HC Deb 08 March 1973 vol 852 cc573-5
14. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the progress of the Government's policies in relation to Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Whitelaw

The Government's policy has two aspects: on the security side, to bring terrorism and violence to an end, and on the political side, to introduce proposals for the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.

The security forces have had considerable successes in recent months against terrorist activity.

Her Majesty's Government will publish proposals for the constitutional future soon.

Mr. Barnes

As the Government approach the end of the first year of direct rule, to what extent does the right hon. Gentleman feel that progress towards any kind of permanent settlement can still be made openly, step by step, in the way that he is attempting? Has the right hon. Gentleman studied the way in which the Algerian situation was handled by General de Gaulle?

Mr. Whitelaw

While I certainly understand the way in which the Algerian situation was handled by General de Gaulle, I think that many people who have dealt with the problems of Northern Ireland would agree that these particular comparisons—and, perhaps, comparisons of any sort—can be unwise from time to time. That would not be appropriate. But we are in a position where we can put forward constructive proposals for the future—proposals which at least will deserve very careful study by all those concerned.

At the same time, on the security front, it is worth pointing out occasionally what has been achieved by the security forces, and I should like to give the hon. Member one figure for February. In February we dealt with about 65 terrorist-type cases in the courts, which is where they ought to be dealt with wherever possible, and in those, in the Belfast City Commission and Assizes alone, about 220 years of imprisonment plus one death sentence and one life imprisonment sentence were imposed. That shows that the security forces are fighting back against criminal activity in a major way.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend ask our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to put to the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic the suggestion that the constitution of Eire should be reformed so as not to claim jurisdiction over the Six Counties, and that if this were done it could very much reduce the fear of a Council of All Ireland in the north of Ireland? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will take note of the findings of the border poll in the constitutional proposals he presents to Parliament?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the last point, naturally those findings are bound to be taken into account. On the first point, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is meeting the future Prime Minister of the Republic today and the leader of the Labour Party in the Republic at the same time, and they will have discussions over the whole field.

Mr. Fitt

Does not the Secretary of State agree that today would not seem to be the appropriate date on which to answer Questions on Northern Ireland, as it has been known for some time that the border poll was to take place on 8th March in Northern Ireland? Much more seriously, however, in the meeting taking place in London today with his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will the right hon. Gentleman indicate that the views of the Taoiseach of the Republic, the deputy Taoiseach, and all those who have been involved in this Question today will be taken into consideration before the White Paper and the proposals for the future constitutional position of Northern Ireland are drafted?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would not be for me to prejudge any discussion to be held between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the future Prime Minister of the Republic and the Leader of the Labour Party in the Republic. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

As for the coincidence—if that is the right word—of having Questions on Northern Ireland on the day of the border poll, this was the earliest possible date on which it was convenient to hold the border poll; and, as I understand it, the arrangement and order of Questions cannot be changed just like that.

Mr. Winterton

In considering the proposals for the future of the Province, has my right hon. Friend given consideration to the formation of a body such as the Ulster Home Guard, which would owe its allegiance to the British Government and Monarch—a non-sectarian body of people who could defend their homes and their area?

Mr. Whitelaw

There are many proposals of this sort, but I must ask my hon. Friend and the House to await any proposals which may be in the White Paper.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

It is tempting to make comparisons with Algeria, Cyprus and Palestine, but does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the problem of Ireland has faced us for well-nigh 700 years and we have not dealt with it very successfully? Does not he agree that it is dangerous to make comparisons with more recent problems?

The other different factor is that all the political leadership in the South faces the fact that if there were a premature withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland there could well be a bloodbath in Belfast that could easily rebound on all of us, and might well transfer itself to this part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am bound to agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I indicated in an earlier reply that comparisons of any sort with events in Northern Ireland on the whole are perhaps unwise.