§ 11.23 a.m.
§ Lord BRADWELL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the present political vacuum in Northern Ireland, which can be filled only with further violence and bloodshed, they will start to consider and discuss the withdrawal of British troops and the ultimate severance of the British connection; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper and in doing so I must thank your Lordships, especially those of you who have come from Northern Ireland for this debate, for attending. Whether I shall feel equally grateful to your Lordships when you have finished with me I am not quite sure, but it is a matter of great importance that there 2150 should be a good attendance and that this matter should be thoroughly debated so that the public, especially in Northern Ireland, may know that your Lordships' House is fully apprised of the situation.
§ I shall be as brief as I can, but your Lordships will be aware that, in addition to myself and my noble friend who is to reply for the Government, who I take it will be allowed the customary time, 13 other speakers have put down their names to speak and I am advised by better mathematicians than I am that that suggests a voluntary time-limit of only about eight minutes a head; and I am asked to advise your Lordships that the speaking-time clock is not yet working.
It is particularly poignant that, by the chance of the ballot, we are debating the tragedy of Northern Ireland at this season of the year. As many of your Lordships will know, yesterday was observed by the Churches as a day of prayer for peace in Northern Ireland, yet this morning on the radio we heard the usual, familiar, ghastly tale of tragedies: a shop bombed, two small boys drenched in petrol and set on fire by youths of another faith. To my mind there is something peculiarly horrible about sectarian murders. I do not myself believe that religious differences are the basic cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland but they are certainly one aspect of it, and I fear it will be a long time before the ecumenical movement, as it is called, has made enough headway there to melt the prejudices of the fanatics on either side. We may perhaps recall bitterly the old irony of,
See how these Christians love one another";
or some of your Lordships may prefer the famous line of Lucretius,
"Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum."
§ Perhaps at this point I may dispose of one matter that some of your Lordships might have considered raising in this debate; namely, the extraordinary proposal by the distinguished historian, Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, which was reported in The Times on Monday, that all the Protestants in Northern Ireland should be driven out by the Catholic minority. I need hardly say that I regard this fantastic and literally outlandish proposal as being totally unacceptable; but it is only fair to Mr. Taylor to say that when I spoke to him about it he said that his 2151 remarks had been misquoted or garbled in some way, and indeed he modifies them in a letter in today's Guardian. At least, he does not repeat the most extreme of his proposals. Perhaps we may leave that there.
§ One much less extreme proposal has been made from time to time—that there should be voluntary and assisted resettlement of the Roman Catholic minority in the Republic or in England. I have tried this proposal on several Irish Catholic friends. One or two of them have said that the idea is worth considering, but most of them come out strongly against it. One of them said, "Why should they move? They regard Northern Ireland as their homeland just as much as it is the Protestants' homeland, so why move them?" In a sense this proposal is a variant of another that is often mooted, that the Border should be redrawn to include some Catholic areas in the Republic. This, again, is a highly contentious proposal. For one thing, many Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland do not want to live in the Republic, with its lower standard of social services and, if my noble friend Lord Longford will forgive me, with its generally retrograde and repressive clerical system.
§ The main point I want to make is that this highly important issue should not remain what it was called in the Guardian the other day—one of the great undebated issues of the decade, so far as Parliament is concerned. I am aware that some of my right honourable friends in another place are regarding this debate with anxiety. They seem to think that any discussion in Parliament of the subject of the withdrawal of troops may provoke the terrorists to further outrages, in the belief that they are winning. That surely depends on what is said in the debate. There is no noble Lord present who does not regard the activities of the terrorists with utter loathing and detestation.
§ None the less, nobody believes that the British troops are in Northern Ireland for ever. My Motion does not suggest a precipitate withdrawal. It asks Her Majesty's Government to "start to consider and discuss" what should obviously be a phased withdrawal, not one, as the cliché goes, overnight. Even the Secre- 2152 tary of State, to whose patience I think we should all pay tribute, has had discussions with the Provisional IRA, admittedly to the fury of some Protestants and the SDLP. Why should the Government be afraid of full-scale debates in Parliament? Although some Questions have been answered in another place, it is quite a long time since there was a full-scale debate there on this subject, and I do not think the Government have wanted it. One consequence of this is that the Provisionals think that Parliament is not interested—that it takes a bomb to wake us up—while they go on recruiting 15-year-old and 16-year-old adolescents for their murderous purposes.
§ Of course, we must not cherish the illusion that withdrawal will be easy to plan. Some of my friends, not in this House, have approached the problem in too simpliste a way. First, we must define what we mean by "troops". There are three elements to be identified: the garrison which has been there since 1920—4,000 or 5,000 men, I suppose, who could indeed be withdrawn. So could the bulk of the Army which has been there since 1969. But you cannot "withdraw" the Ulster Defence Regiment, indigenous and perhaps 96 per cent. Protestant, which forms about one-third of the British Army there.
§ It is also our responsibility to create the conditions in which withdrawal becomes generally acceptable. This means tackling even more vigorously than hithero two great evils—unemployment and bad housing—and the creation of a Bill of Rights. The greatest evil of all is fear. The Protestants fear the loss of their economic superiority, although, indeed, they too are savagely hurt by unemployment. The Catholics fear what they have suffered from for so long, not only economic but social inferiority. In this connection, I believe that the Minister of State, Mr. Stanley Orme, has done excellent work during his period in that office. The role of the trade union movement is also of crucial importance. I cannot praise too highly the work of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and their campaign known as "A Better Life for All".
§ My Lords, one answer usually given on the subject of withdrawal of troops is that our withdrawal would be followed 2153 by what is called a "bloodbath". I submit with respect that there are two replies to that hypothetical prophecy. One is that, alas! a great deal of blood has already been shed. In a cathedral yesterday, 1,300 names of the dead were read out. I heard on the BBC radio this morning that 200 names were not read out because they were the names of people suspected of terrorist associations. If I may say so with the utmost respect to the dean involved, I should have thought that they needed prayers even more than their victims. However, that is a sensitive matter upon which I must not further intrude. More than 100 people have been killed already this year.
§ Another answer to the bloodbath argument is that we are always told that the ordinary people of Northern Ireland are sick and tired of the terror which haunts them daily. If this is so, as I believe it may be, it is unlikely that with our withdrawal they would want to be plunged into a full-scale civil war, which would need the co-operation of the general population. Whatever the people of Northern Ireland may think or do, a large number of the ordinary people in England are fed up with having their sons and brothers killed in a dispute not of their making. The troops will go on doing their duty courageously; so will the bomb disposal people, and the police in Northern Ireland, in the Republic, and in England—and in London particularly, perhaps, where there is the horrible menace of possible Tube bombing and the massacre that that would involve.
My Lords I hope I shall be forgiven for having used rather a full note, but as your Lordships will know, that is one condition of keeping a speech fairly short. I conclude by reading a short passage from a book on Northern Ireland, published only three years ago. The passage reads:
If, at any time, the Assembly and the Executive should be made unworkable through a deliberate refusal by the majority to play their part, then in my judgment the United Kingdom would be entitled to reconsider her position and her pledges on all matters… Westminster has made a compact, costly and difficult to carry out, and fraught with danger. Britain cannot be expected to adhere to it unless the majority in Northern Ireland fulfil their part of the bargain too. If such a problem arose because politicians made the constitution of Northern Ireland unworkable, I would recommend the Government of the day to call a round-table conference of all parties
at Westminster and associate with it those in the North who were prepared to co-operate. At a suitable stage the Republic of Ireland would need to be brought into consultation also… So if, by sabotage of the political structure of Northern Ireland, the majority deliberately contracted out, then Britain should feel morally free to reconsider the link between herself and Northern Ireland, the provision of troops to Northern Ireland and the financial subsidy to the Province".
That book is called, A House Divided; the author is James Callaghan, now Prime Minister of Great Britain. The situation hypothetically foreshadowed in that passage now confronts us. All previous policies have failed. There is a vacuum. I believe it is time for Her Majesty's Government to start thinking and talking very seriously about options, and perhaps even fixing a date for withdrawal. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE
My Lords, I will stick to the rule of being short, not only because I always have done, but because I have recently, to use an American expression, undergone major surgery. The wording on the Order Paper is what is known all over Ireland as a "declaration of intent". Might I, at this stage, say that of course the noble Lord is fully entitled to raise this matter in the House; we are a free society, and I fully accept his right to do what he did today, but we also are entitled to comment on it. It is a very incomplete sentence that—a declaration of intent—but what it means is that the British Government should make a declaration of their intention to withdraw from Northern Ireland. This, of course, is the major plank of the IRA programme. In November, before I underwent the surgeon's knife, I travelled to Cork to address a Society of Cork University College, and when the Secretary of the Society saw what I intended to speak about he said, "You will have a very hostile reception". My theme was that a declaration of intent would be a declaration of disaster. I might add, my Lords, that when I sat down I received a standing ovation.
I have often in the past warned the people of Northern Ireland what would happen if we did not adopt British standards. I explained to them that the British connection would be endangered. Why then, my Lords, do I not support this short debate? I have already told you 2155 what happened at Cork University College. I have not told you of the brave speeches that people like Conor Cruise-O'Brien and Garett FitzGerald have made during the last few months, and the great bravery shown by not only them but leaders of the SDLP who have travelled to America and spoken in Boston and begged the Irish to stop sending dollars to be used to buy guns. That is probably known to all of us.
On Friday in a taxi in Dublin, not mentioning this debate, I said to the taxi-driver, "Would you like to see the British troops withdrawn from Northern Ireland?" His reply, which again could be made only in Ireland and which I understood straight away, was, "Oh, they'd all be slaughtered". What he had in mind, of course, was the small Catholic enclave in the Short Strand and the very much larger Catholic enclave in the Falls Road. That was his immediate reaction. I know that the leaders of the Catholic Church do not want the British troops to be withdrawn. I know that the Dublin Government do not want the British troops to be withdrawn. I think all these things must be borne in mind when we are considering this terribly difficult matter.
