House Of Commons
Wednesday 28 April 1982
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the main reasons for the substantial increase in crime in Scotland since May 1979.
:The number of crimes recorded by the police in Scotland has increased not simply since 1979, but during the past decade. The reasons for the increase are many, complex and hard to ascertain. It is because of our concern about this issue that the Government place such a high priority on maintaining law and order.
Does the Under-Secretary of State recall that one of the main paragraphs of the Government's election manifesto was that they would improve law and order? Does he agree that there has been a serious deterioration in law and order since 1979, as compared with the Labour Government's record? Does he further agree that one of the main contributory factors to that deterioration in Scotland is unemployment, especially among young people?
There is no simple correlation between unemployment and crime. At the last election the Conservative Party was pledged to giving priority to the maintenance of law and order. We have done that. There are, for example, more and better equipped policemen in Scotland than ever before. Our measures to maintain law and order have been widely welcomed by the Scottish people.
Does my hon. Friend agree that relating unemployment to the rise in crime, as Opposition Members so often do, is a scabrous insult to those who, through no fault of their own, are out of work? Does he agree that it is about time that Opposition Members started recognising the real cause of increased crime—the lack of discipline at home and at school?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. In pursuing this subject Opposition Members are treading a dangerous path.
Will the Under-Secretary acknowledge that the crime figures in Scotland fell in 1978 but have increased steadily since then? Will he also acknowledge that they increased by no less than 12 per cent. in 1980–81?Does he agree that it is absurd for him to deny that there is a relationship between crime and unemployment? Does he recognise that the majority of housebreaking and related offences are committed by the 16 to 20 age group? Why do the Government not acknowledge their responsibility for the problem when thousands of young people are hanging about on the streets because of the Government's economic policies?
I said that there was no simple correlation between crime and unemployment. I stand by that. The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that throughout the time of the Labour Government, crime in Scotland rose. It was rising sharply when that Government left office. I advise him to be cautious in his interpretation of statistics.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied that the level of farm incomes in 1982 will enable an overall reduction in bank lending to farmers; and if he will make a statement.
It is too early to make predictions about the economic situation in farming in 1982. I am, however, encouraged by the fact that the year-on-year increase in the level of bank lending to agriculture, forestry and fishing industries at February 1982 was 8·6 per cent., as compared with 21·7 per cent. a year earlier.
Does my right hon. Friend share my anxiety that ever-rising costs of production in farming must be financed by increased overdrafts? Does he agree that that is especially true of the livestock sector? Does he envisage any chance of a reversal of that trend in 1982?
I entirely share my hon. Friend's anxiety. The increased level of indebtedness has been one of the main problems facing farmers throughout Scotland recently. The current trend of easing interest rates should help. It is interesting to note that although the level of borrowing has increased this year, the amount paid in interest will be about the same because of the fall in interest rates.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that Scottish farmers have suffered a 50 per cent. cut in income in real terms during the past three years? Does he agree that they are not therefore able to service the vast sums that are outstanding? Will the Government therefore pay close attention to the proposals made by the Scottish National Farmers Union to do two practical things? First, will he introduce an agricultural development programme for the Highlands and Islands and, secondly, will he do something to restore the lime subsidy?
I agree that Scottish farmers have experienced three extremely difficult years. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the Government have moved a great deal to help farmers through large increases in hill livestock compensatory amounts, the introduction of the sheepmeat regime and so on. I agree that the two suggestions that he mentioned are important. We are discussing with the Community the possibility of an ADP, for which the hon. Gentleman asked.
Does the Secretary of State agree the with the statement by John Cameron, president of the Scottish NFU that the level of indebtedness is frightening and that the lack of confidence referred to at Scottish Question Time in February has shown no sign of abatement? Does he agree also that it is therefore incumbent upon the Government to take action now and not just talk about what they might be able to do in the future if they have the chance?
Fortunately, we do not have to talk merely about what we might do in the future. We have an outstanding record of helping farming during those years. The hon. Gentleman might care to recall that the Labour Government many times refused point blank to devalue the green pound, driving the Scottish NFU to desperation. We have put that right.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in many cases the farm horticultural development scheme persuaded farmers to borrow money that they did not have to buy machinery that they did not need to produce crops that they could not sell? Does he agree that it would be better to move away from a grant system and towards an agricultural development bank with low interest rates?
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. As he knows, however, our system of support for agriculture must tie in with that used by our partners in the European Community. Nevertheless, I note his point, and it is one of the factors that we can no doubt consider.
Irrespective of the general position described by the Secretary of State, does he agree that in the North-West of Scotland, where the weather conditions have been particularly acute, hill farmers and especially those with cattle now face a crisis?
I certainly agree that the plight of hill farmers has been even more difficult than that of others thoughout the country, and it causes me great worry. However, the high levels of hill livestock compensatory amounts and the increasing development of the sheepmeat regime should be of help to them. I hope that that will at least ease some of the problems.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many farmers in Scotland are very concerned that there is still no agreement in Europe on the annual price fixing? Is he further aware that this applies expecially to livestock farmers, who have now passed the end of the livestock year and are unlikely to receive any retrospective payment for any increase, for example, in sheep prices?
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. As he knows, we are negotiating hard in the Community and in the Council of Ministers to secure for our farmers a deal that we can accept. He will appreciate that if we had accepted an unsatisfactory deal too soon we should not have helped the farmers.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to announce his final proposals for changes relating to assisted area status; and if he will make a statement.
The Government hope to complete their current review of assisted areas next month. The outcome will be announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. The Scottish Office is taking part in the review and the representations of local authorities and others in Scotland are being taken into account.
Is the Secretary of State aware that I am increasingly worried that a number of new firms that have come to the Borders under the development area schemes are now transferring their expansion plans elsewhere? Does he feel any obligation to such new firms to exercise a continuity of policy, or shall we be wasting our time when I and the local authorities meet the Under-Secretary on Thursday?
I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is looking forward to meeting representatives from the Borders and will be glad to receive their representations. As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, I met the Borders regional council on Monday, when many of these points were made to me. In the past couple of years we have made great efforts to bring to the notice of firms already in such areas that in future those areas may not qualify for grants. We have therefore encouraged them to submit any expansion plans quickly to avoid the effect of the change.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend's statement about the announcement to be made next month will be more than welcome in Grampian and particularly in East Aberdeenshire. However, in his discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, will he take into consideration the critical increase in unemployment in areas such as the Grampian region because of the cessation of oil and gas related work? Will that be taken into account in the final adjustment of assisted area status?
That is a very valid point. I am keeping my right hon. Friend closely informed of such changes, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of the position.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry gave an undertaking that before any final changes in status were made they would be prepared to meet local authorities in the light of the changing circumstances? As Mid-Lothian has the largest parliamentary electorate in Scotland and there have been many problems, will he agree to meet the local authorities there in accordance with his undertaking?
As I have said, I have met one or two people of that kind. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make a request for me to meet representatives from his area, I shall of course be delighted to see them.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that while the last change in the development area structure was of great benefit to Scotland, problems will be created for areas that may move from assisted to non-assisted area status? Is he aware that this will cause particular problems in future dealings with the European regional fund?
I agree that, inevitably, if such changes are made they will cause problems for the areas concerned. However, everyone must come to terms with the fact that if one is to have a regional policy it must be concentrated on the areas of greatest need. Otherwise, we have no chance of dealing with the bad problem areas.
Will the Secretary of State give a categoric assurance that the review of assisted area status will include the city of Aberdeen, as the Under-Secretary of State recently suggested that Aberdeen would be excluded?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are including in the review all the authorities that we said we would include—that is to say, those areas that have been downgraded by more than one degree. We shall, stick to that undertaking and we shall of course, be glad to receive representations from anyone who is affected.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, which affects my constituency, I beg to give notice that I shall seek leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.
Regional Councils (Expenditure)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied with the proposed levels of expenditure for the year 1982–83 by regional councils in Scotland.
No, Sir. Total expenditure planned by regional councils for 1982–83 is £157 million, or 7·5 per cent., above the level assumed in the rate support grant settlement. The excess planned by Lothian regional council is £66–6 million, or 22·6 per cent. I have today served notice that, subject to my conclusions on any representations, I propose to ask the House to approve a reduction in the rate support grant payable to Lothian regional council of £45 million.I have served similar notice on Stirling district council of reduction in grant by £1·5 million. I am considering the levels of expenditure planned by other local authorities in Scotland and will announce further measures as soon as possible.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement about Lothian will be warmly welcomed by ratepayers throughout the region? On a rough estimate, based on the figure of £45 million, will he confirm that if the saving is returned to the ratepayers, as it undoubtedly will be if a Conservative Administration is returned on 6 May, it will amount to about £60 per household? Does he agree that this emphasises that the Conservative Party cares about the ratepayers?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Once again I have been almost snowed under with representations about this matter from ratepayers who are extremely concerned about the practices in these areas.On rate reduction, it is difficult to speculate on exactly what will happen, but if the full £45 million reduction in expenditure is made, the average rebate would be about £60 per household and, for a business in Edinburgh, about £800.
:Does the Secretary of State agree that this is a profoundly unsatisfactory system, in that he asks local authorities to draw up estimates, which he then disallows? When will he get round to redefining their proper functions and give them a sensible method of raising finance?
I have not made the system difficult to operate. The small number of authorities that have been deliberately overspending in a way that distorts the entire pattern for other local authorities have made it difficult. Any Secretary of State in any Government would have to deal with that difficulty.
Is the Secretary of State aware that his statement today is a scandalous abuse of his powers and has far more to do with the crumbling support for the Tory Party at the regional elections next week than anything else? Far from a small number of authorities being out of line, is he aware that 56 out of 65 Scottish local authorities are in excess of his guidelines, which demonstrates how unrealistic those guidelines are? For example, Orkney is 25 per cent. in excess and Shetland is 79 per cent. in excess. In the light of both facts, is not the singling out of the Lothian and Stirling districts simply another act of political spite and prejudice on the part of the Secretary of State?
The right hon. Gentleman may wish to reflect more deeply on this matter when he has time, because if he were in my position he could not ignore an authority that planned to overspend by no less than 22 per cent. over the others.
Not over the others.
I cannot suspend my statutory functions just because an election happens to be in the offing. As the right hon. Gentleman will know if he has read his papers, I have been under great pressure to announce any changes as soon as possible, because it makes it easier for the councils to make the savings.
Why does the Secretary of State not admit what he knows—that 56 out of 65 authorities are over the guidelines seven by more than 20 per cent. and that 30 are over the guidelines by more than 10 per cent.? In those circumstances, there is no justification for singling out those two authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman is totally wrong on that. He should know that we are not concerned with authorities that are over the guidelines.
What is all the trouble then?
The right hon. Gentleman was here when we put through the legislation, so he knows that we are concerned with authorities that are planning to incur expenditure that is excessive and unreasonable. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take a little time to consider what he would do if he were the Secretary of State. Is he telling the House that he would ignore entirely one authority that contributes one-third to the entire excess spending of Scottish authorities?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is wise to consider local authority expenditure over a period of years, because patterns emerge? Authorities such as Tayside, which has been prudent, should not be penalised because of profligate authorities such as Lothian.
I agree with my hon. Friend. It has been very hard on the authorities that have tried to save money to have experienced some penalty because of the authorities that have not tried. My hon. Friend is right about examining the expenditure over a period. As the ratepayers of Lothian region know, whereas their rates may well be 116p in the pound, the next highest regional council rates are only 93p in the pound, which is a large gap.
How does the Secretary of State intend to maintain the levels of finance to the councils when table 2 of the Government's expenditure plans shows quite clearly that, although the Scottish contribution to the United Kingdom is increasing, the amount earmarked for Scotland from the United Kingdom is falling? If that carries on until 1984, Scotland will be done out of £762 million.
I advise the right hon. Gentleman not to push that argument very far. He will find that Scotland receives, per head of population, much more than the rest of Britain under almost every head of expenditure. I hope that it will stay that way.
Order. I shall call one more hon. Member from either side, but then we must move on more quickly.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the past four years rates in the Lothian region have risen by more than 200 per cent.? In those circumstances, is he not wholly justified in taking the action that he has?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment. The figure that he mentioned is almost exactly right. I must check to ensure that it is precisely 200 per cent., but the effect on ratepayers is clear and the call for action throughout the entire region has been very noticeable, especially judging from my postbag.
Will the Secretary of State remind the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) that Perth and Kinross council is also over the guidelines? Will he assure the House that he intends to take against Perth and Kinross the same action as he has taken against Lothian? Does he not realise that the arbitrary use to which he has put the powers of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1981, and especially the cynical timing of his announcement today, will bring contempt upon himself and disrespect for the high office that he has demeaned today?
