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Lord St. John of Fawsley: My Lords, I believe that the whole House will be extremely grateful for the words of the noble Lord who has just spoken on behalf of the Ulster Unionists. They are typical of the constructive part the Ulster Unionists have played at this crucial time.
We have heard mentioned the prayers of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and of the right reverend Prelate. One should always be grateful for prayers and I hope that they will include me in them. However, I hope that I may suggest a subject for more general prayer; namely, one of the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. I refer to hope. There has been so much gloom and caution expressed in this debate. However, this is a great day for Northern Ireland and for the United Kingdom. It is a great day for the Republic.
Of course it is not the end of the novel, but it is the end of a splendid and hopeful chapter. Without this chapter the story could not possibly have gone on. The event which has taken place yesterday and today
I speak as an old-fashioned Tory, Catholic, Unionist. I can make that plain without fear because as a breed we are practically extinct. I have taken the keenest interest in the Irish question. I was sent by Mr Heath to Long Kesh in 1973 to see the conditions there and to report back to him. The lesson I learnt from that visit was that this was not primarily a religious struggle. The religious labels were there but this was a racial struggle between two different sets of people struggling for a piece of territory and with one set not willing to allow for the difficulties which existed and with the other set not willing to afford justice to the minority. As a result of the breakdown between Mr Heath and Mr Faulkner, Stormont was abolished. I thought that was an error then and it is not with hindsight that I say that I think it is an error now.
But now we have a new start. Of course there will be difficulties. There will be difficulties all the time. There is a great cultural difficulty which we should not forget; namely--if I may put it in this way--the English can remember nothing and the Irish can forget nothing. How does one get out of that impasse? The only way to get out of it and to move forward is to have hope in the future. That is why I reiterate the need for hope at this junction in our affairs.
Many have contributed to this process and many have sacrificed their lives. The noble Lord who represents the Ulster Unionists referred to that in his moving speech. People from every side have made the supreme sacrifice. They should never be forgotten, but we do them no service unless we are prepared to use their memory to advance, not to bear resentment and grudges. Forgiveness is a difficult thing. It is difficult, above all, for those who have suffered wrong.
Different Prime Ministers have played different parts in this process. Let us not forget the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who sent the British troops into Northern Ireland. What was the purpose of that? It was to protect the Northern Ireland Catholics from intolerable threats and dangers. That was his contribution and it was a real contribution, although it brought other problems in its wake.
My right honourable friends Mr Heath and Mr Major have both given of their best in this effort. They have been able to carry the torch--as in a relay race--that bit further forward. The present Prime Minister, Mr Blair, has made his contribution to this process. I shall not mince my words. I shall say what I believe; namely, that no other Prime Minister has shown such dedication, spent so much time and tried so hard over a long period to bring the parties together.
I want also to pay tribute to Mr Trimble and Mr Adams. They have done something extremely difficult; they have transcended the sectarianism of their own followers. One can transcend other people's sectarianism easily enough. But when they are the people on whose support one relies, that is a true test of statesmanship.
I was delighted to hear my noble friend Lord Glentoran reiterate the bipartisan nature of support in the House for the policy on Northern Ireland. The Conservative Party is under a moral and political obligation to maintain that bipartisan support. He did so nobly, as did my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, who knows more from experience about this subject than most Members of the House, including myself.
Bipartisanship does not rule out the possibility of criticism; it does not rule out the right to advise, the right to warn and the right to delay, if necessary. But it does rule out irresponsibility, carping, mean-mindedness and any desire to exploit the situation for partisan purposes. To play an effective part in this process requires from the Opposition a certain generosity of spirit. The debate has shown that that generosity of spirit is there. It will be fully needed if we are to resolve the challenges and gain the great prizes now within our grasp.
Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned bipartisanship. Full praise should be given to the late Lord Whitelaw who started the process from 1972 onwards. We all learned from him and the process has gone on ever since. He should not be forgotten.
The noble Lord also referred to the question of whether it was a religious battle in Northern Ireland. When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland I gave a dinner party for Conor Cruise O'Brien and invited a number of people. A lady at the table asked him, "Is it a religious question, Mr O'Brien?". I think he taught in Belfast before the war. He replied "When I taught, there was a blues team and a greens team. One of the greens players, the Catholic players, fell in the penalty area and writhed like Lawrence Olivier. The crowd shouted from the stand 'Send him to Lourdes, Send him to Lourdes'". He then said, "No, it is not a religious problem."
Congratulations have been widely and freely given--as they should be--to all those who have been involved in the Northern Ireland question over the years. I place particular emphasis on the part played by Northern Ireland politicians. At times they were infuriating. Sometimes we asked ourselves, "What do
We have been in this position once before--at Sunningdale in December 1973--when a devolved administration came into effect. My noble friend was a deputy leader at that time. However, it failed. It failed because the party of Mr Brian Faulkner--who also showed great courage--deserted it. Mr Trimble last week very much reversed that development against Brian Faulkner. When I first got to Northern Ireland there was a violence campaign in Belfast. The place was aflame every night. There was also the Ulster workers' strike, which showed what a divided part of the United Kingdom Northern Ireland was. Anyway, the Sunningdale Executive collapsed.
I have often thought about what we should learn from that time of devolved administration. Perhaps two points should be taken into account. I am not denying the greatness of today, but there is the question of money. As my noble friend will remember, it is easy enough for people to sit around--not a coalition, but a Cabinet table--and talk about money they do not have to provide and to devise schemes without thinking of the wherewithal to provide for them. Money does not grow on trees--and money was beginning to be a problem. It needs wise politicians and skilled civil servants to get over that hurdle. This is not a coalition. We are not forming a coalition government in Northern Ireland--I will come to that in a moment--and government will not be easy. It easy to stand in front of a television camera and be feted, but the actual day-to-day administration is a difficult task.
After the Ulster workers' strike in 1974, it required only an Order in Council by the Westminster Parliament to end the power-sharing executive. I believe it requires more than that now. If the arrangements in Northern Ireland are to be ended, it will require primary legislation on the Floors of both Houses. Perhaps my noble friend will confirm whether I am right in that belief. One never knows what will happen in the months ahead.
As to the question of a Secretary of State, we need a Secretary of State to deal with the responsibilities of Northern Ireland. One of the failures in the past has been that for 50 years Northern Ireland worked to a small general department in the Home Office. It will require a Secretary of State to deal with reserved matters, not a Secretary of State shared with Scotland and with Wales.
There are problems are ahead. Today and the rest of the week will be great for Northern Ireland. We must all do our best to help in every possible way. I congratulate the present Government and Mr Major and his Secretary of State. It is all of a one. There are times in the political scene when we are gloomy and think of all the things that can go wrong. Let us not
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