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Mr. McNamara : The hon. Gentleman nods his head in agreement but his is a mistaken view. The continued necessity for the 1974 Act reflects our failure to find a solution, but is not the source of the conflict.
The problem is that Northern Ireland has never enjoyed any degree of confidence in its future. Legislation on Northern Ireland has always been considered as an interim measure. That has been a constant theme, as shown by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the permanent crisis atmosphere of the Stormont regime and even the Ireland
Column 517Act 1949. It is quite clear that few people in Northern Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom have ever believed that Northern Ireland's position has been fixed in perpetuity. Direct rule was never intended to be a long-lasting form of government. It was meant to be an instrument for crisis management when the power sharing executive fell. It was hoped that it would allow for the creation of a stable, democratic system of devolved government. However, this has not happened and, because of the absence of purpose, there is a danger that direct rule will simply institutionalise the permanent crisis, as did the Stormont regime.
In many respects, all parties and all Governments have failed to make any advances with Northern Ireland. Perhaps we have stumbled on a more modern and sophisticated system of crisis management, one which is sufficient to secure agreement that it is the best form of government in the worst of all possible worlds.
Today, the Secretary of State expressed a sentiment which I knew he shared with us. He suggested that nobody had any great ambition to preside over a mere system of containment. Northern Ireland will be secure from the threat of political violence and instability only when it has a system of Government which commands the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, not merely their passive and resigned acquiesence.
This debate gives us a useful opportunity to take stock of the extent to which the application of the 1974 Act in the past 12 months has assisted in achieving the objective of a stable and democratic form of Government. I am afraid to say that the record is not too good, as the Secretary of State has said. He referred to economic matters, security matters and the political aspects of the last period of direct rule, and I shall follow his agenda. I shall not say a great deal about the economic situation, as the debate on the appropriation order later this evening will provide an opportunity for some detailed debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) will be less than happy if I shoot all his foxes. The Opposition welcome any sign of improvement in the economic prospects of the Province, particularly in respect of employment. We welcome the fall in unemployment, but at 15.5 per cent. it is still the highest rate in these islands and still higher than it was in June 1979.
The position is not as bright as the Secretary of State would like us to believe. The Government's figures show that, on most of the major economic indicators, Northern Ireland has been lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom. As the consequences of the mismanagement of the British economy become more and more apparent every day, the impact on Northern Ireland is not conducive to optimism. If we catch a cold on this island, they get pneumonia in Northern Ireland.
The Government have announced the arrival of a number of new industrial projects, and we welcome them, but I cannot help but feel that these efforts would be more successful if the Secretary of State and the Minister responsible for economic development had not been preoccupied with their plans to privatise Shorts and Harland and Wolff. It comes strange from the Government, who are prepared to write off so much in capital debts and capital loans, to claim that those companies were underfunded, when they as the owners
Column 518had the ability, the strength and the means to supply the funds and the orders and to make sure of the training and the market. They are now looking to the privatised sector to deal with the problems that they had caused by their lack of investment.
The decision to take powers to prepare the ground for privatisation of the Northern Ireland Electricity Service does not augur well. I wonder how the Government of competition expect to find competition for the NIES in Northern Ireland. Given the high energy costs that prevail in Northern Ireland--higher than in the rest of the kingdom--the Government should be more concerned about preventing a price increase than about increasing profits and, therefore, industrial and domestic consumer costs. Just as night follows day, as NIES is fattened up for a profitable slaughter, prices will increase.
The Secretary of State has paid tribute to the work of the security forces. On behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I associate myself with that tribute. He mentioned the happy fact that there had been no deaths to members of the security forces recently. That is to be welcomed, and we hope that it will continue, but there have been serious injuries. A marine from my locality was seriously injured by a bomb last week. The problems are still there. However, the problem for us as democratic politicians is that we have been relying on the security forces to hold the ring while we fail to find the political solution. It is incumbent upon us democratic politicians not to become Lundies but to sit down and try to work out how to prevent such deaths and maimings.
It is also incumbent on us to avoid making the performance of the duties of the security forces more difficult. The Government have a duty to pursue policies to undercut the causes of violence, but they must also ensure that the security forces are sensitive to the difficult environment in which they operate. The real world in Northern Ireland must be recognised in the House. We pay tribute to the police and soldiers who daily risk their lives, but until they are fully accepted in Northern Ireland, the risks will continue. Therefore, it is imperative that the security forces avoid needless friction with local residents, that complaints are speedily dealt with and rumours effectively scotched.
It is also essential that the Government do not undermine the work of the security forces by ill-advised measures. It is not the views of the House that matter so much as those of the citizens of Northern Ireland. It is an undeniable but unfortunate fact that the minority community does not regard the Ulster Defence Regiment as a peace-keeping force. It views it in a less favourable light than the regular Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Therefore, I am concerned about the consideration being given to the extension of the use of plastic bullets by issuing them to the UDR. This would be an unwise move because it would show that the concerns and wishes of the nationalist community, and not simply that decreasing minority who support Sinn Fein, have been ignored. No more should be heard of this foolishness. Neither should the UDR be placed in a situation where it feels the need to use plastic bullets.
