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Orders Of The Day

Volume 23: debated on Monday 10 May 1982

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Northern Ireland Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.35 pm

I have it in command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Northern Ireland Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and others.

The White Paper debate of about two weeks ago could not have left anyone in any doubt that the search for an acceptable Government in Northern Ireland is difficult and contentious. I shall devote a good deal of my speech to seeking to deal with a number of the objections that have been raised in principle to the Bill. More detailed points can be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister at the end of the debate and in Committee.

I recognise the sincerity with which my hon. Friends hold their views. I am very sorry to see my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) sitting on the Back Benches. As he knows, I have a high personal regard for him and I should much prefer to see him still sitting on the Front Bench. I say both to him and to those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who hold a different view that it is not within the capacity of any of us to be certain that the policy that we follow is right. Many solutions have been canvassed. Some have been tried and some have, regrettably, failed. A policy of continuing with direct rule does not offer a long-term answer. We either move to a position of total integration—the view of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have tabled the amendment—or we seek a gradual devolution of power, which is the course that the Government believe should be followed.

As I said in the White Paper debate, direct rule is most people's second-best option. It could not prevent the upsurge in violence brought on by the hunger strike or the events of last autumn. Despite the most intense and dedicated efforts by the security forces, violence continues and tensions between the communities are quickly roused. What has given me much hope is that, despite all the provocations of last year, when it came to the crunch the vast majority on both sides of the community demonstrated once again their rejection of violence. This gives confidence to seek to make change now.

I turn to my views on why I do not believe full integration is acceptable. It is not what any of the parties want or are committed to. They may not like the Government's proposals, but they would like full integration even less. I must tell the House that a return of power to local government—either to district councils or the creation of a new tier—would be bitterly opposed and offers no easier way out of the difficulties. This course—that is integration and a local government structure—would deny the minority any proper opportunity of expressing their aspirations or assuming their share of responsibility. Direct rule is tolerated because it is regarded as a temporary arrangement. Full integration is an irrevocable step that would lead to great alienation and instability. Whatever labels one allocates to the people of Northern Ireland—and the vast majority wish to retain their connection with the United Kingdom—it will be possible only if we take fully into account the manner by which parts of the community identify with different policies and aspirations. Integration would simply not allow that to happen, and that is why a form of devolved Government is so necessary.

Of all the criticisms of the Bill that have been made, the one that is most unacceptable is that we should not proceed because of the Falkland Islands crisis. It is said that political controversy is undesirable at times when Service men are at risk. We all agree to that. Many of those who say "Wait for another time" are those who wish us not to proceed at all. They realise, as I do, that to postpone now is for all practical purposes to kill off these proposals. It is perhaps salutary to remember that the same armed forces that now engage our attention in the Falkland Islands have, together with the RUC, suffered over 630 deaths since 1971. Northern Ireland has left the front pages, but the suffering continues. The Government do not share the view that it should be put on the back burner. Its problems are just as poignant and deserving of the attention of the House today as they have ever been.

My right and hon. Friends in their amendment say that the Bill will do nothing to achieve the defeat of terrorism or revive the economy of the Province. Of course the introduction of an Assembly will not directly and immediately achieve either objective. It would be naive to suppose that it could. But that does not apply if we lift our eyes to a longer time span. Few will doubt that political stability would have a beneficial effect upon investment and therefore employment in the Province, and this is an essential element in economic revival. Simarly, few would doubt that the willingness of all parts of the community to associate with the institutions of law and order would, in time, improve the supply of information and strengthen active and positive resistance to terrorism.

The Assembly is a necessary preliminary to political stability. The Bill does not deliver a better economy or better security, but without it we cannot proceed to later stages. Much patience and further negotiations will follow, and it will take time, but without the Assembly we cannot set out along this road. Of course, that makes for a different approach from that to the rest of the United Kingdom and as such raises constitutional issues and fears, but I ask the House most earnestly to consider the following proposition.

Let us suppose that, for whatever reason, a sufficient measure of agreement were struck between the parties in Northern Ireland so that they were prepared to work together within an acceptable constitutional structure. Is there really any hon. Member here who would turn down that benefit simply to avoid restoring a constitutional anomaly which Northern Ireland enjoyed for 50 years? Are we really saying that the admitted difficulties that arise from devolution and the so-called West Lothian question are not a price worth paying for a degree of political cooperation and harmony in Northern Ireland?

Is the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom so pure that we are not prepared to pay that price? Hon. Members cannot evade this point. The Bill provides very clearly that devolution is not delivered until the agreement is reached. There is no blank cheque here. The parties must demonstrate their co-operation to the satisfaction of the House before devolution is given. The parties must honour that agreement or devolution is unwound. I can conceive of no better bargain, either for the House of for the United Kingdom.

In no curmudgeonly spirit, let alone a spirit of spite or may I ask the Secretary of State how he resolves the so-called West Lothian question?

That is a matter that the House will need to consider when the time is ripe, which is still a good way off. If the time comes earlier, with devolution completed, that will be the right time for the House to consider the matter. However, we are a considerable way off that point.

This is my last intervention. Is not that part of the trouble? In the Bills on Scotland and Wales, by a long process of self-education the House of Commons discovered that there was no answer to the so-called West Lothian question. Had there been an answer, it would have been found by able Ministers such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) and others, and by all the clever civil servants, such as Sir John Garlick and others, who set their minds to the question. If they could not find the answer at that time, how can anyone find it now?

I repeat that the prize that we gain by a stable situation in Northern Ireland is worth a great deal of the difficulties, which I have admitted are there, in any arrangement that could allow hon. Members to vote on matters for which they have no responsibility in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That matter was dealt with satisfactorily when Stormont was in operation. The situation would be no different in the future from what it was at that time.

My right hon. Friend said that the situation would be no different. It was part of the convention regulating Stormont that Ulster was under-represented because it would not interfere unduly in the affairs of the United Kingdom. Now that we have decided, rightly, to increase the representation of Ulster to the full extent that it deserves, surely my right hon. Friend's argument no longer applies.

I can only tell the House what Mr. Airey Neave said during the passage of the Bill that created the 17 Members. He said that, regardless of any measures that might give greater devolution to Northern Ireland, the election of 17 Members from Northern Ireland was justified in its own right. That is the position that the Conservative Opposition stood by at the time and one that I expect Conservative Members to stand by in future. In any event, that would be a matter for the House to reach a judgment on at a later stage. It is probably the best way to proceed if hon. Members are not prepared to accept the arguments that I have used in reply to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell).

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if Westminster had had general supervisory powers over Stormont, and if Stormont had been in the nature of a large local government and not a devolved Government, perhaps our supervisory powers would have prevented the Catholic minority from losing confidence in Stormont?

I do not believe that the manner in which Stormont was set up would have allowed that to happen. The fact that we shall now have those supervisory powers over whether we grant devolution to Northern Ireland, so we have to make up our minds whether there is cross-community support, is the guarantee that the House should require.

I shall not give way. I want to move on.

I accept that this is an important matter. I hope that hon. Members will not think that although we believe that the measure will help to provide stability in Northern Ireland—although it runs against other views that we hold on the constitution—we are not prepared to consider what we had for 50 years and what most people recognise as being the best way forward.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am sorry if, by rising, I have deprived any other hon. Member of the opportunity to intervene in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I hope that I have not. What the right hon. Gentleman has said has not left clear—I hope that he can make it clear—the commitment of the Government this year, when the right hon. Gentleman receives the report of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland, to proceed under the statute to the provision of 17 seats for Northern Ireland, irrespective of what happens under or to the Bill.

Of course I have made it clear. It has never been in doubt. There will be 17 seats for Northern Ireland. The only point that I have made is that at a much later date after devolution it will be for the House to consider whether 17 is right. As things stand, the 17 seats issue is a non-issue for the House. We proceed as we are doing. If there is doubt about the matter, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to put it right It is a canard put up by Unionists from time to time to create ambiguity about Government's proposals. There never has been ambiguity on that matter.

The general philosophy of our approach was set out in the White Paper and debated less than a fortnight ago. But the translation of the White Paper proposals into the language of a Bill highlights matters which are of special parliamentary concern, particularly in a Second Reading debate. Thus, before I turn to the detailed provisions of the Bill, the House may find it helpful if I sketch, first, the changes that the Bill seeks to bring about and how its provisions are designed to fit into the existing constitutional framework in Northern Ireland.

The Bill's provisions reflect a radically different approach to the devolution of legislative and executive powers and to the formation of a Northern Ireland Administration, but it seeks to achieve its objectives, so far as possible, by using the constitutional frame-work established by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 and the Northern Ireland Act 1974. Three features of the Constitution Act remain of particular importance. The first and most important is that Northern Ireland's position as a constituent part of the United Kingdom will remain as in section 1 of the Constitution Act. There will be no change. Let me say it once again: there can be no change in that status without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a border poll.

Secondly, part III of the 1973 Act makes extensive provision for the prevention of religious and political discrimination in the Province. That, too, will remain unchanged by the Bill. I believe that fundamental human rights are well protected in Northern Ireland.

The House will also recall that the Constitution Act places legislative responsibilities into three categories. They comprise "excepted" matters, which will remain permanently the responsibility of this Parliament—matters such as the Crown, foreign affairs, and defence. Then there are "reserved" matters. The responsibility for these would remain initially with Westminster, but it could be transferred to local control at some future date once a durable and stable system of government was established again in Northern Ireland. These chiefly concern various matters of law and order, which, for the time being, the Secretary of State will continue to administer. Lastly come the "transferred" matters, which comprise everything else. It is these, which are now the administrative responsibility of the seven—soon to become six—Northern Ireland departments, for which the Government envisage responsibility passing either in whole or in part to a devolved Administration.

Having outlined the major points of continuity, I should like briefly to summarise the changes that the House, particularly in this Second Reading debate, may want to examine later in more detail. The major differences that we envisage from the Constitution Act are three. First, the Bill lays responsibility for making proposals for a devolved Administration squarely on the Assembly itself. Secondly, new provision is to be made to enable legislative and executive power to be devolved on the Assembly either by a complete return of all the matters in the transferred category or by devolving responsibilities in more than one stage. Thirdly, the Assembly is to have vital scrutinising and monitoring functions pending devolution. The Bill accordingly sets out the Assembly's functions before it assumes power.

I should emphasise at this point that the reason why the Bill does not deal with relations with the Republic or with the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council is that these are not matters on which any further legislation is required. The Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council is already established. There is already statutory provision in the 1973 Act enabling a Northern Ireland Administration to reach bilateral agreements with the Government of the Republic on transferred functions if they so wish. Hon. Members interested in the proposed interparliamentary body will appreciate that an elected Northern Ireland Assembly would provide an opportunity for a valuable Northern Ireland input to any such body on which this House and the Dail may agree. In that respect, the proposals are complementary and not alternatives to the Government's policy of maintaining sensible and, indeed, close arrangements for co-operation with the Republic.

My right hon. Friend's answer to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was not as clear as he suggested. He left a doubt, at least in my mind, about whether, if Northern Ireland had devolved Government, she would. get 17 hon. Members in the House. Will he make it clear that I have misunderstood him and that whatever happens there will be 17 hon. Members from Northern Ireland n the House?

There will be 17 hon. Members from Northern Ireland in the House until the House decides otherwise. The only time that the House would be likely to decide otherwise is if it wished to look at the matter afresh pending full devolution. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] I cannot tell what a future House of Commons might do, but the Bill makes no difference to the fact that there will be 17 hon. Members representing Northern Ireland in the House. Nothing that we do changes that.

If the right hon. Gentleman were to be fair to Northern Ireland he would give us 21 seats, as suggested by the convention report.

Seventeen seats still leave Northern Ireland with bigger constituencies than it would have if it were anywhere else in the United Kingdom—certainly in Scotland. That is the point that Mr. Airey Neave made. That is another point that justifies 17 seats for Northern Ireland.

I turn to the detailed provisions of the Bill. Clause 1, which gives effect to paragraphs 38 to 50 of the White Paper, goes to the heart of the whole Bill. It enables the Northern Ireland Assembly to submit proposals to the Secretary of State for the resumption of devolved Government in Northern Ireland, it allows for the devolution of only a few powers, if that is what the Assembly wishes, and it prescribes tests for the submission of devolution proposals. I shall deal with each of these points in turn.

Under section 2 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, devolution of legislative and executive functions could take place if it appeared to the Secretary of State that an Executive could be formed which was likely to be widely accepted throughout the community. The hope was to secure full devolution in one move, after agreement among the parties on the composition of what became known as a "power-sharing" Executive. But the provisions of clause 1 of the Bill are more flexible. As the Government explained in paragraphs 41 and 42 of the White Paper, our aim is to give the people of Northern Ireland themselves, through their elected representatives, the fullest opportunity to reach agreed arrangements for an acceptable form of government. There is therefore no requirement for a Northern Ireland Administration to be composed in a particular way, and the Government do not favour any particular scheme. The arrangements are to be settled by the Assembly.

It is also because we wish to leave the greatest possible scope for local initiative that the Bill makes provision for devolution in stages. There are many issues, particularly in the economic sphere, on which representatives of local parties already make common cause, both in the European Parliament and elsewhere. Accordingly, there might be agreement on a scheme for partial devolution. Some hold that such a half-way house agreement is unlikely, but we believe that it is right to allow for that possibility. and provision is made in the clause for the Assembly to make such proposals.

Proposals put forward under subsection (1)(a) refer to the full devolution of legislative and Executive responsibility for the functions which were transferred under the 1973 arrangements. We do not propose that any matters which are "reserved" under the Constitution Act should, at this stage, be devolved. But, as we make clear in paragraph 54 of the White Paper, we shall consider whether any of the matters currently placed in the "reserved" category in the Constitution Act should eventually be removed to the "transferred" category. Any such consideration must depend on the establishment of a durable and stable system of government in Northern Ireland.

I come now to the two alternative tests for the submission of devolution proposals to the Secretary of State. Under clause 1(4)(a), if 70 per cent. of the membership of the Assembly agree on devolution proposals, those proposals automatically go to the Secretary of State. It is important to be clear that 70 per cent. support for any proposals guarantees that they will be sent to the Secretary of State who will lay them before Parliament. At that point the proposals will be debated and the Government would have to give a clear view on whether those proposals met the essential criterion of acceptability to both sides of the community. If that criterion were met, the Government would ask Parliament to approve the Assembly's recommendations so that devolved government could be restored.

Clause 1(4)(b) provides the alternative test whereby if a majority of the Assembly, but not 70 per cent., can agree on devolution proposals which in the Secretary of State's view commanded widespread acceptance throughout the community, the Secretary of State can ask for those proposals to be sent to him. Again, those proposals would be debated in Parliament if the Secretary of State was satisfied that, although falling short of 70 per cent., they did none the less enjoy cross-community support.

Let me reiterate that the 70 per cent., guarantees parliamentary consideration. Once the Assembly's proposals have been submitted, it will be for Parliament, and Parliament alone, to decide whether powers should be devolved.

I should also make it clear that the 70 per cent. relates solely to the Assembly's proposals for devolution. There have been misunderstandings—genuine in some quarters, wilful, I suspect, in others. Some people seem to think that, once devolution has taken place, all Assembly votes will be subject to a 70 per cent. hurdle. Others have said—most recently the deputy leader of the SDLP—that after devolution
"all decisions taken on the floor of the Assembly … would be made by simple majority vote".
I stress that there is nothing in the Bill that justifies or lends any colour to either of those different views. The truth is that the Bill lays down no limitations whatsoever on how the Assembly shall operate after devolution. That is a matter that will be wide open for the Assembly Members to consider together, and negotiate about, when they are drawing up proposals to be put to Parliament. Under clause 1(3) the Assembly's proposals for devolution could include recommendations on voting procedures—for example, on new key issues of confidence the Assembly may wish to propose that a specified majority should be required.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the position about the referral to the House by the Secretary of State of a proposal for devolution that has been agreed by 70 per cent. in the Assembly? Can my right hon. Friend confirm that it is possible that the House might not agree to a proposal, even though it has the 70 per cent. approval of the Assembly? Can my right hon. Friend envisage such circumstances occurring and what a possible subject might be?

That would be a matter for the House. The figure of 70 per cent. was struck because it should, under normal circumstances, ensure that there is cross-community support. All that it actually does is to ensure that there is a discussion by the House. It does no more nor less than that. I must make it absolutely clear that the House is not likely to grant a transfer of powers unless it is satisfied that there is cross-community support, otherwise there will not be the political stability that we are aiming to achieve. If I continue with one more sentence in my speech, that will become clear to my hon. Friend.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to continue, and I shall give way later if necessary.

Once proposals have been submitted to the Secretary of State under these provisions, clause 1(5) and clause 2 will apply. The effect will be that Parliament will consider the proposals—and it is, of course, the Government's intention that they should have a full opportunity to do so before deciding whether to take further action. If the House's response is favourable, clause 2 provides for full or partial devolution by Order in Council, subject to affirmative resolution of Parliament. Parliament will, therefore, have two opportunities to consider matters before final decisions are taken.

If the Assembly proceeds to partial devolution only, clause 2(1)(b) provides that only whole Departments can be devolved, and subsection (4) prevents the devolving of the Department of Finance and Personnel. This is, I believe, common sense. The Department of Finance and Personnel could scarcely be devolved while some Northern Ireland Departments remained under the control and direction of the Secretary of State.

We intend, however, that devolved Departments should, nevertheless, have wide discretion to establish their own priorities in expenditure. The total resources that would be made available to the devolved Departments as a group would, of course, have to be settled between the Secretary of State and the heads of those Departments.

Once a power has been devolved, if the Assembly exercises that power in a way that the House of Commons suspects may be unfair or unjust to a group within the Province, will the House have no residual supervisory power and no right to ask questions about it?

Under those circumstances we can take power back. I shall come to that point in a later clause that I believe is important.

I come now to schedule 1. Part I provides for a return to full devolution and thus, in effect, reactivates the machinery established by the Constitution Act, as amended by the other provisions of the Bill. Part II makes provision for partial devolution, should this be a course which members of the Assembly would prefer to pursue. The essence of part II is that, under partial devolution, direct rule as provided for by schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974 will continue in respect of those Departments which are not devolved, while legislative and Executive responsibility will return to the Assembly and a Northern Ireland Administration in respect of those matters that are devolved.

The Secretary of State referred to stability. For how long can a situation last where the hon. Member who, say, represents Lurgan on schedule 1 and 2 issues can vote in relation to matters affecting, say, the constituency of Lowestoft, but an hon. Member representing Lowestoft cannot vote on matters affecting Lurgan? How does the Secretary of State get over that rock-like difficulty?

In the same manner as happened in the 50 years of previously devolved Government. Exactly the same happened then. Ulster Members were able to vote in the House—

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember what my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) said about that?

I shall not enter into a discussion on what the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) said on the subject.

There is an answer to the so-called West Lothian question. Northern Ireland has never in its history been administered as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

I shall come to that question in a moment. The general point that my hon. Friend makes is correct. Even now, although there is direct rule, all the apparatus of devolved administration is there, but in a different way from that in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Clauses 3 and 4 provide that even before the Assembly acquires legislative functions following devolution it will, nevertheless, have, from its inception, important scrutinising, deliberative and consultative functions. Under clause 4 the Assembly will be obliged to establish a Committee corresponding to each Northern Ireland Department to enable it to carry out this work. Provision is also made for the payment of the Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen of these Committees. There is also provision for the Secretary of State to refer to the Assembly proposals for Orders in Council as well as subordinate instruments, and to consult it about other matters affecting Northern Ireland whether or not they lie within the transferred field.

The Government intend to involve the Assembly in the consultation process on proposed legislation so that Members can make their views known and have them considered by the Government before the legislation is laid before Parliament. I want the House to be clear on the critical importance that the Government attach to this innovation. The new Assembly will provide what up to now has been lacking during direct rule—a local forum in which the views of the elected representatives can be expressed, formulated and presented to the Government and Parliament.

As I have just said, there exists in Northern Ireland at the moment a substantial devolved administrative machine—the machine which underpinned Stormont for 50 years—but there is no corresponding democratic check on it. Hon. Members know full well that this House does not, and is never likely, to give close attention to the many orders affecting Northern Ireland, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten), told the House a couple of weeks ago that the question he was then answering was the first he had had for 10 months, on health and social security—which amounts to about half of public expenditure in the Province.

We believe that it is vital for the political health of Northern Ireland that locally elected representatives should be able to engage once again, and as soon as possible, in political dialogue and discussion, and be able to influence policy more directly than at present. I assure the House that the Government will therefore give the most careful considerations to the recommendations of the Assembly, both in regard to legislation and other matters.

During the debate on the White Paper, various hon. Members from Northern Ireland suggested that, even before any devolution has occurred, the Assembly should be able to discuss questions of security. The Bill provides that, pending full devolution, they could do so only if it was referred to them by the Secretary of State. The Government have always recognised that questions of law and order are of vital concern to the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives. As the House knows from paragraph 54 of the White Paper, we envisaged that suitable arrangements would be needed to enable the Secretary of State and the Assembly to discuss security matters. The arguments put forward during the debate on the White Paper have highlighted the concern in Northern Ireland over law and order issues, and I know that the House will want to look carefully at the provision of clause 3 during the Committee stage of the Bill.

I should also like to clarify the function of the presiding officer in relation to appointments to the statutory Committees. When the presiding officer comes to make appointments to committees, the House will see that, under clause 4(2), he is subject to a specific statutory duty to secure that the balance of parties in the Assembly is reflected, so far as is practicable, in the appointments of the chairman, deputy chairmen and members of each Committee.

Clause 5 contains a number of provisions—which I hope it will never be necessary to invoke—dealing with the dissolution of the Assembly and the revocation of orders. This matter was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West.

Clause 6 requires the Northern Ireland Constitution and Assembly Acts 1973 to be amended in accordance with schedule 2. The schedule affects a number of matters, including the detailed arrangements for appointments to the Northern Ireland Executive, and to the headships of Northern Ireland Departments; the Assembly's privileges and the remuneration of its Members; the arrangements for the dissolution and prorogation of the Assembly; legislation on "reserved" matters by Order in Council after full devolution takes place; and it contains other more technical and consequential provisions which I hope will not engender controversy.

The Government recognise how difficult it will be to achieve lasting improvement. If they did not recognise that before, they have recognised it as a result of the comments of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members this afternoon. That is why the Bill takes such modest and limited steps, for no amount of window dressing can hide the fact that peace and improved prosperity will come to Northern Ireland only if the various factions are prepared to make accommodations with one another. At present they do not wish to do this. To do nothing is, therefore, easier for them. They have all the advantages of political activity with none of the disadvantages of responsibility. There is, therefore, no reason why the parties should agree in advance.

I make no complaint about that. It is, after all, what the representatives of the various parties were chosen to do, but it is not a luxury that this Government can share. Their job is to weigh the problems and to proceed in the best interests of the whole people. In the face of the suffering, the economic decline and the political stagnation, the onus of proof lies as much upon those who would do nothing as on the Government.

It is said that there is no support in Ulster. I do not believe it. The Government believe there is a real desire across the broad mass of the population for a break in the deadlock. The Bill will begin that slow and difficult process, and I hope that it will have the support and good-will of the whole House.

4.16 pm

During today's debate and in subsequent stages on the Bill, it will be the Opposition's intention to ensure that, wherever possible, this legislation matches some of the fine phrases contained in the first section of the Government's White Paper and reflects the spirit of our own policy document on Northern Ireland.

In many respects, our policy document and the Government's views, as laid down in the White Paper, are similar. On the central issue of cross-community support on the devolution of powers, we are virtually in agreement. Paragraph 13 of the White Paper states:
"The Government adheres to the view that in any administration in Northern Ireland there must be reasonable and appropriate arrangements to take account of the interests of the minority which are acceptable to both sides of the community".
Our own policy paper says the same thing, but in fewer words. It states:
"The success of devolved government depends upon it receiving the confidence and support of a substantial cross-section of both communities."
It is in that spirit that the Opposition will in future be tackling the proposals in the Bill.

Will the right hon. Gentleman address his mind to the position in Scotland and to the Scottish National Party? Will he put that in the context of the Bill and the Opposition's proposals? Should the SNP also be represented in Scottish administration?

I said in the debate on the White Paper, and based on my experience in Northern Ireland, that the problems of Northern Ireland should be viewed in a different context from those of Scotland and Wales. I cannot envisage problems affecting Scotland and Wales that require the same kind of resolution or solution as the problems affecting Northern Ireland.

When we debated the White Paper "A Framework For Devolution" on 28 April, I referred at length to the general inadequacies of the Government's proposals. On that occasion I pointed out that the Opposition do not think that the Government's proposals in the Bill live up to the political realities as outlined in the first part of the White Paper.

We find the Government's analysis of Northern Ireland's political problems broadly acceptable, and we support their recognition of the two identities. However, our conclusion is that the Bill does not properly cater for the political realities of Northern Ireland, and I intend to draw specific attention to those areas that we think fail to fulfil the Government's criteria of cross-community acceptability. We hope that the Bill and the Assembly will get off to a good start.

The first worrying omission from the Bill concerns the election of the Presiding Officer of the Assembly. This matter was discussed at length in the debate on the White Paper, but I should like to say a few words on the subject.

As the Presiding Officer is not mentioned in detail in the Bill, the provisions of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 will apply, once the Assembly has been elected. Section 24(1) and (2) of that Act provide for the presiding officer to be elected by the Assembly, presumably on a simple majority vote. In our view, if that provision remains in force, there is likely to be bitterness from the outset about the election of the Presiding Officer. He or she will almost certainly be a politically active unionist who will probably not have the confidence of all parties in the Assembly. The Presiding Officer will hold considerable powers, as several right hon. and hon. Members said during the debate on the White Paper, and in our view the Assembly would get off to a bad start if the Presiding Officer had the support of only one section of Assembly Members and only one section of the community.

The Secretary of State should consider the potential problems should the 1973 provisions about the Presiding Officer remain unamended. He may wish to look at the arrangements introduced for the 1974 constitutional convention, when the Secretary of State had the power to appoint a Presiding Officer or Chairman, as he was then known. We should like the relevant provisions of the 1973 legislation to be amended so that the Secretary of State would have the power to appoint a Presiding Officer who at the time of appointment may or may not be a Member of the Assembly. Such an amendment would go a long way to ensure that a person acceptable to both sides of the community would hold this important position. It would not be a fail-safe method, but it would be a considerable improvement on the present provisions for electing a Presiding Officer.

Clause 1 enables the Assembly
"to submit proposals to the Secretary of State for the resumption of devolved government in Northern Ireland".
We have several reservations about the clause. Subsection (1) permits either full or partial devolution. What concerns us particularly is that the Assembly can ask for some but not all of a Department's functions to be devolved. To cater for that, the existing departmental structure would have to be altered, because we are told that devolution can take place only by reference to all functions of a particular Department.

I hope that the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers, in winding up, will explain what will happen if all the parties in the Assembly agree on devolving four functions of one department, say, the Department of the Environment. Will he then split the Department in half and make two Departments of the Environment with two political heads, one responsible to this House and one responsible to the Assembly?

No doubt the Minister will say that I am taking an extreme example, but that is the logical consequence of the proposal. Will he say how far the Government are prepared to go with the reorganisation of the Northern Ireland Departments to accommodate devolution? There must be some limit to the departmental changes if total chaos is to be avoided. Confusion will be rife if every Department is split. No one will know where the responsibility for political decisions lies. We are anxious about this proposal and expect thorough answers to the questions that I have posed.

Clause 1(2) gives the Assembly responsibility for deciding how executive functions should be operated when some or all the powers are devolved. This is a crucial provision of the Bill, as the Secretary of State said. We doubt whether there will be much agreement within the Assembly about how power should be exercised in the event of devolution.

Had this been our Bill, we should have laid down much tighter criteria—this, possibly, is where the main difference between us lies—for the inclusion of the minority at every level of executive power. We do not fully agree with the thinking behind the subsection, but we do not intend to oppose it. The problems engendered in 1974 are still in our minds—they are certainly in my mind—and we are prepared to see what sort of proposals the parties in the Assembly hammer out for themselves.

I fully understand that there may be differences of emphasis about the degree of protection that the Bill offers or should offer to the minority community, but is the right hon. Gentleman willing to say that, in his view, no minority community should have a veto?

Certainly. I shall come to the question of the veto later. It has been common ground, as I tried to make clear in the first instance, that before anything can succeed in Northern Ireland it needs the broad support not only of the minority community but of the majority community as well. Nothing would guarantee failure more than if anything proposed here did not have the support of the minority. However, I do not want to start talking about anyone having a veto. What we need is common agreement across the board. That is the only way to achieve success in Northern Ireland.

The Opposition are not optimistic. We doubt whether the time has yet come when the majority is prepared to realise that real security lies in the sharing of power and in partnership with the minority community. If and when devolution reports come to the House from the Assembly, it is the proposals in subsection (2) that we shall need to scrutinise closely.

Subsection (4), on which the Secretary of State spent some time, seems to be something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, we are told that any devolution proposals that have the support of at least 70 per cent. of the Members of the Assembly, will be laid before Parliament. On the other hand, we are told that devolution proposals with the support of between 50 and 75 per cent. of the Assembly Members may be laid before Parliament if the Secretary of State is satisfied that they carry cross-community support.

We have no quarrel with paragraph (b). The Secretary of State is our man on the spot. He, more than anyone, should be able to decide whether a set of proposals has cross-community support. Our quarrel is with paragraph (a). As I understand it, the reason for introducing the idea of a 70 per cent. majority was to ensure that devolution proposals had a demonstrable measure of cross-community support. As I said in our debate on the White Paper, I fully understand the reasoning here. The aim is a good one, but I doubt whether paragraph (a) will fulfil that aim. There is no guarantee that 70 per cent. of the Members of the Assembly supporting any given proposals will reflect all sections of opinion. The House should bear in mind that, in the 1974 Assembly and in the 1975 Convention, the Unionist Party had nearly 70 per cent. of the seats, but with the support of minor parties, it held well over 70 per cent. We cannot say whether that will be the case in the new Assembly, because elections have yet to take place. I do not suggest that we should await the election results before deciding on the percentage, but I question the need for this fixed percentage, given that we have paragraph (b).

Let us suppose that certain devolution proposals have the support of 70 per cent. of the Members of the Assembly. Indeed, it could be even more than 70 per cent. In the convention report, it could have been as high as 78 per cent. of Members of the Assembly, and not one representative of the minority community needed to vote for that proposal. The Secretary of State would then, under subsection (5) of the clause, be bound to lay those proposals before Parliament. By that time, I imagine that it would have been made clear that the minority community did not like the proposals. What would the Secretary of State do then? Would he be prepared to come to the House and to say that although the proposals had fulfilled the criteria in the Bill, he could not recommend them to the House because they did not have cross-community support? That would be a very difficult position for the Secretary of State to take. His hands would be tied by this clause. Imagine the reaction in Northern Ireland if proposals with a 70 per cent. or even a 76 per cent. majority were turned down by Parliament, the very body that set such store by that figure.

Does the right hon. Member agree that if the words "widespread acceptance throughout the community" were added to the percentage in subsection (4)(a), it would serve the purpose that he seeks?

The answer is contained in subsection (4)(b). Paragraph (a) could be done away with completely. We shall have to take a long, hard look at the subsection. Unless the weight of majority is 80 per cent. or more, it is worthless. Only a figure of that order would demonstrate that devolution proposals had cross-community support.

Our view is that it is unnecessary to set any figure. During the White Paper debate, I could detect little support for the 70 per cent. idea. That lack of support is unsurprising, since each group is afraid that another will be able to veto its proposals. It would be more sensible to dispense altogether with the idea of a fixed majority. We believe that any devolution proposals which have a majority in the Assembly, of whatever order, should be submitted to the Secretary of State. It should then be for him, and for him alone, to decide whether they have the necessary measure of cross-community support.

