§ Motion made, and Question proposedThat this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Golding.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before calling the Secretary of State to open the debate, I must inform the House that I have literally an enormous list of hon. Members wishing to speak. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will have regard to that fact.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
We meet again following the recall of Parliament because of the problem of Northern Ireland and in the wake of a grave political development. The departure from office of the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive is a blow to all of us who saw it as a means for the two communities in Northern Ireland to live at peace among themselves. I want to look back at the events of the last few years before assessing the future.
The House will recall that following the introduction of direct rule in March 1972 the then Government embarked on intensive consultations with the various interests and parties in Northern Ireland about the political future of the Province. The Government of the Province had for 50 years been in the hands of a single political party, and there had developed in Northern Ireland a fundamental split between two communities—one perpetually in government, and one politically excluded.
The old machinery of government in Northern Ireland was not able to produce a Government supported, let alone accepted, by the whole community. It became increasingly apparent during the consultations mounted by the last Government—the Darlington conference, the Green Paper and so on—that the fundamental need in Northern Ireland was a new form of Government able to secure government by consent; and in the White Paper published in March 1973, and later in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act itself, specific and careful provisions were made for this.
There followed many weeks of patient exploration and negotiation, and, although some Northern Ireland party leaders 879 refused to take part, the leaders of the Unionist, Social Democratic and Labour and Alliance Parties were eventually able to reach agreement on the formation of a new Northern Ireland administration. Shortly afterwards, the leaders of these parties joined the Government of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in subscribing to the Sunningdale Agreement, which was in some respects firm and in others tentative in that it left matters for further negotiation.
I believe that those who were party to that agreement were making an imaginative and important step towards resolving those problems and issues which are the concern of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Moreover they did so without sacrificing in any way the basic principle about the status of Northern Ireland.
On 1st January 1974 wide-ranging powers were devolved to the new Executive in Northern Ireland, and direct rule ceased. Responsibility for law and order was reserved to Parliament and vested in the Secretary of State. The Executive had been in existence for a mere five weeks when the General Election was called. The result in Northern Ireland was a severe blow to its authority.
The Government in March experienced within weeks a vicious campaign of proxy bombing by the Provisionals. The extent to which the Provisional IRA was prepared to go was revealed to this House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when, on 13th May, he told of the Provisionals, "scorched earth" plan.
It has been the policy of successive Governments to pursue a political solution to the Northern Ireland problem. In my speech to the House on 4th April I emphasised our continued support for power sharing and for the Sunningdale Agreement. Furthermore I sought to encourage genuine political activity, and subsequently de-proscribed Sinn Fein and the Ulster Volunteer Force.
There has been other political action too. In the General Election campaign, which, as I have just said, added significantly to the strains on the month-old Northern Ireland Executive, much play was made in Northern Ireland of the Sunningdale Agreement, with the Agreement in many cases being misrepresented 880 and the fears of many Ulster people being cynically and unjustly aroused. More recently there was the damaging political strike in Northern Ireland called ostensibly as a result of a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly in favour of the Sunningdale Agreement.
I now move to the course of this sectarian and political strike—disowned completely by the Trades Union Congress. On 14th May the Ulster Workers' Council called a strike in the Province. This group is a non-elected body of men that sought to subvert the expressed wish and authority to this Parliament through unconstitutional and undemocratic means involving widespread intimidation.
§ Mr. Rees
It is not like the miners' strike. Speaking as the son of a coal miner, I can say that we have never used guns.
I made clear immediately that I would not negotiate on constitutional matters with the Ulster Workers' Council, although I was at all times willing to meet elected representatives, and both I and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State did so on a number of occasions. In the same way as I refused to be bombed to the conference table by the Provisionals, so I have been adamant that a sectarian strike by so-called Loyalists and backed by para-military forces would not force me to such a conference table.
The strike bore the ugly face of intimidation. The extent to which pressure was applied was illustrated by events on the first Friday evening of the strike. Extremists went on the rampage in Ballymena. Three "pubs" and a fish-and-chip shop that remained open against "orders"—I put the word in inverted commas—were wrecked. The Catholic owner, and his brother, of a Catholic "pub" south of Ballymena were murdered at point-blank range. The RUC reacted swiftly, and 35 persons were arrested; 33 have now been charged. It was this Ballymena incident that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister characterised as the work of thugs and bullies. He was absolutely right in this description. The incident demonstrated the violent forces which 881 emerge, and are the consequence of, a strike of this nature.
There was a progressive interruption in the essential services. As a result of this, and in particular of the worsening effect of the power situation, extra troops, including specialist technicians, were flown to Northern Ireland. The extra troops were used first to help keep the main access roads to Belfast open and subsequently to deal with road blocks on other roads in the Province. It was always clear that soldiers, sailors and airmen could maintain only to a limited degree the services necessary for the preservation of life, and that the extent to which this was possible was in certain areas dependent upon the co-operation of management. This was not forthcoming.
The position was discussed with Mr. Faulkner, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), and Mr. Napier on Friday 24th May at Chequers. No commitment was entered into. But the leaders of the Northern Ireland Executive asked for a limited operation. This request was considered by the Cabinet, and authority was given for it. It consisted of a plan to operate 21 petrol stations and two oil storage depots and to supply petrol and oil to essential users and chemicals to the Londonderry gasworks. In taking this decision we were moved by our knowledge of the facts in Northern Ireland and the views of the Northern Ireland Executive which was responsible for the services affected, and not by pressures from any individual politicians in Northern Ireland. This was an operation of a deliberately restricted nature. It was never more nor less than that. Some of the reports on this which seemed to emanate from Belfast appeared to show that the days of the romantic novel are not over.
Then there remained a decision on the timing of the operation. This was determined by the need for proper Army preparation, by the situation on the ground, in the power, petroleum and other industries, which was changing from hour to hour, and also by a further security operation which was carried out on the Saturday night by the Army. The Army moved into the petrol depots at 5 a.m. on Monday 27th May. It achieved total surprise and deserves the highest praise for the efficiency with which it conducted this delicate exercise.
882 The electricity situation worsened, and by Tuesday 28th May a serious difference of view had developed within the Northern Ireland Executive as a result of the external and internal political strains to which it had been increasingly subjected throughout the period of the strike. Mr. Faulkner had reached a position in which he could no longer maintain the unity of the Executive. After consulting his supporters in the Assembly and the Unionist members of the administration, Mr. Faulkner felt that the right course was to appoint a mediator to negotiate with the Ulster Workers' Council, or else he should resign. The SDLP members of the Executive were opposed to both these courses. The Alliance Party was in favour of a mediator but not of resignation. I made it clear that the Government could not be a party to negotiation on constitutional matters.
Mr. Faulkner felt that in these circumstances the only honourable course was to resign. I accepted that resignation and the resignation of the Unionist Members of the administration. It was clear that in these circumstances there was no basis for a power-sharing Executive as envisaged in the Constitution Act and that the Executive ceased to exist. It would be right for me to pay tribute at this stage to Mr. Faulkner. No one could have fought harder for what he believed to be right; he earned and deserved total respect for his honesty, integrity and courage.
What caused the strike? I believe that in recent years a new form of Protestant nationalism has been emerging in Northern Ireland which has culminated in the events of the past few weeks. It has brought together many strands of what has hitherto been regarded as Unionist opinion. There is no doubt that the events of March 1972, with the ending of Stormont by a Conservative and Unionist administration, fed this development. I hasten to add that it was an action which the Labour side fully supported.
Many other events have fed that development too. A period of direct rule; the Sunningdale Agreement; the advent of power sharing, not as a principle but on a basis which has proved unacceptable to a large section of the Protestant 883 community; the frustration of apparently unending violence in all its forms and, not least, the large bombs earlier this year in Belfast and other large towns, have all contributed. All these events have been deliberately misrepresented and exploited by those who have sought power not on the basis approved by this House but by unconstitutional action designed solely to achieve their own domination. And all too many people have been prepared to be used for these ends. Too few have been prepared to stand up for constitutional processes and have lent themselves to unscrupulous and unconstitutional politics which have had no basis of concern for the people of Northern Ireland.
During the strike I was left in no doubt by industrialists, by churchmen and by establishment organisations of a variety of kinds that I should negotiate with the Ulster Workers' Council. This view was also shared by the small Northern Ireland Labour Party. The Government could not do that, because it would have been an open recognition that constitutional matters had passed to the control of non-elected people. This was not an industrial dispute but a major political confrontation.
There must now be a breathing space by all concerned with Northern Ireland affairs. The Government must use it to find a further way forward, but others must make their reappraisals too. We all need time, and it is for this reason that we have used the provisions of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act to continue the government of Northern Ireland while no elected Executive is in existence. The Constitution Act contains provisions to enable us to carry on the government of Northern Ireland without damaging the fabric of the Act. By virtue of the powers in Section 8 of the Act, Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office will be appointed to the heads of the various Departments in Northern Ireland so that the executive government in the Province can be carried on. The Assembly has been prorogued by means of an Order in Council made under the authority of Section 27(6) of the Act. The arrangements are by their very nature temporary, and a new power-sharing Executive can be formed under the constitution if this should prove possible. In any event. 884 short though the time available is, we must all use it to move forward.
What then of the future? The loss of the Northern Ireland Executive is a sad blow. The Executive represented a bold coming together of political parties prepared to set aside some of their differences for the sake of Northern Ireland as a whole. We should not forget the magnitude of the differences which they were able to resolve in their short period of government, including the major achievement of phasing the Council of Ireland agreement. I have already paid tribute to Mr. Faulkner, but the House will also wish to join in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Belfast, West and Mr. Napier. One thing I learned in Northern Ireland was that the courage of the members of the Executive was not just political courage, for the lives of them and their families were constantly at risk.
I have already begun, and shall continue, the task of exploring the views of political leaders in Northern Ireland. On Friday last I discussed with them the principle of power sharing. I was not attempting to set up anew the Executive. Indeed, I had the day before advised the Queen that the Assembly should be prorogued.
The hard fact remains that the Executive built up by the previous administration, by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), has ended. In the three months that I have been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland I have made it my aim to sustain it and to work the Constitution Act 1973 on which it was based. The political climate after 28th February changed radically and rapidly, but I am sure the House will agree that it was right to continue this approach as required by the Constitution Act, even though it became increasingly clear that the Executive was unlikely to have the time which was vitally necessary for it to prove itself. I say to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) that I was right to do that, that I would do it again and that I have not the slightest regret that I did that on behalf of the new administration.
We now have to move forward in these circumstances. I do not believe that we have a long period in which to find the policy on which to do this. Firm decisions on future policy cannot be taken 885 in the immediate future, but 1 put to the House some of the facts on which it must be based. The first is that at present the Ulster Workers' Council, backed by para-military forces, commands much support in large sections of the majority community, which is based on a new but ill-defined form of Ulster Protestant nationalism. Unionism no longer means what it used to mean.
The second fact is not new but, after three months, I realise its force even more than I did before. Over the last five years over 1,000 people have been killed. This includes 257 soldiers, 52 members of the RUC and 717 civilians. There has been about £120 million-worth of damage to property. The bombings the killings and the violence are sometimes carried out by children on behalf of the IRA. It must never be forgotten that there have been more than 250 sectarian murders, the overwhelming proportion of which were committed by Protestants.
Next, and arising out of this, are the methods of dealing through the law with those who bomb and kill. It is not possible to use the normal processes of the rule of law. There is too much intimidation and too much fear. I am bound to tell the House that I have signed two main groups of interim custody orders since February. They covered both sides of the divide. I must also inform the House that there are many people in the Maze Prison who are there because they have committed acts of murder and terrorism, often on a horrifying scale, on both sides of the border, but witnesses dare not, or will not, give evidence in public in front of a normal court of law.
I tell the House simply that to have left these people free would have been to endanger the lives of innocent people. There would have been more explosions and fires in the large cities. There would have been more sectarian murders of the vilest kind. This does not mean that it is not our intention to phase out detention in accord with the Sunningdale Agreement, but that very clearly was linked to the security situation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will deal tonight with our proposals for investigation of the Emergency Provisions Act.
886 There are in the Province para-military forces in both communities with their splinter groups that cannot be dealt with by the RUC alone. Given the large number of weapons that still come into the Province, allied with the sectarian feelings that prevail, there are the ingredients for large-scale murder. In its worst form it could be civil war. The fact is that without the British Army the forces of law and order could not cope in the immediate future.
Then there are the facts of the financial and economic burden. I offer these not in a threatening fashion, but, if we are to consider the situation from a defence point of view and a law and order point of view, let us look at the economic situation as well.
Northern Ireland is heavily dependent on the rest of the United Kingdom for governmental financial support, and this dependence has been growing rapidly in recent years. There is room for discussion about the exact figure. For instance, does one include loans? But the broad message of the figures is clear. In 1971-72 the transfer of reserves, excluding loans, was about £125 million; in 1972-73 about £180 million; and in 1973-74 about £310 million. The estimated figure for 1974-75 is £350 million. With the loan element added in, the total is £430 million.
This is not understood in Northern Ireland. People there say that they pay the same taxes as in Britain. Of course they do, but the figures I have just quoted are for transfers from United Kingdom funds, in addition to Northern Ireland's fair share of United Kingdom tax revenue. The proportion of United Kingdom tax revenue which is allotted to Northern Ireland is properly calculated in consultation with the Northern Ireland Department of Finance and takes full account of the profits earned by companies in Ulster. Northern Ireland will, it is estimated, receive £420 million from United Kingdom tax revenue for 1974-75. No deduction is made from this sum in respect of the costs of defence, overseas aid, foreign affairs and so on.
All this leaves out of account the extra cost of keeping a large part of the Army in Northern Ireland and of the operations there, which is running at about £33 887 million a year. I should add that gross domestic product per head in Northern Ireland is well below the United Kingdom average.
I have received today a report from the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation, which says:The specific effects of the strike in monetary terms are therefore estimated as follows: £225 million.In recent weeks we have all been faced with the Protestant backlash, which appeared in the form of industrial action backed by intimidation. We cannot ignore that some members of the minority community aspire ultimately to a united Ireland, and even more important, that all of them want, and are entitled to, a proper place in the life of Northern Ireland. In the past the conflict was between Republicanism and Unionism. The conflict is now not with Unionism but with Ulster Protestant nationalism. But in the aftermath of the majority Protestant strike we cannot in this House ignore the feelings and needs of the minority, which power sharing was designed to meet.
I want to say, in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and in view of my responsibilities in the Province for the units which are in Belfast and the border areas and up to Derry, that we should make clear in the House our responsibility not only to the troops but to their wives and parents and the community in this country.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
Will the right hon. Gentleman consult his right hon. Friend and say whether he thinks that an allowance of 50p a day is adequate for the job which the troops are doing so wonderfully, as he has described?
§ Mr. Rees
I shall consult my right hon. Friend on that.
For the moment, in reporting to the House, I think that it is our role to listen to all opinions, and this we shall do. It will be my job following this debate to meet and discuss with the leaders of all political parties in Northern Ireland and to consider the views of all those who have constructive views to offer.
I must, however, make it clear that we are firmly against the often expressed 888 populist view that we should pull out quickly and let the two communities fight it out, and that we should watch the result on television. I therefore ask those who favour withdrawal to make clear their disapproval of this extreme view. I ask this because of my security responsibilities in the Province, and I ask it because of the effect it could have on the para-military forces.
I must make it clear, as we did when we were in opposition, that the Government are firmly against integration of Northern Ireland with the rest of the United Kingdom.
The breakdown of the power-sharing Executive must not lead to a period of inactivity. Time is not on our side. In the past two years there was evolved by the previous Government a line of policy which we supported. We were right to do so.
For three months, we in the Government have made it our aim to support the arrangements devised by the previous administration. We did this in the face of a rapidly changing political situation. This Government must now find the way forward. Today and tomorrow we are here to listen, and we see this debate as the beginning of the reappraisal. We must then make decisions. It will be our hope to carry the whole House with us.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
This is not the first time Parliament has been recalled on account of events in Ireland, and I do not suppose that it will be the last.
At the outset I should like to express, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did, the most genuine appreciation of hon. Members, certainly on this side of the House, of Mr. Faulkner and his colleagues for the way in which they set about their work in the Executive. This brave new experiment in the sharing of power was never going to be easy. Controversy was always going to surround it. The manner in which Mr. Faulkner and his Executive carried out their business through such difficult days commands the respect of every hon. Member. It is a tragedy that it became impossible for them to continue, but I do not believe that their efforts have been in vain.
889 On the contrary, even though the Executive had a short life they have shown that it is possible to have a Government in Northern Ireland that includes men of a far wider range of views and traditions than the Province has known before. They have shown not only that compromise is essential in Northern Ireland but that it is practicable. There are plenty of people ready to write off that spirit of compromise, but I see no hope of peace without it.
It is, of course, absolutely right for Parliament to return to debate the situation in the Province, to re-examine our policies and to re-establish our objectives. The Secretary of State has already had preliminary talks, and he has many long days of further talks ahead of him. Obviously, the situation calls for a thorough reassessment, and a heavy responsibility lies on the Secretary of State. The manner in which he conducts the consultations and discussions is very important, and we certainly wish him well in what is an exacting and personally demanding task.
One of the most important functions of this debate is to clarify the Government's objectives. It is essential for these to be restated, for otherwise they may not be attainable. In my view, there is some doubt about those objectives. The Secretary of State, with the best will in the world, has not altogether satisfied everyone this afternoon, and the Prime Minister must, as I am sure he will, dispel those doubts tomorrow. For example, there have been suggestions in recent days that the Government might have objectives other than those that they have declared. I do not suppose that that is so, but we need to be clear about it.
It is fair to say that the Prime Minister's broadcast has itself been a contributory factor to this uncertainty. To anyone who knows something of Northern Ireland, the effect of his words on the people there was completely predictable. The question is, therefore, whether the Prime Minister was himself aware of what the effect would be. In the light of his long and close interest—10 years or more—in Northern Ireland, I find it difficult to think that he did not know.
The alternative is that the Prime Minister did know and that he said what he did with deliberate intent. I find that 890 equally difficult to accept. Whichever it was, one is left with the doubt about his objectives, because his broadcast gave great offence throughout Northern Ireland and consequently worsened what was already demonstrably a highly charged situation.
The other aspect of events during the last fortnight that I cannot forbear to mention is the handling of the Army in relation to the strike. There was, or at any rate there seemed to be, delay in removing barriers and there seemed to be indecisiveness. The Government looked as though they were changing their minds. At any rate, that is what I think it felt like to the country, and that is a fatal impression to give in such circumstances. If ever there was a time for strong leadership and firm action based on clear decisions, that was it.
All that is past history now, but it is relevant to the present situation and to the future because it has contributed significantly to bringing the whole position of our troops in Northern Ireland to the forefront of public debate. The Prime Minister has been forthright and consistent in his assurances that they will stay. He has always taken that view, and it was reasserted today by the Secretary of State. But we know what the Secretary of State for Defence said after Easter. I was in Belfast that morning and experienced the heightening of tension that followed.
I ask the Prime Minister to tell us tomorrow whether that speech was an aberration. I think that he has already indicated that it was, but it is curious that it has been followed by something of an orchestration in the Labour Party —elsewhere as well, I know, but mainly in the Labour Party—of the demand to bring our soldiers home.
The Prime Minister has said in the House several times that the consequences would be civil war and massacre; he has been absolutely consistent in what he has said. Almost all responsible politicians throughout Ireland, including the Unionists and the SDLP, support a peacekeeping role by the British Army in Northern Ireland. We on this side believe that to abandon the people of Northern Ireland, as it is said, to their fate would be to abandon them to strife, to the horrors of political oppression, and to bloodshed.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said this and I have repeated it today. Is it not a danger to raise it again as though it were in doubt? I specifically mentioned the point because of the strong feeling on the part of the Government. Can we make it abundantly clear that there has been no orchestration on this? There are views in the country on it, and it is the view of the Government that the troops should not be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Pym
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and, of course, I accept that. But it was because this matter has become more to the forefront of public debate that it seemed to me important that the Prime Minister should do that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Orchestration?".] If hon. Members do not like that word, I will gladly withdraw it, but I would say that many more hon. Members have been talking about it; that cannot be denied. It is precisely because of its importance that I raise it now.
As I was saying, our position is that it would be absolutely wrong for that to happen. I am glad that both sides of the House are in agreement on that. Obviously, such a conflict as would follow any question of withdrawal would not leave the rest of the United Kingdom unaffected, and it would be an abnegation of our pledges and commitments towards Ulster.
I myself cannot express our long-term aim more clearly than by saying that it is to reduce our forces in the Province to normal garrison levels as early as possible. The whole effort of the House has been and continues to be the achievement of a political and security situation in which that is possible. Such does not exist at present. Over a period, we wish to see Ulstermen taking more responsibility for their own defence. It must be the urgent task of the Government to examine ways and means of achieving this, so that troops can be reduced to normal strength and so that policing can once again be the responsibility of policemen.
The constitutional position has been provided for by the border poll. The people of Northern Ireland have voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. This House has accepted that and planned for 892 the Province on that basis. We have sought to build a system which provides for broadly based government in Ulster and which aims to build a united Ulster rather than a united Ireland. We need to work for understanding and conciliation, and that requires from us a conciliatory approach. The last thing that we must do is contribute anything to their fears.
When he was in opposition, the Prime Minister put forward a plan on Ireland which I think had 14 or 15 points and which some in Northern Ireland take to be Government policy. This has caused some misunderstanding. I am sure that it would be helpful if tomorrow the Prime Minister could say that this plan is not relevant to the present situation and that any suggestion or impression given to the nation of edging Ulster towards a united Ireland is counter-productive and out of his thinking.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
I cannot see what the right hon. Gentleman is trying to prove in this speech. When he refers to my speech, he will remember that his right hon. Friends greatly welcomed it at the time. He will know that one of the 15 points later embodied in the Constitution Act was the absolute right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide their future, whether within the United Kingdom or in any other direction. That has remained the policy of this party throughout.
§ Mr. Pym
1 absolutely accept that, and I endorse that that was a part of it. But there were other aspects to it as well. I believe that hon. Members desire a unity of objective with the Government, and that is why we need these objectives to be clearly stated. I think the right hon. Gentleman will think that that is fair.
I come now to the present situation and the reality as it exists today—
§ Mr. Pym
The first attempt at power sharing has broken down. It has been a remarkable story. There is much to contemplate in the long sequence of events throughout the present troubles, but recriminations over causes and who is to blame do not seem to be useful at this critical juncture. The important 893 thing is that power sharing has been shown to be possible. I say that despite the events of the last few weeks.
The days when the idea was prevalent that those with long-standing differences could not work together are now behind us. Some may feel that because the first power-sharing Executive has broken down—indeed, has been forced down by the Ulster Workers' Council—the idea itself is finished. I do not accept that, and I am glad that the Secretary of State did not accept it either today.
The principle has become widely accepted among the people of Northern Ireland as a reasonable and sensible constitutional way of progressing if a suitable coalition of personalities and parties can be achieved. However unfruitful their first attempts may seem, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State must, as I am sure they will, leave no stone unturned in the attempt to find a way of proceeding on this basis. Both of them have expressed their convictions in the principle involved. So has the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), who said on television last week:There has got to be some power sharing.No doubt like every other hon. Member in the light of what has happened, I, for one, feel compelled to think yet again about all the various alternatives that have been put forward. None of us can afford to overlook any constructive thought which might contribute to a solution. It would take too long to rehearse the case for and against the various so-called "solutions"— integration, re-partition, a federal United Kingdom or federal Ireland, an independent Ulster or any other variation. In each case it appears to me that the disadvantages outweigh the merits.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke last week of the growth of the feeling of nationalism in Ulster. Integration would fly in the face of that, as well as bringing all the problems of the Province to an already overcrowded Westminster. Many Ulstermen do not want their problems brought here. They wish to deal with them in Ulster.
When the Conservative Government considered the problems of what the new system of government in Northern Ireland should be, one consistent theme 894 which emerged from almost all the representations made to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) by the parties—the SDLP and the Unionists, then including the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West), the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig)— was that the benefits of regional government in Northern Ireland were very great, that the people of Northern Ireland had come to believe in its value, and that any successful system would have to be within the context of devolved institutions. I think that the people of Northern Ireland would still take that view.
A federal plan, on the other hand, would mean a break-up of the United Kingdom, and, as the Kilbrandon Report said,We believe that only within the general ambit of one supreme elected authority is it likely that there will emerge the degree of unity, co-operation and flexibility, which commonsense suggest is desirable.An independent Ulster is the opposite of what people voted for last year, and the economic consequences are, to say the least, formidable. The adoption by the United Ulster Unionists' Council of a policy of provincial sovereignty in a federal United Kingdom seems to represent a move towards independence. I find some confusion of thought here, because some of those who protest their loyalty to the United Kingdom loudest also call for no interference from London. They cannot have it both ways.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
The House should not be under a mis-concept on this. The wording in that document was to the effect that, in the event of implementation of the Kilbrandon proposals for the rest of the United Kingdom, we would favour this move. But it was only in that event.
§ Mr. Pym
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] —yes, and my hon. Friend, which he certainly is.
As a party which has always supported the unity of the United Kingdom, we Conservatives would regret any move to sever the historic links between our peoples. In this debate we need to keep the unity of the United Kingdom at the 895 forefront of our thinking. At this moment in history the people of Northern Ireland need the rest of the United Kingdom more than at any previous time.
In recent months there has been much loose talk, it seems to me, of this or that policy being "imposed" on Northern Ireland by Westminster. This is a travesty of the truth—a travesty perpetuated perhaps because it suits the argument of those who make it.
Throughout the negotiations of 1972 and 1973 the Conservative Government did all in their power to help and support the decisions of the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives because they are the people who are going to decide in the end.
The Sunningdale communiqué is the most quoted example. It is sometimes alleged that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in his desire to reach an agreement, forced the various parties at Sunningdale to sit through long hours until they accepted a deal in which they did not believe. I cannot imagine a bigger misrepresentation. This is one of the many myths; myths are popular in Ireland, and this one is a lie. Of course an agreement was wanted by everyone. We did sit long hours. But the only issue was whether it was possible and practical for the representatives of the people of Ireland themselves, both North and South, to strike an acceptable balance between their mutually conflicting aspirations. No wonder the hours were long, but a genuine desire to reach agreement was there on all sides. If that had not been so, the conference would have broken up. I defy anyone to challenge that assessment.
From the British Government's point of view, provided that British interests were safeguarded my right hon. Friend was content to go along with and accept whatever agreement commended itself to the Irish representatives. If they were happy with it, we were content. My belief remains that the principle of power sharing is not only sound but acceptable. Some hon. Members and some commentators have written it off already. It is easy to say that, and it suits the argument if they are propounding their own solutions. But it is an over-hasty and superficial judgment, because harsh reality requires the power 896 vacuum to be filled and I have not yet heard any other proposal which does not present even greater difficulties.