Furthermore, if the decision is made, the temptation will be there for the military defence to use the UDR for crowd control and riot control, thus relieving the regular Army of this role at a time when demographic considerations are forcing the Ministry of Defence to re-assess the roles and tasks of the regular Army. It would
Column 519be a tragedy if that were to happen, and the temptation were to be there. I trust that, even though the Secretary of State has said that training will go ahead, it will be stopped. There are only two possible justifications for direct rule. The first is that it offers a possiblity of tackling a fundamental cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland. The second is that it allows the Government to maintain the initiative. On both counts, the Government have not had a good year.
The Government have introduced a series of violations of civil rights this year. This is not the place to rehearse in detail the arguments for and against the various measures. Suffice it to say that the broadcasting ban, the abolition of the right to silence and the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 have not enhanced the Government's reputation. These measures were all attempts to suppress the symptoms of the failure to find a political solution, not constructive efforts to eliminate the causes of conflict and the Government, in those circumstances, have been reacting to an agenda set by the men of violence.
I trust that the Government will not be foolish enough to endorse the claim of Sinn Fein that the broadcasting ban was responsible for the fall in the Sinn Fein vote in the district council and European elections this year. Not only would that be short-term opportunism, but Sinn Fein is already claiming it as its alibi for its disastrous results in both parts of the island in recent elections. It would be foolish of the Government to assist the IRA in its attempts to dismiss its dismal performance on the ground that it was not able to broadcast. The immorality and futility of the murder of its fellow Irishmen and women have cost it its vote. Perhaps the most striking sign of the bankruptcy of the Republican movement is what it is doing to close the Belfast-Dublin railway. In ideological terms, it could not be doing more to copper-fasten partition, and one wonders what it is up to.
The Secretary of State spoke about the legislation that he has introduced. I reiterate the Opposition's stance on Government legislation. We shall examine it carefully, and where we think that it is proper, does not in any way interfere with cherished civil liberties and is not counter-productive and has been properly examined, we shall support it. However, as an Opposition, it is our duty and our right to point out to the Government where we believe that they are making errors in their legislation. We believe that they have made errors in the past year, as we have stated in previous debates.
So far as seizing the initiative is concerned, the Government have clearly run out of ideas, as was clear from the latter part of the Secretary of State's speech. All too often in the past, there has not been enough clearly thought out or articulated policy. Events have decided what the Secretary of State was going to do, not his sense of direction. That was shown by the reaction to the tragic massacre in Ballygawley. The Government do not seem to have a sensible or coherent strategy and they allowed themselves to react to the men of violence in a counter-productive way.
However, the Government have done some things this year which are to their credit. They have not totally lost sight of the need to tackle the sources of conflict. The first step in any solution, no matter what one's views may be about the future of the Province, is to ensure equality between the two communities. Progress has been made on the issue of discrimination in employment. For much of last year the Secretary of State, the Minister responsible at
Column 520the Department and the Opposition were locked in constructive debate on the terms of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill. It is one thing to pass legislation but another to see that it is implemented and carried forward vigorously and monitored. We will be looking for that and rapid progress in the months ahead. Having passed the legislation, we hope that the Government will not feel that that is all that they must do.
The Minister responsible for the Department of Education in Northern Ireland has taken action on cultural equality, particularly with respect to the Irish language, on education for mutual understanding and in his recent and welcome initiative on community relations. In particular, he has not leaned specifically in the direction of one community. He has said that there are two traditions, two communities and two ideas and concepts which must be savoured, supported and understood. I am sure that that is the proper way for him to act and he must owe much of his success to the advice extended to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam). That is the constructive side of direct rule. However, the Opposition hope that the Government have not lost sight of what has too often happened in the past. If we wish to avoid the perpetual cycle of terror and repression, we must place more emphasis on the constructive possibilities of direct rule. The Secretary of State gave some signs of that today.
