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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th June be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this draft order will extend for a further 12 months the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 under which the government of Northern Ireland is continued by means of direct rule.
The House will be aware of the Government's commitment to put power back into the hands of the people of the United Kingdom. We intend to do this in Northern Ireland as much as we do elsewhere. Northern Ireland is equally entitled to its share of power and responsibility and we believe that such a move will play an important part in healing the divisions that exist there.
Any devolution of power to Northern Ireland must involve sharing power and responsibility among representatives of the main sections of the community there. It is also recognised that such a development will also address what we refer to as the "totality of relationships" within these islands. We believe a political settlement is possible and we are determined to achieve our goal.
The current multi-party negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland have a further 12 months to run. Those negotiations have made significant beginnings. Rules of procedure have been agreed. The machinery for building a consensus on constitutional issues is there for us to use. The Government are determined that that machinery will be used and used in a way which will result in real progress over the coming months.
As noble Lords will be aware, nine of the 10 elected parties are already in the talks. We want the tenth party, Sinn Fein, to be there also representing its electorate. However, as we have made clear in the other House, the
The British and Irish Governments have tabled a joint paper setting out how the complex issue of decommissioning should be taken forward. The participants in the talks know that the Government want to see the matter resolved within weeks. Agreement on the decommissioning issue will also enable us to make substantial progress in the arena of a political settlement.
Progress on the political front will also be directly influenced by outside factors. A successful resolution of the parades issue will help to create the climate for meaningful and constructive discussions. As the Secretary of State has indicated, the problem is one of the competing rights: the right to march and the rights of people to live free of fear from intimidation and insecurity in their own homes. The Secretary of State and her senior officials have already made strenuous efforts to find a resolution to the problem of contentious marches in general and to the situation in Drumcree in particular. They have held numerous meetings with groups on both sides in an attempt to identify the common ground and above all else to urge local accommodation and agreement between marchers and residents, as this is the only equitable long-term solution to this complex and difficult issue.
Last week talks were held at Hillsborough Castle to which the Orange Order and the residents of the Garvaghy Road were invited. While no agreement was reached at these talks, further discussions have taken place and continue to take place with both groups and the Government will make very effort to facilitate a solution which is acceptable to all. We must avoid last year's appalling scenes which cost so much in terms of lives and property and considerably damaged community relations.
Your Lordships will also wish to be aware of other areas where the Government are seeking to discharge our responsibilities in Northern Ireland. The comprehensive spending review is being carried out in Northern Ireland as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We want to consult all the parties on how best we can meet the needs of the people of Northern Ireland within the budget that is available.
We are also continuing to combat unemployment by getting people off benefit and into work. Unemployment in Northern Ireland is now at its lowest level for 17 years. We are continuing to work, however, to reduce the number of the young and long-term unemployed, the numbers of which remain unacceptable. The House will have heard yesterday of the announcement of my right honourable friend the Chancellor on our comprehensive welfare-to-work strategy which will be funded from the windfall levy on the privatised utilities. Northern Ireland will get its share of that money.
I would also pay tribute to the recent publication by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights for its comprehensive report on employment equality. The Government will give a full and considered response in due course.
We shall continue to seek to reduce the health service bureaucracy, to improve patient care and to improve education standards in Northern Ireland, as we are seeking to improve them elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
We are convinced that development of the social and economic side of life must proceed alongside our efforts to create peace in Northern Ireland. Economic progress cannot be made where there is fear and violence. Political progress cannot be made against a background of economic difficulty and social deprivation.
To sum up, in the coming year this Government will continue to do all they can to bring about a political settlement which is acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland, to combat terrorism and the threat of terrorism, to help build confidence in the community and to reduce the sources of tension that exists there.
Your Lordships will recognise that this is what is needed, but that it cannot succeed without the support and assistance of all those involved in the political and community life in Northern Ireland. We would in particular encourage all those with influence, on both sides of the community, to bring about a successful resolution to the problems associated with contentious parades. For their part, Her Majesty's Government will spare no effort to ensure that constructive approaches prevail.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I crave the indulgence of your Lordships' House to make my maiden speech. Although I have spent many years at the other end of the building, I realise that I have much to learn. But I am greatly consoled by the warm welcome that has been extended to me in past days and the willingness of many of your Lordships and the officers to improve my education, which, sadly, had been neglected in my earlier years. So much so that when I was first elected in 1970 an aspiring rival candidate said that he was well placed to succeed at an early stage because, to quote his words, "Molyneaux, with his very limited ability, will be only a short-term caretaker". I leave it to your Lordships to decide whether that assessment was correct or not.
It is a particular pleasure to follow the Minister. In the other place we co-operated on many issues although we were not always neighbours for the simple reason that while my party remained static on one Bench the
Later in the debate we are to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Denton. So may I be permitted to pay a very sincere tribute to her outstanding services for all the people of Northern Ireland and to assure her that she has many, many friends in the Province.
In a week when the future of democracy in Hong Kong is the subject of much comment, it may be appropriate to focus on democracy within the United Kingdom itself, particularly in regard to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Your Lordships were addressing Scotland and Wales earlier today.
