HC Deb 06 July 1972 vol 840 cc737-40
19 and 41. Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) what representations he has received for the introduction of a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights, from Mr. Brian Faulkner; what matters he wished to be included in such a Bill; and what reply he has sent;

(2) if he will introduce a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

20 and 42. Mr. Stallard

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) what representations he has received about the introduction of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland; and what reply he has given;

(2) if he will introduce a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Whitelaw

The former Northern Ireland Government suggested that, in a revision of the Government of Ireland Act, existing safeguards against religious discrimination should be re-enacted with greater precision as a Bill of Rights. Some form of statutory guarantee of civil rights may well be part of a constitutional settlement but the form it may take must await the outcome of further talks in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Latham

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that somewhat encouraging response. Will he go on record as agreeing that the immediate problems, which he is tackling with such skill, patience and determination, are but symptoms of the wider disease, and that what must be put right is the discrimination and injustice between the communities? Therefore, will he also go on record as saying that it makes no sense to talk or think in terms of restoring the situation to that which obtained before 1969, and that what is needed is legislation and other means of guaranteeing for all citizens of Northern Ireland the same rights as obtain elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman said and what the former Northern Ireland Government suggested. In the current situation which I face, the less I go on definite record, the better.

Mr. Stallard

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the British TUC and the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish TUC, together with large parts of the British labour movement and thousands of people throughout this land, have already endorsed the principles contained in the short Bill of Civil Rights which we tried to introduce into the House last year, and which was discussed in another place quite recently? Will he accept that people here cannot see why, particularly now, we cannot impose, or at least encourage, the same circumstances in the Six Counties as we already enjoy in this country? Will he try to do something about introducing some of the major parts of that Bill immediately?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman said. No one is keener than I am to see the reconciliation which I believe is vital in Northern Ireland and to see the communities live together in the future. I believe there are signs that in the long run that will happen. In the short term, inevitably, the sufferings of the past three years and the difficulties caused have created all sorts of tensions which we must overcome. They are my initial concern, but I am not forgetting the long-term nature of the problem and the desire that all of us in this country share for a solution.

Mr. Evelyn King

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the Questions are about rights of Irishmen, and that the only rights of Englishmen so far have been to sustain casualties and to pay £140 million a year? Will he some time put to both sides the idea that we, the English, could become a little tired of being taken for granted?

Mr. Whitelaw

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and therefore we have a duty towards it, which I should have thought the House would realise. We in the House and I and my Ministers are seeking to discharge that duty. The right to be part of the United Kingdom certainly provides great safeguards for all its citizens, but it also places great responsibilities on all its citizens. I hope no one will ever forget that.

Mr. Paget

Would it be correct to say that, as a matter of fact, in practice the liberties enjoyed in Northern Ireland at the moment are a great deal wider than those permitted in the rest of the United Kingdom? Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether he takes the view that the political reform in Northern Ireland should precede or follow the restoration of Her Majesty's authority?

Mr. Whitelaw

I believe that the answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman is that the restoration of normal law and order under the police, which is the right of the rest of the United Kingdom, and everywhere else, is a problem in Northern Ireland. I should like to point out that in three months I have had to face problems which have grown up over a great many years, to the detriment of the situation.

Mr. David James

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no long-term prospect of reconciliation in Northern Ireland without integrated education and that Church leaders of all varieties will bear a great measure of responsibility unless they recognise that?

Mr. Whitelaw

Questions of religion in schools have always been a matter for freedom of conscience throughout the United Kingdom, not only in Northern Ireland. It is certainly not for me to comment on that. At the same time I say to my hon. Friend, whose point I note, that the closer that children in the early days of their lives can come together from all communities, the better will be the future for that community. This is particularly so in Northern Ireland.