Having berated the Secretary of State, I now feel an obligation on behalf of the Opposition to offer him some guidance for the future. I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that in the spirit in which it is intended. The Anglo-Irish Agreement can be exploited in a much more constructive way than hitherto, as is shown by the document which emerged from the review which seemed to adopt many of the suggestions put forward by the Labour party. In particular, the agreement can be used to tackle the economic problems of the Province. Given an expansion of Community structural funds, it makes good economic sense for both parts of Ireland to exploit jointly their objective one status and to make joint approaches to the European Commission for joint ventures in the interests and to the benefit of both parts of Ireland. There are large areas of economic and social life where such co-operation can be only beneficial. However, that can happen only if the Government do not try to be too clever by half, as they were this afternoon with regard to the use of additional funds and the concept and doctrine of additionality. An example of the type of co- operation to which I have referred is that between Northern Ireland Railways and Irish Rail on the scheme to upgrade the Belfast-Dublin rail link to produce faster and more direct communications between the two principal cities of the island. Similar projects could go ahead. We heard earlier this afternoon about arterial roads between the different parts of the islands and their importance to the infrastructure of the islands as a whole. Projects in agriculture, energy and tourism would be eligible for EEC support and objective one status if both Governments can come together. Those projects are of the utmost importance if Ireland is to avoid the isolation with which it is threatened as a result of the Single European Act and the single market in 1992.
Perhaps the Secretary of State's most important comments came at the end of his speech this afternoon. Now that the elections are over and there is a period of
Column 521stability in Northern Ireland, the opportunity exists for both communities to come together. That is ultimately desirable and necessary. The Secretary of State referred to decisions that were being taken as a result of direct rule. However, I believe that matters could rightly, properly and more efficiently be dealt with in the Province. Social matters, education, industrial development and similar policies should be decided by the people in Northern Ireland in their own assembly and councils, working together. That would be far better in the interests of the Province and far better for the self-esteem and dignity of the people in Northern Ireland. While party representatives in this House are so obdurate in their attitude towards a devolved Government, a whole generation is being lost to politics. That generation could come together and learn to compromise. They need not be Lundies, but they could learn to work together and accept other points of view which, on occasions, must be accommodated even if that is not what people want. People from both communities could work together for the good of their communities within Northern Ireland.
Direct rule and the Anglo-Irish Agreement share the characteristic that they fill a vacuum which the party leaders in this House are capable of filling to give their own people in the North of Ireland the opportunity to take part in the positive direction of their political lives and the future of their own Province. I look forward to a time when orders on direct rule will cease and when the parties come together to present the British Government, the Opposition and this House with a scheme which they have been able to work out. The answer lies in the people in the Province, within both parts of Ireland, coming together, working it out and deciding how they want to see their island governed. That will be the decisive factor. Any British Government can act only to hold the ring for a certain length of time. They can try to help to create the circumstances in which the parties can feel that it is to their advantage to come together. In the long run the Opposition, the Government and the House can hope only that this will be one of the last of the interim orders on direct rule. We can hope only that we can create the conditions and give what help we can to allow the people of Northern Ireland to assume the responsibility for so many things which are now decided for them in this House.
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), drew attention to the uncertainty which has hung over the Province since 1920 about its ultimate destination. I hope that he will not think that it is inappropriate for me to state that one of the factors making for that uncertainty has been the attachment of the Labour party, however qualified, to the idea of a united Ireland. That idea has naturally loomed large in the minds of many people in the Province as they naturally feel that, who knows, there may one day be another British Government less attached to the Union than the present Government. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider that
Column 522when he estimates the value of the practical suggestions put to him by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North.
It might have been better if the Government had granted our request to hold a debate before the review of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. That request was not granted. The review, prolonged, has taken place. The mountain has moved. I am not sure that it has produced much more than a mouse. Ministers have mainly taken credit for the improvement in relations between the RUC and the Garda. That is welcome news but every Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, from Lord Whitelaw onwards, has give us the same diet of hope. It is difficult for us, as we do not have all the information, to measure how important that improvement is. The conclusion that I find difficult to escape is that, although there has clearly been an improvement in relations between the RUC and the Garda, the IRA has also become a good deal more sophisticated. I am not sure where the balance of advantage lies in dealing with the terrorist situation.
On the economic side, we welcome my right hon. Friend's success in extracting money for Shorts. We trust that that will have a happy ending. I worked for a long time on the side of Shorts when I was Minister of Aviation and there is nothing that I would more gladly wish to see.
I come to the guts of the matter--the political situation. Here there is, as my right hon. Friend said, a stalemate. Dr. Fitzgerald tried to suggest that the SDLP was trying to encourage the minority population to co-operate with the RUC. Lord Fitt shot that down pretty effectively in his letter to The Times. From the Unionist party--the majority party--there is clearly no co-operation available for my right hon. Friend.
What is the origin of all this? It is not all that difficult to see. As my right hon. Friend said, he was not using phrases such as power sharing. But for 20 years now the Northern Ireland Office has had a perfectly simple formula--devolved government based on power sharing and an Irish dimension. Without the Irish dimension, the minority population will not co-operate. With the Irish dimension, the majority population will not co-operate.