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has not understood the legislation about which he is talking. As he should know, we are concerned only with an authority that incurs excessive and unreasonable expenditure. I note the implication of what he says, that he warmly supports the high levels of expenditure in Lothian region. I hope that his constituents will note his position on the matter.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not an offence to reproduce official notepaper as part of the propaganda campaign against Lothian region?
Order. If the hon. Gentleman will be kind enough to send that to me I shall consider the matter.
This is the second time that it has happened.
It is an absolute disgrace.
Order. I am being very tolerant today.
Children's Hearings (Solvent Inhalation)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will seek to amend section 32 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 to allow the referral of young persons to a children's hearing following a first detection for inhaling solvents, instead of after a third detection as at present.
The consultative memorandum on solvent abuse and the children's hearings, which was issued in December, invited views on this question. We are now considering the comments made on this memorandum and a further statement will be made as soon as possible.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, but I cannot congratulate him on his answer. How can he possibly justify refusing to take such action now? Is he not aware that last year, in Strathclyde, 11 young people died as a result of solvent abuse and that the Government's low key approach to this problem is failing? When will the Government stop talking about the problem and take some positive action to deal with this menace?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words at the beginning of his question. We put out the consultative memorandum and we have had many replies, but, unfortunately, some were received later than the February date by which we asked for them to be submitted. We are considering the replies and we hope that we can announce our conclusions in weeks rather than months. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about this difficult and serious problem.
Does my hon. Friend consider that young people accept and realise the damage that can be done by abusing solvents? Does he feel that the time has come for a much more aggressive campaign in schools to show that this practice can cause damage to health and death?
On Monday, as part of my education in my new post, I attended a children's panel hearing in Glasgow. What came through to me, as the panel was dealing with this problem, was that the youngsters knew of the dangers but that that did not seem to influence them. It is very difficult to get through to the youngsters. One must be careful not to be too high key in case other children, who would not think of abusing solvents, have it drawn to their attention.
May I also add my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his elevation? I have known him for about 20 years and I am delighted to see him in the post. Will he consult the chief constable of Strathclyde, who suggests in his report that there is some difficulty about referring children to a children's panel before a third report on them of solvent abuse? That is an administrative rule with no statutory basis, and if it is an inhibition in dealing with the problem it should be removed. I especially note and welcome the Minister's remark about the results from the consultation process being announced in a matter of weeks and not months. I trust that that will turn out to be an accurate prediction.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about me. The practice that has grown up in Strathclyde is not a requirement of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, but the two approaches to the parents and the warnings to the children lay the basis for a referral on the third occasion on the ground that the youngster is beyond the control of the parents. It is not enshrined in the statute. I am well aware of the representations by the chief constable of Strathclyde, and that is clearly one of the possible routes that we are considering seriously.
Hamilton College Of Education
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now make a statement about the future of the buildings of the former Hamilton college of education.
Following the advertisement for sale of the former Hamilton college of education a number of bodies have expressed an interest in acquiring the premises. Discussions continue and no final decision has yet been made.
As time goes on there is increasing anxiety in Lanarkshire about the future of these buildings. Will the Minister give the closing date and say what price will be placed on these valuable buildings? Will he confirm—or deny—the rumour in Hamilton that the Property Services Agency is again interested for governmental purposes? Does he recognise the increasing anxiety that, although these valuable buildings were pledged by him for educational use, that now seems less likely?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we made every attempt to satisfy ourselves on whether there was an educational use for the buildings. We discussed a number of ideas with various bodies, but none of them came to fruition.I cannot disclose the price of the buildings, because when other parties are interested it becomes a commercial matter. However, I hope that the position will soon become clear.
Will the Minister give an assurance that the halls of residence, which have served students for many educational bodies in Strathclyde, ate not boarded up and wasted, but are used to accommodate students who desperately require accommodation in the West of Scotland?
The majority of students now using the hostel are attending colleges run by Strathclyde regional council. It is for that council to decide whether it wishes to take over the premises. However, there is no question of a central Government subsidy for that purpose.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether a decision has yet been reached on the proposed closure of paediatric wards at Stobhill hospital; and if he will make a statement.
Greater Glasgow health board has decided that formal consultation should take place with local interests on the proposed withdrawal of medical and surgical in-patient paediatric services from Stobhill hospital and on the transfer of these services to the Royal hospital for sick children in Glasgow. No final decision has yet been taken.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. Will he bear in mind that the hospital serves not only my constituents, but families in Lennoxtovvn, Torrance and Kirkintilloch? In an emergency, families in those areas could take about half an hour to get to Stobhill hospital. The Disablement Income Group is worried that if the transfer to Yorkhill hospital takes place children who are severely disabled could risk life and limb, because of the distance involved. Will the hon. Gentleman take this up with the Greater Glasgow health board?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. In reaching a decision on any proposed closure or change of use for the paediatric wards at Stobhill the health board will seek the views of all appropriate local interests, including the hon. Gentleman. Distance will be one of the factors to be taken into account in deciding whether to transfer the paediatric services to the Royal hospital for sick children.
Will the Minister undertake to express to the health board the anxiety felt by my constituents, who will face a serious problem if Stobhill hospital is closed?
That is one of the factors that the Greater Glasgow health board will need to consider. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be in contact with the board to express that view. However, the board must also take an overall view of the paediatric services in Glasgow. I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that, on completion of the remedial work at the Royal hospital for sick children later this year, 72 additional beds will be provided. That will mean an overall improvement in paediatric services in the Glasgow area.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the increase in serious crime in the Strathclyde region in 1981.
Crimes recorded by the police in the Strathclyde region increased by 24,859 to 223,685 in 1981. These figures do not include motor vehicles and miscellaneous offences.
Does the Minister agree that these alarming crime figures in Strathclyde show that the measures taken by the Government to "improve" law and order—increasing the number of police and introducing the Criminal Justice Act—have not solved the problem? Is he aware that the Government must solve the problem of crime by tackling the social problems that cause it?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Strathclyde regional council, as the police authority, last year decided to operate the police force at about 150 below authorised establishment. That was the police authority's decision. However, as a Strathclyde Member of Parliament, I know that many of my constituents are very anxious about that decision.
Does my hon. Friend agree that police manning levels in Strathclyde, linked to the problems in the area, which are caused by many factors, not least the modern trendy attitude towards standards and values, have much to do with the crime rate in the area?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The causes of crime are complex and not at all simple.
Does the Minister accept that, although we agree that there is no simple correlation between deprivation, high unemployment and the crime rate, there is a correlation, as he implicitly accepted? Does he further accept that a great deal of bitterness and frustration will be reflected in the crime figures if the present economic policies are pursued? Is he aware that in 1978 crime in Strathclyde fell by 12 per cent. and that in 1981 it rose by 12 per cent.? Does that not give the lie to the irresponsible campaign on law and order that is being conducted in the regional elections by Conservative politicians who are suggesting that there are easy solutions, thus abusing the trust of the electorate?
We do not suggest that there are easy solutions. We are worried about the level of crime. That is why we are giving priority to measures that will maintain law and order. The Government's policy on employment is based on creating permanent jobs in a healthy economy. That policy is increasingly succeeding.
I accept that the figures given to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) are disturbing, but does my hon. Friend accept that one way to ensure a reduction in crime is to place more policemen on the beat and to have many more community police so that the community is aware that the police are there to prevent crime?
I agree that policemen on the beat have an important role to play. I know that that is a priority of the police authorities in Strathclyde.
As a Strathclyde Member of Parliament, I ask the Minister again to recognise that there is a growing awareness that the Government's policies on all aspects of social welfare and employment are disastrous? Will he recognise, once and for all, that those policies are the main contributory factor to the increased crime rate? Does he accept that there has been an upsurge in the use of solvents in Strathclyde because youngsters leaving school have nothing to do but kick their heels in idleness?
My hon. Friend has already referred to the solvent abuse. The unemployment level could be a factor in the crime rate, but it is wrong to suggest that there is any simple analysis or solution. The Government's economic policies are increasingly succeeding.
Indigenous Industries (Grampian Region)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether, in the review of areas eligible for assisted status, he will give particular attention to indigenous industries in the Grampian region which have been disadvantaged by the advent of the oil industry.
The report which we commissioned on industrial performance and prospects in the oil-affected areas paid particular attention to the needs of the indigenous industries in the areas concerned, including Grampian. The findings of the report and the comments received on it from local authorities and others are being taken into account in the current review.
Does my hon. Friend recall his meeting with representatives of six local authorities in Edinburgh on 15 March, especially the points made by Banff and Buchan district and Moray district about the difficulties of areas squeezed between oil-rich Aberdeen and the much aided Highlands and Islands Development Board area.
Yes. These points were made strongly by the local authorities when they came to see me in Edinburgh. I assured them, as I assure my hon. Friend, that we take careful note of these matters.
Will the Minister give a straight answer to a straight question? Is Aberdeen included in the review that is taking place? If not, why did he agree to meet representatives of the city council on 15 March?
We meet various bodies and local authorities on this and other matters. The straight answer that the hon. Gentleman wants is "No". In 1979 we said that in this review we would reconsider local authorities that had been downgraded by more than one step.
Secondary Schools (Expenditure)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how much was spent per pupil in secondary schools in Scotland in the most recent year for which figures are available.
Local authority current expenditure on secondary schools, at outturn prices, excluding items such as meals and milk, was £1,016 per pupil in 1980–81, the highest in real terms that it has ever been.
In so far as there is a connection between educational standards and the amount spent on education, does my hon. Friend agree that this figure clearly shows that there is no reason for any reduction in educational standards in secondary schools in Scotland?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As the pupil-teacher ratio is at its best ever, we shall be looking for improved performance rather than for anything else.
Will the Minister concede that it is a tribute to the staff that standards are being maintained? Is he aware that expenditure on books has gone down by 20 per cent. over the last five years and that the books in most school libraries, if theSunday Standard is to be believed, are in tatters?
There is no justification whatever for any local authority in Scotland not making proper provision for books for its pupils. The number of pupils is declining substantially, but the amount included in the rate support grant for school books is being increased.
Job Creation (Glasgow)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he is taking to promote new employment in the Glasgow area.
As a special development area, Glasgow qualifies for maximum Government financial assistance and my right hon. Friend recently announced plans for a Scottish industrial exhibition centre on the Queen's Dock. The Scottish Development Agency is also proposing a major redevelopment of the St. Enoch's site. These initiatives should do a great deal to promote new employment. In addition, the Glasgow eastern area renewal initiative is expected to stimulate over 5,000 new jobs, and the Government remain committed to the dispersal of 1,400 Ministry of Defence posts from South-East England to Glasgow.
Is the Minister satisfied with the sufficiency of that answer? I am not. Does he not realise that, since he came to office, the city has lost over 20,000 jobs? Will he have urgent talks with the local authorities at district and regional level, and also with the SDA, with a view to trying to work out some means of arresting the continuing decline in manufacturing within the city? Will he try to promote a more positive approach to providing jobs within the city? Will he also keep his eye on the situation at the British Rail engineering workshops in Glasgow, in view of the decision on the electrification of the Ayr-Glasgow line?
The points made by the hon. Gentleman are very much in our mind. We are considering a number of initiatives to assist in dealing with the problems in Glasgow to which the hon. Gentleman correctly referred. The list that I have mentioned could be added to. There are other investments, job prospects and projects to which I could refer. These contain encouraging signs not simply for public expenditure but for increased private investment in Scotland, as shown by the opening of the new Holiday Inn last week, another large hotel project that is currently taking place, and the proposals for the Buchanan Street station site.
Is the Minister aware that hotels, while welcome, have nothing to do with manufacturing industry? As unemployment has increased beyond 3 million, and with yesterday's figures showing a further increase in the underlying trend in Scotland, will the hon. Gentleman tell us when all these new permanent jobs about which he and his right hon. and hon. Friends keep boasting will reduce unemployment in Glasgow?
No one is boasting about anything. The right hon. Gentleman's constituents would, I think, be amazed that he should scoff at service jobs, which are just as important to people as manufacturing jobs.
Young Persons (Training)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on discussions between his Department and the Manpower Services Commission with regard to the training of young people in Scotland.
My Department and the MSC are in regular contact about the training of young people and other issues. Last December we published the White Paper "A New Training Initiative" and welcomed the commission's proposal to set up a high level task group to consider foundation training for all young people, whether employed or unemployed. In the meantime, the Scottish Education Department and the Scottish Economic Planning Department are working closely with the MSC to ensure that the new initiatives are developed effectively in Scotland.
