§ 4.28 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the White Paper on the Northern Ireland Constitution (Command Paper No. 5675).On Thursday last I presented a White Paper on behalf of the Government. The steps announced in it followed the breakdown of the Executive on 28th May, following which there was a debate in this House when I made it clear that while I had not been prepared to negotiate on constitutional matters with the Ulster Workers' Council during the UWC strike, I was at all times willing to meet elected representatives. Indeed, both my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I had done so on a number of occasions. I further made it clear that I had already begun, and would continue, the task of exploring the views of political leaders in Northern Ireland.
It was in that context that the White Paper was presented last Thursday and it is in this further context that, as was announced then, two pieces of legislation will follow. The first is the Northern Ireland Bill, shortly to be taken through all its stages, and the second is the order renewing the Emergency Provisions Act which is to be taken tonight.
The debate today gives extra time for discussion on both those pieces of legislation. This is right given the importance of the issues involved. Tonight we are to take the order renewing the Emergency Provisions Act and next week, I understand, we are to take all stages of the Northern Ireland Bill.
On 28th May 1974 the Executive fell. It fell in face of the Ulster workers' strike. I have asserted that baldly in paragraph 26 of the White Paper, which says:In plain terms the Ulster Workers' Council in association with the para-military organisations brought down the Executive, which, in a spirit of partnership had undertaken the tasks of government in Northern Ireland since January 1.It was not an industrial dispute and it was backed by para-military forces. Indeed, when the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the 1163 right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) met my right hon. Friend the Minister of State they were accompanied by three members of the para-military forces.
Under the Constitution Act, the Executive could have lasted for four years, the lifetime of the Assembly under Section 27 of the Act, but only as long as it had the support of the Assembly. The Executive was increasingly under strain after the General Election of 28th February. It could last only as long as there was support for it in the Assembly. In the face of the stoppage, that support was not forthcoming. Democratic government can be only by consent. Consent was not forthcoming from the Protestant community. Indeed, it was from the Protestant community that there came the confrontation in the name of loyalty. The confrontation arose, they said, out of the facts of Sunningdale and their lack of support in particular for the Council of Ireland.
In addition, the unremitting campaign of the Provisional IRA and the violent actions of other extremist organisations, including sectarian murders of Roman Catholics, had created an atmosphere of increasing polarisation and distrust, unreceptive to the politics of consultation and compromise.
On the fall of the Executive I advised Her Majesty to prorogue the Assembly. It was quite clear that it was not possible to form a new Executive. I could not justify coming to this House in a few weeks' time to ask for a further period of prorogation. Dissolution was the only further alternative then open to me. There could then have been an election of a new Assembly leading to an Executive under the 1973 Act. I am quite clear that this was not acceptable. After that election I would have been back in the same position as I was on 28th May. The Constitution Act, it was made clear to me, was not acceptable to certain party leaders. Another way forward had to be found. This is spelled out in the White Paper and in the Bill.
I must at this point deal with the question of the day-to-day government of Northern Ireland which faced me after the fall of the Executive. There were provisions in the Northern Ireland Con 1164 stitution Act 1973 which enabled the situation to be dealt with in the short run. But we are now faced with something more than a mere interregnum between Executives. We are faced with the need for United Kingdom Ministers to carry on the government of Northern Ireland for a period of many months. We are, therefore, proposing that certain temporary arrangements should be made for the orderly government of Northern Ireland. The Bill to introduce those temporary arrangements will not repeal any part of the Constitution Act 1973. It will temporarily set aside some parts of that Act, but the great bulk of the Act will remain in full force.
The temporary arrangements fall into two parts. The first is legislation. It would clearly be impossible for this Parliament to find time to take Bills to deal with all the legislation that will be necessary for Northern Ireland. We therefore propose that there should be power for Her Majesty to make Orders in Council legislating for Northern Ireland on those matters on which the Northern Ireland Assembly has power to legislate. As during direct rule in 1972–73, it will be possible to make these orders only if they have first been approved in draft by both Houses of Parliament, unless they are extremely urgent, in which case they must be approved within 40 sitting days of being made. But although this power to legislate by Order in Council will exist, the Government will endeavour to proceed by way of Bill, passing through both Houses of Parliament in the normal way, wherever major legislation is required, or sensitive issues are involved.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
My right hon. Friend will recall that when we were in opposition we were concerned that so many important matters which were then before Stormont came before the House at a late hour and could not be criticised or amended. Knowing my right hon. Friend's attitude towards former Members of the Assembly who were not prepared to co-operate, I would point out that there were others in Ireland who were prepared to do so and should be able to make their voices heard. Therefore, would he consider talking to the Leader of the House about the establishment of some Committee of the House, as we urged in opposition, to consider 1165 draft legislation before it comes to the Floor of the House?
§ Mr. Rees
We will certainly consider that matter as my hon. Friend has described it. As I said the other day, I find that a strange doctrine coming from hon. Members—not my hon. Friend, of course—who made sure that the Assembly did not work and allowed measures to go through without any discussion. It is strange for them to raise their hands in horror now and say how terrible it is that something should go through this House in a short time. Nevertheless, of course this will be looked at. I presume that we are coming to the end of the Session and the matter would be one for a new Session, but I will of course consider it.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
Of course we can discuss this matter during the passage of the Bill, but I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that he hoped to proceed as far as possible by way of Bill. Does that mean that it would be possible to deal by way of Bill in this House with matters which would normally have come before the Assembly, or must those matters appear as Orders in Council?
§ Mr. Rees
What I said was that, wherever major legislation is required or sensitive issues are involved, we shall obviously take this into account. But on other matters, one of the things that I shall have to put to the House very quickly is that Northern Ireland needs money. I would propose—I am thinking aloud here—to do this by Order in Council as a first thought under the procedures of the Bill which I hope will be passed next week.
The second part of our proposals concerns executive government. At present, the two Ministers of State and two Under-Secretaries of State at the Northern Ireland Office hold office as heads of the various Departments in Northern Ireland. They are techincally accountable to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the way in which they discharge those offices. It is proposed that instead of this situation the Secretary of State should control all Departments in Northern Ireland with the assistance of his junior Ministers, and that he and his ministerial team should then be accountable to this Parliament for the discharge of their functions.
1166 These interim and temporary arrangements will provide for better government of Northern Ireland than would have been possible under the Constitution Act in the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive. But I must make it plain that they are not, in the view of the Government, a satisfactory long-term solution. For that long-term solution, we have proposed a Constitutional Convention.
As is stated in paragraph 48 of the White Paper, the Government continue to believe that the best and most desirable basis for political progress in Northern Ireland would be the establishment of local institutions enjoying broadly-based support throughout the community. That is the essence of the situation, the essence of what we must all strive to achieve.
This Government recognise, as did the last Government in their White Paper of March 1973, that an effective system of government for Northern Ireland, as indeed for any other community, can work only if all sections of that community are prepared to let it work. The system of government proposed in the 1973 White Paper, and made law by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 was an imaginative step forward, and one which appeared both to the Government and to the Opposition of the day to offer a realistic opportunity for Northern Ireland and its people to find a way forward out of violence and instability.
We have now come to a point where we must take stock of the situation again. We must again face up, as the previous Government did, to the need to ensure that the proposals made for Northern Ireland's future system of government command the acceptance of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland. This must be remembered as we debate today and next week the Constitutional Convention for Northern Ireland. This will not be a legislative body but will be created solely for the purpose of considering, in the words of Clause 2(1) of the Bill,…what provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there".If the Bill is passed, it will be the law of the land. The Convention will be given an initial life of six months, but it will be dissolved earlier if it presents its 1167 report within that period; on the other hand, if it needs more time for its work, then, subject to Parliament, its term can be extended. The Convention's report, when it is completed, must be laid before Parliament. It may then be desirable to embark on a further test of Northern Ireland opinion, and to mount a referendum in that province; if that is required, then the Bill will permit the holding of such a referendum. It will be for this Parliament to decide what action should follow.
The final decision for matters within the United Kingdom rests with this Parliament. I make it clear, as I did to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) in this House on 4th July, that any referendum on the link between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is not covered in the new Bill.
The Convention will be a Convention of Northern Irish people, elected by Northern Irish people, and considering the future of the Northern Irish people. We do not think it right that the Government should take a part in the Convention, or should seek to influence either its deliberations or its conclusions. There is, however, a considerable amount of information which could, and we think should, be made available to the Convention, particularly as regards procedures which might assist it in its work. We propose to publish before the elections to the Convention, information on procedures that might be followed with examples of historical precedents. It is worth looking in particular at the Newfoundland Convention of 1946.
In the same way as there are certain facts of life which the Government must face, there are also certain facts of life which the Convention must face. It is a fact that more public money is spent in Northern Ireland than the revenue raised there. This House has never hesitated to approve the transfer of additional moneys to Northern Ireland to help maintain standards there, or to bring standards up to those prevailing in other parts of the United Kingdom. In 1973–74 the support for Northern Ireland was £376 million. We have spelt this out in the White Paper. At a later stage we shall expand on this to consider certain other aspects. It is right that the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1168 should have all the relevant information before them. There are people in Northern Ireland who take a view that that is tantamount to UDI. If people are going to vote on this matter, it is important that the wider facts, not just the transfer of income, should be taken into account.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
My right hon. Friend talks of people in Northern Ireland and the Government having to face the facts of life. Is not one of the facts of life regarding the constitutional links between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that so far in the history of this link the British people have never had an opportunity to express their views? Will my right hon. Friend say how the Government intend to implement the pledge set out in paragraph 45(b) namely, that the constitutional arrangementmust be acceptable to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole…What sort of test of opinion will be given to the people of Great Britain?
§ Mr. Rees
My view is that when the Convention reports, then the House of Commons is the place in which to consider the matter. I like to believe that I represent the people of my constituency as a whole, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman takes the same view about the people of Erith and Crayford.
§ Captain Orr
The Secretary of State spoke about laying down certain matters which might be helpful for the Convention. Will he give a little more information about what he has in mind before we debate the Second Reading of the Bill?
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Is not the wording of the White Paper a little strange since paragraph 45(b) mentions the pattern being…acceptable to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole and to Parliament at Westminster.1169 If what my right hon. Friend says is the case, why is it not just the Parliament at Westminster?
§ Mr. Rees
I have responsibility for many things, but not for the Common Market.
It must not be forgotten that there is another side to this subject. If 97 per cent. of the taxpayers in the United Kingdom are to pay to support standards in Northern Ireland, they will expect that Northern Ireland itself will strive to attain a high standard of political responsibility there. If citizens in England, Scotland and Wales are to see young men from those countries lay down their lives in Northern Ireland, they will expect that the cause in which they lay them down will continue to be a just one.
These are facts which the Government must face. They are facts which the Convention must also face. The Government believe that there are other realities which cannot be ignored. The first, which I have already mentioned, is that there must be some form of partnership, because no political system will survive or be supported unless there is widespread acceptance of it within the community. Whatever the form of government and whatever label is attached to it, it is indispensable that it should be accepted by the community it serves. This has been put firmly in paragraph 45 of the White Paper.
In the discussions I have had with disparate groups of people, I have found that the question of power sharing has bitten deeply in the Province; it is something which is increasingly being understood. That may not be true of all aspects of the situation, and there may be differences of view, but I think it can truly be said that the subject of power-sharing has been taken on board.
The second fact is that there is an Irish dimension. Whatever their political views may be, the members of the Convention will have to recognise that Northern Ireland shares a common land frontier with the Republic of Ireland and that this, 1170 together with the common history of Northern Ireland and of the Republic, creates a special situation. I repeat that there is an Irish dimension. The facts of history cannot be denied. This dimension in no way alters the other basic fact of life—namely, that no changes can be made to link North and South without the consent of the people of the North.
The political situation cannot be considered outside that of law and order, the Army and the police. Since 1969 we have seen 1,045 people dead—218 soldiers, 44 members of the UDR, 54 police, 729 civilians—and a further 12,686 injured, and compensation payments totalling £72 million. We have seen organised bombing and burning by para-military forces, primarily but not exclusively the provisional IRA. We have seen some 200 sectarian murders, many of them Catholic victims of Protestant extremists.
In the face of all this, the British Army has been involved in defence of the Civilian population. The Downing Street declaration of August 1969 stated:The Northern Ireland Government have been informed that troops have been provided on a temporary basis in accordance with the United Kingdom's ultimate responsibility.This temporary basis has continued for five years and the rôle of the Army has changed. The Army cannot replace the police, nor should it be asked to be a substitute. As part of the continuing evaluation of the situation, it is time to look at the crucially important problem of policing in Northern Ireland. Parts of Northern Ireland have for a long time not had a normal police service and ways must be found of providing it.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
The Secretary of State rightly says that security is the key to a great deal of constitutional advance. Will the Convention be entitled to discuss security and the control of security?
§ Mr. Goodhart
What about the control of the police? If the Convention members have views on the police, it 1171 would be sensible for them to discuss it and, if they have a unified view on the matter, to put it to us.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
With regard to the Army, would the Convention be permitted, if I may use that term, to discuss how the Army might do Army duty only and how the police could be introduced for certain duties?
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman's point bluntly adds up to the question of the rôle of the police. I am saying that to come to any conclusion about the controlling of the Army by any future assembly would not be on. But if it is a question of the rôle of policing, I see no reason why that should not be. The police will have their own rules and regulations, if that is generally accepted in the Convention, but this will be a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to decide.
In the words of the White Paper,Nothing would transform the security situation more quickly than a determination by the whole community to support the Police Service and co-operate with it. This is not happening. If it did take place, it would also have a fundamental effect on the need for the Emergency Powers Act in Northern Ireland, including detention, the operation of which is currently being examined by the Committee sitting under the chairmanship of Lord Gardiner. It would also enable the Army to make a planned, orderly and progressive reduction in its present commitment and subsequently there would be no need for the Army to become involved again in a policing rôle. This is the aim of the Government and must be the wish of the overwhelming majority of the people in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.Successive Governments have affirmed their intention to phase out detention as soon as the security situation permits. This is a matter of vital significance in Northern Ireland. Later tonight we shall be debating an order to extend the Emergency Provisions Act for a period of six months. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has arranged for a debate of three hours instead of the usual one and a half hours, so that I need not speak at length on this question now. I do however want to tell the House that I shall be starting today a carefully phased programme of releases linked to a resettlement scheme involving the community which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has been working out in recent weeks. If the matter is raised in the 1172 course of the debate my right hon. Friend will be able to explain in more detail what is involved in his scheme.
The phasing out of detention—the complete phasing out of it—is possible if the para-military organisations, on both sides, are prepared to respond to the step I have taken today. It is a step which represents a small number of releases, but it could be the beginning of phased releases. What matters is the response in the community, in the context of violence. A cessation of violence would ensure that the releases continue.
The end of the Executive was serious, but not the end of the story initiated by previous administrations; power sharing, in particular, was a success. As I have said in paragraph 26 of the White Paper,If the Executive failed, the men who served in it did not fail. They disproved for ever the idea that it is not possible for Protestant and Roman Catholic to work together for the good of Northern Ireland and its people".We must build on these foundations.
The Convention will provide an opportunity for the elected representatives of Northern Ireland and through them the people of Northern Ireland to consider the issue. Early in the life of this administration we legalised Sinn Fein and the UVF. The opportunity is there for all to see whether, in the absence of a gun, people will support them. I say to all those who seek to use the gun and the bomb—try the ballot box. The excuse that the presence of the British stands in the way is no longer good enough.
This White Paper is not the last chance, but it is an important one. So often the people of Northern Ireland, right through the community, feel that we British do not understand their problems. Well, here is their chance.
I urge those who seek to represent the people of Northern Ireland to remember the realities spelt out in the White Paper. I urge them to consider what is said about power sharing and about the Irish dimension. I remind them, too, of the British dimension. In the end the last word is with the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The people of Northern Ireland have asked for an opportunity to settle their own affairs. It is the wish of all the British people that they use it for the 1173 benefit of both communities in the Province.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
Although the circumstances that have brought this debate about may have been fortuitous—having the debate today is as much due to the non-appearance of HANSARD as anything else—the result is felicitous in that we are discussing the Government's White Paper and the continuance of the emergency provisions on the same day. This is highly appropriate.
It is often thought that there cannot be a military solution in Northern Ireland without a political solution. There is certainly as much truth in the converse—that there cannot be a political solution without a military solution. It is very unlikely that any political arrangements, however ingenious, carefully contrived, or fair minded, can work for long if terrorism continues at its recent level. Under such conditions of violence, or near war, people do not think in the ordinary democratic categories, or in what we used to think were the ordinary democratic categories. The Taoiseach understood that very well and expressed it well when he said that the power-sharing Executive had been brought down by the IRA, as we warned it would, and the campaign of the IRA has provoked a massive sectarian backlash. This has underlined the only kind of solution which can bring peace to Northern Ireland and security for the minority in that area.
The search for acceptable constitutional arrangements is inextricably connected with the search for peace, or something near it. We shall not achieve consent unless we achieve peace as well, and we shall certainly not achieve peace if we assume that terrorists are merely slightly misguided activists, or if we assume that terrorism is merely an undesirable adjunct to normal peaceful democratic conditions, and that it can be dealt with without disturbance to normal democratic conditions.
The whole House will agree that the emergency powers are necessary. There may be scope for improvement or deletion here and there, but this is not the time to consider them in detail. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) piloted the Bill through 1174 Committee and is much better qualified to deal with these points, and he will be winding up for the Opposition.
I trust that the Gardiner Committee will give the benefit of the doubt to the maintenance of an effective system of security. That is the least that it can do and the least we can do to help our security forces. The threat to law, democracy and liberty comes not from excess of powers being granted to our soldiers, or the police or the judiciary, but from the murderers, thugs and crooks who do not believe in any of these things. By all means improve the regulations, if improvements can be made, but let us not forget the conditions which make these regulations necessary.
The Secretary of State talked about phased releases and I hope that the Minister of State will go into this matter in considerable detail—
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The intention is to deal with them under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act procedure, because they fit into that. There is a small number of seven people involved, but releases can be continued and phased if violence is ended.
§ Mr. Gilmour
We are perfectly agreeable to dealing with them after 10 o'clock.
Meanwhile, as the White Paper implies in the passage on law and order in paragraphs 41 to 43, the Army must remain. I think that the overwhelming majority in this House is in favour of the Army continuing to perform the rôle which it has performed so superbly over the past five years. Anything which enabled us to lessen the Army's commitment in good faith would be widely welcomed though-out the country.
Before I leave the general subject of security I wish to raise two other matters. The first is the so-called guerrilla festival due to be held in Dublin and Belfast later this month. As the House will know, it is being organised by the Official Sinn Fein. It is described as the festival of anti-imperialist groupings. The idea, it is said, is to explain the so-called "struggle" of the Irish people with foreigners.
I read what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson had to say about this in the 1175 other place. I also read that the Secretary of State said here on 27th June that he would be looking at the conference very closely. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think that that is anywhere good enough. In the Belfast Telegraph of 12th June there is a report of a Press conference given by Mr. Sean Kenny, who is the director of international affairs of Sinn Fein. He is reported to have said:Those attending would be best described as 'left wing political activists'. Their own Governments might describe them as guerrilla leaders.No doubt there are many places where such a festival could be held. It is not for me to say whether Dublin is a suitable place, but I am quite sure that Belfast is not a suitable place. After all that Ulster has suffered at the hands of terrorists in the past five years it is surely unacceptable to hold a festival of terrorism there. I can imagine almost nothing more provocative or objectionable, and the Government must see that the conference does not take place.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
When I said that I was looking at it I meant that I had to look at it in the context of legislation passed by the previous administration. I have powers to deal with it, but in dealing with it I have to be careful not to give it the free publicity which has been given to it in many other places. I understand that it has even applied to the Irish Tourist Board for a grant.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I read that it had done that. Of course, the Secretary of State must act according to his powers, but if he does not have the powers now he could easily get them within the next fortnight. He would not find this House denying him any necessary powers. If the conference takes place, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman realises that it will cause grave offence not only in Ulster but also in England, and I have no doubt at all that it should be banned.
The second matter is the Irish Government's legal proceedings against this country in Strasbourg. The House will remember that the Irish Government made two main accusations. The first was that the United Kingdom was guilty of the administrative practice of shooting civilians. That ludicrous charge was dis 1176 missed peremptorily two years ago. The second charge was that the United Kingdom was guilty of the administrative practice of inhuman or degrading treatment, or torture, of persons held in custody.