What conclusion can be drawn? Listening to my right hon. Friend, I felt that I was in a curious time warp. Many years ago I was Under-Secretary of State, Colonial Office, when we still had a Colonial Office. Listening to my right hon. Friend, I could see Oliver Lyttelton and Alan Lennox-Boyd at the Dispatch Box saying, "Look here, our proposals are completely reasonable, but the natives simply won't listen. It is extraordinary. We have put forward what must seem to everybody to be the most sensible possible proposals, from which everybody will benefit. But do you think that they will listen? Not at all." It was exactly the same sort of language. I found it impressive and yet depressing. I remember supporting it as the Under-Secretary of State. It was splendid stuff--the call for power sharing between the Kikuyu and the Masai, the Greeks and the Turks, the Jews and the Arabs. It was much the same, but it never fitted the bill.
The truth is that the longer this colonial situation goes on, the more remote my right hon. Friend must become from the population. He is the governor of a colony. As the governor, he has to be even-handed. Any sign of being more favourable to the Turks than the Greeks, to the minority than to the majority, and his position becomes acutely embarrassing. He has to keep a beady eye on that.
Column 523Where do we go from here? I honestly think that the situation cannot long continue. The consequences become more serious as long as we try to pursue a policy that has now failed. It failed at Sunningdale and the "Jim Prior" Assembly ; and the Anglo-Irish Agreement has failed.
What is to be done? It is not all that difficult. The first thing is to restore full local government. My right hon. Friend should not be frightened by all the tales about local authorities refusing to collect the rubbish and discriminating against one community or the other. He can suspend local government at any moment if he so wishes. He has all the powers to do that. Twenty years have gone by. He should trust the people a bit more. Let us see how they will repay his trust. That is the first thing.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend called for the representatives of the Province to exercise their rights. But we do not give them the chance to do so. He said that they can all talk to him and his colleagues, but much more important than that would be to have some sort of Northern Ireland Grand Committee. Of course it would have to be staffed by Conservative Members in order to get the business through, but at least Ministers would be forced to debate the arguments at a reasonable time of day with the representatives of the Province. They are here--17 of them. That is really quite a lot. That would be a much more sensible system. At least they could have a debate. So, we need local government, and a Grand Committee here. Then we come to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Perhaps we should let it turn into a security agreement between the Garda and ourselves. It does not look as if it will work any other way. But if we want to go further, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and the "Friends of the Union" have put forward the noble concept of enlarging the Anglo-Irish Agreement to make it a general agreement between the Republic and the United Kingdom so that the Republic would have some oversight of all the United Kingdom, including the large Irish population here, and we would have an oversight of the way in which it handles its affairs--the economy, its neutrality and so on. That is a three-point programme which would not involve any great legislation.
As this is a short debate, I shall conclude with this thought. For 20 years, the Northern Ireland Office has been obsessed with the idea of power sharing and an Irish dimension. That has been attempted on three major occasions. All have failed. My experience of Government Departments, such as it is, is that they will make 20 mistales to try to prove that they were right the first time that they made a mistake. They will never change their minds on their own. Only a strong Secretary of State can make the break and force his Department to take a new departure. I beg my right hon. Friend to do so while he is still there.
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : The Secretary of State reminded us that this is about the 15th time that we have been called upon to renew what was originally a temporary order. None of us would quarrel with that statement. He was modest enough to avoid going on to draw attention to the fact that that 15th anniversary coincided with the 10th anniversary of the coming into power of the Administration of which he is a distinguished
Column 524member. If the newspapers are to be believed, he has great things in store for him, but it is not for me to comment on that. I have enough difficulties as it is.
Whatever our political views may be, and wherever in the House we may sit, we have to admit that the Prime Minister and her Administration have been successful in implementing the manifestos and policies that they have adopted, particularly their strategy for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Northern Ireland, which was set out way back in 1979. Opposition parties do not like those policies, but they cannot deny that, for better or for worse, they have been firmly implemented.
There has been one notable exception. They have failed to implement the policy for Northern Ireland. They have failed not because they have been obstructed or defeated by the warring factions in Northern Ireland or the awkward Northern Irish parties--as our colleagues in the House are inclined to call us--but because they have been defeated by two Departments of State. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who has long experience in these matters, drew a clear distinction between the Conservative party and a Conservative Government. The Government have been obstructed by the Northern Ireland Office, aided and abetted by the Foreign Office.
The right hon. Member for Pavilion said that that obstruction was not deliberate, and nor was it muddled thinking. It is something which the two Departments have latched on to, and so far we have not been able to divert them. The right hon. Gentleman was correct to say that only a very strong Secretary of State would be able to do that. I do not think that he was criticising the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, any more than I am. If the present Secretary of State had the united support of the Government, the understanding, if not the full support, of the Opposition parties and the near-unanimous support of the Conservative party, it could be done. I am not suggesting that distinguished civil servants in those Departments should be humiliated, but they have to be told that they have tendered advice after advice, submission after submission and drafts for initiative after initiative, and where have they got us? The second state has always been worse than the first. There has always been an obsession with trying something out on the high wire act in the circus when it would be sensible to lay solid foundations and to build a structure brick by brick upon those foundations. There are enough of us in the House representing the parties in Northern Ireland--I am not excluding anyone-- who have it in our power to ensure that that structure will endure. I say that with great respect to the Secretary of State and in support of what has been said by the right hon. Member for Pavilion.