Does the Minister agree that the prospects throughout the remainder of the Government's life, which we hope will be short, are for an increase in unemployment? Is he aware that this will result in the essential talents of highly qualified young people leaving school being ill used or misused? When will he be able to ensure that these young people have a job or a training opportunity when they leave school?
The prospects for the remainder of this first Parliament of my right hon. Friend's Government are that the economy will move into a much stronger position regarding inflation, interest rates and competitiveness. That is the most important thing that any Government can do for job prospects.
Has the Minister noticed the strictures of the Manpower Services Commission south of the border about the inadequacy of the £15 a week made available under the Government's new training programme? Has he further noticed that both the CBI and trade union members have associated themselves with the view that this should be increased to more than £27 a week? Do the Government intend to take action on the matter?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that by increasing the allowance from £15 to £25 that is necessarily being generous. In real terms it means that there will be less money available for those young people who need it and fewer resources available to implement the training that is an essential part of the scheme. Training and education for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds is what this scheme is all about.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the important aspect is the training of young people and that it is the training that costs the money? Does he further agree that the money paid to young people is a training allowance, not a wage?
My hon. Friend is correct. I hope that Opposition Members will bear these points in mind.
On the question of allowances and the compulsory element in the scheme, have not the MSC, the CBI and the TUC unanimously condemned those aspects of the scheme? That view is in line with the criticisms made consistently by the Opposition since the date of the announcement of the scheme and in the debate in the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh. As these aspects of the scheme, if proceeded with, will jeopardise the whole success of the scheme, will the Government drop them?
The right hon. Gentleman surprises me by his misunderstanding of this matter. We are not trying to pay a wage to young people, but to provide an allowance for those engaged in some kind of training employment. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the position in other countries in Europe, he will find that the allowances are comparable. One of our problems is that 16 and 17-year-olds in employment are paid too much and are therefore priced out of employment.
Industrial Development (Ayrshire)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the effect upon the future industrial development in Ayrshire of investment in the Glasgow to Carlisle, via Kilmarnock, rail route.
That surprises me. Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the assistance and support freely given to him by me and my colleagues from Ayrshire on the electrification plans for the Ayr-Glasgow line and reciprocate by joining my lobby of British Rail to see that there is no decline in the services on this vital rail link?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am grateful for the help that he and some of his hon. Friends have given on the important matter of the electrification of the Ayr line. With regard to what I may call the Kilmarnock line, I am assured by British Rail that it has ample capacity to take any increased traffic associated with industrial development. That is quite a reassurance for those who are trying to attract industrial development to the area.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the majority of this railway runs through my constituency. Will he make every effort, as I and the regional council have, to bring home to British Rail the importance of improving the service on this line so that it can be made more profitable than it is?
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point, and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend, who is directly responsible for railway services.
Solicitor-General For Scotland
Crimes Of Violence
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he will meet the procurator fiscal of Perth to discuss prosecutions for crimes of violence.
I have no plans to meet the procurator fiscal of Perth in the near future to discuss prosecutions for crimes of violence. However, I regard it of importance to meet procurators fiscal whenever my other responsibilities will allow, and, although no plans have yet been made, it is my intention to visit the procurator fiscal at Perth, when the work of the office generally will be discussed.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that although unemployment in Perth is well below the national average, crime is increasing? Is there not some relationship between that increase and the trendy practices in schools and homes which have led to a breakdown in the standards and values of discipline and order? Surely that has more to do with the level of crime than unemployment.
As my hon. Friend has already suggested, there is no simple correlation between unemployment and the level of crime, but there are certainly deep-seated problems affecting responsibility for law.My hon. Friend might be interested to know that where the Tayside police in Perthshire have exercised their powers under section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act in the search for offensive weapons, on 13 out of 23 searches offensive weapons have been found. It is difficult to see in what circumstances unemployment leads to people carrying offensive weapons.
The Solicitor-General has obviously looked into the specific issue of searches for offensive weapons in Tayside. How many of those searches could not have been carried out under the Prevention of Crime Act?
I have given the number of occasions when the specific power was used under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act, and it has been used sparingly elsewhere in Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman knows. When it has been used, on a regrettably large number of occasions people have been found to be carrying offensive weapons.
Trials (Recovered Stolen Goods)
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what representations he has received about prosecuting authorities in Scotland retaining recovered stolen goods for the purpose of evidence at subsequent trials.
From time to time I receive representations from individuals about stolen property which is retained for prosecution purposes.
Does my hon. Friend appreciate the hardship that can be caused when vital domestic items are retained for a long time by the prosecuting authorities? With the increase in the technological capacity of the prosecuting authorities, not least the development of the camera, has not the time come for photographs to be produced in court rather than the items themselves?
From the many years that my hon. Friend practised in the High Court in Scotland I am sure that he is aware that the best evidence rule requires that on most occasions property that is at the centre of a court case must be produced. As my hon. Friend has indicated, if it is possible to secure defence agreement, it is desirable that photographs should be used instead of objects, or, if it is possible to reach agreement with the defence, even without photographs.If individuals wish to have property returned to them pending a trial, they should approach the procurator fiscal, but it must be understood that they may be required to produce it again for the trial.
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many cases involving murder have been prosecuted in Scotland so far in 1982.
There have been 20 cases involving a charge of murder prosecuted this year during the period up to 31 March, involving 30 accused.
Will the Solicitor-General confirm that, while crimes of violence as a whole went up in 1981, the number of homicides went down, and that over the past two decades there has been no increasing trend in the number of homicides? Therefore, does he agree that the campaign now being waged by the Police Federation, while unjustified in the United Kingdom as a whole, is entirely inappropriate in Scotland?
I can confirm that the number of reported murders in Scotland last year fell from 200 to 190. In the House there are deeply held views on the reintroduction of capital punishment. I accept that if one looks at the crude statistics in Scotland, it is difficult to reach a firm decision one way or the other.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the reintroduction of the death penalty, particularly for the murder of policemen or prison officers, would be warmly welcomed in the country and might do a great deal to deter violent crime in Scotland?
I know that my hon. Friend has taken that view in the past. I accept that there is a widespread feeling in the country that if capital punishment were to be reintroduced for these specific offences, it might have a significant deterrent effect. However, I am not sure that this is an appropriate occasion on which to enter into discussion on this difficult and delicate subject.
Will the Minister confirm that he joined Labour Members in voting against the reintroduction of capital punishment when it was last considered by the House and would he do so again?
It was not a matter of my joining Labour Members. I took a decision on that vote at that time. There are delicate and difficult decisions to be reached on this matter. If the House reconsiders the matter on another occasion, I shall reconsider my position.
Armed Trespass (Prosecutions)
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many prosecutions there have been in the latest convenient year for armed trespass.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I sent him on 24 February 1982.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the figure that he mentioned is very disappointing? Is not the only way to reduce poaching in Scotland for offenders to be apprehended by the police with far greater enthusiasm and subsequently to be prosecuted by the procurator fiscal? That is how we shall stop armed trespass, particularly on the foreshore in Scotland.
I know that my. hon. Friend is particularly worried about criminal trespass on the foreshore in Scotland. As hon. Members appreciate, the foreshore in Scotland enjoys a particular legal status. In a case in the sheriff court at Dumfries there were difficulties about criminal trespass, possibly on the foreshore. That issue probably requires to be resolved by a civil action. It is not one that should properly be considered in a summary criminal court.
Will the Solicitor-General dissociate himself from the view expressed by his predecessor in an article inThe Times yesterday, that the reintroduction of capital punishment would have the effect of deterring criminals from offences such as armed trespass?
I have read the article to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I did not understand that my hon. and learned predecessor was suggesting that capital punishment should be reintroduced for this crime.
Scottish Law Commission
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what future inquiries are planned for the Scottish Law Commission.
In its sixteenth annual report, published on 9 December 1981, the Scottish Law Commission gives details of the work being carried out by it in pursuance of its published programmes of law reform and of consolidation and statute law reform and of its statutory duties under the Law Commissions Act 1965.
Will my hon. Friend give details of what happens to the Scottish Law Commission's reports? Is he satisfied that prompt and efficient action is taken on them, or do they lie on a shelf with law books and collect dust?
I am happy to use this opportunity to make it clear to the House that successive Governments have acted promptly on the Scottish Law Commission's reports. The best recent example is the report on occupancy rights in the matrimonial home and domestic violence, which was produced by the Scottish Law Commission on 17 July 1980. When my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), now the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, was in the Scottish Office, he introduced a Bill on the basis of that report a little over seven months later.
When does the Solicitor-General expect progress to be made on the implementation of court awards for maintenance after divorce cases?
That matter is being considered. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there has been some development on this recently in the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Bill[Lords], which is currently before the House. That Bill contains a measure that will allow the enforcement of maintenance awards throughout the United Kingdom. It is a small measure, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is a desirable improvement in the law.
Order. I propose to call the hon. Members for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram).
Is the Scottish Law Commission presently at work on the area of law that was covered by the recent Supply of Goods and Services Bill, for which the hon. Gentleman was a Government spokesman, and about which there is a good deal of anxiety that Scottish law might be falling behind that of England?
The Scottish Law Commission is looking at that issue. The approach that it is taking is desirable, in that it is considering the matter not in isolation but in the broader area of implied terms in the supply and sale of goods. In addition, a joint report with the English Law Commission should bring about a far better and more comprehensive reform of Scottish law in this area.
Will my hon. Friend ask the Scottish Law Commission to look again at the common law of nuisance in relation to anti-social behaviour by neighbours in owner-occupied tenements? The common law is totally incapable of protecting such people at the moment.
I am not sure that looking at the law of nuisance is the best way of dealing with this matter. My hon. Friend might consider putting down an amendment to the Civic Government (Scotland) Bill[Lords] to deal with it.
Customers' Prepayments (Protection)
I beg to move,
This Bill is primarily but not exclusively concerned with what we term mail order, although in practice it extends to all trading arrangements whereby sums are sent prior to the delivery of goods or services promised. In practice, an increasing number of people in Britain are finding that, subsequent to the despatch of that money, the company or firm in question goes into bankruptcy or liquidation. While in theory consumers have a claim for the return of their money, in practice, such is the nature of most liquidations that they receive little or nothing in comparison with the preferred creditors, let alone the fees for the liquidator. This is a growing abuse. There have been many recent instances such as the spectacular Laker collapse—I speak of the scheduled flights alone. There have been many others involving the purchase of anything from clothes to garden sheds to crash helmets and a whole range of consumer goods. Those are but a few examples. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members can supplement my examples with others from their own experiences. The National Federation of Consumer Groups has been tabulating the statistics of the Office of Fair Trading for consumer complaints. In the third quarter of 1981—the latest period for which I have figures available—90 per cent. of the 5,573 people who had made complaints involving failure to deliver goods or services ordered had paid in advance. Moreover, there are now more complaints concerning traders going into liquidation than are recorded for either price comparisons or selling methods. A small paragraph in theDaily Express last February asked those in Britain who had lost money in this way to write in. That produced some two dozen examples involving amounts ranging from £15 to £1,200. That is but the proverbial tip of the iceberg. A separate exercise also carried out by the federation based on mail order complaints showed that, of 2,641 such complaints between July 1977 and March 1982, 26 per cent. involved the liquidation of a company or the cessation of trading. That survey must show but a tiny fraction of all dissatisfied customers, representing, as it does, only those who have taken the trouble to send in formal complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. Existing protection is inadequate. We have the ABTA travel scheme, which hon. Members are well aware of. It involves those travelling under such a scheme paying for the privilege of receiving the normal treatment that they might otherwise expect from commercial undertakings. In addition, we have a voluntary mail order protection scheme, run in conjunction with the Newspaper Publishers Association. However, that affects only classified advertisements. The customer must subsequently identify exactly where and when the advertisement appeared and he must, above all, claim within three months. In practice, each of those hurdles has meant that many people have lost large sums of money. My Bill will require that every advance payment, prepayment or deposit, however described, paid by a consumer to a company will be placed in a separate account to be known as a "customers' prepayment account". At all times that sum will be held in trust on behalf of the consumer and would not be available as capital, for loan, guarantee or other business purposes for the supplying company. Title in that money should remain in the customer's hands at all times. After, not before, the performance of the contract—the delivery of goods or the supply of services—the firm, individual or company concerned may then withdraw from the customer's account the amount paid by the consumer for that purpose. In the event of any insolvency or bankruptcy, the sums held by the company shall not only remain the property of the consumer but shall be repaid to him or her one month after the declaration of liquidation or bankruptcy. Any failure to observe that would, as in the case of failure under any other aspect of company law, lead to fine or a prison sentence or both and the disqualification of the directors for the appropriate period. No new principle is involved here. For many years solicitors have been required to maintain separate client accounts. More recently, the same requirement has been imposed upon estate agents under the Estate Agents Act 1979. Many other trading undertakings today voluntarily follow similar procedures. The BBC holds money from the sale of its microcomputers in a separate trust account—I do not suggest, incidentally that the BBC is in any danger of insolvency or liquidation. Organisations supporting this measure include the National Federation of Consumer Groups—which has provided me with case histories and much information from its network of 40 voluntary groups—the Federation of Independent Advice Centres, the National Association of Disablement Information and Advice Centres, the Institute of Consumer Advisers and the Scottish Consumer Council. The Office of Fair Trading has done nothing about lost deposits, although in 1979 its annual report spoke of an intention to deal with prepayments. Existing guidelines cover delay and delivery but do nothing to give protection against losses in insolvency. On 28 March my hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs addressed the national consumer congress in Guildford. He said:That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for protection for advance payments.