An "administrative practice" is defined as official tolerance of acts of torture in the sense that the superiors of those immediately responsible, though knowing about such acts, take no action to punish those responsible or to prevent repitition of such acts, or that the higher authority, in the face of numerous allegations, manifests indifference. Therefore, the charges are made not only against officers in the Army and the RUC but against Ministers of the British Government. The Irish Government continue with those allegations despite the good relations between the two countries and despite the change of Government both here and in Belfast.
I am sure that these procedings are good for the lawyers, but that they are not for anyone else. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson), who was Attorney-General in the last Government, put it in a recent debate, it is time for an honourable settlement to be made. He went on to say that these allegations did a disservice not so much to those accused but to Ireland itself. It seems to me grotesque that those proceedings should be pressing on. I hope, even at this late hour, that the Republic will do the proper thing and drop them.
When we discuss political developments in and the political future of Northern Ireland one virtue is often lacking on this side of the Irish Channel, and that is humility. Humility was a virtue wholly lacking in the Prime Minister's lamentable broadcast during the strike. That broadcast lacked virtually every quality that one could imagine. There are at least two reasons why humility is appropriate over here. The first is that the weapon of the political strike which brought down the Northern Ireland Executive was not fashioned in Ireland. It was fashioned in England and Scotland. It was condoned by the Labour Party. Then it was copied and transferred to Ireland. That is a truth which is as obvious to many Government supporters as it is to the Opposition.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
It is important to get this right. There were para-military forces involved who attended the meeting, with hon. Members present. I had to take account of what might have been done in the way of blowing up pylons, and so on. I shall not elaborate further. But it was not on all fours with what happened over here. I repeat that I am the son of a coal miner. We have never in my community used guns. That is the difference between the two. There is no comparison between the two.
§ Mr. Gilmour
Of course there are differences between the two. I accept that. However, on reflection the right hon. Gentleman will not say, I am sure, that there is no connection between the two. It is obvious that there is. There is often, regrettably, intimidation in strikes in this country, but where strikes are used for express political purposes—and these strikes have been widely reported on the other side of the Channel—[Interruption.] The constitution over here was in a sense subverted by direct action for political purposes. It will not do to pretend that what went on over here was legal and that what went on in Northern Ireland was different and totally illegal. The purposes for which a political strike was used over here were approved by the right hon. Gentleman, but apparently he did not approve of those purposes in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
Is not this a matter of principle? It is wrong of political parties to support political strikes. The same can be said of the Secretary of State for Social Services and her support of the recent strike over here, again entirely for political purposes.
§ Mr. Gilmour
The House is beginning to grasp that law, unlike peace, is indivisible. The more that both sides of the House bear that truth in mind the more likely we are to get our political arrangements right.
The second reason for some degree of humility on this side of the Channel is that it can scarcely be said that over the past few years British politics have been conducted with that moderation and self-restraint, co-operation between parties and resistance to extremism and extremists which we habitually commend to our fellow politicians in Northern Ireland. 1178 So, whoever is entitled to cast the first stone, I do not think that it is the Prime Minister.
I do not think that the Secretary of State can be blamed for lacking humility in his White Paper. He certainly cannot be accused of trying to play too prominent a part in future events. Indeed, he seems to have left himself virtually nothing to do.
Before coming to that aspect, I should like briefly to examine the alternatives that were open to the Secretary of State in the difficult decision that he had to make.
First, he could have done nothing, which is always a temping course of action. Apart from the difficulty of running the Executive in the way that it has been run since its collapse and apart from all the anomalies to which the right hon. Gentleman referred last week, he would have had next month to decide to prorogue the Assembly again or to summon it and try to form another Executive. I think that it is generally accepted that the present Assembly could not produce another viable Executive; but another prorogation was theoretically possible, though I do not think that it would have achieved very much. Indeed, it might merely have exacerbated the situation.
Alternatively, the Secretary of State could have announced elections to a new Assembly under the same Constitution Act. That course clearly has attractions, but I find it hard to believe that new elections would have produced an Executive. I think that it would probably have led to elections taking place earlier than they will under the White Paper. That, too, might have exacerbated the situation.
So we come to the Government's choice of a constitutional convention. That course obviously has dangers, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out last week, but, as he also indicated, virtually all other courses of action have dangers, too. Anyway, this is what the Government have decided upon and we must hope that it works.
Turning now to Part 7 of the White Paper, "The Next Steps", the key paragraph is paragraph 45. I hope that I 1179 shall not transgress my own recommendations about humility by making a few remarks about them. It does not matter what phrases are used—details are not important—but that there has to be some form of partnership or power sharing, whatever it may be called, is self-evident. Perpetual rule by one party is bound to lead to abuses. That is as true in Ulster as it is in the North-East of England.
§ Mr. Gilmour
No. The abuses that have come to light in the north-east of England do not seem to be totally duplicated in Sussex.
It cannot be right for Ulstermen who sit on this side of the House to say that they accept power sharing but that they do not accept power sharing with the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) who, with Mr. Faulkner, played a distinguished part in the Executive. The reason for trying to exclude the hon. Gentleman is that he hopes ultimately for a united Ireland. I recognise that there is much natural fear and resentment in Ulster that a large minority want to belong to another country, but it cannot be right to try to deal with that problem by exclusion—by a kind of twentieth century Test Act. People's fitness for office must surely rest upon their behaviour rather than on their opinions. Apart from anything else, it is often difficult to know what their real opinions are. Therefore, we had better stick to their behaviour.
Instead of trying to deal with the problem by exclusion and loyalty oaths, the Unionists should try to deal with it by so governing Ulster that few people want a united Ireland.
The Unionists can surely point to the fact that Catholics in the North have certainly not voted with their feet against Northern Ireland. The percentage of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland has gone up since partition. Of some 950,000 Irish-born immigrants in Britain over 700,000 came from the South, and of the 200,000 from the North a good many must be Protestants. Therefore, the Catholics in Ulster have preferred to stay there rather than to go either to the South or to Britain. Proportionately fewer 1180 Catholics have come here from the North than from the South. Between partition and the 1966 census the population of the South declined and that of the North increased.
These figures should give Unionists confidence, and they surely reinforce the point that co-operation should depend upon the behaviour of those involved, not on their ultimate ambitions, which, in many cases, may not be fervently held.
Surely the proper dividing line should not be between those who want to stay British and those who want to join the South, but between those who work legally and democratically for their objective and those who are prepared to use violence to achieve their ends.
Secondly, one of the criticisms of the Sunningdale Agreement, one which seemed to me clearly invalid, was that it meant different things to different people. Those who wanted a united Ireland said that it pointed to a united Ireland and those who wanted to preserve the Union said that the Union was fully safeguarded. But there has never been a constitutional document which has not meant slightly different things to different people. Some element of ambiguity is present in all constitutions. It was and certainly is present in the classic American Constitution. Clarity is all right in its way, but it can be overdone.
Thirdly, there is the Irish dimension. Of course, geography dictates that there must be an Irish dimension, but the size of that Irish dimension seems to depend very much on the conduct of the Irish Government. If the Irish Government build up trust in the North by increasing co-operation on the border, by making an acceptable agreement over arrested terrorists and other matters, the Irish dimension will expand. If the Irish Government do none of those things the Irish dimension will shrink very sharply.
We wish the Government well on the path that they have chosen. It would be inappropriate now to express great optimism or great pessimism. But of one thing I am sure. We want Ulster to remain in the United Kingdom. We have been together a long time to the great mutual advantage of all, and that historic connection should not be severed now. We want to preserve the United Kingdom and we want to preserve Ulster as part of that United Kingdom. I am 1181 sure that it is possible to work out arrangements which will achieve that objective.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Reconciliation with one's right hon. and hon. Friends, in one case of many years, is always an agreeable experience.
I make no bones about the fact that I came prepared with a very long speech offering the most gloomy forebodings about the White Paper. Fortunately, the House will not be burdened with that speech, for one very good reason. It argued that the White Paper had no hope of success unless one condition was fulfilled: that, at any rate, a start should be made on the phasing out of internment without trial. Therefore, it was with genuine delight that I heard my right hon. Friend in his opening remarks says that at 10 o'clock this evening—I have no reason to doubt his good faith—plans would be laid before the House for the ending of internment without trial.
In present conditions this may be much easier, because of the incident at Rathcoole, of which my right hon. and hon. Friends are aware, in which a number of Protestants were taken in. I now gather from Assemblyman Peter McLachlan, and many others, that the Protestant community for the first time has really understood what it is like to be taken into detention without trial. From what I am told from many sources—I can go only on this—now that the Rathcoole incident has taken place there has been some understanding of the anger of the Catholic community about what Long Kesh meant. Therefore, it may be easier because for the first time the Protestant community have some sympathy towards the gradual release of those who are detained—at any rate, those detained without trial—at Long Kesh.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
The hon. Gentleman is doing a grave injustice to the Protestant community by saying that it is only now and as a result of the arrest of Protestants and their detention that Protestans are turning against the concept of internment. Although it is a distasteful procedure, it is nevertheless necessary. I still regard it personally as necessary, as do the majority in Northern Ireland. That applies across the board, irrespective of 1182 religion. The Army has said frequently to me that it cannot operate effectively if internment comes to an end.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I should like to apply the kind of humility about which the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) was talking. One of my constant themes throughout this matter has been that people such as myself had better not lay down the law on what is good and proper in Ulster. I had better stick to my own precepts. I accept in that spirit what the hon. Gentleman has said.
That intervention leads me to my second point. If we let people out of detention without trial, we are asking rather a lot of the British Army. It must be said that when men have often risked their lives in order to put those whom they think are malefactors of some kind into detention in Long Kesh, it is asking a great deal for them to accept their release. As one who would have argued that detention without trial was one of the reasons why the British Army should come out of Ulster, I should like to leave the matter by saying that at least one must not only understand the view of the Chief of Staff but understand that this matter is pertinent to the morale of the junior and middle ranks of the Army, and that this is asking a lot. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could make it known to the Army that some of us who have been wondering about its rôle and have felt that an army would not solve the historic problems of Ireland, would nevertheless like it passed on to the officers, NCOs and other ranks that what will be put before the House at 10 p.m. tonight is asking a lot of human nature and the British Army, and that if the Army accepts it, then it is enormously to its credit that it should do so.
I do not believe that speeches should be any longer than they have to be. With those remarks, I cut out all that I would otherwise have said and close my speech.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
It is important that we in this House should adopt as far as possible a consensus approach to the White Paper. Following the Secretary of State's statement last Thursday, it seemed to me that we were, at long last, moving in that 1183 direction. But I was a little disappointed by the approach of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, whose contribution seemed somehow to be out of tune. While others in the House seemed to be in a mood to put the past behind them, it seemed that he, almost alone, was inclined to look back in anger.
We can understand and sympathise with my right hon. Friend. Despite the many burdens of office, while he was Prime Minister he devoted a great deal of time and energy to Northern Ireland affairs, and he accepted full responsibility for the decisions and policies of the Government of which he was the head. One can understand his feeling of frustration over the collapse of those policies. But, just as we in Ulster are often advised to put the past behind us, I am confident that on reflection my right hon. Friend will overcome his disappointment and attune his thoughts rather more to the spirit of realism and even optimism which has been apparent in London and in Northern Ireland in recent days.
We have been further encouraged by the words of the Secretary of State and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour). It seemed that both of them were indicating much firmer thinking on the future rôle and standing of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. This will be welcomed by all right-thinking people. We who always had our doubts about the former policies, and expressed those doubts, have no intention of indulging in tiresome reminders of our attitude. We only ask that this time our views may not be entirely discounted. It may, perhaps, be that we could justly ask that this House listens to our views and might, at least, accept that we possibly know as much about Northern Ireland as do hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State deserves praise and congratulations, not for having conceded various points to various people on various matters but on his courage and realism. For a long time while he was the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland affairs, we always felt that he was one of the very few hon. Members of the House who understood what it was all about. Although there were times 1184 when we had our reservations about the Northern Ireland policies of the Labour Party, we never had the fear that he could advocate a course of action without fully realising what the end product would be. That always brought us a great deal of reassurance.
It would be sheer impertinence for me to appeal to hon. Members of the right hon. Gentleman's party to support him in his present efforts, but I say sincerely to those hon. Members on the Government side of the House who have taken a deep interest in Northern Ireland affairs—appreciating the sincerity of their political views and sympathies and, perhaps, even their religious sympathies—that they should recognise that the realistic approach of their present Secretary of State seems likely to safeguard most effectively the true long-term interests of the people of Ireland, with whose interests they are quite properly concerned.
I and, I think, all of my hon. Friends welcome the setting up of the Constitutional Convention, which was a proposal put forward to the Secretary of State's predecessors by those of us who survived from the previous Parliament. I am thinking particularly of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).
The White Paper indicates that a firm decision has been taken to interpose between the Secretary of State and the Convention another person. Whatever the reasons for that decision, it raises a problem in the choice of chairman. The White Paper stipulates that he should be a person of high standing and impartiality from Northern Ireland. No one will quarrel with that. But "impartiality" must mean that he is one who is not and never has been a politician. This means, unfortunately, that he will be without political skill. Surely such skill is essential if he is to guide the Convention towards a solution which avoids the defects of the past experiments, which foundered precisely because they were a political nonsense.
What is even more important perhaps, is that the chairman will have to steer the Constitutional Convention away from a course which would lead to a head-on collision with the Government and the 1185 Parliament of the United Kingdom. It has been suggested that a distinguished judge would serve the purpose. However, while judges undoubtedly have or, at any rate, should have the ability to evaluate and marshal facts, they are seldom experts in assessing the merits of political proposals, which depend for their succes not on cold logic but on their appeal to human nature, with all its cussedness and unpredictability. Is there not, too, a danger that this Constitutional Convention may be regarded as something like a Royal Commission, whose proposals would be presented in due course to the United Kingdom Government, in which case the Government would then decide which recommendations they would accept and which they would reject? But in this case they would be dealing with an elected body responsible to those who elected it, and therefore would rejection of its conclusions not produce a conflict between the two elected bodies?
If the Secretary of State is not to be involved, may we ask what is to be the mechanism for keeping the Convention in touch with Westminster thinking as circumstances change and even, as seems possible, as the composition of the Government at Westminster may change before conclusions are reached? It is important that these questions should be faced, because I believe that the people of Northern Ireland have no desire to engage in the exercise of self-determination in defiance of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Now that we are being listened to, now that they are being listened to, they would prefer to build a structure in partnership with their fellow citizens in the rest of the Kingdom, a structure within the United Kingdom and in the context of the Kilbrandon Report.
At this stage may I on behalf of my colleagues welcome most warmly the forthright assurance from the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour), and the declaration that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom. It is at long last that we have this firm declaration, and I think it will remove the hopes of the terrorists and the fear of the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I regret having to intrude in the hon. 1186 Member's speech, which is being well received, but does he not realise that the Constitution Act, which is accepted by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal parties, made a clear declaration that Northern Ireland would not be removed from the United Kingdom against the wishes of the majority of its people?
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Certainly the declaration was made, but then various subsequent attempts were also made, sometimes in the very next paragraph, to erode that position, and it was that which depressed and saddened many of us. The declaration was made in the document which preceded the setting up of the Sunningdale structure which was calculated and designed to remove and would have had the effect of removing, Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom had it been permitted to run its course.
Finally, I deal with the matter of our responsibilities as citizens of the United Kingdom. In the kindest possible way I would suggest that no possible good could come of lecturing Ulster people on their duties while they are being denied the privileges of British citizenship. The first of those privileges is being delivered from war and terror and having the right to play a full part in the defence of their own Province. The second privilege is that of feeling that they are fully represented in this Parliament which makes the laws which the people of Northern Ireland as British citizens must obey and which they are willing and glad to obey. Without that vital element all else is meaningless. Above all is the privilege of guaranteed membership of this United Kingdom and the assurance, which we have had from one side of the House and which I hope will be repeated later, that never again will the people be confronted with a Sunningdale-type condominium designed to erode if not to end that British citizenship.
If we the people of Northern Ireland are granted such assurances—and we ask no more and no less than the other citizens of the kingdom—there is no need to fear any further extra-parliamentary activities, and we can be certain that those elected to the Constitutional Convention can be relied upon to succeed where others have failed.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) received a good hearing for his speech which was moderate in tone, though I could not agree with all that he said. I recall having said in a previous debate that it was a pity that hon. Members from the United Ulster Unionist Party did not always receive a warm hearing for their speeches, and the reasons for this were based on things said elsewhere and sometimes the tone adopted here. I am glad to pay tribute to the hon. Member for the way in which he presented his case, even though I disagreed with him on the issue of the guarantee.
Now that this White Paper is before us, the Government have two clear objectives. The first must be to spell out the limits on the Constitutional Convention in terms of what is acceptable to Britain and what this Parliament is likely to accept. That must be said now to avoid confusion later. The second is to set and maintain the conditions in which the Convention can proceed and is likely to proceed along constructive lines. I refer first to the limits within which the Constitutional Convention is bound to have to work. These limits are clearly indicated in paragraph 45, in which certain facts are set out, facts which must be recognised in the Convention and which will be elaborated in further documents that the Government may make available to it.
Clearly, the first of these is power sharing. It is quite clear that neither of the communities in Northern Ireland represented in the Convention can be coerced into accepting the other's view, nor can either be ruled out of any future participation in Government. It has been made as clear as it can ever be made that the Protestant community in Northern Ireland has a guarantee that it will not be dispatched into a united Ireland against its will. I do not see how any British Government of any party can make that position any clearer. In so far as the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) went further than that, it was to indicate his personal view and that of his party that they ought to remain and that he would like 1188 them always to remain. That is going further to the extent that it commits him and his hon. and right hon. Friends to a view about what the Protestant community should decide, but the important thing to that community, which is abundantly clear, is that they will not be sent into a united Ireland against their will. That assurance will no doubt have to be repeated many times, but it is clear.
However, for their part the Protestants must accept the right of Catholic participation in any future Government in Northern Ireland, and here I am glad to follow what the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said. It is simply no use trotting out as some sort of shibboleth that someone who has aspirations towards the future development of a united Ireland is not a fit person to take part in Government. That cannot be used as a barrier to participation. The guide, as the right hon. Gentleman clearly said, is willingness to operate within the law. The only condition which can be placed on participation in the future Government of Northern Ireland is the same for Protestant and Catholic—willingness to operate within the laws and constitution of Northern Ireland for the time being. Whatever aspirations people may have about the future of the country in which they were born and in which they live is not the test. That must be accepted and recognised.
There is no clearer demonstration on the part of the Catholic community of willingness to work within these laws than the work of the SDLP members in the former Executive. Tributes have been paid to all the groups in this Executive; the SDLP members worked constructively and well for the good of Northern Ireland, of which they are citizens. That fact is a clear testimony to the right of future Catholic participation in Northern Ireland government.
The paragraph which sets out the facts which are to be recognised refers to acceptability to the United Kingdom and out of it has arisen the phrase "The British dimension". It is quite clear that this Parliament is not prepared to accept a return to a Stormont form of government, and whatever happy memories one community may have of that form of government, the memories of the other 1189 community are very dismal indeed, and that is something of a legacy to answer for. There cannot be a return to a Stormont form of government. There must be protection of the rights of the minority community. It must be spelled out clearly that that form of government would not receive acceptance here and that any such government, if it were to be established, would not have the financial underpinning or enjoy the financial benefit on which those who are most keen on such a form of government depend. I am thinking particularly of those communities in Belfast which are dependent for work on the shipyards and which are looking to the British Government for continued confidence and investment in those yards. It must be made clear that the financial involvement of the British Government in Northern Ireland will depend on a system of Government that is acceptable over here in terms of its protection of minority rights.
The third feature in that famous paragraph 45 is the Irish dimension. I have already referred to the aspiration of members of the minority community and the attitude we should take towards it.
It seems to me that the important aspect of the Irish dimension for the North for the time being is that which is of immediate practical value to the North—namely, co-operation with the South on issues of mutual concern. The issue of border security has already been mentioned as one in which initiatives from the South will be welcome. I believe that initiatives from the North could reasonably be taken in a number of matters into which it would be difficult to read any sinister motive of backdoor moves to an immediate united Ireland. I am thinking of co-operation in such matters as agriculture and commerce, where fruitful relationships already exist between departments in Belfast and in Dublin, relationships which could proceed on the basis of considerable common interest and common ground into some institutional form, such as joint committees, committees which can deal with common problems. It would be difficult to read into such arrangements any sinister plans. They can be seen as desirable in the common interests of both North and South.