Extremists of both kinds would welcome a withdrawal, as they both believe that they would win the ensuing civil war. But this war would not be confined to Ireland. It would spread into Glasgow. Ask a Glasgow policeman whether he enjoys the night after Celtic and Rangers have had a football match. It would not be confined to Ireland. It would spread to Glasgow and Liverpool, and maybe, now that there is an enormous Irish population in London, even to London.
I have often pleaded with your Lordships to show patience during the last six years, while at the same time explaining to my friends how appallingly difficult the situation is in Northern Ireland today. But to quote the Prime Minister of South Africa in another context, the alternative is too ghastly to contemplate. So, though your patience has been sorely tried during the past six or seven years, do remember that by and large, still today we have—perhaps the Home Office would not entirely agree with this—a homogeneous society in Britain. Unfortunately, this is not the 2156 case in Northern Ireland. So I would plead with your Lordships to show more patience, because the alternative, if I may repeat myself, is too ghastly to contemplate.
§ 11.45 a.m.
My Lords, I have to start my speech today with an apology to your Lordships, and in particular to the mover of this Motion, Lord Bradwell, for the fact that I shall not be able to stay throughout the debate because of a previous engagement from which I cannot extract myself. I hasten to assure your Lordships that it is a working lunch and I would not leave this Chamber had it not been necessary. We last discussed the proposition that the troops should be withdrawn from Northern Ireland in the course of a wider debate on, I think, 3rd June 1974, and I for one am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, for focussing attention on this subject this morning; the more so because it is now nearly seven years since our soldiers, in August 1969, first came into the position which they have had to hold ever since. What was then deemed to be an exceptional burden and duty, dangerous and distasteful for our troops, has now become the norm. I am sure we should from time to time look at it quite seriously.
That debate, I recollect, took place in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the power sharing Executive, short-lived but not I think entirely unsuccessful; therefore, we were talking in an atmosphere of deep disillusion. Nothing was more striking—and I am sure those of your Lordships who were here at that time will remember it—than the near unanimous view, expressed by Members of this House with strong conviction that there should be no question of withdrawal at that time, that we must, in the notable words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, "Soldier on"; that is, our responsibilities did not diminish as the problems and the difficulties grew, they were not in inverse proportion the one to the other, and we should not evade our responsibilities.
Some of us at that time had the added conviction—and I seemed to sense this in the speech at that time from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—that with a fresh initiative impending from the British Government it was, to 2157 say the least of it, inopportune that the question of withdrawal should even, at that time, be considered. However that may be, today such hopes as we may have then entertained about a successful further initiative have been shattered, and I feel we all share a sense of disappointment, perhaps for some verging on despair that there can be in the foreseeable future any solution.
In regard to the question posed and the proposal made in Lord Bradwell's Motion, I think we have to ask ourselves certain relevant questions, and they seem to me to be these. Is the situation more opportune now to withdraw the troops or even to consider doing so than it was in 1974? Have circumstances since June 1974 invalidated the arguments which then prevailed, in particular the arguments regarding our obligations to the people of all communities in Ulster? Has the Army lost control of the internal security situation? Could the RUC take over now, or in the foreseeable future, so long as the level of terrorism and counter-terrorism continues as it is at present? Finally, is there the slightest indication—and this seems to me to be the most important question of all—that notice of withdrawal, a serious intention to withdraw by a certain date, would have the effect of bringing the parties together rather than drawing up the battle lines and stepping up preparations for civil war? Our answers to these questions may vary in emphasis, in qualification, and of course some of them could give rise to a wider debate than we are engaged in this morning. But, in sum, they surely amount to the clear conviction and conclusion that the proposal to withdraw the Army to barracks is no more opportune, no more realistic, and no more morally right now than it was two years ago, however reluctantly and regretfully we arrive at that conclusion.
We are not talking today about the policy or the tactics for the use of our troops in Northern Ireland. Undoubtedly this is a matter where genuine and honourable differences of opinion could arise. Nor are we discussing the question of which must come first: whether it must be a political accommodation or solution, or the defeat of terrorism, the terrorists and the wreckers. I remember very well in that debate the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, expressing his views on that 2158 subject. I happen to believe that we should continue, against all the apparent odds, to put the search for a new move towards an eventual political solution as a higher priority than the defeat of terrorism. I happen to believe that the eventual solution, however distant, will be in a voluntary way the reunification of Ireland. But I think these questions are academic because the two actions and initiatives must go hand in hand.
I mention it because I recollect that it was suggested by more than one noble Lord in our earlier debate that the military activity should be stepped up and that there should be something like a military offensive launched to hasten the end of terrorism in Northern Ireland. I can only say that I believe now, as I believed then, that the consequences in innocent suffering and consequent bitterness would push back to an unimaginably long date in the future any peaceful solution. Indeed, so long as we adhere to our concepts of democracy we should not resort to methods which we have rightly condemned in other people, such as happened in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. I am equally sure that we should not do a Congo or an Angola in Northern Ireland.
I believe that, despite what very many people on this side of the Irish Sea are saying—and I have great sympathy with what they are saying; in so many words, "Let us get out and leave the people of Ulster to get on with it", or in cruder language—the sense of British honour, the sense of British justice, runs deep and it runs true. A political plan, or proposal, to withdraw in present circumstances, or without a very definite prospect of an improvement in the situation, with a full-scale civil war—and I deeply believe that would be a possible outcome—would divide the nation as Suez did. I do not think that any British Government would subscribe to such an action. Nor do I believe that any British Government could ignore the effect on world opinion of scuttling from our duties in Ulster.
We must not lose our heads. I think there is no real danger of that. Nor must we lose heart, and I think there is some danger of that. We must not forfeit our obligations. We must not sell out to the IRA, or their extremist and equally nationalistic opponents in the Protestant 2159 camp. We must keep faith with the very many innocent and peace-loving people of all communities in Northern Ireland, and continue with patience and with firmness—as the soldiers have so magnificently done all along—to soldier on.
Finally in that connection, and although I regret not being here to hear his reply, I should be grateful if, when he comes to reply, the Minister, my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, would let us know three things: first, is the Ulster Defence Regiment, in which I must confess a paternal concern and pride, still able to make an effective contribution? Is recruitment to that regiment satisfactory? Would it be possible and appropriate to raise the establishment of that force? Secondly, about the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has there been any significant change in its internal security duties vis-à-vis the Army since 1974? I recollect that several noble Lords expressed the view—I was one of them—that the RUC should progressively take a more forward stance. Finally, about co-operation across the Border; how good is this in fact and in practice? Is it not possible to envisage joint operations under unified command to deal more effectively with the Border situation and terrorist activities on both sides of the Border? The lack of such operations does, after all, work to the great detriment of both the North and the South, and I should have thought that a unified command might be more effective. I should be most grateful if the Minister would adddress himself to those questions when he comes to reply.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question? I could not quite understand his reference to Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The Russians moved into Czechoslovakia and Hungary to crush freedom. But to call for action to be stepped up by the British Army is not to crush freedom in Northern Ireland; it is to preserve freedom in Norhern Ireland and to crush terrorism. I could not understand the noble Lord's reference to Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
My Lords, the motivation would be quite different but the effects might be very similar. In order to crush the terrorists in the built-up urban areas 2160 where they are at present hiding, and intimidating the people of their own communities, if military action was taken on a large scale it would be inevitable that great damage, great destruction, and great loss of life would be caused to many innocent people.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, many people have thought it unfortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, should raise this question today. I do not agree with that. In fact it is a very good thing because I hope that it gives your Lordships an opportunity to reject firmly the implications behind this Motion, as indeed has already been done by the last two speakers. I shall do my best to be brief, and one of the main reasons is that I am looking forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. I hope that we can all co-operate in seeing that, since he is unfortunately at the end of our list of speakers before the one winding-up, this representative of the Alliance Party—one of the sanest and most sensible bodies in the whole of Northern Ireland politics at the moment—gets a chance to address your Lordships' House fully.
For some time there have been various suggestions that we should withdraw and that is why it is right that we should discuss them and not pretend that they do not exist; and the suggestion of Mr. A. J. P. Taylor is merely the last and the most logical in a whole series. Lord Bradwell tells us that Mr. Taylor says that he was to a certain extent misrepresented, but his letter in the Guardian, which was referred to, gives no indication of this or any withdrawal of even his more extreme views as they were represented. What we are discussing is, I believe, the stark alternative which Mr. Taylor put. I hesitate to accuse a politician whom I have all my life respected, as I have Lord Bradwell, of naivety, but to say that it is unlikely that there would be a bloodbath or civil war merely because the people in Northern Ireland are sick and tired of it and do not want it, is rather naive. A great many wars happen when the great majority of the people do not want them. In certain situations, there are forces which drive people on to war, even if the great majority do not want it. In my view, we are talking, if we are talking about 2161 withdrawal, about the very real possibility of a bloodbath.
In some ways there is something extremely attractive about Mr. Taylor's honesty and forthrightness in putting this alternative to us, because it may well be that if there were a bloodbath it would cost fewer lives than continuing to soldier on, because we may have to soldier on for a very long time. But that cannot be done because what we, as a civilised country, are trying to do is to increase and spread civilisation; we cannot go back to the barbaric methods of real-politik, whatever the short and medium-term benefits might seem to be, because ruthlessness of this kind, though it may be beneficial in the medium-term, is disastrous in the long-term. If we betray the people to whom we owe loyalty and protection in Northern Ireland, who are British citizens, we should be letting down the whole standard of civilised behaviour in the free world. It cannot be done. However badly others behave, that is no excuse for us not doing our duty.
