§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Thomas Cox.]
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
The House has just heard in the Prime Minister's statement of aspects of security in Northern Ireland. But the restoration and preservation of law and order and politics are inextricably linked together in Northern Ireland. Much has changed there in the past six years. The nature of violence has changed, but a constant factor has been sectarian murders. They are not new. We are dealing in County Armagh with men whose activities have profoundly shocked opinion throughout the United Kingdom and, indeed, the world. Their deeds are a horrific commentary on the para-military organisations to which they are attached. There have been a number of political changes, but a constant factor has been the continuing search for agreement about a system of government within Northern Ireland. It is against this background that we are to debate the Report of the Convention today.
Let me deal with one major matter at the start. The continuing and appalling violence in Northern Ireland has undoubtedly added to the groundswell of opinion in Great Britain that we should withdraw from Northern Ireland, cut Northern Ireland adrift and let the Northern Irish, whether Catholic or Protestant, fend for themselves. The Government are in no doubt that this would be a grave mistake. It would solve nothing. I have no doubt that withdrawal and abandonment of our responsibilities towards citizens of the United Kingdom would precipitate violence on an even greater scale than we have seen so far. And we must not assume that violence could be confined to Northern Ireland. It would spread to Great Britain and also to the Republic of Ireland. Withdrawal would be a short-sighted policy, but above all it would be an irresponsible policy. Equally, a united Ireland is not in the gift of this Parliament.
52 But some people say that we should prepare for withdrawal so that, when we go, we do not leave a Congo-type situation. There would then, they say, be no violence. I simply say that the existence of Northern Ireland, created as it was in the 1920s, and the fears of a divided community, split between the majority and minority, mean that there would be a very real chance of violence from the very moment that a declaration of intent to withdraw was made. There are para-military forces on both sides, and usually the people who make this latter suggestion are those who have good intentions, but what they do not have is responsibility for Northern Ireland.
The para-military forces behave with savagery and react to savagery. We have reacted in the way we have to the terrible murder of 10 a week ago tonight. It was terrible that it could happen. I have written on my heart also individual cases of savagery which have taken place on both sides. Much as those in South Armagh are related to a small group of people for whom we are now searching, savagery seems to be found among a wide group of people all over the place in Northern Ireland. To those who talk about withdrawal in the way I have described, I say that they are taking part in some theoretical discussion in a drawing room or a weekly editorial conference. I do not have that luxury.
There is no easy solution. Far too many of the solutions of the past have come to nothing. Anglo-Irish history is littered with the handiwork of those who have failed, although they thought that they had the solution. There is no easy way out of the enmeshed and intricate problems of Northern Ireland, and those who think that they have a solution should reflect upon 800 years of troubled history. The solution to six years of violence and a community divided by the facts of history must be worked out slowly and surely within Northern Ireland and have a firm base in the support of the people of Northern Ireland. It would certainly be a mistake now to think that a final solution will come immediately. It would be a mistake also to think that we could impose or enforce a constitutional system and expect it to work.
The history of Northern Ireland is that of a divided society in which the political 53 and social conflicts have prevented constitutional solutions taking root. The Stormont Government came to an end in 1972 because there was no basic concensus for that form of government. Following that, the 1973 constitution was devised after the most intensive discussions by the previous Administration with all those political parties in Northern Ireland which were prepared to contribute to that debate. I pay tribute to the organisation of what was then done, but that constitutional framework collapsed in the face of the Ulster workers' strike, and in any event it did not have a sufficiently firm base in Northern Ireland.
This Government took the decision, which was supported by the House and by many people in Northern Ireland, that the people of Northern Ireland should be given an opportunity, through elected representatives called together for the purpose, to put forward recommendations as to how they thought Northern Ireland should be governed—that is, that they should have a chance to contribute to the solution of their own problems. The Convention which was elected on 1st May last year was devised by this Government to give the people of Northern Ireland that chance. But it is for this House to reach final decisions. That is what being part of the United Kingdom is all about.
The Report of the Northern Ireland Convention which, following its submission to me, I put before the House follows the draft put forward by the UUUC but includes in an appendix a summary of the proposals put forward by all the other parties. The Report displays a considerable measure of agreement among all the parties in the Northern Ireland Convention on the form of government for Northern Ireland. We should not underestimate the significance of that. The fact of the matter is that, before the Convention reported, there was no such agreement on a number of these important issues.
There is almost unanimous agreement that there should be a unicameral legislature and a government within Northern Ireland with a broad range of responsibilities, including responsibility for industrial and commercial matters. All the parties agree on a number of other matters, including the need to devolve to the Northern Ireland Government responsibility for law and order, and that 54 additional human rights legislation—because a great deal was introduced by the previous Administration—is needed in Northern Ireland. I shall say more on those matters in due course.
It is clear from the Report also that all the political parties in Northern Ireland, in varying degrees, see it as different from the rest of the United Kingdom in a number of respects. In particular, some of the views expressed are outside the mainstream of thinking on devolution as it has developed over recent years in the rest of the United Kingdom. The Government are, however, aware that the Convention could not have had available to it during its discussions the White Paper "Our Changing Democracy" which refers to Scotland and Wales.
The Government accept that from its foundations, for reasons of history, geography and tradition, Northern Ireland is in a number of ways different from the rest of the United Kingdom. But however different Northern Ireland may be, to be part of the United Kingdom means that Northern Ireland is subject to the authority of the Queen in Parliament at Westminster. Indeed, as the White Paper of July 1974 stated,Any pattern of government must be acceptable to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole and to Parliament at Westminster. Citizenship confers not only rights and privileges but also obligations.Northern Ireland is a divided community. Experience in recent years has made plain that no system of government within Northern Ireland will be stable or effective unless both parts of the community acquiesce in that system and are willing to work to support it. I must tell the House that, in spite of those matters on which the Convention has agreed, support from both sides of the community is not at present forthcoming for the total system proposed in the Report. The Government share with the Convention the strong desire that direct rule may be brought to an end and that a new system of government may be established within Northern Ireland. But the Report does not, in the view of the Government, command sufficiently widespread acceptance throughout the community to provide stable and effective government.
On the other hand, the progress already made by the Convention and the degree of agreement already reached encourage 55 the Government to believe that the Convention could make further progress. The Government therefore propose to reconvene the Convention.
There are a number of points arising from the Report of the Convention, and from the agreements within that Report, on which the Government have now reached conclusions. I describe these now because they will provide a framework within which the Convention should undertake its further work. Some are the final conclusions of the Government; others are specific matters which the Government would wish the Convention to consider further under the terms of the Act.
