HC Deb 12 December 1968 vol 775 cc579-82
Q6. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the latest position in Her Majesty's Government's discussions with the Government of Northern Ireland on civil rights.

Q14. Mr. Dobson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will have further discussions with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister

As the House knows, I have had continuing contacts with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland about the matters which I raised with him when he visited London on 4th November, and I look forward to further discussions on these matters.

But at this present time I know I am speaking for the whole House when I say that all of us are watching events in Northern Ireland with admiration for the courage which has been shown this week, mingled with anxiety and concern for the people of Northern Ireland at this very critical time.

Mr. Dalyell

Can we hope in the present delicate situation for a trend towards one-man, one-vote in local government?

The Prime Minister

At the meeting which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I had with Captain O'Neill, Mr. Craig and Mr. Faulkner, we pressed a number of urgent decisions that are required. We have welcomed the progress made and Captain O'Neill's statement, although the progress does not meet what most of us consider to be desirable and certainly needs speeding up. But, at this time, it is better to record our concern about the position and our feelings about what has happened this week.

Mr. Dobson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been threats against a postal worker in Northern Ireland which have now been extended to threats of murder against his family? If Captain O'Neill is sincere in his latest efforts, will my right hon. Friend undertake to give him every support in order to protect Crown servants in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want any interpretation of his words to suggest that he casts doubt on Captain O'Neill's sincerity. Captain O'Neill has shown his sincerity by his great courage in the great difficulties he has faced.

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the case of Mr. Hassard, a Labour councillor in Dungannon, who is reported to have resigned because he was subjected to threats and intimidation. This is part of the whole background of threats, intimidation and anti-democratic methods which is being countered with great courage in Northern Ireland. I think that I should wait for further developments in his case while some rather bigger issues sort themselves out.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Does not the Prime Minister agree that the five-point programme announced by the Northern Ireland Government is a sincere and far-reaching attempt to deal with a difficult problem?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. The programme closely follows the points we put to Northern Ireland Ministers at the meeting to which I have referred. We welcome the programme as we have welcomed other recent steps, such as the housing provisions. We do not feel that there is any justification for the prolonged postponement of the principle of one-man, one-vote in Northern Ireland. Despite the long-term factor in the proposition that has been made, we welcome it as far as it goes.

Captain Orr

Is the Prime Minister aware that we appreciate what he has said about the courage of our Prime Minister—[Interruption.] For greater clarity may I make it plain that I was referring to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland? Is the Prime Minister aware that the best service that any of us can do to all the people of Northern Ireland at the moment is to support Captain O'Neill's call for moderation and restraint and good sense, an end to demonstrations on all sides—

Hon. Members

One man, one vote.

Captain Orr

— and the restoration of law and order.

The Prime Minister

That was what I had in mind in my original Answer, when I referred to what I was sure would be the feelings of the whole House on this matter. There is a paramount need for moderation and calm, for an end of bigotry of the kind which has, I am afraid, caused so many of the present problems. At the same time, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware—and this has been the basis of my talks with Captain O'Neill—at the end of the day social grievances of the kind which we have been facing, which have led to disorder, can be dealt with, not by the police, but by social political solutions to those grievances.

Mr. Delargy

As one who has probably spoken more about Northern Ireland, from this side of the House anyway, than anyone, may I now suggest to the House that the less we say about Northern Ireland at this moment, the better?

The Prime Minister

I very much welcome what my hon. Friend has said about this. These matters have to be sorted out in Northern Ireland. We are all aware that today is a particularly critical day for this. The House will be following what is happening with deep concern, and with, if necessary, a readiness to act.

Mr. Hogg

Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that we on these benches would wish to be associated with what has been said about the need for both tolerance and moderation in this situation?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I noted in a recent broadcast this week that one of the arguments used was the bipartisan character of the advice given to Captain O'Neill, and the support given on a bipartisan basis by the Leader of the Opposition, as well as by the Government, in terms of any expectations that bigots, zealots or minorities there might have had in leading the fight against Captain O'Neill.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is the overwhelming wish of this House that Captain O'Neill should be given the opportunity to put his proposals into practice and should therefore be given support by his own party to remain Prime Minister, so that he might do so?

The Prime Minister

I said that this is a critical day, and I do not want to comment on the last few words of the right hon. Gentleman. Of course Captain O'Neill should be given support in what he has so far announced. Of course, and this is part of the tribute which we pay to his courage, he should be encouraged to go further and faster once he has sorted out his present difficulties. If they are not sorted out, I do not think anyone here or in Northern Ireland now will have any doubts about the consequences.