HC Deb 31 January 1974 vol 868 cc589-96
1. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on discussions between his office and the Northern Ireland Executive with regard to relations with the Republic of Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Francis Pym)

I am in regular contact with the Executive on all matters of common interest, including, when appropriate, matters relating to the Irish Republic.

Mr. Douglas

I note that reply. The next time that the right hon. Gentleman meets the Executive and other politicians in Northern Ireland, will he commend to them the view expressed—as reported in yesterday's Irish Times—by Mr. Sandy Scott, of the executive of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, that people in Northern Ireland should stop looking upon themselves as some 17th century museum piece and enter meaningful relationships with the rest of the working class in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Pym

I think that the Executive is already doing that. It already has many contacts with the Government of the Republic. The Executive has not been functioning for very long, but it has made an excellent start, and this relationship is all that it should be.

Mr. Kilfedder

May I say first, Mr. Speaker, that it is delightful to see you back in the Chair again?

Mr. Speaker

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I hope that I shall enjoy it as much as he.

Mr. Kilfedder

I hope that I shall not put a blight on your return, Mr. Speaker.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that what the hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) calls the working class in Northern Ireland are opposed to the settlement that has been worked out with the Eire Government? Is it not correct that in his consultations with them the Eire Government have shown no intention of amending the Eire Constitution to recognise Northern Ireland, and no intention of extraditing IRA terrorists who have committed atrocities in Ulster?

Mr. Pym

All parties to that agreement have every intention of carrying out the agreement, and there will be a further meeting about it. It is not true to say that the Republic does not intend to carry out its part of the agreement. I am certain that it does. I do not agree with my hon. Friend's reference to the alleged lack of support for what has happened in Northern Ireland. I think that there is a great deal of support. Indeed, from all my contacts there, I would say that a substantial majority of people in Northern Ireland clearly want this to work. There is no question of any party's not being prepared or willing or wanting to carry it through.

Mr. McManus

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that paragraph 7 of the Sunningdale communiqué says that Following the appointment of a Northern Ireland Executive, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive would nominate their representatives to a Council of Ireland? Why have no nominations so far been made to that body, as stipulated?

Mr. Pym

That raises rather a different question. I can tell the hon. Gentleman—indeed, he will know already—that Mr. Faulkner has made a visit to Dublin and that the preliminaries for further discussions have already taken place and are continuing.

Rev. Ian Paisley

When will the Sunningdale agreement be ratified by my right hon. Friend's Government and the Southern Ireland Government?

Mr. Pym

No date has yet been fixed for a further meeting. It was foreshadowed that there would be a second meeting in due course, when various reports would be studied, but no date has yet been fixed.

Mr. McMaster

What discussions have been held with respect to bringing criminals to justice on both sides of the border for crimes committed by the terrorists?

Mr. Pym

I think that the Governments on both sides of the border are taking every step they can to bring terrorists to justice. That is indeed our prime objective, and it applies to the Government of the South no less than to Her Majesty's Government.

3. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the activities of the new Northern Ireland Executive Government since its commencement of functions in the New Year.

4. Mr. O'Halloran

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the progress made so far by the new Executive; and if he will make a statement.

6. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly.

Mr. Pym

The House will follow with great interest the progress of the Northern Ireland Executive, but I am sure that hon. Members will agree that we ought to pay full regard to the fact that the Executive is responsible to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr. Dykes

I acknowledge that reservation from my right hon. Friend. Will he confirm that the Executive is now gaining increasing acceptance from moderate opinion in Northern Ireland and that any attempts, from whatever quarter, to undermine the operation or constitutional effectiveness of the Executive would be received with a grave and violent reaction and a severe response from people of good will in both Northern Ireland and this country?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree with what he has said. It is true that even in its first month the new Executive has grown in strength and respect. I am certain that it is the wish of everyone in Northern Ireland—or, if not everyone, the great majority—that it should be a success and should grow in strength and ability. I think that it has had a successful period in its first month.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Are not the reported statements of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), favouring independence of Britain, and of Mr. Boal, favouring federation with the Republic, extreme indications of apprehension and resentment among the majority? Is not the key to the Sunning-dale settlement the allaying of their fears? Will my right hon. Friend listen to any suggestions from his hon. Friends for doing so?

Mr. Pym

Yes, indeed. I shall do that. Over the last year or two a great many suggestions have been made as to how the problems that have arisen in Northern Ireland should be resolved. It is true that the method finally chosen and decided upon does not have the support of everyone, but I am convinced that it has the support of the vast majority. Clearly, there are difficulties at first. There would be difficulties at first in any new method that was tried in Northern Ireland, from those who did not agree with it. But the present arrangement was arrived at after a great deal of debate in this House, in the country and in Ireland. It is my view that the vast majority want this to work and succeed. We ought to give every help that we can and to use all our influence to make sure that it succeeds. That is the best and quickest way of bringing peace back to the Province, which is surely what everyone wants more than anything else.

