HC Deb 19 July 1935 vol 304 cc1383-5

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he can give the House any information as to the present situation in Belfast, the number of persons killed and injured in the recent disturbance, and the estimated damage to property.


As the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, this is a matter within the province of the Government of Northern Ireland, which is the Government responsible for the maintenance of law and order in Northern Ireland. I am glad to say, from information which has reached me this morning from that Government, that the situation has very materially improved. I am informed that one woman and six men were killed in Belfast and the number of persons injured is approximately 95. In many cases the injuries, however, are trivial. It is not possible at present to give any estimate of the damage to property.


I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is not responsible for order in Northern Ireland, but, in view of the disturbances there and the sort of sectarian disturbances in other parts of our own country, would he consider with the Government whether it would not be possible to ask the heads of the Established and other Churches to meet either the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister to discuss whether it would not be possible to allay the sort of feeling that is being created, not only in Northern Ireland, but in this country, so that before things get too serious they may be dealt with in a better way than at present?


I am sure we are all at one in wishing to see religious animosities which cause disturbance in every way discouraged and good feeling improved. What the right hon. Gentleman has said, which was not applicable to the particular case he was raising, is itself a contribution. We all associate ourselves with that. Whether it is an opportunity for calling together the heads of the different bodies, I am not so sure. It is not the heads of these bodies, but some of their unruly followers who make these difficulties. At any rate, I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I am sure that in any case we all very much hope that disturbances of this kind may be discouraged.


The right hon. Gentleman says it is a matter entirely within the province of Northern Ireland, but, having regard to the fact that it is British troops who are being used there, it surely brings Great Britain into it to some extent. Will he consult his friends at the Foreign Office with a view to methods other than firing on unarmed people being adopted when troops are used? In other parts of the world troops are used without using armed force. Would not the right hon. Gentleman consider, with the responsible War Office authority, whether better methods could not be adopted even when the armed forces of the Crown are called in?


We all realise the difficulties which a situation like this causes to the Government, but might I ask the right hon. Gentleman to use all his influence to get the contending parties together to try to get over their differences? It is a most anxious time for everyone, and we should like every effort to be made.

Captain DIXON

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in no case did troops fire and in no case did the police fire to kill? The greatest care has been taken by the Northern Government to try to get the matter amicably settled. It is entirely against the wishes, or even the interests, of the Northern Government that these things should happen. What we desire—I speak for the whole of the Northern Government and for the great majority of the people of Ulster—is peace.


I am sure we all agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is right to emphasise that, as far as my information goes, it is not the troops who were responsible for any of these casualties, for I do not think they fired. My information is that they did not produce any casualties. The question put by the hon. Member opposite is, of course, a very wide one. Indeed, I think he mentioned the Foreign Office and the War Office. Due note shall be taken of his suggestion. I think we should be well advised to associate ourselves with what has just been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belfast East (Captain Dixon).


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to limit his consideration, as I think he does not intend to do, to Northern Ireland. I know how these things start and I know how they develop, and, if it were possible without any formality for the heads of the Churches, both in the centre and in the districts, to speak out on the subject, we might, both here and across the water, allay some of the terrible sectarian bigotry that there is.