HC Deb 04 May 1972 vol 836 cc566-8
5. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about his efforts to bring about peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William Whitelaw)

My determination is to work with all those people—and they are the vast majority —who wish to see an end to violence.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Whilst peacemakers are always blessed, is it not difficult for them to carry on with a gun in the back? Will not efforts at reconciliation be vitiated if, instead of no-go areas being reduced, new areas are allowed to fall, as now, under IRA terror and dictatorship?

Mr. Whitelaw

I must refute at once what my hon. Friend has said. He suggests that new areas are becoming no-go areas. That is wholly and totally untrue. I refute it entirely. I shall make certain that it is not so. A great many people in Northern Ireland are working very hard and bravely for peace in very difficult circumstances. I believe that we who want that will triumph in the end. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will help us to that end.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition support all the efforts which are being made to bring peace and reconciliation, that we believe that internment is still the key, that we accept his view that the vast majority of people want to work for peace and that we add our appeal to all those who believe that bombing will succeed to stop it, because now is the time for all people of good will to talk?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman who, when over in Northern Ireland, certainly made his contribution to that end. I very much appreciate what he said then and I am grateful for his expressions now.

Concerning internment, I have to consider carefully, which I am doing, each individual case and I am making those releases which I consider justified. There is no question of anybody being regarded as a hostage. The speed at which I can effect releases is inevitably bound to be associated to some extent with any continuation of violence, which I very much hope will stop.

Captain Orr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while we all echo what he said in hoping that peace will triumph in the end, none the less it is extraordinarily difficult for it to do so in certain circumstances? Will he look, for example, at the situation in Newry in my constituency where there is strong evidence of Catholic families approaching their Protestant neighbours and asking them to see what they can do to get the IRA off their backs and that they have still no confidence in the ability of the security forces to defend them if they come out and say that they want peace to triumph in the end?

Mr. Whitelaw

I very much appreciate what my hon. and gallant Friend has said. I will certainly look into that matter. My purpose, answerable to this House, is to be wholly and totally impartial. I think that that is accepted. I am determined to ensure that the military and the security forces are also totally and absolutely impartial. The trouble is that both communities in turn tend to tell me that they are not. I will do everything I possibly can to protect people with the aid of the security forces. That is what they are there for. We have large numbers of British troops in Northern Ireland to protect people, and they will be protected. I should like to assure my hon. and gallant Friend's constituents to that effect.

Mr. Orme

First, does the Secretary of State agree that the statement made by Mr. John Hume condemning the IRA is much to be complimented considering that he lives within the free Deny area as it is now called? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Mr. Hume also called for the complete ending of internment because this was the way that the military back of the IRA could be broken? In that regard, may I also ask how many more people have been arrested since the new policy was undertaken?

Mr. Whitelaw

I certainly applaud what Mr. Hume said. I applaud what anyone says in the interests of ending violence. I certainly note what has been said not only by Mr. Hume from the Bogside and Creggan areas, but by others—for example, Father O'Neill. I note what all these people have said about internment and I have made my position clear.

Equally, I have interned no one since I took over. I have detained some people for questioning, but they are being perfectly properly detained for the purposes of questioning in relation to crime. That I have done. I have not got the exact figures but I am prepared to give them to the hon. Gentleman. My position on internment must rest with the answer which I have given.