As long as we are in the EEC—which I suspect will be for all time, despite 1190 the feelings of some Labour Members—the importance of such developments is even clearer. The degree of common interest between North and South within the EEC on agricultural matters, in some ways interests distinct from those of the rest of the United Kingdom, makes this clear.
I said that the other aspect was the need to set and maintain conditions in which the Convention would be enabled to proceed on constructive lines. The first thing which needs to be done in this respect, and which is obviously the target of much of the Government's work, is the allaying of everybody's fears, fears that a united Ireland will somehow be sprung on them, or that a return to Stormont is likely to be sprung on them.
It is almost unnecessary to state the importance of the security situation in creating the atmosphere in which the Convention will proceed, but I think that the question must be raised again, as it will be later tonight, as to how far the internment procedures are helping and how far they are hindering the security situation. I have a little less confidence than the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), whose expectations of what will happen at 10 o'clock go a long way. I recall asking the Minister in a Question how many detainees had been released since he first announced the scheme under which he hoped to develop resettlement provisions and sponsorship. None had been released up to the time I asked my Question last week. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman's comments later.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
We should clarify this point. I hope to explain the resettlement proposals and how resettlement will work when I wind up the debate, which I presume will be at some time after 9.30 p.m.—I do not think that there is anything special about 10 o'clock—and when the Emergency Provisions Order is debated.
§ Mr. Beith
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I think that he will recognise that if the ending of internment is to be seen as something really in prospect it will take more than a very limited release of half-a-dozen or a couple of dozen detainees to have the kind of impact one might seek.
1191 We all recognise that the ending of internment over a short time scale would be a severe gamble for any British Government, but it is an option that must be considered at this juncture, in view of the depth of feeling of Catholic and Protestant communities. There is no group with a greater interest in the retention of internment than the Provisional IRA. No group has more cause to welcome its continuance, in that much of its support among the Catholic community owes a great deal to the existence of internment, with the family strains and dissatisfactions it creates.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What evidence has the hon. Gentleman for his last statement? Mr. Quigley and Mr. Morrell, spokesmen of the provisional IRA in Long Kesh, assured my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) and me that there would be no blood bath, that they wanted an end to internment and the start of a dialogue with the new forces in Ulster.
§ Mr. Beith
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is more ready than I to accept at face value what is said by the spokesmen for the Provisional IRA. My feeling, which is shared by many people in Northern Ireland, is that in internment the Provisional IRA has had a weapon in helping bring about the community's support it has enjoyed in some parts of the Province. It may well be that there are those in the Provisional IRA who are genuine in their desire both to end internment and to back its ending by a cessation of violence. I wish that I could share the hon. Gentleman's optimism.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I ask the hon. Gentleman a perfectly civil question—what was his evidence? It is no answer to be told that I am naïve and simple. If he asserts that the retention of internment suits the Provisional IRA, what evidence has the Liberal spokesman for that?
§ Mr. Beith
The hon. Gentleman should look at those communities in which the Provisional IRA enjoys support, and the extent to which internment has been a factor in the attitude of families there, perhaps of families with members and friends interned, and the extent to which that builds up resentment against the 1192 authorities and security forces. I do not wish to insult the hon. Gentleman in any way. He is wrong to suppose that I called him naïve. I said that he was optimistic. and I am not as optimistic as he is about what the attitude of the Provisional IRA would be if internment were ended.
A further aspect of the conditions under which the Convention must proceed concerns the electoral system. I back the intention in the White Paper that the electoral system used for the Convention will be that which was used for the Assembly, and the statement that it must be one capable of reflecting the views of the people of Northern Ireland, which the Westminster system has clearly failed to do. There is a possibility that there will be a Westminster election at about the same time as the Convention elections or immediately before or after them. I do not prejudge the Prime Minister's decision on that, but in any event there is likely to be at a fairly difficult moment.
Whatever happens to the electoral system in the whole of the United Kingdom, about which we have views, the Minister needs to look again at the Westminster electoral system in Northern Ireland. I know that I am asking him to consider what may appear to be a paradoxical course of action, but he is finding it impossible in his own speeches to support the Westminster electoral system and the way in which it works in Northern Ireland and the effects it has there. He may have to ask his right hon. Friend "Why do not we have a full-scale proportional representation experiment in Northern Ireland extending to Westminster elections as well?" Such an experiment should be combined with an increase in Northern Ireland representation here.
It should also be made clear at this stage that one of the conditions for the success of the Convention will be discussions extending far deeper into the community than those who stand as candidates for it, and that before election fever grips the Province and people find themselves taking sides, as they inevitably do at an election, it is desirable to encourage discussions at as many levels of the community as possible. If there are any ways in which the Government can encourage discussions at the level of the community forum within the indivdual town or area of a town on as wide a 1193 scale as possible, that should be done. Whatever financial assistance can be given, should be given. Perhaps Church leaders can take an initiative. If the Government can assist in any way, they should do so.
I echo the feelings of hon. Members who have pointed out that in the meantime we must ensure that Northern Ireland legislation and orders are properly dealt with here. I must ask the Secretary of State not to reject the possibility of a Northern Ireland committee here simply because it seems to be a concession to those who were unwilling to operate the Assembly, where they had opportunities to deal with Northern Ireland legislation much more fully. It is not an argument against such a committee or anything else that it has those antecedents. Nor should the right hon. Gentleman fear that the creation of such a committee would be a precedent for the kind of machinery one might associate with full integration, for example. This is in no sense an argument against a Northern Ireland committee to deal with legislation as a temporary measure, to ensure that there is full treatment of Northern Ireland matters and to avoid the clogging of a legislative timetable which is already experiencing some difficulties. As a temporary measure it would command wide support in the House. We all hope that many of the matters which have been mentioned today and those with which we shall deal later tonight will be temporary measures on the way to a solution of the Northern Ireland problem.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
This is the most placid and good-tempered debate on Northern Ireland that I can remember. That is largely due to the good sense contained in the Secretary of State's speech and in the White Paper that he has produced. Before the last General Election many of the speeches that we heard from the then Opposition benches seemed to suggest that Labour hon. Members were looking forward to a headlong dash into unimpeded minority rule in Northern Ireland. Fortunately, the White Paper is more realistic and we can be assured that the voice of the majority will at least be heard. I am also pleased that there is a suggestion that the result of the Constitutional Con 1194 vention will be put to the whole of the electorate of Northern Ireland in a referendum.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I accept that that was the position. I was referring to speeches made by the Minister's hon. Friends at an earlier stage. I do not think that the Minister ever subscribed to the view that was held by some of his hon. Friends.
I am glad that there is a possibility that we shall have a referendum on the result of the Constitutional Convention. Despite all the bombs and all the strikes, I still think that there is a moderate majority in Northern Ireland. Where there is turmoil it is important to demonstrate in as many ways as possible that the constitutional arrangements that have been made have the general support of those who are directly involved. Therefore, I hope that we shall come to a referendum.
I do not think that we can necessarily complain over-much about certain vaguenesses in the White Paper or about gaps in the Secretary of State's speech. Clearly there are no more gaps in this measure than in other measures. It seems that the vaguest reference of all is in paragraph 45(c), which says:Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, shares a common land frontier and a special relationship with another country, the Republic of Ireland. Any political arrangements must recognise and provide for this special relationship. There is an Irish dimension.That could mean anything or very nearly nothing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) was absolutely right to say that the question whether there is an Irish dimension depends to a large extent on the Dublin Government. Much depends on whether they are prepared to cooperate on issues that are of importance to the people in the North. If that were so co-operation would grow, but if the Dublin Government were not prepared to co-operate on certain matters such as security and the border, co-operation would wither and diminish.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The hon. Gentleman is right to quote paragraph 45(c), but it is right that I should tell him on what it is built. In the Constitution Act 1973 there is understandably no mention of the Irish dimension. That measure refers only to the concept that there may be co-operation. I discovered on going to Northern Ireland that the relationship that was built between the North and the South was left almost entirely to a discussion between the Executive and the South. I was told that Englishmen played little or no part in Sunningdale. I thought that that was good sense and that I could refer to the "Irish dimension" and leave the matter for Irishmen to determine themselves.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his interesting intervention. I was also interested in the observation of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). He mentioned that Britain and the Republic of Ireland are members of the European Economic Community. It often strikes me as odd that those who are sometimes most anxious to see the greatest cooperation between Dublin and Belfast—indeed, a merger between them—are often those who are most anxious to see Britain leave the Community. I remember that the Minister of State was most vehement in his opposition to our entry into the Community. I wonder what will happen to the Irish dimension if the United Kingdom leaves the EEC and if the Republic of Ireland remains a member. What then will happen to the Irish dimension? I wonder whether the Government have any contingency plans in the event of that happening.
The part of the White Paper in which there is least clarity is understandably that which deals with security. It seems that security is the key to constitutional reform. Understandably the majority of people in Northern Ireland will continue to be infuriated if they are asked to accept a moderate constitution and moderate political methods and if at the same time the security forces maintain a low profile. In the course of the past five years we have seen one moderate Northern Ireland leader after another have the ground cut from under his feet because of our inability or unwillingness to press home more vigorously the fight against terrorism.
1196 I hope that even before we get to the stage of elections to the Constitutional Convention we can do certain things in the security sector. Perhaps the highest priority ought to be given to conditions in the Maze Prison. In the course of the past five years some of the most dangerous men in Northern Ireland have spent a substantial portion of their time in that prison. It seems a wholly regrettable state of affairs that so often a man emerges from that prison as a greater danger to society as a whole than he was when he went in.
I would give highest priority also to recruiting more staff so that we can enforce the rule of law within our prisons and get on with the vital task of the rehabilitation of those who are there. We must also do more about the security of the border. I am sure that we cannot and should not seek to seal the border. It would be an impossibility. But we can and ought to cut down on a number of crossing points and we ought to do more to control those crossing points. At the same time we are now reaching the stage when we must soon consider the possibility of introducing identity documents, not just into Northern Ireland but into the whole of the United Kingdom.
Clearly documentation or control of the border will not do much good unless we have enough people in the Northern, Ireland security services. I was glad to hear the Minister of State say at Question Time the other day that he had held discussions with the Catholic community on the all-important issue of trying to get more Catholic recruits into the Royal Ulster Constabulary. But suppose, once again, this plea fails and the recruits do not come forward. How are we to provide adequate policing for the Catholic areas in Northern Ireland where we all know there is a substantial amount of intimidation on the part of the IRA?
I see that Dublin has announced the formation of a Home Guard for some towns and villages. I made many speeches during the passage of the Bill setting up the Ulster Defence Regiment. I am not sure that we have yet got the recruiting procedure for the UDR right or that we have got quite right the rôle in which we use the Regiment. I wonder whether, if recruitment does not improve 1197 in the months ahead, we might not consider some new form of reserve with local service liabilities. I should like to hear more about the Government's thinking on how they would build up the security forces.
It must be right that the law-abiding majority in Northern Ireland should be given the means and encouragement to provide their own defence against terrorists. Whatever happens on the security side I am sure that we shall have many more debates on Northern Ireland in this House. I hope that at some time in the future the people of Northern Ireland will have adequate numerical representation here and that we shall not have over-large constituencies in Northern Ireland. This is the place in which the constitutional future of the people of Northern Ireland will be decided. The people of Northern Ireland ought to have their full voice here.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I sometimes feel that what Ireland suffers from is a surfeit of oratory. If only we could have a sabbatical, if only all the hard men who have become national figures on the "box" over the past five years could find refuge in mid-western universities for six months, how much better the situation would be. My only contribution to this plea for comparative silence will be to make a very brief speech.
I welcome the White Paper because it injects reality into a problem which has obstinately refused to yield to the politics of reason. Mr. Adlai Stevenson once said that the politics of reason were not enough. I think that followed his defeat in the 1956 election. Since when has politics ever been a rational activity? Sunningdale is dead and I, for one, refuse to wear mourning. The cold meats I shall leave to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The Sunning-dale Agreement went too far, too fast. It was an exercise in railroading. It gave far too much to the viewpoint of the Republican, both in the North and in the South of Ireland.
The attempt to institutionalise the Irish dimension led inevitably and directly to the Ulster workers' strike. The White Paper is an attempt to persuade those who have recently exercised power to 1198 show responsibility, an attempt to persuade the Ulster Workers' Council in particular—where the power resides—that it is its turn to exercise a degree of responsibility. If this is so, then it looks as if at last the problem is being returned to Ireland. The genius of the Lloyd George settlement after the First World War was that if the Irish were sufficiently irrational to practise murder in the pursuit of their political ideals, they should have the responsibility for it.
At least this is a gesture in that direction. The White Paper is wise, in that it makes only some recognition of the Irish dimension but at the same time places a lot of emphasis on the United Kingdom dimension. The White Paper makes all the proper noises about power sharing, but that is likely to come about only as the result of a concession by the majority community. It was always out of the question to force upon the majority a concept that ran against the reason for the existence of a Northern Ireland state.
I suggest that Her Majesty's Government ought to hold elections for the Constitutional Convention sooner rather than later—November rather than February of next year. I suspect that the argument for an election in November is strengthened by the imminent likelihood of an election for the Westminster Parliament in October this year. Her Majesty's Government ought to do the decent thing and, once a settlement is achieved, ought, as a quid pro quo, to see that the Irish have representation in this House in accordance with their numbers. My whole philosophy at the moment is "fewer Scots and more Irish". [Interruption.] I have the feeling that I am carrying a sizeable minority with me. We in the Conservative Party ought seriously to consider the two suggestions I have made to the Government—elections sooner rather than later, and the pledge to increase Ulster representation. I have no need to remind my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench that the Conservative Party stands in need of every friend it can get.
The path towards an eventual settlement has been eased by the lesson which the Ulster workers have administered to Republicans north and south of the border. A Constitutional Convention ought to incline both sides towards moderation. It should make the Loyalists 1199 more likely to concede something on the sharing of power as the price for the United Kingdom economic subsidy, and might even incline Catholics in the Convention to moderate their demands for a united Ireland if only because of the fear of the consequence for them were Northern Ireland ever to achieve independence.
In conclusion, past policies have failed because they have foundered upon an unresolved conflict of allegiance. The proposals of the White Paper may yet succeed. Indeed, any agreement reached by the Convention will be very gratefully received by this House. What we are not certain of is how many people within the Convention itself have to agree before "agreement" is achieved. Were this last attempt at a constitutional convention to fail, then at last we would reach those two final "Stations of the Cross" of the Irish problem—the choice between independence and integration.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I had not intended to speak at any length on this White Paper because there is not a lot in it to discuss. If my remarks are a little too lengthy it will be because of the intervention that we have just heard by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). I resent bitterly—I am certain that this may be felt, to some extent, by some of my opponents in Northern Ireland—the patronising attitude he adopted in speaking of Irish affairs.
§ Mr. Fitt
—and said that they are unable to cope with their own problems. At the weekend at Oxford, when the noble Lord, Lord Longford was introducing the meeting of the British-Irish Society, he showed us a number of busts in the hall and told us they were busts of eminent Englishmen, all of whom had tried in some way to solve the Irish problem. Since I fell out of the cradle I have heard about all the Englishmen who have tried to solve the Irish problem. I have yet to hear about the bunch who started it. There will be many in Northern Ireland who will resent the hon. 1200 Member's patronising attitude. He spoke of law and order—
§ Mr. Fitt
Well, the hon. Member mentioned the security forces and said that they should have the support of the whole community. We have heard that time and again from Conservative speakers. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would be interested to know that had it not been for the downfall of the Executive there would now be in Northern Ireland an institution which would enable the two communities, Protestant and Catholic, to identify with a new police authority. The downfall of the Executive brought the downfall of the setting up of that authority.
§ Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North) rose—
§ Captain Orr
The fact that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was absent during my hon. Friend's excellent and telling maiden speech is no excuse for not giving way to him.
§ Mr. Fitt
I regret not having been here to hear that, and I am most anxious to hear the hon. Member make another contribution. In relation to the police authority, the Catholic community, through its elected representatives, was trying desperately to set up an institution which would allow the minority community to identify with the police service in Northern Ireland and so create confidence and trust in that police service, so that the Army could be taken away from the streets of Derry and the more sensitive areas of the city of Belfast.
§ Mr. Carson
I ask the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) whether he can say that the Executive in Northern Ireland, of which he was a member, could have been assured that every part of Northern Ireland and the streets of Belfast would have been policed by that police authority? Was it not rejected by the Provisional IRA, so that certain parts of Belfast would never have accepted it? 1201 Will the hon. Member give the House an assurance that all Northern Ireland and every street in Belfast would have been policed by that force?
§ Mr. Fitt
I have never claimed the right to speak on behalf of the Provisional IRA. I have at all times condemned it for the activities in which it is and has been engaged throughout this whole confrontation. I am saying that the elected representatives of the minority—the Provisional IRA did not have a single vote cast for it at the ballot box—were in full agreement with the other members of the Executive. We had agreed to enter into discussions with the Irish Government, in the hope that they would be able to bring about a police authority, and through that authority a police force which would have been acceptable to everyone in Northern Ireland. I am certain that had the Executive lasted another two or three weeks that police authority would have been in existence.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believes that he is going to give us some information tonight on the release of internees. I repeat what I have said on many occasions before: internment is, has been and will continue to be one of the most serious and divisive issues in Northern Ireland until it is brought to a complete end. In the negotiations which took place at Sunningdale the British Government said that they would bring about further releases if the security position allowed them to do so. In the discussions we had with the then Conservative Government, we said that not only must releases be dictated by the security situation but that there must also be political interests involved—and so the Conservative Government, to their credit, immediately after Sunningdale released 60 or 65 internees. I protested at that time, and most of my colleagues supported me vehemently. We thought that the number was far too small. Since then, no releases have been made by the Conservative Government up to 28th February or by the succeeding Labour Government who were then elected.
§ Mr. Fitt
The releases were certainly made by the commissioners and not by the Secretary of State himself, but I can only 1202 tell my right hon. Friend, from the same side of the House, that if he thinks his announcement tonight that seven people are to be released will go any way towards lessening the tension in Northern Ireland he has another think coming. Seven is a derisory figure and it will certainly not go any way towards pleasing anyone who is in any way involved in the internment problem—and that goes for both communities. I do not yet know the religion of the seven who are to be released—whether they are Loyalists or on the Republican side—but if the whole seven were either Loyalists or on the Republican side the figure would still be derisory. It will be treated with the contempt it deserves, because it does not even begin to attack the very burning issues that are raised by internment.
§ Mr. Orme
I assure my hon. Friend that the releases are representative of both communities, and they are the beginning. My right hon. Friend has said that there will be more. It will not be seven and no more. My right hon. Friend has in mind a number who will be released progessively over the coming weeks.
§ Mr. Fitt
I repeat that the derisory number of seven will not be acceptable to anyone who is involved with the problem of internment. I have been told by my right hon. Friend that there may be another seven, but will they be released tomorrow, next week, or next year? Will the Government ask for a further extension of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act for six months, and at the end of that period will they ask for a further extension?
When the 65 internees were released at Christmas, we thought that that was the beginning, and that there would be more releases in January, February and March. But there were no further releases, except for the internees who were released by the commissioners. I am not telling my right hon. Friends something of which they are not completely aware. Day in and day out representations are made to them by representatives of both communities about the problems of internment. I am not telling my right hon. Friends anything they do not know, although there may be other hon. Members who are not completely aware of the divisive nature of internment.
1203 I recognise that if one wants to remain friends with one's colleagues there are times when one is expected not to say certain things. On the other hand, as an elected public representative it is my bounden duty to speak on behalf of my constituents and of what affects them in their everyday life. I know that I shall have no support for what I say from hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches who represent Northern Ireland constituencies, but I have had forceful representations made to me that certain members of the Ulster Defence Regiment are no credit to that force. I am not condemning the force out of hand and saying that every member of it is a miscreant, but my right hon. Friends have received deputation after deputation concerning the activities of certain members of the UDR.
It may be that certain members of the UDR do not like members of the SDLP, members of the minority community or former members of the B Specials but, whatever the reason, time and again representations are made to me from people living in the rural areas—not in Belfast—particularly in areas west of the Bann.
