HC Deb 05 December 1974 vol 882 cc1951-2070

3.58 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

It is right that a new Parliament should take this opportunity to consider the continuing problem of Northern Ireland. Although to some, Northern Ireland affairs may appear remote, we must remember that they are the responsibility of the Westminster Government and Parliament. From the close and detailed knowledge that I have as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I am clear that there are a number of key factors which must shape our policy.

First, in the present situation, without the Army, there would be civil war. The only hope of avoiding a catastrophe in Northern Ireland—brought about by terrorist acts—is to retain an Army capacity to prevent a bloody confrontation between the two communities. Of course, it is right, if possible, to make a reduction in the Army, and this has been done. Army strength has been reduced from 16 to 13 battalions this year.

Second, we are faced in Northern Ireland with a split society. The two communities, Protestants and Roman Catholic, have developed as they have because of different religions, different origins, different social customs and different histories. Northern Ireland is in this respect unlike England, Scotland or Wales. Any form of government for the Province must take into account the split community there.

Third, Northern Ireland is governed directly from Westminster because there is at present no alternative form of stable government in the Province to which power can be devolved.

Fourth, we do not intend—nor could we, if we wished—to drive Northern Ireland into the Republic, and the Republic would not want it.

Against this background, we must, on security, try to reduce violence from wherever it may come, and, in politics, to seek, through a Convention elected by the people of Northern Ireland, a degree of participation between the communities which can lead to a stable and effective government. Above all, our policy must be a policy for Northern Ireland—a policy, whether on security or politics, which involves all the people there.

We must face the facts of violence in Northern Ireland, but it is important to keep them in perspective. I published yesterday detailed security statistics which show a significant overall reduction in the level of violence. There were 115 bomb incidents a month in 1972; these fell to 81 a month in 1973, and to 57 a month this year. Shooting incidents have fallen from over 10,000 in 1972 to 3,052 up to 30th November this year.

The security forces are achieving remarkable successes, and it would be wrong to underestimate them. The tight security in town centres, vehicle check points, control over explosives and other measures have combined substantially to reduce the level of violence. This year, by 30th November, more than 11 tons of explosives had been seized andi 153 persons charged with explosive offences. During the same period, 1,291 persons were charged with terrorist offences, and during last month alone 134 were charged. The co-operation of the community is beginning to tell. As I shall tell the House, the co-operation of the community has improved very greatly in the last week or two.

Assassination has been a mode of terrorism over the years. The recent murder of two members of the judiciary by the Provisional IRA has sparked off the latest wave of killings. But the police, whenever they can enter an area and obtain evidence, bring persons before the courts, and 12 people have been charged with murder in respect of these crimes. In addition, during November, I signed 23 interim custody orders. Since Sunday, I have signed a further nine orders.

I want to say something to the House here in terms of the way in which the situation is seen in Northern Ireland, in that I sign more interim custody orders for the Catholic community than I do for the Protestant community. All I would say to that is that if the police could get into the Catholic areas the situation would change. The proper comparison in such a situation is between the number of Catholics who have been made the subject of interim custody orders and the number of Protestants going through the courts. That is the true comparison to make, and by it the situation looks very different.

It is not the wish of the British people that the Army should continue indefinitely in Northern Ireland to fulfil a rôle that is properly that of the police. A planned, orderly and progressive reduction in the Army presence can and will follow the ending of the present campaign of violence, but the Army will not be withdrawn so long as it is needed to support the RUC in maintaining law and order. There must first be wholehearted community support for the police.

The RUC deserves great credit. Since 1969, it has undergone a fundamental reorganisation. Morale is now high, and detection rates are constantly improving. The recent changes involving the expansion of the RUC Reserve and the introduction of the local police posts provide a means by which the community can increasingly play a part in policing their own areas.

We must, however, strive for ever greater improvement in the security situation. The best way forward is through more widespread co-operation with the police.

In many areas, intimidation is still a basic problem. In this year alone, there have so far been 133 punishment shootings in both communities. The majority of the victims have been knee-capped. This is the terrorist form of justice—a penalty administered after a decision by a kangeroo court. There are degrees of knee-capping. A shot through the muscle above the knee cripples probably temporarily; a shot from the front of of the knee is more permanent; and one from behind the knee destroys the joint forever. This system has, however, been refined. I gather, from information given to me, that some Loyalist knee-capping is now carried out with a Black and Decker electric drill.

It ill becomes O'Connell, the TV mouthpiece of the Provisional IRA, to say: Our whole campaign has been geared to avoid civilian casualties. Hundreds of civilians in Northern Ireland have been killed as a result of terrorist activity, predominantly by the Provisional IRA, and the memory of that will linger on in a way that some people do not realise.

I have informed the House of my recent use of Section 10 of the Emergency Provisions Act. Tonight, I shall be asking the House to renew those powers for a further six months. I hope to publish early in the New Year the report of the Gardiner Committee, which I set up last April to review the Emergency Provisions Act.

The House will not expect me to anticipate what Lord Gardiner may recommend, nor what action the Government may take in the light of his report, which I have yet to receive. But I would like to say one thing. Detainees are held not for their political views but because of their involvement in violence.

It is sometimes argued that the British Government are treating people held in detention as hostages. The truth is that the extremist organisations—and this means, above all, the Provisional IRA, on balance—are using these men as pawns since, by ending their campaign of violence, these organisations could transform this whole situation. Indeed, it would then become possible to consider further changes in the custodial system. A reduction in violence would create an entirely new situation. But I am not prepared to put the lives of members of the security forces at risk for a political whim, and no politician has the right to do that. I turn now to the political aspect.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

Has the right hon. Gentleman addressed his mind to the question of special category status for prisoners, many of whom are thereby induced to accept that they may benefit from any subsequent amnesty, which could reduce the deterrent effect of long sentences?

Mr. Rees

The right hon. Gentleman has raised a very important matter, and it will be particularly relevant when we consider the whole system in the light of the Gardiner Report. It is an administrative system, and, from the administrative pattern of the last two years, there is no doubt in my mind that people claim political status for murders which were not politically motivated when they were carried out. Thus, to them the question of special category status is a means of hope for release in the long term. In such cases, however, their hope will not be realised.

Now I turn to the political aspect, which is entering a new and important phase—the setting up of the Convention. The previous Government endeavoured in the Constitution Act 1973, to find a way in which devolved government could take place in Northern Ireland on the basis of consent. This followed upon long and widespread consultations with the political communities in Northern Ireland and with many individual citizens. I want to make clear my support for what the Conservative Government did at that time.

The Executive fell because it lacked support from one section of the Protestant community, whose fears were aroused over what is called "the Irish dimension". That 1973 Act is still on the statute book and some parts of it may in time provide a basis for a way forward. This should be taken into account by the Constitutional Convention, for which I expect elections to be held early next year.

We want to see devolved government again in Northern Ireland. We cannot agree to this, however, until we are satisfied that there exists both a workable system of devolved government and a willingness by political parties in Northern Ireland to make it work. It is only a system which commands support and respect throughout all parts of the community that will contain within itself the seeds of future stability.

The Convention will provide the opportunity for elected representatives from both communities to come together for the good of Northern Ireland. I have made it clear that no British Government could—even if it wished—drive the North into the South. I would also remind the House of what the Taoiseach said in the Dail on 14th March this year: I now, therefore, solmenly reaffirm that the factual position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom cannot be changed except by a decision of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. This declaration, I believe, is in accordance with and follows from the resolve of all the democratic parties in the Republic that the unity of Ireland is to be achieved by peaceful means and consent. That there is an "Irish dimension" in Northern Ireland affairs, however, is a fact. And it is a practical relationship which ought to exist between two good neighbours with a common land boundary.

I now come to the Convention itself. It has only one task: to make recommendations about the future constitution of Northern Ireland. In the words of the 1974 Act: what provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there". It is not a legislature.

In order to provide background for informed discussion in the Convention, I have already published two discussion papers. The first sets out financial and economic facts about Northern Ireland. Any system of devolved government must take account of financial and economic realities. The intention of this document is to provide a realistic background against which future discussions can take place.

Not the least important point is that any Government has to operate and allocate within a budget. The very language of priorities means that hard choices have to be made. Everything cannot be done at once. As long as there is direct rule, the Westminster Government are entirely responsible for social and economic matters and for determination of priorities in expenditure. My right hon. Friend, the Minister of State, will deal with some of the matters in his speech if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My second discussion paper is concerned with the procedural questions which must be settled to ensure that the discussions within the Convention take place smoothly and effectively. These will ultimately be a matter for the members of the Convention, but in deciding how to order their affairs, they will need to consider the subjects set out in the discussion paper, such as the procedures for working and the nature of expert advice which may be required.

Preparations for the Convention are already under way. With the agreement of the Presiding Officer to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is at present prorogued, I have invited Mr. Blackburn, the Clerk to the Assembly, as I told the House the other day, to undertake discussions with the leaders of the various political groups in Northern Ireland to make the preliminary arrangements necessary to ensure that the Convention can be ready to start soon after the elections have taken place. I will in due course announce the name of the Chairman.

Early in the New Year, I intend to publish a third discussion paper which will set out—again as background for the discussion by the Convention—a wide range of methods by which devolved Governments can achieve effective genuine participation and protection of human rights in societies which have split communities. It will set out some possibilities which may, individually or in combination, be helpful. The wider the Convention ranges over such subjects, the better. What is important is that the Convention should be seeking agreement among all parts of the community.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

Given the appalling background which my right hon. Friend has indicated, and given the wretched history of this matter, may I ask what contingency plans my right hon. Friend has in the event of the failure of what seems to many of us a very unreal effort being made at the moment through the Convention? In short, how long must my constituents continue to subsidise Northern Ireland if the people there are not prepared to take a decision on power sharing? What docs my right hon. Friend do if this scheme fails?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

In view of the large number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate I appeal for interventions to be as brief as possible.

Mr. Rees

I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this matter. Of course Governments consider what will happen in the event of failure. To have informed discussion on this subject, I say to my hon. Friend that it does matter to visit Northern Ireland and to stand on the junction of the Shankill and the Falls. I think I could say that it would concentrate the mind admirably and might lead to clearer thoughts on the future. But the discussions have to take place.

Methods of protecting the interests of the individual will, I hope, be considered by the Convention. But it is important that there should be no misunderstanding about what has already been achieved in Northern Ireland by the 1973 Act, which contains extensive protection for human rights. Discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion is prohibited in legislation or in the administration of the law. There is a right of appeal to the Privy Council on the terms of legislation, and to the courts on questions of administration.

There is a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, and we are most fortunate in having Lord Feather as its Chairman. There is a Parliamentary Commissioner and also a Commissioner for Complaints who can investigate any complaint alleging maladministration involving discrimination. These provisions are more far-reaching than exist elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and it is my intention to extend them at the earliest posible opportunity by legislation which will make discrimination in employment an offence.

It is to be hoped that, despite firmly held views, members of the Convention will not shrink from the task of exploring all possible constitutional solutions likely to commend themselves to the people as a whole. It is, after all, the people of Northern Ireland who must find their own solutions, and I believe this is a challenge which should evoke a response from the men and women of good sense in all organisations who have sought to portray themselves as patriots.

It has been argued from all sides in Northern Ireland that it is only by Irishmen getting together in discussion among themselves that solutions can be found to the problems of their political future. The Constitutional Convention offers an opportunity for all shades of opinion to participate in such discussion, and people throughout these islands will expect all those with strong views about that political future to seize this unique opportunity.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

My right hon. Friend is attaching much importance to the Convention and I hope that he is right to do so. Can he explain the seeming lack of urgency about getting it off the ground?

Mr. Rees

The Executive fell in May. The legislation was introduced in July. There needed to be a time for people to assess their own situation. I could not conceive of an election coming, as it obviously would have come, in the middle of a United Kingdom election. It would have been wrong to have an election in Northern Ireland immediately afterwards. Therefore setting up the Convention in the New Year is not a sign of a lack of urgency. In my view it is facing up to the facts of the situation.

It is important to note that it is not just a question of getting elected members together for a chat. The Convention has to be properly structured and arranged to consider the wide scale of matters that are so important for the people of Northern Ireland. What I say on the question of participation is that it is not inappropriate to remark that recently the official Sinn Fein recognised the importance of pursuing its aims through the political process.

This is a sober and testing time for the people of Northern Ireland. It is they who must create the circumstances in which progress can be made. Law, order and stability are not brought about by armies or by the police alone. They depend upon the desire, willing co-operation and indeed positive support of the people of Northern Ireland. It is not good enough to ask for assassination to be brought to an end, and simultaneously to ask for the immediate and indiscriminate release of detainees—and at the same time to withold support from the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It is not good enough to say that law and order is essential to Northern Ireland and to purport to bring this about by setting up violent para-military organisations.

It is not good enough for people to say that they want to live peaceably but to withold information from the security forces by which violent men can be brought to justice. Law and order, as we know it, depends on the responsible and willing co-operation of politicians and people alike in Northern Ireland.

The Convention provides the opportunity for progress. The Government are pursuing a steady and consistent policy of giving the people of Northern Ireland a chance to show, through the Conven- tion, that they can work together responsibly to devise institutions of government which are fair to all.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

The Secretary of State made an important point. He promised that a draft concerning the emergency provisions that we passed last week would be laid before the House. Can he tell us when that will be available so that we can see, from the security point of view, bearing in mind the action taken on this side of the water, what reciprocal action he is taking in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rees

The orders are subject to negative resolution. They arise out of the Home Secretary's Act and are being laid today. I suggest that it would be better for hon. Members to read them.

On the political side, Stormont came to an end in 1972; the Executive established under the 1973 Act fell earlier this year. New forms of government must be proof against the tensions and strains in Northern Ireland society. No constitutional device will alone resolve the problems of a split society. What we are trying to do is to bring about a new attitude, a willingness to work together whatever machinery of government may be introduced in Northern Ireland. We have been laying the groundwork for this; now we are ready for the next positive step—that is, the elections to the Constitutional Convention.

We are asking the people of Northern Ireland to put their ideas to us here at Westminster. I have talked about the needs of Northern Ireland; I have talked about an Irish dimension. What I now say is that there is a Westminster dimension, because it is here, in this Parliament, that ultimate decisions will be taken.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

The Secretary of State gave encouraging figures about the level of violence, the number of arrests recently made and the number of arms and explosives finds.

I begin, as he did, with the security position. Recent events here have helped to give people a better understanding of the Ulster situation. We have seen a wave of anger, horror and revulsion break over Britain as a result of the Birmingham outrage, and we have also seen something, fortunately small, of a backlash against the Irish population in Birmingham and elsewhere. When we remember that the people of Ulster have had to put up with this sort of thing for about five years, it is not surprising that they have looked at their political situation in a quite different way from that in which most people on this side of the Irish Channel have looked at it.

Too many of us here have been inclined to condemn the atrocities in Northern Ireland, perhaps to put them on one side, and to expect the Irish to behave as though the atrocities had not happened, were not still happening and would not continue to happen.

The climate of violence makes ordinary democratic politics very difficult. Democracy is hard pressed even when it is fighting an external war. However, when a great deal of violence is going on within a free country, people stop thinking in the traditional democratic categories. They are naturally, and almost exclusively, concerned with their personal security and that of their families and friends. Future democratic arrangements become almost an irrelevance except in so far as they promise, or seem likely to bring about, an end to the violence and terror. After the M6, the Tower of London, the Guildford and the Birmingham outrages, we understand rather better than we did how Ulster people have been feeling over the past few years.

As the Secretary of State said, judged purely by the amount of violence, the security situation is much better than it was. There have been some particularly horrible sectarian murders, or murders that have been classed as sectarian murders. By every measurement, the level of violence is down from last year and much further down from its level in 1972. Unfortunately, a much lower level of violence now has the same effect on the morale of the population of Ulster as did a much higher level of violence a few years ago. That is wholly understandable because the average person's tolerance of violence does not increase or remain the same. It diminishes very sharply.

The Secretary of State has, rightly, always made much of the importance of the policing problem. He gave some figures last week during Question Time. The fact remains that large tracts of Northern Ireland are still without normal policing. While I know their difficulties, I must say that I regret the refusal of the Social Democratic and Labour Party to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I know there is much prejudice against the Royal Ulster Constabulary stemming from the events of 1968 and 1969. But it seems to me that much more could be done to persuade the minority community that the RUC is now largely a new force. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there has been a fundamental reorganisation. Since 1969, 40 per cent. of the RUC have joined the new force. It is a new structure. It has a new command. It has a Roman Catholic chief constable. Its deputy is from the Metropolitan Police. The Londonderry commander is also a Roman Catholic.

It may be that much more could be done to make the RUC more attractive to Catholics and more likely to attract Catholic recruits. No doubt the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will tell us about his attitude to this matter. I am sure that more support from the politicians for the RUC is essential if the fight against terrorism is ever to be successful.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the reductions in the Army and in the level of military forces in Northern Ireland. The Conservative Government began that policy, and we support its continuance. We all agree that the more the policing of the Province is carried out by the police rather than by the Army, the better for everyone. The Army has continued to perform its task superbly. The more it can be relieved of it, and the more it can be kept off the streets, the more pleased everyone will be.

No doubt those who are in command are continually looking where the presence of soldiers is necessary and where it is no longer necessary. After a time, soldiers, however well behaved —ours have been incredibly well behaved —can become an irritant rather than a soothing influence. Often the best people to judge are the people on the spot, that is to say the battalion and company commanders.

We read today of the very sophisticated methods now being used by the Army. In the present security situation in Northern Ireland, I welcome the use of those methods.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

I agree that computers and that kind of techniques have a very adaptable use in this context, but will the Secretary of State bear in mind that once information is put on the computerised file it is very difficult to remove it? If people have to face the possibility of this kind of information being recorded for or against them for the rest of their lives, that is not a very inviting prospect.

Mr. Gilmour

It may not be a very inviting prospect, but it is much more inviting than the continuance of terrorism. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's fears but, within the context of the present security situation in Northern Ireland, they must be very much less important than the use by the Army of all available proper methods to bring about a reduction in terrorism.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

We are talking as though the information given in the newspaper was correct. Of course, the Army and the police keep intelligence records. They would be failing in their duty if they did not. Vehicle records are checked using a computer for the purpose. One is also used in Great Britain. We are discussing vehicle checking on a computer.

Mr. Gilmour

The Secretary of State need not be sensitive on this point——

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)

The writer of the newspaper article is not a member of the Government. My right hon. Friend is.

Mr. Gilmour

I am not suggesting that The Times correspondent is a member of the Government. All I say is that the Secretary of State need not be sensitive about the Army using up-to-date methods to deal with terrorism.

Leaving aside those sophisticated methods, I still think that more could be done by way of car or vehicle documentation. Less sophisticated means could be adopted. Obviously it is not possible to inspect the documents of every vehicle crossing the border, but stricter documentation surely would make random checks more effective.

Even more important than that is the gaining of greater co-operation from the Republic. We all know the difficulties. But it is high time that the Republic was far more active on the border than it has been in the past. I hope that the publication of the Bill yesterday about trials in the Republic, with all its defects, is a sign that the Irish Government will at last tighten their security along the border.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

Is it not true that the restrictions on interrogation techniques are having the effect that less information is coming from interrogation?

Mr. Gilmour

I am not in a position to answer my hon. Friend's question. But I get the impression that the flow of intelligence is very good. It may be that there could be even more with different interrogation methods. But I do not think that the security forces are lacking good intelligence at the moment.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of co-operation from the Republic, and he tended to give the impression that the Republic was not doing all that it could to stop the flow of terrorists. If he has the figures, can he tell us the number of people imprisoned in the Republic who have been apprehended for terrorist offences, who come from Northern Ireland and who therefore are an indigenous British problem, and how many of those apprehended are from the South?

Mr. Gilmour

I have not those figures available, but I am not altogether sure that they are relevant. We are talking about people going across the border, and I am saying that there should be more control on the border. It does not matter what nationality they are. There should be more control on the south side of the border.

Turning now to politics, the Secretary of State told us a little about the Convention, but not very much. The object of the Convention is that Ulstermen should reach a political solution on their own. I do not make too much complaint of that. The object is that they should come together and produce something after discussion amongst themselves. Therefore it is not appropriate that an Englishman, a Scotsman or a Welshman should tell Ulster men exactly what they should do and what the results of the Convention should be. But I think that it is not over-intrusive to say that the political solution in Ulster should have the following broad characteristics.

First, it must not give any reason for Protestants to fear that it is intended to pave the way towards a united Ireland.

Second, it must not leave Catholics feeling unprotected and thrown back on the IRA as a defensive force.

Third, it must provide a scheme of government from which no substantial section of the community feels permanently excluded or disposed to resist by force.

Those broad objectives seem reasonable and attainable. The main difficulty of the Convention procedure is that its members will arrive at it after having made various commitments to their electors. Some will be pledged to reject power sharing. Some will be pledged to demand it. Some will be pledged, as it were, to Stormont, and some, as it were, to Sunningdale.

If all the members of the Convention remained encrusted in the positions which they adopted at the election, it is obvious that there could be no widespread agreement at the Convention and that the Convention would fail. I am not suggesting that the Convention should emulate the Labour Party and say different things immediately after the election from what they said during it. But surely there is quite a large and exceptionally acceptable area between the extreme of sticking totally to the electoral platform—a rigidity which would make the Convention worthless and useless—and the extreme of an unprincipled disregard of everything that had been said in the election—which brings democratic politics into disrepute.

The American Constitution would never have been constructed at Philadelphia if delegates had not been prepared to move some way from their original positions. Burke's great speech to the electors of Bristol, which I shall refrain from quoting, is surely highly relevant here——

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

He lost the next election there.

Mr. Gilmour

No. He was not even allowed to stand at it.

The members of the Convention must be prepared to lead their electors as well as to follow them. I appreciate that members of the Convention will not want to move too far in front of their electors. They will want to be sure that they can carry their supporters with them. Therefore, anything which helps to break the isolation of the Convention from the rest of the community should be helpful, and therefore it will be valuable to have in session at the same time as the Convention is sitting one or more other consultative or advisory meetings.