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that the general understanding in the White Paper debate was that paragraphs (a) and (b) were much the same? The difference was that there was no compulsion in the second paragraph. Instead, the Secretary of State would give a clear indication, the Government would make their views known, and the Whips would be on to make sure that the decision was obeyed.

I certainly do not think that the paragraphs amount to the same thing. I shall refer later to parliamentary control, but my view is that the 70 per cent. is unnecessary. From what I have both heard and read and from the protestations made to me, nobody seems to want the provision. Everybody is suspicious of it and it is unnecessary. I accept that the Secretary of State knows his job and will be able to decide whether there is cross-community support, and make the right recommendations to the House. It will then be for the House to support or reject those recommendations. If a report commanding a 75 per cent. majority within the Assembly were presented to this House, and the Secretary of State had to report that the proposal did not have cross-community support, and that not one of the minority Members elected to the Assembly had voted for it, this House would be placed in a very difficult position. Leaving the 70 per cent. majority in the Bill presents a danger of creating two types of report from the Assembly. Any proposal that has a 70 per cent. majority or more will inevitably carry weight because it has met the superficial criteria laid down by Parliament, yet it may not have met the more important criteria of cross-community support.

I urge the Secretary of State to examine paragraph (a) again and to consider dispensing with it. We shall be tabling an amendment to that effect, so we shall be able to discuss the matter much more thoroughly in Committee.

It will not help the right hon. Gentleman in his lucubrations on his prospective amendments—[Interruption.] I am told that is an Irish word. It will not help him if he simply moves to leave out paragraph (a), because the effect will be that the Secretary of State will then exercise his discretion privately and negatively, and no proposal will come before the House. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes the House itself, on the motion of the Secretary of State, to take a view on the matter of widespread acceptance, he will need more far-reaching amendments—which I am sure could be debated—to the Bill. Perhaps he will not mind my pointing that out to him.

I am willing to accept advice on these matters. In due course, we shall be moving amendments that will have the purpose of removing the 70 per cent. and leaving the matter of cross-community support in the hands of the Secretary of State.

The provisions in clause 2 do not meet with our entire approval. Should we ever reach the stage when the House considers that powers can be devolved to Northern Ireland, we think that a single Order in Council, which cannot be amended, and which may be taken late at night, is a very inadequate instrument through which to pass powers back to Northern Ireland. It is not practicable to propose that each power be devolved by Act of Parliament, but we should like some assurances from the Secretary of State that adequate time and attention will be given by the House to the devolution proposals.

Two possibilities spring to mind. First, if and when an Order in Council is made to devolve power, it will be more sensible if it contains provisions relating to a single Department. We can then have separate discussions on devolving powers under, say, agriculture and commerce, rather than having the two lumped together in a single order. Similarly, if and when all transferred functions are to be devolved, we think it would be wise to deal with them on the basis of one Department at a time. The House would then have an opportunity to assess fully the implications of devolving powers under each Department.

Secondly, there may be scope here for developing a new procedure to consider proposals for a draft Order in Council. If the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has any advice on this area, I shall be glad to look at it closely. I have been trying to find a solution that would enable this House to have a much greater say in or control over the devolution of power, other than by order.

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and much complimented by his reference to me. However, there is a difficulty attaching to his suggestion that only one Department should be dealt with at a time by any one order. Indeed, there is an opposite difficulty, a deeper difficulty, in the Bill, namely, what is to be the relationship, under partial devolution, between the heads and the policies of the separate devolved Departments, since they will all be treated—so we heard from the Secretary of State this afternoon—as a group for the purposes of financial allocation?

We had better try to think of something else that might be helpful to the House. The legal advisers will have to start looking at the proposals for draft Orders in Council. At present, the proposals for a draft order are printed, and written objections are invited. I was wondering whether the matter could be dealt with by an appropriate Committee of the House of Commons. I do not think that the Northern Ireland Committee is the appropriate one, but possibly a Committee could be set up to consider the proposals for a draft order to suspend parts of direct rule. It would expand the opportunities for discussion and amendment on such an important issue. I should be interested to hear the Secretary of State's views on that matter. It would appear, from the debate on the White Paper, that many hon. Members would regard the all-in-one or take-it-or-leave-it basis of an Order in Council as an unsatisfactory way of devolving power to Northern Ireland.

We do not have many objections to clause 3. As I said during the debate on the White Paper, there may be considerable merits in having a Northern Ireland Assembly which can make its views known, even if powers are never devolved. However, I wish to stress again that there are dangers in allowing the Assembly to turn into a talking shop which simply institutionalises the political differences in the Province. To avoid that, the Secretary of State must be prepared to take a great deal of notice of what the Assembly says, even if it is in direct conflict with his Government's policies.

During the debate on the White Paper I asked what the Secretary of State will do if the Assembly makes it clear that it does not wish a particular piece of legislation to be introduced in Northern Ireland. I did not receive an adequate answer to that question during the ministerial reply. The Secretary of State should tell the House today what will be the priorities in such a situation. What is the status of the opinion of the Assembly prior to devolution? Will the Secretary of State put the views of the Assembly before Government policies? The people of Northern Ireland, who will be electing Assembly Members, have a right to know the answers to those questions.

We have said before that in several areas the Bill fails to cater for the political realities of Northern Ireland. One such failure concerns the lack of any reference to the Irish dimension. The White Paper contained a few derisory paragraphs and the Bill contains nothing. The Government clearly recognise that there are two nationalist identities in Northern Ireland. One group, the majority at the moment, prefers membership of the United Kingdom, while the other group would prefer its section of the country to be part of the Irish Republic. The two identities are there. Ignoring them will not make them go away.

Furthermore, we should never forget that while Northern Ireland is presently part of the United Kingdom, it has a land border with the Irish Republic. The two parts of Ireland do have a common interest in matters of energy, commerce, culture and, as the Secretary of State mentioned, security. There are many ideas which can and should be shared.

We should like to see provision in the Bill for the Assembly to establish a committee to deal solely with matters relating to the Irish Republic. Such a committee would be able to have joint discussions with the relevant authorities in the Irish Republic, and, as a result, could make recommendations to the Assembly. If such a committee were established under direct rule it could supplement the work of the Northern Ireland Ministers. Under devolution, it could make suggestions to the Executive.

Section 12 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 provides for the devolved executive authority to take part in consultations and agreements with the Irish Republic. In the absence of any devolution, we believe that elected representatives in Northern Ireland should talk about matters of common concern with the Irish Republic. We therefore ask the Secretary of State if he will consider making provisions for such a committee rather than leaving the decision to the Assembly under clause 1(3).

I turn to clause 4. Once again we ask the Secretary of State a question which was posed under clause 3. What will be the status of reports from Assembly committees? What course of action will the Secretary of State take if one or other of those Committees makes an outright condemnation of Government policies in a certain area? In short, is he prepared to act against the elected representatives of Northern Ireland? That is a question that needs a clear answer.

I have referred to some of those sections in the Bill which cause disquiet on the Opposition Benches. There are many more points that I wish to raise, but they can wait for the Committee stage of the Bill. We do not intend to divide the House on Second Reading. As I have said before, the Bill, in spite of its inadequacies in certain areas, is broadly in concert with our policy of devolving power back to Northern Ireland. Rolling devolution might be all right. The Opposition are very wary of creeping back to Stormont. So, in the coming stages, our intention is to strengthen the Bill so that we can get the maximum of the cross-community support necessary for devolution.

If, however, the House divides on the amendment, we shall not support such an attempt to wreck the Bill. For the reasons that I have just given, I shall advise my right lion. and hon. Friends to vote against the amendment.

4.44 pm

I beg to move,

That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which lacks broad support in Northern Ireland, does nothing to achieve the defeat of terrorism or to revive the economy of the Province, and contains provisions which, if enacted, would undermine the unity of the Kingdom.
The supporters of the amendment include my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) who was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office. The fact that the speech of the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) was heard by only two Labour Back Benchers in this important debate, will he noted by the House and by the country.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) must not regard the number of members on the Opposition Benches as anything more than a sign of the quiet confidence in which they hold their Front Bench spokesmen. It is quality, not quantity, that counts on the Labour side.

I still believe that on such an important Bill relating to the future of Northern Ireland we might have expected hon. Gentlemen to be in attendance in considerable numbers. The speech of the right hon. Member for Mansfield appeared to be constructive, but it came out extremely critical in detail.

It gives me no pleasure to be at variance with my right hon. Friends on the Government Bench. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dislikes any comparison being made with the Falkland Islands, but that comparison was made by Ulster people long before he became Secretary of State.

In the month before the Argentine aggression, I wrote in the Belfast News Letter of
"policy makers who impatiently resent the insistence of Falkland Islanders and Gibraltarians that they are British. They regard the Northern Ireland loyalists as a bore."
Lord George-Brown, when at the Foreign Office, tried to surrender the Falklands, but we stopped that. A Foreign and Commonwealth Office official connected with these matters told Airey Neave and me that he was "neutral on the Union". No wonder Galtieri believed that it would be nothing but a regatta. No wonder the IRA has persevered for a period longer than the two World Wars. The IRA can read White Papers, and its often flagging hopes have been revived by every political initiative taken since, and including, the prorogation of the Stormont Parliament which is now cited in support of devolution by those who abolished it. The IRA can read, and it reads in the Bill the differentiation and distancing of Northern Ireland from Great Britain. We should be doing everything we can to strengthen the Union in which we believe.

The Bill and the White Paper damn the Union with faint praise. Whether in the South Atlantic or in Northern Ireland—my right hon. Friend mentioned the sacrifice in Northern Ireland—we pay in blood and treasure for the impressions that we give. Both areas are of prime strategic importance. Without the Ulster ports, Hitler would have won the second battle of the Atlantic and, in Churchill's words, would have confronted us with "slavery and death". NATO thinks and must think in terms of a possible third battle of the Atlantic.

I wish to compliment my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues on the Treasury Bench on their unremitting efforts to shield a hard-hit Province from the worst effects of the recession and to bring in investment. But my right hon. Friend regards political stability and, therefore, the Bill as going hand in hand with economic recovery and the defeat of terrorism. It is the contention of those who have set their hand to the reasoned amendment that the Bill will not make for that political stability and is more likely to provoke terrorism than to reduce it. Any suggestion that direct rule—that is the present system of government—is inherently unstable can only deter the investors that Ministers are courting. It contradicts the message of the films that some of us had the privilege of seeing recently which were made to demonstrate the normality of most of the Province most of the time.

The Secretary of State from time to time describes direct rule as "everyone's second choice", but agreement on a second best seems better than no agreement. With all its defects, direct rule has wider acquiescence in Northern Ireland than the devolved government that preceded it.

In 1979 the Northern Ireland Attitude Survey of Queen's University, Belfast, revealed that 92 per cent. of Roman Catholics wanted
"Laws in Northern Ireland to be as far as possible … the same as laws in the rest of the United Kingdom."
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gets restive if I quote public opinion polls. I assure him that I agree that they are not infallible, but they are indicative when they follow a pattern. An NOP survey screened by Ulster Television on 12 February gave not merely the Union, but full integration, as acceptable to 80 per cent. of Protestants and 45 per cent. of Roman Catholics. An earlier MORI poll, published, and grossly misinterpreted, by The Sunday Times on 8 June last year, gave a figure of 39 per cent. of Roman Catholics, as against the 45 per cent. in the NOP survey in February.

It is demonstrably foolish and mischievous to identify the Roman Catholic community with the Republican cause. That is not surprising when, for so long, members of that community have been the victims—terrorised, exploited and oppressed by gangsters, in the name of a united Ireland, or, rather, an all-Ireland Socialist Republic which would be about as Irish as Cuba.

Part 3 of the White Paper relating to "The Two Identities" is incomplete—indeed, misleading. The phrase in the Bill
"widespread acceptance throughout the community"
lacks precision. I am not quite clear what it means. The assumption in the Bill is that whatever opinion polls or right hon. and hon. Members may say, devolved government, as distinct from administrative devolution, which amply obtains in Scotland and Wales and should amply obtain in Northern Ireland, is what the people of the Province want.

One of my favourite newspapers in Northern Ireland is the Impartial Reporter and Farmers' Journal of Enniskillen. It is a moderate Unionist paper, which is much read across the frontier in the border counties of Eire.

A leading article on 29 April stated:

"The 'rolling devolution' scheme has fallen on stoney ground, with little prospect of fertilisation and eventual fruition."
Referring to the Assembly, it says:
"'A talking shop' is one description, but a very expensive one at that, as the election is estimated to cost in the region of £750,000 which could probably be spent to better account elsewhere in the Province, on housing for example. All the principal political parties have given Mr. Prior's plan the 'thumbs down'. The Official Unionists see no future in it; SDLP say it is unworkable; DUP are mainly against it, but find some parts acceptable and are willing to go into the election. Only the smallest party, Alliance, which is unlikely to have much strength in its representation, has shown any favour in the plan."
There is an addition to make. I hope that my right hon. Friend takes comfort from the support of the Workers Party.

What is the good of saying that political parties want devolved government when they want it in forms which are mutually exclusive? My right hon. Friend repeated today that he wants a local forum for politicians. I suppose that that is job creation of a sort, but Northern Ireland is the size of Yorkshire and has a population of 1½ million. Surely, if local government were properly constituted, with safeguards, and there were an enlarged representation in the House—and Ulster's representation in the House of Lords also needs attention—plus three seats in the European Assembly, that should give even the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) enough scope.

Why do Ministers close options? Why have they set their faces against giving much more power to district councils? Why do they mind filling the Macrory gap in the local government structure which was left after the removal of the Northern Ireland Parliament and which was to have played the dual role of legislature and upper tier of local government?

If, as members of the SDLP commonly point out, injustice to the minority is feared, the Secretary of State has sticks and carrots to cure abuses, bash bigotry and allay those fears. We are often told about the enormities of the Lisburn borough council, but the council should not have been allowed to get away with that. We would not condemn English local government because of Mr. Ken Livingstone and Mr. Ted Knight.

But does my hon. Friend agree that, while councils are behaving like that, we would not want to give them extra powers, which is what he is advocating?

In accordance with the principle of rolling devolution, we could give councils powers according to their willingness and capability to use them. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has the power to deal with recalcitrant local authorities. For one thing, he has the money.

In many districts, Nationalist and Unionist councillors work well together. I pay tribute to the SDLP for being responsible for bringing that about in many cases. It is in local government that power sharing is feasible, appropriate and acceptable.

It would help us if the Secretary of State would say that, if the Assembly were found incapable of undertaking the functions that could be transferred to it under the Bill, the Assembly could be transformed into a regional or provincial council, playing a local government rather than central government role, perhaps analogous to the Strathclyde regional council—that may give some pleasure to Labour Members—which has been the subject of study in the Official Unionist Party. But here I am stepping perilously close to the bad taste of mentioning the general election manifesto of the Conservative and Unionist Party.

However, may I ask Conservative Ministers to refer now and again to the passage in that manifesto on Northern Ireland? Airey Neave is emblazoned in this Chamber and we might profit from his wisdom. In the "absence of devolved Government", to quote the manifesto, will my right hon. Friend not dishonour an election pledge, but proceed to implement it? It would help us if we could have an answer before the end of the debate.

My hon. Friend asked whether, if the Assembly did not work, we could transform it into a provincial assembly on the lines of local government, and he mentioned the Strathclyde regional council. The answer is that all the problems that we would have with devolved government—for example ensuring that there was minority representation—would exist with a provincial assembly dealing with the sort of problems to which my hon. Friend referred. We would have the same problems with both sorts of Assembly. That is the truth on that point. I have looked at this to see whether there was some way that we could do it. It is nonsense that the only powers possessed by local government at the moment are those of refuse collection and recreation. On the other hand, as soon as one embarks on a programme of giving additional powers, one runs into all the difficulties that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) has accepted. The second point he raises concerns the manifesto. The manifesto starts by saying:

"In the absence of devolved government".
I personally believe that, by seeking devolved government, we are not in any way going against our manifesto. I believe that this is abundantly clear.

In that case, I should like to know how long we must wait for this devolved government to come about. If there were agreement on sufficient scale in Northern Ireland and if the main elements in Northern Ireland politics were to come forward with a scheme of devolved government that they wanted, then, although we might have our reservations about the future of the Union and about what might happen in Scotland and Wales, we would have to accept what they wanted. But surely my right hon. Friend does not believe that this will happen. To set about trying to devolve central government powers without placing the minority in jeopardy is as difficult an operation as, or more difficult an operation than, trying to do the same in the sphere of local government.

Will the hon. Gentleman remind the Secretary of State and the House that the existing district councils, in their consultative and advisory character, exercise wide functions within the Department of the Environment where their advice is almost invariably accepted by the Department? That is substantial evidence that such extended functions would be exercised in the same co-operative manner as are the functions directly and legislatively conferred upon the district councils.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that I need to remind my right hon. Friend of the words that came from the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman.

I have another question that I should like to put to the Government Front Bench. The Minister who is to reply can perhaps define what is meant by "cross-community" support or acceptability in the context of the 70 per cent. of Assembly Members required to agree on the exercise of powers and formation of an Administration as set out in paragraph 43 of the White Paper. For 12 years, I have spoken on Unionist platforms in favour of a separat ton of the Orange Order from the Unionist Party and the bringing forward of Roman Catholics in that party. I have had the presumption to do that, and I have been allowed to say it, which speaks volumes for the patience, restraint and tolerance of Unionists in Northern Ireland.

History and terrorism make this much easier for someone like myself to recommend than for it to be achieved. Nevertheless, let us suppose that a Unionist Party or group of parties were to return 70 per cent. representation made up of Catholic and Protestant Unionists perhaps in proportion to Catholics and Protestants in the Province. Does my right hon. Friend or the Government apprehend that Parliament would entrust those Unionists with devolved government? If the answer is "No", I say that this is one more way in which the Bill and the White Paper would have the effect of perpetuating a divided community.

It is my understanding—the Secretary of State may be able to enlighten us—that not only would Unionist Roman Catholics be unacceptable for the purposes of "cross-community consent", but that Roman Catholic Alliance Members would not be acceptable. In other words, they have to be Republican Roman Catholics.

This fills me with greater gloom and despondency about the Bill. Why should we say that "cross-community consent" means the agreement of Republicans and Unionists? This is the division that we should be trying to avoid in all that we endeavour to do for Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. No encouragement is given to those Roman Catholics who increasingly favour the Union. I do not mean that they necessarily favour any Unionist party. However, they favour increasingly the Union and, more than that, full integretion of Northern Ireland within the Union.

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to an opinion poll which suggested that a majority of Protestants and Roman Catholics wish to see integration with the United Kingdom. Like my hon. Friend, I have doubts about opinion polls. Does he recognise that the same opinion poll, taken on the same day, answered by the same respondents, as the sociologists so trendily call them, produced a majority of 75 per cent. of Protestants and 67 per cent. of Catholics who wished Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom with its own power-sharing Assembly?

I had not intended to spend too long on this point, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for completing the story. That shows that a large majority not only of Protestants, but of Catholics, favour the British link, whereas 45 per cent., slightly less than half the Catholic minority, favour the solution that my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself favour on the Northern Ireland constitutional question.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I shall be much briefer this time. If my hon. Friend accepts the logic of the first set of answers that were given, he must accept the logic of the second set, which is that the majority of people, both Roman Catholic and Prostestant, wish to see a devolved Assembly within the Province.

The difficulty is that there is not sufficient agreement on the form of devolved government and the powers that would reside with the devolved Assembly. What there is agreement upon in large measure is the Union. There is considerable support for what may be the second choice of many people. It seems therefore, that this is something that might work, rather than the Bill, which, where it is not futile, is dangerous.

The hon. Gentleman has referred to a series of poll results in Northern Ireland. We who represent Northern Ireland and who live there are only too well aware that polls and elections produce completely different results. I should like to believe what the hon. Gentleman is trying to persuade himself is the case—that many Catholics believe in constitutional changes. How does the hon. Gentleman explain the two by-election results in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the first of which almost the entire Catholic population voted for a Republican on hunger strike? It may be argued that this was done for emotional reasons. However, in the second by-election, the same Roman Catholic majority—almost 100 per cent. of it—voted for a Member of Parliament who does not even attend this House. It has to be remembered that there was an Alliance candidate who was a constitutionalist candidate. The result would not seem to support the view put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman will agree that this was an exceptional election in exceptional circumstances in an exceptional constituency. However, his remarks go to the root of the matter. Until we integrate and decide that there is one Parliament of this Realm and that what matters is who is elected to this House of Commons, the party politics of Northern Ireland will remain in this distorted condition. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), who always bears himself with dignity and honour, said that minority is best protected by Westminster. The minority in Northern Ireland might decide that that was the lesson of Stormont. If one goes back to the time when the Union between Great Britain and Ireland was made, it was then the Orange Order that wanted to keep a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people—and it was 100 per cent. Protestant in those days. Catholics generally supported the legislative Union with Great Britain because that Union was to be coupled with their emancipation and protection, and that eventually came about.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield deplored the absence of sufficient place for the Irish dimension in all this. May I say, in parentheses, that there were those in Ireland, like Mr. Haughey and Mr. Power today, who saw in the events of that time—the Napoleonic war—some spurious opportunity for Ireland in England's difficulty. At that time Dean Warburton gave as the opinion of moderate men in Ireland:
"It will be necessary to remove from this Kingdom the object of political contention, and they"—
the moderate men in Ireland—
"think if we have no parliament, we may have peace and security."
On 18 May 1920, Carson, stunned by the accusation that the Ulster Unionists sought an oppressive Protestant ascendancy, declared in the House of Commons:
"We have never asked to govern any Catholic. We are perfectly satisfied that all of them, Protestant and Catholic, should be governed from this Parliament"—[Official Report, 18 May 1920; Vol. 129, c. 1289.]
My right hon. Friend should not, by his understandable eagerness for his measure, divide his party and, what matters more, the country, on both sides of the sea. This is a time for Ministers to seek unity on both sides. In the great emergency of 1914 the House and the Government agreed to postpone proceedings on a Home Rule Bill. The Prime Minister then said:
"The issues of peace and war are hanging in the balance … it is of vital importance in the interests of the whole world that this country … should present a united front, and be able to speak and act with the authority of an undivided nation. If we were to proceed today with the first Order on the Paper,"—
that was the Government of Ireland (Amendment) Bill—
"we should inevitably, unless the Debate was conducted in an artificial tone, be involved in acute controversy in regard to domestic differences whose importance to ourselves no one in any quarter of the House is disposed to disparage or to belittle … We therefore propose to put off for the present the consideration of the Second Reading of the Amending Bill … In the meantime, the business which we shall take will be confined to necessary matters and will not be of a controversial character."—[Official Report, 30 July 1914; Vol. 65, c. 1601–2.]
Let Her Majesty's Government and the House emulate today the statesmanship of those who came before us in this place.

5.13 pm

Before we can express sensible views on the Bill, it needs to be set in its proper context. Some people discern a slight difficulty in Anglo-Irish relations, beginning with Strongbow, but why those folk ignore the kidnapping of St. Patrick is beyond me, other than the fact that that might well have put right on the side of the English.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) says the Welsh, but perhaps no one was too sure.

For the purposes of today's debate, we must start with the destruction of the Stormont Parliament by the House in a most shameful exercise in March 1972. The Bill is presented to us as a serious attempt to restore to the people of Northern Ireland some control over their own affairs. As most people in the Province proclaim their desire to have such control, and as successive Governments have proclaimed their desire to grant that control, an outside observer could be well excused for wondering how bedlam has been the only result of the efforts made to date.

The reason for the continuing turmoil is simple. It revolves around the question not of the return of power to the people of Northern Ireland, but of who will wield that power when it is returned, and to what purpose the hands wielding the power will direct its force.

In this part of the United Kingdom the basic political divisions revolve around the control of the ownership of wealth, simply because in normal circumstances that is the single biggest issue of the society here. Sometimes, as at the moment, another issue acquires an importance that supersedes the economic questions of the day. Then, as last Thursday, there is a political effect. We do not know yet how fleeting that effect will be or how long it will endure in the politics of Great Britain, but there is, and has been, an effect as a result of the invasion of our group of islands in the South Atlantic. It had an effect here on the voting patterns in the recent local authority elections.

The most important political question for the people of Northern Ireland has always been whether there shall be a political united Ireland ruled from Dublin or the continuance of the United Kingdom as it is at present constituted. A backwash from that issue was displayed last week by the Government of the Irish Republic over the Falklands. I feel sure that the Dublin view of geographical position of territory rather than an adherence to the wishes of the inhabitants of that territory coloured the view of the Government of the Republic last week.

In Ulster, the political parties, as elsewhere, reflect the political divisions of the Province. In power, all political parties must work for the objectives for which they were elected and work towards those long-term objectives, regardless of what temporary agreements there might be in any coalition. If politicians are not prepared to work for the political objectives on which they were elected, to carry out the manifestos on which they were elected, and fail to carry out the duties imposed on them by those manifestos, they cannot and will not survive.

Successive Governments here seem to have acted as if they did not understand the realities of political life in Northern Ireland. At times, even past Northern Ireland Governments became infected by the strange madness that proclaimed that if only the minority viewpoint was given credibility by office, all would be well. In seeking what is now called, for the sake of politeness, cross-community support we had, some years ago, a politician from the Northern Ireland Labour Party, Mr. Bleakley as Minister for Community Relations. He was able to stay only for six months, from April to October 1971. I notice that the Secretary of State proposes to restore this power to his hands, or to the hands of the proposed Assembly in Northern Ireland.

We then had in office Dr. Newe, a Roman Catholic, who proclaimed that he was not a member of the Unionist Party, and who, we are assured, wanted friendlier relations between the two parts of Ireland. These measures were, as history proved, not sufficient to deal with the problem that they were intended to deal with. The daftness reached its zenith, or seemed to, under the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) when he created the Sunningdale power-sharing system. May 1974 proved that a rootless growth cannot survive a storm, and down it crashed at the first opposition. Let no one doubt that if the structure that was erected had had the support of people on the ground it would have survived, but it did not survive.

It is inconceivable that the rulers of this country did not understand those matters. Nor is it conceivable that they would have been tried if the commonly-accepted reason for the destruction of the 1920 Stormont Parliament were the real reason. Perhaps I should remind the House that the commonly-accepted reason was that the Northern Ireland Government were doing a poor security job. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), speaking in the debate in March 1972 on the destruction of Stormont, lamented the fact that between the coming of internment in August 1971 and that date, 220 people had died in Ulster. The latest available figure is 2,199. The measures taken by the House in March 1972 to deal with security have not been a screaming success. They have been almost a total failure, because the IRA is still killing people. In the past month it has killed five people in my constituency of Londonderry.

The end result of that alleged security initiative makes me sick and angry. I feel the same way when I hear Ministers whining to us, as they have during the years, about the economic position in Ulster and asking us to do something about it by surrendering our principles—which is what it comes down to—on power sharing. We and those who preceded us did something about it 10 to 12 years ago. We warned the House about the results that would flow from the policies then being pursued, and. I regret that we were not proved wrong.

The Government did not believe us then, nor did successive Governments. They will not listen to us today. They did not act on our advice about security and they did not seem to understand that the security position would have a backwash effect on investment and jobs, which has proved to be the fact. Any security committee set up to give advice would have its advice treated in the same way as the previous advice that we have given, because the Government would say to the members of that security committee, whether in the Assembly or outside, that it is all very well for them to give advice, but they do not have responsibility and are therefore acting irresponsibly. There is no getting away from that political fact of life. It follows as surely as day follows night that the Government must say that, if they disagree with the advice given on security, or on any other matter.

The security policy has not destroyed the capacity of the IRA to commit acts of terrorism, and we have had too much proof of that in recent weeks. Instead, we are confronted today with the miserable nonsense that the communities in which IRA members live must expel them. I wonder whether anyone saying such things really understands what life is like in the Creggan estate, the Bogside or in parts of West Belfast. It is not the responsibility of unarmed, intimidated and terrorised civilians in any community to cut out the terrorist cancer. The law-abiding in such communities suffer more, than most from the attentions of the terrorists. How many people have the IRA murdered in the past year or two because they were alleged to be informers? It does not matter to the IRA whether they are informers or not. All that matters is that it has spilled blood and, therefore, by that action, increased the pressure on and terror of those who might otherwise be prepared to give information.

The rulers have the duty to use the civil sword to restrain evildoers, and no excuse can hide their continuing failure. The security policy has not evolved in the way that it should have done and would have done if the overriding consideration when getting rid of Stormont had been the military defeat of the terrorist.

That means that we must look elsewhere for the real reason for the destruction of Stormont. Strangely enough, the real reason was set out for us in the same statement that declared that security policy and control of security was the issue. It is contained in the statement made to the House by the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), on 24 March 1972. He said:
"We have made repeated attempts with all concerned to find an agreed solution to the problems of Northern Ireland."
He went on to say:
"We made it plain that in the British Government's view new and more radical measures were necessary if there was to be any prospect of breaking out of this deadlock."
In the next column, he said that the late Brian Faulkner had told the Government that he could not accept proposals about the implementation of security. However, that was only a smokescreen which was used by the Government for the final point on the issue of finding an agreed solution, which was that the transfer of responsibility for security from Northern Ireland to the House would be
"an indispensable condition for progress in finding a political solution in Northern Ireland."
Clearly, the Northern Ireland Government could not, in the conditions that then prevailed in Ulster, accept the loss of security powers. After they lost them, they would simply be helpless bystanders in the slaughter of the citizens they were elected to defend. However, the real cat came out of the bag with the use of the words that I have just been quoting and by the following.

The then Prime Minister said:
"The Northern Ireland Government's decision therefore leaves them"—
that is, the Government—
"with no alternative to assuming full and direct responsibility for the administration of Northern Ireland until a political solution to the problems of the Province can be worked out in consultation with all those concerned."
He then went on to say that the immediate proposals
"do not in themselves constitute a lasting solution for the problems of Northern Ireland. We remain determined to find means of ensuring for the minority as well as the majority community an active permanent and guaranteed role in the life and public affairs of the Province."
The right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) said in the same debate:
"This is now the occasion for a set conference and all-party talks between all parties here and all elected parties in Stormont, and the fullest programme of consultations with all the Irish parties in the Dail."
In other words, the statement made on that occasion contained all the necessary ingredients to bake up the Sunningdale system and, in the light of developments since then, the real reason for the destruction of the Stormont system of government was not the security position but the installation and creation of a power-sharing regime in Northern Ireland.

That course was not embarked upon lightly, casually or in haste. The right hon. Member for Sidcup said:
"But what we are now doing as a deliberate act of policy is setting out to lower the tension and to reduce the violence and counter-violence in an attempt to achieve a lasting settlement."—[Official Report, 24 March 1972; Vol. 833, c. 1859–73.]
The power-sharing policy, unpalatable, rejected, despised and unworkable though it has been, has been followed consistently since that day, not by chance, but as a deliberate act of policy embarked upon by the right hon. Gentleman and his Government at that time. It was embarked upon in order to bring about a lasting—that is, a permanent—solution to the problems of Northern Ireland.

If power sharing is to bring about its stated end, it cannot be between people who are low down in the Northern Ireland Government structure. It has to be at the highest level. It has to be, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim South (Mr. Molyneaux), between Unionists and Republicans. It is not a question of its being between Unionists and some Roman Catholics or between Protestants and Roman Catholics; it has to be between Unionists and Republicans. That is the deciding factor. I will come to the 70 per cent. in a moment or two.

