§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dunn.]
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
This debate has already shown the deep anxiety felt in all parts of the House about the recent developments in Northern Ireland. While there have been new points of criticism, with which I hope to deal, I think it is fair to say that basically there is general agreement between the two main parties—perhaps all three, when we have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party—about the nature of the problems and on what we feel would be the most helpful—some would feel the only lasting—solution to these problems.
The debate so far has followed the line of practically all our debates in the past five years on Northern Ireland when, despite two changes of Government in this country, the official Opposition of the day have lent their full support to the policies of the Government, with the legitimate right of the Opposition to criticise actions or words of Ministers against the background of those policies. That was so when the previous Labour Government were pressing the Governments of Lord O'Neill of the Maine and Lord Moyola for further liberalisation of the processes of government and the ending of community discrimination. It was the position, too, in August 1969, with the Downing Street Declaration, and the decision of the Labour Government to give the GOC Northern Ireland overall responsibility for security operations in Northern Ireland and also to initiate a number of reforms in the security and other fields.
With one or two exceptions—for example, on detention—the Labour Opposition of 1970–74 gave full support to the then Conservative Government, even when there were specific moments when we had serious doubts about the handling of individual issues within the general policies which we supported. Above all, on the major issues in what we all hoped would be a historic move forward from March 1972 onwards, we 1039 gave support in debate and in the Division Lobbies. In this House the Government's policies from March 1972 onwards were carried by overwhelming majorities, and, as the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who was responsible for so many of these policies, will, I think, confirm, there were occasions in contested votes when my hon. Friends and I outnumbered his own supporters in the Division Lobby supporting the then Government's policy.
Since the change of Government three months ago, we have again had unstinted support from the Opposition, as recently exemplified by the ministerial broadcast reply by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). It is right that these things, about the way in which both major parties and, usually practically the whole House have given support to the Government of the day, should be said and understood, above all in Northern Ireland and in the wider world community.
The policy which has evolved over the years, with the full support of this House, has set out the principles and worked out the democratic machinery required to fortify those principles on lines which the vast majority in this House believe is the only road to peace, reconciliation and social and economic progress in Northern Ireland. First, there was the decision to end the old Stormont system, with its built-in inevitability of one-party—indeed, one-community—rule. The decision to suspend Stormont and to institute direct rule was based on the determination by the Government and by this House that we could not any longer, as a House, tolerate a system under which a third of the population was excluded from the government of the Province. The achievement of the then Secretary of State turned what was a necessary but inevitably negative act of government—the imposition of direct rule—into a new and positive pattern, again with the full support of this House.
The essential concept of the new Northern Ireland democracy to which he and we all were working was power sharing—power sharing between elected representatives of the major communities and of the cross-community movements and parties answerable to an elected Assembly. This House co-operated to 1040 the full with the then Government in enacting the constitutional measure which established the Assembly and the Executive. Indeed, it was the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, accepted by the then Government, that enabled earlier action than was contemplated to be taken on the Assembly elections. The voting was completed rather less than a year ago. The vast majority in this House, and I believe the vast majority of that wide section of the Northern Ireland community which forswears the use of force for settling these matters, welcomed the success of the elections and the establishment of the power-sharing Executive.
The tragedy of this past week has been the destruction of the power-sharing Executive, and, no less, the means by which this merciless destruction was achieved. Historians analysing the events of the bitter month of May 1974—indeed, this is the view of many current commentators—will take the view that while the destruction of the Executive was clearly welcomed when it occurred by those who sought to force Ulster into paralysis, the flashpoint was not so much the creation of the Executive as the Sunningdale Agreement, with its provision for the Council of Ireland, and its approval both in this House and, three weeks ago, by a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Voices are already being heard from those who take the view that the previous Government were over-hasty in calling the Sunningdale Conference and devising the Council of Ireland proposals, that the power-sharing Executive, which has been shown to work with great success and a high degree of collective responsibility, should have been allowed a longer period to settle down and show what it could do before the highly controversial Council of Ireland proposal was injected into a still brittle and precarious political situation. These things will be said especially by those commenting with the benefit of hindsight. All the same, I do not agree with those views.
I believe the previous Government were right. The meaningful improvement in North-South relations which they sought was inherent in the whole policy from the Darlington Conference of September 1972 onwards. The White Paper—endorsed by this House by a vote of 329 1041 to 5—which set out the proposals for the Constitution Act, had one ingredient essential to the proposals as a whole—the section that was headed "The Irish Dimension". They were right. Practically the whole House agreed they were right. In my view, both the form and the timing of the Sunningdale Conference and the agreement that was achieved there were right.
What followed quickly on Sunningdale was the General Election of last February. I have not been noticeably critical of the election results this side of the water, though they could have been better, but few can doubt that the timing of the election in the Northern Ireland context was a tragedy for Northern Ireland and for the hopes of peace and reconciliation there. None can doubt that the election results in Northern Ireland, following so quickly on Sunningdale, had a catalytic effect—in my view a perverse catalytic effect—on the situation in the Province. There may be different views both here and outside on the question whether it was the approval of the Sunningdale Agreement in the Assembly that provoked the calculated and generalised industrial action—action which, almost as a by-product, destroyed the Executive—or whether concern in the Protestant community about Sunningdale was used deliberately to secure a wider, a more fundamental objective, the destruction not only of this power-sharing Executive but of the whole concept of power sharing over all the years to come.
It is a fact that some of the more articulate of those who have spoken on behalf of the Ulster Workers' Council—elected persons, elected members of the Assembly, and, indeed, of this House—have been unequivocal in their rejoicing over what they claim as the death of power sharing. None has sought less to disguise that spirit of rejoicing than the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Whether these spokesmen were, in fact, leaders of the actions of the past two or three weeks, or politicians latching on to the activities of others for their own political purposes, including the struggle for the soul of the Ulster Unionist movement as a whole, can be a matter for debate. But none who saw these spokesmen last week on television could doubt their rejoicing or their determination that 1042 the cause of their rejoicing—the end of power sharing—should continue for the indefinite future.
What has never got fully across in Northern Ireland in these critical days—perhaps it could not get across against the background of clamour and vituperation—was the truth about the very fundamental redrafting of the Sunningdale provisions, over the previous few weeks, which related to the Council of Ireland. I must remind the House of the facts. The changes from the Sunningdale Agreement on the Council of Ireland were not, as proclaimed on the streets, the result of political-industrial action. They had been initiated more than a month before that action began. At the beginning of April, when Mr. Faulkner came to London, he told me, as I am sure he told hon. Gentlemen opposite, that he was sending proposals to the Government of the Republic for the establishment of a Council of Ministers of North and South in place of the much more fundamental proposals agreed at Sunningdale. It was provided that there would not be, before the next election for the Assembly, a permanent secretariat and it was provided that there would not be a consultative assembly within that same period. Ministers from the North and South would meet in the ministerial council. Within the restricted field of subjects which the Council of Ministers would deal with, no agreement could be reached except with the unanimous consent of all the Ministers present, and any one Minister in Northern Ireland would have had a veto on any proposed agreement.
Recent discussions further restricted the field of subjects listed at Sunningdale and it was provided in the most recent discussion that there could be no addition to the functions of the Council of Ministers, or to the list of subjects they could discuss, until after a new Assembly had been elected, years from now. These substantial changes from the terms of Sunningdale could not, in the nature of things, be easy to accept so far as elected Catholic representatives were concerned within the Assembly and within the Executive. Indeed, as the House knows, the SDLP parliamentary party at first rejected it. The Executive was literally within seconds of resigning then, had it not been for the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State 1043 when he met the SDLP Assembly members—an initiative for which he deserves high praise. Yet it was this agreement, even though it embodied so many additional safeguards for the Protestant majority as compared with Sunningdale, that was the target and motive for all the hatred and disruption of the past three weeks.
Before dealing with criticism voiced in the debate about my broadcast—and there was some criticism—I should like to deal with one or two other legends which have become prevalent. The main one relates to the decisions to put members of the Armed Services into specific action to help safeguard essential services. When the three leaders of the Executive, at my invitation, met my right hon. Friends and me at Chequers on Friday 24th May they were concerned with two things. The first was the need to reassert the authority of the lawfully-elected Government of Northern Ireland. In this context they were in complete agreement that Her Majesty's Government should deal only with elected representatives and not get into negotiations with the Ulster Workers' Council on political and constitutional matters, and that was reflected in the agreed Press statement issued after the meeting. It is important to reiterate this because there were statements made last week, some days after this, which gave a different impression. The other point which the leaders of the Executive united in stressing was the paramount importance of action by the troops in the distribution of petroleum products.
When the Cabinet met later the same evening—Friday 24th May—a specific decision was taken in relation to the use of troops for distributing from the refineries and storage tanks oil and petrol to a number of selected service stations' and provision was to be made for guarding the installations, the tanker lorries and the stations. It was also decided to take action to provide the Londonderry gas works with essential supplies because Derry was out of gas and for long periods without electricity. These decisions were taken on the Friday evening and the timing left to those who were in immediate control.
Press, television and other statements, therefore, were without foundation when 1044 they said first that the action taken on that Monday morning was forced by the SDLP meeting with the Minister of State on Sunday afternoon, and also when they said categorically in a number of reports that there had been a reversal of a ministerial decision as a result of anxieties expressed by the Armed Forces. These stories are totally untrue.
As the House will know, during that same weekend the Army, in security operations, picked up a number of Protestant extremists. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland signed interim custody orders in respect of these men, and he informed the House about this matter yesterday. It was a matter of priority at that time, on that night, for the security services.
There has been strong criticism outside—and, indeed, during the debate—about my television broadcast on Saturday 25th May. Perhaps first, on the timing, which has been criticised, I should inform the House right away that my decision to make that broadcast was the result of very strong pressure from the Northern Ireland Executive when the members of it came to see me. On the timing, the Executive members would have very much preferred that the broadcast should have been made on the Friday night and not deferred to the Saturday. Friday would not have been possible because of the need for full consideration at the Cabinet meeting at Downing Street that evening.
One sentence of what I did say, which has been criticised, was this:What has been achieved in Northern Ireland these last two years provides hope for its future and we are not going to see that set aside by thugs and bullies, behaving as they did at Ballymena last night.That was the whole of the statement—to the extent that exception was taken—so far as thugs and bullies were concerned. I cannot believe that a single hon. Member of the House could in his heart deny the accuracy of those words and the full justification for them, in the Ballymena context in which they were spoken: the killing of the two brothers who kept a pub open which they had been told to close and the terrorism of their young families. How many of us in the House saw the wrecking of the premises and, in the same programme, the blowing up of a petrol station which 1045 continued to serve its customers against the orders of the UWC? It was my right, and, indeed, it was my duty, to use those words. If any hon. or right hon. Member feels that those words were unfair, unjustified or provocative let him justify his criticism to his constituents.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
I do not ask the Prime Minster to justify or not to justify the words which he has been explaining but can he give us a justification for the use of the word "sponging"?
§ The Prime Minister
I am coming to that in a moment. The hon. Gentleman might have expected that I would. There has been criticism that I said nothing about the forthcoming troop actions in my broadcast. Of course not. That would have alerted hostile-minded people and the Army's task could have been made much more difficult—indeed, dangerous—if I had said at that time what was coming. But I could not have postponed the broadcast, as I have explained, because of the urgent desire of the Executive that it be made that evening.
The other criticism relates to my reference to sponging. I noticed that yesterday the hon. Member for Antrim, North, was wearing a small piece of sponge as a political symbol. Is he here today? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, but keeping outside of the House."] Let him realise—and I speak for the vast majority in this House—that all the sponges in the ocean are not capable of washing away the things for which he has been responsible in Ulster over these past weeks, or the actions and words in which a minister of a Church that is based on the doctrine of reconciliation has deliberately sought to make reconciliation between the two communities impossible.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North rose—
§ The Prime Minister
I am dealing with the hon. Member for Antrim, North.
This reference to sponging occurred in a section when I was appealing to those on this side of the water to continue to show a further degree of patience, despite what all of us know to be the facts, the growing impatience in this country at what we are being asked to tolerate and even subsidies; above all, the deep feelings of wives and parents whose husbands 1046 and sons are being murdered by evil extremists, mainly the IRA, but not exclusively—husbands and sons who have been continually at risk from the extremist minorities at both ends of the political and sectarian spectrum.
But I was referring also—and this, too, is justified—to the impatience of the taxpayers who, over years of extreme economic difficulty—difficulty for Britain and difficulty for millions of families—have been contributing vast sums of money which have been required—and which have been approved by this House—as a result of sectarian violence and disruption. Many who have let me have their views—and I know that other hon. Members get letters about this subject and an hon. Friend brought one to me this afternoon—object to having been required, as the Government have required them, to provide £65 million for damage to property and more than £7 million as compensation for death and injury to the person.
But what I had in mind—and this was clear from what I said—was something more specific: the vast sums of money provided across the water for industrial development, for bringing jobs to the Province and reducing the critical level of unemployment there, which has itself been one cause of the unrest and of the search for violent solutions. It was this provision of money that was called in question by the action that I was condemning.
For example, the previous Government and we have been responsible for the allocation of £70 million to the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the employment is almost 100 per cent. from a single religious community. In order to maintain that employment, in December the previous Government decided, rightly in my view, to provide further support, and we have now confirmed that decision. That was for one reason only: both Governments acted for the sake of employment. Yet at the time I was broadcasting, leading representatives of the employees of that shipyard had played a leading part, for nearly three weeks, in denying to hundreds of thousands of Ulster workers the right to work, although very large numbers of them, in the early days at least, wanted to work.
It is certainly the fact that the prospects of Ulster workers getting jobs in 1047 future—jobs that the House has voted such substantial sums of money to provide—are now very much poorer as a result of that action. The House will have seen the unofficial estimates that have been published of the economic damage when the strike ended. The managing director of the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation has estimated that the stoppage has cost companies £225 million, including £125 million in lost turnover.
Last week he was reported to be concerned that firms in Northern Ireland had lost orders, that their investment would fall away, that new firms that had been thinking of setting up there would pull out, lose interest and go elsewhere. It was estimated last week—and we read newspaper reports of it from Northern Ireland—that, as a result of the strike, the estimated loss of jobs would be about 10.000. I have seen even higher figures.
That has to be set against the hard and dedicated work by the Government in Northern Ireland, by the CBI there and here, and by chambers of commerce and trades unions, in getting new factories and other sources of employment. Last year, the result of that teamwork led to a record number of jobs being provided—9,660 in the year. But at least 10,000 have disappeared as a result of the strike. and it has imperilled the attraction of more factories in future.
It is inconceivable that our people on this side of the water—our constituents—will accept without question, on top of the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been poured into Northern Ireland each year, an estimated further bill of £100 million or £200 million to meet the cost of these deliberate, politically inspired, self-inflicted wounds.
I thought it right to spend a little time dealing with some of these criticisms of my broadcast, but what we are all concerned with today—and the House was particularly concerned with this yesterday—is the situation resulting from the decisive events of last Tuesday, particularly from the removal of the power-sharing Executive. As a Government, we believe that the only hope for the future of Northern Ireland lies in power sharing. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, who himself had responsibility for these matters, expressed 1048 exactly the same view both in his broadcast and in his speech yesterday. My right hon. Friend told the House yesterday of his intention, following this debate, to meet and discuss with the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland and to consider the views of those who had constructive views to offer.
The Constitution Act remains in force. If there can be agreement with representative parties and those who are entitled to speak for the communities, the Government will stand ready to introduce amending legislation to embody the agreed results of those consultations. I know that I speak for the vast majority of hon. Members in this House when I say that, as the bitterness and division caused by recent actions—IRA and other violence and also the industrial action of recent weeks—recede, all of us hope that a new approach can be made—an approach aimed at a valid and effective form of power sharing, based on reconciliation and co-operation, not power reserved for one or other sectional or sectarian group but power shared for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland as a whole.
Whatever we have to face—whatever the House, Her Majesty's Government and the people of Northern Ireland have to face—before this is achieved, there will still be no other way. There is no short cut to a solution. No imposed solution can provide a lasting or acceptable answer, whether there be those who seek to impose a solution by force and violence, intimidation and murder, or whether there be those intoxicated by the thought that industrial power can be used once again to threaten to bring the economic and social system of the Province to a state of paralysis.
I have said, "No imposed solution". I believe that there is an increasing awareness—and these past weeks have certainly concentrated the thought of all of us in this direction—that neither can there be an imposed settlement from this side of the water that has a real chance of the widespread acceptance that is necessary for an enduring solution; nor, of course, from south of the border. Sooner or later, there will be talks between Ulstermen in Ulster. There will have to be talks. There will have to be concessions to ensure the full participa- 1049 tion of all communities and democratic parties in the governance of Northern Ireland.
For one lesson from these troubled weeks is this: the future of Northern Ireland will have to be worked out increasingly by the people of Northern Ireland themselves—all the people, all communities. This has been asserted more and more in recent days by representatives of widely differing political and sectarian views. So be it. if it is an agreement based on reconciliation that they have in mind. In such a case, when Ulstermen talk to Ulstermen of different persuasions, the role of Her Majesty's Government and of this House is to assist in finding a solution, not to impose one generated on this side of the water.
It is the role of Her Majesty's Government, responsible to this House, equally to insist on the inclusion in any settlement of the safeguards that are necessary, if they have not been voluntarily negotiated over there. There must be adequate and effective safeguards to protect the rights of the minority no less than those of the majority as a guaranteed part of any settlement. It is against this background that I ask the House to consider proposals which have been made during this debate about the withdrawal of troops.
The withdrawal of troops, as my right hon. Friend once again made clear yesterday, and as I have made clear on many occasions, provides no positive solution at all for the problems of Northern Ireland, for there can be no positive solution other than a political solution based on consent. Without that a decision simply to withdraw the Armed Forces would be a purely negative act, productive of nothing. The creation of a vacuum can never be more than a negative act. But this vacuum would quickly be filled, and I think many of us fear that it would be filled by men of violence of all extremes, intent on forcing their particular sectional supremacy or intent simply on creating a broken-backed economy and a broken-backed society in the hope or expectation that out of such a society something nearer to their sectional desires would emerge.
There is no solution to be sought in such a proposition. Yesterday some of my hon. Friends and hon. and right hon. Members in other parts of the House 1050 put forward such a proposal very sincerely, with some doubts and some reservations. I heard, and have since studied, the speech of the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling). I do not think he would object to my saying that it was slightly difficult to see exactly what he was proposing on the timetabling, although I did notice he was represented this morning, perhaps unfairly, as saying he was beginning to feel that there was an argument for saying to the people of Northern Ireland that the Government wanted to withdraw British forces and to see the Northern Irish working at their own solution.
That was not quite how I thought he put it, but it is a view held fairly widely in the country. I feel that those who take that view about the withdrawal of British forces or the announcement of the impending departure of the forces and then asking the Northern Irish to work out a solution have got the thing exactly the wrong way round. Since the ending of the threat of industrial paralysis last week the troops have reverted to their security rôle. That is, precisely, the protection of the right of individual citizens of Northern Ireland to live out their lives free of the threat of murder and coercion from wherever it might come.
The House will be glad that they have reverted to that role, for none of us had the right at any time during the past three weeks of strike to assume that the relative lull in terrorist activity would necessarily continue and that vigilance could be relaxed. Anyone who took that view will remember the IRA "scorched earth" plans which I outlined to the House after they had been captured on 13th May, only the day before the industrial action which was begun by the other side. Those plans indicated the extent to which action might have been taken under the guise of protecting Catholic areas threatened or alleged to be threatened by para-military terrorists on the Protestant side.
Successive Governments, hon. Members in all parts of the House, and the whole country, have over the past five years paid tribute to the rôle of the forces in Northern Ireland. These have never been merely formal tributes. All of us recognise the heroism and dedication of Service men and women separated from their families, working excessively long hours 1051 and in conditions none of us can be proud of, for the single purpose of preventing men of violence from one extreme of the other murdering innocent men, women and children.
Many of us have said over these years that no military force in the world has ever had to discharge the kind of task that this House has laid upon those armed forces—the task of protecting a civilian community, life and limb, homes and workplaces, against urban guerrillas, bombers, and sneak sharpshooters. This task has been performed in a situation where the forces of law and order have at least one hand tied behind their backs, tied because both sides have not scrupled, when they have taken to the streets, to involve ideologically intoxicated citizens, including even very young children, to inhibit the work of the forces.
I do not believe that those who in this debate have advocated the withdrawal of the armed services from their security role have in mind a simple evacuation which would condemn the streets and homes of Belfast and Derry, and some of the smaller towns that in recent weeks have suffered so heavily from terrorism and fire bombs in the market places, to a total breakdown of law and order.
Some hon. Members have suggested the naming of a future date for the withdrawal of the troops and historical, colonial and other analogies have been quoted, most of them, in my view, in no sense comparable with what we are facing in Northern Ireland. The view of Her Majesty's Government is that as long as Westminster has the constitutional responsibility for the lives and the security of our fellow United Kingdom citizens, as long as the troops have a role to fulfil in protecting those lives and that security, there can be no abdication by the House of that responsibility.
On the issue of withdrawal, therefore, I conclude that there is no easy solution through the withdrawal of troops unless the House is prepared to risk a holocaust.
What we owe to our Service men whom we are asking to discharge these unprecedently difficult and dangerous tasks is this. I speak here for us all, I think. There is a debt owed by every hon. Member and all we represent. All of us, not least those elected to represent Northern Ireland 1052 constituencies here and in the Assembly, have the duty to create the political conditions in which the armed services are no longer required. That is the way round; that is the order of things. I do not exclude in this a continuing garrison role for the armed services, in happier circumstances, but not the role that this House has asked them to undertake today.
I hope that hon. Members will concede that in my television broadcast I was right to recognise the deep and growing impatience of our people about the way in which a failure to reach agreement among the politicians of Northern Ireland is placing intolerable burdens and dangers on the forces of the Crown.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what thought has been given to allowing Northern Irish regiments serving in the British Army to serve in Northern Ireland? I have talked to one of the serving officers of one such regiment and I know that it would welcome the opportunity.
§ The Prime Minister
This is a matter which has obviously been considered by successive Governments who have decided not to follow such a line. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will realise there are arguments on both sides of the fence and will understand why the decision has been taken by successive Governments.
In my broadcast I appealed also for the patience of the relatives of the men and women in the forces, for the patience of the long-suffering taxpayer and for patience on this side of the water to be extended for a period long enough to secure the political solution so much required. If this further sufferance is forthcoming there must be a response from the people in Northern Ireland who rely on the willingness of members of the Armed Forces of the Crown to continue to fulfil their task and who rely equally on the continued tolerance of the taxpayer in meeting the real needs of Northern Ireland in terms of social security, housing and jobs.
Taxpayers whose families are hard enough hit by economic circumstances will be more and more insistent that the money they provide for Northern Ireland 1053 is productive for peace in Northern Ireland and productive for social welfare. There is one thing our people will not accept and that is power without responsibility. That is why our responsibility must be matched by a sense of responsibility among all the communities and parties of Northern Ireland—responsibility, above all, for providing a Northern Ireland solution acceptable to all the communities in Northern Ireland and acceptable to their fellow citizens in the United Kingdom; a solution which must be on the basis of accepting mutual responsibilities and a mutual sense of interdependence within Northern Ireland.
This is a matter which in the first instance we in this country have the right to ask the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to agree among themselves and to recommend to us. What I do not believe they have the right to ask of their fellow citizens in the United Kingdom is an indefinite, unlimited continuation of responsibility on the Government, the people and the legislature of this country for security without power to ensure that political conditions are conducive to better security; or a responsibility for providing money from the United Kingdom taxpayer when the purposes for which that money is provided are being frustrated by faction and violence.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not wish to misrepresent the view which I and some of my and some of his colleagues put to the House yesterday. There is no misunderstanding or difference between us. We all agree that decisions on the basic interests of the people of Northern Ireland must be arrived at by direct consultation with the political leaders and parties in Northern Ireland. I think that we all agree that there can be no withdrawal of troops without different provisions being made for a new constitution.
What we put forward—I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would express his observations on it—were two things: that there should be a round table conference of all these people and that the items on the agenda should be, first, to set a date for complete British disengagement from Northern Ireland and, secondly, to set out the constitution 1054 which would be applied to a new independent State of Northern Ireland.
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think that I misrepresented my hon. Friend. Indeed, I said that many who had spoken—I had my hon. Friend in mind; I heard him speak earlier in the day, so I knew what he was advocating— were not being definitive and hard-line about the question of withdrawal of the troops. It is a matter for judgment, but I believe very strongly that this House must decide that the troops should remain there as long as they have responsibility and a role to fulfil there. There may be circumstances in which that no longer is necessary. I do not think that anything my hon. Friend has just said, apart from his idea about a round table conference—this is a matter of techniques and my right hon. Friend will talk to elected leaders in Northern Ireland this week—deviates in any way from the doctrine which I tried to enunciate, namely, that we must get the political solution agreed before the question of the role of the troops can be considered.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
The Prime Minister has spoken about the taxpayer. Has he decided, or is he about to decide, to make cuts in payments to Northern Ireland?
§ The Prime Minister
No, Sir. I said that, despite the provocations of the last three weeks, the Government have reconfirmed the payment to Harland and Wolff authorised by the Conservative Party when it was in government. It was very difficult to defend when the people of Harland and Wolff were taking the lead in stopping other people working. We have nevertheless done it. We feel it right for my constituents and the constituents of the vast majority of hon. Members to be asked to pick up the bill, or tab, for the wantonly self-inflicted wounds in Ulster in the last three weeks.
I think that this debate so far has been accepted by all of us as a challenge. We have been challenged. What we are debating is the form of response. But equally, these events are a challenge to the people of Northern Ireland, and particularly to those who are now flexing their muscles because they have suddenly become confident through the assertion of a power which many doubted they possessed. In a real sense there is a challenge, too, for them to meet. Those who 1055 now glory in their assumed power, purchased at such a heavy price for Northern Ireland, have the greatest responsibility of all to give assurance to those who fear the use to which that power may be put.
But the challenge today is a challenge to all the communities in Northern Ireland, not to assert power, but to share power. It is for their elected representatives now to join with the Secretary of State in considering how power in Northern Ireland may be fairly shared. It is for those representatives to decide whether power in Northern Ireland is to be exercised with responsibility within the United Kingdom and within the laws laid down by this Parliament, or whether they, the people of Ulster, meeting as the people of Ulster, seek a different solution without the obligations, the protection or the benefits of membership of the United Kingdom.
That decision having been taken, I hope in a sense of responsibility and trusteeship, it will then be for us to support any decision which will bring a sharing of that power and that responsibility, with all their fellow citizens, and with adequate safeguards and guarantees to ensure that power will continue to be shared.
It is for this House, in this debate, to make clear to all those who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of seeking an Ulster solution which we can endorse, to express our willingness to assist in any way we can in furthering that solution, while at the same time asserting our duty to insist that we shall relinquish no power which would mean diminishing for a single citizen of the United Kingdom the rights which this Parliament exists to protect.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
The outside comment made on this debate has been that it has been a confused debate from which no new clear policy has emerged. Few of us in the House who have listened to part or all of the debate would deny that. In part, it is perhaps because Her Majesty's Government have produced no specific proposals and no policy statement. I personally do not complain about that because they have enunciated certain principles which are important, and along which path progress must be made. In part, it is because some 1056 commentators have leapt to rather hasty conclusions on the basis of a false analysis about recent events and this has led them to make a demand which is often expressed in the words, "We must have a fresh start".