Many business men insist on a ROMALPA clause in their contracts which has the effect of reserving title to them in goods sold and delivered unless and until payment is received, thus protecting them should the buyer become insolvent. I submit that what is legitimate business practice in selling to consumers should equally apply to consumers attempting to purchase. The Cork committee has reported to the Minister on many aspects of liquidation and bankruptcy. I am sure that the House awaits with great interest, and perhaps with trepidation, the publication of its findings. It is certain that they will be involved and that legislation will consequently be delayed. The problem that I have described is with us now and can be dealt with separately and urgently outside any post-Cork legislation. No other solution could give the consumer the chance to compete effectively with preferred creditors in a liquidation. Every reputable business man should welcome a system that promises honest and fair dealing to the public. Therefore, I seek the leave of the House to bring in the Bill."As far as insolvency is concerned, I want to put it on record that I strongly condemn the use of liquidation as a commercial device for the exploitation of consumers, including consumers who have paid in advance for goods or services from traders who then go out of business."
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robin Squire, Mr. Stephen Dorrell, Mr. Joan Evans, Mr. John Heddle, Mr. Richard Shepherd, Mr. Teddy Taylor, Mr. David Watkins, Mr. John Watson and Mr. Bowen Wells.
Customers' Prepayments (Protection)
Mr. Robin Squire accordingly presented a Bill to provide for protection for advance payments: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 14 May and to be printed. [Bill 117.]
Northern Ireland (Devolution)
I beg to move,
The White Paper of which the House is invited to take note sets out the steps that Her Majesty's Government propose to take for the resumption of devolved government in Northern Ireland after eight years of direct rule. The Northern Ireland Bill, which will give legislative effect to these proposals, has also been laid before the House. This is not the occasion for a detailed examination of the Bill, but I thought that in a matter which concerned the transfer of powers and which affected existing constitutional legislation it would be helpful to the House to have the Bill available before the debate. Any Secretary of State who comes before the House with constitutional proposals for Northern Ireland must do so with humility. The problems that beset the Province have engaged our minds, our energies, our resources and our hopes for generations. The problem of Northern Ireland is a legacy of history. It will not go away. It is right that we should approach any proposals sceptically, remembering that they may not be soluble in the short-term. The White Paper recognises the deep-seated and intractable nature of the divisions in Northern Ireland, and makes no exaggerated claims for the future. However, being sceptical does not mean being negative. It remains my duty to continue to seek ways by which the lot of the people of Northern Ireland can be improved. Therefore, it is appropriate to begin with a word or two about the present situation. As the House will know, there has been some improvement in the security situation in the past few months and that is greatly to the credit of the security forces. However, there is a continuing and determined effort by the Provisional IRA to thwart all efforts towards peace and stability. In the past few weeks there has been a considerable increase in its activity. Therefore, in the context of any development in Northern Ireland there is a need for maximum effort on the security side. Violence is never far away. Constant vigilance by the police and the security forces is always required. Security problems are bound to touch the whole community and to influence its views about the future as well as the views of those outside Northern Ireland whe hear only the worst stories and who think that they are typical of Northern Ireland as a whole. Of course, they are not. What I have just said no doubt reflects on the economic life of the Province. There has been a sharp deterioration in that life. The economy of Northern Ireland has never been easy to manage or to sustain, but in the past few years it has become very much more difficult. Hon. Members should bear in mind the additional costs of security, the increased problems of attracting inward and indigenous investment in a hostile environment and the growing dependence—which has always been high—on Government support. There is now a strong desire, particularly among middle-class parents, for their children to go away at university age and not to return. As a Secretary of State, I find that the reverse of that problem is a marked difficulty. I refer to the problem of attracting young executives of promise to the Province. The image of Northern Ireland as a violent community is a grave disincentive. Unemployment is now, on average, close to 20 per cent. In a number of areas it is much higher. Among the young, unemployment is very high and that is an encouragement to men of violence to attract young people to their ranks. In parts of Northern Ireland, particularly Belfast, there is poverty and deprivation. There are beautiful districts of leafy suburbs and magnificent housing estates, but parts of Belfast have the worst housing conditions in Western Europe. There is less mixing between the communities than a number of years ago and society has become progressively more polarised. One is faced by the paradox of a beautiful country that has many advantages such as high quality education, good industrial relations, a skilled and adaptable work force and, despite all that has happened, a very resilient people, but in which there is a feeling of resignation and of some tiredness. This, then, is direct rule. It has brought some stability. It is everyone's second best answer to problems that they feel they cannot tackle themselves. It can continue and it may well have to do so, but, by its very nature and the system that it implies, it is unlikely to resolve the deadlock, the instability and the irresponsibility that leaders show when others have power that they believe rightly belongs to them. Those are the reasons for seeking to take more steps now. I must emphasise that despite the formidable problems and difficulties involved, no responsible Government could simply sit on their hands and do nothing. That is the situation that we face. The divisions are not only different in character but are much more deep-seated and intractable than those that we face in Great Britain. The White Paper recognises those divisions and their consequences. Most people in the Province want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom; their loyalty lies to the Crown. That was made clear in the border poll in 1973. There is also a substantial minority who regard themselves as Irish, many of whom would like to see a united Ireland. Of course, Northern Ireland life and politics are much more complex and people do not fall neatly into one of two categories. Nevertheless, the broad division that I have described dominates political, and to a considerable extent non-political life, to an extraordinary degree. The Government have made it plain that the views of the people of Northern Ireland on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom will be respected. In the context of Northern Irish history, a united Ireland is a legitimate political objective if pursued peacefully and those who aspire to it are properly entitled to full participation in public life. But, given the views of the majority of the Northern Ireland people on this issue, constructive debate about the administration of Northern Ireland must take place in a United Kingdom setting. We have to recognise that the elected representatives of the minority consider themselves Irish citizens and, as I have said, they campaign for a united Ireland. It is very important that we should recognise that tradition and aspiration and not leave it to be exploited by the men of violence. We have to find practical ways of accommodating this. It is equally important that for the majority we should find a way of removing the suspicion and mistrust which have grown up in the past 10 years or so, and which, as many hon. Members know, is directed at Members of Parliament and Governments of Britain. I very much hope—and I weigh my words carefully—that none of the politicians in Northern Ireland will miss the opportunity that the proposals afford simply because they imagine that the future constitutional position of Northern Ireland—which is the core of political division in the Province—is up for negotiation between the two sovereign Governments in London and Dublin. It is not. Northern Ireland's constitutional future is and will remain a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, for Her Majesty's Government and for Parliament. It would be folly for anyone to think otherwise. I hope therefore that Northern Ireland politicians on both sides of the community will see our proposals for what they are—a chance to govern themselves responsibly and in the interests of everybody. There are a few in Northern Ireland whom I have met in recent days—I hope I can say there are none in the House—who would seek to draw comparison between themselves and the Falkland Islands. We hope and pray that bloodshed can be avoided in the South Atlantic, but much blood has been spilled by our soldiers, the security forces and police in Northern Ireland in their gallant fight against terrorists and murderers. We do not tire of our responsibilities, and we have not shirked them. In this week of crisis, we seek a new initiative. The British people have shared in the sufferings of Northern Ireland, the losses of life, and of resources, in the cause of defending our people. The people of Great Britain are, I know, wholly steadfast in their resolution to support the campaign against terrorism. They ask in return that the people of Northern Ireland should resolve to seek solutions to their own problems. In this all politicians can help. That much is expected and, I think, justly expected. Some of my hon. Friends believe that we should aim to integrate Northern Ireland with Great Britain, perhaps coupled with greater powers for local government.That this House takes note of the Government's proposals contained in the White Paper, 'Northern Ireland: A Framework for Devolution' (Cmnd. 8541).
We are all completely opposed to violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland, but, bearing in mind the almost unanimous opposition to his plans for an Assembly from virtually all the political parties except the Alliance Party, does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the proposals, if implemented, will undermine terrorism?
I shall come to that later in my speech when I deal with the opposition to my proposals. As I have just said, some of my hon. Friends believe that we should aim to integrate Northern Ireland with Great Britain, perhaps coupled with greater powers for local government. That would be unacceptable to the minority and would raise in the local government context exactly the same questions and problems about how power should be exercised, as we faced in the past for devolved government.
How does my right hon. Friend define "minority" in this context, bearing in mind that a considerable proportion of the Roman Catholics, according to their views given in opinion polls, would find integration acceptable?
The public opinion poll, to which my hon. Friend constantly refers, asked a number of questions. For example, it asked whether Northern Ireland should be fully integrated with the United Kingdom. Seventy-four per cent. found that acceptable—88 per cent. Protestant, 45 per cent. Catholic. The poll asked whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom with its own power-sharing Assembly. Seventy-three per cent. of the total found that acceptable—75 per cent. Protestant and 67 per cent. Catholic. So one can take almost any question and achieve a result of that nature.I have no doubt that a number of people in Northern Ireland accept integration. I also believe—it is borne out in exactly the same way by the public opinion poll, which, in a Northern Ireland context, should not be taken too much to heart because they do not necessarily represent the way people vote in Northern Ireland—that the poll shows clearly that a larger percentage of the Catholic population is in favour of power sharing than is in favour of integration. That is the only point that one would wish to make. Therefore, this would be unacceptable to the minority, and would raise in a local government context exactly the same questions and problems which we face when we talk about the powers for devolved government. Local government in Great Britain is conducted in the same political climate as national government. That climate simply does not exist in Northern Ireland. Whatever the rights and wrongs, we must remember that it was alleged abuse of local government powers that was the focus for much of the discontent of earlier years. The fact is that Northern Ireland's divided community, the history of local control of its own affairs and its geography make the case for devolved government there of a quite different order from that which might apply elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Some of my hon. Friends fear also that the establishment of a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland implies a willingness to accept devolution elsewhere in the United Kingdom. There is, in my view, no justification for such a conclusion. The circumstances of Northern Ireland are quite different from other parts of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland had devolved government from 1921 to 1972 and that experience has largely shaped its politics. Even in this House, we continue to accept a special procedure for dealing with its legislation which is the residual effect of that long period of devolution. The political parties contest elections on constitutional rather than economic and social issues and the pattern of party activity is different. Nor has recent experience, with all its attendant emotion and destruction, made the Province more similar in its political activity. On the contrary, the polarisation of politics along non-conventional lines has increased in recent years. The constitution of the United Kingdom is not a neat and tidy construction. Its value lies in its ability to adjust its provisions to practical needs, and to recognise the national diversity. For unity does not depend on uniformity. In this tradition, the House is being asked to make special provision for Northern Ireland in return for greater harmony. Consider the circumstances in which the request for devolved powers will arise. No transfer can occur without the consent of Parliament. That consent will not be sought until widespread agreement has been reached between the communities in Northern Ireland. Such an agreement is a prize of great value which would contribute greatly to the peace and prosperity of the Province.
My right hon. Friend said earlier that a debate about the future administration should take place in a United Kingdom setting. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree with that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that having such a debate means that we must look towards the effect of the outcome of that debate on the rest of the United Kingdom, and, therefore, on the administration of other parts of the United Kingdom?
Of course; and, because I recognise that that is a valid argument, I have tried to deal with it. But I do not think that it necessarily means, as I have already said, that unity does not depend necessarily on uniformity. The position in Northern Ireland has been different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom for a great many years. I know that it is argued that hon. Members may regard it as wishful thinking to believe that such an agreement—an agreement between the parties—is possible. I do not share that view, nor do I believe that Members would wish to deny the Province a measure of devolution if progress of that order could be made. Yet without that progress no request for devolution can arise.
Does my right hon. Friend know of any democracy in the world where the minority has a veto on the wishes of the majority, which seems to be——
I said "democracy".
It was a democracy once.
That seems to be the effect of what my right hon. Friend is saying.
