HC Deb 11 July 1968 vol 768 cc731-3
Q5. Mr. Whitaker

asked the Prime Minister what Northern Irish matters he will answer Questions about.

The Prime Minister

As the House knows, for Questions to be in order in this House they must engage the Ministerial responsibility of United Kingdom Ministers. As the House also knows, the division of functions between the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the Parliament at Westminster is laid down by Statute. A summary list of matters affecting Northern Ireland for which this Parliament is responsible is contained in an Answer I gave to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) on 29th November, 1966.

As to the division of responsibility between myself and my right hon. Friends for answering particular Questions on these matters, I would ask my hon. Friend to await the Answer to a question which he has down for answer later today.

Mr. Whitaker

Why should hon. Members of the Orange Order be able to vote on the Race Relations Bill, which applies to England and Wales only when we are not allowed to do anything about religious discrimination in Ulster?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is a very good question, which I have asked myself, and I recall that when this Government had a majority of three in this House we could have been voted down by the Northern Irish Members voting on Rachmanism in London, when English Members and United Kingdom Members had no opportunity of voting on Rachmanism in Northern Ireland. I think it is a very good question. No doubt it will be discussed in the fullness of time.

Mr. Thorpe

Is it not a fact that the powers which this House has under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, are very much greater than the conventional relationship between this House and Ulster would suggest? Would the Prime Minister not further agree that as far as human rights are concerned this House has a right to demand that the same standards will obtain in every part of the United Kingdom, and since we technically have those powers under the 1920 Act can we not now take the proper Parliamentary powers to exercise them?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will know that I have dealt with that question before, particularly in relation to human rights conventions and so on and the Strasbourg Declaration. These are matters for discussion with the Government of Northern Ireland. I have said a number of times, and I think many of us have recognised, that in the last two or three years considerable advances have been made under the present Premier of Northern Ireland. Not enough, I agree, but what has been achieved has been remarkable in view of the prejudice he has to meet in that particular area of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Fitt

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a considerable minority of United Kingdom subjects in the United Kingdom, and in Northern Ireland particularly, who look to this House to redress the wrongs which have existed in Northern Ireland for so long, and that it is only by Question and Answer in this House that public opinion can be shown the injustices which exist in Northern Ireland, and that there are 500,000 people in Northern Ireland who look to this House because if they depend on the Government of Northern Ireland there would never be an answer to the problem?

The Prime Minister

Since I referred to the majority of three I should, perhaps, point out that my hon. Friend constituted one-third of it last night. It is certainly the case that he has been very active, since he entered this House, in raising the problems of human rights and discrimination in Northern Ireland. I think these matters must be left for discussion with the Government of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and his colleagues know we cannot continue indefinitely with the present situation. Something has to be done.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

While accepting that the charges implied in the Question by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) are unfounded, as they usually are—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must hear both sides, even of the Irish Question.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

—will the Prime Minister agree that as improvement has taken place under Captain O'Neill, as he has already mentioned, in the climate of opinion, it should be maintained, and that the best way of removing such marginal cases of friction as may still be believed to exist there lies in allowing that climate of opinion to continue to be improved unfettered by damaging remarks such as those made by the hon. Member?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the progress made under the leadership of Captain O'Neill. I have always had full agreement with the hon. Gentleman on that, but I totally disagree with his strictures on the question put by my hon. Friend a few moments ago. I certainly do not believe that this matter can be left to depend on some of the pressures and prejudices to which Captain O'Neill is subject, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. We in this House have duties in this matter both nationally and internationally.

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