; Vol. 98, c. 1073.]
I did not use the words "total integration". They were the words of my right hon. Friend. A week later, on 12 June, I put this question to my right hon. Friend:
Would he acknowledge that, even if that"—
that is, devolution—
is the preferred solution of the Government today, he will not exclude from his consideration the fact that we should govern Northern Ireland in the way in which we govern other parts of this kingdom?
My right hon. Friend replied:
Obviously we would seek to govern Northern Ireland as fairly, equally and impartially as we seek to govern every part of the United Kingdom. However, to suggest that that involves total harmonisation of every structure of government flies in the face of experience and practice of the present situation. —[Official Report, 12 June 1986; Vol. 99, c.508.]
When I remind my right hon. Friend of the two questions that I asked, one on 5 June and the other on 12 June, I think that he will confirm that I have never suggested "total integration" and that I have never
suggested what he described as "total harmonisation". I have never put forward such a suggestion. I want to spell out, in language that all of us can understand, what I mean by integration, or the alternative description of the same thing—administrative devolution. I should like my right hon. Friend to pay particular attention to what I say, as I know he will, because I want to give way to him at the end of this part of my speech.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether he is excluding from his consideration and from discussions with the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland, and from discussions with others, the possible solution that I am about to describe. That which I am about to describe is nothing new to my right hon. Friend. He was a member of the shadow Cabinet when the 1979 general election manifesto was being drafted. I have to assume that he aquiesced in, if he did not actually support, that which appeared in the manifesto:
In the absence of devolved government, we will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils".
That is an exact quotation. Of course, the policy that was set out in that manifesto was abandoned following the assassination of our late right hon. Friend the then Member for Abingdon, Airey Neave. My right hon. Friend is unwise to exclude from his consideration the very policy that was advocated by a person for whom everybody in the House had, and for whose memory all have, the greatest respect, yet it is precisely that which my right hon. Friend seems to he doing.
What do I mean by integration? Again, I quote from what my right hon. Friend said on 12 June, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne):
At present very little lies between Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office and councils, most of which sadly are not meeting, and which have little more power than parish councils."—[Official Report, 12 June 1986; Vol. 99, c. 510.]
Let us start at the bottom. I would give to the 26 district councils, which my right hon. Friend is right to say have little more power than parish councils, modest additional powers. That is my first suggestion.
We have been asked not to make too long a speech. I said "modest additional powers" for the 26 district councils, which my right hon. Friend rightly described on 12 June as having powers that at present are analogous to those of parish councils. So I say "modest additional powers".
That is my first suggestion. My second proposal is that there should he a regional council similar to a regional council in Scotland and analogous to a county council in England. The powers of such a regional or county council would not need to be identical to the powers of a regional council in Scotland or a county council in England.
My hon. Friend speaks about the methods of legislation in Northern Ireland as compared with Wales and Scotland, but does he bear in mind the fact that we sometimes legislate by primary legislation through public statute, and sometimes by way of Grand Committee, sometimes on the Floor of the House and sometimes in Committee? Can my hon. Friend be more precise about the sort of analogy that he would like to pursue between the way in which we legislate in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?
I shall deal with that straight away. It is not surprising that the solitary representative of the Liberal party, unaccompanied by his colleagues from the alliance, refers to his passion for proportional representation. It is to our deep regret that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is not seeking election next time. He will not be surprised to hear that I am strongly opposed to the system of proportional representation, whether in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. I belong to that school of thought which believes in majority rule under just law.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), and I believe it is timely to remind my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that we deal with Scottish legislation differently from English and Welsh legislation. For example, the separate Housing (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1981 conferred the right to buy on Scottish people which had material differences from the Housing Act 1980 which was passed through the House by my predecessor.
Is my right hon. Friend excluding from h is consideration the possibility of giving modest additional powers to the 26 district councils? Is he excluding from his consideration the specific policy concerning regional and county councils, on which he and I fought and won the 1979 general election? Is he excluding the possibility of getting rid of legislation by Order in Council for Northern Ireland? If my right hon. Friend is excluding that possibility, because, as Secretary of State, he does not think it is the best way to govern the Province, and if he is excluding from his consideration the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, that is a very grievous statement.
My hon. Friend is aware that I agree with many of the ideas that he has put forward, but he has not dealt with one critical matter. Is he proposing, given the special circumstances in Northern Ireland, that a regional county council-type authority should also be a police authority? I fear that it could not be.
No, Sir, that is not my suggestion. It would be no part of my proposal — if my suggestions were followed—that the regional or county councils for the Province should also be the police authorities for the Province.
I should be deeply concerned if my right hon. Friend were to exclude, as he certainly appears to do, the possibility of integration regardless of what might be the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. I have reason for concern. When the Anglo-Irish agreement was being fashioned, I have to assume that my right hon. Friend did care about the wishes of the minority but that he was careless—I use that word in its correct meaning—of the views of the majority. It may be that, when my right hon. Friend and some of his colleagues advised the Cabinet to enter into the Anglo-Irish agreement, he said to himself and perhaps to his colleagues, "Well, we may have a bit of trouble from some of the wilder elements in Northern Ireland but the majority of the Unionist people will acquiesce in this agreement." That may have been the view of my right hon. Friend.
In my opinion, the depth and strength of feeling in Northern Ireland on 19 June 1986 against the Anglo-Irish agreement is just as strong and deep as it was on 15 November 1985. I do not think my right hon. Friend has made any progress in persuading the people of Northern Ireland of something which I know he believes to be true—that the Anglo-Irish agreement will achieve peace, stability and reconciliation. I do not believe my right hon. Friend has been successful.
What concerned me at that time and what continues to concern me is that the Government believed that the Anglo-Irish agreement would be moderately acceptable to the majority. I have to assume that my right hon. Friend was surprised by the reaction in the Province. We know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was surprised because, in an article which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 17 December 1985, as a result of an interview with Desmond McCartan, she said:
the reaction has been much worse than I expected. One is trying to find out why.
What is my right hon. Friend's answer? Will he say that, regardless of the growing opinion which, I believe, exists in the Province in favour of what I have described as integration — not absolute harmonisation nor total integration — it could equally be described as administrative devolution — the Government know best? Will the Government impose upon the people of Northern Ireland some kind of devolution or impose upon them the present system of direct rule regardless of their wishes?
I said that I wished to give way to my right hon. Friend so that I could ask him whether he was excluding from his consideration the kind of integration that I have described. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would be kind enough to tell the House his answer to that question.
I have listened with interest to the points that my hon. Friend has made. The conclusions which he tried to draw at the end are in total conflict with what I have just said to the House.
I wrote down his words when he said that we would be seeking to impose some new solution—some devolution proposal on the people of the Province. He will accept precisely what I have said, which is that, so far from wishing to impose a decision on devolution, arrived at separately, we wished to enter into discussions to see whether it was possible to achieve a starting point.
My hon. Friend referred to my comments concerning total integration. I have made it clear that that was not a possibility, but my hon. Friend has said that that is not what he has proposed. He said that he has never advocated total harmonisation—that is another possibility which I made clear I did not think was practicable. I have said that we are prepared to consider the possible ways in which the handling of legislation on other matters could be looked at in this House. I included a caveat about the route to integration which I believe—my hon. Friend draws his conclusions and I draw mine—would not be practical. The Government would not propose that; nor, I believe, would the House approve it.
These are important matters and my hon. Friend has made a serious speech about them. It has become clear that it is dangerous to get into the world of slogans. There are slogans about devolution and integration, and everyone assumes that they know what the other individual means. I sought to spell out the areas which I thought were unrealistic and the areas in which the Government wished to proceed.
I hope that my right hon. Friend now understands what I mean by integration, which I sometimes call administrative devolution.
