§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William Whitelaw)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement.
Yesterday afternoon a concerted attack was made on the Lenadoon Army post on the edge of the Andersonstown district in Belfast. This post, which had been under continuous attack for the previous three days, is in an inter-face position and, therefore, important as a means of preventing sectarian conflict. During this attack some 400 rounds were fired at the post and a digger loaded with an explosive device was rolled down the hill at the post. The device exploded and there was damage to the post but, fortunately, no civilian or military casualties. It was clear that the post could not be maintained unless the area from which it was being attacked by gunmen was occupied. Accordingly, the Army moved into the area in strength and is now dominating it.
In the Divis Street flats area, Belfast, there was also an extensive gun battle last night. I am informed that some 3,000 rounds were fired at security forces, who fired 1,000 rounds in return. The Army is now occupying the Divis Street flats.
I regret to inform the House that two soldiers were killed and three soldiers were wounded in these two operations. The Army believes that it hit 28 gunmen.
There were here two considerable military operations of a clearly offensive character against the Army and endangering the lives of the residents of the areas, many of whose houses were hit by terrorist fire. Rocket launchers have also been used in the area by the terrorists for the first time. These greatly multiply the risks of damage and casualties. The 2028 Army, therefore, with my authority responded by action to control the areas from which the attacks were launched and to protect itself and the civil population. It is now clear that the security forces and the civil population of these areas have become the objects of deliberate terrorist attack of a character avowed by the terrorists to be of "the utmost ferocity".
Her Majesty's Government's policy remains to seek to reconcile the differences of the two communities whilst acting with the greatest firmness against lawlessness and terrorism wherever it appears.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last night he made a speech outside the House confirming his firm belief in following up the policy he entered upon a few months ago? I note his final paragraph. Before turning to the events of last night, will the right hon. Gentleman explain how they fit into his overall philosophy?
May I repeat my request for greater publicity for the security rôle of the forces in Northern Ireland, so that all will know clearly what reaction will come from the Army? In this context, what is the Army being told to do? What are its military aims? We note that the Lenadoon Estate is at the meeting place of Catholic and Protestant areas, but it must be clear what the military aim is.
With regard to last night, as it all stemmed from the row about the allocation of houses which ended the truce, what steps can be taken while the battle is going on, while the military confrontation is going on, to clear up the procedures in that respect?
Finally, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while I have questioned him with the aim of his making clear in the House—as he has done before, but now in the light of his speech last night—his own support for his initiative and reconciliation, which we on this side firmly support, we note the use of rocket launchers by the IRA and the events of last night? We can only observe that it takes two to make peace, and say yet again—at the risk of repetition, but it must be saidagain—that we hope that in the next day or two the IRA will see the wisdom of coming back to peace and a truce.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. First, I should make it clear that I reconcile what happened last night with my firm and continuing belief in the Government's policy simply by saying that terrorism and lawlessness must be met by the Army. The Army has a duty to protect the civilian population and also a duty, which we in this House owe to it, to protect itself as well. It is there to keep the peace, to protect the civilian population and to protect itself.
I judged that unless the action which I authorised at the Lenadoon Army post was taken there would be danger to the civilian population and to the Army. Nor can one regard with indifference the fact that 3,000 rounds of ammunition were fired at the security forces in the Divis Street flats area. A response to that must be taken both in the interests of the population of the area and in the Army's own interests. I reaffirm that the Army's duty is to keep the peace and prevent inter-sectarian conflict, and in this task, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) mentioned the other day, it has the absolute right to orders enabling it to protect itself.
As to the housing problem, from which much of this has arisen, the real tragedy of the situation is that all the time these attacks on the Army post have been going on in the last four days my officials have been discussing with all concerned, including the housing executive, how to solve the problem. One of my officials was discussing the problem in the area at the same time as the shooting was going on last night and at the same time as the digger with an explosive device was rolled down the hill at the post. Shortly before that took place, he was speaking to me on the telephone about the next meeting which he was hoping to have to solve the housing problem.
