Below is the text of the speech made by James Molyneaux, the then Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim, in the House of Commons on 1 November 1978.
The Gracious Speech referred to the Government’s determination to bring before the courts those responsible for violence in Northern Ireland. This is the end product of all that is done by the security forces and by all who are concerned with the return of law and order to the Province.
In the past three months since we last met there have been more lamentable and brutal murders. But at the same time these months have witnessed the increasing effectiveness, to use the terms of a previous Gracious Speech, of the security forces.
The story of the past 12 months has been one of returning strength and stability. Depression and hopelessness have given way to an atmosphere of confidence regained, and slowly but surely the law is being reasserted and, what is even more important, hearts and minds are being changed and directed towards more constructive outlets.
From the improving security situation it may seem a far cry to the very important passage in the Gracious Speech providing for amending legislation to give effect to the recommendations of the Speaker’s Conference. But the two are related because already the undertaking given by the Prime Minister on 19th April in this House has been one of the major factors in removing uncertainty from the minds of all those who live in that part of the kingdom that we represent.
Ulster citizens have come to see that an increase from 12 to 18 seats is bound to result in better representation of all shades of opinion, and consequently there has been a far greater degree of acceptance of the proposals than we were at one time led to believe. Far from rejecting the increase in the number of seats, the parties in Northern Ireland are now doing their sums to ensure that they win their share, and if possible more than their share, of the increase.
We welcome the fact that the proposed legislation has been endorsed by the official Opposition and supported by practically every party in this House. The reassuring message is that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and therefore is entitled to the same privileges and is expected to bear the same responsibilities as any other part of this kingdom.
We hope that future Sessions will see further progress towards the restoration of democracy as it is understood in Great Britain. Obviously an essential preparation for that is the reinstatement of local government as it is generally understood in this House and accepted in Great Britain and in the Irish Republic.
I hope that there will be progress on the Government’s declared intention to bring forward legislation based on the recommendation of the Lawrence Committee concerning the rating of halls used for recreational and other community purposes. For a number of reasons, which are well understood in this House, mainly because of the economic climate which besets us all in the United Kingdom but also because of the special difficulties in Northern Ireland, this is a matter of widespread and growing concern.
The Government have renewed their pledge to continue their efforts to restore normal life to the Province and to every section of the community in that Province. Legislation such as that proposed can hasten the return to normality and encourage the continued provision of facilities and opportunities that are still clearly needed in many areas.
I wish to refer to the tentative and somewhat reluctant advances made in the last Session towards legislating for Northern Ireland in the proper manner as an integral part of the United Kingdom through United Kingdom Bills. I acknowledge the ingenuity and occasional compliance shown in this connection by draftsmen, officials and Northern Ireland Ministers and I give notice that no Bill presented in this Session which does not extend to Northern Ireland will escape the immediate scrutiny of my right hon. and hon. Friends with a view to inquiring what cause or just impediment can be shown why it should not.
Unlike some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I make no pretensions to understanding the science of economics, if indeed it is a science. That is why I make a plea to the Government and to all those whose disputes on the subjects of wages and inflation have provided entertaining material for the newspapers in the past few weeks and will, I fear, occupy much of the time of the House in the weeks ahead. My plea is that they should treat us kindly and not leave us in the dark. If it is the case, as one side would contend, that higher wages at Ford’s or Mackie’s cause inflation, please explain why the payment of more money to one set of workers results in there being more money to pay everybody else more.
Could those of us who are a little slower than others in these matters have all this explained? Otherwise, it is difficult for us to join in either condemning or exonerating the Government for their attempts, some of which are very vexaious to our own constituents, to impose a limit on wage increases. I say this as a member of a party which has a better record than most in supporting attempts to contain the growth of public expenditure in total and the size of the Budget deficit in the belief that these magnitudes are very material to causing or preventing inflation and that in the long run all our constituents stand to suffer unless the stability of the purchasing power of the currency is restored and firmly maintained.
Finally, I hope that the House of Commons will approach this new and final Session of the present Parliament in a constructive spirit. It does Parliament a disservice if we trivialise this Session by further indulging in teasing the public and playing childish guessing games. Furthermore, I believe that we should not encourage the news industry to engage in endless speculation about the result or the outcome of this or that Division when the simple and sensible course would be to wait until about 10.20 on the evening in question.
We make a great mistake if we imagine that the public want advance information on such matters, particularly when such information in the past has usually been proved wrong. My own experience is that the public have become bored by the whole pantomime, and it is small wonder that they are disillusioned with politicians in general.
Perhaps the best Christmas present we could offer to the public would be a resolve by us all to keep off the “box” for the remainder of this year, or at the very least to restrict the number of such comedy acts.
To end on a serious note, I feel, as the Prime Minister and the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition have already said, that there is much useful work to be done in this Session. I feel also that we shall earn and win the respect of the electorate only if we diligently complete the task for which members of the electorate sent us to this place.