This is an important debate. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench will not exclude from their consideration of the options for Northern Ireland that option which in my judgment would provide both the surest safeguards and protection for constitutional Nationalists in Northern Ireland and the greatest reassurance for constitutional Unionists.
Four years ago last Monday when my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and I represented the Labour Front Bench on Northern Ireland we said that a Labour Government would not have introduced the Northern Ireland Bill to set up the Assembly. We did not think that it was particularly workable, but we regarded it as a fair and honest attempt to do something about the problems of Northern Ireland. We specified that we did not think its chances of success were good. Four years later the Secretary of State has tabled an order to bring the Assembly to an end. It may be that much has happened in those four years, and I recognise that the Assembly lasted a little longer than I anticipated.
The Assembly has faced considerable difficulties and some of its achievements have also been considerable. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and I gave evidence to its Committees to assist the Assembly in its work. It is important to consider why we seek to wind up the Assembly, and in doing so we come back to the central problem for the Government, which is stating their position on Northern Ireland.
As I have said on many occasions, both when I spoke on Northern Ireland and since I have moved to my Home Office brief, the problem is that everybody in Ireland, both in the north and the south, knows exactly what they want for the future of the border, but that successive British Governments have not known what they want. We now have a further difference in that the British-Irish agreement, as I prefer to call it, makes it more clear than previously that the British Government are happy to work towards a united Ireland and the Unionists know that.
Although I understand the politics that say that we must not talk about certain matters because it makes difficult circumstances worse—I believe that that sort of politics rarely works—they are almost guaranteed to fail in this case because all the Unionists—the Democratic Unionists, the Official Unionists and all the other groups —know from the words and actions of the Government and the Labour party that the trend is towards a united Ireland. That is what makes the Unionist position so difficult.
If Unionist Members come to the House and participate, they will undermine their position. If they stay away, as they are at present doing except for the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), they will also undermine their position. That is why the Unionist parties are tempted to take to the streets and to attack the agreement. There they find the great unifier of hatred and fear of a united Ireland.
Yet that hatred and fear is more concentrated in certain parts of the Unionist parties than it is in Northern Ireland as a whole, and I believe that in recent years that hatred and fear has become less. Ordinary Unionists in the streets of Northern Ireland will now say, "If it is going to be a united Ireland, why don't we get it over and done with quickly?" They have said to me, "Since you have explained to us about human rights and joint citizenship, I suppose there are worse things." When one asks what they mean by worse things, they say, "We can't go on as we are, can we?" There is growing recognition in Northern Ireland that the island of Ireland is being treated as one political, economic and social entity, and that at the end of that road is a nation state. That is what we are moving towards and that is what the Unionists fear and are angry about.
Today there has already been talk of the family of the nation. That frequently occurs in politics generally, but perhaps more than ever in relation to the politics of Northern Ireland. The family in this context is taken to be that of the United Kingdom — England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Secretary of State got into a little difficulty, which he got out of well, when he referred to the political parties not organising in Northern Ireland. He got into some difficulty about whether the link was cultural, political or whatever. The truth is that there is a great deal of cultural overlap, not only between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but between the United Kingdom and southern Ireland. That has always been true, but for historical reasons, which are long and complex and which none of us would perhaps ever agree on entirely, there is a fundamentally different political system in Northern Ireland, and Ireland has been divided.
Let us examine further what we mean by a family of nations. As the Secretary of State rightly noted, there is something profoundly odd and different about the position of Northern Ireland in this family of the United Kingdom. Nothing makes that difference more clear than the insistence of the peoples of Northern Ireland, above all the Unionists, to insert in Acts and statutes over many years that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom so long as it wishes to remain so.
If we pursue the analogy of the family a little further and envisage walking into our family home at night to find that one member of the family has put a notice on his door saying, "I am a member of the family too, unless I choose to go", the meaning becomes clear. It means that that member feels uncertain of his position in the family. That is why I have always said that when Unionist parties insist on that phrase being used, they undermine and embellish the weakness of their political position. That is why the family argument is so profoundly dangerous to them. It is an argument, not about families but about political power and identity and the economic problems that stem from that.
We need to begin a discussion about how we move toward a united Ireland. Let us consider how the position has changed in recent years. In 1979 when I first entered the House I did not get involved in the politics of Northern Ireland until the end of that year, and about a year later I moved to the Front Bench. Between 1980 and 1981 it was frequently said to me inside and outside the House that whenever I talked about the unity of Ireland I was encouraging terrorism. Nobody says that now. That argument has gone. Indeed, in Committee on the Northern Ireland Bill, when the right hon. Member for South Down said that terrorism fed on hope, I said that it did not, but that it fed on despair. Whether we consider the terrorism in Northern Ireland or the terrorism which I fear we are about to see in southern Africa, it is clear that terrorism is founded on despair of the political system. It has often been said that the political system of any country, for all its warts, is the alternative to war. That is how we settle our disputes. Terrorism has done immense damage to the body politic of this country and to the body politic of Ireland. It has ripped apart not just the lives of people but political democracy and the economic hopes of people on both sides of the Irish sea.
The collapse of the Assembly is an example of what I meant in the past when I referred to there being no positive power in Northern Ireland. The problem for both the Republicans and the Unionists in Northern Ireland is that their powers are negative. They can prevent things from happening but they can rarely initiate anything.
It was a little paternalistic of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) to accuse the Unionists and the Republicans of being unable to talk together. One group wants to take away the national identity of the other. The Unionist wants to take away the national identity of the Republican, and vice versa. As the right hon. Member for South Down pointed out, if the SDP and the Liberal party cannot agree on Polaris, why on earth should we expect the two groups in Northern Ireland suddenly and relatively easily to sit down and discuss together their future, which brings into question their national identity and, to some extent, their religious identity? Religion, or nationalism tainted by religion, is a profoundly powerful force. It is far stronger than social or economic class. I say that with regret, as a Socialist. Religion has a profound effect upon the political system and upon people's lives.
There is a way forward. It is the same as it has always been. The way forward is to open up discussions with Dublin. If it is true that in Northern Ireland there is only negative power, equally it is true that positive power lies in London and Dublin acting together. What has stood out very clearly during the six years that I have been interested and involved in the politics of Northern Ireland is that it is crying out for leadership. What stands out now in Northern Ireland is splintering of the political parties, both Republicans and Unionists. The splintering of the political entity of a state—or semi-state, as Northern Ireland has been in some ways—is an indication of a lack of leadership towards a common goal.
I have said before that we think of the various parties and groups in Northern Ireland as being strongly united They are not. They only appear to be strongly united. Even in the paramilitary groups, the image of unity is far less strong than we believe it to be. If we consider the number of Republicans who have been killed by the paramilitary groups on the Republican side and the number of Unionists who have been killed by the paramilitary groups on the Unionist side, we find that in each case the number is greater than those who have been killed by the security forces. Imagine how strange it would seem if I said to the House that during the second world war the British armed forces killed more British people than were killed by the Axis forces. It would be nonsense. The internal splintering tells us so much about what has happened to politics in Northern Ireland. They are being ripped apart and they will continue to be ripped apart until London and Dublin provide strong leadership.
One of the reasons for my qualified welcome of the British-Irish agreement was precisely because it started out on that road. It is an important road. I regret that the Government were not more open about it. Instead they fed paranoia. Paranoia abounds in Northern Ireland. People fear being sold out.
The Secretary of State rightly referred to the comments of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) who, at the time, expressed his concern about the agreement. I remember that the hon. Member for Upper Bann also said, when the agreement was announced, that if he had known that this was at the end of the road he would never have led his people to believe that the British Government would not betray them. Those were not his exact words, but they are very near to being his exact words. He was saying that the Unionists now know that the British will sell them out.