Every effort has been made by my office and by many other people to solve the particularly difficult housing situation in the area, but those who have decided to act in the way they have appear to be determined to use force. I believe that peace and persuasion could have been the answer.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I express my admiration and the admiration of all law- 2030 abiding people in Northern Ireland for the soldiers. Violence increases day by day, and we have an admiration for what they manage to do in the face of terrorism and with the political restraint which is imposed upon them. I also join in the sympathy expressed by my right hon. Friend for the relatives of the soldiers who have died.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that many people in Northern Ireland feel that the so-called truce has enabled the IRA to regroup, retrain, and collect arms, ammunition and explosives? We in Ulster feel that we are back to the position of years ago, and that we might have settled for something far less than the terror which exists in Ulster.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
If my hon. Friend belives that one can regroup and retrain in a fortnight, I do not. I suppose that my hon. Friend believes that at some stage in the last three years the problem was near to solution. Few people would agree with him in that view. I fear it is not so. I accept what he says about the Army but I never quite know what he means by "political restraint". In the case of the Lenadoon Army post, I authorised the Army to go in, occupy and dominate the area. I do not see that there was much political restraint in giving the Army that authority.
§ Mr. Grimond
Will the Secretary of State accept that we continue to regard his efforts in Northern Ireland with admiration and with agreement? Will he also express our sympathy to the Army. It should also be made clear that he cannot possibly succeed unless he has the active support of the Irish people. It is their quarrel, not ours. They cannot have it both ways. The murder of British soldiers cannot go on, with the blowing up of their country and the imposition of no-go areas, if at the same time they expect the British to make good all the damage, to provide more soldiers to be shot at and to supply generous social services. The moderate people of Ireland must now take an active part in imposing some sort of order and decency on their unhappy land, otherwise there is only one end.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the alternative is for the British to leave, to refuse to make good the damage and to refuse to supply more soldiers in a 2031 quarrel which is not theirs? Then an appalling situation would be left. The Irish would have to fight it out on their own, and parts of Northern Ireland would no doubt be returned to Eire. In the end the damage will become immense, the tragedy abysmal and Ireland will be left to pick up the pieces.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I remain firmly of the view, which I have always stated, that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. If I did not believe that it was our duty to do everything in our power to help solve this grave problem, clearly I should not have taken the job. I accept that there will be setbacks and disappointments, and there certainly are at the moment. However, one cannot be diverted from a course by such matters. We have an honour and a duty, as Ulster is part of the United Kingdom, to do everything in our power to solve the problem. We have our duty to do our utmost with our forces and with our money to help the people of Northern Ireland. That must be, and that we will continue to do. I give that firm assurance on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.
It is a comparatively small number of extremists on both sides who cause much of the trouble. The IRA's campaign has been the one which has caused all the damage over these three years. However, over-reaction by other extremists makes a solution more difficult. I pay great tribute to the resolution and steadfastness of the majority of the population, which has withstood so much suffering without being provoked. It is important to bear that in mind.
As for the people of moderate views coming forward—yes, they must do so. Against that background I accept that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government and the security forces to provide the conditions of law and order in which they are able to do so.
§ Mr. Sharples
I fully and wholeheartedly support the action taken by my right hon. Friend. Will he confirm that the policy remains that of trying to divorce the gunmen from the support which they receive from the population? Does he agree that one of the reasons for the violent action now being taken is the success which that policy was having?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I confirm that that must remain the policy. There is some truth in what my hon. Friend has said. I should also point out that the great enemy of any solution in Northern Ireland is fear on the part of both sides. It has to be accepted that fear of some of the recent manifestations of extremism on the Protestant side has had a considerable effect on the minority community. That must be accepted. There have been fears on both sides, and it is these fears which we have to try to do our best to eradicate if we are to solve the problem.