§ Captain Orr
The UDR is one of the most vital and important security services. The hon. Gentleman is making general allegations, and he says that he has taken these allegations to the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman should be specific. What is he alleging? Who are the persons against whom the allegations are made? One cannot allow those allegations to stand in so vague a manner on the record.
§ Captain Orr
If the hon. Gentleman is advancing this argument before the House of Commons he must know what were the allegations and he must know the names of the people against whom allegations were made.
§ Mr. Fitt
One allegation, which may not seem to be very serious, was about the harassment that is meted out by 1204 members of the UDR who are concerned with traffic security. They appear to allow one person or 10 persons to go by but to keep a particular person of a different political or religious persuasion for hours at the block. That has happened time and again.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
If it is any comfort to the hon. Gentleman, I have been stopped by the Army and by the UDR patrols at road blocks. On several occations I have been asked to remove my jacket and place my arms on top of the car while I was frisked. During that time up to a dozen cars were waved through. This is not an exclusively SDLP matter.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
A delegation has visited my right hon. Friend and made allegations about the UDR similar to those which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), and which I suppose can loosely be called allegations of harassment. Several names have been mentioned, because everyone seems to know everyone else in Northern Ireland. These allegations are being investigated because names have been given to us.
I hope that my hon. Friend will make clear that although the allegations are important they do not involve deaths. My hon. Friend's remarks may be taken out of context unless we put that right.
§ Mr. Fitt
I thought that I was being very fair. I did not lay great stress on this matter. I said that only a few members of the UDR may be affected. I did not condemn the whole force for being engaged in this activity.
It is necessary to get the confidence and trust of the community in the security forces. If certain people are acting in a way which is likely to reduce that trust and confidence, it is right that that should be mentioned in the House and elsewhere, so that such activity can be brought to an end. I want the security forces throughout Ireland—the Army and the police—to receive the full confidence and support of the whole community. No one can say that I have at any time supported those who are engaged in the commission of violence.
Apart from one paragraph the White Paper is a history lesson. It may be a lesson for people who live in other parts 1205 of the United Kingdom, but it is a lesson that we in Northern Ireland do not have to be taught. We have experienced the bombs and the killings and we have attended the funerals. The sentiments which are expressed in the White Paper are vague in many aspects. Paragraph 45(a) contains the following words:There must be some form of power-sharing and partnership.What exactly does that mean? I know what I regard as power sharing and what I would be prepared to accept as power sharing. I and members of my political party would not be prepared to take up a minor position, such as that of chairman of a committee, and regard it as power sharing. It has been conceded, even by right-wing Conservatives when in Government, that the Ministers who were appointed to deal with commerce, housing, health and social services proved that they were capable of administering those services on behalf of the whole community in Northern Ireland. They would not be prepared to accept minor positions.
I come now to the Irish dimension. It has been said that one cannot legislate for a man's opinion or a man's conscience. There are thousands of people who believe that in some way, some day, sooner rather than later, Ireland will be united by the consent of all the people—that no coercion will be necessary and that no violence will ever achieve that end. It is difficult to gauge accurately the real opinion or conscience of an individual and, therefore, no one can tell exactly how many people hold that opinion. But there are many who believe that people who live north and south of the border will come together and begin to govern their own country.
One cannot penalise people for having that legitimate ideal. I have that ideal. I hope that sooner or later, by consent and not by violence, I shall see Ireland united into a 32-county republic. I have never believed that to love Ireland one has to hate England. The islands of Northern Ireland and Great Britain are so situated geographically that the two countries must co-operate with each other, particularly in today's fast-changing world. The two peoples must live in peace, amity, concord.
1206 This must be understood: the vast majority of the people in Ireland bear no animosity towards the people of Great Britain. For example, when a football team from Great Britain is engaged in an international competition the Irish people suffer the same disappointment as those in the United Kingdom if that team is beaten.
The term "Republican" can be very offensive to the Unionist representatives from Northern Ireland. Others do not find it offensive. They wait to see the formation of a united Ireland one day, brought about by consent and not by coercion.
We are told by the leader of the official Unionist Party that he will not serve in government or agree to share power with Republicans, meaning the Roman Catholics.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
Will the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) help us by saying when the leader of the Unionist Party made that statement?
§ Mr. Fitt
On numerous occasions he has said that he is not prepared to share power with the SDLP because they are Republicans, and not because they are Roman Catholics. He said he would be able to share power with Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland who were loyal to the Constitution. That means loyal to his interpretation of the Constitution.
The SDLP members of the last Executive were loyal to the Constitution Act 1973 as it exists today in Northern Ireland. Can any further loyalty be demanded of anyone in Northern Ireland?
The interpretation of the pronouncements of the leaders of the official Unionist Party is that they are not prepared to share power even in the long term. The path is now set for a collision between those in Northern Ireland who maintain that attitude and the present United Kingdom Government or, after the next election, perhaps the Conservatives. That collision course will still be there.
The Government and the Opposition insist that there must be power sharing in Northern Ireland, that there must be partnership in government, that there must 1207 be an Irish dimension. We share the views expounded in Northern Ireland that that is not possible. This is leading to a headlong political confrontation between the political parties in Britain and those who are proving to be so intransigent in Northern Ireland.
The SDLP will in the future try to bring about community consensus politics in Northern Ireland. We are dedicated to taking every political step we can to bring the communities together in Northern Ireland. We cannot be expected to sell out our every ideal and aspiration in an attempt to bring about this co-operation.
By spelling out the financial relationships which exist between Great Britain and Northern Ireland the British Government can point out to the majority in Northern Ireland, particularly through Part 5 of the White Paper, the very real effects of the maintenance of their present attitude of total confrontation with the British Government.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I do not intend to make any comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) except to deplore the smear he made on the Ulster Defence Regiment. We are conscious of the number of members of that gallant force who have sacrificed their lives for the community.
I accept what the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) said when he welcomed the moderate way in which this debate has progressed. That is a good sign. He repeated what the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) said—that Members of this House representing Great Britain constituencies ought to approach discussions on Northern. Ireland with a sense of humility. That is why I deplored the Prime Minister's television speech dealing with the Ulster strike, which, to say the least, did not pour oil on troubled waters.
The Prime Minister has a deep and abiding hatred of the Ulster majority. Because of that, he is blind to certain aspects of the Ulster problem. His dislike of the Ulster majority is shared by some other members of the Labour Party. I ask the Labour Party to bear in mind 1208 that the Ulster people have now endured five years of a vicious nightmare.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
At a time when everybody is appealing to the various forces directly involved to adopt a responsible attitude the hon. Gentleman ought to withdraw the nonsensical remark concerning the alleged abiding hatred of the Prime Minister for the majority in Ulster. What conceivable prejudice could lead him to believe that what is there in the background, in the make-up or in the general attitudes, philosophical and religious, of the Prime Minister could lead to that abiding hatred? It is nonsense. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw that remark.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I do not withdraw the remark. Anyone who heard the Prime Minister broadcasting on the strike, even without listening to his other speeches made in this House and outside, will realise that he dislikes the Ulster majority.
Dealing with what the Liberal spokesman—the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—said about the need to provide a committee upstairs to discuss legislation before draft orders were put before the House, I raised this matter last week. I hope the Secretary of State will pay attention to that request. We need an opportunity to debate and suggest amendments before draft orders are laid before the House. It is grossly unfair—this matter is referred to in the White Paper—to a hard-working community, and the height of political impertinence, to imply criticism of the Ulster community because revenue falls short of expenditure.
The whole of the United Kingdom is subsidised by the International Monetary Fund. If the economic position becomes any worse we shall be looking across the channel to the Common Market to get the nation out of its financial difficulties. That is the plight the whole country is in. The White Paper does a simple arithmetical exercise. It adds up the revenue arising from taxation levied in Northern Ireland, it totals the expenditure and subtracts one from the other. It then comes to the conclusion that the difference is the subsidy paid by London for the upkeep of Northern Ireland. No account is taken of the fact that Ulster has the highest gross domestic output of all the 1209 regions in the United Kingdom. No account is taken of the fact that the output per acre of Ulster farms is higher than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
The White Paper completely ignores the contribution that industry and agriculture make to the total wealth of the entire country. Northern Ireland industry makes a bigger contribution per worker, to Great Britain's exports than workers in Great Britain itself. We have a high output at a cheap rate—far too cheap a rate—from Ulster's 35,000 small farms, which helps to keep down the cost of food for the English housewife. All this should be borne in mind when people castigate Northern Ireland.
The people of Ulster have performed an economic miracle in the face of incredible destruction. While transforming the country economically, they have had to contend with a vicious urban guerrilla campaign, aimed at destroying the whole community. The violent upheaval has not been confined to Northern Ireland; it is part of a pattern that we have witnessed throughout the western democratic world. I should not like to think that any other part of the United Kingdom would have to endure what the people of Belfast and the towns and villages of Ulster have had to suffer. Democracy and freedom will not be saved except by resolute action against terrorists.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West referred to detention, and spoke of only 65 internees being released before Christmas. Ten of those 65 have been detained again for very good reasons. We cannot just get rid of detention; it is essential. The Army has told me in all my conversations with it that it cannot operate in Northern Ireland if internment is taken away. The abolition of internment would mean that detainees would be able to go out and train others or engage in terrorist activities themselves. Although as I have always said, I intensely dislike internment, it is necessary in the circumstances. We should consider how to improve the circumstances of those in the Maze Prison. That would help the situation.
The White Paper introduces a new dimension by insisting on the right of the Ulster people to help to devise their own constitution. This is a unique development in the United Kingdom and should 1210 attract the attention of the Scottish people. No doubt they will be looking for a constitutional convention in due course. Parliament is saying to the people, "We have failed; now you must try." I welcome the view in the White Paper that the people must participate in the making of their own constitution.
However, a convention of 78 members is not likely to be sufficiently representative of opinion. A constitution which would weld opposing communities together will not be achieved just through 78 members, and certainly will not be achieved overnight. If the Government are genuine and sincere in their desire for a broad spectrum of opinion to be represented in the convention—as I accept they are—at least 150 representatives will be needed. I notice the Minister shaking his head in disagreement with me, but the more people we have at that convention the better it will be for Northern Ireland in the long run.
If the concept in the White Paper is not to turn sour or become stale, the elections will have to be held quickly. Delay plays into the hands of the terrorists. The gunmen want no constitution of any sort. They do not want the country to succeed, social conditions to be improved, or a real political dialogue to begin.
The longer the Government delay elections to a convention the more the initiative will pass to the terrorists and the greater the permanent damage to civilised standards of behaviour. There is always the danger that the longer the delay the more politicians of every party will adopt a stance from which they will not easily be able to depart.
§ Mr. Orme
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's views, but is he aware that the Government are under extreme pressure from Protestant organisations and leading representatives of that community to delay elections for a considerable time? When I conclude the debate I shall give the names of people who have approached us on this matter.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I accept what the Minister says, and look forward to his speech. However, I believe that the great majority of people in Northern Ireland want elections, and want them now. But this is a difference of opinion: it is a question of the number of people the 1211 Minister has spoken to, and the weight they carry.
How practical would it be to hold a referendum on the findings of the Convention? By its very nature, a constitution is complex. What questions would be put in the referendum? What would people be asked to decide on? Who would advise on the questions? Would it be the members of the Convention, the Secretary of State, or Parliament? I hope that the Minister will deal with these questions.
Of course, a referendum will mean further delay and will provide additional opportunity for the men of violence to plague the community. It will prolong the uncertainty, with no noticeable gain except for those who wish to see the continuation of disruption and who gain from chaos. I hope that the Government will reconsider this matter. Although I was against the Common Market, I voted against the holding of a referendum because that is not the way to settle such matters. There is no convincing argument in support of a referendum in the White Paper.
If the Government do not greatly increase the number of members in the Convention, what would be the purpose of dismissing the Convention and holding further elections to a Northern Ireland Assembly? If the number is restricted to 78, would there not be sense in the constitution-makers having to work the constitution which they had produced? The arrangements and agreements and the respect which would have grown up during the discussions would help to ease the path of the constitution-makers in their new rôle as legislators.
It will not be easy. We all realise the problems that lie ahead. I certainly welcome the proposal to allow Ulster men and women the major rôle in devising their own system of government in the United Kingdom. But the fundamental commitment of the majority in Ulster is to British citizenship and the maintenance of the Union. Protestants and Roman Catholics in Ulster can live together as citizens of the United Kingdom. Idle talk of an independent Ulster is unrealistic and harmful to the true interests of the Ulster people. Naturally, it worries Roman Catholic members of the community, and that disturbs me. As 1212 an Irishman who is proud of his British nationality and who has no intention of rejecting that nationality, I reject utterly the notion of an independent Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) made a notable contribution to the debate. I refer particularly to his clear statement that the Conservative Party wants Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Our people in Northern Ireland will take note of his remarks.
I shall not delay the House any longer, since I know that many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. I close by saying that we should all make a fresh start, without recrimination. Let us say that here is an opportunity to see whether we can devise some system which will be acceptable to the majority and to the minority and will make Northern Ireland both peaceful and prosperous. Also, let the Irish Republic realise that its best contribution to a settlement in Northern Ireland is by dealing with the terrorists who seek sanctuary in the Republic. Let them shut down the agencies in the Republic which operate as recruiting centres for the terrorists and which collect money for the evil purposes of those terrorists.
Security is essential to peace in Northern Ireland. The urban guerrillas and anarchists are to meet in Belfast and Dublin. If they can meet in that way—I hope that they are not allowed to meet in Belfast—Her Majesty's Government should also be able to compare notes with other countries which suffer from terrorist activity and see how best to resolve the problem and to deal effectively with the terrorists, so that they can be destroyed.
I welcome the White Paper, with its proposal for a constitutional convention, and hope that it will produce a constitution that is acceptable to the House.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I welcome the White Paper because it is based on two sound and enduring principles—first, the principle of a power-sharing Executive and, secondly the belief that any sort of arrangement must be worked out by the people of Ulster themselves.
1213 I believe that it was wise to concentrate on those two principles and to forget or discard many of the principles which, unhappily, were added to the Sunningdale concept. The concept of power sharing is the one concept that has survived from Sunningdale. It was working in the Executive, and I wholeheartedly agree with the last two sentences of paragraph 26 of the White Paper, which say:Yet, if the Executive failed, the men who served in it did not fail. They disproved for ever the idea that it is not possible for Protestant and Roman Catholic to work together for the good of Northern Ireland and its people.I believe that the concept of power sharing is acceptable ultimately to the Protestants. They may not like the concept at present, but since other concepts have been shorn from the Sunning-dale proposals it may well be that they will ultimately accept the idea of power sharing. I believe that for the Roman Catholics of Ulster the concept of power sharing is the minimum condition for their consent and co-operation. The people of the remainder of the United Kingdom demand power sharing as the minimum condition of fairness for the minority of the people of Ulster. It may be that power sharing is the price the Unionists will have to pay if they wish to remain in the United Kingdom.
I welcome the White Paper because it proposes that future constitutional arrangements should be worked out by the people of Ulster with as little interference as possible from the people in the remainder of the United Kingdom. Statesman after statesman has gone out from England to Northern Ireland believing that he or she can solve the problems of Ireland. In recent years we have seen three of the most notable of our English politicians go out from this Chamber to Northern Ireland. I leave aside those who are currently engaged in this problem. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) brought courage, integrity and the bluff common sense of the English and Welsh bobby, and he failed. He was followed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), who brought to bear a Rolls-Royce mind—lucid, far-seeing and objective—and he failed. Then came my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. White 1214 law). He brought to the situation the jovial charm and courage of the patrician paternalist. At one stage we thought that he had succeeded, but he, too, failed.
Each of these men brought great and diverse talents to these intractable prolems, but we must recognise that neither the English nor the Welsh understand the gut reactions of the people of Ulster. More important, there is a practical point to be made. This may well be the last chance for the people of Ulster to work out their own solution. They must never be put in a position in which they can say at a later stage, "We were interfered with; it is somebody else's fault because we have not worked out a solution." This must be their responsibility, and they must not be in a position to blame any other person or any other nation if they fail to work out their own solution.
Many of my colleagues on the Opposition benches would argue that the concept of power sharing may not work out. They may be right. I believe, however, that one more wholehearted attempt to work out a power sharing Executive must be made—and it must be made by the people of Ulster. But the people of Ulster must realise the alternatives if they cannot work out some sort of arrangement among themselves. I believe that the alternatives are too horrifying to contemplate with any honesty. There are only two logical alternatives—integration, or independence. Attached to both alternatives are horrifying disadvantages.
When we examine the proposals for integration, we discover that the arguments are morally right. I believe that it would be morally wrong lightly to wash our hands of what is essentially a British problem and a British obligation. Nor do I believe that we in this country should lightly forget the defence advantages to us of the Ulster connection, and the unique position which Ulster holds in relation to our own part of the United Kingdom. But, most of all, I believe that we should consider carefully the solution of integration, because we owe a deep obligation to the silent, moderate, unsung men of Ulster who have turned to us in the last five years in the firm belief that we shall help them achieve a solution which is at once honourable and decent. But we must face the fact that if we try the solution of integration 1215 there are substantial disadvantages—and those disadvantages should be known to the Ulster people. Many of my hon. Friends who are present in the House at the moment have deep reservations on the question whether they want integration.
There are many on the Protestant side of the divide in Ulster who are uncertain whether they want any further integration with the United Kingdom. It must be realised that those who want a continuance of the Protestant ascendancy are unlikely to get it if they have any closer integration with this country—and if the Catholics have integration with this country it must be admitted that that would bid a final farewell to their hopes of achieving a united Ireland by peaceful and democratic means of persuasion.
There is no certainty that integration will bring an end to violence. It is certain, however, that if that violence continues it will not be directed merely towards Belfast and Londonderry; it will be logically directed to those who hold the power over Ulster. It will be directed towards Westminster, towards Birmingham, and even towards Wolverhampton. Such attacks upon the English people may occur at a time when England is at last preoccupied with the menace of inflation, when we have the worst recession in living memory, and high unemployment, and when the English people are unhappily inward-looking and not too concerned with what is happening in Ulster.
It is my fear that if we are ultimately forced to choose the alternative of trying to achieve integration between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the time may come when the unhappy people of England and Scotland, preoccupied with their own internal problems, will say that they are unprepared to continue the debilitating commitment to Ulster. I would not want to see the English or Scottish people take up that position. It would be a profoundly humiliating position, but the people of Ulster ought to know that there is a possibility of that arising.
The second alternative to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) points to is that of independence. The possibilities there are even more horrifying. Independence 1216 could occur only after the English and Scottish troops have been withdrawn, and one thing is certain—that that would be followed by a blood bath. There would then be an attempt by the Protestants to impose a permanent Protestant ascendency, and no one can doubt that that would provoke a severe reaction from the strong minority of those who wish to achieve a united Ireland, whether by violence or by democratic means.
There is a possibility—which is by no means remote and which was, I am sure, in the minds of the politicians of the Republic in their debate of 26th June—that if we pulled out of Northern Ireland and went for independence there would be a war in the whole of Ireland, in which the Republic would be ultimately involved.
There is the further deep constitutional point that if we were to give independence to Northern Ireland it would be a most unfortunate precedent and would be harmful to the whole concept of the integrity of the United Kingdom and to our national standing in the councils of the world. It would be seen almost as a humiliating display of a lack of resolve, as, for instance, occurred when the Belgians left the Congo.
Most of all, we ought to bear in mind that pulling out—certainly pulling out precipitously—could have a most harmful effect on the Army. The Army would wonder what it had done for so many years; what purpose there had been in so much loss of life, and in the misery which it had had to endure in Ulster. We should also bear in mind that one of the saddest things that might come about is that if, at the time it was ordered out of Ulster, the Army happened to be particularly disenchanted with the politicians, and if, as many of us believe, over the next few years we see our democratic institutions seriously undermined by inflation and the failure of the politicians to tell the people the truth, the exit of the Army from Ulster might be the beginning both of the rule of the colonels and of disenchantment between the Army and the politicians.
§ Mr. Budgen
I hope that it is nonsense. We have always believed that what happened in the Weimar Republic could never happen here. We have always 1217 believed that we could not have a 25 per cent. inflation rate. I hope that all these things are purely hypothetical. All I am saying is that I hope that the very unpleasant alternatives of either independence or integration never come about, and I hope with my whole heart, as I am sure all the people of England do, that the people of Ulster will be able to sit down and work out their own solution. All that we in England can ask is that they should know the alternatives, and that they should sit down with a genuine attempt to work out a solution.