I do not like the word "sell-out". I remember that over and over again the Unionists said that they believed that they had cemented their place in the union. Why did they refer to the role of Northern Ireland during the first and second world wars? Why did they refer to the blood of men in the Northern Ireland regiments that had been shed during the first world war in the battle of the Somme? It was because they believed that they had cemented for themselves a place in the heart of their mistress. Alas, 50, 60 or 70 years later their mistress is doing exactly what she did then. She is saying, "All right, up to a point, but keep your distance. We will never, ever treat you as a normal part of the United Kingdom because you are not a normal part of the United Kingdom." That is why the Unionists feel so deeply betrayed.
However, people can change their political identity, and fit into new structures and new institutions. This House has the ability to bring that about, but only if the question is discussed openly. One of the reasons for my sadness about politics in this day and age is that people believe that we should not discuss difficult questions because they lead to arguments and fights. However, it is essential that we should discuss difficult questions. What everybody recognises as a difficult and unanswered question will not go away. It will stay there, and will continue to nag at us and aggravate us.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said that in many areas the economic, political and social systems of the north and the south could be integrated. He was quite right. I have mentioned many of them in the past. I have referred in particular to agriculture, because a large part of the economy of both the north and the south is founded on agriculture. The potential for the integration of food processing, biotechnology and education is very great. Colleges and universities in the north have spare capacity, whereas the south is looking for student places. There are so many areas in which integration could be expanded and built upon. In doing so, we should bring the people of the north together with the south. We should also increase and improve the link between Britain and Northern Ireland. That link is being forced further apart by the divisions within Northern Ireland. British failure to resolve our position in Northern Ireland has led to strains between Britain and Northern Ireland, although they are two nations which ought to be, and which historically have been, very close. That link must be rebuilt.
Finally, we must look at the position in which we now find ourselves by our failure to address the Northern Ireland problem since the division of Ireland in the early part of the century. More than 2,000 people have been killed and thousands have been injured. The lives of their families have been ripped apart. The economy of Ireland, in particular Northern Ireland, is under-developed at best and in tatters at worst.
Let us consider what we have done to our own democracy. As a result of the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, for the first time since the medieval period a member of the Government has the power to exclude a person from one part of the United Kingdom. That has not been known since medieval times in Britain. Also, we have to walk into the House of Commons through various screening devices. There are wire fences around the House of Commons. People have to be searched. This change has been brought about during the last eight or nine years. It has had an effect on the legislation that is passed by this House. Look at what the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978, which we shall be renewing again later tonight, has done to our reputation overseas. This House, which is the model for democracies around the world, has allowed, because it has failed to address so many of the problems that have arisen due to the division of Ireland, its democracy to be undermined to the extent that Britain has been found guilty before the European Court of Human Rights on more occasions than any other European country, and many of those convictions have been the result of problems or convictions stemming from Northern Ireland. There is a way forward. The people of Northern Ireland are much more able and willing to move than we think. We need to give them leadership and to recognise that that leadership has to come from London and Dublin.
Inevitably, this debate is a post mortem about the Assembly and, to some extent, it is also a post mortem about all the other initiatives that the Government have taken since 1972 in their attempt to find a political working arrangement for Northern Ireland. On looking back, it may be seen that the easy suspension of Stormont was one of the worst mistakes made about the government of the Province during all the years that it has existed as part of the United Kingdom.
It behoves all of us to ask ourselves why each of the initiatives has failed and failed so dismally. I do not suppose there is any one answer and certainly some of the speeches from Opposition Members are pertinent to those failures. The attempt to bend democracy that we first saw in the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973 and the creation of a power-sharing executive never really enjoyed the full-hearted support of the majority in Northern Ireland. That executive finally foundered as a result of the Sunningdale conference and the setting up of an All-Ireland Council. Those things showed that the attempt to force democracy to work because it seemed the most politically apt way to approach the problem was not likely to produce the results that we wanted.
The idea of power sharing has always remained somewhere in the Northern Ireland Office and it came alive again in 1982. The then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), believed that even if power sharing was a phrase that he dare not use—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is leaving the Chamber because I shall refer to him in the course of my speech.
Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney thought that he ought to seek something that looked like power sharing, and he decided to do it by introducing an Assembly that could devolve powers to itself, the powers that Stormont had once discharged, if 70 per cent. of the members of the Assembly gave their assent. He knew and the hon. Member for Foyle knew that that depended upon the presence in the Assembly of the hon. Member for Foyle and the other members of his party. They would have to be in the Assembly if the Assembly was to be effective.
I give full credit to the hon. Member for Foyle because he made it clear to my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney that he would have nothing to do with that Assembly and that he did not intend to take the members of his party to it, though he would fight the elections. That meant that the Assembly with its 70 per cent. veto—for that is what it was — would never have devolved powers because the hon. Member for Foyle did not choose that that should happen. No doubt he took that decision for good political reasons because, like the rest of us, he is a party politician and knows where his political muscle comes from. I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for that because every hon. Member knows about these things. He knew that if he joined the Assembly he would not improve his political standing in the Province. By the same token, in order to improve his political standing, he stayed out of the Assembly.
There was another thought in the hon. Gentleman's mind, and I hope that he will forgive me because I am reading his mind. He may tell me that I am talking nonsense but that is his prerogative. The other thought in his mind was that the Assembly was not what he was after anyway. He liked the idea of an Irish dimension and looming into his sights was the concept of the new Ireland forum and the possibility that somehow, unbelievably, the Government of the Republic could he brought into a dialogue with Her Majesty's Government. It was an ambitious project and to set the Assembly beside it in comparison was to set a minnow beside a whale. He set about his task, and brilliantly achieved his objective. I give him full credit for that because he pursued his political aims and did what any one of us would wish to do— he achieved a remarkable political victory.
I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman's speech. He does not need to read my mind because I can tell him clearly what the position was. Ten years is not a very long time in a place like Northern Ireland. I remind the hon. Gentleman that during the 10 years before 1982 three attempts were made to devolve powers to Northern Ireland, and they were all based on fundamentally the same approach by a Government in this House. That approach was, essentially, power sharing acceptable to both sections of the community. Those three attempts all failed.
The most recent attempt was in 1979 and it was made by the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) who was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. At that conference we said to the Unionist parties, "Since you say power sharing does not work and will lead you into a united Ireland against your will, we will agree to it for the life of two Assemblies in order to demonstrate both points of view." They said, "There are no circumstances in which we will ever share power with you." Three years later another Secretary of State decided to do the same thing.
What sort of credibility would we have had with the electorate if we had accepted the same guidelines that we accepted three times in the previous decade when they were brought in for the fourth time? We said to the Secretary of State, "If you can get the Unionists to accept your guidelines this time, we will become involved." The Unionists rejected the guidelines before the Assembly election took place, thereby making it clear that the Assembly would not work. What did we do? We did the intelligent, honest, political thing and asked, "Why are they saying no? They said no because they were afraid of a united Ireland destroying their heritage. We then turned to the parties in the Republic and said, "Join us in showing that our future for Ireland threatens no one."
We followed the logic of the situation in which we found ourselves and we do not apologise to anyone for that. As the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) rightly says, the position that we find ourselves in today arises because of that, because we are facing up to the reality of the problem, which is about the interlocking relationships between the peoples of these islands and not just about the relationships in Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Foyle for making such a powerful intervention. I respect him for that and, as I have said, I respect him for his political ability. I think he would have to agree that, despite what the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said about the Unionists not sharing power in fact, they have worked for power sharing. They did that in 1973 when they helped to set up the power-sharing executive. Mr. Brian Falkner led that executive, and they worked for power sharing again in 1982 when they and the Alliance party went to the Assembly. The hon. Member for Foyle and his party did not go.