Those who have had experience of dealing with affairs in Ulster as well as affairs of a general political nature will remain convinced that there is no such thing as a fresh start in the literal sense of the word and that those asking for it are deluding themselves and those to whom they speak and write. We must move on from where we are with all the history of Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole behind us. Unless we recognise that, and unless we recognise the events of the past five years, and particularly of the past three weeks, we shall be deluding ourselves as well and we shall not reach a sound conclusion.
Those comments do not mean that I believe it was wrong to recall the House. Indeed, it is absolutely right that we should debate the present situation in Northern Ireland, grave as it is, in order, first, to examine the mistakes as well as the successes of the past, particularly of the last few weeks, and. secondly, to deal with the issue of the immediate future.
Perhaps here, as the Prime Minister has dealt with the matter, I should say a word about the question of a bipartisan policy which again has recently been under particular scrutiny. Let us look at the basic objectives of policy in Northern Ireland under Governments of both parties in the past five years and certainly since 1972.
As I see them, those objectives have been to restore order and tranquility in Northern Ireland through the use of the security forces and to establish a system of government in Northern Ireland acceptable to both communities there and to the rest of the United Kingdom—a form of government which will be acceptable until the political parties in Northern Ireland cease to work on a sectarian basis and until the border ceases to be a day-to-day issue and is instead considered only at certain intervals of time, such as the 10 years for which provision is now made, and is thereby taken out of day-to-day politics by being covered by the referendum.
1057 Those seem to me to be the two objectives of policy agreed by Governments of both parties. They are interconnected because the question of dealing with the problems of security by the security forces is intimately bound up with the political situation of the time, and this rests on the political institutions which are created in Northern Ireland.
It fell to the previous Government to make most of the major changes, as I think the Prime Minister will agree. The political initiative was taken in 1972 in order to support the work of the security forces. It meant the suspension of Stor-mont—which was the most difficult decision which the previous Government ever had to make—followed by direct rule, the appointment of the Secretary of State, the Darlington Conference, the White Paper, the referendum on the border, the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, which dealt with the special powers, the new powers for courts and the procedures for detention, followed by the elections for the Assembly, the establishment of the Executive, the Sunningdalc Conference and the Sunningdale Agreement. The Prime Minister is right in saying that there was broad agreement in the House on those issues.
In view of the request which has, naturally, been made by some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen for further discussion, or a round table conference, I emphasise that these matters were thoroughly thrashed out with the representatives of Northern Ireland and with people from every walk of life and every occupation in Northern Ireland. Here I must differ from the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West)—the present Leader of the United Ulster Party—when he said in his speech yesterday that on so many of these issues Northern Ireland was never consulted.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) spent endless hours, endless days and endless months in patient discussion with every representative and every sector of opinion in Northern Ireland before the Government reached the position of publishing the White Paper, and he continued those discussions thereafter. In my visits to Northern Ireland I endeavoured to play my part by having talks with representatives from all walks of life. I was only sorry that some of the Ulster Members 1058 who are here today refused to have discussions with me during those visits.
There was also broad agreement between both sides of the House on the use of the security forces. Here again, the present leader of the Unionist Party and his colleagues have an important role to play in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone made allegations yesterday of political interference preventing the security forces from carrying out their rightful task. He mentioned a particular article written by a former officer. We all know about that article written by one officer.
In the previous Government it was natural that I should preside over many meetings dealing with security aspects in Northern Ireland on which we were, naturally, advised by the Government's military advisers. Throughout the lifetime of that Government we had only one purpose—to eliminate terrorism in Northern Ireland from whichever source it came. We had only one criterion in reaching decisions: would the action proposed help or hinder that purpose of eliminating terrorists'? In particular, would the action proposed secure or alienate the support of the civilian population for the security forces? That was the only criterion we used. Would the proposed action be effective because it would gain the support of the civilian population of any community, or would it alienate that support? I emphasise that that was the only criterion we ever used.
Timing was absolutely vital, as the success of Operation Motorman showed. We could at any time have overruled those in command of the forces and said, "You will go into Bogside and Creggan and clean it up". But we knew that the casualties would have been enormous. Because of effective timing and the massive forces used at that time, the whole operation was successfully carried through with only two people being injured, and that slightly. That was a tribute not only to the work of the security forces but also to the fact that the right timing was chosen for carrying out the operation, despite all the criticism of the present leader of the Unionist Party and his colleagues.
I have heard many petty criticisms of the forces. I have also heard them of politicians. In my experience there has 1059 never been one constructive suggestion for the use of security forces in Northern Ireland which has not been explored to the utmost. Many suggestions have been tried even when we had doubts about their success and many of those we tried failed, but, nevertheless, it was right to try them. The forces are constantly developing new techniques. On my visits to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister I was immensely impressed by the growing skill and sophistication of Her Majesty's Forces in carrying out their duties, especially in relation to the civilian population.
What we have to recognise—and I hope that the leader of the Unionist Party and his colleagues will recognise and explain it—is that in Northern Ireland we are facing the most ruthless group of urban guerrillas which the Western world has yet seen. That is what confronts Her Majesty's Forces. We can give the forces a better opportunity to deal with them if we do not indulge in petty criticism and do not accuse politicians of being weak, vacillating or unable to support the forces. We must produce constructive suggestions and support both the Government of the day and the security forces in carrying them through.
As the Prime Minister said, the broad support for the political policies and the policies of the security forces did not exempt the previous Government from examination of the handling of these affairs—quite rightly. The present Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, led an unofficial division against us on 23rd September 1971. The Government, who were then the official Opposition, divided against us in the Northern Ireland debate on 20th March 1972. They had every right to do that. They were criticising, in particular, the handling of affairs by the then Government. The present Foreign Secretary, who wound up the debate and announced that the Opposition would divide the House, said that the Governmenthave missed the tide on more than one occasion over this. They have missed it not because of the inherent difficulties of the situation but because they have failed to grasp the situation quickly enough."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March 1972; Vol. 833, c. 1138.]That was the criticism of the Govern-made by the Opposition at that time. Those are words which perhaps the 1060 present administration might like to bear in mind.
A bipartison policy, therefore, does not—nor should it—exempt the present Government from constructive criticism when it is deserved. That is especially so when the handling of events and people is all-important. It is important in politics—no one will question that—and in Northern Ireland, with all the sensitivity that exists between the communities, the handling of events and people is exceptionally important for Ministers.
The present situation which we are debating has been brought about by the break-up of the Executive as a direct result of the strike of the Ulster Workers' Council. Because of that, some people argue that the principle of power sharing and the purposes of the Sunningdale Agreement are both dead ducks—completely dead. Such a judgment, I believe, is at least premature, especially when there is no agreement about any alternative to put in their place. What has emerged from the debate is the wide divergence of view about any possible alternatives which any Government could consider.
The strike which brought this about was a use of industrial power—in this case a particularly ruthless use—for political purposes, and it succeeded. There is no point in trying to avoid that issue. It not only brought down the Executive, it was also, in plain language, a defeat for the Government at Westminster. There is no point in trying to avoid that, either.
My differences with the Prime Minister over these matters are well known, and I do not wish to deal with them today. I have always said that I believe that respect for the authority of Parliament and Government must be indivisible, and I have always known that the present administration would be tested in one way or another on this matter. The challenge came sooner than I think any of us expected. The Government were challenged, and they lost.
§ Mr. Heath
Parliament was challenged as well—I do not disagree in the least. I only wish that the hon. Gentleman had been prepared to say that six months ago.
1061 The Government's position has been weakened in these matters by the attitude they took in Opposition. It is somewhat naive for the Prime Minister to say that because the means used in Northern Ireland are different from the means used on this side of the Irish Sea, the principle involved is different. That is not so. The principle involved is the same.
I should like to come to the events of the last three weeks. It has been argued that power sharing and the Sunningdale Agreement have failed and therefore must be written off. I do not believe that that argument can be sustained. If we look at the events of the last few weeks, it seems to me that there was a failure by the Government—I said this at the time—to deal at once with the barricades and also to maintain essential services. These matters are critical, and we discovered this when we were in government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border knows that full well, and he acted on that basis.
Then there was the well-intentioned, but also unfortunate, intervention of Mr. Len Murray—[HON. MEMBERS: Oh.] Yes, that resulted in an evident failure and therefore gave encouragement to those who were trying to muster forces behind the strike. [Interruption.] It was well-intentioned, but it lead to the strengthening of those who supported the strike. The continued delay of the Government in taking action allowed the strike to appear to be a success, and then the big slide began. Everybody to whom I have spoken—both before the House rose at Whitsun and since I returned yesterday—has confirmed this view. It was at the point when the strike appeared to be a success and when the Government did nothing about it that support was mustered—and there is no doubt about the breadth of that support.
The Government then decided to intervene to deal with petrol stations and oil storage, but the Government then found that they were unable to deal with the consequences of their intervention. This was a weak point in the Government's action before the end of the strike. They could not carry through their intervention to the point of success. The result was that the strike succeeded, the Executive fell and the Government at Westminster 1062 were defeated. Finally, there was the Prime Minister's broadcast which, as he knows, was widely criticised. Whatever his intentions may have been, as he explained them today, there is no denying that in Northern Ireland the consequences of that broadcast were very damaging indeed.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
May I take up the question of barricades which were mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition? I looked into what was done about barricades during the Conservative administration, and I discovered that they took three months, quite properly, to undertake a policy of putting in another 12,000 men to deal with Operation Motorman. During those three months the barricades remained up in the Catholic areas. In dealing with the barricades the right hon. Gentleman said that under the Labour Government there was a delay of 24 hours. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman, on advice, that one needed 2,000 soldiers to clear the five main roads in Belfast. Those men had to be available; the operation could not have taken place without them because one had to maintain security in other areas. I took my advice on the firm basis that it took three months for the right hon. Gentleman to get extra troops into the area to deal with the barricades—barricades which had remained there for the whole of that time.
§ Mr. Heath
With great respect to the Secretary of State, the two situations are not comparable. The Bogside and Creggan areas had had barricades for a very long time indeed. They had never been cleared. To remove what must be regarded almost as permanent barricades, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we had to use tank equipment, but that operation was in no way comparable to the operations carried out at the beginning of the strike. I appreciate the amount of manpower required to deal with the barricades, but in my judgment there was delay in dealing with the situation, the result of which we all know.
In my view these events do not prove that power sharing has failed. I cannot conceive of any form of government in Northern Ireland which could have withstood that situation on its own, unless one dominated by those who organised the strike and carried it through. If the 1063 Stormont Government had tried to carry through an independent policy against a strike of this kind, or if we were to imagine a situation in which there were integration with the United Kingdom and a strike of this nature were organised, then in regard to any of the alternatives now put forward I do not see how any Government institution in Northern Ireland could have withstood that situation unless they had the full and effective support of the Government at Westminster, a Government prepared, able and willing to see the whole thing through. This is why I say that such an argument is not an effective criticism of power sharing or of the Sunningdale Agreement.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
The Leader of the Opposition said that when he was Prime Minister he tried a number of things, which were unsuccessful. Does he not agree that if the leader of the British TUC had not attempted to make a contribution then the criticism might have been made that the TUC had done nothing to ease the situation? The fact that Mr. Murray failed is a sorrowful fact, but surely he ought to be commended for trying.
§ Mr. Heath
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a sorrowful fact that that visit failed, but those who have to deal with labour relations in both countries should have recognised the sensitive nature of the situation and have had doubts whether such a visit would be helpful. I join the hon. Gentleman in regretting very much that that visit was not successful. If it had been a success, then the whole outcome of the strike would have been different because the working force would have been able to work.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Before we leave the question of success or failure, can the Leader of the Opposition name any one of his predecessors as Prime Minister, or indeed any British monarch, who has had any success in Ireland?
§ Mr. Heath
There might be different views about the nature of the success, and it is a matter I do not wish to argue this afternoon.
I have been seeking to make the point that those events cannot be laid at the door of power sharing. I agree with the 1064 Prime Minister that the Executive since its formation has worked well. I saw it at work when it was an Executive-elect before it was actually formed at the Sunningdale conference. I was most impressed by it and I know that the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic was impressed by it and by the relationships which were established between the different parties and communities. I join the tribute paid yesterday by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to Brian Faulkner. Mr. Napier, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and their colleagues. Everybody learned an enormous amount from their colleagues and indeed the parties learned much from each other. This will stand them in good stead in the future.
I should like to pose the next question: was support for the strike a protest against power sharing and the Sunningdale Agreement? This is an important point in the judgment which the Secretary of State will have to make about his future handling of relationships between politicians and others in Northern Ireland. I believe that the strike was a protest and that it received more support as it went on. I believe that it was a protest less against power sharing than it was against Sunningdale. It was a protest less against Sunningdale than it was against the appalling conditions which have existed for so long in Northern Ireland. The people there have suffered terribly—far more than can be understood in Britain, however much people may watch these events on their television screens. Both communities have suffered. Catholics and Protestants have suffered from the activities of the IRA, Protestants have suffered from changes in institutions which had become familiar to them, deeply embedded in their political life. For five long years they have endured an almost intolerable condition of life in the Province of Northern Ireland.
I believe that that lies at the root of the protest. It has combined with the changes which have been brought about, for many of which my administration were responsible, and it has combined with very deep-rooted and genuine fears, however mistaken we may think them, amongst many of the Protestant population. So it was a protest, and in the end it became a massive protest.
1065 Having demonstrated that protest, whatever the balance of the make up may be—and there are differences of judgment about that—and the Government of the Republic and the SDLP as well as the Protestants having looked into the abyss, what will the people of Northern Ireland be thinking about it? This point is crucial to the talks which the Secretary of State will be having. After these past three weeks, will they conclude that they want their country run in the way that they saw during that time? That is the crucial issue for them. I cannot believe that they will come to the conclusion that they do.
The protest was there. I said that it was a massive one. The people joined it. But, now that it is over and they have seen the consequences, I cannot believe that they will conclude that that is what they want for the Province.
I put this point to the Secretary of State. Yesterday, both he and the Attorney-General described this as "Ulster nationalism". Many right hon. and hon. Members are puzzled to know what the Secretary of State meant by "Ulster nationalism". It is important that this should be clarified. Surely it would be Ulster nationalism only if there were a genuine desire by both communities or by a majority of the majority community to go it alone for independence. That would be Ulster nationalism. But again as far as I am aware, there is no clear evidence that this is the case.
I do not see clear evidence that this was a movement for Ulster nationalism as we understand "nationalism" in any common, modern form. It was action which always used to be termed "the Protestant backlash". It was called that in Northern Ireland and in this House, and that is what I believe it to be. It was a Protestant backlash, and the term "Ulster nationalism" is a misnomer, and a dangerous one.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Does not the Leader of the Opposition agree that there is now no disposition on the part of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland to accept the authority of this Parliament? That being the case, what is the alternative? How is it to be described?
§ Mr. Heath
That is where we differ. I am saying that the conclusion cannot inevitably be drawn from the events of the past three weeks that the majority of the population of Northern Ireland is not prepared to accept membership of the United Kingdom and the will of this Parliament. I cannot reach that conclusion from the events of the past three weeks.
There are many people in this House and outside it—some of them in Dublin—who have said that the Protestant—
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
The Leader of the Opposition has just made what I regard as a very important point. The leader of the Ulster Members in this House said yesterday that if the price of staying in the United Kingdom meant a policy leading to absorption into a united Ireland, it must be rejected, and he added that in that event he would not accept the policies of this House.
§ Mr. Heath
The policy of this House is not one involving a united Ireland. The policy of this House, as expressed in legislation and in pledges given by both major parties, is that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide, and the proper machinery for the purpose has been laid down.
I do not accept that the conclusion to be drawn from the events of the past three weeks is that the people of Northern Ireland do not wish to stay in the United Kingdom and are not prepared to co-operate with this House or with the Westminster Government.
I return to my point about the Protestant backlash. There were many people in this House, outside it, and in Dublin who said that this was a myth and that it would never happen. Well, it has happened, and many of us always had the fear that it would come about. I have indicated that in my judgment it has not been handled very well and that now it has to be taken into account. But my own administration had to handle difficult situations like this. One of the most difficult was the confrontation at Ainsworth Avenue, which caused my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border a great deal of anxiety. But it was dealt with, and it was a confrontation with Protestants. When there was the first indication of a backlash, it was 1067 handled speedily and firmly and dealt with successfully.
If the majority of people in Northern Ireland wanted to support the movement which ran the strike, the Secretary of State would be entitled to call it "Ulster nationalism". But then they must realise or have pointed out to them what the consequences would be. This is very important. If they were to wish that state of affairs or something like it to continue it would be a major threat to the Union. It would be something with which this Parliament could not agree. Nor could the people of the United Kingdom agree with it. So if the people of Northern Ireland wished this to happen, they themselves would have broken the Union and broken with the United Kingdom, and this consequence must be pointed out to them.
I emphasise my view again that this is not what the people of Northern Ireland want, and I believe that when they have had time for reflection they will make this clear to the Secretary of State and others.
Now Her Majesty's Government have to handle the situation post-strike and the collapse of the Executive, and, like the Prime Minister, I want to comment on the alternative proposals which have been put forward. I do so not because I believe that there ought not to be a reappraisal or even a renegotiation—to use a contemporary expression. Anyone who has had to handle Northern Ireland affairs has had to look at each of the alternatives constantly and to examine them all in the light of the circumstances to see whether there was any other course which could be better for Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
There is the question of integration. The arguments against it are very convincing. I said in Dublin that if the Executive were not to be formed, or were to fail, the pressure for integration would grow. In some quarters it is happening, and it could be foreseen. One hon. Member from Ulster constantly presses for this, though without a great deal of support. But I believe, first, that the majority of people do not want complete integration.
Second, integration would be offensive to the minority community in Northern Ireland. They do not wish to have it.
1068 Third, integration would lead to an increase in IRA activity and not a diminution. Therefore, it is against our broad policies.
Fourth, integration would be contrary to all the present tendencies in the United Kingdom where current discussion is about how to devolve from Westminster and to give people better control over their own local affairs.
Fifth, I believe that integration would make the support of the Government of the Republic much more difficult if not impossible to obtain. The position of any Government in the Republic would become almost intolerable if there were complete integration into the United Kingdom.
Sixth, I think that complete integration would lead to a handling of Northern Ireland affairs which would be unsatisfactory to the people of Northern Ireland. I cannot accept that an increase in the number of Members of Parliament—up to 18 or perhaps 20—would give them sufficient representation here to be satisfactory to them in the handling of their own affairs. On the other hand—one must say this—it would bring the whole of Northern Ireland politics on to the Floor of this Chamber. We all recognise the load on this House at the moment, and, of course, there might be other implications regarding the effective handling of business in the House. For all these reasons, I believe that there are powerful arguments against pursuing a policy of complete integration.
The possibility of the reconstruction of the Stormont system is then brought forward. That would not be tolerable to the minority. Nor would it be tolerable or acceptable to United Kingdom opinion—certainly not until a system of politics has developed in Northern Ireland which is no longer sectarian and which crosses broadly sectarian borders.
I have never excluded the development of the Assembly system into more of a Parliamentary system if that stage were reached. I have told the House before that I had always hoped that, as a result of the ten-year referendum on the border, the border would be taken out of daily politics and that the Assembly could deal with the daily bread-and-butter politics, and that, if the parties then changed their make-up, I certainly did not preclude the eventual development of a more 1069 parliamentary kind of system than the Assembly.
The proposition of complete independence for Northern Ireland has been brought forward. That would be for the people of Northern Ireland to decide for themselves. Again, I doubt whether this is what they wish. I have seen no clear evidence that they want it. Before they had independence they would need a constitution. Either it would be one which was imposed, which would be unacceptable to them, or it would be one which they had agreed between themselves, in which case there is no reason why they should not do it now. Therefore, I do not think that independence is what they want or are likely to bring about.
If it were to be independence, it would presumably have to be a Protestant State. That would then lead to the infinitely difficult problems of change of boundaries and the movement of population which would have to follow, and, as a result, there would be the removal of British forces.
Political independence would be followed by economic independence, which would be at considerable cost to the people of Northern Ireland. I am not saying that that aspect need be a deciding one for them, because we all know of countries that have decided to go for their own independence at considerable economic cost. That is a matter for them to decide, but it must be made clear to them that the economic cost would be considerable.
One question affects the rest of the United Kingdom. I have no doubt that were the people of Northern Ireland to seek independence on some constitution agreed by themselves, or possibly as a Protestant State, it would have a considerable and damaging impact on the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that the people of Northern Ireland would want to bring that about.
I come now to the proposal that has been eloquently argued, that there should be the removal of British forces. It is said that we should not now avoid looking seriously at this matter. I am prepared to look very seriously at it. But, having done so over a long period, I have come to some firm conclusions. When we talk about the removal or the diminution of British forces in Northern Ireland, 1070 in my view this is not in order to cut links with Northern Ireland. It is really not tolerable to us to have part of the United Kingdom in which law and order can be maintained on a permanent basis only by having 15,000, 16,000 or 18,000 troops there. That seems to be the important aspect of the whole debate. We want a system of law and order properly policed which will enable us to reduce our forces in Northern Ireland to what they have been during previous interludes of tranquility. I am sure that that is the crux of the matter.
We are told that the people of Northern Ireland would then come together or fight it out. I will not disguise my fear that they would fight it out. It would be a civil war. In my judgment, it would extend to all Ireland very quickly indeed. I do not see how the Government of the Republic could avoid being involved in a civil war in Northern Ireland. Let us also remember that some British cities would not be exempt from the implications of a civil war in Northern Ireland. It would mean the abandonment of our pledges and obligations. We cannot remove our forces from Northern Ireland, except by expelling Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, because we have obligations there while it is part of the United Kingdom just as much as we have anywhere else in the United Kingdom. I believe that to take a measure which would mean the expulsion of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom would not be acceptable to the people in the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Heath
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that if the Government were to put to the British people, "We will now expel Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom in order to bring our forces back to this country", they would get majority support, he is greatly mistaken.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not obeying Mr. Speaker's injunction to be brief, but I want to come now to what I believe should be the action to be taken by the Government.
First, I believe it is important that they must demonstrate a firmness of action 1071 and fairness to both communities which is self evident. They must know, as a Government and a party, that they are bound to be somewhat suspect to the majority community in Northern Ireland in the same way as we, as a party and administration, because of past history, were bound to be somewhat suspect to the minority community in Northern Ireland. I am glad that, as a result of our work, our relations with the SDLP are extremely good. I hope that the Secretary of State will manage to establish equally good relations with all parties in Northern Ireland.
The second point is that we now have a direct rule situation. I suggest that it is urgent that the Prime Minister should have a full team of Ministers of the highest caliber to deal with Northern Ireland affairs. I am afraid that the Secretary of State must now expect to spend most of his time in Northern Ireland. From past experience, I do not see how it is possible to handle this situation without a full team of Ministers.
The administration of Northern Ireland means that a continuing series of decisions have to be taken and a very heavy load has to be undertaken. Decisions were deliberately left to be taken by the Executive when they took office on 1st January. Some of those decisions have not yet been taken. There is a great deal to do in addition to all the political talks and activities of the Secretary of State in Northern Ireland.
Therefore, the second point that I put to the Prime Minister is that it is urgent to increase the team in Northern Ireland to carry this whole load so that the Province can see that its affairs are being properly administered on the spot and that Ministers are quickly and easily available to everybody who wants to talk to them.
The third point is that the talks that the Secretary of State is to have must be pursued energetically and on as wide a base as possible, as previously happened when we were leading up to the White Paper. They should start from the basis of power sharing. I have no doubt about that, because the alternatives are not feasible or acceptable. If those in Northern Ireland can reach agreement amongst themselves, well and good.
1072 I am puzzled by the attitude which has been displayed on some occasions by Ulster Members that they have not been allowed to get on with it. There was no greater desire by the last administration—certainly by my right hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border and Cambridgeshire, who were Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, and myself as Prime Minister—than that they should get on with it. We constantly invited them to get on and to sort it out amongst themselves.
There is no desire in England to interfere or to try to impose any agreement. We know full well that the last Executive would not have come about were it not for the activities of the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. But it may be that, after the experience of forming the last Executive, those concerned in Northern Ireland will be able amongst themselves to put forward proposals and to form another Executive. If so, well and good. As Leader of the Opposition, I again invite them to get on with it and to do it. Nothing would give this House greater pleasure than to see them coming to their own agreement and doing so as speedily as possible.
§ Mr. Harry West (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I should like to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he would support us in our call for an early General Election so as to elect Members who have the confidence of the electorate to attend a constitutional conference. At the election in June last year the issues were clouded and not at all clear. Many of those elected conned the electorate. The problem in Northern Ireland is that many of the elected representatives to the Assembly do not have the confidence of the electorate at this time.
§ Mr. Heath
I am about to deal with the question of elections.
I suggest to the Secretary of State that he should not exclude—I understand that the Prime Minister confirmed that he would not exclude—developments of power sharing. If there is agreement in Northern Ireland that there should be changes in the Constitution Act which will lead to more effective institutions, well and good. Again, if they can reach agreement on this, so much the better.
Fourthly, the discussions should also include Sunningdale. I must say again that Sunningdale was not forced on 1073 Northern Ireland. Those who were at that conference—the members of the Executive, Mr. Cosgrave and his colleagues, and my colleagues—will agree that nothing was forced on Northern Ireland.
I did not keep them up all night to try to force agreement. I would have much preferred to go to bed. In any case, I had the Italian Prime Minister waiting to carry on discussions with me. What happened was that I said on the Sunday morning at breakfast, "Let us have a break and resume next week." Those from Northern Ireland said, "No. Let us carry on all Sunday." I said, "Very well." We continued on the Sunday. They finally reached agreement between themselves on the Sunday evening. Sunningdale was a balanced agreement on which the Government of the Republic and the SDLP both made very considerable sacrifices of their position.
What I regret, as everybody made a contribution to success, is that Sunningdale, has been so misdescribed in Northern Ireland. The Executive has already shown its willingness to adapt and phase Sunningdale. This is a major development. I hope that, in the discussions that he has—now that the strike is over—the Secretary of State will be able to bring home to all those concerned in Northern Ireland, as well as to the people in Northern Ireland, exactly what Sunningdale is and that it has been phased in a way which I hope will be satisfactory to all.
I understand that in Northern Ireland it is believed that Sunningdale was intended as a rather Machiavellian instrument for uniting Ireland. Nothing could have been further from the truth. If my friends in Northern Ireland will look at Sunningdale carefully, they will see that the veto is written into every page. It may well be that that can be criticised, but one person from the Executive in Northern Ireland can veto anything in the Council of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland accepted this, as well as being themselves prepared to acknowledge the status of Northern Ireland—the first time that had ever happened.
I recognise that the delay in the court judgment in Dublin was unfortunate and delayed the whole process and raised further doubts about Sunningdale. I hope that the contributions which others 1074 made towards Sunningdale will be recognised, but I emphasise that I hope that the Secretary of State will discuss this with all those concerned.
Fifthly, I believe that the Government should again use their influence, as we did, with the Republic to get them to recognise that work on improving security on the border and in dealing with criminal offences would be the best contribution it could make from Dublin to supporting political institutions in Northern Ireland which can be effective. Those are the two things which matter. This is urgent.
1 hope, too, that those in the Province of Northern Ireland will recognise that the Government of the Republic have their problems. I always found Mr. Cosgrave—the Taoiseach—exceptionally helpful in these matters, but I had to recognise that a country with a written constitution has problems which we in this House do not have. One has to be realistic and practical in one's attitude to the problems south of the border. If good will is shown, I believe that the resolution which we want can be achieved.
Sixthly, I ask the Government to approach Dublin again to abandon the Strasbourg case. My views about it are well known to Mr. Cosgrave and all his colleagues. The short of it all is that these matters were the responsibility of Stormont—and Stormont has now disappeared. We were the administration at the time. We did not have a direct responsibility. We are no longer the administration. This case is being carried on about an institution which has now been abolished and a Westminster Government who are a new Government. It can do no good to pursue these cases to the end.