For example, it would be possible for the 350 local government councillors to be invited to meet in session in Ulster Hall to discuss the proceedings in the Convention. Incidentally, that would be a useful prelude to the return of more powers to the local authorities. It might be desirable for the political parties to be invited to send delegates in proportion to the votes cast to a meeting which could discuss the terms in which a possible constitution might be provided. Thirdly, and most important, it is highly desirable to involve the community as a whole in discussions while the Convention is sitting.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I understand and have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's point. Is not this the moment when we should seek to encourage these different organisations to discuss the constitutional possibilities, rather than simultaneously with the Convention?

Mr. Gilmour

I was about to say that there has been too much of a political vacuum in Northern Ireland over recent months. But there is difficulty in doing that in advance of the Convention, because some people may think that any concessions which they make will be held against them afterwards. I see certain difficulties in the way, but I sympathise with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

I was saying that, perhaps most important of all, it is highly desirable to involve the community as a whole in discussion while the Convention is sitting. For that purpose the community organisations and even the para-military organisations could be assisted to come together in public places.

I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will be able to think of other and perhaps better possibilities——

Mr. McNamara

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the paramilitary organisations such as the official IRA, the Provisional IRA—both being proscribed organisations—the UDA, the UVF, the Orange Volunteers, the Red Hand Commandos and the Ulster Citizens' Defence Committee should come together and discuss what the politicians are doing?

Mr. Gilmour

No. There is an obvious distinction between the proscribed and the non-proscribed organisations——

Mr. McNamara

In other words, only from the one side.

Mr. Gilmour

Certain para-military organisations are not proscribed and therefore their existence is legally recognised. I feel that it is better to make a virtue out of their existence than simply to hope that they will go away.

I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will think of better ways of reducing the isolation of the Assembly. But I do not think that he has so far addressed his mind in public to the very great danger of this Convention or to the logical difficulty which is that people will be mandated to arrive with totally irreconcilable positions. If there is to be any reasonable outcome of the Convention, they must be helped out of those entrenched positions.

We can argue about how it should be done, but I am sure that it is right to reduce the isolation of the Convention and to bring back more political activity in Northern Ireland. I share some of the views of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. That is one reason why I regret that the Secretary of State did not announce the name of the chairman of the Convention this afternoon. That should be done soon so that he can get on with the work that will be necessary to make the Convention a success. There has been too long a delay, and I hope that the Secretary of State will name the chairman soon.

It is a truism that there will be no possibility of a solution if everybody insists on getting 100 per cent. of what he wants. Apart from any other considerations, I imagine that most members of the Convention will wish to achieve a settlement, as the alternatives are plainly much worse. The House will have noted that the Minister of Justice in the Republic said recently that the IRA's strategy was to bring about a confrontation between the communities in Northern Ireland on a genocidal scale. That is a danger which we all hope will be avoided. The best way of avoiding it will be by a settlement at the Convention.

As we said in our manifesto, we recognise that Ulster is under-represented in this House, and I trust that the settlement after the Convention will include an increase in that representation.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

As it is, I understand, accepted that, without prejudice to future constitutional arrangements in Wales and Scotland, there would be no question of the representation of those parts of the Kingdom in this House being reduced, why should the proper representation of Northern Ireland in this House depend on the form of constitution which emerges from the Convention?

Mr. Gilmour

The right hon. Gentleman may understand that, but I do not accept that it would necessarily be right for the representation in Scotland and Wales to remain at a greater level than that of England——

Mr. Powell

As a first instalment, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would agree that Northern Ireland should be represented on the same scale as is England?

Mr. Gilmour

I said that Northern Ireland was under-represented, but it would be a great mistake to do something about it now. We are just about to begin a Convention which we all hope will produce a political settlement, and the question of Ulster representation should be solved at the same time. That seems to be a perfectly reasonable attitude. Everyone can argue about the exact numbers at a later date.

Rev. Ian Paisley

It is accepted by all hon. Members that the final decision on this matter ultimately rests with the House. Surely, when that final decision is taken Northern Ireland should be numerically properly represented in the House?

Mr. Gilmour

That is merely saying what I have just said. When the House comes to a collective conclusion on the deliberations of the Convention, part of the settlement of the Northern Ireland problem should be an increase in Ulster representation.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he has let an interesting cat out of the bag and that some of us would welcome the view of the Leader of the Opposition on the subject of Scottish representation?

Mr. Gilmour

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that it was accepted that the Scottish representation should remain exactly the same. I did not think that talks had got that far. It is early to make such a statement. Speaking personally—I am not the spokesman on Scotland or anything else —my view is that it would be difficult to justify that position.

Mr. Dalyell

The right hon. Gentleman is a very honest fellow.

Mr. Gilmour

I thank the hon. Gentleman.

The first alternative to a settlement at the Convention is the continuation of direct rule, but at a time when devolution is spreading elsewhere it would be highly paradoxical for Ulster to move in the opposite direction. For more than 50 years there was more devolution of power in Ulster than there was in any other part of the United Kingdom and it would be odd if, in the next few years, there should be less in Ulster than there is anywhere else.

The second alternative is independence. We all know that the economic cost to Ulster of independence would be very high. Taxes in the Province would have to be raised by more than half, and public expenditure would have to be reduced by more than one-third. That is a grim prospect.

Altogether apart from the economic disadvantages, I am wholly opposed to independence. I and the Conservative Party strongly believe in the integrity of the United Kingdom. Ulster is part of the United Kingdom and we wish it to remain so. I therefore hope that nothing will be said or done at Westminster which will further the bad cause of independence or make the achievement of a good constitutional settlement more difficult.

4.47 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

There is some feeling in the country that the present political and internal situation in Northern Ireland cannot be allowed to continue, that we in this island have had enough of Northern Ireland. Public opinion in favour of action being taken to deal with Northern Ireland is growing. The anti-terrorist legislation may have some effect, but we need to think further into the future than that.

There is also growing public opinion that it is time we withdrew our troops from Northern Ireland. People feel that there is no reason why our countrymen should stand there to be shot at by both sides in a quarrel in which they have no part. Sooner or later that feeling will have to be taken into account by the House.

The Minister said that the withdrawal of troops would lead to civil war, but we have civil war now in Northern Ireland. There is an attack on this coutnry by the IRA, and war conditions already exist. If we are to end those war conditions drastic action will have to be taken.

What kind of political solution must we aim for? First, we must recognise the political facts of life. There are two nationalist movements in Northern Ireland —the Irish Nationalist movement and the Ulster Nationalist movement. One movement wishes to unite the whole of Ireland and the other wishes to have a separate and independent Ulster. The two aims are irreconcilable, and it is time we recognised that.

The Ulster Nationalist movement is a grass roots movement, as was shown by the workers' strike in May last year. Not only the old ascendancy families but people throughout the whole of Northern Ireland have such strong feelings.

What is likely to be the result of the spring elections to the Convention? If the General Elections to this House in February and October are any guide— and I think that they are—there will be a majority of Ulster nationalists in the Assembly, despite proportional representation. When discussions take place there, suggestions are likely to be produced that almost certainly will not be acceptable to the Government, the country and Parliament. That is what is likely to happen when we have an election to the Convention.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I know that the hon. Gentleman believes in democracy. Does he remember the two polls in Northern Ireland in recent years in both of which the great majority of the people said that they wished to remain within the United Kingdom. There is no such thing as an Ulster nationalist movement—just a few hotheads.

Mr. Parker

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not take account of recent developments in opinion. If the Convention comes forward with proposals which are unacceptable to this House there will have to be a break. That fact must be considered. I believe that that is almost certain to happen when the elections take place.

What will happen if a majority of an Ulster nationalist character is elected to the Convention, as I suggest? We shall have to say that we shall withdraw the troops within a certain limited time. That will be essential to make the people of Northern Ireland face the situation and put forward definite proposals for consideration.

I think that coming out of the discussions there is bound to be a redrawing of the frontier. It is bound to mean that various Catholic border areas should have the option of going into the South if they wish to do so. Newry, the Bogside, and so on, should be able to take that course if they so desire.

There have already been exchanges of population in Northern Ireland, because one side has forced out the other in particular areas. The only solution is to encourage and, if necessary, give financial assistance to the population to take that process further.

There must be a guarantee by this country that all the people who now live in Northern Ireland, whether they remain there or move elsewhere—to the South to Great Britain, Australia or anywhere else—will keep the British social services. After all, they have paid for them.

It is frequently said that this is a conflict of religions. I do not believe that. We have Protestants on the one side and Catholics on the other, but there is very little Christianity about this whole matter. We see bloody murder often encouraged, certainly not discouraged, on both sides by clerical gentlemen who support different views. This would not be so if real Christianity were the issue.

We must face the reality of the situation. The two communities have different origins. The Irish nationalists in the main are of the old Celtic population whereas others in the North are largely of Scottish or English origin. However, they have been there for a very long time. They were in Northern Ireland before the Americans settled in New England. They regard Northern Ireland as their home and obviously they do not wish to give it up. We must accept the fact that they are there, that they regard it as their home, and that they regard themselves as a separate community.

There is a fundamental difference of opinion between what we and what the people of Northern Ireland feel about this situation. Their view is that politics can be solved by murder. That is an alien view to the great majority of people in this country.

There is a curious cult of martyrdom in Ireland. Somehow it is to a man's credit to die for his country but not to live for it. That is what has happened in the past and there is no sign of it abating in future. We have had a surfeit of murders of one kind and another in Ireland over the years, particularly in recent years. There is no sign of the ending of this martyrdom. It is like the religion in Mexico before the Spaniards came—the religion which necessitated the making of human sacrifices. So it goes on. One martyr has to be followed by another to keep the cause going. Another mortal has to be sacrificed to this nationalist religion on both sides. It is alien, foreign and horrible.

The Price sisters have called off their hunger strike because they have been told that they must not do it. But if they are told to start again, they will go on with it.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I have listened with great interest to my hon. Friend, who deplores everything that is going on in Northern Ireland but suggests nothing that may set it right. I am wondering whether my hon. Friend has any constructive suggestions to make for setting right this deplorable situation—and I agree with him that it is deplorable.

Mr. Parker

If these two peoples cannot live together, they must live separately. It means that we must do our best to ensure a homogeneous community on both sides of the border.

If the Price sisters are asked to martyr themselves, they will do so. What are they going to die for? They are going to die for the right of the people in the South to force the people in the North, against their wishes, into a union with the South. That is the noble cause for which they propose to die. Many others have done much the same.

I suggest that we should get away from this horrible idea of martyrdom and political murder. We must tell the people of Northern Ireland that if they wish to behave in future as they have behaved in the past, we want no part with them. We want Northern Ireland to be run as a separate country if that is to be the case.

I do not see any sign of a solution coming from the Convention which will be acceptable to the British Government or people—certainly not to this Parliament.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

The hon. Gentleman is expressing a view which has certain support. However, will he explain how open fighting in Belfast, which is what we would have, can be isolated from this country if we withdraw? There is no way out of the situation. If there is fighting there, we can be sure that there will be fighting in Liverpool and Glasgow, too. That is no solution.

Mr. Parker

I spent a great deal of my youth in Liverpool in the days when similar things were happening there as are now taking place in Northern Ireland. Fortunately, people here now take a more sensible line.

If we give the people of Northern Ireland a time limit, if we say that we shall withdraw our troops at a certain time, they will have to make arrangements for maintaining law and order in that country. Dr. Johnson said that there was nothing like the threat of hanging to bring people to their senses and to make them take a constructive line. If we give the people of Northern Ireland a time limit, they will have to make arrangements to see that law and order is maintained.

We had trouble over the partition of India and Pakistan. No one would want to go back on that partition despite the trouble that we had. If we do not make a break we shall have the present trouble in Northern Ireland indefinitely. Therefore, we must make the break. I hope that a break will be made in a reasonable time. The time for the break will be when we have the report from the Convention with the proposals for discussion in this House.

4.58 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

In many ways I regret that I should have to follow the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), because I had hoped that we might approach this debate in a civilised, constructive fashion. I hope that some of his hon. Friends will not be tempted to follow his example. I know that my hon. Friends will not be tempted to engage in a tit-for-tat argument.

I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that what I am about to say is in no sense a criticism and is not intended to be offensive. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that some of the remarks attributed to him in his speech at the Labour Party conference last week have caused a great deal of resentment in Northern Ireland? I assume that the right hon. Gentleman was attempting to state a self-evident fact: that in a civil war situation the minority will always come off second best. That is not to suggest that majorities are any more bloodthirsty or murderous than minorities. All things considered, taking into account the reaction that we have seen in Great Britain in the past 14 days, perhaps the majority in Northern Ireland have not done so badly in showing and maintaining restraint.

There is a need to remind ourselves that we are dealing with two separate and distinct issues. The first is terrorism, and the second is politics. There is a peculiar suspicion in this House that somehow or other the two are related, but of course they are not, except in so far as the lack of political will over the years has been an encouragement and even an incentive to men of violence to think that if they push a little harder, perhaps in the short term victory will be theirs.

The separateness of the two issues is a matter not of opinion but of fact. The first of these uncomfortable facts is that the IRA has said over and over again, "We do not want to reform the State. We want to destroy it". Whatever else one may think of the IRA, it does at least have a reputation for saying exactly what it means, and some of us have seen the fearful consequences of its actions.

The second fact is that had the terrorists been interested in political advancement and political solutions they would not deliberately have rejected the golden opportunity presented to them at the time of the abolition of the Stormont Parliament, because there was an occasion on which their primary objective had been achieved. All they had to do then was to declare a cease-fire and try to use their influence to make the new structure work, but they were not interested in that.

The third fact is that when the Sunning-dale Agreement was superimposed on the newly formed Executive, and in the end proved to be its undoing, the terrorists intensified their campaign of violence. The two structures—and they were rejected by the vast majority of the electorate in Northern Ireland at the two recent elections—of Sunningdale on top of the appointment of the Executive would, in the mid term, if not in the long term, have produced and attained the objectives for which the IRA and the Republican cause were striving.

It would not be true to say that the IRA missed its opportunity then, or miscalculated the situation. The plain fact is that it was not interested in a political solution, and it follows that if the majority in the Convention—and the hon. Gentleman forecast its composition with a certain degree of accuracy—were to concede everything and say, "You can have an Executive headed and consisting solely of the party that is led by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)"—that is the SDLP—they would have no effect on the terrorist campaign because they would continue with it until they had swept away everything that we recognise as parliamentary democracy and government in both North and South, in Belfast and Dublin.

We should pray that we shall be given, if not the serenity, at least the realism to accept that we cannot change the terrorists and that no amount of concessions or appeasement will even begin to placate the men of violence who are determined to overthrow authority in all its forms in the British Isles. It is encouraging to those of us who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland to note the changed atmosphere in this part of the Kingdom in the last few weeks. I hope that if my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) catches the eye of the Chair later he will deal with some of the suggestions for controlling, if not eradicating, violence not only in Northern Ireland but in the Kingdom as a whole.

I turn to something more constructive, namely, political action. Perhaps I may list what I believe are the three aspects to which we ought to be addressing our minds. First, there is the one to which my right hon. Friend referred, that of full representation and full participation in this Parliament at Westminster. It has been said on many occasions that we ought to accept the authority and rule of the Parliament at Westminster, and that is what we do. That is why we were sent here, and why we came here.

Second on my list is the Constitutional Convention, and third—and this again was referred to by my right hon. Friend —is the return to effective systems of local government in Northern Ireland. I have not listed the other aspect to which reference has been made, that of independence for Northern Ireland, because I speak for my colleagues who fought on the same manifesto as I did at the last General Election when I say that we do not regard that as an option.

I come to the first aspect that I mentioned, that of full participation and representation at Westminster. I do not feel that under-representation for Northern Ireland can any longer be justified, particularly because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, the proposals for Scotland and Wales do not seem to indicate that there will be any reduction in their representation in the House just because certain powers are being devolved to a local assembly or structure in their parts of the kingdom.

Coupled with the responsibilities which we as Members of this Parliament must accept, there are certain rights, and prior among those is that of full and adequate representation, and a full and fair sharing of the burden that we bear as the only elected representatives functioning in any Parliament or assembly, and I hope that Labour Members will regard that as an acceptable form of power sharing, because it has worked here.

I now come to the third aspect, which is local government, leaving aside for the moment the second aspect. We have in the new district councils that were elected on a system of proportional representation people of quite outstanding ability. The problem is that they will not remain there and waste their time and talents. They must be given some worthwhile function and authority. This is an area in which all the parties in Northern Ireland have proved in years past that they can work together. They have proved that they can engage in effective, meaningful power-sharing with councillors sitting around a table representing different political viewpoints and different faiths. They have shown that they can work happily and constructively for the common good, and it is my hope and prayer that we can soon get back to that happy state of affairs.

I should not attempt to saddle the two main parties, or, indeed, any of the parties in this House, with the state in which local government finds itself in Northern Ireland. I freely admit that a great deal of the responsibility for that rests with the party that I represent and on those who served that party in the former Stor-mont Government. They miscalculated the situation, they may even have been misled by their advisers, and the situation is in an unholy mess.

I feel that there would be some merit in the Government's not waiting for the new Convention before addressing themselves to the possibility of finding ways and means of at least beginning to construct a system of local government in Northern Ireland similar to that in this part of the United Kingdom. I concede that some hon. Members will say that the system here is not all that perfect, but it is a paradise compared with what we have to put up with in Northern Ireland. There would be a valuable byproduct from what I suggest, because effective local government representatives, after all they have been through, could again sit down around a table, get back to where they left off, and prove that they could work together and engage in meaningful power sharing. That would do much to clarify the minds both of those who are to elect representatives to the Convention and of those who are to be elected. For that reason I plead earnestly with Her Majesty's Government to take this point seriously into consideration.

I return to my second point, relating to the Convention. For some reason or another the Convention has always seemed to hypnotise people. They seem to give it a prominence to which I do not feel it is entitled. I am not belittling the achievements of the Secretary of State and the Minister of State in all they have done to bring about the Convention. I am not belittling those who designed the legislation to bring it into being. But I believe that it would be a great mistake to focus too much attention on the Convention, because if we expect too much from it, we shall find that people will be greatly disillusioned. If we expect the Convention to come up with a brand new, chomium-plated, enduring constitution for Northern Ireland, we shall find that that is just not on.

However, that is not to say that I am a pessimist. I am optimistic that something worth while will emerge from the Convention, but we must not expect dramatic results. How can we have dramatic results when the parties who will be going into the Convention elections will be standing broadly, as our United Unionist Coalition will be standing, on principles which they set forth in their manifesto at the last two General Elections in February and October?

With regard to our coalition, our mandate has been misinterpreted as a refusal to accept what the Gracious Speech called "some form" of power sharing. But it does nothing of the kind. There is no reluctance on our part to consider any suggestions provided that they are in line with normal British democratic standards and principles. We in this House are engaging in a form of power sharing. If we deny that, we are saying, in effect, that the four parties on this side of the House are wasting their time, and should not be here. With respect, I do not think that we wasted our time entirely in the last Parliament—there are hon. Members on the Government side who would concede that—and I do not think that we are wasting our time in this Parliament. I think that per men we have a greater influence on policies and legislation than perhaps, with all due respect to them, do hon. Members in the two large parties——

Mr. Abse

Do I understand that the principle on which the hon. Gentleman and his party are putting forward the idea of power sharing is limited entirely to the view that any opposition to his party which is in a minority must act as an Opposition acts in this House, and that it must accept, as it has done in the past, the position of a permanent minority? If that is what the hon. Gentleman is putting forward, it is no wonder that the British people are utterly disenchanted with the conception of the Convention, even before it has begun.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Before the hon. Gentleman answers that question——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. We cannot have one intervention on top of another.

Mr. Molyneaux

This is an extraordinary philosophy, that this House of Commons, with all its traditions of parliamentary democracy over hundreds of years, should suddenly turn round and say that it is wrong in part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Kershaw

Would the hon. Gentleman explain how one turns a minority into a majority and gives it the same rights?

Mr. Molyneaux

That presents great problems, if one is to reconcile that with any kind of structure—and this is the test —which will be answerable to the electorate through the legislature. The hon. Gentleman would accept that unless we have that kind of structure, and it is answerable to the electorate, then it is built on sand and will not last.

It has been said repeatedly, both here and elsewhere, that the fact that we had appointed an Exective of a sort for a few weeks proved that this great experiment could work, but with respect to those who hold that view, I say that that is utter nonsense. It was propped up, isolated and insulated from all the disturbing draught that could blow in any normal democratic structure. The Executive was the creature of the Secretary of State. He said to the Executive, "Do not worry too much if naughty fellows and back benchers vote against you sometimes I shall be there to uphold you and underpin you. You need not worry too much about public opinion or the representatives sent to the Assembly by public opinion."

My guess—no, it is rather more than a guess, knowing human nature as I do and bearing in mind that I am longer in the tooth than some hon. Members—is that the general public of all sections, and all political persuasions, would become more and more alienated from the people governing them simply because there would be no way of getting at them and influencing their policies——

Mr. David James (Dorset, North)

I should like to get a point clear about power sharing. Am I to understand that it would be open for a Roman Catholic to join the hon. Gentleman's party, in the same way as a Roman Catholic can join the Labour Party or the Conservative Party?

Mr. Molyneaux

The hon. Gentleman addressed the question to me as Vice-President of the United Ulster Unionist Party. The rules of the party place no such obstacles in the way of any person becoming a member of it. The rules and constitution were renewed and re-endorsed with that particular clause retained as recently as Saturday last.

Mr. Orme

I realise that the hon. Gentleman is trying to explain his philosophy and his party's philosophy on power sharing, and trying to equate it with the British position in this part of Great Britain, but he is having great difficulty convincing the House on this. Does he not agree that it is a regrettable point in Northern Ireland that while his party might be open to people of all persuasions, it is dominated by people of one persuasion, just as the SDLP is open to all persuasions but is unfortunately dominated by one persuasion? Is it not a fact that we cannot close our eyes to the situation that the communities are divided in both a religious and a political sense?