§ Mr. McNamara
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while he continues the policy of reconciliation he has our full support? In particular, the Army has our sympathy in the difficult rôle which it has to play. We would not wish the British Army to withdraw from Northern Ireland, with the attitude in this country of "Let them fight it out amongst themselves". The dangers that that would have for Ireland and perhaps this country would be too terrible to imagine. Therefore, a policy of withdrawal would not be one which I could support.
Will the right hon. Gentleman now say whether the people allocated houses by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive—this was the cause of the outbreak of the trouble last Sunday—have now moved into the houses which they were legally given by the executive?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
These families were allocated houses by the housing authority on Monday, subject to security considerations in the area. Those security considerations have not yet been satisfied. It was that problem that my officials were seeking to solve with all concerned. I fear that that remains the position. The events of last night make it all the more difficult to resolve the problem, but I believe it could have been resolved.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who live in Northern Ireland are saddened but not surprised by the recent run of events over the last couple of days? In particular, can he say whether there has been any change in the profile and rôle of the Army generally in Northern Ireland in the light of the considerable increase in 2033 IRA activity, especially its campaign in Belfast and Londonderry?
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the belief of many of us that the IRA has to be beaten, and beaten physically into the ground? Can he give the House any details about both the murder and the torturing of a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment which we read about on the tape a few minutes ago? Will he look urgently at the arrangements for the security of members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and their families?
Can my right hon. Friend give the House any information about when the Government intend to proceed with legislation for the plebiscite on Northern Ireland? May we have an assurance that this will be before the Summer Recess so that the referendum may proceed as a matter of urgency in the early autumn?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I must not comment on what my hon. Friend has said about a member of the UDR, for I have no information myself. I will certainly look into it.
I should have thought that what I have said about what the Army has done in response to terrorist activities in Belfast and the very important response in Londonderry, where we regard the bombing campaign of recent days as extremely serious, would show that the Army must and will respond to terrorist activities of this sort and must and will protect the civil population.
I am never sure about the argument about being beaten physically into the ground. What I believe is that terrorists must be shown that they have no part in a community, that violence does not pay. That is the way to end terrorist campaigns, and it always has been.
I must tell my hon. Friend and the House that in the security situation that we now have I should have grave doubts about the wisdom of having such a plebiscite—[Laughter.] My hon. Friend laughs——
§ Mr. Stratton Mills indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I should have grave doubts in that security situation, and I must have regard to the security situation in any consideration of a plebiscite.
§ Mr. Orme
The House will welcome the Secretary of State's words about the referendum, which would only be inflammatory in the extreme at the moment.
Following the disastrous events of last Sunday and the subsequent events of yesterday, is he taking steps to renegotiate a ceasefire? In the talks that he is having about, for instance, the allocation of houses, is the subject of a ceasefire being introduced? There were reports yesterday that the Army had been pressing for a change of policy from the low profile approach. Will the right hon. Gentleman reaffirm that his initiative remains, that the low profile approach remains, that there is no basic change in his policy of reconciliation?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I confirm that there is no basic change in my policy of reconciliation. Perhaps I did not make it sufficiently clear in my answer to the last question about a referendum or a plebescite, which was part of the original package put forward by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that it is only a question of its timing which is affected by the security situation. I must reaffirm that position.
The position about renegotiating or negotiating a cease fire must be made perfectly clear. If those who are practising violence decide that it is better to have a cease fire, no one will welcome it more than I shall, but they are the people who are creating the violence now, and to that I must respond.
I do not think that hon. Gentlemen should pay attention to what are said to be Press reports about Army reaction. The Army and the rest of the security forces in any situation are there to carry out the policy of the Government of the day. They fully recognise that, and they always will. The orders and instructions given to the Army in any particular situation are clearly a matter of Her Majesty's Government policy, and that situation will remain.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree with me when I say that the vast majority of right-thinking people in Northern Ireland will endorse what he has said today in the House about his admiration for British troops who are facing a difficult and tragic situation and in his expression of sympathy to 2035 those who have been bereaved in these last few hours of great tragedy?