The individual cases have been dealt with generously by the last administration. I have no doubt that the new administration will continue the same policy. So I think that a little magnanimity—if that is the right phrase—in this question from Dublin would not come amiss and would do an immense amount to reassure the people of Northern Ireland.
Seventhly, a forum for Northern Ireland will be required soon, and I hope that the Secretary of State recognises this. To have a vacuum in which there is no general place for discussions is a weakness 1075 in the situation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear this in mind when he is thinking about the period of prorogation.
Eighthly, I come to the question of elections, which do not have to occur until 1978 but they can legally occur before then. I hope that is clear to everybody. I do not accept entirely what the Leader of the Unionist Party said. I believe that the people in Northern Ireland did understand what they were voting about for the Assembly. Perhaps it would be improper for me to suggest that if they did not, then those who were canvassing at the election bore a certain responsibility for this fact.
The people of Northern Ireland elected an Assembly. All parties were in it. From it came an Executive. Two parties in the Assembly flatly refused to have anything to do with it; they told me so when I talked to them. They surely cannot blame the Assembly if they decided not to take part in it themselves. Others took part, and an effective Executive was formed.
If elections are to be held, there must be time for people to reflect on the events of recent weeks and for full discussions to be held by the Secretary of State with all the points of view in Northern Ireland, and there must be proposals to put before the electorate.
I find the utmost difficulty in understanding how a so-called constituent assembly would be elected and on what basis it would be elected in Northern Ireland in the immediate future. What is to be put before the people of Northern Ireland? Are people to be elected simply with a completely free hand to do what they like when they get to the constituent assembly?
The only sensible way of proceeding is for talks to be held energetically and for proposals to emerge, and then the whole question of elections after a suitable period can be considered in the light of the circumstances at the time, as we had to consider and explain to the House. That would be my attitude towards elections, and I believe it is a practical one in present circumstances.
Lastly, all of us have to recognise that there is a major task ahead in making adjustments to the scheme of power 1076 sharing and the Sunningdale Agreement to meet the wishes of the whole of the people of Northern Ireland. It is a very delicate, a very difficult and, as I said, a major task. What we have to do is to meet the genuine fears of both communities in Northern Ireland, to show them the possibilities for the institutions which have been created and which can now be developed, and to convince them of their acceptability to the people of Northern Ireland as a whole.
What we require now is very firm and fair leadership and wise administration by the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. We have to recognise also that, despite all the pledges which have been given by all three parties in this House, despite the pledges which were written into legislation and into the referendum, we have not yet convinced all the people of Northern Ireland of the good faith of this House and of the parties in it.
This remains now a basic task. It requires good will and wise advice also from those who are asked to give leadership in Northern Ireland itself. This is a task on which all of us in this House, with the help of those in Northern Ireland, can embark; and I suggest that it is on this now that we should concentrate our attention.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that this debate had been criticised from outside on the ground that it had not given rise to any new policies. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman was right to reject that criticism. I believe that our concern now is not with trying to find new policies but with getting a sharper realisation from all the parties concerned of the dangers which we face and, in consequence, a greater determination from all the parties concerned to pursue the right policy.
If we are asked what the right policy is, I think that one thing at least has come clear from this debate—that we are driven to a choice of two policies. One is withdrawal, if that can be called a policy. The other is a renewed attempt to make power sharing work. All the other alternatives have been examined by various speakers in the debate and, for convincing reasons, rejected.
Withdrawal, even in the very qualified form in which some of my hon. Friends 1077 have advocated it, presumably means withdrawing the troops, not because they have been able to complete their task successfully but because it is accepted that they are unable to do so. I think that we ought to be quite clear that withdrawal of that kind is not a mere military move of men and equipment. It is a renunciation of sovereignty. That is what it would be taken to be, with all that that implies.
I believe that the case is now quite clear that if we were to do this, and to withdraw the troops tomorrow or to say, in the near future, that we were going to withdraw them at some specified date in the knowledge that they had been unable to do their job, the effect would be the same. Everyone would assume that Britain was endeavouring to wash her hands of the whole problem. I think that the whole evidence is that, if that happened, there would be civil war in the North, the Republic would be unable to stand aside, and Britannia would be left at the bar of world opinion pathetically wringing her hands and trying to explain that what was happening was no responsibility of hers.
My anxiety, therefore, is not that any British Government will carry out withdrawal as a deliberate act of policy. My anxiety is that events might so move that whatever British Government were in power might be driven into withdrawal because they could not do anything else. That would be the worst of all situations, and that is why we have to give special emphasis to the one policy that remains—the attempt to make power sharing work.
I think that I should have added to the consequences of withdrawal the frightful impoverishment that would fall on the Province, because, whatever Britain might want to do to continue economic help in that situation, it would probably be physically impossible for her to continue doing it.
If we are to make power sharing work—and I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is sticking resolutely to the policy of trying to make it work—how is it to be done? The difficulties lie in the fact that all the parties which have to take part in it have certain obstacles in their own minds to overcome. Britain has to make her contribution; the 1078 Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland have to make theirs; the Republic has to make hers. Britain's contribution is plain enough. It can be expressed in the old-fashioned words, "Blood and treasure"—to continue to give necessary economic help, to continue to see that, as long as is necessary, her troops are there to continue the task they have been doing with such valour and skill and at such risks over so many months.
We can continue to provide that element, to make it possible for the other parties to turn power sharing into reality. But what contribution has the Protestant community in Northern Ireland to make? All of us who were in this House heard the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) say yesterday that he would never agree to power sharing with the SDLP.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
What I said was that I had been returned with a majority of 15,000 and that the first plank of my platform in the election was that I would not share power with the SDLP. The right hon. Gentleman can interpret that as he will, but that was what I said yesterday.
§ Mr. Stewart
The last thing I want to do is misinterpret the hon. Gentleman. I will try to repeat accurately what I accept that he said. He said that he was returned with a very large majority, and that the first plank in the platform on which he was returned was that he would not agree to power sharing with the SDLP.
§ Mr. McCusker
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, having been returned three months ago on that basis, there might be a possibility that I would have to go back to my electorate and consult them before I changed that policy?
§ Mr. Stewart
I am encouraged to hear that, although I do not think that I could reasonably be expected to draw that inference from what the hon. Gentleman previously said. But this is encouraging news.
As I understand it, the objection of some hon. Members from Northern Ireland to power sharing with the SDLP is based on the fact that the SDLP wants to see one day a united Ireland. This leads me to the point I want to put to 1079 the Protestant community in Northern Ireland.
It has been asserted over and over again that they cannot become part of the Irish Republic against their will. I have said before in this House, and I do not withdraw from it, that I believe that the ultimate, long-term right solution is a united Ireland, and that what Mr. de Valera offered this country 50 years ago—a united Ireland in permanent military association with Britain—would have been a very much better bargain than what we have had in the last 50 years. But I also say that that solution cannot come until there is a majority opinion in Northern Ireland in favour of it.
It is now universally asserted that the people of Northern Ireland have the right to make up their own minds by their own majority. But one important corollary follows. If they are to have the right to make that decision, all the people of Northern Ireland ought to have the right to discuss the question whether they should ever join the Republic. It is absurd to say to any community, "You have free choice on this question, but, of course, those of you who take one view are not to be allowed to say so, or if you do you will be treated as something less than citizens, as people with whom we could not share power."
I believe that the Protestant community ought to be able to accept that, as much as they detest the idea at any date of joining with the Republic, those of their fellow citizens who take a contrary view are their fellow citizens and that the situation in Northern Ireland now is such that they must agree to share power with them. I do not know whether they can surmount that hurdle. If they cannot, the outlook for power sharing is bleak.
But there is, I think, another hurdle that the Catholic community have to face. If they are to be free to argue in favour of union with the Republic, to be accepted as full and equal citizens with full rights, to be partners in the sharing of power, they must actively repudiate any attempt to bomb their country into the Republic.
§ Mr. Stewart
I hope that what I now say will not be misinterpreted, but it is 1080 important to say it. I believe most firmly, that the vast majority of the Catholic community bitterly reject with disgust the cruelties of the IRA. But I believe also that there are many of them who, for old historical reasons, because of the relations between Irishmen and Englishmen, cannot find it in their hearts actively to co-operate with British armed forces to bring a member of the IRA to justice. We can understand that. I believe that it is so.
But if we are to have power sharing, I think that the Catholic community have to go beyond repudiation and to make an active attempt to bring the activities of the IRA to a stop. All our experience shows that a guerilla movement like this requires some degree of sympathy from the surrounding population if it is to go on. It can do a good deal by intimidation. But if it finds that the great majority of the population not merely repudiates it but will positively co-operate with security forces to bring an end to its activities, then those activities will end. That, I think is what is required of the Catholic community if power sharing is to succeed.
With regard to what is required of the Republic, I need not enlarge on what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, with which I fully agreed. I think that the Republic needs to go further on extradition, but I understand the difficulty in that the Government of the Republic have taken the view that a phrase in their constitution about the rights of people seeking political asylum would make it difficult.
But any community that is to survive has to have laws against murder, theft and certain obvious and universal offences which are crimes whether committed for a political motive or for any other. We understand the phrase "political offence" to mean an offence such as one could commit, say in Spain, by openly criticising a Government or forming a peaceful political party in opposition to it—offences which are regarded as crimes not universally but only in certain countries for purely political reasons. The kind of thing that members of the IRA do are what I have called universal crimes and I think that the Government of the Republic should be prepared to accept them as such.
1081 I realise that many people will tell me that I am asking from all three communities—Protestant, Catholic and the Republic of Ireland—something which is emotionally impossible. If one counsels moderation and agreement, one is always told that by the extremists and the men of violence: "What you say is admirable, but for old historical and emotional reasons, it cannot be done." If they go on saying that, let them think again.
To judge from some remarks made recently, some factions in Northern Ireland may think that if we withdrew they would come out on top in a military situation. If they nurse that illusion, they had better think again. They may do so to begin with, but what would lie ahead of all the communities is ruin, slaughter and impoverishment. I ask those who say that what I am asking is too difficult to think again; the alternative is withdrawal in disgrace, to the shame of this country and the appalling injury of Ireland.
There have been several occasions on the world stage when the leaders of mankind have walked right to the brink, in the Korean crisis and over Cuba. Then, in time, they have looked at the pit yawning at their feet and have stepped back and reached agreement. That is now what all those concerned in this Irish question have to do. If this debate has painted in starker colours than before what is involved in the alternatives to power sharing, including the sacrifice of ancient prejudice and principle, it will not have been wasted.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
I should like to start by claiming equality in one sense with both the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister—namely, equality of unpopularity in Northern Ireland. The Leader of the Opposition was candid enough to say—
§ Mr. Thorpe
Perhaps I may be allowed to continue; this is not the Assembly.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he recognised that he had inherited the incubus of the connection with the Unionists, but he felt that he and his colleagues had lived that down. I think 1082 that that is largely true. He said that the present Government Front Bench also had the hostility of the majority community in Northern Ireland. I hope, for the same reasons, that they too will be able successfully to gain at least the respect, if not the agreement, of the majority community. I speak for a party which—some years back, it is true—tried to introduce Home Rule in Ireland and earned the hostility of the majority community because we tried and the castigation of the minority because we failed. So at least I can say that the unpopularity that I enjoy is evenly spread. It is with that somewhat daunting knowledge that I approach the debate.
I also start from the proposition that we all know that there are no instant solutions. If there had been, Ministers of great distinction and integrity in the last three or four years would have succeeded. I think that we are more agreed than perhaps the Press have suggested, in advance of this debate, on the major principles that we want to see carried forward in Northern Ireland and to that extent that fact alone is something that it is valuable to state in this debate.
The greatest casualty, of course, of the last few weeks has been the Executive. I should like to pay the warmest of all possible tributes to the three parties who tried, under conditions of extreme difficulty, to work together for the good of Northern Ireland. I should like to point out to those in the Assembly who opposed the Executive that those three parties gained 57 per cent. of the Northern Ireland votes cast in the June 1973 elections—an overall majority of votes and, more than that, an overall majority of seats. They had 50 seats, to the 27 of those who opposed them—a majority beyond the dreams of avarice in the context of the present British House of Commons. I go further. They were, furthermore, elected by an electoral system passed by this House which determined that parties, minorities and majorities should be represented in proportion to the number of votes cast for them.
I tell those who say that the election was cloudy and that the issues were not clear, that that is an argument which we have heard before from defeated candidates and that it comes ill from those whose first action in the Assembly was 1083 not to be a responsible Opposition but to try to break up its proceedings by the most disgraceful parliamentary procedures and abuse, which we saw on television. Therefore—I say this with some feeling—let the minority have a little humility in Northern Ireland.
Of course, the tragedy is that the Assembly never had a chance to work. It was plunged within five or six weeks into a Westminster election, with all the stresses and strains which that produced. That was also an election in which the much-favoured British electoral system produced all the best distortions of which it is capable. Eleven out of 12 seats went to the anti-Sunningdale, anti-power-sharing candidates, who polled only 51 per cent. of the votes. The other parties, who polled 41 per cent., got one seat and the moderate Unionists got none. So we had not only an election, but an election by a system which distorted the true representative wishes of the Northern Ireland people.
But the Executive, in its short period of office, did more to show that people of different communities could work together, and did more for the brotherhood of man in Northern Ireland, than the churches have done in 50 years—whether those churches be established, conventional or unconventional in their tenets. So we must not discount what happened. What I should like to see is not Ulster "nationalism"—I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that that is an unfortunate word—but an Ulster personality to which all communities could feel a sense of allegiance. I believe that the Executive was some attempt to create just that.
It is difficult to assess what the UWC strike was about. I agree with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition—who, in different ways, assessed what it was about—that it was less about power sharing than it was against Sunningdale; that it was perhaps more about a sense of frustration with the years of violence, with the strains and stresses of life in the Province, than even about Sunningdale itself. I appreciate the strains and the difficulties affecting both communities. I approach this analysis with some humility because although I have approximately 50 per cent. Irish blood in my veins I have not lived in Ireland and therefore cannot claim to speak as an Irishman.
1084 Both communities have to try to understand why each fears the other. "A Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people" was certainly a maxim to which full effect was given for the first 50 years. The Roman Catholic community felt that it was excluded not only from power but from decision taking, and that it consisted of second-class citizens whose loyalty automatically turned to the South not simply because of religion but because a community existed there where they felt that with unification they would at least have the chance of being treated as equals. Although I accept that the minority is very much smaller, and that historically the position is very much different, they could at least see Protestants taking a major part in the life of the Republic. The first President of the Republic was a Protestant, and so is the present President. It is difficult to imagine the converse situation obtaining in the North. Therefore, they directed their attentions and loyalties in that direction.
For this very reason the Protestant community felt that here was a very large minority in its midst which owed its first allegiance elsewhere, and that there was therefore a threat to what the Protestants believed to be the rightful and proper association with Britain. I understand both those feelings. They are both feelings which we on this side of the water must try to understand, and in the circumstances they were not unreasonable. Whether they were wise is another matter.
I ask the hon. Members from Northern Ireland whether they do not feel that the most priceless achievement would be, if it were possible, to create a Province to which both communities felt a joint loyalty and a joint allegiance. Would that not be something they would wish to achieve? Would they not wish to feel that the Roman Catholic community had as great a sense of belonging and loyalty to the continuation of the Province as they themselves?
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am fortified by the indicative assertions of the hon. and gallant Member and others. I say to them that there is no way of achieving that situation if, for the foreseeable future, that minority community is excluded, as it was for the first 50 years, from any 1085 decision taking and from any part in the Executive. That is why I believe that power sharing is of the very essence of getting that sense of community and joint allegiance. No one would be happier than the people of this country to feel that at last, not for the first time in 50 years but for the first time in 400 years, there was a sense of community. Let it be critical of the rest of the United Kingdom, but let it be a united form of criticism by people who have a joint belief, affection and loyalty to the Province.
The Leader of the Opposition is correct. We may have to look at the forms of power sharing again. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), to whom the House is indebted for an extremely thoughtful speech, said that there is nothing we can discount, nothing that we must be frightened to examine. I believe that we may have to have an Executive elected by PR by the Assembly itself, so that any party with seven seats would be entitled to one Ministry. These are matters that we must go into. What is enormously important is that the stark choices which face the people of Northern Ireland must be put before them.
The first choice is the possibility of sectarian domination. I say to the majority community that if that happens it would be faced with a continuing running battle. There would be no peace, whatever it might think. That would carry on all the present problems. It would be a recipe for continued violence and it would be made even more difficult by the knowledge that people of both communities can and have worked together in a power-sharing Executive. It would also be intolerable to the rest of the United Kingdom.
The second option is a united Ireland. That could come about only if the majority of the population wished to revoke the 1973 Act. That would be unlikely to happen, and I believe that the Prime Minister of the Republic was right to say that the whole of that prospect is set back by decades as a result of the activities of the IRA. There is then the prospect of indefinite military occupation, which I do not believe the British people would stand for. That is not therefore an option at all.
We come back, therefore, to my conclusion that the only possible prospect for 1086 long-term peace is a continuation of power sharing, but that implies continuation of the association with the United Kingdom for this reason: the only guarantees that the people of Northern Ireland have are those given by the House of Commons in legislation passed by this Parliament. Section 1 of the 1973 Act makes it perfectly plain thatin no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1 to this Act.I wish that certain members of the majority community would not persistently suggest that that guarantee was never a part of the Act. If they impute our bad faith or if they believe that it is something we do not mean, let me ask them whether they seriously believe that the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic wants to drag a hostile Northern Ireland, by force, into a united Ireland. Of course he does not.
Their argument is totally irrelevant but it is successful in inflaming passion, and that may well be its desired objective.
Therefore Section 1 provides a cast iron guarantee to the majority of the population of Northern Ireland. The second guarantee, in Section 2, is that the Executive must be widely accepted throughout the community. I say quite bluntly that no Executive will be widely accepted if one community, representing nearly one third of the population, is excluded. This means that there must be power sharing. The Act therefore contains a guarantee for the majority and a guarantee for the minority. Do the majority in Northern Ireland want to get rid of those guarantees? Do they want the 1973 Act revoked?—because that is the question to which the country wants an answer. Do they accept that membership of the United Kingdom is on United Kingdom terms after very frank discussions? It is no good saying that the settlement was imposed. There is no elected Member who was not invited to Darlington and to Sunningdale, no party that was not invited to form part of the Executive. Those who are most hostile are those who refused to 1087 co-operate or to speak and who are now complaining that the package of proposals which received the support of 57 per cent. of the electorate in Northern Ireland in June 1973, was imposed. Some of us attach more importance than others to figures.
If the Loyalists want continued membership of the United Kingdom, it is not on the basis that the Queen and the Union Jack are simply symbols; it is to be on the basis that the authority of Her Majesty's Ministers and the British House of Commons is accepted in Northern Ireland, until there is a change, as much as it is in any other part of the United Kingdom. It is for the Loyalists to tell us whether that is what they want; or whether they want to change that connection.
I do not approach the problem in the spirit of the Prime Minister's broadcast. This is not a moment for criticism. I merely adopt and endorse the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury in another place. I hope that it will be a long time before a Prime Minister has again to explain and justify to the House the contents of a television broadcast.
Hon. Members who speak for what is called the Loyalist community are speaking for approximately 1 per cent. of the total British electorate. Let them not forget that minorities have rights, but they have no right to dictate. I speak as one who tries to practise what he preaches. There is a limit to the amount of money and the number of troops that the electorate of this country is prepared to pour in. I say that not in a threatening sense but as a matter of fact. No British electorate will continue to meet a bill of between £300 million and £400 million a year for a situation in which the Parliament which votes that money is defied by those who receive it.
The right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) said quite frankly yesterday that he supported the strike in Northern Irelandbecause it was the lesser of the two evils".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June 1974; Vol. 874, c. 920.]As the Prime Minister pointed out, it was not immediate support. Politicians wanted to see how it was going, and then the triumvirate moved in. We all know 1088 about the leadership stakes. That is why the Leader of the Opposition carefully referred to the present leader of the Ulster Members.
I am sorry the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone is not here, just as I was sorry that the rest of his Northern Ireland colleagues were not here to listen to his speech. [Interruption.] I expect my colleagues to be here to listen to mine. I have a high percentage here—50 per cent. If the two right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Benches had had the same representation, there would not have been room on the bench for those Members. Therefore, for those absences they must give much thanks.
The right hon. Gentleman was backing a strike whose declared aim was to compel constitutional change by this Government, by this Parliament and by the democratically-elected Executive and Assembly. I merely say that I hope that those who say that they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, and who have a cast iron guarantee that they can, will realise that it will not be on terms dictated by 1 per cent. of the people; it will be on terms which, after civilised discussion, commend themselves to the majority of people in this country.
Representatives of Harland and Wolff are in London asking for money. Is it £10 million, £12 million, £15 million? I do not know. But they are asking for money to keep that business going—to keep its workers in employment.
The Northern Ireland Finance Corporation suggests that £100 million will be needed very quickly to recover from the effects of the strike and maintain employment. Have those who are endangering the British connection spelled out to those whom they have the facility to draw in large numbers, for reasons which I will not go into, spelled out to them what dangers and what fire they are playing with?
Quite apart from financial support, there is the question of the Army. None of my colleagues has suggested that the Army should pull out tomorrow morning. I believe that that would cause carnage and that it would not even give an opportunity for people to think, discuss, and face the reality of the situation. But I make no secret of the fact that some 1089 of my hon. Friends, who I think reflect a growing opinion in the country, are in favour of setting a firm date when British troops will be withdrawn, so that people realise that during that period they must discuss and concentrate their minds. That is a view held by some of my colleagues, and I believe that it is a view which is increasing in strength in the country.
Just as I know the view of some of my hon. Friends, they know my own. I do not believe that one can set a firm date for withdrawal, but I believe that we are entitled to set a firm date by which we, the people of this country, should know the intentions of those who are challenging the authority of this House. We are entitled to know whether they are seeking independence outside the United Kingdom, whether they are seeking to reject the concept of power sharing, whether they are seeking to have an embattled Protestant community not dependent on any subvention or support from this country. I believe that for that indication there must be set a firm date. Those are questions to which the people of this country want an answer, and they are entitled to one.
If the answer is that those who are challenging the authority of this House wish to sever the connection, what hon. Members think about the withdrawal of the Army becomes somewhat academic, because I believe that it would be the overwhelming wish of the people of this country that the troops be pulled out and the subventions end. I believe that the people of this country are becoming very impatient and very angry. It is only right that that should be made plain. I hope that those hon. Members who have the ear of some of those who have been most vocal in recent weeks will see that they are well aware of the consequences.
I believe that with all the possibilities, which might even lead to repartition—with all the agony, all the arguments, all the difficulties that that involves, that is the stark choice—that, or remaining part of the United Kingdom and accepting the doctrine of power sharing. To that end, I should like to see a constitutional conference, though not immediately. Tempers must cool. It is not an occasion for hon. Members to use as an opportunity to make declamatory television speeches on the steps as they come out. I would make only one exception. One of the 1090 most moving events in recent history on television was the tribute which Mr. Faulkner paid to those who had worked with him, following his resignation. I know that it is richly reciprocated by them. Alas the Executive was not to last.
After the constitutional conference there should be a referendum. I have been opposed to a referendum in this country for the same reasons as the Prime Minister was opposed in 1970, and I have not seen cause to change my views. But I do not believe that a referendum in this country is ever decided on one issue. The nearest we came to it was in the last General Election, which was to be in a sense a referendum on the miners. But in a week it fanned out into all the other issues about which people were concerned. Conversely, every election in Northern Ireland has always been a referendum on one issue—the border. That is why it was right, in the context of Northern Ireland, to take it out of election terms and provide for referendum on the border.
One hon. Member asked about an election. There have been four elections in the past year—that on the border, the local elections, the elections to the Assembly, and the elections to Westminster. We have even heard rumours that there may be another Westminster election in the not far distant future.
I believe that one of the factors that any Prime Minister would have to take into account in the future is the effect of a Dissolution, entailing, as it would, another Westminster election in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that an election is the way in which we can determine how the people of Northern Ireland think about their own future.
Power sharing is the very minimum that this country is prepared to accept for continued United Kingdom membership for Northern Ireland. If the people of Northern Ireland want to rescind it and ask us to tear up the 1973 Act, let them tell us; but if not, we for our part are honour-bound by that 1973 Act, and United Kingdom membership will mean continued financial support and responsibility for law and order.
We want from them a clear answer. They cannot for very much longer have it both ways. They cannot have the benefits without accepting the obligations. Not 1091 only can they not have the benefits without accepting the obligations; I do not believe that the vast majority of people in the rest of the United Kingdom are prepared to tolerate it either.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
What is such a tragedy and such a pity is that this discussion did not take place some weeks ago when we had a debate on Northern Ireland. When I had the honour to speak on behalf of the freshly elected representatives from Northern Ireland, holding 11 out of the 12 seats, I put forward to the House certain propositions which were plainly the wish of the Ulster electorate, and this House took not the slightest notice.
When the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were making their analysis of the strike and the reason for the strike in Ulster they forgot the most important ingredient of all. It was that the Ulster people had expressed their wishes through the ballot box, and nobody had taken the slightest notice. That is the reason that the Ulster people as a whole backed the strike. There is no other analysis required.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I apologise for intervening in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech so early. I have some sympathy with him. I speak for six million people who get only 14 seats, but we have not taken to a strike.
§ Captain Orr
Well, really—that from the Leader of the Liberal Party! Bless my soul—an intervention of that sort which would not grace the lips of a sixth former from a public school. The Liberal Party in Great Britain is not under threat. The Liberals in Great Britain have not been subjected to violence for five years from the most evil people that Western society has seen. Bless my soul, did anyone ever hear such a futile intervention?
We are dealing with a situation of the utmost gravity. It ill becomes anybody in this House to hector and lecture and make fun of those whom the Northern Ireland electorate have sent here to speak. It is a tragic mistake of political wisdom so to do. Ministers and former Ministers may very well deeply dislike the Ulster Protestant community or the Ulster Unionist community. They may 1092 have a deep resentment of the fact that their policies now lie in ruins because of an action taken by that community, as a result of their democratically expressed wishes being ignored. They may dislike us, but we are there, and the Ulster people have expressed their view, and that view must be attended to. Of course, no one seeks to dictate. The Leader of the Liberal Party says that he is a minority and does not expect to dictate to this House of Commons. Nor do we. But we wish to be listened to by the House of Commons.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that the Act of 1973 was not imposed upon us, that any amount of consultation took place. Of course, it did. Any amount of consultation took place, but what happened in this House when that Act was going through? The Act was carried by a majority in the House, but it was carried against the express wishes of the Ulster people as expressed by us in the Lobby and supported by a few of my hon. Friends. Of course, it was an imposed settlement.
§ Mr. Hooley
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman arguing that the people whom he represents accept or do not accept the authority of this Parliament? What is the answer to that question?
§ Captain Orr
I will tell the hon. Gentleman the answer. I gave the answer during the Third Reading of the Constitution Act. I said that the law is the law and that, in so far as it is the law, it will be obeyed, but it is a bad law. I also said that it contained the seeds of its own destruction and that it would not last. It has not lasted. I said in our previous debate on Northern Ireland, "If you do not attend to what we are now saying, events in Ulster will get out of political hands altogether," and that is exactly what happened, in the strike.