Mr. Molyneaux

I concede to the Minister of State that I have utterly failed to convince those of his hon. Friends who do not want to be convinced, but I like to think that my words have been listened to by some hon. Members on this side of the House.

With regard to the point that the party may be dominated by people of one particular persuasion, I do not want to be naughty or unpleasant, but I recall that the goings-on in Central Hall, Westminster, were perhaps dominated by a certain organisation which is not, after all, an elected body. Perhaps it is a reflection on the state of law and order that at the last election people who were of a different persuasion from me and who worked quietly behind the scenes to secure my re-election requested that their names should not be published because otherwise retribution would follow. That is an indictment of those who have been responsible for law and order in Northern Ireland over the past five years. My other proviso is that the structure, whatever it might be, must not be required to contain those who aim to destroy the State. I do not think that that is an unreasonable condition.

It has been suggested, finally, that there has been delay in setting up the Convention and that there is a vacuum in Northern Ireland. If so, that can easily be remedied by Her Majesty's Government without waiting for the report of the Convention. One hopes that there will now be a determined drive to eradicate terrorism from all parts of the United Kingdom. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South said earlier, when certain sophisticated Army methods were being discussed, we and those whom we represent, do not mind whether the Army knows the colour of our sofas as long as they get results.

If we can get action now on the first point—full representation and participation in this House—if we can restore local government democracy. Her Majesty's Government will have done a great deal and have gone a long way towards providing a new element of stability in Northern Ireland which will give real hope to that troubled Province.

5.22 p.m.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)

During this debate, many hon. Members will speak on different issues. I wish to deal with one point which has caused me great concern recently on this side of the water. I refer to the recent activities of extreme Right-wing groups and organisations, particularly their actions and so-called demonstrations under the slogan "Smash the IRA". At last week's Labour Party conference, I understand, a Birmingham delegate highlighted the activities of the National Front. Other organisations involved in stirring up trouble include the British Movement and the Union Movement.

All these organisations are recognised as pseudo-Fascist. The British Movement last Saturday organised a march and demonstration throughout my constituency in Liverpool. I have in my possession a poster, copies of which were displayed widely in my constituency, bearing the emotive slogan, "Smash the IRA now". It is significant that that demonstration took place one day after the House had sat all night to bring in legislation in an attempt to curb the actions of the IRA. The actions of these fringe elements are unnecessary and are having an inflammatory effect in an already serious situation.

I wrote last Wednesday to the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police and to the Home Secretary requesting that that demonstration be banned. I received the following reply from the Chief Constable: Thank you for your letter of the 27th November 1974, concerning the proposed march in Liverpool on the 30th November 1974. I share your concern at the current trend of violence, but I do not feel that a request to the Home Secretary for the exercise of his special powers to ban the march is justified in this case. Home Office has been in touch with my office and has been given the information which we have to date on the situation. Arrangements have been made for extra police to be deployed to deal with any problems which may arise on Saturday.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

They can wear black shirts but not black berets.

Mr. Parry

I have not yet received a reply rom my right hon. Friend.

Ever since the troubles started in Northern Ireland over five years ago, I have dreaded the thought that trouble could flare up in Liverpool or Glasgow. Thank goodness, violence has not arisen in Liverpool. We have not suffered the atrocities committed in Birmingham, London and other cities, and please God we never do.

Fortunately, we in Liverpool have had no troubles for many years. The Catholic and Protestant communities now live in peace. The positive housing policy of the Liverpool City Council many years ago has led to a complete integration of the communities, and we can now see Orangeman and Catholic living next door to each other, working together and having a pint of beer together—sights which were unthinkable less than a quarter of a century ago. We wish that things like that could happen in Belfast and other towns in Northern Ireland.

The occasional slogan is still painted on the walls. In one part of my constituency, one reads the slogan in large letters, "No Popery, no surrender". In other parts, the slogan is, "God Bless our Pope". Fortunately, such slogans are becoming rarer.

In trying times, Liverpudlians have always tried to maintain a sense of humour. Earlier this year, when the "King of the Kop" and the Liverpool Football Club, Mr. Bill Shankly retired, it caused a big stir in football circles. "King William", as he was known, chose to resign, of all days, on Orange Day, 12th July. Hon. Members can imagine the jokes which were floating around Liverpool when the successor who was chosen was a Mr. Paisley—not the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), I hasten to add.

The concern that I have expressed is shared by several of my hon. Friends who represent Liverpool constituencies, by Liverpool City councillors, by the Liverpool Trades Council, by the community in the Irish Centre and by the trade union movement. As a democrat, I believe in the right to march and to demonstrate in normal times, but we are not living in normal times. Marches by right-wing extremists will whip up feelings which lie just underneath the surface in the British people. Innocent people may feel the backlash, which may in turn lead to retaliation. I hope that the Minister of State will touch on this tonight when he replies to the debate. Things are peaceful in Liverpool today. The orange and the green mix quite freely. Long may they continue to do so.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry) is right if he limits his criticism to anyone from whatever side of the political spectrum who tries to take the law into his own hands. Anyone doing that should of course be dealt with appropriately. At the same time, we have to realise that people seek to take the law into their own hands only if the official custodians of the law have not been successful in enforcing it. The success which has already attended the measures introduced by the Home Secretary last week has convinced me at any rate that his action was in many ways belated.

Perhaps it is because we have had a thousand years without invasion and 300 years without any violent political change that we find it very difficult to face up to the dangers of our situation. There has been nothing phoney about what has been going on in Ulster in the last five years. But our public opinion, and even opinion in the House, has in my judgment taken on something of a phoney war climate all through this time. We have discussed the situation as if it were one of the restoration of law and order, of the remedying of grievances, of the winning of the hearts and minds of the people, and of the restructuring of society. But it was not until the bombing outrage in Birmingham that public opinion woke up to the fact that we are at war—at war with the IRA.

This is a guerrilla war. To some extent it partakes of the characteristics of a civil war, in that the enemy consists, in part at least, of British subjects from Northern Ireland, aided and abetted by certain British organisations over here not concerned with Ireland. It also partakes of the character of a foreign war in that the support for the IRA comes largely from outside, not only from the Republic but from the United States and elsewhere.

But a war it is, and a war fought against an intractable enemy. I say "intractable" because he is not fighting for a limited objective over which there could be compromise. The IRA, as has been said, is not seeking a particular concession on this or that point. There is one so-called injustice which this enemy is fighting against, and it is the only one with which he is concerned. He wants to tear Ulster out of the United Kingdom. That that is his objective is a statement about which all of us can agree. The Secretary of State made that abundantly clear. But it is an objective which we cannot accept. We can never accept it against the wishes of the majority, and there can be no compromise about it.

In these circumstances, and since Birmingham, people are waking up to the fact that our policy must be to wage war and that our immediate aim must be victory. By "victory" I mean destroying the power and the will of the IRA to try to destroy the unity of the Kingdom.

I hope that this is now the mood of the House of Commons. I am not quite sure whether the Secretary of State has yet fully grasped this mood and whether he yet gives the priority to the waging of war that he should. There were certain parts of his speech which seemed to me to belong to the period through which we have passed, when insufficient priority was given to the waging of war and the attainment of victory. I hope that he can bring himself to rise to the challenge. If not, I think that a new Secretary of State will be needed.

I do not blame the Secretary of State for being slow to grasp this issue as the central issue. Previous Secretaries of State did not do so, and indeed it is very difficult to do so if public opinion is not ripe. But since Birmingham there is a new tide of feeling in the country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will rise to the occasion.

This war against the IRA must be prosecuted on both the military and the political level, in Ulster, in Britain and, with the help of the Republic, in the Republic of Ireland—if the Republic will co-operate. It seems from statements made yesterday that the Republic will co-operate more closely.

I should like to make some comments on the military side.

Mr. Orme

I have been following carefully what the right hon. Gentleman said. No one wants to see violence eradicated more than do the Government. The actions which the Government have taken are proof of that. Nevertheless, we want a political settlement to the problems of Northern Ireland. At the end of the day, we do not see that these problems can be resolved in a military sense. It therefore behoves both communities to work towards that aim.

Mr. Amery

Just before the Minister of State interrupted me I said that the war must be prosecuted on the military and the political level. I was about to comment on the military side and then to come to the political side.

Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Amery

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way. I have given an undertaking that I shall be brief, and I have much to say.

First, on the military side, it is clear from what the Secretary of State has said that the powerful police and military framework that we have created is bringing in results, and so is the work of the Special Branch. So too, I believe, will the measures introduced by the Home Secretary last week produce results.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Amery


Hon. Members: Give way.

Mr. Thorne rose——

Mr. Amery

I have not said anything controversial on this particular subject yet.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

If the right hon. Gentleman insists on being provocative, he should have the decency to give way.

Mr. Amery

I have not said anything yet with which, I think, the Secretary of State would not agree.

This powerful defensive apparatus that we have developed will not in itself lead to the breaking of the power and the will of the IRA to seek to destroy the union of the United Kingdom. One can never get a victory by operating on the defensive.

The Secretary of State referred—and rightly so—to the danger of the independent para-military bodies which are growing up. These are dangerous because they are uncontrolled. But I submit to the Government that what they need to do is to create an offensive force of a para-military character, but under the control of the authorities—a force which will take the offensive as a counter-guerrilla force. I have had some experience of guerrilla warfare, both as a guerrilla and from the security side. I spent several months fighting against the Germans, both in the hills and in towns. I know what guerrilla war is like. The one thing which guerrillas are frightened of is not the police or regular soldiers operating against them but counter-guerrillas operating against them and living in the same conditions as they do.

That is what we need to do if we are to achieve success and to destroy the IRA forces against which we are engaged. This may need the introduction of martial law. I do not know about that. The introduction of it would be repugnant to us, but unless we take action, others will take the law into their own hands. What is more, I believe that the action I am proposing would have a far greater deterrent effect and leave far fewer scars than the reintroduction of capital punishment. Well was it said that the grass soon grows over the battlefield but never under the scaffold.

Let me turn to the political aspect, on which the Minister of State interrupted me. Great emphasis has been placed on the need to win the hearts and minds of the minority community in Ulster and to remedy injustices. Of course, injustice should always be corrected and remedied for its own sake. Had it been remedied before, at an earlier stage, there might have been less sympathy in the minority community for the IRA. When the struggle is completed it will be essential to do everything to prevent a recurrence of that struggle and; therefore, it will be essential to create a more just society.

But let us be clear about one thing. The concessions which have been made during the struggle in the attempts to win the hearts and minds of the minority community—the disbandment of the B Specials, the destruction of Stormont, the introduction of the power-sharing concept and of the "Irish dimension"—have all been interpreted in Northern Ireland as victories for the IRA, both by the minority and by the majority communities.

Mr. Stallard

So is the right hon. Gentleman's speech.

Mr. Amery

Not at all. The essential political aim in the immediate future must be to make it quite clear to the IRA— the Secretary of State went a long way towards this in his speech—that we want to maintain the union of Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom. That is the first aim.

Second, we must make it clear that we shall maintain that union and that we shall never accept that it can be broken by the coercion of the majority. "Never" is a big word to be used in politics. I remember what happened to Lord Colyton when he used that word over Cyprus. But I also remember the great speech made by Churchill in the war when he said "We will never surrender." He was quite right. When one is talking about the United Kingdom, "never surrender" is the right phrase to use.

But war never leaves a country where it finds it. We have to think about the future and to prepare for it now in the midst of the struggle. There is much to be said, when one looks back historically, for what Stormont did in the 50 years of its existence; in the great depression, the war and the aftermath of the war. But I doubt whether one can restore an organisation which has been uprooted. There is everything to be said for power sharing if it can be achieved but, as has been said, it seems unlikely that the Convention will produce the result which many of us would like to see. But if it does not, I do not think that we should despair, because although there is much to be said for devolution, it also suffers from serious defects. For much of my life I have been an advocate of devolution, not only for Northern Ireland but for other parts of the Kingdom. But it has one great danger. Devolution tends to lead to the best political minds remaining on the periphery instead of coming here. This was very much the case under the old Stormont system. If we can move in Northern Ireland to a system of local government in the sense that we have it here, but where there is fair representation at Westminster—that means an increased representation—Irish affairs will be discussed in the more tolerant climate of Westminster, and that could have a healthy effect.

Anyone who studies the memoirs of those who worked in this House before the First World War will know how the Irish Nationalists who came to Westminster, the members of Redmond's great nationalist party, were softened and became more tolerant by working in our parliamentary climate. If the result of my proposal were that there was increased representation here, an Irish Office with an Irish Secretary of State, and his colleagues—who I hope would be chosen from the Ulstermen of both denominations—and ordinary local government in Northern Ireland the situation would not be one about which we would need to despair.

Such a development would not, of course, be highly popular in Dublin, but it would be better than the civil war which would follow withdrawal, and from Dublin's point of view it would be better than a return to Stormont.

The Republic must know, and its Prime Minister has certainly recognised, that the prospect of union between North and South is now very remote. But there is another prospect of a different kind of union in a quite different dimension. If we succeed in bringing about a final and lasting adherence of Britain and Northern Ireland to the European Community, that Community will grow in due course from an economic and monetary union to a political union. When it does—and it could happen in 10 to 15 years' time— then Northern Ireland, Britain and Southern Ireland would all be members one of another.

5.43 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

In view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's spirited and heartfelt response to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) when he told him he should go and stand at the corner of the Shankill and the Falls, the House will forgive me if I impose upon it a personal experience. On a drizzling morning this spring my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) and I, waiting to get into Long Kesh, found ourselves face to face with some of the women with kids and babes in arms queuing up on their monthly or fortnightly visit to see their menfolk.

The sheer elemental hatred for us as "Brits", as people vaguely connected with the British Government, was of a nature that I shall not forget to my dying day. I shall never forget the sheer ferocity of the hatred of those women. It was paralleled only once in my life and that was a few hours later when we felt exactly the same thing from the young immature Protestant girls in the women's prison in Armagh.

We have to face the uncomfortable fact that there is a surprisingly large nucleus of people who simply will not rest until the British, and in particular the British Army, are out of Ireland. An equally uncomfortable fact is that this nucleus has a large fund of good will especially among the young in Northern Ireland, and, appallingly, many well-wishers in both the North and the South. If that is not so, how come that so very few wanted men are ever picked up in the South?

This is not only a question of intimidation but—and we have to face this—an inclination of many families to harbour men of violence, and in passing this House might raise its collective eyebrow at the results of the election in Cork on 14th November when Sinn Fein got 5,346 votes—13 per cent. of the poll recorded for Mr. Joe Sherlock. Is that not significant in terms of the good will which might exist in the South?

So the gloom-laden reality is that the situation is now so sick and so sour that if we go on as we are at present—Convention or no Convention; and I listened with a depressed heart to what the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said about it—the ever-escalating war and murder in Ireland will continue for as long as most of us here can expect to remain in public life.

After five years, is political innovation alone sufficient? I believe that the precondition for any chance of success for the Convention is a British military get-out in the spring.

Before the House gets irritated with me let me pose a couple of questions. Has the House ever produced in living memory two more skilled and patient negotiators than my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw)? Re-reading, as I did over the weekend, the most interesting book of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East—"A House Divided"—I realised what a testimony it is to how hard he and his Ministerial colleagues and officials worked to try to get some kind of solution. Have we ever had more conscientious Secretaries of State than the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees)? Two Prime Ministers have striven as hard as they know how to get some kind of solution. I make no party issue of this point. The fact is that two Prime Ministers with very different views on most things tried extremely hard to get some kind of solution in Ireland. If these men whom the House knows and trusts have failed, what other Englishman, Welshman or, Heaven knows, Scot is likely to succeed?

The ominous fact is that, with the arguable exception of Lord Mountjoy in the reign of Elizabeth I, no statesman from this side of the water has had much success in Ireland. It is not that successive Ministers are at fault in any personal sense, still less that they are inadequate. It is that the policy is tragically misconceived because it is hard for us to admit that armies- even our British Army, usually heroic in patience —are no good in the role of police forces.

I agreed with much that was said by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) about irritation by an Army which has been there for too long. Does that not create a framework in which violence must be expected as a matter of course? It is one thing to send in an Army on what most, if not all, hon. Members in the House supposed on 13th October 1969 to be a three or six-month fire brigade operation. It is quite another thing for it to be in the sixth long year of a campaign. Nor is it sufficient to say that it is legally correct because it is our Army in our country. The reality is that the British Army is now seen by many Irish men and women as the English, Scottish and Welsh alien Army, not their Army. Any hon. Member who talks to Service constituents from the ranks returning from Ireland knows that this is nasty but true.

Irish history is against us. A total of 72,000 British troops were not much use in the long run against Michael Collins. The history of Ireland suggests that extremes always settle. I wonder whether we have not made the mistake of supposing that the right course is to back the moderates, because the moderates seem to some of us to be a decreasing number, and perhaps always less numerous than successive British Governments have supposed.

I believe that not only has the Army's presence not made things better but that its very presence has made matters significantly worse. As long as the British Army is there, the men of violence can think that they are operating in a cocoon of general communal safety, that there is a safety net which will prevent retaliation on a large scale. Remove that cocoon, that safety net, and both sides might think a bit harder before embarking on violence and massive retaliatory action.

The British soldiers have simply become a focus for hatred. Incidentally, some of us are becoming worried by the brutalising effect of Ireland on the British Army. Although it has become nothing like as serious as the effect of Vietnam on a whole generation of American soldiers, every hon. Member is receiving more and more letters from mums and wives impatient that they should be expected to see sons and husbands sent to Ireland to be shot in the back or blown to pieces.

As 19-year-old Elizabeth M'Kee put it to us in Armagh gaol, as Provo spokeswoman, "Your poor boys come over here and get killed for reasons they do not begin to understand." A sergeant-major of the Seaforth Highlanders in Bathgate, in my constituency said, "Malaya was bad enough, but it was nothing to what my son who is a sergeant and my other son who is a bandsman in Ireland have to go through." That is the feeling of hardened, serious ex-members of the British Regular Army.

Those of us who have dissented from the two Front Benches, and who look at the tragedy in Ireland through different spectacles, are under an obligation to spell out what we would do if we were to carry the awesome responsibilities of my right hon. Friends. I emphasise that there is truly a frightful balance of risk. I do not under-rate the terrible burdens that those of both parties on the Government Front Bench have had to carry. If there were such a thing as certainty in approaching the solutions to Northern Ireland, Ministers would have found it long ago.

What, then, should the policy be? First, there should be an end to detention without trial. I would let out every politically-related prisoner from the Maze and other prisons in the week before Christmas.

Secondly, we must face up to the crucial issue of policing, and tell the Provos——

Mr. Merlyn Rees rose——

Mr. Dalyell

I listened with great care to my right hon. Friend, who is the most courteous of men. I should like to finish this part of my argument, and then of course I shall give way.

We must tell the Provos and the IRA, "Make quick plans for your own policing arrangements in the Catholic areas of Belfast"— —

Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)

Come off it.

Mr. Dalyell

I know that this may be of a shocking nature. I simply say, "I understand"——

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Dalyell

Hon. Members can hear out the argument, and then I shall give way. I know what I am saying. I understand the consequences, and I have a real concern for the law.

Thirdly, I would announce soon that the British Army will carry out a snappy evacuation at an unspecified date shortly after the Convention elections.

It may be asked, "Is this callous?" My answer is "No." I care about Northern Ireland and its people. I have taken a longer and more sustained interest than many of those who dismiss what I say. I have 30,000 second- and third-generation Irish constituents.

Is this reckless? I admit straight away that there is a balance of risk, but it is not exactly as if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) said, Northern Ireland was bloodless and tranquil now. There is the possibility of a bloodbath. Perhaps that possibility is greater than it was 18 months ago, when some of us first argued in public the case for the withdrawal of the Army.

Secondly, there is the damaging argument, "You are giving in to terrorists." I shall deal with both arguments, and then give way.

On the question of the bloodbath, why is it that the Catholic men of violence do not think that there would be a bloodbath? [An HON. MEMBER: "They do."] Quigley and Morley in Long Kesh, representing the Provos, said, "We don't think there will be a bloodbath." [Interruption.] That is what they said. Hon. Members must listen to what they do not like to hear. They added, "We can talk to men like Mr. Carson"—the hon. Member for Belfast, North. Monaghan and O'Hare, for the Official IRA, said exactly the same thing. The girls in Armagh gaol made remarks along those lines.

Then we come to O'Connell. People do not like to hear about this. Incidentally, instead of the argument being entirely about whether Mr. O'Connell should have been allowed to broadcast on ITV, a little more attention should have been paid to what he actually said. I quote: Again I come back to the precedent of Algeria. This was the great fear of Algeria that the colons would, you know, opt out Many of them did opt out, which was a great tragedy, but the major section of the French-Algerian people remained behind, and it is a fact that today they are playing a positive productive rôle in free Algeria.". To historians of the French Empire, all sorts of faults can be found with the comparison, but the message is clear enough. The Provisional IRA, rightly or wrongly, thinks that it can settle down and play a useful r61e once the British have gone. That is the general view of the men of violence on the Catholic side.

It is a good guess—though I confess to the balance of risk—that the Catholic IRA would not dare risk provocative action in the absence of the British Army. as it knows that retribution by the Protestants against the Ardoyne and the Bog-side would be terrible. The question is: would the Protestants inaugurate action against the Catholics at the first opportunity? That is the uncomfortable, critical question.

Before he interrupts me—I do not know what he will say—I would advisedly refer to the hon. Member for Belfast, North as my hon. Friend, in one sense. Those of us who had the experience of wandering up the Shankill with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North know that, like it or not, whatever one's view, he represents the authentic voice of the working people of the northern area of Belfast.

No one who has gone with my hon. Friend up the Shankill can doubt that he speaks for the vast majority of his constituents. I simply think that if he and his friends were feeling either that a counter-lash from Catholics was not meant, or that the provocation was slight, they could control their forces.