The order provides for the 22nd annual renewal of what I have always regarded as a flawed system based on the 1974 Act which was designed as a very temporary measure. Novel and dramatic initiatives have been launched at frequent intervals, but their dazzling launches have in a sense been their undoing. The present round began in 1987 with a modest objective to discover--I quote the words of the joint manifesto at that time--
All this continued under the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, to whom I also pay a very sincere tribute for his patience and diligence throughout his term of office. When he became Secretary of State agreement was almost secured but unfortunately the advocates of summitry existing mainly in the news industry hijacked the whole operation and the solid achievements of years were destroyed.
At that point the British and Irish governments concluded that there was urgent need for a meeting of what is called the Anglo-Irish Conference arising from the earlier 1985 agreement, thus effectively terminating in about November 1992 five years of patient endeavour. Within a few weeks something very sinister emerged when it became known, first, to a very few of us and later to a wider public, that agents of the two governments were in contact with the IRA. I say "agents of the two governments" because it was never quite clear--and one cannot be certain--whether the two governments were kept informed of the extent of the content of those contacts. But the result of that revelation was disastrous to confidence throughout the entire Northern Ireland community.
I explain this because at that point the democratic process was killed off and replaced by an utterly phoney so-called peace process. It is phoney because terrorists will never bring themselves to accept the principle of consent. They will never come to terms with my oft-repeated concept of what I term "the greater number", which I have amplified as consisting of Protestants, Roman Catholics, other faiths and those of no faith who, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, simply want to remain within the United Kingdom. One should add to that nationalists who admit that they are separatists but who have played their part in improving the lot of the people of Northern Ireland and will continue so to do. Those two blocks, amounting to over 80 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland, are capable of, and willing to, sustain an administration provided it is not pitched at such a high level that the participants are asked on almost a daily basis, "Tell me, to which nation do you want to belong?" The response to that question will always be divisive.
But provided the elected representatives of all those great people (over 80 per cent.) to whom I have referred are not required to engage in a high-wire act mainly for the satisfaction of the news industry and provided they are enabled to redress social ills through sound administrative mechanism, they will acquire confidence and trust in each other and those are the essential building blocks for the future of Northern Ireland. There is no alternative.
When asked if I can see any solution I reply that I can. Allow our people to work together, remove the restrictions, forget about fancy initiatives and, most of all, do not wait for terrorists to lift their veto on that progress which, more than anything, will put them out of business. We are grateful for the clear exposition of the Minister today.
This coming weekend there is another prerequisite for a settled future in Northern Ireland; that is, the necessity calmly to consider the impact of current events on the long-term interests of Ulster and to give absolute priority to draining the lake of bitterness in which the terrorists have been permitted to swim for far too long.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I have the honour of rising immediately after the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. It is a considerable honour since it gives me the opportunity to express on my own behalf and on behalf of your Lordships' House congratulations to the noble Lord on an excellent and distinguished maiden speech. It was nothing other than I expected. The noble Lord has occupied a senior position in Northern Ireland politics for as long as I can remember. He has distinguished himself as a public servant in speeches such as the one that noble Lords have just heard--a speech brimming over with his long and deep experience of Northern Ireland politics, its vicissitudes and difficulties. But he is not only a speaker; he is a leader of great distinction. Northern Ireland as a whole, and the Ulster Unionist Party, still finds itself coming to terms with the fact that after at least a generation the
I came to know the noble Lord during the talks in 1991 and 1992. I always found him courteous and a man of solid integrity. I also frequently found him to be a man of distinct humour. In the long, difficult and frequently discouraging talks that was something that I found extremely welcome. While in political terms he may well be regarded as a political opponent, nevertheless during those years and subsequently I have come to regard him very much as a friend. That cannot always be found in political life. Of course, in those talks we were leading political parties which were opposed to each other. However, a friendship grew up--it could hardly have been otherwise--because of his integrity, experience and fatherly attitude towards someone much younger. Even in the difficult circumstances of Northern Ireland political life the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, may have many opponents but I know of no one who regards himself as his enemy. The noble Lord is not one who makes enemies; he makes friends but he may also have opponents. When the noble Lord rises to speak on a matter of this kind he does so with singular experience. While this is his first comment on the order in this House, as a party leader he has risen to speak on it in the other place perhaps more times than anyone else. Therefore, we must listen to what he says with singular respect. It comes from long experience and great effort.
The noble Lord paints for us a difficult picture. He points out, quite rightly, that this was intended as an interim measure. I call to your Lordships' attention the words of my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge who was a Parliamentary Under-Secretary when this measure was introduced in 1974. He said that these temporary and interim arrangements were not in the view of the Government a satisfactory long-term solution. The following year when the measure was being renewed for the first time the view of the Government was that it could only be a temporary means of governing Northern Ireland. "Temporary" has become more permanent than many other permanent devices have turned out to be. One of the great misfortunes surrounding this and some other measures is that the removal of much responsibility from the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives has not meant that greater responsibility has been exercised.