First, I shall deal with the system of government itself. Provided that the necessary agreement can be reached, the Government accept in principle the Convention's recommendation that power should be returned to a Government within Northern Ireland. This would involve the creation in Northern Ireland of a separate unicameral Assembly and a Government with power to legislate for, and to administer, a wide range of matters within Northern Ireland. The Government also accept that the transferred subjects could include all those transferred under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973—for example, education, roads, transport, housing, industry and commerce. I shall comment later on law and order.
The Government share the views expressed in the Convention Report about the importance of collective responsibility. They also accept the need for an oath broadly in the terms recommended in the Convention Report. Both are related to the integrity of Northern Ireland and are important in a divided community.
The Government have noted the importance attached in the Report of the Convention to a committee system and that there were widely differing views within the Convention on the way the system would work in practice and on its effectiveness—whether the committees would have any real power or, at the other extreme, whether they would have so much power as seriously to hamper government. The Government also recognise that a committee system represents an attempt to involve opposition 56 parties more closely in government. It might be of value as part of a wider and acceptable constitutional framework which provides adequately for partnership and participation on a basis which commands the most widespread acceptance. It is a matter which merits further examination.
The Government are aware of the strong views held by many on the question of parliamentary representation at Westminster. They are also aware that in the past 50 years some Members elected to the Westminster Parliament have not taken their seats—another reflection of a divided community. The Government do not feel able to recommend re-examination of the question of the number of Northern Ireland constituencies returning Members to the United Kingdom Parliament in advance of an agreement on a system of government commanding the most widespread acceptance.
Then there is the Irish dimension. The Government note that the parties in the Convention all recognise the existence of an Irish dimension, though its nature is open to various interpretations. Such recognition does not in any way call into question any issue about sovereignty over Northern Ireland or the border with the Republic of Ireland. The Government do not consider it necessary or appropriate to create an institutional framework such as a Council of Ireland for relations with the Republic. Arrangements for co-operation should evolve positively and naturally as and when the need for them arises and is generally recognised and accepted.
I turn now to law and order. The parties in the Convention agree in principle that a future Northern Ireland administration should have responsibility for law and order. The Government consider that an essential prerequisite is that all members of a Northern Ireland Government should publicly support the security forces. Subject to that, the Government accept this broad aim in principle, though there are a number of subjects, such as judicial appointments and the administration of the courts, which it would be inappropriate to transfer. For reasons to which I shall come, transfer of responsibility for law and order would necessarily be gradual, and the Government will consider how best 57 to give a meaningful role to a Northern Ireland administration on security matters until such time as transfer is complete.
Law and order covers a wide range of subjects. First, I should like to comment on the role of the Army. As I said in my statement to the House on 10th November 1975, the Army is under the control of a Minister accountable direct to this Parliament and will remain so. So long as the Armed Forces are involved in internal security in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State must remain responsible for security policy. As I have said on many occasions to this House, it is the policy of the Government to bring about a situation in which there can be a progressive reduction in the present commitment of the Army, both in numbers and in the scale of activity, when it has ceased to be involved in internal security. But this depends upon the Royal Ulster Constabulary and civil policing playing an increasing role. Above all, it depends upon reduction in the scale of violence, for which the General Officer Commanding and all his soldiers, sailors and airmen and the Chief Constable and his police officers strive throughout 24 hours of every day—sometimes with more armchair criticism than active support. I pay my tribute to them all and to their valour, dedication and wisdom.
I wish to announce that, with ministerial colleagues from other Departments, I shall examine the action and resources required for the next few years to maintain law and order in Northern Ireland. This will include how best to achieve the primacy of the police, the size and the role of locally-recruited forces, and the progressive reduction of the Army as soon as is safely practicable. I shall be inviting the parties in the Convention to make their views known to me in writing.
So long as the Secretary of State remains responsible for security policy, responsibility for emergency legislation will remain with this Parliament.
Once the Army in Northern Ireland has been reduced to peace-time level—which, as I have said before, depends upon the level of violence—the Government will be prepared to transfer responsibility for the police to a new Northern Ireland legislature and executive. Parliament would expect that the 58 practices observed in Northern Ireland would continue to follow the standards and traditions that are common to the whole of the United Kingdom, and in particular that the independence and responsibilities of the Chief Constable should in no way be diminished. The police are responsible to the law, and it has always been my aim to ensure that this position is preserved and maintained at all times.
As I have outlined, it is clear that close liaison between the Secretary of State and a Northern Ireland Executive on internal security would be necessary.
The Government see a continuing role for an independent Police Authority with significant powers and are prepared to consider any suggestions that the parties in the Convention may wish to put forward to me in writing about its responsibilities and composition, which are at present based on the provisions of the Northern Ireland Police Act 1970. I should add that I have now received and will soon publish the report of the working party on police complaints and hope shortly to put before this House legislation which will provide a new complaints procedure, with an independent clement, in line with that proposed for England and Wales.
The Government would also be prepared to transfer responsibility for administration of the prison services, and for treatment of offenders generally, not later than the transfer of responsibility for the police. I should inform the House that the rapid growth of the prison population and the fact that the one properly-built prison is many decades old means that there is a real prison problem in Northern Ireland.
I turn now to finance. During my talks with the parties—and I should say that most of the discussions, in particular on this subject, were productive—there has been a good deal of discussion about the financing of Northern Ireland. The Government have noted the views of the Convention on the financial arrangements which should be created for any new Northern Ireland administration. It would be the intention of the Government to give to such an administration as wide a discretion as would be consistent with maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom economy and with the Government's retaining the powers necessary to 59 manage the economy as a whole. These powers must include the power to determine the total amount of public expenditure in the United Kingdom, the proportion of different categories of expenditure within that total and, after appropriate consultation, the share of that public expenditure to be allocated to meeting the needs of Northern Ireland.
The Government are conscious of the special industrial and social problems of Northern Ireland and of the need for them to be taken into account when allocations of expenditure are determined. Those who argue in favour of independence ignore the economic weakness of Northern Ireland and its lack of natural resources. The forecast of public expenditure there for 1975–76 is about £1,300 million. The plain fact is that Northern Ireland could not sustain anything like its present living standards if it were not part of the United Kingdom. Decisions about Northern Ireland's total allocations cannot, however, be taken in isolation. Those decisions must be taken by the United Kingdom Cabinet in the light of the needs of all parts of the United Kingdom.