For the time being we should ask them one thing: if we are to begin to phase out internment in any way we should invite them to respect the law, particularly in cases where they know of acts of violence. Let us be assured that if internment is phased out and people whom the Army know to be murderers, but whom cannot be proved to be murderers, are seen again in the streets of Belfast and Derry, it will be deeply offensive to the Army. There would be pressures towards increasing internment and detention, but we all want to see internment phased out. It is a deeply offensive system to anyone with any concept of the freedom of the individual and of justice under the law. But if the people of Northern Ireland do not support the law, I ask, rhetorically, what other alternatve is there? Let them first of all support the law, and let them give the Convention their wholehearted support.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
I realise that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) is well-meaning in wishing to encourage those who will be elected to the Constitutional Convention, should it work. There will be general agreement that that is a good purpose. But the hon. Gentleman must avoid painting an apocalyptic picture, based on no evidence, in order to produce this desirable encouragement of the future members of the Convention. There is no prospect of unemployment being higher than ever before. If the hon. Gentleman remembers his economic history, he will recall that we reached the unfortunate unemployment figure of 3 million in 1932 and 1933. Moreover, Ministers have learnt their Keynes since then in other countries and in this coun 1218 try, and there are encouraging signs that the American economy is strong and that the changeover from production for the war in Indo-China to peaceful production is going on apace, as any recent visitor to the United States will realise.
With regard to difficulties facing us, I am confident that members of the Government are preparing essential measures which will be introduced to the House if there is a danger of more unemployment. Keynes has not lived in vain, and it is slightly ironic that a lifelong Socialist such as myself should have to reassure the Opposition that the economic system under which we live is not at death's door. None the less, I give that reassurance, and I give it especially to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West.
Turning to the main purpose of the debate, there is one other reason why we should consider these matters rather calmly and not make exaggerated appeals about "last chances". Anyone who has followed the history of Northern Ireland knows that that is futile. It is the task of the Government, of Parliament and of the people who are elected now and who will be elected in the future in Northern Ireland to go on working steadily at the job in hand without any talk of last chances, of final failures, or of anything of the kind. It is the task of the Government to go on doing their work, facing the difficulties which arise, knowing that new difficulties will arise, and building upon what achievements we can score as we go along.
One reason why the present administration of this country and the one immediately preceding it will have a good place in history, despite their failure so far to make lasting permanent improvements visible in Northern Ireland, is that the spirit in which they have approached the problem is that of the steady working man who wants to do a practical job. For that, they deserve the support of this House.
I take issue with the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), in whose speech I found a number of features with which I agreed, over his denunciation of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Hon. Members know that I do not normally act as the Prime Minister's air raid shelter. But it is extremely unhelpful politically in the present situation for such 1219 nonsensical denunciations to reach HANSARD and perhaps to be reproduced in the Press in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, as inevitably the speeches in this debate will be reproduced.
There is nothing in the evidence—in the make-up, in the past attitude or in the present attitude of the Prime Minister—that justifies remotely any accusation that he is full of hatred of the majority in Ulster. We have only to recall that it was the present Prime Minister who co-operated most closely with successive Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland in the past—not only Mr. Faulkner but the one preceding him, Mr. Chichester-Clark, who is now a Member of the other place. No one worked more closely with the Prime Ministers of the majority in Ulster than the present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. They have worked together, and they have not succeeded, but surely that does not show evidence of hatred of the majority in Ulster.
Moreover, it is not a representative attitude that the hon. Member for Down, North has introduced into this House today. Anyone who has visited the Province recently and talked to many people representing the majority in Ulster will have found that they do not have that in mind at all. They are critical of a speech which the Prime Minister made. In that, we are all in the same class. Who has not at some time been critical of a speech made by the Prime Minister? I plead guilty straight away, and I am sure that I shall do so again in the future. But that does not mean that my right hon. Friend is imbued with hatred.
It is recognised on all sides in the Province that what is becoming clear in the present situation is that this Government, like their predecessors, are making an honest attempt to encourage the people of Northern Ireland themselves to find a solution. That seems to be the present position, and it is one that we can all support. We only weaken our support for this objective if we exaggerate the attitude of people, Governments or policies.
I sought permission to intervene in this debate because I wished to draw attention to two main matters. The first of them concerns the period between now and the elections for a Constitutional 1220 Convention. I did not expect it in advance of going to Ulster recently, but I found that people on all sides of the political spectrum were not urging the Government to hold the elections at the earliest possible date. I know that this is controversial, but there are a number of people among the majority, some of them holding fairly extreme views on other matters—and if I mentioned their names hon. Members would immediately recognise the force of what I say—who have told me that a time for reflection is needed, that time is needed for recruitment, that time is needed for those who might want to put forward candidates rather than having the assumption made that they will necessarily put forward those already sitting in the House of Commons representing them. They want time for reflection and recruitment. Therefore, a certain amount of delay will not do any harm. Indeed, it may do some good.
On the minority side, I have also found that people are interested in an opportunity to work out policies and ideas. But I think that it is far more important in this context that it is members of the majority who are in favour of delay than those among these other groupings. We are talking about limited delay. We are not talking about years. We are also talking about an attitude, which I found firmly expressed, of not wishing to hurry the Government into having these elections within the next few months.
The second matter which I wish to raise concerns internment. Here again, I was surprised to find among a considerable number of people, including senior police officers, a degree of scepticism about the usefulness of internment. Again I did not expect that. The view is held more and more widely in the Province that the way in which people live together for long periods of internment breeds the kind of atmosphere which is dangerous and unhealthy for the public life of Northern Ireland and for the purposes of the community at large. Therefore, more and more people are in favour of ending the policy of internment.
This is a new fact. It is a fact which is all the more interesting because it is a view backed by people in highly responsible positions who have no political axe to grind. This kind of view is bound to make an impact upon my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government.
1221 That brings me to the next matter to which I want to refer. I chide the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West in a friendly way for taking it upon himself to interpret the view of the Army in the way that he tried to do. There is a great deal of talk in this country at present about relations between military leaders and political leaders for which there can be no real evidence as regards our troops in Northern Ireland.
I do not claim to be in touch with all those who hold command in the British Army. My own position in the Army during the war was far too lowly to have made the contacts necessary for me to be able to claim to be in touch with those who are now general officers commanding in various parts of the United Kingdom. But on my recent visit to Northern Ireland, I met practically all the commanding officers of the battalions stationed in the Belfast area, and I was profoundly impressed by the clear understanding of the facts of the situation, not only in military and security terms but in other respects, of what is happening in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Budgen
I must make it clear that my gloomy projection of what might happen if we took the Army out of Northern Ireland was not based on evidence. I have not spoken to people in the Army. I merely projected the view that a Weimar-type situation could happen in this country with a total breakdown of the economic system. I am not suggesting that I know an individual officer who has put himself forward as the future Hitler.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am glad to hear that. It was the kind of withdrawal that I hoped to elicit from the hon. Gentleman. I can now leave that matter.
Some of the policies now being considered by those who hope to be candidates in a Constitutional Convention election have begun to produce a new realisation that people who have not for a long time contemplated sitting down together to work out new political arrangements for the Province must now do so. This is a new and positive fact. I do not want to exaggerate it, because amongst the same people are many who, almost in the same breath, are saying, "But I cannot possibly do political work with so-and-so. I find it difficult to think 1222 that I might work out arrangements it so-and-so is included."
The exclusiveness of people against each other still operates, as it has been operating for many years. What is new is that among people of extreme views there are a number who say, "We shall have to make the attempt to sit down together and work out joint proposals that we can accept for the life of the Province".
It is my firm conviction that what emerged from the previous two-day debate on Northern Ireland has done some good in the Province. Quite a number of people felt after that debate that their interests and attitudes had been taken seriously. Hon. Members on both sides, not only in the debate but in their conduct outside, are making a determined effort to understand the attitudes, views, fears and convictions of both the majority and the minority in Northern Ireland. A suspicion had grown that Members of Parliament were not taking enough trouble to improve their understanding of the situation and to gain the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland. That suspicion has passed. Now many more hon. Members are conducting themselves in such a way that the people of the Province may be reassured.
That may be one of the real contributions to be made by this House between now and when the Constitutional Convention election takes place. I think that the people of Ulster will also regard it as helpful if we attempt to discuss this matter together as we are doing.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
I think that my colleagues from Northern Ireland would agree that we should give the White Paper a cautious welcome. There is also a great degree of welcome for the comments made by the official Opposition spokesman the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) who, in the most overt terms, stated a desire by the British Government to retain unity with the people of Northern Ireland.
I think that we should also welcome what might be called the deliberate vagueness in the White Paper regarding the future. It is wise that a document of this kind should be indicative rather than definitive. Therefore, we welcome this vague document, because it affords 1223 the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to discuss the problem most closely affecting them.
We in Ireland have constantly been reminded by the Government, particularly by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that we must face realities. However, it is obvious that the right hon. Gentleman selects the realities that the Government are prepared to face.
In stating that there must be power sharing and an Irish dimension, the Secretary of State has obviously discarded two realities of political life in Northern Ireland. The first is that power sharing in government is not acceptable to the majority of people in Northern Ireland. The General Election on 28th February clearly demonstrated that point. The fact that 60 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland returned anti-Sunningdale candidates as Members of this honourable House is a clear indication that power sharing, as conceived by the Government, is a non-starter in Ulster. I say that power sharing is a non-starter not because it was rejected on 28th February, but because it institutionalises discrimination in stating that the minority must always have a say in government. This is a dangerous statement to make in a democracy.
§ Mr. Bradford
I am delighted to have the opportunity of clearing the Minister's thinking on this issue. It was about not only the Sunningdale issue but power sharing. I think that this matter will be made very clear in the United Ulster Unionist Party's manifesto at the next General Election.
I want to return to the point about institutionalising discrimination. To insist that a minority must have an automatic part in government is a most dangerous argument to introduce into a democracy, because there will be no control over the demeanour and complexion that that minority might adopt at any given time in future. We may find the minority accepting, adopting and implementing a political philosophy which would be 1224 dangerous in the extreme to the British community as a whole. Therefore, I warn the House to be careful about institutionalising discrimination.
The second reality that the House is not prepared to recognise is the rejection of the Irish dimension. The Unionist Blue Paper clearly stated the kind of agreements and co-operation which might exist between the Government of the South and Northern Ireland. They include tourism and arrangements for the production of power. These are acceptable to the United Ulster Unionists and to the Ulster people as a whole. But we have stated time and again that we will not accept any political secretariat which includes politicians from Southern Ireland.
It has been said that because of our geographical situation, because the North shares the same island as the South, we have a common boundary and that, because of that common boundary, we must in some way come to a special political agreement and arrangement. I suggest that that is nonsense. It is nonsense in the light of the fact that this situation obtains in Europe where countries share common boundaries. However, those countries do not share or, indeed, impose upon each other a sovereign authority or control.
In the White Paper there is a statement to the effect that the Southern Government now recognise Northern Ireland in a way which they have not done since the inception of Northern Ireland. That is simply not true. It is correct to say that Mr. Cosgrave, in a recent statement, recognised the existence of Northern Ireland de facto. But that is one particular kind of recognition. It is not the kind of recognition upon which we in Northern Ireland insist. The kind of recognition upon which we insist is a de jure recognition. A de facto recognition is simply the statement that Northern Ireland, as six counties, exists. That is meaningless, and it is useless in the present political situation. What we want is a clear, unequivocal recognition of our right to exist as part of the United Kingdom. That has not been forthcoming. It is not in existence now. I doubt whether it will ever come in the future.
It is said in reply to this kind of argument that the Southern Government has 1225 a written constitution. This is a golden and very real opportunity for the South to prove how much it cares about violence in the North and about peace in the North of Ireland.
I want now to deal with the possible delay in bringing the new Convention into being in Northern Ireland. Many speakers in the debate have stated that a delay would encourage the IRA. Whether or not we all accept that, the fact today is that the IRA has declared a new onslaught, a new term of violence, upon the people of Northern Ireland. Therefore, it seems that there needs to be real stability in the Province in the light of this new threat and impending onslaught If we had a Convention under way, particularly dealing with the security aspect, this would deter the terrorists and would most certainly encourage the people of Northern Ireland to hang on and to see this dreadful period of anarchy through.
In that light, although we need the Convention inaugurated we also need immediate measures on security. I suggest that we need almost immediately five battalions of full-time soldiers in the Ulster Defence Regiment and 20 battalions of part-time soldiers in that regiment. We also need a Home Guard. We need this force to release the Army to do the kind of work which only the Army is equipped to do.
I conclude by offering some words of warning about the loose use of language when we discuss Northern Ireland. We have heard time and again this afternoon that we would love to see Protestants and Roman Catholics working together in government. I suggest that this is very dangerous talk and very inaccurate talk, because Protestants and Roman Catholics have worked together in the past. If we mean Republicans and Unionists, let us stick to those terms and use them.
The term "Protestant ascendancy" has also been used. By this there has been the insinuation that the Protestants have wanted to control the Province to the detriment of Roman Catholics. That is simply not true. If there has been a Protestant ascendancy in the past, it is only because Protestants have endeavoured to retain at all costs the British link. If our sin is the determination to remain British, I am prepared to 1226 accept the stain, the smear and the slight of a Protestant ascendancy. We have been prepared to retain this link. We very much want to retain it, and we have been prepared to be maimed, bombed and killed. I ask this honourable House whether the people of Britain are prepared to suffer even a little in order that Britain might stand by us now, helping us to claim only what is ours—our British and United Kingdom citizenship.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
However much one may regret the fact that we are having to debate this White Paper today—and I regret it—we must face the fact that this is a moment of reality for us and, perhaps, the most realistic chance of a new start in Northern Ireland that has occurred in the last five years. It is a new start. I agree very much with the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), who said that it will probably not be the last step that we shall have to take, although I hope that it will be a long stride forward in the history of Northern Ireland.
I want to comment briefly on the three main subparagraphs of paragraph 45 of the White Paper. Power sharing has been agreed by both parties as clearly the best chance that we can see for a solution in the North. I welcome it generally. I very much regret the words that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). I hope that they were not his last thoughts on this problem. Surely we can accept that power sharing can come in many forms. All that one asks the Convention to do is to approach the matter by looking for a solution which involves a realistic form of power sharing. I should have thought that from the Ulster Protestant point of view, if it could be achieved, that would be in many ways the greatest step it could take to safeguard the one thing which the hon. Member for Belfast, South was asking to be safeguarded above all—his United Kingdom citizenship and his relationship with this House and this country.
We are one. No one suggests for a moment that we are other than that. But if we are to remain one, in the North there has to be realism. I have no doubt that the one thing which can break the Convention is a refusal to accept that 1227 there must be some realistic form of power sharing in the North of Ireland. It need not take the form which was imposed at Sunningdale. I use the word "imposed" because it did not have the general consent of all of them. Not everyone was asked. However, that is all water under the bridge. We are starting again now. Everyone will be asked and everyone will get a chance to be elected. Every aspect and viewpoint will have its chance to be voiced in the Convention. In that Convention I hope that there will be this realistic approach. There must be give and take.
§ Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
I am sure that my hon. Friend would want to be absolutely accurate. He is right about the invitations to the Sunningdale Conference itself, but he will recall, as he studies these matters so closely, that all parties had the opportunity of taking part in the earlier constitutional talks.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That was simply a passing remark. It is all water under the bridge. I am sure that we would all do best to forget what happened at either Darlington or Sunningdale. I do not blame anyone. I supported the initiative at Darlington. I supported Sunningdale wholeheartedly. I regret what happened. However, I am merely facing the present position.
When the Convention looks at these matters it will have to arrange its affairs, if it is to have power sharing, so as to give reality to two things. There cannot again be a position in which one party can unilaterally, by simply saying "We are going", create a veto over the Executive. That is a concession which will clearly have to come from the SDLP. Perhaps it will also come from the Unionists side—using that word broadly.
On the other side the test is as it was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour). He suggested that the test was that, be the person concerned Catholic or Protestant, is he prepared at this time to work the constitution?
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) put this carefully. We cannot 1228 realistically ask people who hold the views that he holds—and we all know that a third of the population potentially may hold those views—to give up their aspirations. They are being asked to work with people whose aspiration is a permanent relationship with this country. Both have their ideas about the long-term future. Surely both can accept that and work within the present. The total rejection of these Catholic politicians is unsuitable, for it would seem to me to go ill with the frequent claim, which can be shown statistically to be true, that a substantial minority of the Catholic population votes for unionism in referenda. It can clearly be seen because in the border poll it was not possible to attribute the result to the Protestant population alone. There is always an undercurrent on this question which supports the border. It would seem to be well within the interests of those who hold unionist views that those different views in the Catholic community should be supported.
I agree with the tone of many speeches about the special relationship, and I recognise that this would be a sacrifice that the SDLP would have to make. The special relationship must be recognised, but it must be earned in help from the Southern Government. The debate in the Dail last month was briefly reported in our Press. I see that the main speeches were extremely helpful, but some of the back benches had a quite different view about what should be the relationship between the North and the South. That is the type of propaganda in the South that must be watched and curbed, and the South must help itself.
The White Paper rightly says that any final solution has to be acceptable to the United Kingdom Government, and that is quite understandable. After all, we provide the finance and the force. It is our troops which in large measure, though not exclusively, keep the peace, or attempt to do so, in Northern Ireland. We must ask—whether it is elected in November or in February—whether the Convention, left to itself, will come to a realistic and acceptable arrangement with the British Government, taking no part save an advisory one. This seems to me to be a very real problem. We cannot adopt the solution of a mediæval conclave when electing a Pope when, after six months, they took the roof off. That would 1229 hardly do if there were a conclave at Stormont. In the end they stopped giving them food in mediæval times—
§ Mr. Miscampbell
It is probably a solution which would appeal to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), but be that as it may, we must consider whether the Convention would produce an acceptable solution if left to itself. I hope that it would, but there is a very real British dimension in this and we must remember the terms under which the Convention will meet. It will be elected, and it then has six months in which, week by week, the Members will go back to their constituents to report on progress, and here they must carry their constituency parties with them. I fear that unless the reality of what Britain will accept is put to them in the Convention so that they fully understand their position the usual practice of Northern Irish politics may persist and we shall find that at the end of six months nothing has happened. Of course, we could extend the Convention, but that is not a very hopeful prospect.
I know that I cannot change the Government's mind on this, and I fully understand why they have chosen their course of action. It is attractive for a British Government in the present impasse to tell Northern Ireland to sort out its own affairs. Just before we start on this new voyage, interesting though it may be, I wonder whether we do not need a captain in charge of the Convention, whether it would not be a good idea to have representatives in there, not people who can vote, not people of authority but perhaps a Minister of State, or even perhaps, the Secretary of State himself, who could offer guidance.
I have one last message for the 12 Ulster Members in this House. They are probably the only representatives with the elected authority between now and February, or even possibly November, to speak for Northern Ireland. They seem to me to have a great burden and a great duty upon their shoulders because too little in Northern Ireland and in the Press is there painted as a broad picture, and too much is there portrayed as a narrow and partisan scene.
1230 Surely it is possible in the next six months to refrain from taking up inflexible positions, because that holds no possibility for real negotiation. It is no use a Member going to his electorate out in Antrim or Down or Fermanagh and saying that he will not accept certain things under any circumstances, because that would make the election of an Convention a complete waste of time.
I make that appeal especially strongly this evening because from this side of the House there has been a clear indication that broad sections of the Conservative Party hope that the union could continue. I believe that if Northern Ireland could work out for itself a respectable and socially just form of political life, that desire for the union to continue would by no means be confined to these benches. There is wide support on both sides of the House which would show itself if the North could solve its problems.
The solution of those problems would be made impossible if people began adopting positions which subsequently they could not get out of. Flexibility has not been a great characteristic of Ulstermen, but surely the chance they now have is too great to lose by inflexibility. Let us go into the Convention with everything to play for and with open minds. That is Ulster's best hope.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
Perhaps I may qualify one remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Miscampbell) when he talked about power sharing. The people who will share power must believe in that power. They must believe in the responsibility which they are sharing. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for power sharing to work. I believe that there is a general recognition on all sides that power sharing must happen if there is to be any solution to the problem of Northern Ireland. If some sections of the community adamantly set their faces against the kind of situation which is envisaged, or against the union, I think that power sharing will be difficult to achieve.