What I am saying is that, if there is to be political stability in Northern Ireland, there has to be a measure of cross-community support for any measures introduced. If there is not that measure of cross-community support, those measures will not work and there will be no political stability.I did not think that in recent years there had been much controversy in the House on that point. If we are to reach the point where everyone in Northern Ireland can unite to defeat the Provisional IRA and the men of violence, all the people of Northern Ireland must be able to feel that they are part of any Assembly in Northern Ireland and that they can therefore fully support the forces of law and order. That is absolutely crucial. That is why, in the proposals that we are putting forward, there has to be some cross-community support. The present proposals are quite different in character from those which have gone before. We are deliberately not suggesting what form a devolved Government should take. We are simply providing a framework within which elected representatives, while getting immediately involved in the current social and economic problems of Northern Ireland, can themselves debate and agree on how devolved government should be exercised. They will reach agreement only if both sides recognise the legitimacy of different traditions and conflicting long-term aspirations and the need to take account of these in agreeing on how the institutions of government should work. Our proposals, with their flexibility and their provision of a substantial role for the Assembly from day one in considering the current business of government, are designed to provide the time and the opportunity for contact between the two sides, which could lead to the deeper understanding through which agreement might be reached. I should like to say a word about the criticisms made of the Government's proposals by politicians in Northern Ireland. Leaders on both sides of the community have said that they are unworkable: on the one side because they do not give the minority adequate opportunity to participate in government and pay too little regard to its long-term aspirations, with the result that they will lead only to instability—that is the view of the SDLP—and, on the other side, which is the Unionist side, because the wishes of the majority are not properly respected and because under this scheme the devolution of powers is judged to be unachievable. The same conclusions are thus reached on wholly different grounds. In response I would say this. Those people have criticised because they have not been given what they wanted. Yet in no way could they have had everything they sought—positions are at the moment too far apart for that, as what they have been saying all too clearly illustrates. Nor could there have been any question of so discounting the views of one group as to give another what it hoped for. Agreed solutions at this stage, before there is an Assembly and before politicians have had the chance to sit down and work together, are simply not on. The parties cannot be expected now to agree with one another or with any Government searching for a way forward, and I have never expected them to do so. But, as I have said, in the Government's view doing nothing is not right either. We have attempted in this situation to narrow some of the disagreements and to devise proposals which will allow them progressively to be narrowed further. That seems to us a way ahead—steadily to persevere along what I fully recognise will be a difficult path. I shall quote the words used by Mr. Oliver Napier at the weekend. He represents the Alliance Party, which is the one party which so far has given my proposals a reasonable wind. He said:
I suspect that that is a fair summary of the view of the SDLP."These proposals are workable if elected politicians want them to work. That is the only criterion, the determination of elected representatives to make it work. What the Humes and the Haugheys are in fact saying is not that the proposals are unworkable but that they do not want them to work."
I have already paid tribute to the arduous work that the Secretary of State has done while he has been in office. He knows that I am totally committed to devolution. It would be unfair to create the impression that those who are against his proposals for creeping devolution are all integrationists or do not wish to make them work. What does the right hon. Gentleman say to people like me who have a real fear that his proposals will not go beyond a talking shop and that at the end of the day there will be greater instability and far worse terrorism than there is now?
I do not necessarily agree that there is any connection between the proposals and what would happen in the Assembly and terrorism. If we can achieve political stability, that would help towards solving the security problem, but the two things are not necessarily of the same order.Unless one has a forum in which people for the first time for a number of years will seek to sort out their political difficulties by democratic means, there is no way in which one will make the people of Northern Ireland come together. Let us be honest with ourselves. That will not happen in the House. It will have to happen in Northern Ireland if it is to happen.
Will the Secretary of State follow through his answer to the hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Kilfedder)? If terrorism will not be affected by what happens in the House, how does he expect his proposals to bring peace and stability to Northern Ireland?
I have tried to deal with that question already. Northern Ireland need not in any way be adversely affected by anything that might happen in the Assembly. Am Ito be told that in an economic situation such as that which Northern Ireland faces and in a violent situation such as that which Northern Ireland faces, the people who attend the Assembly will just make it into a nonsense? If I am to be told that, the outlook for Northern Ireland and for its people is a good deal worse than I think the people of Northern Ireland are prepared to say. I hope very much that we can move from having an Assembly to something that goes beyond that.Once elected, it will be for the Assembly to frame devolution proposals. But the Assembly will have other vital functions pending devolution. During this phase, direct rule will continue, but the Assembly will be able to scrutinise the work of the Northern Ireland Departments and advise on proposed legislation for Northern Ireland currently enacted by Order in Council. It will also be free to report on any issue which after devolution will be within its legislative competence; and it may be required to report on other issues on which the Secretary of State wants the Assembly's advice. All such reports will be laid before Parliament. Another key feature of the proposals will be committees, corresponding to each of the Northern Ireland Departments, to enable the Assembly to monitor and scrutinise the work of the Departments. Ministers will look to these committees and their chairmen and deputy chairmen for guidance. Through the work of the committees and through the influence of the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the committees lies the best prospect of moving towards a point where the divided parties and divided communities can see that it is within their interests to work together.
How does my right hon. Friend visualise the police committee of Northern Ireland fitting in with the devolved legislature, bearing in mind that law and order powers are reserved?
The police authority is a completely separate body and will remain separate from the Assembly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has said, the powers of law and order are reserved. It is not envisaged that when the Assembly starts there will necessarily be any committee or any structure dealing with security. Those matters will remain firmly the Secretary of State's responsibility, who is responsible to the House.In the long run, I hope that matters of law and order can be transferred to the Assembly, but, in the short run, I think that it will he appropriate to have discussions between the Secretary of State and representatives of the parties to see what informal arrangements can be made to try to create a liaison between the Assembly and the Secretary of State on security matters. Responsibility for security rests with the Secretary of State. The Chief Constable and the GOC are independent, but the Secretary of State works in co-ordination with them.
I give way first to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).
Is it the case that under the right hon. Gentleman's proposals the Assembly would have no power to debate security?
Yes, it is.
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that each local authority in Northern Ireland has a security committee. Surely it is somewhat of a farce that local councillors can meet police chiefs and Army chiefs to discuss matters that concern the right to live while the Assembly will be denied this important task and responsibility.
The Assembly's role is a matter for discussion. It is the Government's firm view that matters of law and order must remain with the Secretary of State, who is responsible to the House. At any rate, that must be so for a period. However, the Government will be prepared to discuss what other arrangements can be made to give an Assembly committee, or the leaders of the parties in the Assembly, access to the Secretary of State to discuss matters of security, which are important issues in the Province. In that way we might be able to draw the Assembly and the Secretary of State closer together.Thus from the outset an elected Northern Ireland Assembly will for the first time in eight years directly influence policy. I believe that these arrangements will greatly improve direct rule by subjecting it to detailed local scrutiny. The Assembly will have a crucial role in making direct rule more responsive to Northern Ireland opinion. In parallel with these responsibilities, the Assembly will be able to make proposals for proceeding either directly to full devolution—with all the powers devolved in 1974 passing to the Assembly and a Northern Ireland administration answerable to it—or to partial devolution, with only some responsibilities devolved. Under partial devolution, there would be devolution of whole Northern Ireland Departments only, to keep lines of responsibility as clear as possible. Heads of devolved Departments will he answerable to the Assembly; the Secretary of State will remain answerable to this House for non-devolved Departments.
Would there be collective responsibility between the heads of the devolved Departments, the heads of the non-devolved Departments and the Secretary of State?
I do not think that there could be collective responsibility in that manner. In dealing with what is bound to be a difficult situation, there would have to be the maximum amount of co-operation. Of course, the Secretary of State would maintain finance in his hands. At present finance is, as it were, doled out to each Department, and that would continue in the new arrangements. For a period a number of heads of Departments could be responsible to the Assembly but working in conjunction with a number of Ministers of this place and led by the Secretary of State, who would be responsible to the House for matters that had not been devolved.It is a process by which we are not forcing the Assembly or the people of Northern Ireland to take all the difficult decisions on devolution, and power sharing in its old accepted sense, at one time. For example, it should be possible for the Assembly to agree on some of the less controversial powers and to leave the more controversial powers until the Assembly has settled down and begun to work. I have a feeling that we should not try to say that everything must be devolved at once or that nothing can be devolved. If we proceed in that manner, there is a chance that the proposal will be successful.
I am finding some difficulty in following how partial devolution would work, with some Departments responsible to elected Members in Ulster and others responsible to the elected Government in this place. Surely that would not correspond with party affiliations. If the Government here are not represented there, is there not the possibility of a fruitful source of conflict and much difficulty?
The Secretary of State would have overall responsibility. Finance would still remain the responsibiity of the House. Allocations would be made to Northern Ireland as happens now and as used to happen before Stormont was dissolved. The Secretary of State would then have to decide in conjunction with his own Ministers, who would still be responsible for powers which had not been devolved and heads of Departments representing the Assembly—Ministers of the Assembly—for powers which had been devolved, on the allocation of money for those Departments. If a Department had been handed back to the Assembly in those circumstances, the Minister would be responsible to the Assembly although the Secretary of State would have decided on behalf of the House the cash resources to be made available to the Department. The Secretary of State would retain overall responsibility but would be working in conjunction with the Members of the Assembly.Similarly, Ministers of this House could not be forced to attend Assembly committees, although I hope very much that they would do so. This is something of a constitutional change. I stress again that if one goes to the extent of saying that all powers have to be devolved at the same time, the chances of ever getting the cross-community support that will be necessary for that to take place are remote. On the other hand, there is a chance of the Assembly being able to agree to start with some of the less controversial powers. For example, I think that it could agree on agriculture or on commerce. If it were found after a short period that it could not agree, the power that had been devolved could come back to this place. In other words, we could roll devolution forward until all the Departments has been devolved to the Assembly, or we could roll it back insofar as the Assembly was unable to agree, and thus power would return once more to the House. It is a difficult proposal but it is one that is designed to seek to fit in with the particular needs of Northern Ireland. There would be no problem if Northern Ireland did not present a problem. The fact that we have this particular problem means that if we are to solve it we have to use rather novel methods of seeking to do so. Before any devolution can take place, the Assembly will have to produce proposals acceptable to Parliament. The proposals could deal either with full or with partial devolution, and must contain recommendations for the composition of a Northern Ireland Administration. If 70 per cent. of the Members of the Assembly agreed on devolution proposals, I would be required to lay those proposals before Parliament, where they would be debated. The Government would give their view on whether the scheme was acceptable to both sides of the community. If Parliament approved the arrangements, devolution would be effected by Order in Council. If proposals were supported by a majority of the Assembly but attracted less then 70 per cent. support, I could, nevertheless, ask for them to be sent to me if I believed that they enjoyed cross-community support. In that event, too, they would be laid before Parliament and devolution could take place. The 70 per cent. relates solely to the Assembly's proposals for devolution. The Government are not suggesting, still less requiring, that the devolution proposals should themselves provide for 70 per cent.—or any other weighted figure—for voting in the Assembly once devolution had taken place. It will be open to the parties seeking the necessary agreement on devolution proposals to negotiate safeguards to protect their respective positions. Accordingly, in its report the Assembly could put forward proposals for voting procedures and other features of a devolved system. On some key issues of confidence, the Assembly may wish to propose that a specified majority should be required, but that would be for the Assembly to settle as part of the agreement leading to devolution. In framing the proposals, we have been careful not to stipulate how a Northern Ireland Administration should be composed. For example, it will be for the parties commanding the necessary support in the Assembly to decide whether there should be a chief executive and whether to operate a conventional system of Cabinet government. Appointments under full or partial devolution will be made by the Secretary of State, who will be guided by the report which had led to devolution as well as the views of the parties. Changes in these appointments—for example, if a member retired, or following a fresh election—could be made after consultation with the parties. Again, the essential requirement would be that the Administration continued to enjoy the support in the Assembly which had led to devolution in the first place. It will be perfectly plain whether the basis for devolution has broken down. I am deeply aware that the Government are asking of this House a great deal. No one who has responsibility for Northern Ireland and seeks to try to move to some system which is acceptable to Northern Ireland for devolved government can fail to recognise the strain that this involves. At a time when our attentions are very much elsewhere, we are asking the House to undertake the difficult task of constitutional change, but we do not seek to impose a settlement on the community. On the contrary, the timing and nature of any devolution are for the Assembly to propose. It might be that no devolution would take place during my time as Secretary of State. It might be that devolution would not take place at any time. It might be that only a partial devolution of powers would take place, such as I have suggested in the case of agriculture, commerce and so on. In that case, direct rule would go on, in whole or in part. My proposals do not end direct rule. They have been best described by other people—not by myself—as a "do-it-yourself devolution kit". The proposals give to the people concerned the right to devolve or the right not to devolve—or the right to devolve some Departments but not others. They are designed to offer an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to come to terms with the realities of their situation and make the necessary adjustments to it on which economic, political and security advance all depend. I believe very strongly that this opportunity should be taken. I believe that the British people as a whole are looking for some progress and for some advance, but I recognise that it is for the people of Northern Ireland themselves to determine the speed at which things move. These proposals at least give them a chance and a choice. They will be greatly aided by the degree of unity in this House that I hope the proposals will command. I commend the White Paper to the House.