We give full support to Her Majesty's Government in their endeavours to work out a new arrangement founded on this principle. The important factor now is time. I know that the Secretary of State returns to Northern Ireland on Wednesday and intends to treat his consultations and negotiations with urgency. If too much time passes, there will be a risk that new political wedges can be driven between those who represent different sections of the community and who must work together. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has considered how far he will extend the talks beyond the party leaders. He has indicated that he is prepared to talk virtually to anyone who has any constructive thought, and in that we give him full support. I think that that is what he said.
The need to talk as widely as possible is crucial, because the ultimate solution is for the people of Northern Ireland to thrash out for themselves. The Assembly does not have to remain prorogued for four months. It is important to give the elected politicians a platform in Northern Ireland on which to debate their views, otherwise the voices of those with the greatest television power may drown all others, which is not a very parliamentary way to do things.
When the Prime Minister informed my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir A. Douglas-Home) and me on Wednesday evening of his decision to prorogue the Assembly, we expressed some misgivings about it. But it seems to have been acceptable in the Province, and naturally I am extremely glad about that. I noted the remarks by the Assemblyman for South Antrim on Friday, when he expressed certain concern about a whole range of matters which might be put to one side for the moment. He said:Even when decisions are made there will be no opportunity for the democratic voice of the people to be heard unless the Assembly is recalled.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
At an early date I will have to bring to the House the financial appropriations. That will be the first thing.
§ Mr. Pym
Obviously, it is important to avoid the political vacuum lasting any 897 longer than is absolutely essential. We cannot go on without elections to the Assembly indefinitely. The circumstances are now quite different from those which existed before, and it is unrealistic to talk of elections in the sort of terms used by the Secretary of State the last time he referred to the matter. I am sure that he would agree with that.
There is another reason for urgency. The situation existing now is favourable to the IRA and there is an obvious risk of its regaining support. Uncertainty and indecision are favourable to the IRA, and the task of tackling the IRA is made more difficult when the community under constant attack from the IRA is divided within itself. The concern that we all feel about our troops is heightened by civil or political disarray. The very safety of our soldiers and the continuing threat to the lives of ordinary persons are the sharpest incentive imaginable to stir into action those responsible for finding the next political step forward.
I ask the Prime Minister, and no doubt he will make it clear, what team of Ministers he intends to carry the load which now falls on the Northern Ireland office. We are back to a direct rule situation, although in very different circumstances from last time. The shorter it lasts the better, but as long as it lasts, a very heavy burden, which we understand so well, lies on the right hon. Gentleman's team of Ministers.
I should like to say a word about the Republic of Ireland. The co-operation and good will of the Republic remain essential for the achievement of peace. Recent events clearly show that the people of Northern Ireland feel that the price that has been asked for that co-operation is too high, and they are not convinced at any rate not yet, that effective good will is present.
We on this side of the Irish Sea are anxious that the good Anglo-Irish relations that the last Government built up should be maintained and that they should be fostered by the present Government. Almost all political groups in Northern Ireland during the discussions in 1972 declared themselves in favour of formal co-operation with the Republic of Ireland on matters of mutual interest. If that is to be achieved, it will require a more realistic approach from the Republic 898 than has been evidenced so far. 1 It is of little use for the Dublin Government to convince this House of their good intentions if they fail to communicate them to the people of Northern Ireland.
Any realistic approach to the Northern Ireland situation must take account of the basic fact that there is not only a Protestant majority but a Catholic minority. It is not good enough simply to talk of "majority rule", as if Northern Ireland would have the British system of alternating parties in power. The permanent exclusion of a large section of the population from any share in government has not shown itself to be a satisfactory form of democracy. Rather it is a recipe for instability, frustration and recurring strife.
Of course the view of the majority must prevail on the constitutional loyalty of the Province. That was provided for in the border poll, the result of which this House has accepted. But within that framework there must be some form of widely based government to meet the unique problems of Ulster's divided society.
There is no dishonour in compromise particularly if it can save lives. The need for compromise has been underlined by recent events. Now a heavy responsibility rests on all political leaders to sit down together, to talk and to work out the form in which that principle can best be expressed. On their success depends the future stability and prosperity of Northern Ireland as a Province of the United Kingdom.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I wonder whether I may ask a simple question. Has it occurred to any of us who know the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) why, after five years, these wholly well-intentioned, honourable, hard-working and industrious Ministers have failed to get any success in dealing with the historic problems of Ireland? If anybody had had the political weight, good will, or authority to be successful, it would surely be some of those Ministers.
Therefore, some of us are driven to the conclusion that what might be the 899 root trouble, is that the English and Scots are simply no good at dealing with the historic problems of Ireland and that ideas in relation to Ireland very much depend on the stable from which they come. My whole attitude, I assure my right hon. Friend, is not his "often expressed populist view" that we should wash our hands of Ireland, and run away from the problem, and certainly I and most of us have not taken the attitude "Let the Irish cut their own throats"; far from it. It is simply that we are brought by hard reality after five years to recognise our own limitations in dealing with Ireland. Proposals originating in Ireland have on that account a greater chance of success.
Far from washing our hands of the problem, it is simply a belief that people like me should not presume to tell the Irish how to work out their solution. The truth is that they are a very internal people. If Irish Members will forgive me for saying so, some of us are simply amazed by how they can get together one with another after having made the kind of speech about one another that I would not dream of making about a Tory or Liberal opponent. Yet, suddenly, after such a tirade they get together and seem to be friends. I am not saying that Irish Members are better or worse than the rest of us. All I say it that the Irish have a peculiarly Irish way of doing things.
It has been argued that this is all to do with the camaraderie of the House of Commons, that we all meet in the corridors and are firm friends, but that such an attitude does not extend to their supporters. However, I was deeply impressed—I may be accused of great naivety, but this confirms something that contacts had led me to suspect for a long time—when yesterday I spent four very interesting and remarkable hours with the Ulster Workers' Council. Yes, one member of that council took a rather different view of me, but, as far as I understand it. I was warmly welcomed by Mr. Harry Murray and Mr. Jim Smyth and others. I got the impression that although they would not specifically say so and that it was not the right time or place to say so, they had their lines of communication with the extremists on the other side. The question I want to ask 900 is: how can we encourage that communication between Irishmen and Irishmen? One day they will have so to communicate. I put it very gently: if the British Army remains in Ireland, is there not a deep truth in the view that the Irish will always see it as someone else's problem and that as long as the Army remains, Irishmen will hesitate to take certain responsibilities and trust in the British Army to afford a certain kind of protection?
If the Army were withdrawn—I may be deeply wrong in suggesting that it should be done in a few days, and a time limit might be better; I should have thought that that would be messy, but others with maybe more perception than I believe that a time limit would be wiser —the Irish would not only have to come to grips with reality as some of us see it but might be encouraged to form those links which are now at an infant stage.
I hope that a dialogue may begin with a number of groups that have not hitherto been in the discussion. Again I speak to my own party. I may be mistaken, but this is my judgment, and my hon. Friends will have to make their own decision on my powers of judgment one way or the other. I believe that we are seeing an interesting development in Ireland. It is the emergence for the first time of a genuine, authentic, Protestant, working-class leadership. It has to be accepted that in previous Parliaments the kind of people who are now coming to the fore were not noticeably represented in this House. The young UWC man spoke about a "working class salvation with the Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland."
Therefore, although they may have their reservations, I plead with my right hon. Friends that they will at least talk to and listen to those people. I am not turning round on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and saying that hitherto he has been wrong. I am simply saying that from now on I shall plead with him to listen to men like Jim Smyth and Harry Murray and the others, because that may result in a development of a dialogue that may be useful. Such talk could avert alienation.
You asked, Mr. Speaker, that speeches should be short. May I refer to the British Army? I had hoped that the Secretary of State for Defence would take part in 901 the debate. Although in April 1973 some of us drew analogies with Palestine in the 1940s, with Algeria in the 1950s and with Vietnam in the 1960s, until a fortnight ago it was quite clear that, however many reservations one had, the Army had a clear function, which was to preserve law and order while the infant Sunningdale Agreement was allowed to take root. I sit down with this question, which I hope will be answered during the debate: can it be made clear, in view of the events of the last week, precisely what the function of the Army is now supposed to be?
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Chipping Barnet)
I am grateful for the opportunity of addressing the House on this subject. I was responsible for Northern Ireland affairs for nearly two years. My recollections of that time are not happy. This is not because of minor matters such as the letter bomb or the assault by the then hon. Lady from Mid-Ulster. My recollections are of the appalling strain of office, greater, I think, than in any other office I have held. There was the feeling that one's decisions could affect the lives of men and women, the feeling that anything done wrong could be catastrophic. There was the reading, day by day, of accounts of further murders and atrocities, each one seeming to bear witness to one's own failure to find a solution.
Therefore, the present Secretary of State and his Ministers have my profound sympathy in the work they are undertaking. It is an exceedingly difficult and awesome task. While we must reserve the right to criticise, I am sure that we would also, as a House, give them full support in carrying out such an enormous task.
When the British Army was sent into Northern Ireland in 1969 by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) it was to protect the Catholic community against a very grave situation indeed. The Army was received as protectors, and for some time the situation improved until the position on the streets between the communities was much better. Then the IRA came in and, by its campaign of terror, restarted the difficulties that were for a time beginning to subside. Almost at the same time the reform programme—for which I have 902 always thought Lord Moyola deserves the greatest credit in acting with such integrity and staunchness—was going ahead with the support of successive British Governments and would if fully carried out, I believe, as all Catholics would have recognised, have eliminated the legal discriminations against the Catholic community.
By that time it was too late because by that time the minority community was no longer prepared to accept a minority position as citizens within the country in which they lived. They wanted an appropriate share of political power in guiding the destiny of their country. So we came to the concept of power sharing which was evolved while I was responsible as Home Secretary, I think, now that it is not doing so well, that I can without immodesty claim my responsibility for that concept. The concept was based upon what had been stated by my predecessor the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East; namely, that we will never get a healthy political situation in Northern Ireland so long as politics remain sectarian. He rightly said that we would never reach such a situation until the battle of politics was on the same basis as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom.
We were trying to do two things. We sought first, to defuse the border issue and, second, to give to the politicians from both communities experience of working together. Hence the concept of the referenda, to last for a long period of years, which would take the border issue out of practical politics for a long time. The concept of getting politicians on both sides to work together in the common interest of a common community was not, I think, a bad idea. It was rational, fair and dispassionate. Perhaps that is why it did not work in Northern Ireland.
There are many proximate reasons why, for the time being, power sharing is not succeeding. There was the Sunningdale Agreement and the propaganda about it. It is fair to say that the speech of the Prime Minister on television made its contribution. But these are only proximate causes. The basic cause of power sharing breaking down was that the will to make it work did not exist. We overestimated the desire to agree.
903 I am forced to two conclusions. First, and it is not a frivolous one, I am convinced now that no Englishman can really understand the problems of Northern Ireland. I remember back in 1970 seeing a television programme showing a young couple with a small baby. I think that they were Catholic, but it would have been the same if they were Protestant. The interviewer was saying to the father "When your son grows up, if he married a Protestant girl what would you do?" The father said "I'd never speak to him again." That made my blood run cold because I knew what was the reality there. Perhaps one forgets these realities in the course of trying to administer a Department of State.
I remember an intelligent Irish journalist saying to me "The trouble is, Reggie, you are trying to pursue a logical policy and that never works in Ireland." The answer was simple. "Very well, I can discover the logical policy, I can advocate that policy, but how do I choose between the 17 illogical policies which are the alternatives?" These are the genuine difficulties created by anyone who tries to apply English-style politics and an English basis of political thought to the problems of Northern Ireland.
That is my first conclusion. My second is that we must now re-examine all alternatives, even some which, up to now, we have completely rejected. The situation is far more difficult than it has ever been, not merely because the scale of the bombing and the killings has grown but because the world in which we live is conducive to this sort of thing. It is a world in which violence is gaining more power, in which groups of men have more than ever become conscious of their power to destroy.
In such a world things are far more dangerous than ever before. Therefore, as a House we must look at all possibilities, however repugnant some of them may be. There will be no new ones; they have all been thought over, chewed over, over the years. There will be no gimmicks, no brilliant new schemes. What are the alternatives? The main ones to the continuation of power sharing are integration with the United Kingdom, re-partitioning and a phased withdrawal of British troops.
904 These are the three big suggestions now being considered. Integration is not acceptable to the majority in Great Britain or to the minority in Northern Ireland. I do not think it is really acceptable to the Loyalists, as they call themselves, in Northern Ireland. In some cases this word "Loyalist" is a bit of a misnomer. Their loyalty is not to the constriction and Parliament of the United Kingdom but to their own dreams and desires. Men are perfectly entitled to be loyal to their dreams and desires and to explain them but they should not at the same time argue that they are being loyal to an institution which they wish to defy.
Re-partitioning has been examined time and again. It is not a practical proposition. This will be seen if we look at what is involved in re-partitioning Belfast and separating the Catholic and Protestant populations. Even if it were a practical proposition I do not think it would end the argument about the border. It would merely transfer the issue from one place to another.
I come then to the withdrawal of British forces. This will be seriously discussed in the course of these two days. It is a repugnant thought to consider the withdrawal of the protection of British forces seeking to maintain law and order within any part of the United Kingdom. But there comes a time when we must consider any possibility, however repugnant. I remember how I and my colleagues fought against the concept of immigration control because it was wrong in our belief and fundamentally repugnant to us to exclude from the mother country any citizens of the British Commonwealth.
But, repugnant as it was at the time, we came to accept it and some might argue that we took too long. Now, when we face the facts in Northern Ireland, they are surely that the Republicans do not wish London to dominate Northern Ireland in any way. The Loyalists say that they want an Ulster solution, without interference by London. No one in London, no one in Great Britain, wants to interfere in this situation. All we want to see is a solution, and, above all, one which brings peace to Ulster and solace and relief to our forces and the people of this country.
905 Are we not perhaps drawn to this conclusion that the leaders of the two communities in Northern Ireland must sit down together and work out an Ulster solution between them? This must mean that those who wield the power effectively in Northern Ireland must be involved It is no good men conferring about a solution if they cannot deliver the goods once they have agreed. But once this Ulster solution is reached it will not be underpinned by the rest of the United Kingdom. If it is to be a solution on the responsibility of Northern Ireland it must be maintained on the responsibility of Northern Ireland. Neither can it pray in aid the support and protection of Westminster. If both sides come together and reach a solution, then both sides must co-operate in making certain that it works. I suggest that we must be prepared to contemplate a total change in the constitutional relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I stress "the rest of the United Kingdom". Devolution of power in these circumstances would have to become real. What the new relationship would be in detail I cannot possibly adumbrate at this moment. But I submit that it is now that we must direct our minds to the possibility of a new framework in which greater devolution of power based on agreement between the communities is fitted into a proper United Kingdom framework.
Of course the difficulties are tremendous. It may be said that what happens in Northern Ireland then weakens the cohesion of the rest of the United Kingdom. I doubt that. I think that the problems in Northern Ireland, are so exceptional and so horrific in human terms that they would not have a large influence on the rest of the United Kingdom. The real danger, as the Secretary of State rightly said, is premature withdrawal of British forces. I am quite certain that no one in the House would, in his heart, recommend withdrawing British forces if the consequences would be bloodshed and civil war. But, on the other hand, I am coming to think that there is quite an argument for saying to the people of Northern Ireland that we want to withdraw British forces, apart from, possibly, the garrison strength, and in our saying to the people of Northern Ireland that we want to see them work 906 out their own solution because we believe that they would have a better chance to work out that solution among themselves if they knew that it was the desire of the British Parliament that as soon as possible the maintenance of law and order and security in the Province should rest on their shoulders and not on ours.
All courses are fraught with danger. Successive Governments have tried honestly to reach a rational solution. Bipartisanship in the House has had great value. The alternative, party battle across the Floor of the House during the past few years, would have been a tragedy. However, this bipartisan approach does not in any way reduce the right to criticise—I am sure that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State would agree. But in criticising we must be seeking to reach agreement on national maximum interest. The issues before us are greater than ever before in Northern Ireland and we must have no inhibition about discussing any possibility. The House of Commons has never carried a greater responsibility.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) has carried on his shoulders serious responsibility for the administration of Northern Ireland. He spoke with a certain amount of restraint, which I fully understand, but it is, I believe, essential that some of us at any rate should perhaps be a little less restrained if the facts which are being discussed in the country are to be properly put in this debate.
One ought to begin by trying to supplement what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in explaining how the breakdown of the Executive occurred. I would start here with the IRA, for the reason that immediately after the Sunningdale Agreement the IRA decided on a political strategy to destroy the position of the SDLP among the minority. The evidence seems all too conclusive that the ferocity of the bombing campaign which was then immediately carried out by the IRA was meant to have that effect. I do not accept the IRA's nationalism and I do not accept its statements that it has been acting merely in the interest of the long-term history of the Republic of Ireland. I believe that the IRA is a 907 group of political gangsters, the members of which are deliberately concerned to play themselves into the political game from which they would be completely and historically excluded if there were to be an agreement between people who are opposed to changes in the life of the people of Northern Ireland being brought about by violence and terrorism.
I therefore think that the IRA must be the first to bear responsibility for the breakdown of the power-sharing Executive. I do not accept the IRA's present proposals that the British Army should withdraw as part of a long and elaborate timetable. The evidence was there for those of us who went as a small Labour Party commission, comprising Members of this House and of the National Executive of the Labour Party, to visit Northern Ireland and Belfast immediately after the start of the present troubles in 1969. All our conversations were in private, and the Civil Rights Association, which was then carrying out a good democratic struggle for more equality for the minority, and the many other organisations which came to see us told us that they fully accepted the reasons that led the then British Government to send in the Army in the first place.
It is important for the record and for the discussion now taking place in the country—if we are to inform the electorate from this debate—to repeat the reasons that were involved. It was a situation in which people were being murdered and having their homes burnt. We saw the evidence of the situation when we went to Northern Ireland. The civil power called on the then British Government to put in the Army to prevent a wholesale massacre which was then feared. This was a perfectly honourable and responsible political reason for the Army being put into Northern Ireland. Many people may have since played the game of saying that they did not want the Army and of asking to have the Army taken out, but that is all public political play. They do not mean it; it is not their genuine opinion. I do not expect that any hon. Member would regard these declarations as any reason for moving in the direction of calling for the withdrawal of British troops.
It should also be put on record that the Government of the Republic did not do enough and did not take enough 908 political risks after Sunningdale to help to get the maximum implementation and acceptance of Sunningdale by the majority population of Northern Ireland. I can understand the hesitation which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might have regarding being too precise about this. He carries grave responsibility and is responsible for good relations with the Dublin Government. But some of us should put it on record if it is our belief, and it is certainly my belief, that it was wrong to delay for so many months the decision to postpone the implementation of the Council of Ireland until the following general election for the Assembly. We know that it is not true, but it made it appear that this was done as a result of further pressure and not as an agreement between members of the Executive. It would have been much more helpful if that had been quickly realised and thus not delayed for so long.
Those responsible for the breakdown are the Mafia on the extremist Protestant side, which exists in the same way as a Mafia exists on the IRA side. Here I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who made an interesting speech and has made interesting statements on the radio during the last few days and has had recent contact with the Ulster Workers' Council. He said that the process of intimidation by paramilitary organisations is never attacked by Northern Ireland Members in this House. They always cheer when we attack the IRA but they are backward in exposing the Mafia-like activities of the paramilitary organisations on their side. These people were directly responsible in the early stages of the strike—not later, when there was much more mass support —for preventing ordinary working people from going to their place of work. That was intimidation of a gangster type not seen in this country and seen in the United States only at the worst time of gang warfare, in the 1930s.
If there is a criticism—we must be frank about this—which my right hon. Friend ought to answer, or perhaps my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might answer it as he is to speak tomorrow, it is that it is being said by responsible people that during the first three days of the strike there was a request from some of the members of the Executive—Mr. Faulkner said on television the other night that he identified himself with 909 it—that the barricades should have been immediately removed, and that the civil police and the Army should have been called in immediately so that people might be assured that they could go to work without the barricades being in their way.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
We immediately sent extra troops to Belfast for that purpose. May I explain the nature of the problem? On that day 2,000 troops were engaged in removing barricades on five main approach roads. When I point out that the total strength of the RUC is 4,500 and that the barricades on the minor roads had to be left for other days, it can be seen that the job was not easy, and I think that the Army did excellently in those early hours.
§ Mr. Mendelson
It is not the efficiency of the Army that is being questioned. What is being questioned is the delay in giving the order and instruction for the early barricades to be immediately removed. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend has answered the question.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
I agree with my hon. Friend. I ask the Secretary of State to say how many barricades were removed by the RUC.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I have not the figure, but there was no delay in giving the order. The problem of barriers—
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
All I can say is that barricades in the country areas were removed by the RUC. I shall find out the number—if such a record is kept.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will forgive this slight irregularity in the debate, but the matter is so important that I thought it should be cleared now. I am not satisfied with the Secretary of State's reply, and I wish to show why this matter is so important.
A number of reports have reached some of us from personal friends in the Province showing that the writers of them are not completely satisfied that the RUC showed at the beginning of the strike the spirit expected of a force whose purpose was to keep order and to ensure that ordinary working people were not prevented by 910 violence from going to their places of work.
I turn to the question of the future in my final two points. First, it is essential that we should not merely repeat the slogan that power sharing must continue. It is uncertain whether it can continue. It is essential to realise that the task remains the same: we must make it possible for the majority in Northern Ireland to be convinced that there is no question of an improvement in the political status of the minority having consequences on a decision about the frontier.
I have always believed that to be the key problem. I remember returning from the mission to Northern Ireland in 1969 and being invited to speak at a public meeting in London. At the meeting there were about 3,000 people. As long as I reported on the injustice which had been done to the minority, as long as I explained that the Army had gone in to save lives, and as long as I demanded complete political and social equality for members of the minority, I had the whole meeting with me. However, as soon as I said that it would be highly dangerous to demand changes in the frontier because all the gains would be progressively lost, I lost the support of half the meeting and people started booing me instead of saying "Hear, hear". The Dublin Government must be forthcoming and must follow the lead of one of the most courageous people in Irish politics, Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, who has made this point convincingly and has taught me much about the situation.
Secondly, we must gain the confidence of more people amongst the Protestant majority that we are absolutely sincere in our view that we in the House of Commons will not accept any manoeuvre designed to improve the peaceful living together of all Northern Irish people as a prelude to any move towards a unification which the majority of the people in Northern Ireland do not want. We must make that clear beyond peradventure.
Perhaps those are not the most popular views among my political friends, but I believe that that is the sort of line which the Government should take as 911 their future guide after the recent political tragedy. There will be time for further examination and detailed criticism perhaps of what happened on one day or another. Our main message to the Government should be this: "Be realistic and courageous because your general objectives are correct, but make it clear, even at the cost perhaps of losing some political friends, that the majority in Northern Ireland will have their views respected and will never be coerced into doing anything that they do not want to do ".
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry West (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I am bound to admit that I am heartened by the evident change in the House in the approach to the affairs of Northern Ireland. The speeches which have been made indicate a more common sense approach to our problems.
However, I have been both puzzled and saddened by the lack of even the most elementary understanding of the Northern Ireland problem shown in speeches and statements made both inside and outside the House. I know that some Members mean well, but they fail to realise that the stresses and strains in Northern Ireland are different from those experienced in London. They fail to recognise the simple but fundamental fact that the differences of view between the two main groups in Northern Ireland are not about religion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] I have lived in Northern Ireland for more than 50 years, and the situation is contrary to that which hon. Members have just indicated.
I made a speech on the day that the House rose for the Whitsun Recess in which I invited hon. Members on both sides of the House to go to Northern Ireland to see the problems for themselves and the manner in which our affairs are being managed or mismanaged. As I say, the difference of view is not about religion but about whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom or be absorbed into a united Ireland.
The majority of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland would apparently prefer to go into a united Ireland, whereas most Protestants want to remain within the United Kingdom. That is the only reason why Protestants and Catholics tend 912 to be on different sides of the argument, and, clearly it is not a sectarian reason in the ordinary sense of the word. If that fact were more often remembered, there would be less self-righteous moralising about the Northern Ireland problem by well-meaning outsiders and a more realistic approach would be adopted to it.
The best course which I can take today is to try to clarify certain attitudes found among the majority of people in Northern Ireland. This will require some plain speaking and some hard words, but I hope that the House will accept what I say in the spirit in which it is said. The attitudes to which I refer have arisen mostly from experience and from events in our Province. They were not invented by me or by my colleagues in the House. They are part of the human landscape and must be taken into account if we are to concern ourselves honestly and sincerely with the human situation in Northern Ireland.
We realise that, because of our differences of attitude, words which carry one meaning in London often convey a quite different meaning in Belfast. A good example of our different ways of thinking was provided a little over a week ago by the Prime Minister in a ministerial broadcast when he quoted the Downing Street Declaration of August 1969 as an undertaking given by the British Government which showed their good faith and good intentions towards the people of Northern Ireland. The awkward and tragic fact is that this document, which is cited over here as an indication of good faith, is constantly cited in Northern Ireland as clear evidence of bad faith. That may seem strange, but I will explain it.
The Downing Street Declaration begins with an assurance by the British Government that as provided in the Ireland Act of 1949, which embodies pledges given by Mr. Attlee, as he then was, and his Government, Northern Ireland will not cease to be a part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. That was said in a recent ministerial broadcast by the Prime Minister, and we in Northern Ireland, with justification, inquire: where is this Parliament of Northern Ireland of which he speaks?
In the Downing Street Declaration the British Government also affirmed that 913 Northern Ireland affairs were entirely a matter for domestic jurisdiction. They undertook to assert this in all international relationships. At that time the majority of the people in Ulster welcomed the undertaking that the British Government would not go behind their backs in discussing their affairs with the Government of the Irish Republic. But that was very soon to happen. That is constantly quoted in Ulster as further evidence of bad faith. It is possible to quote a whole series of undertakings given, statements issued and promises—or apparent promises—made by prominent and representative figures in Britain, all of which proved to be false. I do not want to go into individual cases, but a terrible barrier of mistrust has been created between the Government and the people of Northern Ireland. That barrier can be broken down only by complete candour, a readiness to admit past mistakes and a dedicated effort on all sides to understand everyone else's point of view.
If there is this distrust about what we are told about our future, there is also deep distrust and disbelief of what has been said about our past. Many changes have been made in Northern Ireland over the past few years. It has been represented that those changes were a medicine that we needed because there was something wrong with us. Now, facts are beginning to emerge which show that the diagnosis was largely wrong, and that is why the medicine has done so little good to anyone.
In 1964-65, when the newly elected Labour Government had only a small majority in the House, the then Prime Minister threatened to limit the voting rights of Northern Ireland Members of this House. That is on record in HANSARD. He did that despite the fact that Northern Ireland citizens paid the same taxes as citizens of Great Britain, and that all effective control of the level of expenditure in Northern Ireland rested in London.