It is sometimes very easy for politicians to talk about doing our duty when it is other people who are doing the dying. I suppose that we can, in a way, feel a little relieved in our conscience in that in these days of terrorism none of us is actually out of the firing line, even though our risks are far less than those of our soldiers. We are very fortunate to have a volunteer army, which knows how to do its duty and which does its duty; and we are very proud of that and proud that we can rely on it.
Solutions to the Northern Ireland problem are far from easy. I have on previous occasions put to your Lordships the proposition that it takes one as long to get out of a mess as it took one to get into it, and we have spent a very long time getting into the Northern Irish mess. I think that I see the ultimate solution somewhere within the framework of a united Europe, and this is one of the many reasons why I absolutely deplore the attitude of this country as a whole, and particularly of the Government, to European unity and progress towards that end. Whereas I admire this Government's stand on Northern Ireland, I deplore their stand on Europe, which I think might in the long run contribute to that solution. A solution will in the end be 2162 found. This is no time for honourable men to indulge in appeasement, cowardice or cold-blooded disregard of our obligations which real-politik might seem to demand. I hope that your Lordships in the remaining time at our disposal will wholeheartedly reject the implications behind the Motion.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, I am glad that a subject has arisen on which I can for once agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley; we have always disagreed on murkier topics. I also agree not only with his general conclusion but with what he said, the tribute he seemed to be paying to the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, for raising the matter, and raising it, if I may say so, with the skill which we associate with him. I, like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, believe that in the end a united Ireland is the only possible solution, and that seems to be the implication of the latter part of Lord Bradwell's Motion; but that does not arise at the present time and I think that discussing it more than making this kind of passing reference will retard rather than accelerate the day of its coming, so let us come to the immediate question of the proposed withdrawal of British troops.
Some may fear that the IRA—for whom I have never said any good and will, so far as I can see, never say any good—will prosper under the withdrawal. I would not think that that would be so, and I certainly would not expect them to be in any way in charge of the situation. But what we would be doing of course in practice would be handing over Northern Ireland, and the Catholic minority in particular, to the Protestant majority; and I am bound to ask, I hope not too starkly, whether, in the light of history, past and more recent, the Catholic minority can reasonably be expected to accept that kind of prospect without grave fears.
When we ask whether the Northern Irish Protestants can be trusted to treat the Catholic minority as equal citizens, the question which naturally has to be pursued is: what kind of Northern Ireland Protestants are we talking about? The noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who I am glad to see back because I heard rumours that he had not been 2163 well, could of course be trusted absolutely. So could the noble Lord, Lord Moyola. But they, unfortunately, have both been overthrown because they were too enlightened. And Mr. Faulkner—perhaps we shall salute him here as Lord Faulkner before we are much older; he would make a very good Member of the House—could no doubt in his latter days be trusted very well, but he has to all intents and purposes been overthrown, too. I do not admire anybody in Northern Ireland more than Mr. Harry Murray, the Leader of the Ulster workers' strike. He became extremely well-disposed towards the Catholics and generally showed himself to be a man of truth and justice, but he was got rid of. Even Mr. Craig, who has shown a great deal of enlightenment lately, has lost much position. I only hope that this fate does not befall the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, who I am glad to see will be speaking later. We could all trust him if he was in charge of the situation, which is not likely to be the case in the immediate future.
Thus, when we are talking of the Protestant rule which would follow the withdrawal of the British troops, we must ask ourselves who would be in charge. In fact, they would be the very people who have overthrown all these excellent gentlemen, at any rate for the time being. They would be people like Mr. Paisley, or worse, if one can get worse; at any rate, they would, I am afraid, be people of that kidney, and therefore we cannot expect the Catholics to treat this prospect with anything except the gravest misgiving. Therefore, to follow the line of thought of Lord Beaumont, we should be betraying our obligations if we simply cleared out because it had become rather more convenient or because it had become a nuisance for us to stay there. We should not be betraying our obligations to the Catholics only. We cannot tell for certain whether there would be a civil war or bloodbath, or whatever one likes to call it; but if it started up there, as well it might, it would almost certainly spread to Ireland as a whole, throughout the whole island. Although people may say that I am putting purely moral arguments, if we look to the self-interest of this country, it is hardly credible that we could have a civil war raging in Ireland without grave consequences here. So, from all those 2164 points of view, the proposition so moderately advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, must, I believe, be totally rejected.
As regards the future, we are told that power sharing is dead, but, as was once said of the Russian Duma, "Power sharing is dead, long live power sharing!" I was the first in this House and almost the first anywhere—the Northern Ireland Labour Party was actually first—to propose coalition government in Northern Ireland, or, as it has come to be called, power sharing. The idea was ridiculed at the time but, in due course, power sharing was tried with great success. Mr. Faulkner got on extremely well with his Catholic colleagues and the idea that Catholic and Protestant can get on all over the world except in that one small corner was finally refuted. So there is no difficulty about power sharing, once one can persuade the majority of the population—in this case, the Protestant majority—to accept it.
We cannot say that power sharing can be restored tomorrow. We can work towards it and I myself am still an unrepentant believer in the conviction that a devolved Government with representatives of both the communities is the only future that holds out any hope for Northern Ireland. I believe that we shall see it before we are very much older. However, in the meanwhile, there is the struggle with terrorism. There are encouraging features there in spite of the tragedies all round us. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, mentioned praying together because, after all, this all goes back through history to religious wars. Those wars are long since over but those who took part in them rule us to some extent from their graves. We must proceed along the lines which the noble Lord mentioned but we must also continue to operate on the firmest military lines. There is evidence that the British and Irish Governments are now acting with a shared determination to defeat the evil thing. I do not believe that anyone could now say that the Dublin Government are softer towards the IRA than are the British or Northern Ireland authorities. The opposite could be argued.
Following earlier speakers, I salute with all my heart Mr. Rees and his colleagues, above all the noble Lord, Lord 2165 Donaldson, who has been tireless in his exertions in Northern Ireland and in all he does to enlighten us here. It is notable today that the majority Parties in Northern Ireland, the Alliance Party—so well represented here by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath—and the SDLP are all opposed to the withdrawal of British troops. Only the IRA supports the idea, so far as I know. As has been mentioned, Dublin would be horrified if such a thing occurred. Perhaps we can find in those facts which I have just mentioned yet one more richly deserved tribute to the British Army in Northern Ireland.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Lord MOYOLA
My Lords. I must confess to having come over to the debate today in a pretty acrimonious frame of mind. However, I am bound also to say that the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, put his Motion in such a way that he has to a very large extent disarmed me. On the other hand, I would say that there are undoubtedly dangers—although these things have to be talked about—in talking about this subject and I can only add that, to prevent escalation in Northern Ireland as well as an increase in the number of civilian deaths in this country, I would hope that your Lordships will give a resounding "No" to the Motion.
The Motion speaks of the political vacuum that exists in Northern Ireland. It is with that that I should like to deal. What is wrong and why is it that we cannot get a settlement? If we could get a settlement, the need for large numbers of troops would rapidly disappear. The answer to that question is, I am afraid, a very simple one. It is lack of trust. There is lack of trust as between people in this country and the people of Northern Ireland and, unfortunately, it is reciprocated in that there is lack of confidence, of faith and of trust between the people of Northern Ireland and the British Government. I believe that it arises from two causes. One is in the security field and arises because we over there feel—and it is a true belief—that we are not trusted to do anything to help ourselves. I am sure that this comes from the fact that there is a widely held belief that all Protestants want to shoot all Catholics and all Catholics want to shoot all Protestants. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. How- 2166 ever, if terror gangs were roaming the Sussex Downs or the Welsh Hills, shooting people in their homes and farmhouses, your Lordships would not expect those people to sit still and do nothing about it.
That is the difficult situation in which we find ourselves. The only relief for people living in the remote areas is the possibility of a military patrol, and even this would cease if the Motion were carried. I simply cannot accept that if such a situation pertained in this country people would be left as defenceless as they feel in Northern Ireland. That is the nub of the problem. We are not able to help ourselves and because we are not able to help ourselves we do not trust a Government which does not allow us the right of self-defence.
There is a second aspect. The Secretary of State was quoted in The Times of last Saturday as saying in reply to some points of Mr. Neave,I did not call the cease-fire and, as I have said from the beginning, we respond to whatever the level of violence is.That is not a policy. It is saying to the people of Northern Ireland, in effect, that we are content to go on forever with the present situation. It allows absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope of any sort or kind.
There is always great activity after an incident but, beforehand, even when it is quite obvious to some of us who live there that things are building up, there certainly seems to be little or no activity. Again, while there is of course a happy mean and we cannot launch a wholehearted offensive against terrorists in Northern Ireland without dire consequences, I do not believe that that happy mean has yet been reached. That is a further reason for lack of trust and confidence.
Next, there is the political aspect. We all want a reasonable settlement, yet, unfortunately, politics have been driven into the hands of the activists and para-militarists. The ordinary person feels that he can no longer do anything about his own defence, or indeed about anything else. Even local government is now so centralised as to have been virtually removed from him. There is no point in going to a political meeting because he can do nothing at the end of 2167 it. All he can do is to listen to the activists slanging each other. No normal person in Northern Ireland at present has anything to hold on to and the result is that every time there is an election such people fall back into the old battle lines and the activists are the people who hold sway. That is why there is a vacuum, and the first answer to resolving the problem is to allow the people of Northern Ireland to try to do something for themselves. Let us feel that we can influence events, then the vacuum will start to disappear and I believe that, if the scene were rightly set, a settlement would not necessarily be far away.