We welcome this opportunity to debate the Government's Northern Ireland White Paper, "A Framework for Devolution", because we believe it right that the House should have the chance to discuss the Government's analysis of the problems in Northern Ireland before it is called upon to consider legislation. This is one of the best attended Houses—certainly on the Government Benches—that I can recall for a Northern Ireland debate, and I am glad that it is provoking such interest.Two principal questions should be in our minds during the debate. First, is the Government's assessment of the political difficulties in Northern Ireland fair and realistic? Secondly, we should question whether the remedies offered in the White Paper offer an adequate response to the magnitude of the political problems. I shall deal with those questions in some depth, but I think it important at the outset to give the Opposition's general response to the White Paper. The Opposition support the general concept embodied in the White Paper that power should be gradually devolved to Northern Ireland's elected representatives on a basis that is acceptable to all sides of the community. We have long supported this idea and, as the House will recall, when in Government we made several unsuccessful attempts to return political responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland. We are well aware of the difficulties and pitfalls—the Secretary of State has been made fully aware of them by some of the questions put to him this afternoon—that face any Government in tackling such an apparently impossible task, but we think it essential constantly to renew some movement towards political progress. While we have misgivings about the timing of the initiative and some doubts as to its workability, we do not intend to oppose the Government tonight. I think that at this stage it will be helpful to the House if I explain Labour policy on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. It will put our view on the White Paper into perspective. Our policy was agreed upon only recently at the last Labour Party conference, and the House has not yet heard our position in full. Our policy statement, like the White Paper that we are discussing, is the product of much hard work and wide consultation. The study group which submitted the original policy draft had the benefit of considerable collective recent experience of governing Northern Ireland, with the presence on the study group of two past Secretaries of State and four former Ministers, plus other interested people on the national executive of our party. We considered a wide range of constitutional options in depth and decided that three in particular should be rejected. We turned down any suggestion that majority rule devolved government should be returned to Northern Ireland. Given the experience of Stormont we were impelled to say, "Not again". We support the implicit rejection of simple majority rule in paragraph 19 of the White Paper and stress unreservedly that the Opposition would reject any report from the Assembly that advocated a return to majority rule. Negotiated independence was another option that we rejected. Not only is there very little support for this in Northern Ireland, but we concluded that independence would be economically unviable, and we could see no way in which the rights of the minority community would be adequately protected. Thirdly, we discountenanced the notion of a British Isles federation as constitutionally too complex and unlikely to get the required support of the Irish Republic. I might add at this point that I still do not understand it. The proposals finally put forward are based on a desire to see peace and reconciliation between the two communities in Northern Ireland and on the belief that it is both desirable and possible to unite Ireland with the consent of the people North and South. We emphasise that we have no illusions about the problems of achieving such reconciliation and unification. To our mind that is no justification for not holding these long-term aims. I am glad that the Secretary of State acknowledged the role that direct rule has played. It has been successful and should not be decried by anybody. As the Secretary of State has said, direct rule is the second best for everybody and was meant to be only a stepping stone to other arrangements. The three structures of direct rule—power sharing, devolved government and unification—should be seen not as separate alternatives but as individual parts of a practical programme of political reform. Each structure should give way gradually to the next on a basis acceptable to all sections of the Irish community. Consequently, we do not oppose the Government's proposals for an Assembly and for devolution of powers to Northern Ireland because they are broadly in line with the second stage of our three stage policy. We say "broadly in line" to indicate that we support the spirit of the White Paper rather than its specific proposals. There are some serious omissions and deficiencies which lead us to reserve support for the full details in the White Paper.
Before the right hon. Gentleman comes to that section of his speech, now that he has disclosed to the House the position of the Labour Party on the future of Northern Ireland, can he tell us whether the Labour Party as a democratic party intends to put up candidates at parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland?
Why should we?
It is part of the United Kingdom. Such candidates could argue the case before the electors whom he hopes to persuade of the justice of his policy and gain support for it. Is that the intention of the Labour Party?
That is certainly not the intention of the Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For the simple reason that we agree with the Secretary of State, whatever anybody else in the House thinks, that, as anyone who has had responsibility for Northern Ireland knows, politics in Northern Ireland is fought on different issues from in the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is a different entity and must be accepted as such, with different problems which require different resolution.
Has the right hon. Gentleman entirely forgotten that the Northern Ireland Labour Party, which was indistinguishable from the British Labour Party, was in 1964 the second largest party in Northern Ireland?
I have not forgotten the Northern Ireland Labour Party which, of course, is not part of our Labour Party. In political terms it has been superseded by other parties in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Labour Party is not an integral part of the British Labour Party.In my opening remarks I said that we should be mindful of two questions. First, does the White Paper successfully analyse the political problems in Northern Ireland; further, how well do the Government's proposals for devolved Government match up to the political difficulties? When we consider in detail parts 1 to 4 of the White Paper, there is a good deal with which we agree. Part 2, which expands on the need for devolved government, includes important observations about the relationship between political stability and the prospects for improved economic activity, on which the Secretary of State spent some time. The Opposition accept that political stalemate, reinforced by terrorist activities, has had profoundly damaging effects on the Northern Ireland economy. It will always be difficult to entice investors to an area where normal political processes have been suspended and where both property and people are in the perpetual shadow of a gun. We agree that an early return to the democratic process will enhance economic prospects and may help to diminish support for terrorist activity. I could never understand why terrorist activity should include setting fire to buses. It is only those who go to work and school children who travel on the buses, so I could never comprehend why terrorists should turn their attention to such things. However, that is not what we are discussing today. The Government should not give the impression, as they do in paragraph 3, that Northern Ireland's economic problems have nothing to do with their policy. A large part of the economic malaise in Northern Ireland is the product of the deflationary monetarist policies that have led to a doubling of unemployment in three years. Unfortunately, an Assembly or a devolved Administration will not be able to do much about the economic position. It is made clear throughout the White Paper, as the Secretary of State spelt out in his speech, that overall Government strategy will be paramount and that the purse strings will be held tightly by Whitehall. In the long term greater political stability in the Province will help to being jobs, but there is little comfort in the White Paper for the unemployed and the poorly housed. Their elected representatives will still have to operate within the framework of Tory economic policies. All I can say to the people of Northern Ireland is that that can change only with a change of Government.
Put up some candidates then.
I think that I would give the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) a fair run. Despite the sedentary intervention by the right hon. Gentleman, my record in Northern Ireland is a fair one. Certainly I can speak on the economics of Northern Ireland, having been in charge of the Department of Commerce. The right hon. Gentleman was never slow to come to me to look for jobs and, of course, he got the same fair treatment as anyone else.Part 3 of the White Paper deals with the two national identities that co-exist in Northern Ireland today and have done so for centuries. We support particularly the two points made in this section. Paragraph 20 draws attention to the claim made by some Unionists that only those accepting the legitimacy of the State should be allowed full political participation. We support fully the following sentences:
It is on that very principle that our policy rests, and we endorse that principle. We agree also with the statement in paragraph 21 that"The Government, however, believes that, in a free society, the advocacy of change, including fundamental change, in the institutions of society, is a legitimate activity if pursued by peaceful persuasion and not by violence. So long as the existing institutions of the State are respected, those who favour change should not be debarred from playing a full part in public life."
This is more a recognition of political reality than a statement of principle. It needs to be stated repeatedly. However, it raises serious problems as to how that acceptability is to be judged. I shall deal with this in greater depth when discussing the precise proposals in the White Paper. Welcome though sections of part 3 are, we express profound disappointment at the derisory attention given to the Irish dimension. When discussions were taking place, long before the White Paper came into being, one would have thought from the analysis and the sayings emanating from various places that the Irish dimension would figure a little more in the White Paper. In view of the high profile given to Anglo-Irish affairs over the past year and a half we had hoped for much more than three throwaway paragraphs that look like an afterthought. If the Government are serious in their recognition of the two national identities in Northern Ireland, they must give more attention to how Irish national identity may best be expressed. We strongly believe that the Government should offer positive proposals for the participation of Northern Ireland Assembly members in the Anglo-Irish dialogue as it presently exists. At present there is no parliamentary tier to the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. Until there is, Northern Ireland Assembly members will effectively be excluded from the dialogue. That is a strange way to recognise two national identities. Our thinking for the extension of the Anglo-Irish dialogue to include Northern Ireland Assembly Members is as follows. First, the intergovernmental council should be given a much higher status than it has now. It should be able to make reports to both Parliaments and to the Northern Ireland Assembly. We also think that it would be worth investigating the possibility of committees, to be formed under the council, to consider such issues as energy, citizenship and human rights—all the things that the Secretary of State talked about—and, possibly, security. I am talking about security not as the House would see it but in the sense in which the Secretary of State talked about it. One could consider various areas in which that would be very welcome. It is a matter that we might consider. The committees could be formed of individuals drawn from the Dail, this House and the Northern Ireland Assembly, all of those people having a specialist interest in, or knowledge of, the subjects that I have just mentioned. In addition, the time is now ripe for Parliament to debate the possibility of a full parliamentary tier to the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. We have talked about it for long enough. It is all very well to say that members of the Northern Ireland Assembly may take part in a parliamentary tier, but the Secretary of State knows that it is still a hypothetical notion. The House has not had an opportunity to discuss the Anglo-Irish joint studies paper or the wider issues of cooperation. We urge the Secretary of State to prevail on the Leader of the House to provide time before the Summer Recess to discuss the whole question, and particularly a parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. Otherwise, the White Paper's references to the Irish dimension will prove to be no more than a polite sop to the minority community in Northern Ireland. We shall certainly look to strengthen that area in the Committee stage of the Bill's consideration. Having considered the Government's assessment of the political problems in Northern Ireland, which is on the whole fairly sound, apart from the question of the Irish dimension, we now look at the political proposals. Do they properly cater for the political realities of Northern Ireland? The White Paper says clearly that the Assembly will have"any new structures for the government of Northern Ireland must be acceptable to both sides of the community."