The financial powers that the Government would be willing to see exercised by a Northern Ireland administration is a matter that the Government will themselves determine in due course. They envisage, however, that many important financial decisions would fall within the Northern Ireland administration's discretion, including in particular the determination of priorities among the various transferred services. Any system of government proposed by the Convention will have to be capable of resolving such problems which will span the complete range of functions of the Northern Ireland administration. There must, moreover, be arrangements for co-operation on economic and financial matters with the Government at Westminster.
The Government acknowledge the consensus in the Report that there should be further legislation on human rights. It will consider how best to make appropriate statutory provision in the light of the detailed study currently being undertaken by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland. Against this background of the 60 Government's conclusions, the Convention will have the opportunity, through discussion and further exchange of views, to reach that wider area of agreement which is essential if there is to be an effective transfer of power, the ending of direct rule and a basis for stable government.
The Government hope that the Convention will not feel constrained by the limits of earlier—and not completed—discussions, and that it will be able to build on the principles on which there is already a wide measure of agreement. The prime requirement is for more widespread acceptance of any proposed system of government, providing for some form of partnership and participation. No political system in Northern Ireland will work, let alone survive, without it. The Government wish this matter of a system of Government commanding the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there to be given further consideration.
The Government share the view expressed in the Report that the aim should be to achieve broad agreement on a permanent arrangement for a system of government. It will be for the Government to translate this into constitutional and legislative form and to turn it into reality through Parliament here at Westminster. This will take time, and I must say that the greater the measure of support for any system of government within Northern Ireland, the more likely I believe it to be that this House will be prepared to approve the necessary legislation. Equally, the more major the legislation, the longer it will take to prepare and the greater the time Parliament will require to consider it.
Other wider considerations are relevant to the time scale of future political development. For example, there is force in the view, with which I strongly agree, that hasty action in the past may have exacerbated some of the problems of Northern Ireland. Six years of violence taken together with the divisions in the community are going to make the transition to a new system of government particularly difficult. Political development cannot be divorced from the security situation, and a political agreement would make a major contribution towards dealing with the security problems in Northern Ireland.
61 Furthermore, Northern Ireland is facing serious social and economic problems, not least unemployment. An early political agreement would employ more productively the energies of those who have local knowledge and interest and create a community united in its devotion to the task of finding a solution of these urgent problems. The Government would therefore wish the Convention to consider the matter of whether progress could best be made on the basis of setting up a system of government which, though not temporary, is capable of evolving over a period of time into permanent and agreed constitutional arrangements.
I therefore propose that the Convention should be reconvened from 3rd February to consider, in the light of the Government's conclusions, the matters I have described. There are three such matters: the matter of committees as part of a wider and acceptable constitutional framework which provides adequately for partnership and participation; the matter of more widespread acceptance; and the matter of whether progress could best be made on an evolutionary basis. I shall publish shortly as a White Paper a letter to the Chairman containing those matters which, in accordance with the Act, the Government wish the Convention to consider.
The prime requirements are for a more widespread acceptance throughout the community of some proposed system of government and for some form of acceptable partnership and participation. If these requirements can be met, we could be in sight of a Government within Northern Ireland which is common ground for us all. I hope that the Convention can make progress on these matters within a period of four weeks.
As I again made clear in my statement on 10th November, Northern Ireland will continue to be governed by, and from, this Parliament. It is in accordance with this principle that the Northern Ireland Act 1974 provided for the functions of government to be exercised by me. As I have made clear to this House, under the terms of that Act the Convention is not, and cannot be, an advisory body to me, nor can it play a wider rôle in the government of Northern Ireland. The Convention will soon come to an end. I have no power to prolong its existence or 62 to preserve the position of its members except for the constitutional purposes laid down in the Act of 1974.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Is the Secretary of State really telling the House that he is prepared to recall the Convention for four weeks, or a month, and that he hopes that at that time the political parties in Northern Ireland will have resolved their differences; that at the end of that period there will be no elected representatives as such in Northern Ireland except those elected for local authorities and those who represent constituencies in this House; and that those who are at present members of the Convention will no longer be persona grata at Stormont?
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
In view of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier today, what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said seems to be something of a contradiction. First, on the question of representations about the police force, my right hon. Friend spoke about Convention parties making representations. I think he said they were to do that within a month. Secondly, in terms of what my right hon. Friend said about the continuance of a security committee about which Convention parties would be consulted, this seems to me to be something of a nonsense.
§ Mr. Rees
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in making his proposals, did not say that he had decided to bring Convention members in. He said "perhaps in the future". It follows that if there is no Convention there are no Convention members. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will look at that side of things.
It occurs to me that in reply to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) I referred to Stormont Castle. I meant Stormont up the hill.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
May I raise a slightly different matter with the right hon. Gentleman? Will he say whether he proposes to give certain guidance to the members of the Convention on the sort of solution that he would consider acceptable? He made general remarks this afternoon. If he hopes that the members will reach early conclusions, I think he needs to say rather more about it.
§ Mr. Rees
If the hon. Gentleman reads my Report and my remarks, he will see that I have accepted three-quarters of what they suggested. I put three matters to them to consider. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that it is all tied up in that sense. What is required is more discussion on the detail. Much of it has been dealt with. It can be left to this House of Commons, because the Convention is not a Parliament.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to conditions to be discussed and then a system which would be widely acceptable to the community. As the right hon. Gentleman very well knows, under other legislation it was pretended that it was widely accepted, and then it was discovered that it was not. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Convention must evolve a system of government under which all parties must be in the Cabinet in that Parliament?
§ Mr. Rees
What I am saying in that context is that it struck me from the discussions I had that the committee system was most important in the development of Northern Ireland, even though I need not necessarily have agreed with the particular details which were put forward. I was saying that that would be valuable in a wider context of participation. I am inviting Members to consider whether this can be done. I think that the word which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is "complementary". This needs to be looked at in the Convention, and I think it can be done.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
Is my right hon. Friend saying that this four-week extension of the Convention is final or, in view of his previous remarks about the need to avoid hasty decisions, is he prepared to accept that 64 the four-week period can he extended if necessary?
§ Mr. Rees
From talking to members of the Convention I have the impression that they feel that a month is enough to consider the three matters that they have to look at. Under the legislation, when the Convention is dissolved I have the power for six months to resurrect it. I also have the power at any time then to dissolve it. I have said that I see the work being done in about a month, but if at the end of that time it seemed that another short period was necessary, I could act in the way I have described. I have freedom of action, but I do not consider that a long period is necessary. I think that the minds of the Convention members have been concentrated in the discussions they have had, and that about a month would be enough.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
For the avoidance of doubt, will the Secretary of State confirm that what he is saying is that the very least that the House would expect, in view of the past, is power sharing, or, if that is not acceptable, that direct rule will continue?