This is a difficult area. It is a balance of judgments. There is no easy way, as my right hon. Friend knows only too well. I am simply facing up to the most difficult question. Aneurin Bevan always told us to face up not to the easy question but to the most difficult. I am making an attempt to face up to the most difficult question whether there would be a Protestant massacre of Catholics in some areas of Belfast, and I am saying that, on the evidence we have, and from my experience of going up Shankill with the hon. Member for Belfast, North, and other experiences, in my judgment, for what it is worth, I do not think that there would be.

The second point is the damaging argument that this would be "giving in to violence". In England and Scotland, I am totally against that. I echo the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden). I make no bones of the fact that I do not listen with too much patience to any anxieties as to whether this, that or the other civil right may temporarily be somewhat abridged. I would not give in in any circumstances.

But in the context of Northern Ireland, I would not see withdrawal of the Army as giving in to violence, but rather as the painful recognition that the English and Scots military presence cannot make matters better and probably makes them worse, because there is a difference between cravenly giving in to violence and at any rate recognising that one's own military presence may be the cause of the continuation of that violence.

I do not understand my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Northern Ireland office, least of all my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), with his impeccable Socialist credentials. I mean that as a compliment. I have a great regard for him. I make that clear. But does not my right hon. Friend feel how awful alien armies are when they are chez vous? The British soldiers have been heroes provoked beyond endurance, but their very presence in Northern Ireland creates an atmosphere in which violence breeds violence. Armies are no good as police forces, and there comes a time when it is difficult to shoot occupying soldiers, so one just increases shooting other people.

I know as well as anyone that the Catholics welcomed the soldiers five years ago, but the whole chemistry of the situation has changed since then. Now there is a gut reaction—"damn you". Actually, it is put a little stronger than that, but I will not use strong language in the House. Every hon. Member knows what I mean.

The rational objectives of the IRA as described by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) may not be as rational or as coherent as he makes out. When I turned up to see the Ulster Workers' Council, at Hawthorden Road at the time of the strike, one of the first things these men of considerable and genuine personal charm—as most of the extremists are—said to me was," We have called you Parliament men back early from your holidays." I saw that per se they thought it was jolly good to inconvenience us. They said, "Got Mr. Heath back early from China, we did". Bringing the Leader of the Opposition back early from China, so that he could not have talks in Hong Kong, was an achievement. They had done something. They had said, "Yah, boo" to someone in authority.

To cap it all, the Prime Minister had to hasten back early from the Scilly Isles. They were obviously extremely pleased at having brought an overworked Prime Minister back early from his well-merited holiday. We are not dealing on a rational plane of the type we are used to in this House. My suspicion is that the withdrawal of the British Army would be a matter for crowing, a marvellous excuse by the extremists and men of violence to call a halt to the violence because something would have been achieved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) nods his head in agreement. This is beyond the clear logic we have heard from Sir Phillip Allen and his successors among the intellectual heavyweights of Whitehall. We Celts view life rather differently from Anglo-Saxon Oxbridge.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Will the hon. Gentleman expand on what he meant by political prisoners he would release before Christmas? Would that include men imprisoned for political crimes, even murder?

Mr. Dalyell

Absolutely. I would take the risk; the lot.

Mr. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman would not be taking the risk.

Mr. Dalyell

I am aware of that. That is why I am careful to point no finger of blame at either the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, or the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. But I will give a straight answer. A prisoner whose crime was something to do with the political situation——

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I have signed four interim custody orders this afternoon. I have given a great deal of thought to it, but I am circumscribed in what I can say because I cannot reveal the circumstances. However, last week, I signed interim custody orders for someone who clearly killed a fellow co-religionist in Belfast. There was no politics in that. Am I to say, "You can go out on the streets again" and leave him free to commit another murder?

Mr. Dalyell

The reply is, how else do we bring collective madness to an end? If there were any easy way out. Ministers would have found it long ago.

There may be an unacceptable precondition for success—a television and radio blackout for a period on all news about the troubles in Northern Ireland. This would be against the instincts of most of us, but what do we do when a garage attendant in one town is murdered and retribution is meted out on a garage attendant in another town?

I also find it odious to see how some characters on Ulster Television wallow in the troubles. If I may be brutal about it, to me too many Ulstermen seem to be enjoying every moment of drama they see around them and to be wallowing in the fact that the world's Press and TV are taking an interest in a place which would get little attention were it not for the troubles. I know that this is a nasty thing to say, but there are real problems when many leaders are drugged by publicity.

I understand that there will be a vote tonight. I shall be in the Government Lobby for two separate reasons. First, I am very unhappy about a phased withdrawal. It gives the impression to the men of violence of someone saying, "On your marks, get set, go". An actual date far in advance might be a cause of unnecessary trouble.

Second, if I vote against the Government I know that there will be a row with the Chief Whips about a member of the PLP not going into the Government Lobby. That would be a row that would benefit no one. Far more profitable for one who offers the kind of view that I have put forward is that my argument should not be befuddled by a voting row and that the general time of thinking will finally commend itself to members of the present Government.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. I appeal to hon. Members to bear in mind that there is a long list of hon. Members on both sides of the House who wish to speak.

6.11 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I do not wish to take up what was said by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I congratulate him only in one respect—namely, in the tone of what he said. Even though the content of what he said was outrageous, he adopted a moderate tone. I think that these matters are best discussed in the sort of moderate manner in which all the speeches have been couched so far. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman particularly on a unique ability, which I believe is unmatched in any part of the House—to reflect at any given time exactly what Parliament and public opinion is not thinking.

I turn to the remarks of the Secretary of State and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) about the Convention elections which will be held in Northern Ireland in February. I add the further plea that we should have not only a firm date announced for the Convention fairly soon but that well before Christmas we should have some knowledge of who the chairman will be. That is a matter of proper and genuine interest that we should know. If that information is held up much longer it could cause some inconvenience when the Convention takes place.

I am glad that the Convention is taking place. I have no doubt about that. I am glad, too, that the British Government are standing well out of the picture. The many successive initiatives by British Governments in Northern Ireland in recent years have failed. Let the British Government stand right back. Let the people of Northern Ireland decide, if they can, what it is that they want.

I know that some people have said, "Why should we have the Convention? We know what Northern Ireland wants." They say that the Convention will mean a repetition of old arguments and old points of view. I believe that no one knows what Northern Ireland wants today. We might have known what it wanted yesterday or last week, but public opinion in Northern Ireland, as in every part of Britain, is continually evolving. We may learn something, and some progress may be made in a February or March election.

Some people have asked about the Convention, "Will the British Government implement any agreed Convention decisions?" There is no British Government that would not implement to the full almost any agreed Convention decision. Obviously there must be certain limitations, such as financial limitations and limitation for other reasons. But basically, I think, any decision which is taken unanimously by the Convention must be endorsed by any British Government in this House.

After all that we have pledged, we shall abide by the wish of the majority in Northern Ireland regarding association with the United Kingdom. I understand that we are not saying that we shall carry out majority decisions or recommendations passed by the Convention. Of course, any unanimous decision which is taken must be adopted by any British Government.

I refer now to security in Northern Ireland. It has already been touched upon by several hon. Members as well as by the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend. I take this opportunity of paying a tribute—I do not think that this can be said too often—to the wonderful role played by the British forces in recent difficult years. They have had a difficult task. It is one that the forces have carried out with fortitude and determination. They have done a first-class professional job and to some extent they have been helped by the House of Commons. Luckily enough, irrespective of which party has been in power, there has been a multi-party approach to Northern Ireland problems. Whatever party has been in power we have been lucky enough to have a united approach to Northern Ireland.

Both Conservative and Labour Governments have said that law and order in any part of the United Kingdom must be upheld if democracy is to continue to exist. In a democratic country I suppose there are two requirements: first, there must be free elections, and, secondly, there must be the implementation by the newly elected Government of the wishes of the majority which voted them into office.

It is clear that in Northern Ireland we have had a profusion of elections in recent years. In this year alone we have had two General Elections. The undoubted view of the majority of the electorate in Northern Ireland is that the United Kingdom must remain united. The majority has spoken, and we must be prepared resolutely to support the affairs of law and order. If we should be seen to waver in our resolution, and if any of us should be seen to endorse the views of the hon. Member for West Lothian, or seen to waver in our resolution, I believe that the men of violence, who have the arrogance to believe that they can usurp our democracy and the law and order of our ancient Kingdom, will only be encouraged. The men of violence must be eliminated.

I suggest that the elimination of the men of violence is not only demanded by the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland but by the overwhelming majority in the Republic. The hon. Member for West Lothian referred to a Sinn Fein candidate in Cork polling 5,000 or so votes, or 13 per cent. of the votes cast. I can tell him that in the Republic there have been two General Elections recently and that the total vote cast for Sinn Fein on a national basis was a lot less than 3per cent. of the total. That is an expression of opinion which is there and which will always be there, but the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland discount the views and the actions of the men of violence. In the North of Ireland and in the Republic the people are sick of bloodshed and weary of internal war. They recognise that the social and religious injustices which were present North of the Border have been eliminated.

The rules for living in the North and South are fair now, and the vast majority have only one fear. That is that we in this House will weaken in our resolve. I submit that we have a duty to make it clear that we shall not weaken. We must make that clear to those in the North and South of Ireland and the wreckers in that society wherever they may live.

6.20 p.m.

Mrs. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)

This debate is long overdue. I thought that the House would have a quiet, reasoned and above all honest and straightforward debate about Northern Ireland—about what had gone wrong and what we could do to set up a situation which would begin to lead to peace. I thought that we would listen without malice, and interchange ideas on Ireland, however difficult they might be—ideas which have been sadly lacking for months and years. What I have asked myself is what could I, as a back bencher and a rather obscure Member of this House, do to help solve what has become perhaps the fiercest, most intangible and most complex single problem facing the Government and the House?

I have no brief, no patronage, no leverage, no command of big battalions or even of small battalions. I have one thing in connection with Northern Ireland and that is a point of view which is fairly much my own, which owes nothing to consensus and nothing to the bipartisan policies on Ireland that I have very sadly watched being carried out by the House since I have been a Member.

In applying this kind of detachment to the Irish problem I want to demolish some of the fallacies I have heard about Northern Ireland. Fallacy No. 1 is the extraordinary notion that the British Government and Parliament are doing the best that they can to bring peace to Ireland. This is perhaps the most insidious fallacy of all because it is the most widely accepted. By what measure is the state of Northern Ireland today the best that we can achieve? Are the Government devoting the best part of their time to solving the Irish problem? Clearly they are not. The best part of their time is devoted to entirely different matters, such as the economic situation, rising prices, problems with the European Economic Community, the price of beef, the shortage of sugar and the atrocities in Ethiopia.

All of these are important matters which have to be dealt with by the Government. But the Irish problem is far more important at this time. We have a situation where the blood of British citizens is being spilled in the streets of Britain and yet the best political brains in the country cannot be spared from haggling over the small print in Brussels. We have a situation in which people are afraid to walk past pillar boxes, and yet the solution to this problem is being entrusted to political minnows. They are very nice minnows, and I mean no disrespect to those men who will have the courage to go to Ireland and try their hand at a solution. But I am forced to ask this question: are they really up to it? Should not they and the Government admit that they have failed? Should not the Government seek other solutions? I sincerely believe that they should.

In the British Cabinet there are men such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and others whose first duty is surely not to fret and fuss over the arithmetic in the Treasury, not to bend their minds to the problems of foreign affairs, that are largely academic, but to tackle the most important task in Britain today, the task of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Why do they not do so? Why is it that the first chance of a genuine debate on Northern Ireland in this House has arisen out of the tragedies in Birmingham? Is this not disgraceful? As a back bencher it is not for me to say why Northern Ireland has drifted further into violence. I make the point that no one will thank the Cabinet, the Government or this House for running away, as they have done over the past few months, from the greatest challenge of the hour.

I now come to fallacy No. 2, which is that a military solution in Northern Ireland is possible. The Army has done its job skilfully and well. I am a pacifist, but I acknowledge efficiency when I see it—even military efficiency. The Army has learned to protect itself and is able to give protection to those who seek it. The soldiers were brought in to police Northern Ireland after the local police had failed to maintain the necessary neutrality between the different communities. But what happens now? What do the British people expect from the Army? I know what ordinary British people in my constituency want. They want the troops brought out. They see no sense in more and more British soldiers being shot and killed and brutalised in this dreadful situation.

It must be asked: what is the policy of the British Government? Is it a policy demanding unconditional surrender, as it was in the last world war? Do the Government visualise only a solution in which the IRA comes to the Army on its knees pleading for mercy? If they do they will wait 100 years and it still will not happen. The politicians can no longer shield behind the guns and batons of the ordinary British soldier.

I come to fallacy No. 3, which is that in some way the Government of Southern Ireland will somehow bring about a solution. This will not happen. It pays lip-service only to the problem. The Irish State is like a hijacked aircraft. If it turns on the IRA it will be reduced to a smoking ruin—another Belfast. It knows that. Its politicians will be murdered one by one and there will be little that can be done to save them. The Irish Army does not have the capability or skill to protect its employers as does the British Army.

Fallacy No. 4 is the religious fallacy. There is an idea that if the Catholic priests would only excommunicate every IRA gunman, if the Pope would only bring down the wrath of Heaven on the movement, the problem would be solved overnight. It would not. Religion is an ingredient of hate in Ireland. The Irish civil war is not a religious war. It does not have religious aims. It has political aims. The absurdity of the idea that the IRA gunmen are religious maniacs becomes demonstrably obvious when one asks oneself what good Catholic would bomb another Catholic into oblivion before the victim had confessed his sins. That may seem a small point, but it is significant in that it helps one to make a true reading of the Irish situation.

So much for the fallacies. What of the solutions? Before we are able to work constructively towards true, lasting and just peace in Ireland we must first try to decide what kind of settlement would be acceptable to us.

If unconditional surrender is ruled out, how do we then proceed? As I ask that question a number of possible answers may occur to those who hear it—perhaps a united Ireland, perhaps partition, perhaps the complete integration of the North of Ireland with England. However, I feel that we in Britain have now exempted ourselves from initiating any solution in Ireland. At one time, even during the life of the last Parliament, it might have been feasible to sit down at the negotiating table with the IRA but not now. Stranger things have happened in the history of the world. The bombings in Britain, the outrage felt by the British public, and the reflection of that outrage in the measures taken by a sleepy Government, now make such a course of action impossible. We must face the fact that almost any action initiated by the British for peace is also impossible.

The prospect of peace in Northern Ireland is now farther away than at any time in the conflict. The British Government are benumbed. The IRA has gone beyond the bounds of understanding.

I believe that we must now accept the intervention of a third party, a negotiator, who is sufficiently detached from all sides to be genuinely acceptable as neutral. There must be a United Nations appointment. There is a procedure for such an appointment. Parliament and the Government must take the necessary steps to inaugurate it. Fundamentally, we need a peacemaker in Ireland. It is an honourable task. There are many people in the world who are fitted to discharge that role. If we openly state that we need a peacemaker, it is a perfectly honourable statement to make. We shall not lose face by making it. On the contrary, we shall gain face. By means of this simple statement of intent we should have at least made a small decisive step towards solving this dreadful problem.

I urge this House to select the United Nations as a mediator in Ireland, that we set a date for the phased withdrawal of the British troops, that we end internment without trial, that we immediately take the British Army off the streets of Northern Ireland and return the troops to barracks, and that we set up, in consultation with the United Nations, a United Nations peacekeeping force which will take over when the Army leaves. That is the only realistic way ahead, which I urge hon. Members to consider seriously before the bloodshed, the murders and the outrages become far worse.

6.34 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I listened with mounting surprise to the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun), who started by saying that she hoped the debate would proceed with a useful exchange of views without recriminations or malice. She then proceeded to mount an attack on the Secretary of State and his colleagues, whom she described as political minnows. There are a number of fallacies which should be added to the hon. Member's list. One is that there is some kind of politician with the magic touch who can be brought into the office of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and by sheer gift of personality remove the problems. That office has had occupying it a number of men of considerable political skill. The personality of the Secretary of State alone will never solve the problems of Northern Ireland. It is a fallacy to suppose so.

Another minor fallacy to add to the list concerns those Ministers in the present Government whom she thought might be distracted from their present activities to take on the office of Secretary of State and who would wish to depart from the policy the Government are now pursuing. I have some doubt about that. I would be surprised if many of the hon. Lady's right hon. colleagues at present holding senior ministerial office would wish to pursue a different policy.

The House has decided that a constitutional Convention shall be the vehicle for working out the future of Northern Ireland. That being the case, it seems to me that everything we do now must be designed to prosecute the success of that Convention. That places obligations on the Government, on the House and on many individuals.

I was depressed, as were many others, by some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). They did not suggest the kind of spirit in which we all want the Convention to proceed. We understand that the hon. Gentleman must represent the views of those who sent him here, that we must heed what his political supporters say. None the less we would expect from him and from his right hon. Friends a degree of statesmanship, both now and in the Convention, greater than seems to be implied in what he said. He made great play with the desirability of strengthening local government in Northern Ireland. Power sharing had already been practised in local government in Northern Ireland. Those of us with experience of local government in England might say that it provides opportunities for power sharing on a basis which this House does not. In a Province on the scale of Northern Ireland, the committee system, of which local government makes such good use and in which people from different parties engaged in administration and take crucial decisions together, is something from which we can learn a great deal. It is a kind of power sharing which the hon. Gentleman should not automatically rule out when he considers what the constitutional conference can recommend.

The Convention and its success places obligations on all those who might be elected to serve on it and on hon. Members of the House. For that reason we must particularly make it clear that only through the processes of the Convention can people influence the outcome. Only through the Convention processes can the future shape of Northern Ireland be determined. Those who wish to influence the future of Northern Ireland must stand for election to the Convention and not seek to bring about changes by other means, because this House is not prepared to countenance that. We must make it clear that those who are trying to bomb or shoot their way into change and into a particular settlement in Northern Ireland will not succeed.

The escalation of IRA violence in England is based on the assumption, which David O'Connell made clear during a television interview, that the British people can be terrified into withdrawing the troops from Northern Ireland. That is the basis of the assumption, that the people on this side of the water can be frightened into demanding from their politicians that the troops be withdrawn immediately. The British public have become regretfully accustomed to the scale of deaths occurring in Belfast and that the impact of the deaths in England was very much greater. However much we may regret it, we know that is true. It is probably even true for us as individuals that the impact of deaths much nearer the homes of people living in England was greater.

Not one hon. Member wishes to see British forces permanently employed in a police operation in Northern Ireland. I say to those who want to set a date for the withdrawal of British troops that by doing so they would be conceding to the IRA precisely that which the strategy of violence in England is designed to bring about. To do so before the Convention elections, or to set a date before the Convention elections, would play straight into the hands of the IRA. Any victory so gained would be a victory for the IRA alone and not for either of the communities in Northern Ireland. More than that, it would be a sell-out for the moderate people in Northern Ireland. I want us to look very carefully at this aspect, because the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) echoed the feelings of many people on one point when he said that the moderate people in Northern Ireland sometimes seem to be rather few in number and possibly even declining in number.

In the sense in which we use that word in England, there are very few moderate people in Northern Ireland. We often use the word "moderate" in England to mean non-aligned people. There are very few non-aligned people in Northern Ireland. Instead, there are two main groups of people. There are a great many extremists. There are a lot of people who are prepared to use violence. That would still be the case if we got a political settlement. There would always be the problem of dealing with those people. However, the vast majority in Northern Ireland are aligned to one community or the other, and they have strong views about the future of Northern Ireland. But they hate, detest and fear violence. These are not people who are detached from the conflict. They have deep emotional commitments and great fears. If they are Catholics, their fears are the fears of people living in a surrounded, ghetto situation. If they are Protestants, their fear is that the IRA will be able to bomb them into a State to which they do not want to belong.

Both those different types of fears lead people to look all the more readily to the leadership of people who are involved in violence and to close their eyes and perhaps their judgments to the violence going on round them. In this context, tribute must be paid to the increasing number of people who make use of such things as the confidential telephone, seeking to bring an end to violence by co-operating with the security forces. There is no doubt that a large number of people in Northern Ireland, although they are emotionally committed to one group or the other, want to see an end to violence and fear, and it is when they feel unprotected by the forces of law and order that they are drawn to support the various extremist leaderships which have arisen in different sections of the community. Many resist that temptation and that drawing towards extremists and violent leadership. But what have we said to them so far in recent months? We have told them to wait for the Convention and not to listen to the extremists. We have told them that they will have an opportunity for their views to be heard, and that the Convention will provide a vehicle for people to get together to work out the future of Northern Ireland.

Can we now say that we are sorry, that we have changed our minds, that there will be a Convention, but that in the meantime we intend to remove the protection without which the people of Northern Ireland will become entirely dependent on the power of the IRA and other extremist groups? Can we say that we cannot afford to protect them between now and the Convention?

In the vital period between now and the Convention, which we hope will not be a long period, we must continue to fight the IRA and to make it clear that its outrages will stiffen our resolve rather than weaken it. We must not invite further outrages by appearing to fulfil the IRA's plan. If we react to the Birmingham bombings, for example, in a panic way and say that we must withdraw British troops from Northern Ireland, we shall appear to be carrying out the strategy which Mr. O'Connell has mapped out for us. We must make it clear that we shall not hesitate to punish those who want to use violence.

It must be pointed out in this context that we have to dispel any talk of future amnesties. There is a rumour circulating in many parts of Belfast that all kinds of activities engaged in now may be the subject of future amnesties. This view is especially prevalent among some of the more hooligan elements which associate themselves with one community or another primarily to engage in violence of their own making which has very little to do with politics. We must make it clear that people who engage in violent crime will not be pardoned and have their sentences removed simply because they claim some kind of political involvement.

Mr. David James

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised this point, because it is of crucial importance. I support any suggestion that we want a definitive statement from the Government that in no circumstances will there ever be an amnesty, as such.