We must now address ourselves, as sensible people, bearing a responsibility for human lives, bearing a responsibility as democrats for a return to order, to what it is best to do now. I do not wish to go over the past. I do not think there is any value in doing so except in so far as one illustrates a point. All I will say now is this: the Act itself contained the seeds of its destruction in two ways. One way—and one of the reasons that 1093 we opposed it—was that it was neither one thing nor the other. It did not provide for proper representation of Northern Ireland in this House of Commons—representation which was fair and just and seemed to be fair and just, underwriting the Union as the Union ought to have been underwritten. The refusal of this House of Commons to give Northern Ireland its fair share of representation was the main thing which created the distrust in the minds of the people of Northern Ireland in everything that was done.
If the House of Commons believes in the Union, the House of Commons will see that it is fairly represented. The refusal of the House of Commons to do so was the very thing that underwrote the distrust and the fear that the Union was on its way out. It is all very well for the Minister of State and the Leader of the Liberal Party to quote Acts of Parliament and guarantees in Acts of Parliament. There was a guarantee in a previous Act of Parliament that no change would be made in the constitution of Northern Ireland without the consent of its Parliament. Its Parliament was swept away. What value does one place upon declaratory sentences written into Acts of Parliament? Oddly enough, I opposed the insertion of that sentence. If the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party and his serried ranks of Liberals had been here during the passage of the Constitution Act he would know that I opposed it. I opposed it because it was absolutely valueless.
What do we do now? What is the sensible thing to do? I say to the House that it must consider that the Sunning-dale Agreement is dead. The reason that there was no hope for the power sharing arrangements, apart from any other argument, was the imposition of Sunningdale on the top of those arrangements. What was apparent to the people of Ulster—and they are no fools in these matters—was that what was being set up was a condominium. Not only were we imposing an Executive in which there were Republicans, but we were imposing on top of that constitutional arrangements, mechanical arrangements, which gave an impression to all—an impression given by the SDLP which said that it was a step on the road to a united Ireland. Members of the SDLP spent all their time running 1094 to Dublin and back again. How could the Ulster people be expected to see it in any other light but the creation of a condominium, a joint form of Government of Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
I have great respect for the hon. and gallant Gentleman, as he knows, but he referred to the voting by the Ulster Unionists on the 1973 Act. I am speaking strictly from memory but does he not agree that he was in a minority of Ulster Unionists who voted against it?
§ Captain Orr
I know that the hon. Gentleman usually tries to be fair but as a matter of historical accuracy I was not in the minority. There were some Ulster Unionists who voted for it, but they are no longer here—and that is the reason they are no longer here.
I do not want to weary the House, but I believe that the reason for the failure of the Act was the imposition of Sunningdale upon it. The House of Commons must recognise that the Sunningdale Agreement is dead. We in Ulster have never had any ill will towards the Republic. We wish the Republic no harm. The Republic has chosen to be an independent nation. We say good luck to the Republic. All we ask is that it is a friendly nation and that it does not continue to make demands on our territory, nor shelter people who inflict such damage on our people, nor encourage a minority within our borders who seek to join it. That is all we ask. We are perfectly prepared to be good neighbours and to have any kind of joint ministerial body to discuss matters of common interest. But we are not prepared to enter into something which gives the Republic not only the right to a say in our internal affairs but the right to encourage a minority within our midst to think that some day Ulster will join the Republic. Anything on these lines should be totally rejected and will be totally rejected. Any settlement which contains anything of that kind will be total anathema to the Ulster people.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party made one sensible suggestion. [An HON. MEMBER: "Only one?"] Oh, yes, but he has one piece of political ancestry which he forgot to 1095 mention to the House. It is that the settlement of 1920 which brought the 50 years of the most stable period in Ulster's history was brought about by a Liberal Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman forgot to tell us that the B Special Constabulary was the creation of a Liberal Prime Minister. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman must not be so modest.
However, he made one good suggestion which was, I think, that we should have some kind of constituent conference. Let me explain that a little. The sensible thing to do is to take the prorogued Assembly, or something very like it, set a date for elections for it a little time ahead—not so close that the various political parties do not have time to manœuvre, yet not so far away as to cause a period of total unrest, upheaval and uncertainty.
If we had elections in this way it would not mean that we were letting down the Executive, because the Executive has gone; nor should we be giving in to the strike, because the strike has disappeared. If we proceeded in this way—here I answer a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—the various parties in Northern Ireland would put forward their views as to what they think would be the best constitutional arrangements for Northern Ireland.
We should let the people of Ulster vote on these matters, then let the Assembly meet and let the Secretary of State not try to implement Section 2 of the Act—let him not proceed to the formation of an Executive at all—but let him consult the various political groupings within the Assembly, and let him see what alliances develop naturally as a result of discussion. Nothing should be ruled out and we should let the Secretary of State say openly—I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say this—that it would be possible to produce amendments to the Act, or perhaps to produce a new Act, which would be even better, because there are many defects in the present Act.
We must not rule anything out. We must let the people of Ulster elect an Assembly which is plainly and clearly seen by everyone to contain the people's representatives. Let that Assembly help the Secretary of State in the making of 1096 a constitution and let the constitution be brought to this House and then—I would not rule it out if the Leader of the Liberal Party likes it—let us have a referendum on the final constitutional agreement. That is the way to produce stable government.
The Army will not be able to return to its proper rôle—back to its garrison duties—until such time as there is a stable, certain civil power resting upon majority consent, and seen to rest upon majority consent and seen to have stability. We must have the Union so plainly underwritten that it will be seen that it cannot be overturned by violence. Only then shall we get—
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether what he says would also mean that he and his hon. Friends would not themselves rule out genuine power sharing?
§ Captain Orr
Nobody has ever ruled out power sharing. It depends what is meant by power sharing. Does it, for instance, mean dividing communities in Ulster purely on religious or sectarian lines? I should like to see a situation in which no one in politics in Ulster asks what is a man's religion. The great majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see that situation—make no mistake about it. For historical reasons one of the badges of those who believe in joining the Irish Republic has been their religion. That is a terrible tragedy of history. That is a fact of life.
What the people of Northern Ireland say is, "By all means, if we can find members of the minority community prepared to say that they believe in the Union and believe in being British and believe in operating within the United Kingdom, they will be welcomed with open arms". The people of Ulster would welcome them with open arms and always would have done so. What the people of Ulster have said about power sharing has been, "How on earth can you have in the same executive Government"—let it be noted it is Government, Cabinet, no less—"people whose ultimate aim is to destroy the State and people whose ultimate aim is to improve, strengthen and fortify the State?".
§ Mr. Orme
I want to press the hon. and gallant Member. I assure him that 1097 this is not a debating point, or an attempt to score. What he represents is crucial to what we shall face in Ulster in the coming days and months. He knows that by genuine power sharing we mean both sections of the community and what they stand for at present, not what we should like them to stand for.
On that understanding, is he prepared, on the basis of the Executive, which every Member in the House has acknowledged to have allowed people of differing views to sit round the table and to work very well on the present constitution—we may have our differences about that—to have power sharing? If that power-sharing base were broadened, would he and his hon. Friends consider that to be genuine power sharing with both sections of the community in Northern Ireland?
§ Captain Orr
As I said, it entirely depends upon what is meant by power sharing. There are two communities in Holland, but they do not have a montrosity such as Section 2 of the Constitution Act. They do not force by the Act of a superior Parliament a situation in which the minority within the Executive has a permanent veto over the Executive's affairs. That was the situation in the Northern Ireland Executive. At any moment, if the SDLP members of the Executive walked out, the Executive fell. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) knows the reality of power: he had the power of veto and at any time he wished he could veto the Executive. How can we have a situation in which the majority of a community can be held to ransom by a minority within its midst? That is not what I mean by power sharing.
I think that the Minister of State is trying to understand, and if he has some better plan—and there have been any number of plans—by which the minority could have entrenched rights within the constitution, let us talk about that. Let us have that openly and let us discuss that in a constitutional assembly. Let us discuss it in the Assembly itself after a General Election. I tell the House honestly that that is the only possible way out of these difficulties.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will forgive me if I say that in what he 1098 is now saying we are at the heart of what we have to consider in the next few months. He has put forward some interesting views and we should like some clarity about precisely what they mean. He speaks about the minority having an entrenched situation. If he were a member of a constitutional commission, or assembly, or whatever it were called, such as he has suggested, would he be willing to consider the concept of a minority having an entrenched right to form part of, to contribute to, the Government of the Province? Or is his entrenched right simply an entrenched right to be a permanent minority opposition?
§ Captain Orr
I think that a minority must be a permanent minority in that sense. If within Northern Ireland there are people whose ultimate aim is to join the Irish Republic, they are plainly in a minority and they always will be. How can that be avoided? How does one deal with that situation?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has perfectly fairly asked what kind of entrenchment I should wish to see. It would be wrong at this moment in this debate, in advance of a constitutional conference and in advance of the kind of elections that I have suggested, to spell out the nature of the entrenchment. To do so would be a pity. It would be a much wiser course to go into the elections and to let the political parties put their various views, whatever they may be, and to consider the question of entrenchment afterwards. That is a perfectly reasonable way in which to deal with the situation.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Captain Orr
Because of interruptions, I have already been too long and I know that many others wish to speak.
I think that this is the sensible way in which to proceed. Let us forget the recriminations. Let us try to get the Ulster situation back to politics. Let us make sure of consulting the deeply held views of the Ulster people. For heavens' sake, let the House of Commons not ignore them again.
§ Mr. Speaker
Again I make a serious appeal for short speeches from now on. There are still about 30 hon. Members who want to speak.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
So far I have listened to every speech made in the debate yesterday and today. As a new Member of the House and without great pretensions to specialised knowledge of Northern Ireland, I am bound to say that the experience has been interesting and enlightening.
I have been told by some hon. Members that there are many alternative ways of finding a solution to this problem. I have been told by others that there are no solutions. Yet again, I have been told that there is no problem, that if only the British would cease to interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland, if only the British would continue when necessary to provide such economic aid as is required, if only the British would decide as and when it was necessary to provide military aid, if only the British would care to take account of the special character and characteristics of the Irish people there would be no problem.
I start by accepting the sincerity of all speakers in the debate so far, and I assume that my own sincerity will be accepted. I do not have the religious, national, or nationalistic imperative of some who have spoken. I do not have their concern for what have been categorised as the minority and majority in Northern Ireland.
I believe, and in this I am not alone, that the House has a responsibility to take a deep interest in this matter because it affects not only the minority and not only the majority in Northern Ireland but everyone and every constituent of every Member. Whatever it might have been, Northern Ireland is not a special preserve, not a special enclave of those who wish to specialise in the subject. Now there are no specialists and no experts on the Northern Ireland scene. Every Member of this House is entitled—it is his duty—to take a special interest in what is going on. Every Member of this House has an obligation and a duty to state his feelings so that all voices are taken into account and, as we hope, a policy acceptable to the House emerges.
I pay a warm and sincere tribute to those to whom this House has given the responsibility for carrying forward our policy over the years. In this I include the Leader of the Opposition and 1100 the right hon. Members for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). Naturally, I wish to express my deepest thanks to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State who have been carrying forward this thankless and difficult task. They have my good will and support in what could well turn out to be an attempt to reconcile the irreconciliable. If they can do it, they will deserve not only the thanks of myself and my constituents but the warm applause of a much wider public.
My remarks are made against that background of thankfulness, good will and support. My constituency of Edmonton has no more than the average number of people who were born in Northern Ireland living in it. The 1971 census shows that there were 255 such persons. However it is not only those people but every other constituent who is entitled to be interested in this because they are all very much affected. I am sure that they are sickened and depressed beyond belief and will call for a radical rethinking of the whole issue. They will ask whether and for how much longer British troops and their families should be shot at and murdered while performing the thankless task of stopping the two communities from killing each other.
I have been to Belfast and seen streets burnt out, not by a foreign Power but by the people in the community. There have been attempts to kill and murder, not singly but collectively. The Secretary of State was right to say yesterday that we are in a new situation. We are thus entitled to ask for how long the troops must remain in Northern Ireland. I do not stress the economic arguments although the Secretary of State was perfectly right to spell them out. I support those who say that if we are in a new situation we ought to take the opportunity of telling those in Northern Ireland what their responsibilities are and what will be the consequences of their actions instead of merely being told by those in Northern Ireland what our responsibilities are and what will be the consequences of our actions.
One of the consequences of the actions of those in Northern Ireland will regretfully be that sooner rather than later our troops will be removed—and not when those across the water want them to go 1101 but when we want them to go. Speaking as someone who is not a churchgoer, I find it beyond my comprehension that those who proclaim their belief in the Christian faith and who glory in the fact that they are serving Christianity can be so bigoted as to allow their service to their faith to transcend everything else.
The bigots and the bullies can be found, and have been found, in all communities from time immemorial. They are not the exclusive preserve of Catholics or Protestants. What I find inexplicable and unacceptable, is that both communities in Northern Ireland knowingly harbour murderers and bullies and at the same time blame the other community for doing so.
I am not unfamiliar with the history of partition over the past 50 years or the past five years. Those who call themselves Loyalists have a record of bigotry and oppression of the Catholic minority of appalling dimensions which will be to their everlasting shame for as long as records are kept. Those who call themselves Republicans in Northern Ireland have not hesitated to resort to mass murder and the indiscriminate killing of men, women and children in pursuit of their ill-defined ends. The lesson of the revolt—and it was a revolt not a strike—is that those who lead the majority community politically and religiously, especially politically, are reserving to themselves the right to be able to call up their power and defy the Government of the United Kingdom at any time they please.
So be it. I ask, why should we send British lads to be shot at and murdered and to face vile abuse from both sides, and I get the glib and defiant answer: "Because we are part of the United Kingdom". Can anyone tell me which other part of the United Kingdom calls for British troops to be murdered, shot at, spat upon and to be abused simply to maintain law and order? I see the revolt as being the serving of notice by the political and civil leaders of the majority in Northern Ireland that they do not wish to be governed in concert with the rest of the United Kingdom. They do not wish to share power with the British Government or anyone else.
When I prepared these notes I had intended to go on and say that Loyalist Members yesterday had made it 1102 abundantly clear that they were not prepared to share power with the SDLP. Yet we now find that what was said yesterday by the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) is not as it appears in print. Apparently his election pledge can very well be revised with the passage of time. That is welcome. On television last night I heard the right hon. Member's leader say exactly the same thing. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to share power? Yes, but not with the SDLP.
I have not lived in Northern Ireland but I was in Belfast the night that McGurk's Bar was blown up and bombed and 15 innocent men, women and children were blown to pieces.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
The Army put forward the opinion that it was possible that one of the persons drinking in the bar had brought a bomb in there and it had gone off accidentally. Please do not blame it on the Protestants.
§ Mr. Graham
I did not blame it on anyone. I said that 15 innocent men, women and children were blown up and murdered. The hon. Gentleman is very sensitive. I think that he is too much "protestant". My view may be unrealistic and may be thought to be as selfish as the views which I condemn. I am told that the minority population in Northern Ireland must have protection and must have its civil rights enhanced. 1 have such matters very much in mind. As the minority population has harboured the IRA murderers for the past five years, has it ever thought of the consequences of a withdrawal of British troops? Has it been deterred one bit by the possibility that we might go, and sooner rather than later? Or has it counted on our troops always providing a front line against the majority in Northern Ireland?
As the murderous gangs of sectarian killers from the majority side have indiscriminately marched nearer and nearer to open civil war, have they done so in the knowledge that as long as British troops were there the situation would not be allowed to get out of hand? As I am told that there could be an eruption from Northern Ireland into the cities over here, are we to be blackmailed into putting our boys up as targets in Northern Ireland for fear that their withdrawal would unleash gangs of dormant murderers set 1103 upon cutting not only their own throats but our throats as well?
To all those questions I have but one answer, and it is "Yes". I appreciate that those may be the consequences of our withdrawal. But do the people of Northern Ireland appreciate that these could be the consequences of their action which could well lead to the withdrawal of British troops? If they do not, in the name of sanity why are they there at all? If, as I fervently hope, they appreciate that those may be the consequences, are not they even now prepared to sit down, with or without the British Government, and to produce a formula to enable all the people of Northern Ireland to live in peace and harmony with dignity and honour?
I am on the side of those who have not yet given up all hope and who want to see one more attempt made to achieve a lasting solution. I give my support to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State in their unenviable tasks, but as that final attempt is being made the people of Northern Ireland should be told that we refuse to contemplate a never-ending horizon of British troops needlessly and senselessly murdered, and a time should be set for their eventual phased withdrawal—down as quickly as possible to their normal garrison proportions.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) on his vigorous and powerful speech. The Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), also spoke with power and force. But there are ghosts in the House, and they are the ghosts of the repression, or attempted repression, of the Irish people by Members of this place. The idea is to introduce penal clauses against them and to subjugate their wills to fall in with what the British believe to be the rights and wrongs of the matter.
I much regret that the great hopes of this debate which many people had have not been fulfilled. The Secretary of State said, "Let us find ways of going forward", but not so much as a signpost has emerged in the debate. The speech of the Leader of the Liberal Party reminded us of the type of speech made 1104 by one of the leaders of the Weimar Republic when matters were completely out of control. It has been scarcely admitted by hon. Members that what has happened in Ireland in the last few weeks is unparalleled in British political history, with a Government being deposed as a result of industrial action taken by the people. This is a very serious matter and it puts everything into a different perspective from that which we have discussed hitherto in Irish affairs.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in a remarkable speech, pointed out some of the dangers which lay ahead and some of the things which need to be done. It would be entirely vain and futile for me to pursue the sort of vituperation which we heard from the Prime Minister in his broadcast and against elected Northern Ireland Members of this House and the attacks made on the Protestant majority in Ireland—as though that would save one Roman Catholic child from slaughter. That would be a total and disgraceful waste of time. We must face the fact that the situation in Northern Ireland is the most difficult since the 1920s. It is to that fact that I should like to address my remarks, and I shall make a few suggestions.
Whatever right hon. and hon. Members may say about the importance of power sharing, what has happened recently in Northern Ireland has clearly shown its limits. The idea that power sharing is the magic formula which can get us out of all troubles and can bring both sides together is a myth and a dangerous delusion. The only part of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition with which I disagreed was when he joined issue with the Government spokesman about how many divisions were necessary to make power sharing a reality and whether three more battalions would have made it possible to check the revolt. That shows how unreal is the talk about power sharing being the necessary basis of progress in Northern Ireland.
In view of what happened a few weeks ago, we must realise that there is a perfectly proper democratic limit beyond which a majority is not prepared to be pushed. That is the nature of the democratic process. The majority cannot be pushed beyond a certain point, otherwise the whole basis and foundation of the 1105 State breaks down. That is what happened the other day.
The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) has suggested the use of tanks. After the reform and reduction of the Territorial Army in 1967, the Army should perhaps now look at the re-creation of an enlarged Army Emergency Reserve able to man power stations. That is a much more useful and ingenious suggestion than the suggestion of the hon. Lady that armoured cars and tanks should roll through the streets of Belfast.
The only decision reached by Her Majesty's Government is that there shall be a period of four months during which the Stormont Assembly is prorogued. Those four months must be put to good purpose and not wasted. I hope that the Prime Minister will ensure a strengthening of the Northern Ireland ministerial team and that the Secretary of State is well supported by able Ministers to ensure that certain things are done. There are two essentials. First, something should be done about the re-creation of the police force in Northern Ireland. I am a Roman Catholic and I believe that as a result of the activities of the B Specials at one time there was a strong case against them. But it is almost impossible to dispute that today an armed police force would be less of a menace to the Catholic population than the ERA. That must be seriously considered.
Secondly, there is the question of consultation with the people of Ulster on how these matters can be worked out. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said that the English, Scottish and Welsh people are bad at offering suggestions to the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is a matter that has to be decided by the people of Ulster. That is why I welcome the recognition by the Secretary of State of Sinn Fein as a political party.
At the Sunningdale, Darlington and other talks held by my right hon. Friend when he was Secretary of State, there was always the danger of insufficient representation across the board and insufficient concentration of thought on the part of those who were making suggestions to my right hon. Friend. The only way to achieve that concentration of thought to enable hard, precise decisions 1106 to be made is by holding an election. I believe that there will have to be an election in Northern Ireland before the autumn.
I do not despair of the fate of Ulster. There has been much suffering and much heroism, which to some of us may seem mad but which to those who have experienced it is remarkable. So much greatness has been shown by men and women in the Province that I believe, if they are given the chance of getting together and deciding their own fate, an Ulster dimension will develop among the people. There are men and women in Ulster today who feel that they are supported neither by Dublin nor by London. They feel betrayed. Something new is emerging which may be of real value.
The duty of the House of Commons has been to preserve Ulster as part of the United Kingdom, and I regret that some Government supporters, for political and other reasons, would like Ulster to leave the United Kingdom. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends cannot accept the idea of the full integration of Ulster with the United Kingdom. There is now emerging not just an Ulster dimension but an Ulster patriotism. If that can be put to good purpose, there is a chance of political parties emerging in Ulster which are neither Protestant nor Catholic but are Conservative, Socialist and Liberal. Then indeed there will be hope, but the hope must come not from this House but from Ulster itself.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
Two hon. Members have referred to comments which I made yesterday, and I want to clarify my position. I was asked whether I would share power with Roman Catholics. I said that I would, and I named one with whom I would share power. I would share power with a Roman Catholic, Alliance, Northern Ireland Labour or any other party which accepted Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
I was also asked whether I would share power with the SDLP, and I thought for a short time before answering the question. I campaigned on the platform of not sharing power with the SDLP on the basis of the power-sharing experiment which has taken place. There 1107 are now new circumstances in which we must take a fresh look at what power sharing means, and I am prepared to consider again the whole matter of power sharing with the SDLP. That is not to prejudice the promise I made to my electorate, but I am not prepared to take a hard line on an issue that has gone into the melting pot.
Three months ago on coming to the House of Commons I welcomed with relief the first cries of the infant Government that they would repeal the Industrial Relations Act. As a former personnel officer and production manager I feared an aberration by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) which would inflict that legislation on Northern Ireland. He was convinced that it was perfect legislation for Great Britain and he might therefore think it was suitable legislation for Northern Ireland. The industrial relations record of Northern Ireland puts the record of the rest of the United Kingdom to shame, and it has been achieved without legislation of that type.
The Industrial Relations Act was based on the false assumption that it was possible to change people's minds and attitudes by legislation. If the industrial relations situation in Great Britain is bedevilled by a lack of sincerity, good will and understanding, all the legislation in the world will not make workers' representatives and managers become trustful of one another and negotiate with the degree of honesty that is required.
§ Mr. McCusker
As I said in my maiden speech, if circumstances had been different I might be over there.
I was opposed to the Industrial Relations Act on the basis that it was not possible to change people's minds by legislation, and I am opposed to the Constitution Act and the Sunningdale Agreement for the same reason. One can no more change the attitudes of the people of Northern Ireland by legislation than one can change by legislation the attitudes of the working class of Britain, particularly when one is legislating away rights which have been fought for over many generations. If that makes me a 1108 Fascist thug, I have some company in the House. Mutual understanding and respect, whether in industrial relations or in government, come about only through long experience. Wonderful things have been said about the Sunningdale Agreement and the people who participated in the negotiations leading to it.
I and my colleagues have been accused by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) of indulging in deceit, dishonour and downright lying in our description of the Sunningdale Agreement and what it means. I did not tell the 33,000 people who voted for me that the Sunningdale Agreement would put them into a united Ireland tomorrow. I told them that it was more subtle than that, and that it was more likely to put their children into a united Ireland in 25 or 30 years' time. I said that the Sunningdale Agreement was designed not to kick us out of the United Kingdom, but to change our attitudes, to swing our gaze slowly from the centre of power we have always recognised as London towards Dublin and, by a slow process, to change the attitude of the Loyalist people so that one day they might believe the myth of Irish unity which so bedevils many people in Northern Ireland.
I did not threaten the electorate with a united Ireland. I said that the Sunningdale Agreement was an insidious way of bringing our people eventually to agreeing that it was a solution.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how he can say that one piece of the legislation cannot change people's minds and attitudes, yet another section of legislation—namely, that following from the Sunningdale Agreement—can?
§ Mr. McCusker
The legislation contained in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act would not have changed their minds in the same way. The Sunningdale Agreement sought to devise structures, to give power and to influence people to think in all-Ireland terms—a course which I and most other people in Northern Ireland believed would ultimately have led us perhaps to see our centre of gravity as Dublin instead of London. The two pieces of legislation were different. The Sunningdale Agreement attempted to change attitudes and minds. It also 1109 sought to impose penalties on people if they were not prepared to live with the situation.
The people who got to Sunningdale did not get there by honesty; they were elected there by deception. I have in my hand the blueprint on which Brian Faulkner campaigned. He said that he would not sit down with Republicans. He demanded recognition and a change in the constitution of the Irish Republic. He demanded extradition and guarantees as to the rôle of the RUC. He did not achieve a single one of those aims, but the people who voted for him 12 months ago believed that he would. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) campaigned for an end to internment and for an amnesty for rate and rent strikers and for political prisoners. He turned on the very manifesto on which he fought the election—and he knows what were the consequences in the results of that election. Those who went to Sunningdale did not go there representing the people of Northern Ireland; they went there representing themselves. That is what I told the electorate in Armagh. It was the truth and they believed it.
What emerged from Sunningdale? The things that emerged had encapsulated in them all the evils of which Ulster had been accused. For 34 years I had been told that partition was an evil. The hon. Member for Belfast, West partitioned the Government of my country. If the partition of that country is evil, is not the partition of a Government on sectarian lines not also an evil?
We have been accused of gerrymandering. All I can say is that at Sunningdale they gerrymandered so well that those who received 22 per cent. of the votes obtained virtually every single Ministry of any importance in the Northern Ireland Executive. They accused us of "jobs for the boys". What unique qualifications had the five original members of the SDLP to cause every one of them to end up with a Ministry in the new Northern Ireland Executive? Was it not possible that one bright young man—one new face—might appear on the scene—somebody who might have been a little more acceptable to the Northern Ireland people? Was it not possible that such a person could have been offered a job? Why did it have to be Messrs. Devlin, Currie, Cooper and Hume? What unique 1110 qualifications did they have other than that they were the people who started a campaign which brought them to a position when they could demand jobs? And when they demanded jobs they got them.
This was what happened under the wonderful far-sighted agreement—the demise of which, we were told, would bring closer the breakdown of civilisation in Northern Ireland. Surely something which was wrapped up in that amount of deceit was bound to bring about the breakdown of civilisation. The deceit continued to the end. Mr. Patrick Devlin, the head of the Department of Social Services in Northern Ireland, told us that he resigned on 16th or 17th May and that his resignation was as a result of the policy followed in Stormont involving internment and the 25p surcharge on strikers. But six days later, at the Dispatch Box in Stormont, Mr. Devlin delivered the Estimates for his Department. I should like the Secretary of State—or perhaps the Minister of State when he replies to the debate—to say whether or not Mr. Patrick Devlin resigned on that date, and, if he did, why he stood at the Dispatch Box on that occasion. If he did not resign, will the Minister accept that Mr. Patrick Devlin was trying to recoup a little bit of face from the people in the Falls Road.
§ Mr. McCusker
Then I assume that Mr. Devlin is a liar.