Would the right hon. Gentleman also agree with me when I say that if there were a similar happening in any other part of the United Kingdom there would be a similar reaction among the majority of the population? Would he not agree that the time has come for the IRA no longer to call the tune in this matter, the very thing it wants to do? If he is to postpone the plebiscite the IRA will tighten its grip on the situation and seek to postpone the plebiscite over and over again.
Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the time has come for his Government to take an initiative firmly and strongly against any section of the community that would defy the authority of the Crown forces in Northern Ireland? Would he spell out at the Dispatch Box that it is his aim that all people in Northern Ireland, irrespective of class or creed, must be subject to the law and must be equal under the law?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's last observation. What I can never accept, after some experience in Northern Ireland, is comparisons between the situation in Northern Ireland and that in other parts of the United Kingdom, because the problem has been in Northern Ireland for a very long time and it is a very different situation. One cannot make a comparison with happenings over the whole of the United Kingdom.
I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about taking an initiative.
As for the IRA calling the tune on the plebiscite, I think that the hon. Gentleman would be the first to agree with me that it has been the extreme actions on both sides which have exacerbated the situation and that when that happens it is extremely difficult to have a plebiscite, because extremists on both sides would, I fear, seek to exploit it, and that would create a very dangerous situation. These are the problems of timing that I must take into account.
§ Mr. Fitt
No doubt the Secretary of State will be aware that it is not only the Republican forces which are determined to defeat his intiative, but that in the past two or three weeks, particu- 2036 larly since the cease fire, we have seen the emergence of other forces determined to defeat his efforts?
Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the attacks made on him personally and politically by spokesmen of the Unionist Party during the 12th July demonstration? Has he taken into account the fear and frustration now being generated throughout the minority community because of the massive wave of intimidation and the efforts of the illegal UDA forces?
Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that he is now in danger, because of the existence of this fear, of allowing the Catholic community to be weaned back into giving at least passive support to members of the IRA because Catholics feel that they need some form of protection because of the fear of intimidation throughout Belfast?
Would the right hon. Gentleman further agree with me that there is now an air of disenchantment within the minority community, and particularly among the elected representatives of the minority community, that he is in some way being intimidated or pressed into not releasing further detainees since his promise to do so if the security position allowed? Will he now accept that internees still being interned will create a running sore throughout the minority community in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
When one has a job such as I have, one has to accept that one will receive attacks and vilifications from all sides, and one just has to take them and continue to do one's best and do what one believes to be right. I have had my share of attacks from all quarters, and I simply accept them and carry on.
As for the problems and fears of the minority community, I hope that, with his considerable influence and efforts, the hon. Gentleman will make it clear that these responses to terrorist action are to defeat the terrorists, who are as much a danger to the minority community as they are to the whole of Northern Ireland. It is important to stress that.
It is also important to remember, for example, that at Lenadoon, for instance, it was not only a problem of the Army post. It was also a problem of the houses in the area which were being hit 2037 by terrorist gunfire. It is that sort of action that the Army must seek to prevent. I hope that one can persuade the minority community that it is the Army's job to protect everyone and to preserve law and order to the best of its ability in a difficult situation.
I am not prepared to be intimidated by anyone either way, but I must point out that I have always said that in considering the release of internees I would have to have regard to the records of those concerned and to the climate in which they would be released. Alas, in the last week that climate has become much worse, but I have to take account of that situation.
§ Mr. Evelyn King
In the light of the intense strain which must rest upon the Army—and I have in mind not only the strain on the individual soldier, of which we are all aware, but the numerical strain which must rest upon the Ministry of Defence, and the Army after all other duties around the world—is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the recruitment to the Ulster Defence Regiment is not in any way being limited and that its equipment is sufficient? Would he accept that it seems likely that the regiment ought to have an increasing rôle in the troubles that clearly lie ahead?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Yes. I can give my hon. Friend all those assurances about the Ulster Defence Regiment.