It may interest the House to know that over many years public expenditure per head in Scotland and Wales was higher than it was in Northern Ireland. Paragraph 589 of the Kilbrandon Report states that public expenditure per head in 1964-65 in Northern Ireland was a mere 2 per cent. higher than it was in England, whereas it was 17 per cent. higher in 914 Wales and 16 per cent. higher in Scotland. I leave the House to draw its own conclusions about the "sponging" which was so vindictively mentioned in a recent broadcast.
Following the Prime Minister's lead, other members of the then Government party joined in the attack on the Northern Ireland Unionist Members of this House and on the Northern Ireland Government, and from 1964 onwards HANSARD and the Press recorded these emotive and unfair attacks. We have them filed in Northern Ireland for evidence.
I remind hon. Members that at that time the Northern Ireland Government, with the aid of both the Protestant and the Roman Catholic communities, had defeated a seven-year period of attacks by the IRA. Like earlier IRA efforts, that struggle was aimed at uniting Ireland by force. The IRA stated that it had to end those attacks because, even after seven years, it had not managed to gain the support of the Roman Catholic community. From that it may be seen that, although a large proportion of Roman Catholics were still not willing to play a full part in Northern Ireland society, they were equally unwilling at that time to support violence as a means of obtaining a united Ireland. But the gap between the two communities at that time was beginning to narrow. The then Northern Ireland Government, of which I was proud to be a member, were making slow but sure movement towards encouraging the minority to play a greater part in society. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I know that hon. Members do not like to hear this, but I was involved as a member of that Government. I well remember the Government's efforts to persuade members of the minority to accept appointment on public bodies. I was responsible for appointing a number of the minority community to public bodies at that time.
§ Mr. West
This was a highly deserved honour—if the member had accepted it. The gentleman turned it down, and when he told me his reason for doing so I was appalled. Nevertheless, the offer was made.
It is tragic that the efforts we were making at that time were sabotaged—I use that word advisedly—by a combination of the well-meaning moralisers and self-seekers in Great Britain whom I have already mentioned. They saw a bandwagon just beginning to crawl in Northern Ireland from the early 1960s onwards and insisted on climbing on it in a clumsy attempt to urge greater speed. The result was that the leaders of the minority, feeling that they had friends in court, escalated their demand for change, and this led to the provocation of the Protestant community.
Encouraged and aided by a steady stream of abuse of the Northern Ireland Government and the Northern Ireland Members of this House by senior politicians of the Government party in the second half of the 1960s, a section of the Northern Ireland minority mounted a vicious propaganda campaign consisting of half-truths and lies which smeared the majority in Northern Ireland. This propaganda campaign was swallowed hook, line and sinker by many leading politicians in this House at that time. As Governments are always at a disadvantage compared with dissidents because they cannot stoop to the methods adopted by dissidents, it is hardly surprising that the Northern Ireland Government and their Unionist supporters came off second best in that campaign. The rest is now history—civil unrest, followed by a build-up of IRA bombings and shootings, despite the use of the Army in large numbers.
In August 1969 a disaster occurred for our Province because in that month a conference was held in Downing Street. To it were invited four of the leaders of the Northern Ireland Government, who apparently came to Downing Street as four frightened men who had lost control of the situation. The result of that conference ultimately led to the distraction of one of the finest police forces 916 in Europe. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Of that there is no doubt. Not only was that force disarmed, but it was demoralised and discredited and has never fully recovered from that action.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the events he is describing to the House were preceded, especially on 5th October, by a vicious attack by the RUC which greatly enraged the Catholic population and which the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) was responsible for authorising?
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
Is it not true that Lord Hunt, who undertook an inquiry into this matter, now takes the view that, following subsequent events, he believes that he was mistaken in disbanding the B Specials?
§ Mr. West
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that matter. Lord Hunt has seen wisdom at last and admitted to the folly of his recommendation in that respect. Not only was the RUC demoralised at that time, but another internal security force was disbanded and discredited. I refer to the Ulster Special Constabulary, to whom the present Prime Minister referred as the "much hated B Specials". That was a most unfortunate remark to make since it cast a slur on a body of men who are among Her Majesty's most loyal citizens [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] They were responsible during the previous 45 years for keeping the IRA terrorists at bay. Even the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland admitted to me that that type of defence force was the most likely to succeed in the guerrilla warfare in Northern Ireland. These men were discredited and disbanded, to the great joy of our enemies.
917 The whole internal security forces under the control of the Northern Ireland Government were no longer available. The British Government accepted responsibility for security in Northern Ireland from then onwards. As anybody who lives in Northern Ireland will know, that pledge was never discharged. There is no security in Northern Ireland. There was imported into our country a chief constable from this side of the water who for two years adopted a "softly, softly" policy. This allowed the IRA to build up a massive collection of arms and ammunition; it enabled it to consolidate its position and prepare for the attacks which it rained upon us in the following months.
The misguided policy which was hatched at that time has resulted to a large extent in a great deal of the disaster which has happened to our country since. We all know that a thousand people have died in that period, not to mention a far greater number who have been injured, many of whom will never recover, and the destruction of property worth many millions. Admittedly property can be restored at a cost, but I was disappointed to hear the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, say at the Dispatch Box in the recent debate on Northern Ireland that all this money was going in Northern Ireland because, for some strange reason, we were responsible for the destruction of property there. But the destruction of property resulted from the manner in which the Government at that time destroyed our internal security forces and allowed the situation to get out of hand. Today we have widows, orphans and heartbroken mothers who look back at that period of August 1969 with despair, knowing that there was a direct or indirect responsibility at that time for the manner in which many families were bereaved.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
I was questioned about how much compensation had been paid out and how much was still in abeyance. My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State is dealing with this matter very expeditiously indeed. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that this matter is not being dealt with by Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. West
I did not say that; that is not the point of my argument. The Minister of State when referring to the destruction of property and the expenditure thereby incurred inferred that the destruction was the responsibility of those in Northern Ireland. It was nothing of the sort. It arose because the British Government destroyed our security forces and the situation got out of hand. The destruction has been massive, and I regret it very much. I regret even more the loss of life and the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have been maimed, some for life. That is the point I am making.
Despite all that happened, the myth that somehow this was the fault of the majority continued in the Westminster mind—a mind which seemed to become impervious to the point of view of the Northern Ireland Government or of the Unionists. The Army was prevented from taking effective action against the IRA in the mistaken belief that it would placate the minority. [Interruption.] I know that this view is not accepted by some in this House, and particularly by many on the Labour benches, but a number of Army officers have already spoken out on this subject. One young Army officer, having served three times in Northern Ireland, resigned his commission in protest. [An HON. MEMBER: "He was sacked."] He was not sacked. He resigned in protest at the political interference in the work of the Army in Northern Ireland. That Army officer has written to the newspapers expressing his views and has made speeches. On many occasions when the Army had effective plans to deal with the IRA they were stopped because the Army was told that such action was politically unacceptable. I know that is not accepted over here, but there are many Army officers who know this to be true. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] It is not rubbish. The Army officers who have spoken on this topic are honourable men and I prefer to take their word for it. It is a tragedy that these things have happened. As a result of the IRA campaign —a campaign which continues—citizens are being mercilessly slaughtered.
It is hardly surprising that the IRA went from strength to strength in these conditions bringing death and destruction on an unprecedented scale and that eventually, though not for several years 919 some Protestants in desperation, and some in self defence, took counter-measures. Following the dissolution of the Northern Ireland Government in March 1972, the process of bashing and humiliating the majority community continued, despite a massive increase in IRA violence in Northern Ireland.
Amongst other things, we witnessed the degrading spectacle of a senior member of Her Majesy's Government flying the IRA to London for discussions. That was bad enough. We also know that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State met the IRA in Dublin. This raises the point as to why he did not meet the Ulster Workers' Council in the crisis period in Northern Ireland recently having been prepared to meet the gunmen in Dublin.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The right hon. Gentleman has put this point forward and is now bringing up the matter of the IRA. Does he know what we told the IRA on that occasion? I suppose he knows what was said to the IRA?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
In that case he should not keep raising the issue. We were firm and to the point. We would not talk with the UWC, with which the hon. Gentleman was hob-nobbing for the whole fortnight, or with the men of violence, because we could not from this House negotiate with people who did not have a political base.
§ Mr. West
We in Northern Ireland had expressed in the most democratic way possible our objection to the Constitution Act. Our objections were shown through the ballot box in February.
§ Mr. West
We confirmed that objection by a poll that was taken in Northern Ireland and presented quite recently in this House. I stressed to the Secretary of 920 State and to other political leaders the dangers entailed in turning a deaf ear to the voice of the majority of the people expressed democratically at that time. When people express a democratic will and have it ignored by the Government there is a real danger of one of two things happening. There could be massive disruption in the country or a blood bath.
I supported the strike in Northern Ireland because it was the lesser of the two evils. It was a peaceful performance. In every shape and form it was a highly disciplined exercise. It was carried out in a most efficient manner. It was the best way of registering protest by the Loyalist community in Northern Ireland against measures which were pushed upon us by people from outside against the wishes of the people in Northern Ireland.
All these matters that I have mentioned and other happenings did not give the people of Northern Ireland much faith in the ability of the United Kingdom Government to solve our problems. Rather, as I have already intimated, they demonstrated that London thought that it knew best, even in Northern Ireland, far removed from here.
This view was confirmed later when the Constitution Act was passed, despite a majority of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament in this House being against it and without any serious attempt being made to take account of the views of those Members. This disregard of Northern Ireland opinion in such an important matter was all the worse because the quota of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament at Westminster was substantially below that of other areas of similar population in the United Kingdom. Can anyone imagine a similar happening in Scotland or Wales? Developments since then have shown the folly of riding roughshod over the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland. I hope that a lesson has been learned for the future.
That brings me to the Sunningdale Agreement. The White Paper on the Northern Ireland Constitution proposals, in the chapter on relations with the Irish Republic, clearly stated:…following elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly the Government will invite the Government of the Republic of Ireland and the leaders of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to participate with them in a conference".921 That conference took place at Sunning-dale, but the participation from Northern Ireland was limited to the leaders of parties which had agreed to share power in the Executive under the provisions of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act.
§ Mr. West
That is right. Neither I nor my hon. Friend received an invitation to attend the conference as leaders of parties. The Government misjudged the mood of the majority of Ulster people when they excluded the main stream of Unionist opinion from the conference. I say quite unashamedly that this was a dreadful act for a responsible Minister.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
I will deal with a large number of the points that the right hon. Gentleman has made when I speak tomorrow if I catch Mr. Speaker's eye. In my view, he is perpetuating a considerable number of myths, with which I will deal tomorrow. However, on the particular point that he has just made, I should like to point out that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was invited to Sunningdale to give his views on all those questions, as, I believe, was the right hon. Gentleman himself, but the hon. Member for Antrim, North refused to attend
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to make a statement that is patently untrue? The right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) was never invited. He did not get an invitation—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order. That is a different version of the facts. The hon. Gentleman must not raise a point of order of that nature.
§ Mr. West
Perhaps I may have the indulgence of the House to clarify the point. It is unfair to try to force the view on the House that I was invited. I was not invited. My two colleagues were invited to give their views and to go away. They were not invited to take part as other political leaders were. I will give way if the Leader of the Opposition wishes to intervene again.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin) rose—-
§ The Attorney-General rose—
§ Mr. West
The Leader of the Opposition is right in his reference to my position, but I am now the leader of a majority group in Northern Ireland. Mr. Faulkner, who does not lead a party at the moment, was invited by the Secretary of State for discussions at Stormont Castle a few days ago. Mr. Faulkner's supporters came to my party to seek entrance. Mr. Faulkner's party never got off the ground. Therefore, he should not have been invited to the discussions that took place at the beginning of last week.
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Gentleman must keep these two matters clear. He referred to the Sunningdale conference. Those who took part in the Sunningdale conference were the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland and representatives who had shown that they were prepared to form the Executive. The leaders of parties, however small, who were not prepared to form the Executive, but were opposed to it, were invited to Sunningdale to give their views, and they declined. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that they were 923 given that opportunity, but that they refused to take it.
§ Mr. West
There were no conditions laid down in the White Paper as to whether parties invited should accept the Constitution Act. There were no preconditions. The White Paper stated quite clearly that leaders of political view would be invited to Sunningdale; and it ended there. There was no other reservation or condition attached. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and the population in Northern Ireland feel so enraged that a majority within the majority had their views shut out from the conference. That undoubtedly led to many of the perplexities that have raged in Northern Ireland since then and to a great deal of the mistrust that has been evident also.
§ The Attorney-General
Of course the right hon. Gentleman is entirely entitled to make his own speech in his own way and give his own interpretation of history. However, if he complains that he was not permitted at Sunningdale to give his views about the future of Northern Ireland, now, here, as leader of his party is it his intention at some time to give his views as to the future of Northern Ireland, because it would be a great help to the House to know?
§ Mr. West
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be patient—[Laughter.]— I will. What I want to say to this honourable House this afternoon is this. Do not victimise your friends—they are scarce. Go after your enemies, for you have plenty of them. I would say to this honourable House in all seriousness that we in Northern Ireland occupy a strategic position in the North Atlantic. Do not place a Cuba on the vital line between Britain and North America. We want to stay within the United Kingdom. We want to stay there, and we will fight for staying there. But if the price for staying within the United Kingdom means policies that will lead to absorption into a united Ireland we must reject that offer.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I rise to follow the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West), having wondered whether I would ever be able to, and 924 also having felt, as I always do when members of his party speak in the House, that they are unable to get, and will never get, a friendly hearing in the House for a point of view which is undoubtedly real amongst a large section of the Protestant population in Northern Ireland, for two reasons.
The first reason is that the members of the right hon. Gentleman's party show so little appreciation of the full problem of the other community in Northern Ireland and so little humility in addressing themselves to that problem. The second reason is that hon. Members see the members of the right hon. Gentleman's party not only here in the House but also on television, where they do not see them exercising their political position and authority in favour of reconciliation and a resolution of the terrible and tragic conflict in Northern Ireland. It is in that situation that members of the right hon. Gentleman's party fail to get a hearing in this House for views which, however much I disagree with them, are widely held and are entitled to a hearing.
Before the right hon. Gentleman spoke much had been said about the cooperation between the parties in this House—the bipartisan and tripartisan policies and the future of the tripartisan approach. I want to make it quite clear that a tripartisan approach evolved not because of any desire on the part of the parties in this House to follow each other in any instinctive belief that what the other party said was necessarily correct, but because each of the three main parties moved independently to the same conclusions about what was tolerable and acceptable in Northern Ireland. I hope that this will remain so, but there can be no assumption that the tripartisan policy is pursued automatically. It is likely to happen, however, if we all arrive by our own routes at the same conclusion.
This debate is no time for recriminations. We could spend much time arguing about the handling of the situation. For my part, I do not believe that even had the Government been absolutely and totally sure footed in their handling of the last fortnight's affairs the situation would have been substantially different otherwise than as to timing. Whether or not the broadcast and other things which have been criticised had taken place, I 925 think that we should have arrived at the same point ultimately. The seeds were clearly there.
There are, however, lessons to be learned. One of them quite clearly is that to have had a Westminster election on a non-proportional system at such a crucial stage in the development of the Executive was a tragedy; and we shall repeat that if we are not careful. We have all the apparatus at our disposal to do it again at the next delicate stage of the Northern Ireland situation. If we are not careful, we shall hold a Westminster election on a non-proportional basis with 11 of the 12 Ulster MPs being returned to this House with a similar proportion of the votes as was gained nationally by hon. Members opposite from one party while another party is unrepresented. That is a lesson to be learned.
Another lesson we must learn is as to the strength of Protestant feeling that built up against the Council of Ireland and against the future of the Council of Ireland, a feeling which some Members of this House and other people fomented. It was a most inaccurate and deliberately misleading view which they presented, but that feeling built up and it was very strong.
On a number of occasions as I sat here supporting the view expressed by the Secretary of State about what he should do, I felt that he was none the less going too far in being ready to say that intimidation was the prime reason for the success of the strike. There is no doubt that a wide body of Protestant feeling built up. Although it was in many ways fomented by misleading statements, it was none the less real. The decision to postpone parts of the Sunningdale Agreement came too late to have any effect on the development of this feeling. Those who built up that feeling against the Council of Ireland had done their work successfully.
Another lesson we must learn but which many people on this side of the water find it difficult to understand is the nature of, and the nature of life in, a divided community. In a community such as Northern Ireland it is very difficult not to be on one side or the other. However little disposed one is to violence, however peaceable one's intentions, one is born and brought up on one side of the community or the other. The 926 middle ground is a very uncomfortable and unpopular place to be. Often there is hardly anybody there.
There are times when there are people in the middle ground, however. The Assembly elections was one such time. A substantial number of people were seen to be moderates and found representation for their views in the Assembly. However, when the pressure is on, people in Northern Ireland find themselves on one side or the other. Hon. Members know why that is the case, but it is a fact which is easily overlooked.
Those who say that we must leave the Irish to sort this out should remember that we are talking not just about extremist groups but about large groups of people who have no predisposition to violence, who want to live a normal, peaceful life, who have strong feelings about which side of the community they are on, and who have strong fears which lead them to be more ready to support violent actions than anybody on this side of the water. That aspect of life in Ireland is often overlooked.
That rigid polarisation is what our policies should be avoiding. We must ask ourselves how a form of government could be evolved to operate peacefully in such a divided community. The possibilities are not enticing. We in this country would not contemplate operating military rule and we could not commend it to the people of Northern Ireland. Sectarian rule of the kind of which we had long experience is not a form of government which my hon. Friends and, I suspect, many hon. Members would wish to see continued.
Some means of sharing power between various sections of the community seems to be the only reasonable option. We had a power-sharing agreement which broke down. It had some weaknesses. Not least of its weaknesses was the fact that those who had power in the community were not all part of the agreement. But by their own choice, whatever view they may take of certain actions and certain specific conferences, the fact remains that at any of a number of stages they could have made themselves part of that agreement but did not do so. That is one reason why that initiative did not succeed.
It is clear to most people in this country, as to hon. Members who have spoken 927 already, that Ulstermen will have to sort this out. The view is now being increasingly expressed, not just on the Ulster side of the water but here, too, that Ulstermen must get together and find solutions. I would see the programme of events as involving discussions between every section of the community leading up, perhaps, to some form of constitutional conference in which all the groups represented within the Northern Ireland community could express their feelings. However, in order that we should have this and have effective discussion between the communities we must have a cooling-off period, a period of reasonable order and peace in which this can be accomplished. I do not think the British public would like that period to be very long, but such a period there must be. During such a period, when Ulstermen must take the initiative to sit down and talk together, a number of things must happen and a number of things must not happen.
Britain must not be panicked into playing into the hands of the IRA by any overnight withdrawal and removal from Northern Ireland of the basic security and protection of life, limb, property and civil rights of the community in Northern Ireland. Nothing would play into the hands of the IRA, which has wanted this for a long time, more than the immediate withdrawal of British troops. We must safeguard human rights, without which conversations between groups in Ulster could not reasonably take place. We all want British troops in the sort of strength in which they are there now out of Northern Ireland. We are all unhappy about the level of economic underpinning which has to be provided for a community in which there is such destruction of property.
These things must be brought to an end, but there must be a procedure for doing this. The Ulster politicians— Catholic and Protestant—must show the British public that they are prepared to share power. This involves a certain amount of retracting of hard things which have been said. Those who have said that they will not sit down with Republicans must recognise the diversity of opinion which exists and must resolve those differences. If Ulster politicians cannot show that to the British public, they must expect a bitter reaction.
928 Particular responsibility rests upon the Loyalists or the United Ulster Unionists, whatever they call themselves, who have been involved in bringing about the present tragic situation. Do they want to bring about ultimately a united Ireland by force—one can hardly imagine that— or are they prepared to bring about a situation in which people in Northern Ireland can live in peace? Now is their opportunity to show just that. What has been said so far has not encouraged us to believe that they are ready for that opportunity. One hopes that their actions may prove better than their words.
With regard to Britain, the options are open. We have no vested interest in being heavily committed in troops and economic support in Northern Ireland. The options are open, except for certain things. One thing which is not open to Britain is to drag British citizens into a united Ireland against their will—and the events of the last fortnight have contributed to that possibility just as much as the deeds of the IRA earlier. Similarly, no British Government could contemplate upholding and giving financial support to a sectarian regime in Northern Ireland to which the Catholic community cannot feel loyalty. No British Government action would gain support in this House for a sectarian regime which does not have community support.
The options based on responsibility and power sharing are open. The British Government's patience has been clearly shown. Now it is for the politicians in Ulster to demonstrate that they are prepared to take this opportunity.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
In view of the long speech from the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) it behoves us more than ever, Mr. Speaker, to acknowledge your advice to keep our speeches as short as possible. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for bringing us down to the essentials after having listened to a boring speech, and one of the most appalling speeches, made in this House by the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. I hope the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will not think me particularly rude 929 if I do not follow him in everything that he said, because I agree with most of his sentiments.
Some hon. Members on the back benches opposite, who I understand represent Ulster constituencies, found the murder of a fish and chip shop man and his pal so hilarious that they could hardly conceal their mirth, and I, as a man with no particular religion, am glad that I am not associated with the sort of religion that they profess.
§ Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North) rose—
§ Mr. Molloy
If the hon. Gentleman is getting upset now I suggest that he should wait another five minutes when he will have more to get upset about.
The British House of Commons has had to be recalled because a policy which was hammered out and agreed by Conservative Members of Parliament, by Unionists and Liberal Members of Parliament, and passed by this House of Commons was then examined by the so-called Loyalists in Northern Ireland who, while they are prepared to accept the £400 million a year economic aid when it suits their purpose, twist the word "loyal" so that it has such appalling connotations that one is tempted never to utter the word at all. It is because of their actions that we are here today in an effort to resolve a situation which is most certainly terrifying.
I have to acknowledge that there is now on the scene in Northern Ireland a force which has to be reckoned with, the UWC. Let me tell some hon. Members opposite that another force is beginning to mutter and murmer. It is die long-suffering, generous, patient British people, who are slowly but surely being driven to a situation where they are compelled to wonder whether their sons, fathers and brothers must be slain in Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Carson rose—
§ Mr. Molloy
—and whether the money that they give to Ulster should be given or whether they should wash it out.
How many more times is the British House of Commons going to be recalled to deal with emergencies in Northern Ireland? The right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said that it was not so much a Roman Catholic policy as a Republican policy which the Roman Catholics have in Northern Ireland. What he did not seem to under- 930 stand was that they have been driven for 50 years into that way of thinking, not because that was the only way they could be sure of having political and social justice, but because they could read, in what was happening in Ulster, a story similar to that which occurred in Europe, and every Roman Catholic was saying to himself, "I can now understand why in the early 1930s it was very uncomfortable to be a Jew in Hitler's Reich."
There was no collusion between the Liberal, Conservative and Labour Parties. Honest men and women were desperately concerned to try to find a solution to a problem which was causing grave anxiety to everybody in this country, because of their natural sympathy in the situation which existed in Northern Ireland and which ordinary folk in this country cannot understand. They go to work with Roman Catholics, Welsh Baptists and members of the Church of England. It never enters their minds to make this form of discrimination.
§ Mr. Molloy
I can take the hon. Gentleman to a closed shop where there are Catholics, Baptists and members of the Church of England. Let us not have that sort of talk in a serious debate like this. If we do not try to understand why people behave as they do in Northern Ireland and why Catholics were driven into this sort of thinking we shall never resolve the problem.
I was saying—the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed made the same point—that there was no collusion between the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party. Sunningdale was a genuine attempt to find a method, perhaps not perfect, which at least would command the support of everyone so that people could live together in Northern Ireland, a method which would be accepted by everyone who believed that an answer could be found —everyone, that is, except the extremists who think that the answer lies in slaughter and bombing.
We have resisted all the vulgarities and appalling behaviour of the IRA, and it was right that we should. It would have been utterly wrong if any British Government had succumbed to the idea that 931 the bombers and murderers of the IRA could be allowed to intimidate them. It therefore follows—[Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Gentleman would listen for a moment. He does not have to agree, but he should at least listen. He may have his opportunity later. I was saying that we must maintain our standards and that any form of threat to the House of Commons and the British Parliament must be met in the same way.
The other day, I heard a speech by Mr. Faulkner, and I must agree with my right hon. Friend that he and many others in the Unionist Party have shown great courage and great determination. Indeed, many of them have taken a slow but necessary trip down the road to Damacus. I include Mr. Faulkner in that, as well as some of the others who are now beginning to see the light of sanity. I congratulate them on their courage and on their determination now to accept things which they could not accept years ago but which they now believe will contribute to the restoring of sanity to their troubled Province.
It was said by Mr. Faulkner—I am sure that this is right—that the foremost need is to find a way whereby people can argue and debate without the terror of violence, no matter whence it comes. I believe that there are people in Ulster —Protestants, Catholics and members of non-sectarian groups—who are prepared to accept that. I have said more than once in the House that if there is one principle on which the overwhelming majority of Catholics, Protestants and others in Northern Ireland will agree it is that we cannot resolve anything by blowing one another to bits.
If, therefore, all people can be united on that principle, let us say publicly, Catholic and Protestant alike, that we oppose all those who believe that the letting of blood and the blowing up of human beings is the way to tackle the problems of the Province.
If that be so, and I believe it to be true, why cannot my right hon. Friend give encouragement to people in the Ulster community to establish an organisation —let it be called the Ulster peace convention, the Ulster peace council, or whatever it might be—in which, during the initial period, nothing will be discussed save the public demonstration, loud and 932 clear, of opposition to the thugs of the IRA or the murderers of any other organisation. Let us say that they and all that they do have nothing to do with us, that we despise, loathe and condemn them. If that sort of assertion can be made by Catholic and Protestant, we shall, I believe, at least make a move towards examining realistically some of the problems which beset Northern Ireland.
I admit that now, looking back with hindsight over events, I have doubts about what was done. I suppose that in this respect I am like some of the clever people who wrote articles in the Sunday newspapers yesterday and who suddenly tell us that they have all the answers. But, with the benefit of hindsight, I am willing to confess that one of the failings of the pre-Sunningdale run-up was that the base was not broad enough. Sunningdale was an excellent idea. It was carried through with favour by the previous Secretary of State. The Leader of the Opposition, when he was Prime Minister, had support from the Labour and Liberal Opposition. I feel, however, that we must now ask ourselves, if something which gathered remarkable unity in this House of Commons has now failed so ignobly, where was it that something went wrong? The failure of the Sunningdale Agreement is very worrying, and I can only think that the reason was that it was not broadly enough based.
What, then, are we to do if British troops and British money are to remain in Northern Ireland, and if the British people are not to turn away and say, "Let us finish with them, let us bring our boys home, let us respond to the call of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who wants nothing to do with English, Welsh or Scots"? If the British people were tempted to respond to the bawlings of the hon. Member for Antrim, North Ulster would be isolated, and that would be bad. At the same time, however, the British people must be heard when they say that we cannot go for ever in that tone.