I should like briefly to comment on some of the solutions which we heard outlined in the House yesterday. If those solutions were not so ludicrous they would seem obscene. It is absolute folly to talk of mass movements of population and re-partition. I find repugnant the suggestion that Protestants and Catholics cannot live and work together in Northern Ireland. I was born, bred, brought up and have lived and worked with Roman Catholics all my life. They play a vital and valuable rôle in the work of Northern Ireland and have done so for over 50 years. Only four months ago I worked in a department where 80 per cent. were Roman Catholics. We had the best industrial relations record in that plant and the highest productivity. The workers 1111 there shook my hand and wished me all the best when I stood in the election.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) expressed amazement at the possibility that the hon. Member for Belfast, West and I could possibly talk to each other after a debate such as this. One of the fundamental beliefs in Northern Ireland—a belief which no doubt originated from this House—is that after a political discussion is over, people can still remain friends. The pity is that this concept has been lost sight of by some people in the past few years.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My amazement was not that this should take place, but that supporters of the hon. Members for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) and Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) should be at loggerheads as they now are.
§ Mr. McCusker
Perhaps I misunderstood the remarks of the hon. Member for West Lothian, but I shall read again his speech in HANSARD.
When I was in hospital last week I was nursed by Roman Catholic nurses. They did not ask me my religion; they probably did not need to do so. The treatment they meted out to me was no different than if I had been Cardinal Conway. Perhaps it would be nice in this House, since there have been tributes to the security forces, that we should also pay tribute to the nursing profession in Northern Ireland for their role in this crisis. Again referring to my Socialist tendencies, I hope that it will not be too long before the Government will be announcing sufficient amounts to recompense the nurses in all parts of the United Kingdom for their work.
Perhaps I may advance one final, and perhaps less controversial, proposition. The hon. Members for West Lothian and Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) spoke plausibly about the withdrawal of the Army. I regret the fact that the Army ever had to come into the situation. I regret that it was not pulled out sooner. If we are to consider how the troops are to be withdrawn, then we must take a realistic view. In my constituency more members of the British Army have been killed per head of population than has been the case in any other county. If I were a British soldier and were told that I was being sent to Armagh, I 1112 would know that I was twice as likely to be killed in that area than in any other area in Ireland.
§ Mr. McCusker
My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) mentions that area where a number of young men have been killed. Every death pains me dearly, but I remind the House that during the 50 years prior to that the situation was handled admirably, and that if the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford had extrapolated the figures a little further he would have discovered that the hated B Specials and the RUC had not been responsible for a tenth of the number of deaths that have occurred in Northern Ireland since 1969.
If I were a personnel manager and wanted to increase the numbers in the RUC, the Reserve and the UDR, I should look long and hard at the terms and conditions of employment and at the source of potential recruits. One of the biggest indictments against the hon. Member for Belfast, West is that in the period during which he presumed to govern Northern Ireland he never once said a word in praise of the RUC, he never once encouraged his supporters to join it, and he never once attempted to recruit entrants into the RUC or the Reserve. The same goes for the members of his party. They too never once praised the RUC. If they did, they did it in such muted terms that they were not heard.
I ask the hon. Member for Belfast, West to encourage his supporters to join. By that I do not mean that he should say that he will do it once we have a Council of Ireland and once we have this, that and the other. To do that at a time when young policemen and civilians are dying is a disgrace.
§ Mr. Dalyell
One of the things that we would like to encourage is the various lines of communications which we know to exist between the IRA and the extreme elements of the hon. Gentleman's party.
§ Mr. McCusker
I am trying to consider possible sources of recruitment, and I quote as an example of the terms and conditions of employment the fact that a Reserve constable in the RUC is paid 55p an hour, and that a UDR man is paid 50p an hour. We have to bear in mind that the time that they work 1113 is in excess of their normal working hours. They are family men. They risk their lives and those of their families. They do not do it for money. They do it for the same reason that I thought I was doing my job.
I have in my possession the wage cheques of a reserve constable for a 12-months' period. He worked 16 hours a week in excess of his normal week's work. He did it for 12 months. If he had worked an additional 16 hours per week in a factory, he would have received shift payments and overtime. In those 12 months he earned £443. Of that, he had to pay £134 in tax. That left him with £300. For £6 a week he worked an additional 16 hours a week, risking his own life and the lives of his family.
If we want to encourage the recruitment of young Ulster men into the police reserve and the UDR we shall have to look again at the terms and conditions of employment. By comparison, in industry in the same locality wage rates range from 65 to 80p an hour. In other words, the young man whose case I have quoted does his police work for half of what he could get somewhere else.
Yesterday the Secretary of State was asked what part the RUC had played in the removal of barriers. He was at a loss to answer. Probably he did not have the facts before him. He had a wry smile on his face, and I hoped that he was not agreeing with the suggestion which had been made by the hon. Member who asked the question of him.
The RUC played a vital role in the removal of barricades during the strike. I can speak only for my own constituency. In County Armagh, there were somewhere in the region of 12 barricades—
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Let me put the record straight. I recall the question to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I confirm that the RUC played a role in getting down barricades, especially in rural areas, but on the main approach roads to Belfast, which was the major task involved, it was largely the Army which did the work. A large number of troops were involved. But, in these difficult days, I do not know about the wry smile to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Certainly it did not come from me.
§ Mr. McCusker
I was implying that the wry smile may have been because the Secretary of State was at a loss to answer the question. In any event, he did not say yesterday what he has just said. I support him completely in what he has just said. I was about to say that the RUC removed barriers in the rural areas. Any that they did not remove in my constituency, I had to remove. The Army removed only one in County Armagh.
I hope that I can nail the insinuation made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), who suggested that the Roman Catholics may have feared "a final solution". He referred to Hitler's Germany. The facts of the matter fly in the face of that suggestion. The Roman Catholic population has prospered—perhaps not in the way that it might have prospered and perhaps not in the way that we all hoped, but it has prospered. The suggestion that the majority community planned some form of genocide against the Roman Catholic community is a slander and a slur. I hope that we shall hear no more of it.
I believe that a solution can be found in Northern Ireland which will satisfy the overall majority. But it will not be found if the administration is dominated by a party which obtains 22 per cent. of the poll and claims half the seats in that administration. It will not happen if Ministers in that administration see their first responsibility as being to Dublin rather than to London or Belfast.
I hope that the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) will be adopted and that from such a conference a solution will come.
I leave Government supporters with one final thought. I may be a Fascist thug. I may be a Protestant extremist. But that does not prevent my being British.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I would point out to the House that I realise that this is a very important debate and that there is emotion involved. However, if hon. Members will try to discipline themselves, the result will be more hon. Members being called.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)
I shall take your words to heart, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I have listened both yesterday and today to much of this debate and I have read carefully the report of the debate in the other place. It is clear that running through this debate there is a thread of pessimism, allied to a sense of having lost direction, since we are not at all clear where we are going following the debate.
The events of the past two or three weeks have been a very bitter pill for many in this House to swallow. However, I venture to suggest that there is a therapeutic element which can be garnered from the pill, especially by Government supporters.
I intend to confine myself to analysing the impact which the Labour Party in particular and bipartisanship in general have had upon the Protestant working-class element in Northern Ireland.
What have we done to the Protestant proletariat? What is their reaction to us following the events of the past 10 years? Unless we collectively comprehend their reaction, we cannot begin to embark upon any meaningful examination of our next step.
It was in 1917 that Lloyd George remarked, "You have in Ulster a population as hostile to Irish rule as the rest of Ireland is to British rule—alien in blood, alien in religious faith, in traditions, and alien in outlook." I suggest that it is equally alien to the rest of Great Britain. It is a unique alienation alike from Southern Ireland as from the rest of Scotland, Wales and England. Anyone caring to use a popular vulgarism would describe it was a "one-off job".
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke of this new form of Ulster nationalism yesterday, I fear that he spoke merely of a new way in which it is expressing itself rather than a new phenomenon. The form of its expression has changed but the reality it still there.
Yesterday the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) said that the process of bashing and humiliating the majority community continued. That phrase can have come only from Northern Ireland. Indeed, the speech that we have just heard by the 1116 hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) could not have been delivered by someone not elected from that unhappy Province.
The first point that we on the Government side must realise is that we have given the impression to the majority, unwittingly and unintentionally, that bipartisanship meant labelling them as the lepers and the sinners. They think we started from that point. It is not enough in defence to say that we have had our views maliciously distorted by others. We must accept that that is what they believe.
There is a peculiarly vicious poem by Kipling which sums up what the Ulster working class think of the British Labour Party in particular and of bipartisanship in general:The Faith in which we stand,The laws we made and guard,Our honour, lives and landAre given for rewardTo Murder done by night,To Treason taught by day,To folly, sloth, and spite,And we are thrust awayWe are the sacrifice.That is the impression that this House in general and the Labour Party in particular has left upon the Protestant proletariat of Ulster. Until we start to recognise that, we start from a significant disadvantage.
Our first task is to recognise that, and in doing so we suffer under a grave disadvantage—that it is hard for us on this side of the water to sympathise with a community whose leaders are of the caliber of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). It is particularly hard for those of us on the Government side of the House to sympathise with Members who have habitually and historically supported our political enemies—enemies, that is, in British terms. It is not the least of the tragedies of Ulster that in the hon. Member for Antrim, North they have a spokesman whose ability to create antagonism is unparalleled in British public life. Nor is it any defence for us in the Labour Party to say that we find attractive the personality and the public charisma of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt).
It is not enough that we should merely notice these things. We must take corrective, redressive action. The difficult task is to forgive the hon. Member for 1117 Antrim, North all his faults, however hard. Unless we do that, unless we comprehend that need, we do a mischief to the whole policy.
It is only a matter of interest to history that these sentiments, which I have suggested exist among the working class, are based upon a false view of what successive Governments have been about. It is only of interest to history that they have been perhaps assiduously propagated by men with peculiar intentions. It is not just the immediate problem of talking with the Ulster Workers' Council that concerns us. There has been no dialogue between the Labour Party and the working-class Protestant proletariat element in Northern Ireland for 50 years. Unless we start from that knowledge, we suffer a disadvantage. Out of the disadvantages and disasters of the last three weeks there is perhaps one ray of hope—that now we have no choice but to speak to them. We have no choice but to build bridges across to those whom we have assumed to be too easily our natural enemies when in fact they are our natural colleagues in a disaster area.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In support of what my hon. Friend said, may I say that I was made enormously welcome by Mr. Harry Murray, Mr. Jim Smyth and other members of the Ulster Workers' Council on Sunday, even though we disagreed on a number of issues?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation. Any attempt to create a new form of power sharing, if we accept that the basis is there—of course, the details will need to be changed—must start from the Labour Party and the Conservative Party getting a firm knowledge of the situation. It is quite clear that over the last three weeks our information and understanding of the way they ticked was woefully wrong. They have taught us collectively in this House that we got it wrong. We must now use this opportunity to inform ourselves better and to provide ourselves with an understanding of those in Northern Ireland on whom the whole future of that Province depends.
In that context, to talk, however tangentially, about reducing the amount of economic aid, is to do a great mischief. Those in Northern Ireland are as worthy of economic regional aid from this House as are my constituents in Durham. They 1118 are members of the same country. Any tangential suggestion that it is a matter of charity to give aid to an Ulsterman but a duty to give aid to a man from Durham should be repudiated totally.
We must stand four square and say that Ulster is part of the United Kingdom, that it has a right to remain part of the United Kingdom, and that that right is not diluted by our pretended right to throw Ulster out. We must recognise that, however distasteful the face of parts of Ulster loyalism may be, the reality is that the people of Northern Ireland are members of the United Kingdom with full rights of citizenship which they need to have protected.
We are talking about a dialogue of death. [Interruption.] Indeed, so are the Catholics. But I suggest that over the years that I have been a Member of this House we have shown a fairly clear and sensitive understanding of the Ulster Catholic problem. However, I suspect that our feeling towards the Ulster Protestants has been rather less sensitive. I urge on my right hon. and hon. Friends to realise the first task in these four months is to redress that balance.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
I thought that the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) struck a note of uncomfortable realism in what he said. He is to be congratulated on bringing that tone into the debate, however awkward it may be.
For those of us who had the opportunity of being involved in the government of Northern Ireland in the earliest days of direct rule right the way through Bloody Friday, Operation Motorman, the elections and the long nights of Sunningdale up to 1st January this year when the new Executive formally took over, this is bound to be a sad occasion. It is bound to be a sad occasion when one thinks of the undeniable political setback and of the major setback to economic and social reconstruction which was making great strides. I do not think that we yet have a clear idea of how big that setback is, but I shall come back to that. These are bound to be matters for regret.
But I do not share the funereal pessimism which has crept into some remarks made by commentators and by hon. Members yesterday and today about the whole spirit of power sharing and about 1119 the spirit that underlay Sunningdale. I do not share the view that it must all be written off. I do not take that view primarily because Sunningdale, even if there have been changes in the fine print and the detail, was only the tip of an iceberg. Behind Sunningdale and before Sunningdale there lay long hours, months, years of work, of changing attitudes, and of foundations which remain even now undamaged and which can still be built upon. Much remains to be developed. So I do not take a totally gloomy view of what has happened or of what has been done.
If one has deep regrets at this stage, perhaps they are directed more to the fact that a situation like that in Northern Ireland and a debate like this seem to provide alarmingly fertile soil for eccentric, and sometimes rather silly, things to be said and for absurd ideas to be aired with great authority. We have read in the newspapers about the question of partition. This is the one point on which I can find agreement with the hon. Members from Northern Ireland. One need think only of the terrible carnage which would follow if the people in Andersonstown were asked to move out to make room for Protestants or if the people of Waterside were asked to move out to make room for Catholics. One need think about that for only a moment to see the absurdity of the suggestion.
Then we had the mutterings from the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) about "sending in the tanks". I shall say nothing more about that suggestion.
More seriously, I turn to people whose judgment in this critical situation ought to be sound and, I hope, is. It is a pity that the Secretary of State for Defence decided some weeks ago to make certain remarks and to fly a kite, if that is what he was doing. I do not know whether he was making irresponsible remarks or flying a kite. Either way, he, as a Secretary of State and a senior politician, should have known that Ulster is not a place where one flies kites. There were dangers in what he said.
We must also face the fact that in the last few days the Prime Minister struck some false chords. I acknowledge that today he put forward a sincere explanation 1120 of the reason why he made those earlier statements, but the fact remains that the chords which he struck were false. I hope that the Prime Minister will not take it amiss when I say that he has never been at his best when dealing with the Northern Ireland situation. This time it would have been better if he had not said some of the things which he defended this afternoon at the Dispatch Box.
For the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland I have and have always had admiration and, in this situation, sympathy. I am well aware, as every hon. Member should be, that for him and for the Minister of State the last few weeks must have been pure hell for themselves, their families, their whole physical schedule and their health. When serving with my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), I saw at very close range just what the appalling pressures are on the holder of office of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Some of the criticisms of the Secretary of State which have been voiced in the Sunday newspapers have been a little on the slick side and a little unfair. It is all too easy to sit down and write out a list of all the things which should have been done under moments of pressure.
If I have criticisms of the Secretary of State, they are criticisms of timing. When the Secretary of State and the Minister of State were in opposition supporting our policy, following us and giving us full support at every point, from time to time they made criticisms of timing—on internment and many other things, so I hope that my criticisms will be taken in the same spirit.
My criticisms are not meant to signal, and I hope that they will not be taken as signalling, an explosion—I think that was the phrase used by my right hon. Friend—of the bipartisan or common sense approach to what must happen and what has been happening in Northern Ireland.
I come to the question why I am not of the total pessimism school and why I do not think that total despair is justified at this point. It is because, even if Sunningdale is badly damaged and badly holed, no one ever expected that it was to be the final word. Heaven knows, we 1121 were at it late into the night on the juxtaposition of single sentences and words. Given the fact that people were full of fear and fright, no one ever expected that from those four long days a frozen and final balance would emerge forever.
So if Sunningdale, if the centre of balance, if the point where the different interests coincide, begins to move and has to be moved, that is totally understandable.
What is important is that, whatever some hon. Members may say, Sunningdale reflected something new, something important, and something of value. It did not come out of the blue. It was not a sudden conference which resulted in a constitution being imposed. It came at the end of months and months and, at the final turn, weeks and weeks of continual talking between people who for years had not even sat down at a table together, let alone spoken to each other. Yet there was this readiness to provide the basis for a new Executive and for power sharing.
Hon. Members from Ulster and pundits outside the House have been saying that now that power sharing is dead—so they say, but I do not agree with them—everyone in Northern Ireland should sit down and have a constitutional convention and work out what should be done. This has been suggested as a new idea.
It is hard to resist the temptation to ask what have we been trying to do for all these years, certainly since 1972, but to enable all the people of Ulster, from the different communities, to come together and establish and agree on a form of government which would not drive one group or another into a state of total fear, total fright and total non-co-operation, but would provide an opportunity for the sharing of power? Perhaps new definitions are needed now. Perhaps we need to ask, with the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), what we mean by power sharing.
But it is absurd to suggest, as some of those who have written of this idea have suggested, that the views and feelings of the Loyalists were overlooked throughout the time of my right hon. Friends or, indeed, from the point of direct rule, until now. For a start, it is 1122 not all that easy to overlook, let us say, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). He will agree that, whatever else was said in Northern Ireland, there was no attempt to overlook or neglect or listen to the views of those he represented. On the contrary, if any single influence or voice constantly overshadowed almost everything that my right hon. Friends were trying to do from direct rule onwards, it was the views—sometimes muddled, sometimes divided, but often extremely strong and sometimes very dangerous—of the Loyalist forces, both outside the Assembly and, after the Assembly was elected, in the Assembly.
In view of the constant presence of that strong Loyalist pressure of which everyone was aware, I cannot understand what the Secretary of State meant by the "new nationalism". It was always there; it was always strong; it was always explosive.
My mind goes back to the nights of 15th and 16th October 1972. At that time, the late Tommy Herron was the figure of the day. During those nights, the UDA and the Loyalists were out on the streets, bullets were flying around in Shaftesbury Square, tension was very high, and there was the threat that the power workers would be brought out. These manifestations were nothing new. We lived with them from day to day and hour to hour.
The Conservative Government were determined, as the Labour Government are determined today, not to be blackmailed, not to negotiate, and so on, and they were right. But I, then a Minister, did talk with constituents brought by Mr. Roy Bradford to Stormont Castle—Mr. Herron and two accomplices, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Jones. There was discussion of their frustrations.
It turned out that, whatever their public position, their frustrations were rather narrower privately. They were to do with what they claimed was harassment by the paratroopers and things of that kind. There were arguments and difficulties. The talks went on into the early hours. The frustrations were talked out. There were talks with Army chiefs, and the following day the tension was lowered and we were back again from the brink.
1123 I do not intend to be too critical of Government actions in the last three weeks, but I wonder whether the Government are really aware that the job was and is—if one is to survive in Northern Ireland and if Northern Ireland is to survive—that of trying all the time to lower the temperature and trying all the time to talk. Was it really right to take up so rigid an attitude? There was no need to negotiate—of course. The Secretary of State said that he would not negotiate with the UWC and that he would not make concessions—of course not. But was there not an opportunity—and will there not be in the future—to listen and talk and meet and understand some of the frustrations if we are to make any progress at all?
§ Mr. Orme
I shall try to deal with this in more detail later, but we did talk to these people during the strike. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) brought to see me a deputation which included UWC representatives, and a meeting with my right hon. Friend was later arranged. What we were not prepared to do was to negotiate. That is the key point.
§ Mr. Howell
I totally accept that there could be no question of any Government's negotiating in such circumstances. That there was talking, I welcome, and that there should have been talking and that in future, if we are to proceed at all, there will have to be more talking must be recognised by the House.
What I want to emphasise is that in many ways there is nothing new in what has happened. Westminster government, direct-rule government, and even government under the Constitution Act, apart from Westminster and apart from the Assembly, has always lived on the edge of a precipice. The Loyalists were always against Sunningdale—against the idea of power sharing. Perhaps today we have heard something a little encouraging. There has been talk from Unionist anti-Sunningdale Members that they are not, after all, against power sharing, although one needs to know precisely what is meant by their remarks.
It has always been the position that the Loyalists were strongly against joining in any talks which involved the sharing of power. The hon. Member for 1124 Antrim, North was invited to state his views at Sunningdale. He is right to say that he was not invited to participate and sit at the table. Of course he was not. He was not invited to take part in a gathering round the table, since he had firmly and vociferously said—expressing it with the clarity and volume we know so well—that he had no part in the undertaking at all, and that he rejected the objectives for which people were gathered round the table.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
The hon. Gentleman is not now discussing power sharing; he is discussing a promise that was made by the Government of which he was a member that all elected leaders of Northern Ireland opinion would be full members of the conference. When the invitation which belatedly came to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) and me arrived at 5.30 on the evening before the conference commenced, it came only after the people of Northern Ireland had said that the elected leaders should be there. We were invited, as the hon. Gentleman says—and I agree—only to put our view; we were not invited to be members of the conference.
§ Mr. Howell
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that great efforts were made to invite him but wrong in saying that promises were made that a full part would be offered to those who, like himself, were set upon—firmly and, I am sure, sincerely—undermining the prime objective and the main aim of the gathering. He was asked to express his views on Sunningdale, and refused. Some of his colleagues came to the door of Sunningdale and courteously put in a petition which I, I hope, courteously received.
In this sense, nothing has changed or has been changed by the recent hectic weeks in Northern Ireland. The fears of the Loyalists, as the hon. Member for Durham has reminded us, go back a long way, have remained and will remain for a long time to come, and I fear that they will continue to be encouraged by certain citizens as well. The reality of Northern Ireland—that the Protestants, whether of Loyalist or any other persuasion, will have to live with and share power and authority and their lives and land with the Catholic community—remains, which is why power sharing is 1125 not just bipartisan policy, not just a gimmick thought up by Westminster politicians, or just a fancy idea of constitution makers, but is basic common sense—the only basis on which Northern Ireland can continue.
There remains, too, the need to beat the provisional IRA terrorists who, against the events of the last three weeks, have been shown to be running a horror show all of their own, supremely and horribly irrelevant to all of the aspirations and political aims of the people of Ireland.
It must be puerile to believe that the UDA and the IRA will somehow talk if there is a total British withdrawal. There were always, from time to time, rumours—perhaps even true—that the UDA and the IRA had met and found some common ground. I believe that their common ground would be very slender, and I have no doubt that if we were to withdraw quickly—which is different from the gradual withdrawal which really is the objective of us all—there would be instant and terrible collapse. It would be the final, introverted, drugged act of a nation in a coma if we were to do that.
I do not believe that there is any choice but to try to rebuild. It is facile to pretend that it will be easy, or that we shall not, patiently, have to go over again ground that has been covered in the past. The strike has done terrible damage. Any idea that those involved and who encouraged it may have that the Northern Ireland economy can go back to where it left off, or can go rolling on, continuing to attract investment and getting good customers for its products, is dangerous and may be totally wrong. It is too early to know the cost. Perhaps the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation is too early off the mark with the precision of its figures, but I suspect that it is right in suggesting that compensation now—and I know that this is difficult for the House to swallow—might involve the Government in less expenditure than doing nothing, because doing nothing will certainly involve very large increases in unemployment and therefore in unemployment benefit. Unless hon. Members are to start arguing that Northern Ireland should be removed from our whole welfare system, we shall face, whether we like it or not, substantial 1126 expenditures. Again, whether we like it or not—the hon. Member for Durham had a good point here—we shall have to steel ourselves to a major rescue operation to avoid still bigger expenditures and difficulties in future.
We need, and I hope that we will get from the Minister of State, a firm assertion of the Government's overall position on Northern Ireland, but particularly in relation to the economy. He and the Secretary of State must realise that, unless there is a firm and confident assertion of the Government's position, Northern Ireland suppliers of component parts, who are relying on orders from elsewhere, are in an impossible position and can obtain no credence for their assertion that they will continue to be reliable.
We also need clarification of the position over Harland and Wolff. The Prime Minister and the Government took up a position here in the midst of the crisis which was never particularly clear but which cast doubts over the situation. The Prime Minister may have his feelings about Harland and Wolff. He may be right. He is wrong to say that the work force in the yard is 100 per cent. Protestant, but it is very large. He may have his feelings, but he must say where the Government stand. Will they underwrite the last Government's asurance of continued support for the yard, or will they let the Prime Minister's feelings hold the day? The matter cannot be left in its present worrying state of uncertainty.
For the time being we have de facto direct rule or integration or a mixture of the two. If talks can be got going in Northern Ireland in the next few months, that is a start. I accept that perhaps the profile was too high last time and that the British contribution should be more withdrawn, the profile lower. Heaven knows, we tried last time to maintain a low profile but the fact is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border was the catalyst and there would have been no alternative to anarchy unless there had been an opportunity for the different parties first to talk to him and then, daringly and in a revolutionary way, to begin to talk to one another and to move towards some genesis of government by agreement in Northern Ireland again.
The picture is not all despair. There are possibilities for rebuilding. The 1127 material in Northern Ireland is good. We hear in this House some rather superior English remarks, perhaps born of exasperation about the Irish and Northern Ireland. The people of Ulster are brave and hard-working, they are businesslike and have many of the most excellent qualities that have informed and underpinned the character of the whole United Kingdom. There is something of value in Northern Ireland and if that dies more than Northern Ireland will die with it.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
The House meets once again for an emergency debate on Northern Ireland. I am beginning to lose count of the many debates of this type that we have had over the last few years. On this occasion it is right that the House should have been recalled to discuss what has happened in the last few weeks and particularly the circumstances leading to the downfall of the Executive last Tuesday.
There is a lesson to be learned not only by this Government but by democratic Governments throughout the world about what can happen if the wrong men at the wrong time decide to make a direct challenge to a Government. While it was easier to do in Northern Ireland, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that it could happen here in Britain.
Last Tuesday, the Executive fell before the onslaught of an industrial stoppage. It was an unconstitutional stoppage which had nothing to do with pay or conditions. We should not refer to it as a strike. It was a completely illegal, unconstitutional stoppage. Northern Ireland was brought to the very edge of the abyss last week. Economic chaos was all around—and not one person has been prosecuted. None of the members of the Ulster Workers' Council, none of those politicians who supported it and stoked the fires of hatred and hostility, has been asked to account for the actions which brought so much distress and despair to thousands upon thousands of decent, honest people.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
I recognise, as does the whole House, the sincerity of the hon. Member and the difficulties he has gone through. But we should be clear about his reference to an "unconstitutional" stoppage. 1128 What, in the constitution says that workers may not withdraw their labour for any purpose that seems good to them?
§ Mr. Fitt
The hon. Gentleman asks a valid question. At the moment, the terms for Northern Ireland remaining within the United Kingdom were drawn up by the Opposition when in Government and fully supported by this party—that is, the Northern Ireland Constitution Act. That Act represented the terms under which Northern Ireland was to be governed, and it was the expressed wish of this House.
Then we had this clear confrontation brought about by a lot of workers. Again, one must qualify; they were not workers as such. They called themselves the Ulster Workers' Council, a name which was chosen to give the idea to those on the outside that a strike was in progress and that it involved workers. In this part of the United Kingdom the words "strike" and "workers" suggest a dispute about terms, conditions and hours, but that was not so in this case. In this case, a lot of people had got together to defy this Parliament, to say, "We will not accept the constitution drawn up at Westminster. We are opposed to it." They used all the industrial strength they had and eventually succeeded in bringing about the downfall of the Executive.
That was a sad day for the members of the Executive. For five short months they had been engaged in the power-sharing exercise, something entirely new in Northern Ireland and which I myself this time last year would never have thought possible. But the then Secretary of State succeeded, and I commend him for it. He brought together some of the most diverse forces in Irish political life and got us to agree, initially to talk to each other and then to start to understand and respect each other, particularly each other's political difficulties.
The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), will be able to confirm that one of the things to which he was asked to agree was that the participants in the Executive—Mr. Faulkner's Unionist Party my own SDLP and Mr. Napier as the leader of the Alliance Party—should draw up a social and economic programme for everyone in Northern Ireland. It was not a programme just for 1129 Protestants or just for Catholics. Every member of the Executive applied all his energies to doing all he could for all the people of Northern Ireland.