§ Mr. Rees
There seem to be feelings in Northern Ireland about the meanings of words, so I am trying not to beg the question. I am trying to be absolutely clear about the acceptance of the police and about a non-institutionalised Council of Ireland. Words are very meaningful and have sometimes been the cause of terrible tragedies.
We must find a way in which both communities are involved in government in Northern Ireland, because there are two communities there. I should like to see, in the course of time, normal party politics in Northern Ireland, with people voting on their views and interests, and with voting by religion and mythology ending. It may not be necessary to carry into the future by legislation something which is permanent.
There is a way through. Nearly two years have impressed on my mind that there is a divided community, not just in the Falls and the Shanklin. There is a division of people's minds, whether they are middle-class or whatever, that must be overcome. The only way through is to end that division.
65 I am trying to say to the members of the Convention that if they can find a way to work together for Northern Ireland, forgetting the past, many things are possible. Acceptance of the police and accepting representatives of the minority community into decision-taking are vital.
As for direct rule, we govern Northern Ireland. That is the way it will be, but I do not see direct rule as a method for governing Northern Ireland. What is required there is a form of government akin to that which has been developed over the years and which we are talking about in another context. That would be advantageous for Northern Ireland.
The overriding need now is for a wider measure of agreement in the Convention. It is because of the very fact that the society of Northern Ireland is divided and that the political parties within Northern Ireland reflect these divisions that violence on both sides can operate under a political guise. The gangsters can masquerade as politicians with guns instead of what they are—criminals.
When the Provisional IRA declared its cease-fire, it gave itself an opportunity to pursue its aims through political means. The Government hoped that politics would flower in place of the gun. There was every opportunity to take part in the normal democratic process. This opportunity has not been taken.
Democracy is difficult, as all hon. Members know. It is easier to take other options. It is never clear whether each fresh act of violent, criminal horror is a sectarian outrage, deliberately and coldly committed, or a vicious reaction to a previous horrific event. We must recognise that there are those in the community who, by their words, widen the divisions in the community which foster violence. The political life of Northern Ireland has in this way added significantly to the malaise. We have, therefore, every right to look to the Convention to provide that measure of agreement which will deprive those who pursue their violent ends of the basic political disagreements on which they thrive.
We are beginning this week to discuss constitutions for Wales and Scotland which will meet the needs of those parts of the United Kingdom. What we seek is a constitution to suit the divided com- 66 munity of Northern Ireland. It is this divided community which makes Northern Ireland so basically different from other parts of the United Kingdom. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary recorded from the Book of St. Mark at the beginning of his account of his own time in Northern Ireland:if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand".We must find a way of overcoming the divisions of Northern Ireland. In this respect, the Convention has a further, if short, rôle to play.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
The Secretary of State will have found a wide measure of support in many parts of the House for what he said about the Report of the Convention. I hope that he will find that same support in what I have to say about it.
It seems that, as the right hon. Gentleman has always said, there is no simple solution. We are bound to agree with him. It seems certain also that in 1976 the Northern Ireland problem will prove a harsh test of political and physical courage for the whole United Kingdom. The position can be starkly stated. We have to agree on a stable system of government, widely accepted throughout the community in Northern Ireland, and at the same time prevent murder developing into civil war in the Province.
The right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that in all matters relating to the Convention we have co-operated closely with him in the past few months. The Prime Minister also said this afternoon that in acting as responsible Opposition on Northern Ireland we had the parliamentary right to disagree. I hope that the differences that arise from time to time will not be over-dramatised.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition reminded the Prime Minister this afternoon that for some time we had called for more decisive political direction of the security forces. We welcome the Government's plans to restore the rule of law, particularly in South Armagh. We hope that those plans are adequate. Although we welcome what has been announced, it is not we who bear the responsibility for the security forces. We must remain free to judge by results.
67 It is a great danger to this country that many people, faced with what they imagine to be the reality of the Northern Ireland problem, are being encouraged to run away from it. Like the Secretary of State, I refer to the present agitation that we have heard in certain places to bail out altogether. In this weary and supine attitude lie the seeds of an even more terrible disaster.
No one who has been to Northern Ireland and who has talked to its people can have any doubt that withdrawal of the Army now would lead to a much more dreadful massacre of innocent people. Some estimates I have been given suggest that more than 250,000 people might lose their lives if that happened. Worst of all, the terrorists and assassins would be seen all over the world to be the victors. It is the Provisional IRA and other para-military men who want the Army out, not the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, or the Government in Dublin. They want the Army to stay.
That should be remembered by those who are advocating this course in the House and elsewhere. For example, the Daily Mirror of 7th January deliberately exploited the feelings of those who see South Armagh as a distant country of which they know nothing, instead of as a part of the United Kingdom.Let Ulster stew in her own bloody juice",was its cry. I do not think that that is courageous. I do not think that it is a sane or a practical policy. If we followed that advice, we should ourselves stew in the same bloody juice.
Those dangerous opinions are based, according to the article, on the easy acceptance of the principle that if Britain has withdrawn from other countries, she must withdraw from Ulster, that she has no choice. I believe that that is totally false. Ulster is not Aden or Vietnam. It is a part of the United Kingdom for which the Government accept responsibility and where they have the obligation to uphold the law, as they have acknowledged this afternoon.
We are not holding the ring in a peacekeeping rôle in Ulster. Our duty is to restore order in a part of the United Kingdom. Our duty is to protect all citizens of the United Kingdom, regardless of race or religion. If we 68 were to abandon that duty, we could expect not only civil war in Ulster, but a spread of the disease to all parts of the United Kingdom. As responsibility rests in Westminster we must stand firm and resist these voices of defeat. We must not be intimidated or beguiled into retirement to our own tents to sulk. That is what our enemies want so that they can pursue the same terror in this country.
§ Mr. Stallard
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he may be misinterpreting the views of many people who wish as a solution not an immediate withdrawal, but a gradual, constructive disengagement over a long period, along with plenty of discussion? That is a very different proposal.
§ Mr. Neave
I believe in no talk of withdrawal at present. Any withdrawal, gradual or otherwise, would be damaging to the morale of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, let alone the security forces, to whose courage and devotion we pay tribute today.
As the hon. Gentleman must know, Northern Ireland is a country in which thousands of people are afraid to open their doors at night. I have heard of one man in South Armagh who has felt forced in the past two or three days to flee the farm where his family has lived for nine generations. The most important issue for many people is to stay alive. That is what we must remember when we discuss the future system of government in Northern Ireland.