I turn now to the question of the removal of troops. I was the person who, in 1969, asked for the troops to come in, so I know the background to the matter only too well. They came in to prevent both sides fighting each other, to prevent a confrontation—if one wishes to call it that—to act as a kind of buffer zone. In passing, it is worth reminding oneself that we then thought that they would be in for a matter of three or four days. But if the troops go away now, a similar situation will arise, but it will be worse than previously, because there has been the growth of paramilitaries on all sides, and those organisations would certainly get on the move. It must be obvious to everyone that if that happened the Republic could not stand idly by; it would feel bound to protect its co-religionists. Then I could see only a real conflagration which, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, said, would not be confined to the island of Ireland. I was a Regular soldier in an Irish regiment for 19 years and we drew probably as many recruits from Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London as we did from the island of Ireland. Thus we must not forget that there is a very strong Irish population here. If civil war were to start in Ireland, they are not likely to sit idly by in this country, either.
I have tried to show, my Lords, why there is a vacuum, why very little progres is made, and perhaps explain why there is a feeling in this country that we are contributing nothing. I believe that we would get co-operation if the people of Northern Ireland were to be given some sense of purpose. Once they feel 2168 that they have an influence over what goes on, then in my view that would start to fill the political vacuum and there would be no need for us to discuss a Motion of this kind.
§ 12.22 p.m.
§ Lord GREY of NAUNTON
My Lords, in any desperate situation there is always a temptation to suppose that there must be some desperate, but quick and effective solution, if only one had the wit to think of it and the courage to put it into force. There is no need for words to make the point that the Northern Ireland situation is desperate. The noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, invites Her Majesty's Government to consider a desperate solution to it. Of course, he does not ask in terms for the withdrawal of British troops or the ultimate severing of the British connection. He merely invites Her Majesty's Government to start to consider and discuss these policies of despair.
But in Irish circumstances, and to Irish minds—as the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, has quite roundly pointed out, and is undoubtedly correct in so saying—acceptance of this invitation by Her Majesty's Government would be taken to be a declaration of intention to withdraw British troops and to sever the connection. I adopt the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, although he did not elaborate it in his speech, and I take it that he means to sever the constitutional connection, because, as has just been vividly illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, whatever we did constitutionally, we would not totally sever the connections between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The sad truth is that in many desperate human situations there is no quick, dramatic solution; there is no desperate remedy. There is only the need to go on in hope and dogged determination, week after weary week, and month after weary month, until, eventually, one struggles out painfully into some less desperate circumstances. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reminded us of; we have to soldier on and we have to stick to it, greatly, though one must admit that the people of Northern Ireland have themselves helped to exhaust patience over here.
2169 It is the proper custom of your Lordships' House to declare an interest, and perhaps when Irish affairs are discussed it might be well for one not only to declare an interest if one has one, but to declare some credentials to speak at all. Perhaps too much, rather than too little, is said and written about Irish affairs. I know that the good people over there, who, of course, overwhelmingly outnumber the bad, feel that some of us should speak up more often to counteract the bad publicity. But it is fatally easy to speak with the best of intentions but so only as to do harm. My only claim to speak at all to your Lordships in this debate is that I lived for five of the recent troublous years in Northern Ireland, admittedly in a privileged position, but one which afforded some opportunity to learn a little about Ulster and Ulstermen; that I got to know quite a number of people of all kinds; and that I keep the great concern for their wellbeing that I acquired then.
As to the withdrawal of British troops, of course every Government of the United Kingdom must be continuously considering whether troops can be withdrawn from aid to the civil power. Unlike some countries, we do not keep the Armed Forces of the Crown for the primary purpose of keeping any part of the civilian population in subjection. We have the Armed Forces of the Crown to defend us against external enemies, and it is only in an emergency that they must be given the distasteful task of coming to the aid of the civil power. That fact remains, even though unhappily in Northern Ireland, contrary to what has happened in other emergencies around the world, the need to aid the civil power has gone on and wearily on.
But to consider when the time has come to withdraw British troops from aid to the civil power is very different from withdrawing even two elements in the British troops of whom the noble Lord spoke—the garrison and the bulk of the British Army—while leaving the UDR there. To talk about it now, unless it is given the resounding answer "No", as I hope your Lordships will give it, is to encourage the belief that this is indeed what the United Kingdom intends. Of course it would be inherent, in the ending of the "British connection"— 2170 the words used in the noble Lord's Motion—that all British troops would then disappear from Northern Ireland entirely.
After seven years of death and destruction, and after a toll of human sorrow that does not bear thinking about in any detail, one can well understand that many people in Great Britain say: "Let us get out, let us leave the people over there to settle matters for themselves." It is easy enough to produce arguments to that end which, taken in isolation, sound quite convincing, if only they would provide a remedy for the desperate situation, as some people think. But there are arguments to the contrary. There are arguments of great moral weight; there are arguments of duty; there are arguments of obligation; and, because of the consequences which we are told would flow over here, there are arguments of self-interest. Most of these have been recited publicly many times, and I do not intend to attempt to rehearse them now. When all is said and done, two facts remain. Successive Governments of the United Kingdom have said that Northern Ireland shall not cease to be a part of the United Kingdom unless and until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish it so. So long as it remains part of the United Kingdom, there is the obligation to maintain law and order; and so long as there is the obligation to maintain law and order and it is not within the competence of the civil power to do it, so long must the Armed Forces of the Crown remain there.
Her Majesty's Government would need to be satisfied, not on any balance of argument but beyond a peradventure, that if any substantial move towards a withdrawal of British troops were made the obligation to maintain law and order could still be discharged—and no evidence has thus far been adduced that there is any such change, or is likely to be any such early change, as would make that possible, as would make it in the least likely that Her Majesty's Government could be satisfied of their ability to discharge their obligations. Now if the constitutional link were to be severed, which I take to be the meaning of the noble Lord, then of course the constitutional obligation to maintain law and order would also drop away. Whether 2171 the moral arguments against such a course, or the arguments, indeed, of self-interest, would be diminished is another matter.
But before Her Majesty's Government were to contemplate any unilateral action of that kind, in breach of all their assurances and in the face of all arguments of every kind to the contrary, they would surely have to be convinced that this would be to the overwhelming advantage of the people of Northern Ireland, whether or not they thought it would. To announce now an intention to withdraw troops or to contemplate the ultimate severance of the British connection would bring not only dishonour but the very violence and bloodshed that the noble Lord fears. The sad truth, my Lords, is that, whether or not Britain likes it, there is no immediate, dramatic solution to this desperate problem. The hard and painful road continues before us.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Lord SOPER
My Lords, I find myself the first in this debate to support the proposition inaugurated by my noble friend Lord Bradwell. It may well be that I shall be the last, but I hope not because of what I have to say. I find the support possible—in fact, necessary—on two grounds. The first is in the precise intention and meaning of the Motion itself, which is that we should "consider and discuss" means whereby two entirely desirable ends should be reached; for I take it that your Lordships would be in general agreement that sooner or later, and preferably sooner than later, troops should be withdrawn and that, ultimately, the only final or satisfactory solution to the present troubles of Ireland should be some kind of unity, greater and more permanent than even the best at present advocated. Therefore, if the situation is, as I believe it to be, one that requires close attention in the light of the comparative failures to achieve a result as yet. I do not believe it is sufficient to talk of soldiering on. I think it is necessary that we should be prepared even to contemplate what may appear at first sight to be extravagant options which hitherto have not been entertained.
That constitutes the second reason for which I, very briefly and with temper- 2172 ance, and I hope with humility, would advocate the pacifist case. It is a reputable theological proposition according to the immortal Dr. Temple; it is one which I have cherished for long enough; and it is one which, with the indulgence of your Lordships, I believe merits a closer attention than that to which it has been subjected or that which it has been given. It is at this moment a witness: it cannot be, in the present circumstances, a programme. I witness to the capacity to provide through non-violent means more adequate methods of dealing with even the most exigent, difficult and violent of human problems. I do that theologically because it is part of the faith I hold. I also do it pragmatically because I believe that it has a relevance to the situation as it can be perceived and understood by ordinary people and, of course, by those who are expert in these affairs.
It is necessary, I think, to remind myself and perhaps your Lordships that there is an element in the make-up of our human affairs which is so often ignored in those who wish to secure ends by means which they believe are available. It is that a process of doing what is wrong progressively erodes the capacity of those who, on other grounds, might later on believe it to be right to do something else. We are in a position in which, as I think it, the prevalence of violence or the prevalence of the instruments of violence has produced a stasis, almost perhaps a paralysis, to which my noble friend refers in his Motion—that vacuum which is an ever-increasing violence and an ever-increasing terror. Let me interpolate my own sense of deep responsibility in talking about the possibilities of that which would lie ahead if at this precise moment the troops were withdrawn. It is quite impossible that they should he so withdrawn, but it is not impossible that we should begin to entertain the kind of arguments which might create a climate in which that would be possible.
That, of course, is the pacifist argument. It is that the wages of sin is death, and that those who take the sword will perish by it. I should have thought that there was almost absolute evidence that this is precisely what is now happening, not because of the malevolence of those who would persist in the exercise of the 2173 martial arts and warfare, or in the prevention by violent means of warfare. On the one hand, I have no regard at all for those bloodthirsty people who assume that parsons should regard themselves as irrelevant because they have no use for the strong arm of justice. On the other hand, I have no use for those who, in the interests of the Christian faith—and there are some in Northern Ireland—exhibit an attitude of rage and hatred rather than of love and concord. But if this debate is to be worth while, my Lords, then in my judgment and in the judgment of many people who wear the cloth that I wear and who subscribe to the faith that I subscribe to, it would be quite improper entirely to relegate to a world of complete irrelevancy the concept of an alternative method of dealing with the situation which now persists in Northern Ireland.