When I hear the criticisms here of some Unionist spokesmen that they could not trust the SDLP members on the Executive, I wonder what those members had to do to win trust. One has to think only of the Minister of Commerce in the Executive undertaking tours of the major cities of the United Kingdom and a strenuous tour in the United States, making speech after speech to try to attract industrialists to invest and set up industries in Northern Ireland, so that they could eat up the unemployment that we have had for so many years.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
Does the hon. Member not agree that one of the great difficulties of the Unionists and Loyalists in this respect is the statement by Mr. Hume on the so-called Bloody Sunday that nothing but a united Ireland would satisfy him now?
§ Mr. Fitt
We have heard repeatedly about Protestant fears and that is one of them. But there is also a minority in Northern Ireland which also has very real fears—fears that it will be subjected to one-party rule, that it would never have a say in the government of its country, that it would be permanently excluded from government under the system in Northern Ireland. There were fears on both sides, and these the power-sharing Government in Northern Ireland were trying to eradicate. We were trying to create an atmosphere of confidence in which Protestants and Catholics could be seen to be living together.
I say without hesitation, in the knowledge of my political role in the past and of the open confrontation I had with him, that Mr. Brian Faulkner the former Chief Executive has emerged from all this with considerable honour. During the five months that he was Chief Executive he used every endeavour and every ounce of energy to try to hold together that frail experiment. None of the members on the Executive was there because it was a good job or because he was given a State car. They all made a real personal sacrifice, and in those five months we were continually assailed by all the extremists in Northern Ireland.
1130 When the Executive was first set up the Provisional IRA engaged in a mad bombing campaign. When the Labour Government were elected the IRA did the same thing again. On the day that Sunningdale was concluded—9th December last year—we heard from Mr. Rory O'Brady of the IRA: "We will bust it". And within a matter of hours we heard the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) saying, "We will wreck it". For five months we were under continuous pressure not to do anything. My colleagues on the Executive were men of great courage and integrity. They had to be to last as long as they did.
Last week's failure of the Executive appeared to be the end of an experiment, but I wonder whether it was. No matter what happens again in Northern Ireland, those five months have shown that the Catholics and Protestants can learn to live together. Compromises had to be made. We were told only this afternoon that Mr. Faulkner gave away everything to compromise with the SDLP in the power-sharing exercise. The SDLP also had to give away quite a lot and to make many serious compromises which were not understood by its supporters. All we asked for at Sunningdale and all we now ask is that that minority in Northern Ireland—mostly Catholics—who aspire to the emotional and ideological concept that some day, not by coercion but as a result of common consent, Ireland will be united, may be allowed to have that aspiration. That is a legitimate aspiration. These people were prepared to give much in order to reassure the Protestants who feared that their citizenship might be taken away from them.
There were the guarantees in the Constitution Act and in the Sunningdale Agreement, and for the first time since partition the Government of the Republic entered into an agreement that in no circumstances would they try to coerce the people of the North into a united Ireland. That was a great concession by the Republic. The Constitution Act provided that the border could not be touched until a second poll was held in 1983. These were real guarantees which could not be broken.
In return all we asked was to allow us to try to take the first tentative steps of setting up a Council of Ireland which would enable Irishmen from both North 1131 and South to get to know each other. In view of the political situation, the Government of the Republic, faced with a majority of only two, and bearing in mind the traditions of Republicanism, have shown tremendous courage by recognising Northern Ireland in the way in which they did.
We were all engaged in a political exercise—Mr. Faulkner's Unionist Party, the Alliance, the SDLP and the British Government. Many of my supporters are burning with resentment now because they feel that the British Government did not live up to their commitment on internment. We were told that internment or detention without trial would be phased out as a part of the Sunningdale Agreement. A small number of men were let out before Christmas, but since then, apart from the releases ordered by the commissioners, no one else has been freed. These people feel they have been badly let down.
In view of the attacks made on the Executive, and the fact that it lasted for five months, I think we may say that all is not lost and that perhaps with different personnel and different political figures there will again be a power-sharing exercise in Northern Ireland. One speech in this debate which gives me hope was that by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) who said that he had not completely written off any attempts at power sharing with the SDLP. The outlook is not so bright if we listen instead to the pronouncements of the last two or three weeks by the other spokesman for that brand of Unionism to the effect that in no circumstances would they share power with Republicans.
Republicanism is an emotive term to the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland. That is why they tell me that since I am a Republican I should have nothing to do with the Government of Northern Ireland. I aspire to a united Ireland and I want to see it brought about not by coercion, killing, bombing and murder. If the conditions now being laid down, or apparently being laid down, by the new brand of Unionism is that before they will talk about power sharing or governing in Northern Ireland I must give up every hope that some day Ireland will be reunited, I cannot agree to that. I can- 1132 not give up that hope. Thousands of people in Northern Ireland cannot be asked to sell their hopes and beliefs either. If it is legitimate for the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland to say that they want to keep the British connection, it is just as legitimate for that minority to hold the hope that some day Ireland will be united. It is not a crime or an offence for it to do so.
The House has not been told how the effective date for the Sunningdale proposals was agreed. I was there and I saw it happen. Many hon. Members will be amazed when they know the precise circumstances. The event took place in Stormont on a Tuesday afternoon. The motion was carried by 40 votes to 28 that we should begin to implement the Sunningdale proposals. The SDLP had made many concessions to meet the fears expressed by the Protestant majority.
The Sunningdale proposals on the Council of Ireland were being phased. Before phase 2, which in effect was the real Council of Ireland—the other was only a Council of Ministers and so on—there was to be an election. The people of Northern Ireland would have been able to pass their verdict on whether phase 2 should ever become a reality. Therefore, there was no justification for any Protestant fears.
When the vote took place in Stormont the strike was obviously arranged, in view of what a Unionist spokesman there said. Incidentally, politics are becoming involved. When I first came here I could use the expressions "Unionist" and "Unionism". Now there are many different types of Unionist in Northern Ireland. For the first time I find that there are many reasonable people who are Unionist and give their allegiance to the maintenance of the British connection but who would in no way associate themselves with those who engaged in the stoppage and disruption last week.
It was said when the vote was taken that there would be a strike. I shall probably meet open hostility and violent contradiction when I say this. For 54 years there have been complaints about discrimination against the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. Some people did not believe it. Some said that it was all grossly exaggerated. But the series of inquiries held under successive British 1133 Governments within the past few years has proved conclusively that it was not all a figment of the imagination.
One could see clearly that it was not only industrial workers who were placed in strategic positions. There were also people with a particular political viewpoint who could at any time hold the whole community to ransom—in the power stations, the gas works, the water and sewerage facilities, which are all essentials of life. It seemed rather strange, to say the least, that those people were all in key posts at this key time and were able to call a stop and to hold the whole community to ransom. That is a lesson which Northern Ireland will have to learn, and is also a lesson for people throughout the rest of these islands.
It now seems that the whole of Sunningdale, the whole Constitution Act, is lying in ruins. Who is to be the supreme authority in this situation? Do the British Government say, "These are the terms on which you will be allowed to remain members of the United Kingdom"? Here again, I have no hesitation in congratulating the Leader of the Opposition on his forceful and lucid analysis of the situation.
Are we now in the position that the majority in Northern Ireland—it is only a section of the majority, and not the whole majority—are prepared to dictate the terms under which they will stay in the United Kingdom? Will this Government allow themselves to be blackmailed into such a position? I cannot see that any Government can let their authority be taken away in such a manner. If the majority can do it with this Government, the minority in Northern Ireland can do exactly the same with whatever Government happen to be in Stormont or in the Assembly. We shall get nowhere fast.
Many people in Northern Ireland are fearful that the present political insecurity could lead to an outbreak of violence and civil war. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Armagh say this afternoon that there was no possibility that there would be an attack on the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland by the Protestant majority. That was a real threat last week.
Because people did not die on a large scale, we think that the threat no longer 1134 exists, but people did die throughout Northern Ireland. No later than last night a young man was found murdered. We become used to every-day assassinations, which are going on and on, and which will continue unless we can bring about a political solution.
I have been in touch with the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. It is bitterly resentful that the so-called Ulster workers seen to be throwing around themselves the cloak of respecability. It was not a strike by acceptable standards as we know them. I have been asked to pose a question to the Minister of State. I understand that there is a Human Rights Commission now in existence in Northern Ireland. One of the greatest rights is the right to work. People were actively prevented from going to their employment. Can an inquiry be organised by the Government into all the circumstances during the latter part of the strike, when matters became so desperate?
Why did the BBC, a national institution, allow itself to be used during the whole course of that strike by those engaged in disruption? I was amazed that an announcer said during a broadcast in Northern Ireland, "I have just received word from the Ulster Workers' Council that if you go to such-and-such an address or ring a certain telephone number you will get a pass which will enable you to go to a garage and obtain petrol." That was a national institution acting as official spokesman for those who were engaged in the stoppage.
The owners of the Belfast Telegraph, which I understand has a circulation of 500,000 or 600,000 an evening, were told by UDA men, thugs and bullies, "Publish what we want you to publish, and we shall let you continue publication." Perhaps the owners will not like me saying that here, but I know that it happened. The Belfast Telegraph which had acted very responsibly until then, and I hope is acting responsibly now, began to give all sorts of coverage to what was happening in the strike.
We had the BBC and the newspapers acting for those behind the strike. It is no wonder the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland began to think "They're winning. We had better get on their side." People do not want 1135 to be left alone and isolated. That is why the strike was such a success.
We have been asked by everyone who has spoken in the debate whether we are prepared to engage in further political talks in Northern Ireland. I unhesitatingly commit myself and my party to saying, "Yes". We believe that it is only by talking to the various political representatives in Northern Ireland that we can ever have any hope of a political solution.
I agree with all those who have said that some of the alternatives which are being canvassed are just not possible. A repartition of Northern Ireland would bring untold death, destruction and tragedy. An overnight withdrawal of the British Army would do exactly the same. I do not know what evil genius thinks up these harebrained schemes. They would have no support from any section of opinion in Northern Ireland.
It may be that I am creating hostility from some of the representatives from Northern Ireland, but this must be said. I do not agree that a new form of Ulster nationalism is emerging. I believe that that Ulster nationalism, interpreted into words which we all know, in fact means Protestant ascendancy. That is what it is all about. Those who have been engaged in the disruption want a return to Stormont as it was before it was abolished under direct rule. I do not think that any significant section of British political life or the British people would in any way support a return to that system, which caused so much trouble in Northern Ireland.
I received a telephone call from a farmer in North Down on the Sunday evening before the Executive fell. He said, "I support the power-sharing Executive, and I support Mr. Faulkner. I think you are trying to do a good job in difficult circumstances. But I am going to Stormont tomorrow to protest against the Executive and support the Ulster workers". I said "Why? Is that not contradictory?" He replied, "Yes, but they have just been round here and told me that I am getting no feedstuffs if I do not support them." That is the type of support they were getting. There was massive intimidation and coercion of a vast number of people in Northern Ire- 1136 land to make them give their support to the strike.
The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said—and I support him, though reluctantly—that in this crisis in Northern Ireland the Government seem to have had a wrong sense of timing. I stand by that criticism. Every minute of every hour of every day gave those who were engaged in the stoppage the feeling that they were in total command of the situation. It was a desperate situation when the Government should have been seen to be acting vigorously. The barricades should have been taken down as soon as they were erected. The people whom I saw—indeed, the people whom we all saw on our television screens—in Larne and Ballymena supporting the hon. Member for Antrim, North with masks and hoods were breaking the law. They were the thugs. Why otherwise did they have to wear masks? Why did they have to wear paramilitary uniforms? They should have been arrested by the police and the army. We saw the terrible effects of what they were doing that evening when three men were murdered.
§ Mr. Orme
One listens to the hon. Gentleman's criticisms, but will he not acknowledge that positive action was taken in view of the arrests which took place at Ballymena and other arrests of UDA leaders on the Saturday night, when my right hon. Friend signed 22 ICOs in respect of leading Protestants whom the RUC arrested, which are now going to be processed through the courts? I refer to the 31 people who took part in the outrages in Ballymena leading to the deaths of those Republicans. Does he not acknowledge that in that respect positive action was taken?
§ Mr. Fitt
I accept that the Government showed very decisive action in that respect. I am opposed to detention and internment. I think those who were arrested on that occasion were not engaged in anything which would have been to the benefit of the Northern Ireland community. But there was too much delay by the security forces from the very onset of the strike. Every minute which elapsed led to a very deep humiliation of this Government. I support the Government and I do not want to see them humiliated by any extremists, be they IRA or Ulster Unionists.
§ Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)
Will the hon. Member agree that the statement made by the security forces was contradicted by the RUC in North Queen Street police station, and that the men arrested at Ballymena had no connection in any way with the men who were arrested by security forces at a later date? Will the hon. Gentleman also agree that he was one of the principal speakers, with ex-Executive member Paddy Devlin, at the meeting on 22nd November 1971 on "How to make government impossible"? Perhaps he will agree that he and his party were the first ever to attack the Government.
§ Mr. Fitt
The hon. Gentleman is capable of confusing the House without my assistance. Perhaps he will be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that many hon. Members wish to take part in this debate.
I think that up to the moment we have heard some very constructive suggestions. I want to recommit my party to the whole concept of power sharing as being the only type of Government which is acceptable and which will operate in Northern Ireland. If it means talking to some of my most bitter political opponents over the past years, I am prepared to talk to them to see whether we can possibly arrive at any accommodation.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
The speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is important because it seems to me to exemplify nearly all the things which make it impossible to come to any conclusion in terms of the policies which have been pursued by British Governments at Westminster in the last 10 years.
Had it not been for the fact that the Prime Minister today made some remarks about people speaking with the benefit of hindsight, I might not have thought it necessary to recall that I am one of the very few Members of this House in Great Britain who have consistently opposed the policies of consecutive British Governments on Northern Ireland from the time of direct rule onward. I certainly do not recall that fact now for the futile pleasure of saying "I told you so." I say it with no rancour.
1138 I do not blame my right hon. Friends and right hon. Members opposite and those in the Liberal Party, all of whom concurred in these policies. It was an honest and honourable attempt to find a solution to an almost intractable problem. But I said then that I thought the policies would fail because I thought they ignored the deep realities of the situation and the deep feelings of both the majority and minority communities in Northern Ireland. I think we would be foolish if we did not recognise that they have failed. At this moment they have failed, and it is futile to pretend otherwise.
I hope that anybody who is concerned to try to find some ultimate solution will read the speeches in the debate today of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) both of whom brought a welcome breath of realism into a debate which only too often, as all debates on Northern Ireland do in this House, tended to ignore the realities of the situation.
I think it is essential that all hon. Members from England, Scotland and Wales should try to understand a little what this business of sectarian religious differences means in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State made some references in his speech yesterday to sectarian violence and bitterness. I have heard people say, "What a terrible thing it is that people who call themselves Christians should be so bitterly opposed to one another on religious grounds." I have noticed that it is those people who are least in the way of religious observance themselves who are generally most highly critical in this respect. But it is worth remembering that until the troubles re-started in 1969, the Province of Northern Ireland, where religion is taken very seriously by both Protestants and Roman Catholics, had the lowest crime rate, the lowest illegitimacy rate and, indeed, a record of social responsibility, respectability and law-abiding decency second to none in the entire United Kingdom. It is one of the greatest tragedies of the last five years that this has been destroyed.
I think it is as well that people should recognise that in spite of all this talk of Protestant and Catholic, despite some of the truly appalling things that extreme Orangemen have said about Roman Catholics and which some Catholics have 1139 said about Protestants, the terms "Catholic" and "Protestant" have only been shorthand terms, labels worn to distinguish not sectarian religious differences but racial differences, political differences, differences of sociology, outlook, nature, temperament, ambition and aim.
When I hear people in this country asking why cannot the Irish in Northern Ireland sort it all out between themselves, I feel inclined to try to persuade them yet once more—some of us have been trying to do this for a long time—that for the most part the Catholics in Northern Ireland are Irish, feel themselves to be Irish and feel a natural affinity with their co-religionists and with their fellow Irishmen south of the border, while—this is only a broad generalisation—for the most part the people in the Protestant community are not Irish, do not feel themselves to be Irish, do not call themselves Irish and do not want to be Irish.
It is because these facts and the fact that we have two different races, two different types of people, have not been generally recognised that the policies we have been pursuing from Westminster have come so near to total failure. Now we can but admit that they have failed, and we must think again.
It is a bit hard when politicians here—such as the Leader of the Liberal Party, when the policies he has approved fail—turn round and blame the majority because it did not accept certain policies. For goodness sake, the business of politicians is surely to find solutions which will attract and secure majority support. Of course, they must be acceptable to the minority, but if they cannot secure the support of the majority they are a farce—they are not policies at all.
While it is true that the Protestant loyalists of Ulster are a small minority of the population of the United Kingdom, they are, after all, a majority in Ulster. We have to try to find some way in which they can live together in government, in peace, and in a social way with the Catholic Irish minority. How can we get two communities to come together in a constitution imposed from Westminster, with the support of Dublin, when the constitutional aims, the racial, national aims of the two parties are absolutely 1140 diametrically opposed? Until people in this country and in this House try to come to grips with the intractability of this problem there will never be a solution.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South was twitted by the Leader of the Liberal Party in a rather frivolous interjection about the Liberal Party having 6 million votes but only 14 seats, and not being much regarded politically. It seemed that the Leader of the Liberal Party considered that this was in some way analogous with the position of the Unionist majority in Ulster, but, as my hon. and gallant Friend retorted, where else in the world is a minority injected into a cabinet, into a Government, and the majority is told that it must work with it even though the minority is dedicated to taking its country out of the United Kingdom and joining it with a foreign country?
Unless we try to see the incompatibility of these arguments we shall never begin to get anywhere. All that has been achieved by successive Governments who have tried to solve this problem is that they have destroyed one Prime Minister after another in Northern Ireland. Let us face it, the one who in my view held out the greatest hope of being the man who might have united the Northern Ireland Unionists and the minorities in some kind of hopeful association, Brian Faulkner, has been destroyed like the others.
We broke the Unionist Party in Ulster into three parts and there was some unattractive rejoicing among some English politicians over our having done it, presumably on the principle of divide and rule; but if that were the principle it was not a clever sequel to saddle Mr. Faulkner with policies, and to pursue policies here, which were bound to reunite the Unionists under leaders far less moderate and far less likely to collaborate with the minority than those the Unionists had before. The net result has been little short of disastrous. But how are we now to try to come to grips with this situation?
I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South and other hon. Members who said that there must be fresh elections in Northern Ireland. I cannot see any alternative to that. The present situation is impossible 1141 without fresh elections. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he said that it is difficult to see how there can be elections to a constituent assembly which has ill-defined aims, and that it is difficult to see what the election campaign should be about.
It is right that there must be an interval of a few months, though not many months, before these elections take place; and during that time all the factions, as well as the official parties in Northern Ireland, must get together with as little interference as possible from Westminster or Dublin, because on past form ail that happens is that Westminster tries to impose the impossible, and Dublin is incapable of delivering even half of what would be possible, if it tried. That being so, I think that the factions in Northern Ireland have perhaps a better chance of coming to some lasting agreement if they can be left to themselves as much as possible. Then we should let the policy lines be drawn and have elections to a new assembly, to a constituent assembly or whatever we like to call it, and let us see what will come out of that.
But the one thing we cannot do, which in common sense, in logic and in natural justice we cannot do, is to say in advance from this House that if the people of Northern Ireland by an overwhelming majority return a majority Government, that majority Government are not to be allowed to have power or to pursue policies for which the people had elected them. To do that would be to reduce democracy to a farce.
Of course I hope that there is a future for power sharing. It would be absurd if the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland were never allowed to take any part in the process of government, although I am bound to say that democratic processes rather like this in many other situations and in many other countries are accepted as being a feature of democracy, and one of the things that democracy is all about.
Let us hope, and let us assume for the sake of argument, that some form of power sharing between the majority of Protestant Loyalists and the minority of Catholics is possible. But it will never 1142 be possible, it will never work, if the hon. Member for Belfast, West and his colleagues go into every election and into every power-sharing experiment saying that they are still dedicated to taking Ulster into a United Ireland and saying that it is a perfectly legitimate objective for them as the SDLP to pursue, and that they will continue to pursue it.
§ Mr. McGuire
Would not the hon. Member agree that there can be nothing wrong in people aspiring to a reunited Ireland if it is based on the view of the majority of the people in the Six Counties? Would not that be a form of democracy? What would be totally wrong would be to want a reunited Ireland without reference to what the majority wanted, to work to undermine what the majority wanted. However, there is nothing wrong in what is wanted by my hon. Friend and—
§ Mr. McGuire rose—
§ Mr. Maude No, do not get up again. It is a fact that Ireland has never been united, except, of course, under British rule.
§ Mr. Maude
Anyone who knows the history of Ireland recognises that that is true.
At any rate, I specifically said that it was a perfectly reasonable aspiration for Irishmen in Ulster one day to become part of a united Ireland. I do not dispute that. They are Irishmen and their affinities and, in many ways, their loyalties lie south of the border with other Irishmen. It is a reasonable aspiration for them, but I fear that they will never secure it, because they will never be able to persuade the majority, at least not within the next four or five decades perhaps, and then only if some remarkable changes 1143 come over the Government of Southern Ireland.
The fact of the matter is that so long as they bring that aspiration continually to the fore as their main political objective, genuine power sharing which will last is impossible. The hon. Member for Durham was absolutely right when he said that what had produced this intractable and impossible situation was that the only political dialogue and the only political divisions that now existed in Northern Ireland were between Unionist Loyalists and Republican Irishmen, because the Labour Party had never succeeded in making any impact on Northern Ireland politics to represent the interests of the working classes as a trade unionist Labour Party.
Had that ever happened, the whole situation in Northern Ireland would have been different and a solution might have been possible. It may be only when something of that kind happens that we shall ever be able to get a solution.
But I say yet again that, however noble, however idealistic, indeed, however logical and sensible it sounds to talk about power sharing, power sharing cannot and will not work between a two-thirds majority determined to stay in the United Kingdom and a one-third minority determined to become part of a united Irish Republic. Unless hon. and right hon. Gentlemen recognise that, anything they say will be futile.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Before calling the next hon. Member, may I point out that time is running short? As the House realises, this is a very important debate. It would be much to the advantage of everyone if speeches could be kept to a ten-minute limit.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
I shall be brief, because I know that many other hon. Members wish to get into the debate. We have suffered, certainly today, from having too many ex-Ministers and ex-Front Benchers to recite the history of the past few months to those of us who have been hoping to speak. I shall confine my remarks to one or two general observations. I am much too humble to go into solutions in depth. Many of us should think twice before 1144 suggesting permanent solutions to these almost insoluble problems.
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) is back in his place. I should like to withdraw my ill-timed invitation to him to join the Government side of the House. He made some interesting and constructive noises at the beginning of his speech but he has to go a good way yet before I make the invitation a firm booking.
If anything has been shown by the events of the past few weeks it must be that no British Government, of whatever complexion, can ever hope to impose a solution on the people of Northern Ireland. That is a lesson that some people have learned the hard way, but many have known it for years. It should now be apparent that no solution can be imposed.
Another feature that strikes me is that the Protestant workers have inflicted a humiliating defeat on our security forces without firing a shot. They have made it appear to many observers that the sole reason for the presence of troops in Northern Ireland is simply to impose law and order in the Catholic ghettos. In that regard I would say that the UWC has achieved more in two weeks than the IRA has achieved in five years. I should like briefly to quote the Sunday Times of 2nd June. It said:The Army told Rees that it was a force trained and equipped to contain terrorists, not to deal with general strikes. Its role was to protect the majority against an insurgent minority; but when the majority turned against the Government, the Army's job became virtually impossible".That is almost a repetition of what I have said—that the Army's only function appears to outside observers to be to keep law and order in the Catholic ghettos.
§ Mr. Stallard
I expected my right hon. Friend to differ from me and from the Sunday Times reporters in a number of respects. However, I found that article an excellent analysis of the situation in the Six Counties today.
I further believe—I say this in all sincerity—that the situation in the past few weeks was mistimed, misread and 1145 misunderstood by our Government and their advisers. I say that sadly, because I know how hard my right hon. Friends have worked over the past few years, both in opposition and in office, to find an acceptable and fair solution to this intractable problem.
I have long felt—I tried to say this in a brief question recently—that we have not been speaking to the right people in the Six Counties. I asked the Secretary of State to initiate talks with newly legalised political organisations and with representatives of various working-class bodies. I said then what I have felt for a long time—that leading politicians and others in the Six Counties were not speaking for the people of either community.
I base my belief on impressions that I have gained over the past few months, during which time I have had long discussions with people from both sections of the Northern Ireland community.
Everyone knows where I stand on the problems of the Six Counties and, indeed, on the problems of the whole of the island. I can still have discussions with members on both sides and of all denominations. From my discussions and observations I learned that there had been a dramatic shift of the power base from the traditional Unionist and Conservative hierarchy down to the shop floor and the street. That is what was misread and misunderstood. This was a significant although not sudden development. I was sorry that it was not harnessed. I fear that if it is ignored or insulted it will lead to serious problems and could easily be pushed in the direction of fascism. There were signs that that was in danger of happening in the past couple of weeks. This should be recognised. The mood should be developed constructively. I still believe that only a Labour Government can seize the opportunity and harness this mood.
I am convinced that any future conferences or talks must be aimed first at uniting both communities in areas of common agreement without any undue pressure either from this side of the water or from Dublin. That is a must. Before that process can begin some decision must be taken on the question whether Northern Ireland is to remain part of the United Kingdom. That decision must 1146 be made after taking account of feelings and views on this side of the Irish Sea. To that extent I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved), who has said this in different words on many occasions.
We have seen the rise of various movements expressing a whole range of opinions about the withdrawal of British troops. These opinions vary from "take them out tonight or tomorrow morning" to giving a time limit of two, three, four or five years. Such opinions must be taken into account in any discussion on the future of the Six Counties. I have observed that opinion in this country has hardened quite firmly against integration. That means a period of direct rule. I doubt whether four months will be long enough.
There must be patient negotiations with all the representative groups I have mentioned, and others. To this end I suggest that we use the immediate future to create the necessary conditions for such a change. I suggest we ought to take one or two immediate steps. I have described them before, so I need not elaborate upon the reasons. The first step is the ending of internment. I know how controversial this is. The imposition of internment was a mistake which has been continued and has made things worse. Nothing will be satisfactory until it is ended. This view has the support of spokesmen in both communities.
We ought immediately to enact the rest of the Bill of Rights, which again has the support of both communities, the trade union and labour movements as well as many of the loyalist organisations. Certainly lip service was paid to it by all leading politicians in this House. It was included in the last Government's Green Paper or White and Orange Paper of which they produced so many when in office. The enactment of the rest of the Bill of Rights would help create a good atmosphere in the Six Counties.
Then we should announce our intention to withdraw troops from the stress areas immediately, to relieve some of the tension and to work towards a complete and total withdrawal. I would not put a time limit on it, but it ought to be known that that is a definite aim. Recent events have made these views much more relevant. Dearly as I would love to 1147 develop those points, it would take much too long.
I do want to mention another point, however. It would be disastrous if we left here after an emergency two-day debate without mentioning even briefly the position of the Irish prisoners. I had hoped that we would have some comment from Front Bench spokesmen on either side—some understanding of the strength of feeling on this problem in the country. I do not think that we can gloss over it and hope that it will go away. From listening to the radio and examining my mailbag it seems that there is a great deal of feeling in both directions on the problems surrounding the future of those prisoners currently on hunger strike.