§ Mr. McManus
Would the Secretary of State sketch in briefly the proper background to the tragic events of last night and the last few days? Is he aware that he can do so by honestly answering a few questions for the benefit of the House and the community in Northern Ireland?
First, why is it that the Army has stopped two peaceful protests through the centre of Belfast, in which no one lives, was used to force an offensive Orange parade through a predominantly Catholic section of Portadown? In the light of events like that, how is the minority to regard the Army as being anything but biased?
The right hon. Gentleman has always said that the release of internees would be dependent on the ending of violence. He has had a cessation of violence for a fortnight, but for three weeks not a single 2038 internee was released. How, then, does he expect the minority to place confidence in what he says?
Thirdly, would the hon. Gentleman explain the actions of one Army general placed in two situations. On the last Sunday in June he was faced with a crowd of people who were peacefully defying an Army ban. He ordered paratroops in against them. On Monday, 18th June, or whatever date in June it was, when this same General Ford was faced with a crowd masked and armed he parleyed with and appeased them. How is the minority to regard the fact that Mr. Craig, a former Unionist Government Minister, can go about nightly making ferocious anti-minority speeches and appear not to be amenable to the law?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
On the last point about Mr. Craig not being amenable to the law, there is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, no law against making speeches against the Government of the day; Mr. Craig is entitled to his views, and he expresses them very forcibly.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Mr. Craig is entitled to make speeches. There are lots of people who incite hatred in their speeches from time to time.[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]
As for the question of the parade in Portadown, this was a traditional Orange parade, and the route had been agreed. Everyone knew that the route had been agreed, and it was in those circumstances unreasonable of those who sought to try to stop the parade. I think the blame lies not with the Army, which I fully support, but with those who deliberately tried to provoke an incident and stop the parade.
As for the point about the internees, the hon. Gentleman says that I had a ceasefire for two weeks, and that is true, but during that time I had considerable violent scenes and a great number of assassinations of all sorts going on.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I had to have regard to this in the policy I was pursuing.
2039 Dealing with the hon. Gentleman's attack upon a particular Army general, I resent that very much because, having worked with him and having seen what he has done, I have the fullest possible confidence in General Ford. In the particular incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers, with the masked armed men, General Ford did not in any way, as is suggested by the hon. Gentleman, give way on that occasion. Far from it. The position was maintained, barriers which those concerned wanted to bring down in five streets were not brought down, and General Ford had my specific instructions that they were not to be. I would like to make that perfectly clear. I think he handled the situation with considerable skill, and I, therefore, resent the attacks made upon him.
§ Mr. McMaster
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we all welcome the news of the strong action taken by the Army facing an extremely difficult position in Northern Ireland but that we feel it is a matter of regret that it takes 3,000 rounds to persuade the Army to take effective steps—I presume the steps it has taken are effective? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that there are many other parts of Northern Ireland where the Army has been under similar attack—the Taggart Memorial Hall, the Army stations round the Bogside area, for example. Would he agree that the no policy of reconciliation or appeasement towards the IRA is any better than it would be towards the Nazi or other Fascist forces in Europe or Japan during the last war.