The Secretary of State admitted that direct rule is not satisfactory. He went on to make the curious remark that so far it had not been possible to find an alternative. I want to return to what the Conservative party--as opposed to the Government--had in mind all those years ago as a workable alternative. As time goes on, it seems more and more workable. At Question Time today, when we were discussing a Bill of Rights, the Secretary of State asserted that only today for the first time had he received constructive suggestions from the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. I know that he will be generous enough to admit on reflection that his statement was not quite accurate.
Column 525Before the Secretary of State took up his present post in Northern Ireland, we published a document called "The Way Forward", and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) made a parallel suggestion. Our document attracted considerable support and attention at the time. It was hailed as a breakthrough in providing constructive proposals, but it all ran into the sand. Shortly afterwards, the New Ireland Forum report was produced and somehow that was thought to be the bee's knees--something which would resolve all our problems. But that document was not based on reality. With all our faults, we managed to put together a document which, however deficient it may have been in some respects, dealt with political reality.
As the Secretary of State has since discovered, the section of "The Way Forward" dealing with a Bill of Rights occupied the best part of two pages in which we set out the reasons why it should be considered in Northern Ireland. While I share the Secretary of State's view that the objective would be best served by a Bill of Rights embracing the entire United Kingdom, I do not think that that is an insurmountable barrier between us. "The Way Forward" contained constructive proposals for meaningful local government. That point has been raised today by the right hon. Member for Pavilion and the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir. M. McNair-Wilson).
I want to refer to the hon. Members for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and for South Down (Mr. McGrady). I know that the SDLP has reservations about the powers of local government. While I do not accept the validity of those reservations, I understand why it feels that way. But with great respect, I ask the hon. Members to remember that there is a whole range of functions which do not involve advantage or disadvantage to any political party or any creed in Northern Ireland. They should also be reassured by the fact that, for the foreseeable future, there will be a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Perhaps it will not be the same person, but there will be a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of whichever party.
An hon. Member said that, if power were given to local government, local councils would not empty bins for people they did not like. Ministers will remember that one council refused to do that on a point of principle. A Minister of the day, who is no longer on the Front Bench, but is still a Member, came to me in a state of anxiety. I asked him what he was going to do. He said, "If they do not carry out their duties, I will have to do the job from the Department of the Environment over their heads. Will you not talk to them to prevent that?" I said, "I shall do no such thing. You are the person who should talk to them." He issued a fairly stiff letter to the council warning that if it refused to carry out its duty the Department would do the job over its head and charge the cost to the council and the ratepayers. Honour was satisfied as the councillors could say, "We have no option. It has to be done, because the Minister has taken a grip on the situation. He is forcing us to do it. What can we do but obey him?" We all know that such situations occur in Great Britain. It is a question of checks and balances and no one but a fool would attempt to deny that it works if the responsibility is shared.
Column 526I shall quote briefly from "The Way Forward". Why should anyone fear the devolution of powers to district councils to repair and maintain roads? The document states :
"Roads owe no allegiance to those who travel upon them and, for the traveller, such roads are neither green nor orange but only good or bad. It would be a start if the travellers were given a chance to repair them."
That is an interesting point.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : As the right hon. Gentleman is the leader of the majority party and people in Northern Ireland, I thought that he would draw an analogy between the collection of bins and the potholes in roads and a solution to our problems. He may be about to do that. As a representative of the minority community in Northern Ireland, I look forward to hearing his views on the real issue that is at stake today- -how we proceed to a solution--rather than how we collect the bins.
Mr. Molyneaux : I accept that bins were a facetious example but that is not untypical of the functions to which local government councillors are restricted now. I am saying, give them more power and see whether they can be trusted.
Before the local council elections it was said that if the councils were not restrained, the majority in a given council would grab a monopoly of seats. I accept that that still happens. However, there are many different examples and I think that the Secretary of State had one in mind. My party would usually represent the majority on Armagh council. The hon. Member for Antrim, North will confirm that the chair of the council is held by a member of the Democratic Unionist party and that the vice-chair is held by a member of the Social Democratic and Labour party. That was the point made by the Secretary of State. It may seem to be small beer to some hon. Members, but it points to a happier future.
The hon. Member for Newbury asked in his intervention why, in view of the turnout at the local government election, there was supposed to be widespread frustration over the lack of progress. A total of 59.5 per cent. of the electorate turned out to vote and I seem to remember a parliamentary by-election in Vauxhall not long ago at which there was a staggering turnout of 42 per cent. Given that 59.5 per cent. of the electorate turned out, are those people not entitled to expect that the powers of their newly elected councillors will be increased, not diminished?