The hon. Member for Foyle says that it is the Unionists who have held up power sharing. I differ with him on that. He made his political judgment and decided that going to the Assembly did not suit his book. By creating the Anglo-Irish agreement at Hillsborough he must have known that he was carrying out the final act, giving the coup de grace to the Assembly, because once that treaty was in place the hon. Gentleman had created something else. He had created a new imbalance in Northern Ireland politics and, inevitably, that has led to the withdrawal of the Unionists from this House, and from the Assembly.
In his moment of triumph, when the Hillsborough agreement was signed, the hon. Member for Foyle could have taken an opportunity to give new strength to the Assembly and to the concept of community government in the Province. He could have led his supporters back into the Assembly, and, even if he did not agree with the Assembly as it was, he would have shown his willingness, having won his great victory over the Anglo-Irish agreement, to work for a community government in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman did not choose to do so. Perhaps he was on a political high of a sort that few of us will ever experience. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to think that I am accusing him of doing something that was wrong, for I am accusing him of bad judgment. Whatever is the case, he has sentenced the Assembly to death and each one of us to thinking again about the political future of the Province.
Did the hon. Member attend the debate on the Anglo-Irish agreement? I made a clear and specific offer, and in every week since I have repeated it, to the Unionists, to sit down and discuss devolution in Northern Ireland without preconditions. I want to spell out to them in detail how we see the future and I want to hear from them what they see in our view that threatens them and, for the first time, how they see the future—I know how they see the past.
I was at the debate. I interrupted during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I sat here for two days but, sadly, was not called. However, I had the pleasure of listening to the hon. Gentleman. He knows that the Anglo-Irish treaty is fatally flawed. He knows that it cannot work effectively without the involvement of the majority community in the Province. He knows that, because that majority has never been consulted about the agreement, it is not exceeding its rights in saying that it will not work with it. It is doing no more nor less, I suspect, than the hon. Gentleman and his supporters would have done if they had been left out of an agreement of that gravity about their future.
Because of the flaw, each of us has the responsibility to try to find a way to put back that which was taken away. It is inevitable that, however important we may consider the Anglo-Irish treaty to be—no one would like to see it work more than me—we have to get those round-the-table talks. If the price of getting them is to set the treaty to one side for six months or whatever, then it is not too high a price to be paid. Nor is it impossible to do so. By the Vienna convention on treaties of 1971, articles 57 or 61, it is possible for a foreign country to set a treaty to one side or suspend it.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, will discuss this matter with the Taoiseach and say to him that, in our view, a community government in Northern Ireland that represented all the strands of that society would be a greater political gain than an Anglo-Irish treaty that we cannot enforce and that carries with it the seeds of strife, bitterness and violence stretching into the future.
I agree with all those hon. Members who have said that, in the end, Northern Ireland must govern itself. That is as it has to be. No English Secretary of State representing an English constituency can govern a province when his own party is not represented in it. Nor can those who come from Northern Ireland ever expect to have powers in this House. They cannot. It has been said, and I know it is true because I have worked and served in Northern Ireland, that it is a place apart. Its politics are different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom. But it is possible to create a community government, albeit with Westminster making the laws. If the treaty were set aside for six months or nine months — not an open-ended period — then political leaders such as the hon. Member for Foyle and the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), and perhaps the Church leaders, could come together and realise that this is their chance to create something that would work, not something imposed by Westminster but something agreed among themselves. That gamble would be worth taking and I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that that is the line that the Government should take.
Various hon. Members have asked why all the constitutional initiatives that have been taken since 1969 have failed. Others have tried to suggest new constitutional initiatives, be they integration, partial integration or some version of the local government structures that we have on the mainland. With respect to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), his approach and that of all other hon. Members fails to take account of the lessons through which we have lived in Northern Ireland's recent past.
No constitutional mechanism and political structure will civilise Northern Ireland, bring equality to its people, make it a reasonable place in which to live or cause both communities to be able to live well together, unless there is a will to that end. Unfortunately, there is not that will in the Unionist community, which is why there has been continuous failure. They want domination. not equality. They do not want an end to discrimination or the equal provision of the local government services to which all people should be entitled. No constitutional dream or aspiration put together by the most clever constitutional lawyer in the world could put in that good will if it were not there. It is now clear to most hon. Members and to the people of Britain that Northern Ireland will never work because that good will is never there.
We have a new era. The people of Britain are completely exasperated. That feeling is reflected among hon. Members, who speak less openly in the Chamber than they do elsewhere about the exasperation with the Unionists, Northern Ireland and the way in which they are behaving. The people on the streets and buses speak more and more openly and their feeling is reflected in opinion polls. It is a growing and mounting feeling that Britain is doing no good in Northern Ireland and should get out because it is a waste of time, resources and lives. The British people do not want us to stay there any longer.
The Anglo-Irish agreement is and will always be an enormous historical turning point. Historians will see that clearly. The Unionists are right to say that, inevitably, the agreement will lead to an united Ireland. Their behaviour, their intransigence, their unreasonableness, their unwillingness to work with the agreement, have pushed the British people around that historical corner into a determination to withdraw from Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland could have worked, following partition, if the Unionist community had behaved differently. Of course the Republicans did not want to see their country partitioned, but if there had been equality and not discrimination, and if Catholics and Protestants could have lived side by side and respected each other and their cultural and historical differences, things would have been different. People can live like that within the rest of Britain—that is the experience of my life. I come from a Catholic family that originated in South Armagh but I grew up in Birmingham and experienced full equality in a way that my cousins who still live in Northern Ireland could not.
Northern Ireland might have worked. Its people might have said that they were happy with the border, or equally the border might have faded away because the Unionists did not need it, because the two communities lived so happily in the north. Similarly, the Anglo-Irish agreement could have worked for the purposes for which the Government intended it — to help Northern Ireland to survive longer and to help generate co-operation and respect between the two communities. But the Unionists would not have it. They will not use any proposal that comes from the politics of Great Britain, to which they claim to be loyal. Each time their intransigence comes out; they say no to everything. They want to destroy every structure and every proposal. There can be agreement only if they are willing to give equality and respect to the massive minority community constituted by the Nationalists in Northern Ireland.
Therefore, does my hon. Friend agree that the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), whose speech I listened to with much interest, are not realistic? He said that, if the Anglo-Irish agreement were suspended for six or nine months, the parties in Northern Ireland, and perhaps the Church leaders, might reach agreement, without it being imposed from Westminster. Have not years of history and experience shown that that is not possible? There is no way in which the Unionist and Nationalist parties will reach agreement, for reasons that my hon. Friend has been explaining. Therefore, does she agree that the agreement was an advance and should be maintained, and that in no circumstances should the Government give way on it?
I agree with my hon. Friend that, if the suggestion of the hon. Member for Newbury were followed, it would be a complete disaster for Northern Ireland because Unionist intransigence and unreasonableness would have been victorious once again. The lesson it would teach the Unionists is that they should always be unreasonable and intransigent, that they should never give an inch, that they should never give respect or equality to the other community, and they will always win. I am afraid that that has been the experience of their history. They have to learn that it will not win. They must be faced down. I think that that is happening and that they are learning a bitter historical lesson that they will not get their own way this time, that the British people will not back off, and that they have to face up to the fact that they will not get their way again.
If the hon. Lady has not already done so, she should read the report of the Northern Irish Convention to discover how much common ground there was among Unionists, the SDLI' and the Alliance. She will be surprised. She will find that her speech is unbelievably prejudiced.
The hon. Gentleman now resorts to abuse. I respect the sincerity with which he made his speech, but his reading of history and of experience in Northern Ireland is wrong. I have explained why. If he simply wants to abuse me, it is no use my seeking to answer his point.