I now turn to what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the Convention Report. Although we are in agreement with many of the right hon. Gentleman's comments, we should remember that the Report commands the support of a majority of Northern Ireland's elected representatives. Their views are entitled to careful consideration by the House which provided for the Convention. Elected representatives should have the opportunity to devise a future system of government.
When I first read the Report, I noticed that there was a wide measure of agreement on many points. In particular, there is a strong and almost unanimous desire for a devolved Assembly. That seems to reflect public feeling in many parts of Northern Ireland. In principle we agree with the Government that there should be 69 a Government within Northern Ireland and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, a separate unicameral Assembly. We believe with him that the subjects transferred to the Northern Ireland system of government should include those covered by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. It would also seem right, as the right hon. Gentleman says that further thought should be given to proposals for an effective committee system.
We have also given consideration to representation in this House, a matter about which I know a great many people feel strongly. We made our position clear in our last General Election manifesto. We do not regard this as the moment to press for a further specific increase in the number of Northern Ireland Members of this House. We agree with the Secretary of State that it is first necessary to agree on a system of government that is based on the most widespread acceptance in the Province.
In paragraph 153 the Report says that the majority is convinced that maximum stability will be obtained by a Prime Minister and Executive chosen on conventional parliamentary lines. But Northern Ireland is a special case in the context of devolution. I think that everyone will agree with that. It has a uniquely difficult political and security situation and a land frontier involving a sensitive relationship with the Republic.
We think, therefore, that the Government are right to recall the Convention to give further considerataion to a system of government which can command widespread support throughout the community, including the minority. I repeat the view which I thought was put forward perfectly correctly by the right hon. Gentleman—namely, the greater the measure of support that can be achieved, the more likely it will be that this House can pass the necessary legislation setting up a new Assembly and that a Northern Ireland Government can succeed.
With my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I have had recent talks with members of the Convention and Northern Ireland Members of this House. We have been made aware of their difficulties and the pressures that are upon them, but, in the face of the terrible violence of the past few weeks, it must 70 be hoped that they will do everything possible to agree to a formula for new parliamentary institutions. The threat of civil war in Northern Ireland surely justifies that. It is difficult to conceive of a similar threat to the community in Great Britain such as that now experienced in Northern Ireland, where nearly 1,500 people have died. A comparable ratio, for this country would mean some 50,000 people having died in the past six years. We must remember the sort of situation which people are suffering in Northern Ireland.
We note that no party in the Convention insisted that power sharing be written into a new constitution. That in itself should provide further scope for discussion. It is not our view that the House should seek to impose a solution. As the Parliament of the United Kingdom, it should support only those proposals that will lead to a stable Government in Northern Ireland.
If the talks succeed, there are other points in the Report to consider. Of course the talks must not fail. We must not speak of failure while a chance remains. We would be prepared to support an independent figure—for example, a Queen's representative—exercising the functions proposed in paragraph 38 and selecting the chief executive in a new Northern Ireland Government. We would also agree with the restoration of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland. Those actions have been recommended in the Report.
There is one other crucial point on which we agree with the right hon. Gentleman, a point which concerns the functions of any new Northern Ireland Executive that may arise from the talks. This is responsibility for law and order, particularly the police. It seems that the answer to this question depends on how the Government security measures succeed in the coming months, and perhaps longer. It is surely the Secretary of State who remains responsible while the Armed Forces are involved in internal security in Northern Ireland. There can be no doubt about that. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, if the Army can he reduced to a peace-time level that will be the time to transfer responsibility for the police to a new Northern Ireland Assembly. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman had to say 71 about the Chief Constable and his independence in those conditions.
We support the recommendation of the Report regarding a Bill of Rights. That must be subject to the report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights under Lord Feather. Everything now depends on the renewal of the Convention and the opportunity that that presents. I am sure that the House will agree that the services already rendered by the chairman, Sir Robert Lowry, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, who is much respected by all, may prove significant.
Having expressed those hopes, I have to return to the security situation. Unless it improves considerably, it will destroy the political future of the people of Northern Ireland. Both sections of the community have been pushed beyond endurance. It is no use saying to the people of Northern Ireland "It is you who must stop the killing" while we stand by with our Army in a defensive, low-profile rôle and fail to protect them. That is no solution.
From now on, South Armagh especially must be an area in which the Army is on the defensive. Of course, this House cannot recommend detailed measures: that is for those in command. But our Army must be seen by everybody in the areas where the murderers rule and our troops must remain so that the gunmen are deterred from slinking back over the border.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a phrase which I used. Both the GOC and the Chief Constable have said to me that bringing back law and order is not a matter of numbers alone. They have pointed out that unless the community is prepared to give information in the same way as it is given in London and as it is beginning to be given in other parts, everything that they are trying to do will be weakened. That is the appeal that I make to the people of Northern Ireland. We need their help, and that can be given only in a political way, when they feel that they are working for their country.
§ Mr. Neave
I think that much of what the right hon. Gentleman says is rather debatable. I accept that this is not a 72 question of numbers alone. An important factor is how the troops are deployed. Their operations must be properly directed. The real issue is how they are deployed. They must remain so that the gunmen are deterred.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a question of daring to give information, because so many people go in fear of their lives if they do so? Does it not all come back to the question of security?
§ Mr. Neave
My hon. Friend is right. If confidence is restored there, more people will be prepared to give information. But it is the deployment of troops that matters in the first instance so that confidence can be restored. We have constantly said that from this side of the House. It is not just a question of defeating gunmen who shoot people on their doorsteps, or who mow them down in the road, as the SS did in Europe over 30 years ago. It is a question of providing sufficient determination in the eyes of the population to show that we mean business in Northern Ireland and intend to restore confidence.
This terror can be beaten only by courage and resolution. We would have the backing of nearly everybody in Northern Ireland—including those, mentioned by the Secretary of State, who at the moment are afraid to give information—for measures that would defeat the terrorism they hate and despise.
I have the greatest admiration for the Special Air Service, but the publicity it has attracted seems disproportionate. The SAS will be under overall command and therefore it is the whole Army in Northern Ireland that must fight back and liberate South Armagh and other regions from this reign of terror.
In this major emergency, affecting as it does every part of the British Isles, we must never despair. We have a duty to give leadership in Northern Ireland, and the Prime Minister has issued a stern warning to those who threaten to take the law into their own hands. I hope that that warning will be repeated so that everybody in Northern Ireland who can bring influence to bear is reminded of his duty to prevent civil war and to do nothing to encourage it. I hope that the Prime Minister's words will be echoed in 73 other speeches tonight, because the situation is very serious.