It is true that guerrilla warfare, with the accessibility of sophisticated weapons which can be carried on your back and have a fire-power greater than a regiment of artillery of past days, has revolutionised the whole capacity to keep the peace; and the situation though not in every point similar, has to be drawn, I think, from Vietnam. It is also true that there are those who are willing and ready, and in many cases prepared, for other methods of solution to these existing problems, economic and social—for how heartily I agree that religious animosities are very often masks to persuade people to think less of the problems of society in economic and social terms! It is nevertheless true that we who believe in the pacifist case are convinced that there is another way which at least should be considered. If it is not opportune now, then surely our business is to examine it with the greater care to see whether or not that which we now believe in and witness to can ultimately be a programme in which we can join.
It is with that in mind I would humbly submit to your Lordships, speaking in the middle of Holy Week and under the shadow of Good Friday, that we who belong to the Christian faith cannot subscribe to a view of life in which those things which most we cherish are the very things which have to be achieved by the arbitrament of violence. It is for that reason that I add my witness, not in argument for the immediate withdrawal of 2174 troops, and not for immediate severance—because under the present situation these things are impossible—but in order that we may put into the whole argument and centre of our thinking, or the thinking which I believe we ought to entertain, an alternative method whereby we may solve what has hitherto produced an insoluble situation. I do that in the belief that it is infinitely worthwhile in the absence of the possibilities and probabilities of solution by the contemporary methods. I add my own word of congratulation and comfort to those who, in a situation in which they cannot believe what I believe, are nevertheless intent upon the same end which I cherish.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, a few days ago I received through the post a copy of the British Legion's Annual Report and Accounts for 1975. Leafing through it, I came across a report of the results of the Poppy appeal which contained league tables showing the relative generosity towards the appeal of 10 United Kingdom regions and 65 United Kingdom counties and conurbations. It was interesting to see that of the 10 United Kingdom regions, Northern Ireland came second from the top; and of the 65 counties and conurbations, no fewer than three Northern Irish counties came in the top six. One of the counties in question lies West of the Bann which demonstrates—if demonstration were needed—that it is not members of one religious community only who wish to manifest their affinity for Britain and British traditions, and to affirm indirectly their support for the values for which the United Kingdom has fought in two world wars.
A few days later, last Sunday, I opened my copy of the Observer and the first thing I saw was that one out of every 70 Protestants inhabiting South Armagh has been murdered by the Provisional IRA. This is proportionately greater than the number of British civilians killed by a different form of Nazi during World War Two. But one must be fair to the IRA. I remember that about three years ago the IRA blew up the customs post at Newry, which is not so very far as the crow flies from South Armagh, and killed nine people. This was before they really got into their stride. Of the nine killed, seven were Roman Catholics. There have been many other similar instances. So let 2175 nobody say that the IRA are not truly ecumenical in exterminating those who stand in their way.
This is why I cannot possibly support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Brad well, which was moved with undoubted moderation. He rightly pointed out that the British people were sick of having their sons and brothers killed in disputes that are not of their making. But during the past 70 years what disputes have the British Army been involved in that were of Britain's making, whether it be the First World War, the Second World War, Korea or even Malaya? In all those instances, the British Army, whether Regular soldiers or conscripts, have proudly come to the aid of other people. It is worth quashing a certain canard which has been put about to the effect that British soldiers in Northern Ireland have been killed by gunmen from both sides equally. It is worth remembering that just over 99 per cent. of the British troops killed in Northern Ireland have been killed by one or other wing of the IRA.
Leaving aside the extraordinary proposition that United Kingdom troops should be withdrawn from United Kingdom territory, such a course would accentuate the bloodshed, as many noble Lords have pointed out. It would be contrary to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of people in the North, and indeed the South, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, indicated. It would demonstrate that a small, fanatical minority anywhere in the world, whether it be the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Japanese Red Army or the Symbionese Liberation Army, or whatever, can ride roughshod over the majority—using the word "majority" in its broadest sense—provided that they are unscrupulous, totally ruthless and kill enough people. This is totally unacceptable, and this is why we cannot support the noble Lord's Motion today.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of CHELMSFORD
My Lords, I claim no great political expertise concerning the tragedy of Ireland. But I am emboldened to speak in your Lordships' House as an officer of the British Council of Churches, which keeps close contact with the Irish Council of Churches, and as a member of a small 2176 delegation which visits Ireland regularly for consultation with senior churchmen of every persuasion over there. It is also perhaps proper that a churchman should speak because of the religious elements which, as has been said, obviously exist over there. I acknowledge the fact that eminent churchmen before me have spoken in this debate, and not least of them the proposer of the Motion, the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell. The Irish Church themselves are acutely aware how inevitably in the past they have been swayed by partisan considerations. But we all know—and this has been said—that this is not basically a religious struggle. There are ethnic, social, cultural and class elements in it as well. Meanwhile the leaders of the Churches do what they can in joint statements condemning the violence. We heard of the day of prayer yesterday which has been widely observed, not just in Ireland.
Infinitely more important than this, we read of the ordinary Christians and other men and women of good will who are hard at work, at great cost to themselves in terms of danger, exercising reconciling work in the localities. All in this House must join in saluting the heroism and self-sacrifice of many men and women who work across the barriers of the divisions in Northern Ireland, establishing centres of reconciliation, in a situation where men are murdered for no better reasons than they are seeking for peace. Here I believe are the real points of growth. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, reminded us—and he has just told me that he has had to leave the House to fight the good fight on Tower Hill—that this is Holy Week, the week when we think of the sacrifice of the Cross and of the creative power which emerged from that. I believe the real points of growth are at these points of reconciliation. It is such people to whom I have spoken who are alarmed by this Motion, although they fully understand the pressures which may have led to it. They feel it to be a rash and premature withdrawal which is being proposed. In fact no one has spoken for that today, least of all the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell.
All Ulster men will welcome the day when the political situation is such that the troops may return. I hear increasing talk when I go there of an independent 2177 Ulster, after suitable boundary changes have been effected, but little agreement as to its political and economic viability. Many of my Protestant friends over many years have worked for a united Ireland, though that seems now to be further away in spite of, or perhaps because of, the changed attitude of the Eire Government towards terrorists who identify themselves with the goal of union.
§ The Lord Bishop of CHELMSFORD
My Lords, I think my understanding of it is that it is felt by some of them that the terrorists are losing the sympathy of the Eire Government and therefore this forces them to more extreme measures.
§ The Lord Bishop of CHELMSFORD
My Lords, no solution, I think we are agreed, can be reached until a political settlement is made. We all know that the day-to-day concern of the Province at the political level rests with the 12 MPs in another place. Municipal concerns, for example, since the closure of Stormont are especially hit and isolated. This is where people particularly feel the vacuum of which we hear. The district councils can deal only with cleansing, sanitation, parks, cemeteries and recreation which is not the stuff of power politics. There is nothing between the Ulster MPs and district councils. People deprived of participation in decision-making and democratic control of their own affairs, turn naturally to their own sub-organisations; hence the jealousies of the para-military groups who appear, apart from their uncontrolled splinter groups, carefully to control violence in order to maintain an atmosphere of uncertainty and to demonstrate their own power. The apprehensions of the Province are further magnified by evidence which suggests a degree of collusion between the para-military groups themselves across the divide.
We do not know what would happen were the Army to be withdrawn. There is no proposal to withdraw it immediately; but those Irishmen I speak to 2178 foresee a complete take-over by the paramilitary, with the Marxists and official IRA standing by inscrutably in the wings, and with, they think, the certainty of civil war. Withdrawal is not seriously considered by them as an option which would improve the chances of a constitutional settlement in Ireland, which we all want.
As has been said, there are some signs of hope. The policy of the Government has succeeded in that with 400 detainees released from internment there has been no escalation of violence—nor, alas, a diminution of it. The Royal Ulster Constabulary is taking a more prominent part in the establishment of law and order and normal police work has issued in many arrests. This could be the first stage of an ultimate withdrawal of troops. But the trail is obviously long.
Direct Rule cannot go on indefinitely as it is with the political vacuum propressively demoralising the whole Province. Without doubt, the Government are continuing their strivings, which must, I suppose, be hidden from us until some fruit emerges. Presumably inter-Party talks are going on all the time. One wonders whether the position of the Ulster MPs might be strengthened so that they may in some way more effectively be helped to fill this vacuum until something more permanent emerges. There has been a considerable movement in political, as well as religious and social attitudes in Northern Ireland in a very short period, when we consider the long time it took us to get into this mess. This, I think, should be acknowledged. But it is against the background of deeply entrenched fears—many of them justified—and prejudices on both sides of the community divide. Perhaps we must recognise that Irish affairs are not to be seen in terms of a succession of problems which have to be solved but as a not uniquely intractable reality which has to be lived with while a process of evolution in attitudes and behaviour gets under way.
The Churches in Ireland have demonstrated in their way both the possibility of and the difficulties inherent in such a process. It may be that the immediate future political reconstruction may have to take second place to reconstruction and reconciliation in other spheres of the life of the Province. The patience of the Minister has been commended. He and 2179 those with him have been sorely tried. Too much is at stake—and the whole debate reflects this—to echo the words of the infamous Adolf Hitler whose patience was constantly being exhausted. Our patience cannot be exhausted; and there is no evidence today, I believe, to show that it is likely to be so.
§ 12.54 p.m.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships as someone who must confess to having no connection with Northern Ireland, who has not been to Northern Ireland since the troubles started and who is in the position, as are many millions of people in this country, of having to obtain his information from media of all kinds, but who has the added advantage of obtaining information from the debates in this House and in another place. I feel today that we are tending to talk about solutions rather than about what the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, has written in this Motion, that,… they will start to consider and discuss the withdrawal of British troops and the ultimate severance of the British connection…What "they" have been asked to do today is to abandon a principle. This principle, I feel, is that we must either accept Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom or we must abandon it.