If the power-sharing regime is to be effective it must have a coercive force. Without that element of coercion no Unionist and no Unionist Party will ever go down the path which leads clearly to a united Ireland and to the permanent solution for Ulster of Dublin rule over a politically united Ireland. Some will say that coercive force is not present, but it is present. It is simply that all that the Republicans will have to do, especially under the rolling devolution system that is proposed, is to walk out. By that action the whole thing collapses around everybody's ears. That is the coercive force that will be used against the majority political parties in Northern Ireland if this operation ever gets under way.

If power sharing is not the desired end, there is no reason at all why all the powers that the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament could have retained in 1972—all the powers that they had except security—could not have been put back into the hands of the people of Northern Ireland at any point between that day and this. There was no reason why it should not have been restored, and restored under the same system of majority role that had pertained up to that point. The fact that it has not been done proves the case that I am making. Not only those powers, but also the lesser system proposed in the Conservative Party manifesto for the last general election, have been deliberately withheld. All the systems proposed by Governments down the years have been for powers and control of functions for less than that which Brian Faulkner and his Government refused to consider as worth keeping as a devolved Parliament in Northern Ireland.

It has always been clear that no Government intend to restore security powers if they can avoid it. If it is at all possible they intend to keep any effective control of security out of the hands and the knowledge of the people of Northern Ireland. One of the great difficulties that we all find is that we cannot have the detailed knowledge of security policy and security action and intelligence in order to make the balanced judgment that has to be made. Therefore, the Secretary of State should not be surprised whenever we complain, because there is no way in which any hon. Member for Northern Ireland can take any responsibility for the security situation in the Province unless we have control and power to direct the security forces within it.

Faced with the problems that were thrown up by the demise of the 1920 Stormont parliamentary system, Northern Ireland politicians reacted in many different ways as to how they would maintain the Union. After having given the matter some thought, on 28 March 1972 the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) said:
"I am not an opponent of direct rule—by no means. By that I mean I support the full integration of Northern Ireland within the rest of the United Kingdom. To me it is far better to have full direct rule—full in the democratic sense—than a sham Parliament at Stormont."
Later, he said:
"I have been criticised by Unionists for holding these views, but I hold them firmly, and I am of the conviction that the best future for Northern Ireland is to be fully integrated within the United Kingdom. I do not believe that a local Stormant Parliament can preserve the union as strongly as if we were fully within the United Kingdom. Then there would be one people with one Parliament."—[Official Report, 28 March 1972: Vol. 834, c. 282.]
On 24 March 1972 the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said:
"Will he tell us why this Government, having accepted that the citizens of Northern Ireland are part and parcel of the United Kingdom, will not completely integrate Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom?"—[Official Report, 24 March 1972; Vol. 833, c. 1871.]
On 28 March 1972 he said:
"The House should face the reality that Stormont is a thing of the past. It is no use Unionists thinking that by some way or other Stormont will return, because I am afraid Ichabod has been written over it and the glory has departed."
He went on to say:
"face the reality that Stormont the way it was will not be returning. Having faced that reality, we must look to see what doors lie ahead for the people of Ulster."
The hon. Gentleman also had some good advice for the people of Ulster at about the same time when he said:
"'the voice and the advice of Mr. Craig are the voice and the advice of folly. Anarchy cannot be answered by more anarchy; lawlessness cannot be answered by more lawlessness'. Any responsible member of the public who says that the Protestant community should make Northern Ireland ungovernable is playing into the hands of the enemies of the Ulster people."
He also said:
"the people who took part in strikes seeking UDI want to make Northern Ireland ungovernable or want to call the Leader of the House and Secretary of State designate a traitor."—[Official Report, 28 March 1972; Vol. 834, c. 340–43.]
No one should think the people who took part wanted to do that.

The views expressed by the hon. Member for Antrim, North were the settled views of his party at that time. When speaking on the same subject, in the Stormont Parliament, on 28 March 1972 Rev. Beattie said:
"we have to be realists because if Parliament is returned"—
that is the Stormont Parliament—
"it will be returned on conditions unacceptable to many hon. Members and unacceptable to the Protestant majority in our country. … My hon. Friend the Member for Bann Side"—
who is the hon. Member for Antrim, North in this House—
"and myself have been taking a line on this matter and we have advocated that if the powers of this Parliament are to be interfered with then Westminster should fully integrate us within the United Kingdom."
Later, he said that if Stormont was to continue as a pruned Parliament, the only viable proposal was full integration within the United Kingdom.

The House will gather from what has been said since and from what I have said, that there has been some slight shift of ground since then by some people. However, let the House clearly understand that the Ulster Unionist Party has always sought the return of a devolved Parliament on acceptable, democratic terms. We are not interested in rigged Governments, Parliaments, elections or systems of election that we have to suffer under. If the Secretary of State cares to read up the debates for 1972, he will find that proportional representation was brought in in order to help the Alliance Party. It does not seem to have done very much for it.

It is against that background that we place in the balance all the various schemes for devolution that have so far been put before us. On every occasion the Unionist population of Northern Ireland has found them wanting. We have asked for the Stormont type of devolution and we have constantly been offered the Sunningdale system. In the Bill as it is constituted the Frankenstein's corpse of Sunningdale is being stitched together—perhaps I should say, in the light of the words used by the Secretary of State when he met us on 8 March at Stormont Castle, cobbled together. It has been put back on the life-support machine. This time the Secretary of State has made it perfectly plain that he intends to keep switching the machine off and on, regardless of life being clinically extinct. Every time the cobbler arms himself with office and with the prestige and patronage that office can bring, and manages to recreate the 70 per cent. cross-community group, the switch will go down. Every time the Republicans walk out, the s w itch will go up. We will not have rolling devolution, we will have yo-yo devolution.

May I turn briefly to paragraph 43 and the 70 per cent. that has given the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) some difficulty? I can assure him that that difficulty is widespread in Northern Ireland as well. I think that I can help the right hon. Gentleman and those in Ulster who are misled by it. A careful reading of paragraphs (a) and (b) will show that the only difference between 70 per cent. and a majority of less than 70 per cent. is that the Secretary of State has to lay the matter before the House if there is a 70 per cent. majority, but can forget all about it if the majority is less than 70 per cent. Whether the figure is 50 per cent. plus one or 90 per cent. there must be cross-community support. That is the only difference.

I assure the right hon. Member for Mansfield that the figure of 70 per cent. is purely a smokescreen to make people think that a 70 per cent. Unionist vote is good enough. It is not. A careful reading of those two paragraphs will quickly reveal that. The Secretary of State will recall that at that meeting on 8 March we expressed opposition to the 70 per cent. system of cross-community support. The Secretary of State will recall that we were surprised to hear both from him and his officials that he had previously read out that proposal to all the other Northern Ireland political delegations that had gone to see him. I also recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) had to ask him what he was reading from. My hon. Friend was then told that the Secretary of State was reacting from a draft of the White Paper. When the Secretary of State read that to the other political parties did he say where it came from? Whenever I mention this matter in Northern Ireland I am told that nothing was read out to the others. That is an important point and I hope that the Minister will clear it up. On that occasion, we went into the matter quite deeply.

I am not one of those who subscribe to the conspiracy theory of history. Surely the hon. Gentleman recognises that the Secretary of State was more open in his discussions in the Province during the period leading up to the publication of the White Paper than any hon. Member has been in the past 10 years. My right hon. Friend should be paid due compliment and should not be insulted in that way.

Of course I accept what the Under-Secretary says. I merely asked whether that paper had been read to the other political delegations before 8 March, when it was read to us. If it was read to them, were they told what it was? That is the point at issue and it needs to be answered. Did the other delegations understand it? Given the reaction throughout the Province since then, it would seem that they did not.

As the Secretary of State has not answered the hon. Gentleman's point immediately, perhaps I can make some useful comment. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the Secretary of State has been more open with his party than with some others. Indeed, he was willing to address the executive and to go up lanes to give details to members of the party. Nothing was mentioned to us in any detail before the Official Unionist Party put out the minutes of a meeting in which the details were made known. The White Paper was not read to us before then. Indeed, at that time I asked the Secretary of State—outside the House—whether he had the draft of the White Paper and he said that it was not even ready.

The House will understand why my party attaches importance to that point. Perhaps the Secretary of State will consult his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State so that he can give us the facts from the Dispatch Box. Others who were present might want to interrupt me about what happened on that occasion. It is an important point in Northern Ireland. The validity and accuracy of the statements made have been called into question and the situation cannot be allowed to go on.

No doubt some in Northern Ireland believe that if a few Roman Catholics from the Alliance Party are involved in the cross-community support it will satisfy the Secretary of State. I do not believe that. He will not be satisfied that a few Roman Catholic politicians from the Alliance Party are sound evidence of cross-community support. Others believe that if we could find a few of those who are sometimes, insultingly, referred to as castle Catholics or—even more insultingly—as tame taigs, the necessary degree of cross-community support would be evident. I do not believe that nonsense either.

Only an acceptance of Republicans at the highest levels of the executive in any body that is set up will be accepted as cross-community support. I am not sure whether the Republicans will include only the SDLP or whether they will have to include the offical IRA's representatives, republican clubs or whatever they are called. However, there is no doubt that Republicans of some sort or another will have to be involved to provide an acceptable level of cross-community support.

Devolution in Northern Ireland will work only if there is a commitment to and acceptance by the Government of the democratic system. A prominent former Member of Parliament, Sir Winston Churchill, once said of democracy that it might not be the best principle, but it was the only one that we had found so far. If that principle is not accepted in Northern Ireland as it is in Britain, we shall never find a system that will instil confidence in the Province and that will have any hope of ultimate success.

In the convention report the Unionist parties had to face that fact of life. They went as far as possible while still remaining within the bounds of what was accepted as democracy. Today, the Government can decide whether to accept the democratic principle or to fail in their present effort. The motions before us are a fairly accurate reflection of the beliefs held. The Bill must be changed. In order to do so we must take the Sunningdale corpse back to the operating theatre for major surgery—which would pretty well disembowel it—and it must undergo widespread plastic surgery if it is to be possible to meet the needs and hopes of the people of Northern Ireland.

Today, the Secretary of State said that direct rule was the second option. I cannot understand why so many politicians talk of direct rule as the second option. It is not. It might be the third or fourth option, or the last option before a United Ireland, but it is not the second option. The second option is probably some form of local government reform.

The Secretary of State said that if direct rule continued, it would deny the minority the opportunity to achieve its objectives. Whether or not the right hon. Gentleman was aware of it, the minority that he spoke of is a Republican minority. The right hon. Gentleman was really saying that if the House did anything to tie the Province more tightly into the United Kingdom or did anything to put the Union beyond question—by permanent total integration, or by the restoration of a democratic form of devolution at Stormont—it would deny the Republicans their ultimate objective of a united Ireland. Of course, that is where I began. That is the point at issue and the point that successive Governments and our political masters in Ulster have apparently failed to grasp. If they do not grasp it, the present situation in Ulster will go on beyond the lifetimes of any of us.

Because none of us want that, because those who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland have been to too many funerals, because there are too many widows and we have seen too many of our friends killed and too many businesses blown up, we want to see something done that is sensible and solid. The only sensible course is a democratic course. It works here. It was good enough for the Government on the day when the Labour Government fell, when one-sixth of one per cent. was good enough. If it is good enough here, it is good enough for Ulster. If it is not good enough for Ulster it cannot be good enough for any other place.

The Secretary of State raised the question—perhaps unwisely—of direct representation to the House from Ulster. He drew attention to the 17 seats and said that they would remain. We do not have them yet. That process has not finished. The right hon. Gentleman said that those seats would remain until full devolution was achieved.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk about Northern Ireland having a higher than normal rate of representation with those 17 seats. That is incorrect. Seventeen is roughly the quota for Wales. Whenever proposals were made for the devolution Bills concerning Scotland and Wales, guarantees were given that representation from both Scotland and Wales would remain. Therefore, any case that the present Government or any future Government try to make for cutting down the 17 Ulster seats in future has been slain before they began to think about it.

Order. The speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) lasted 35 minutes. He is not the only member of his party who is trying to catch my eye. There is a long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak. Unless hon. Members make speeches of reasonable length, many hon. Members who wish to explain their position will be unable to do so.

5.53 pm

I shall take your comments to heart, Mr. Speaker. In addressing the House I am mindful of the fact that there is no other matter affects the people whom hon. Members from Ulster represent as much as constitutional change. Therefore, when we come to debate this subject it is essential that we do so thoughtfully and with the best of motives and intentions.

When looking at a change of system of government in Northern Ireland, the first essential is to consider the present system. One point that I have in common with the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) is that direct rule, despite the fact that the White Paper says that it has done so, has not served Northern Ireland well. It is not the second option of my colleagues.

We might come closer to the comment made by the Secretary of State that direct rule is tolerated, but it is not an option that we believe is to the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland. It is slow, evasive, unaccountable, unrepresentative and bureaucratic. As I have said that, hon. Members will guess that I am not in the fan club of direct rulers. It is accepted that local government, being bereft of power, and the small allocation of seats in the House, have left Northern Ireland people without proper democratic structures and representation. Therefore, that system must be ended and I look at any proposal with that at the back of my mind.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) intervened to say that local government, through the Department of the Environment, had the opportunity for a consultative role. He said that invariably its advice was accepted.

As a member of a district council for about six years, I can tell the House that that advice invariably is not heeded, and that on roads and planning matters invariably the Department goes its own way despite the unanimous wish of the council. Therefore, there is no democratic accountability for local government. I am happy to hear that the right hon. Gentleman may have had a more pleasant experience in South Down than I have had in East Belfast.

Economically, our Province is being destroyed by direct rule. In the matter of security it is being destroyed by direct rule. Direct rule has brought about changes in the Constitution that are to the detriment of Northern Ireland. Therefore, I wait impatiently for the time when the Stormont structure is returned to Northern Ireland and we have real and meaningful devolution.

I am realistic and pragmatic enough to understand and accept that it is not likely that the ideal solution that my party and I espouse will be on the table. Hon. Members, no matter on which side of the House they sit, will have to accept that in this package they will not achieve their ideal solution.

The only criterion that I have to consider at this stage is whether the proposal is an improvement on direct rule and whether it has two distinct qualities. The first is that the proposal must not endanger Northern Ireland's position in the United Kingdom. The second is that it must be capable of leading on to my larger policy of real and meaningful devolution.

When the Secretary of State announced his proposal he said that it had some immediate functions, which he described as deliberative, scrutinising and consultative. When he was selling his words to the public he made it clear to them and to my colleagues in private that that deliberative role would enable them to discuss even matters of national interest. My colleagues and I welcome that. The right hon. Gentleman said that the scrutinising role would be a means of calling direct rule into account and for hon. Members to be able to probe what was going on and the reasons for the decisions that were made. Naturally, my colleagues and I welcome that. Those of us who must sit here in the early hours of the morning while Orders in Council are discussed will be only too glad to have a consultative role that allows us the opportunity to speak on the issue. Therefore, my colleagues and I welcome the consultative role.

The Bill does not entirely live up to the Secretary of State's salesmanship of the early stages. I shall take the three functions one by one. The first is the deliberative function. Clause 3(1)(a) says that the Assembly
"may … consider any matter affecting Northern Ireland which is not an excepted or reserved matter".
That is the first qualification. As was said in the debate on the White Paper, that qualification would not enable hon. Members to discuss matters even as significant as security. Those matters are of such significance to the people of Northern Ireland that it is essential for the hon. Members who represented them to be able to deliberate and consider them. As a district councillor, I find it peculiar that I can speak on security issues in the council chamber, but if I were elected to the Assembly, under the Bill as it stands I should not be permitted to do so unless the Secretary of State deemed it permissible.

As a district councillor I am entitled to be a member of a police liaison committee and to have consultations with the police chiefs in my area. As a member of a district council I can be on a local security committee and have UDR, Army and police chiefs brought in for discussions. We have found those discussions valuable. I cannot do that as an Assembly Member. The Secretary of State must look hard at that.

The Bill does not make it essential that the Secretary of State's proposals for Orders in Council are put before the Assembly. He may do so, but, equally, he may not. It depends on the good nature of the Secretary of State whether the Members of the Assembly are consulted.

On the matter of scrutinising power, the Secretary of State has made it clear that neither the Assembly nor its Committees shall have the power to require any person to give evidence or produce papers. What faith or confidence can the people of Northern Ireland have in the ability of Members of the Assembly to scrutinise direct rule if the people who come before it and the papers produced depend upon the good nature of the Secretary of State, who is in charge of direct rule? Those functions will depend upon the grace and favour of the Secretary of State.

I do not believe that the Bill lives up to the White Paper or the Secretary of State's press statements. As someone who believes in devolved government, I ask the Secretary of State to meet us on those points, in order to make the first and immediate task of the Assembly meaningful and worth while. Even if the right hon. Gentleman does that, that is not devolved government. It is a step on the way. If all that we are being offered is an instalment, we should take it, provided that it does not endanger the Union and that it leads to the achievement of our long-term policy.

I have described the devolving part of the proposals as a dog's breakfast. The Secretary of State has caught hold of a mechanism triggered off by a figure of 70 per cent. Immediately 70 per cent. agree on a proposal, it is to be brought before the House. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is committed to having his proposals accepted by a simple majority in the House. We in Northern Ireland will not be offered the same option.

I put two points to the Secretary of State. First, it is the clear intention of my colleagues to submit amendments requiring a simple majority. That is recognised as democratic throughout the world. I believe that it is also right for Northern Ireland, but if the Secretary of State believes that the magical figure of 70 per cent. is necessary he should be consistent. If he argues that one cannot effect constitutional change in Northern Ireland without having that degree of support, that must surely apply to all constitutional change.

I am waiting with great interest—I know that it must be an oversight—for the Secretary of State to change section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which states that there shall be no change in Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom
"without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland".
I trust that he will change that to require 70 per cent. cross-community support in Northern Ireland. If constitutional change in the Assembly requires 70 per cent. support the most fundamental constitutional change of putting a country out of the United Kingdom should require that same degree of acceptance.

In the Secretary of State's press statements he has made great play of the safeguard that the political parties would have within his scheme. He has stated that if they do not wish to go along any particular path they have the ability and power to say that they will not go along it, they will be shielded against forced movement, yet he has retained, if not strengthened, that section of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 that allowed him to appoint an Executive. It is the same section that caused the United Ulster Unionist Council to clean the board in the 1974 Westminster elections and caused the Ulster Workers Council strike.

Will the Secretary of State, if he is sincere—I am sure that he is—look again and take out of the Act that section which permits him, without the consent of the Assembly, to appoint an Executive? I believe that he will be prepared to do that if he is genuine. Will he confirm—as he has in private meetings to my colleagues and myself—that the cross-community support is not participation of parties in an Executive, but their support for a system of government and that the SDLP is not an essential ingredient in the cross-community support?

I believe that it is important for the people of Northern Ireland to know what this cross-community support is. We have gone through something similar before and learnt by hard and bitter experience. In 1974, an Act was passed. A convention was set up in 1975. It was given a simple task—to define a proposal that would have the most widespread acceptance in Northern Ireland. The elected Members came up with a proposal that had that acceptance. They did exactly as the House asked and met its criterion, but when the proposal came before the House it was rejected. I believe that it is only fair to those who will be elected to the Assembly that they should know the ground rules and how to score and succeed under the system. Let us know what the cross-community support is and what it has to contain.

If it is the Secretary of State's intention, as some say and many suspect, to bring about a power-sharing Administration by this mechanism, I feel that failure will result. I believe that it is possible to have in Northern Ireland a system of government which is fair to all sections of the community and which maintains the right of every individual and minority to have a role in the Assembly, but which still holds strongly the belief that the democratic will of the people must be the only criterion and the ballot box the only door to government.

My party is as opposed as ever to enforced power sharing. I believe that it would be bad for Northern Ireland. There would be no collective responsibility or role for the Opposition. We would have people in Government who did not believe in the existence of the State and who would use their position to further their goals. The losers in an election become the Government and we finish up by government by the lowest common denominator, and mongrel policies are all that result.

I ask the Secretary of State to make it clear that it is not participation in an Executive that he requires, but support for a system of government. We have no alternative but to vote against the Bill as it stands. We shall table amendments to clear up its many imperfections, but we shall not be counted among those who wish to use the Bill's imperfections to scuttle the idea of devolution.

What essential difference does the hon. Gentleman see at the end of the day between participation in a Cabinet and support for the Government?

There is a significant difference. If it is possible to get a democratic system of government which does not contain Republicans, which has the support of 70 per cent. of the Assembly and which is acceptable to the Secretary of State, that is very different from having a Government with Republicans in it.

We need devolved government. Direct rule has been a disaster for the Province. With the greatest charity, when direct rulers make mistakes they or their families do not lose jobs, go on social benefits or go homeless. The sooner that we have accountability, with the energy, enthusiasm, drive and vigour of the Ulster people being used in a democratic forum, the better it will be for Northern Ireland.

6.11 pm

There can have been few Bills recently on which hon. Members' views have been made as clear in advance as on this one. I repeat what I have said before. I welcome the Bill. It recognises the genuine wish of people in Northern Ireland to have a devolved Assembly. There is argument about what form the devolved Government should take, but that cannot be agreed until the Assembly is operating. It is the only way in which the regrettable community divisions can be bridged. The Bill does not impose on the people of Northern Ireland a form that they might find unacceptable. It offers devolution. It is up to them to work out the details.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will doubtless want to thank the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for his gratuitous advice during the White Paper debate on what he said was the inherently impossible task to which my right hon. Friend had set his hand. I, like others, pay great attention to what the right hon. Gentleman says. We consider his words with care. In the debate he said:
"When we talk politics, as we do when we discuss constitutions, we are not talking about Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics. When we talk politics we are talking about those who are elected to maintain and those who are elected to destroy the Union. Of course the latter have a right to that opinion; but that is what they are in politics for, that is what they seek votes for, that is what they are elected for by those who elect them."—[Official Report, 28 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 924.]
That statement sounds admirable but it does not bear scrutiny. Few who seek to destroy the Union, such as the gunmen, are elected. The right hon. Gentleman makes a poor job of drawing a distinction between Roman Catholics and those elected to destroy the Union.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) again referred to the poll which showed that 45 per cent. of Catholics were in favour of integration and 67 per cent. in favour of a devolved Assembly. Whatever else may be said about the minority community, it cannot be said that its representatives seek to destroy the Union, as the right hon. Gentleman would have us believe.

My hon. Friend went on to say that it was demonstrably foolish and mischievous to identify Roman Catholics with the Republican cause. When I read the right hon. Gentleman's speech on the White Paper I failed to find out what he was advocating for the governance of Northern Ireland, so I went back to the 1972 debate on the abolition of Stormont. There the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that he had long been an advocate of integration. He still is.

For two and a half days last week I was in Belfast primarily at the invitation of the Ulster Unionist women's council to speak at its annual rally. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), who is not in the Chamber, for his generous and kind welcome. I talked to over 100 ladies. A number were for the proposals, in substance or amended, a number were for Stormont-type devolution and a few were for direct rule. Not one was in favour of integration.

In the 1972 debate the right hon. Gentleman said that he could support integration only if it had
"the full-hearted consent of at least the majority in the Six Counties."
Integration is not the preferred option of the majority.

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might have been advocating direct rule, but I read on. On the abolition of Stormont and the imposition, or introduction—call it what one will—of indirect rule—he stated:
"this measure is the opposite of union. It is the opposite to a declaration of intending and recognising the union of the Six Counties with the rest of the United Kingdom. So it is not surprising if it should be deeply and instinctively offensive, and should appear to be dangerous, to those who believe in that union and are devoted to it."
He also said:
"The form of direct rule in this Bill emphasises, instead of removes, the distinction and the difference between the Six Counties and the rest of the United Kingdom. That distinction is even sharper and more marked in this Bill than under existing legislation."—[Official Report, 28 March 1972; Vol. 834, c. 269–272.]
I am, therefore, somewhat confused. I pick the speeches of the right hon. Member for Down, South because he has been by far and away the clearest and most marked defender of the form of integration. But by his own speech he makes it clear that he does not favour the imposition of integration because it does not meet his own criterion. He is against direct rule and even more against direct rule vis-a-vis Stormont. Then I read recently a helpful comment in the papers. It was reported that the right hon. Gentleman was advocating that our constituents should vote Labour at the next general election. Perhaps that was the clue.

The House will be pleased to have that assurance. No doubt those in the media who reported him will want to make suitable corrections. Nevertheless, the position of the right hon. Gentleman on the European Community, and knowing on whose side he stands, makes it at least a possibility that he has a slight sympathy with that new point. But it is the Labour Party that is offering to the people of Northern Ireland a form of unification with consent.

I have taken some time to deal with this aspect because it needs to be put on record that although some people may not support my right hon. Friend's proposals, the alternatives command no respect.

Arguments have been put forward against my right hon. Friend's Bill. The first relates to the 70 per cent. proposal. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) seems to be edging towards downgrading the 70 per cent. and upgrading cross-community support to a point where 70 per cent. may cease to have any relevance. In advocating that, the right hon. Gentleman is in effect saying that we should go back to an imposed form of power sharing. That is not acceptable to Conservative Members, nor to many people in the Province. The whole point about 70 per cent. is that is should reflect cross-community support on the basis that in previous elections the Unionists together have not mustered much more than 60 per cent. of the vote. Therefore, to attain 70 per cent. is, by definition, a measure of cross-community support. To add to that the sort of exclusions suggested by the right hon. Member for Mansfield is to go way down the road to undermine the Bill.

I understand the point that cross-community support is necessary. The White Paper makes that clear. We cannot go forward without it. It is the element of stability that we all seek. The minority have rights, but the minority cannot have a veto. Any arrangement that is designed to give a veto to the minority will not, by itself, contribute to stability.

It seems that we are to have a very good argument on this issue in Committee. I stress that I see cross-community support as being much more important than an arbitrary figure of 70 per cent when we do not even know what the collection of 78 members will be. The Convention figures show that the Unionist seats were 66 per cent. at that time. That is a very good veto. The SDLP only had 22 per cent. No way is the SDLP to have a veto. Neither would I want it to. We should be looking for the cross-community support that we all desire, not just an arbitrary figure that might not meet the hon. Gentleman's requirements.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for clarifying that he does not want the minority to have a veto. That is an important point to consider while bearing in mind the minority's rights.

The second point relates to security. I listened with a great deal of sympathy to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). It is easy for those of us whose constituents are not being killed and whose constituents are not walking behind coffins to take a remote attitude towards problems of security. I am inclined to listen to the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland when they talk about security. I discovered only last week that there is a limit beyond which nobody believes that increasing the Army will increase security. On the other hand there may be a case for increasing the police establishment in certain areas of the Province, particularly in parts of Londonderry and West Belfast. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider that proposal.

I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) on the subject of a security committee. The Assembly cannot be debarred from debating a central issue in the life of the Province. Knowing Ulstermen as I do, if we seek to debar them from doing that, they will do as we do in the House and debate it under points of order. It would be much better if my right hon. Friend would tell the House that he will sympathetically consider setting up an advisory security committee.

I refer now to the economy. Those who are opposed to the Bill have not explained exactly how they will reverse the economic decline of the Province. I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, East. He said that direct rule has destroyed the economy. I do not for one moment agree if by that he means it has been destroyed by the Government's economic policy. Nor do I agree if he is saying that the Government have withheld public expenditure from the Province. On the contrary, we are spending about 30 per cent. more per taxpayer in public expenditure than in the rest of the United Kingdom. The commitments on De Lorean and Harland and Wolff show the Government's economic commitment to the Province.

Time and again over the past few days people have said to me that we must find some way of attracting investment to the Province. We will never do so without some evidence that the communities are at least making an attempt to work together. That is fundamental to my right hon. Friend's proposals. I have heard no significant argument on why investment should now be produced under direct rule when it has been slipping away over the past months.

On Thursday night about a dozen, mainly professional, people invited me to meet them. Some of them belonged to political parties in Northern Ireland and some did not. Some were Catholics and some were Protestants. For three-and-a-half hours they talked about how it would be possible to implement the Bill and how they could exercise some influence. I was not entirely satisfied that they were serious and said that if they were they should try to produce some evidence over the weekend. At five o'clock on Friday afternoon I was offered a draft of a letter which in part said:
"We are convinced that genuine compromise between Unionism and Nationalism is the only way forward in dealing with our urgent economic and security problems. We therefore call on our elected representatives to make a positive attempt to seize the opportunity offered by the Government's proposals and to have the courage and statemanship to acknowledge that compromise is a worthy course and not a sign of weakness. It is indeed the only possible basis for a resolution of a conflict of ideals between two equally legitimate identities and aspirations.".
I told those people "If I stand up in the House of Commons on Monday and read that, I shall be assailed because it does not have much support". They replied "We shall get you a few signatures". I told them "If you get me 30 or 40 signatures, perhaps someone will pay some attention".

At lunchtime, I received a telegram showing that a statistically unrepresentative group of middle-class Protestants and Catholics now feel that the time has come to use these proposals as a basis for progress. That telegram indicated that within a period of 48 hours 166 people were given the opportunity to sign the letter and that 161 did so. I believe that in some small, statistically insignificant but perhaps politically important way the people of Northern Ireland, through the professional people, are beginning to say "We may not like these proposals in toto, but we see them at long last as a basis of moving forward and of bridging the gap between the two communities that has existed for far too long and behind which both communities have sought refuge for too many years. Please tell the House of Commons that we support this measure". I am pleased to oblige them.

6.33 pm

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) and I am encouraged by the latter part of his speech and by the contents of the draft letter that he quoted. The fact that at present only 160 people have signified support should not be taken as final, because I am sure that there will be many more.

It is, however, disappointing that so far only certain sections of the community are responding in that way. I know from personal experience, disappointing though it may be, that that would not be the majority response among all sections of the communities in Belfast. I doubt whether that type of response would be forthcoming in other localities.

I would be as disappointed as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be if that letter did not have the impact that we both desire. To do less than recognise that fact would do both of us a great injustice and would not serve the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, which is what we are attempting to do in the debate.

I support the Bill's Second Reading. There are no words in the amendment that attract me. I speak on behalf of my colleagues and some other members of the alliance, although I have not had an opportunity to consult them all. Naturally—[Interruption.]—Are Conservative Members trying to make mean and petty political capital out of such an important subject? If you do a statistical exercise, by God, you are not well represented, unless you want to oppose the Bill. That is why most of you are here—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order".] I use the language of the area in which I was brought up. I do not employ the niceties of the verbiage of certain Conservative Members.

I am obeying the orders of the House. The right hon. Gentleman should not stimulate me to a reply, because he will always get one.

I have the support of my colleagues in the Social Democratic Party for what I say and, I believe, of the majority of Liberal Members, although I have not consulted them all. The House should recognise that there are those among us who have opposed, and will continue to oppose, devolution of any kind as it may affect any part of the United Kingdom. I respect those who hold that view. They have a right to hold it and they have justified their sincerely held belief. However, I do not share it. That is a mark not of disrespect, but merely of disagreement with their judgment.

I have limited experience of Northern Ireland, hut, in my view, we cannot compare the circumstances there with the rest of the United Kingdom, be it Scotland, England or Wales. The same criteria and challenges do not apply. The situations that apply to the Province certainly do not apply to the rest of the United Kingdom.

I do not recall people who disagree politically taking any matter to the extremes of armed and physical violence—

I trust that the hon. Gentleman is aware that in Scotland we have had trials and convictions relating to arms and explosives.

Yes, but they have concerned Northern Ireland and have had nothing to do with what is happening in Scotland, Indeed, any such incidents have been small in number and have soon been stamped out by the people of Scotland. In Northern Ireland, such incidents are encouraged by a number of factors that are not present in Scotland.