Mr. Beith

I believe that an indication of view from the Secretary of State on issues of this kind would be extremely helpful. I am sure that the Minister of State will note what has been said and take it up later in the debate.

In addition to doing our best to make it clear that we shall continue to fight the IRA in this period, we must encourage the widest possible discussion in the community. In my view that should be happening now. The discussion papers are a contribution to that process.

We should also do all that we can to maintain and restore normality of life. There is nothing more productive of an extreme reaction than despair—despair over such basic problems as housing, or getting a case, for compensation or damages settled—amongst ordinary people. The build-up of frustration has been very great. I have no doubt that the Ministers involved recognise the importance of this, but it must be stressed that getting the people of Northern Ireland back to some normality of life of the kind that we expect on this side of the water in terms of administration and provision of public services is of immense importance.

We must do our best to let the majority community feel that they are protected by the RUC and the Army, and we must do all that we can to avoid giving anything other than an even-handed impression. There is no getting away from the fact that internment and some of its implications have increased the problem in this respect. The very issue of internment without trial remains a propaganda weapon in the hands of the IRA. as is the way in which it is operated.

Right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies will be familiar with the feeling in some quarters that, whereas the RUC takes cases to court and avoids internment wherever possible, the Army tends to make more use of it. There are obvious reasons for this—the main one being that the RUC is policing, primarily, areas in which there is a relatively high degree of community co-operation, whereas the Army is patrolling areas where the level of co-operation is low and the risk of intimidation is high. However, the problem exists, and it helps to increase the unwillingness of one section of the community to express confidence in the authorities. It should be taken by the Catholic majority as a strong argument for accepting normal policing by the RUC. However, so long as there is some dis- parity between what happens in RUC-policed areas and what happens in Army-patrolled areas, it is bound to be a source of further difficulty.

It has been suggested that if we were to set a date for the withdrawal of British troops in advance of the Convention, we would provide to the IRA and other extremist groups a clear incentive to put their heads together in order to determine what to do or to arrange for a peaceful takeover. We should be clear that the IRA would have no such incentive. It does not make sense to suggest that on receipt of the news that British troops were to be withdrawn by a certain date the IRA leadership would seek accommodations with various sections of the community with whom they disagree. They would immediately look to how to defend their stockade and possibly to extend it.

The hon. Member for West Lothian made it clear that he envisaged the consequence of British troop withdrawals as being that policing in various areas would be taken over by the extremist groups. I do not view the prospect with the equanimity that he seemed to express. In my view that offers no hope for any future for the people of either community. I view the suggestion with horror——

Mr. Dalyell

Not equanimity.

Mr. Beith

Perhaps that is not the right word, but certainly the hon. Gentleman seemed prepared to accept the possibility of policing by the extremist organisations. We have seen what the law of the extremist gunman is. We have seen what passes for a trial. We have seen what passes for evidence, for sentence and for punishment——

Mr. Dalyell

What is the hon. Gentleman's alternative?

Mr. Beith

I do not think that it would be right to make policing by the IRA the basis of our policy, and there is no evidence that there would be any incentive to the extremist organisations to move towards peaceful and realistic policies if we set a date for the withdrawal of our troops.

The British Government must show that they are the ally not of any particular community but of all those in Northern Ireland who are prepared to talk their way to a political solution. For us to back down on that commitment now would be fatal.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

As we enter the last days of 1974 we are once again engaged in a Northern Ireland debate. This year, which began so hopefully for the people of Northern Ireland and Great Britain, has ended in stark tragedy for them, particularly for the people of Birmingham.

I pay my respects to the courage and initiative shown by the previous Conservative Government in their attempt to get the people of Northern Ireland to work together to evolve political structures which would be acceptable to the whole community. This time last year, when we were all engaged in the Sunningdale talks, we desperately tried to bring about a form of government which would bring to an end the tragedy and violence we have witnessed in Northern Ireland for so long. We thought that we had succeeded, and I honestly believed that we had.

On 1st January this year, when the Executive took office in Ireland, people from different traditions, who had been bitter political opponents and who represented the various aspirations in Northern Ireland, were determined to try to work together as never before to eradicate the violence and the gunmen from our midst. We never had a chance to succeed. That Executive and all that had gone into it was deliberately wrecked.

It was wrecked by the IRA, which immediately engaged in a campaign of bombing, intimidation and assassination to make certain that that worthwhile experiment never got off the ground. It was wrecked by the intransigence of the Unionist majority, who were not prepared to give the system an opportunity to work. Most of all, it was wrecked by the unfortunate timing of the February election, which led to the return of so many extremists who wanted a return to the ascendancy under which Northern Ireland had been governed for 50 years. After the February results it was easy to see that we should not succeed. The IRA was determined to bring about a united Ireland and to coerce the vast majority of the Northern Ireland people into the Republic against their will— something which the people in the Republic did not want. The Unionist majority were determined to resurrect Stormont and to create once again an ascendancy.

Then came the strike, be it political or constitutional, the repercussions of which will still be felt throughout the Western democracies. Make no mistake, I know that some of my hon. Friends would be wary of taking action against the people involved in the strike because of the trade union connotations which apply in this country, but that strike had nothing to do with any trade union stoppage that has ever taken place in the United Kingdom. It had nothing to do with the wages or conditions of the people who worked in factories and industries. It was deliberately aimed to bring Northern Ireland to a standstill and so do away with the experiment that we had initiated.

After the downfall of the Northern Ireland Executive we find ourselves once again in a political desert. I intend to say nothing that could be construed as partisan. I intend to say nothing that could inflame passions in Northern Ireland, or that could escalate dangerous tensions. A great responsibility rests on the elected representatives of the Northern Ireland people. Words spoken in the House can lead to death and destruction in Northern Ireland. I hope to have the support of my Unionist opponents who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. I hope that they, too, will feel that they should do what they can to fill the political vacuum that exists prior to the Convention elections.

I recognise that it may be said that if we engage in discussions at this time we may lose the support of some of our more extreme supporters and that we shall harm our bargaining position in the Convention elections. I am prepared to lose that support, and I advise hon. Gentlemen with overwhelming majorities who represent Unionist constituencies not to let those overwhelming majorities deter them from taking account of the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland. Each vote that was cast for a Unionist representative did not mean that the elector wanted the return of Unionist ascendency. Those overwhelming majorities do not mean that the people wish to see a continuation of the hard-line intransigent attitude that we have seen so often in the House. Thousands of people who voted for my Unionist opponents desperately want to see the end of violence and yearn for peace, just as do my constituents.

Pertinent questions have been asked this afternoon by three hon. Members on the Government benches. The Secretary of State would do less than justice to himself and his Government if he failed to answer those questions. The feeling in Northern Ireland is that the result of the election is predictable and that the United Ulster Unionists will have a majority. I cannot say whether that will be true. I hope that no single party or political ideology will ever have such an overwhelming majority in the Convention as to make it impossible for one person to see the other person's point of view. I hope that the elections will result in a broad reflection of political opinions and ideologies. It may then be possible again to evolve a system of partnership in government.

To look at the future at its worst, if there were to be an overwhelming Unionist majority which adopted a hard-line attitude in the Convention and refused to have a power-sharing partnership or anything resembling the Irish dimension as it was understood at Sunningdale, what will be the attitude of the British Government? The Government must make contingency plans. In the past our hopes have been raised high and within a short time dashed to smithereens. It is the bounden duty of the Government to say what they will do if that is the outcome of the Convention election and the Unionist party remain intransigent.

There is an opinion amongst hard-line Unionists that the British Government will never face them in open conflict and that they will keep the troops there to protect not the minority interests but the Unionist majority population.

I have heard sneers and jibes at Ministers to the effect that, whatever they may say at the Dispatch Box, however much they may tell the Unionist majority that they will have to reach an accommodation with their fellow countrymen in Northern Ireland, it is only talk, because the Government are unwilling to face them in such a confrontation.

I believe that before the Convention elections take place in Northern Ireland, the Government should spell out clearly the conclusions that they will accept and those that they will reject. They have already said—it has been repeated time and again in this House and been written into the Downing Street communiques —that they will insist on a recognition of both communities in Northern Ireland working together in partnership and power sharing. That power sharing must not be given at the behest of the majority in Northern Ireland. It must not be a committee system in which a minor position is given to a minority representative. Due weight must be given to the fact that those who would be opposed to Unionism form a significant part of the population in Northern Ireland and that they must be given power at executive level as well.

I concede that in the Irish dimension that we envisage may not initially or in the short term have anything approaching what we had under the Sunningdale Agreement—a Council of Ireland. I shall continue to work for such an establishment. If people in Northern Ireland learn to live together, it will be essential for some means to be found to enable the Northern Ireland majority, both Catholic and Protestant, to communicate with the rest of the people in the small island of Ireland.

I am prepared to discuss with the Unionist majority whatever means can be found to bring into operation an Irish dimension that can be recognised and trusted for what it is. Under the Sunningdale Agreement the Irish dimension that we had for such a short time offered no danger to the Unionist majority. All kinds of safeguards were built into it. For example, there was the unanimity rule and the Council of Ministers.

However, those who were opposed to the establishment of that Irish dimension deliberately set out to misrepresent what it meant and to create and instil fear into the minds of their supporters about it. They succeeded only too well. The Sunningdale Agreement and all that it stood for was brought to an untimely end.

The British Government must show courage in this situation. They must clearly state what they are prepared to accept and what they will not accept. Only by doing that will people in Northern Ireland, who believe that this Government will not insist on anything, be brought to the full realisation of the consequences of their actions if they insist on rejecting the will of this House. In the final analysis it is this House, not this Government or the Opposition, which must agree to any decisions about Northern Ireland and its future.

Last week in this House we agreed to certain emergency legislation. I did not vote against the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill, because I recognised the depth of feeling in this country about the tragedy of Birmingham. During the past five years people in Northern Ireland have had to live with an almost daily succession of such tragedies.

Legislation of the kind that we passed last week probably will be successful— we may have to bring into operation an extension of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act—but it will not lead to peace. Repressive legislation, throughout the long history of the relationship between Ireland and Britain, has never brought peace. I give notice to my right hon. and hon. Friends that I shall be voting against the Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order, and I hope that a considerable number of my hon. Friends will support me in the Lobbies.

I have no hesitation in saying that I detect in the attitude, the expression, and the demeanour of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour), who now speaks for the Opposition on Northern Ireland affairs, a decided swing from the attitude that we knew under the Conservative Government. The right hon. Gentleman believes in a para-military solution to the Northern Ireland problem. He is very foolhardy to believe that. Anyone who believes in a para-military solution to that problem has no experience of Ireland, either North or South. I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition is in full accord with some of the sentiments expressed time and again by the right hon. Gentleman about Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) asked the right hon. Gentleman what he meant when he said that para-military organisations in Northern Ireland should somehow be brought into the political discussions. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was a difference between organisations which were proscribed and those which were not.

Certain organisations have rightly been proscribed because they are engaged in campaigns of violence. However, other organisations which have not been proscribed are also engaged in campaigns of violence.

The Ulster Defence Association is a para-military organisation. Yesterday, three of its members were convicted in a British court and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for arms trafficking. If those arms had reached the City of Belfast, in what way would they have been used? They would have been used on the minority population in the right set of circumstances.

If the IRA, as an organisation engaged in violence, is to be proscribed, so should the UDA, the UFF, the Red Hand Commandos and all the other organisations which are engaged in campaigns of violence.

Public relations are very important in Northern Ireland. Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph carried a story about a man who was brought before a court under the emergency legislation, because a machine-gun, a rifle and a revolver had been found at his home. Forensic tests proved that the machine-gun had been used in three murders—I take it that the victims were Catholics—and in 14 other shooting incidents. He was brought before the court and later released on bail of £750. He said that he was disenchanted with the UDA and did not want to have anything further to do with it.

Surely a person who is found in control of a weapon that has led to the death of three probably innocent people should be asked to say who was responsible for the placing of the gun in his home, if it was not himself. I shall not presume to judge this case, but stories such as that give reason for concern amongst the minority population, particularly when such stories are backed by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham saying that para-military organisations outside the IRA should be brought into political discussions.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has left the Chamber. His was an appalling speech, and it did not represent the view of anyone in Northern Ireland. His view is that the Army should be withdrawn and the Provisional IRA should be given the duty of policing districts in Northern Ireland. That is the last thing that my constituents want. No one wants to see that. The Provisional IRA mentality is not representative of the views of the minority. In every election that the Provisional IRA has fought, its candidates have lost their deposits. At every election in which the Catholic minority has had the opportunity to express its opinion at the ballot box they have rejected completely the men of violence. That has happened not only during the last five years but throughout the history of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) seems to attach a good deal of importance to the opinions of both Official and Provisional IRA men who are interned, some of whom have been convicted. I am against internment without trial, and nothing will remove my opposition to that, but the opinions to which the hon. Gentleman attaches such importance count for nothing in Belfast. I do not pass judgment on any individual who has been interned without trial. That is a matter for the Secretary of State and not for me.

I think I heard the hon. Gentleman mention Quigley, a man who has been sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for attempting to blow up British Home Stores in Belfast. That man does not speak for my constituents, though he lives in my constituency, and anyone who agrees with or supports men like him is rejected by ordinary decent peace-loving members of the Catholic minority.

The hon. Member for West Lothian said that he heard David O'Connell make that dangerous, destructive and tragic broadcast on a Sunday when he said that there had been a similar situation in Algeria and after the French under de Gaulle left, some French colonialists decided to stay and were living very well. That is contrary to the facts. The vast majority of them left Algeria. Before coming to the debate this afternoon I checked the facts with French officials, and I can tell the House that the vast majority of French colonialists left Algeria. If someone listens avidly to and accepts as pearls of wisdom the words that fall from the mouth of David O'Connell, he can be given the wrong impression.

The hon. Gentleman said that he had been told by people in Long Kesh that there would not be any danger of a holocaust if the British Army was withdrawn. Let me choose my words very carefully. I shall be the happiest representative in Northern Ireland when it is no longer necessary to have the British Army patrolling the streets of my constituency. I want to engage in every possible political endeavour to try to create the climate in which it will be possible for British forces to be withdrawn, first, because of my national belief that ultimately Ireland will be united and, secondly, because of the tragedies that have been inflicted on the families of the soldiers who, unfortunately, have lost their lives in the Northern Ireland conflict.

It is worth recalling what was said in a television and radio broadcast on, I believe, RTE by Sammy Smyth, a former spokesman for the UDA, after the Birmingham bombing. He was asked what he felt when he heard of the bombings and he replied: When I heard of the bombings in Birmingham my immediate instinct was to get bombs and go out and blow up every well-filled Catholic church in Northern Ireland. That was a gut reaction, and that is what would happen if there were no protecting forces on the streets of Northern Ireland. I want to see the British Army withdrawn as soon as possible, and a great responsibility rests upon the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to try to create the political climate in which that may be possible.

Time and again in this House and in Northern Ireland, and through the media, the SDLP is castigated on the ground that we do not give full support to the RUC in Northern Ireland. I have already said that I shall not go back into history or say anything about the record of the RUC. It would be extremely easy for me to do so, but I shall resist the temptation.

Sunningdale was a freely arrived at agreement between the SDLP, the Unionists led by Mr. Faulkner, the Alliance Party and the Irish Government. The then Prime Minister—now the Leader of the Opposition—went to great pains to be present during those momentous four days. In all, 22 points of agreement were arrived at and they covered every aspect of political life in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.

First, there was to be the Executive, then Ministers were to be appointed to it. This was to be followed by recognition of the Northern Ireland State by the Irish Government and the setting up of judicial processes that would enable people who engaged in violence to be apprehended on either side of the Border. The IRA, in concert with the Unionists who were victorious at the elections in February of this year, wrecked the agreement.

Mr. Delargy

And the strikes played their part.

Mr. Fitt

Yes. A significant part of the agreement was written in by the SDLP, and I signed the agreement. Policing in Northern Ireland is not an easy matter. Given the history of the State, it is a delicate subject, yet now we are being told to forget about the other 21 points of the agreement and recognise the RUC. To say the least, that is not fair and I say again that the creation and acceptance of security forces in Northern Ireland is part and parcel of an overall political settlement. One cannot consider the police and security situation in isolation from all the political problems. Anyone who has justice in mind will concede that to be correct.

I have never in this House or in Northern Ireland—nor has any member of my party—condemned the RUC in total as being unacceptable.

Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why one of his companions in the SDLP has used the Press, radio and television to describe the RUC as a pack of scoundrels? How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that with what he has just said?

Mr. Fitt

My colleague—the hon. Gentleman refers to John Hume—did not refer to the RUC as a pack of scoundrels. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. My colleague was questioned at great length in what was an antagonistic and hostile interview. We have all been subject to such at times. He said that in his opinion there were still scoundrels within the RUC. I resist the temptation to go into this in detail, but we have had the Scarman Report, the Cameron Report and the Bailie Report, and from these we can see whether those remarks were justified in the circumstances.

I recognise that many other hon. Members wish to speak and so I shall try to be brief in the remaining part of my speech. We have been talking about the political situation in Northern Ireland, the attempts to create political structures and to do away with violence. But underlying all this is the terrible social problem that we have in Northern Ireland. As recently as this week the Housing Executive issued a report on housing in Northern Ireland. That report makes clear that Northern Ireland is the worst-housed area in the whole of the United Kingdom. The report mentioned my constituency which has many deprived Protestants and Catholics. They are deprived not only through living in homes that do not come up to normal standards, but in terms of employment.

The economic problems now besetting the whole of Northern Ireland seem to be swamped in the pools of blood that are darkening our streets. The Government here in London must make clear—I think I have said this four times during my speech—what would be their intentions if the Loyalist majority in the Convention reject the will of this House. I appeal to the Government not to let themselves be intimidated by men of violence, whether those men be in the Provisional IRA, the Official IRA, the UVF or the UDA.

If we stand together in attempting to ensure that social justice and freedom are brought back to Northern Ireland, the men of violence will be defeated. In that battle I shall be unreservedly on the side of the people in Northern Ireland who want desperately to bring the campaign to an end.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

I welcome the opportunity to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), regardless of whether one agrees with the specific points he made. There were three themes in his speech worth noting. He said that there must be co-operation in Northern Ireland—and that goes without saying. He said that there is no quick pull-out solution and, above all, that this Government and this House have a direct responsibility for what is, after all, a part of the United Kingdom.

Since the outrages in Birmingham I have sensed a growing awareness of the Ulster problem. It has come to the fore in two views expressed in the House this afternoon, and I shall deal with them briefly. There has been the view expressed by the hon. Members for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), that we can achieve a solution by pulling out of Northern Ireland. The point was put at its most extreme by the hon. Member for West Lothian. He seems to contemplate a situation in which, as he puts it, on balance he does not think that there will be a civil war in that part of the United Kingdom.

But to view a matter like this "on balance" amounts to a chance that this House has no right to take and, indeed, could not take. It would be quite impossible to do so. The hon. Gentleman envisages that parts of Belfast—a British city—should be taken over by the Provisional IRA. What would happen if the IRA tried to achieve their political ends by taking Ulster out of the United Kingdom? I believe that fighting would be inevitable, and I do not think that any British Cabinet would contemplate taking the sort of decision that might lead to such a consequence.

I do not think that withdrawal is an option open to the Government. The Secretary of State has twice said emphatically in the debate that he has no intention of driving Ulster into the arms of the Republic. In a speech last week he drew the picture of the situation that has been drawn here again today, and has been recognised by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, that if the British presence were to go, there would be grave danger to the Catholic minority. But I go much further than that. I say that there would be danger not only to the Catholic minority but to all the people in Northern Ireland, all of whom are British citizens—and this House must recognise that it has a responsibility to those people.

I turn briefly to the present position. The Northern Ireland Labour Party got the position right last week when it said that vacillation in the past has created the necessary vacuum on which armed conspiracy has depended". At its conference the Northern Ireland Labour Party was taking an extremely pessimistic view of the future of the Convention.

Two views are expressed in Northern Ireland about the Government's activity or, as I see it, inactivity over the past six months. One view is that the Government in the past six months—during which there was, inevitably, a General Election—wished to put off any decision about Northern Ireland, as far as was possible, in order to get a period of quiet in which they had no need to take any action. There is another view that I must tell the House about—and this view is believed in Northern Ireland, although I do not accept it. It is that the Government's latest actions are no more than a preparation for them to shuffle off their responsibilities regarding Northern Ireland. I give the Government the benefit of the doubt on this. I do not believe that that is the Government's intention, but I have to tell the House that this view is held widely in the North of Ireland.

I thought that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) got the position right in her interesting speech. She was, in effect, saying directly to the Government that over the past six months they had created a vacuum, and that in that period they had not borne their responsibilities. I regard that as being at least partially true. Had Northern Ireland been able to solve its own problems, on its own, and left to itself—as seems to be the wish of many hon. Members—it would have done so at some time within the past 50 years. But it cannot, and it has not. The Government must recognise that there is not only an Irish dimension but also a British dimension, a deeply important British dimension, and I think that that point is being ignored at the moment.

There is to be a Constitutional Convention. We cannot lay down or dictate to those who are to be elected as representatives in the North of Ireland what they should or should not do. We certainly cannot dictate to them on tight lines. But they are entitled to some guidance and help from the Government about what is acceptable and what is not. How can an association choose someone to go to the Constitutional Convention when it does not know what kind of government will be formed, what powers the British Government envisage giving to Stormont or what the British Government will insist on at the end of the day?

The natural result is that, as each one is adopted—the adoptions are going on apace now in the North of Ireland—they are being mandated by their associations to take a very tight line at the Convention. I am sure that it would have been much better—it may be too late now—if the Government had faced up to their responsibilities and recognised that they could not draw away from a problem which is specifically a United Kingdom problem. It cannot be left to Ulster to decide on its own. The present Government have a responsibility. I hope that it is not too late—either in this debate or soon—for them to tell us what they hope and expect from the Convention. They are much more likely to get a solution which they will accept if they do that.