In the interests of honesty and accuracy, I must point out that there cannot be equality, which is the real basis of what the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has been saying, unless there is justice. The process of justice in the north of Ireland is not in the hands of the Unionists but in the hands of this Parliament. If we want equality in the north of Ireland, we must get it through the process of justice. It is on the Floor of this House and this Parliament and Government that we look for justice. Let us not blame the Unionists for that, although there is plenty for which we can blame them.
I do not agree completely with the hon. Gentleman. The problems about the lack of justice and equal treatment before the law arise partly because some people in Northern Ireland are willing to use force to advance their political views. Their willingness to use force arises from the discrimination and inequality with which that community has been treated. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that many reforms are overdue and could be made by the House, but the whole answer does not lie here. Part of the problem that the House faces in Northern Ireland arises from the attitude of the Unionist community.
I want to put on record clearly my reading of the current situation; I believe that history will vindicate this reading. The absolute unreasonableness of Northern Ireland Unionism, shown clearly over the Anglo-Irish agreement, means that from now the determination of Britain to withdraw from Northern Ireland will grow. I think that most hon. Members know in their hearts that that is right. When we seek new structures we must bear that in mind. We must look for structures that can lead to co-operation between North and South and among all the communities of Ireland. Britain is pouring resources into the Army, the building of prisons and the employment of more and more policemen and prison officers. Those resources could be poured into building creative things that would make a better new Ireland and create jobs and services for all the communities. We should move as rapidly as we can to the construction of constitutional opportunities for that new Ireland to be built.
The real answer that will bring lasting benefits to all the people of Ireland is that new Ireland without Britain where the people have to live together in equality. I believe that it is coming soon because of the way in which the Unionist community in Northern Ireland has exposed itself to the British people so clearly in recent months.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this important debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). Although I admire her sincerity, I do not share her vision or her analysis, particularly of the Unionist intransigence, as she called it.
I regret the disorder. Had I been here at the time, I believe that I would have voted for the original legislation. I regret that we are debating the order because it means that the Assembly has failed. The order was inevitable because the Assembly was being abused. In those circumstances, it was pointless to continue it, but it was not a total failure. As the Secretary of State pointed out, in its scrutiny capacity it achieved a certain amount of success, with 75 per cent. of its recommendations being accepted.
One reason why the Assembly failed was the failure of the SDLP to participate in it. To give the SDLP its due, its members always made it clear that they would not take their seats. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) suggested that the SDLP should have gone into the Assembly post agreement. That would not have been realistic when the Assembly was being abused by other Members and was being hi-jacked for political protest. In those circumstances, I do not think that anyone could have expected SDLP Members to take their seats, so one cannot blame them for that.
I was heartened by the remarks of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) on 12 June when he said that he wanted to sit down to talk about devolution. I was heartened also by the remarks of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) in reply to my intervention. I believe that the hon. Gentlemen want to participate in devolution. When a new order is brought before the House to give effect to new elections, there may be a possibility of the essential prerequisite of all-party agreement on participation in the Assembly. Having heard what the hon. Gentlemen have said, I think that there is every possibility of them agreeing to go into an Assembly in the future.
There is scope for a new order. Do we want to resurrect the Assembly? I have always been in favour of devolution. I have always been suspicious of total integration and even of integration such as was talked about by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) because that approach would irretrievably alienate the minority in the North.
My preferred option has always been one of devolution. Northern Ireland has had devolution for the best part of five decades. It has not worked because there has not been the necessary element of justice or power sharing within it. But there is scope for devolution. I believe that that is the only way to involve the minority in public life in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) talked about Unionist intransigence over home rule earlier in the century. It is ironic that were it not for that Unionist intransigence—the minority intransigence—there would be a united Ireland with home rule within the United Kingdom. Many Conservative Members have that dream. I should like to see a united Ireland. However, it would be a different united Ireland from that envisaged by the hon. Member for Ladywood. I should like to see a united Ireland governed by Dublin with some form of home rule in Belfast. It would be a united Ireland with some form of loyalty to the Crown, perhaps as a dominion, certainly within NATO. That is why the devolution argument is so important. I believe that it is the only way forward. The only way the Unionists in the north would ever accept a united Ireland would be if that essential attachment to the Crown were retained in some form.
The Anglo-Irish agreement is the key issue; indeed, it is the only issue. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, I visited Ireland recently. One of the things that struck me, as it struck my hon. Friend, was the deep sense of betrayal, outrage and dismay. I sensed it in moderate, sensible industrialists— ordinary people from all walks of life. I came across it also at 1 o'clock this afternoon when I met the Minister of State and a party of industrialists. These moderate, sensible industrialists, who are at the sharp end of wealth creation, spoke about betrayal in a way they have not done before. They feel strongly about the agreement, but they feel even more strongly about the fact that they were not consulted before it was reached. I am reminded of a quotation from Hosea, chapter 4:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou halt rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee".
I believe that the cardinal mistake made by the Government whom I support was that they did not consult beforehand.
The Secretary of State made it clear that the Government will not renege on the agreement. Therefore, we must go forward on the basis that the Government will stand firm. I believe that there is only one way forward for Unionist parliamentary representatives. They must return to Westminster. I was heartened by the remarks of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh in that respect. They have a good case to argue, but they are not here to present it. The Prime Minister invited them to come and talk about devolution and the way forward for Northern Ireland. She invited them to discuss the future of the Assembly, but they turned down that offer. She invited them to talk about the conduct of Northern Ireland business in the House. That invitation was confirmed only a few hours ago by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State would like to see major changes. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to give us more details of what changes he wishes to see. Condemning Northern Ireland business to the early hours of the morning, incredibly anti-social hours, as happens now, is not heartening or encouraging.
We must face up to reality. I believe that there is a chance that the agreement can be absorbed into the democratic process, because the Government in power now are different in character from the Government in power in 1974. At that time, a new Government, with a small majority, came to power. The will to persevere just was not there. Today, the position is quite different. We have an extremely determined and strong Prime Minister. She will not give in.
I doubt that.
Another reason why I do not think that all hope is lost in terms of absorbing the agreement in the democratic process is that it provides an incentive to all politicians in Northern Ireland. Article 4 makes it clear that if there can be devolution in Northern Ireland, on a basis which secures widespread acceptance throughout the community, the role of the intergovernmental conference will be reduced, and certain functions that it is considering will not be apportioned to it. There is an incentive to make devolution work. I believe that Unionist politicians will see that there is an incentive to get devolution going.
There is another reason why it is in the interests of Unionist politicians to make the agreement work. There has not been much discussion about that, although there will probably be some later on. I refer to security, especially cross-border security. If it becomes apparent to the vast majority of Ulster people that there is progress on the security front and in the fight against terrorism, and if the people of Northern Ireland see that two of the factors in the progress are the agreement and the enhanced cooperation between the two Governments, a great deal of pressure will be placed on Unionist politicians. Last Thursday's events were a move in the right direction.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State was able to say that the talks that took place that Tuesday represented a significant landmark in co-operation. He said he was satisfied that we are embarking on a policy of much closer co-operation than there has ever been between police north and south of the border. Those are brave words if they are not true. I believe that they are true. From meetings which I have had recently with the RUC, I know that there is every indication that there has been a significant move in the right direction in the crucial fight against terrorism—against the enemy of all Ireland.
I say to the hon. Member for Foyle, before he leaves the Chamber—it is the second time he has been on his way out, to where I do not know— that Conservative Members feel that there is a need for his party to promote full-hearted support for the security forces in the minority community. Anything that he can do to boost the confidence of those security forces would be welcomed. That is probably what he intends to do. However, some assurances in that direction would be welcome. They would be welcomed by hon. Members who supported the agreement and those who have supported his conduct in the House over the past year or so. I ask the Minister whether he has any evidence of an increase in the commitment by the Republic Government in terms of resources for border security and border effort. I should be grateful if he would respond to that.