As I have said, I recognise that there are those who have strongly held views against devolution for Scotland, but in my view there is no comparison. I also recognise the sincerity of those who are prepared to pay a heavy price to demonstrate their opinions. In this respect, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). I know the penalty that he has paid. It was not an easy decision to make. It must have presented the hon. Gentleman with some moments of anguish. All the more power to him because he has taken this decision in the light of his honestly-held views. The hon. Gentleman will understand that it is not a mark of disrespect when I say that I do not share his view. I can only judge on the basis of my own personal experience of Northern Ireland.

I firmly believe that the Secretary of State may courageously have pointed the way forward for Northern Ireland, which no previous Secretary of State has been able to do. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman built upon a number of experiences and that, when the time came, he took the opportunity presented to him. I hope that the Secretary of State will not be offended when I say that it is a pity that his colleagues do not give him the support that he deserves, both in and out of Cabinet.

The Bill is a step forward into a very sensitive area. If it goes wrong, it could have tragic results. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all right hon. and hon. Members not to make comments which might bring tragedy in the wake of a courageous attempt to resolve some of the problems of self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland.

Many aspects of the Bill raise questions. I share the reservations of the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) about the 70 per cent. As a fixed figure, 70 per cent. may not be sufficient to meet the Secretary of State's original intentions. If the composition of the newly elected Assembly included a greater percentage of the minority population, 70 per cent. could be too high. It could also be too low. I believe that the House should seek an accord, whereby decisions made by the Assembly find support and favour among the whole community in Northern Ireland. With the majority support of the whole of the community, perhaps there would be no necessity to have a percentage figure.

I shall digress for a moment. I was interested to hear some of the statistics that were bandied about this evening supporting various points of view. They do not impress me greatly. Statisticians argue that if one puts one hand in cold water and the other in hot water, by the time the water reaches one's neck, one has an average temperature. Therefore, I do not take much notice of those who use selectively chosen statistics to impress the Secretary of State.

However, there is one argument about the 70 per cent. which I hope the Secretary of State will recognise. It will depend on the composition of the Assembly. What is the intention? The Secretary of State is compelled to bring before the House any proposal put forward by the Assembly, but there are other ways in which that can be done in legislation. Does the Secretary of State believe that would find favour in the House? Would he recommend it, if it had little or no support from the minority community, whether that minority community were Catholic or Protestant? Some seem to think that the minority community is composed only of Catholics. I declare an interest. I am a practising Catholic, although I am not from the Province. The minority community is not composed entirely of Catholics. A substantial number of people, such as those who were mentioned by the hon. Member for Peterborough, are now becoming part of the minority because they see no way forward under other political groups in the Province. Those people should not be disregarded. The time will come when the House will have to recognise that fact.

I want to say a word about the system of appointing the Executive Committee of the Assembly. By what method and on what criteria will Executive members be appointed?

I also want to express concern about the method of choosing the Presiding Officer, whether under section 24 of the 1973 Act or any other provision. The Presiding Officer should be elected or appointed with great care. That person will hold great power and will greatly influence the work of the Assembly. That officer will have the responsibility of appointing chairmen and deputy chairmen. Doubtless, that person will also make recommendations about the composition of the constituent committees to deal with various departmental matters. He or she will also be responsible for the way that resolutions, reports or recommendations are framed and transmitted to the Secretary of State and eventually brought before the House. Thus, great caution should be exercised.

I hope that we shall hear from the Secretary of State, from those who advise him and perhaps from those who will answer on his behalf tonight on this matter. If the Secretary of State cannot answer all the questions that have been posed today by right hon. and hon. Members, I hope that he will take an early opportunity to reply in writing, and thus ensure that, before the next stage of our proceedings, we know his intentions and those of the Department.

I want to raise a number of other minor issues. A number of points in the schedules cause concern, not least about the way in which the Presiding Officer and the constituent committees are to be appointed. We should appreciate clarification of the intention of schedule 2, paragraph 1(6). What does that provision mean? Will the Secretary of State redraft subparagraph (4)(b) to include the words
"throughout the whole of the community"
instead of "throughout the community"? Everyone will then know what it means and will understand that, unless there is cross-community support, any proposals that might have the support of the Assembly will have little chance of success.

I also want to say a word about schedule 2, paragraph 3. How many persons would be involved in this provision? Might I recall an anxious moment, to which vague references have been made today, and ask: what salaries are envisaged for Members of the Assembly, deputy chairmen, chairmen, and the Presiding Officer? What expenses will legitimately be allowed? What other emoluments will be paid to people holding office? Most important, to what level will shared responsibility and disclosure by Ministers be made to the people who hold the positions as Presiding Officer, chairmen, deputy chairmen or members of the Executive? The Secretary of State might be criticised if he were to share fully some of the responsibilities of his Department, such as security, though not necessarily law and order.

Ultimately, we shall require sufficient time in which to consider each of the clauses and any amendments. The Secretary of State should appeal to those who control the parliamentary timetable to ensure that that happens.

Will the Secretary of State consider including in the Bill a provision for an annual report and audit to be presented to the House, with a debate set down in the manner in which debates are arranged on other parts of the United Kingdom? At the same time, will he consider setting up a Committee to undertake the first perusal of recommendations and reports coming from the Assembly? They may have the Secretary of State's approval, but I hope that parliamentary approval will not be sought for them at some late hour. Indeed, I hope that such important matters will never again be considered at a late hour.

6.50 pm

I very much dislike having to oppose a measure that is brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—partly because I have a great affection and admiration for him and partly because he has tried so hard in circumstances which most people, on reflection, would regard as almost completely hopeless.

In the course of the debate, the main argument in favour of the Bill is that "It is not a very good one but it is the best we could do—the best that anybody could do." Some supporters of the Bill, on each side of the Chamber, have rested on the argument "Don't shoot the pianist, he is doing his best." There may be something to be said for that argument, but it is not one that I feel very strongly about. Neither do I support the view that "It is better than nothing and we have to do something." I do not find that argument as compelling as some hon. Members seem to find it.

Arguments on those lines are at best a counsel of despair and at worst a support for measures that may well perpetuate the conflict that those measures are seeking to avoid. I do not agree with the view that at their worst the measures are harmless and that at their best they may help. I think that at their worst they may do serious damage to the concept of unity within the United Kingdom.

Already, in company with other European States, we have been slightly battered from time to time by separatist forces. I do not regard the unity of the United Kingdom as being so normal and so certain that it can be left to look after itself. Like liberty, it has to be carefully guarded at all times against threats open and covert.

May I clear up one point at the end of my right hon. Friend's last interesting passage? Is he predicting that, should the provisions pass into law, the Union would be put at risk, and that terrorism would increase, or is he saying that those things might happen?

If my hon. Friend pays attention to the rest of my speech he may find that it contains an answer to some of those points.

It is a considerable time since the proposals for Scottish and Welsh devolution were brought forward, but I am sure that the House—or those hon. Members of it who are still interested in constitutional questions—will remember the arguments. There was the genuine fear that the Scottish Assembly, if it had real powers, would conflict intolerably with the United Kingdom Parliament. There was the opposite fear that, if the Assembly remained purely advisory, it would become but a method of putting increasing pressure on the British Government to devolve more and more powers to the Assembly, to the point at which the Assembly became more and more a forum for separatist forces.

The fears were real, despite the fact that in Scotland the party political alignment is on United Kingdom lines, between Left and Right, between free enterprise and Socialism, and so on—apart from the element represented by the Scottish Nationalists.

I have little doubt—and I think that most of those who took part in the debates had little doubt—that had the Assembly proposals gone ahead, the Scottish Nationalists would have gained strength within the party political alignment. How much more must that apply in Northern Ireland, where the party alignment is not the same as in the rest of the United Kingdom but is solely Unionist and Republican. As the speeches have made clear this afternoon, that is not quite the same as Protestant and Catholic.

I should like to address a word or two to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). I think it encouraging that, as he said, intelligent and able middle class people are seeking a compromise between Nationalist and Unionist. Perhaps I am being over-cynical, but can such a compromise actually be reached? Is it not an attempt to compromise between two ideals which are irreconcilable?

If we take the nationalists to mean those who wish the two parts of the island to be governed as one, and the Unionists to be those who wish the Province to remain part of the United Kingdom, I think that the wish to compromise in order to save lives and to get a better form of government may well be there, but when the point of conflict comes, that compromise, with the best will in the world, may turn out to be impossible—particularly if, as has been indicated in the debate, the power sharing, although perhaps designed to protect the minority Catholic rights, is envisaged in the Bill as power sharing with nationalist and anti-Unionist elements and not simply with the Catholics.

Whatever form power sharing may take in this type of Assembly, with this type of constitution, it is bound, in effect, to give a louder voice in the Assembly to the separatists than to the Unionists within the Catholic minority. I do not see how that could be escaped, even without the evidence given this evening that the Government do not wish to escape it.

The validity of my argument can be judged from what has happened in the past. The White Paper said that devolution had worked for about 50 years. One could argue that Stormont did not produce the disruption or the pressures that I fear the Assembly would produce. Of course, it did not; it had no power sharing. It had a built-in majority and dominance by one party and one party alone. We cannot go back to that, and I think that is why my right hon. Friend is trying to do the impossible. We cannot, in my view, go forward on the lines that he has chosen.

The proposals seem to contain the same basic contradictions that have made their predecessors unworkable. There is to be an Executive responsible to an elected body in which the minority must, by definition, have as much say as the majority, but not, we are told, a veto. That seems to be a curious and difficult concept, to say the least.

We have not yet got an Executive, for at least the Bill has the quality that it is not seeking to impose on the Northern Irish, and is giving them a greater freedom of choice. Whether that will turn out to be successful is another matter. If it does, if an Executive is evolved out of this process, how will it avoid the same contradictions as were present in the 1973 arrangements? How will it avoid the West Lothian contradiction? My right hon. Friend really cannot say that that is a narrow, formal, constitutional point; it is not. It is a point of power. It is a point of the struggle for power between conflicting bodies. That is the most worrying element in the proposals.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) put it clearly. He saw that to make it work, the Assembly had to be more important than the Government's powers and policies. If he believes that, he is saying that the Assembly must be more important than this House from which the Government's policies derive their only authority. That is a complication and whatever we may say about purely constitutional matters, it is inescapable and would be inescapable in any other type of relationship which has these particular defects, and not only in Northern Ireland.

In the debate on the White Paper, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) pointed out that with regard to the position in the Assembly, we were dealing not so much with two communities—Protestant and Catholic—as with two parties—Unionists and separatists. That is what is bound to cause the ultimate conflict. The correctness of his argument was borne out by many hon. Members who contributed to the debate today. Even the supporters of the Bill are doubtful and divided about how well it will work in practice, what precisely it will achieve and how much it will have to be altered to be able to work at all. That is a sad comment on the state of the Bill before us.

The Bill is likely to be a considerable threat to the unity of the United Kingom. It perpetuates a political division in Northern Ireland based wholly on Irish, that is to say constitutional, divisions between Unionists and separatists. To that extent it weakens the influence and impact of Northern Irish views and Northern Ireland Members in the House. They are overwhelmed by the problems at home and they cannot avoid that.

The Bill is a retreat from the principle of self-determination as it affects those who wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. As such, I fear that it shows a tendancy which has, perhaps, grown too far and too fast in the past few years. I can understand my right hon. Friend's wish to do something, but the varying opinions that have been put forward in the debate, most of which have been against the Bill, have shown that this desire has been forced on the Government by the continuing difficulties they face—economic, political, racial and, above all, security.

I beg the Government to consider just how much the campaigns of those who are hostile to the Union depend for their success upon creating in Britain a sense of despair and frustration that leads people to wish to get rid of Northern Ireland affairs as soon as they can. That is the weapon that I fear—the persistence of the terrorist and their supporters, the persistence of the hostility and the continuing difficulties. To say in these circumstances that anything is better than nothing is indeed a counsel of despair.

7.4 pm

From the contents of the speeches that I have heard today, I think that it is very likely that I shall be the only hon. Member representing a Northern Ireland constituency who will support the Government.

I shall support the Bill in full recognition of the fact that had I remained in my former position as leader of the SDLP, I should probably oppose the Bill, as the SDLP is opposing it in Northern Ireland. That is why I left the SDLP. I passionately believe that the only hope for Northern Ireland is the creation of devolved governmental structures that will receive the support of a cross-section of the Northern Ireland community.

I know that the counsel of despair, which has been preached today, tells us that we will never get that support and that we are heading for, and perpetuating, conflict if we do create political structures in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that, because I have had the experience of a Northern Ireland one-party State—in the Unionist Government before the abolition of Stormont in 1972—and of the very short period of the power-sharing Executive in the first five months of 1974.

I am absolutely and honestly convinced that had the power-sharing Executive been given an opportunity we should not have been faced with the tragedy of Northern Ireland, which has escalated since the downfall of the Executive in May 1974. 'The history of Ireland is littered with a series of might-have-beens. I am convinced that had the election of 1974, which was called by the then Conservative Government, not taken place at that time and in that atmosphere, but been deferred for another year—the election had nothing to do with Northern Ireland but was brought about by trade union confrontation—the position would have been different.

In the 12 Northern Ireland constituencies that were contested in that election, 49 per cent. of those who cast their votes voted for candidates who believed in the power-sharing Executive. The remaining 51 per cent. voted for anti-power-sharing candidates. The election in Northern Ireland was unlike that in Britain, and 51 per cent. of the vote returned 11 anti-power-sharing candidates to the House, and one power-sharing candidate who had the support of 49 per cent. of the voters—myself—was returned.

That result enabled those who opposed power-sharing immediately to embark on a crusade, because they had 11 seats. To those who did not understand what the election was about and did not understand the passions that divided the Northern Ireland community it seemed reasonable to say that 11 newly elected Members of Parliament did not support power-sharing and that, therefore, in the eyes of the community, it was a failure.

It was not that much of a failure, because 49 per cent. of those who cast their votes voted in support of the continuation of power-sharing. That was what the election in Northern Ireland was all about. Those who went to the polls in Northern Ireland in February 1974 were not voting on the miners' strike, the economic condition of the country or the Common Market tendencies. They were voting on the single issue of whether they supported the power-sharing Executive. That was what the election was about. That election brought about the end of the power-sharing Executive.

The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) spoke of the IRA and Republican intimidation. I accept that that existed then and still exists now, but the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland after the February 1974 election, will confirm that there was massive intimidation against the power-sharing Executive and that it was led, not by the IRA, but by the Loyalist paramilitary organisations, whose intimidation is often even more vicious than that of the IRA.

The Secretary of State said in the House recently:
"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."—[Official Report, 28 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 852.]
There are many in Northern Ireland on the Republican side and on the Unionist side who drew an analogy between Northern Ireland and what is happening in the Falkland Islands. The Unionists see themselves in the same position as the Falkland Islanders and have frequently hinted at that in the past few weeks. In addition, one has only to recall the attitude of the Irish Government to realise that they see a parallel with what is happening in the Falkland Islands. If nothing is done to allay the fears, such attitudes will do much damage to the Bill.

I have heard the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) suggest in Northern Ireland and in the House that a succession of opinion polls seem to show that a majority of Catholics in Northern Ireland support total integration. I do not believe that a significant section of the Catholic community supports total integration. Certainly a minority support that aim, as is clear from the support that they give to the Alliance Party.

However, the by-elections at Fermanagh and South Tyrone showed that when the crunch comes there is safety in the tribe. Those elections were disastrous for community relations in Northern Ireland. They created the worst polarisation that I have seen in my lifetime, and they convinced the Unionists that every Catholic in Northern Ireland was a potential supporter of the IRA. I regret that the SDLP allowed that to happen.

I can understand the Falklands Islands syndrome affecting the Official Unionist Party. It wants total integration and does not want to feel isolated. Events in the Falkland Islands are having an effect on the psyche of Unionists in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said that he would not support the Second Reading and that if the Bill were approved he would table amendments to abolish the 70 per cent. weighted majority provision and replace it with a simple majority for new legislation. That means, in effect, a return to Unionist one-party government.

The hon. Gentleman said that on the border poll and the Constitution Act he wanted a simple majority replaced by a 70 per cent. majority. Unionists of all brands and descriptions want absolute safety in the Constitution, a guarantee of their rights and a return of the powers that they held in Northern Ireland for 52 years. We cannot give that to the Unionists.

The majority in Northern Ireland is an artificial majority, just as the minority is an artificial minority. A British Government drew the border in such a way as to give a 65–35 per cent. split in the population. That created a weighted majority. The British Government did that in 1920, and they ought to give some safeguards to the minority that was created by the will and might of this House.

Everyone who is involved in trying to create some sanity in Northern Ireland must speak and act with respect for his opponents. I know that following what I have to say now I shall be called "Fitt the Brit" and will be accused of having sold out. I had that when I did not support the activities of the IRA and the terrible tragedy of the hunger strikers last year. However, I have to say that the Taoiseach in the Republic is being anything but helpful in the present situation.

I refer the Secretary of State to what was said, not by a rural supporter of Fianna Fail, but by the Republic's Minister of Defence, who will be in charge of security in the border areas. Mr. Power said on Monday that Britain was now the aggressor over the Falkland Islands and that there would be no peace in Ireland until British troops were withdrawn.

I have heard spokesmen for the "Troops Out" movement making such remarks on this side of the Irish Sea, and they certainly have an ally in the Republic. Mr. Power was not speaking off the top of his head, but was expressing the deeply held convictions of a significant section of Fianna Fail representatives and supporters. Those people are supported by the Provisional IRA, which also opposes the Bill.

The IRA, the Taoiseach, the Republic's Minister of Defence and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev, Ian Paisley) are all against the Bill. We see a strange conglomeration of personalities and political philosophies trying to damn an honest, conscientious attempt by the Secretary of State to bring sanity into what is happening in Northern Ireland.

We have heard many times about the unique relationship that exists between this island and the neighbouring island of Ireland. We heard that from Downing Street and we have also heard of the totality of the relationship. I can see little evidence of that unique relationship. First, Mr. Power labels Britain as the aggressor over the Falkland Islands, and he has done his damnedest in the Common Market to make things difficult for Britain. Secondly, Ireland is happy with the CAP, but the United Kingdom is not. This country is not happy with its contribution to the EEC budget. Ireland is content—the more it gives, the more it gets.

There are many things about the unique relationship that should be analysed. The remarks of the Taoiseach in giving some explanation—I would not say an apology—of Ireland's attitude towards the Falkland Islands would be hilarious if they were not so tragic. He said:
"We in Ireland are a peace-loving people".
He could have fooled me. Where, in the name of God, has he been living in these last years? I say to the Taoiseach and to Fianna Fail that such speeches and attitudes will do nothing to bring peace to Northern Ireland, but will give justification to the hard-line paramilitary Unionist and the hard line paramilitary IRA. Those are the only people who benefit by such remarks.

I left the SDLP because I was a sworn enemy of the IRA. I was also bitterly opposed to the extreme nationalism as avowed by the SDLP. This afternoon the Taoiseach has thrown the biggest possible spanner into the works to wreck the Bill. He has appointed one of my former colleagues, Seamus Mallon, to the Senate in the Irish Republic. That will do a great deal to escalate the fears of those hon. Members sitting on the Official Unionist Benches behind me.

Given the tremendous difficulties and obstacles that have been created, the Secretary of State will not find his task easy. I remember, however, that in 1973 when, under a previous Conservative Government, we were talking about the creation of a power-sharing Executive, everyone said that it would not work. But it did. A significant section of the Unionist Party, led by the courageous Brian Faulkener, and I, as leader of the SDLP, were prepared to forget much of what had divided us for many years. We negotiated with each other. We created a power-sharing Executive. The great tragedy is that it was killed by the 1974 election and the activities of the paramilitaries during the succeeding three months.

It may not be so difficult as the Secretary of State is being told to find people in Northern Ireland who are prepared to give this Assembly or an election one last chance. The Secretary of State is only too well aware that one cannot govern Northern Ireland from London. I would also say to the Taoiseach that one cannot govern Northern Ireland from Dublin. There can be reason in Northern Ireland only through the co-operation of the Protestant and Catholic populations.

I accept, after all that has happened and the attitudes displayed over the last three or four weeks that the task will not be easy, but it is worth trying. I advise Right-wing, or hard line, members of the Conservative Party not to show their opposition to their own Government. I consider the Government's proposals an honest attempt to create in Northern Ireland structures that attempt to grapple with the poverty, the social deprivation and unemployment there.

I represent the estates of Ballymurphy, Turf Lodge, Divis Towers and New Barnsley, where 40 or 50 per cent. are unemployed, where housing conditions are appalling and where a great fear of intimidation exists. I do not go there once a week or once a fortnight. I deal with those problems every day either personally or by telephone or letter. I live every day with the problems of Northern Ireland. The Bill cannot be guaranteed success. I would, however, give the same advice to my right hon. and lion. Friends on the Opposition Benches as I give to people outside the House. We should exercise care over the amendments that are tabled in Committee. If we act in an irresponsible manner, that irresponsibility will he met by irresponsibility where it hurts most in Northern Ireland. The Bill is an opportunity. All hon. Members should do everything possible to try to bring to an end the tragedy that has existed in Northern Ireland for far too long.

7.25 pm

As the House listens to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), hon. Members feel the tragedy of Ulster. We also feel a personal respect for the hon. Gentleman's gaiety and generosity. All hon. Members, especially those who are Englishmen, feel diffident about suggesting even partial solutions to the problems of Northern Ireland. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) that it is not good enough to say that the Government are having another bash, that the Government, whichever party is in power, are advised by men of great distinction and good-will, and that hon. Members should go along with whatever is attempted this time. Surely hon. Members have some obligation to examine the proposals, to test some of the fundamental value judgments that are made and to expose some of the arguments that we see.

I say with great diffidence that my particular preference for any constitutional move in Northern Ireland would be to carry out what I thought the Conservative Party promised in May 1979. I do not wish to say that its conclusion in the manifesto—I concede that it was in somewhat ambiguous terms—is necessarily binding on the Government at the present time. I recollect, however, that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State brought forward the Employment Bill, with great vigour and generosity, faced by considerable criticism, he was able to rely upon the argument that he was introducing precisely the measures that had been promised in May 1979. That is not a big point. I suggest, however, that the introduction of new powers to local government would be a considerable help in bringing some stability to Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) argues that the district council upon which he sits often puts forward ideas and finds that the Government turn them down. That is an inevitable consequence of belonging to a subordinate body. Members of Wolverhampton district council often put the same point to me. They say, for the sake of argument, "We deny planning permission to Mr. Bloggs and then, blow me, the Secretary of State for the Environment allows it on appeal". That is the consequence of belonging to a subordinate body. The hon. Member for Belfast, East argues that this reduces the opportunity of his district council for doing good. So it does. It also reduces the opportunity for doing evil. The principal argument in favour of the extension of local government is that it leaves Westminster as a supervisory body. That is the best way to safeguard the rights and interests of the minority.

I imagine that all of us are aware of the failings of one another, but perhaps the House might be agreed that the corporate judgment of the House of Commons is rather good. The more one sees the corporate judgment of the House of Commons, the more one feels that the disinterested, objective view of the House on broad issues is, more often than not, a far better safeguard than any anti-discrimination legislation or built-in constitutional check. The inbuilt sense of fairness, which some of us do not have on some issues, but which we have collectively on all issues, is the best safeguard in our United Kingdom.

However humbly we approach the Bill, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham that we ought to examine the details with care. We have had some precedent for devolution legislation. All of us will recollect that the two Bills for devolution in the previous Parliament received considerable support on Second Reading. Then, as the Bills went through the House, we found that there were objections, objections that some of us had seen from the beginning.

I hope that those who see objections now have the courage to vote against the Bill at this stage. It will not be helpful if colleagues come along in a month's time and say "Oh, I have just heard about the West Lothian question," or "Oh, I have just heard that there may be a conflict between the Ulster Assembly and Westminster", or "Oh, I have just heard that we have set up a talking shop that is likely to create nothing but frustration and impotence, and a sense of blaming Westminster for everything that goes wrong in Ulster".

I suggest that the posture of many of those who will support the Bill tonight is one of putting forward objections, and saying that they can be met at some stage in Committee. It seems to me that the objections of substance fall into two categories. The first category is of those objections that relate to the nature of rolling devolution. One can see that each time one of those objections has been met, the balance is upset.

For example, objection is taken to the 70 per cent. provision, and it is said by some who wish to see a return to Stormont that they wish to see the 70 per cent. provision done away with. However, the 70 per cent. provision is useful because it acts as a buffer between the Ulster Assembly and the Secretary of State. It enables the Secretary of State, for example, to say to the Unionists who have, say, a majority of 55 per cent. "Very sorry, we do not think that you have cross-community support for this proposal". As evidence of that the Secretary of State will say that this is not his English prejudice but the fact that the Ulster Unionists have only 55 per cent. Take away the 70 per cent., and we increase the potentiality for conflict between the Ulster Assembly and Westminster.

Again, there are some of the proposals that are made by the Labour Party for an Anglo-Irish dimension. I cannot argue that point better than did the hon. Member for Belfast, West. What happens if, in this system of rolling devolution, we have an interesting change by which—I read this in the papers and am not saying anything out of turn—there is a re-introduction of the Irish dimension? Surely there would be much greater opposition on the Conservative Benches to these proposals. At every stage at which the helpful suggestions are made for improving this so-called programme of rolling devolution, a concession to one side brings opposition from another side.

I listened with interest to the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). As I listened to him saying that he was in favour of devolution, but not this form of devolution, I remembered my sense of irritation as I listened to some of those who led the Tory Party during the devolution debates in the previous Parliaments. That was exactly the argument—we are in favour of devolution in Scotland and Wales, but we think that perhaps it would be possible to find a solution to the West Lothian problem.

Again, the right hon. Member for Mansfield said that the Labour Party is in favour of devolution but that it wants to be satisfied that there will be no conflict between the Ulster Assembly and Westminster. He went further and said that in his opinion, if by chance there should be such conflict, it should be resolved in favour of the Ulster Assembly.

These are examples of those who delude themselves by saying that there are answers to the these problems. There are no such answers. I beg the House to face up honestly to those problems at this stage. Do not let the Bill have a large majority in favour of it on Second Reading, and then let it linger on for another two and a half months with great and good men coming along and saying on day five, "Is there an answer to the West Lothian question?"

My hon. Friend has raised the West Lothian question a number of times, as though it were inextricably difficult. Can he put the problem in its most cogent form so that we can understand the full enormity of what we have to face?

I do not wish to go at length into the West Lothian question, which has already been raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), as my hon. and learned Friend will know. There are a number of issues of principle—not just the West Lothian question, but the whole question of the relations between the Assembly in Ulster, the House, and this Parliament. They will be raised in the course of these discussions. If my hon. Friend, and any hon. Member who may be interested, comes to the conclusion that those problems are inevitably attached to any suggestion for devolution, then the honest thing to do is to vote against the Bill at this stage.

Inevitably, the Bill will have a long and difficult journey through the House. There are a number of important issues and principles that have to be decided. For instance, some hon. Members in the Labour Party may have come to the conclusion that they are not too keen on the principle of devolution. It is inevitable, is it not, that as we debate these measures we find that those who are in favour of devolution in Scotland and Wales will express their pleasure at the precedent they see being created?

I do not know whether the Labour Party is now in favour of devolution in Scotland and Wales. Neither do I know whether the Labour Party is in favour of proportional representation, but when it comes to examine the proposals for proportional representation in the Bill it may come to the conclusion that the setback that the Alliance suffered in the local elections is only a temporary one. It may come to the conclusion that it might be important to vote down a proposal for proportional representation in the Bill.

Those are all important matters. Some of them are important matters that cannot be resolved and which are inherent in any scheme of devolution. If that is so, let us vote against the Bill tonight. However, let us not be in the position of those who, using the Falkland Islands analogy, are prepared to send the task force but who are then not prepared to use it. Many will vote tonight in favour of the Bill who will then find themselves becoming more and more disillusioned with the inevitable difficulties of such a scheme.

7.40 pm

The proposals before us are lacking in many major respects, but I wish to make it clear to the House that the United Ulster Unionist Party will participate in the elections in Northern Ireland. My party's representatives in the Assembly will also be prepared to express their views on the policy put forward by the Secretary of State. The functions of the Assembly fall far short of what we believe they should be, but any measure that gives locally elected representatives an opportunity to exercise some control or influence over the direct rule apparatus will be used by our representatives to the full. We shall also use the existence of an elected forum to press proposals for meaningful devolution and to express our views on the wide range of subjects that affect our people.

We regret that the opportunity for Assembly Members to debate some subjects is to be denied to them by the Secretary of State's proposals. No elected representative in Northern Ireland can be expected to ignore security in the Province. We live with it daily. I was in the home of the late constable Alan Casky after his burial last Thursday. He was the 19-year-old constable—an only son—who was gunned down cruelly by the IRA. His woman constable companion, who was relentlessly pursued by the gallant members of the IRA striking force, was also gunned down, although she was unarmed, and she is now fighting for her life. Those are matters that we cannot ignore, and it is wrong that the Secretary of State should deny us some control in that important area. If he persists in his intention to muzzle the Assembly in that respect, he will get no support from me.

Under the party system in the House it is almost impossible for any elected Member from Northern Ireland to obtain either Government or Cabinet rank. That is because no major party is organised in Northern Ireland. As a result, Northern Ireland parties, such as my own, must organise and try to play a significant part in our affairs, because in the House they are no more than an insignificant minority.

As Northern Ireland is the region most distant from the centre of things here, we have special economic problems that can be dealt with best nearer home. Because of territorial claims by successive Irish Governments for many decades, my constituents would have more confidence in locally elected politicians over whom they have some control than in Ministers who, both now and in the past, have no electoral responsibility in Northern Ireland. The opportunity for elected representatives to discuss future constitutional problems should be seized, and my party will seize it.

We oppose the proposal that 70 per cent of the Assembly Members must agree before a transfer of functions can take place. In addition, the Secretary of State's proposal to bring the Assembly into the realm of the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental talks and proposed council raised doubts about the ultimate intention for Northern Ireland's future. 'We must think about that. We shall put forward our own proposals in the Assembly for meaningful devolution, and it is to be hoped that we can assure and secure widespread support for those measures. In those circumstances, we hope that the Secretary of State will realise that his proposals for the transfer of functions to elected representatives in Northern Ireland is not the best way forward and therefore not the best way to reestablish political stability.

I was intrigued by the remark of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) about the unique relationship that exists between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Irish Republic. I have always been puzzled about that. Some salient features of the relationship are only too plain. Irish Governments have taken every opportunity to stab Britain in the back. wish to hear a clear definition of that unique relationship. I wish to know how the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic can have such a wonderful, amicable arrangement that results from time to time in the Irish Republic doing all that it can to subvert and demonstrate its implacable and unrelenting enmity towards Britain and all that Britain stands for.

I was talking to a friend the other day. In 1940, he volunteered to join the Forces. We were in the fishing town of Killybegs in County Donegal. He stayed in the hotel in which he usually stayed when on business in that area. He went down in the morning to have breakfast and noticed that the staff bore all the evidence of a monumental hangover. They were listless, ill-attentive and yawning their way through the morning's work. He asked one of the waiters "What is wrong with you this morning? You seem to have had a big night." The waiter said, "Yes, we had a big night. We had a big dance." My friend asked "Was this a parish dance?" The waiter said "Not at all. A German submarine is in port and the crew gave us a great night's entertainment, bought us plenty of drinks and danced the whole night with us." That is evidence of the neutrality that is observed by the Irish Republic in the face of a world conflict. We wish to hear the unique relationship explained.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) and other hon. Members emphasised the importance of exercising great care in appointing a power-sharing Executive. It is evident that any administrative set-up in Northern Ireland by this or any Government will be along those lines. The hon. Member for Belfast, West emphasised that the Executive was one of the greatest things since sliced bread to come to Northern Ireland and that it should have had a chance to continue. But it was set up arbitrarily, not as a result of the expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.