§ Mr. McMaster
Does my right hon. Friend realise that the only way to save lives in Northern Ireland is to bring these evil and perverted men of the Republican Army to justice as quickly as humanly possible?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I would certainly wish to bring all those who break the law to justice at the earliest possible moment, and will continue to do so. It is not correct to say that it took 3,000 rounds to provoke the Army in this case. That was the total number of shots fired at the Army. The Army fired 1,000. As 2040 I have told the House, it is now occupying the area of the Divis Street flats, and I hope that it will quieten the situation, as is the purpose. As for my hon. Friend's other comments, I think it is unwise for me to over-react or to make accusations one way or the other. I do not believe that in a very difficult situation they do good.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, irrespective of any vilification he may receive from any quarter, that he has the respect, admiration and support not only of the people of this country but, I believe of the people of the Republic of Ireland and the majority of the people in the North? While he is considering the terrible things that have happened of late in a military sense, will he continue to bear in mind that the housing, social and economic problems are at the base of most of the fears of the people in Ireland? Will he continue to press for a solution to these things?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. I entirely agree that the housing, social and economic factors are the important things. If only those—the terrorists in particular—who resort to violence, would give one a chance to get on with these matters it would be possible to reach a reasonable solution more quickly. Violence and terrorism make it extremely difficult to promote successful employment, to bring jobs into the area, but we are proceeding with these things as fast as we can.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Will my right hon. Friend accept from me as the Member for the Lenadoonarea an assurance that his actions and the actions of the Army will be welcomed by all the law-abiding citizens in the Suffolk area? Will he also accept from me confirmation of his statement at the weekend that it was the IRA and not the Army who broke the truce? Is he aware that the first four shots of the resumption of the campaign by the IRA were fired at a group of women to whom I was speaking and that, in fact, one of them was shot?
Is my right hon. Friend further aware that the vacancies in the Lower Lenadoon Avenue which have been much talked about were created a fortnight ago by 2041 Protestants being driven out under gunfire from the IRA and that I spoke to a constituent, an old-aged pensioner, who had been shot at as he went to take a bottle of milk from his refrigerator? Will my right hon. Friend consider again the possibility of establishing a sterile belt across Lenadoon Avenue to prevent this lava flow of terrorism down the mountainside from the Glen Road area?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am glad to have my hon. Friend's confirmation on the first point. I have no doubt that it was the IRA who broke the truce; there can be no question of doubt about that, and my hon. Friend confirms it. I note what my hon. Friend says about the problems of intimidation in Lenadoon Avenue. My hon. Friend knows this area well. It was because of fears of intimidation that I set up the protection agency. I wished to stop intimidation and to do everything I could to stop it. I will continue to do that, because intimidation on all sides is one of the great difficulties of the housing problem. I shall certainly look into the other points which my hon. Friend made about that area.
However, there was intimidation in the area of the Ainsworth Street confrontation where 50 Catholic families were involved, but since the action taken there, and since the protection given by the Army, while some people, I fear, have moved, others have expressed their satisfaction to my office and to the Army on the spot for the way in which the Army has protected them from intimidation. The Army has performed considerable tasks in stopping intimidation on all sides and in all areas, and such work as it has done should be publicly recognised in this House.
§ Miss Devlin
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while the most obvious tragedies and certainly the attention of politicians and Press alike seem to concentrate on Belfast and Derry as the two city areas, the rate of intimidation has grown throughout the countryside of Northern Ireland and the fears of the Catholic population has grown in respect of one particular point, namely, the fear of involvement of certain members, and possibly of growing numbers of members, of the Ulster Defence Regiment in the Ulster Defence Association? A number 2042 of such cases has already been brought to the attention of local Ulster Defence Regiment commanders. Can the right hon. Gentleman give any information about how many weapons and rounds of ammunition belonging to the Ulster Defence Regiment commanders. Can the right hon. Gentleman give any information about how many weapons and rounds of ammunition belonging to the Ulster Defence Regiment are recorded as lost or stolen or as having strayed in rural areas like Tyrone?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Lady makes a very serious accusation about the connection of the Ulster Defence Regiment with the Ulster Defence Association. If she has specific evidence of that, she owes it to me to send it to me in writing at the earliest possible moment. I should, in fairness to everybody concerned, have such allegations in writing, and I hope that the hon. Lady will send them to me.
As for the other points she has raised, naturally I will look into them, but I have no evidence to confirm what she says.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way to get peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland is to bring the violence to an end as speedily as possible? Will he pursue the gunmen with firmness and fairness so that reconciliation can be achieved between all sides in the community and they can come together and discuss in harmony the various problems of Northern Ireland?
