HC Deb 09 November 1971 vol 825 cc825-9
Q4. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Prime Minister how many letters he received during October against the policy of internment in Northern Ireland.

Q5. Mr. James Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister how many letters he has received from Lanarkshire since 18th June, 1970, about unemployment in that county.

The Prime Minister

With permission, I will answer this Question and Question 05 together. [Interruption.]

Since becoming Prime Minister I have received about 124,000 letters on issues of Government policy—[Interruption.] A number of them were concerned with Northern Ireland and unemployment. The cost of breaking down the statistics by subject or by period of time would be disproportionate.

Mr. Atkinson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does not the Prime Minister's disgraceful answer this afternoon mean that he refuses to answer Questions of this type in future?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Bidwell

Is it not now more obvious to the Prime Minister that a one-sided policy of internment on mere suspicion, without trial and without evidence, is bound to lead to disaster in Northern Ireland, driving the Catholic minority community into the hands of the I.R.A. and towards an all-out civil war situation? Is it not more obvious now to the Prime Minister that the placing of British troops in that situation— expendable under the Ulster Tory Unionist policy—is completely outrageous to the whole of the British people? Will he not come alive to the situation and change that disastrous policy?

The Prime Minister

I cannot accept any of those statements. This matter was fully debated in the House when it was recalled during the Summer Recess. I think that all hon. Members are opposed to internment without trial except in very exceptional circumstances, which today exist in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hamilton

I do not see the association between Questions Nos. 4 and 5. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] Will the Prime Minister now recognise that much as we welcome the crash programme, it is only scraping the surface? Will he now concede that unemployment in Lanarkshire will be the heaviest that we have had in the post-war years and that many of the unemployed will have a very bleak Christmas indeed because of the Government's policies? Will the Prime Minister now state that it is the Government's intention to alter those policies and to bring work to the development areas?

The Prime Minister

A sum of £60 million has been allocated for the special works programme to alleviate unemployment in the Scottish development area, of which £10 million has been specifically earmarked for Lanarkshire. That is action which is being taken by this Government.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Would my right hon. Friend direct his personal attention to examining the I.R.A.'s source of money to buy arms to shoot soldiers? In particular, would he examine the flow of money from the United States of America to see whether, by the exchange control procedures, it can be stopped? Will he discuss with Mr. Lynch the moneys which have been raised in the South of Ireland and would he ask the Special Branch to pay particular attention to collections in this country?

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. What relevance does that have to Question No. 5?

An Hon. Member

The same as the hon. Member has.

Mr. Speaker

Points of order during Question time are very much to be deprecated.

Mr. Atkinson


Mr. Faulds

They are unrelated topics.

Mr. Buchan

I do not want to raise a point of order during Question time, Mr. Speaker, but I submit that this is a gross abuse of the House. The only apparent relevance is that the word "letters" is mentioned in each of the two Questions. They deal with disparate subjects and it is shocking that the Prime Minister should have grouped these two Questions for answer.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair. The Chair has no control over these matters.

Mr. Atkinson

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the Prime Minister now refuses to accept any more letters—[Interruption.] If the Prime Minister refuses to answer any more Questions dealing with letters and Questions asking whether he will assume responsibility for certain policies, and if he now refuses to answer Questions asking him to visit certain places in the country, this means that he can stop the Opposition effectively asking any Questions.

Mr. Speaker

These are not matters for the Chair.

Mr. Harold Wilson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I suggest that we get on with Questions? I understand that this matter can be pursued after 3.30 p.m., because I suggest that there is a point of order for the Chair.

The Prime Minister

Replying to the previous supplementary question, the Government will do everything possible to deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills). The Government are doing everything possible to reduce the effort which the I.R.A. can make in Northern Ireland. But, at the same time, my hon. Friend will understand the difficulties of dealing, in particular, with the movement of money for the purchase of arms, whether inside or outside Ireland. We certainly propose to do everything that we can to deal with this matter.

Mr. Stallard

Is the Prime Minister aware that the policy of internment, apart from the increase in loss of life that has happened since its introduction, is probably the biggest single impediment to meaningful discussions in that unhappy Province seeking a political solution?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I cannot agree with that either. The plain fact is that there are detained in Northern Ireland today a large number of men who, if allowed out on the streets, would, in fact, be engaged in terrorist activities. All cases are being reviewed by the Committee, and being speedily reviewed, and the Committee have recommended who should be release and who should be detained. Every hon. Member of this House ought to ask himself whether he is prepared to take the responsibility of releasing on to the streets men who are determined to murder, bomb and destroy people's lives.

Mr. Longden

Is it not rather the case, contrary to what the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) says, that the policy of internment is delivering many of the internees out of the hands of the I.R.A.?

The Prime Minister

That is absolutely true. It is also true, alas, that where the names of some people who are detained have been publicly discussed and the kind of information they have given has been revealed, the lives of those men in the future have been put at grave risk.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of us in the House believe it to be our duty, not only in the House but in other political assemblies in the world, that the first and continuing thing we should do is to condemn the violence and brutality occurring in Ireland, no mater from which source it emanates? Would not the right hon. Gentleman commend the courage of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland for his continued declaration on and condemnation of violence? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that thousands of Catholics and other denominations in the North of Ireland are looking to him in particular and to Westminster—and no-where else—for a political and not a military solution to this problem?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and pay tribute to the attitude that he has always taken. I have paid public tribute to Mr. Lynch and, of course, I have expressed to him privately my admiration of the stand he has taken against violence, Mr. Lynch fully appreciates that. As I have told the House so often, it is necessary to find a political solution. However, we must recognise that there are terrorists who will not accept any political solution. Whatever solution can be accepted by the great majority, the terrorists have still to be dealt with.

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