I refer to the Home Secretary's decision not to return these Irish prisoners to Northern Ireland or, at this stage anyway, to give any firm commitment for the foreseeable future. I should like to go into detail on the Home Secretary's statement. However I feel, and I fear, that there will be opportunities to do so in the next few days. I hope that even now there is still room to discuss the representations made to him in public and in private in the hope of changing the apparent decision that has been made.
I am reminded that the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), who is an ex-Minister of State for Northern Ireland and who spoke earlier today, said that one of our aims in dealing with the problems in Northern Ireland must always be to reduce the tension, to lower the temperature. We should get rid of the flashpoints and take away some of the bigger problems. I agree entirely. I agreed with many of the steps taken during the lifetime of the last Government.
I can well remember that when the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) was Secretary of State he initiated a whole new category of prisoners as a result of hunger-striking prisoners. It was almost as a direct result of the hunger strike of McKee, Farrelly and Canavan that we got this new special category—political prisoners they would be called elsewhere—in Long Kesh. It can be said that this came about under duress and that it might never happen again. In today's situation we ought not to look at everything through English eyes. We should look at some of the 1148 precedents and see how some previous problems were dealt with.
No one has asked that these prisoners be released. I am amazed at the amount of criticism that has been levelled at me after I raised this as a member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party group last Christmas. I have raised it on a number of occasions since. Other of my hon. Friends have raised questions concerning Long Kesh, Armagh and other parts of the country. We have written to various Home Secretaries about it. I hope it is not too late for the Home Secretary to consider the plight of two female prisoners in a male prison with no female facilities.
This is a prison which is used only for remands, not for people serving a life sentence. These female prisoners must be transferred. The Home Secretary admits that they could not possibly spend much of their sentence there. I hope that he will transfer them soon to Northern Ireland. If I had time I would have liked to draw attention to some of the remarks made in the other place by some noble lords. I know that it is an unpopular and controversial issue. However, I hope that account will be taken of all the aspects concerning hunger-striking prisoners. I hope that when he replies tonight, the Minister will say that he will ask the Home Secretary urgently to review the position with a view to sending these prisoners back to Northern Ireland.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Evelyn King (Dorset, South)
Some hon. Members have complained that this has been a ragged and inconclusive debate. I do not altogether deny that, but it is not a bad thing to be inconclusive in view of some of the conclusions which this House has reached in the past and which have not stood the test of time. If, today, there has been a breaking of the log jam between both sides and increasingly individual opinions are being expressed from both sides—I say this with all good will—I hope that the Secretary of State will think that it is a good and not a bad thing.
We must represent with such degree of accuracy as we can sustain the people who elect us. On this issue—I make this general statement which I believe to be true—we have in recent months become increasingly separated from them. It 1149 was the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), I think, who said yesterday that all Irishmen were mad. I am not sure that he realises how many Irishmen think that all Englishmen are mad. In view of what this Parliament has done in the Irish context over the centuries, and particularly in the last decade, history supports the Irish theme more than the English theme. Therefore, my first plea is that the House should be modest—rather more modest than it has been—in its approach to Ulstermen.
I should like to pay tribute to the people of Ulster. I echo the Secretary of State's condemnation of the 8 per cent. and 10 per cent. who are violent. I do not complain about his condemnation of them, but I should like to think that someone would give praise to the 90 per cent. or so of Ulstermen who, over the years, have endured bombings, murders, poverty and almost every hardship known to man. It is time someone praised them for it. That is why I felt a little indignant when I heard the Prime Minister's broadcast—in which he seemed to speak of stopping their pocket money—not because it might or might not be the right thing to do but because it was such a silly thing to say.
If politicians claim to be expert in anything, they should claim to be expert in language. I cannot help detecting in speeches, some by Ministers, language that cannot help the situation. The people of Ulster have a great history. When we remember men like Alanbrooke, Montgomery and Alexander, who have contributed to our history, and the fact that there have been six Presidents of the United States of Ulster descent, we realise that we are dealing with a people whose intelligence and courage if anything exceeds our own. Therefore, any trace of talk about them as if they were colonial inferiors—some speeches have reflected that feeling—is a blunder which I am sure the Secretary of State will never commit.
I turn to the question of the 1973 Constitution. I made a speech in the House at the time in which I said that it would not work because it divorced power from responsibility. That is something fundamental which, irrespective of recent troubles, would, in my view, have brought it down.
1150 I turn to the theme of power sharing. We have heard a little too much about the difficulties of sharing power between one section of Ulstermen and another and not enough about the fundamental weakness, which is the sharing of power, I suggest unfairly, between all Ulstermen and the English.
That brings me to the use of the words "loyalist" and "nationalist". The use of the word "loyalist" started when Eire sought to break from Great Britain. A large number of people sought to remain loyal to the Crown. That was 50 or 60 years ago. Then the meaning of the word "loyalist" was absolutely clear. Now, it is not clear. A large number of people in Ireland do not wish to maintain the British connection, and the meaning of the word "loyalist" is become increasingly dubious.
I am sure that the Secretary of State is the most modest of men, and there is nothing personal in what I propose to say, but I sometimes wonder whether he realises that in the months ahead he will exercise the sort of power which used to be exercised in the nineteenth century by the Viceroy of India or the Sirdar of Egypt. He is, in fact, a dictator. He rules by the power of the military. With what weapon? Imprisonment without trial is quite common—and the right hon. Gentleman has others of similar calibre.
I hope that the Secretary of State will reflect upon his situation. I wonder whether he ever thought when he was first elected as a Labour Member of Parliament, that he would be in such a situation. I do not think that he did. I hope that he will want to get rid of it as soon as possible, as I hope any democratically-elected British Member of Parliament would wish to do.
That brings me to what I think should be the principle on which cur policy must be based and the target at which we should aim, namely, to return political power to where it belongs. It belongs in Belfast, Londonderry and Stormont; it does not belong in Westminster. The sooner we make that clear, the sooner a solution will be found.
It is an illusion to think that the people who reside in Northern Ireland are the same as us. They are not. It is 1151 an illusion to think that we can impose on them various forms of constitution, because it has been shown beyond reasonable doubt that that is no longer within our power. That is the fundamental point. Why are we at such a drawback? There were many Chief Secretaries for Ireland throughout the nineteenth century. Many of them probably had as much good will as the Secretary of State has. They all failed for one reason—because they were English. The right hon. Gentleman suffers from the same drawback.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees indicated dissent.
§ Mr. King
I am sorry—he is Welsh. Let us say that he is a Celt. That is moving in the right direction, but not far enough.
As I say, we must return political power to where it belongs. But that is not enough. It will rightly be asked what I propose to enable that to be done. First, an early Assembly election must be held. What are the arguments against holding such an election? It might be said that we would appear to be giving way to a strike. But that is not really the reason.
There is only one reason why right hon. Members on both sides are not keen on the holding of an election; they fear that they may not get the result they want. That is not a good reason for not holding an election. Least of all is it a good reason when it is a question of Englishmen dealing with Northern Irishmen and Northern Irishmen believing that England is withholding from them democratic rights to which they think, and have every reason to think, they are entitled.
So I take us to the point where we hold an Assembly election. That election having been held, we have once again at least an Irish Assembly, elected by Irishmen, where political power resides. At that point I should like to see the British Government pointing out that British troops cannot remain for ever, and asking Ulstermen in that Assembly to work out their own constitution. That is their function, not ours.
What is primarily wrong with every suggestion that has been made by every hon. Member is that it has been made by an English Member of this Parliament. We want suggestions to be made by Irish 1152 Members of Parliament. We should put to them two conditions. We want to accord to them power to decide their own fate. But we should rule out integration. I shall not deploy the arguments against integration because we have heard them too often. Somebody should say to the Irish, "If you accept responsibility for devising your own constitution you must do it in such a way that your own security forces and not ours must be held by you to be sufficient to maintain the law." That is the context in which I see the withdrawal of British troops. Withdrawal cannot take place until there are sufficient indigenous forces to maintain law and order to fulfil the function of the troops.
There is a second condition. There are those who say that if we accord to Ulster-men the right to form their own constitution, automatically British grants should cease. I do not wholly take that view. We owe to this population a debt which I cannot put into words but which exists. I am not willing for British security forces to remain there for a long period. I should like to see a constitution evolve that would be broadly acceptable in the democratic sense. I should be willing to say that some subsidy, not unlike what we already give but not, perhaps, called a subsidy, should continue.
Above all, I beg the House to have humility and to understand that we cannot—and it is not the Secretary of State's function—decide for Northern Ireland what it should have. That is a decision for Northern Ireland alone, and Ulstermen must be responsible for it. Only in that spirit of humility can we hope to solve so intractable a problem.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I am sure that we all welcome the refreshingly generous tribute to the Irish people which has been paid by the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. King).
In a recent television programme, the first question which the chairman asked me—and it is symptomatic of the period in which we live—was, "Mr. Flannery, you have a very Irish name. Are you a Catholic?" I said, "No, I am not a Catholic." The chairman said, "Are you a Protestant?" I said, "No, I am not a Protestant. I am just a Socialist." 1153 I said that my people had been in England for 120 years and that they had come over to get away from the English. I said that in time I hoped that people would see that the world belongs to mankind and not to Catholics, Protestants, Englishmen, Chinese or anyone else. I am sure that many people who have listened to or read the reports of this debate have that viewpoint.
A previous speaker said that we were pessimistic. There is a tendency to talk about people who are being realistic in face of an intractable problem as being pessimists. I do not feel pessimistic, but I feel deeply worried when I read, as I did this morning in The Guardian, the following heading:Both parties bereft of an Ulster policy.The article read,Her Majesty's Government no longer has any coherent and immediate policy for dealing with the situation in Northern Ireland.… Much the same applies to Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.It saddens me that there is a great deal of truth in what appeared in The Guardian this morning. I am of the opinion that our honourable and well-intentioned debate will leave the situation very much as we found it.
I want to spread democracy in Northern Ireland because it is precisely the lack of democracy that has caused this situation. A lack of democracy anywhere is bound ultimately to result in violence, whether it be in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Algeria or Northern Ireland. It was inevitable that the one-party rule in Northern Ireland that has continued for 50 years would result ultimately in the suppressed turning round wildly and struggling back.
James Connelly, the Irish Socialist who, like many Socialists, ultimately faced a firing squad, said in 1912 that he had heard rumours of the partition of Ireland and that he would like to warn those gentlemen who were about to partition Ireland that they would one day reap the whirlwind. We have been reaping the whirlwind, as Connelly said, because the synthetic separation of one part of Ireland from the other, with an inbuilt majority round which a line was drawn without any real thought, was bound to result ultimately in what came about.
1154 We have to deal with this problem, and I am not crying about it. Nor are other hon. Members who are grappling with it. The slogan of power sharing is gimmicky. The democratisation process has to go on, no matter what we call it. In the present context the recent power sharing attempt was a post-dated cheque on a collapsing bank. Those are not my words. They are the words used by Gandhi in India in 1942 about the backward policy of British Imperialism in that country.
I turn to the Army's role. I do not wish to make a long speech, but this is a fundamental point. Having taken part in patrols many years ago—not against the Japanese but against the Indian people—my heart goes out to the soldiers in Northern Ireland and to the poor people in both communities in Northern Ireland who are in terror.
The other day I saw in the newspapers a photograph of paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland—hooded men wearing dark glasses. They reminded me of the Tontons Macoute of Haiti and I shuddered at the thought. These men were being led by a Member of this House.
At one time during the strike 40,000 people took part, but it must be pointed out that 170,000 did not join the strike at that point. In Harland and Wolff there were two votes, both of which went against strike action. Then the thugs came in with the guns, and many people went on strike in sheer fear. What kind of regime is that for democrats to uphold? Surely the Army's role should be to stop those hooded men patrolling in that way.
I believe that as a result of this debate we should carry out a major reappraisal of the situation and arrive at an honourable solution. It is not correct to say that we are seeking to arrive at a simplistic solution and to ask for a royal road to success. If we are not careful in two or three years' time we shall experience a British backlash, with voices demanding that we wash our hands of the problem. I do not want the United Kingdom to wash its hands of the problem or for us to walk out. But what we must do is to set a tentative date, possibly two or three years ahead, in which to 1155 carry out a maximum process of democratisation, whether in power sharing or whatever else we may call it.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I have listened with interest to my hon. Friend's speech. He mentioned the problem of hooded men in Ulster. This was a problem which I faced last week. My hon. Friend obviously appreciates that the Army in Northern Ireland is under my control. Should I have put in troops on a large scale to deal with the hooded men who, as I think my hon. Friend indicated, were led by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)?
§ Mr. Flannery
I cannot give my right hon. Friend a monosyllabic answer to that question. I was talking about the paramilitary forces and asking whether the result of our troops being brought into the situation would have had a softening effect. However, I should not like to advise my right hon. Friend on whether one should have turned the troops on those forces. This is a terrible problem, and I do not know the answer to it.
Nobody in Ireland is satisfied with the present situation and this also applies to people in the rest of the United Kingdom. We must go on talking and do the best we can to cope with the situation, but I believe that a clear line rather than a diffused view must be taken by my right hon. Friend, otherwise we shall feel a backlash from our own people.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Redmond (Bolton, West)
It is fascinating that somebody with my name should be called to speak following the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). In view of what the hon. Gentleman said about the length of time his family has been in this country it might be said that we are both the product of past liberal immigration policies. I leave the House to judge whether they were good policies.
I have attended every debate on Ireland in the last four years and this is the first time I have been fortunate enough to be called upon to take part. One of the troubles with the Irish problem is that we have had too many "experts" in the House attempting to speak on this subject. At least the debate has shown that there is now much more 1156 humility in the House, and fewer people claim to know the answer. That probably is a step forward.
I have never claimed to know the answer to the Irish problem but I hold a particular view on the subject. I certainly did not think that direct rule would work, except for a temporary period. It is not my fault that I did not express this view on the Floor of the House. I hold no brief whatever for the IRA; the people who support it are beneath contempt.
Although I am a Conservative, however, I have never been a Unionist in the Irish sense. At the same time, we have to recognise facts. A United Ireland is out of the question, and it must remain out of the question in the foreseeable future. What is more, this issue ought not even to be discussed, and I say that especially to the Ulster Unionists in this House. It is not an issue in Irish politics any longer, except in terms of a border referendum. Talking about the issue merely clouds the situation and causes desperate trouble.
I am also fed up to the back teeth with the people about whom we abuse the English language when we describe them as "loyalists". My constituents are equally tired of the misuse of that word. I have every respect for what my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. King) said in a very fine speech, but to whom are these so-called Loyalists loyal? Are they loyal to the Queen? Are they loyal to the constitution of this country? Are they loyal to the law of this country? I believe that they are loyal only to what they see as the Protestant faith and to what they see to be the Province of Ulster. In my view, that is what the Secretary of State meant by "the new Ulster nationalism". These people are not loyal to Britain. If they were, they would accept the laws of Britain and work constitutionally for a change of the law if they did not like it. Incidentally, I seem to remember much the same being said about the Industrial Relations Act, but that is another matter.
For three generations, the family whose name I have the honour to bear fought in this Parliament for Home Rule for Ireland. Loyalty to the constitution never came seriously into the question with them, but they were law-abiding citizens, 1157 even if on occasion they got into trouble with the Chair and had to be taken out by the Serjeant at Arms with drawn sword.
I should like right hon. and hon. Members to study the wall of this Chamber under the Gallery on the Opposition side. The fourth crest along is the crest of the family whose name I have the honour to bear. That crest bears witness to the fact that one of the family—an Irish Nationalist Member of Parliament, William Redmond—like many thousands of other gallant Irishmen, made the supreme sacrifice in the cause of humanity and freedom. He was killed on the Somme in 1916. We heard about the Somme in relation to Ulster yesterday.
I know all the arguments about the treaty ports and about loyal Ulster. All credit to Ulster for that. But let us have no more misuse of the English language as it is applied to those who hold the British nation to ransom and tie down our gallant soldiers. If this House had listened to John Redmond before 1914, we would have had the treaty ports between 1939 and 1945. We did not listen to the moderate leaders of Ireland in those days. The result was that the Sinn Feiners took over and we lost the treaty ports when the 1939–45 war came.
We in this Parliament should have learned one important lesson from history—that it is impossible for this Parliament at the Palace of Westminster to govern the Irish. Let us realise that Charles Stuart Parnell and John Redmond were right. The only people who can govern the Irish are the Irish themselves—it does not matter whether they are north or south of the border.
With all possible respect to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) said in his excellent speech, there are two sorts of Irish. I remind my hon. Friend that Parnell was a Protestant. But there are Roman Catholics and Protestants who are both Irish. They may be different sorts of Irish, but they are Irish. Therefore, I do not argue now for a United Ireland. That is totally out of context at present. But I do argue for a new Stormont Legislature, with full powers to govern Ulster's internal affairs.
I am at one with my hon. and gallant—I use the word "gallant" particularly happily today, in view of what I said 1158 about loyalty—Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), who made an excellent speech. I agree with him completely about what is needed in the form of a constitutional conference. That saves me having to make quite a number of points.
I get many letters from my constituents not about Irish prisoners—not a word about them—but about our troops in Ireland. I know there is this groundswell of opinion that we should bring the boys home. But we cannot, in all honesty, pull the troops out in the near future. That is what the IRA wants us to do. It would be giving way to the gunmen.
Yesterday I listened to the talk, mostly by hon. Gentlemen opposite, about there being the risk of a blood bath if we pull out the troops. Consider what happened in 1922 when we brought the troops home. What a blood bath there was then. That is what we would get today.
Surely we can get to the point where the Army can play a secondary role to the police. But then follows the argument that there are not enough police. I realise that I have just supported what was said yesterday in Ulster by Enoch Powell about needing more police. It was typical of him to say what should be done without saying how.
We are short of Catholic police. That is the crux of the problem. If Catholics will not join the Protestant RUC, is there not an argument for having a second echelon of the RUC which would be Catholic? I think that point may be worth discussing.
§ Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)
I should like to point out that there are several Catholics in the RUC. I know some in the village from which I come. They help to guard the barricades against car bombers. The present Chief Constable of the RUC, Mr. Jamie Flanagan, is a Catholic.
§ Mr. Redmond
That was an entirely helpful intervention. It underlines what I was trying to say in my attempt to be brief. There are some Catholics in the RUC, but not enough. There seems to be antipathy towards joining the RUC because of the sectarian feeling. If we could have a wholly Catholic section of the constabulary, it might work. I put that forward as a suggestion. I do not think that it is the answer.
1159 I ask the Ulster Unionists to stop talking about the border issue. They keep saying that they are part of the United Kingdom, that they intend to stay in, but that Sunningdale was the start of a movement to put them into the Irish Republic. Methinks that they protest too much. I think that the British people will get fed up with their protests and will say, "Let them go." I am sure they do not want it, and we do not want it. Therefore, they had better stop all this talk.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
I have sat through the two days of this debate and listened to most speeches. In view of the indication that has been given about the time Members are expected to take for their speeches, I will have to abandon my notes. I understand that the best speeches are made without notes. I hope that mine follows that pattern. I shall speak on what I consider to be the essential points that have emerged during the debate. I have heard some remarkably good speeches with which I agree, and others which I disagree.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made an excellent speech. I particularly appreciated the tribute paid by the former Home Secretary in the previous Government, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), to those who hold the high office of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He has endured the vicissitudes of high office. His tribute was generous, and is accepted.
I particularly liked the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition. It was the best speech that I have heard him deliver. I quibble with only one or two points in it. It was a remarkable speech. The speech by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) was also one of the best speeches to be delivered in this House.
I speak following two hon. Members with names as Irish as my own. I know it is against the convention of the House to mention names, but they are Flannery and Redmond, and mine is McGuire. I shall always treasure the recollection of hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) telling the House that his family came over to England from Ireland 120 years ago to escape the English. I did not 1160 quite see the point of it, but I thought that there was humour in it.
We are to be addressed soon by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). The hon. Gentleman and myself have had many private discussions. I know his constituency well. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is the evil genius in many respects behind much of the movement in Northern Ireland. His hon. Friend said that he did not remember it and did not see any photographs, but the hon. Gentleman was one of the men who led the march of the hooded paramilitary men, and he has much to answer for.
One of the things which the hon. Gentleman has consistently done in Northern Ireland which has inflamed passions has been to demean the religion that I have. He does it consistently and with his firebrand tactics. Any hon. Member who in this country consistently demeaned the religious beliefs of the minorities who are now here—Muslims and others—who demeaned the very fibre of the lives of many people in this country, as is done in Northern Ireland, would be rightly shot down in flames and exposed for what he is. One should not go round demeaning something which people hold dear and then say, "I like all Catholics. It is only their religion I despise." That sets the tone. I urge the hon. Gentleman to cease.
What has emerged from the debate is that there can be no return to the old set-up. Whatever this "Ulster nationalism" means, it brought about the partition of Ireland; we have been discussing really the failure of the first partition of Ireland, and there can be no return to the pre-abolition Stormont Government where Catholics were demeaned and were expected to be demeaned and to have a "Croppies lie down" mentality. No British Government will allow such a situation to be re-created.
The most consoling thought to me during the speeches in this debate has been that the two Front Benches and the Liberal Party are united. They do not know what the solutions will be, but they say, "We are not going back to that situation. We are certainly not going to provide the money to sustain it if people think that they can bring it about."
I hope that that message will get home to the hon. Member for Antrim, North 1161 and his friends and that they will spell out exactly what they mean by power sharing and will tell us that, if the minority community is represented in the next Parliament or assembly in Northern Ireland, they will be willing to share power with the minority community and will not use the subterfuge of the border—because under the Constitution Act that is dead and buried for another eight years at least, with all the guarantees that could possibly be given.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Many attacks have been made upon me in this debate. I will not waste my time or that of the House in answering them, because my standing in the House and outside it will not be affected by falsehoods spoken by Members of the House. I am not interested in their personal vilification of myself.
There are things happening in Northern Ireland of which the House should take cognisance. Since I have been a Member of the House of Commons I have always said that when the bread-and-butter issues which affect the lives of ordinary people in Northern Ireland are being debated here, there is a curious lack of interest on the part of British Members to take part in debates on those issues. Only when controversy arises in Northern Ireland do these Members suddenly take an interest.
I want to answer the Prime Minister, who took it upon himself to attack me personally. This is what happens in this House. Hon. Members who do not know Northern Ireland, who do not even know the constituency boundaries that I represent, say these things.
The Prime Minister today referred to an incident, which took place during the stoppage, which was not even in my constituency. He thought today that I would be foolish enough to stand up and try to intervene in his speech on something which did not affect my constituency. We have members of the Government, members of the Front Bench, who will use any tactic and even play with men's lives in order to vilify me.
I want to refer to this incident. It took place in South Antrim and not North Antrim. Two men were brutally murdered. I was the first person unreservedly to deplore it, and the UWC issued a statement deploring what took 1162 place. But, of course, that is not mentioned in this House. It is completely swept under the carpet. But the Prime Minister would try to infer that it took place in my constituency and that I was responsible for it. He would also try to infer that I was silent about it. I nail that tonight as an atrocious lie.
I am going to say something else to the House. I do not mind whether the innate hatred of the Prime Minister against Ulster Protestants is poured out on me. It will not do me any harm. I know that the people of Northern Ireland know that the Prime Minister has an innate hatred of Ulster Protestants. We have heard what he has said about Ulster Protestant people time and again. We know his twelve-point plan. I thought today that he might tell us whether he still believes in it. But he conveniently forgets about it. It was a twelve-point plan for a united Ireland.
The Prime Minister can talk about the number of sponges it would take to cleanse away my defilement, but I tell him for the Ulster people that it would take all the steel wool and all the Vim ever created to purge his soul of his hatred of Ulster Protestantism and the Ulster Protestant people.
If hon. Members want to call Ulster Members names, they can do so. The Ulster Members will take care of themselves. There is only one place where the Members for Ulster need their following, and that is in their constituencies, and if their constituents back them, they need not fear slanderous attacks uttered on them in this House.
I say to the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire)—let him come to North Antrim and talk to the Roman Catholic people there. He will not find one who will say that Ian Paisley does not work fairly for every section of the community. He will not find one. I invite the Prime Minister, who does not even know my constituency, and yet today would play with the lives of men and try to vilify me for something for which I have no responsibility and which I utterly deplore. Let him visit Northern Ireland and find out what it is all about. Let him come to North Antrim and talk to the Roman Catholics there; let him talk to the people in Rathlin Island; let him talk to the co-religionists in the Glens of the hon. Member for Ince and hear what they say. 1163 None of them will not say that I work on tribunals and planning appeals and in all constituency matters for all the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. McGuire
My accusation was not that the hon. Gentleman did not work for his constituents equally. It was that in his speeches about the religion to which I belong he demeans us consistently and all the time.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The hon. Member said, as HANSARD will make clear, that I said publicly that I had nothing against individual Roman Catholics but then acted entirely differently. I act consistently. I reject the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. I do not accept Papal Infallibility, and the hon. Member knows it. Nor do I accept the moral dogmas of that Church. If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk theology with me, I shall be glad to debate it with him any time, as I have debated it with the priests of his Church.
The murder of the two Roman Catholics that has been mentioned happened on the same day that two other people were murdered by the IRA, but the Prime Minister conveniently forgot that; he did not mention it. A former Member of this House, Mr. Geoffrey Bing, wrote a long article in the Irish Times vilifying the RUC for what happened in Ballymena and saying that no arrests had been made. The RUC has arrested certain people for what happened there and two men have been charged with the murder of the Byrne brothers. Let it not be said, here or elsewhere, that the RUC has not acted on this matter.
Ever since I came to the House, my line on the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, on the White Paper and, before that, on the Green Paper, which was printed on white paper, has been consistent. I have told the House consistently that the propositions of the Secretary of State would not wear in Northern Ireland. It was said in this House that the only way one could be sure that a constitutional settlement would stick was by a referendum of the people of Northern Ireland. The House rejected that and Assembly elections went ahead.
Hon. Members Opposite laughed when my right hon. Friend the Member for 1164 Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) said that the issues in that election were cloudy. But what did Mr. Morell, who was a member of the Executive, say in his election address? He stood for no power sharing with the SDLP, no Council of Ireland and the police back in the hands of a Stormont assembly. He won his seat on that issue; then he did an about-turn and took a place on the Executive. What did Mr. Faulkner say during the election? He said that a cabinet with the SDLP would be a bedlam cabinet and that he would not serve in it. Then he suddenly turned around and served with the SDLP.
That is why the people of Northern Ireland want an election. What is wrong with an election? Perhaps the Prime Minister told us what was wrong in his eyes—the tragedy was the result of the election. It is not the fact of an election but how the people would vote that he objects to. This House has no right to dragoon the people of Ulster into a certain way of voting. We are supposed to believe in free elections, yet there have been attempts to manipulate the timing of elections, the way in which elections should be run, their very conduct. In Northern Ireland, even the postal vote was manipulated—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Yes it was. The dates on which one could get a postal vote were changed. It is no good the Minister of State denying this. This is a fact, and everybody knows it. People ask why the people of Northern Ireland object. Postal votes were sent out previously in envelopes bearing the words "On Her Majesty's Service". At that election, those words were stamped out. Why were they stamped out? The House might ignore that, but the Loyalist people saw it as another step away from their constitutional position in the United Kingdom. I could go on and give more examples. The trouble is that this House does not realise that the Ulster people refuse to be deceived, and they cannot be deceived. Why has the Front Bench today not told us about the resignation of Mr. Paddy Devlin, who resigned from the Executive long before this crisis?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The Minister will have his time but I am pressed for time. He will have the opportunity to answer.