I should like to reflect briefly on the composition of the Executive. The Deputy Chief Executive was the hon. Member for Belfast, West. He was then the leader of the SDLP. Incidentally, the SDLP received only about one-fifth of the total vote in that election in 1973. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning was headed by Mr. J. A. Currie, also of the SDLP. The Department of Health and Social Services was headed by Mr. P. J. Devlin—"call me Paddy". He was also a member of the SDLP. The Department of Commerce was headed by Mr. John Hume, also of the SDLP.

There is not much left. Further down I come to the Minister for Community Relations, Mr. Austin Cooper. He was an admirable Member and Minister. I heard him performing in the main street of Newtownstewart in County Tyrone, when he was taken to task by the Ulster Defence Regiment for leaving his car unattended, with the doors unlocked. That was against the regulations at that time. The members of the force did not know to whom it belonged. However, they took him to task and told him that he was breaking the law. I have heard language in all parts of the world, I have listened to many people, but I have never heard anything to touch his language on that day. He finished by calling the UDR the "scum of the earth". That was the Minister for Community Relations. He was certainly not bringing the people of Northern Ireland together and making them friendly to one another.

Another member of the SDLP, Mr. McGrady, was head of the Office of Executive Planning and Co-ordination. I do not know what he planned. We already had a Minister of Planning. I do not know what he co-ordinated because nobody ever saw any evidence of his work. It was said at that time that he floated around Stormont looking for an office because he had not been provided with one. The Secretary of State had made up his mind that there were to be a certain number of people in that Executive, and he gave him the job, The dear man did not know what his job was and neither did we. Of course, I was not conscious of that.

That shows the rather top-heavy proportions of a party that got only about one-fifth of the total vote. The party had all the main portfolios. It was running the country. The hon. Member for Belfast, West may have stuck to his job well and sat beside the Chief Executive, the late Lord Faulkner. Incidentally, that dear man could not move an inch without the approval of the hon. Member for Belfast, West. Otherwise, he would have taken his friends by the hand, walked out and ruined the whole thing. The Chief Executive had to do what the hon. Member for Belfast, West and his side-kicks said, or it would not have worked.

The point is that the inordinate gift of power to those people was wrong. I hope and trust that, as the hon. Member for Kirkdale and others have said, in the setting up of the Executive a wee bit more regard will be given to the electoral performance of the people who make up the Executive.

Incidentally, Mr. Oliver Napier was the leader of the Alliance Party, which was supposed to be the panacea for all our ills in Northern Ireland. The new Alliance Party was the thing. The BBC, UTV and all the news media pushed these people to the extremity of publicity, yet they did not get far. However, that man was made the Legal Member and Head of the Office of Law Reform, and he was not elected until the eighteenth count. He had to fool around on Saturday morning with his finger in his mouth to see whether he would get a seat.

I am talking not about those who were not elected, but about those who were, the jobs that they got and how long it took to elect them.

I trust that the Secretary of State will bear those facts in mind and will try to achieve a more equitable distribution of positions of power when the power-sharing Executive is set up.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West mentioned the fall of the Convention with great regret and no little emotion. I should like to correct what he said. I admit that the Ulster Workers' Council had a great deal to do with it. The para-militaries also had a lot to do with it. However, there was a wave of revulsion from the people on the ground—the grassroots. [Interruption.] There was no intimidation of farmers away in the hinterland. They were away on the border areas of Castlederg and Strabane. There was no intimidation there. My telephone was red hot as a result of farmers calling to say that they had tumbled 500 gallons of milk into the drain that morning and bulldozed 2,000 chickens into an open grave instead of sending them to the processing factory. They said "God help you if you turn back now". That was the message of the people on the ground. The whole population was revolted at the system of government that had been imposed on them.

I am inclined to think that the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), when picking these people, must have adopted the expedient chosen by many young housewives when the racing season is at its height. We know that many young housewives do not know much about form or the back page of the newspapers. However when the Grand National or the Derby come round, something grips them and they feel that they would like a flutter. They take the back page of the newspaper and dab some horse's name with a pin and trust to fortune and good luck. One can only suspect that it must have been some such expedient that the Secretary of State adopted when he was choosing the power-sharing Executive.

As I said at the beginning, our party will go to the elections and play its part. It will go to the Assembly and seek, at the end of the process of rolling devolution, democratic devolution along the lines that exist in the House of Commons.


Like the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) I rise to give my support to the Bill. I hope that it will have a handsome majority. I hope also that the Government will do everything that they can to see that it becomes law and that we move ahead in the direction described by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Clearly, there is a sequence to be followed, and the Bill is only the first stage in that sequence. After it becomes an Act there will be the elections, the setting up of the Assembly and the setting up of the Committees of the Assembly. We shall then see whether it is possible for the powers that the Assembly will obtain under clause 1 to be carried forward so that devolution, in the manner to which my right hon. Friend referred, can be carried out.

This will be a long and slow process. If I may use a vulgar phrase, there are times in life when dramatic initiatives can take tricks. I do not believe that dramatic initiatives can take tricks in Northern Ireland. This legislation offers the possibility of slow, gradual progress towards the establishment of a measure of stability in the shape of local institutions. Those local institutions are needed, because, without them, I do not believe, unlike some of my hon. Friends, that it will be possible to defeat the terrorists.

The lack of stable local institutions feeds the cancer of terrorism and at the same time weakens the economic viability and basis of the working life of the people of Northern Ireland. We should not forget that last year the number of people employed in the Province fell by about 22,000 and only about 3,000 jobs were gained. That is a measure of the desperate straits in which the economy finds itself. Therefore, I very much agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Belfast, West. The sooner that we move, the better. After all, there is a genesis to the legislation. From May 1979 until the autumn of 1981 I was privileged to serve my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. In the legislation and the White Paper I am delighted to recognise many of the ideas that he developed during the conference that he chaired in 1980 in Belfast and in the two White Papers that he subsequently published.

This afternoon a good deal of scorn has been poured on the idea of a consultative Assembly and on the notion of simply setting up a talking shop. However, the second of the White Papers produced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, which proposed setting up a consultative Assembly, contained a sensible proposition. Had my right hon. Friend remained Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, it might have been carried forward. This proposal takes that proposition a stage further. I welcome that development, because it is right to offer political parties in Northern Ireland the possibility of making some progress towards devolution. Why is that so important? It is important because they say that that is what they want.

Time and again I am deeply puzzled by the Official Unionist Party's attitude. Although the parliamentary representatives of that party call for integration, the situation in the Province is different. As recently as 12 March a resolution was passed unanimously by the executive committee of the Ulster Unionist Council. It stated:
"The Ulster Unionist Party reaffirms its belief that Northern Ireland should be administered by an elected body empowered to legislate and govern, to be known as the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland. This body must be elected and operate in accordance with the well established principles of normal British democracy and in particular the arrangement must in no way endanger the Union of the Kingdom, nor confer any contrived privileges on any section of the population."
There is no comfort or argument for integration there. There is no reference to integration and no sign that the Ulster Unionist Party, in the shape of its members, wants integration.

If I was puzzled by the Ulster Unionists Party's stand in not attending the conference at Stormont, I am equally puzzled by the SDLP's attitude, which is exposed in some of its more cloudy rhetoric. Often, its more extreme members seek to deny the principle of self-determination and to undermine the Union and the guarantee given in section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act. We are in danger of forgetting that that guarantee—as the Secretary of State reminded us today—stands absolutely rock firm. The majority of those who live in Northern Ireland will continue to vote for the Union, because that is what they want and that is the way in which they want to live. We should all recognise and support that principle.

Are the British Government right to proceed along the path of devolution—difficult though it may be and although the political parties in Northern Ireland may interpret it differently—should we continue with direct rule, or should we move towards some form of integration? The problem with integration is that the people of Northern Ireland do not want it. Much reference has been made to the West Lothian question. At the risk of being controversial, I must tell my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that the West Lothian question is bogus in its application to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has never been governed as an integral part of the United Kingdom. That is a fact from which we cannot escape.

I do not represent a Scottish constituency, but my hon. Friend is entitled to put forward his point of view. In the time that I spent in Belfast with my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne there was no sign that integration would be supported or was preferred by the people of Northern Ireland.

What about the continuation of direct rule? Again at the risk of being controversial I must state that direct rule has not served the people of Northern Ireland all that well. For the most part it has been regarded as fair and vital and has had a great deal of cross-party support, but largely in the sense of being everybody's second choice. My right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne and his team of Ministers sought to grapple with the problems with which they were not familiar because they were English Members of Parliament.

When I consider that I begin to appreciate how difficult it is for Englishmen to exercise the powers exercised under direct rule. It is neither right nor proper to continue with direct rule as a principle of government for ever and a day. It is unhealthy and encourages local politicians to be irresponsible in the literal sense that they do not have enough responsibility. In doing so, it again undermines the political stability of the Province.

That raises difficult issues for the Government, because in introducing such legislation they cannot be certain that it will have the good effects that they hope for. Why? At the end of the day there are limits to what the Government can do to achieve their objectives. Ultimately, it will be up to the members of the Assembly to decide whether they can work together. I am a Conservative and have been a Conservative all my life. I cannot help thinking that those who work together gradually evolve and develop habits of mind and co-operation that enable them to do business. It is said that the habits of mind and of co-operation in the Assembly will only be bad habits. It is said that there will be nothing but argument and aggravation. That may happen, but if it does it will be the responsibility of the members of the Assembly.

I sincerely hope that it will not happen, because one of the Bill's encouraging features is the real power and meat that it provides for politicians in the Assembly prior to the application of the powers in clause 1. I come to clauses 3 and 4. The proposed committee system goes much further than anything seen before in Northern Ireland. That is a positive advance. The White Paper foresaw—arid the Bill now contains—an extension of the development that has taken place in the House since the Conservative Party came to office in May 1979. I refer to the development of the Select Committee system. The setting up of similar committees at Stormont in the new Assembly can go a long way towards encouraging members of the Assembly to do business not only with one another but with the Secretary of State and his Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues should see whether it is possible to widen the scope of the clauses and to strengthen them—possibly by introducing amendments—so that the Assembly can have a free and unfettered rein to discuss whatever issues it thinks appropriate.

To that extent I agree with what the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said in our debate on the White Paper. Ultimately, the people of Northern Ireland cannot escape the fact that security, politics and the economy are all linked and are part and parcel of the life of the community in which they live. We should not overlook that fact. In that sense, the committees of the Assembly should be encouraged to discuss problems relating to law and order and security and to discuss whatever other problems they think appropriate.

I support the Bill. It is a brave and honest attempt to make some progress, which will be slow and gradual. I do not believe that it is any the worse for that. I hope that its Second Reading will have a large majority in the Lobby tonight.

8.10 pm

I oppose the Bill. I shall put on record some of the views of Ulster Unionists. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) drew a distinction between the views of the Ulster Unionist party in the country and the parliamentary party. He may not have been in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) spoke on behalf of our party. He made it abundantly plain that we stood for devolution. I shall re-emphasise that by a quotation from a response from the devolution group to the Northern Ireland White Paper entitled "Northern Ireland: A Framework For Devolution", which stated:

"There can be no doubt that Ulster people desire strongly and earnestly the return of powers over their own destiny, powers which citizens of every other part of the Kingdom have, but they do not seek that at any price. Unionists have made it unequivocally clear that they will not share power in government with republicans. Unionists have always been prepared to share power with Catholics—that has never been an obstacle; but they draw the line at republicans in government."
If we are to be honest in the debate and are thinking of moving forward, we must put the record straight.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the non-departmental bodies in the Province, such as the education and library boards and the health and social services boards are splendid examples of cross-party, cross-religious and cross-sectarian co-operation? Why does he feel that such co-operation cannot be engendered in an Assembly?

I could not agree that the existing boards are splendid examples. They are repudiated by most of the people because they are selected boards to defeat the powers of democracy. The sooner they are changed the better.

I shall take the opportunity of putting on record that Roman Catholics and Protestants and other interests at various levels have co-operated on matters of import, but when it comes to the concept of government we must recognise that it is the right of political parties to differ and to go in different directions. We learnt a lesson in the House not long ago. Even when the Prime Minister invited leaders of parties to consult concerning the national emergency over the Falkland Islands, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) chose not to meet her.

It is wrong to lecture Ulster Unionists because we take a political stance and say that we shall not go down that path. I should like to think that if the House is setting standards for democracy in future, it will not be long until it practises what it is preaching at Ulster Unionists, which is sharing power in government with those who are diametrically opposed on fundamental political issues.

I should like to put the record straight at other levels. Twice today the House was presented with inaccurate statements. It has been said that Northern Ireland was never ruled as part of the United Kingdom. If by that the speakers meant that Northern Ireland has a separate indentity, that is right. However, if those speakers are thinking of the concept of the Union, we have been together for a long time. It is because of the experiences of the past that Ulster Unionists today are slow to give tacit acceptance to things that they know are destined for their destruction.

An example is a half truth concerning the numbers of hon. Members to which we are entitled in Westminster. We were allowed 12 because we had a devolved Stormont. We were given 12 because those who drew up the 1920 Act never imagined that we would be part of the United Kingdom within four years. It was left to Ulster Unionists to vote themselves out of the Irish Free State and to maintain their identity with the United Kingdom. In the light of the debates on devolution in Scotland and Wales, when I understand that it was categorically stated that there would be no reduction in the number of hon. Members returned from Scotland and Wales to the House, it is the right of Northern Ireland to be numerically represented in the House, whatever goes on in Ulster by way of devolution.

I oppose the Bill further because it has been spoken of as rolling devolution. That is a misnomer. When I read the Bill I wondered whether the Secretary of State was drawing on his experience in the Department of Employment to call to his assistance members of either the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen or the National Union of Railwaymen to help him evolve shunting devolution. We go one way and if we do not get a through journey, we go back again. Was the Secretary of State relying on his friends in the CBI to establish that new industry that is beginning to become popular? In the past we called it yo-yos. Some hon. Members still speak of yo-yos, but the modern terminology is spinners. We dance up and down to the dictates of the Secretary of State. At the heart of the Bill there is danger to democracy.

Today we had one exposition that was close to what I call classical Socialism. We can have the President of the Council appointed by the rulers, but we cannot have a President chosen by the people. Under the Government's proposal we are getting close to the Platonic republic where one can have selected governors to rule over the people, governors who are selected by the fiat of the Secretary of State.

Our party stands for a British parliamentary democracy. We demand it not by gift of the House but as the right of every British citizen. The people of Ulster are British citizens. We will not accept any standard of democracy that is calculated to destroy us.

In one of his jocular remarks, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) may have unwittingly misled some hon. Members. He pointed to my party's Bench and said that our friend was not elected. The reason why our friend was not elected was that he did not stand. I have yet to find an election in which someone can be elected without standing.

My party opposes the principle of the Bill and its concept of power sharing, call it what one will. We are happy to recognise that the Secretary of State has learnt from some of the failures of the past. Instead of having an election to a constitutional convention that is given a task and then sacked, the right hon. Gentleman is opening up the possibility of a talking shop. That is the danger that was highlighted today. The real point at issue is not how we jiggle with democracy, whether we should accept 70, 75 or 80 per cent. or a simple majority. The heart of it is community consent, and that will be judged by the Secretary of State.

During the debate on the White Paper—if my memory is correct—the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) suggested that Stormont fell because of its failure to govern properly. The reality is that it fell because the House refused to set up an inquiry over the shooting of two civilians in Londonderry by the British Army. The SDLP then walked out of Stormont.

There is that basic instability in the Bill. We are giving the power to a particular group to opt out and the whole pack of cards—if I may change the metaphor—will collapse because that ingredient is missing. During the White Paper debate there were Members who lectured the representatives of Ulster on not being positive and not bringing proposals before the House. Let me put it on record that it is not our task to be prescriptive. That is because of the attitude of the House in the past. The House set up the Northern Ireland constitutional Convention. It was given a task to do which it did well. It fulfilled the terms required, but it did not guarantee places in the Executive, as of right, to those dedicated to destroy it. The House did not even debate the constitutional proposals. It passed away from it on a motion to adjourn. I understand that while some Members may have read the conclusions, they certainly did not read the report.

I believe that an attempt was made honestly by Ulster's men and women to set a pattern that would be purposeful and useful to restore democracy to Ulster and give the lie to terrorism. I regret to say that as I read the Bill, we are bringing further instability into the Province. I believe that if the House decides to impose upon Ulster a form of government that is detrimental we shall do as our fathers did and successive generations will read history distorted, as it was distorted the other night, when Carson accepted the separation of the two parts of the island to maintain the Union and Ulster Unionists worked at Stormont with the abstentionists staying out. The House now dares to repeat such a folly by setting up a pattern that will allow the abstentionists to destroy Northern Ireland. There are still many hon. Members who desire to enter the debate and I shall rest my case at that level, urging the House to be a little more discerning in what it is asking us to do.

May I express the hope that when the Prime Minister next meets the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic she will sing "Charlie is not my darling" and start governing Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, without our having to look over our shoulders at a country which seeks to destroy us.

8.24 pm

The long title of the Bill says that it is a Bill to

"Make new provision for the resumption of legislative and executive functions by the Northern Ireland Assembly and by persons responsible to it".
Everyone who has taken part in the debate knows that that will not happen. The fact that the three largest parties in Northern Ireland have declared that the steps to phase 2 are unacceptable means that in the lifetime of this Parliament powers will not be devolved to the people of Northern Ireland.

There may be a sudden and dramatic change of mind. All things are possible. It is possible that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I will complete the London marathon next year in under three hours and cross the finishing line hand in hand; but it is highly improbable. Executive devolution is highly improbable. The fact that the three major parties in Northern Ireland have said that phase 2 will not work means that the Bill will set up an Assembly that will, perforce, be irresponsible and powerless.

The Secretary of State has said that the Assembly will provide the forum within which the necessary processes towards agreement can be developed constructively. That is possible. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. I. Paisley), in the debate on the White Paper a fortnight ago, improbably said that we should all be so astonished by the responsible attitude of those taking part in the Assembly that the House would be anxious to thrust powers upon it. That may be, but I doubt it. That doubt is shared by a majority of Conservative Members who know Northern Ireland well.

I share the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who have eloquently stated that the Assembly will essentially be divisive. From the Opposition Front Bench the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) asked what will happen if the Assembly unanimously passes a vote of no confidence in some aspects of the Westminster Government's policy. Do we carry on as if nothing has happened or are we forced to change the policy?

I have substantial fears about the role that an irresponsible Assembly will play, but I should be prepared to set aside my misgivings about the Bill if it were plain that the people of Northern Ireland wanted it. In an eloquent peroration to his speech on the White Paper the Secretary of State said of the people of Northern Ireland:
"These proposals at least give them a chance arid a choice."—[Official Report, 28 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 860.]
We should give them a choice about the chance. I should be prepared to drop my opposition to the Bill if my right hon. Friend would include a clause to provide that the Bill will not come into effect until a referendum has been held.

In the previous Parliament, my right hon. Friend, together with most members of the present Cabinet, voted in favour of holding referendums in Scotland and Wales on the Labour Government's devolution proposals. Those expensive and divisive schemes were dropped when it was shown that the Scottish and Welsh voters would not support them in sufficient numbers.

It would be folly to abandon the precedent that a referendum should be held before any Assembly, with potentially devolved powers, is set up in a part of the United Kingdom. Whatever my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may say, these proposals will have an impact on the devolution argument in Scotland and in Wales. The smile on the face of the leader of the Scottish National Party when he attended the earlier part of our debate and the debate on the White Paper underlines the dangers of the course on which we are embarking.

What would happen if the proposals in the Bill were rejected by a referendum or, at a later stage, by the House? I know that there are a number of alternative plans nestling in the desks of the Northern Ireland office, unless there has been a thorough spring clean in the 18 months since I left. Indeed, I wrote some of them myself.

There are ways in which one can associate the people of Northern Ireland with executive decisions taken by the Westminster Government. We can give more powers to the district councils. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) reminded us that district councils already have substantial advisory powers on planning proposals and local road schemes, and their advice is often taken. It would be perfectly possible, without any great administrative inconvenience, to increase the responsibilities of the district councils in this sphere.

Perhaps the most dispiriting and discouraging half hour that I have ever spent in Northern Ireland was when talking some time ago to Seamus Mallon, vice-chairman of the SDLP, who is now, I understand, a Senator in Dublin. He explained to me at great length that it was impossible to hand back responsibility for the siting and maintenance of street lighting in any part of Northern Ireland because the street lights would be sited and maintained in a wholly sectarian fashion. I do not believe that that is true. The only way that one can prove that it is not true is by giving district councils the responsibility for siting and maintaining street lights. The area of mistrust might then be whittled away.

There are many hon. Members who share the fears of Seamus Mallon that one cannot entrust powers to the district councils because they will behave in a sectarian fashion. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) gave the example of Polglass. I happen to know that the whole story of the Polglass housing estate is much more complicated than my hon. Friend made out.

I cannot understand how, on the one hand, people say that one must not transfer responsibility for street lighting to district councils because it will be handled in a sectarian fashion, and on the other urge that responsibility for all the powers in the Department of the Environment should be given to the devolved Assembly.

I believe that there are alternative ways of making progress—ways that are safer for Northern Ireland and for this country as a whole. Much though I admire the hard work that the Secretary of State and his ministerial team have done in Northern Ireland in the last few months, I regret that this evening I cannot support their proposals.

8.36 pm

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having the good fortune of catching your eye, but I very much regret that it is on an occasion when I must explain the reasons why I cannot support the Government. It has meant my resigning as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. It was a sad decision. My hon. Friend is not here. His duties keep him in Northern Ireland. However, I very much admire the work that he and his Department have done and are doing in Northern Ireland. They thoroughly deserved the encomium that they received from none other than the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in Committee last week.

I believe that the Northern Ireland Office has a particularly strong ministerial team, and in that I specifically include my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I do so purposely, because, in the debate on the White Paper, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fin) suggested that some of the criticism of this measure from the Conservative Benches was a spillover from attitudes created while my right hon. Friend was at the Department of Employment. I do not believe that to be the case. I believe that at the Department of Employment my right hon. Friend was much wiser and more courageous than his critics, and I was pleased to support him in this Chamber. I only regret that I cannot do so now, especially as I know that my right hon. Friend is using his great resources of skill and determination to try to end the vicious circle of sectarian violence, unemployment and failing investment in Northern Ireland.

In the same way as my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), I have been tempted to back my right hon. Friend's initiative in the outside hope, against all the evidence, that it may achieve something of the prize that the Secretary of State seeks, not just final and complete proof that devolution is a blind alley. But I cannot do so, because I am convinced that it will make the situation in Northern Ireland worse.

I am impressed by the almost universal condemnation by the parties and groupings in Northern Ireland. I am not sure whether, in my right hon. Friend's terms, I am being too naive or too cynical in being influenced by what they say, but the history of Northern Ireland, certainly since the ending of Stormont rule, shows that those people are all too likely to be proved right.

I cannot see how the election of any Assembly in Northern Ireland can help to diminish the violence, which is one of my right hon. Friend's chief objectives. I should have thought that such essays in fragile constitutional bridge building are more likely to provoke it. I suspect that the men of violence are encouraged less by the mood within the total minority community than by what they see as the vulnerability of the institutions of government in Northern Ireland.

I do not see how the Assembly will create a climate that will encourage the foreign investment that my right hon. Friend wants and that will be the product of this initiative if it works in the way that he hopes. I do not see how that can happen if, as I believe, the violence continues, or even increases, and the Assembly fails to agree on stage two. As every critic of the proposal—and, indeed, some of those who support it—have warned, the Assembly will or could easily be a platform for merely criticising the Government in London. That is natural and understandable. If its Members have no real responsibility, their existence will be more easily justified by pointing to the differences between their views and what is actually decided in London or in the Departments under the control of Northern Ireland Office Ministers either in Belfast or in London. I know ministerial backs are broad in these matters, but it must undermine morale and confidence in the Province and in those who might bring business to it if the shortcomings of the Union Government, real or imagined, are continuously highlighted.

I have listened to my hon. Friend's speech with interest, and I understand how strongly he feels on this issue, but will he tell the House how much personal experience he has had of the affairs of the Province in his time at the Northern Ireland Office?

I had very little experience of the affairs in Northern Ireland. I have looked at it from afar, and I have read about it in the newspapers. Like most Members of the House, I speak with considerable reluctance, because I know that my experience is limited. Nevertheless, on a matter of this nature, whether we like it or not, the responsibility lies with this Chamber. One is therefore bound to say how these matters strike one.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Needham) made a good point, but I hope that he will listen—as he has done on other occasions although today he has not done so—to right hon. and hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. What I am saying chimes more with their experience than with what my hon. Friend says. His experience is more considerable than mine, but it is nevertheless limited and partial.

No doubt there will be plenty of common ground between the communities. I believe that there is common ground between them. It will be shown in their criticisms and suggestions, some of which no doubt will be extremely constructive. I am certain that that is what my right hon. Friend wants to display and build on. However, in my view, it will prove an infirm foundation for a devolved Government. If my right hon. Friend succeeds in creating, perhaps for a time, a consensus that permits devolution, the arrangement must always be on a knife edge, brittle and uncertain. It must be a ground for increasing or continuing instability, because the rug could always be pulled from underneath it. In the framework that he suggests, there is no real opportunity for evolution and development if the minority has a stranglehold on the majority. Despite what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), it does give a veto to the minority, and the minority can use it at any time.

There is no incentive or real possibility, as there is in truly representative assemblies elsewhere, for the minority to try to convert itself into a majority, while the majority, under the arrangements proposed, will be continually frustrated. It is not enough to say that on many practical questions there is plenty of evidence, which I accept, that the communities see eye to eye, or very nearly so. So do the parties here at Westminster, and so, no doubt, they did in the old Stormont set-up. That is not the point.

The whole purpose of the exercise in which my right hon. Friend is engaged is to bring the two national aspirations in Northern Ireland into a neutralising balance for the purpose of creating circumstances in which the underlying agreement between them—which he hopes will be there, and which to a considerable measure probably is there—on the more mundane issues can emerge, but I fear the effect will be the opposite.

There has been much talk of public opinion polls. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough suggested that the signatories to a letter saying that the irreconcilable ought to be reconciled were a significant sign that the measure will succeed. However, I prefer the observation made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West—that ultimately the best guide and the best evidence is what happens at the ballot box, and the message from there has been very clear over the years. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), were impressed that both communities favour devolution. Evidence of this is indeed provided by the opinion polls and by some of the speeches that we have heard today.

I suspect that the important factor is not any special desire for devolution that is permanently embedded in the psyche of Northern Ireland—certainly it was not there in 1920—but that the majority see devolution as a means, first, of ensuring that the security measures are pressed with greater vigour and, secondly, of forestalling any moves to Irish unity that they fear may one day be foisted upon them by the House. By contrast, the minority see the proposals, when combined with power-sharing and an Irish dimension, as a route forward to Irish unity.

I believe that my right hon. Friend's cross-community formula must institutionalise that divide between the two communities and make even more difficult the emergence of cross-community parties or groupings based on different approaches to economic and social problems, which is the system in the rest of the United Kingdom. I fear that the formula will sharpen rather than put on ice, as my right hon. Friend hopes, the divide between the two communities in the only matter that fundamentally divides them. The representatives of the communities will feel able to measure their effectiveness only by the success with which they have either promoted or reduced the Irish dimension, which has been slightly written into these measures, which the Opposition would like to write in further, as would the Irish Republic, and which presumably the SDLP sees as its task to press further.

I also feel obliged to vote against the Bill because it provides for devolution as the ultimate goal. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) fears that that may put dangerous thoughts into Welsh or Scottish heads. That is not, I feel, a logical criticism. Those who believe that devolution will do Northern Ireland no good cannot fear that it will prove an attractive model for the Scots or the Welsh to emulate. I believe that the springs of separatism come from people's own experience rather than from what they see going on elsewhere.

The West Lothian question presents a more practical point. I think that I agree with the Secretary of State on this matter. I should be content to go along with that, and the many anomalies of devolution, if I could believe that it would bring harmony where we want it to bring harmony, but, like my right hon. Friend, I do not believe that constitutional tidiness has any particular virtue in itself. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) explained, the danger of devolution is that it will prevent Northern Ireland representatives from developing political groupings and relationships that are not primarily based on national aspirations. I am certain that that non-national basis can be achieved outside Northern Ireland only at Westminster, where the two national traditions of Northern Ireland can be subsumed in a wider United Kingdom party political context, and where the Northern Ireland representatives can have the incentive—and would need to do so, if that were understood to be the permanent system of government—to ally themselves or even merge with party groupings here in order to achieve influence or effectiveness.

That may be a long way off, but I believe that it will be much nearer after the next general election, when Northern Ireland will have an increased number of representatives. However, that will be so only if the full range of Northern Ireland legislation remains the responsibility of the House and we devise more flexible, complete and effective ways of examining it. Above all, there will have to be total confidence that no new recipe for devolved government will be sprung on Northern Ireland, the fear of which—I hope Northern Ireland Members will forgive me—prevents many Northern Ireland Members from serving as effective Members across the full range of the activities and responsibilities of the House and turns them into guard dogs, protecting their corner and Province, and barking whenever a constitutional intitiative appears to be approaching.

Among many other questions, there is the large question of local government—the Macrory gap, which has to be filled if purely local matters are to be placed in the hands of local people, as they are in the rest of the United Kingdom. I doubt whether that gap is as severe a problem at the moment as it is sometimes said to be. It is a strain on Ministers, no doubt, but the fact that it is not such a large problem is a tribute to direct rule and those who administer it. However, I am sure that enduring stability in the long term in Northern Ireland demands that that gap should be filled with proper local government organs and institutions.

My right hon. Friend, when opening the debate on the White Paper, said that he approached those vexed questions with humility. So do I, but doubly so, as I indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham. I shall not try to proffer any neatly packaged solutions. However, I am certain that the chance of peace and stability in Northern Ireland, which has seen troubles enough, will be found more in the undertakings and along the lines of the Conservative manifesto for the 1979 general election than in the ingenious Bill that my right hon. Friend has put before the House this evening.

8.53 pm

The House will need to disabuse itself of any thoughts that the measure that we are discussing and its implementation will do anything about security in our Province. We need to get that firmly in our minds.

I had the unhappy experience this morning, before I came to the House, of being in the home of a young police officer who had been savagely murdered by the IRA in Londonderry. When I spoke to his bereaved parents I knew that I could not offer them anything from what we are discussing today that would bring some solace to them.

Let no one think that legislation passed by the House will put an end to IRA terrorism. The terrorists do not acknowledge the authority of the House, nor do they care for it. Their idea is to kill, maim and bomb, and to continue a campaign of terror.

I wish that the Government—and this applies to previous Governments—had the same will to safeguard the people of Northern Ireland, who are about 500 miles away, as they are now showing to safeguard the British citizens of the Falkland Islands. There must be a will and a determination in the House to win the war against terrorism. None of us should think that if the Assembly were set up it would instantly provide an economic panacea to our ills.

Having said that, I should like to put on record tonight that I have confidence in the people of Northern Ireland. I do not believe that any Bill passed by the House will destroy Northern Ireland. I do not believe that Northern Ireland will be disintegrated and destroyed because the SDLP refuses to attend an Assembly set up in Northern Ireland.

I was brought up from birth on the Unionist philosophy that as long as we had Stormont on the hill the Union would be defended. But Stormont left the hill, and the Union is still there. Why is it there? It is there because of the decision of the majority in Northern Ireland. I have every confidence in the courage and determination of the people of Northern Ireland to maintain the Union. I do not want to hear people saying that if we give this we will be destroyed, and if we have that we will be destroyed.

The people of Northern Ireland made it clear what they thought of inter-Government talks with the South. Mr. Haughey got his answer. I am glad that in a recent interview the Secretary of State put it on record that he had learnt of the strong determination of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland to remain in the Union. As long as that determination is there, no act of the House will destroy Northern Ireland. That is the message that the people of Northern Ireland need to hear over and over again.