In these circumstances, therefore, one more endeavour should be undertaken. Let us enshrine in what we do the principle of power sharing. If we do that, and if hon. Members from the Province acknowledge that power sharing on a fair 933 and just basis is fundamental, we can at the same time acknowledge that the method by which it was attempted at Sunningdale was wrong—I believe that that can now be said—and new ideas must be forthcoming.
If hon. Members from Northern Ireland will take that line, and if they contribute, as they must, their own ideas for a new method which is acceptable to the overwhelming majority, regardless of whether they be Catholic or Protestant, we shall, I believe, be able to say that the recalling of the House for these two days was a historic event, for in this debate we shall have moved a small way towards finding at long last a means to enable us to grope forward to a solution of Northern Ireland's problems, and in that way we shall do something to remove from the British people the temptation to call home the troops and say "Have done with it".
Let us all acknowledge that we have a responsibility to try to establish in that troubled Province a way of life in which we believe, a way of life evolved by our mother of Parliaments for this island and which, for all its faults—the lack of a written constitution and so on—works for us. We have recommended it to millions of people throughout the world, and we know that, by this way, people can live without fear, without the dread of being arrested without proper charge in the early hours of the morning, and without the terror of bombing and murder because they disagree.
If we believe in that way of life, as we surely ought, since it is part of our history, the challenge for us is how to transfer all that it means to the community in Ulster. It can be done only with the full-hearted consent of Ulster-men, Catholic or Protestant. Let us be frank, therefore, and admit that Sunningdale was not, perhaps, broadly enough based, while again affirming the fundamental principle of power sharing. Let us bend our minds and our wills to finding a way whereby, on a broader basis, we can at long last find an answer to Ulster's problems so that the peace, dignity and civility which we have in this country may prevail there as well.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Sir Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) 934 may well be right that Sunningdale was not broadly enough based, but, of course, the hard-liners could have been there had they not rejected the whole idea of power sharing, which, I agree with the hon. Member, is a fundamental essence of the whole handling of the Northern Ireland situation. The need for this debate is deeply depressing, and few hon. Members on either side have been able to offer much of a glimmer of hope for the future peace and prosperity of Ulster.
Until this last fortnight I was always an optimist. In 1969 the overdue reforms of Lord O'Neill of the Maine could, I believe, have saved Northern Ireland from sectarian strife if they had been supported by his own party at Stormont. But half the Unionist Party rejected them, and that gave the IRA an opportunity, which it quickly seized, to promote murderous violence in the Province.
There was still hope after that. The patient work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and his imaginative concept of power sharing provided a real prospect of reconciliation between the communities. Now that, too, has been sacrificed— deliberately destroyed, I believe, by the Protestant backlash which most of us have feared and dreaded for so long.
In retrospect, I concede that the decision to hold a General Election in Britain in February was disastrous for Northern Ireland. The Executive had had no time to gain popular acceptance, and the election gave the self—and very strangely—styled "Loyalists" the chance to misrepresent the intentions and the policies of the Executive and the British Government. It may also have shown—and this may not be accepted by Labour Members—the Protestant working class in Belfast how decisive the power of organised labour can be. Politically-motivated strike action has in the space of a few months defeated both a Tory Government in Britain and the Executive in Northern Ireland. Real power, as the Daily Mail pointed out a few days ago, no longer resides in Whitehall or at Stormont Castle. It is draining away to the more militant trade union leaders in Britain and to the strikers in the streets of Belfast. What has happened in Ulster in this last fortnight is, I believe, a grave warning for any democratic Government 935 anywhere. Mob rule has defied democratic authority and has won a battle. It must not be allowed to win a war.
There was, as there usually is in such a situation, an element of intimidation in this strike. I have talked with working men who would have marched with Len Murray, who wanted to to do so but did not dare because of threats to their families. It must be acknowledged, however, that the strike had genuine grassroots Protestant support. Many mistakes were made on both sides of the Irish Sea. I am a firm believer in the bipartisan policy in Northern Ireland, and so it is with genuine regret that I say that I do not believe the crisis was very well handled in London.
The Prime Minister's television broadcast was, to put it mildly, somewhat tactless and ill-timed in some of the things he said. The people of Northern Ireland pay their taxes like anyone else and the reference to spongers was not calculated to influence opinion in Ulster in favour of British policies. But the real blame lies at the door of the extreme Protestant leaders in Ulster. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who has not graced the House with his presence very much this afternoon, and his associates have created a monster they can no longer control. They have played on Protestant fears for their own political ends. I refuse to believe that they can be so blind or so stupid as to believe that any British Government have any intention whatever of a so-called sellout to the South. They must know that the Constitution Act leaves the future of Northern Ireland in Northern Ireland hands and that this has been confirmed by Mr. Cosgrave.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) put it in an admirable article in The Times, it is truth that has been the casualty in this matter and the facts have been deliberately misrepresented, so that the less well-informed, the less politically sophisticated people in Ulster have been led to believe, and have now, alas, come to believe, that the Sunningdale Agreement was the back door to a united Ireland. It was nothing of the sort. But the fears are genuine—promoted and fostered by Protestant politicians who have given a bad to prejudice and hatred as un- 936 christian on the one side as that given by the IRA on the other.
I do not blame the ordinary Protestant workers in Belfast or the Catholics in the Falls, the Ardoyne and Andersons-town for the troubles of Northern Ireland. But I do say that the hon. Member for Antrim, North and his friends bear a very heavy responsibility, exceeded only by that of the IRA, for all that has happened, and especially for the near-collapse of civilised life in the Province in the last fortnight. As a result, the Executive is destroyed and we are to revert, inevitably, to direct rule. There is no other course for the time being, but that form of government cannot be continued indefinitely, nor can we go back to the total Protestant ascendancy of the Brookeborough regime. That would not bring peace in 1974; it could only accentuate sectarian strife, especially under the extreme Protestant leadership it would now have.
There are a number of options. Some people favour a further partition of Ulster, and I suppose it would be possible to hive off Fermanagh and Tyrone. But what about Belfast? The Catholic and Protestant houses and streets and districts are so mixed up and so close to each other that it would require a major removal of people who have lived in their own homes for generations and who would rightly and fiercely resent being forced to go and live in the Republic. Almost 40 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland are Catholics, and that is much too high a proportion to evacuate and rehouse against their will.
Some people take a different view. They want total integration with Britain. I believe that is the policy of Mr. Enoch Powell. But if there is total integration, there must be acceptance of British policies and British standards. Ulster Members cannot have it both ways—and, of course, I do not here include the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). If they want integration they must conform to British behaviour and not encourage their street supporters to usurp the authority of this Parliament.
Others want independence for Ulster. I do not know whether that would be supported by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), because we have not heard from him yet, but I know some of his views.
937 Some people—not necessarily the hon. Member—take the view that Ulster's capacity for self-inflicted misery is so great that Britain can no longer bear the burden of it. They say that we should withdraw and leave the Irish to cut their own throats. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) specifically did not say that, and I accept that. It is true that our soldiers have been killed and we are no longer, apparently, wanted by either side; so why, the argument goes, should we stay? This feeling in one form or another is growing in England, although I have had very few letters about it from my own constituents. I sympathise with it, but I hope that most hon. Members in this House can agree that it is our duty to stay and to try, despite every discouragement, to maintain law and order in what is still a part of the United Kingdom. If we pulled the troops out we should, in my view, be leaving Ulster to anarchy and civil war in which there would be not hundreds of casualties but hundreds of thousands of casualties, including many innocent women and children. It would be irresponsible to do that, and a dereliction of our duty. At any rate, it would be a tremendous gamble.
Some hon. Members may think that that would not be the outcome, that somehow, miraculously—it has never happened before—the extremists on either side would come together if we were not there. I very much doubt it. Anyway, it must be acknowledged that it would be a tremendous gamble, and we are not entitled to gamble with the lives of the people of Ulster.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Of course there is a balance of risk, and it would be absurd not to admit it. But I ask the hon. Gentleman, in no pernicious spirit: if he accepts his line of argument, how long does he see the British Army going on and on as at present?
§ Sir N. Fisher
That is a fair point. 1 was about to deal with that aspect in my next sentence. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a limit. If we are to stay, we must receive some co-operation from those whose lives we are trying to protect and whose employment we are trying to preserve.
Power sharing, which I am sure is the only hope for Ulster, must be resumed. 938 but moderate Catholics in the SDLP cannot be expected to share power with extreme Protestants. It would not be a workable coalition. I do not want to put words into the mouth of the hon. Member for Belfast, West, but I cannot see him being able to do it, with the best will in the world.
Therefore, when the time for elections comes moderate Protestants must somehow again be elected. I do not know quite how that is to happen. The only hope of that lies with the Ulster people themselves. If the moderates will vote, and if there are enough moderates left in the Province—which I pray there are —power can again be restored to a viable and moderate Executive, which is what we all want in Northern Ireland.
That is what we have to ask of Ulster in return for the troops and the help we give. If she cannot make that contribution for her own good, we are entitled in the last resort—but it would be very much a last resort—to ask whether the game is worth the candle, and to give Ulster the choice: British troops, British money and British policies, leading, we would hope, to peace and prosperity for the Province; or no troops, no money and sectarian policies, leading, as I fear they would, to poverty and civil war.
In the end, it is the people of Ulster themselves who will have to decide.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
I have read or heard recently that it was Mr. Gladstone who said that if anyone provides the answer to the Irish question the Irish will change the question. I am not as pessimistic or cynical as Mr. Gladstone was, but I must confess, having listened to the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West), that one is tempted at least to appreciate the reasoning behind Mr. Gladstone's assessment.
I am almost tempted to say that it is unnecessary for many of us, having heard that speech, to speak in the debate. If anything would convince me, and I hope many Members, of the need for the continued British presence in the north of Ireland, that speech would do it. It contributed nothing constructive to the debate but merely served to convince 939 many of us of the existence of the many problems in the north of Ireland.
I shall not try to cover the whole spectrum of the problems, because so many hon. and right hon. Members wish to speak. I should like to concentrate on what is probably one of the key problems—the British presence. I appreciate that there are right hon. and hon. Members on both sides who, for honourable and sincere reasons, feel that there should be an immediate withdrawal of British troops or at least a date should be fixed by which British troops should be withdrawn from Northern Ireland. I ask those right hon. and hon. Members to consider very carefully, before coming to a conclusion on that point, the following questions.
Would the withdrawal of British troops ease the situation in any way? Would it establish a greater degree of justice, particularly for the minority in Northern Ireland? Would a more democratic system emerge? Would it reduce the violence, bloodshed and murders? Would it undermine the terrorists and the thugs in Northern Ireland?
For me the answer to those important questions is, regrettably, "No." If that is the case, how would withdrawal, either in the immediate or the near future, be seen by the people of Ireland, Britain and the rest of the world? I suggest that in the not-too-distant future it would be seen in one of two ways, as either a decision of utter selfishness or one based purely on desperation. Whatever the decision, or whatever assessment there might be, the fact remains that even if it were welcome in the immediate, history would condemn us for having made it.
Whether or not we find the fact unpalatable, we have a responsibility. We must recognise that this Parliament must accept its fair share of responsibility for the present situation in Ireland. Our predecessors were involved in creating the boundaries which to a large extent cause the problems confronting the Irish people. Having recognised that, we cannot shirk our responsibility if we are to act as parliamentarians and people with a sense of responsibility to those who elected us.
I hope that we shall consider very carefully what has happened. Having helped to create the problem, we decided to 940 ignore its existence. For many years the House, to its credit, has been concerned about social, economic and political injustices in every corner of the world; but it has been prepared to ignore totally the existence of this problem on its own doorstep and within the United Kingdom.
I accept the view expressed in the Chamber and elsewhere by many right hon. and hon. Members that if a referendum were taken the British people would be found to be substantially in favour of the immediate or early withdrawal of British troops. That is all very well. Such a judgment could be applied to so many other issues. Popularity may be a good servant, but it is a very bad taskmaster. It would be so easy for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the House to decide to withdraw troops now or in the very early future. But I am sure that the House and the nation would live to regret such a decision. Tragic though it would be for Ireland if we withdrew troops now, the backlash would not stop at Ireland. Its effect would be felt considerably in this country.
I need only remind the House of what has happened in the west of Scotland, for instance, where in the not-too-distant past 20,000 Orangemen were marching. It is well known among Scottish hon. Members that people are being trained by para-military groups to take action in connection with this problem, if necessary, should it spread. It is not confined to Scotland. I represent a constituency in Leeds in which there is a substantial number of Irish people. I understand from reliable sources that Protestant para-military groups are being organised there, too. I can see the danger that could arise if we decided to leave the Irish people to deal with their own situation.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am rather alarmed. I would ask my hon. Friend gently whether he has any evidence of such training in Scotland. I have one of the most sensitive of all constituencies in this respect. The truth is that in 1969 the position was tinder-dry. It was very dangerous and we were careful not to open our mouths. In 1971 it was a little different. In 1974 the attitude is totally different. Having been around many of my constituents, asking questions, I find that this overwhelmingly is not their attitude now.
§ Mr. Cohen
All I can say is that the view that my hon. Friend expresses is not in conformity with the views expressed by some of his Scottish colleagues. After the debate is over, I might introduce him to some, when he may hear the evidence to which I have referred and which might prove useful for him and the House.
I hope that the House will consider carefully everything that is said in this debate. I hope that the decision which is taken will be based on wisdom and decided by sound common sense, by the head rather than the heart. Emotion is the most dangerous feature of the situation confronting us now.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
As an Englishman representing an English constituency, I approach my intervention with considerable humility, but not with an apology, since I believe that my constituents, like those of all other hon. Members, are beginning to show increasing disquiet at events in Ulster as they have been played over the last five years. Wherever one goes, one is called upon to bring pressure for some action, whether it be the withdrawal of troops or some positive political initiative—I would not distinguish. But the people of this land want something to be done.
When I first entered the House a Bill was passing through known as the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, which had the agreement of both Front Benches but of no one else. A senior back bencher drew me aside and said "My boy, when both Front Benches are in collusion, that is the time to beware of what this House is doing". While I will not be critical of everything that has happened over the last five years one must accept that there has been substantial agreement between both sides of the House. Whether this can or should now continue is something which will no doubt become clear shortly.
One of the problems of Ulster which seem little realised on this side of the water is the immense depth of bitterness and hatred that more than 300 years of sectarian division have created, a bitterness and hatred which, thank God, we are not familiar with anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) was right to say that this is no 942 longer a religious division. We know that it started that way, but it is now a question not of whether someone believes in the Protestant faith or the Catholic faith but of whether he belongs to the Catholic gang or the Protestant gang.
From the English point of view there is no doubt that the problems of Ulster should be seen in that light. We have seen over the past five years every possible sensible attempt at reconciliation
§ Mr. Wiggin
I have voted—with a heavy heart, but nevertheless I have voted —for a referendum and for proportional representation, neither of which I believed in, but I was forced to the conclusion that unless we tried these things we should be open to the criticism that we had gone too fast. Now we have tried these things. We have even gone so far as power sharing in a way which would be unacceptable in any city in this land and a type of election which, if used in England, would achieve no support. We have tried all these things in an effort to get peace in Ulster.
Sunningdale was the spark that, unhappily, proved just a little too much. I do not want to get involved in a deep debate about the strike, but I have some sympathy with those who say "We believed that Sunningdale was the end for us." I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) that it was not, but many people in Ulster saw it as the beginning of the end, as the beginning of the sell-out, and they voted against it convincingly and overwhelmingly at the last General Election. We made a great mistake in not seeing that danger signal.
I should much have preferred to see Sunningdale accepted and the Executive still in action; all the things that we know would have led to peace. But we have to face the fact that all these things have now broken down. It is no good pretending that what has gone before has been successful. It clearly has not: it has failed.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr)—I deliberately call him my hon. Friend. I am sorry that he and at least two or three of his hon. 943 Friends who used to take our Whip can no longer be in our ranks. We have healed far worse divisions on this side and I am sad that a rift should be growing, not healing, on this matter.
I would take issue with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) and those who have spoken against re-partition. Whether it is called the Cyprus solution or dividing the communities by force, it is a solution which has not been examined in great depth by the House, or, so far as I know, by the Government. Of course it is a policy of absolute despair. Of course it acknowledges the failure of what has gone before. But it means that for a minimum of expense and a minimum use of our troops some sort of peace can be re-established. Listen as I might to all the excellent speeches that we have heard today, so far there has been so suggestion of a new initiative which will help.
Cyprus is worth close examination in this light. There, the dividing force has been the United Nations. With occasional bouts of revolution here and there and the odd accident, for a good many years the totally opposed communities have been kept at peace. I am not suggesting that we should use the United Nations—I should be loth to come to any such conclusion—but I believe that there is a prospect here of a peaceful solution.
In Londonderry there would be very little problem; the river divides the city. In Belfast, I acknowledge the vast problem of interlocking estates, but I see in some new town which is being built with the object of trying to get the communities to intersperse, within weeks the families are moving back into their own tribal areas. In the present circumstances, the type of living together which we here would understand does not and cannot take place.
On the border, it would mean great sacrifices for both sides. It would mean that Protestants would have to give up their land and that Roman Catholics would have to move. It would be a vast and expensive upheaval, and we should have to be quite clear about all the implications of such a plan. But we have spent so much money and so many lives already that, although this policy of 944 despair seems almost eccentric, it is worth examination.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
How does the hon. Gentleman think he would persuade either the Nationalist Republicans or the Loyalist Unionists in the areas to which he is referring to accept his policy?
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am not saying that it would be easy to impose, but very large numbers of people have been moved in similar circumstances in the past, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so successfully.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
How would my hon. Friend choose those who would have to move? Would he say "Romans, you must go", although the Roman Catholics concerned might be loyal citizens and might wish to stay? Or would he say to Protestants, who might take very different views, "You must go"? How would my hon. Friend choose?
§ Mr. Wiggin
I believe that in the circumstances which would prevail, given the line which should be drawn or the area to be delineated, those people whom one would wish to move would do so voluntarily. I do not pretend that this is an easy solution but it should be examined.
I cannot see that the withdrawal of our troops at the present time could lead to anything but a ghastly bloodbath in Ulster. Those who suggest that the extremists would put down their guns and settle their differences are being so optimistic as to be unrealistic. But I confirm that my inquiries of people in our own cities where the Irish population is strongest in this country suggest that even if civil war were to break out in Ulster we should perhaps avoid it here. But I am not so certain. I think we have to be very careful about assuming that a bloodbath in Ulster would not reach our shores. That would be wrong and irresponsible of us, and I hope that those of my hon. Friends who think that the troops should be pulled out will accept how dangerous it would be.
§ Mr. Wiggin
That intervention is hardly worthy of the hon. Gentleman. 945 He knows that I am referring to Ulster, and if the forces of law and order were to be removed from Ulster there would be real risk of civil war breaking out.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am not saying that civil war would necessarily break out. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that even if it broke out it might not spread to these shores. But it is an assumption we are not entitled to make.
The time has come for the Army to have a greater degree of freedom in Northern Ireland. I believe that there should be a curfew, that people should carry identity cards and that the hooligans and ruffians, masquerading as soldiers and treated practically under the Hague Convention rules, should be treated as the criminals they are, regardless of which side they come from.
I cannot think of anything more depressing for the Army than to catch one of these louts, put him in the Maze, and then see him out after two or three weeks, causing problems and having learnt a good deal more about arms and the rest of it while in prison. It is no good pretending any longer that the soft hand is winning the war, because it is not. Although I accept that the generals may not be arguing for this, the soldiers on the ground are, and we should pay careful attention to what they are saying.
§ Mr. Orme
A statement like that which the hon. Gentleman has just made needs to be backed by facts. The officers and men—I am not referring now to the GOC —have made no demands for such action. In fact, if we wanted to impose the policy which the hon. Gentleman is talking about in the terms in which he chooses to put it to the House, we would need 50,000 to 100,000 troops in Northern Ireland. The whole scheme he suggests is absolutely impractical, and he should take that on board.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am not saying that to impose such a scheme would not, while it was being imposed, be immensely demanding. I acknowledge that that is a factor against my case. But thereafter it would require many fewer troops, practically no money, and so on. I think that I have made my case, and I accept that there are arguments against it. But the case should be argued, which is what I am asking the House to do.
946 The Minister of State has intervened concerning specifically military points, and I accept that there is a difference of opinion here. But I cannot understand why we should conduct the security operations as we are doing. They have never been conducted anywhere else in the world without the aid of such things as a curfew, identity cards, extra rights of search, and so on. These things were done in Cyprus, Aden and Kenya. They have been regarded as aids to British troops everywhere. Now, for some political reason, they are not acceptable in Ulster. The time has come to stop being wishy-washy about it.
The time has come to be realistic. We have done all we can in a political capacity. We have to face the fact that we can no longer reconcile the irreconcilable.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
For the past five years we in this House have had a bipartisan—or, if the Liberals prefer it, a tripartisan— policy on Ireland. But, as the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said in a first-class speech, the fact that we have a bipartisan policy is no reason why there should not be criticism when one thinks that the policy is wrong.
I have felt for a considerable time that our bipartisan policy on Northern Ireland was based on a fundamental error. That error was contained in the Constitution Act 1973 in the phrase about which we had long debates:in no event will Northern Ireland cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland".Half our trouble stems from that provision. I know that it was included to persuade the Protestants in Northern Ireland that we had no intention whatever of forcing them into a united Ireland. If it said precisely that, I would agree with it, but it does not say that.
I accept that no one can force the people of Northern Ireland against their will into union with the South. But the only people who can decide what are the present or future boundaries of the United Kingdom are not the people of Northern Ireland but the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—in other words, all the people of the United Kingdom.
947 I believe that membership of the United Kingdom involves certain standards and a certain acceptance of democracy. I am doubtful whether the people of Northern Ireland—I make no distinction between them—are living up to those standards and are willing to accept the sort of democratic institutions which we in the United Kingdom have a right to ask them to accept.
I want to ask the Government this question. Do they still stand by the declaration in the Constitution Act that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom until such time as the majority of the people in Northern Ireland think otherwise? If the Government still stand by it, they are perpetuating a disaster.
Obviously, if Northern Ireland is to remain part of the United Kingdom we cannot return to the pre-1968 position, in which the majority held down the minority and there were all sorts of discrimination in relation to voting, housing and so on. That sort of thing is not acceptable inside the United Kingdom. We in the United Kingdom have to insist on certain standards of democracy and conduct. There may well come a time when the rest of us, through this Parliament, will say "We do not want you any longer in the United Kingdom." We in this Parliament have a right to decide that in the last resort.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
The hon. Gentleman has stated that this Parliament should be able to make a decision as to whether Ulster should remain part of the United Kingdom. Does he not therefore concede that perhaps Ulster should be represented equally in this House with all the other parts of the United Kingdom? At the moment Ulster is very much under-represented.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I do not think that follows. I am completely and utterly opposed to the integration solution. I am saying that this Parliament and no other body has the right to decide what are the boundaries of the United Kingdom. We have the right to say to Ulster "We do not want you; you must find your own solution".
Another basic misconception has existed over the past few years. Both Front Benches have often suggested that the 948 problem in Ulster is between a small extremist group on the one side and a small extremist group on the other, with a mass of moderates in the middle, people who want only to watch television, to stay at home and so forth. If nothing else, what the events of the past fortnight have shown is what a fallacy that is.
We begin with the last General Election. It was made quite clear then that the large majority of Protestant opinion in Northern Ireland was totally opposed to the Sunningdale Agreement, and the Protestants sent 11 Members of Parliament here to prove that. That is a fact of life. Another fact of life, as shown by the strike organised by the Ulster Workers' Council, is that the majority of the population, not only the working-class population, of Northern Ireland was solidly behind the Ulster Workers' Council.
Of course the council was not elected and the Government were absolutely right not to negotiate with it during the strike—one cannot negotiate with a self appointed body—but, although self-appointed in that sense, many of the leader of the council were themselves elected in another context. They were shop stewards, for instance; they were men who had been elected at Harland and Wolff and other factories by their colleagues to represent them as shop stewards. They came together in a body, and in that sense the Government were right not to deal with them, but they showed that the majority of the population of Northern Ireland would have nothing to do with the power sharing that had occurred so far. Let us call a spade a spade. The strikers won and the Government were defeated. Any Government would have been defeated by that strike. The important question is what happens now.
The Government Front Bench, supported by the Opposition Front Bench, says that we must look forward to some form of power sharing. I hope that is right, but the question is who is to share the power. Obviously the original basis of the SDLP and the Faulkner loyalists was not sufficient, so what sort of power sharing is it to be? We are entitled to hear more details of the Government's thinking on that subject in the course of the next few days. Whom are they to consult? Who is to share the power?
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
There is a crucial question that I should like to put to the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that the power sharing that existed only two or three weeks ago was totally satisfactory to the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland? What led to the workers' strike was not power sharing but the Council of Ireland.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I doubt whether that analysis is correct. I suspect that although the Council of Ireland was a factor in the Sunningdale Agreement which might have led to the strike, the power sharing over the past few months was not acceptable to the large majority of the population of Northern Ireland. I see no evidence to support the hon. Gentleman's view.
Over the past few hundred years Britain has tried every conceivable solution. We have tried integration, oppression, Stormont, direct rule and power sharing. All of them have failed. Perhaps we should now look to something else. What is left? What other initiative can we take?
I strongly believe that only the people of Northern Ireland can solve the problems of that Province. I do not believe that we shall ever do it. If we try, we shall be having this debate within a year, two years or three years.
Therefore, the Government must get together a conference of the whole range of opinion in Northern Ireland, representing everyone from the IRA on the one hand to the Protestant extremists on the other. That conference should be allowed to reach a conclusion, and I believe that it could well do so. I am not as pessimistic as some about its chances. It might well produce a solution, give the prerequisite.
If we remain in Northern Ireland there will be no incentive to reach agreement. The prerequisite to reaching agreement is not that we pull our troops out tomorrow but that we set a date by which we shall have withdrawn troops from Northern Ireland. It may be a year or two years—wiser counsels than mine would prevail about that—but we must set a date. That would give the impetus to the various factions in Northern Ireland to formulate some sort of agreement.
The answer to the problem may well be an independent Northern Ireland, and 950 We must be prepared to accept that. But until we set a date and make it clear that our troops will not stay there indefinitely, there will be no impetus to a solution. Our troops are not being successful. Obviously they could not deal with the strike and they are not trained for the kind of police job that they are expected to perform. Until such time as the people of Northern Ireland realise that the troops are not staying there indefinitely and that Northern Ireland is not automatically to receive aid indefinitely, they will have no impetus to get together and find a solution.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)
I should like to thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to take part for the first time in the deliberations of this honourable and ancient House. I represent the constituency of Mid-Ulster. I do not hold any claim to either notoriety or distinction, whichever way you prefer, for having succeeded Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey as the Member for that illustrious constituency. I should like to assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and hon. Members that I do not propose to use in this Chamber the methods of emphasis that the redoubtable Bernadette used when she was here. I notice that the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) on the Opposition Front Bench and I assure him that both his hair and his throat are in no danger from me in that respect; nor is any other hon. Member.