from the beginning. Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether the Assembly will vote at the end of its deliberations in the exercise of those functions? What will be the status of the debate and vote? We should also be interested to hear how the right hon. Gentleman intends to cope when a majority of all groups in the Assembly are clearly opposed to a particular area of Government policy. Will he ignore the Assembly, or will he plead a special case for Northern Ireland when the pressure is on to apply legislation of this House throughout the Kingdom? One example springs to mind. A month ago the House debated whether the Employment Act 1980 should be enforced in Northern Ireland, whether Northern Ireland liked it or not. We had quite a debate on the issue. If devolved government is set up and commerce is a devolved area, what happens if the Government wish to inflict the latest, obnoxious Employment Bill on Northern Ireland? What happens if the Members of the Assembly say "No"? A precedent was set in that debate, when Northern Ireland Members accepted that, whether the law in the rest of the United Kingdom was bad, indifferent or good, it was acceptable to Northern Ireland. I entirely differ from that view, but it was acceptable to the House then. We acknowledge the merits of having in Northern Ireland an Assembly that can maintain its existence regardless of whether powers are devolved. But we can also see the danger of setting up a talking shop that institutionalises the political differences, without allowing for participation in the exercise of power. It may be that the Government's plan for an active and influential Assembly will work out in practice, and we believe that it is worth a try, but we warn them that any failure to take full account of the views of all sections of the Assembly may turn the forum into a white elephant. One job of the Assembly will be to submit to the Secretary of State a report on plans for the devolution of executive powers. Such reports will be laid before Parliament if they have the support of 70 per cent. of the Members of the Assembly or if they have the support of between 50 and 70 per cent. of the Members and the Secretary of State is satisfied that they command widespread support throughout the community. Neither side of the community seems happy with the figure of 70 per cent. Each seems to believe that the other side will have a veto over any proposals. The position is hypothetical at present, because no one knows the makeup of the 78-Member Assembly. It seems to us that the Government have set such a figure to try, to ensure that any devolution report that comes before Parliament will have cross-community support. That is not a bad principle to work on, but when the Bill comes to the Floor of the House we shall have to examine those clauses closely to see where they can be amended. We agree with the Government that power should not be devolved unless all sides of the community can agree on a system. However, we have our doubts as to whether the Government have chosen the right method to ensure that proposals have that type of agreement. I have no doubt that we shall return to this matter on Second Reading of the Bill, and certainly in Committee. It should be remembered that both the White Paper and the Bill state that an Assembly paper with support of 70 per cent. or more should be laid before Parliament. Nothing is said about the way in which Parliament must treat that report. I hope that Parliament will still have the last say on whether a devolution report carries the support of all sides of the community in Northern Ireland, regardless of the size of the majority that supported it in the Assembly. This is another matter that we shall examine closely in Committee. It is at this point in the White Paper that we begin to detect its fundamental weaknesses, and we see that the remedy fails to match the political conditions. The key issue in any devolution of executive functions will inevitably be the exercise of power. Stormont fell because the exercise of power was at fault. Devolution proposals in 1974 and 1980 floundered because there was not enough agreement on the exercise of power. We are left with the same central issue today: how will the executive functions be divided among parties in the Assembly when, or if, those functions are devolved? To a large extent the White Paper avoids that critical question. It leaves it to the Members of the Assembly to hammer it out, while stressing that both sides of the community must support any devolution plan. We believe that such an arrangement is not good enough. Of course it is right to listen to the views of the Assembly on this matter, but the Government have a duty to state openly that in the case of Northern Ireland devolution is permissible only where the minority community is taken into partnership in executive functions. In short, only a sharing of power should be acceptable. That must be spelt out clearly. When the House receives a report from the Assembly, the Opposition will wish to be convinced that scope exists for the incorporation of minority community representatives at every level of constitutional politics. The Government should have said as much in the White Paper, and they should incorporate that principle in every clause of the Bill. I hope that when a report comes, the House will have the chance to suggest amendments or to refer back sections of the report, for it may be that some sections meet the criteria of acceptability and others do not. Perhaps the Secretary of State will clarify the power of Parliament in that respect. The Opposition believe that it is important that the House should be paramount on the issue."scrutinising, consultative and deliberative functions"
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking from his long experience of the practicality of working politics in Northern Ireland. He said that the Opposition support the general idea of devolution of power to an Assembly. I understand that he accepts the 70 per cent. proposal but that he does not like it. Is he saying that the Opposition would not accept a decision of more than 70 per cent. of an elected Assembly on a devolution matter because he believes that Parliament should have a paramount responsibility of veto? Surely, if he is saying that there is no opportunity for the devolution of democracy in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) should examine the voting figures in Northern Ireland. We do not yet know how the figure of 78 will be divided. The 70 per cent. might be too low or too high. I do not agree with a percentage figure. There are other ways of devising the great test of the support of the population of Northern Ireland. I shall discuss that further. If the hon. Member for Canterbury is asking me whether I agree with the 70 per cent, my answer is "No'. Nor would I agree with 80 per cent. or 60 per cent. I can envisage a 78-Member Assembly, depending on who is elected to it, in which a 70 per cent. vote would not represent the wishes, the fears or the problems of the minorities, which would probably be voted under. In that respect, we get ourselves into a great deal of trouble if we stick to a percentage figure and do not rely, first, on the Secretary of State who is there talking to people. He is knowledgeable and will decide himself whether an issue has cross-community support. He will then come to the House whose view on whether an issue has cross-community support ought to be paramount. Devolving powers back to Northern Ireland is important, especially when one bears in mind how we reached existing conditions.
Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the implementation of reports on devolution from the Assembly should be by way of a parliamentary Bill and not simply by one debate on one Order in Council?
I think that the right hon. Member for Down, South and I agree. I do not want a "take it or leave it" order at 12.30 a.m. The matter is much too serious for that. On such a serious issue, the House will agree on certain points in the report and not on others. Either the report is amendable here, or it can be sent back to the Assembly where it can be amended and then sent back to us. I hope that I have clarified the point. That is why it is important to discuss the White Paper before proceeding further. Those are my reservations as a result of my practical experience of the politics of Northern Ireland.We should never forget the sorry state of Northern Ireland today. It was brought about largely by the abuse of executive power. We allowed that abuse to continue and we have seen the consequence of parliamentary failure. The Opposition believe—the Minister who winds up must spell this out—that Parliament must be able to scrutinise the application of political power in Northern Ireland. We must retain the office of Secretary of State even when the maximum powers have been devolved. We must be able to ask a wide range of questions about the Province. I hope that the Secretary of State was not saying that, with regard to the devolution of power and a Minister in charge of it, we shall again revert to the pre-1970 position. I can just remember it. The House was not allowed to ask questions about Northern Ireland. I hate to think that we should go back to that. For the time being, given the political realities, Westminster must retain its democratic safeguards over the control of executive authority in Northern Ireland, if only for the express purpose of protecting the rights of the minority. I stress again that the Opposition do not intend to oppose the proposals outright. However, our reservations have been spelt out. The White Paper provides us with a reasonable analysis of the political problems in Northern Ireland, but we doubt whether the proposals for devolution will allow for the fundamental differences between the politicians to be resolved. We shall use the Second Reading and the Committee stage of the Bill to strengthen parliamentary control and to ensure that the rights and fears of both communities are treated fairly. By the two communities I mean the majority and the minority. I was at one with the Secretary of State when he said that this is possibly the only way in which we can proceed in Northern Ireland.
I was pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) say that he was glad that we are discussing the White Paper. I know that several hon. Members—I thought that he was one—doubted it, the international scene being as dark as it is, part of our territory having been taken by force and British Service men having been in action to recover it. For all we know, they may soon be in action again.There are many other apparently intractable problems both at home and overseas. They include Northern Ireland and led some hon. Members to say that this is no time to discuss a White Paper, let alone a Bill. They are wrong, because we are considering the future of the one and a half million people in Northern Ireland. I do not represent them and, therefore, cannot and naturally do not speak for them. As the House knows, I had the honour to serve them for nearly two and a half years. During that time I became enormously attached to them. No finer people are to be found anywhere in the United Kingdom. Taken as a whole, whether they live in the productive and attractive countryside or in the decayed and unattractive cities, they are hard-working, God-fearing, kindly and generous people who want what we all want—a home, a job, freedom from fear and hope for the future. As the House knows, when I became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland almost exactly three years ago, I did not know Ulstermen and Ulsterwomen and they did not know me. But when I went there, I was shown more kindness, understanding, warmth and more eagerness to help than I have ever known in my life. Those same people, all of them, even the oldest, have suffered all their lives from one terrible drawback—a political system that too large a part of the population find unacceptable. None of us, unless we are Northern Ireland Members—that is, 623 out of 635 of us—can properly understand that. To be sure, we know that one day we are on this side of the House and our party forms the Government and that, perhaps only one month later, we may find ourselves in Opposition and all the plans that we have helped to formulate and have supported are swept away and others, many of which we may not like, replace them. That is our system. While individually we may not like moving from this side to that—we do not—it seems to be broadly acceptable to those who elect us. It has endured without bloodshed for many years. In Northern Ireland, however, that is not the case. Few if any of us are old enough to remember the events before, during and immediately after the First World War. I was born at about the same time as what was then called the Irish Free State and the establishment of the new arrangements for governing the Province of Northern Ireland. In every decade since then, with the possible exception of the 1940s, the system of government in Northern Ireland has been under attack. I use that word carefully and deliberately. The system has been attacked not just politically by speeches, rallies, demonstrations and all the perfectly acceptable means to which we are accustomed in Great Britain, but by force—by physical violence, guns, bombs, shootings, murders and all the horror and fear that they have brought to hundreds of thousands of innocent people. We must remember, too, that that violence was directed not just against the original system in the 1920s, 1930s, 1950s and 1960s. Since the early 1970s, with the short interval of some months of the power-sharing Executive—to be fair, that was brought down not by physical violence but by what may best be described as a massive campaign of civil disobedience—violence has been directed at the existing system of direct rule. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said today that direct rule has many benefits and for many people in the Province it is the second preferred choice of a system of government. I agree with that. I remember saying, when we debated these matters in July 1980, that direct rule had brought a fair, efficient and impartial administration to the Province, and so it has. The one thing that it has not done, however, is to bring an end to violence. As we are only too tragically aware, more than 2,000 people—policemen, soldiers and civilians—have been killed in the 10 years of direct rule, and last year 10 people deliberately took their own lives by starving themselves to death, all in an effort to destroy this system of government. Of course, the security forces are having increasing success—no praise is too high for the patient, dedicated and dangerous work of the men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army—but still the terror goes on. I am bound to say that, in my view, so long as the present form of direct rule continues, so too will the campaign of violence. It will be at a reduced level, I have no doubt, but, as all of us have so often said, one terrorist incident resulting in one innocent death is one too many. My right hon. Friend spoke in opening the debate of what might be called the side effects of the campaign. He referred to the image of Northern Ireland as a dangerous place and the idea that it is foolhardy to visit for fear that one might be shot or blown up. At a lord mayor's banquet in Belfast city hall a year or two ago, I met the lord mayor of a famous English city who was paying his first visit to the Province. He confessed that he had been in two minds about whether to come and that his wife had tried hard to persuade him that it was too dangerous. To his credit, he came and, like everyone else, he found that things were not nearly so bad as he had been led to expect. That is just one example, unimportant in itself, of the effect of years of bad publicity. Far more important, however, is the effect of such publicity on potential investors. They it is who hold in their hands the future economic well-being of the people of Northern Ireland. They it is whose new enterprises, factories and business opportunities are so desperately needed to replace the traditional foundations of Northern Ireland's prosperity—the shipbuilding, textile and engineering industries that have been devastated by the world recession. The potential investor finds much to attract him in Northern Ireland. There is the country itself—its ports, its communications, its facilities, and the Government's financial schemes, which make it the most attractive part of the United Kingdom in which to invest. Above all, there are the people—people available and ready to work, ready to do everything that they can to make a new enterprise succeed, with all the skills that one could hope to find and with a labour relations record second to none in the country. On the debit side, however, there is fear, and I am convinced that many a would-be investor gives much weight to this. There is the fear that Northern Ireland is not safe and that the terrorist bomb or bullet may put an end, if not to his own life, to his enterprise and the capital that he has invested in it. The unhappy result is that the new investment does not come, or, at any rate, it does not come in sufficient quantities to make up for the decline in the older industries. The unemployment figures—I believe that my right hon. Friend referred to 19 per cent.—stand little chance of improvement and there remain many more idle hands for the Devil to put to his own uses. On a number of occasions I have likened politics, economics and security to the three strands of a rope—closely interwoven, acting together, not separately, and relying for the strength of the whole on the strength of the individual strands. That is why I believe that it is right that we in this House who bear the ultimate responsibility for Northern Ireland should take the time today, in spite of all our other preoccupations, to consider my right hon. Friend's proposals. I have already implied and I now say explicitly, that I do not believe that the option of doing nothing, of just continuing the existing arrangements year after year, is open to us. I gave one reason—the security reason—a few moments ago, but there are many others and one in particular about which I feel especially strongly. As things stand at the moment, we have Secretaries of State and junior Ministers for three of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom—for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland. Some argue that there should be one for England, too, but I shall not go into that now. I do not know whether there has ever been a Secretary of State for Scotland who was not either a Scotsman or represented a Scottish constituency. There may have been one, but, if so, it was so long ago that I cannot remember. The same applies to the Secretary of State for Wales, who has always either been a Welshman or represented a Welsh constituency, and usually both. All Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, however—my right hon. Friend is the sixth—have come from outside the Province and have represented constituencies outside the Province. The same applies to all the junior Ministers who have served in Northern Ireland regardless of whether they were members of the Conservative Party or of the Labour Party. We know that one of the main reasons is that none of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland in the House is prepared to ally himself with either of the main parties here which, alternately over the past 10 years, have formed Her Majesty's Government and to accept the collective responsibility for all Government actions that we expect of all Minsters. I am not criticising them; I am merely stating a fact. This has the consequence—in my view, the undesirable consequence—that people such as I when appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, come to that office with limited personal experience of the Province and with no family background experience and no electorate there. As I have said, we are greeted with the greatest warmth, understanding and eagerness to help, but I do not think that it is the best manifestation of our democratic tradition that for so important a part of the United Kingdom comparative strangers to it are entrusted with responsibility for virtually every aspect of government, both central and, as in Great Britain, local.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) and for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence) are Northern Irish by blood? Therefore, is there any reason why they should not be asked to serve as Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office?