So far as my knowledge goes, and so far as I can obtain knowledge from the media and from everything which goes on, the majority of people in Northern Ireland do not wish to be parted from the United Kingdom. Until such time as they express such an intention, we should be abrogating our responsibility in a terrible manner if we took our troops out of Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, said that there had been enough of a bloodbath already; that you could not talk about there being a bloodbath if we withdrew our troops from Northern Ireland. I must submit to your Lordships that the question of a bloodbath and a letting of blood has really now come to a position where it is the difference between a cut on the hand and somebody cutting their throat. If we walked out of Northern Ireland, the amount of blood to be shed would be enormous. I cannot, and I must not because I have not full knowledge, get involved in the subject of solu- 2180 tions. All I am appealing to your Lordships to do is emphatically to reject the proposition that so smoothly and quietly is introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, that we should abandon our responsibilities in Northern Ireland by taking our troops out.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, there were some misgivings when this Motion appeared on the Order Paper. I think that the debate which has taken place has removed those fears. It was opened by the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, in a quiet, moderate and reasonable speech, and his example has been followed on all sides of the House. I think the debate on this emotional and controversial subject is another tribute to the way in which this House can discuss matters of this kind.
Recently there have been just two slight rays of light in the darkness which now overwhelms Northern Ireland. The first has been the public opinion poll in Northern Ireland on the proposal made by Mr. Craig for a power-sharing Government during the emergency. While one must not pay too much attention to polls of this character, I think the quite extraordinary majority, both Protestant and Catholic, in favour of that proposal was a reason for great encouragement. The second encouragement we have recently had was the decision by the largest Party in the Unionist Coalition to oppose the suggestion that the Unionist Parties should join with the para-military organisations in an unconstitutional council. That, again, is a matter of hope in the present situation.
I think every one of us is hoping for the time when the British troops who have, exceptionally, gone to Northern Ireland will be able to withdraw; but I would urge upon this House that before such a step is taken conditions in Northern Ireland must be such as to make that proposal safe. Reference has been made to a recent comment by the historian, Mr. A. J. P. Taylor. I have a great regard for him, and generally I accept his conclusions. On this occasion I do not. He referred to the precedent of the British withdrawal from India. That withdrawal led to the loss of 1 million lives in the conflict between India and Pakistan. I agree with him that the loss of life would have been less if the decision to withdraw from 2181 India had been made earlier, and the terms of the agreement were disastrous, as Bangladesh afterwards illustrated. But when one considers that more lives were lost than were lost in the whole of Europe during the Second World War, one has to be very cautious indeed in suggesting an immediate withdrawal of our troops from Northern Ireland, with the loss of life that would almost inevitably occur in an uncontrolled civil war.
I should like simply to urge that when we are thinking of a withdrawal from Northern Ireland we must encourage two changes which will bring about conditions there that will ultimately enable troops to be withdrawn. The first is the acceptance of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. We had a discussion about that recently and so I shall not now go into great detail about it; but under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Feather we have a Commission who are examining that proposal. The Commission are likely to report early in the autumn and I hope very much that Her Majesty's Government, in the next Queen's Speech for the new Session of Parliament, will be able to include a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Every Party and every organisation in Northern Ireland is in favour of the proposal, except the Provisional IRA. I believe that a guarantee of equal rights is one of the conditions upon which a new climate can be engendered in Northern Ireland.
The second condition which would permit the withdrawal of troops is the very hopeful development of the unity of the working class in Northern Ireland over a social and economic programme. I recently met a prominent trade union official in this country who had gone to Harland and Wolff and met their shop stewards' committee. Harland and Wolff's employees are almost entirely Protestant; yet, strangely enough, that company is today the instance of a greater advance towards industrial democracy than any concern in the United Kingdom—Protestants, contributing to that tremendous Socialist development! This trade union official goes there and he hears their proposals for social and economic changes in Northern Ireland; he then goes to a factory in Londonderry, where the workers are almost entirely 2182 Catholic. He finds absolute unity between the Protestant workers at Harland and Wolff and the Catholic workers in the factory in Derry on their social and economic demands.
In this situation we now have the Northern Committee of the Irish Trades Union Congress conducting its campaign for a better life in Northern Ireland. I want to urge that our Labour Movement should be behind this hopeful development in the unity of the Protestant and Catholic workers. I want to uge that our own Trades Union Congress should unite with the Irish Trade Union Congress to bring about this solution. If we can accomplish the basic recognition of human rights in Northern Ireland with the unanimity of the working class, Catholic and Protestant, behind social and economic policies, then we may secure the conditions which will permit the withdrawal of our troops.
§ 1.8 p.m.
My Lords, I came across from Northern Ireland specially to attend your Lordships' House today because I confess I was very apprehensive—indeed frightened—when I saw the Motion which had been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell. In the event, I am going back to Northern Ireland this afternoon in a very much happier mood than that in which I came. I have been really heartened and encouraged to hear the constructive debate we have had today and the resolution that has been expressed by your Lordships not to abandon Northern Ireland. I am very much happier.
Several noble Lords mentioned points I was going to make. I particularly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has just said about the unity (for want of a better word) of workers in Northern Ireland, and heartily endorse the tributes that have been paid to the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU and the officers thereof. They have been one of the most stabilising influences in the Province over the last seven or eight years, and I sincerely hope that that influence will increase. So I shall confine myself to one aspect of the situation as it refers to this Motion.
I can well understand that many people in Great Britain must think that the Northern Ireland campaign is another 2183 Vietnam war, a war that can never be won, a war that can be ended only by withdrawal. Those who have lost relatives and friends serving in Northern Ireland must wonder to what purpose have their lives been spent; to what purpose have the injuries been sustained and has the money apparently been wasted? But I say respectfully, with all the emphasis at my command, that if such sentiments had been expressed in your Lordships' House today, or if at any time they were expressed in another place, that would be extremely dangerous because, as your Lordships know, a terrorist campaign is essentially a psychological war.
The lives that are taken and the property that is damaged are incidental. They are a means to an end and the final objective, the end, is to break the will of the lawful Government to resist that terrorist movement and, in order to do that, simultaneously to break the will of the electorate that put that Government into power. If there seems to be any hint of weakening or wavering on the part of the Government, that immediately raises the morale of the terrorists and makes them believe that victory is only just around the corner, and one final big heave will achieve their objective. If, on the other hand, they are met with solid unshakeable resistance, the psychological weapon boomerangs and the terrorists themselves lose the will eventually to maintain their campaign. That is why I am so delighted at the tone of the debate in your Lordships' House today.
The principle is not confined to Northern Ireland by any means. The principle is the same anywhere in the world, where a small minority who have no mandate from the people—if they had a mandate they would not need to use terrorism—want to impose their will on the majority by means of violence. It does not matter whether it is a bombing campaign, assassination, hi-jacking of aircraft or kidnapping of prominent personalities—the principle is the same. If you once begin to waver, you are giving in to terrorism and that is a slippery slope.
An example in question was the kidnapping of Dr. Herrema in the South of 2184 Ireland. The Government of the Republic demonstrated by at no stage giving the slightest hint that then, or at any time, they would compromise or negotiate with the terrorists. Terrorism can be beaten in this way, and in this way only, and all credit to the Government of the Republic for having so done. I put it sincerely to the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell: does he think that Dr. Herrema would be free and alive today if there had been a debate in the Dail, as to whether or not the terrorists' wishes should be granted, and if even a minority in the Dail had said Yes, they thought those wishes should be granted? Does he think that the terrorists would have given up? They would have calculated that the Government's resolve was crumbling and that by holding out they had everything to gain and nothing to lose.
That is the position of the IRA in Northern Ireland. Their electoral support is infinitesimal. I should be surprised if they had anything like 1 per cent. of active or passive support. This is demonstrated by the fact that they avoided the last elections and, indeed, tried to intimidate people into abstaining from voting because they know that they do not have any electoral support and could not save a deposit anywhere. So they are a minute minority. When I talk about the "majority", on whom they are trying to impose their will in Northern Ireland, I am not talking about Protestants or Unionists of any kind; I am talking about the majority of people, both Protestant and Catholic, who aspire to nothing more than the right to live, work and associate with their neighbours in a peaceful and civilised manner. The majority of people in Northern Ireland—I have said this before in your Lordships' House, and I am sorry for repeating myself—are peace-loving decent people, who pay their taxes and their rates and who, when given an opportunity so to do in the present employment situation, earn their living in an honest manner. So I am greatly heartened by what has been said today.
I, too, regret the political vacuum to which the noble Lord's Motion refers. I can only say that the Alliance Party which I represent—and, in passing I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for his kind remarks—has done its utmost to try to find a consensus whereby that political vacuum can be 2185 filled. We even went so far as to contemplate proposals and compromises with which we might not have been entirely happy, and which would not have been our first choice, but we felt that if that brought about a consensus whereby the political vacuum could be filled it was worth doing. However, I am afraid that we failed to bring together politicians who were elected on a tribal sectarian vote, and all we can do now is battle on to try to find a solution.