I represent very ordinary people. Indeed, I am a very ordinary man. I have not been used to the front line of political life at any time. It was a rather awe-inspiring experience to come into the House. The fact that I am sitting on these benches is not so much by choice as that there seemed nowhere else to sit when this Parliament opened. Oft-times I have wondered at those who describe us as Protestant extremists. They have nearly got a crick in the neck from looking round at us. I am sick, sore and tired of the two words "Protestant" and "Catholic" that I have heard so much in the House. I do not propose to use such expressions very much.
I know that it is the custom for a maiden speaker to be brief and not to be controversial, although I do not know 951 how anyone could avoid controversy in the peculiar circumstances in which we are met for these two days. I would welcome the advice of mature hon. Members as to how I can say anything worth saying without being somewhat controversial. However I apologise for that in advance and hope that the House will bear with me.
Much has been said about the Constitution Act 1973. An Act of Parliament is not an act of God. It is not the word of God. Acts of Parliament have been found at times to require revision and even repeal. I was interested to hear the massive contribution of the Secretary of State for Employment when defending the Government's action in settling the miners' strike. In so doing, he and the rest of the Government rode a coach and four through the Industrial Relations Act. It is the purpose of the Government at the earliest opportunity to smash that Act and wipe it out altogether. As a trade unionist and the son of an ardent trade unionist, I have my own opinions about that Act.
The Constitution Act can be repealed. I presume that this is the business of this House and Parliament. The fact that it was rejected at the polls has been admitted on both sides and we cannot ignore it. I take up what was said by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) when we debated Northern Ireland in this House on 4th April. He more or less inferred that we, the Members from Northern Ireland, were some sort of political freaks and that we had come here by some way other than the way in which other folk had come here.
We came here by the same route as the Prime Minister, by way of the ballot box, by way of the free vote according to the British electoral system. While people may call us Protestant extremists —I promised not to use that word but I do so advisedly—that is the way we came. We came on the wave of a 52 per cent. vote of the total electorate in Northern Ireland. I would make so bold as to say that no Government that has been in office for 20 years or more has come into office with such a proportion of votes. Possibly the highest percentage might have been 47 per cent. On that score alone it seems that the 952 people of Northern Ireland meant what they did.
I take grave exception to those who infer that the people of Northern Ireland are stupid and that one man, my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), leads us all by the nose. That is not so. The people of Northern Ireland are thinking people. They are an earnest and honest people and I have the honour to represent a good number of them in what is, I believe, the largest geographical constituency in the United Kingdom. As Mr. Deputy Speaker said to me one day, "John, travel within the constituency will be considerable." I do not know whether that sounded like a Welsh accent.
The hon. Member for Attercliffe, in analysing the election figures, said:If Mr. Faulkner had seriously contested the recent election he must have increased the pro-Sunningdale vote. I ask the House to…look at the constituencies at the distribution of the candidates and at the constituencies which were contested and to slot in a Mr. Faulkner candidate here and there…There must have been a bigger pro-Sunningdale vote".— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April 1974; Vol. 871, c. 1503.]
I represent the constituency of Mid-Ulster where there was a four-cornered fight. Mr. Faulkner slotted in his man. He lost his deposit. In the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, represented by my right hon. Friend, Mr. Faulkner also slotted in his man and he lost his deposit. Mr. Faulkner sent his man into Down, North. He sent his right-hand man on the Executive, the right hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). He was defeated by 16,000 votes. In the constituency of Down, South, my hon. and gallant Friend was not opposed by Mr. Faulkner's candidate. Mr. Faulkner did not have the guts to put in an opponent there.
Why did he not contest it himself when at that time he was claiming on radio, on television, in the newspapers and on the public platform that he commanded 90 per cent. of the support of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland? Why did he not go to the polls and prove it? Far from facing the people through the polls, Mr. Faulkner, on the public platform, radio and television, enjoined the Unionists of Down, South not to vote. 953 He said "Don't vote. I for one am not going to vote." That was from a paragon of democracy! Surely hon. Members will concede that that only method by which any people in any civilised country have a chance to speak for themselves and assert themselves is by using the ballot box. To tell the people not to vote was in my view a most undemocratic stance.
I take issue with the hon. Member for Attercliffe in his analysis of the election figures. The fact remains that 52 per cent. of the total vote of Northern Ireland sent the 11 Members to this House. We have heard much about the Protestant backlash. At one time there was a fear that this would take the form of a violent attack upon the Republican side of the political divide. There were fears that there would be an outbreak of horrible violence, sectarian murders, tit-for-tat killings on either side. This did not happen. The Protestant backlash came in a most unexpected way and, I would insist, in an orderly and decent way.
It was the only way that the people could speak because the constitutional way had been ignored by this House. So the Ulster Workers' Council acted. I assure the House that it did so on its own initiative. There was no political problem. We were all a rather surprised bunch of people in the North of Ireland when we were asked to meet these men. They said" Look. If the vote goes against you in the Northern Ireland Assembly this Tuesday, the strike is on." I hasten to the defence of those men, many of whom I know personally. They are ardent trade unionists. One of the main members of the strike committee, a man who had no sleep for about a fortnight, is the senior shop steward of the power workers.
As I have said, I am a trade unionist and the son of a trade unionist. I was one of the founder members of the NUDAW in Belfast nearly 50 years ago. One of the major reasons why I joined was that I worked for a multiple grocery company which was not too concerned about the conditions of employment and wages. I used to have to run for my life to catch the last tram from Castle Junction in Belfast at twenty past eleven on a Saturday night to get home the same day.
The strike action in Northern Ireland was the action of the people. It was not the action of faceless men who were 954 dubbed as thugs, murderers, gangsters and bully boys. The people in the strike were trade unionists, but they were not acting as a trade union in an industrial dispute. They were acting in a political way and had a perfect right to do so in the circumstances. They made their plans well and sought by every means in their power to ensure that 60 per cent. of the normal power output would be available for domestic use and for hospitals and farms. Unfortunately, however, in some cases management and those directing affairs in our land redirected some of the power to heavy industry, with the result that there was inconvenience in some quarters. My telephone was red hot with messages from farmers, who suffered most in the strike. They were men who had lost thousands of broiler chickens which they had to throw into mass graves and burn, men who had to throw hundreds of gallons of milk down the drains because it could not be transported, and men who lost their livestock because there was no feeding stuff.
Those men were on the verge of bankruptcy yet they assured me over the telephone "We are behind this move of the people of Ulster." They said "God help you politicians if you turn back now." That was their message. That was the truth of the matter. The action came from the people. It was not a manoeuvred strike brought about by the fiery eloquence of politicians. We had nothing to do with it. To use a term in Northern Ireland, the politicians were in the ha'penny place. Incidentally, talking about trade unions and bearing in mind some of the remarks which have been made about this crisis, I as an ordinary man and an inexperienced Member of Parliament look forward with interest to the next big strike in the British Isles, wherever it may be, and I shall be delighted to see how the Government employ British tanks in that strike. [Interruption.]
Someone mentioned the word "sponger". During the crisis of the past fortnight nothing has hurt the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, of every section of the community, more than the smear on their character and record that they are spongers. During the last couple of decades, or perhaps even during the past half century, during crises of the two 955 world wars, the people of Ulster have shown where they stand and they have come instantly to the side of the mother country in every crisis. The people of Ulster, the Province's manpower, industry and agriculture and the flower of its youth, were placed at the disposal of the British Empire and allies in the last war, while that Republican Government in the South of Ireland—about which so much has been said and in connection with which so many superhuman efforts have been made to involve them in the Government of Northern Ireland—stayed in neutrality and denied ports and bases for the Royal Navy in the savage battle of the Atlantic.
What is even worse is that perhaps the greatest of all parliamentarians, Sir Winston Churchill, asked the Government of the Republic to dim the lights of towns and cities to help in the security of Western Europe but they refused, with the result that towns and cities in Southern Ireland became a flarepath for German bombers which were going to Northern Ireland and to Scotland. The friendliness between Britain and Southern Ireland has been distinctly hypocritical in some respects.
Today the Government in the South of Ireland, with all their desire to be involved in the government and affairs of Northern Ireland, have indicted the British Government and the British people and charged them before the International Court with acts of torture and savagery —allegations which have been laid at the door of the British Army. This is the so-called friendly country across the Irish Sea. Some people say "Why don't you all get together?" But who would want to be associated with those people? We in the Province of Ulster do not want to be associated with them. We have said quite definitely that we do not want to be associated with them.
I realise that maiden speeches are supposed to be short and I shall conclude soon, but I appeal in the name of the people not only of Mid-Ulster but of the whole of Ulster to that characteristic of the British people which made them famous many generations ago, a characteristic which has been evident not only in sport, not only in national and international relationships and in human 956 relations, but in all relationships—the innate quality of fair play.
All that we ask the British people to believe from Northern Ireland today—I say this with deep sincerity—is that the ordinary people of Ulster, who are at the crossroads, and the Loyalists—that name has been smeared and has attracted a certain slant—have a love for England and for the British throne and a loyalty to everything British. Above all, they want to remain British. They have said that they will resist to the last any attempt to annex the Six Counties and incorporate them into the Irish Republic.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
This is a unique privilege for me because it is the first occasion I have followed a maiden speaker, in this case a Member for a distinguished constituency and the successor to Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) said that he hoped he would never have to adopt the parliamentary tactics that Mrs. McAliskey adopted. I hope that there never will be an occasion when the British Army takes such action against the Protestants in Northern Ireland that the hon. Gentleman feels he has to adopt similar tactics. I also hope that he will show the same assiduity in his constituents' interests and the same devotion to their cause and beliefs as was shown by his predecessor, and by her predecessor, Mr. Forrest.
That does not mean that we necessarily accepted the actions of the hon. Gentleman's predecessor or her political philosophy but it means that in the short time that she graced the House she was a great parliamentarian and a brilliant debater with an ability to put her arguments most succinctly. The best maiden speech in the memory of many of us was that made by Mrs. McAliskey.
However, the hon. Gentleman represents a different tradition and a different train of thought, one which I hope we in the House are now beginning to understand, if we did not understand it previously. When the hon. Gentleman attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) about what he said concerning the result of the last election in Northern Ireland, he misinterpreted my hon. Friend's speech. By 957 his own use of statistics, the hon. Gentleman backed up the point which my hon. Friend had made. My hon. Friend said that 51 per cent. of the population voted for anti-Sunningdale candidates. But 49 per cent. did not vote for them. If one paid attention to the deceit, dishonour and downright lying about the contents of the Sunningdale Agreement, that 49 per cent. would represent a true majority in many ways.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster made a provocative speech. I hope that we shall hear him often again, because we shall then be in a position to interrupt him. We listened patiently to what he said. We are grateful to him for one thing, and that is that he did not regale us with the history of Ireland. The right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) started his speech by referring to events in 1964 and 1966.1 had a terrible fear that he would go back to speak about the Battle of Clontarf, by which time some of us might have understood the demand for the withdrawal of the British Army.
This is an important debate for the United Kingdom, for this House and for Northern Ireland. The events of last week were a positive defeat for the policies of the two main parties in this House and, indeed, of the Liberal Party. We saw the defeat, perhaps through deception, of what we had tried to achieve. We said that if we were to carry out our responsibilities to Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, this was the way forward for the people of Ulster.
Some Opposition Members, particularly those who call themselves loyalists, say that they wish to be members of the United Kingdom and to retain their part of the United Kingdom heritage. If that is so, we must agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) said, namely, that they must accept it on our terms. In listening to the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party today, we felt that we were to be allowed to retain the Six Counties within the United Kingdom on their terms. But those terms are not acceptable to the rest of the United Kingdom.
We are determined that the clock shall not go back to 1968 and earlier while we are responsible for Northern Ireland. We are determined that there shall be, in 958 the words of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, fair play—something which has been lacking since the creation of Northern Ireland. That means that while we have responsibility people will have the opportunity to be represented.
This has been a sad defeat for the experiments of both parties. But it has been a defeat of only a five-months' experiment. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary believed, when he was Home Secretary, that power sharing started when the British troops first went in. In fact it started only five months ago with the Sunningdale Agreement and with people properly taking executive control.
When we talk about the failure of the policy, we are talking about a failure of five months. What is five months in the last five years? What is five months in the 50 years since the creation of Northern Ireland? What is five months in the 500 years of United Kingdom involvement in Ireland as a whole? A thousand deaths amount to something, but five months is nothing in the sands of time.
Last week my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said "Let us pull out the troops, not in months, but in days." My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen says that we must fix a date for the withdrawal of British troops. There is no difference between the two. Whether the troops are withdrawn in two years or tomorrow, it is just an excuse to stack arms. It is not possible to fix a date and avoid responsibility in this way.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) spoke about frontier rectification—a Sudetenland solution. He says "Put them all in cattle trucks and take them from one area to another". What right have we to say to Protestants who have lived in Londonderry or the Catholics of the Glens of Antrim for many years "Get up and go"? Echoing the words of the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), who bears much responsibility for the present situation—I am sorry that he is not present, because I would have devoted more time to his remarks if he were— what right have we to say to the people of Belfast "Get up and go"?
As the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) said, who would choose who should go? 959 Would it be said "Are you Catholic and therefore republican?" or "Are you Protestant and therefore loyalist?" Must people leave places where their ancestors have lived for generations and centuries because we in this House, who created the Six Counties, say "We are sorry, but this is the only way we can see of solving the problem "?
§ Mr. Wiggin
I accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the points I made, but does he not accept that in the streets of Londonderry, Belfast and elsewhere people are being forced by the existing situation to get up and go?
§ Mr. McNamara
Yes, I accept that. By giving way, however, we are giving way to the evils of the extremists, gunmen and petrol bombers on both sides. If we accept that situation, the extra powers for the Army about which the hon. Gentleman spoke are not needed because the soldiers will not have a job to do. The Army has all the power it wants. The hon. Gentleman has only to look at the Emergency Provisions Act which the Conservative Government introduced to see that it has every power it could possibly need. If it wanted a curfew, it could have it. If our troops were in Northern Ireland in a German sort of situation, hated by both sides and with a concentration camp atmosphere, I would support my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian in calling for their withdrawal. But I do not think that that is yet the situation.
The third argument which is put forward is that we should cut off financial aid, pull the Protestants into line and show them that we are boss. It is said that we should stop the next grant and successive grants to Harland and Wolff. It is said that we should stop social security benefits for people in Northern Ireland and make them feel dependent on us. This is another policy with which I do not agree.
Like the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, I am a trade unionist. I fought against the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were saying that we should stop social security benefits for strikers. I fought hon. Gentlemen opposite when they talked about giving only loans to strikers. I am not prepared to do that for our people or for people in Northern Ireland which is part of the United King- 960 dom. There could not be a greater recipe for urban insurrection and urban unrest than to cut off financial aid. If the workers in the shipyards, in Short Bros and other factories have aid denied to them so that they have to go on Thursdays to collect their unemployment benefit, they will not sit on street corners and twiddle their thumbs. Let us hear no more of rectification, withdrawal of the Army, either immediately or at a fixed date, or of cutting off financial aid.
I have never denied that what I want to see is a 32-county Republic. That is the way Ireland's future lies. But I do not believe that one can get it by bludgeoning people into it, nor can one stop it by lying to the people about what was done at Sunningdale. While Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, we must treat the people who live there as United Kingdom citizens.
Criticism has been levelled at my hon. Friends for refusing to speak to the strikers. There was a properly elected Executive consisting of political representatives and there was an Assembly. My hon. Friends were right to use the constitutional method. I would have no truck with people who say that my hon. Friends should have been to see the Ulster Workers' Council. They had to deal with the organisations that were in existence, and now that the Executive has gone it is wrong to criticise my hon. Friends for failing to use methods other than the proper constitutional methods which the House endorsed. We are now in a different ball game, a new situation. The Executive has gone and the Assembly is prorogued.
Between 1966 and 1974 I felt most concerned about the way in which the Protestant working class had lost its self-identification. As a result of the strike, the Protestant working class has got back that self-respect. In the years when we were, quite properly, paying attention to the minority the Protestant working class had the B Specials to protect them and belonged to the Orange Order. They felt that they were one with the laird and his mansion and with the master in his boardroom because they belonged to this mystical organisation. When we stripped them of the B Specials and tried to end discrimination, we took away everything they believed in and we stripped them of their identity. Now, they have that identity back. I dislike many 961 of its facets, but at least it is there and we can perhaps work on it.
Because there has been success for the majority in Northern Ireland, there must be massive reinsurance of the position of the minority. That is why I regret the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the Price sisters after the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and his colleagues that they should go back to Northern Ireland. It is important that the minority leaders should be seen to be paid attention to and to be respected.
What do the Government intend to do about internment, which we voted against upstairs and which we voted against as a party down here once unofficially and once officially? It is not sufficient to say that it is a matter for Lord Gardiner. We must take positive steps about it.
Now that there is no Executive, my right hon. Friend can talk to anyone he wishes to talk to who represents any strand of opinion in Northern Ireland. That gives him an opportunity to talk to the trade unionists, the official parties, the UVF and Sinn Fein, which we have now legalised. It gives us the opportunity again to try to find an agreement on power sharing. It also means that we must recognise, as we recognised at Sunningdale, that this is not just a United Kingdom problem but that it is also a Republic of Ireland problem. Although we may have been disappointed at the attitude of the Republic over extradition, nevertheless the Republic has a live concern about any decisions which we take, because it is on the other side of the frontier. I believe that we entered into a noble experiment and that we have had a setback—a defeat—but that we should not turn our backs completely upon the concept of power sharing and getting people of different communities and different traditions to work together to create a stable institution in Ireland.
I was sorely disappointed over the failure of Sunningdale for two reasons. For the first time there was an opportunity in the Six Counties for aspirations for a United Ireland to be realised and to become part of the accepted political life and pattern in Northern Ireland, without anyone being declared to be disloyal, being cut off from the rest of the body 962 politic and being unable to play an active part in his community. Secondly, the Sunningdale Agreement contained so many safeguards that not one inch of land—not even Crossmaglen—could have gone into the Republic without the consent of the Protestants in Northern Ireland.
That has all gone. We have to start afresh. The experiment lasted for only five months, and five months is nothing in the sands of time. It is for the House to say to the people of Northern Ireland that this episode has not succeeded and to ask them amongst themselves to try again to get it to work in their own interests.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Most of us in the House know that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) is always sincere and honest in what he says. He tells us directly exactly how he feels, and he means it. In this context, can we be so surprised at the so-called militant Protestants for the action they have taken when they know, as the hon. Gentleman has just reiterated, that there are several supporters of the IRA in the ranks of the Labour Party?
§ Mr. Gurden
I will give way in a moment. The hon. Gentleman has told us that he is for a united Ireland. He has told us that he supports the Price sisters—
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) has a reputation in the House as a Chairman of Committees, and it is pity that he does not bring that reputation to the Floor of the House when we are discussing these subjects. He well knows that at no time has any Labour Member supported the Irish Republican Army—either wing of it—in any of its methods in seeking to achieve a united Ireland. He well knows that we ask only that we should persuade people democratically to that end. With regard to the Price sisters he knows that we have condemned outright what they 963 came here to do but that we have said that in many ways it might be wiser if they went back to Ireland.
§ Mr. Gurden
It is for those who read the hon. Gentleman's speech today and his previous speeches to interpret what he really was saying. The hon. Gentleman —this applies to some of the militant Protestants and certainly to some of the Protestants who have spoken in this House and, as I claim, some of the supporters of the IRA who have spoken in this House—always says the same thing. This is what has sickened many English Members of Parliament. I have heard the hon. Gentleman say time and again— and this applies even to some of those who now sit on the Government Front Bench—" We are against violence". They follow these remarks with the word "but", and then off they go.
§ The Attorney-General
When the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden), who is very much respected in this House, makes an allegation of that kind, it is right that he should make it clearly. When he says that there are hon. Members in this House, including some on the Government Front Bench, who support the IRA, is he referring to support in the sense of supporting the violence used by the IRA? If he is not saying that, in what sense is he making that comment?
§ Mr. Gurden
I am grateful to the Attorney-General for his intervention since it has helped me a good deal. I do not believe that those hon. Gentlemen support violence, but I am saying that they given passive assistance to the IRA in what it seeks to do. They admit that they are for a united Ireland. In this state of affairs can we be particularly surprised at the attitude adopted by militant Protestants?
I have criticised the militant Protestants and the attitude which they have adopted, but the militant Protestants during the last few weeks did not seek to murder people. They sought only to withdraw their labour.
§ Mr. Gurden
I agree with the hon. Member that there have been occasions 964 when 1 have criticised the militant Protestants, but I am now seeking to deal with the recent strike. To get out of the present situation, they decided that they had to resort to a strike. But where did they get that idea from? They got it from Mr. Scanlon and his friends. Let us make no mistake about that.
§ Mr. Mather
Perhaps my hon. Friend realises that many Labour Members have been fishing in the troubled waters of Northern Ireland for a very long time, even before 1969—in fact from 1964 onwards. They have been over there and taken part in civil rights marches and have stirred matters up. Those civil rights marches gave place to the troubles in 1969, and by their action they made it possible for the movements to be taken over by extremists.
§ Mr. Gurden
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do not think this matter really needs explanation. Let those whom the cap fits wear it.
§ Mr. Gurden
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) made a very interesting speech which I am sure everybody will read and take to heart. However, he did not answer the 64,000 dollar question which he posed of how we are to get the two sides in Northern Ireland to work out a solution. He said that this was the only possible hope but he did not say how it was to be achieved. From all we have heard today and, indeed, in the last few weeks, I say quite frankly that I do not believe that this is on the cards at the moment. Therefore, I think that my right hon. Friend should continue the story and tell the House exactly what was in his mind when he made that statement.
I agreed with so much of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) that it almost makes my contribution unnecessary—and perhaps we could have avoided the little contretemps which has just taken place. I agree with my hon. Friend that in the present situation bipartisan policies are suspect. It was surely a tragedy that we asked the Army to go into Northern Ireland with one hand tied behind its back. If the Army is to be allowed to go into Northern Ireland to 965 do a job, it should be allowed to do it in a professional way without politicians seeking to interfere at every turn.
It has rightly been said that we are now facing a new situation and something must be done. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has done a very good job of work within his remit. If he was sincere, as I believe he was, in saying that he wished to hear all sides of the argument, I think that he should take particular steps to read the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare. I appreciate that my hon. Friend's speech was criticised by those who said that his proposals were not practicable, and my hon. Friend admitted that there were problems in reaching a solution. However, we must ask ourselves the question "What price must be paid for trying to achieve a solution in any other way?" Will the answer be that thousands of lives will be lost, with many thousands more casualties? Are we to go on in that way, or are we to say that enough is enough and employ a stronger hand? The problem with a bipartisan approach is that there is no strength behind it. It is all a question of trying to get Sunningdale to work or to employ some other ad hoc solution, a solution which we ought by now to realise will fail.
There are people in this country who do not take sides in the dispute. Most of our constituents want to see peace in Ireland. They are neither pro-IRA nor pro-Protestant but simply want to see that nation at peace. It is in that spirit—and, I hope, in attempting to speak for my constituents—that I have intervened for the first time in an Irish debate. I believe that we must listen to the voices of our constituents. It is true that many of those voices are asking "When are we to pull out the Army?" or, alternatively, "Let the Army get on and do their job". I believe that it must be either one or the other.
If that is so and the Government, with the support of the Opposition, wish to try again some kind of power-sharing idea, there ought to be an election. Let us wash away all the arguments and have the election in Northern Ireland. Let us see what ideas are thrown up. Let us see whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet could be right in suggesting that a solution could 966 be worked out by the people on the ground, and then fix a date for the Army to get out. The alternative is nothing short of what was postulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare. It must be either one or the other.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
It has not been my pleasure to listen to a speech by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) for some time. The memory of his immoderate views has dimmed in our minds, but today he reminded us of his normal characteristic of immoderation when addressing the House.
The hon. Gentleman accused hon. Members on this side of the House of being supporters of the Irish Republican Army. That really is going almost beyond the terms of parliamentary usage. If true, what would it mean? It would mean that hon. Members who have sworn or affirmed allegiance to the Crown and the constitution of this country were aiding and abetting criminals intent upon the destruction of the legal Government of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Gurden
I have heard two voices nearby, so I will pose the question in order that the hon. Gentleman may hear it: what about the previous Member for Mid-Ulster?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. Gentleman must get up to date. The previous Member for Mid-Ulster was never a Member of the Parliamentary Labour Party. She does not sit in this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman was directing his remarks to the Parliamentary Labour Party and to hon. Members on this side of the House.
The hon. Gentleman went on, again with great immoderation, to talk about unleashing the British Army and giving it the power to do the job. I say to him and to any other hon. Gentleman who may entertain such an idea that it will be unacceptable to this Parliament, to the British people and, indeed, to the British Army as well, because it has never been and would not allow itself to become the instrument of Gestapo-like repression anywhere in the world, let alone in what is at the moment part of the United Kingdom.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) is not in 967 the Chamber. When I heard his opening speech on behalf of the Opposition I was somewhat surprised. He seemed to be intent upon nit-picking and destroying the last remaining remnants of the bipartisan policy that has been operating in Northern Ireland. His words seemed to be designed more to placate the kind of view expressed by the hon. Member for Selly Oak than to return the courtesy and the courage shown by my right hon. Friends and many of my hon. Friends in their support of that policy when it was being put forward by the Conservative Government.
I have consistently opposed the Northern Ireland Constitution Act as a mistaken policy. I did not support the previous Government and I do not support the present Government in continuing to try to uphold and to impose what is now a discredited as well as a mistaken policy.
It does not lie with the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire to be quite so niggardly in his support of my right hon. Friends when I recall how often they had to jump in to save the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) when he was struggling to uphold and pass that policy through the House of Commons. I noted, when the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire was speaking, that his right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border hung his head in embarrassed shame. It was remarkable that that should be observed.
The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) made a most interesting and illustrative speech, because it showed the tremendous shift of opinion that has taken place in the last few months. But the affairs of the last two weeks have crystallised the growing discontent both inside and outside Parliament at the joint policy that we have been following.
I do not see the situation today as full of despair. I see it as a new situation which, far from being a cloud of frustration and danger hanging over us, offers a new road which can lead to the hope of finding a solution to the Northern Ireland problem.
I am not depressed, I do not feel frustrated or elated, but slightly reassured 968 that, now that the Constitution Act is discredited and dead, we can at least start upon a new political initiative which holds out the hope of some success. If this new opportunity is to have a chance of succeeding, it must not be based upon the follies of the past or upon the discredited Constitution Act and its guarantee, but built upon some new basis.