I recognise the pressure on our Unionist colleagues. Recently, at a meeting with a member of the Democratic Unionist party, I pointed out that the patience of my constituents was wearing thin and that I strongly believed that the word "loyalist" was being abused. He said, "Do you really expect me to put a noose around my neck just to put a smile on the faces of your constituents?" I know that the hard men are lurking in the shadows and the pressure that Unionist people are under. Surely the place of that member of the DUP is here at Westminster, so that he can put his case.
For example, during the crucial run-up to the decision on the Ministry of Defence contract for the auxiliary oiler replenishment vessels, where were the Belfast Members of Parliament lobbying Ministers and their fellow Members? They were not here. Where did their constituents want them to be—in Belfast demonstrating and protesting, or here in the corridors of power? I say to them, "For goodness' sake, you have a case to put. You cannot go on saying that the agreement is simply the result of terrorism succeeding." If they say that, how can they expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to give in to another form of blackmail? That argument flies in their faces. Their place is here. I urge them to return here and to argue their case with us.
I would not wish to follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) throughout his arguments, but I am sure that the House has taken note of his last comments on the absence of Unionist Members of Parliament, with the exception of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell).
One page of what I think is the last booklet from the Unionist camp—"Why Unionists Say No"—includes a quote from "The English Constitution":
The moment we distinctly conceive that the House of Commons is mainly and above all an elective assembly, we at once perceive that party is of its essence … party is inherent in it, is bone of its bone and breath of its breath.
I wonder why the Unionists would wish to quote such an important man as Walter Bagehot in relation to the House of Commons yet not take their seats here.
This debate has been one of the most interesting that I have heard in the Chamber in the past three years. It has highlighted the fundamental problem that faces the Unionist camp in Northern Ireland. That problem was amply reflected by the speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who sought to draw the Secretary of State on matters such as the administrative devolution of Northern Ireland and total integration. When I was a younger lawyer, we talked about negligence and gross negligence. A famous judge once said that they were both the same, except one had the epithet added. I surmise that the difference between integration and total integration is about the same.
We have not heard a great deal about an independent Northern Ireland, which is surprising. That proposal has been gathering pace in certain quarters, and I shall, therefore, not devote too many of my remarks to it. The difficulty faced by the Unionist leaders is that they seem not to be able to face up to the reality of the community in which they live. They cannot shed the vestiges of a colonial past. Because the Unionists cannot define a common line or goal, it is hardly surprising that the British public cannot understand what the Unionists want within the framework of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West touched on that aspect when he referred to one of his constituents.
The Unionists, in their own peculiar context, have created, if I may use the phrase from the World cup, "space and movement". It is a space into which others are likely to move in order to fill the vacuum. The movement in this country is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said, away from a belief that Northern Ireland has anything to do with the rest of the United Kingdom.
If I may interpret the Unionist position, it is essentially one of hostility to the Anglo-Irish agreement. That hostility is so irrational that, in the end, Unionism has punished itself. Bernard Shaw once said "If your face is dirty, you wash it; you don't cut off your head." The Unionists appear to have lopped off their heads without even looking into the mirror. They have set aside the Catherwood proposals, by which they set great store. They have wound up the devolution committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly. They have declined further to scrutinize
legislation that comes before the House by way of Orders in Council. The Secretary of State referred to that work, saying that 75 per cent. of the Assembly's recommendations had been agreed by the House and by the Government. We feel that the Secretary of State might be somewhat beleaguered in his position on the Treasury Bench, but he has told the House and the country that he is an avowed Unionist. Even as early, or as late, as last November, he was urging the Unionists to make full use of the Northern Ireland Assembly. He told a meeting at Cambridge university that the Assembly was one of the best ways in which the Unionists could continue to have their views heard in London. That advice went unheeded. Apparently, the Unionists have not heeded the advice that he gave on 12 June to the House when he urged
the Unionist parties to return to this House to argue their case and to take up the offer of the Prime Minister to discuss …devolution … a round table conference; the future of the Assembly; arrangements for handling Northern Ireland business at Westminster. —[Official Report, 12 June 1986; Vol. 99, c. 505–6.]
The hon. Member for Eastbourne made cogent and well-constructed arguments when he challenged the Secretary of State to say what he thought of devolution, regional councils, and so on. The right hon. Gentleman told the House tonight, as he did on 12 June, that there could be talks without preconditions. I always understood that "talks without preconditions" meant exactly what it said. The Secretary of State clearly said that there can be no way forward for Unionists in Northern Ireland or for Northern Ireland on the route of integration. We welcome and support that statement.
The House must ask itself in these circumstances and in view of the Unionists' position why the Unionists have turned their backs on the proposals of Sir Frederick Catherwood who, when he published the last report of the devolution committee, made a call
To open negotiations on structures for devolved government on these bases and to consider practical amendments to the Northern Ireland Act 1982.
The bases to which he referred were devolved Government with a committee system, an executive and a Bill of rights —all, of course, built on a Unionist majority of some 70 per cent. in the Assembly. The only novel feature in a proposal which effectively would have meant a return to majority rule, devolved Government—in other words, "back to the future" — was a proposal to allow the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to sit in judgment on any measure which the minority community might think discriminatory.
Of course, that was a Freudian slip by Sir Frederick. We have long held the view that Northern Ireland is our last colony. It has been a colony with its own Parliament and governor, its own right to raise taxation, where Great Britain was responsible for external defence and for an annual subsidy to supplement public expenditure, but where this Parliament had no say in its internal affairs.
It was a colony unique in British history which had the right to send 12 Members of Parliament to Westminister, but they played no role here, participated in no Government, answered no questions on behalf of their constituents and put no questions to Ministers because their Government was elsewhere across the Irish sea. They had their Government in Northern Ireland. They simply exercised a watching brief, ensuring that Unionism was not eventually subjected to those pursuing the course of a united Ireland.
As a matter of fact, under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 the House had full and unrestricted powers of legislation in Northern Ireland. The House did not exercise its rights and duties in respect of Northern Ireland for many decades because of a ruling of the Chair that it ought to be treated as if it were a dominion. That was not the consequence of the constitution of 1920.
The right hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of history, will know that a Privy Council decision in 1924 on the boundaries between North and South was interpreted in the House as meaning that the House had no responsibility and would not discuss legislation as it relates to Northern Ireland. That continued until 1969.
I shall briefly return to the proposals of Sir Fredrick Catherwood, which said that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the one to which I have just referred, had to be the final arbiter in matters which might relate to discrimination in Northern Ireland. If those proposals had been accepted, we would have placed Northern Ireland back into the context of a colony in the same position as other colonies and former colonies which still refer to the Privy Council as a final court of appeal.
We are not entirely sure who buried the Catherwood proposals. Have they been lost under the weight of the Anglo-Irish agreement or have they been jettisoned by the Unionists themselves who are turning away from the concept of a devolved Government? If they are turning away, how sincere were they in their document "The Way Forward" which was a Unionist response to the proposals in the All-Ireland Forum? That document stated:
The Ulster Unionist Party takes the view that some form of devolved Government is necessary for Northern Ireland. In only one part of the United Kingdom, namely Northern Ireland, are major services subject to no real democratic control.
That commitment has apparently been washed out to a sea of lost opportunity by the Unionist reaction to the Anglo-Irish agreement. The Unionists are wont to rely on the so-called justice of their cause. My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood referred to that. That means that having had their way in the past they will be able to have their way in the future, to turn their back on history, the lack of consensus in Northern Ireland and the continuous and continuing erosion of civil liberties within a minority community. To continue with the sea metaphor that I used earlier, King Canute could not turn back the tide, and he never believed that he could. He simply went down to the beach to prove his advisers false. The Unionists can no more turn the tide to a recognition of minority rights any more than King Canute could. They should accept the Anglo-Irish agreement and stop trying to reverse what has already come about.