One thing that is missing from the White Paper is the British dimension, as the Secretary of State said. The matter is not raised in the White Paper. Britain's interest in Northern Ireland is not made clear, and never has been made clear by 1231 any recent Government. I do not believe that it can simply be left to the people of Northern Ireland to maintain the union so long as that is their wish, as decided by the referendum every 10 years.
It is up to this country to say what it wants—to say whether Northern Ireland is important to it. Until we have made that clear, it will be difficult for us to be convincing about Northern Ireland. If we had made it clear earlier we should have avoided much of the Protestant backlash.
I turn to the finance section of the White Paper. I do not believe that one can deal with finance purely on a cost analysis basis. The invisible benefits to Britain have been left out of the calculations. One cannot simply judge them on pounds, shillings and pence. First, the strategic importance of Northern Ireland to Britain as part of the United Kingdom has not been considered. The geographical importance of Northern Ireland in guarding the Western Approaches to Britain, which were so important during the last war, has not been mentioned, nor has the fact that there are airfields, ports and harbours which could be extremely useful to this country, if not essential, if there were another Battle of the Atlantic. I do not know how one would calculate the value of the land mass which guards this country to the west if it were to be maintained on a lend-lease basis.
There is also a very valuable reservoir of manpower in Northern Ireland, which made a great contribution during the war, with men coming forward to fight with the forces of the United Kingdom as a whole. Moreover, Northern Ireland threw up a remarkable number of wartime leaders.
We also leave out of the picture the fact that until the recent events the working force of Northern Ireland had a very good strike record, and productivity has also been good. I believe that until the troubles broke out the record of Northern Ireland as a whole, as a law-abiding country, was better than any in Europe. All those factors must be set in the balance when the financial calculations are made.
The majority population in Northern Ireland should be pleased with the proposals in the White Paper. In fact, the proposals have already been given a 1232 cautious welcome. They have achieved the main objective of having a new election for the Assembly or for whatever body is to succeed it. But we must all deplore the fact that that has been achieved by means of a political strike. The example set in this country a few months ago, of what a political strike could do, was followed in Northern Ireland, and we must deplore that.
I see no insuperable obstacle to increased representation at Westminster. We must wait for the outcome of the Convention to see what the new form of constitution will be in Northern Ireland. But it would be a great advantage if the Secretary of State would declare in principle that Northern Ireland will have fair representation in this House. That would do a great deal to clear the air. The Assembly, or whatever is to succeed it. has already lost functions that it had under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. These important matters will now be decided in this House, and there should be increased representation here.
We must realise that, whatever constitutional changes that are in Northern Ireland, terrorism is what we must deal with first. It must be given priority above all else. First, we must win the psychological battle against the terrorists. We must make them and everyone else understand clearly that we are in this business to win it, and that we shall win it in the end.
Secondly, in order to do that and to relieve our hard-pressed troops in Northern Ireland, we must enlist the aid of the people of Northern Ireland. I do not believe that we can defeat terrorism until we do.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
I rise once more to speak not only for the people of my constituency but, I think, for the people of all Northern Ireland. As I look at the serried ranks on both sides of the House. I think that we all realise the depth of the concern shown by the House for the horror of Ulster. The House saw the 1973 Act as a realistic way forward. It may have seemed realistic here, but it was not realistic in Northern Ireland. That is why that Act is dead and buried, and will never see resurrection day.
1233 We are told that the Convention may discuss the police and not the Army. All that the people of Northern Ireland have ever asked in security matters is that the police be the front line of defence against terrorism. That is the basic reason for having a police force in any nation—to protect the law-abiding citizen from the law breaker. We cannot expect any police force to have the support of law breakers, whether they call themselves nationalists, IRA, freedom fighters or whatever. They are still law breakers; they live by terror and are out to break the law, to upset the normal standards of behaviour in the community in which they exist. They exist for no other reason than to destroy the present order and replace it with something of their own making.
We ask the Army not to be policemen but to support the civil power in restoring law and order. Whatever the cost of that may be, I believe that it will always be much cheaper than allowing anarchy and bloody murder to continue. We were told, as we usually are told in every debate in the House, about the sectarian murder of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, the inference being that only Roman Catholics are victims of the sectarian murders and assassinations. When I heard that today I was thoroughly disgusted, and once more I checked the figures. From 1972, 166 Roman Catholics have died from the assassin's activities. Eighty-three Protestants, two Muslims—they were both tea boys in the British Army—and one German—the police did not know his religion—have also died. It is evident from those figures that the assassin's bullet can strike at any place when the assassin thinks that he is doing good for his cause. What good murder has ever done for any cause I cannot tell.
Further, 729 civilians have died. Were they not assassinated principally by the murderers of the IRA? Practically all of them died as a result of IRA activity. Practically all of them were the victims of the assassins and murderers who set out to destroy the community in which they lived. In addition, approximately 12,000 people have been injured. We have not been told that 90 per cent. of the businesses in Londonderry that have been destroyed belonged to Protestants. They alone are the people who have 1234 suffered. Perhaps I am going too far in saying that. I have known Roman Catholic business men and farmers who have suffered. But let the House be clear that it is the Protestant community at every level that has suffered the greatest amount of damage, arson, murder and intimidation from the thugs and murderers that stalk our land.
We are told today, as usual, that we must support the police. I have always done so in their fight against the terrorists. However, the police are people who are attacked on every occasion by every man who wishes to break the law in every community. When there is support for the police in their rôle of keeping law and order in the community, that support must be without any qualification; it must be wholehearted. Support must come from the heart of every man and woman. There must be no drawing back, and no quibbling. There must be 100 per cent. support for the police, and the police must be defended in the actions that they are forced to take.
We are told about the security that is required for minorities. I think that hon. Members will realise from what I have said and from their own knowledge of the situation that there is a majority in Ulster which consists of people who require, above all, protection against the IRA. In saying that I am not forgetting that the activities of the IRA have probably borne more heavily upon the people in the Bogside, in the Creggan and Shan-tallow than on any other section of the community. Indeed, only a fortnight ago the people of Strabane had their town taken over for eight hours by the IRA. The IRA carried out armed patrols through a housing estate in Strabane and the Army directed traffic through Donegal and Lifford to get into their home town. These are matters that are not forgotten and they are not easily or lightly forgiven.
We are told that security is necessary. There is no man who will deny that. But how are we to get security? That is a question that must be solved quickly. We are calling in Northern Ireland for a Home Guard who will live among the community and who will be able to deal with murder wherever it may be found. That Home Guard could be raised quickly, and in a realistic manner. It should have a broad base and strong 1235 support throughout the community. It could act not only as a Home Guard but as an intelligence gatherer. It could be a force that would be a major component in the restoration of law and order in the community.
We are told that we should join the RUC Reserve or the UDR. There are many men in the community who wish to play their part and who for various reasons cannot do so. We must never forget that there are many people in the community who are denied the right to serve their country. I was such a person, and yet I made it to this House. I was taken into the UDR and then discharged as being unsuitable after 28 days, yet I made it here. It will be seen that the people of Londonderry did not share the opinion of the Army commanders and their political masters as to my suitability to defend the people of Londonderry or to defend my Province of Ulster. I defended it as a member of the Ulster Special Constabulary, and until the day I die that is a fact of which I shall be inordinately proud. I think that that constabulary was one of the finest forces that ever walked the roads of this Kingdom. It was prepared to defend that land, and it defended it well for 50 years.
The Government are responsible in any province and in any country for the State's existence. That is one of the basic reasons for a Government's existence—namely, to ensure that the State continues to exist and to see that the people who live in a tract of land or on an island have the right to live their lives as the majority sees fit. Therefore, they must defend the status quo and the political existence of the State at every level.
I believe that it is impossible to take into the Government men who believe that the State should not exist. That is not to say that we will not share power, but I believe that we can never share government with those whose primary objective, in whatever way we look upon the word "primary" or in which ever context it is used, is a united Ireland. I believe that when the SDLP is willing to allow the Unionist Party to sit in on its meetings when it is discussing how it will get rid of Northern Ireland by bringing it into a united Ireland, we may consider the SDLP sitting in on the Government of Northern Ireland.
1236 I now turn to the future. We must as is laid down in the White Paper and in the Bill that will be put before us, have an Assembly election. Such an election should be concerned with the anomalies that exist in the representation of various constituencies in Northern Ireland. We should try to level off the numbers that are needed to elect a Member in the various constituencies. That could easily be done by having three additional Members.
I call attention once more to the position which those from Northern Ireland find in this House. The average number of electors per constituency in England is 65,000. For Scotland I think the average is 50,000 and it is roughly the same for Wales. Of the six largest constituencies, three are from Northern Ireland—namely, Antrim, North; Antrim, South; and Down, North. If we considered the seven largest constituencies I believe that Londonderry would be included. The smallest constituencies in the United Kingdom are in Scotland and Central London and, I think, in Newcastle. These matters should be considered. if there is to be representation in this House from the United Kingdom that representation should at the least be the same throughout the country. Failing that, representation should be the same for the areas taken on their own merits. These are matters that cannot be treated lightly because they can alter the balance of power in this House and the political realities of life.
There is no reason for not making changes simply because a Government do not like what is going to come out of an election after boundary changes. Indeed, not to make them would be a direct negation of democracy, which would bring not only the Government of the day but this House into disrepute.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry West (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words about this White Paper. May I take up the point about under-representation, dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), who quoted figures for constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales. If he will forgive my saying so, he was a little low in those figures. Nevertheless, there is a vast 1237 difference, on average, between the number of constituents represented by one Member of Parliament from Scotland and the number represented by one Member from Northern Ireland. The figures I have show that on average each of the 71 Scottish Members represents 73,000 people. On average each of the 12 Members for Northern Ireland represents 128,000 people. This is unfair representation for Northern Ireland.
We are under-represented. I have said before that it is unfortunate that at this critical stage in the history of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom we should be discussing these serious matters when our community is so badly underrepresented. That is not the only way in which we are under-represented. There are constituencies in the North of Ireland arranged for the Assembly elections at Stormont which are similarly underrepresented. I refer particularly to the constituencies of Antrim, North; Antrim, South, and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Of the 12 constituencies in Northern Ireland, nine contain an average of 13,000 voters per Member. In the Antrim, North constituency there are almost 15,000 voters per Member. Antrim, South is much the same and in Fermanagh and South Tyrone there are almost 14,500 voters per Member. To be fair to the Members in those constituencies, there should be at least one extra Member to bring the figures up to a proper representation in Stormont.
We hope to introduce an amendment to the Schedule of the Bill next Monday and to have an opportunity of debating it. We have a suspicion that there was a good reason for arranging the figures in Northern Ireland in this way. In fairness, I must say that there has been a great shift of population in recent times, principally because of the troubles. Because of this we feel that in the three constituencies I have mentioned, where the figures show that there is not the same representation as in the other nine, there should be one extra Member appointed for the Assembly or whatever institution of government is selected for Northern Ireland in future.
We are greatly troubled by the question of defence in Northern Ireland. I do not want to dwell on this because 1238 we have talked a lot about it already. We value the work done by the security forces in Northern Ireland. We find that there appears to be some interference from the political side, which is of course denied by both Front Benches. There is, nevertheless, the problem that in Northern Ireland security is not up to the standard it should be. As citizens of Northern Ireland we still have to sit back and watch that country being destroyed and people being maimed and killed. Some may claim that there is an easing of terrorist activity. It is fair to say that this has become so common there that a lot of it does not even make the news—a tragic circumstance.
§ Mr. McNamara
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the lives of my constituents are at risk in Northern Ireland at present. He has said that there has been political interference with the rôle of the security forces and that they are not able to carry out their task. He said that this had been done by both Front Benches. Can he give specific examples when either my right hon. Friend or the two previous Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland in the Conservative administration interfered so that people were killed or maimed or property was damaged?
§ Mr. West
The hon. Member has hardly quoted me correctly when he said that I accused both Front Benches. I said that both Front Benches denied political interference. Admittedly it amounts to the same thing. Several senior Army officers have come out in public and made this point from their practical experience of service in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
As this is my responsibility, I defy the right hon. Gentleman to say which senior Army officers have said this. It is important, when troops from this country are serving in Northern Ireland. I can think of three or four occasions when the right hon. Gentleman has come to me and asked me to interfere politically in a security matter in his own area. He knows that. I have refused to do so. I must insist that he gives the names of the senior Army officers who have said this.
§ Mr. Rees
Yes. On four occasions the right hon. Gentleman has been to me asking me to provide security for him and I have said that I will not interfere politically, that I will do so only on the advice of security advisers. I will not interfere in Northern Ireland in these matters. It is a security advisory matter. On each occasion the right hon. Gentleman has been back asking me to give my instructions. I do not interfere in security matters in this way. The right hon. Gentleman must know the names of the senior officers who are supposed to have disagreed with me. We must have the names. It is important to British troops.
§ Mr. West
I give the names of General Walker and Lord Richard Cecil. The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong, however. It is untrue to say that I went to him to ask for security protection for myself. The requests for my protection did not come at my insistence. I was present on a number of occasions when requests were made on my behalf by a number of my colleagues, two of whom are sitting on this bench tonight. Never have I made a request to the right hon. Gentleman. He should withdraw.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Would the right hon. Member not agree that the leaders of every other party in the Assembly receive protection, including parties far beneath the size of the right hon. Member's party? Is it not a fact that the local police in the right hon. Member's area have advised that his wife and family and the right hon. Member himself were as much entitled to protection as the leaders of the Alliance Party, the SDLP, or my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) the leader of the Vanguard Party or myself? Will the right hon. Member ask the Secretary of State why it is that he is the only leader of any party in Northern Ireland—regardless of threats that have been made on his family which are substantiated by the police—who does not receive protection?
§ Mr. West
That does not worry me as much as does the misrepresentation of 1240 my conduct by the Secretary of State. He has said that I went to him on four occasions asking for protection. This is not true. I have never been to him asking for protection for myself. He should withdraw that remark. It is wrong for him to make that accusation.
§ Mr. Rees
It is. He said that senior Army officers had disagreed with me. He has offered the name of a captain who appears to have had a view on this.
I asked the right hon. Gentleman for the names of people who had served in Ireland who could give chapter and verse on my having interfered politically. He has not given them. I then told him that on these matters of security for politicians in Northern Ireland I do not decide. It is a matter for security. I am not prepared to interfere politically.
But he must give the names of these people who have served in Northern Ireland who have told him of this, because it is not true of this administration—and I am convinced that it is not true of the previous administration. It is part of the tommyrot that passes for discussion on security matters.
§ Mr. Rees
On four occasions, and maybe more, the right hon. Gentleman has been in a deputation to see me on various matters when the subject has been raised on his behalf. On one occasion at least when he was there he put the case to me. I am not prepared to interfere in this matter. It must be a matter for the security people. Politicians must not get involved in it, and that is what the right hon. Gentleman is asking me to do.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Now that he has finished his little dialogue with my right hon. Friend, would he be kind enough to answer the questions I asked? Which incidents, which occasions, who has been injured or maimed, which property has been damaged, as a result of political interference from either Front Bench? Will he please let us know? It is important.
§ Mr. West
We have heard quite a lot from the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, about the cost of the bomb damage. All that is a result of terrorist activities there which we feel could have been curtailed in Northern Ireland. I have already given the names of two Army officers who have spoken publicly on the matter. There are a number of others who do not want their names mentioned because they are serving officers in the Army, and the House can very well understand that they do not want to be involved in this. I believe that I have now successfully defended myself against untrue accusations coming from the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. McNamara
if the right hon. Gentleman will not give us the names, will he give us details of the victims and places where direct political interference has resulted in loss of life or damage to property? If he will not give names, will he give us those details?
§ Mr. West
It is a little ridiculous to ask that. The whole picture in Northern Ireland is one of disaster because of terrorist activities. I do not make a habit of listing each item of destruction and every person killed or maimed, but it is public knowledge that this has happened. I do not keep records of such things.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I must come back on this point. He has spoken of political interference from the two Front Benches. He has refused to name officers who have spoken of this. Will he now let us know of occasions on which people were killed or maimed or property damaged as a direct result of political intereference? If he cannot do so he must withdraw that very wild accusation. He has to do so.
§ Mr. West
I suppose the hon. Gentleman is right to come to the rescue of his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. Of course he defends the right hon. Gentleman, but these things have happened. [HON. MEMBERS: "There is no evidence."] I say there is. I live in the community. All those who live in Northern Ireland know this to be correct. I will not waste any more time on the point. On this question of security generally, what worries us a lot is the continuation of the destruction that has been going on for the last five years. A country that was built up by your forefathers in Northern Ireland as a happy, prosperous little country, one of the best in Europe, if not further afield, is still being destroyed by terrorist activities.
We firmly believe that local people in Northern Ireland should be given a greater opportunity of participating in the defence of that country. In the 1939–45 period, whenever our country was under attack—admittedly on a limited scale—from German bombers and the danger of invasion, though the danger and destruction at that time were nothing like they are today in Northern Ireland, we were allowed to establish our Home Guard to defend our homes, our territory and our families. A much better case exists today for the establishment of a Home Guard in Northern Ireland to keep terrorists at bay. I cannot for the life of me see why the present British Government, and the former British Government also, should have turned their minds against this request. It seems sensible. We have put the case to the Secretary of State but as yet we have had no favourable reply.
A further point I wish to raise concerns finance, with which I am sure the Secretary of State will deal when he is presenting the Bill next Monday. He has already promised that he will go into financial matters. I hope that in presenting the financial benefits that Northern Ireland gets through being a member within the United Kingdom he will give all the facts, and that when he gives the visible benefits coming from direct taxation he will make an effort at presenting the benefits which accrue to the British economy through indirect taxation of various kinds. I am sure those figures are available and we, and the general public, would expect him to give them, in producing all the 1243 facts, and not to present a one-sided picture.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State has disappeared, probably to cool off, because I wanted to raise one other matter with him. I will delay saying what I had wished to say in case he comes back.
§ Mr. West
It is most unfortunate that even today in this House in talking of the two sections of the community we have had mention of Protestants and Catholics. I have said before in this House that the trouble in Northern Ireland does not arise between Catholics and Protestants as such but because a majority of people there want to remain within the United Kingdom and the minority want to go into a United Ireland. It so happens that in the main the people who want to remain within the United Kingdom are Protestants and the bulk of the minority are Roman Catholics. But it is not a religious row. The trouble arises because of the different aspirations of those two sections of the community.
That brings me to the vexed question of power sharing. The phrase "power sharing" has been used loosely in the community. Most people regard power sharing as requiring the minority to be included in the Government or Cabinet in Northern Ireland. There are other ways of sharing power. In this House the Leader of the Opposition has considerable power, although he has not a seat in the Cabinet. We humble people from Northern Ireland—11 of us—have considerable power if we want to use it. We have the balance of power, given the opportunity to use it. We have had that opportunity on several occasions and have not used it. Members who serve in a Parliament can have power although they have not a seat in the Executive or Cabinet.
We have said publicly that we are prepared to approve an administration with majority rule because that is the British system, and we are British citizens, part of the United Kingdom. We are prepared to approve majority rule, whichever party comes out as the majority party after the election. In addition we are prepared to facilitate the minority party by a system 1244 of strong committees to supervise administration and to initiate legislation.
§ Mr. McNamara
If the right hon. Gentleman's party is not in the majority but is a minority against a coalition, would be accept a coalition?
§ Mr. West
The last exercise was a gerrymandered Executive that proved distasteful to all democrats in the country. That was one reason why we did not accept it and would have nothing to do with it. We would not give it credibility because it was gerrymandered and was not established on the British parliamentary system.
It is unrealistic to expect people to serve in a Cabinet when they have aspirations so diametrically opposed to each other as had the members of the Cabinet of the last administration in Northern Ireland. In the Executive there were Unionist members whose aspirations were to remain within the United Kingdom. Serving with them were colleagues whose aspirations were the destruction of the constitution of Northern Ireland and uniting the country. It is unrealistic to expect a minority with that type of aspiration to work loyally in a Cabinet for the long-term interests of Northern Ireland and its people. That is the fault we find in this so-called power sharing exercise that has been so loosely spoken of. If a similar situation arose, for instance, in Scotland or Wales, the British Parliament would not impose conditions on the Scottish and Welsh people. It dare not do so.
A story has been put abroad in the community that Northern Ireland does not want an early election. That is untrue. My colleagues and I mix freely with the electorate from one end of the country to the other, and we are in a position to judge the temper of the people. They are looking for an early election and it is false to think that we can put off the election to the Constitutional Convention in the hope that the previous administration may regain its credibility in the community.