We in Britain and in the Westminster Parliament must face the simple but straightforward proposition, to which the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet referred; namely, that we have tried for hundreds of years to seek a solution to this tragic, tangled history of our two nations, Britain and Ireland, and have failed. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) described some of the attempts that have been made over the course of history. Now this latest attempt has failed. Therefore, we must recognise that no solution can be imposed by the Westminster Parliament on Ireland or on Northern Ireland and that the only people who can solve the tragic problems of the Province are the people of Northern Ireland themselves.
The Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 is as dead as the dodo. It is dead, despite the courage and determination of those very brave men—I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), Mr. Faulkner and many others in Northern Ireland—who have tried to make the Constitution work. They have put their own and their families' lives at risk in trying to get this Constitution off the ground. But, despite their courage and determination, they have to accept— I think they do—as we must that the Constitution has failed and that there must now be a new initiative.
I have said before, but it is worth re-emphasising, that my right hon. Friends have shown great faith in their proposals and great courage and responsibility in all they have done in recent years. I know that they also accept that those of us who have taken a different view have done so in good faith and with responsibility, having considered very deeply and carefully the issues involved. The difference between us is that they have tried their course and it has failed, whereas the course that I and many others have advocated has not been tried. I suggest that it is time that it was given a chance. 969 It is time for the repudiation of that nonsense that is contained in Section 1 of the Constitution Act—the guarantee that Northern Ireland shall remain part of the United Kingdom so long as the majority in Northern Ireland so wish.
I say that that guarantee is nonsense because the only body of people which can determine the boundaries of any nation is the total population of that nation. The only body of people which can determine the boundaries of the United Kingdom is the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. Under this wretched Constitution the only people who were given an opportunity to express an opinion were the people of Northern Ireland—a minority in United Kingdom terms. Neither the previous Government nor this Government dare give the people of the United Kingdom as a whole an opportunity of expressing their opinion on that issue. That is what they must do if they talk about guarantees of boundaries, because the only guarantee worth talking about is one backed by a majority of the population of the United Kingdom as a whole.
It is also nonsense in Irish terms to have a guarantee like that. If one takes the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) and many others who share his view, that they want to move towards a united Ireland, it is nonsense to have a border poll that allows a minority only in Irish terms to decide the boundary within that country. So it is nonsense as regards the fixing of boundaries and as regards the guarantee.
It is also a fraud, because it holds out for the minority the prospect that one day it will get a united Ireland but at the same time while that constitutional guarantee of a border poll is there the minority must know that it is not possible for that hope to be fulfilled.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, but does he deny to the people of Scotland the right to decide whether they should have independence; or is he perhaps influenced by the fact that they have some valuable oil offshore? Will he accept from me that I am perfectly prepared to accept the verdict of the people of the United Kingdom, of which I am proud to be a citizen, and I hope 970 that Ulster remains an integral part of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there are some substantial differences between what has happened in the history of Northern Ireland and its entanglement with Britain and what has happened in the history of other parts of the United Kingdom and their more successful partnership as a united country.
As to the right of any part of the United Kingdom to withdraw from the United Kingdom, I say again that the boundaries of the United Kingdom are matters for the people of the United Kingdom as a whole, whether it be Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland. I stand by that test for any part of the United Kingdom.
The majority, because that guarantee is written into the 1973 Constitution, tends to lean on it as a prop. All the time that it is there the majority looks at the words in the Act and says "We need not worry about power sharing or about making an effort to reach an accommodation with the minority population because if it comes to the worst we can always rely upon the pledge in the Constitution and have a border poll and all will be all right." So there is no incentive, or compulsion, for the: majority population to reach that accommodation which is so essential for the rest of the citizens of Northern Ireland.
If I were an Ulsterman I would be very wary about putting too much faith in that constitutional guarantee, because it is a bit of a fraud. As the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) said in his maiden speech, each Parliament is sovereign and can amend or repeal. I am certain that the day will come when Section 1 of the Constitution Act will be repealed by the Westminster Parliament, because it does not have the backing of the United Kingdom as a whole.
I believe that the British Army is faced with a most difficult task in Northern Ireland. Every Member of this Parliament is equally responsible unless we stand out against the policy which is being pursued by the Government. The policy which is being pursued by the Government is sending the British Army into a sea of hostility. The British Army finds hostility from the community that it originally went in to protect. It finds 971 hostility from that section of the Ulster population who call themselves Loyalists.
In the last two or three weeks the British Army has faced a situation of almost insurrection from the majority population who claim that they want to retain their links with the United Kingdom. 1 have spoken to many soldiers who have returned from spells of duty in Northern Ireland and I am more than satisfied that they are fed up to the teeth with the reception that they are getting from all the population, both minority and majority. The soldiers talk about it as going out on to the streets as "duty targets". They go out with great courage to perform that duty. They are "duty targets" for the gunmen with bullets and the kids with stones. No wonder they are sick and tired of trying to carry out the mistaken policies imposed by the Westminster Government.
It is no part of my case or that of my hon. Friends who share my view to criticise the British Army. It is my view that the British Army in Ulster has shown courage, discipline and a quality of service that no other army in the world has been able to show in any comparable situation. So I want no truck with any section of the community which seeks to join the campaign with which I am associated for the withdrawal of the Army because it is critical of the way the Army operates in Northern Ireland.
I believe that the Army has fulfilled, and will continue to fulfil, its duty in Northern Ireland. Its duty is clearly to remain there as long as that is the policy of the British Government. I seek to change the mistaken policy which sends those young men to die for something which is unattainable, but I have no criticism of the Army itself.
If the Government of the Republic of Ireland want to make a contribution to the continuation of British involvement and to the British Army remaining in Northern Ireland—I believe that this is the opinion that the Dublin Government have expressed publicly—the best contribution that they can make would be to withdraw the charges that they have laid as a Government against the British Army at the European Commission of Human Rights. That would be a contribution towards encouraging my right hon. and hon. Friends to follow what I 972 think is a wrong policy. However, it does not lie in the mouths of the Government of the Republic to ask my right hon. Friends to continue this policy whilst they pursue their accusations at the European Commission of Human Rights.
One of the most telling arguments against the proposition for disengagement and withdrawal of Britain from Northern Ireland is the question of what would come if that were to happen—the bloodbath, the civil war. This is an argument that those who take my stand cannot ignore. We must face up to this view. It is indeed a possibility. It is my view that the bloodbath is already here under the policies that we have pursued for the last five years.
I have done a little research. The evidence is that in the period from the Easter Rising of 1916 right up till August 1969 several hundred people were killed, both civil and military, in the various movements for Irish freedom and in the period of partition. In the last five years, under this policy, more people have died in Northern Ireland than in the whole of those 53 years from 1916 right up to 1969. Therefore, on the argument of the bloodbath, I contend that it is there already. What we seek to do is to end the bloodbath which is taking place now.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that more Ulstermen died in the Battle of the Somme than in all the years that he has been enumerating?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I shall be coming to the Battle of the Somme; have no fear. It is my view that if a new policy such as that which I am putting to the House were embarked upon, it would end the present bloodbath. It is also my contention that when confronted with realities, the people of Northern Ireland will choose to live together rather than die together.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
In the spirit of the many discussions which my hon. Friend and I have had in past months, may I put one point to him? Even if we were to accept the assumption that peace and tranquility would come nearer if Britain were absent and if there were not the problem of arms shipments coming across the border, or arms coming in other directions, the point I am putting in the short run is that 4,500 policemen could not 973 keep law and order in the normal situation which has grown up there is the last few years—the situation of "aggro", or whatever one calls it that goes on in the Province.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I accept that. That is why I completely dissociate myself from the view that the British Army could be withdrawn next week. That is not my belief, and it never has been. Just as those who take my view have to face the possibility of greater bloodshed, so do those who take the view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have to face this argument which they cannot lightly cast aside. My right hon. Friend gave the casualty figures of the British Army. He gave a figure of 257 killed in Northern Ireland on peacekeeping duties in the last five years. Add to that 1,400 or more soldiers who have been wounded—some so badly wounded that they are dead to all intents and purposes. The only semblance to life they have is that they still breathe. So the casualty rate is even greater than 257 killed.
What my right hon. Friend and those who support him have to do is to spell out at the Dispatch Box what is the acceptable casualty rate for the British Army in Northern Ireland in upholding what is clearly a discredited policy. It is not good enough to paint a picture of what might happen if another course were taken. They also have to spell out the cost if we continue—not only the cost in lives of soldiers for which each one of us in this House has a personal responsibility. They also have to say whether a continuation of this present policy could mean that the shooting from the IRA will stop. Is that to go on? That again means more blood flowing in the streets of Northern Ireland. Are the majority population for ever going to sit acquiescent or are they going to embark upon indiscriminate slaughter of British soldiers?
These are questions which my right hon. Friend has to face when he uses the bloodbath argument—a very powerful and telling argument against my point of view—but I suggest that when one looks at the cost of continuing the bipartisan policy, that also has to be quantified and taken into account because 974 that, too, means a bloodbath and disaster for so many people.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I have listened with interest to what the hon. Gentleman has said. He has put his case for the withdrawal of the Army. I agree that this is not really a soldier's job. What he has not told the House yet is this. If the Army is to be withdrawn, by what will he replace it, and for how long would he envisage a civilian force being formed to replace the Army?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I ask the hon. Gentleman to contain his impatience a little longer. What is so dimly apparent to him is obvious to so many other people. I am coming to exactly that point which he has raised.
We have to face the fact that after five years of the bipartisan policy the only success that has been obtained is the uniting of the minority population and the majority population against the British Army and now against the Constitution Act itself. One of my hon. Friends asked "Where have all the moderates gone in Northern Ireland?" We were told for years that there was only a handful of extremists on both sides who were causing all the trouble and that 96 to 98 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland wanted to continue in peace and harmony with one another and as part of the United Kingdom. The events of the last few weeks have evaporated that argument. The moderates in Northern Ireland do not exist in the sense that they are prepared to stand up and be counted in the way that we in Britain feel they ought to stand up and be counted.
What is the position of the minority population? They still act as a sea in which the terrorists can swim. They, or a substantial section of the minority population, still give aid and comfort to the terrorists of the IRA who are still in direct confrontation with the British Army. What is the position of the majority population? The people who wave the Union Jack and proclaim their desire to remain part of the United Kingdom are in almost insurrection against the laws passed by this Parliament—mistaken laws, in my view, but none the less laws passed by the Parliament of which they profess to remain part.
975 What, then, is the future which we have to face in our relationship with Northern Ireland? What can emerge from the disaster of the past? What can be seen to emerge from the ruins of the 1973 Constitution Act? First, there must be further talks with the elected leaders in Northern Ireland and with the political groups—all political groups—in Northern Ireland. There needs to be a convention, an assembly of some sort, a round-table conference at which Britain is represented, to consider all these varying points of view. The first item on that conference agenda should be to set the date for British disengagement from Northern Ireland and for the withdrawal of troops from the soil of Northern Ireland. The second item on that agenda must be the constitutional arrangements for the new independent State of Northern Ireland.
When that conference comes, as indeed it will, the very worst that we can do is delay it. If we delay too long in arranging a conference for the willing transfer of power, we shall miss the boat completely because the people of Northern Ireland will take their independence if we do not confer it upon them.
If we want to try to use this last opportunity, which so many of my hon. Friends desperately and genuinely seek, an opportunity to find a way to encourage power sharing, then at that conference there will be the opportunity to reach a basis for power sharing which meets the mutual interests of both communities in Northern Ireland. There is no future for power sharing based upon some constitution dreamed up in this Parliament. The only future for power sharing •—if, indeed, it has a future—lies in a basis arrived at through mutual interest and through talks at a conference table among the interests on the ground in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster spoke of the part which the Republic of Ireland had played in the last war, and a minute or two ago the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) referred to the Battle of the Somme. In the last war I served in the Royal Navy. With me in the ship in which I had the honour to serve were men from Northern Ireland and from Southern Ireland. Many came from the South to defend freedom in Europe, just as they came from the North, 976 men who came without conscription, as volunteers, to fight with us.
There is no need to remind me of the part which the people of Northern Ireland have played in two world wars. Nor do I need to be reminded of the part which people of India, Cyprus, Malta, Ceylon, Canada, Australia and New Zealand played in instantly coming to Britain's side and in giving their lives in the defence of freedom. Northern Ireland is not unique in that respect. I do not decry their efforts; indeed, I am proud to have served with Ulstermen and with citizens of the Republic of Ireland in the last war. No one has a monopoly of service and dedication or, indeed, of death in either of the two world wars.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South) rose—
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I shall not give way. I must get on, because so many other hon. Members wish to speak. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] All right. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, if he really wants me to.
§ Mr. Bradford
It is true that Ulster has not a monopoly of service, but it seems that Ulster has been insulted in a way not directed to any other country involved in the defence of democracy. I think that that is a point which the House ought to recognise.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I do not altogether follow that. All I know is that comrades from Australia, New Zealand, India, Ceylon and many other countries who served with great distinction with the British forces did so as citizens of independent countries or countries which have since become independent. I seek merely to give Ulstermen the opportunity to become independent and to join the ranks of those who are still within the British Commonwealth.
In my view, we have before us the chance to find a solution which comes from the people of Northern Ireland themselves and is not imposed by Westminster. I do not accept the view that the people of Northern Ireland are incapable of reaching an accommodation one with another. I believe that, if we adopt the basic principle of British disengagement and withdrawal of the Army at a date decided and fixed at a round-table conference, we shall open up the 977 possibility that the people of Northern Ireland, working among themselves, will prepare a future in which they can live in peace and harmony, and not only in peace and harmony within Northern Ireland but in growing understanding between Northern Ireland and the South and with continuing understanding and friendship between Northern Ireland and the remainder of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Robert Redmond (Bolton, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the great length of speeches from the Government benches and the brevity of speeches from this side, would it be possible for you to call two hon. Members from this side for every one from the Government side?
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) does not, I am sure, expect me to agree with his main arguments. Nevertheless we have something in common. Neither of us belongs to the consensus on Northern Ireland in this House. From different points of view we have opposed the consensus policy, which is now in collapse, and at times we even found ourselves, I think, in the same Lobby, the occasion being when the disastrous prorogation of Stormont was being put through the House.
There have been tributes from both Front Benches and from hon. Members on both sides to Mr. Brian Faulkner, and, of course, other members of the Executive deserve the tributes which have been paid to their courage. But there were tributes only from the back benches when Mr. Faulkner was so unceremoniously removed, although there was no complaint against his policy and administration and although he was trying to open his Cabinet and the chairmanship of important parliamentary committees to Roman Catholics. Until then there was no Protestant backlash, few sectarian murders, if any at all, and our soldiers had to fight on only one front.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) did well, I thought, especially in 978 view of what the hon. Gentleman said, to mention the strategic situation of Ulster in the North Atlantic ocean. One reason why I disagree so strongly with the hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford is that a sovereign British strategic foothold in Ireland is indispensable to the defence of the British Isles, just as it was—as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), in an admirable maiden speech, pointed out—when possession of some of the Irish ports, which, as Michael Collins once said, were essential for Britain's life, enabled us to win the Battle of the Atlantic and survive in freedom. For this reason alone, independence is for me an unacceptable solution for Northern Ireland.
The IRA is armed from the Soviet bloc. No one can suppose that Czechoslovakia, for example, trades in arms without the consent and encouragement of the Soviet Union. Northern Ireland, like Spain in the 1930s, has been, in a sense, a testing ground for weapons and guerrilla techniques. The proposition that England need hold no part of Ireland or no port in Ireland would find full agreement in the USSR, just as, I suppose, would the proposition that England need hold no part of England either. For we are not talking about disengagement from a costly colonial campaign. We are not talking about Aden, or even about Cyprus. We are talking about the defence of the realm, and London is defended in Londonderry, and Birmingham in Belfast.
We share the feelings of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford about our troops, who serve tour after tour in Northern Ireland with courage and with chivalry. I want them out. But I do not mean that I want them out of Northern Ireland. The Army does not withdraw from Lisburn or Omagh any more than it does from Aldershot or Catterick. Of course I want to get our soldiers out of the streets and the housing estates. I want police work to go back to policemen, who before the Hunt reforms were expected to tackle terrorists as well as errant motorists.
Phase the forces out, yes, but dates are dangerous. And phase in local forces rooted in the people, forces with the strength and equipment to do the job. I am not thinking here of any kind of third 979 force. I am thinking primarily of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its Reserves and of the Ulster Defence Regiment.
A precipitate withdrawal of troops from support of the civil power would almost certainly, I believe, precipitate either extreme disruption or civil war. I do not want to enter into argument with Scottish hon. Members on the Government side about whether there are pro-Loyalist para-military forces already training in Scotland. But let no one suppose that the sort of solution propounded by the hon. Gentleman would not have its effect upon the separatist movements in Wales and in Scotland.
Do we stand for the integrity of the United Kingdom or not? The integrity of the United Kingdom is bound up with the integrity of Northern Ireland. Strangely enough, that is where I found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), whom I accompanied on a tour of the border areas at the time of the border poll. I found myself more in agreement with him and with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) than I did with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). I was moved to a certain amount of indignation by what they said and I would almost reverse the Prime Minister's words in that extraordinary, petulant and inflammatory television broadcast and say "What sort of people do we think they are?"
There is an Ulster identity, although I am not sure what is meant by the new phrase "Protestant Ulster nationalism". There is an Ulster identity which transcends religious and political differences, and this was mentioned not so long ago by Mr. Austin Currie when he was a member of the Northern Ireland House of Commons. He drew attention to the fact that Ulstermen of different religions and different politics have more in common with each other than Roman Catholics and Protestants in the North had with their opposite numbers south of the border. Northern Catholics are at least as attached to home and hearth and ancestral soil in the six counties of Ulster as 980 their Protestant neighbours with whom so many live intermingled and, in normal times, in charity and concord.
By what right do some of us here propose the redrawing of the frontiers of this kingdom or even the transfer of the population? This kind of political or social engineering would be a surrender to the bigots and it ignores the substantial pro-Union sentiment amongst many Roman Catholics which was evidenced in the border poll and which has been shown in elections. It also shows a lack of respect for the sovereignty of the Irish Republic with which we are trying to co-operate. I do not believe that Dublin has shown any willingness to re-partition Ireland. If the Republic accepted a new border as definitive, it would have surrendered its cherished claim to the whole of Ireland, a claim which I regret is enshrined in its constitution. It took the wrong bit out of the Irish constitution. It removed the truth that the Roman Catholic religion is the main religion of the Irish Republic and it left in the lie that it is the sovereign Power throughout the whole island of Ireland, its territorial seas and adjoining islands.
Dublin is unlikely to forgo that distant aim or aspiration. If, however, a new border were agreed but not accepted as definitive, where would this surgery end? If the parties agreed on a line which would include in the United Kingdom only those parts of the Six Counties in which there was an overwhelming Protestant majority, Northern Ireland would still contain 200,000 Roman Catholics. I therefore dismiss the idea of re-partitioning Ireland.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Surely the argument consists of excluding from Northern Ireland the Republicans, and not necessarily the Catholics. If we were able to leave in Northern Ireland only those people who wished to remain citizens of the United Kingdom, we might be getting towards a solution. My hon. Friend is dealing with this possible solution on sectarian lines which must be wrong. There must be thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Catholics, who are perfectly loyal citizens of Her Majesty. They should of course remain if they wish to, but the argument my hon. Friend should deal with is that 981 the Republicans, whether Catholic or Protestant, should be excluded.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
As a monarchist I should be glad if there were no republicans in any part of the United Kingdom. That is an extraordinary argument that I reject just as I reject the solution of independence.
That leaves me with the choice— although the choice will not be mine but will be one for the people of Northern Ireland—between integration or devolution in some form, and I have favoured the latter and still do. Devolution would have to provide for a non-sectarian regional government.
I have had many letters from Ulster folk about the Prime Minister's broadcast. They came from moderate professional and from working-class people. A number of them had been changed by that broadcast from lukewarmness or even hostility towards the Ulster Workers' Council into support for its action. One lady, describing herself as a working-class Protestant of 62 with one son a regular member of the UDR and another in the Regular Army, said:We do not mind power sharing but never will we agree to a united Ireland.That is no encomium of power sharing. But for such a person to say that she does not mind power sharing is a remarkable change from the position adopted not so long ago by some people that they could never agree to any form of regional government or executive where not all of the members accepted the Union.
I have made some suggestions with regard to power sharing within the Northern Ireland Executive which would make it more acceptable to the majority. I have made those suggestions in the House and in the Press and I shall not detain the House with them now. Of course it will not be for any of us to decide how the people of Northern Ireland will be governed. I agree with those hon. Members who say that that is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland themselves.
I suppose that Sunningdale had only one chance of success, and that was if the Government of the Republic had lived up to their international responsibilities as a good neighbour to the United Kingdom. I agree here with the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, who spoke with 982 anger about proceedings against members of the security forces in the European Commission. I do not believe that there is another country which would have tolerated this. Diplomatic relations would probably have been broken.
The truth is that if peace returns to Northern Ireland, all will be possible. It is a sterile and circular argument whether we should be seeking a military or political solution. Urban guerrilla warfare is both political and military. Counter-insurgency operations cannot be dissociated from political action. The people must be won psychologically as well as by trying to free them forcibly from the terrorists that oppress them. A political solution must go hand in hand with the military defeat of the IRA.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I would plead for a little complexity rather than simplicity in the debate. I have heard some remarkable statements today, both on the Floor of the House and upstairs in a meeting of my party.
There are those—they do not include every hon. Member—who seem to think that the whole of the Irish problem, centuries old as it is, can be reduced to a stark simplicity. For example, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) said that we should untie the Army's hands or take its gloves off—he used both clichés—or we should withdraw the Army. On the last point the hon. Gentleman is supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved).
What do "taking the gloves off" and "untying the Army's hands" mean? Do they mean that if there is a sniper in a house soldiers should go into that house and kill everybody in it because they have harboured the sniper? They might not have done so voluntarily. They might have done, but one does not know. Are they to be killed, arrested, gaoled, or what?
Do those phrases mean that if a child of eight takes away a gun which is used by a sniper—and young women and children have done this—he is to be shot if he is found? That is something that must be considered if hon. Members are to say that the gloves should be taken off 983 the Army and that in some way the Army's hands are tied.
Do those who say such things mean that we should act as people have acted in recent European history, all over Europe, by sheer brute force—if necessary killing men, women and children, torturing suspects to find out information, and so on? If that is not what they mean, to say that the alternative is the complete withdrawal of the Army shows one thing. To Irish eyes, they are playing with lives other than their own. That is what is so appalling. This morning, for example, I heard hon. Members comparing Ireland and the Protestants in Ulster with the pieds noirs in Algeria. But the pieds noirs in Algeria were newborn babes compared with the antiquity of the people, both Protestant and Catholic, in Ulster.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about Ulster nationalism. Ulster was being attacked from the South of Ireland 15 centuries ago, before any of the Irish were even Christians, never mind Protestant or Catholic. It is nothing new in Irish history. The Ulster-men of that time retreated behind the Bann, and some of them founded the Kingdom of Scotland. Alas, there has been tragedy in the history of Ireland ever since. Indeed there was probably bloodshed before that, but there was no one to record it.
I happen to be a Presbyterian. My family has lived in Ireland, so far as I know since the Middle Ages. That means that it cannot have been Presbyterian all the time. My name is an Irish name from the Middle Ages. That is the sort of complexity people fail to understand. People in Ireland are saddened by this.
I mean no offence, but I ask every hon. Member to put himself for a moment in the place of a person in Ireland, whether in the Republic or Northern Ireland, whether he is a Protestant or a Catholic. We talk of the withdrawal of the Army and the possibility of bloodshed on a large scale, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford spoke. There is talk of untying the hands of the Army and the possibility of bloodshed in that event. Some, such as the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maud- 984 ling), talk of re-partition as a possibility. Can the House understand that that seems to an Irish eye to be part of the infernal perpetual arrogance of the English and to a lesser extent of the Scots and Welsh, which they have always adopted towards Ireland? That is how it looks from across the other side of the sea.
It is clear that the bipartisan policy of both Front Benches means at this time that they have not got a policy. Strangely enough, I agree with that. For a very short time that is the right policy to have. Instead of saying to the Northern Irish "This is our policy", the two Front Benches are saying "We shall talk." That, for a very short time, is the right policy, though it will not be the right policy for ever or for a long time. Perhaps for the first time in Irish history, the Irish—North and South, Protestant and Catholic—are being asked what they want.
I beg several things of my colleagues on both Front Benches. They must recognise that the Constitution Act cannot be regarded as in any way sacrosanct. We had a referendum, a border poll, in Northern Ireland. That is fine. That is one way in which the people who live there can be consulted. But I pleaded with the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), "Even if at this time you do not feel that politically you can publish the figures, please keep those figures by individual areas." He said that he doubted whether he could, because if he tried, Ireland being what it was, the information might leak out. I do not know whether he did, but I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should find out. If we are ever to talk about re-partition or partition, somebody must ask people. We are not just talking about moving them. They know the implications well.
Somebody must decide it—not here, but there. We must ask people not whether they wish the whole of Northern Ireland to stay with the United Kingdom but whether they wish the part they live in to be in the Republic or in the United Kingdom, or to be independent.
It is no good saying "You cannot mention the border. You cannot mention re-partition", as it seems to me some of my right hon. and hon. Friends 985 on the Front Bench have said in the past. Nobody can regard the border in Northern Ireland as sacrosanct. It happens to have been inconvenient to mention it in the past, but it is now time to mention the unmentionable.
One side does not like mentioning the border because to move it might weaken the case for a united Ireland. The other sides does not like mentioning moving it, because to move it might reduce the economic viability of Northern Ireland. That will not do, because the border has no meaning in Irish history in more than a man's lifetime. It was created just over 50 years ago.
Northern Ireland is not Ulster in the historic sense of Ireland with a history of 1,500 years or more. Northern Ireland is six counties. They were not six Protestant counties even when it was born. They were four Protestant counties at that time. A Protestant state created now would perhaps be a state east of the Bann, which is a historic boundary in Irish history, strangely enough. But no one can regard Lloyd George's fiddle as a historic, sacrosanct, immutable boundary. So those who talk of partition should not say that Lloyd George's pawn should be considered as a whole and dealt with in one way. I do not believe it.
My right hon. Friend says that he will consult everybody. Whom will he consult and whom do they represent? He said that the Ulster Workers' Council seemed to represent no one. It turned out to represent a certain force which we in Britain do not readily recognise, since we are used to thinking of religion in ecumenical terms, which mean that no one defends the tenets of a particular religion, and we should all have the same religion or not go to church at all. We sometimes fail to recognise that Ireland is the most religious country in Europe.