There is one other aspect of policy that needs constant reinforcement—and this matter was taken up by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when she questioned the Prime Minister on his statement. I refer to the need for close collaboration with the Dublin Government. There is no doubt that a direct link is needed between the British Army and that of the Irish Republic.
I realise that there are problems, but is it not time for military staff talks to begin between the United Kingdom and the Republic, leading to a joint plan of action? Border control should not he left to the police. If the Army could be brought in, that would make the control that much more effective. The whole border area on both sides, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland acknowledges, must be made too hot for terrorists. It is because they can slip over the border to the south after committing murders and can hide there that we have to take action on both sides.
The objective must be to put the fear of God into these men who shoot in cold blood, and also to restore faith in our joint determination to win the battle against terrorism. The task of the Army is to see that the Queen's writ runs again in South Armagh.
We again pay tribute to the high standard of the security forces and their devotion to duty. I wish to pay one final tribute, and that is to the ordinary people of Northern Ireland of every opinion who have suffered loss or whose lives are threatened. Their courage over the past six-and-a-half years has been an example to many of us. None of us knows when their ordeal will end. We have a duty to protect the citizens of the United Kingdom to the full extent of our efforts and to destroy the gunman, the bomber and the assassin.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim South)
We have listened with interest to the two opening speeches. Impressive though those performances were, I cannot help feeling that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) might have done better if they had not been so modest. They should have remembered 74 that they were opening the great debate on the whole constitutional future of Northern Ireland.
Speaking for the Ulster contingent, let me say that we are deeply conscious of the responsibility given to us in setting the tone for this five-day review of the internal structure of the United Kingdom. It is probably the most significant review this century.
We wish to compliment the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and the business managers on the wisdom of their decision. I have no doubt that they said "Here is a part of the United Kingdom that has had experience of a devolved Government for 52 years—and here we have these Ulster Members, a generous lot, not coming empty handed, but bringing a report of 199 pages." They surely regard that document as a useful blueprint for the course of this week when we shall be discussing the less advanced areas of the United Kingdom. I have comfort even for those areas, since they may be given constitutional conventions before the week is out.
There are those who say that the situation of Northern Ireland is different. Of course Northern Ireland is different. Furthermore, Wales is different and Scotland, too, is different—and now the part of the country that can now unashamedly call itself "England" also is different. That is why we are talking about devolution. Surely nobody who cherishes the unity of the United Kingdom can fail to support that view.
The principle that our colleagues in the Convention wisely set in the forefont of their manifesto was the proposition that they would seek to haveA democratically elected Parliament with a system of Government broadly in line with the provisions to be made for constitutional devolution in the United Kingdom as a whole.I fail to see how that can cause any offence. In the sensitive atmosphere of these debates, there will be those who will express fears that devolution could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Therefore, let those of us from Ulster bring them some comfort. Let us say to them that they should be of good cheer, for we do not seek to break up the United Kingdom. It was not we who asked for devolution 50 years ago. We accepted it reluctantly and did our best to make it work. If our best was not considered 75 by others to be good enough, the fault was not ours: it was the fault of those who designed the structure and who forced it upon us.
Stormont never endangered the unity of the Kingdom, for the simple reason that successive generations of Unionists applied to Stormont's every action this simple test: "Will this endanger the union?" That self-same test we of our generation still apply. If we can be convinced that any sentence, section, or word of this Report is in any way likely to weaken the Union, it must be disavowed. My authority for that declaration is to be found in the first principle of the Report—namely,Northern Ireland is, and will remain, an integral part of the United Kingdom.I feel that Her Majesty's Government and the official Opposition have wisely resisted hysterical demands that they should spell out the conditions for remaining within the United Kingdom, whatever that is supposed to mean. Perhaps they felt that some offence might be given if they were to endeavour to do that. There can be no offence if I, as an Ulsterman, perform the task for them.
The conditions are that we accept the duties, responsibilities and obligations of other citizens of the United Kingdom and that we enjoy the same rights as all other British citizens—no more and no less. Foremost among those rights is the right to be governed in the same way as other citizens of the United Kingdom—not, perhaps, in exactly the same way, but broadly in line with the system in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Coupled with that right goes the right to the same scale of representation in this Parliament as is enjoyed by all the other areas of the United Kingdom. The Government, despite what the Secretary of State said earlier, have conceded our claim in that they have declared that all the other parts of the Kingdom will have undiminished representation in this House, whatever form of devolution they may be given.
Another is the right to the same degree of local government democracy. The Report emphasises the need for control and scrutiny by elected representatives in local government. When the present bureaucratic system of local government in Northern Ireland was designed, account 76 was no doubt taken of the fact that Northern Ireland, with a population of roughly 1,500,000, is a convenient unit of local government by United Kingdom standards. Stormont was meant to provide the upper tier for that structure. Because that tier is now missing, it can be said that we, the Westminister Members from Northern Ireland—alone in this House—have also to perform the duties of second-tier councillors. If they should catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, certain of my colleagues will deal in detail with the Report of the Convention, of which some are members.
I want to mention a few general principles. The Secretary of State proposes to reconvene the Convention and it may be that he hopes to persuade some of the newer parties in the Convention to play a more constructive part in the debate. It was a matter of great regret to all of us that they modelled themselves on the older opposition mentality of boycott and abstention throughout a great deal of the debates on the proposals.
I am not clear about what the reconvened Convention is to discuss. The Secretary of State has clearly ruled out an institutionalised Council of Ireland. With that decision we agree. He has also ruled out compulsory coalition—with that we also agree. I fail to see how anyone could disagree with the right hon. Gentleman in view of the circumstances of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to as the "Heath-Robinson situation" of 1973, which was compounded by Sunningdale.
That leaves the possibility that the Convention may be asked to consider voluntary coalition, which is a denial of the ballot box in advance of the elections. Why is the Convention to consider a voluntary coalition when its Report makes provision for that possibility? A voluntary coalition can come into being without any alteration to the proposals contained within the covers of this Report. I see that the Minister of State shakes his head. I will quote the relevant passage. It says:The UUUC proposals allow ample scope for the electorate to return, if it so desires, a coalition, for example of SDLP, Alliance and UPNI.Paragraph 91 says:It is open to the SDLP and others to enter into an electoral pact and seek a popular 77 mandate and such a coalition could have a genuine prospect of success. Over the period February 1974 to May 1975 UUUC support varied from 51.1 per cent. to 58.1 per cent. So that to argue that there must always be a majority opposed to SDLP participation is wrong.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
The point is that what we are asking for at this stage is an acceptable form—acceptable to both communities—to get this off the ground. It is interesting to note that there are parties in both communities prepared to go forward on a partnership basis.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
If they feel so strongly and are convinced that they are right and have the electoral support necessary, there is nothing to prevent them. They can submit their proposals to the test and there will be no obstacles placed in their way by the United Ulster Unionist Coalition. It is a matter on which the electorate of Northern Ireland ought to pronounce judgment.