My hon. Friend should perhaps put that proposition to our right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury.I conclude, therefore, that it is our duty to seek some improvement in the ways of governing Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend has laid his proposals before us and has explained why he thinks that they offer the best chance of progress. I believe that we should support him because the proposals offer a real opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to obtain what they want—or what they said that they wanted when I was there—namely, more control by people whom they have elected over their affairs. In his White Paper, my right hon. Friend has thrust firmly on to the representatives of Northern Ireland who will be elected to the Assembly the responsibility of discussing precisely how that control should be exercised. Here I part company from the right hon. Member for Mansfield, who did not believe that that was the right way to proceed. I believe that it is because our predecessors devised a system in the early 1920s based almost exactly on our practice here. It failed, after a time, to command the support of a substantial section of the population and was terminated. Another system was devised here, largely by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. That failed to command the support of an even larger section of the population and it, too, was terminated. We could no doubt have devised others—I had some ideas myself—but none of them will last without at least the concurrence of those elected to work them. Therefore, let them consider among themselves how to exercise power and then, provided that their conclusions and recommendations seem fair to us—my right hon. Friend has set certain criteria that we might use—let them do so.
I defer to the experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) in the affairs of Northern Ireland—experience that I sadly do not have—but I was under the impression that one reason why all the schemes to which he referred have failed is that the two main communities in Northern Ireland seem to be congenitally incapable of agreeing on anything. In that case, will this proposal do any more good than the others?
I shall return to that point because it is important. However, may I go on to say that, apart from discussing among themselves how to exercise power, the representatives of Northern Ireland should consider what powers they will exercise and to what extent. That is provided for in my right hon. Friend's proposals.We hear a certain amount nowadays about the word "integration" and my right hon. Friend spent some part of his speech talking about it. Those who propose that as a way forward are the ones who should explain precisely what they mean, but I take it to mean the treating of Northern Ireland exactly as if it was another part of the United Kingdom, such as Scotland, Birmingham, Sussex or Kent. I must ask those who advocate that course to pause for a moment and consider two facts. First, I convened a conference two years ago to consider the future arrangements for the government of the Province. I put before that conference a number of suggestions for those arrangements. One suggestion, which was called model F in the paper, was similar in many respects to what I understand by "integration". The three main political parties which attended the conference all dismissed that idea as not being at all what they wished. The fourth main party, which did not attend, submitted a paper to the Prime Minister putting forward, not "integration", but a proposal for a restored system of devolved government. The other, smaller, parties which did not attend the conference but which I consulted also came down in favour of devolved government. It is not for me to say what they believe today, but a short two years ago one of the few things that united the different political parties in Northern Ireland was their opposition to being treated in the same way as England, Scotland or Wales. That is hardly a good omen for widespread acceptance of this proposal. The second factor that I ask the House to consider is that if we were to pass legislation, as we have the power to do, prescribing that Northern Ireland should be treated in exactly the same way as England—that there should be elected bodies with broadly the same powers as local authorities here—we would be bound to fail to produce anything workable unless we first addressed the problem of how those powers were to be exercised. If hon. Members cast their minds back to the late 1960s, they will remember that the start of the civil rights campaign which culminated a few years later in the downfall of Stormont was not so much the alleged shortcomings of the Stormont Government as the alleged malpractices of local authorities in housing, planning and other responsibilities. If we simply recreate such a system, we shall simply recreate the problems. Instead of moving forward, as we all wish, we should be moving back 14 or 15 years. The crux of the matter remains where it has remained for so long—how can power be exercised in a way that people will regard as fair, bearing in mind that, with the present party structure in Northern Ireland, one grouping of parties will always be a majority and another will always be a minority? We have tried to find a way here and we have not succeeded. My right hon. Friend's proposals will enable the people of the Province, through their elected representatives, to try. There are some, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranbourne), who say that they will never do it. I do not believe that. I do not believe that the people of Northern Ireland, whom I came to know so well and to whom I am so attached, cannot find a way of regulating their own affairs. At any rate, we should give them the opportunity to try. My right hon. Friend's proposals do that. He is to be congratulated, and his proposals deserve our support.
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) was right to remind us of his sojourn in Northern Ireland, the knowledge that he acquired of the Province and its people and the many friendships that he and his good wife formed there—friendships that I hope will long remain.However, I am mystified by what he and his successor as Secretary of State said about the impact of this form of government on security. Given that the IRA has made no secret of the fact that it is utterly opposed to any form of government, North or South, and that it increased the scale of violence during the period when there was a power-sharing structure in Northern Ireland, one does not see the logic of the suggestion that if, by some miracle, we can achieve that to which the Secretary of State has set his hand—I am not very clear about it—IRA members will throw their hats in the air, hand in their weapons and say "It is all over, boys. We now have a power-sharing structure at Stormont". It has not been so in the past, and there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that it would be any different in the future. For the past four weeks the House has been of one mind in its attitude to the act of aggression in the South Atlantic. That unity has been maintained broadly, give or take some long-range electioneering such as we had yesterday, and it would be churlish to deny that the Prime Minister has been mainly responsible for that achievement. She has struck a fine balance between the firmness that the Falkland Islands issue requires and the reasonableness necessary to achieve House of Commons support for her action. The achievement of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland almost rivals that of the Prime Minister. He has achieved something of a coup in that part of the Queen's realm for which he is now responsible, an achievement that is different from that of the right hon. Lady, if not in scale, certainly in kind. Whereas the Prime Minister has marshalled the political parties in suppport of her policies, the Secretary of State has assembled every Ulster party of consequence in total opposition to his. The achievement is his alone. Not for him the shuttle diplomacy of Mr. Haig. In seven months flat, alone and unaided, he has lined up the Northern Ireland political parties against the Government. What is more—as he revealed clearly to us today—he will ensure that they stay that way by herding them into an Assembly consisting solely of Opposition parties with the object of making their obstruction of the Government all the more effective. The right hon. Gentleman expressed a certain fear that the structure might reach fulfilment during his term of office. One can only conclude that he would not like to see it getting beyond the Assembly stage because he clearly has no intention of being involved, exposing himself to a rough house or being grilled by an Assembly. If the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) had consulted me last November, before he threatened to make Northern Ireland ungovernable, I could have saved him much trouble and explaining. My advice would have been "Don't bother Ian, there is one mightier than you riding on a Government bulldozer. He will do the job more effectively than you." As Mr. John Hume said this week, he is one with unlimited capacity to bribe the weak headed. In that contest of bribery, the Treasury coffers will beat the plastic buckets any day. I, too, must be reasonable and strike a balance. I have to acknowledge that the Secretary of State is responsible for the presentation of this exhibit of deformed democracy. But blame for the design is not entirely his. Nor is it the work of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), or even that of Mr. Catherwood, or Professor Middlemass. The plan is essentially the same as that which has gathered dust since the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was Secretary of State. However, he had the good sense to leave the dust undisturbed. I said that it is essentially the same plan, and the right hon. Member for Spelthorne was on the point of almost illustrating that when he was diverted to much safer ground. He said that a general election could change the fortunes of the political parties in the House. He said that the Conservative Party could be in Opposition following a general election. That is undisputed. He did not fully illustrate that there is a certain continuity—perhaps a continuity in the conspiracy against Northern Ireland—that goes on and on, taking not a blind bit of notice of what happens in the Chamber or of which party is in Government. The plan has been available for 10 years. The specification has been the same. The key words are that "there has to be an Assembly." There is no particular necessity for a Cabinet or a Government, simply that there must be an Assembly. Hon. Members who have seen the papers will know that is on the files. We must now ask "Why?". We were told that Northern Ireland is different and must be kept different. That has been the theme running through all the speeches in today's debate. That determination to keep Northern Ireland different must be borne in mind at every stage of our debate on the White Paper, on Second Reading and in what promises to be, judging by the remarks from the Opposition Front Bench and other quarters, a protracted Committee stage. That attitude explains why 11 paragraphs of the White Paper have nothing to do with the internal government of Northern Ireland. That is why the references to devolved government are a sham and a deceit. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State. He is a senior Cabinet Minister, experienced in the mechanisms of Government. He has held high offices of State, including Leader of the House for two years. He knows from experience what will work and what will fail. He cannot convince himself that the Bill is anything other than a cruel joke, a caricature and a Heath Robinson contraption.
I should like to disabuse the hon. Gentleman of those remarks. I would not dream of wasting the time of the House or trying to influence the people of Northern Ireland if I did not wholeheartedly believe in the proposal I was putting forward. I hope that we shall hear rather more constructive proposals from the hon. Gentleman.
The Secretary of State is given to lecturing me on occasions. It is not so long ago that he elevated himself to that Dispatch Box and informed me that I did myself no credit simply because I made remarks that were designed to be realistic and force people to face the true issues.I say to the Secretary of State in the friendliest possible fashion that I was not sent to the House to do credit to myself. That means advancement in a political career. I came here to protect the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, and that I will continue to do. However, we must waste no more time on what is proposed except to establish that it is nothing to do with devolved government It must be said that there were many innocent souls over the past six or seven months who really believed that the Government would produce a structure—I repeat the words said to me and my colleagues—"without institutionalised power sharing." Those people were encouraged to believe that although some of us had the courage to warn that they were being conned, they proceeded to ignore those warnings. Our warnings were not self-fulfilling prophecies, nor were they based on guesswork. We had the benefit of seeing and hearing what was happening on the other side of the hill. When the Secretary of State was offering the bait for straightforward, devolved Government without institutionalised power sharing, his advisers were whispering over their coffee cups that it was power sharing in a disguised form. When the Secretary of State was discussing with my delegation possible participation in stage 2, his backroom boys, whether he knew it or not, were saying that stage 2 could not evolve without a change in the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party. Just as in war time, the enemy wireless has its uses on occasions. I apologise for being unkind. One is not supposed to be unkind, particularly to civil servants, and senior civil servants at that. Therefore, I give them the benefit of the doubt and quote the authority from which they probably took their cue. I refer to none other than Lord Carrington, the former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Two gems will suffice. He said:
He also said:"Her Majesty's Government has no desire to impede the realisation of Irish unity."
If I were in an uncharitable mood I might be tempted to add that if pure democracy had not been modified in Argentina the noble Lord might still have been on his Foreign Office stool. Under that influence is it any wonder that subordinates were saying that the 1920 Act was the result of a squalid deal? What sort of language is that to come from a servant of the Crown who is drawing a salary from the Crown? It is no surprise that with that background, programme and indoctrination one senior civil servant said to me—he was paying me a compliment—"Mr. Molyneaux, you and I are intelligent enough to know that the only real solution is a united Ireland." I am certain that if the Secretary of State had foreseen the Falkland disaster he would have deleted the 11 paragraphs from his White Paper. The parallel is far too close for comfort. The 11 paragraphs are almost a replay of that fatal statement in the House on 2 December 1980 by the then Minister of State, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). It will do no harm to refresh our memories of what was said then:"In Ulster it is necessary to modify the principle of pure democracy."
When you have time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I suggest that "Ulster" might be substituted for "Falklands". Almost word for word, it is the Foreign Office jargon that, more than any other single factor, has perpetuated uncertainty and instability in Northern Ireland for the past decade. It is not jargon that is used without careful thought. It is a deliberate conspiracy to keep the Province in turmoil until such time as it can be disposed of. Yesterday, at a meeting within this building, spokesmen for the Falkland Islanders were pressed to give their views on British policy under successive Governments. Without any trace of bitterness—perhaps they are more charitable than I am—they admitted that reluctance to put the islands on a sound economic footing, to develop communications and to extend the airport, all of which were possible, was due to Foreign Office opposition to anything that would tie them closer to Britain and make more difficult the Foreign Office's desire to get rid of them. In this House, it has been generally agreed and understood that when the Falklands have been freed from the invader there will have to be a searching inquiry into the causes of the South Atlantic disaster. That inquiry is not without relevance to Northern Ireland and to today's debate."We have no doubt about our sovereignty over the islands. The Argentines, however, continue to press their claim. The dispute is causing continuing uncertainty, emigration and economic stagnation in the Islands … Various possible bases for seeking a negotiated settlement were discussed. These included both a way of freezing the dispute for a period or exchanging the title of sovereignty against a long lease of the islands back to Her Majesty's Government … It is for the islanders to advise on which, if any, option should be explored in negotiations with the Argentines. I have asked them to let me have their views in due course."—[Official Report, 2 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 195–6.]
The hon. Gentleman has been trying to draw a parallel between the position of the Falkland Islands people and the people of Northern Ireland. It is not an argument that commends itself to me, nor, I suspect, to a number of hon. Members. Even if it were true—I do not believe that it is—will the hon. Gentleman at least tell the House how impressed he is with the determination of Her Majesty's Government to defend the Britishness of the Falkland Islands people and their integration within the United Kingdom in putting to sea the largest task force since the Second World War?