I feel that there is a change in the thinking of many people in Northern Ireland. What is this change? The change is not that they want to go into a united Ireland; nor is it that they want enforced power sharing. The change is that they want to have a real say in the bread and butter issues and in the day-to-day running of Northern Ireland. They want to have a say in matters such as agriculture, education, health and social services, planning and housing. Those matters are largely outside the constitutional issue, although at times, of course, they do impinge upon it. The people of Northern Ireland want to have a real say and a real input into the Government as those decisions are made.

No member of the Northern Ireland public realises how little say an Ulster Back Bencher has in bringing the Government to certain decisions. From my experience of local government in Northern Ireland, from the deputations of mayors and from the committees of local government, I can say that they do not believe that, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has told the House, the Government usually heed what they say. They tell me that they are not heeded at all. They want to know why they are not heeded and they want their Members of Parliament to try to make the Government heed what they say.

The first proposals in the Bill are a step in the right direction. I am convinced that the House, and even Northern Ireland Members, will be surprised at the amount of change among the people to get to a position where local representatives can really have a say in how the Government make their decisions.

Today we have a Northern Ireland unbridled—direct rule. There is not even a Member from Northern Ireland on the Public Accounts Committee. In the old days of the UUUC an effort was made to have a Northern Ireland Member on the Public Accounts Committee. Both sides of the House said "No". Therefore, when the accounts of Northern Ireland are considered by the House there is no voice from Northern Ireland to make a vital contribution to the debate on the expenditure and how it is carried out in Northern Ireland.

There is a need for Committees to mark the procedures and the work of the Departments at Stormont. The Convention's report strongly recommended the establishment of such Committees. Indeed, it went so far as to suggest 50–50 Committees, but under the Bill the membership of the Committees will be in proportion to the numbers in the Assembly parties.

I believe that there are those in Northern Ireland who are capable of showing their impartiality in the chair as Presiding Officer. We have seen that before. Republicans or Unionists have chaired committees and those who have served under their chairmanship have testified publicly that they gave members a fair deal. Indeed, when people of good will are in the chair they tend to lean over backwards to show that they are fair.

If Parliament is not prepared to give the Assembly the right to elect its own Presiding Officer, we will destroy any confidence that the Assembly will be effective. I am confident that a Presiding Officer could be found in Northern Ireland to work within the parameters of the Bill and set up committees that would do excellent work in covering Government Departments and making recommendations for future legislation.

I have heard the speeches of Conservative Members who oppose the Bill. The principle underlining them all is the opposition to devolution. I believe that we should have had total integration of Northern Ireland when Stormont was taken away. That was my party's policy. We said "Bring us under Westminster", but the Government of the day did not do that.

We must now have what the people of Northern Ireland want, which is devolved government. They will not get it immediately, and if the Assembly is rushed into trying to get a 70 per cent. majority it will fail.

I do not agree with the claim of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) that Stormont fell because the SDLP left. I served in Stormont for many a day after the SDLP had gone and I know that Stormont failed because Mr. Brian Faulkner, as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, was not prepared to face the reality that Stormont had no security powers. Those powers had been returned to Westminster, but Mr. Faulkner was not prepared to accept that.

I was a Member of the old Stormont and we asked questions about the Army and the UDR. Ministers tried to give answers, but they had no responsibility for those matters. I believed that it was a mistake to take responsibility for security away from Stormont, but there was no point in carrying on the facade of pretending that Stormont was responsible for security when it was not. There was no point in Ministers trying to answer questions about matters over which they had no authority.

The House voted to destroy Stormont. I believe that if it had been able to foresee what would happen it would have gone for a restructuring of Stormont and not its abolition. Indeed, hon. Members have told me that.

We have an opportunity at the first stage, but the second stage is absolute foolishness. The second stage provides no way forward in the form that it now takes. I have been a Member for 10 years or more. I do not think that hon. Members would accept a discussion on whether we should withdraw powers today or bring them back in 12 months' time. The reaction of the House would be to say that we should wrap up the whole thing once and for all.

The House needs to consider carefully the second phase. There has been reference to the need for more power for local government and the fact that a row can occur even over such matters as street lighting. I should like to put on record—there is no one here who represents the SDLP—that the SDLP has always opposed any improvement in local government powers. It opposes the Bill. It will oppose the granting of any further local government powers. It was known before the Bill was published that the SDLP intended to oppose it.

I do not think that the second phase provides much hope. I have, nevertheless, hope for my Province. If l did not have that hope, I should no longer come to the House or spend my time trying to do something for the weary people of my Province. An opportunity has come now to the politicians of Northern Ireland. I am prepared to accept that opportunity and that challenge. I am confident that the Unionist people will be able to fight their own corner and that they will be able to answer any challenge that may come from Dublin, from this House or from any Republican element within Northern Ireland.

We should give our people hope tonight. I believe that we can take the step contained in the first phase. I cannot, however, support the second phase, which, unfortunately is at the heart of the Bill. In accordance with my conscience and principles, I must vote against the Second Reading in the hope that some improvements can be made in Committee that will help Northern Ireland's case.

9.8 pm

I am on common ground with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and with almost all those who, after studying the proposals, have taken part in this, or the previous debate, in believing that the proposition of rolling devolution with power sharing is unworkable, impracticable and—to use the word of the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) in what has perhaps been the most penetrating of the speeches delivered in the debate—impossible. It must therefore be a puzzle to many hon. Members, who will be called upon to vote tonight, to understand what has been the compulsion or at least the attraction for the Government, following so many tentatives, to bring forward a proposal for a rolling devolution that is almost universally regarded, especially by those who must work it, as impracticable, and for an Assembly designed to promote that, but which is, in itself, inherently without responsibility or powers and more likely to express and to exacerbate differences than to reconcile them.

I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who has followed the affairs of Northern Ireland so closely since he ceased to be Secretary of State, is on the Front Bench tonight. The right hon. Gentleman will recall, as I do, a conversation between us in October 1979 when the first of these essays, that of the right hon. Member for Spehhorne (Mr. Atkins), had burst upon a surprised House.

After a little chat together about its weaknesses and contradictions he fixed me with his eye and said, "I will tell you what will happen. There will be an Assembly; you can take that from me." Not to be misunderstood, he added, "Of course, that is not a Cabinet leak; the Cabinet knows nothing about this, yet. You know how I know it, and that is how you know it will happen. There will be an Assembly." We have lived a rather long time since then, until the occasion tonight when that Assembly, which is the real purpose of the whole operation, has come before us. The purpose is not rolling devolution but just to have an Assembly.

There is a wider context, as several speeches have shown, to tonight's debate. Occasionally references to Ulster and the Falkland Islands, have been taken with some impatience; but after all, it is a natural link. Those are the only two British territories, as far as I recollect at the moment, that are claimed by a foreign power, which in the one case has invaded the territory and taken it by force, and in the other case provides a base for continuing terrorist attack on the territory.

We have therefore a real analogy, and indeed we are concerned in the Bill not only with the affairs of Northern Ireland, but with external affairs. Those who were watching would have noted that it was the Overseas and Defence Committee of the Cabinet—rather paradoxically for affairs internal to the United Kingdom—that considered and eventually approved the proposals that the Secretary of State has put forward. The key to the embarrassment and the puzzlement of the House lies in this larger background.

As the question of the Falkland Islands has come up, perhaps it might help the House if I read something that was published as long ago as February 1980 by the political correspondent of the Belfast Telegraph. It was an article about Lord Carrington:
"When he became Foreign Secretary at the General Election last year, Carrington was faced with growing diplomatic pressure from the United States, the Irish Republic and Europe for signs that the new Government would try to resolve the problems of Ulster.
Following the European Assembly election, when the Rev. Ian Paisley won a sizeable 170,000 share of the poll, civil servants at the Foreign Office calculated that the DUP leader would be prepared to talk about political agreement with the prospect of real power being offered to him.
There is strong evidence that Carrington, who is said to care little for any brand of Unionism, was a powerful figure among those who persuaded Mrs. Thatcher to press ahead with an initiative as speedily as possible.
The aim… was primarily to persuade Mr. Paisley and the SDLP to talk about power sharing. For, despite peculiar noises in Opposition, the new Tory Government was, and still is, committed to the concept of genuine power sharing.
And the belief, certainly held by senior Ministers at the time, was that Mr. Paisley was ready to talk about how this should be done."
That was written a little time after the right hon. Member for Spelthorne had sprung his initiative, to my surprise but perhaps less to the surprise of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South. From that moment on, the theme has evolved consistently at each stage. Each stage has been marked by a contact between our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, for the time being, of the Irish Republic. When it was Mr. Lynch, there was to be a two-reel drama in which the first reel—I am reading from a newspaper article of 29 November 1979—
"would be exclusively devoted to the securing of an agreed internal settlement in the Province involving a restoration of devolution … The second reel, envisaged by Mr. Lynch, which would be put together after a … long interval, would concentrate on moves towards the reunification of Ireland by consent."
Then followed the meeting with Haughey a year later in 1980. One conclusion of that meeting was that the Prime Ministers would give special consideration to "the totality of relationships between these islands" and, for that purpose, they looked forward to "new institutional structures". Those new institutional structures were forthcoming following the meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr. FitzGerald in November 1981; for each case the interval was rather longer than had been forecast, certain delays and interruptions having prevented the smooth evolution of the notion.

As the House probably still recollects, one point agreed at that meeting was that there should be an Anglo-Irish Council with a parliamentary tier in which the Republic, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland as a separate entity would each be represented. When FitzGerald got home he found himself confronted with the criticism from our old friend Haughey that he had not gone far enough or fast enough on that occasion. His answer was—I am quoting from what he said in the Dail—that he believed it wise
"not to press ahead at this stage with an Anglo-Irish parliamentary council because of the difficulties involved in securing fair representation from Northern Ireland where there was no elected representative body."
That is what all this is about. The reason why it was pushed forward at the time was to ensure that before the next meeting between the two Prime Ministers took place there should exist a matrix—a Northern Ireland unit—from which the representation on that body could be drawn.

The Secretary of State said this afternoon, "Irish dimension? Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier? What is all that about? I find nothing in my Bill about it, though there is of course a section in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 which is still in force and which would enable the same set-up essentially that we are using in the Bill to form direct contact with the Government of the Irish Republic." What is more, once we have an Assembly, we may be sure that there will be an Ulster contingent in the Anglo-Irish set-up which is the basis of what is colloquially referred to in the Northern Ireland Office as the "re-unification exercise". That is a well-known formula used by Northern Ireland officials, and this is the key piece in the exercise.

In order that it may be available, in order that the missing part of which FitzGerald complained may be available, we must have an Assembly for which no other purpose can be produced or proposed than precisely that for which it is intended—to contribute to the parliamentary tier.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to a reunification exercise in the Northern Ireland Office. I have been in that Office only since September, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) the former Secretary of State was there for a long while before that. I am certain that there is no such exercise. I have never heard any mention of that whatever. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not continue with what has nothing to do with what is set out in the Bill.

I naturally accept the Secretary of State's assurance. However, I am afraid the consequence of that is to make the circumstances even more alarming than they would be if he knew what he was doing. For this is the ride for which he is being taken, and the ride for which the House of Commons and the people of Northern Ireland are being taken. This is the explanation of the apparently inexplicable repetition of what the right hon. Member for Farnham called the impossible: it is part of the operation for bringing about peaceably—"by diplomatic means" would be the current phrase—that reunification which is desired not only by the nation which claims Northern Ireland as part of its territory, but also by the most powerful nation on earth—the United States.

At the end of the debate the majority of hon. Members who vote will do so, as commonly happens, not having heard the debate. In many respects, the debate has—I have not had the opportunity to prove this by quotation—run on the same lines, and in some cases in the same words, as the debate on the previous failed attempt at a rigged devolution constitution for Northern Ireland in 1973.

If I may say so, it is to the credit of the Conservative Party that whereas nine years ago hardly a single Conservative Member was found to draw attention to, and to refuse to vote for, inherent contradictions of what was put before him, we are debating a Conservative amendment tonight. But most hon. Members who will go through the Lobby will have heard nothing of this and will—this is no criticism—understand little of it. They have been told and they will say: "Let us have a try. It is worth trying. Let us see if it works."

I want to say to them what I said in March 1973:
Those who vote for this White Paper,"—
in this case it is the Bill—
"either because they have not analysed and understood the contradiction at the heart of it, or because they say to themselves: 'Maybe we shall get by for another year or two in this way', are betraying the trust with which they were sent here and will bear the guilt of what will follow."—[Official Report, 29 March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 1595.]

9.22 pm

Whatever view we hold about the constitutional future or the constitutional structure of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland will need a form of government that is not only acceptable but is fair and, above all, is seen to be fair. That is one reason why Labour Members have put forward the view that the parties in Northern Ireland need to give the Secretary of State's views careful and sympathetic consideration. That form of fair and open government is needed whatever the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.

We recognise that the major parties in Northern Ireland do not regard the Secretary of State's proposals as workable. I note that the Belfast Telegraph in its editorial on 7 April 1982 said:
"The politicians will fight the elections not to make Mr. Prior's plan work, but to stake out their own positions."
There is nothing wrong with politicians staking out their claims. That is part of the political process, but in doing so they need to bear in mind the views and attitudes of the individuals and groups which they represent. If those groups within that area are not to be so alienated that they either resort to violence, or, perhaps worse still, passively permit violence to take place, we are forced back to the conclusion that a form of local government is needed in Northern Ireland which is fair, which is seen to be fair, and which works.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said.. we are concerned about the appointment of a Presiding Officer in the first instance. During the debate much was made of that point. It is no use pretending that Northern Ireland is like any other part of the United Kingdom or comparing it with Scotland, Wales or England. Its history and background are totally and utterly different and its relationship with its neighbouring State is totally and utterly different, and any attempt to ignore that ignores the fundamental and underlying problem.

That is why the appointment of the Presiding Officer is a key factor in the Bill. If the person appointed is unacceptable to one section, or to both sections, of the community, the chances of the rolling devolution programme working will be slim. We are concerned also about the suggestion of 70 per cent. approval. The danger is that the minority might be alienated if it is overridden, and if the majority finds that its view is rejected it will feel that it has been subjected to what I have previously described as a con trick.

There are areas of crucial concern. One area that springs to mind is that of the economy. During my last visit to Northern Ireland with my right hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) and for Mansfield almost every party—including the CBI in Northern Ireland—was clearly sympathetic to many aspects of the Labour Party's economic policy. They said that they did not believe that the free market philosophy could work in Northern Ireland. The CBI in Northern Ireland is on record as saying that both publicly and frequently.

If the Assembly comes forward with recommendations about the economy, will the Government accept them? Although my next remarks do not apply to the Secretary of State, I must point out that the Government as a whole have been no friend of democratic control in local government. Indeed, the Government have made the deepest and most harmful attacks on local government in Britain for many years.

We are concerned about having devolution extended by Order in Council. Because of the lack of time I shall leave that matter, but I hope to return to it in Committee.

Perhaps the most important factor is the Irish dimension. The problem is that the Bill recognises the two identities in Northern Ireland but does not give expression to them. Ultimately, it must be the aim to give expression to those two identities. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield said, one way of doing that would be to allow the Assembly to look at areas that concern both North and South Ireland.

Security will have to be discussed at one level or another. We cannot expect people on the Unionist or Republican side to be elected to an Assembly that does not discuss deaths by plastic bullets or assassinations by paramilitary groups from one side or the other. That would be unrealistic. The powers that are given are an entirely different matter, but there must be discussion.

Economic co-operation between North and South is vital, and that is another area that must be discussed. It is interesting and encouraging to note that for the first time for years groups from Northern Ireland are prepared to discuss economic co-operation in detail with the South of Ireland, because they are becoming increasingly aware that Ireland's economic future does not lie in the border being an economic division. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) spots any change in the attitude of the people of Northern Ireland, he could do much worse than to address himself to the fear of unemployment in the North and to the willingness to co-operate with the South in a way that would not have been considered even three or four years ago—let alone 10 or 20 years ago.

In moving his amendment the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) made great play of the opinion polls. This is not the first time that that matter has been brought up. Those who suggest that there should be government by opinion poll should take a long hard look at the excellent article in New Society on the conflicting results of opinion polls on the future of Northern Ireland. Most of us know, and I think that the hon. Member for Epping Forest will accept, that the one thing that those opinion polls show more than anything else is that the future of Northern Ireland is wide open for political leadership.

The basic question that has come up today is whether the Conservative Party is still the Conservative and Unionist Party. That is the problem. The division in the Conservative Party is real and understandable. It is reflected by the division and splintering in the Unionist camp. This question must be asked: who speaks for the Unionists? Is it the Democratic Unionists, the Official Unionists or a group within those parties? We know that the Unionists have splintered. In the past, one of the reasons was that there had been a lack of positive political power in Northern Ireland. The only power that has been available to the various groups has been the power to say "No", to disrupt and to change in a negative way.

The problem for the Conservative Party is serious. It has faced two resignations as a result of the Bill. As a relative not 100 miles away from the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) will know, that could be described as a little local difficulty. It shows the depth of the problem for the Conservative Party, which is to decide whether it will go on supporting the Union.

The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Rose) launched a justified and understandable attack on the Provisional IRA. I say to him and to the hon. Member for Antrim, North that I hope and pray that there will also be an attack on the paramilitaries on the Unionist side, but predictably and sadly we never hear that. There is never a condemnation of the violence that has been carried out for many years by the paramilitaries on the Unionist side.

I say to the Unionist Party, whether it is the Democratic Unionists, the Official Unionists or any other group, that until it condemns just as forcefully and with as much clarity the activities of the paramilitaries on the Unionist side there will be some mistrust over how it will handle political power. To be killed by a bullet fired by a paramilitary Unionist is not essentially different from being killed by a bullet fired by a paramilitary on the Republican side. There have been killings within the Unionist paramilitary groups in the same way as there have been killings and disciplinings within the paramilitary groups on the Republican side. I hope that we shall hear more from the Unionists on that score in future.

I listened with care to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), who spoke for the Social Democratic Party. I was tempted to ask him the same question as I asked the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) during the previous debate. What is the position of the Social Democratic Party, and for that matter the Liberal Party, on Ireland? Are they in favour of a united Ireland? Are they in favour of integration? I take it that they are not, as they are not supporting the amendment. Do they support the status quo? Do they have a policy at all?

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he would support a united Ireland with consent? If he is, that is encouraging. I suspect that he wants to say that, but cannot. That is the problem. Whether his right hon. and hon. Friends also wish to say that, I am not sure. I suspect that that is what he personally would like to say.

The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) talked about the definition of the special relationship with Eire. There is a special relationship with Southern Ireland. It may have been negative at times, but one of the reasons why it has been negative is the long history of the struggle between the two halves of Ireland. It is not sufficient to pretend that there is no special relationship just because at times the relationship between the two countries has been strained and under pressure as a result of the division of Ireland in 1920.

It does not mean that the special relationship is not there and that there is no need for talks with the Southern Irish Government. Clearly there is. It is one of the things that we shall be looking for in the future. If we do not have those talks, the opportunity to get a united Ireland will be diminished. That would be a great pity, not least for the people of Northern Ireland.

I do not doubt that we shall spend a great deal of time in Committee on the details of the Bill. We are against the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Epping Forest, but we hope that the Secretary of State will get some form of devolution going. We are still pessimistic, but that is no reason for not giving the Bill a chance. It needs to be given a chance, if only for the reason that I stated at the beginning. Whatever one's views about the future of Northern Ireland's constitutional position, it still must have a form of accountable, acceptable and fair local government.

9.35 pm

There are rather more right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber than are normally present for our debates on Irish matters. I suspect that not so many will be here when I move the Northern Ireland probation board and land compensation orders. I do not blame them. I have not always rushed into the Chamber when I have seen Welsh or Scottish matters on the annunciators.

There are many Members here tonight because this is an important constitutional measure. I welcome the attention that my right hon. and hon. Friends have given to this issue and the attention that has been given to it by the Opposition.

I say that this is an important constitutional issue, but I would not say that it is extremely important. Those who say that the Bill is radical and new are flying in the face of half a century of history in what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has taught me to think of as the north-eastern part of the island. For 50 years, people in the Province had their own devolved Government. Therefore, it would be entirely wrong for anyone in the Chamber to suggest that that was something new. Equally, in the Province today there is a highly developed, sophisticated, articulated form of devolved Administration which is not subject to anything like enough democratic scrutiny and control. I hope there is at least that much agreement between myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends.

I greatly regret the resignations of my hon. Friends. The fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) has chosen to resign is a matter of great sadness to me. It was tinged, I must admit, with a tiny bit of relief, because, in his pre-existent form, he was my Whip, and a very fierce and intransigent Whip he was, too. That slight feeling of relief was quickly overturned when I realised that he had taken the decision after six months in the Whips' Office. During that period he built up a considerable head of steam which I am sure will emerge in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) has equally chosen to take that course, and it is greatly to be regretted. I shall greatly miss his friendship and advice in the Northern Ireland Office.

Perhaps I may just finish my valedictory remarks about three of my hon. Friends before giving way.

I understand also that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) has chosen to take that course. That, again, is a matter of great regret to me, because I have only just finished penning my note of congratulation to him on becoming a Parliamentary Private Secretary. He may well have been going for the parliamentary world record for the shortness of the period he held that post. I offer my sincere regrets to my three hon. Friends.

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's sadness at the now apparent distance between him and his hon. Friends. Others on the Government Back Benches fear, with good reason, that if devolution is all right for Northern Ireland, within a year or two it may be acceptable for Scotland and Wales—heaven forbid! That, above all else, worries some hon. Members.

The devolution that existed in Northern Ireland for half a century was not a threat to the Union. The devolution proposed in the Bill will not be either.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his charitable remarks and his public act of friendship after my short period as an official supporter of the Government.

As a parallel to his case, my hon. Friend instances 50 years of successful devolved government in Northern Ireland. One reason for the success was that the minority in Northern Ireland was given no power of veto while Stormont existed. After it was abolished, the question of power-sharing arose. His case is intrinsically different from the parallel that he attempts to draw.

We both know what happened on the collapse of the Assembly and also what happened in the previous 50 years.

The Bill contains clear evidence of the Government's commitment to the people of Northern Ireland by providing them with an opportunity for a devolved Government. I was delighted to hear Northern Ireland Members give that opportunity a qualified welcome.

I draw attention to the flexibility in the Bill's provisions. We are not prescribing arrangements for the Assembly. It is for the Assembly to make recommendations on the composition of the Executive and to consider whether there should be a Chief Executive and whether the Northern Ireland Administration should operate a conventional system of cabinet government. It is for the parties within the Assembly to reach the necessary agreement on devolution proposals and to negotiate safeguards for their respective positions—minority and majority alike.

Provided that the political will exists—I caught glimpses of political good will from Northern Ireland Members—together with a positive desire to take responsibility in Northern Ireland, the Government are convinced that the arrangements can work well and practically. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) pointed that out in his notable speech. The point was reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold).

We shall reject the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). Like many of the points raised by my hon. Friends and by Northern Ireland Members, it advances criticisms which I hope were fully dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is not necessary for me to repeat the arguments put forward in the debate. However, I hope that my hon. Friend and I can agree that we should finally and solemnly bury the opinion poll that has caused so much aggravation and discussion in the debate. Statistical points were being knocked backwards and forwards across the Chamber as if it were some statistical tennis court. It was some relief that decimal points were not referred to.

I hope that my right hon. Friend made it clear that our proposals in no way weaken the authority of Parliament or put at risk the Union of the United Kingdom. A number of hon. Members made this point, but it was made most lucidly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. MacMillan) in a notable speech.

The Bill does not represent a threat to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom or to the Union. It is only this Chamber—Parliament, and only Parliament—that can decide whether devolution proposals are acceptable. The ultimate power of this Chamber is not taken away. Northern Ireland's position as a constituent part of the United Kingdom remains unaffected by the Bill. I repeat that Northern Ireland's position as a constituent part of the United Kingdom remains unaffected by the Bill.

Hon. Members, particularly my right hon. and hon. Friends, may feel that I claim protection for the Union because it is in my interests to get the Bill through. If so, I draw their attention to that notable authority, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). On 29 April during Question Time, he described the Assembly as a
"bulwark to sustain the Union between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom."
My hon. Friend asked:
"When the new Assembly has been set up will it not be unimaginable that the North can be forced into union with the South, against the will of that Assembly?"—[Official Report, 29 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 963–64.]
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) has said and written, a referendum would not help the course on which we are set, not least because the Bill, in its flexibility, militates against any simple "Yes-No" question being introduced.

The supreme authority of Parliament, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North rightly said, is not challenged by the Bill. I accept that there are those who strongly, passionately and articulately believe—I refer to speeches made today and earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)—that full integration of Northern Ireland with the rest of the United Kingdom is the right course. A scattering of hon. Members believe that we should simply carry on with direct rule. However, I must tell the House frankly that no arrangement, other than a devolved Government, holds out the prospect of being acceptable to all the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland has a long tradition of devolved institutions. The case for devolution in Northern Ireland, because of its 50 years of devolved institutions, is totally different from that of Wales or Scotland. There are a number of constitutional experts in the Chamber tonight and to them I say that unity does not mean uniformity in the context of our constitution.

I should also point out that nonconformity of institutions does not necessarily equal disunity in the kingdom itself. There is nothing more that I can say on this occasion to my right hon. and hon. Friends about the points that they raised. I hope that many of them who have listened in particular to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be convinced by our arguments, but those who are not we shall endeavour to answer in Committee.

I come now to the points raised by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and his hon. Friend the Member for Hammmersmith, North (Mr. Soley). I thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North for completing his speech so speedily.

The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend raised a number of important points on which they requested specific answers. I shall attempt, albeit briefly, to do so. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether it would be better if the Presiding Officer, rather than being elected by Members of the Assembly, were appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We do not think that that would be a good idea. We wish the Assembly to take as much responsibility as possible for the conduct of its own affairs. I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who believes that there are people in Northern Ireland, from whichever side of the political or sectarian divide they come, who are able to take on the responsibility of Presiding Officer.

I am told by reliable Unionist sources in the Province that during the course of the Assembly a now-deceased sometime Member of the Stormont Parliament, Mr. Nat Minford, was an unqualified success in the non-partisan and non-sectarian way in which he chaired that Assembly. I do not see why a successor of his, or the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), or some other hon. Member should not fulfil that role.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield asked what could or would happen should the Assembly decide that it would like to have certain of the powers exercised by one Northern Ireland Department given back, but without all the powers being given back. The right hon. Gentleman used the Department of the Environment as an example. From the provisions in the Bill it is clear that only whole Departments can be given back, but there will be nothing to stop the Administration of the United Kingdom from deciding that Departments should be changed and split in order to make that possible. Indeed, there is a continuing process. Every new Administration and Government seem to change the shape and size of their own Departments.

The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that there was nothing in the Bill to require what is colloquially known as power sharing, but equally there is nothing to prevent members of the Assembly from coming to whatever arrangements they think proper to achieve a measure of understanding between both sides. The responsibility is theirs. None of the responsibility is imposed by this House.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised a number of detailed points about the 70 per cent. test. Many other hon. Members also raised the same matter. This is neither the time nor the place to deal with those points. However, many hon. Members have suggested that, somehow, devolution orders would be debated for an hour and a half in the dead of night without many hon. Members present. There will be at least two debates on any devolution order. There will be a full debate, as my right hon. Friend has said, and as the White Paper clearly spells out, on the principle of the devolution order, and another debate on the order itself. There is no halfway house between an Act and an Order in Council. No form of Second Reading Committee on any measure would be suitable for constitutional issues such as Orders in Council. That is the right way for the House to proceed.

Northern Ireland Members, except for the hon. Member for Belfast, West, have stressed that on matters of security they wish the voice of the Assembly to be heard. We shall consider those points in Committee.

The system of government that is to be introduced was criticised by the right hon. Member for Down, South in his speech on the White Paper, and by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, both of whom gave remarkable resumes of how the present situation had arisen. The right hon. Gentleman said that the biggest problem in the continuation of direct rule was that there would not be an authentic Northern Ireland voice in the government of the country. Both my right hon. Friend and I accept that that is a genuine drawback, but at least when the Assembly is set up, as I hope and trust it will be, the affairs of Northern Ireland, of the Northern Ireland Office and of Her Majesty's Government will be put under much closer scrutiny than has happened for a decade. That must mean better government for Northern Ireland.

I hope that that was what prompted the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) to say in his speech on the White Paper—he was very honest—that he did not like what the Secretary of State was doing, but that he was prepared to try to make it work.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said tonight that he thought that it was sensible to take what was offered. The hon. Member for Belfast, West, in a remarkable and passionate speech, said that what was on offer was well worth trying. The hon. Member for Antrim, North said that it was a step in the right direction.

My right hon. and hon. Friends who doubt the veracity of what we are doing cannot say that it is doubted across the whole of Northern Ireland. That is not true, and we have evidence of that. I believe that it is the wish of the overwhelming majority of people in Great Britain, who share Northern Ireland's concern about its future, that devolution should occur. However, I stress that devolution will take place only by consent, double consent—that of the people of the Assembly, and that of the people in this Chamber. I assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that none of the sovereignty of this Chamber is taken away.

It serves the people of Northern Ireland ill for people to suggest that this measure attempts to bring in power sharing by the back door or to impose majority rule again via Stormont, or to deflect in any way from the Union and from the integrity of the United Kingdom. The Bill, which I hope will receive its Second Reading tonight, does none of those things. It simply offers the people of Northern Ireland an opportunity to run their own affairs again.

It is a chance and an opportunity for responsibility. It is a chance and an opportunity which should be grasped in Northern Ireland in a statesmanlike way.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 29, Noes 312.