I have in my hand letters from Mr. Devlin after his resignation or handed in after he said he was no longer a member of the Executive. Here is evidence of his sitting in his office and signing letters as the Minister of Health and Social Security when he was supposed not to be in office. This fact was concealed from the people of Northern Ireland until after the strike finished.
§ Mr. Orme rose—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am not giving way yet. The people of Northern Ireland cannot be deceived, and it is no use this House trying to deceive them. We were told that Sunningdale had nothing to do with a united Ireland, and that it was not a step towards that situation, and yet the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and Mr. Ivan Cooper, the member on the Executive for mid-Ulster, said that it was the way to a united Ireland, that the Council of Ireland and the Sunningdale Agreement set the way for it. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Belfast, West to tell the House that he is prepared to talk about power sharing, but he was careful not to say in this House what he said in Northern Ireland, that power sharing was conditional upon all-Ireland institutions. The people of Ulster will not have all-Ireland institutions, and if this House attempts to force the people of Northern Ireland to have them, there will be serious trouble.
We are told that the people of Ulster have acted unconstitutionally, and the Front Benches have lectured us to act constitutionally. That is what we did. The people of Northern Ireland voted on Sunningdale and power sharing at the last election. They tell us now that Mr. Faulkner should have run as a candidate. He ran candidates in two constituencies and they forfeited their deposits. If he is so sure that he has the support of the majority, why did he not fight the last election? Instead he manipulated the North Down Unionist Association and broke the rules of the association to get the nomination for Mr. Roy Bradford. Mr. Bradford went to North 1166 Down to try to defeat my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and my hon. Friend licked him soundly.
The people of Northern Ireland will not wear Sunningdale. It is all very well for the Leader of the Opposition to return from China and to give the House a lecture on what the strike was all about. He does not know what the strike was all about. Only those people who were directly connected with it know what it was about. It was not a mere protest. When I saw the right hon. Gentleman standing at the Dispatch Box I saw that his hands were the hands of the Leader of the Opposition but his voice was the voice of Brian Faulkner. The speech which was made at the National Liberal Club was repeated here this evening.
It was argued that the strike was only a protest, that it was not about Sunningdale or about power sharing. Let me make it clear that in the Assembly the united Unionists did not force a vote on the anti-Sunningdale resolution because we knew that that vote would lead to this serious strike. It was Mr. Ferguson of the Alliance Party, flanked on both sides by two members of the SDLP, who moved the closure in order to get a vote against our anti-Sunningdale motion. Immediately that vote was taken, the strike commenced. The strike was about Sunningdale.
The workers wanted an election—and why? It was so that by constitutional means and by a majority they could vote the Executive out of office and then have renegotiations about the whole situation. But instead of their achieving what they wanted and having an election, this House refused them an election. We were told, "You must wait four years to have an election". These people have tried the ballot, and the House would not listen to the result. They have tried to get elections, and the House would not let them have elections.
Then there was a strike. We have heard all the interpretations. The House need not bluff itself. Whether the House likes it or not, the majority of people were with the strike. I nail as a pernicious lie the allegation made by one Labour Member that gunmen went into the shipyard, that at a trade union meeting they brought out the guns and ordered the shipyard workers to strike. 1167 The Prime Minister castigated the shipyard workers for going on strike and said that they were all on strike although the Government were giving them millions of pounds. What was said was untrue. If there were gunmen in the shipyard, it is the duty of the Government to see that they are dealt with. Let the Government not introduce these red herrings into this serious debate.
Let it not be said that the men concerned were not workers. The hon. Member for Belfast, West said that they were not. In fact, these men are conveners of reputable trade unions, as the Minister of State well knows. They are shop stewards, respected men. Even a Labour Member who met them paid tribute to their calibre. It is no use the House criticising and denouncing these men, for they are the backbone of the Protestant working classes.
What is wrong with the House is that it has never realised what Ulster Unionism really is. Ulster Unionism is not English Toryism grafted on to Ireland. It is a consolidated effort by the majority people who trace their heritage to the plantation settlement and who desire to remain part and parcel of the United Kingdom. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I shall answer that in a minute or two. These people see that if they go into an all-Ireland republic their heritage, their traditions and their freedoms will be challenged and taken from them.
I suppose that no hon. Member would like to talk about personal liberty under the 1937 Constitution Act of the Irish Republic. Every hon. Member would disagree with that constitution. Yet that is the sort of thing that is being forced upon us—to enter a republic with that constitution.
Let us go back a little in history. It was this House that put on Northern Ireland the Stormont Government. Our fathers did not want anything but to remain under the jurisdiction of this House, but the House saw fit to paritition Ireland. It saw fit to give us that Government, and if it took away that Government it should have brought us back fully under this House or found a Government acceptable to the majority. I am talking not about a religious majority but a majority across the board in Northern 1168 Ireland. The only way to get that majority is to consult the people. What is proposed—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I know that I have to finish at 9.10 p.m., Mr. Speaker. I have a minute in which to make my point. I shall keep my word to you, as I always have, though I am greatly tempted to go on.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
There is now only one way to find an acceptable Government, and that is to have an election—to a convention or conference table. The Leader of the Opposition asked what we wanted that convention to do. It must be completely open-ended. The British Government cannot go on with all options closed. They must go with their options open, and the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland must sit round the table without pressure from Dublin or this House and find a way to govern Northern Ireland, not linked with the condition that we must have Southern Ireland institutions grafted on to Northern Ireland.
This House has made a muck of Northern Ireland. I say to this House: let the elected representatives have a chance to do something, for they can make no bigger mess than you have done. Let the people of Northern Ireland have this conference and let them come up with what they believe is a solution. Let us take it from Westminster to Ulster, and let the people of Ulster be trusted. It might surprise this House, but a far better system of government might come out of this whole experience than any hon. Member imagines. A Government of Northern Ireland agreed by all the people of Northern Ireland is the right Government to talk to the Southern Ireland Government—not to talk as an inferior Government but as a Government on an equal plane. When the Ulstermen can talk to the Republic as equals, Ireland will perhaps have an era of peace which everybody in this House no doubt desires.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
The hon. Member for 1169 Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that many personal attacks had been made on him. I can assure him that I shall not make one. I can also assure him that I prefer not to debate theology with him. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) said he thought that no single signpost had emerged during the debate, and he may be right. Certainly a very wide range of feelings and views has emerged which should be of a good deal of use to those responsible in the months ahead.
During the past few days and months in the House and in the Press we have heard and read much about the advantages of setting a definite date, usually quite near, for the withdrawal of the Army from Ulster. My right hon. Friend repudiated that idea this afternoon. So did the Prime Minister, as did the Leader of the Liberal Party, although he had to admit that there were some differences in his party.
What we have not heard are the feelings of the Army itself about this. I do not think they should necessarily be the determinant of policy, but they should certainly be considered, particularly as they may provide guidance on how we ourselves should feel. I think the Secretary of State for Defence will agree with what I have said on this point.
Over the years, the Army, like virtually everybody else, has felt exasperation over Ulster, and no doubt many people, if other things were equal, would prefer not to go back to serve again. At the same time, the Army has been very conscious that it has been doing an enormously important job, and doing that job magnificently. The emphasis of the role has altered occasionally, but essentially it has been to prevent civil war between the two communities and uphold the existence of the State against violent overthrow. In doing those two things it has suffered very heavy casualties—258 men killed, over 1,300 wounded and, as the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) said, some of them very gravely wounded indeed.
At the same time, it has been subjected to hatred, calumny, spite and vilification, and it has triumphed over all those things. What the advocates of withdrawal are now saying is that all those sacrifices by 1170 the Army were in vain, that the twin evils which the Army has been preventing—civil war and the overthrow of the State—are not really such great evils after all, that one or other, or both, can be properly contemplated and risked.
From all I have seen of the Army in the past four years I am convinced that it would regard withdrawal not only as a defeat but as a betrayal—a betrayal of comrades who died or were maimed in the past few years and a betrayal of all that the Army has tried to do. When soldiers have been exasperated in the streets of Belfast or on the border they have had to control their exasperation and carry on with their duties. The very least they can expect from politicians here, who have been much less sorely tried than the soldiers, is that the politicians should control their exasperation and carry on with their duties.
The soldiers would regard withdrawal either as monumental cynicism—an attempt to gain votes no matter what the consequences—or abysmal cowardice by politicians unwilling to face the elementary responsibilities of office. That does not mean that the police should not progressively take over as many duties of the Army as possible—we are all agreed on that—but that is very different from withdrawal. We have all heard over the years about precedents for fixing a date and then withdrawing. The Prime Minister quite rightly said that colonial and historical analogies are not comparable. However, they are worth looking at. In India, 600,000 people were killed in the Punjab and since independence there have been two wars between India and Pakistan. Aden has decome a people's democracy. The result of withdrawal from Palestine was that several hundred thousands of people lost their homes, and there have been four wars between Israel and the Arab States in 25 years. None of this seems to add up to an encouraging precedent for withdrawal from Ireland. To risk the frightful sequence of events that followed our withdrawal elsewhere happening in a part of the United Kingdom seems to me unthinkable.
The very least which citizens of a State expect from their Government is that they should do all in their power to prevent civil war. A Government who decide on withdrawal would be failing even that elementary duty.
1171 My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) had every right, this afternoon, to remind us that in the previous debate two months ago he had complained of the illusion, or the lack of reality in the House, and he particularly predicted a major catastrophe. As he pointed out this afternoon, this has happened. He also said in effect: "You may dislike us, but we are there." It is certainly true that they are there, but it is not true that we dislike him or his hon. Friends, or his community, though it is true to say that the Prime Minister sometimes conceals his affection quite satisfactorily.
There is not dislike but there is misunderstanding, as the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) said this afternoon, and as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said earlier in the debate, our basic task is to make this House trusted in Northern Ireland.
Yesterday the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) said:We realise that, because of our differences of attitude, words which carry one meaning in London often convey a quite different meaning in Belfast."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June 1974; Vol. 874, c. 912.]It is worth pursuing this point; indeed, it is important to do so because I do not believe that the events of the past two or three weeks were inevitable or were simply the result of some dark conspiracy. Nor do I believe that they were due to a sudden explosion of Ulster nationalism, whatever that means—and whether or not it exists. After all, we should not forget that Mr. Cosgrave blamed the fall of the Executive on the IRA. Therefore, the differences of attitude between us and the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and his party must be understood and, if possible, bridged.
However deporable the methods by which the Executive was brought down, realism demands that the Government talk to the United Ulster Unionist Party. Quite obviously, the hon. Members who sit for Ulster on this side of the House have a very large measure of public support, as my right hon. Friend said this afternoon. Therefore, they must be talked to.
It is highly important not only that the necessary dialogue between the Secre- 1172 tary of State and the Prime Minister on the one hand and the United Ulster Unionist Party and those who speak for the Protestant community in Ulster on the other hand should be conducted with restraint on both sides—I wish that the Prime Minister this afternoon had been able to hit the national note that was struck by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—but that the dialogue should not be impeded by misconceptions about the past, or about the meaning of words.
It is clear that the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South regard and regarded the elections to the Assembly as being vitiated by the result of the General Election in February. We on this side of the Channel often have great difficulty in deciding what a General Election decides, except which party should form the Government—and sometimes there is even a bit of difficulty about that—but certainly it never occurs to us that General Elections should affect previous local election results, even though we know that, regrettably, local elections are usually fought on national issues. A different view is taken by a large part of the Protestant community about the Assembly elections, and that is a fact.
There is also a fairly wide divergence between the two sides of the channel about the meaning of the word "democracy". To most of us in this House the power-sharing Executive of the Assembly was deeply democratic, in at least two senses. First, it was set up as a result of an Act passed by a democratic Parliament in this country, and we profoundly believe, at least on the Opposition side, that Acts of Parliament should be obeyed even by those who disagree with them. Secondly, it was democratic because it brought the minority community into the Government of the Province for the first time. But the United Ulster Unionists regard it as undemocratic for that very reason, because it was different from what went on elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that under the Constitution Act 1973 it was the Secretary of State who appointed the members of the Executive, so that in that sense it was 1173 totally undemocratic? He should accept from me that as a Unionist 1 regard democracy as indivisible and believe that it should apply to everyone, but there can be no democracy where a Minister can say who will be it an Executive. The members of the Assembly should be responsible for the Executive.
§ Mr. Gilmour
That illustrates the difference between us about the word "democracy". I agree that there may be other ways to appoint the Executive, and that may be what happens in future, but I do not accept that a democratically elected Secretary of State over here has no right to appoint Ministers in a subordinate Assembly.
There was an interesting television discussion reprinted in the Listener on 9th May. The right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said that what he wanted was a return:to the British Parliamentary system of democracy for Northern Ireland".A little later he said:Well, as I have said before, I don't object to power sharing on a certain basis but not power sharing with enemies.It is a little difficult for us in this House to see the genial figure of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) as an enemy. Certainly he gave convincing reasons this evening why he should not be so regarded.
Nevertheless, we considerably underestimate the fear and resentment caused in the Protestant community by the fact that a large minority wants to belong to another country. We also greatly underestimate the fear and anger that has been caused by the violence and damage created by the IRA in the last few years. We would not be so philosophical about it if we were faced with the same situation over here. The two remarks I have quoted demonstrate why the British system of parliamentary democracy is not suitable in an undiluted form for Northern Ireland.
The fact that the right hon. Gentleman can talk like that demonstrates how different the situation is on the other side of the Irish Channel. The power sharing brought to Ulster last year was not evolved to differentiate Ulster from the rest of the United Kingdom but to make it more like the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Harry West (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he can visualise this House accepting a position in which a body of men representing 22 per cent. of the electorate are put into a Cabinet on almost a 50 per cent. basis of power? May I also say that this question of power sharing in a cabinet is all right among friends, but some people in this House, of my vintage and probably older, will remember that in 1938 in Austria the Government there had to accept a number of Nazi sympathisers who returned to Berlin every week for a briefing? We had in Northern Ireland an Executive composed of a number of SDLP members sitting in on the confidential discussions of Government matters who would go to Dublin at the drop of a hat to discuss Northern Irish business with the enemies of our country.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I do not think that, on reflection, the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone will want to stick to that comparison between the SDLP and the Nazi members of the Austrian Government. It is that sort of comparison and that over-statement of his case—we all accept that he has a case—by the right hon. Gentleman which repels some sympathy for it. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South talked about the majority and the fact that his community was in the majority and that democracy should mean rule by the majority. That is quite true. It is also true to say that democracy means a good deal more than that. It means that there must be rights for the minority just as much as rule by the majority.
It is a truism to say that a majority can be every bit as tyrannical as a minority, or even an individual. It is not sufficient for my hon. and gallant Friend or the right hon. Gentleman to stick to the fact that they are a majority. They have to do more. They have to devise and accept safeguards for the minority also.
In his maiden speech yesterday, which we were all pleased to hear, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) said, "We want fair play". Nobody complains about that. But he and his 1175 friends must give fair play, too. As long as the two main dividing lines in Ulster politics are, on the one hand, sectarian—or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) said, racial—and, on the other, between believers in violence and opponents of violence, a solution cannot be provided by a return to a replica of the British parliamentary system in Northern Ireland.
Like most of those who have taken part in the debate, I have not provided a solution, largely because, as the Leader of the Liberal Party said, there is not one.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I should hate to go out from this House the belief that there are no solutions. I said that there are no instant solutions, and that no one can guarantee a solution. That may be pessimistic, but it is slightly different.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I must have misheard the right hon. Gentleman. There is no blueprint which can suddenly be wished forth by any hon. Member.
Part of the reason for not producing a solution is, as Carlyle said, that it is easy enough to build constitutionsbut the frightful difficulty is that of getting men to come and live in them.It is Ulstermen who must live with their constitution and it is right that they should largely build it. But if Ulster is to remain part of the United Kingdom—and I profoundly hope and expect that it will—then the specifications of the constitution that is built must be in accordance with certain minimum United Kingdom specifications.
That is why I doubt whether a workable substitute for power sharing can be devised. But there is endless scope for variation and compromise in the weeks and months ahead. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said that Sunningdale is not dead. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South said that it was. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said that it was badly damaged. In any event, I hope that the Republic realises 1176 that it bears some responsibility for the fall of Mr. Faulkner. It was not just the IRA which was his undoing.
In spite of their successful show of strength over the past few weeks—or possibly even because of their success—members of the majority community will have to lower their sights if they are ever to achieve an acceptable settlement. Yesterday a friend of mine gave me a Gaelic poem on Ireland, written in the middle of the last century; it might well have been written last week. I should like to read five lines of it, but not in Gaelic:but your state is mournful to tell.Sad tale of eviction, oppression, dearth, injustice, woe;and no way of abating your burden,since you struck your own strength the blow".That is very applicable to what has happened over the last few weeks.
However, the minority community and the Republic must also lower their sights. Be that as it may, everybody in the House hopes that the politicians of the two communities can resolve their differences sufficiently to lead to a defensible and definitive constitutional settlement. The best service which we in the House can do is not to make a settlement more difficult. I hope that I have attained that very limited objective.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the beginning of this two-day debate that the Government wanted to listen to what the House had to say and to hear all points of view before setting about the difficult job of composing a policy and finding a way forward.
In many ways the House has been in a unique situation in the last two days. It is not often that the House of Commons is consulted in this open manner. All points of view that have been expressed during these two days will be taken into account by the Government. Nothing will be discounted.
The decision to have this debate following the last 13 difficult days in Northern Ireland was right. Despite the differences that have arisen, and one or two ups and downs that have unfortunately occurred during the latter part of the debate, a clear message has come 1177 from both sides of the House that this country wants a political solution in Northern Ireland which is acceptable to both communities and is based on some form of genuine power sharing.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) waved some letters which he said Mr. Paddy Devlin had signed as a Minister after he had resigned. The hon. Gentleman perhaps was not in the House earlier when I interrupted his hon. Friend to say that those letters were legally signed by a Minister. Mr. Devlin was a member of the Executive until it fell last Tuesday.
There is no doubt that at the end of the strike—or insurrection—or whatever hon. Members like to call it—a large section of the Protestant community supported it. That was not so at the beginning. It is worth noting that when votes were taken in many establishments—not least in Harland and Wolff—the majorities in favour of joining the dispute were very narrow.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to the abortive return-to-work march. On the Saturday before the Tuesday on which the march took place, a meeting officially called by the trade unions was held in Belfast and attended by more than 350 shop stewards. A vote was taken to march back to work. On that basis, Mr. Len Murray was invited, not by the Government but by the Northern Ireland Congress of Trade Unions, to visit Ulster to see for himself what was happening. After being advised by us on the dangers involved, Mr. Murray decided to join the march on Tuesday morning. But between the Saturday and the Tuesday there was a change of climate. That change arose partly because some people may have been in favour of the stoppage and partly from sheer intimidation of a character that nobody could condone.
When Mr. Murray met the officers of the Northern Ireland Congress of Trade Unions on the Monday evening it was known that the response to the march would not be successful, but the decision was taken in what was believed to be the good name of trade unionism that the demonstration should go ahead. All praise to the courage of those who took part in that demonstration.
On the following Saturday, when I happened to be at home for one day out 1178 of the 13 days, I received a telephone call from a Protestant who lived in Belfast and who had taken part in the march on Tuesday. He had fled with his wife and family to Manchester, and was informed that if he did not leave Northern Ireland after taking part in the march his mother and father would be in grave physical danger. These are some of the facts which we must take into consideration.
We recognise the strength of feeling among the Protestant community, but I must point out that this was not a 100 per cent. working-class dispute. The basic problem which the Government could not have overcome in the power stations occurred when middle and senior management decided that they could no longer continue to work in the power stations and would withdraw their labour, some in support of the dispute and others in face of intimidation. That is the truth of the situation.
In the middle of the dispute we had clear evidence that the vast majority of the Protestant middle classes, as if at a given signal, swung behind the Ulster Workers' Council—employers, Church people, farmers and many other people. This was a political dispute. It had nothing to do with industrial politics or trade unionism—indeed it had nothing at all to do with the trade union movement as we know it.
We have come in for severe criticism in not talking to the Ulster Workers' Council. It has been said that there were some shop stewards and workers on that council, but I would point out that there are other people on the council, too. Those other people come from paramilitary organisations, and indeed every Protestant paramilitary organisation is represented on the council. The House may be interested to learn that when the hon. Member for Antrim, North came to see me on the Wednesday when the strike was on—he was accompanied by his right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig)—they brought with them some members of the Ulster Workers' Council. They came into the room at Stormont Castle and asked whether they could bring with them three other people. Those three other people came into the room. They sat at the far side of the table and listened. Those three people were from the UDA, the UVF and the Orange volunteers. They took no part in the 1179 discussion and when there was some disagreement between the politicians, mainly on matter of emphasis, they suggested through Mr. Tyrie, a member of the UDA, that we should provide them with a room so that they could retire to discuss this matter. They were paramilitary forces.
I say to my hon. Friends who want us to talk to the Ulster workers that we cannot talk with these people when they have a gun at our back. I would also have thought that the hon. Member for Antrim, North and his friends would not require assistance when they come to the negotiating table.
My hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) said that we must talk to the Protestant working class and to those who represent their interests. Of course we are prepared to talk to such people. We have never refused to talk to them. Knowing the problems we were facing, the Secretary of State and I—and this included my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who on his visit met over 50 shop stewards with us, mainly Protestants, who had come from all over Northern Ireland—met them. They discussed the industrial, the economic and political matters.
As right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, including the Ulster Unionists, know, I have carried on consultations with shop stewards and other trade union representatives from Harland and Wolff, from Short Brothers and Harland and from many of the other major factories. I have done that throughout my time there as Minister of State. The consultations were for the purpose of discussing not only industrial and economic matters but political matters as well.
We recognise that following the upheavals in Northern Ireland, the working-class Protestants are searching for a new identity, that they are throwing up new leaders, and that they are searching for a policy and an expression of opinion. No one recognises that more than I do. When I discuss industrial and economic matters with these trade unionists, I find that we speak the same language. It is when we discuss political issues that the divide become apparent.
This is where the real promise of progress lies. If only these people will see that if they use the development in 1180 a political sense and push these paramilitary forces to one side—those who would force them into insurrection and into a situation which would create the chaos about which we have heard so often in this House—there will be some hope. That is why the consultations have gone on, and they will continue.
The meeting to which I have referred was a very interesting experience for me. One representative of the Ulster Workers' Council remonstrated with me. He was raising very serious political issues arising out of the dispute, but he complained that he had been left out of a delegation which had been to see me a month before. He complained bitterly that he was unable to be present to take part in those consultations. I see that as a hopeful sign in the sense that this form of consultation has to take place in Northern Ireland. The fact that there has been no normal political activity as we know it for some 50 years is the cause of many of the problems facing us today.
Hon. Members on the Opposition benches, who are not always taken to so kindly by the people whom they purport to represent, certainly the Ulster Workers' Council, should bear in mind that it is their job to give expression to what we know as normal political activity, even if they do it in a critical and direct manner. I think that we have seen from what the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) said that there is some form of awakening. There may be the feeling that this expression can find its way forward in the debate that we are having at the moment.
I have been asked about Harland and Wolff and the economic situation in Northern Ireland. There will be a statement shortly by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about Harland and Wolff. It is a serious financial situation, and something will have to be done in a fairly short time.
As for the general economic situation, since becoming a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office I have been a firm supporter of economic expansion and development. I see Harland and Wolff as the broad industrial base which is essential if we are to give the economy of Northern Ireland much-needed industrial development. I see Harland 1181 and Wolff as a technological and industrial base which is essential.
We shall be having talks with managements, trade unions and shop stewards about economic development in Northern Ireland. It will not be done on the basis of the threat that if this or that is not done the money will be withdrawn. However, it will have to be done on a realistic basis, bearing in mind that Ministers will have to come to this House to justify any expenditure. I am sure that it will be based on whether there is movement in Northern Ireland to justify it. That is the message which has to be taken note of by people in Northern Ireland.
I turn now to the issue of power sharing. We got the impression from the Press, the media and certain statements that were made that the whole debate would revolve around the issue of withdrawing British troops from Northern Ireland. Those views have been fairly aired in the debate. If I rightly judge the mood of the House and of the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting that we had yesterday morning, whilst people will not be committed indefinitely, I believe that the House will be totally opposed to the withdrawal of the British Army at this time.
The Army is under firm political control in Northern Ireland. It is interesting that the criticisms that have been made—we could refute them—about barricades and so forth are against the politicians, not the Army. That is how it should be. I believe that is how it must remain in this situation.
The central theme which seems to have emerged from the debate is that we must look for a much broader-based power sharing. We have had exploratory ideas about assemblies, discussions, the sounding of opinion and consulting all points of view. But one key factor has to be faced. I challenged the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) on this matter this afternoon when he made a most interesting speech. My right hon. Friend had private discussions with the party leaders, but they gave their own versions of what was said afterwards. I will not attempt to put the record straight. The point made by the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West), and I think by other Members, was that they were in favour 1182 of power sharing with Roman Catholics as long as the Roman Catholics were not Republicans. That excludes possibly 95 per cent. of Roman Catholics. [Interruption.] All right, I will not put a figure on it. I will say the majority. It is the same argument in reverse.
§ Mr. Mather rose—
§ Mr. Mather
Is it not true that the majority of Catholics in Northern Ireland are content to be part of Northern Ireland as it is and would much prefer it to be united with the United Kingdom than with the South?
§ Mr. Orme
That might be the aspiration, but the facts do not bear it out. The hon. Gentleman is, or ought to be, aware of that. It is the same as saying to the Protestant community, "You can have power sharing as long as you reject any permanent connection with the United Kingdom." It is the issue put the other way round. That is the problem that we face about power sharing.
I want to put one point to the Ulster Unionists in particular. I believe that there is great responsibility on them at this time. Everybody knows that victories are short lived. We have to move on from victories to life as it is. Life continues. Therefore, we still face the political situation which has been left following the loss of the Executive. If power sharing based on a much broader base could include all sections of the community and they were prepared to accept that, there is a basis for moving forward.
I do not believe that the House would leave the minority or the majority to their fate. The House is not prepared to accept anything that is not based on a democratic foundation. Power sharing is not coalition. It is nothing to do with coalition. It is bringing together people of different sectarian views as a bridging operation whilst the basis of normal political activity can develop. I have said that there is hope in this situation 1183 that that type of development will take place. The British trade union movement as a whole and the Labour movement have a responsibility to play their part. This can take place. This power sharing that is the kernel of the whole problem must be based on an understanding that both sides of the community must be represented.
The right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone talked about 22 per cent. and 50 per cent. of the seats. All these figures can be altered. The whole thing can be looked at. It might be necessary to examine the whole thing afresh. In my experience, difficult as it has been, in Northern Ireland I have confidence that a political solution can be worked out. At present prejudice is rife, and sectarian divisions and bitterness abound. Ironically, this might be fertile ground for fresh political developments. I may be wrong. We may be forced back to the only other alternative, which would be UDI. I do not believe that Northern Ireland Members themselves want that. I am not sure that they do not want UDI. This House will not wait indefinitely until some movement forward takes place.
Therefore, to sum up, I believe that if the House takes account of the speeches of my right hon. Friends and of the Leader of the Opposition and of the various views that have been expressed in this two-day debate, it will recognise that there is a realistic understanding of the problems. The Ulster Unionists cannot say that their case has not been fairly stated or listened to in the debate. Their views have been stated and listened to. I assure them that when we resume in the short period when we are the Executive we shall consult them just as we shall consult the minority in Northern Ireland. I believe that there is a basis here.
If the cynicism and cynical approach of some politicians could be dropped, there would be a hope for Northern Ireland to play its proper part within the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.