That means that they must also spell out the clear concessions that will be made. One noticed that the "Irish dimension" was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Is that still a prerequisite of a solution in the North of Ireland? If it is, to the best of my judgment there will be no solution; we might as well forget about elections to a Convention in March. I will not go into the arguments now. That has been done by other hon. Members on this side and recognised even by some hon. Members opposite.

It is time to face up to the proper representation of Northern Ireland. It would surely be a concession that we would want to make, as democrats. However, apart from that, if it will help us to get a solution, to stop the bloodshed in Northern Ireland or at least to give us the chance to get a political solution which might be a step towards the cessation of bloodshed, it is a small step to take, bearing in mind that it is the democratic right of those who live there to have a proper representation in the House that will decide their fate.

My final point is technical rather than a point of principle. As I understand it —I hope that the Minister will be able to give us guidance—as soon as the Convention is formed, the present Assembly men, some of whom will be in the Convention, of course, will lose their posts. There will be no Assembly. We do not know how long the Convention will go on in six-month stages. Knowing Irish politics, one realises that it may go on for some time. But is it necessary that the one should supersede the other?

The Convention cannot do the job which I know is being done at the moment by those Assembly men. I know that they are not going to Stormont, but the ordinary complaints and constituency work of Northern Ireland, of the kind with which we are so familiar here, is being done in some measure, perhaps in large measure, by the old Assembly men. Why do they have to go? Why can they not stay to do that job? Surely the broad shoulders of hon. Members on this Unionist bench can be made to bear the added burden of taking on every domestic problem as well——

Mr. Molyneaux

We may have to.

Mr. Miscampbell

Indeed, they may have to. But this House does not have direct responsibility for these problems. They are Belfast problems in many cases——

Mr. McNamara

They are our problems.

Mr. Miscampbell

I stand corrected. The hon. Gentleman is right. It is right that the responsibility is here. I should have put it another way—that on many matters the inquiries have to be made in Belfast rather than here. That is all I meant.

Would it not have been sensible to leave the Assembly in being at least until the Convention had produced a solution or had failed? To get rid of it is to get rid of a useful solution for dealing with the nuts and bolts of minor domestic problems in the North of Ireland which could be dealt with by those people rather than by hon. Members here.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

You will be relieved to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not propose to speak for more than a few minutes. The Secretary of State will be equally relieved to hear that I have no solution whatever to offer of the Ulster problem. In fact, I had no intention of speaking in the debate or even of listening to it until about lunchtime today. I consider that at this moment speeches made about Northern Ireland—my speeches, certainly —are a complete waste of time. Then why, if I think so, am I speaking now?

I am speaking now because this morning, through the post, I received a pamphlet which no other hon. Member has received. It is a pamphlet about Ulster's problems called, "The Ulster Quarrel", price one old penny—from which it may be deduced that it is not a modern pamphlet. In fact, it was written 36 years ago very hurriedly, to coincide with a meeting called in the Manchester Free Trade Hall at which the principal speaker was a young man called Erskine Childers, who died recently as President of the Republic of Ireland.

On reading the pamphlet, I was surprised to see how much of it was up to date. It touched on social problems, which I regret to say have not been mentioned today, which have been the cause of all the horrors and unrest of the last five years. The pamphlet was written with English people in mind. The author was of the opinion that there was some conspiracy of silence about what was going on in the North of Ireland.

When I heard the mistaken speech today of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), in which he said that a TV and news black-out would assist in solving the Irish problem, I could only reflect that 50 years of silence has helped to create it. We were never allowed to debate Northern Ireland in this House. When we asked questions about injustice, evictions, discrimination and the rest, we were always told that they had nothing to do with us, that they were internal matters which came under the jurisdiction of Stormont.

Mr. Molyneaux

Would the hon. Gentleman also agree that exactly the same position existed during the brief life of the Executive at Stormont and that, despite the efforts of the Ulster Unionists at the time to have that corrected, nothing was done and that looked like being the position had the Executive continued to function?

Mr. Delargy

I regret to say that I do not know. I am not as well acquainted with Stormont as the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Molyneaux


Mr. Delargy

During my time in the House of Commons—I think that I have been a Member for longer than anyone present in the Chamber tonight—I cannot remember hearing any Member from Northern Ireland asking that these questions be answered.

Mr. Molyneaux

Yes, they did.

Mr. Delargy

I do not remember one of them. I have said this time and again. I have written it many times. I have never previously been corrected on this point. We were told that it was the affair of Stormont and not of this House, in spite of the fact that the Government of Ireland Act said quite specifically that ultimately the responsibility for Northern Ireland rested here. Therefore, the two main parties in this House have a great deal to answer for. They have great guilt on their shoulders for what is happening.

I said that the pamphlet was, in a sense, up to date. We read again from the pamphlet about entry without warrant, detention for any unlimited period, and internment without trial. It was all going on then under the Special Powers Act with the help of the B Specials and the armed police. There was not much difference from what is taking place now.

I can give some of the reasons for the unrest in Northern Ireland. I have quotations here. I said that this was an old pamphlet from men who are now long dead. However, I shall give only three short quotations from three Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland. I start with Lord Craigavon and with his famous slogan Ours is a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people. I cannot remember one Unionist saying anything to the contrary. Then his successor, Mr. Andrews—I believe he was his immediate successor—said when he was Minister of Labour that he had heard a rumour that of the 31 porters at Stor- mont—porters; God help us—28 were Catholics. He also said: I have investigated this matter and have found that there are 30 Protestants and only one Catholic, and he is there only temporarily. We all remember the third Prime Minister I shall quote, Sir Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough. He said: Many in this audience employ Catholics, but I would not have one about my place. A year later, when he had had opportunity to reflect upon it and when he had read what the newspaper editorials had said about that statement, he said: When I made that declaration I did so after careful consideration. What I said was justified. I recommend people not to employ Roman Catholics. I do not wish to resurrect old bones. The whole point of my speech is that what we are debating now we should have been debating years and years ago, because the same conditions applied then as apply now.

I should like to tell hon. Members, in another way, how these same conditions apply. The pamphlet from which I have quoted was written 36 years ago and was a great success. There were only 5,000 copies of the first printing because it had to be printed in a hurry for the meeting about which I spoke. The first printing sold out in two days. But there was never a second printing, because several hours after the meeting in the Manchester Free Trade Hall, in the early hours of the morning a mysterious explosion occurred, which killed a man on his way to work at the market. After a little while it was established that this explosion had been caused by a bomb set by an organisation of which most people in England then had never heard—the IRA.

Other explosions occurred, and other people were killed by bombs set by the IRA. The IRA did not simply kill all those innocent people. The IRA killed hope and the good will of men who were trying to seek a peaceful solution to the problems. The IRA killed the efforts that men of good will were making to enlist the sympathy of the people of England, from whom the truth was being withheld by Parliament and the Press.

The immense harm which the IRA did then it has multiplied since. No one condemns the IRA more strongly than I do. I have been talking about a pamphlet. I may as well tell the House now, of course, that I wrote it. I was a brash young man in those days. I imagined that I could change people's opinions. I know better now. No one takes the slightest notice of anything I say. I have no need to be reminded of that. When one has been a Member of the House for 30 years, always in the obscurity of the back benches, one has no need to be reminded that one is of no significance. Nevertheless, it is still one's duty to say what one thinks, and I am saying that now.

I have no solutions to offer. I felt that Sunningdale was a solution. I am still grateful to any pay homage to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and all those associated with him who negotiated that agreement.

Mr. Dunlop

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), in spite of the assurance that he gave to the people of Ulster, invited the IRA and Sinn Fein representatives from Dublin and transported them to London in a British aeroplane to talk to him—the people who 36 years ago were doing what the hon. Gentleman is now condemning?

Mr. Delargy

I do not wish to be deflected from what I am saying about Sunningdale. I am not discussing at present what the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border did on other occasions. If the hon. Gentleman would care to have a word with me after the debate, I should be quite agreeable to that, but I shall not be drawn away from what I am now saying.

The Sunningdale Agreement was accepted by the Labour Party when it came to power, and we all rejoiced. Although I have always been in favour of a united Ireland, I think that there is something in what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Mis-campbell). If by dropping this talk of an Irish dimension we can get peace in Northern Ireland, I might even go that far. Anything for peace, to save lives.

But Sunningdale was scrapped, largely because of a strike which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said in the best speech of the debate so far, had nothing whatever to do with industrial conditions but was a political strike. The Government did not know how to handle that strike. They should have known how to handle it, and they could have handled it.

Mr. Dunlop

What about the miners' strike?

Mr. Delargy

The miners' strike was an industrial strike. I cannot see the parallel between the strike of the miners in Britain and this strike in Northern Ireland, the leaders of which said was called on account of the Sunningdale Agreement. They wanted to smash the Sunningdale Agreement and they were not in favour of power sharing.

Mr. Dunlop

The miners wanted to abolish the Industrial Relations Act.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The more interruptions there are the fewer hon. Members will have the chance of being called.

Mr. Delargy

I am sorry that I have spoken for longer than I had intended. I am not very optimistic about the Convention—not after Sunningdale—and I have never been optimistic about Northern Ireland. When my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that he originally thought that British troops were going to Northern Ireland as part of a fire brigade operation lasting three or four months I could not help recalling that I told the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that the troops would probably be there for several years. I also said then that there should be a separate Minister for Northern Ireland and I was sneered at. Now we have four.

Suppose there is a strike after the Convention. What will the Government do then? Will they be blackmailed once again? We have a right to be told. We have a right—and this has been asked from both sides of the House—to know what is the minimum the Government expect to achieve before the Convention meets. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) mentioned the possibility of violent organisations which are not proscribed being called in for consultation. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) tackled me over the action of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) in consulting the IRA. Are the Government planning to consult these non-proscribed organisations? I am frightened about this, because the last words which were spoken in our 17-hour debate which ended last Friday morning concerned the refusal of the Home Secretary to proscribe in his terrorist Bill the UDA, the UFF and the Red Hand Commandos. Those organisations should have been included and I was in favour of pressing the point in a Division. If there had been one I would have voted for the third time that night against my Government, and I would have done it with a glad heart, because I knew that I was right.

I have always considered my speeches on this subject to be a waste of time. I have no solution to offer, but I should like an answer to my questions. I apologise to the House for having wasted its time.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

The people in Northern Ireland will have received the Secretary of State's remarks about the police with a certain degree of pleasure. The fact that he has recognised the tremendous contribution of the police over the last few years will be extremely pleasing. We would have preferred him to recognise their contribution over a far longer period.

I submit that the authority of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is not exactly enhanced by the lack of liaison between the Army and the police. Under the existing provisions the Army is able to hold men or women for four hours for questioning. Often those people are Roman Catholics because the Army tends to operate more in Roman Catholic areas, while the police operate more in Protestant areas. Yet in certain Catholic areas the police could in some instances save the Army a fair degree of work and increase its potential acceptability there. The Army does not consult officers in the constabulary about family backgrounds. It often makes mistakes which antagonise the minority and which consultation could have avoided. Liaison with the police is therefore of vital importance.

My second point concerns the importance of using the RUC in certain areas in Northern Ireland. There are still no-go areas for the RUC, and that has sinister overtones. When the Army arrests Catholics in Northern Ireland it tends to intern or detain them. People from Protestant areas who are arrested by the police tend to be brought before the courts. If a future settlement is reached, therefore, there could be the problem of detainees being granted amnesty which is not available to convicted prisoners even though they may all be as guilty as one another. That could be a further serious source of disruption in the community.

The third point of importance is the local command structure to combat the impromptu terrorist situation. This is a rôle for the reserve force. The specialist force has been greatly maligned over the years. These men, under a local command structure, were able to react instantly when terrorists were discovered. Although the UDR is a tremendous regiment and agency for keeping law and order, it has shortcomings in the situation I have described. We therefore advocate that the police reserve should be reconstructed so that it can fulfil this important function which has proved such an asset in the fight against terrorists.

In his measures the Secretary of State has not dealt fully with the border situation. There are more than 300 miles of border to secure against terrorists and it seems nothing more than common sense to deploy full-time UDR men in that vital rôle. It is one thing to snare terrorists in an urban situation, but quite another to apprehend them as they enter the country.

I add my comment to that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneux) who highlighted the concern expressed by Ulster people when they listened to comments by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. The inference seemed to be that if the Army were withdrawn from Northern Ireland the minority would immediately be victimised and bludgeoned by the majority. We hope that it will be made clear that neither of those Cabinet Ministers is trying to reflect the opinion that Protestants have wholesale murder in their hearts.

The speed with which Parliament rightly dealt with the problem caused by the atrocity at Birmingham will not have escaped the attention of the people of Northern Ireland. The question which immediately comes to mind is, why was it not done in reaction to five or six years of hideous terrorism in Northern Ireland?

I turn to the problem of housing, which is perhaps second only to the great problem of the State and security. I compliment the Minister responsible for housing, who said in Northern Ireland last night that he would be seeking even more money than he has been allocated to deal with the chronic housing shortage. He emphasised that about one out of five homes in the Province was unfit for use. While we welcome the tremendous concern and intensity of his endeavours, we should like to record the disturbing emphasis he placed upon the minority in respect of housing.

A Belfast newspaper, in a recent statement which was not challenged by the Minister responsible for housing, said that four-fifths of the applicants in Belfast were Roman Catholics. That is not so. The truth is that in South and East Belfast there are about 7,500 applicants for Housing Executive accommodation. A simple piece of arithmetic will produce the figure of 30,000 Roman Catholics awaiting houses in Belfast, which is absurd. The article added that most of those were residing in, and requiring accommodation in, West Belfast. It is an absurd figure, which was not challenged by the Minister.

We ask that in any future housing programme the whole community is taken into consideration, and that no undue emphasis is placed upon the minority. The majority are being penalised because they have a sense of social responsibility. I do not intend to allow the debate to degenerate into a discussion about the morals, lack of morals and moral awareness of certain religions, but the point must be made that a large section of the Northern Ireland community is being penalised because it has a sense of responsibility in terms of family planning.

There is also the great problem of derelict buildings of which there are about 9,500 in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the city council should be empowered to take them over, to remove the breeze blocks and make them habitable again for many people who desperately need housing in the immediate future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South said that we sought to draw attention again and again to the need for parity within the whole kingdom. He said that Northern Ireland did not enjoy parity with the rest of the realm. It is incredible that the majority have to come to this democratic House and demand parity and full British standards, in legislation and in the form of a legislature. Let the House realise that the insidious movement that began with the war cry of "One man, one vote" and "Fair play for the minority" has now come to the point where it is trying to obstruct full parity for Northern Ireland with the rest of the United Kingdom. That is an incredible turnabout.

Sir Winston Churchill said that the anatomy of revolution consisted basically of three things: first, an attack upon the legitimate government of any given country; then an attack upon the security forces of that country; and, thirdly, an attack upon its economy. Over the past six years, and before—since the inception of the State of Northern Ireland— we have seen a consistent and persistent attack upon the Government. A certain section of the community, now known as the minority, from the inception did not want that Government to work. The attack upon the police, and the undermining of the security forces, came about, and comes about now, because the police and security forces were totally effective in rebuffing the enemies of the State. It is no surprise to hear the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) still denying his support and the support of his party to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its reservists.

The hope of our enemies was that if the economy of the country could be destroyed, men and women who wanted to remain British and to enjoy the full status of British citizenship would somehow be brought to the point where, having watched their businesses go and their means of income disappear, and their families perhaps enter into deprivation to a great degree, would eventually concede some kind of Irish dimension with executive powers.

It is my duty tonight to assure the House that even though we have to coax and cajole a reluctant mother or father we shall not cease to do so. It is my belief that full British status will be given to Northern Ireland, because there is no alternative.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Morton)

Before calling the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that time is running on, that a considerable number of right hon. and hon. Members still wish to speak, and that brevity would be very acceptable.

8.11 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

We now have it from the elected leader of the United Ulster Unionists, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) that his party is not prepared to share power in a meaningful way with the minority in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Molyneaux

I said that we were prepared to consider any system which was in keeping with the concept of meaningful power sharing which we accept as Members of the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. McNamara

The hon. Gentleman was saying that unless he is able to go back to the old Stormont system he is having nothing to do with power sharing.

Mr. Molyneaux


Mr. McNamara

That is the understanding of it. He is not prepared to share power in a meaningful manner with representatives of the minority. He is not prepared to give them a positive executive role in the administration of Government. Is that right?

Mr. Molyneaux

I have made the position clear. We could not be expected or required to include in any form or in any structure people who are determined to destroy the State. I think that that would be accepted in any normal democracy.

Mr. McNamara

The hon. Gentleman is saying that people who have long-term aspirations for a united Ireland cannot share in any Government of his.

Mr. Molyneaux

No; I refer to those who effectively would destroy the State.

Mr. McNamara

If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the IRA, I accept his point, but if he is talking about people who would argue for a united Ireland, I cannot accept what he says.

The situation is clear. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be in a difficult position after the Convention elections. The hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept power sharing in a meaningful way with the minority. It is a shame that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) has left the Chamber, because I disagree with him. I do not think giving up the Irish dimension will lead to peace.

It is clear that the hon. Member for Antrim, South is not prepared to accept power sharing. How shall we have a system which will be acceptable to the Parliament and the people of this country? That is what the members of the United Ulster Unionists must try to understand. For our part we are not prepared to see everything put at risk, our troops, our towns and our people, if the United Ulster Unionists are not prepared to accept what this House says about power sharing or are not prepared to accept it in a spirit of goodwill so as to make it work. The United Ulster Unionists are insistent that they alone shall have executive power. That is what we have had time after time from them. That is clear, and it must be placed on the record.

It seems that it is now the official policy of the Conservative Party that when the Convention is meeting there shall be parallel meetings of representatives of local authorities and of the paramilitary organisations to discuss what is going on in the Convention. Public meetings are to be held with representatives of these various groups so that they can keep a watching brief on what is going on in the Convention. Is that official Conservative policy?

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) must speak for himself and amplify the remarks that he has put before the House. I have not heard him express such remarks before and there is no question involved of Conservative policy. My right hon. Friend was saying that it would be necessary to discuss the future of Northern Ireland with people who have a position of power and influence in Northern Ireland. However, my right hon. Friend must speak for himself.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I have come here to listen and to understand what is going on. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) said that while the Convention is meeting I should call together meetings of the para-military organisations in Northern Ireland alongside the representatives who have been elected by the people. It is most important that we get this matter clear. The right hon. Gentleman, in putting his case, said that his was a political party which never took a U-turn after the election. I found that a strange remark. That is a curious way of expressing party doctrine. It is most important to get it clear. It will be noticed in Northern Ireland even if it is laughed off here.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Perhaps the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) will answer the question that has been addressed to his right hon. Friend. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said that it is highly desirable to concern the community as a whole in discussions while the Convention is sitting. He said that for that purpose the community organisations and even the para-military organisations could be brought together in public places. He then encouraged my right hon. Friend to consider other possibilities. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will be able to think of other and better possibilities. By God, I hope that he can.

We shall find a situation in which the British people will say, "We are putting the IRA members in gaol and the members of the UDA, yet over in Belfast they are sitting as some sort of court over the progress of the Convention." This presumably is official Conservative policy. The hon. Member for Epping Forest, who was at one time associated with the Monday Club, is now sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. No doubt he would wish to tread away from the Left-wing radical ideas of the Opposition's official spokesman. There is revealed another split in the Tory Party.

But it is more than that. They are saying that we should call together the members of the para-military forces. I asked what would happen with the proscribed organisations. The Shadow Minister then drove his point home even further. He said that there is an obvious distinction between the proscribed and the non-proscribed organisations. If my right hon. Friend can be persuaded to take the IRA off the proscribed list, we might well have them sitting with the UDA.

Who will represent these organisations? Is my right hon. Friend to nominate who will represent them or will they be given that choice themselves? Shall we have Mr. Craig and Mr. Spence acting as representatives? I think that the hon. Member for Epping Forest must say to his right hon. Friend that when he gives out ideas like this he should think them through and not just put them forward as some sort of academic exercise, throwing them off his shoulder with abandon. They are reeking with danger and he should understand that.

Mr. Molyneaux

I do not intend to comment on the merits of invitations to various organisations to take part in public meetings, but does the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central feel that there is anything repugnant in the system of nomination, remembering that the Executive was nominated by the then Secretary of State and that the next Executive, if it is formed as he suggests, will presumably also be nominated?

Mr. McNamara

I do not know what the next Executive will be like. We shall depend on United Ulster Unionists to bring forward a resolution that will be acceptable to the Members of this Parliament. The previous Executive had the support of a majority in the Assembly, and that is the important matter. It is answerable in that way.

I return to the point that I was making. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said that certain para-military organisations are not proscribed and therefore their interests must be recognised. He suggested that it is better to make a virtue out of their existence than simply to hope that they will go away. The IRA is proscribed but is in existence. Should we now make a virtue of its existence and not hope that it will go away? Should we bring in the IRA? I attack the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion because I find it hard, as a Socialist, to understand the sort of ideas that are now coming from the party of law and order.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion would be to take away the whole vestige of any sort of bipartisan policy such as we have had in this country—which is that we look to elected representatives and their people to talk to the Secretary of State and to try to come to decisions acceptable to this Parliament as a whole. That is the way in which we work. The IRA, the UDA and any other such groups have no right in a democratic assembly. They have a right to their own opinions, like everyone else, but they must be able to say that they represent constituencies or groups of people. We could not have self-appointed people trying to dictate to the rest of the community. The Conservative Party should be careful of what it is saying.

I understand the reasons for the delay in elections to the Convention. I have advocated them. But while we are responsible for the Government of Northern Ireland, and while it has no Executive, we cannot get away from the feeling that there has been a most dangerous drift in policy. There has been lack of direction. Things have been done which have not put any heart into many people in the Six Counties.