Division No. 140]

[10 pm


Amery, Rt Hon JulianMorris, M. (N'hampton S)
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnPorter, Barry
Body, RichardPowell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)Proctor, K. Harvey
Budgen, NickRees-Davies, W. R.
Cranborne, ViscountRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)
Dunlop, JohnShepherd, Richard
Fell, Sir AnthonySmyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Stanbrook, Ivor
Goodhart, Sir PhilipStokes, John
Gorst, JohnWells, John (Maidstone)
Knight, Mrs JillWinterton, Nicholas
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
McCusker, H.Tellers for the Ayes:
Macmillan, Rt Hon M.Mr. John Farr and Mr. Christopher Murphy
Molyneaux, James
Morgan, Geraint


Adley, RobertBrowne, John (Winchester)
Alexander, RichardBruce-Gardyne, John
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBryan, Sir Paul
Allaun, FrankBuck, Antony
Alton, DavidBulmer, Esmond
Ancram, MichaelButcher, John
Arnold, TomCadbury, Jocelyn
Aspinwall, JackCampbell-Savours, Dale
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)Carlisle, John (Luton West)
Atkins, Robert(Preston N)Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th.E)Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n )
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)Cartwright, John
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone)Chalker, Mrs. Lynda
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Chapman, Sydney
Banks, RobertChurchill, W. S.
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Beith, A. J.Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)Clegg, Sir Walter
Benyon, Thomas (A'don)Cockeram, Eric
Best, KeithCocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)
Bevan, David GilroyColvin, Michael
Blackburn, JohnConcannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Blaker, PeterCope, John
Bonsor, Sir NicholasCorrie, John
Boscawen, Hon RobertCostain, Sir Albert
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)Crawshaw, Richard
Bowden, AndrewCritchley, Julian
Braine, Sir BernardCrouch, David
Bright, GrahamCunliffe, Lawrence
Brinton, TimDavis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Brooke, Hon PeterDewar, Donald
Brotherton, MichaelDickens, Geoffrey

Dorrell, StephenJessel, Toby
Dover, DenshoreJohnson Smith, Geoffrey
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dunn, James A.Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Kaberry, Sir Donald
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Kerr, Russell
Dykes, HughKershaw, Sir Anthony
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnKimball, Sir Marcus
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Kitson, Sir Timothy
Eggar, TimKnox, David
Elliott, Sir WilliamLamont, Norman
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Lang, Ian
Emery, Sir PeterLangford-Holt, Sir John
English, MichaelLawrence, Ivan
Eyre, ReginaldLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Fairgrieve, Sir RussellLee, John
Faith, Mrs SheilaLe Marchant, Spencer
Fenner, Mrs PeggyLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Finsberg, GeoffreyLester, Jim (Beeston)
Fisher, Sir NigelLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Fitt, GerardLloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)Luce, Richard
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir CharlesLyell, Nicholas
Fookes, Miss JanetLyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Forman, NigelMcCartney, Hugh
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMacfarlane, Neil
Fox, MarcusMacGregor, John
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Freud, ClementMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Fry, PeterMacKay, John (Argyll)
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)Maclennan, Robert
Garel-Jones, TristanMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMcNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Ginsburg, DavidMcNamara, Kevin
Glyn, Dr AlanMcQuarrie, Albert
Golding, JohnMadel, David
Goodhew, Sir VictorMagee, Bryan
Goodlad, AlastairMajor, John
Gow, IanMarland, Paul
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Marlow, Antony
Grant, John (Islington C)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gray, HamishMarten, Rt Hon Neil
Greenway, HarryMates, Michael
Grieve, PercyMawby, Ray
Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Grist, IanMayhew, Patrick
Grylls, MichaelMellor, David
Gummer, John SelwynMeyer, Sir Anthony
Hamilton, Hon A.Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Hampson, Dr KeithMills, Peter (West Devon)
Hannam, JohnMiscampbell, Norman
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Haselhurst, AlanMoate, Roger
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMonro, Sir Hector
Hawkins, PaulMontgomery, Fergus
Hawksley, WarrenMoore, John
Hayhoe, BarneyMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Heath, Rt Hon EdwardMudd, David
Heddle, JohnMyles, David
Henderson, BarryNeedham, Richard
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelNelson, Anthony
Hicks, RobertNeubert, Michael
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Nott, Rt Hon John
Hill, JamesOnslow, Cranley
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Holland, Philip (Carlton)Osborn, John
Home Robertson, JohnOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Hooson, TomPage, John (Harrow, West)
Horam, JohnPage, Richard (SW Herts)
Hordern, PeterParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)Parris, Matthew
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Howells, GeraintPatten, John (Oxford)
Hunt, David (Wirral)Pattie, Geoffrey
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Pawsey, James
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Percival, Sir Ian
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPeyton, Rt Hon John
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)Pink, R. Bonner

Pollock, AlexanderStewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Prentice, Rt Hon RegStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)Stradling Thomas, J.
Prior, Rt Hon JamesTapsell, Peter
Pym, Rt Hon FrancisTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyTemple-Morris, Peter
Rathbone, TimThatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Renton, TimThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Rhodes James, RobertThompson, Donald
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Ridsdale, Sir JulianThornton, Malcolm
Rifkind, MalcolmTinn, James
Rippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyTownend, John (Bridlington)
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Trippier, David
Rodgers, Rt Hon WilliamTrotter, Neville
Roper, Johnvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Rossi, HughVaughan, Dr Gerard
Rost, PeterViggers, Peter
Royle, Sir AnthonyWaddington, David
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyWakeham, John
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.Waldegrave, Hon William
Scott, NicholasWall, Sir Patrick
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Waller, Gary
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)Walters, Dennis
Shelton, William (Streatham)Ward, John
Silvester, FredWarren, Kenneth
Sims, RogerWatson, John
Skeet, T. H. H.Wells, Bowen
Skinner, DennisWells, John (Maidstone)
Smith, DudleyWheeler, John
Soley, CliveWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Speed, KeithWhitney, Raymond
Speller, TonyWickenden, Keith
Spence, JohnWiggin, Jerry
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Sproat, IainWolfson, Mark
Squire, RobinYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Stainton, KeithYounger, Rt Hon George
Stallard, A. W.
Stanley, JohnTellers for the Noes:
Steen, AnthonyMr. Anthony Berry and Mr.Carol Mather
Stevens, Martin

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No.39 (Amendment on Second or Third reading):—

The House divided:Ayes 291, Noes 29.

Division No. 141]

[10.13 pm


Adley, RobertBowden, Andrew
Alexander, RichardBraine, Sir Bernard
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBright, Graham
Alton, DavidBrinton, Tim
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBrocklebank-Fowler, C.
Ancram, MichaelBrooke, Hon Peter
Arnold, TomBrotherton, Michael
Aspinwall, JackBrowne, John (Winchester)
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)Bruce-Gardyne, John
Atkins, Robert(Preston N)Bryan, Sir Paul
Atkinson, David (B'm'th.E)Buck, Antony
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone)Bulmer, Esmond
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Butcher, John
Banks, RobertCadbury, Jocelyn
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyCarlisle, John (Luton West)
Beith, A. J.Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n )
Benyon, Thomas (A'don)Cartwright, John
Best, KeithChalker, Mrs. Lynda
Bevan, David GilroyChapman, Sydney
Blackburn, JohnChurchill, W. S.
Blaker, PeterClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Boscawen, Hon RobertClegg, Sir Walter
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)Cockeram, Eric

Colvin, MichaelHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cope, JohnIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Corrie, JohnJenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Costain, Sir AlbertJenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Crawshaw, RichardJessel, Toby
Critchley, JulianJohnson Smith, Geoffrey
Crouch, DavidJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Dickens, GeoffreyKaberry, Sir Donald
Dorrell, StephenKershaw, Sir Anthony
Dover, DenshoreKimball, Sir Marcus
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardKitson, Sir Timothy
Dunn, James A.Knox, David
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Lamont, Norman
Dykes, HughLang, Ian
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLangford-Holt, Sir John
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Lawrence, Ivan
Eggar, TimLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Elliott, Sir WilliamLee, John
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Le Marchant, Spencer
Emery, Sir PeterLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Eyre, ReginaldLester, Jim (Beeston)
Fairgrieve, Sir RussellLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Faith, Mrs SheilaLloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Fenner, Mrs PeggyLuce, Richard
Finsberg, GeoffreyLyell, Nicholas
Fisher, Sir NigelLyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Fitt, GerardMacfarlane, Neil
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)MacGregor, John
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir CharlesMacKay, John (Argyll)
Fookes, Miss JanetMaclennan, Robert
Forman, NigelMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMcNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Fox, MarcusMcQuarrie, Albert
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Madel, David
Freud, ClementMagee, Bryan
Fry, PeterMajor, John
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)Marland, Paul
Garel-Jones, TristanMarlow, Antony
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Ginsburg, DavidMarten, Rt Hon Neil
Glyn, Dr AlanMates, Michael
Goodhew, Sir VictorMawby, Ray
Goodlad, AlastairMawhinney, Dr Brian
Gow, IanMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Mayhew, Patrick
Grant, John (Islington C)Mellor, David
Gray, HamishMeyer, Sir Anthony
Greenway, HarryMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Grieve, PercyMills, Iain (Meriden)
Griffiths, E.(B'ySt. Edm'ds)Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)Miscampbell, Norman
Grist, IanMitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Grylls, MichaelMoate, Roger
Gummer, John SelwynMonro, Sir Hector
Hamilton, Hon A.Montgomery, Fergus
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Moore, John
Hampson, Dr KeithMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Hannam, JohnMudd, David
Haselhurst, AlanMyles, David
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelNeedham, Richard
Hawkins, PaulNelson, Anthony
Hawksley, WarrenNeubert, Michael
Hayhoe, BarneyNott, Rt Hon John
Heath, Rt Hon EdwardOnslow, Cranley
Heddle, JohnOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Henderson, BarryOsborn, John
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Hicks, RobertPage, John (Harrow, West)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Hill, JamesParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Parris, Matthew
Holland, Philip (Carlton)Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Hooson, TomPatten, John (Oxford)
Horam, JohnPattie, Geoffrey
Hordern, PeterPawsey, James
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)Percival, Sir Ian
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Peyton, Rt Hon John
Howells, GeraintPink, R. Bonner
Hunt, David (Wirral)Pollock, Alexander

Prentice, Rt Hon RegSquire, Robin
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)Stainton, Keith
Prior, Rt Hon JamesStanley, John
Pym, Rt Hon FrancisSteen, Anthony
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyStevens, Martin
Rathbone, TimStewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Renton, TimStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Rhodes James, RobertStradling Thomas, J.
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonTapsell, Peter
Ridsdale, Sir JulianTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Rifkind, MalcolmTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Rippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyTemple-Morris, Peter
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Rodgers, Rt Hon WilliamThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Roper, JohnThompson, Donald
Rossi, HughThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Rost, PeterThornton, Malcolm
Royle, Sir AnthonyTownend, John (Bridlington)
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyTownsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.Trippier, David
Scott, NicholasTrotter, Neville
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Shelton, William (Streatham)Viggers, Peter
Silvester, FredWaddington, David
Sims, RogerWakeham, John
Skeet, T. H. H.Waldegrave, Hon William
Smith, DudleyWalker, B. (Perth )
Speed, KeithWall, Sir Patrick
Speller, TonyWaller, Gary
Spence, JohnWalters, Dennis
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)Ward, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Warren, Kenneth
Sproat, IainWatson, John

Wells, BowenWilliams, D.(Montgomery)
Wells, John (Maidstone)Wolfson, Mark
Wheeler, JohnYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Whitelaw, Rt Hon WilliamYounger, Rt Hon George
Whitney, Raymond
Wickenden, KeithTellers for the Ayes:
Wiggin, JerryMr. Anthony Berry and Mr. Carol Mather.
Wilkinson, John


Amery, Rt Hon JulianMorris, M. (N'hampton S)
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnPaisley, Rev Ian
Body, RichardPorter, Barry
Budgen, NickPowell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
Cranborne, ViscountProctor, K. Harvey
Dunlop, JohnRobinson, P. (Belfast E)
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipShepherd, Richard
Gorst, JohnSmyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)
Hooson, TomStanbrook, Ivor
Knight, Mrs JillStokes, John
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Winterton, Nicholas
McCusker, H.
Macmillan, Rt Hon M.Tellers for the Noes:
McQuade, JohnMr. Christopher Murphy and Mr. john Farr
Molyneaux, James
Morgan, Geraint

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee Of the whole House.—[Mr. Thompson.]

Committee tomorrow.

Northern Ireland Money

Queen's Recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make new provision for the resumption of legislative and executive functions by the Northern Ireland Assembly and by persons responsible to it and to amend the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 and the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973, it is expedient to authorise any payments out of or into the Consolidated Fund which are attributable to extending section 4(2) of the last-mentioned Act to subsequent elections of members of the Assembly.—[Mr. John Patten.]

10.25 pm

There are a number of questions which I would want to put.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it conceivable that some of those hon. Members who are blocking the gangway could leave the Chamber?

I think that hon. Members are crowding in to hear the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I hope that they will be quiet.

As the money resolution is drawn, it only provides from the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of expenditure due to subsequent elections of Members of the Assembly. That directs our attention to a rather curious feature in the financial effects clause of the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill which is our natural guide in seeking to understand the background to the resolution. The financial paragraph of the explanatory and financial memorandum refers to the expenses for the next Assembly election, which are estimated at £750,000. Curiously enough—this is a matter of considerable criticism—it does not give the House, as any financial memorandum should, any view or estimate whatever of the full additional expenditure which the legislation will involve.

There seem to be two possibilities as regards the money resolution. First, the other expenditure incurred under the Bill will not come out of the Consolidated Fund. I do not see how that can be since one way or another the expenditure incurred in Northern Ireland must come out of the Consolidated Fund. The alternative, which I would welcome, is that the money resolution has been defectively drafted, in which case the Government will be aware that before they proceed further with the Bill they will have to introduce another money resolution. It will be realised that the point that I am putting is not merely a search for information but is vital to the further proceedings on the Bill.

I trust that, however inadequate may have been the briefing of the Minister upon the question which the House has just decided, the Minister will have been fully briefed upon the wording of the money resolution. My proposition is that prima facie the money resolution does not cover the expenditure which will be involved as a result of this legislation. I should mention, not all the ways in which additional expenditure would be caused if this Bill ever unfortunately became law, but some of the more obvious ways.

If the House will look at clause 4, it will find references to the chairman, deputy chairman and in some cases two deputy chairmen.

One way or another there is quite a plethora of chairmen. The House will note that special provision may be made for the payment, salaries, and so on, of such persons. I suppose that they will be drawing salaries as Members of the Assembly. Where does that appear? In addition, those who enjoy a patronage that could result in being appointed chairman, deputy chairman or second deputy chairman will have higher salaries.

In Committee, the House will be inquisitive to know on what scale—I seek a neutral word—it is intended to reward for their services those who are fortunate enough to secure those appointments. I hope that no hon. Member will take exception to the phrase "reward for their services". Since there is to be a committee in respect of every Department of the Government of Northern Ireland and since the Assembly is to have the power to establish other committees, and since nothing in the Bill prevents the payment of salaries to the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the additional supernumerary or superfluous committees that the Assembly might create, a considerable sum of public money will be required by the very nature of the Bill's provisions.

If that money is not to come from the Consolidated Fund, where will it come from? Before we accept the money resolution, we must understand that. I was once Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I hope that I shall not wound the present Financial Secretary too gravely when I say that, if I had been presented with such a scrappy and inadequate financial memorandum to a Bill, there would have been considerable trouble and I would have asked to be shown a much more substantial draft before letting the matter go forward.

Regardless of whether the money resolution should cover the matter of such salaries, there is no doubt that the House should have been warned that an additional load was to fall on public funds. I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister—with her well-known keenness for avoiding excessive additions to public expenditure—have been made aware of the extent to which public expenditure will, or could, be increased as a result of the Bill. It cannot be denied that the House has been treated scurvily by the financial effects paragraph and by the scrappy four lines in the memorandum.

The memorandum entirely ignores the matter of salaries. It also ignores the great duplication of effort that will inevitably arise if the Assembly develops in the way that the Bill envisages. Not only will the Assembly—[Interruption.]I do not wish to interrupt any communications that the Under-Secretary of State may be receiving. I am sure that they are vital. I should not wish to interrupt him and, if it assists, I shall be quite willing to include a sentence or two that might not be essential to my argument. The Under-Secretary may say that he can hear in two places at once. I do not want to be carried too far by speculation, but that may account for the fact that he could give his approval, on his own personal honour, to the Bill that has just been given a Second Reading.

However, I shall leave that matter aside and go back to the financial resolution. There are other aspects of additional public expenditure on which the House should be informed. When, many years ago, the House laid down a rule that it was not prepared to be presented with a Bill for Second Reading, unless it was covered with a financial memorandum so that hon. Members might know, when they were voting for the Bill, what the financial effects were, it expected that that financial resolution, although it might inevitably contain speculative and hypothetical matter, would nevertheless represent an honest attempt to assess the public expenditure that was involved.

Apparently no thought has been given to the expenditure incurred on salaries; no thought has apparently been given to the expenditure incurred in the operations of the Assembly. We have been told repeatedly, and by no one more emphatically than the Minister, that the Assembly will carry out a detailed scrutiny such as we have not been able to achieve of the various operations of the Northern Ireland Departments.

Are the Government going to tell us that this marvellous expansion from the, according to them, almost nugatory examination that we have been able to give to the Northern Ireland Office into a detailed investigation of what is going on Department by Department, branch by branch and activity by activity, will involve no extra public expenditure? It is almost a contradiction. It virtually reduces to a nullity one of the major reasons on the basis of which the Minister commended the Bill to the House on Second Reading.

I am listening with interest to my right hon. Friend pointing out to the House the things that are not covered by the memorandum. Will he assure us that covered by the memorandum is not only the cost of the officials and the printing of all the ballot papers—for instance, the ballot papers for Antrim, South will be the size of a newspaper page—but the cost of the extra security that will have to be provided throughout the lead-up period to the election and during the election?

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) may I say that perhaps I have been too ready to accept the estimate that we were offered of only £750,000 for the Assembly elections. I am sure that, having heard what my hon. Friend has said, the Government will be prepared to confirm that the estimate of £750,000 includes all the ancillary and incidental expenses that are involved in any election, including those incurred particularly in Northern Ireland. Otherwise, obviously, even the figure that they have vouchsafed to give us would be a careless and inadequate figure.

But apart from that there are large areas of public expenditure, which, if the Bill is to mean anything, are bound to be incurred as a result. The thought has just entered my head that it is possible that the inadequacy of the financial resolution represented a conviction on the part of those who drew up the memorandum, perhaps a settled conviction on the part of the Treasury, that there never was going to be any devolution taking place by virtue of the Bill. That could be the reason why they have confined themselves to the Assembly and said that there will be no further public expenditure because the Assembly will not be able to do anything and there will not be rolling devolution. So it is possible that we have come upon a trace of the acute minds that look after the finances both in the Finance Department in Northern Ireland and in the Treasury.

I hesitate to accuse the right hon. Gentleman of naivety, but surely when assemblies do nothing that never stops them from spending money?

That is a point the hon. Gentleman must have out with the Government, because I am looking for all possible reasons I can think of to account for the scrappy inadequacy of the explanatory and financial memorandum and, until we have the contrary explained to us, of the money resolution which in some senses, though not in all, is a more serious matter.

However, I venture upon the purely hypothetical point, and I do not believe it, as I think very few other hon. Members believe it who have directed their minds to the Bill, that there should actually be some devolution. Is it actually contended that when you take successively out of the Northern Ireland Office elements of a Northern Ireland Government and put them under the control of the head of a department and at a later stage—this again is where the ability of the hon. Member, if he should be in charge of the proceedings, to hear with both ears will be invaluable—we shall have to try to explain how the head of a department can both be responsible to his colleagues in the Government of Northern Ireland—to go no further than that—and also be responsible to the Assembly of which he is a Member?

It seems to me to be inconceivable that the rolling devolution could even go through its earlier stages without additional administrative expenditure being incurred. Remember, the finance and personnel section—that is to say, the sort of mini-Treasury of Northern Ireland—will not be part of the rolling devolution exercise unless amendments, which may be put down on the paper, to leave out subsection (4) of clause 2 are carried, and I trust that we shall carry some amendments in the course of the Committee stage because otherwise we cannot have a Report stage. Unless that is left out the Finance Department—whatever else is devolved—will remain firmly in its matrix in the Northern Ireland Office.

It stands to reason that the difficulty and therefore the bureaucratic labour of the Finance Department in keeping the accurate check and tracks it keeps on the doings of the other Departments will be much greater during the period of rolling devolution than it is at present when all those Department are—not literally but at any rate metaphorically—administratively under the same roof.

I do not believe that I have exhausted the subject. Indeed, it may be argued that in criticising the explanatory and financial memorandum for being cursory and scrappy my own few suggestions that I have thrown out as to obvious forms of expenditure which will be incurred are in themselves inadequate for the occasion, but we debate the resolution under some limitation of time, the absence of which before it was embodied in the Standing Orders of the House was painfully felt by hon. Members finding themselves in the Minister's present position. After indicating, and I hope proving, that the expenditure incurred cannot be limited to the costs of the election I leave the opportunity for the Government to explain why it is not covered in the explanatory and financial memorandum and included in the money resolution that is before the House.

10.44 pm

I am pleased to have the opportunity straightforwardly to explain to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) why we need the money resolution.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government had attempted to treat the House scurvily. I hope that, after I have replied to him, he will feel that that was perhaps a little strong. I hope, too, that he will forgive me for appearing for a brief moment not to lend both my ears to what he was saying. I shall try in future to do so. Ten years in the Byzantine complexities of an Oxford common room taught me to listen in several directions at once.

The purpose of the money resolution is to seek the approval of the House for expenditure out of the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund on the next and subsequent Assembly elections and by-elections. Under paragraph 11 of schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 such elections are excepted matters. As such they will remain the responsibility of this sovereign body in the event of partial or full devolution. That is why we have to make provision for the elections out of the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund.

The cost of the next election has been estimated at £750,000, not including any extra security, which would be provided by security forces already available. Police and other security overtime costs would be met from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. It is that fund, rather than the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund, from which the costs of running the new Assembly, should it come into being, would be paid.

The explanatory and financial memorandum correctly and clearly relates to the precise provision and effects of the Bill. It does not refer to the annual running costs of the Assembly. As I said, those will be met from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. We estimate—we cannot yet estimate with precision—that the annual cost of running the Assembly will be about £2 million. That sum will be met from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund.

Is the Minister saying that an increase in the expenditure out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund does not result in an increase in the expenditure out of the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund? I appreciate that the sum is directly from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, but surely the consequence of an increase in the total budget of Northern Ireland must be to increase the issues out of the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund.

Extra sums do not have to be covered by a money resolution appended to the Bill. The explanatory and financial memorandum makes it clear that it correctly relates to the precise provision and effects of the Bill. It does not refer to the annual running costs of the Assembly.

In that case, in being presented with a financial memorandum, which, from the view of the House, is like any other, the House is being misled. I use that word with no overtones. The normal effect of a financial memorandum is to tell the House roughly what the Bill will cost so far as can be anticipated. Instead, the House has been told only what it will cost in direct, not indirect, payments, from the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund, let alone from public resources generally. On the basis of what the Minister said, surely it must follow that the provision for increases in issues from the Consolidated Fund is inadequate.

I am grateful for that lengthy intervention. I have described the legal position precisely as it stands according to the provisions of the Northern Ireland Bill. Section 13(1) of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 states:

"The Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland shall continue to exist but there shall cease to be an Exchequer of Northern Ireland separate from the Consolidated Fund."
That is precisely the case. The House votes moneys to Northern Ireland. That is still called the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. It is from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund that the Government will correctly pay the money for the running of the Assembly—the payment of its staff, Chairmen, Deputy Chairmen and Members. The Bill requires only that moneys be voted to pay for the election and that suitable provision should be made for subsequent elections and by-elections.

Paragraph 10 of schedule 2 to the Bill provides that section 4(2) of the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973 shall apply to subsequent elections and by-elections to the Assembly. The explanatory and financial memorandum states:
"The expenses for the next Assembly election are estimated at about £750,000."
That is what the money resolution is about. That is why it is correctly laid in the form attached to the Bill.

I hope that I am not being unduly foolish in not understanding my hon. Friend, but in reply to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) he appeared to say that the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund would be impoverished by about £2 million, which would otherwise presumably be spent in other ways in Northern Ireland. Am I correct in that assumption?

That could be the case, or the House could vote extra moneys to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. Whether "impoverished" is correct in connection with the Assembly is a matter for judgment. The fact that the basis of Supply is as I have described it means that the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund will meet the estimated cost of £2 million for running the Assembly.

Question put and agreed to.


That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make new provision for the resumption of legislative and executive functions by the Northern Ireland Assembly and by persons responsible to it and to amend the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 and the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973, it is expedient to authorise any payments out of or into the Consolidated Fund which are attributable to extending section 4(2) of the last-mentioned Act to subsequent elections of members of the Assembly.

Land Compensation (Northern Ireland)


That the draft Land Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 26 January, be approved.—[Mr. John Patten.]

Probation Board (Northern Ireland)

I beg to move,

That the draft Probation Board (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 22nd April, be approved.
I have been described by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) as a maid of all work for the Northern Ireland Office. I hope that he will bear with me as I make my last speech of the evening, except, perhaps, for any reply that I must make.

The order seeks to implement one of the recommendations of the review group on legislation and services for children and young persons, popularly known in Northern Ireland as the Black committee after its chairman the effective and much lamented late Sir Harold Black.

The Black committee, in addition to the task that it was given in respect of juvenile offenders and children in need of care, was also asked to consider the future administration of the Northern Ireland probation service. I must stress that in my view what we are discussing tonight are not the broad issues of the Black committee report and its recommendations about which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently made a substantial and, I hope, substantive statement to the House. Further debates on that must await another day. We are concerned purely with the contents of the draft order, which represents a significant development in the history of the Northern Ireland probation service.

Some hon. Members will he aware that the Northern Ireland probation service, unlike its sister services in England and Wales, has for a good many years been administered direct by a Government Department. The reasons are largely historical and stem from a somewhat erratic development of probation services in Northern Ireland during the 1920s and 1930s. The legislation in force at that time—the Probation of Offenders Act 1907—applied throughout the United Kingdom and placed the responsibility for appointing probation officers on local justices. In certain parts of Northern Ireland, particularly and peculiarly in some rural areas, and for reasons best known to themselves, some justices chose not to appoint probation officers. It is difficult to explain that state of affairs. I expect that they had other preoccupations at the time.

In 1935 the Summary Jurisdiction and Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) transferred responsibility for appointing probation officers to the then Ministry for Home Affairs under the old Stormont. This arrangement was confirmed in the Probation Act (Northern Ireland) 1950 and has remained unchanged in its main provisions until this day, except that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is now responsible under the terms of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act.

The 1950 Act authorises the Secretary of State to do many things concerned with the probation service. It authorises him to appoint and to pay probation officers, to assign them to courts, and to make available the necessary administrative facilities. The Act also provides that the full cost of the service should be borne on the Consolidated Fund—that self-same Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund that was the subject of some debate on the money resolution.

That contrasts with the position in England and Wales, where administration is by probation and after-care committees funded jointly by local authorities and by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, unity does not lead to uniformity. Scotland has its own arrangements, whereby the probation service has been integrated into local authority social work departments and has ceased to exist as a separate service.

In considering the range of options open to it, the committee under Sir Harold Black invited comments from many people. When it received them it considered the lessons that might be learnt from other parts of the kingdom and looked at the options. On the basis of the information available to it, the committee decided that there were three options.

The first was to leave things exactly as they were and to leave the probation service as a separate body responsible to the Northern Ireland Office. The second option was to depart entirely from that and to make the probation service a separate body responsible 10 a probation committee with a membership drawn from the community. As I am sure my hon. Friends will agree, that was a highly novel and interesting suggestion in the context of Northern Ireland

The third suggestion was that Northern Ireland should follow the Scots model and that the probation service should be absorbed into the social service departments of area health and social service boards.

I know that many hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), are interested in these issues. As they will be aware, the report concluded that the probation service should remain a separate service and not be integrated into the health and social services of the Province. At the same time, the committee did not feel it right that the probation service should continue to be administered under the Northern Ireland Office, but not because the Northern Ireland Office had in any way failed to carry out its role responsibly.

The committee recommended the change because it felt that the effectiveness of the probation service would be enhanced by community participation in the management of the probation service, and that that community participation could not be brought forward under the present provisions. The probation service was to be transferred lock, stock and barrel from the Northern Ireland Office to the new body.

In endorsing that conclusion the Government have bean much encouraged by the experience since April 1979—starting under the Labour Government and subsequently under this Government—of community involvement in the management of the community service scheme. That has been a great success.

Before turning to the provisions of the order I should mention that, following its publication last November as a proposal for legislation according to the normal formula in the Province, a number of interested bodies, including the probation service itself, submitted comments and recommendations. I am pleased to report, and I hope that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) shares this pleasure, that without exception, the main proposal that there should be an independent board to run the probation service was welcomed. There were several suggestions about ways in which the order might be improved. Again, the Government responded.

I come now to the articles. If I say that there are 17 of them, that is not a threat, merely a description. Of those 17, three or four are the key articles to which we should pay attention. Article 3 gives effect to schedule 1 to the order, which details the constitution of the board. It provides that the board will be a body corporate in its management and in the running of the probation service in Northern Ireland. It provides that the board should have members appointed by the Secretary of State, who will also appoint the chairman, to serve for three years. There will be consultations about the membership of the board, similar to the consultation that takes place when other non-departmental bodies are set up. We hope that the board will be broadly representative of community interests. I hope that it will be staffed by people who will support the aims and work of the probation service.

We hope that the interests from which nominations will be sought will include district councils, the lay magistracy, the legal profession, the trades unions, commerce and industry, the universities and voluntary organisations. We see a significant role for voluntary organisations, particularly in providing some of the after-care services which any good community-encompassed probation service should have.

Article 4 lists the main functions of the board and distinguishes between those which it must carry out and those which it may carry out. For example, it will provide the care of prisoners during sentence and after release, community service by offenders, which has been quite a success in many parts of the Province since its introduction, hostels and other facilities of that sort that are designed to help the reintegration of offenders into the community.

Article 5 requires the board to assign probation officers to the Northern Ireland courts. This is an important provision.

Article 6 recognises that my right hon. Friend has overall responsibility for the treatment of offenders in Northern Ireland. The provisions of article 6 will make it possible for him, should the occasion demand, to offer advice to the board on the exercise of its functions. That is an important provision, but I do not expect that it will be used often. Our experience of other very successful non-departmental bodies, such as the education and library boards and the health and social services boards, leads us to expect that that will be the case.

Articles 7 to 16 first make financial provision and then provide for a number of other important issues affecting the new probation board; for example, the possibility of the board integrating voluntary organisations into its work, conducting research of its own—as the probation service does on this side of the water—and inspecting hostels and after-care facilities.

Article 15 makes the very important provision that the Secretary of State can make rules for the proper regulation and management of hostels and after-care facilities.

The order has been widely welcomed and it is intended that the staff of the probation service should move, perhaps quite soon—in months rather than years—from one particular form of employment, under the Northern Ireland Office, to another form of employment under the new probation board once that has been set up.

The Opposition spokesman will have very much at heart those who were, at one remove, once his colleagues. We know that he was a professional probation officer in a previous career. Incidentally, I was very pleased to see that the term of probation to which the Leader of the Opposition subjected him on the Back Benches, for five or six weeks, has come to an end so quickly and that we find him back in his accustomed place on the Opposition Front Bench.

The board is required to make an offer of continuing employment to all such staff as want that employment, on terms which, taken as a whole—staff cannot, obviously, be given identical jobs in identical offices—will not be less favourable than the terms on which they are employed on the date on which the offer is made. That will ensure that no probation officer or probation assistant is disadvantaged overall by transfer.

I draw to the attention of the House—and particularly to that of the Opposition spokesman—the substantial increase in the numerical strength of the probation service in Northern Ireland in recent years. In January 1978 there were 107 probation officers in the Province. In January 1982 there were 170—an increase of 59 per cent. over the period. The transfer of existing staff should allow the board to discharge its main responsibility under the order, which is to give adequate and efficient probation service to those in need of it, with an adequate number of probation officers in the Province. I do not think that there has been wide recognition in Northern Ireland of how dramatic that increase has been, and I give full credit to the previous Administration for their part in bringing about the plans on which the increase was based.

My last point touches on a recommendation made by the Black committee as part of its wider recommendations on the care of children and young persons as a whole. The committee suggested that the probation board, as an additional responsibility outside its remit as a probation service, should have responsibility for the management of the custodial establishment catering for the more serious and persistent juvenile offenders. That recommendation is not addressed in the order, but it may be the subject of further legislation that may flow from the consideration of the Black committee recommendations.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House recently that he was convinced of the rightness of the Black committee recommendations and was anxious that they should be carried forward with all speed. We are determined to carry them forward and the order is the first significant step in that direction.

11.10 pm

The Opposition welcome the setting up of an independent board for the Northern Ireland probation service. I am grateful for the Under-Secretary's comments about me. I am never sure of the relative advantages of discipline in the Conservative and Labour Parties. It seems to me that the Opposition are more generous, because we have conditional discharges, absolute discharges and occasionally suspended sentences, whereas the Conservatives tend towards incarceration or exile. Fortunately, they have dropped the death penalty; and we welcome that as a step in the right direction.