The Secretary of State referred to access to Ministers. I remind him that that was made use of in 1985 when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was being drafted. I talked to the present Home Secretary when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and urged him privately to go cautiously and not to follow the route that had been mapped out in the newspapers over eight or nine months. I advised against the course upon which the Government seemed to be embarking. The hon. Member for Antrim, North and I met the Prime Minister late on a Friday night at Downing street at the end of August in that year. We put to her not just our objections--we would have been shirking our duty if we had simply said "no"--but specific proposals as an alternative to those being designed. Our proposals are on the record.
The Secretary of State will remember that when he took office halfway through the operation he was kind enough to arrange a meeting with the Prime Minister. When the
Column 527hon. Member for Antrim, North and I met the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State we had a lengthy discussion. We elaborated upon the proposals we had put at the previous meeting and pleaded with them to avoid confrontation. They listened politely, but when the agreement appeared in its final form it was clear that our suggestions had been ignored. A civil servant who retired fairly recently from the plush seats explained a few months ago why we had to be ignored, why we could not be further consulted and why we could not be taken into the Government's confidence. He said that they did not consult the Unionists because they might have objected. That is a curious and defective way to conduct democracy.
After the new Parliament was elected at the 1987 general election the hon. Member for Antrim, North and I talked to the Secretary of State and his senior colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office for seven months. The hon. Member for Antrim, North will confirm that we were given the impression that we were getting somewhere and that there was good faith on both sides of the table. At the end of those months we drew our thoughts together and put them down on paper. Even more importantly, we put forward outline proposals for a better and more workable British-Irish agreement and for workable structures within Northern Ireland itself.
I say to the Secretary of State without anger, what good did that do? Why do Her Majesty's Government behave as if we had refused to make constructive suggestions when they know, from the Prime Minister downwards, that those proposals are still on the table?
I have put forward in this debate a proposal on local government. I suggest also that in regard to the Anglo-Irish Agreement Her Majesty's Government should at least match what appears to be the Dublin Government's willingness to consider an alternative agreement. That is not an unreasonable suggestion. Also, significant powers should be given, with safeguards, to the district councils. The Secretary of State and his Ministers will know from experience and from watching the pattern of nominations, elections and so on that unless some progress is made, all the parties in Northern Ireland will find it difficult to recruit competent people to represent the electorate and the ratepayers in the council chambers. We cannot continue in this powerless state for another term.
I want to make another suggestion that has already been touched upon. We should have legislation by Bill rather than by Order in Council. In my simple view that should have been done in 1972. When Stormont was abolished, Her Majesty's Government should have said--it was a Conservative Government, although fortunately not the same Prime Minister--"We have taken power to ourselves and we are now going to legislate for Northern Ireland in the same way as for the rest of the United Kingdom." That is not integration. If it is, the Conservative Government at the time should have realised what they were doing. I do not want to reopen old wounds, but the parties in Northern Ireland that advocated and brought about the abolition of Stormont should have recognised that they were taking a step closer to integration. The move to legislation by Bills was not taken in 1972 and it should have been taken in 1974 when the present Northern Ireland Act was introduced. Fifteen years is far too long.
Column 528of a Northern Ireland Grand Commitee where all matters affecting Northern Ireland could be debated? No doubt the Government would have to have a majority on the Committee, but the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues could debate in detail with Ministers issues affecting Northern Ireland.
Mr. Molyneaux : That would be an attractive suggestion, but it would have the same defect as the Northern Ireland Committee which still exists on paper. As long as the Anglo-Irish Agreement remains in force it would be futile to engage in such an operation because, willy-nilly, it would become part of that infernal process. We have been through all this before. Ministers would never come to the Committee and explain precisely why they were introducing certain items of legislation which had already been referred to and foreshadowed in a communique from the Anglo-Irish Conference. They cannot say that the Dublin Government do not have an influence when that Government and Her Majesty's Government boast that they have agreed on the promotion of certain legislation in specific areas. The Secretary of State repeated his request for suggestions and I--
Mr. Tom King : I think that the right hon. Gentleman is getting into a bit of a muddle. I thought that he was asking for greater opportunity to debate measures. The suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir J. Amery) was that that should take place on the Floor of the House and I thought that the right hon. Gentleman said that he would be willing to participate in such debates. If that is not possible, my right hon. Friend talked about the possibility of some form of Grand Committee and I also thought that the right hon. Gentleman said he would participate in that. I thought that he was looking for more time to debate issues affecting Northern Ireland. However, when another forum is suggested he says that he would not be prepared to participate. That does not seem to be consistent.