I have to be honest and admit that a voluntary coalition, however brought about, would be a very fragile thing. For example, the publicity industry did what it could with the idea when on Tuesday last the Secretary of State met the leaders of the parties in the Convention to discuss security. On that occasion, those leaders were unanimous in their demand for firm Government action to stop the killing. Let us suppose that the Secretary of State had been able to wave a wand and say "You boys have agreed and I am going to make you a coalition Cabinet with effect from midnight tonight."; how long would that that have lasted? Exactly 24 hours. Within 24 hours the leader of the SDLP was referring to the Army reinforcements for which he had asked as being akin to the CIA and criticising their introduction.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The important thing is that the hon. Gentleman opposed the idea of the introduction of the SAS into County Armagh. Could he have remained a member of the Secretary of State's emergency temporary coalition? More important, would his colleagues have permitted him to remain?
78 Let me give another example. In Saturday's Belfast Telegraph—a newspaper with which I do not always agree—Mr. Brian Faulkner admitted that a voluntary coalition could be a very difficult operation. He said something to the effect that it would have to await the attitude of the SDLP. He did not have long to wait. On page 3 of that same issue the SDLP Convention member for South Down referred to a unit of the British Army as "thugs in uniform". Would that member of the SDLP have sustained and supported a voluntary coalition?
Lest I should appear to be favouring some leaders of the SDLP as opposed to others, let me balance this with the views of the deputy leader, Mr. John Hume, who in a debate in the Convention said:We recognise that power-sharing is an unnatural system of government.I fully agree and on this occasion I am well content that he should have the last word.
On this, the first day of the debate, we have a responsibility to point the way. One signpost was provided in the Gracious Speech of 29th October 1974 which used the term:some form of genuine power sharing and participation".In my view, and it is a widely held view, that requirement is to a great extent met in the proposed committee system set out in the report. I must admit that those of us accustomed to Westminster practices and traditions are somewhat uneasy about what is outlined in the section dealing with committee structures. We cannot help feeling that the UUUC members of the Convention, in their well-meaning endeavours to involve minorities, may have made the machinery unworkable. They have done this in good faith and in accordance with their election promises. I do not retract one word. I only hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who presumably might be involved, will be able to make the thing work.
That phrase in the Gracious Speech also spoke of participation. We have all noticed that newsmen and commentators mistakenly talk of power-sharing between Protestant and Catholic. In a way, it is a pity that they are not correct. If it were just a question of religion, the problem 79 could be resolved without much difficulty. In this matter the test is not at which altar a man worships, but to which nation he belongs.
It is a great mistake to assume that those who cherish the Roman Catholic faith in Northern Ireland are synonymous with those who oppose the union. An analysis of the election results, particullarly the Westminster results, will reveal that thousands of Roman Catholics support the union. I agree with what has been said by both Front Bench spokesmen—somehow a way has to be found to encourage these people to participate far more fully in the political institutions of Northern Ireland. In that I am sincere.
In my view, there must be continued regrouping of political bodies in Northern Ireland. The process was begun in 1972 when the then Government set out to break the Ulster Unionist Party—they used a more genteel phrase: they spoke of "breaking the mould", and so forth. The problem is that such kindly actions produce some weird results at times. For that reason I am not suggesting that the Government should indulge in such an exercise or an experiment on the other side of the divide.
Perhaps I might presume to suggest to the Government—and I do so in all seriousness—that the recent tragic years in Northern Ireland might have been very different if they had remained aligned to their true allies in Northern Ireland—the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Ten years ago, in my constituency of South Antrim, the Northern Ireland Labour Party, which is very much akin to the Labour Party in this House, polled no fewer than 22,000 votes. Today, through no fault of its own, it is hard-pressed to produce 1,000 votes.
That party provided one of many examples of how electors of different religious beliefs and faiths can participate as loyal citizens of the United Kingdom. Such people must be provided with an outlet. We on these Benches and the people we represent in what might be called the pro-Union camp have a heavy responsibility and a duty to invite, not to challenge, and to encourage them to participate much more through the half-dozen pro-Union parties in Northern Ireland. Such participation would ensure 80 that they were not misrepresented by a party going blindly in the wrong direction and that no limits were set on their share in decision-making at any level, even the highest.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Perhaps it was predictable that the great venture of setting up the Convention last year under the authority of the British Government would not succeed. Given the divisions which have existed in Northern Ireland for centuries, it was perhaps unrealistic to expect that we could within the short period of six months find a solution for all the problems of Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, a valiant attempt was made by a number of members of the Convention to resolve the problems in a political way and to eradicate violence. We had a so-called cease-fire but there were still many acts of violence, which did not help the deliberations of the Convention.
In the Convention we tried to solve our problems on the principle of partnership and, for the first time, to involve both sections of the community in Northern Ireland in the creation of governmental structures which would be acceptable to the whole community. The Government accepted the principles which were enunciated by the former Conservative Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), in the discussions at Sunningdale. I pay tribute to him for seeing clearly the problems of Northern Ireland. Even though his solution—Sunningdale—may be seen to have been a defeat, it has changed Northern Ireland and the thinking of politicians, although perhaps not to the extent we would have wished. I remain confident, however, that, given good will, sincerity and honesty among all the representatives in Northern Ireland, it is not impossible to envisage that we shall devise a system of government based broadly on community partnership.