In his comments the noble Lord referred to the worrying events that faced us over the next week or two. The Minister also made reference to them. There are those in Northern Ireland on both sides--those involved in leadership positions in the Orange Order and in residents groups--who have been making strenuous efforts to try to find a resolution of this difficult and fraught problem. But there are also those on both sides who continue to spoil for a fight and will continue to make any resolution impossible, defying all the efforts of those in leadership on both sides, the Secretary of State--who has been making great efforts--the Churches and all other people of goodwill who want to see something better for Northern Ireland than that
Of crucial importance is that over the next nine to 10 months a way is found of returning a measure of responsibility back to the Northern Ireland people and their elected representatives. It is not that this House and the other place or various governments of the day have not tried to be responsible but that when responsibility is removed from a community for too long it is more difficult for responsible people to make their voice heard and easier for those who are, frankly, irresponsible to find themselves in positions of leadership, albeit leading people astray. I appeal to the Government to be as good as their word so clearly expressed in this House and in the other place, particularly by the Prime Minister, and hope that all efforts will be made to return responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland in so far as that is appropriate and reasonable.
I make one final comment and request of the Government. Following the 1985 agreement one of the allowances, as it were, made to those involved in politics was that subsequent to meetings of the Anglo-Irish Conference party leaders would be briefed by the Secretary of State. As the talks in 1991 and 1992 progressed there were so many meetings with the Government and the Government of the Irish Republic that Anglo-Irish Conference meetings could hardly be fitted in. Therefore, it was not such a necessary matter. But as time has gone on that degree of accountability should not only be made available but be built upon. As Anglo-Irish Conference meetings return--which can be very important--I appeal to the Government that we are acquainted with what has happened and that beforehand the parties are invited to make their contribution not only in terms of their view of the current state of political life in Northern Ireland but in being able to put on to the agenda at those important inter-governmental meetings matters that may be considered by the governments and by the representatives. That is a particularly appropriate request since we are looking at the continuation of almost a quarter of a century of direct rule and to a government that has made it clear that they want to increase accountability. I look forward to the response of the Minister on this matter.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I too should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Molyneaux of Killead on his excellent maiden speech. I especially welcome him as a past leader of moderate unionism in Northern Ireland. I am sure that his wisdom will be of great benefit to your Lordships' House. My contribution in the wake of such speeches will be less than adequate, I am afraid.
I do not wish to dwell on terrorism and the events of the marching season, except to say that I wish the new Secretary of State and Ministers the very best in their endeavours to bring peace to our Province in that regard.
We all hope that future all-party talks will produce the basis for political stability and that Northern Ireland may soon be governed in a more democratic manner. At present agreement cannot come about without talks, and talks have been continually thrown off track by terrorism and civil disobedience. We must, however, endeavour to separate the day-to-day governing of the Province from the activities of the minority extremists. Such elements continue for the very reason that they are allowed to have undue influence on affairs. Their aim is to make the Province ungovernable, and the new Government must take another route out of this cul-de-sac.
Democratic government is like a pyramid of society and without a secure base the higher levels will perish. In the Province we have a base in the form of the newly elected councils. However, without the powers that they lost years ago those councils cannot give the support required to sustain any political settlement at a higher level. Most people believe that the councils are now responsible enough to have some of those powers reinstated and to carry out this function of support.
With a new Government in place and with these councils, there is now a window of opportunity that has not existed for some time. Now is the chance to build a basis of democratic accountability at a local level through these councils. It does not need Orders in Council or the agreement of the Government of the Republic to start this process. It requires only the determination of the Government and the Secretary of State to set it in motion.
It is clear to everyone that the inflated support for the extremes in the recent council and general elections came about as a result of the frustration of the electorate, as I said during the debate on Her Majesty's most gracious Speech. I am sure that the traditional constitutional parties would happily go along with that view. However, one individual, John Hume, leader of the SDLP, seems to be a spanner in the works. He, with the support of the Government of the Republic and Sinn Fein (with whom he is far too close) ensures a policy of "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".
In the real world of politics in Northern Ireland, with the lack of compromise of the extreme elements, this policy has to be a dead-end failure and cannot go forward in such a way. John Hume is full of contradictions, not least in the manner in which he welcomed the Prime Minister's speech in Northern Ireland soon after he took office. He described it as the most comprehensive speech on the subject by a British Prime Minister and welcomed it. However, we know that John Hume, with the Government of the Republic and Sinn Fein, is against any internal settlement.
Many people in the Province, not only those in the Unionist camp, believe that he often works against a settlement. There is a strongly held belief that he wished to see Gerry Adams, rather than his own SDLP candidate, Joe Hendron, win in West Belfast, which he did. John Hume may have been one of the original catalysts for the peace process but I personally wish that the rumour last winter that he was going to opt out of local politics and go to Europe had been correct.
In conclusion, I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to take the bold initiative of increasing democratic accountability at district council level as a first step, even while the main talks continue. I have no hesitation in supporting this renewal.
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