It would not be in order for an hon. Member to deal in depth with the Black report. It is an interesting report which is well worth reading, but it would not be appropriate to discuss the recommendations on training schools or the custodial unit, which would require another order or a Bill.

Before I became an hon. Member I visited the Northern Ireland probation service and was impressed by the work done there. It is an extremely difficult environment in which to work, because views of Republicanism and Unionism and what side one takes infiltrate right through the State and its organisation. In addition, people in Northern Ireland do not always separate out crime as we do and it is sometimes given a political interpretation, regardless of whether we agree with that.

A basic assumption in the setting up on the board is that there will be a coming down on the side of what has become known as the justice model, as opposed to the welfare model. I have come to share that view over the years. It is not an easy decision, and there is no final right or wrong. There are advantages and disadvantages in both models. The justice side recognises the importance of both punishment and the rights of the child, whereas the welfare side tries to deal with the needs of the child in a social, psychological or behavioural approach. The sides are difficult to separate. Anyone who has been in a juvenile court knows that the link between an offence and the environment and home of the offender is very close. That is also true of adult courts.

I recognise the importance of punishment because it is a mistake to assume that it does not have a role in the rearing of children. It always has done, and that has been recognised by social workers and probation officers for many years. However, it is important to set the punishment in the context of the offence and when a child comes before a court from a home which is not as good as it should be and from an environment lacking many of the advantages that should be available it is wrong to impose on him a punishment that is greater than we would impose on our own children or would see others impose on them.

I welcome the presence in the debate of the Minister of State, Home Office, who has an interest in these matters. I have batted his ears on a number of occasions with complaints about there being far too many people in our prisons, largely because we were putting so many into custodial settings as youngsters.

All that one can say with safety about custodial experience, particularly for children, is that one learns to live in the institution which makes a return at a later date easier. Anyone admitted to hospital in an emergency will have some idea of the shock and horror that is felt when one is first admitted. The longer one stays, the greater the degree to which shock works off. If one stays a long time, the main anxiety is that of wondering what will happen when one leaves. Similarly, the shock occasioned to someone entering a penal institution for the first time is horrific. The shock lasts for several days and possibly for several weeks. Then follows the anxiety before one goes out again. Afterwards, however, it is easier to go back on a second, third or subsequent occasion.

The political troubles aside, the social fabric in Northern Ireland is perhaps closer and more supportive than is the case on this side of the water. Nevertheless, unemployment and poor environment, combined with lack of love or lack of consistency in the parenting of a child, will inevitably lead towards trouble. This can be manifested in the form of delinquent behaviour or other behavioural problems that beset the child then or later in life as an adult. These matters should not be ignored.

We are, however, concerned with the setting up of a board to run the probation service. Perhaps the most important question is the appointment of the chairman. I emphasised, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) in the previous debate, the importance of finding a presiding officer for the Assembly who was acceptable to the whole community. That requirement is reflected in many institutions of the State in Northern Ireland, not least in the probation service.

One of the purposes of creating the board is to bring it nearer to the public. That is important. The probation service is able to enter homes across the divide. It is, therefore, even more important that the chairman and members of the board are seen to be able to cross the divide. The Opposition will be watching with concern to see that the right person is appointed. It will not he easy. It is, however, important if the probation service is to continue its impressive record in crossing the sectarian divide.

When the debate took place in this country, considerable concern was expressed about what would happen to the social services. The setting up of family courts in Scotland was a courageous step. In England and Wales, juveniles were taken largely out of the hands of the probation service. Every now and then, there is talk of putting them back. One of my anxieties is as to the danger of undermining the role of the social worker and the social services. This lends credence to the myth that social workers are less able than the probation service to deal with delinquents. That is not necessarily true. A great deal depends on training and experience. I would not like to see the role of the social services undermined.

It is not clear to me whether the order provides for payment only to the chairman or to all the members of the board. Schedule 1 contains the words:
"The Board shall pay or make provision of such remuneration".
I read from that that all members of the board will be paid in some way, but I am not clear whether the words "of such remuneration" alter that in some way. I should welcome clarification as to whether all members of the board will be paid. I do not know whether the Minister has any information on how that scale of payment will be worked out and what it will be related to, but it would be helpful to know that as well. I am not asking for a detailed reply.

Article 12 of the order refers to loans to probation officers to buy cars. They do not have that facility in Northern Ireland, although they have had that facility for many years in other parts of the United Kingdom. It has been beneficial, because a newly appointed probation officer does not necessarily have the money to buy a Car, but a car is often essential, particularly for those living and working in a rural area. Will the Minister say what can be expected there?

One of the things that ought to be relevant is whether the interest rate on the loan will be linked to the market rate of interest, or whether it will be a set rate of interest. There have been different practices in England and Wales on that. Again, I recognise that the Minister might not have an immediate reply, but I draw his attention to it. I am sure that the Minister would not want to draw this article in such a way as to impose on the negotiations between the trade union concerned and the employing side. Nevertheless, the provision is welcome.

There are two or three other related points which, again, I recognise that the Minister might not be able to respond to straight away. Will the board be able to consider, if not setting up itself, at least giving considerable encouragement f o the establishment of victim schemes? These have been useful in the United Kingdom. It is one of the ways of getting the public to understand and accept the problems that are posed by offenders in society, and a way of getting the general public to be more sympathetic to a humane and enlightened penal policy.

I should also like to know, perhaps at a later stage, whether the board will be able to set up a limited company, as was done by the London probation service, when it formulated the organisation known as Bulldog. This was an attempt to give employment to those who had not had any for many years, in a relatively controlled and sheltered environment, yet doing real jobs in a community that needed the work done.

I should not like the problem of alcohol abuse to be underestimated. Again, the Minister will know of my direct involvement in this, as chairman of the Alcohol Education Centre. It is no news to anybody who works in this field—all the statistics confirm a growing problem—that alcohol abuse is usually linked with crime. I should also like to press the Minister to remind the Government that unemployment is also linked to crime.

The link in these things is never direct. I suspect that alcohol lowers the social control a little more and makes an offence that little bit more likely. Similarly, unemployment allows crime to take place by making time available, giving a greater motive for the need for money, and a host of other factors, not least the feeling that one is no longer able to contribute, or be of use, to society.

I welcome the order, which is useful. In the long term it may have more uses than we recognise in our late and not all that well-attended debate, but I should like to give it that welcome and to have a response from the Minister in due course on some of the points that I have raised.

11.23 pm

I speak on behalf of the Official Unionist Party, which generally welcomes the order, particularly as it is a step forward in the implementation of the Black report.

Many people in Northern Ireland are concerned over the tardiness with which the Black report has been implemented. Others are concerned that, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) pointed out, there will be a conflict between the judicial model and the welfare model. I come close to the point of view of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North, and I particularly underscore the point that it is not true justice or true welfare. Rather than thinking in terms of a conflict of interests, we should have better movement there.

Having said that, I must disagree about some people in Northern Ireland not being able to act as chairmen of bodies. In Ulster we have an old saying—I am sure that it is common in other parts of the Kingdom—"As you live your life, you judge your neighbour." I suspect that, in view of the problems that are apparent in some areas of the United Kingdom, one may believe that there are no people in Ulster who are accepted by anyone but themselves. I wish to put on record the tremendous service that successive chairmen in this area have given in Northern Ireland. I could mention several who are held in the highest esteem although, at other levels, we may disagree with some of their views. I wish to pay tribute to the staff and to the work done for many years in Rathgael, where many a lad has found great help in moments of difficulty in his life.

There are one or two points on which I should like further clarification. Will the Minister assure the House that the position of probation officers under article 4(1)(c), in cases where they do not believe that they are social workers, has been properly understood? Equally, I voice concern about the pressure that has been put upon social workers in Northern Ireland to carry out court work over and above the other work that they have been doing. Sometimes there is insufficient staffing and some of them have insufficient training to do that work. If the Government want to involve them in such work—I question at times whether they should be doing it—there should be adequate resources to make it possible for them to carry out that work.

Turning to article 12, I reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North, especially bearing in mind that social workers in Northern Ireland have that facility. Probation workers are entitled to have equal status with those involved in similar work.

I gather that there is concern in some quarters about the composition of the board. It is for the Government to make it representative of the whole country. That is the purpose of the board, if we take into account the various interests.

There is also concern about the understanding and use of the word "rehabilitation" in schedule 4. Some members of the probation service consider that it may be too restrictive. It would be helpful if the Minister would further consider its purpose and whether it would be to the good of the service if it were exchanged for some other word.

Finally, on the employment of staff, the Minister repeated the term "taken as a whole". I understand what he meant by it. I hope that those who have to implement it also understand what the Minister meant and will take it in the same way, because it could be misused to deny some members' rights in the transfer of resources.

11.28 pm

I rise briefly to support and supplement what has been ably said by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth).

In the debate in the Northern Ireland Committee on the more general matter of the Select Committee report there was fairly general agreement on the desirability of avoiding piecemeal implementation of that report. The Government seem to have largely ignored that view, which they did not seem to resist when it was put in the course of the earlier debate.

The first penny packet—if one can call it that—implementation of the Black report came in the form of the regrouping and reorganisation of the homes and institutions. This evening in this order we have a further step. As most of the ground was covered in an earlier debate and in various discussions with the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), we did not feel it necessary or justified to ask for a further interim debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South, sought certain assurances and clarifications. As he said, it may be that such assurances have been given to those most closely affected. He was right to seek to have those assurances placed on the record tonight.

I stress the importance of adhering to the overall strategy of the Black committee report. All the people of Northern Ireland—not two communities; I believe that there is only one—have a vested interest in obtaining results from the proposed structure as a whole. All of them have a right to expect us to insist on a plan and timetable for the introduction of the Black committee's recommendations as a whole.

While I welcome the Minister's assurance in his opening speech that the Government recognise the desirability of treating the report as a whole, I must say that the limited step that we are taking tonight will not yield the desired result if it is left in isolation.

11.31 pm

I give a general welcome to the order that is before the House tonight. I should like also to pay a tribute to those who have been active in this area through the years. They have persevered, despite difficulties and problems, and those who know something about the care of young people who unfortunately in our society have gone astray have the highest possible tribute to pay to those who have engaged themselves in this regard, some as properly appointed probation officers and others in voluntary organisations. They have done a very good job of work and should not go unnoticed in the debate this evening.

The appointment of the board is a vital and important matter. If the Under-Secretary of State had not drawn a parallel with the educational library boards when he introduced this, I would have been more happy. Northern Ireland is not particularly enamoured of the appointed boards that we have at present.

I seek an assurance from the Minister that those boards are not for defeated candidates of certain parties that the Government feel should get into office even though the ballot rejects them. It is a sad and sometimes bitter experience to see appointed to education boards those who could not get elected to office. The sop of appointing them to boards was made by the Government. Those in large political parties have no nominations whatever.

I am sure that, if the Government follow the same policy, no one with any sympathy whatever for the Democratic Unionist Party has a chance to be appointed to this board. If the Government are being fair, and if they say that they make appointees to spread the view of a particular board, they should have regard to the voting strengths of individual parties. They should also ensure that at least some voice from that particular party should be heard on that board. What I have said is true of the Democratic Unionist Party as it is of the Official Unionist Party and, in some instances, of the SDLP, which I have heard making the same complaint. I say without tongue in cheek that this must not be an Alliance board. Let the board extend across the divide. Let it embrace the Roman Catholic population and the Protestant population, including those who are called extreme Protestants, moderate Protestants and ecumenical Protestants, and the divisions that may exist in the Roman Catholic Church. Let them all have a place as of right on the board.

I must take issue with the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench. He seems to think that there is no respect for the chairmen of committees in Northern Ireland. I may be exaggerating slightly—

I shall put my argument another way. The hon. Gentleman seems to feel that our attitude towards our chairmen is not our greatest strength. I ask him to remember all the strife and difficulty that have been experienced. Against that background, the chairmen have done a good job of work. There are people in Northern Ireland who are capable of doing the job.

Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten what I said in the House only a fortnight ago? I said that it is my belief that the people of Northern Ireland are well capable of governing themselves I noticed that the hon. Gentleman was nodding enthusiastically at the time. At the same time probation officers recognise that there is a problem in relating to the various groups within the Province. The hon. Gentleman has touched on that problem quite effectively. I have no doubt about the ability of a number of people in Northern Ireland to perform that task.

If a person is given a task, he must be allowed to prove himself. There was an individual who was reckoned to be a extreme Right-wing Unionist, and that was the Rt. Hon. Nat Minford. There was a debate in this Chamber about his conduct in an election in West Belfast. He took the chair at the Assembly, which was an extremely stormy body. Some of the members of the Assembly, including myself, did not give much trouble because they did not attend, but when they did attend the result was that there was a stormy passage. However, Nat Minford gained the respect of the Assembly. He did so because he had the opportunity of doing the job.

I should like the Minister to tell us something more about the five co-opted members. If I were preaching, I would say that five was the number of grace in the scripture, but I do not know how much grace the five will have. Does the Minister feel that the appointed members of the board should have an opportunity to bring in others with professional skills?

The board has a maximum size and its membership does not have to be taken up to the maximum. We want as effective a body as possible. We wish the board to have the ability, if it so desires, to appoint additional experts. I understand that similar committees on this side of he water are made up largely, if not wholly, of lay magistrates who can co-opt additional people to help them in their deliberations. The Government are given some assurance that they are going down the right road if they see the community being brought in on this side of the water as they are planning to have it brought in from day one in the Province.

I welcome the Minister's intervention on that part of the order. As he said, it is an important part. The old local authority committees and certain committees of local government offered the opportunity to co-opt certain members to aid the work of the board.

I hope that the Minister will tell us more about the functions, organisation and jurisdiction of the bail hostels. The representations that I have received from the probation service are largely met by the order. Those of us in public life know that if there is a tremendous lobby on an issue it means that people are dissatisfied. Of course, there was a lobby when the order was drafted. However, many of the points have been met and welcome that. Nevertheless, like the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), I feel that the probation officers are entitled to the matters that they put before the Minister.

11.40 pm

I am pleased to reply to the debate and to note that the order has been given a general welcome. Hon. Members, particularly the hon. Members for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), have raised several detailed points. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) made some general remarks about the Government's policy towards the Black report. He attempted to pin the Government down to give a clear undertaking that they would proceed as quickly as possible with the implementation of the Black strategy. I gave that undertaking at the beginning of the debate, but I happily give it again. The whole Black strategy could not have been implemented under the terms of one order. The order would have been extremely complex and long, and if our main aim remains the implementation of the strategy I cannot see why it is not best to legislate bit by bit as the strategy comes together.

I greatly welcome the remarks of the hon. Members for Belfast, South and for Antrim, North about the high standard of the probation service in Northern Ireland and about the high standards of those who have helped to run that service. I assure the hon. Member for Belfast, South that probation officers fully understand their role, just as social workers do. Under the transfer of powers, there is no reason why that highly trained body should not carry on conducting affairs. To the best of my knowledge there has been little or no complaint in recent years about its conduct of affairs. Sometimes the overlap between social workers and probation officers is slightly blurred. That has not necessarily always worked against the welfare of society as a whole or that of—as social workers insist on saying—the "client". I wish that they could find a better word.

I share some of the feelings expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, South about the word "rehabilitation". That word caused him some concern. It causes quite a lot of concern to some probation officers and for that reason its use was avoided in the order. The reference to it is in schedule 4 in the context of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953.

The hon. Members for Belfast, South and for Antrim, North raised the important issue of the composition of the committee and of who should be its chairman. For a while it seemed to be suggested that a chairman might not easily be found from among the people of Northern Ireland. I know that that was not really meant, but one need look only at the successful chairmen of some of the health and personal social service boards, and some of the education and library boards, to see that there is a galaxy of talent from which the Secretary of State can appoint a suitable chairman.

I reassure the hon. Member for Antrim, North about the welfare of those young people who may be committed to the care of voluntary organisations and hostels at some stage of their rehabilitation into society. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to articles 14 and 15. Article 14 authorises the Secretary of State to appoint inspectors to look into the running of hostels and other establishments such as bail hostels and places where young and older offenders can be trained and rehabilitated.

Article 15 enables the Secretary of State to make clear rules for the proper regulation and management of hostels. Those controls are necessary. They are made necessary by the fact that such establishments provide accommodation for offenders, many of whom will be required to reside therein by the courts. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there is adequate provision in the order for the inspection and running of such establishments.

A number of points were raised by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), who gave us the weight of his experience. That showed in the interesting remarks that he made about the overlap between the justice model and the welfare model of the treatment of offenders, both of which can be accommodated in the community framework. I do not know whether that accords with practice and theory in the probation service.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of payment of the chairman of the board and of its members. The draft order makes it clear that payments to members will be determined by the Secretary of State with the approval of the Treasury. Once they have been determined, it will be the duty of the board to make the payments. The rates of payment have not been fixed, but it is the intention that the chairman should be paid an honorarium in the same way as chairman of the education and library boards and health and social services boards are paid honoraria. Other members, including the deputy chairman, should be paid attendance allowances and travel expenses in the same way as one could reasonably expect such committee members to be reimbursed. That is consistent with current practice in Northern Ireland in the non-departmental bodies—the statutory boards. We do not intend to deviate one little bit from that practice.

The hon. Member also looked into the terms and conditions of service for those who are transferred from one form of authority—the Northern Ireland Office—to another form of authority and of employment—the board when it is set up, if the order is passed. He was interested in the issue of car loans and how those car loans should be calculated for probation officers. He said, rightly, that younger probation officers have considerable problems in finding the money to buy a car. There is no reason why they should come into the service with a car. In England and Wales probation officers are provided with loans from which they can purchase motor cars. The hon. Gentleman made a specific point about rates of interest. We hope that the rates of interest to be charged will be broadly in line with those applicable in England and Wales.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue whether such a board could introduce a victim scheme or a bulldog scheme. I have no doubt about this. The board may consider seriously the possibilities of participating in a form of victim scheme suitable for the Province. It is not required to do so, but it may decide to do so. I cannot commit the board in advance of the appointment of its chairman and members. However, there is nothing to prevent it from indulging in that form of after-care for victims, any more than there is to prevent it from setting up such schemes as the bulldog scheme, as carried out at present by the inner London probation service. I see no reason why, once it has been appointed, the board should not turn its mind to introducing a somewhat similar scheme in Northern Ireland. Once again, that is a matter for the board, but the board is not prevented by the provisions of the order from turning its attention to that matter.

I appreciate the welcome that has been given to the order. Should it pass through the House tonight I believe that it will, to a certain extent, mark the coming of age of the probation service in Northern Ireland. I am not referring just to its growth to more than 100 members since those rural justices in pre-1935 days, for reasons best known to themselves, decided not to appoint probation officers. It has come a very long way.

I think that the order recognises the extremely important role that the community and the leaders of the community in Northern Ireland can and should play in the context of the probation service.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Probation Board (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 22nd April, be approved.

Statutory Instruments, &C

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)


That the draft Hovercraft (Application of Enactments) (Amendment) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 20th April, be approved.— [Mr. Lang.]

Question agreed to.

Prison Officers (Transfer Expenses)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Lang.]

11.53 pm

Some 15 to 17 ye ars ago, long before I joined the House, as a member of the now defunct Durham rural district council I approved the building of the new prison at Frankland just outside the city of Durham knowing all the difficulties that would involve. We knew that the new prison would create problems. Some people, for example, would not wish to live near the new prison.

I wish to raise a consequence that I never envisaged when I gave my assent to the Home Office request to build at Frankland the first new maximum security prison since the war. I raise it on behalf of Mr. Adams, who is symptomatic of a much wider and potentially more difficult problem.

Mr. Adams, who worked for seven or eight years at Wakefield prison, was offered and accepted training as a dog handler. Having received that training and become a dog handler, he was asked, under the normal procedures of the prison service, to accept a transfer to Durham prison.

I have not one but two prisons with high security prisoners in my constituency. I have the long-established Durham prison, with its record for high risk prisoners, and a new prison is being commissioned, which will have a proportion of high risk prisoners, although the majority will be low grade.

In June 1981 Mr. Adams was asked to transfer from Wakefield to Durham. It was not the normal rotation in the prison service from, say, Parkhurst to Strangeways to Wakefield. The situation was unique. For the first time, the demand on housing specific to prison officers was grossly altered by the creation of a new prison that demanded almost 1,000 prison officers. In its wisdom, the Home Office sought to supply a certain proportion of the housing. I shall not quibble about whether it was 400 or 600 houses. To man Frankland, a number of prison officers would require to buy houses within the limits of the city of Durham which were not in the rotation system.

When he was transferred from Wakefield to Durham, Mr. Adams was not in the position of a normal transferee. The Home Office had upset the housing market. Any estate agent in the city of Durham will tell the Minister that bringing Frankland into service has created a sellers' market for a certain type of house. Suddenly, a demand for houses is created. The Home Office provides about 400, but the new prison needs 1,000. Mr. Adams is the victim of that situation.

The situation in Wakefield is clear. Of 185 Home Office owned properties for prison officers, 70 are vacant. There are Parker Morris grade houses. That was the situation that faced Mr. Adams when he left Wakefield to go to Durham not at his own request but at the request of the prison service. He was leaving an area that had surplus houses of the type that prison officers dwelt in and was moving to the one city in the country where the activities of the prison service and the Home Office had created a massive demand and high prices for that type of house. Mr. Adams left an area where nobody wanted a prison officer's house and moved to an area where the commissioning of a new prison caused demand for such houses to be acute.

That was not the fault of Mr. Adams. He did not ask to be moved from Wakefield to Durham. He did not ask to be trained as a dog handler and to be moved from Wakefield to Durham. He had had eight years of excellent service for the Home Office in the prison service.

On 22 June 1981 Mr. Adams was transferred from Wakefield to Durham. At Wakefield he was given an assurance. I quote from letters sent to me by his wife, who is one of the most superb advocates of a husband's case that I have known in my 12 years in the House. She states:
"My husband was told, word for word, 'not to worry, the department pays for all expenses if the transfer is at public expense', which it was."
Following her letter of 5 January I took up the matter with the then Home Office Minister responsible for prisons. This is my first Adjournment debate in my 12 years as a Member of Parliament. The reply that I received was most insensitive. I wrote to the Minister on 28 January, but did not receive a reply until 1 March. It cannot be said that the letter was written in haste. The letter states:
"The assistance available to civil servants when they have to move their home on transfer includes help with the cost of obtaining a bridging loan."
The Minister made that clear unequivocal statement in his letter. He continued:
"An officer is, however, expected to follow the usual procedures of arranging the sale and purchase of properties to take place at the same time."
I have rarely read a more absurd piece of gobbledegook. Any Minister who on 1 March this year could have said that someone in the prison service could sell a house in Wakefield and buy a house in Durham on the same terms and at the same time must be so out of touch as to beggar understanding. It is not possible.

The Minister continued:
"Bridging loan interest is approved only when advance application is made and we can be satisfied that every effort has been made to avoid a substantial financial commitment. Mr. Adams was given general advice about transfer expenses before leaving Wakefield and detailed guidance about the procedure to follow was available to him on arrival at Durham".
The net effect of that advice was that, had he left his wife and family in Wakefield, the public purse would have been called upon to pay to his wife something of the order of £24 per night for 30 days and £12 per night thereafter for the next six months. Therefore, the gap between what the public purse would have been asked to pay had he not asked for the bridging loan but left his wife in Wakefield makes a mockery of this whole thing. Is the Home Office really seeking to separate families by creating a pressure point in the prison service? Although this individual may not be involved in the Frankland transfer, it is symptomatic of the pressure that the Home Office has put on such people. My constituent, Mr. Adams, accepted training but did not volunteer for it. He did not seek to be transferred from Wakefield to Durham. I have been informed that, having been transferred, he finds himself grossly out of pocket for doing what he believes to be his public duty.

I again quote from Lord Belstead's reply:
"I am sorry that he did not make a specific inquiry about interest on a bridging loan before he committed himself to buying his present house in advance of completing the sale of his house at Wakefield, but on the information available it does not appear that we would have approved an application. Mr. Adams applied for reimbursement of interest of £452·53 on a bridging loan in November 1981 after he had moved into his present house and, although the matter has been given fresh consideration, I am afraid that it cannot be approved."
If that is the basis on which the Government will reimburse those transferred to the new Frankland prison, they will set up the prison on the very worst terms.

12.10 am

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) for raising this matter and for giving me the opportunity to explain the reasons why certain expenses incurred by his constituent, Mr. Adams, a prison officer, whose case the hon. Gentleman has put very fully, in connection with his transfer from Wakefield to Durham, have not been allowed for reimbursement.

A prison officer is a civil servant, and the main conditions of employment are set out comprehensively in the Civil Service pay and conditions of service code. The code, which is available to all civil servants on request, explains in detail the assistance which is available when a civil servant is required to move his home to take up another post. Where the reimbursement of a particular item of expenditure is left to the discretion of employing Departments, additional advice is published in the form of a manual or handbook.

The hon. Member received a letter about Mr. Adams' complaint from my noble Friend the former Under-Secretary of State, Lord Belstead, and I would like, first, to say something about the reference in that letter to an amount of £452·53 claimed by Mr. Adams as interest on the bridging loan which he took out to finance the purchase of a property in Durham. This claim was lodged by Mr. Adams on 4 November 1981 and was followed by further claims on 12 and 23 November which included the first one. Only the first one, however, was forwarded by Durham prison to the prison department headquarters for advice, and the others were retained locally. The first claim gave no indication that it formed part of a larger claim, and I am sorry if my noble Friend's reply gave rise to concern because it did not quote the figures given in the later claims. The hon. Gentleman did not mention that, but it is right that I should put it in the record.

The same considerations do, however, apply whether the amount is small or large, as I will explain, but I can quite understand Mr. Adams' interest in ensuring that the extent to which he feels he is out of pocket is fully recognised.

I will turn now to the events which led to the claim by Mr. Adams for reimbursement of bridging loan interest. He joined the prison service as a prison officer at Wakefield prison in 1974, and at that time he already owned his own house. In normal circumstances, he would have been required to occupy an official married quarter at the end of his probationary period of service, but as there was a temporary shortage of official accommodation at Wakefield he applied for, and was given, permission to continue to live in private accommodation with the benefit of a housing allowance. In 1979, the conditions under which prison officers could obtain permission to live out of quarters were relaxed in the interests of encouraging home ownership, and Mr. Adams has been unusually fortunate in having had the benefit of permission from the start of his career in the prison service. I have explained this point to show that, compared with many of his more senior prison officer colleagues, Mr. Adams has managed to achieve an advantageous position in his ownership of private accommodation.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Durham was told, Mr. Adams applied to become a dog-handler. The hon. Gentleman said more than once that Mr. Adams did not ask to become a dog-handler, but I understand that he applied three times and was accepted only on the third occasion to become a dog-handler. That was in 1980. He was placed on a waiting list for training. He was aware when he applied that he would be expected to move to another prison. On 30 March 1981 he was notified that, subject to successful completion of a training course from 27 April 1981 to 19 June 1981, he would be transferred to Durham prison to serve as a dog-handler. Between 30 March and 17 April Mr. Adams sought advice from the administration department of Wakefield prison about the financial assistance available to civil servants when they have to move their home. Although he now claims that he made a specific inquiry about reimbursement of the cost of a bridging loan, the recollection of Mr. McIntyre, the officer who discussed transfer expenses with him, is that he sought and was given only general advice about allowances and expenses. Mr. McIntyre is an officer with 19 years' experience of advising staff about transfers, and he is quite clear that if a specific inquiry had been made about bridging loans he would have drawn Mr. Adams' attention to the conditions attached to reimbursement of interest. His practice is to have the code and the departmental instructions open on his desk, and to go through them with an officer in giving any advice. At that time Mr. Adams had not put his house on the market—he says that he did so later, on 1 May—and had not found a property at Durham, and there is no apparent reason why he, or Mr. McIntyre, should have singled out the particular matter of a bridging loan for special attention and explanation. I am unable to deal with this matter on the basis that Mr. Adams was given wrong or misleading information.

From 21 April to 24 April Mr. and Mrs. Adams paid a visit to Durham at the Department's expense to find a new home. At the same time, Mr. Adams applied for, and was granted, permission to continue to live in private accommodation when he was transferred to Durham. It seems that the visit was successful and that Mr. Adams immediately set in train arrangements to buy a property at 19 Northside, Shadforth, Durham, and to sell his Wakefield property so that the transactions would coincide. On 1 June, when it became apparent that he would complete his dog-handler course successfully, he was given a formal notice of transfer to Durham at public expense and was told in writing to consult the administration department of the prison about expenses and allowances before entering into any financial commitment.

Mr. Adams did not return to duty at Wakefield and took up his post at Durham on 22 June. He was seen by Mr. Summerbell of the administration department soon after his arrival, and apparently made no mention of any difficulty about synchronising the sale and purchase of properties. Mr. Adams was seen by Mr. Summerbell at weekly intervals in connection with claims for lodging allowance, and does not appear to have reported any problems or sought any advice about bridging loans. Mr. Summerbell is a higher executive officer with long experience and would have responded immediately with advice if he had been asked. he would certainly have made the point that at least three months had to elapse from the date of transfer before an application for approval of a bridging loan could be made. The first knowledge that the administration department had of the bridging loan was when Mr. Adams submitted his initial claim on 4 November.

The Civil Service code conditions attached to reimbursement of bridging, loan interest are, in general terms, that the extent of the finance obtained must not be excessive in the light of an officer's requirements, and it must be reasonable for him to obtain finance in his particular circumstances. He must have been unable, through no fault of his own, to arrange a satisfactory sale of his house at the old station so as to coincide with purchase at the new station, and it must be seen as unreasonable to expect him to delay further the purchase of a house at the new station on that account. It is clear that an officer contemplating taking out a bridging loan has to seek the prior approval of his Department if he wishes to be considered for reimbursement.

My Department has issued, in a notice to staff and in a departmental manual, guidance of its own to supplement the information given in the code, as follows:
"Assistance with bridging loan finance is provided at the Department's discretion to help an officer move his home to the new station without unreasonable delay, where through no fault of his own he has been unable to arrange the simultaneous sale of his property at the old station and purchase at the new. It is not intended that an officer should derive a personal advantage from the use of this facility, arid officers are required to take all reasonable steps to avoid unnecessary expense to public funds. Reimbursement of net interest charges on bridging loan finance is available only where it would be unreasonable to expect an officer to defer further the purchase and occupation of a home at the new station, but he is unable to do so as his capital is tied up in the house at the old station which remains unsold. Assistance will not be provided where an officer does not intend to move to the new station until the home at the former station has been sold. There should be some delay, following the date of transfer, to allow the home at the old station a reasonable chance to attract a buyer, before a bridging loan is considered. A three-month period is a reasonable minimum, although it must be recognised that more expensive properties may take longer to sell. This, and the questions whether the asking price is reasonable, and a genuine and sustained effort has been made to find a buyer, will be taken into account in assessing the acceptability of a request for assistance with loan costs. Officers must seek the Department's authority before a bridging loan is taken out as no responsibility can be accepted for charges which have been incurred without the Department's approval."
That must be seen as reasonable.
"Applications should be addressed to P8 Division, Expenses Section, accompanied by the Governor's comments on the points raised in Code paragraph 5527."
The onus is upon staff to make their own inquiries and each member of staff is given a personal copy of a staff handbook.

Mr. Adams put his property on the market on 1 May, and did not meet the conditions for approval of a bridging loan when, without having sold it, he completed the purchase of 19 Northside with borrowed money on 16 July. In all the circumstances, I cannot see that the interest should be paid from public funds. I hope that the hon. Member will not regard this as an exercise in petty economy. We have paid Mr. Adams just over £5,000 to help him with his move, which includes a tax-free grant of £1,200 and the legal expenses of purchase and sale. He has been able to buy a house of considerably higher value,