Momentarily the UWC was united with a force much greater than itself. It was the force which led the Presbyterian Kirk to destroy kings and dynasties not only in Ireland but in Scotland, England and France. That is not a far-fetched analogy. The Member for Dungannon until the 19th century was in hereditary succession, a direct male descendant of John Knox. These people lived there and their descendants are alive today in that same town.
986 One does not tackle that sort of force without due consideration. My right hon. Friend said that the UWC represented nothing; it has proved that it represented something. He had better produce better representatives. He said that the British General Election was a disaster, as it was, for the survival of the Executive, He had better produce another Assembly. But if the former Assembly election has been nullified by the results of our elections, I would ask my right hon. Friend next time to hold an election on a respectable and sensible system of real proportional representation.
The single transferable vote system which was adopted is not proportional representation. I asked the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border when he was Secretary of State why he had chosen it. In the debate on the Northern Ireland Assembly Bill, referring to me, he said:He asked me how it came about that STV had been chosen. The answer is that this was the system which many of the parties and organisations in Northern Ireland which spoke to me about this matter and submitted papers on it put forward as being the one they thought best.We had someone in my office working on the list system"—the proper proportional representation system.A great deal of work was carried out in considering the list system on the one hand and the STV system on the other. I must admit that at one time I was convinced that the list system was the better of the two. After careful consideration of both systems and listening to the argument one way and the other—they are narrowly balanced—I came to the conclusion, with my colleagues, that it was right to go for STV, which was the system favoured by those who had spoken to me.I interpreted that at the time, and I have had no reason to change my mind, as the statement of a Secretary of State who was recommending a system with which his colleagues rather than he had agreed. Nowhere did he say that a different system would not have been better.
There is a difference. STV encourages individualism and discourages parties. In the context of Irish politics, there are enough characters without our trying to cause disruption in political parties. It encourages the election of moderates. That sounds fine, but if extremists are not elected in proportion to their vote they have no legitimate channel through which to express their views. If we had 987 had the list system, even at the time of the last Assembly election, there would have been extremists, but they would have been in the Assembly—not many, perhaps one or two at each end of the spectrum. But there were none at all. If there is another Assembly election, my right hon. Friend should change the system.
The former Secretary of State went on to say:…I can give the assurance that the work has been done and that there is no reason for not changing if at a suitable time it is thought right that such a change should be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April 1973; Vol. 855, c. 164.]This is the time to make it if my right hon. Friend chooses to call a new Assembly election. Above all, he should put all these solutions—and more, if anyone chooses to mention them—ultimately to the people of Northern Ireland, whether it be through a newly elected Assembly or through referenda or both. This is not the sole place in which to decide them. They must be decided in Ireland by the people whose blood will be shed if we get them wrong.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
It is right that this House should be recalled to discuss the grave situation in Ulster. No body of men and women has a greater right to concern. Not only is this House the nation's governing body; it is also responsible for the present situation in Ulster. The Executive, like any other institution which did not enjoy the support and confidence of a majority of the population, was resented from its induced birth—I say "induced" because it would never have come into being by natural causes.
When I first spoke in this House I said that some day it would have to face the facts of life in Northern Ireland. There has been today some reluctant acceptance of the true position in Ulster. A former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), especially showed that he was rapidly reaching years of discretion regarding the capabilities of English, Scottish and Welsh politicians to deal with Ulster's problems.
Beneath the brave words of the Government and the Chief Opposition spokesman about the 1973 Constitution Act 988 there was a certain amount of gloom. Right hon. Gentlemen should cheer up and reflect that a people who are determined to maintain democracy, who have endured the foolishness that they have had to endure for five bloody and bitter years in Ulster, when their will, as expressed to this House by petition and ballot box was ignored, should stand up and calmly destroy, by their feet and by the tractor wheels of Ulster on the roads of Ulster the nonsense imposed upon them.
I remind the House that peaceable mass demonstration and action is the ideal which is often aimed at, but that it has been realised on only very few occasions in world history. The fact that violence in Ulster was, during the strike at a minimum is the clearest indication of the strength of the majority's outrage at the actions of the House of Commons throughout the present troubles. I am the first to admit that four people unfortunately died in the early stages. Apparently two died at the hands of Protestants extremists, but the IRA itself has claimed responsibility for the other two deaths, Some people have found it rather strange that, since the IRA declared its responsibility, no one has mentioned those two deaths.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Do you consider it reasonable that these people you are speaking about should wear hoods, masks, dark glasses and para-military uniforms and parade in serried ranks? Is that the peaceable demonstration which you are talking about, led by Members of this House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) should refer to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) rather than to the actions of the Chair. The last thing I want to do is to get involved.
§ Mr. Ross
The demonstrations I saw did not have masked men. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I simply said that none of the demonstrations I attended had masked men.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) castigated the Prime Minister's speech. I believe that he did so rightly. But the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire will also be aware 989 that his own remarks on television were about as helpful in solving the crisis as the Prime Minister's were. Furthermore, his remarks on the use of troops were in keeping with his own attitude throughout his tenure of office in Ulster, and reminded me of the bull in the china shop but where human lives are at stake rather than cups and saucers. Thank God he was not in charge during the crisis in Ulster in the last fortnight.
The House, it seems, rejects completely integration—apparently, it appears, because it is already overcrowded with the business of the rest of the nation and because the minority in Ulster would raise objections. For the House of government to claim that it cannot find the time to govern its own nation is most astonishing and the weakest excuse I have ever listened to. It is evident from the report published today that, despite the objections from a minority in Scotland, this House will govern there in the fullest measure. But, of course, there is a lack of oil in Ulster and in Ulster's waters.
Today we have sneers and jeers by hon. Members opposite at the mention of the RUC and the Special Constabulary. I am proud to have been a member of the Special Constabulary for 16 years.
§ Mr. English rose—
§ Mr. Ross
I am sorry, but I will not give way. I remind hon. Members that the vilification which led to the destruction of those forces in Ulster also led to the deaths of 1,000 people. We have heard in the last few days rather foolish remarks about Northern Ireland. Most should be ignored, but reference to tanks cannot be buried completely.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not see why I should. I will content myself by pointing out that a tank would have the greatest difficulty in trying to operate a sewage works, for example.
The future is the most important thing for Ulster at present. We have four months in which to think about Ulster's political future. I think that a great many hon. Members will agree with me in saying that hope springs eternal in the human breast. That was said by a former Member of this House who was much 990 more prominent in its affairs than I am. Despite the record of mismanagement by this House—and I hope it will proceed more wisely in future—it must recognise political realities. The House and the Government must recognise that a united Ireland in the life span of any person now living is out of the question. It means that this nation and the Government must destroy the hope of success which keeps the IRA fighting. A people or movement which does not have the hope of ultimate victory will soon disintegrate and disappear. It means that the possibility of the IRA carrying out its plan for an armed take-over in the centre of Belfast must be stillborn.
The Northern Ireland Members of this House are the last people in Northern Ireland to place themselves before their electorates in the Six Counties. We are available to the Government at any time and no doubt our senior colleagues will be spelling out our attitude to the Government's proposals in detail. Many times since I came to this House have I heard it expressed that the people of Ulster will decide their own future. That is all we want. We ask that the Members from Northern Ireland will be listened to so that the views of the people we represent are listened to. Hon. Members must realise that, while they may not like all aspects of the end result which may come out of the consultations which will now take place, the important thing is not whether that result is 100 per cent. acceptable in this House but whether it is acceptable in Ulster. That is the place where the trouble is.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), but I thought that it was rather like the proverbial curate's egg—good in places.
§ Mr. English
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not want to raise this during the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), but he referred to hon. Members on this side of the House as having denigrated the RUC. My point of order is that it was impossible to interrupt him, not because he did not wish it but because he was reading his speech. I believe that it is wrong for an hon. Member to read his speech in a debate. I have heard no one in this House denigrating the RUC. I think that it is a great body of men.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Duffy
The hon. Member for Derry made very provocative assertions in his speech, some of which may be allowed to pass. But he did not take up the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). The hon. Gentleman must surely be alone in this House if he did not witness even the photographs in the Press showing the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) leading processions in Larne which included men who were wearing dark spectacles. They were forbidding sights. The hon. Member for Antrim, North was doing what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State charged him with doing less than a fortnight ago-behaving like a democrat at Westminster but a demagogue in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member also claimed that the recent insurrection was peaceful, that violence was kept to a minimum. By that I presume he means that the murder of Brendan and Sean Hughes just outside Ballymena was keeping violence to a minimum.
§ Mr. Carson
Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that those murders were connected with the strike by the Ulster Workers' Council?
§ Mr. Duffy
It is not difficult to surmise from reading Press statements on the arrest the very next night of more than 30 men in north Belfast that the Army picked up not only the men who were responsible for those murders—two are to be charged—but the men who were the brigade structure of the UDA in Belfast. I suspect that the Army also picked up men who will be found to be responsible for even graver acts.
§ The Attorney-General
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that my hon. Friend will remember thesub judice rule.
§ Mr. Duffy
Yes, of course
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) also said that the people of Ulster would decide its future. That is 992 the hope of a growing number of hon. Members in this House. But it was significant that he would not be drawn into saying whom he regarded as the people. Does he regard the Catholics of Northern Ireland as the people?
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
The hon. Member has put a question to the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) and has received the answer that the hon. Member would be prepared to share power. Would he ask the hon. Member whether he would be prepared to share power with the SDLP, which at the moment is the authentic voice of the minority in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. McCusker
I was returned to this House with a majority of 15,000 and the first point of my platform was that I would not share power with the SDLP.
§ Mr. Duffy
I am not quite so pessimistic. I regard the greater danger now not in the seeming intransigence of some hon. Members, but in the disappointment and frustration of those hon. Members who are turning to an all too simple solution. Nor am I as depressed as 993 are some about the events of the past fortnight, because all this has happened before. This is not the first time that some people in Northern Ireland have defied the will of this House. All this has happened before, and it was predictable.
What was reassuring about the events of the past fortnight was the better temper compared with former occasions. In any case, some of us were prepared for the events of the past fortnight. It was not a sudden eruption. There had been opposition to the Constitution Act for a year, and those of us who had been in Northern Ireland during the Assembly elections last June were prepared for that opposition. We knew that, although they had won only about one-third of the seats, the Loyalist candidates would persist with their opposition. The hon. Member for Antrim, North is on record as having said that he would physically prevent Brian Faulkner from getting to the Dispatch Box in the new Assembly.
The reports of those proceedings are available to this House and they make incredible reading. Some members of the Assembly were forcibly ejected while others quite plainly had no intention of allowing the Assembly to proceed on a proper basis.
We must be neither too optimistic nor too pessimistic. I do not minimise what has happened. It represented a challenge to constitutional authority. It was successful not only because of the Ulster Workers' Council but because too many other people in Northern Ireland encouraged the council or condoned it or simply averted their gaze. Where were the leaders of communities, of professional organisations, of industry, of the Protestant Church? Why were all those voices silent?
§ Mr. Wm. Ross
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Bishop Quin, who can well be described as being among the leaders of the Protestant Church, was in London, but no one seems to have talked to him.
§ Mr. Duffy
I met him in this House. I and some other colleagues received him in a Committee room. He received the utmost courtesy and attention from us. We were delighted to see him. But it is a different matter in Northern Ireland, although I take nothing away from the 994 bishop. Where were all the other leaders in Northern Ireland?
The issue is now becoming a little clearer for the people of this country and Northern Ireland. It is just possible that in place of the old, stultifying, sectarian divide there could be another issue. There could be a divide between those who accept the British Government's concept of power sharing as the only valid road and those who reject it or those who, like some hon. Gentlemen opposite, wish to qualify it. Despite the derisory references by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), who is no longer present, to my previous speech about the February election, it is noteworthy that 48 per cent. of the electorate voted in February in support of power sharing. This does not square with the 11-1 return of candidates to this House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are fond of playing this point up.
Further, on the evidence of the recent BBC public opinion poll, there was a popular majority for power sharing. Of course there was a large majority for it in the Catholic community, but there must have been a sizeable amount of support for it in the Protestant community.
§ Mr. Carson
Can the hon. Gentleman say why it is that those who took part in power sharing in the Assembly were later rejected by their local associations? The 1973 Constitution Act was not made clear to the electors. Those in the Assembly who took part in this were later rejected.
§ Mr. Duffy
I will not go into that. Anyone who knows anything about the constituency structure of Northern Ireland politics on the Unionist side knows the answer. What is noteworthy is that in four constituencies there was no Ulster Unionist or pro-Assembly candidate. The reason for that is bound up in the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, for which I do not now have the time.
There are only two options available to the Westminster Government. One is to stick with Sunningdale and the other is to leave Ireland altogether. Certainly we cannot move to any of the desperate solutions put forward here and elsewhere, notably re-partitioning and re-shuffling people. It is not only administratively impractical—anyone who knows Northern Ireland knows that it would also be 995 socially impossible. Anyone who knows the mix of people in Northern Ireland and in Belfast knows that this is not on. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) I would not want to see Protestants forced out of Derry. I would not want to see the hon. Member for Londonderry forced out of Derry. I know Derry as well as he does. I served in Derry and flew out of the Royal Navy air station at Maydown before it was an industrial estate, and the only people I knew in those days in Derry were people like the hon. Gentleman. I never met the people on the other side of the divide. I met only the hon. Gentleman and his kind and they are still my friends to this day. I do not want those people forced out. I know that people on the other side, the Catholics in Belfast, will not be forced out. I suspect that not even those in the vulnerable Short Strand and Markets areas will be forced out. Heaven knows why they have not voluntarily evacuated themselves by now. I can only believe that they have no intention of going, and certainly British soldiers will not force them out.
I am prepared for what would be by present standards a fantastic situation whereby if British soldiers tried to force people out of their homes in the Short Strand area there might be a relief column swinging its way up the Newtownards Road. It is not on. It is politically unacceptable not only in other countries which need not be mentioned, but also in this country. Consider the effects which even the raising of this nightmarish solution might have on our colleagues in Northern Ireland, on those who have proved that they are democrats, on the Faulknerites and especially on the SDLP. I wonder if my hon. Friends have considered the place of the SDLP, how long the SDLP could survive as a democratic political force, if we go on parading arguments like this. It is certain that the SDLP will be damaged after one day's exposure of such ideas.
What about the effect on Dublin? I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) this afternoon express his concern for Anglo-Irish relations. We know how well those relations recovered from the low point of three or four years ago, due largely to the work of the Leader of the Opposition 996 and some of his colleagues, including right hon. Gentlemen who are now on the Opposition Front Bench. We have done what we can on this side, but the Opposition were then in government and I know how they tried. To what effect they tried has become so evident during the past year.
It must be borne in mind that at Sunningdale the SDLP and Dublin agreed for the first time to acknowledge Northern Ireland and to co-operate with it, and all they got on Irish unity in return for the abandonment of their historic ideal was the promise of a Council of Ireland. The Sunningdale Agreement was always subject to veto at every stage by representatives of both communities. There was never a chance that the North could be absorbed by the South against the freely expressed wish of the majority, yet the contrary view is widespread in Northern Ireland, and why this is so is now widely accepted by many people in this country to be the work of those concerned to misrepresent the position.
Less than a fortnight ago the SDLP agreed to defer executive power. That meant that the Council of Ireland would become nothing more than a moral force. But even that was not enough; even that proved to be unacceptable. However, not only the council but the whole package went. Of course it was not rational; it was hardly considered because there was not sufficient time. It was not even the five months about which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central spoke but only five weeks before the Westminster elections. The necessary conditioning—I use that word in the kindliest way—of the people of Northern Ireland was precluded.
I come to my recommendations. The British Government must concentrate on those whose voices have been silent for the last fortnight, who were expected to behave differently and from whom we were entitled to see a different response. People who lacked moral courage a fortnight ago must be reminded of the terms on which the union can continue. The British Government must spell out those terms. They must spell out the precise consequences of Britain's deciding to sever the union.
I take it that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is right in his assertion that all bets on 997 Ireland are now off and that policymaking on Ireland has started again. If that is so, the British Government must consider as a matter of urgency reminding the people of Northern Ireland what membership of the United Kingdom requires of them and giving them the alternative as a prelude to an election, referendum, commission or convention.
Above all, the British Government must make it abundantly clear that no Government of this country can again support a political system in Ulster which discriminates against the minority. Some form of power sharing is, therefore, a necessary condition for a continued British commitment to Ulster. It cannot be a qualified power sharing. It cannot be power sharing on the terms of hon. Members opposite. It must be power sharing on the terms of this Parliament. If Ulster wishes to remain part of the union, that is part of the price to be paid for membership.
I know that this is plain speaking, but that is precisely why I welcomed the tone and content of the Prime Minister's speech made more than a week ago. I know the people of Ulster. I have known them not merely in war time but since. I go there often with my colleagues in the Northern Ireland group. I have not been to Ulster in the last two or three years without being the target for plain speaking. We can rarely get a word in. It is no good the people of Northern Ireland being so sensitive about what the Prime Minister said, because we have been hearing the same arguments in reverse for the last three years. I do not believe that they resent it. They are accustomed to it; they can stand it.
Above all, the people of Northern Ireland like to know where they stand. What concerns them is that they do not know where they stand. We know that there are doubts about their cultural identity and their relationship with this country and this House. There are doubts on their part about British statesmen. I can understand that. The doubts of the Irish are not confined to the South. Plain speaking will be in their interests; at least they will know where they stand. But there must be plain speaking about the economic consequences of membership of the union. We must make clear the consequences of withdrawal by Britain. That opportunity will come very 998 soon when Britain is asked to pick up the tab for the recent insurrection.
According to the business section of The Sunday Times yesterday, the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation is looking for £100 million. Do hon. Members opposite think that the British people will go on paying sums of that kind without a word? Those days are gone. Power sharing may have failed for the time being, but the idea survives; it will be tried again. Some of us will keep renewing that ideal until it wins through to a general acceptance.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
I hope that one profit we shall gain from the affairs of the last two or three weeks is that we shall begin to look at Ulster affairs with a new realism and put behind us the illusions to which many of us have subscribed over the past five years. I hope that in this debate we shall look at Northern Ireland with compassion and not in anger.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) in an important contribution spelt out what all of us who know the Province know to be true. He said that the people on both sides of the divide are decent, ordinary folk who are not much different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom. Their aspirations and hopes are the same, and if they hold their politics more firmly that is perhaps because the stakes are rather higher there than they are in other parts of the United Kingdom. The only thing that 90 per cent. of the people on both sides of the divide want is for the bombing and killing to stop.
If we feel frustrated today at the attitude that has been displayed by the Protestant majority, it is perhaps no bad thing to remind ourselves of three facts. First, three years ago we took over the security role in Northern Ireland. We have failed to give Northern Ireland security, for reasons which I shall not go into tonight. Secondly, over the last three or four months, while the negotiations were going on coming up to the Council of Ireland, the level of violence, already intolerable in Belfast and other places, reached a new crescendo, and during that time Belfast suffered some of its worst bombing attacks. Thirdly, what drove the Protestant masses mad in the end 999 was the lack of co-operation from the South, with which they themselves were being asked to co-operate. If the bomb which went off in Dublin had gone off in Belfast and if we had known who was responsible for it and pointed a finger at him in the South, he would not have been extradited. That is the measure of what a section of the community in Northern Ireland has had to bear.
If the violence had subsided—certainly if it had ended—during the last three months, Sunningdale might well have had a chance, but the violence got worse and we saw a steady deterioration of Protestant support for the agreement. The key indicator, as is all too clear to anyone who knows the North of Ireland, is that Belfast, South, that middle-class, moderate and quiet constituency, rejected its Faulkner candidate. So we arrive at the situation today that if any Protestant party—certainly the Faulknerite party—is still supporting the Sunningdale Agreement as it stands, it will probably not win a seat in the North of Ireland.
What are the alternatives? I agree with what has been said by one or two speakers on the Government side. I do not believe, in spite of the indications that we had a moment ago, that power sharing is completely off. I want to pause to think about the alternatives, because that is the only rational way in which we can go forward.
Partition is not on the cards for the simple reason that Dublin will not take the bits. One cannot chop off little bits around the border and say that they must go, because Dublin will not accept that situation. We might end up by cutting off the Bogside and the Creggan, but Dublin might refuse to accept them. Therefore, such a course would bring about a ridiculous state of affairs in Irish politics.
Integration is an attractive concept and at times I have thought that it might prove to be a solution to the problem. That concept cannot be dismissed, but we must recognise that it would not be acceptable to the minority. I suspect that such a course would still leave the North of Ireland in a state of continuing violence and in an unstable situation. Therefore, it does not seem to be a runner.
1000 On the question of withdrawal, we are always hearing stories about the people in Ireland being reminded of what would happen and of what England would or would not do. That is all very well, but to whom is England going to do things? It is not the men of violence on either side who mind withdrawal. It is the people who have stood by, the ordinary people, who would be hurt by withdrawal. It is the people who voted for Faulkner or for the SDLP who would be hurt. We must remember that the SDLP represents the first democratic party on the Catholic side which has taken part in government. Such a policy would also hurt the broad mass of those who supported hon. Members in the Ulster Unionist Party who are now sitting on the Opposition benches and who are all decent people. Are they to be told that England will not stand by its responsibilities? Therefore, I do not believe that a policy of withdrawal is possible.
If we set a date for withdrawal of troops, we must accept the possibility of violence recurring. What will happen if we know that there is not only the possibility of violence but the certainty of its happening? Do we then say that we shall withdraw our troops in any case? Do we take the attitude "The gamble is lost, but we are going to leave anyway?" That is what we would have to do. I do not believe that it is within the compass of a British Cabinet to come to that decision. I do not believe that any party in government would come to that decision.
The experience of the last two weeks has been horrifyingly clear in the North of Ireland. We have heard talk about a bloodbath, but there does not need to be a bloodbath. Belfast is divided into ghettos; there is hardly a mixed street left. If the taps and switches are turned off in Belfast, the city will become another Warsaw. I do not believe that any British Parliament would accept such a situation.
I come to what I regard as the solution to the situation. I am not suggesting that we must stick rigidly to the prospects of power sharing which we imposed upon Ireland before, but people should now consider how it is possible for the community to live together. If the principle of power sharing—a principle which has the great support of the mass of people in this country-—can be taken 1001 and looked at so that a way can be found, surely the community in Northern Ireland will find some hope left in this situation.
There will need to be great sacrifices, and we in the United Kingdom will need to make sacrifices because we have to stand up to our responsibilities. The United Kingdom has to bear the cost of 257 lives of young soldiers and 1,400 injured, some of them terribly injured. England has a great responsibility and will have to pay a great price. It will not be easy for us. The level of violence must be contained. If not, there is no solution to Ireland's problems at all.
There must also be acceptance by the SDLP and the South that the Irish dimension, as it was called, is out for the moment. They must accept that the only change or discussion that can come about the border is through the border poll at intervals of 10 years, or perhaps 15 years, and that that should be the only instrument. It means a sacrifice from their point of view. I do not believe that it is possible to sell to the majority a package which contains a Council of Ireland which rightly or wrongly—do not let us worry about that—was believed to be leading towards a united Ireland and was being asked of the Protestant majority at a time when they found there was no co-operation from the South over extradition. I appreciate that it would be a sacrifice for the SDLP to give up that long-cherished hope, but surely the alternative is nothing but one of savage warfare between the two communities.
How is this solution to be achieved? I am certain that it is no use having general chats with people. We must have elected representatives to whom we can talk. It was absolutely right not to give way to the cry that there should be an election while the Executive existed. After all, many Governments get into difficulties. Many Governments are unpopular, they do not want to go, and if they have a constitutional right to continue they should be allowed to do so.
I am not advocating an immediate election. However, I am clear that the next time we put the package together it must be agreed by Ulster, not by those who say they will come or by those who say they did or did not get an invitation. That does not matter. We must, before 1002 we put the package together, do it through an Assembly that has been endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland.
I do not want an election in the next few months, but I want it within a reasonable time scale—perhaps by the end of the year, when passions have had a chance to die down. We can get an Assembly in the North of Ireland which will speak for Northern Ireland. The fact that we may not like some of the people who get elected to it is no good reason for refusing it. We ought to do it.
I should like to mention one last point which may be less acceptable to many hon. Members. If Northern Ireland is long to be in limbo without an Executive, I would consider allowing it to have its true number of Members here. I do not think that it would make much difference one way or the other, because with smaller constituencies west of the Bann there is little doubt that some SDLP as well as Unionist Members would come in.
At the end of the day one thing must be said from this House. If this Parliament, perhaps the greatest assembly in the world, the oldest and the most august, cannot say and understand it, nobody will say it. We must talk to people who are elected. It is no use talking to workers' councils. We must talk to elected representatives. The only way to do that is through an election reasonably soon.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
The reason for this two-day debate is, as I understand it, not that there should be a vote or that the House should reach a decision, but merely that hon. Members should be allowed and empowered to express their views. We have heard many views today with some of which I have been in complete agreement and with others of which I have been very much in disagreement. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) made the outrageous proposal that Londonderry and Belfast should be partitioned. If the partitioning of Ireland itself 50 years ago did not work, why should partitioning suddenly work in those cities?
Other hon. Members have suggested that the troops should be withdrawn. I am strongly against withdrawing the 1003 troops, for one overriding reason. When British people are in danger on British soil they have the right to expect that British troops will protect them. We must face the fact that it is our duty to protect these people with resolution and firmness, which they feel have been lacking in the past.
I thoroughly agree that decisions affecting the future of Ireland should be taken only with the agreement of the people of Ulster. We have had a very dramatic example of what the will of the people of Ulster has been, not only at the General Election but in the recent strike. This taught us one thing above all else; namely, that we cannot inflict on people who do not wish it an arrangement against their will.
What is it that these pariahs and bully boys, as some people regard them—the United Ulster Unionist Council people— want? Why is it so appalling? I have here the policy document of the council. The House would do well to pay attention to what is stated here—The United Ulster Unionist Conference is convinced that the mishandling of the political and security situations has increased the torment and suffering of Ulster. Many have been killed and injured and others have been driven to acts of which they would never have been otherwise guilty because of the failure to deal with terrorism.That is the key to the difficulty which we are facing now.
I spent some time in Belfast and talked to the women there in the terraced houses in a very poor quarter of the city. I was appalled when they told me "We are the people who are interned here. We are the ones who cannot go out after six o'clock at night. We are the ones who are imprisoned." I have great sympathy too, for the appalling plight of the women of Londonderry who had to do their shopping between 9 a.m. when the shops opened and 10 a.m. when the IRA began to be effective again. What patience these brave people have had for years and years. I believe that the time came when they had no patience left. I hold no brief for violence of any kind from any side, but I think that it is understandable that we faced this situation and the strike.
I want to explain why I think that the suggestion in this policy document is perfectly reasonable. It says: 1004We believe the priorities of the Ulster people to be:1. The rejection of the annexation of Northern Ireland by the Irish Republic.That seems to be fair enough.2. The maintenance, strengthening and defence of the Union through full Democratic Representation in the Westminster Parliament.What is wrong with that?
