HC Deb 18 March 1971 vol 813 cc1628-31
10. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement of policy on steps to improve relations between the two religious communities in Northern Ireland by way of a peace council or otherwise.

48. Sir G. de Freitas

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether, in view of the fact that in Corby, Northamptonshire, as in other towns in Great Britain, many Protestants and Roman Catholics live in mixed communities without religious friction, he will set up a Peace Council or Tolerance Council to advise on policies such as housing, with the aim of enabling Protestants and Roman Catholics to live in harmony in mixed communities in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Maudling

The basis for the improvement of community relations in Northern Ireland is the maintenance of peace and order and the implementation of the Northern Ireland Government's reform programme.

I saw the leaders of all religious communities during my recent visit and I am quite confident that they are doing what they can to help.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. In view of the critical, if not desperate, situation now existing in Northern Ireland, and in view of the very moderate speech made recently in the House by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the unqualified condemnation of violence made by Cardinal Conway, the Primate of All Ireland, could not the Home Secretary take the initiative now, before it is too late, and call a meeting of the spiritual leaders of Northern Ireland to exercise their undoubted moral influence in favour of a peaceful settlement?

Mr. Maudling

I have certainly considered that suggestion and discussed it with those concerned. The general view is that at this stage the calling of such a conference would not be likely to contribut to harmonious relations. I greatly welcome the new contact which is taking place between Cardinal Conway and the Northern Ireland Government; I think this is very fruitful.

Sir G. de Freitas

Is the Secretary of State aware that in my constituency, according to the Registrar-General's Report, there are more people from Northern Ireland than in any other constituency in Britain and that they live together in mixed communities—Roman Catholic and Protestant—next door to each other, in the same street? Will the right hon. Gentleman bring this fact to the attention of the Northern Ireland authorities?

Mr. Maudling

Yes, but it is also a fact which is sometimes overlooked by those outside Ireland that there are many parts of Northern Ireland where the same holds true.

Mr. Longden

I do not believe that the question of inter-denominational troubles is the real problem at the moment. But did not the Act of Settlement, 1922, contain a proposal for a Council of State between the two parts of Ireland? Nothing has been done about that. What is the position in that regard?

Mr. Maudling

That goes far beyond the suggestion made in the Question and raises very deep issues.

Mr. McNamara

The right hon. Gentleman did not hold out any hopes of there being a conference or council in the near future. Can he give some indication of the proposals which are likely to be made in Stormont today about measures to bring peace between the communities and give an undertaking that none of these proposals involves the question of internment or the searches of areas of such a nature as might further inflame feelings rather than keep them down?

Mr. Maudling

I do not think I should anticipate what may be said in another place. I assure the House that the principles which I enunciated in the statement I made the other day about the murder of the three soldiers are observed by all concerned.

Mr. McMaster

Will my right hon. Friend support the Prime Minister and Government of Northern Ireland, recognise the comprehensive reform programme they have embarked upon, and condemn the Republican gunmen who by their seditious and violent campaign continue to attack the security forces of this country?

Mr. Maudling

We have made clear at all times our support for the reform programme. I have made clear at all times our condemnation of violence from any quarter. In addition to our condemnation, we are furnishing the Army, which takes the lead in dealing with the terrorists, with all the authority and all the resources it requires for that purpose.

Mr. Thorpe

As the improvement of relations between the two communities is a matter to which the House attaches vital importance and on which there is no difference in the House, and as Question No. 16 to the Prime Minister is unlikely to he reached today, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us a little more about the outcome of the talks with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in the context of this Question?

Mr. Maudling

I think that there is a Question to myself on that point later today.