Can my right hon. Friend say what it is that makes the IRA fight on? What more does it want? What is it asking for? Does it want a united Ireland by force, or does it want to destroy Northern Ireland completely? This is the key to the question. If my right hon. Friend can say why the IRA is fighting on, it will go a long way to solving the problem.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I think that there can be no doubt in any of our minds that the ending of violence—and firmness in bringing it to an end—is an absolutely vital pre-requisite to any other actions. We may differ on the best way of ending the violence, but there can be no doubt that it must be ended.
My hon. Friend ask why the IRA fights on. I should have thought that it 2043 was clear to anyone that it will not achieve its aims by violence. If its aim is to destroy Northern Ireland, which I do not believe, it has to be met the whole way along the line, and some people believe that that is so. On the other hand, if it is, as I pray it is, that there are people who can see that the way in which to change the country in which they live, if that is their desire, is to do it by peaceful means, then all of us in this House must plead guilty to that because that is what we are in politics for. We do it by peaceful means. We may disagree on how we should go forward, but we do so in peace and not through violence. If there are those in the IRA who want to see changes made but wish them to be made peacefully and without violence, I wish to goodness that they would take that course, because it is the only way.
§ Mr. Paget
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that of the allegations made by the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) one is plainly true, and that is that the situation in Ulster is very much worse than it was when the right hon. Gentleman took charge?[Hon. Members: "Rubbish."] Will the right hon. Gentleman take comfort from a peculiar characteristic of this Assembly; namely, that it seems that the more events prove a Minister to be wrong, the more popular he becomes here, even to the point of the return from Munich, and the more unpopular become those whom events show to be right in their prognostications?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. and learned Gentleman is one of those in life who are able to say "I told you so". Perhaps he feels that he is in a position to say that to me, but it is not always one of the wisest things to say, even if one is in a position to say it. I have been in a position to say it. I could have said it to the hon. and learned Gentleman on other occasions, but I have not done so. He has decided to say it to me in somewhat offensive tones. I am rather surprised, because our personal relations have not been conducted on that basis. But, if the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to say it, I will retaliate.
§ Mr. Pounder
Did I hear my right hon. Friend aright? Did he say that he 2044 authorised the Army to go into Lenadoon last night in the strength that it did? If so, it raises the question of where the line should be drawn between the rôle of the Army commander on the spot and the point at which perhaps higher authority is required. Will my right hon. Friend clarify that point?
Revertingto the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), surely it is of the utmost importance that we get the legislation for the plebiscite through this House before the Summer Recess so that when the security situation permits we can go ahead without the further delay of having the referendum or plebiscite. It is important not to give the impression, which I am sure my right hon. Friend did not mean to give, that if people shoot or shout loud enough they can have this much needed, much required and much requested plebiscite put off almost indefinitely?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The question of legislation in this House is not for me. As for the authority of the Army commander on the spot, I think the best answer I can give to that is that the Lenadoon move was authorised by me especially in this case since it was at that time that my officials were seeking to solve the particular problem in the area, and that clearly involved me.
Equally clearly, the confrontation with the UDA the other night was again something which had to be referred to me. Equally on the question, for example, of the Divis Street flats area where a number of rounds were fired at the security forces, who fired back, the decision to occupy the flats in the interests of this area was taken by the Army commanders on the spot, without my authority, although I would have given it at that time, had I been asked; but it was a military decision on the spot.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) spoke a moment ago he spoke without the knowledge of what the right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of this discussion, and that, although the hon. and learned Member for Northampton is entitled to his fox hunting eccentricities, he is not entitled in any sense to 2045 speak for this side of the House? Whatever difficulties and differences there might be between us on anything else at all, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the hon. and learned Member spoke entirely for himself and not for this side of the House?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Perhaps I may just simply say that I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and that, possibly, I was a little sharp in answer to the Munich taunt of the hon. and learned Member: perhaps as one seeking reconciliation I should restrain myself on these occasions, but I really thought the Munich taunt went a little far.