I wanted to speak about an independent Northern Ireland. That concept has been floated. It was looked at by the national executive committee of the Labour party in 1981. No one was particularly interested in it at that time. The consequences of such a possibility are so remote that perhaps I should not go into it now. Essentially, an independent Northern Ireland would mean the creation of a non-viable state. A majority for such a state would not be found within the six counties because two of those counties, Tyrone and Fermanagh, are already Republican in their majority. The forbearance of those in the north who consider themselves part of the Republic would be overstrained by the creation of an independent Protestant state and it could hardly be considered to be in the national interest of Great Britain.
How could an independent Northern Ireland exist economically? In this important debate it is necessary to lay to rest the prospect that somehow there could be an independent Northern Ireland, dependent, nevertheless, on our country which puts in about £1,500 million, inclusive of social security payments. Therefore, I doubt whether that concept will go far.
We have to treat the concept of integration seriously, and I believe that we do. On that matter I refer to the remarks of the right hon. Member for South Down. He has long put forward a view of integration with the rest of the United Kingdom. He has an able and, if I may say, powerful supporter in the hon. Member for Eastbourne. The right hon. Member for South Down has been representing a Northern Irish constituency since 1974. In that time he has sought to bridge the gap in Unionist thinking whereby they wish to return to the Stormont days of the Protestant ascendency and also insist that they are an integral part of the United Kingdom. They remind me of Marie Antionette who, being apprised of the fact that the peasants had no bread, suggested they might try brioche. With the utmost respect to the right hon. Member for South Down, the general Unionist proposition is one of having both bread and brioche at the same time, that is to say — to borrow a phrase that has been used tonight — having administrative devolution and total integration at the same time, or, in my words, it means wishing to be treated as a colony and as a part of the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Member for South Down has taken the view that in order better to preserve the Protestant ascendency there should be full integration of Northern Ireland with Great Britain. He wishes to take a series of steps forward so that that aspect of Northern Irish rule can be continued while at the same time there can be integrity of Northern Ireland with Great Britain. Tonight we heard the proposals of the hon. Member for Eastbourne who was seeking to put forward solutions which would harmonise that idea of integration at the same time as the idea of devolution.
The right hon. Member for South Down has protested in the past at the way in which we have handled our Northern Irish legislation. That has come up on a number of occasions. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), in private meetings last year with the leadership of the Unionists, proposed that we should move towards altering the treatment of this legislation. Those discussions were an early victim of the Anglo-Irish agreement because they did not get very far.
There is some seduction in the view of the right hon. Member for South Down because, for as long as Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom—it has remained so since 1921 notwithstanding the multitude of aspirations for Irish unity—for as long as there is direct rule from Westminster, as there is for Wales and Scotland and England, why should the legislation affecting Northern Ireland be treated any differently? Why should there not be the appropriate Northern Ireland Standing Committee or Select Committee to analyse legislation or issues affecting Northern Ireland so that they can be debated before they come to the Floor of the House? That is a matter of logic. I believe that to proceed to some kind of variation on how we do business here would be welcome to hon. Members. The Secretary of State put that forward as a positive suggestion in his statement to the House on June 12.
Unfortunately for the right hon. Member for South Down, his long-held aspirations towards integration suffered a cruel blow when the. Government whom he has long supported signed, without his advice or approbation, the Anglo-Irish agreement. No amount of invective which was hurled across the Floor of the House towards the Prime Minister has matched the depth of his disappointment on this subject.
I have outlined the dilemma which I see faces the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland as they face the dissolution of their Assembly and the continuance of direct rule. At the end of the day, we must say that they must resolve those dilemmas for themselves. The role which they believe they should take is a matter for them. It is a road which must be democratic and constitutional. If I may borrow a phrase from President Reagan, they can run from the Anglo-Irish agreement, but they cannot hide from its consequences, nor, may I add, from the opportunities which the Anglo-Irish agreement offers them. We must all hope that the time is not far off when Unionist Members will again grace the proceedings of the House, that the offer of discussions with the Prime Minister is taken up, and when the Unionists understand that if there is a place for a minority community in Northern Ireland, with its religion, its culture and its nationalist aspiration, there is equally a place for a majority community which has shared with us not only a common culture and heritage, but a common bond in adversity in decades gone by.
The Opposition have no more intention of turning their back on that majority than have the Government. In the circumstances, the Opposition see no alternative but to support the order tonight and the continuance of direct rule until such time as there can be devolution in the interests of the minority and majority communities in Northern Ireland, whatever their ultimate aspiration may be.
I commend to the House both the orders that we have debated this evening. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) described what was happening today as a farewell party. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) drew an analogy with certain people in California who put dead bodies on ice. I regard it rather as the sort of farewell that one gives to someone who may need to leave for a period of rest and recuperation before returning to full health.
I reiterate the belief, which was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), that it is devolved government, rather than the route which has come to be called integration, which provides the only solution and way forward for the government of Northern Ireland.
I echo the tribute that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West paid to the Speaker, the Clerk, the staff and others who strove so mightily to make the Northern Ireland Assembly a success. Members of the Assembly are having their final debate now, and I echo the tribute paid by the right hon. and learned Gentleman to those who played a constructive role throughout its life.
I shall return later to discuss in more detail some aspects of the Anglo-Irish agreement and especially its benefits. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was at pains to say that in presenting the Anglo-Irish agreement and in arguing for it we should make it clear that it is not just security and cross-border security co-operation that should matter. Of course, I agree with that. There are economic, political, and cultural matters that can also benefit from the discussion that takes place in the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and in sub-groups which work between meetings of the conference.
The communiqué of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference which was placed in the Library of the House following the meeting on 11 March listed well over 50 examples of cross-border co-operation in a variety of areas: education, tourism, fisheries, training, water resources and drainage. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West will be pleased to hear that horse breeding is another example of cross-border co-operation. The range is impressive. I commend to those who are interested those examples of cross-border co-operation. Most of them pre-dated the Anglo-Irish agreement, but they can benefit from the existence of the agreement.
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) posed the wrong question to the Assembly when it was established. I shall paraphrase for the sake of brevity what the right hon. Member for South Down said. He said that the right hon. Member for Waveney had asked the Assembly to reconcile the irreconcilable in the work that it was undertaking. I believe that the purpose of my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney in establishing the Assembly in 1982 was to determine whether sufficient common ground existed for the differences, which in constitutional matters are fundamental, to be put aside while elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland could co-operate to share discussion and ultimately decision-making on matters that affected the day-to-day lives of people living in Northern Ireland.
I am sad that an Assembly which I believe suffered from the outset from the understandable but, I still maintain, mistaken decision of the SDLP Members not to take their seats, and which has ended because of the refusal of the remaining Unionist Members to carry out the functions that Parliament has laid upon it should have come to an end. I regret it, but I believe that it will be but a temporary absence. I repeat my assertion that I believe that devolved government is the way forward for Northern Ireland.
I say to the right hon. Member for South Down—he took it from the physical reaction of my right hon. Friend but I repeat it now — that of course it is the Government's intention to ensure that courteous and proper treatment is accorded to those who have been Members of the Assembly and will cease to be so when the order which we are debating is finally signed. The Clerk is writing to Members of the Assembly to set out the arrangements which will be in hand for them to remove their equipment and belongings from the precincts of the Assembly.
The Government and the House are entitled to reciprocity in this matter. The behaviour that led Members of the Assembly to invade a part of the building that did not belong to them, with the result that they had to be removed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is not acceptable. I hope that we can look to those Members of the Assembly to behave with responsibility and courtesy. In return, we shall show it to them.
