HC Deb 04 May 1972 vol 836 cc582-3
20. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with leaders of the Catholic Community about assisting the security forces, including the police, to enforce law and order in all parts of Northern Ireland including Belfast and Londonderry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Howell

An increasing number of people are coming out and speaking and working for peace, and my right hon. Friend greatly welcomes it.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Is my hon. Friend saying that he has not had talks with the official leaders of the Catholic community, such as Cardinal Conway and representatives of the SDLP?

Mr. Howell

Most certainly talks with official leaders of the Catholic community and with other leaders of communities are either planned or are already taking place. We regard these as an essential part of the move towards reducing tension and creating a stable, prosperous and fair future in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Molloy

In the new atmosphere which is slowly emerging, should not the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend to widen the scope of consultation to include industrialists and trade unionists as well as leaders of all religious opinion? Should he not perhaps establish a peace council, to which all people in Northern Ireland can have their loyalty, without any danger of having to support extremists, no matter how much sympathy they might have for them? In other words, should he not create a new centre force for a new form of loyalty to bring peace to that troubled area?

Mr. Howell

These are very desirable aims. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have had continual discussions with trade unions leaders, industrialists and leaders of all the communities whenever and wherever we can. We shall continue to do so.

Mr. Evelyn King

My hon. Friend spoke rightly of the future. Is it not a fact that nearly half the British Army is now at work in Northern Ireland? Having regard to the future, would my hon. Friend accept that we must as a matter of urgency expand the Royal Ulster Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary if we are to have any hope of success?

Mr. Howell

Military questions are for my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I have already answered questions on the Royal Ulster Constabulary, indicating our desire to maintain a high level of recruitment and to increase advertising and publicity to raise the level of recruitment.

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