If we want Northern Ireland to be restored to a peaceful condition, we must 1245 have an early election to the Constitutional Convention, so that we can sit round the table with properly elected members to work out our own future. I assure the House with all the sincerity I can command, and on behalf of my colleagues, that if we are given this opportunity to sit down with the newly-elected Ulster representatives in Stormont we shall do our best to arrive at a just and fair solution to our problems and to restore a peaceful and just society.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
One cannot talk of the serried ranks of hon. Members listening to the debate, but one can at least pay tribute to the quality of the contributions that have been made and the sincerity of all hon. Members. It would be churlish of me not to pay tribute to the Secretary of State for his sincerity and realism, and that goes for the Government, too. I do not often find myself in the position of paying such a tribute, but we recognise that the Government and the Secretary of State have faced the problems honestly and squarely.
We hope that the opportunity given us will result in a step forward. I liked the right hon. Gentleman's sensible approach—that what we are doing now need not be construed as the last chance for Northern Ireland. One should take that sort of attitude so as not to prejudice the operation from the beginning. The Minister is right in saying that it is an important chance. I hope, as we take this chance, that we in Ulster and Members of this House will realise that in this sort of situation one must have respect for the will of the people. In the last analysis the will of the people is always determined by the greatest voice in the community. We have come through a rather frustrating and dangerous period because this Parliament ignored the will of the people.
One may throw up one's hands in horror at the idea of people taking industrial action for political causes. It was done in the circumstances by those people who felt they had been denied their democratic rights and that their voice was being ignored. The message was spoken out very clearly during the last United Kingdom parliamentary election. That was reinforced by the submission to the House of a petition 1246 signed by 313,000 electors, who unambiguously said they were not prepared to give consent to the form of power-sharing Executive that was imposed upon Northern Ireland. The Ulster people said they were not prepared to give their consent to the sort of all-Ireland institutions envisaged in the Sunningdale Agreement. This Parliament ignored the clear, stark message emerging from Northern Ireland. The majority of the people in Northern Ireland took the only peaceful way that was open to them to remedy that situation.
I recognise that nothing is to be gained by raking over the ashes, but one can learn some lessons from the situation. As we seek a solution in the future we must take into account how the people in Northern Ireland feel. We shall not be able to talk away all our differences. At the end of the day there will be a majority of some size. Whatever its size, that majority will have the decisive voice in Northern Ireland.
I was particularly encouraged to find that the Secretary of State and the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland recognise clearly what has happened and concede that it would have been foolish and wrong to hold fresh elections to the Assembly, because those elections would not have produced an Assembly that could support an Executive. I hope the recognition of that fact will now be extended to the situation that must develop. There is no point in inviting the proposed Constitutional Convention to consider what has been rejected, no matter how varied or titivated. The principle has been clearly rejected.
The proposals in the White Paper can be put to good use. I am sorry there are serious deficiencies in the White Paper. The most serious difficulty referred to by many hon. Members is the under-representation of Northern Ireland in this House. All of us in Ulster will have rejoiced when the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland declared in very welcome terms that he wanted the union to be maintained and that there was now nothing to be done which would sever the connection. There was much satisfaction to be gained from the manner in which he said that. But having said it, if hon. Members want to maintain Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, we in Northern Ireland are 1247 entitled to the full rights of United Kingdom citizens.
Many Members have said today that if we are to remain in the union the final decision would have to be taken in this Parliament. Important decisions will be taken shortly. When these crucial decisions have to be taken, how can anyone defend a situation in which Ulster is under-represented?
Before this Parliament produced the Government of Ireland Act 1920 as part of an Irish settlement, Ulster, with an electorate of 600,000, had 12 Members. Today, with an electorate of over 1 million, it still has only 12 Members. As we consider the interim arrangements proposed by the Government for the future government of Northern Ireland, the case for full representation in this House is immeasurably strengthened.
In case anyone is under the illusion that increased representation will mean a gain entirely for the coalition that I represent, I must say that it will not. The increase will increase the representation of other parties. There is an unarguable case for early action on this matter. Apart from doing technical justice to Northern Ireland, it will do more than any promises or guarantees to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that it is regarded as part of the United Kingdom.
It has been said that the reason that we have been denied our proper representation is that it would offend the Irish Republic and infringe the so-called "Irish dimension". I find it totally unacceptable and unreasonable that part of the United Kingdom should be denied its proper representation because a foreign country would find it objectionable and because it would impair good relations. There will never be good relations with the Irish Republic if that sort of term and condition is set for it. I hope that not only here but in Dublin there will be a quick recognition that increased representation at Westminster is important, and could benefit Ireland.
I also subscribe to the view that failing to put a date or time scale on elections is a deficiency. We all know that we cannot rush into elections without being able to assess the climate that will prevail. There are many factors to be con 1248 sidered, including a possible election to this Parliament, and the security situation. But I am sure that the feeling in Northern Ireland is clamantly for an early election. I also feel, apart from what the electorate as a whole may think, that if the Convention is to be useful, the sooner it meets the better. In my discussions with the Secretary of State I told him that I thought that the elections should have been held yesterday. The longer we go on postponing the debates, discussions, negotiations—whatever one calls them—the more entrenched positions will be. A party political situation will grow up which will set at naught the hopes of the Convention before it meets. So I am very strongly for elections as early as possible.
It would be wrong to discuss the White Paper without referring to the security situation. Many of us were hoping that this new opportunity which was being presented to Northern Ireland would lead to a situation in which we could hope for at least a truce, if not a peace. As yet, there is no evidence that our hopes will be fulfilled. Indeed, there are some ugly pointers to the contrary—that we may expect fairly soon an unhappy escalation in the situation.
I hope that our fears are unfounded and that it is not too late to make an appeal to let the people talk in peace. But one has to be practical in this situation and ready to take on the challenge from those who want to wage war against the community.
I am well aware of how hon. Members and citizens of this part of the United Kingdom feel about the safety and wellbeing of Her Majesty's troops in Northern Ireland. I understand the desire to bring them home, and I support the argument that this should be done at the right and proper time. However, I find it a little irritating in this situation to have to consider the so-called temporary use, as envisaged in the White Paper, of Her Majesty's Forces in Northern Ireland. We must remember that it was this Parliament which decided to take over the responsibility for the internal security arrangements of Northern Ireland. When political decisions were taken, it was inevitable that the Army would be saddled with this millstone for five years, and probably even longer.
1249 I believe that the Army is not the right organisation to tackle this job. I am convinced that it should be done through a police framework. I believe that there should be a new look at the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which has not benefited from the arrangements in the way it should have benefited to deal with the situation. Indeed, in my opinion, it is far too inefficient, and we have too many chairborne officers. A new look should be taken at the force itself and its rôle. If that rôle is honestly faced, we shall receive a response from the community in Northern Ireland to serve in the force. It is a sad admission to make that there are few recruits coming in, but it is understandable because the status and rôle of the police in the community is ill-defined, and morale is low.
The rôle of the RUC Reserve also needs to be examined; it is an appendage without real meaning. I believe that a lot would be gained by giving the reserve its own officer structure and a precise rôle. The reserve could be split into categories for different functions. It can be given a precise function in security matters and also a precise function in normal policing. Once this is done, I believe that there will be a response from the community. The UDR has not received the support one would like to have seen it given. This is largely due to the fact that the rôle and purpose of the regiment has been blurred. Often the method of using part-time soldiers has been unnecessarily burdensome in terms of loss of time from their well-paid work. If this became a more local force, with a local command structure which had incorporated within it a home guard, I believe that in a remarkably short time the Army's rôle in the security situation in Northern Ireland could be reduced to a small specialist one. It is important that we get its rôle right. Unless we are able to defeat the terrorists, or any sort of terrorist organisation, there will be no hope for a political democracy.
No matter what we do now, or how wide the support may be for any solution, if we are practical people we must realise that at some point in the not too distant future there will be a fresh violent challenge to authority in Northern Ireland. That is a price which any community pays when it lets the rule of law collapse or when it gives 1250 violence and rebellion political credibility. There is always an international gain on the part of some in embarrassing the United Kingdom by supporting subversion and terrorism in Northern Ireland. The challenge will happen again in Northern Ireland, regrettable though that is. In the decisions we take now, particularly in relation to security, we must bear in mind that we are not dealing with something which will end and be put to bed; it will be with us for quite a while to come.
Apart from the organisation of the security forces, we need to look at the whole aspect of law and order, which has collapsed in a frightening way. The standards of the community as a whole have crashed. What used to be one of the most law-abiding parts of the United Kingdom has suffered an enormous growth in crime, and young people have grown up in a situation in which if they are denied something they can simply reach out and grab it by force. That situation will be reflected in the community for a considerable time.
Whatever form the future government of Northern Ireland takes, and whoever mans it, it must be in a position to provide a tough policy on the rule of law so as to win back respect for the rule of law. This will be made easier if we now, in dealing with the present situation, ensure that the Government and the authorities involved give proper respect to law and order.
There is much dissatisfaction with the present emergency provisions. I shall not digress on something which will be dealt with in greater detail later, but the whole apparatus of law enforcement in Northern Ireland cannot be defended. We have become far too complacent. Under the Emergency Provisions Act a man can be taken in for 28 days, but that 28-days period has become meaningless. He can be kept for months. But, far worse, in the ordinary process of the law, we have in prison people who have been on remand for 11, 12 and even 15 months.
§ Mr. Craig
Do not let us forget for a moment that those men are innocent until proved guilty. We should not accept the idea of people spending such 1251 a length of time in prison in the circumstances I have mentioned. But this is happening, even though more manpower than ever before has been directed into the judiciary and the prosecution services. Part of the problem lies in the whole political climate attached to these things, and far too often people are taken into custody before there is any reality of a genuine prima facie case against them, and are being held in custody in the hope that some sort of case can be cooked up. That would destroy anyone's respect for the rule of law. I hope that as we move forward to the White Paper we shall do so in the context of improving both the security position and respect for the use of normal legal processes.
Perhaps the main task of the Convention should be to look at what it can do in Northern Ireland to build up a common allegiance between both religious communities—if one has to talk about religion. I resent this, and I do not think that it is a particularly accurate way to proceed, but we have to see if we can end the situation in which almost one-third of the community has persistently refused to consider giving allegiance. It may not be possible, but we should see if it is possible to meet these people. That is far more worth while than to try to reconcile the irreconcilable.
Ulster people are flabbergasted when they read of hon. Members here talking about some form of constitutionally enforced coalition in Northern Ireland and then judge the standards which hon. Members set for themselves and the remarks here about even proposed voluntary coalitions. That sort of comparison is a valid one, and I hope that hon. Members will face it. There will not be and there cannot be any agreement on an enforced coalition or power-sharing structure at Executive level between people who are working for diametrically opposed situations.
The people of Northern Ireland are not content just to say, "We want to be part of the United Kingdom." They want to be governed in such a way as to prevent the end of the Union. There has to be a positive reaction to those who are working to bring about a united Ireland, and we cannot sit down in a government with people who are working to bring an 1252 end to the constitution. It is futile dreaming to think that we can arrive at such a formula.
I believe that the overwhelming feeling in Northern Ireland will be expressed in this elected Convention. We want to be in the United Kingdom, and we want to be governed in the same way as any other part of the United Kingdom, according to the same standards and the same principles of democracy.
The Convention will probably recommend that we look at this problem in the context of the United Kingdom as a whole. If it is done in that way, no one will be able to say that it is the product of a bigoted Unionist Party. The greatest guarantee of fairness and impartiality is to have a common system of government throughout the whole United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State admitted that he had to adopt a far from satisfactory method of governing Northern Ireland—by Order in Council—in this interim period because this Parliament was so overloaded that it could not deal with the comparatively small volume of business that Northern Ireland would involve. That is not only a reason for getting on and doing something about Northern Ireland; it is a reason for getting on and doing something about the United Kingdom as a whole and seeing how we can lessen the burden on this Parliament. The people of Northern Ireland will welcome it.
Of course, there is an Irish dimension. It is a dimension of being good neighbours. The land frontier is our frontier, and it is the United Kingdom's as well. The Secretary of State said that Northern Ireland was in a unique position, in that it had a land frontier with the Irish Republic. However, it is also a frontier of the United Kingdom. It is natural that there should be good neighbourly relations between the people of all parts of these islands. They should be more than just good friends, and they should be working together. If everyone's place in this is recognised, that situation can be brought about, but it cannot come about by any kind of half-way arrangement.
We in Northern Ireland will not consent to any arrangement which can be described as shared sovereignty, a condominium, or any device of that nature. 1253 We want to remain in the United Kingdom, and we claim our full rights as citizens of the United Kingdom. All of us who represent the United Unionist Coalition know that our parties will play a constructive rôle in this elected Convention. But it will be a realistic rôle, and we hope that we shall be able to heal the scars in our community.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
There were some hon. Members who began this debate in a spirit of hope—a hope to which we can still hold on—but, when we listened to speeches such as that of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), we heard the old sounds coming out of Northern Ireland with which we were familiar in the past. It is valuable that they should be expressed, but they show the difficult task which lies ahead of the Secretary of State, of which I am sure he is well aware. It behoves none of us to make light of the political difficulties still ahead of us in Northern Ireland.
The House will understand that although happily there remains a wide range of bipartisan approach to Northern Ireland policies, which I hope will continue, there is criticism from this side of the necessity for this discussion. I do not propose to go scoring back over the past unnecessarily, but I do not accept the inevitability of the collapse of the Executive. Judgments must be made on this matter. I am particularly critical of what happened over the famous walk or march back to work. I want to return to that point later.
I believe that within the official trade union movement of Northern Ireland—I am carefully distinguishing the official trade union movement from any political movement purporting to represent working people—are some of the finest people from both communities. I think that anything, however it worked out, whoever was to blame or whatever the fault, which tended to weaken their position would be extremely serious.
There is one group of people who have not been mentioned throughout our discussions but who ought to have mention in the winding up period. I suspect that they have not been mentioned because—great credit to them—they have been taken totally for granted. Throughout all these 1254 constant changes and forms of Government—now there is a new one—we have taken the Northern Ireland Civil Service for granted. I have had 17 months experience of working with civil servants in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I think that I can say that the United Kingdom owes them a warm debt of gratitude for the way in which they have kept the administration going under different forms of Government, and I am sure that they will continue to do so. I know that they have done their work under great personal strain. I am thinking not only of the men at the top, who are technically called the mandarins, but of the small men, and women—small in terms of seniority—who, for example, take round the social security payments, and so on. These people have played a very great part in the life of Northern Ireland. We should remember them when we are contemplating yet another form of Government which they will have to serve.
Although none of the newly-appointed Ministers is here—I am sure they are busily engaged—the House should understand that few Ministers are under greater personal strain than the Secretary of State and the Ministers who are responsible for a Mark II version of direct rule. They have some very hard work to do, particularly the junior Ministers, because of the day-to-day administration of all the Departments, plus the travel and other strains which I know will be put upon them. I am sure that they will accept our good wishes as they set out on their new work.
I am glad that the debate opened with the Secretary of State's stalwart statement about power sharing. That is one of the most encouraging features of what otherwise I identify as a rather sombre debate. His phrase, as I recall, was that the concept of power sharing had bitten deeply into many people. I believe that is right. That was my impression. But the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East, the hon. Members for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford), Londonderry (Mr. Ross), and others, make us realise that a large number of people still do not accept the concept in principle.
What one must say of it is that it brought to the surface of that part of the United Kingdom men of very considerable ability. They are not the only men of very considerable ability in Northern 1255 Ireland. I am not making that case at all. There are men of ability in all parties. But I should have thought that a fair and unbiased observer would say of some of those who came into office as a result of power sharing, that in any assembly of people or in any kind of executive, whatever form it may take, they were men who had a considerable amount to contribute, and they did it with distinction and, in a short period, they made a considerable imprint, not only in Northern Ireland but also abroad where some of them travelled.
I believe that that was important. I believe that intelligent opinion—there is a considerable amount in Northern Ireland—has understood that. Many people feel that to have a final solution which virtually permanently excludes from effective contribution to executive action in Northern Ireland men of this kind must be a weakness and a loss for all communities and peoples in Northern Ireland.
I want to meet head-on a particular argument that has been developed, particularly from the Opposition side of the House. That is the argument that one cannot share power with men who aspire eventually to a united Ireland. Obviously this is a crucially important argument. In effect, if it is conceded, it excludes from effective power sharing a very substantial minority of people.
§ Captain Orr
Before my hon. Friend gets into that argument, will he concede that it is important in this context to define what he means by "power sharing"?
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Not entirely—because I think that at present it is an open question. My hon. and gallant Friend did not have the advantage, although he has attended most carefully almost the whole debate, of listening to the right hon. Member for Belfast, East, for example. I hope that I do not do my hon. and gallant Friend an injustice.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I beg my hon. and gallant Friend's pardon. The identification, as I understand it, is between taking part in a minority position in some form of committee which discusses legis 1256 lation as distinct from, in some way, having an effective voice in the executive actions which carry that out. I shall not seek to define this too exactly, for I cannot. That is, partially, what the Convention is all about. I am dealing with the questions of principle.
There are right hon. and hon. Members on both Front Benches and in Government and potentially in Government who believe that the right way forward for this country is to submerge its sovereignty in a greater sovereignty in Europe. I am not saying that I agree with that view. I happen not to agree with it in terms of moving sovereignty. But that view is held and deeply held by some. No hon. Member, or only a very few hon. Members on either side of this House, would hold that such a man who held that view and argued it was unfitted to take part in the government of the nation. What I am saying is that if I am asked to agree that, in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom standards should apply, I say this: United Kingdom standards insist that one should be required to argue one's case, certainly, but not to shoot and bomb one's case.
I do not happen to be a Republican. I hope I make that perfectly clear. I do not happen to wish to see Northern Ireland go into the South. I share the hope of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) that by the free consent of the majority of the people, Protestant and Catholic, for as long as that applies—it will be for them to say—Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom.
But I absolutely accept the right of people in Northern Ireland to argue a point of view different from mine, and I cannot for the life of me see that there is anything improper in discussing and arguing and seeking to persuade. It is wrong if a person, for doing so, is disqualified from holding executive power. Of course, it means that as long as such people do that, they must, in the way in which the last group who took part in the Executive did, bind themselves to the good of Northern Ireland according to the oath that was set out in the White Paper. But if we are to proceed from there on the narrow basis that anyone who conscientiously believes that the future of Northern Ireland rests in the 1257 Republican direction cannot hold executive power then the future is very grim indeed.
We have spoken about the Protestant backlash, but for heavens' sake let us watch the Catholic backlash as well. We tread a very difficult path here and we can so easily get the balance badly wrong.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The analogy my hon. Friend was drawing earlier between those who support integration and federalism in the EEC and those who support a united Ireland is not quite accurate. Does my hon. Friend not agree that perhaps one of the major causes of suspicion lay in the fact that the SDLP element in the Northern Ireland Government constantly made trips to Dublin to consult with and, presumably, to take orders from a foreign Government? Is that not a different situation?
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I was not addressing my mind to that. I am not talking about the conduct of individual persons and I am not commenting, because I do not know, on what may or may not have happened. I was directing myself to what it seemed had been argued today, the matter of principle that if a man believed that the right way forward for his country was the Republican way, involving integration with the South, he should be eliminated from taking part in the executive decisions in the North. I reject that. So long as the argument is put forward peacefully and by persuasion, and not by the bomb and the bullet, it is part of the United Kingdom tradition that he should be enabled to do so. It is no good trying to persuade me that United Kingdom principles should apply in one respect but should not apply in others.
Next I come to discrimination, and here again the point I make has been contested. There was, and I suspect there still is, discrimination in Northern Ireland. The discrimination does not operate only in one direction. One of the things I found most distasteful when I became responsible to the Secretary of State of the day for appointments—and it seemed that we were junior Ministers at a time when substantial numbers of appointments had to be made following reorganisation of local government—was to find in certain important sectors—for example, professional expertise—that there were no 1258 Catholics from whom to choose. The truth is that such men did not offer themselves for certain professional posts and for other positions because they knew that there was no future for them if they did.
We in the Conservative Party have a responsibility here. After all, it concerned the Conservative and Unionist Party, and I do not blink from that responsibility. I did not blink from it when I was in Northern Ireland. I recognised that I had a special responsibility as a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party.
