HC Deb 17 February 1972 vol 831 cc612-4
Q3. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his recent official talks with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister

I met Mr. Faulkner in London on 4th February when, as part of our regular discussions, we reviewed the current situation in Northern Ireland.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, however much we may be preoccupied with the Common Market and with the coal strike, many of us are just as deeply concerned about Ireland? I include in that the Leader of the Opposition, before whom not even the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) could accuse me of genuflecting, but who has made a notable contribution in this sphere? May we look forward to proposals which, while respecting the wish of the majority to maintain the connection with the United Kingdom, will give the minority hope for a constructive future?

The Prime Minister

The Government share my hon. Friend's anxiety about conditions in Northern Ireland. It is an anxiety which is widely shared in the House. Despite the importance of the other matters to which my hon. Friend referred, Her Majesty's Government are determined to persevere in trying to find an arrangement of the kind we have described, which will give the minority in Northern Ireland the assurances that they require about participation and a guaranteed part in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Foley

Can the Prime Minister say when he will make a statement on the Government's proposals to deal with the Northern Ireland question, and whether there will be an immediate debate on the subject then?

The Prime Minister

I cannot yet tell the House when the Government will have any further statement to make. Obviously this is a matter which the House keeps constantly in its mind and, naturally, from time to time will wish to debate.

Sir G. Longden

Is not it becoming daily clearer that, until the happy day comes when there is a united Ireland, the only solution is a realignment of the border with subsidised transference of population?

The Prime Minister

In all the discussions that I have had with the parties concerned, both north and south of the border, that is not a matter on which I have found any widespread agreement. When we had the meeting of the three Prime Ministers at Chequers in the autumn, I was reminded that the only previous occasion on which the three Prime Ministers had met was nearly 50 years previously, when there were proposals for an exchange of areas on the border and an exchange of populations. They found it impossible to agree, and the meeting broke up.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Will the Prime Minister accept that timing is still of great importance and that delay in this respect could lead to even greater troubles, because one does not know what will happen from day to day? Will the Prime Minister accept the urgent need for an early statement on Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

I recognise the urgency of bringing peace to Northern Ireland. No one could be more concerned with that than are Her Majesty's Government. The existing offer remains open, which is to all parties concerned with affairs in Northern Ireland to discuss these matters with Her Majesty's Government. That offer remains absolutely open.