HC Deb 24 March 1970 vol 798 cc1200-3
Q1. Mr. McNamara

asked the Prime Minister, when he next intends to meet the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Q6. Mr. Molloy

asked the Prime Minister if he will invite the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to a further meeting with him to evaluate the progress made in achieving civil rights in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I have no plans for a meeting with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland at present, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary remains in close touch with the Northern Ireland Government on the progress of the reform programme.

Mr. McNamara

Will my right hon. Friend please try urgently to alter his plans so as to express to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland that, although many of the reforms have gone through, people are concerned at the level of personal injustice? In particular, many people feel that much of the progress which has been made will be wasted unless there is satisfaction in the case of Mr. Samuel Devenney.

The Prime Minister

I have every confidence in my right hon. Friend to represent the views of the Government and of this House to the Northern Ireland Government. There has been a remarkable progress in legislation there, including the establishment of the Commissioner for Grievances to deal with individual questions. On the point raised by my hon. Friend, I have the fullest confidence, as will the House, in Sir Arthur Young to see that every inquiry that is required is carried out ruthlessly and that justice is done.

Mr. Molloy

Will not my right hon. Friend, nevertheless, see the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to explain that the concept of decent law and order is inextricably linked with the ethic of justice being seen to be done, and that the failure of justice to be done in Northern Ireland by the Tory Unionist Government, who have indulged in prejudices against a minority of their citizens, can only make a mockery of law and order and exacerbate the state of affairs which has existed for so long in this part of the country?

The Prime Minister

The concepts of law and order and of social justice are not inseparable either in Northern Ireland or on this side of St. George's Channel, as I have urged on many occasions. What we represented to the Northern Ireland Government as essential, even though it is half a generation or perhaps 50 years behind the times, is now being carried through, and if there are individual cases, there is now machinery to look into them.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

While I deplore the death of Mr. Devenney—as I do the death of another constituent, Mr. King—does the Prime Minister realise that it was not the thought of that case that was uppermost in the minds of the youths aged 12 to 20 who attacked British troops in Londonderry during the last two days? Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that there is strong suspicion in many quarters that this case is being used as a cover by those who wish to stir up more trouble in Londonderry over Easter?

The Prime Minister

I will not deal at Question Time with individual cases; there is adequate machinery for dealing with them. If we are going into the question of what happened last summer, the Scarman Tribunal is still sitting and we shall await its report, as we did the report of the Cameron Inquiry. I believe that the Devenney case can be handled because we have now, under Sir Arthur Young, a control of the police system which will ensure that whatever needs to be inquired into—whoever is involved, whoever is favoured, whoever is hurt—will be inquired into ruthlessly, and I have full confidence that it will be so in this case.

Miss Devlin

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the dissatisfaction expressed by Sir Arthur Young, and of the inability of Sir Arthur Young under existing legislation to do anything about the situation with which he is dissatisfied, and that that is the crux of the problem upon which I have been trying to see him for the past 12 hours?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Lady is right in referring to statements made by Sir Arthur Young in which he expressed regret about the adequacy of the information available to the police in Northern Ireland, but I have every confidence that Sir Arthur Young will get at the facts in this case, and I think he will get them without the help either of the hon. Lady or of myself.

I am sorry that the hon. Lady had a rather cold night. It was no fault of mine, because she knows, in common with any other hon. Member of the House—in fact she did see the Home Secretary for half an hour last night on these matters—that if in the normal way she, like any other hon. Member, had wanted to see me, she would have got what she is getting, for what it is worth—an interview at four o'clock today. But in that interview I cannot go beyond what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said to her at eight o'clock last night.

Captain Orr

Now that the Ulster Government's legislation on reform is all on the Statute book at Stormont, is it not the clear duty of the Government here and now to give the maximum support, both moral and military, to bringing about a state of peace in Northern Ireland and not to be deterred from that course by malicious people who seek to stir up trouble?

The Prime Minister

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is correct that much of the reform programme for which we have been pressing for four or five years is on the Statute Book. Other parts of it are through the Northern Ireland Commons and await further parliamentary procedures. Other reform programmes are at present before the Commons in Northern Ireland. I am glad that this has happened. It has been our duty to preserve law and order. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman must search back to see how far the responsibility for these matters is due to the fact that these things have had to be pressed by a Labour Government on the Northern Ireland Government in the last five years. Our problem is to make good in a matter of months what the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his party failed to do in 50 years.

Mr. Thorpe

Would not an equally beneficial result flow from the party belonging to Major Chichester-Clark, both here and at Stormont, giving him backing in what he is trying to do?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. If occasionally I am a little rough on hon. Gentlemen opposite in this matter, I recognise the pressures which they are under, both the Westminster Members and the Stormont Members, because of an utterly evil campaign on the part of people who are, if it is possible to conceive it, to the right even of those hon. Gentlemen, and who are trying to put them out of their seats.