3. The defeat of the Constitutional arrangements… set up by the British Government …Whether we like it or not, the will of the Ulster people has shown clearly that this is what they wish.4. The defeat of both wings of the IRA.Who of us can disagree with that?
I make one final quotation. Surely there can be nothing wrong with this. This is what these so-called pariahs and bully boys have asked for:We would welcome the provision of a Bill of Rights to ensure and guarantee justice and fair play to every citizen throughout the United Kingdom.What is wrong with that? The people of Ulster have a right to be heard. They have overwhelmingly stated what their wishes are.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes: (Ashford)
This debate may differ from its predecessors on Northern Ireland in one important respect. It is not just that we and our policy now stand at major crossroads— goodness knows, we have done that before—but that to a greater degree than before this debate and its consequences may encompass our future as well as that of Northern Ireland. Whatever decisions we reach or take in this debate, it seems to me that we may be shaping our own destiny as well as that of Northern Ireland.
Predictably, the speeches we have heard today have so far centred around— naturally, without resolving—two or three large questions which I shall try to follow. Was the collapse of this painfully-won power-sharing experiment inevitable? That is the first question. What courses lie open to us now? Assuming that we can find a course, have we the will power to try again and stay to see it through?
On the first question, I stress that the reason for looking critically at what led to the breakdown is not to get at the overburdened Secretary of State, of 1005 whom I thought my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) spoke very appositely, or the Prime Minister, but to avoid if possible making the same mistakes again. For my part, I see no profit whatever in raking over mistakes, save where they are relevant to the future. If we enter into a quarrel about the past, none of us on either side of the House will agree where the past begins.
The first question I raise here was raised by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). If there was delay in acceding to the urgent request of the Executive over the barricades, why did not the police and the Army at once remove the newly-erected Loyalist barricades? Was it felt by the Army that action against unarmed strikers should be taken not by them but by the police? How did the police react to that? This is an important point because it is stressed on behalf of the Executive, on behalf of Brian Faulkner, that this was treated as a crucial issue at a crucial moment. Surely this is a contingency which might have been foreseen and thought about.
Again—a kindred point—what feasibility study was made of the Army's capacity in such circumstances as these particularly in relation to power stations? The Secretary of State, I think, said earlier today that it was always clear that the forces could maintain them only to a limited degree and that in the end management failed to come up to expectations. I thought I got his point correctly.
None the less it is important to know, at least for the future, how far the capacity of the Army to deal with situations like this had been thought out and how much, in a sense, we were able to work to that feasibility study when this situation arose. I ask this because any miscalculation of the Army, any failure to reach a right judgment on its role in Northern Ireland, raises issues of the utmost gravity.
Secondly—this is a feature which is relevant to the future—surely we must conclude that there has in recent weeks been a failure correctly to assess the weight of Protestant opinion, the strength of opposition to Sunningdale and the likely consequences. The strike, I accept, 1006 possibly had origins of its own, but the opinion which was surging round in Northern Ireland could not be gainsaid.
Up to the time of our own General Election it may have been excusable, but when we saw a swing such as there was in Northern Ireland, of about 22 per cent. to candidates whose platform read "Dublin is just a Sunningdale away", surely there were signs that could hardly be ignored. The Secretary of State said today that the political climate after 28th February changed rapidly and radically. That is now clear. Yet these feelings were, I do not say discounted, but perhaps underrated, and the impression given and felt was that the phasing and terms of Sunningdale remained inviolable.
I agree that Mr. Faulkner, to whom I add my own small personal tribute for all he has done, saw it otherwise. We now know that he sought behind closed doors with his Executive to hammer out something closer to electoral reality. In the event his package, no doubt hard won, came too late, and it appeared, when it did appear, inadvertently as a quick response to the threat of strike. But were we not aware of the dangerous build-up of feeling while those talks were going on? This could be sensed by any of us who were in the Province in recent weeks, and it should not, I suggest, have taken us so totally by surprise.
Thirdly—I must add this and it goes partly, I think, to the heart of the breakdown—there is an unwillingness or an inability in London always to measure the effect in the North of words and actions said and taken here. I confess that I thought that the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) had a point when he said that words uttered here had one meaning in London and another meaning in the North. I shall not dwell on the speech made by the Secretary of State for Defence. I happened to be in Belfast at the time when it was delivered. The Prime Minister quickly acknowledged the mistake and corrected it. I must, however, go on to mention the Prime Minister's own broadcast a week ago.
I think that that broadcast was an example of the failure to measure words, and I shall make only one comment about it, in strict moderation. The effect must be to weaken confidence in Northern Ire- 1007 land regarding what the Government here can do. To my mind, without recrimination, that is a serious aspect, perhaps the most serious aspect, of the words that were then used. What has to be weighed so much is not always the effect of the words used but the use or the misuse—the manipulation, if one likes— which they suffer in other hands. This is a fact of life, however unpalatable, which we ought to have learned by now.
The Sunningdale communiqué, we say, was in itself harmless to the North, and misrepresentation did the damage. But we should have grasped by now, and we certainly must for the future, that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) wrote the other day, truth is one of the casualties of Northern Ireland, and therefore what means one thing here will be made to mean something else in the Province. So much for the immediate past.
§ The Prime Minister
I hope to reply tomorrow to some of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman and by others about the broadcast which I undertook, but he will recognise that one point with which I was concerned was the growing impatience on this side of the water about the very large sums that are being increasingly provided to Northern Ireland by the taxpayer here. I referred specifically to the damage done to the economy in Northern Ireland. Is the right hon. Gentleman now saying that the Opposition feel that the taxpayer on this side of the water should readily accept a bill of £225 million, referred to this afternoon, for those self-inflicted wounds? Will he answer that question?
§ Mr. Deedes
I am not unaware of that and, if the Prime Minister will allow me, I shall come to it in my own time. I was stressing that words used here, whatever effect they may be expected to have on people in this country, have very different consequences on the people of Northern Ireland.
We can now dispose of the past. We now have, as the Secretary of State made clear, an uneasy breathing space. We all need time, he said, and I wholly agree with that. I hope that there will be there as well as here a process of fermentation. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said that we. were now in a new ball 1008 game. I think it is very hard to guess, and it might be foolish to anticipate, what may emerge from this process. I am not sure, and I shall come back to this point later, that first reactions to the breakdown will necessarily be the right ones. Of course, the Government have their responsibilities, to which we attach a degree of urgency. But it is arguable that after a period of direct rule we may have weakened the inclination of those primarily concerned to find solutions on their own. It is certainly arguable that, if we can bring ourselves to stand back a little and breathe a little less down their necks, in the light of this experience something fresh might emerge.
We should give others besides ourselves the chance, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said, to re-examine all the options. Thus, if and when Ulstermen of any hue enjoin upon each other to sit around a table and do some constructive thinking on their own account I should like to think that our response will be one of encouragement. We should not be too ready to expect that such talk must lead inexorably back to Protestant monopoly, and we cannot put the clock back. However, this short-lived experiment should not be written off as a dead loss. We cannot yet be sure what its effect may be on even the most intractable of minds. Some will share the view of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell), who said that only the people of Northern Ireland can solve their own problems. Here, however, I take the view that I have expressed before, that the role of the Republic will become absolutely crucial. Dare we hope that some sort of fermentation will go on there as well?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire said earlier that a more realistic approach would be needed. For obvious reasons I must not go too far beyond his words, but without a shred of animosity I feel compelled to describe the attitude up to now as too often ambivalent. It has been ambivalent towards security, towards the border, towards extradition and towards the wider future. With some instinct for the reality of internal affairs in Dublin I cannot accept at face value the protestations of Ministers there that they have been 1009 doing all their best. At all events great responsibility lies with them now. The reverberations of this crash must surely have reached at least some corners of Ministries in Dublin.
We should by now have learned the precarious and tender nature of the solution we provided, an artefact—it cannot be described otherwise—however well intentioned and however estimable our aim. I judge from the speeches here today that most right hon. and hon. Members sense that the most hopeful way forward lies in power sharing. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) said that it was the only hope. Without at this stage going so far, I must agree that the sense of most speeches today has been to that effect. However, there is a reality here which not everyone has seized. Power sharing is not sharing the privilege of sitting round a table in Stormont. It is sharing the power to enact policy, and it is when the act of policy shaping and policy making begins that the stresses arise.
The National Government of 1931 found no difficulty in agreeing to share power. It was when policy making called for certain things, such as protection, that some elements of that Government found it difficult to remain within it.
But of this at least I am sure, that we should avoid under the impact of this shock being swung too violently or too quickly towards other radical solutions. Let us try to give instant politics a rest in this realm. We should encourage, not discourage, a feeling among Ulster men and women that this time what they have to say to us will be weighed.
When it comes to the wider future, I confess that I find myself in some difficulty. Those of us who have chosen to involve ourselves fairly closely in the affairs of Northern Ireland are not necessarily the best witnesses now. One can become too closely involved. One can perhaps see things too much from the other point of view. One or two speeches today have suffered from that advantage.
I must declare my own interest, which is a fashionable thing to do just now. That interest is a strong prejudice in favour of the people of Northern Ireland. They are not symbolised, they are not to be judged, by all of those who claim or assert a right to speak and act for 1010 them. One of the tragedies of the media is that so many are brought to believe that that is so. We should not aid and abet the readiness and eagerness in some quarters to take that superficial view.
For my part—and I speak here of the moderates—I have come to admire the seriousness with which they take their affairs. Sometimes when I return from Northern Ireland I find myself strangely exhilarated, for all the difficulties, the cruelty, the damage and the violence, by a people who take their future destiny very seriously and who are deeply and passionately concerned with it. I am sure that other right hon. and hon. Members have had the same feeling. Sometimes I wish that such attitudes prevailed elsewhere.
But my constituents, as well as the Prime Minister, sometimes say "You must consider our standpoint, too", and they are absolutely right. The constituents of the hon. Member for Itchen had obviously been talking to him. We had better acknowledge that our public opinion has a right to be considered and consulted.
I want to be careful with the figures for the cost of supporting the people of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister quoted one set, and I have read another set. According to a summary I saw in, I think. The Guardian a day or two ago, the British Exchequer is paying in all about £470 million, only £33 million of it accountable to the extra cost of keeping the troops there. The Secretary of State rightlv made no bones about this. The hon. Member for Ealing. North (Mr. Molloy) reminded us of the implications.
I do not discount public opinion in this matter. It has perhaps been brushed aside too often. But I must add that I think that in this great matter, costs and all, public opinion would be responsive to leadership, and it is entitled to leadership. It is entitled to hear the view of leaders on where we should go next. I do not find that public opinion is fixed and formed. I find that it is bewildered. It is anxious, but it is willing to take a view.
Perhaps the first thing the leadership should make clear is that in Northern Ireland we are not dealing with a problem remote from the reality of the 1011 modern world. It is not wholly attributable to the Irishness of the Irish. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that the Irish have a peculiarly Irish way of doing things. Yes indeed, and so do most other people in most other countries have a way of doing things by their own lights, but this is also a reality in the modern world. I can conceive of no way in which we can altogether contrive to escape from it.
It must seem to many in this country— I go back again to what the Prime Minister said—that we have had to deal and we are dealing with an unreasonable people, a people who, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton, proclaim Ulster's capacity for self-inflicted misery. Yes, but this, far outside the ambit of Ulster, has been described appositely as an age of unreason. Still more is it an age in which various minorities have found ways of exploiting and stimulating unreason to their own ends. There is no escape from this.
The onus on those who would cry "Enough!" and pull us out of Northern Ireland is to think through the consequences of such a course and to answer some of the practical questions which immediately arise. Terrorism is not our only problem in Northern Ireland, as I think the Secretary of State will agree. More and more, lawlessness emerges with terrorism and spreads across the face of the Province. I confess to some uneasiness at the extent to which the Army is being progressively drawn into that sphere.
Ulstermen declare that, given a chance, they are ready to cope with that. I have reservations, knowing the strength of the RUC and the UDR—the former standing at about 4,500, and the Secretary of State knows that it should be more—
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees indicated assent—
§ Mr. Deedes
—and the preponderance of Protestants over Roman Catholics remains and will remain for a long time.
There is no adequate back-up force if the Army goes. In the last five years we have made very little progress towards it. To be practical again, if the Army goes and if temporarily chaos supervenes, bringing about disruption of Northern Ireland such as hitherto has been largely 1012 avoided, could we stand idly by and see about £4C0 million or £500 million a year dissipated by disorder? Would the Republic do absolutely nothing if, as it seemed to them, with disorder after our withdrawal, Catholics were put at risk? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell), in what I thought was an admirable speech, was right to say that the main consequence would be that moderates, not extremists, would suffer from our withdrawal.
Of course we all have as our objective the day when the soldiers go. The argument today has been about which day and how it is fixed. In the terms in which we have come to reckon these things— logistics, costs, social benefits, macroeconomics and so on—it might not be impossible to produce a cool analysis which pointed decisively to our pulling out. I have certain misgivings, however, about the style in which we now analyse such issues as Northern Ireland while observing what I can only describe as impeccable moral neturality. It is a style which the media have made all their own and which we sometimes unconsciously ape.
But there remains in my mind one crucial distinction between all the media and Parliament. We should not and we cannot discard the moral issue. Moral neutrality in a matter of this kind is not a robe that we can wear and remain as we are. Whatever the "Insight" column and "Panorama" and all the rest may make of it, we are from time to time called upon to answer the question that they avoid: is it right or is it wrong? That is our distinction, our reason for being here.
There is, I am persuaded, a moral judgment, when everything is weighed, to be made here. However reluctant we may be to make it, we cannot shirk it. It may point this or that way, but it has to be made. It rests with the conscience of every hon. Member, and I must make it clear where mine directs me.
My mind goes back to the time when some of us were soldiers. We finished our task in Europe, I recall, with a brief thanksgiving. I recall the words from it, of which, for greater accuracy, I have obtained a copy. I make a present of it to hon. Members who may use it to 1013 strengthen the resolve of their constituents. The words are these:When Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory.I think that those words stood good for Europe then, and I think that they stand good for Northern Ireland today.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)
It is a privilege to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), on his maiden speech. I hope he will not mind if I say that, in certain fairly obvious respects, he and his predecessor are rather different from one another. He was perhaps a little slower off the mark than she was, but he evidently shares with her a high degree of self-confidence which will stand him in good stead in this House.
So far, the mood of the debate could be called sombre and sober. Certainly, it was not sure-footed, to use the phrase of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Indeed, when every conceivable solution has been tried and, so far at any rate, has not succeeded, it is hard to be sure-footed. It is harder still when one knows that for every solution one finds another problem. So I do not in any way criticise hon. Members for not producing instant solutions. Indeed, I would criticise those who did.
None the less, it is true that the debate so far has been strong on problems and weak on solutions. Although the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make the principles clear tomorrow, I noticed that he himself was a little weak on principles. We must consider why that is and take account of it. It is vital that in the period ahead— not a long period, but at least a breathing space—all the options should be left open until some final and agreed conclusion has been reached, and all the options must be considered and, if necessary, reconsidered to see to what extent they fit the new situation.
The main points which seem to me to have emerged from the debate so far are, first, that a large majority of Members who have spoken accept that the troops should not and cannot be removed at a stroke. Indeed, the view that they should 1014 is not put forward by those of my hon. Friends who have been cast by the Press as its main protagonists—my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved).
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian asked what is the function of the Army today, and on that I think I agree very much with what the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has said on the subject. I will try to give an answer to the question.
Certainly it is not the Army's function to hold the ring between warring gangs or factions. Certainly it is not the Army's function to stand its ground and be caught, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, in the crossfire. But the Army is still the Army of Northern Ireland, just as it is the Army of England, Wales and Scotland. The people of Northern Ireland are just as entitled to its protection, if that protection is needed, from the bombers and killers as are the people of Britain. If, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State assures me, and as I think the House will accept, the police alone cannot provide that protection which is needed, then the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to have the additional protection from violence which the Army offers.
My hon. Friends, I suggest, have approached this issue from a very natural but false standpoint. If and when the time ever comes when for any reason Northern Ireland ceases to be part of the United Kingdom, whether because it becomes wholly or partly independent, or becomes one with the South, or whatever it may be, it would cease to be entitled to the protection, however imperfect, that the Services are able to give it. Meanwhile, we all recognise that in this country there is a natural and strong emotional feeling for speedy withdrawal. But, on the evidence certainly of today's debate, I do not believe that it is the view of the House, or half of it, or half the Parliamentary Labour Party, or half the people of this country, or certainly half of those in Northern Ireland, that there should be a speedy withdrawal. I have no evidence to suggest that that would be acceptable.
We all have the utmost sympathy for the bereaved parents of young men who go to Northern Ireland and do their duty 1015 to preserve life there; but what of those parents who would be bereaved if the troops were withdrawn, the parents in Northern Ireland whose families would be far more at risk if their protection were left to the RUC, the UDR, and, still more, to the Protestant para-military groups and the IRA? If we move our troops out and civil war follows, what do we do then? Do we move them back in greater strength with tanks and other weapons? Do we leave it to the South, as the right hon. Member for Ashford seemed to have in mind, to move in to protect the peace of the island of which it is part and the people for whom it feels responsibility? I do not think that, whatever may have been said in the Press, there is any reality in that idea.
Secondly, the debate has brought forth the point that there is, as the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said, a growing Ulster feeling that transcends religion, the Ulster nationalism that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned in his opening remarks. Thirdly, there is the strong consensus, arising partly from what I have just said, that Northern Ireland should make a major contribution to deciding its own future and that all in Northern Ireland who can make a contribution should feel absolutely free to do so, that it is far better to be able to adopt an Irish solution than an English, Scottish or Welsh solution.
Fourthly, so far as can be seen from the debate, there is very little, if any, support for integration. Fifthly, the concept of power sharing in some form is valuable and essential if the rights of minorities are to have effect given to them.
Before I reply generally to the debate, I must answer some questions put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) in a very persuasive speech, although I hope that he will forgive me if I say that he did not persuade me in all respects. He asked two specific questions that I ought to answer. First, he regretted the position of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the Price sisters. Secondly, he asked about the future of internment. I shall deal with those so far as I can.
1016 As to the Price sisters, hon. Members know that my right hon. Friend has given that question the most earnest and careful thought and has taken full account of all the relevant considerations. I believe, and I hope that in time my hon. Friend will believe it as well, that the decision he came to was a courageous and right decision. My hon. Friend can be assured that, although the sisters remain weak, every effort is continuing to make sure that they have as much care as is possible
Coming now to internment, I think all hon. Members will accept that it is not possible to end internment just like that at this time. It is needed for both extremes of the political spectrum. It is, unhappily, true that, although it is the policy of the Government to do all that they can, as arose from the Sunningdale Agreement, to reduce the numbers of those detained without trial, it is as fanciful to think of ending internment now at a stroke as it is to think of removing the troops at a stroke.
The Conservative Party when in Government enacted the Emergency Provisions Act. In opposition we stressed our grave doubts about certain parts of it and gave it a very thorough examination in Committee. Since the General Election, as Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, I have been responsible for the operation of Part I of the Act and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Part II.
I will not say much about Part II but it is quite incorrect, as stated by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), that detainees are kept for a matter of only three weeks. The truth is that, so congested is the business of the commissioners who decide whether to make the detention orders and who also act as reviewing authorities, that it is often many months before a case can even be heard. That is a problem which must be dealt with because it cannot be justified.
My duty is to decide which of the scheduled offences of the Diplock provisions should not apply. My policy has been, and will continue to be, to allow those provisions to be operated only when I am wholly convinced that in the particular case they are needed. Having had many discussions with the judiciary of Northern Ireland and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland 1017 and members of the legal profession, 1 am convinced that the Act is at any rate being operated as fairly as such provisions can be operated by the judiciary and the DPP.
The criticism we made in opposition has found a ready response in the minds of the profession in Northern Ireland. None the less, we cannot be wholly satisfied. It is our wish that the greatest degree of human rights and fundamental freedoms should be available in the troubled circumstances of Northern Ireland. In the next few weeks the Act will expire, if it is not renewed. If it is renewed parts of it can be omitted but it cannot be amended. I hope that we may be able to omit some parts. We are considering that urgently.
It is clear that the Act must remain in being for the present. It would be needed for Part II, if not for Part I. In those circumstances we have thought it right that the Act should be most comprehensively reviewed. My right hon. Friend said in the House on 4th April that it was his intention to appoint a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Gardiner to examine the workings of the Act, and to consider what provisions and powers consistent with the preservation of human rights and liberties are required to deal with terrorism and subversion in Northern Ireland.
I am glad to be able to tell the House that, apart from my noble Friend Lord Gardiner, four members have already agreed to serve on the committee. They are: the right hon. Lord MacDermott, the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland; His Honour Judge Higgins, from Northern Ireland; Mr. Michael Morland, a member of the Bar who is a Queen's Counsel; and the Hon. Alistair Buchan, who needs no introduction. We are still waiting to hear from two other members who have been asked if they are agreeable to being appointed and my right hon. Friend hopes to announce their names as soon as possible. I hope that the House will agree that this is a most distinguished body which will do a good job.
§ Mr. McNamara rose—
§ The Attorney-General
I am sorry. My time has been cut. I must get on.
It is right to distinguish between two trends in Northern Ireland. Both have been there to some extent for a long 1018 time, sometimes under the surface and sometimes more visible but now they have appeared more strongly than ever before. The first is the extreme face of Ulster Protestantism, represented by certain Ulster Members opposite. During the Assembly elections I met some of their active supporters and I was not filled with confidence about the future of power sharing when I did so. But on that occasion, not long ago, more moderate voices prevailed. However, at the General Election opinion clearly had moved sharply away from moderation, and the history of the five months since the Assembly met has been a history of deliberate sabotage of power sharing and deliberate sabotage of moderate Unionism, accentuated since the return of hon. Members opposite at the General Election. But even before then we must ask, in view of the speech by the right hon. Member for Ashford, what consideration had been given by the Opposition when in government to opposition to Sunning-dale. When we took over we had the Executive. We turned to the Executive; we supported it. It was right that it should be giving us information and that we should act upon it and co-operate with the Executive. It does not lie in the mouths of right hon. and hon. Members opposite to blame my right hon. Friend and hon. Members on this side for lack of anticipation.
The second trend is that of Ulster nationalism, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred. It has been only in the events of the last few weeks that this trend has become most strongly visible and has moved from a low to a high profile. At places these two trends merge; at other places they part. It would be wrong to regard them as synonymous. On the philosophy of nationalism the Ulster Unionist Party is far from united, as we have seen from the Press. In examining the development of the crisis of the past few weeks it is right to bear these facts in mind. Nothing is easier than to look back with the benefit of hindsight and say that we should have moved Quicker or slower or with greater strength or in a totally different direction. But with this phenomenon of nationalism on the streets in strength for the first time the Government were right to be as certain as they could be of "the reality of the power of that movement before they took 1019 measures which might have had consequences of bloodshed and terror which happily were largely absent in the course of the strike period. Those who now shout loudest at what some call the dithering of the Government would then have been shouting at the provocation of the Government.
What was clear to all of us involved in the decisions was that the strike against the lawful Government, what Lord Hailsham referred to as treason, was most carefully planned. It was planned to give all the impression of power and the impression that the United Workers' Council was the real government of Ulster and so to gather in support from the moderates at the centre. This is why direct confrontation with the troops was avoided by them, and this is why the strike leaders were prepared to move from one sphere to another so as to give the impression—like a sort of orange Pimpernel—of being everywhere.
The Government were right to tread with care to see whether the appearance of power was a reality but at the same time to do what they could to uphold the Executive and the constitution. The Army acted with all the speed it could. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister invited to Chequers the leaders of the three parties on the Executive—not to tell them, but to ask them. Agreement was reached at Chequers, as the agreed communiqué shows. It is perhaps important to note, in view of the Chief Executive's and the Unionists reason for resignation—that is, that there should be negotiations with the UWC— that the agreed communiqué at Chequers said:While there is every opportunity for elected representatives of any party, whether in the House of Commons or in the Northern Ireland Assembly, to put their views to the Secretary of State, the meeting confirmed that there can be no question of negotiation on constitutional or political matters with anybody seeking to operate outside the established constitutional framework.I am not critcising Mr. Faulkner or his colleagues if they changed their minds about it. Events moved for them as they moved for all of us and for the Government, and those who have said—they are on both sides—that recriminations will not help are right. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed rightly said that it is more important to look to the future 1020 than to dwell on the past. Indeed, what was so depressing about the speech of the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was not that he was not prepared to think broadly about the future but that he sounded as though he was incapable of doing so.
I wish to say a word or two about power sharing because it is really the basis of what we are talking about in this debate. Has it failed? In an institutional sense, clearly it has. It has failed in part at least because the institutions which were created for it were found to be unable to cope with a situation in which those who had come to hold de factopower, whatever our views of their methods may be, did not share power. They did not wish to share power, but they could not do so in any event.
However, I believe that power sharing has succeeded in another and, I think, real sense. It has brought home to the people of Ulster that there are alternatives to centuries of confrontation and bloodshed and thus, however imperfectly and ineffectively it has worked so far, it is a concept which cannot and must not be cast away like a broken toy. I agree strongly with the views of the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell).
What of the new Ulster nationalism referred to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? Will it help to solve the problems in future? To answer that question, one must ask oneself the reason for the rise of Republicanism in the last decade out of the roots of the civil rights movement. Was that rise basically and essentially that of a Republican movement? Is it today and will it be in future? Or was it basically, as its origins suggest, the product of the frustrations of a minority which had no share of power? If it was, the removal of those frustrations which power sharing was intended to provide and hoped to achieve must be the continued aim.
Whatever other options are open, Ulster cannot return to the rule of a permanent majority, a rule which could be strengthened and made even more dangerous than ever before if it were based more and more upon an Ulster nationalism and perhaps more and more on a UDI-type philosophy.
There are those today who are speaking of independence. Nothing could be 1021 more likely to foster that philosophy than to give the impression that this Parliament wishes or intends to move to a position in which it regards Ulster as no longer the concern of the people of the mainland. That is not to say that we have to accept the position that our help is open-ended and that the sacrifices both of our soldiers and of our taxpayers must not only continue indefinitely but continue to grow indefinitely.
What, then, can we achieve in this debate? First, I hope that we can show that we reject extreme solutions, solutions based on despair, on emotion, however justifiable, on weakness and surrender to force from either part of the Northern Ireland community. Secondly, we must begin to establish or to re-establish the basic principles on which the people of Ulster must work out their own solution, the principles which, if established, will enable the people of the United Kingdom as a whole to accept the continuing responsibility which Ulster involves at least until the people of Ulster have decided how to give effect to those principles. If the new nationalism enables the people of Ulster to play a larger part in providing their own solution within those principles, this debate will have achieved what we want it to achieve.
§ Mr. Tom Pendry (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion by leave, withdrawn.