The right hon. Member for South Down made great play of the origins of the role of government in Northern Ireland. Historically, his analysis was totally correct. But he takes a huge leap forward when he says that, because the genesis of the concept of the role of government for Northern Ireland was based upon the aim of bringing about a united Ireland, that is why we now have devolved government in Northern Ireland, and that successive Governments have come to that idea simply to see the distinctive needs of Northern Ireland, and have established local arrangements so as to meet those needs. I shall return in more detail to the arguments about integration later in my speech.
Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends raised what they called the Irish dimension—in effect, the Anglo-Irish agreement. This is not the time or the place to go into detail about that agreement or why I maintain it is of immense importance to the future in Northern Ireland. I should like to make one thing clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). He said that it would be better if these discussions could take place within the context of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council rather than the conference. I want to make it clear that the conference operates within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. Because it is charged with the work of dealing with north-south matters, it is obviously appropriate, as envisaged in the Anglo-Irish agreement, that it should be Northern Ireland Office Ministers who should be concerned with the work of the conference. But it is working within the framework of the Intergovernmental Council.
I shall come to that point because it was suggested that in some way the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental agreement had caused some sort of inequality. The proposition that was put before the House was that the Irish Ministers were in a position to put forward views and proposals on behalf of the Nationalist community while my right hon. Friend would have to take account of the interests of all the citizens in both communities in Northern Ireland and somehow there was some inequality in this arrangement. There is, but only for so long as the representatives of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland decline to come forward and use this House and the Assembly and all the other avenues that they have for contacting Northern Ireland Office Ministers in Northern Ireland. Ultimately all that the Irish Ministers can do within the context of the conference is to put forward views and proposals. The decision-making process remains absolutely with my right hon. Friend. Nothing in the Anglo-Irish agreement affects that fundamental constitutional position.
I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West —and the point was also alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion —about the benefits of the agreement. I can assure the House that benefits are beginning to flow, not least in the area of cross-border security co-operation. Extra resources have been moved by the Garda Siochana to the border areas. But in a sense it is not just the numbers but the nature of cross-border security co-operation that will be important in the development of work in that area.
We have already had the first fruits of the work of cooperation between the RUC and the Garda Siochana and those will be the building blocks upon which, in time, we shall erect a strategy throughout the island of Ireland, agreed and operated by the two police forces, which will deny the terrorist the explosives, guns, money and free movement of men that he needs to carry out his work.
Already, important work at policy and practical levels on fugitive offenders is being carried forward. The switch in the January elections towards constitutional nationalism and away for support for Sinn Fein is another important benefit that has already flowed from the existence of the Anglo-Irish agreement. However, the fruits that we have seen are but a start in the work that will eventually flow from the agreement.
No. As was made clear when the Justice Minister of the Republic signed the convention on the suppression of terrorism, it will need legislation. It is envisaged that that will be introduced in the autumn of this year. I think that that has been clearly understood. However, I am by no means an expert on the Irish legislative processes, so I cannot say how long it will take to go through the Oireachtas.
I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) that it would be wrong— indeed, it would be impossible — for the House or the Government to impose some sort of solution for the political future of Northern Ireland. That must spring from the people of Northern Ireland. The Assembly was an attempt to provide the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland with a framework in which they could create that way forward. That must still be the principle on which we work. Only widespread agreement involving the elected representatives of both traditions can possibly provide the framework within which that progress can take place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), with his customary, impressive forensic skills, presented a formidable but flawed case to the House this afternoon. The 1979 manifesto of the Conservative party said:
In the absence of devolved government,—
I emphasise those words—
we will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of power over local services.
I re-emphasise the words
In the absence of devolved government".
There is no room for devolved government and a regional council. Even Macrory said that there was room for only three tiers of government in Northern Ireland — district councils, Stormont and Parliament. If my hon. Friend is urging us to accept a regional council, he clearly envisages the end of the search for devolved government and the Government are not convinced of the validity of that argument. But he made it clear this afternoon that he did not envisage any such council being elected by proportional representation. Does he—he would have to address this — envisage such a council being run on majority rule lines? If that were his proposal, I can see not the slightest chance of the House passing legislation to that end, nor of the widespread acceptance in both communities in Northern Ireland which would be essential for any progress on that front.
The words which my hon. Friend and I quoted are, not surprisingly, identical:
In the absence of devolved government
we shall seek to set up one or more regional councils. emphasise the words
In the absence of devolved government".
Does my hon. Friend agree that, since 4 May 1979, when the Conservative Government took office, there has been both an absence of devolved government and an absence of a regional council or councils? Is that not in breach of the very promise that was made in the 1979 manifesto?
The whole thrust of what I have put before the House so far is that we should retain the search for that devolved government because that provides the only sound way forward for Northern Ireland.
With respect, I am going on to deal with some of the difficulties that those who advance some form of integration face in carrying their arguments through. But, no, the talks may be about amendments to the present arrangements for handling, for instance, legislative matters, but still against the context of the Government's commitment to a search for devolved government.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out, in his opening speech, the differences between Great Britain and Northern Ireland which justify a distinctive approach to the political arrangements that are made for the Province. Ever since the creation of Northern Ireland some 65 years ago, it has had different arrangements from those which have obtained on this side of the water. Of course, that is not to say that no change should take place if arguments could be sufficiently right or convincing to carry the day. But the Government are not convinced by those arguments.
Today, three propositions have been put before us—that there should be changes in the legislative arrangements, aiming, where possible, to legislate for Northern Ireland by Bill rather than by Order in Council; that we should abandon the aim of devolved government for Northern Ireland; and that we should have an increase in the powers of local government.
I do not think that any hon. Member will need convincing of the extra strains that we would put upon the timetable of the House of Commons were we to say that we should legislate only by Bill for Northern Ireland. A Grand Committee or a Select Committee, which have been referred to, would give rise to difficulties of membership and of balance within those Committees. I am aware, having served as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office for nearly five years now, of the resentment —I do not think that is too strong a word —that exists about the present legislative arrangements in the House of Commons. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has specifically offered to talk to representatives of the Unionist party and others about those arrangements. It is up to them to put forward specific proposals which could be discussed with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State about alternative arrangements which would better suit the needs of Northern Ireland legislation within the House.
I shall not make great play of the administrative upheaval which would be created by some of the arrangements suggested this afternoon. But if we were to abandon the search for devolved government and go down the integrationist route, the Ulster Unionist party would be far from unanimous in changing towards that course. The Democratic Unionist party, the Alliance party and the Social Democratic and Labour party would be completely hostile to any such change. Indeed, they have all made clear their hostility to it. Certainly there would he no chance of getting any widespread acceptance of the principles behind an integrationist approach.
Integration, in effect, would mean permanent direct rule for Northern Ireland — all the disadvantages of having a Secretary of State and other British Ministers ruling the Province, with no prospect of a body in Northern Ireland that could advise, disagree, argue, and persuade British Ministers on necessary changes in order to make that legislation reflect the needs of the local community in Northern Ireland.
Since 1982, I have seen clearly how effective the Assembly has been in monitoring the work of the Northern Ireland Departments, and how willing British Ministers in Northern Ireland have been to make changes in the legislation so as to make it more amenable to the needs of Northern Ireland.
We see an end to the Assembly today. We have to find a new way forward for Northern Ireland. That can happen only if the representatives of the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland are prepared to talk to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about their genuine concerns. The Anglo-Irish agreement is an international treaty and it is not going to be put aside or suspended. But surely all elected representatives from Northern Ireland, Unionist and Nationalist, have a duty to engage in talks. The sooner they take place, the better.