How heartened I was to hear the impressions of the situation of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway! Especially coming from the noble Lord, such optimism was really heartening. So I am convinced that, while we are dealing with this situation, if there were any hint or suggestion that the resolve of Her Majesty's Government was beginning to weaken this would only lead, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, to further violence and bloodshed. I am delighted to have witnessed today that that is not the case, and I thank your Lordships most sincerely.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and indeed many other noble Lords who have a deep knowledge of the Northern Ireland problem, I hope that the House will acquit me of taking an unduly English view if I refer to the bipartisan approach, as it has been called, which has been maintained in both Houses of Parliament. But on the occasion of this debate I believe it is necessary to recall that the reason for this has not derived from some kind of political agreement. Indeed, there have been disagreements on Northern Ireland affairs in both Houses of Parliament. All along the Parliamentary Opposition has reserved the right to disagree with the Government of the day on particular aspects of policy, but, at the same time, all Parties in Parliament have accepted that, whatever mistakes we make and however much we may stumble through the appalling difficulties which beset us, somehow or other an agreement must be found if that is possible.
In order even to attempt this task, it has been necessary at every stage to try to dispel the apprehensions which are ingrained within both communities. In 2186 the past, the Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland have harboured deep grievances concerning the penalty of internment and the relative absence of political opportunities; and, indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, put it in sharp relief when, in his speech, he felt he had to ask the question: what would be the view of the Roman Catholic minority if the British Government were now to withdraw? So in 1972 detention replaced internment, and last year the Secretary of State took the resolute step of doing away completely with detention: and always the Government of the day have worked to try to establish a settlement which will give the minority community a representative voice in Government.
So far as the Protestant majority and, indeed, I think it is fair to claim, many other people in Northern Ireland have been concerned there has always been the suspicion that in some way the integrity of the Border might not be preserved. It was for this reason that the Border poll was held in 1973 and, as the noble Lord, Lord Grey of Naunton, reminded us, the Constitution Act of the same year confirmed the declaration that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, a policy which has been continued at all times by the present Secretary of State. My claim, therefore, is that the basis of the bipartisan policy has been to attempt to remove grounds of fear and suspicion and, by doing so, to try to draw together the communities in Northern Ireland so that they can solve the problems of the Province.
Let us be clear that the Motion today of the noble Lord would strike at the very roots of the bipartisan policy. To speak of the withdrawal of the military presence from a part of the United Kingdom, to be followed by a severance of the rule of Parliament, is an incredible sequence of events to propose. We are not talking of some kind of academic study; as my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine said, we are talking of a declaration of intent. It would be the clearest example of a nation washing its hands of its own problems within its own jurisdiction and would, I believe, remain on the conscience of the people of this country for years to come.
What would such a declaration of intent at the present time imply? To 2187 the people of Great Britain it would imply total abdication of responsibility, both moral and also strategic, an aspect which we have not heard all that much about in the debate this morning. To the Protestants in Northern Ireland it would be a clear case of betrayal, and to the politicians of the minority community I believe—and my belief is reinforced by people who have spoken in the debate this morning and know a great deal more about it than I do—it would mean that their hopes of participating in Northern Ireland politics would be dashed amid the suspicion and probably the bloodshed that such a withdrawal would cause. Yet the case which the noble Lord has today put to the House rests on an assumption that if Northern Ireland were to cease to be within the United Kingdom the problems of Ulster would, in some way which he did not specify, be solved.
Although it is tempting for those who are bearing the heat and the burden of the problems in Northern Ireland to look to the day when those burdens might slip from their backs, I must confess that I do not believe that the noble Lord's assumption bears even a cursory examination. First of all, the Border poll of 1973 proved that an overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland wish to remain within the United Kingdom. More recently, one of the interesting facts to come out of the proceedings of the Convention was that all Parties found themselves united in wanting a firmer security policy. Nor is the noble Lord's assumption in line with the policy of the Republic. Only six weeks ago the Toiseach visited London and a joint communiqué stated that the two Prime Ministers agreed that they would support in every possible way institutions of government in Northern Ireland if those institutions could be established on a basis of partnership and participation. It is true that those words have something of a hollow ring about them at the present time; but does the noble Lord really believe that it would be either honourable or practical for such words to be followed by a withdrawal of British troops?
When the people of Great Britain came to study the real applications of what the noble Lord is proposing, I think that 2188 they would perceive the trap into which they could be led. I believe that my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine and the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, were absolutely right to warn that violence could only spread. This is a view which has been stated in public on more than one occasion by the present Secretary of State; and, strategically, if we were to concede to the IRA the only real objective which they have, would not we then be leaving Northern Ireland a prey to any power which might aim to occupy it and to menace our security?
The policy which is being urged upon us would be a very strange reward for the constancy which has been shown by the Security Forces. A month ago I went to Northern Ireland with a group of Members of Parliament. It was clear that all of the Security Forces are putting in immensely long hours to meet the operational demands that are being made upon them. Both the Army and the RUC are continuing to take great pride in their community relations role, and the increasing information which is coming in is evidence that their efforts are not going entirely unrewarded. Clearly, also, great efforts are being made to try to reintroduce normal policing into the more difficult areas. Does it sound as though it would be wise to talk about the withdrawal of troops before normal policing can extend once again over Northern Ireland which is possibly the most important factor in the discussion which we are having today?
Certainly I concede that these remain very dark days for Northern Ireland, but in company this morning, with many other noble Lords in all parts of the House I reach a different conclusion from that of the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell. In closing I should like to put two points to the Government in regard to facing the future. First, I trust that the Government recognise the problems of the political vacuum. To that extent I agree with the Motion. The assumption I make has nothing to do with the discharge of Ministers' duties. I am certain that they are being most admirably performed. That is no mere politeness to the noble Lord who sits on the Front Bench in this House. However, I am absolutely certain that we cannot for one moment believe that Direct Rule in the form in which we have it at the present time 2189 is a satisfactory method of government. The deduction which must be made from the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, delivered is that a Government of Northern Ireland who do not include Northern Ireland politicians are not going to carry the people of Northern Ireland with them for an indefinite period of time. I believe that this is a warning which must be heeded.
The other point I should like to put to the Government is this. I would press them very strongly to look with greater urgency at how to apprehend those who organise terrorism. The statistics of those who are charged and convicted reflect the greatest credit on the Security Forces, but the present level of terrorism clearly shows that the men behind the violence, the men who are encouraging the young people who are going to be tomorrow's terrorists, are not being convicted. They are probably not being charged; and in many cases they may well have returned to violence following detention. Clearly lawyers would immediately say that intimidation, incitement and proof of membership of a proscribed organisation are very difficult problems to bring home. But surely it is possible that the creation of an offence of terrorism might, as the Gardiner Committee recommended, result in prosecutions of those who previously could be dealt with only by detention.
There are thousands of people in Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics, who long for a settlement which will enable them and their families to live in peace. The news that this House is even discussing the possibility of withdrawal from Northern Ireland could well, I think, be greeted by those people with dismay. I only hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, said, that a full report of this debate may be made in Northern Ireland papers, so that the opinion in this House may satisfactorily be got across to those people. Eventually, only the people of Northern Ireland can make a constitutional settlement succeed, but Parliament has the responsibility of searching for that settlement. I believe it is essential to continue that search if we are to justify the reason why so many have already died, and why so many still live in hope.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)
My Lords, before I say any more, I think I must congratulate the House. We have got through 14 speeches in 126 minutes, which I reckon must be a record in this House, and I congratulate noble Lords on their self-discipline and care for others, which are both qualities which we should like to see more of in the subjects we are discussing.
My noble friend has raised a question of great importance which concerns the honour of this country and the lives of a number of its citizens. Whether this was a helpful moment to raise it is another point, but in all fairness I must admit that during the last two years when I have been a Minister in Northern Ireland there never has been a moment which was not the wrong time to raise such sensitive issues, and certainly my noble friend raised them with elegance and moderation. But the harm or good that a debate can do depends not only on its topic but also, as I think somebody else said in the course of the debate, on what is said in it. What has been said today has been uniformally helpful and presents a wide consensus in support of the Government's basic position on this limited question. The only possible deviant was my old and pacifist noble friend Lord Soper. The pacifist point of view is one which we can all respect; it is one which is a great deal easier applied personally than in any kind of institutional way and my noble friend made it perfectly clear that although he was against the whole thing he would not alter anything at the moment. I think one should regard that as support for the Government rather than for my noble friend who moved the Motion.
It is worth noting that the speakers have included a prominent Roman Catholic, a Bishop of the Church of England, a Moderator—or whatever the right word is—of the Methodist Church and a prominent Humanist, and morally we have had an extraordinarily strong and united vote of confidence in what the Government are doing on this point. I do not wish to saddle noble Lords with more than that because I know, for 2191 example, that the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, raised a number of other points, but in regard to the main point we seem to have total agreement and I am most grateful for it.
Before taking up some of the points—and I shall be highly selective because if I am going to do my part in the time race I cannot deal with all the speeches—I should like to make one or two general remarks about the political framework and indicate what some of the realities are, because it is worth looking at this again. Of a population of 1½ million we have approximately two-thirds Protestant and one-third Catholic. The great majority of Protestants want to remain citizens of the United Kingdom. I do not think anybody would dispute that. Moreover, about half the Catholic population are themselves opposed to a united Ireland, if one can believe the latest polls. This is a very different situation from what happened in India or Palestine, where both sides were anxious that the British should get out.
We must add that a growing coolness on the part of the South towards the idea of absorbing anything as indigestible as Ulster is quite evident. Any idea on their part of moving towards a united Ireland in the near future has virtually disappeared. The Provos ignore the reality of the views of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland and believe, wrongly, that they can be bombed into wanting a united Ireland. The demand for the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland is one of the key planks of the provisional IRA policy. They forget that British troops originally went to Northern Ireland to help to protect the Catholic population. Without the Army, the Catholic areas in Belfast in particular would be at risk and nothing but the Security Forces could give them real protection. The Provos seem to have forgotten the streets burning in Belfast; the riots, pillage and wholesale destruction of the past. I can assure noble Lords that the Government have not forgotten it.