At one time, it was said that no Government here had the support of the majority in Northern Ireland. Now the Government have not even the support of the minority there. In some ways, that might be a useful position for the Government, in that one could say that they can take an objective stance. But it is regrettable when any Government cannot look to a great deal of support from any of the population in Northern Ireland.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. David James (Dorset, North)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) for mentioning the dangerous drift, because that is the point I wish to consider. I recognise that the Secretary of State, through no fault of his own, has presided over a situation which has been getting steadily worse. One recalls those June days when my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) had his birthday, and when we had the elections in Northern Ireland and such high hopes for the Executive. Now the situation has fallen to a sad state.

I want to look to the possibility of new initiatives. We know that there cannot be any degree of integration with the Republic because 1 million Protestants would go through the roof. I understand their point of view. To me, home rule is not Rome rule, but it is a reality to them, and I respect their view.

I have had cousins living on the border since 1634. One wing of the house is Protestant and the other Catholic, so my feelings are fairly evenly distributed. About one-third of the community in Northern Ireland are not particularly enamoured of being British.

I want to look more seriously at the proposition advanced by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), which was rather summarily rejected by one of my hon. Friends—that we might at least consider the possibility of an independent Ulster, not in the immediate future but in the long term, naturally within the Commonwealth, if that independent Ulster so chose, and with EEC and other existing relationships maintained.

Rather than have the loyalties of the people of Ulster torn apart by dependence on London, on the one hand, and dependence on Dublin, on the other, this might get them concentrating on the fact that they have one superbly important thing in common—that they are Ulstermen and have every right to be proud of it.

If the people of Ulster were to have independence to a limited degree, they might find that all these power-sharing problems would vanish, because I, as a Catholic, am convinced, having seen most of the parish priests in the "No go" and other areas, that the Catholic in Belfast or in Derry or in any of the country districts has far more in common with a fellow Ulsterman from, say, County Antrim than with a co-religionist in Cork. There is an Ulster identity which could be nourished. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) nods assent. Certainly, the parish priests in his own city have given this advice. Such a proposal should not be dismissed out of hand. It is worthy of serious consideration, and there is no reason why it should disrupt any relationship which the people of Ulster wish to have with the United Kingdom or with the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Powell

Supposing they wanted to belong to the United Kingdom?

Mr. James

They might find that dominion status would help them to get on with the rest of their community. It is up to them to decide.

I want to examine the question of the border, because the legislation we enacted last week supposed that the border would be crossed only at "authorised places". Anyone who knows the border knows that to talk about authorised places for crossing is moonshine, because the number of unauthorised crossing places is no one's business. No serious thought has been given to this problem since the Border Commission, appointed after the 1921 treaty, reported in 1925–49 years and two days ago. A copy of the report is in the Library of the House.

It is a thousand pities that the recommendations of the Border Commission were not taken more seriously, because many of our problems would not exist if they had been. I want to deal briefly with one or two suggestions about the border. This is not a suggestion for repartition. I am not trying to turn Ulster into 3½ counties, but, with a little give and take here and there, we could have a border 100 miles shorter, with 50 fewer road crossings and no footpaths across running through kitchens and dining rooms.

Rev. Ian Paisley

But does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a very large Catholic population in Belfast and that no change on the border could deal with that very special problem?

Mr. James

Of course I agree that that is so. But there are large minority groups throughout the whole of Ireland.

A border has two specific objectives. The first is that, as far as humanly possible, it should reflect ethnic differences— for example, the border between France and Germany. The other is that it should have geographical validity, like the Rhine or the Pyrenees. But because everyone in Ireland got fed up with the whole subject by the time the Border Commission reported, they decided to settle for the Six Counties border, which had no significance in ethnic or geographical terms.

South Armagh and the Crossmaglen area was recognised by the commission 49 years ago as utterly hopeless because it was nearly 100 per cent. Republican. It is, in fact, of no economic significance to Ulster. It follows no geographical boundary and about 25,000 people might be involved, 80 per cent. of whom are Republican in sentiment. By moving the border back a few miles to a range of hills—which troops and others can recognise—we would shorten the border from 60 miles to 40 miles and give the soldiers a much easier chance.

Again, Monaghan juts like a thumb into the under-belly of Ulster. The border at Monaghan is 34 miles long. If there were a quid pro quo and the Republic were to cede the northern tip of Monaghan, excluding Monaghan Town, and take the line of the boundary down the Monaghan canal, the border would be reduced to 18 miles of water and we would have a far straighter border, which would be much easier to defend.

Then we come to a rather remarkable bit of the world, the extreme south of Fermanagh——

Mr. Fitt

The hon. Gentleman is making a remarkable speech, talking about the re-partitioning of Ulster. I would say, "No, thank you; it is not on".

Mr. James

I am sorry. I cannot please everyone. It is a remarkable state of affairs that between Clones and Belturbet one could cross the border four times in six miles so that even the inhabitants as often as not do not know which country they are in. This is crazy. There are constant border incidents with the troops because they do not know which side of the border they are on. The Gardai are constantly worrying about it, because they do not know, either. It would be in the interests of everyone if, from the end of the canal, the border picked up the river and followed the line of the loughs. This would cede a large area of southern Fermanagh, but there are only 6,000 people in it. It would reduce a border of 60 miles of wild hilly country to a border of loughs of 34 miles which was to a certain extent envisaged by the Boundary Commission which reported 49 years ago.

In all, the proposals advanced would reduced the length of the border by almost a third, to 84 miles. The number of people involved would be 33,500, practically all Republicans going to the Republic. After all, the smaller a minority is, the less of a threat it is to those who feel threatened by it. Approximately 10,000 people, nearly half of whom are Protestant, would come into Ulster. The number of main road crossings would be reduced to 24. I know that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is not taking this seriously——

Mr. Fitt

Nobody could.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

Would it not be much simpler to shorten the border by giving Donegal to Northern Ireland?

Mr. James

The hon. Member is asking me to bite too much of the cherry. That suggestion has its attractions but I do not think it is possible to go that far. All I can say is that there are people in the Republic who are perfectly prepared to consider the proposal which I have put forward. I am convinced that we have to protect the entity of Ulster and that such an entity could be well served by having a much more effective border which could be closed.

I know that the concept of the Council of Ireland caused great offence and misunderstanding as well as arousing great suspicions among Labour Members. With the likelihood that Scotland and Wales will have a substantial measure of devolution in the foreseeable future, and in the belief that we shall remain in the EEC—[Interruption.] Yes, I believe that. In that belief it would be very much more meaningful if we were to reconstitute Great Britain in a modern form and think of a Council of the British Isles.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

We have listened to some interesting and peculiar speeches today, not least that which the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James) has just inflicted upon us. I wish to refer to the speech made earlier by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). For some time now we have heard a good deal from the Conservative benches about the problems of violence, terrorism, public safety, respect for the law and such other phrases. I have not been a Member of this House for very long but I have never heard a more sabre-rattling, warmongering speech than that which we had today from the right hon. Member. If ever there was an incitement to violence and to terrorism that was it.

The right hon. Gentleman's speech was a declaration that we are at war with the IRA and the Irish people. If that is so, we can expect to receive war from the IRA and the Irish people. I do not think that that is the situation. It is necessary for us to go back a little in history, but unhappily I cannot, in five minutes, go all the way back to the tenth century, when this began. Even within a short period of time it is, however, necessary to go back to the words of James Connolly. I have wanted to quote James Connolly on a few occasions and I will do so now. Several of my hon. Friends seem to have forgotten about the Socialist traditions that have permeated the ranks of the Labour movement in its approach to the Irish question. Connelly said: The pressure of a common exploitation North and South will make enthusiastic rebels out of a Protestant working class, enthusiastic champions of civil and religious liberties out of Catholics and out of both a united Socialist Democracy. Unhappily, since Connolly said that very little has happened in Ireland to afford much hope for the foreseeable future. Probably the Labour Party in Britain is more directly our concern. It is necessary to remind Ministers in terms of the policy decisions they make, whom they represent in this House.

In 1972, the Labour Party Conference carried with acclamation the following paragraphs: As stated in the Party Constitution the Labour Party affirms that the national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands and territorial seas; and it accepts as part of its immediate programme the work of securing social justice and equal opportunities for all citizens in accordance with the declaration of democratic principles embodied in the 'Proclamation' of Easter 1916. The document goes on: The Labour Party recognises that a major step towards a settlement of the present division in the North Eastern part of Ireland would be the enactment of a Bill of Rights by the Westminster Parliament which would guarantee full civil and religious rights to the minority. I remind Ministers of those statements because many of us in the Labour Party have felt somewhat betrayed during recent years as a result of the clamour which has occurred not because of the causes of the Irish situation but because of the symptoms of that situation.

Time and time again, hon. Members have addressed themselves to the question of bombings, terrorism, internment, and so on. However, we seldom discuss why there is terrorism, why there are bombings, and why there is internment. That is the mistake we make continually with regard to this problem.

I find myself in the same dilemma. I must also address myself to the problems of the immediate situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said that the Provos in Northern Ireland obtained a considerable measure of their support from a community which accepted neither their philosophy nor their techniques. Nor do they accept the internment of their brothers by some sort of order without trial of any description. Only when we remove internment without trial shall we begin to make progress.

I strongly deprecate the words used by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) earlier this afternoon. It is completely alien to what we believe to release from gaol a person who has shot somebody in cold blood merely because that person holds a different religious philosophy. I thought that nobody advocated that, but that is what my hon. Friend said.

I suggest, however, that people interned without trial who have not had the opportunity to face charges in the normal democratic way in a court of law should be released with the minimum delay. On that basis, some progress may be made.

I shall not pursue this aspect of the matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that there is some sort of agreement among hon. Members about the timetable for this debate. However, there are one or two other matters which are highly relevant and to which I must refer.

Much has been made of the withdrawal of troops. I admit that at one stage not very long ago I thought that the only real solution was to campaign for the withdrawal of British troops. Unhappily, becoming involved in a campaign of that sort results in one's being asked whether it means their withdrawal next week, today, in three months, or when.

Against that background, anyone in that position is obliged to answer some of the questions which have been posed in this debate—for example, what happens when we have withdrawn the troops? On balance, I think that those who advocate the withdrawal of troops to barracks pending the effective policing of certain parts of Ireland against the background of a commitment—a declaration of intent—by a British Government to disengage totally, politically and militarily, from Ireland over a period of time have got it right. In other words, we should make our first priority that declaration of intent. It may take one, two or five years to succeed. But it is completely in accord with the Labour Party's policy of 1972 and the statement which was made then. It would be possible for this Government to do it and to get the support of the Labour and trade union movements in doing it.

The Government would have to begin the job of organising, through the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and a number of other organisations in the north and south of Ireland, some who advocate that Ireland should be united and others who oppose it. All would have to be brought into discussions about what should emerge following that declaration of intent and about the timetable that we ought to give to it.

I notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are becoming "browned off" with the way that I am going on. However, to some degree you are yourself responsible, because you have laid down a pattern for discussion in this House of which I have no knowledge, and have learned secondhand.

It is necessary to say from the Government benches that it is only along those lines that we can make progress. We shall not hear it from the Opposition. We know the Fascist slogans which will emanate from the benches opposite before the end of this debate. We know that the Protestants in Northern Ireland only wait for an opportunity to establish their supremacy beyond any shade of doubt. That is taken for granted.

I am not a Catholic, though it is a question which has been put to me recently. All that I say is that when we have established a united Ireland we shall ensure that the minority rights of the Protestants are protected. I only wish that it had been possible for them to address themselves to the minority rights of Catholics in Northern Ireland over recent years. If they had, we should not have been obliged to have this debate today.

8.44 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I make only one comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne). He said that in the event of a united Ireland this House would guarantee to the then Protestant minority in Northern Ireland their rights. I take it that he is referring to the rights of civil and religious liberty. Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that when Ireland was partitioned this House did nothing to defend the Protestants in the south of Ireland. The Protestants at that time formed a sizeable minority of about 10 per cent. or 11 per cent. but they have now shrunk to below 3 per cent. Nothing was done by the House then to guarantee their rights.

It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to say that the House would have any say in a united Ireland. That would be entirely outside the domain of the House and outside the practical influence that the House could exercise. The hon. Gentleman has brought to light what the people of Northern Ireland have always known, which is that the British Labour Party has stood for a united Ireland. The Northern Ireland Labour Party has had difficulty in getting people elected because it is connected in the public mind with that policy of the British Labour Party.

The first part of the quotation which the hon. Gentleman gave is taken directly from the Eire Constitution, which concerns the whole of Ireland, and it is repugnant to the majority of people in Northern Ireland. The majority of people in Northern Ireland will not have a united Ireland. That should be spelt out clearly and strongly. If the hon. Gentleman wants to interpret that as Fascism, that is his business. The majority of people in Northern Ireland are set against any attempt by the House or by anyone else to bring them into an all-Ireland republic.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) that the House should always have discussed matters relevant to Northern Ireland. He put his finger upon an important weakness. When Ireland was partitioned and the Stormont Government was set up it became a convention that no questions concerning Northern Ireland could be asked in this House. I am entirely against that convention. That happened again. When the Assembly was formed and an Executive was nominated, I was refused permission by the Table Office to put down Questions to the then Government on matters relevant to Northern Ireland. I was told to ask those questions in the Assembly and not to come here with them. The hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) said that those matters are no longer for this House but for the Executive. No matter what comes out of the Convention, the Parliament of the United Kingdom should have the right to discuss matters relevant to all parts of the United Kingdom, and that should be clearly established.

I am not pessimistic about the Convention. It will be the first time that elected representatives of Northern Ireland have had the opportunity to discuss the future government of Northern Ireland. I advocated in the House before the Assembly was set up that there should first be an elected constituent assembly to discuss the future of Northern Ireland. That was never done.

The people of Northern Ireland tell me that on 20th March—I do not know whether that is the date; I confirm from the Secretary of State's murmurings that that is not the date, but he does not seem to know—they are to have an opportunity of electing a constitutional Convention where elected representatives will be able to discuss how Northern Ireland should be governed in future. They have not had that opportunity before.

This House, in its wisdom or otherwise, has said to the majority in Northern Ireland, "You will never go into the Republic, unless you wish to go into the Republic." If this House is willing to grant that concession to the majority, surely it should be willing to grant to all the elected representatives of the people the right to discuss for the first time the future government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. I would welcome that decision.

It is no use going into the past and discussing how it came about. We are to have this Convention and the people of Northern Ireland will elect representatives to it. Those representatives will be responsible for the form of that Government. The issue will not be decided at an Ulster Hall meeting of local councillors or some other meeting of paramilitary groups, with the possibility of the security forces finding them all together and interning them, if that is what they want. However, if the para-military groups and other people can get themselves elected to the Convention, they can put their views to it.

It is wrong to suggest that this House will accept only a rehashing of the old constitution that was brought about by the Conservative Government here. I believe that the Convention should explore every possibility. Other countries have had deep religious difficulties. For example, Holland had just as deep a religious divide as does Northern Ireland. However, the Dutch evolved a form of democratic government.

I do not believe that 22 per cent. of the electorate should have 40 per cent. of the seats in the Government. That happened with the SDLP in the last Executive. Getting only 22 per cent. of the vote, but 40 per cent. of the seats in the Government is not democracy. No one could justify that sitation. For hon. Gentlemen opposite to suggest that that is what we should have is ridiculous.

The people of Northern Ireland should have freedom to hammer out a solution. The Convention should not be used as a Parliament to open up and rehash all the old sores. There are many old sores on both sides of the divide. We should get down to planning for the future. This House should encourage the Convention to lift its sights to the future and decide how the Government of Northern Ireland should be shaped.

As an Ulsterman I believe that there is enough gumption left in the Ulster people to find a way to solve this problem. Although I disagreed with most of his speech, I agree with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), that the English, Welsh and Scots only dig their own political graves when they come into Ireland. There are few exceptions. One of the greatest exceptions was Lord Carson, who came from what is now the Republic and did a very good job for Ulster. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will do the same.

When the Secretary of State appoints the chairman of the Convention—he will have wide powers although he will not be an elected member—he should have consultations with various parties in Northern Ireland. It would not be fair of me to name him, but we are told that a certain gentleman is being sponsored by the Secretary of State for the post. The right hon. Gentleman says that he has not made up his mind.

I do not want to mention the gentleman's name, but I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that that person would not be acceptable as chairman. The chairman will have a solmen responsibility. If one reads the document that has been issued by the right hon. Gentleman one sees that the chairman will have wide responsibilities, because he is the person who will eventually report on the findings of the Convention.

We have been asked: why the bombings, the killings and all this trouble in Northern Ireland? Over the years, the enemies of Northern Ireland said that Stormont was the trouble and that if we got rid of Stormont all would be well. I warned the House when Stormont fell that the trouble would still be there and we would experience the same difficulties. We got rid of Stormont, but we still had trouble.

We were told that the B Specials were the running sore in the community and that if we got rid of them everything would be all right. We got rid of the B Specials, but the trouble is still there.

We were told that the police should be disarmed. A gentleman from London told the police that the doors of their stations should be kept open day and night and they should become a service to the community. Those who come from Northern Ireland constituencies know exactly how many policemen have been brutally murdered. In my constituency, a sergeant at Toome, Co. Antrim, went out to answer a call of mercy and was brutally shot down by the IRA. That was the kind of thinking that went on on this side of the water.

We got rid of the armed police and the B Specials, but we did not get rid of the IRA and those who, by bomb and bullet, want to coerce the majority of people into an all-Ireland Republic.

Then we were told that if we provided one-man-one-vote in local government all would be well. Following that, we got district councils which have no power. What was the use of enlarging the franchise—which I agreed with, by the way— if we took away the power of the district councils? My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) made a valid point when he said that if the powers of local councils could be increased it would be a great step forward in Northern Ireland. We have had a housing return, but the local councils have no authority in housing. They cannot even make representations about the allocation of houses, and those involved in local government are suffering great frustration.

We were told to do all those things and we did them, but the IRA did not go away. It will not go away until it has driven the British Army out of Northern Ireland and until it has completely and totally subverted the wishes of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland.

I say to the IRA that until it wipes out the last Protestant in Ulster it will never intimidate Northern Ireland into an all-Ireland Republic. What sort of Republic would it be? There would be a repetition of the civil war, when brother fought brother in the South of Ireland.

Reference has been made to the shooting of the father of Erskine Childers. He was shot, not by the British Army but by the Cosgrave Government. It was said he was tried as a result of the trouble. He was shot by the Free State Government. They shot him.

We have heard a lot today about Northern Ireland, much of it propaganda put forward by those who do not know the situation. Hon. Members have said that our Army is being fired on and murdered by both sides—but what are the facts? The facts, as released by the security forces last Friday, are that 230 regular Army men have been killed in Northern Ireland, 46 UDR men have been killed, 49 RUC have been killed, and nine police reservists have been killed. According to the security forces all but six of these men have been killed by the Irish Republican Army. Is it fair for hon. Members to use the sounding board of this House to try to tell the world that the British Army, the police, the UDR and the police reserve are at the mercy of both sides of the community in Northern Ireland? That is an atrocious falsehood that needs to be nailed tonight in this House.

Let me say something more regarding the killings. The vast majority of people who have been slaughtered in Northern Ireland have been Protestants. Let us make that absolutely clear. The Minister of State may shake his head, but the vast majority of those killed have been Protestants. The IRA engages in sectarian murders. There is no doubt about that.

We in Northern Ireland have gone through a very rough period in our history, but I believe that good can come out of this evil. This country, through recent happenings, is now learning what Northern Ireland has come through.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South that in the days ahead this House should not expect too much from the Convention, but I believe that it can, nevertheless, expect quite a lot, because at that Convention there will be, for the first time since the Stormont Parliament fell, real talks between the elected representatives of the community.

I ask the Secretary of State to consider again the plea I made to him some months ago—why not start talking in this House? There are 12 elected representatives from Northern Ireland in this House. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister and he should have called these elected representatives together long ago, in this House, and should have discussed personally with them their ideas about the future and about the way they believe that Northern Ireland could establish itself in government in the future.

It has been said here today that this House, and this House alone—and I agree—will have the final say in what is accepted, but a point arises here which seriously disturbs me. Is it fair, is it honourable, is it democratic that the House that decides the future of Northern Ireland should not have its proper quota of Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland?

9.5 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in an eloquent speech, brought the House hard up against the stark realities of the agony of Ulster. I will not follow all that he said except to say that I agree with him as with other hon. Members who have urged the case for proper representation for Northern Ireland in the House of Commons.

It is hard, particularly for a relative newcomer to the Dispatch Box, to do justice to an important debate of such high quality. If I fail to comment adequately on all the salient points I can at least tell the House that I have sat through the whole debate and heard every speech and learned much from different quarters, although I missed most of the speech of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), to whom I would apologise if he were here.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) spoke of the restrained and moderate tones in which hon. Members have spoken. That is so, and I am sure that it is right. We are concerned tonight, as a nation and as the Parliament which has the ultimate responsibility, with issues of terrible gravity. It is natural that the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) should have devoted much of their speeches to the progress of the security forces. Progress there has been. There is growing antagonism among the Roman Catholic people, for example on the Belfast housing estates, to the tyranny of the IRA. There is increasing popular support for the security forces.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned the success of the confidential telephone service. I confess that I was sceptical when it was introduced, and I was wrong. I feared that it might be abused to set up ambushes for the security forces. I understand—perhaps the Minister will correct any mistake of fact or figure that I may make—that more than 1,000 alleged terrorists are in process of coming before the courts. They are not being put away; they are to be tried. The House welcomes, I think, the increase to five in the number of judges who preside over what are called the "Diplock" courts.