Mr. Molyneaux : As the Secretary of State will concede, the relevant part of the mechanism, the equivalent of the Floor of the House, is the Committees dealing with Northern Ireland legislation. We and all other parties have representatives on them. The Northern Ireland Committee, as presently constituted, is a toothless body and unless the Northern Ireland Grand Committee were given powers greatly in advance of those of the Scottish Grand Committee, it would not be an attractive idea for the reason I have given. However, it would be at least worth considering.
The Secretary of State repeated honestly and openly a request for suggestions on what we might like to see. I return to my opening sentences. The present Prime Minister and the late Airey Neave, backed by the then Shadow Cabinet, brought forward proposals for a master plan which was set out in brief in the manifesto that was endorsed by the electorate of the whole of the United Kingdom when it elected a Conservative Government in 1979. The manifesto contained firm proposals. It provided for making a start--I stress that it was not an end in itself--on restoring some degree of control and responsibility to elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. That was an important objective. Yet that is the only part of the manifesto that has not yet been implemented after 10 years.
Column 529Armed as we are with the results of two elections in Northern Ireland, I am not sufficiently arrogant to stand here in the House and demand the implementation of Ulster Unionist policies. I will settle for something far more reasonable and modest than that. I simply ask a Conservative Government to consider getting around to the implementation of Conservative party policies.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : I shall not disappoint the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I will begin by asserting my belief that the most important single factor in prolonging the tragedy in Northern Ireland is uncertainty about the constitutional future of the Province. I want to follow up a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). He referred to the days when he was an Under-Secretary of State at the Colonial Office. He did not remind the House, although he might have done, that he was also Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I want to illustrate by example how uncertainty can bring about the very evil it is sought to redress. After the 1979 election, it was clear that the Republic of Argentina was stepping up its claim to the territory of the Falkland islands. It is, of course, the duty of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to seek to resolve all disputes by peaceful means. Thus, although it was, and remains, the policy and conviction of Her Majesty's Government that sovereignty over the Falkland islands remains lawfully and properly with the Crown, the idea was dreamed up that if one was able to transfer ownership of the islands to Argentina and then take a 99 year leaseback, that would settle the problem of the claim by the Argentine to the British territory of the Falkland islands.
Precisely the wrong signal was sent to the men of violence when that suggestion was made by the British Government. When the junta understood that, although was said that there was no validity in the Argentine claim, nevertheless we would transfer the islands and then lease them back, the Argentine Government believed that we would not be serious in defending the rights of the British people of the Falkland islands.
I will give another example and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion may think that I am straying into the world of fantasy. I do not think so. The Republic of Ireland has always claimed--and its constitution still claims--the territory of Northern Ireland. That claim is denied by Her Majesty's Government. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office dreamed up another scheme which was that we would give the Republic a position of special privilege in relation to Northern Ireland ; that we would give the Republic the right to put forward views and proposals about how one part of this Kingdom should be governed;, and we laid a duty on Her Majesty's Government, if they disagreed with those views and proposals, to make determined efforts to resolve the differences.
Many people believed that the Anglo-Irish Agreement would never have been signed unless it had been preceded by a prolonged campaign of terrorist violence. What signal was sent by the Anglo-Irish Agreement to the men of violence? I assert that the same signal was sent by the
Column 530proposal for a transfer and leaseback of the Falklands to the men of violence in the south Atlantic, as was sent to the men of violence in Ireland by the signing of the AngloIrish Agreement. It added to the constitutional uncertainty of the Province. Northern Ireland has become a bit greener, and it is that perception that has encouraged terrorists to believe that if they can go on a bit longer, they will wring even further concessions from Her Majesty's Ministers. I want to mark to the House how significant has been the change in policy, even of my own party, in recent years. I want to begin by quoting with approval the words used by my right hon. Friend's friend and mine, Airey Neave. I will quote what he said in Belfast on 7 April 1978, when he was addressing a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council at which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) was present. He said :
"I am able to speak of fundamental principles Foremost of these is the Conservative faith and belief in the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Let no-one in Dublin be under any illusion". He might have added, "Let no one who is contemplating violence be under any illusion," He continued : "the Conservative Party stands four-square for the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." That was a ringing declaration of purpose made in April 1978. I want now to quote with approval from a speech made only two months later by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She too had gone to address the Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast and, again, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley was present. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said :
"Our two parties"--
that is, the Ulster Unionist party and the Conservative and Unionist party- -
"share one over-riding common purpose--the maintenance and strengthening of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." That was said 11 years ago.
I then turned to the manifesto on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I fought the last election. Do we find a ringing declaration similar to that made by Airey Neave and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in that manifesto? We do not. This is what my own party had to say about Northern Ireland :
"There will be no change in the present status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom unless the people of Northern Ireland so wish it."
I wonder whether the House can mark the contrast between the assertion of our last manifesto, which is without any conviction or declaration of policy and what was said in 1978 by the then Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the then Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion was right when he referred to the policy of the Labour party. The Labour party's manifesto stated :
"We believe in an united Ireland : to be achieved peacefully, democratically, and by consent."