There are apparently more sophisticated variations of this policy. The suggestion has been made that our withdrawal need not take place at once but should be made over a number of years. All that is wanted from us now is a declaration of intent of a date. I can only 2192 repeat what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place on 11th December of last year:I am firmly of the view that any such statement would lead to an immediate outburst of violence on a scale that we have not yet seen".The noble Lord who introduced this Motion, my noble friend Lord Bradwell, made one or two comments which I should like to take up. I really do not believe that the re-drawing of the boundaries to which he referred will get us anywhere. It could accompany the settlement but it will not in any way provide a settlement. His comment about Professor Taylor relieves me of making any further comment, but it was a very odd suggestion which, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said, has been in no way withdrawn by his letter this morning in The Guardian. In my opinion, it is a suggestion which would not be contemplated by any serious student of the subject. He wondered whether we were frightened of full-scale debates. Neither the Secretary of State in another place nor I have ever refused or even suggested that it would be undesirable to debate this subject, but what are technically known as "the channels" have thought that enough is enough; that our debates tend to say exactly the same thing time after time because the situation does not change fundamentally, and all I can say is that any lack of debate is not due either to the Secretary of State or to myself.
One is grateful to the noble Lord for his wholesale condemnation of terrorism; he has made it perfectly clear that in what he has said—even though the course he is advocating is the course of the terrorist—he does not share their intentions or methods beyond that, and of course we give him total credit for that. At the end of his speech the noble Lord gave a very long quotation from the book written three or four years ago by the present Prime Minister, in which the relevant and potentially damaging sentence is that if the situation changes in certain ways we shall be entitled to reconsider our pledges. The situation has changed: the Government have reconsidered their pledges and the Government of which Mr. Callaghan is now Prime Minister have made it absolutely clear that they have not altered their intention to stand by them. I think that probably finishes that quotation fairly effectively.
2193 The noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, described the declaration of intent which is implicit in the question as a declaration of disaster, and I think this has been echoed by nearly every speaker. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked me three questions. I am not going to answer them. I am going to answer part of them in the course of my speech, but two of them are questions which had better wait for the report of the Special Committee which my right honourable friend set up and announced on the 12th January, which is looking into these things in detail, and I am not going to anticipate the findings of that Committee. I shall speak to him personally when I next have a chance of doing so.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Longford said that one of the most grievous things of the whole of the last 10 years was that whenever a moderate appeared he was immediately stabbed in the back. I agree with him that this is probably the tragedy of Northern Ireland above everything else. I also agree with him that we must not abandon the possibility of power sharing, but in the Government we feel that we have pushed this about as hard as we can for the moment, and it is now up to other people to see what they can do.
The noble Lord, Lord Grey of Naunton, who has great experience of the Province, said something which I feel very strongly about, that the good enormously outnumber the bad. We must never forget that. I have just looked at the time, and I had better stop talking about what other people have said for the moment, otherwise I shall not get through my speech in a reasonable time. I must say a word or two about Government policy which, as has been stated again and again, is to phase out the deployment of British troops in their present role as and when the security situation warrants, and at the same time to build up the strength of the police so that they can deal, without Army aid, with the spasmodic violence likely to go on for some time yet. Some progress has been made on both fronts. The RUC have increased their strength, and the Army presence is being increasingly directed towards helping the police bring criminals before the courts. We are continually reviewing the law to see 2194 whether it can be strengthened in any way. But by far the most important thing, as has been said by several noble Lords, is good police work.
Since the Secretary of State made his announcement on policing in September 1974 the strength of the RUC has increased by 500, and the Reserve by over 2,000. The "A" squad and the Special Patrol Group have been created to meet particular operational requirements. The growth in RUC numbers is continuing, and for the future my right honourable friend hopes that his current round of studies will open the way to further progress. We are getting increasing help and co-operation from the security forces of the Irish Republic, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has had a number of valuable meetings with the Irish Minister for Justice.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that we can talk about the reduction of the Army presence only in the context of the effectiveness of the police—again something which nearly every noble Lord has mentioned—only, that is, to the extent it can be achieved without increasing the danger to the lives and property of the people of Northern Ireland. Clearly the Army cannot remain indefinitely in Northern Ireland in its present strength. This has never been in any doubt. But any reduction in the level of Armed Forces must be related to the build up of the police, and to the security situation. Again, this is related to the efforts to bring life back to normal and to base security on the rule of law. This is why steps have been taken to end detention and to phase out special category status, both of which are most abnormal conditions. This is what lies behind the current examination by my right honourable friend, with colleagues, to which I referred earlier, of the action and resources required for the next few years to maintain law and order: how best to achieve the primacy of the police; the size and role of locally recruited forces and the progressive reduction of the Armed Forces as soon as safely practicable. As the police are able to assume an increased role, so then can the Army decrease its role. But we cannot take a decision about troop levels in isolation.
2195 However, there are those who would have us do just this, people who seek to have the troops withdrawn immediately. Although my noble friend did not suggest this in his Motion, there is no doubt whatever that this will be in the minds of many who read our discussions. The people who wish for this fall into two groups. First, there are those who have a genuine belief that it is the right course and that we cannot go on as we are. Some may argue that we cannot afford to meet our responsibilities by keeping the Army in Northern Ireland; others that the soldiers there are being used in a role for which they have not been recruited or trained, or for which, for one reason or another, they are not suitable. Others again, like the noble Lords, Lord Wigg and Lord Annan, in our 1974 debates on this subject, argue for withdrawal of the troops on the grounds that in the end the two opposing groups have got to settle matters themselves, and they never will do so as long as the Army is there to keep the lid on. This week, we have had a new and somewhat eccentric suggestion from Professor Taylor, to which I have already referred.
The other group of people, of course, are the IRA, who are the enemy. They are those who deliberately seek to undermine the efforts of Government, of Parliament, and of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole to restore peace and harmony in Northern Ireland. Their inspiration is hatred; their objective irrational and their methods barbarous. I am not suggesting that any Members of your Lordships' House are in any way associated with the beliefs of the IRA, but there is a danger that those who, for honest reasons, support this policy may unwittingly play into the hands of the IRA.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, mentioned in his Motion a political vacuum. We do not admit a political vacuum. If by that the noble Lord means the absence of a Parliament and Government at Stormont, then, of course, in this sense a vacuum has existed since 1972, and certainly before the recent disssolution of the Constitutional Convention. The normal processes of political life in which the claims of conflicting groups are moderated by debate, negotiation and 2196 mutual concession, for a long time have been rendered completely ineffective in Northern Ireland by the deep divisions within society there. It may be that the noble Lord considers that the absence of a political talking shop in Northern Ireland will cause a greater vacuum. This is certainly not the case. The Government at Westminster intend to govern effectively, impartially, and with positive direction. Moreover, whatever may be said about opinion polls, they have demonstrated clearly that the majority of people, from both communities, welcome a period of direct rule from Westminster, if for different reasons.
The noble Lord also refered to the ultimate severance of the British connection. Successive Governments have repeatedly made the position clear. There is no more to be said than has been said already, but I will say it again. The United Kingdom and the Irish Government have both declared that the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland must determine the status of Northern Ireland, and that there can be no change in that status until the majority so desire it. This is said over and over again, and time after time people come back with exactly the same suspicion—"We believe you are going to run out and leave us". There is no basis for this whatever, and I cannot repeat it too strongly.
To sum up, there is no political vacuum in our opinion under Direct Rule. Consideration, however, is being given to the withdrawal of British troops in their present role as part of a long-term and well publicised policy. But there can be no question of a precipitate withdrawal, and the policy is dependent on the police assuming their full responsibilities. It will be implemented only after taking full account of the security situation, and the need to protect the citizens of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland. The vicious and indiscriminate attempts by the IRA to frighten the Government into hastening this programme will have no effect whatever.
Finally, my Lords, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. The policy of the Government in Northern Ireland is to govern. This is not to say that we foreclose on the possibility of a devolved Government in Northern Ireland one day. But this is not the time for a simple solution. The one we have been offered today is an example of an instant and 2197 simple solution. Independence is another. These will not do, and never have done. We must work firmly and fairly to find a way to bring a divided community together. The Government will not shirk this task, and will continue to govern in Northern Ireland.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Lord BRADWELL
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge for leaving me the customary few minutes to make a few observations. I must repeat my gratitude to those noble Lords who came specially from Northern Ireland to take part in the debate, particularly, if I may say so without impertinence, to the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, in view of his recent indisposition. I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and my noble friend Lord Brockway for the support that they gave me in what I said about the trade unions in Northern Ireland. This is, I think, one of the most important, hopeful and positive aspects of the terribly tragic situation, one of the gleams of hope. The right reverend Prelate spoke of reconciliation within the Churches, and I hope that increasingly the people of Northern Ireland, the workers in general and their families, will learn to think of themselves as workers, as Irish men and women, rather than as Protestants and Catholics only or primarily. I believe that is the most important thing that could be said.
I am extremely glad to learn from my noble friend who wound up for the Government that there is no apprehension, no fear, on behalf of the Government about discussion of this very important subject. This is quite contrary to the impression I have gained in conversation with some of my right honourable friends in another place, but no doubt they were misled themselves. Since there is no apprehension, I hope that the ventilation of the subject will spread from your Lordships' Chamber to another place, and indeed to the general public outside, who are at present, in my view quite absurdly, prevented from hearing about it or discussing it in Trafalgar Square, the principal forum of free speech. Anybody who applies to use Trafalgar Square for a meeting about Ireland gets turned down automatically by the Department of the Environment, 2198 who in this case, of course, are merely carrying the can, if I may be permitted a vulgarism, for the Home Office.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, it is the case that the time allotted for this debate by the Rules of the House has, unfortunately, elapsed and, accordingly, I must ask whether the noble Lord wishes to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.