For security and law and order, the Secretary of State made a most important statement when he said that the hope of amnesty among so-called political offenders will not be realised. Of course we detest detention. That will be discussed on the order later. But the ending of detention depends simply on the public support which can be obtained for the forces of law and order and on the support of those who wield influence among all sections of the population.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) pledged himself to the defeat of the men of violence, and we are deeply grateful for what he said. But I only wish that the hon. Gentleman could have taken that one step further and perhaps given a word of praise to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Only the other day, I understand, Mr. Napier, the leader of the Alliance Party, appealed to the SDLP to give the police full support. Surely that should be possible. If once there were sectarian bias in the RUC, there is not now. The first Catholic to become chief constable, Mr. Flanagan, has risen from the rank of constable and has served in every rank of the force. The first Catholic chief constable has shown himself able, courageous and impartial. As has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, there are other Roman Catholics at the key level of chief superintendent.

No one can say, having studied the recent figures, that the RUC is not acting vigorously against sectarian assassination. It is untrue to misrepresent it as a sectarian or Protestant force. It is a people's force, and the leaders of all, constitutional parties who wish to serve the people of Northern Ireland and bring them peace should give the RUC all possible help and call on their supporters to do likewise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Har-borough referred to the record of our troops. I shall not pay tribute to their skill, to their sacrifice, to their forbearance, because I lack the necessary eloquence to do so. But I must rebut the charge of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and the charge of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) that our soldiers have become brutalised. It might perhaps not be surprising if some of them had. But it is a travesty of the truth to assert that our soldiers in Northern Ireland— and those who have met them and seen them in action know this—have become in any way brutalised. There has been some controversy—there has been even some acrimony—over the suggestion that the names of those who have fallen in Ulster should not be or should be inscribed on our war memorials. They are inscribed in the hearts of their countrymen.

I should like to add one word of special admiration to my co-religionists who defy exceptional intimidation to serve in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the RUC Reserve and the Ulster Defence Regiment. One of the early IRA victims in the UDR was a man called Sean Russell, a private in the UDR. I thought it was incredibly heroic—it certainly passes my understanding—that he should have enlisted in the UDR from the Falls Road. That is where his home was, and it was there that he fell to the gunmen while watching television with his children.

We have heard in the debate from those who want to remove, or at least remove to barracks, those troops who are still indispensable to what security, what peace, what law there is in Northern Ireland. They include the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). He seemed to complain in the early part of his speech that the trouble with these wretched people in Northern Ireland was that they were so unlike the British. He seemed to suggest—preposterously, I thought— that the six Ulster counties are divided politically between Irish nationalists and Ulster nationalists. I thought that his argument was difficult to follow.

We heard also from the hon. Member for West Lothian. He speaks with great sincerity and with courage. He needed courage, because I thought he had less than universal agreement even on his own benches. I, too, want the troops out. I want them out of the streets. I think we all do. We want them out of the housing estates. Policing is for the police, not for soldiers. This, again, is like detention. If we want detention to end, and we do, and if we want the troops to return to their proper role, we must build and back the police.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James) wants an independent Ulster. I was a little confused, after wandering with him around the border, whether by the term "Ulster" he included the six counties or the nine counties. I mistrust the learned analyses which purport to show that economics rule out independence in Northern Ireland or anywhere else. The map of the world is studded with sovereign States which were declared incapable of autonomous existence on economic grounds. Professor Carter, the Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, said that any calculation of transfers within a unitary State were in some degree notional. Among the facts which have to be assessed is the important fact, which is much to the credit of the hard-pressed people of Northern Ireland, that the rate of growth there in the past six years of trouble has been higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom.

In spite of what the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) said, I do not believe that the people of Northern Ireland want independence, and still less do they want some sort of federation with the Republic, which is another idea being floated. Independence is incompatible with the principles and very name of the party for which I speak. Independence will be contrary to the strategic interests of the United Kingdom. Eire is traditionally and firmly neutral and a British foothold in Ireland is, I believe, necessary to the security of Western Europe. So those who, from the best of motives, argue for independence are, I believe, asking for an act of national self-destruction, and because of the increased bloodshed which would ensue they are asking, too, for an act of moral betrayal.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) spoke of the role of the forces as the protection not of the Roman Catholic minority but of all Her Majesty's subjects in Northern Ireland. If the troops were prematurely to be withdrawn not only the Roman Catholics would be in danger. No one could say what the result would be. There might be a geno-cidal civil war. This is much feared south of the border and by the Government there. The border would set no limit to such a civil war and the process of disintegration of the United Kingdom might set in. Nowadays there are such forces of separatism and anarchy within this realm that the process would probably not be halted at the Irish Sea.

I think the whole House welcomes the growing willingness in Dublin to take effective action against the IRA——

Mr. Dalyell

It cannot take such action.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

The history of past troubles shows that it is when that Government acted most strongly against the IRA—and sometimes it has acted even more strongly than the British— that the troubles have come to an end. It is very much within the power of the Dublin Government to bring a speedy end to the present troubles.

Mr. McNamara

Will the hon. Member, for the benefit of this House and for those members of the Dail and the Republic who read our proceedings, spell out precisely what resources and expenditure the Republic is to devote to dealing with the IRA more rigorously than it is dealing with it at the moment?

Rev. Ian Paisley


Mr. Biggs-Davison

I do not mean that it is wholly within the power of the authorities in Dublin, but I believe that with their full co-operation the troubles can be brought to an end, as earlier troubles have been. I shall say a little more on the subject later, although time will not allow me to go into it in the full detail that the hon. Gentleman would no doubt desire.

The hon. Member for Thurrock mentioned the late and honoured Erskine Childers. I hope that the House will for- give if in passing I salute his memory. In the words of one of the obituaries, he brought to the old love-hate relationship between the Irish and the British peoples a little love. Those words are a fitting memorial to him.

I have always considered it only fair to Dublin that organisations that were illegal in the Republic as well as in Northern Ireland should be proscribed in Great Britain, and that has now come about. The Irish dimension has entered the debate. Whatever the Irish dimension means precisely, and whatever its future, in one sense we need to add an Irish dimension to British policy in the form of an intimate partnership for the defence of all the peoples of the British Isles against their common enemy.

There has been reference to that notorious television interview which some believe set off the Birmingham atrocity. In that interview, David O'Connell, the Provisional IRA chief of staff, made it clear beyond a doubt that the IRA is concerned not with a political settlement but with unconditional surrender by the British Government, and that it is not concerned with the redress of grievances. The Secretary of State has spoken of the steps still being taken to ensure that there is no cause for grievance in the future.

But Mr. O'Connell did more. He revealed the cold cruelty of the IRA. He revealed its contempt of the wishes of the large majority of the Ulster people, expressed in successive elections and in the border poll, by free and secret ballot, to remain part of us. The IRA rejects democracy, because democracy rejects its candidates and its doctrines with loathing and revulsion.

But—and this is the point I wish to make in connection with Dublin—the broadcast also revealed the threat presented by the IRA to the democratic institutions of the Irish Republic. Two names were singled out for mention in the broadcast as enemies of the IRA, and they were not citizens of the United Kingdom. The names were Cosgrave and Lynch.

The hon. Member for Northampton, North was doubtless right when she said that the established order is more precarious in the Irish Republic than in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the cooperation of the Republic with the United Kingdom is at least as much in its interests as in ours. The legislation before the Dail to implement recommendations of the Law Enforcement Commission set up at Sunningdale are welcome. However, they are a bad second to extradition. I wonder how easy it will be for evidence to be given in these cases in the Republic.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry) spoke of reactions here to the terrible bombings and IRA activity. England has now suffered something of what the people of Northern Ireland have suffered for half a decade. However, it is a matter of honour and interest as well that there be no reprisals or threats of reprisals against the Irish in our midst. Nothing could be more helpful to the Provos than reprisals. Those of us who have constituents of Irish origin hold them in high esteem.

We must acknowledge the vitality that Irish Members bring into our debates. I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). I say to those who quickly criticise Ulster people that they might reflect that it was only after three years of IRA terror that Loyalists violently appeared on the streets in para-military formation. In England there have already been deplorable attacks on Irish persons and property. I hope that we shall never hear of English or Scottish Protestant extremists. To many of us who are Roman Catholics it seems that it would be right and helpful to the keeping of peace——

Mr. Mike Noble (Rossendale) rose——

Mr. Biggs-Davison

If I have time I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have reached the end of this portion of my speech.

It would be right and helpful to the keeping of peace if those prelates who have not lived up to the courageous lead of the Archbishop of Birmingham would make clear what should be self-evident—namely, that no terrorist or sectarian assassin has any place at the altar rail. Anything less is to my mind scandalous in the proper and literal meaning of the word.

Mr. Noble

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some months ago a UDA unit based at Preston was discovered. Its members were tried at Lancaster and sentenced. Arms caches for Protestant use were discovered in Accrington. The people who were sentenced admitted that they had been allocated areas in Ulster by the UDA for defence in the case of civil war. Has the hon. Gentleman seen today's newspaper reports of this case?

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Yes, I have. I was referring to the dangerous possibilities of such circumstances. Any hon. Member who has relevant information which he can bring to the notice of the police or to the Home Office should do so.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said that the British people had begun to grasp since the Birmingham massacres that it is no phoney war in which we are engaged. Three, four or five bitter and bloody years ago some of my hon. Friends and I were saying that whether the battlefield was at London, Londonderry, Belfast or Birmingham did not matter as it was the same struggle. We were not always believed.

The hon. Member for West Lothian, with his false comparison with Vietnam, exhibited one of the defects that is to be found in democracies—namely, the besetting temptation to weary of difficult and dangerous exertions when there is no end immediately in sight. It is a sterile argument whether a political or military solution comes first. I think that they must both go forward together. The gulf is fixed between those of us who believe in the Union and those who would tear the cross of St. Patrick from the flag of our country and impose by force an all-Ireland workers' republic which would be Cuban rather than Catholic and which would be erected on the ruins of existing society.

Mr. McNamara rose——

Mr. Biggs-Davison

No. I have one minute before I give way to the Government spokesman who is to reply to the debate.

It will be hard for Ulster politicians to move from their fixed positions within or without the constitutional Convention, about which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Molyneaux) made a constructive contribution. We are at war with the IRA because the IRA is at war with us. In Churchill's centenary year we may well recall how Churchill, having vowed to win a war which could not have been won without the use of the Ulster ports, warned the House of what the whole nation must expect. "We have before us many long months of struggle and of suffering." Indeed, that may be our portion. Churchill also declared the national purpose in the face of a merciless foe. It was to be victory … victory in spite of all terror". Let that be the aim and resolve of the House.

9.30 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)

It is my pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) on his first major speech at the Dispatch Box. I am afraid that he set a bad example for others who will have to follow him by quoting so assiduously those hon. Members who had taken part in the debate already. An hon. Member who, following him, did not go along that road might get into some difficulty with some of his own hon. Friends, let alone hon. Members sitting opposite to him. But we welcome the hon. Gentleman's appearance on the Front Bench.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the number of people now before the courts. Nearly 1,000 people are awaiting trial in Northern Ireland for crimes of violence and attendant crimes. This is under the strict process of law and has nothing to do with detention.

I want to deal with some of the social and economic problems of Northern Ireland. Ministers at the Department spend a great deal of time in Northern Ireland dealing with economic and fiscal difficulties there, as well as other problems. All the Ulster Members in this House, as well as Members of the Assembly, press Ministers extremely strongly on behalf of their constituents. We certainly do not object to this. But it is often forgotten that work on the social and economic problems of Northern Ireland is going on, quite apart from the work on security, and policing.

It would appear from some of the speeches in the debate that there is no Government in Northern Ireland. But there is, and it is a Labour Government, carrying out policies which are also being carried out in the rest of the United Kingdom. In this respect, we are playing our part in the Government's broad economic and industrial strategy, particularly in their plans for the regeneration of British industry.

There has been a tremendous demand for support for industry in Northern Ireland. The Conservative Government set up the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation, which, while it has had some problems, has been extremely successful. I would point out to the Leader of the Opposition that it was a good forerunner for the National Enterprise Board. We in the Northern Ireland Office are looking to tailoring the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation into the United Kingdom Government's proposals for the National Enterprise Board, so that it can work, in the Northern Ireland context, not merely as an adjunct on the board itself.

We hope to increase the corporation's powers and to bring proposals before the House which will allow it to take account of social factors. Such provision is missing from the corporation at the moment. The planning agreements between the Government and major firms in key sectors of manufacturing industry will apply, where relevant, to Northern Ireland. For example, location of employment and investment will be important topics to Northern Ireland in such agreements.

We have already had discussions with the Economic Council in Northern Ireland, which comprises trade unions, employers and independent members. It has welcomed the fact that these powers will be extended. It would be wrong for me to put views into people's mouths, and obviously some employers are not fully happy about our proposals. No one pretends that they are. But the CBI representatives in Northern Ireland recognise that development will have to be made along the lines we are suggesting.

The Government have made clear in their White Paper dealing with land that the new tax arrangements will apply to Northern Ireland. Consideration is being given to the other proposals concerning land, in consultation with the relevant interests in Northern Ireland.

Here again, Ministers are dealing daily with the economic and social problems of the Province against the background of our policy. Many of our difficulties were inherited by the former Tory Government when direct rule was imposed. There are areas with high rates of unemployment, areas outside the immediate surroundings of Belfast, stretching west of the Bann and down to Newry. We deal daily with industry requiring Government assistance. The maintenance of employment often overlaps into the security sphere. Naturally, on occasions the Government have to act in the interests of the community as a whole. Government support is asked for in East Belfast, Coleraine, and Bangor just as in any other part of Northern Ireland. The desire for the extension of employment is no different from that in any other part of the United Kingdom.

We have recently received the report dealing with housing. Here again we have inherited a situation far worse than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. We hear talk of what was done during 50 years of Stormont rule, but it does not come out very well on the ground.

Mr. McCusker (Armagh)

Do not the statistics in this housing report show that 52 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland is housed in modern council housing built since the war and that the major problem is in the private sector?

Mr. Orme

I do not want to bandy the statistics around. The hon. Member has seen the report. The situation in Northern Ireland is 15 per cent. worse overall than elsewhere. Dealing with this problem will require a lot of money and hon. Members representing Ulster constituencies must understand that the British taxpayer who will have to find this money will want to see results.

The problem of housing was mentioned in an earlier debate. The provision of new and better housing, as necessary as that is, will not resolve the political and security problems in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the process of polarisation started in 1969, and it has not yet stopped. Increasingly, people are being forced to live in ghettoes. We heard of a housing estate comprising 400 new houses which could not be occupied. The ghetto mentality presents a problem when one tries to provide employment. Some people will not leave a ghetto and take up employ- ment in another area. We are attempting to deal with this problem.

Yesterday, I attended a constructive meeting at the Harland and Wolff shipyard with the management and shop stewards. The firm announced that, with Government acquiescence, orders for three major tankers had to be cancelled. They were pulled out of the order line because of extremely severe penalties and it would have been impossible to meet the vessels' completion dates. There has been some progress in regard to the wages log-jam and previous legislation. Steel throughput is increasing, and must continue to do so. Proposals for industrial democracy will shortly be put to the workers for their consideration. What might seem to be a small step forward has been taken in that a joint consultative council, representative of trades unions and management, will hold its first meeting in the shipyard early in January. That provides the basis and, we hope a springboard for future results.

Parliament underwrote the finance needed by Harland and Wolff on the basis that the provision could not be repeated and that this time a success had to be made of the venture. The people working in the shipyard are beginning to appreciate this point and are taking it very much to heart. We are proceeding with constructive proposals which will allow the shipyard to remain the largest employer in Northern Ireland and to remain a major economic base.

In Northern Ireland between 9 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the working population work on the land, as opposed to less than 3 per cent. of the working population in the rest of the United Kingdom. If a major company such as this ceased operations, the advantages of Belfast's being an engineering centre and the consequent technological spin-off would be lost. That would be disastrous for the economy. We are putting the message over that only by maintaining output and good industrial relations, with worker participation, can we make any real advance.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) has shown a great interest in industrial training. A new training centre, not connected with the shipyard, for apprentices and other people, will be opened in west Belfast very shortly. It will be a non-sectarian training centre, similar to all the others. We intend to extend such development.

Many facilities in Northern Ireland are well ahead of those in other parts of the United Kingdom. I have in mind specifically those for industrial training. The construction of the economy and the liaison between Departments dealing with the environment, planning and commerce allow for very close relationship between industry and those Departments. In many ways it is more close than a good deal of what goes on in a number of regions in the rest of the United Kingdom. We must build on this, because progress in this area is in the interests of the economy.

Mr. Stallard

My hon. Friend will know that I welcome his announcement about this training centre, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). But can the Minister say what opportunities for employment youngsters from that area will have after training? Has there been any discussion, for instance, with the shop stewards at the shipyard about the employment prospects for kids from the area who go through that training school?

Mr. Orme

I hope that my hon. Friend will not confuse this matter with any proposals that we may have for Harland and Wolff. A new industrial estate is about to be started in West Belfast which will create the type of employment about which my hon. Friend is concerned.

In a Written Answer, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave the Government's rethinking about the proposed Belfast motorway. This proposed urban motorway would have been completely non-sectarian in its route, in that it would have ripped apart areas of east and west Belfast; it brought the most unlikely people together in their condemnation of it. These grandiose plans have been dropped, but certain provisions will be carried forward. The change of plan will prevent a great deal of unnecessary destruction, and it will be economically advantageous to put the original proposals on ice.

We are pursuing policies which are in line with what the Government were elected to do. We are pursuing them with the same vigour as that which is being applied in the rest of the United Kingdom. Sometimes that is overlooked in this House.

Mr. Kilfedder

The subject of training is an important one. Will the Minister assure us that teachers in Northern Ireland will receive the lump sum payment to be made to teachers in England, Wales and Scotland—and before Christmas—pending the outcome of the Houghton Report?

Mr. Orme

I am informed by my hon. Friend the Minister of State that the answer is "Yes".

During the debate today, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry) spoke of recent demonstrations and the problem that he had had in Liverpool where members of the National Front took part. It appears to me that the good sense of Liverpool people knew how to deal with it. I think that it is better left in that setting than to try to find other means of dealing with it. There may come an occasion when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has to deal with such situations differently. If we can overcome them without that sort of intervention, so much the better.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) said that people who have a religious faith could not knowingly kill other people. Our experience is different. We find that people who profess to be religious, who often attend Mass or go to church regularly, do go out to shoot and kill. That is a fact of life which we cannot avoid. I could mention one or two infamous cases of which the hon. Lady must be aware. If my hon. Friend knew how religious those people are she would be surprised. I will not give details in the House, but if my hon. Friend wants it I will give her the information later. I agree with her that it is a complex problem. No one denies that. I understand the anguish which many of my hon. Friends—and my right hon. Friend—feel about the events in Northern Ireland. We are looking for a solution, but as we have seen from the debate today there is no ready alternative——

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) suggested some.

Mr. Orme

The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) mentioned some alternatives, but the reception the House gave to his speech is an indication that handing over Catholic areas to the Provisional IRA or to any other para-military organisation is not acceptable. It may have been a slip of the tongue, but the right hon. Gentleman appeared to suggest that there might be a link between the Convention and the para-military forces.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman commented perfectly fairly on my speech. I am sorry that the Secretary of State should have joined in. If he had any doubts or comments on my speech it would have been better for him to make them either during my speech or while I was in the House.

I repeat, it is highly desirable to involve the community as a whole in the discussion. While the Convention is sitting for that purpose, the community organisations and even the para-military organisations could be assisted to come together in public places. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will be able to think of other and better possibilities. I do not regard talk as a para-military operation. These para-military organsia-tions exist, and it is far better that they should talk than involve themselves militarily. It is not a question of linking. I was trying to get away from the political vacuum that has long existed in Ireland.

Mr. Orme

Under no consideration would we accept that as a basis for any talks. We have resisted talks with the Provisional IRA and with para-military forces on the other side linked with the Convention.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) asked whether the Assembly could not run in tandem with the Convention. The Convention is an entirely new organisation. It is a meeting of elected representatives in Northern Ireland which will be able to consult trade unions, employers and other responsible bodies. The Convention is a major development and a step forward by the British Government. It is not regarded merely as a step along the road to be tried before we try something else.

The House will not tolerate any section of the community, either the minority or the majority, wrecking the Convention for the sake of wrecking it, or for a sectarian purpose.

Mr. McNamara

What will the House do?

Mr. Orme

That is a glib question.

Mr. McNamara rose——

Mr. Orme

We are not looking for a failure in this Convention. If it fails, the Government will have to reassess the situation.

Mr. McNamara

That is different.

Mr. Orme

It is not different. My hon. Friend is trying to be too clever. The House should understand that the Convention will be a landmark in Irish history.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

For its failure.

Mr. Orme

The operation of the Convention will not go unnoticed in the rest of the United Kingdom.

There is a growing impatience among British people regarding Northern Ireland. This is a feeling, not pro one side or anti the other, but of being sick and tired of the whole Northern Ireland situation.

The Convention must make a real attempt to arrive at an agreement which is acceptable to both communities and then come to this House with proposals which are acceptable here. The White Paper spells out the situation clearly. The final responsibility for acceptance or rejection of any proposals brought forward by the Convention will lie with the House of Commons as it is at present.

We are being pressed all the time, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), for political initiatives.

We would have liked the Convention to meet fairly soon, but that will not be possible for the reasons that have been given. It will meet early next year. When the Convention deliberates, those elected to it, representing about 2 per cent. of the people in the United Kingdom as a whole, will have to take account of the views of the other 98 per cent. That is the serious point about it.

In this situation it would be disastrous for the British Government to withdraw the troops. We want the Army to come out in a peaceful manner as soon as practicable. Anybody with common sense wants that. But the Army was sent to Northern Ireland to do a particular job. If the troops were withdrawn now, the incipient civil war situation that appertains at the moment would develop into a Congo situation. We have already seen what has happened in Birmingham and Guildford. The results of withdrawal of the troops would be far worse in other British cities. The Army is not there to get a political settlement. It is there purely to maintain law and order. The Convention is the political approach.

On that basis, I recommend the House to give its support to these proposals. We see no real alternative, but there is an opportunity for a settlement of this prob- lem now if the people of Northern Ireland as a whole will take it.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Tooting)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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