Mr. William Hamilton

I think that the whole House will agree that a prerequisite to the solution of the problems of Northern Ireland is the maintenance of law and order. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny or confirm the statement made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) about the savage murder of the German industrialist?

Mr. Pym

That is a different matter. On that matter there has been close cooperation and exchange of information between the Metropolitan Police and the police in this country and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I think that everything that can be done in that case has been done.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Further to that reply, will the right hon. Gentleman say why his office issued a denial of the statement that I had made and then the Home Office confirmed that my statement was right? Why did the RUC issue a statement saying that it was kept in the dark about these arrangements between members of the Provisional IRA—or, as the Government say, people who purported to be from the Provisional IRA—and his Government?

Mr, Pym

All those people in the Northern Ireland Office and in the RUC who needed to know about this approach and, indeed, other approaches were immediately informed.

Mr. Orme

The Opposition welcome the start that the Executive has made and recognise that it is on a fairly bumpy road. Nevertheless, it has got off to a reasonable start from our point of view. In regard to expenditure, one has seen some of the proposals which have already come forward. Will the Government be in a position to meet any increased expenditure and will it be subject to Government cuts?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said at the beginning of his supplementary question. I think that he will know that when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced some major cuts in public expenditure in the House a few weeks ago he said that they did not apply to Northern Ireland. That is a considerable advantage for Northern Ireland, and the people of Northern Ireland appreciate it. It would not be right for me to commit my right hon. Friend the Chancellor as to the future, but at any rate, up to now, the people of Northern Ireland have been and are today in a comparatively favourable position, for reasons that we all understand.

Mr. Benyon

May I put this matter very strongly? Will the Secretary of State accept the anger felt by so many of us on this side of the Irish Channel at the efforts being made by the so-called Loyalists to disrupt the workings of the Northern Ireland Assembly? Will he accept, further, that this must affect the way in which many of us view the continuation of military and financial assistance to the Province?

Mr. Pym

Many of us in this House would deplore unparliamentary behaviour in any democratically-elected body. What happens in the Northern Ireland Assembly is essentially a matter for its members, but I very much endorse what my hon. Friend said. It is always a great mistake in any elected body to have among its number members who behave in that way.

7. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will now hold a referendum in Northern Ireland to test the degree of support for the establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Mr. Pym

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Goodhart

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that most opponents of the Sunningdale agreement attack it on the ground that it lacks majority support in Northern Ireland? Has my right hon. Friend noted the fact that some moderate leaders in Northern Ireland are now calling for a referendum to demonstrate that there is a majority in favour of moderation in Northern Ireland, just as the last referendum proved conclusively that there is a majority in favour of Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Pym

I know of my hon. Friend's expertise in regard to referenda, and his enthusiasm for them. I am bound to say, however, that in the United Kingdom we have not found it a very satisfactory way of conducting political debate. There is always argument about the question. There are always problems about deciding its phrasing. My view is that everyone in Northern Ireland wants to give the Executive a chance to work. The best and proper way for these matters to be discussed and put to the people again is, in due course, at an election, when all the various aspects can be debated. That is the right way to proceed.

Mr. Molloy

Would the right hon. Gentlemen consider it to be in the interests of law and order, and giving encouragement to moderates, if he talked to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which has done so much and which condemns violence so wholeheartedly?

Mr. Pym

I am available, and have been already, to talk to a great many individuals and groups of people in Northern Ireland. I am always available to receive representations.

Captain Orr

Now that the Executive has been formed and its programme promulgated, would not a very much better and more effective way of testing present opinion in Northern Ireland be to hold a General Election for the Assembly? That would decide the matter.

Mr. Pym

Many people in Northern Ireland have represented to me that they have voted quite enough and are sick of going to the polls. There is a view that there ought to be another General Election, and in due course there will be another General Election—at any rate, within the next four years. The best thing that can happen now, having come to these decisions, is to allow them a chance to work and to be seen to work. In due course a verdict will be passed upon them, as happens in any other democratic country.

Mr. McManus

Following on that reply, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate the number of people that he has seen about this matter and what relation that number bears to the number of people in Northern Ireland who actually have a vote?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that it is possible to answer that question. Since I have occupied this office I have spent at least half of each week in Northern Ireland and have seen a great many people. I could not quantify them, but I have received a great many views. Whereas it is true that there are those who believe—like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr)—that there is something to be said for putting the issue to the people of Northern Ireland fairly soon, I have had a great many more representations in the contrary sense.

Rev. Ian Paisley

As more than a third of the elected representatives of the Assembly have now withdrawn from it, does the Minister stand by his statement today that the vast majority of people support the Northern Ireland Constitution Act?

Mr. Pym

As a matter of fact, I do. It is a cunous kind of withdrawal because the withdrawal keeps going into reverse as far as I can see. I do not think there has been a withdrawal in the proper sense of that word, but in so far as one has taken place I regret it very much. It was open to the leaders of other parties in Northern Ireland to take part in these discussions and share in the Executive if they so wished, and the fact that they did not wish to do so was a matter for them. In due course, when experience of the new arrangements has been gained, it will eventually have to be put to the people of Northern Ireland.