The Labour party has moved its policy objective towards a united Ireland. In the most solemn declaration that one could make--a party manifesto--my own party has abandoned the language that was used in 1978. I believe that the abandonment of that language and of the commitment to maintain and strengthen the Union is prolonging the tragedy in Northern Ireland.
Column 531say to the House that the views of either my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or of myself have changed in respect of the Union. He knows that that is not true. He knows our policy and he knows where we stand on those matters. He knows that we have made our determination to support the position of the majority in Northern Ireland absolutely clear. I have made no secret of that. I often wonder whether my hon. Friend has reflected on something that worries me, which is that by implying that somehow that determination has changed he perhaps falls into that trap which it was his concern to avoid in raising this matter in the first place.
Mr. Gow : I do not follow my right hon. Friend's intervention, but if he is telling the House that there has been no change in the view of the Prime Minister or in the Prime Minister's choice of words, I shall reply by giving him a quotation. On 29 July 1982 my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons--I remember it because I was her private secretary at the time--
"no commitment exists for Her Majesty's Government to consult the Irish Government on matters affecting Northern Ireland. That has always been our position. We reiterate and emphasise it, so that everyone is clear about it."--[ Official Report, 29 July 1982 ; Vol. 28, c. 1126.]
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not quarrel when I say that those were the words used by the Prime Minister in this place on 29 July 1982, and that those are not words that the Prime Minister would be able to use now. I am simply saying that there is a contrast.
I agree with the suggestions made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Lagan Valley and for Pavilion. However, why has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is now the longest serving Secretary of State for Northern Ireland ever, abandoned the policy that was worked out so carefully during the four years when Airey Neave was a shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? I have never had a convincing answer from my right hon. Friend about why we abandoned the policy in the manifesto.
Why have we not tried to set up a regional council in Northern Ireland with widely devolved powers over local matters? What is the objection to trying to do that? What is the objection to giving modest additional powers to the 26 district councils and to setting up a regional council? What is the objection to ceasing to legislate for Northern Ireland by Order in Council? When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate, will he tell us why he will not confer modest extra powers on those 26 district councils? Will he tell us why he will not seek to set up a regional council and why he continues to insist on legislating for Northern Ireland by Order in Council?
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : In answer to the hon. Gentleman's questions, I say simply that it is because the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recognises that we are moving towards 1992 that that process has begun. With the present arrangement between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom it will, de facto, be possible to absorb Northern Ireland into an administrative all-Ireland arrangement. That is what is satisfying to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and that is why he has not given the hon. Gentleman a proper answer to his question.
Column 532I do not believe that the reasons that he attributed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have ever entered his head. My right hon. Friend can dissent--
Rev. Ian Paisley : It may not have entered the head of the Secretary of State, but his partner at the Anglo-Irish conference, Mr. Lenihan, said exactly that and spelt it out in all the newspapers at the election.
Mr. Gow : I have expressed my view, which is that the views of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) have never entered the head of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. There are many ways in which Her Majesty's subjects living in Northern Ireland are disadvantaged when compared with her subjects living in Brighton, Bridgwater or Eastbourne. In Bridgwater, as in Brighton, people are able to vote for councils with fairly substantial powers--the district councils. The people of Bridgwater and of Brighton are able to vote for county councils. The Members of Parliament for Bridgwater and for Brighton are able to table amendments to legislation affecting their constituents. The people of Bridgwater and of Brighton are to have conferred upon them from 1 April 1990 the inestimable benefits of the community charge. Those benefits are being denied to the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley and to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Why those differences? Why treat unequally and disadvantage the people of Northern Ireland. I was depressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion using the colonial analogy and talking about "natives". However, from what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seemed to be saying, I advise him that he cannot make any progress in improving the quality of government in Northern Ireland because the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Democratic Unionist party and the Ulster Unionist party either will not talk to him or will not reach agreement with him.
I advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that when those concerned cannot reach agreement, it is the task of statesmen to proceed with the policy and system of government that is best. After all, we have a system of government now which even my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says is not the best. If the people of Bridgwater are tolerably well governed under the system of district and county councils and by legislation which is amendable, why not treat the people of Northern Ireland in the same way? To say that the people of Northern Ireland are somehow constitutionally different is further to encourage those who believe that if they continue with terror long enough, somehow the resolve of this House and of the British people will weaken. The more that we govern Northern Ireland differently from the remainder of the kingdom, the more we will add to that uncertainty.
My right hon. Friend will not gain agreement among all the parties in Northern Ireland on the right form of government. Indeed, there is no agreement on the present form of government. Why not show leadership and give modest additional powers to the district councils? Why not try a little local government, as Airey Neave recommended? Why not try giving those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland seats that right to amend prospective legislation that is conferred upon every other hon. Member? What reason can there be for denying them the