HC Deb 05 March 1970 vol 797 cc615-6
Q2. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the operation of the Ireland Act, 1949; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Bidwell

While feeling most reassured by that reply, may I ask my right hon. Friend if he will go into the costs of a Ministry of Repatriation, and possibly an Irish section, in view of the ever present dangers of the views of Powellism rising inside the Tory Party?

The Prime Minister

If my hon. Friend is referring, as I think he is, to the speech at Enniskillen not long ago, and to treating Irishmen as foreigners, since the Question relates to the 1949 Act, the last word on that was said by the then Prime Minister Mr. Attlee, when he said how stupid and impossible it would be for this country to go forward on the basis of treating Irishmen as foreigners for the purposes of our law. He referred to the difficulties that would arise both with regard to immigration and the presence in Britain of a large number of people of Irish descent, with the continual movement across the Channel. I should have thought that that particular suggestion which we heard at Enniskillen was not one to be taken seriously and to cause me to start costing operations.

Miss Devlin

Would my right hon. Friend seek consultations with the Government in the North of Ireland to amend the Government of Ireland Act so as to embody the principle of civil liberties for all members of that section of this country?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Lady will be aware that we have, not only since the troubles of last year, but for some years before, pressed on the Government of Northern Ireland, and two successive Prime Ministers there, the need to speed greatly the granting of equal civil rights in that country. A great deal of progress has been made, before and since the troubles of last summer. The hon. Lady will be aware of the Downing Street meeting last August after which both of us signed a declaration saying that in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, all citizens have the right to equal treatment, irrespective of political, religious or other difficulties.

Mr. Doughty

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the leading article in the Daily Telegraph today saying that, whatever may be the rights and wrongs of the situation in the North and South of Ireland, the civil rights association is simply an extreme Left organisation which wants to put an end to Governments, both in the North and the South?

The Prime Minister

Her Majesty's Government not only condemn extremism from either side in Northern Ireland, but in the conduct of affairs by Her Majesty's Government, when we faced the biggest breakdown of law and order in the United Kingdom since the war, we have been able to deal with these questions both in the administration of justice and in policy on a basis of complete impartiality between both groups of people in Northern Ireland. If that had been done by some of those who supported hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite over the last 50 years we would not have had last year's trouble.