Here I want to ask a direct question of which I have not given the Minister of State notice. Therefore, I shall understand if he does not wish to deal with it now. I must declare a personal, though not a pecuniary, interest. I was the chairman of the committee of trade unionist and employers, Catholic and Protestant, who produced the report which—not because of my chairmanship, but because of their work—was regarded as important, the report on ending discrimination in the private sector of employment. I am certain that it is very important, and few more hopeful signs have come out of Northern Ireland than that employer and employee, Catholic and Protestant, were prepared to move forward in this vital human sector.
Does the right hon. Gentleman still hope to introduce legislation arising from that report? If he does, does he envisage it being of such importance that it will be by way of a Bill, or will it be by way of the order procedure? I am talking of the interim period, of course.
§ Mr. Orme
The Government intend to bring it forward, but it will have to be in the next Session. It will be in the form of a Bill, not an order. Unfortunately, because of the fall of the Executive it is no longer possible to put the Bill through the Assembly, as we had agreed. It will be introduced at the earliest opportunity. My right hon. Friend gives it a high priority.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I welcome that. It is an important move forward. I have never had any doubts that those who will have the most difficult task in implementing the legislation are the trade union representatives. The matter will be decided down at the shop floor, where for many a year there have been per 1259 sons of one faith. In fairness to the Protestant workers, let it be said that that does not apply only on the Protestant side, although it applies there more in numerical terms and also in one particularly identifiable industry. But it will be the trade unions and trade unionists who will decide. We in this House shall therefore need to support them very fully. As a result of some of the speeches I have heard today, but only some, I feel anxious whether implementation of the legislation will be possible to achieve on the ground.
Here I should like to say a word to my Catholic friends. We are all asked to rethink our positions. I say in all friendliness that one of the positions they will have to rethink is their position in education. I am not questioning their sincerity on the matter. As a committed Anglican, I cannot, will not and do not for a moment advocate that it is right for the Churches to withdraw from education in Great Britain or Northern Ireland. But there is a rigidity about the system over there which does not apply here. I think that the inquiry by Sir John Wolfenden will be very helpful.
I accept that the problem is part of a much larger problem. I have said before in the House that if all education were integrated, Catholic children in the Ardoyne would go to the Catholic schools and be taught by Catholics, and the reverse would apply in the Shankill. Therefore, I am not advocating anything so extreme as integration, but I am asking for some movement, probably in nursery education, which would be a massive contribution by my Catholic friends.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
That is a helpful and valid point. I read that speech with the greatest interest. I share the hon. Gentleman's admiration for Mr. McIvor. It is a great sadness that he was not able to carry on with his work. That tribute is particularly telling coming from the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt).
1260 The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneux) made an important point when he asked the Secretary of State not to make himself too remote from the Convention and suggested that he should not withdraw himself too completely from it. I know that it is a great mistake to draw upon past experience as though it is necessarily relevant, but it would be true to say that all parties who took part in the discussions last autumn—I am not talking about Sunningdale but before—found it helpful to have informal discussions with United Kingdom Ministers. Of course, all parties had the opportunity to take part in those discussions. Not for one moment did the parties which took part take instructions or anything of that nature. None of those taking part could ever have done so. Perhaps I may say without offence that a wide United Kingdom experience was helpful when we worked altogether on such a major problem. I take the Secretary of State's point that he does not want to interfere or dictate, but I hope that at the same time he will not be afraid to make himself available to the Convention together with his Ministers and officials, who between them have considerable expertise.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I take what the hon. Gentleman says. Of course we shall do all we can to help in the spirit of Northern Ireland playing its own part, but there is a point which we must consider, which is the purpose of debate—namely, the need for the people of Northern Ireland to stick together. To some degree the Executive was brought together from outside but the people of Northern Ireland came together themselves until the problems concerning the Executive arose. I give full praise for that. I would not have done it in any other way. As much as I want to do everything I can to assist Northern Ireland, the Province must realise that it is the people of Northern Ireland who must bear the problems.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. The right hon. Gentleman must make his judgments and I am sure that we shall rely on him to make them.
Quite a lot has been said about the famous "Irish dimension". I must say to some hon. Members who sit on this 1261 side of the House and who represent Northern Ireland constituencies that it is no good behaving as though the South did not exist. The fact is that geography has placed both the North and the South on the same island. I never realised until I went to Northern Ireland in a governmental capacity that there was a considerable amount of working together on many practical matters. I am sure that we should all be looking for further examples of that. I am glad to have the support in that of some Northern Ireland hon. Members. That, I think, is a helpful approach.
I can speak about the South with a greater freedom than can Ministers. I have no idea how they feel about the South. I have not asked them and I would not be influenced one way or the other. I say in a friendly way that the Government of the South are still not being as realistic as they should be about security on the border and for the island as a whole. Every time I think of cooperation between North and South—and I concede that it has improved—I think of Belleek. I think of that small outpost of soldiers and policemen which it is not exactly agreeable to visit from a safety point of view. It is dominated by high ground. It is outrageous that gunmen from the South can with some considerable ease—at any rate that was the position—fire on police and soldiers.
How sad it is, too, that the Secretary of State has to refer in paragraph 20 to disagreement on the vital question of extradition. The Northern Irish representatives and the United Kingdom representatives agreed, he records, that it would be right to proceed by way of a stiffened extradition. As it is, we are to make do with something less good. Never mind, it is happening.
I echo what was said about the Strasbourg hearings. What a bizarre situation it is that those proceedings should be going on when we ought to be working together in terms of security and everything else. Hon. Members have talked about the interesting experiment of a Home Guard in the South. Speaking from a strictly security point of view—I emphasise that—I can see the advantages of always having a locally raised, locally trained force employed and commissioned locally.
1262 Politics enters into it, however. Those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies must understand the bitterness felt by large numbers of law-abiding people about the B Specials. I remember, 20 years ago, my first impression of anxiety when I discovered the County Commandant of the B Specials being concerned with the Unionist Committee and attending the same dinner as myself before I went on to a Unionist meeting. The B Specials were turned, in important respects, into a political police force. They had among them most honourable men, who served regardless of politics.
If there is a reaction against the B Specials—and by Heavens there is—then the politicians have a fearful amount to answer for. I have visited in my time in Government nearly every police station in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the present Ministers keep this practice going. I could not feel more strongly than I do about the necessity for building up the morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and for supporting it. I absolutely accept that it must be impartial. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East spoke of recruiting. Let it be remembered that in United Kingdom terms recruiting to the RUC is good. It is not good enough. In particular, and the constabulary is the first to admit this, it is not good enough in the terms of recruiting young Catholics. It is a tragedy, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Belfast, West, that the Executive collapsed before it was possible to introduce effective political Catholic representation.
We must remember the lesson learned from security in Northern Ireland in the past. It is that disaster came upon us when we had dual control of the security forces, when the Army was under the United Kingdom government and the police were under the Stormont Government. That was rectified. I very much hope that we shall remember that security lesson.
I have another thing to say which I can say as a result of innumerable discussions with constables, in twos or threes or in larger groups, sometimes late at night after they came in from patrol. I believe that the average man in the RUC does not want to be put back, as he would say, under a local committee. There is a pride now about being a United 1263 Kingdom force which is important in terms of morale. The RUC has been inquired into a number of times. There have been a considerable number of inquiries into it. There is a limit to the number of times we can take a plant out, look at its roots, dust it and put it back and expect it to go on growing. If this Convention is to have the power to send for evidence and to discuss with and perhaps question the chief constable, then we might be in for a yet further period of uncertainty where the Royal Ulster Constabulary is concerned. I very much hope that that situation can be avoided.
I sum it up in this way: this is a sombre debate. I do not feel optimistic but I am determined not to be pessimistic about the future of Northern Ireland. The Opposition will support, as they have before, constructive efforts to make a move forward in this direction for a people to whom we look and to whom we owe much, a sturdy and splendid people, part of the United Kingdom, part of us and deserving of our support.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
I should like first of all to underline a point made by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) in regard to education, and the ideas he put forward, which Mr. Basil McIvor was developing in the Executive, regarding education for very small children in the nursery school. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked the Minister of State dealing with education to look into this, so it has not been brushed aside; we are interested in it. One thing that struck me about the police force when I met the whole of the Executive of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary—a body of about 28 or 30 men from every part of Northern Ireland—were two points which they made to me on which they were unanimous.
First, they wanted to be an unarmed police force in the future, and secondly, they did not want to return to a position where they were at the behest of a single political party or political movement in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman was referring to United Kingdom standards in that respect, I believe that this has become firmly established among 1264 the RUC in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) says that this is not true. All I can say is that the body I met was truly representative—as were others whom I have met—and that I found that this was a general desire.
There are several points to which I wish to reply, not least some raised by the right hon. Gentleman earlier. I agree this has been an important and sombre debate. It has fluctuated a little, sometimes towards optimism, sometimes towards pessimism. I hope that the UUUC Members will now feel that their views are given full weight—they could not have been given more weight than has been given to them in this Government White Paper—but they must now expect that this implies a responsibility on their part, not only to the people they represent in Northern Ireland but to people in the rest of the United Kingdom.
In my opinion people in the rest of the United Kingdom will watch the debates, the proposals and the arguments that will flow from this Convention, and I believe it is upon those things that Northern Ireland and its politicians will be judged. We were asked particularly by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Ian Gilmour), who opened the debate, about Strasbourg and the Convention that is to be held, and the Irish Government's attitude towards this. Perhaps I can tell the House and the right hon. Gentleman that there are provisions under Article 28 (B) of the Convention for the Commission to place itself at the disposal of the parties with a view to securing a friendly settlement of any matter placed before it on the basis of respect for human rights as defined in the convention.
Her Majesty's Government believe that progress made in Northern Ireland provides a fully adequate basis for a friendly settlement. This has been made clear to the Irish Government, and we very much hope that they will be prepared to make a positive response. Success in negotiations for a friendly settlement must depend upon the attitude of the Irish Government, and I am sure they will take note of what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. I do not want to take that further at this stage, but I hope that the right hon. 1265 Gentleman will weigh these words carefully.
§ Mr. Fitt
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in 1969 and 1970 certain things happened in Belfast and Derry which needed investigation? I accept the British public's support for an inquiry when there is doubt, as there was when 13 people were killed in Derry and the Lord Chief Justice had a judicial inquiry. At that time I made certain allegations, and I have signed affidavits which are involved in the Irish Government's case against the British Government. I believe that what I did was right and, if there is no fear, such a commission should inquire into the charges and discover whether or not they are right.
§ Mr. Orme
I shall not go into the history of this matter. I do not deny what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said, but this is a very delicate matter. I hope he will read carefully what I have said to the House. We look to the future and to the proposals that are coming forward. I say that in no spirit of criticism of my hon. Friend.
Much has been said of the economic situation in Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
Did not the right hon. Gentleman say that he would deal with the guerrilla festival?
§ Mr. Orme
I am coming to that.
On the economic aspect, the White Paper or statement which the Government will produce in the autumn will cover all aspects of the Northern Ireland economy. The Government will put before the House the facts as they exist, not weighted in any way, so that they can be judged by the people of Northern Ireland against the background of the Convention. If it were felt by certain sections in Northern Ireland that UDI would be the answer to the problem, such a decision, if it were approved by the House, would have to be weighed against the economic facts.
Part 5 of the White Paper deals with finance, and paragraphs 38 and 40 cover in some detail the Government's attempts to close the gap between the standards in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Paragraph 38 spells out unemotionally and objectively the extra financial assistance which Northern Ireland, as one of 1266 the economically disadvantaged regions of the United Kingdom, receives from the more economically developed parts of the country. This is not the first time that these figures have been set out so that the people of Ulster should know the facts. I want to draw attention to the broader economic significance of the United Kingdom financial assistance which is important to the ordinary men and women in Northern Ireland. We do not mean by economics, cold statistics contained in a White Paper. We speak about the very livelihood of the people in Northern Ireland.
As Minister responsible for commerce and manpower, I grapple with problems of major consequence to Northern Ireland, such as the Harland and Wolff shipyard and Hughes Bakery in Belfast. If those problems are to be resolved the money will have to come from the rest United Kingdom. Those facts should be clearly known and set out before people in Northern Ireland.
The difference between total expenditure in Northern Ireland and the total contribution towards financing that expenditure coming from Northern Ireland sources—the rates and taxes paid by the people of Northern Ireland—represent a straight addition to the Northern Ireland gross domestic product of perhaps one-quarter. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this. The essential purpose of the Government's regional policy is to redistribute income from the richer to the poorer sections of the country. But it follows that without such an addition Northern Ireland would be poorer, employment opportunities would be fewer, and public and private standards would be lower. The fact that about something like one-quarter of Northern Ireland's GDP consists of a transfer of resources from Great Britain is but one aspect of the complex economic, commercial and financial relations which are such a feature of the British dimension of Northern Ireland affairs.
Currently, Ministers in Northern Ireland are under pressure, day in day out, for more financial expenditure in different parts of the country. We must now argue for this against the economic situation in the rest of the United Kingdom. We must justify this to the Government. Present Ministers are fighting desperately 1267 hard to create a solid economic and financial base in Northern Ireland because we know that that is essential if we are to have real stability.
People in Northern Ireland, not least the elected Members, should realise the problems we must argue about with our own Government colleagues in respect of priorities. Therefore, if people do not take seriously the proposals and suggestions put forward in the White Paper our job will become almost impossible, not just more difficult. These points should be taken into account.
The recent UWC action has created further problems for the Government. One of these is that the agricultural base is very wide compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. Its efficiency and worthwhile productivity, which the Government acknowledge, have been commented on this afternoon. About 9.3 per cent. of workers in Northern Ireland are employed in agriculture. A past Minister of Agriculture is present at this moment. I do not know whether he will ever be a future Minister; we shall have to wait and see.
The agricultural base in the rest of the United Kingdom totals approximately 3.1 per cent. That is a very wide gap. It shows the narrow economic base now existing in Northern Ireland. It is essential that that economic base is broadened. That is why the discussion about Harland and Wolff is vital to Northern Ireland and its future. Some members of the UUUC have been to see me about those problems. We have discussed them. I hope they understand their importance and urgency.
When we discussed these problems the hon. Gentleman raised the question of the trade unions and the shop stewards' movement in Northern Ireland. The trade union movement in Northern Ireland is one of the best in the United Kingdom. Its trade union leadership and many of its shop stewards compare favourably with those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Since the disastrous and divisive UWC action the Government have taken positive steps to consult trade union leaders. I recently chaired a meeting attended by every full-time official in Northern Ireland, which was addressed by my right 1268 hon. Friend. Continual meetings are being held with shop stewards, not least in shipbuilding and other crucial industries. The Government are working with the official union movement, which is such an excellent base. The British labour movement should not neglect this aspect because its assistance would be extremely welcome.
I want to say something about the resettlement scheme for detainees. My right hon. Friend announced today a small number of releases of detainees from the Maze, which he hopes to maintain over coming weeks. Seven people were released today, and this will be an on-going process. The Government want to make it clear to some people outside that it could go on indefinitely, if we got some co-operation, and if violence diminishes. I hope that this message goes clearly to those who often make the greatest noise about detention but who help to maintain it by continuing the violence.
The House will remember that we discussed the possibility of a sponsorship scheme to assist resettlement. Upon examination, we found that that was not a practical proposition and we have not pursued it. We have developed a much broader approach to resettlement after studying various aspects of the problem. Government agencies have been alerted to the part that they can play and the Government have undertaken to give financial assistance to independent work in this area, up to a total of £20,000 in this financial year.
The principal organisation which will undertake this work is the Resettlement Association (Northern Ireland). I want to make it clear that this association represents both communities and is completely independent of the Government. It is a private and independent body, which recognises the particular problems facing men released from detention and is concerned to help. It will appoint field workers, who will assess the position in their various communities.
I hope that hon. Members will not ask me how the association will work, because this is not under the control of the Government. I would ask them to ask the body itself, which is independent. If we pursued this process in any other way, it might be counter-productive. This 1269 body is autonomous, and outside the Government's control.
§ Mr. McNamara
What the Minister has said is very important, but he mentioned £20,000, which works out at about £33 per detainee. Is that sufficient for the work envisaged?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I welcome the start made by my right hon. Friend, but has it been made clear to those who are leaving the Maze that they may not come out if they misbehave themselves?
§ Mr. Orme
One cannot lecture detainees. That is why the sponsorship scheme was dropped. When they leave the Maze—and we know that a number were released today—we know that they will be free. The Resettlement Association will be able to give assistance if it is required. The detainees will have to ask for it, and in that way they will be independent. I know that my hon. Friend appreciates that if there were any form of compulsion, or if the detainees were required to report, it would destroy the whole system. I hope that the House will give the scheme its blessing, so that the Resettlement Association may be able to carry out the work for which it is responsible.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
In regard to the people who have been released, can the Minister say how long they were detained and what was the nature of the suspicion under which they were held?
§ Mr. Orme
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he was not in a position to give that information at present. It is up to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) to raise those matters in other ways, possibly by Questions. When the names of the detainees released today become known it will be observed that they are balanced between the two communities—Catholic and Protestant.
1270 I turn to the subject of the festival, about which questions have been asked. The Government do not go out of their way to welcome these events. There is a limit to the Government's power, but continued publicity only enhances the existence of these bodies and organisations. The official Sinn Fein which organises the event is no longer a proscribed organisation, and as my noble Friend said in the House of Lords on 17th June, it is not proposed to alter the law to prevent an expression of view, provided that there is no breach of existing law. It was made clear that Her Majesty's Government would not extend tolerance of political views to the criminal terrorist, and that Her Majesty's Government would take all steps in their power to ensure that people who had committed terrorist crimes did not enter the United Kingdom for any purpose, and to prevent public disorders arising from meetings, marches and demonstrations. That is the Government's position. We do not want to take a sledge hammer to crack a nut. We hope that these steps will not be necessary, but if they are, the security forces will be in a position to act.
I was asked a number of questions about the Convention. It may be useful to give some information before Monday's debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the Newfoundland Convention. Our proposals were not based on that convention, but there are a number of similarities in the convention introduced by the Attlee Government. I was asked about referenda. The Government have taken power to hold referenda, if necessary. The questions arising from the Convention can be put in the form of referenda, but before this can be done it will require the approval of this House. The Government may also ask their own questions in the form of referenda, irrespective of what comes out of the Convention. Powers in this respect remain under the Bill.
It is of note, historically, that in the Newfoundland situation three questions were asked, two arising from the Convention and one from the British Government. The question from the British Government was the one finally accepted by the electorate in a referendum, not the two questions from the Convention itself. 1271 That was after two years of Convention work.
We have heard arguments and an exchange of views in the debate about the Irish dimension and power sharing. My right hon. Friend has not in any way restricted the Convention in what it may or may not discuss, but it cannot meet in isolation. It must take account of paragraph 45 of the White Paper which basically states that the standards that apply in the rest of the United Kingdom must apply in Northern Ireland. Frankly, I cannot see the House accepting anything that does not measure up to these to note that no one is now against power standards. Arguments have gone on about power sharing, and it is interesting, but everyone has a different interpretation of what it means. It is not a coalition; it is a distinct form of government for Northern Ireland. It is, I hope, a prerequisite to forming normal political intercourse in Northern Ireland, based upon economic and social grounds.
Finally, I come to the question of elections. There has been pressure in the debate, not least from the right hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), and Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West), for early elections. It is strange that when my right hon. Friend and I are in Northern Ireland we are consistently being told otherwise. We have had 1272 it from the UWC, we have had it at the weekend from Mr. Harry Murray—who, I see, is not now very popular with the right hon. Member for Belfast, East—and we have had it from Mr. Glen Barr and many other people. They say that they want time particularly for the Protestant working class to organise and present itself to the electorate in a form more acceptable and more representative of the people. One gentleman, whose credentials are impeccable in the Protestant community told me: "We do not want early elections, Mr. Orme, because we do not want to see the same flag-waving politicians returned to this new Convention." He did not mention any names, and I did not have the temerity to ask him.
My right hon. Friend will decide at the appropriate moment when the elections are to take place. They will 'lot take place in the immediate or near future. I believe that Northern Ireland needs a breathing space and that the White Paper gives it an opportunity. Many people in the House have demanded this opportunity; they have now got it, and it is their responsibility to make it work.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the White Paper on the Northern Ireland Constitution (Command Paper No. 5675).