I hope that I do not embarrass the right hon. Member for Belfast. East (Mr. Craig) when I say that when the Convention began I had little hope that he would see anything in the proposals put forward by the SDLP. Although we never got very far in the inter-party discussions, I think that in the few discussions which took place the right hon. Gentleman was totally convinced of the 81 sincerity of the SDLP in its attempt to find a political solution. I apologise if I embarrass the right hon. Gentleman by what I am about to say, but on 6th November, the day before the Convention concluded, in defending his participation in the inter-party discussions against the attacks being made on him by members of the UUUC, he said:There was something even more significant than the proposals that centred around our committee system. It was the willingness of the main minority grouping"—namely, the SDLP—in this Convention to take our proposals and explore them to see if within them there was the germ of a possible agreement. They took that decision knowing they were flying in the face of very clearly and categorically stated positions. That was an act of courage on their part. I think it is true to say that it was more than an act of courage: it was an act of willingness to try to find some way out of Ulster's dilemma. While I have singled out the SDLP among the minority groups, I would not like the others to feel that I was in any way forgetting their contributions; but I think all of them will admit that it was a much more difficult thing for the SDLP to take the step than it was for anyone else. As regards the UUUC's proposals, I should have liked to see the inter-party talks developed so that the full merit of those proposals could be brought out and later explained to the whole electorate by open and free debate in this House. If that had happened, perhaps we would have been attaching to the Report a draft Bill that had some very real meaning. As it is now, I believe that in many quarters in the Parliament of the United Kingdom the draft Bill will be regarded as an ill-advised step.We can now see how prophetic were the words of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East. I have quoted them to show that even during the short life of the Convention there were changes in political attitudes. People who were formerly regarded as bitter political enemies began to see that the only hope for Northern Ireland lay in the creation of acceptable political structures which would involve the whole community in partnership.
It will be agreed by right hon. Members who represent the Unionist viewpoint that the Convention was set up through intermediaries and the SDLP played no small part. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East played a major part in the inter-party discussions. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) may say that at no time was he aware of what was being discussed. We know, as do the Lord Chief Justice 82 of Northern Ireland, who was Chairman of the Convention, and Professor Bernard Crick, who was adviser to the UUUC, that for a certain time the right hon. Member went along with the discussions on the possibility of a voluntary coalition. There was no guarantee of success. There was no guarantee that there would be a successful conclusion to the talks. However, the SDLP said "We are prepared to discuss every facet of your policy document to see whether it is possible to reach agreement".
I wonder about the sincerity and honestry of the majority of UUUC members, because when it seemed that they would be in some difficulty in their own constituencies from extreme bigots they pulled out of the talks. Even today in this House there is a certain ambiguity. No one knows how many Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies want the Report to be accepted. No one knows whether they want Stormont to be resurrected—although I believe that they do. May we be assured of support for the Report from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)? Does he want devolved government in Northern Ireland? Does he want the Assembly to be resurrected as we knew in it in Stormont before it was, quite rightly, abolished by the right hon. Member for Sidcup in 1972? If there were a vote tonight, it would be interesting to see how many right hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies really and truly wanted the Report to be accepted.
The Secretary of State has said, quite rightly, that a measure of agreement was reached during the deliberations of the Convention. I agree that Northern Ireland had a Parliament for 50 years, although I was bitterly opposed to the way in which it was set up and the edicts which emerged from it. A local devolved administration in Stormont that had the support of all the people in Northern Ireland would be the aim of everyone in that part of the United Kingdom. Whether we shall be able to have it is a question which this House must decide.
The parameters laid down by the Government in the White Paper, allied to the 1974 Act, under which the Convention's deliberations took place, were not as clearly defined as they should have been In entering into those discussions the 83 SDLP took all the White Papers and the sentiments expressed by Government Ministers as meaning that the parameters were that there ought to be involvement of the two communities and a recognition that there is a sensible population in Northern Ireland which believes in the Irish dimension and the eventual reunification by peaceful means of the island of Ireland in a political sense. The UUUC members claimed that there was nothing in the Act which said there had to be any partnership or power sharing, but this House is fully aware of what the Government intended. That was the reason for the Convention being established in the first place.
The Report which is before us is a UUUC Report. It does not take into account the various opinions expressed in the Convention. The Unionist coalition used its voting strength in the lobby to trample its opinions over all others.
Sir Robert Lowry, the Lord Chiet Justice of Northern Ireland, was the Chairman of the Convention and he earned the respect of every member. He is entitled to be paid a tribute for the way in which he conducted the deliberations of the Convention. He could have drawn up this Report. He had expert advice and access to the inter-party discussions. He got to know most of the 78 members of the Convention and had their support. He must have been aware of the areas where there was a possibility of consensus and those where there was no possibility of agreement. His experience and integrity could have produced a Convention Report which was far more representative than the one we are debating.
This Report is tantamount to a demand by the Unionist coalition for the resurrection of Stormont as it existed before its abolition. The coalition also wants written guarantees that, once Stormont is re-established, no British Government will have the right to abolish it again, whatever the feelings might be in Northern Ireland and however that part of the United Kingdom might be misgoverned It is seeking independence within the United Kingdom. It does not want devolved government. It wants to remain a member of the United Kingdom on its 84 terms, and this qualification is written into every line of the Convention Report.
The coalition also says that it does not wish to depart from the British Parliamentary system and goes on to say that the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted for UUUC candidates; but it is only a coalition and, judging from Press reports at the weekend, there is no possibility of its ever becoming anything more. There are serious divergences of opinion within the ranks of this hotchpotch of wrong ideas.
The Unionist coalition wants Stormont and security back on its own terms. It wants to tell the British Army what it should and should not do to protect the interests of an ascendancy government brought to life again in Stormont. I am confident that no British Parliament, no major or minor political party and certainly not the majority of the British electorate would ever allow themselves to be intimidated or coerced into accepting the demands contained in this Report.
The Unionist coalition has the effrontery and arrogance to say that this Parliament does not have the ability to draw up legislation for Northern Ireland. As an appendix to the Report, the UUUC has attached its own Bill to save the Government and Opposition time in case they are worried about other things. The great political brains within the UUUC want to relieve this Parliament of its responsibilities. How arrogant can they be?
There is some dishonesty in this Report. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has said that he wants Northern Ireland to be governed like any other part of the United Kingdom. That is a demand for total integration, but it is the exact opposite of everything contained in the Report. The Unionists say that, unless they get Stormont returned on their terms, they do not want it at all.
However much one may disagree with the politics of the right hon. Member for Down, South, he is at least consistent and honest. While real, sincere, honest-to-God Ulstermen of different religions were trying desperately to reach some successful conclusions in the Conventions, the right hon. Gentleman quoted Cromwell and said:In the name of God, go85 He said that the Convention was a charade and should not have been set up in the first place. Whether he agrees with devolved government or not and whether or not he has the experience of Northern Ireland which entitles him to adopt such an attitude, there are many people in Northern Ireland who want to play some part in creating political institutions acceptable to us all.
In the last 48 hours some bloodcurdling threats have been issued by the UUUC Convention members, particularly Mr. Ernest Baird, who said with cold, stark clarity that if the British Government did not accept the Convention Report they should be prepared for the final conflict. What did he mean by "the final conflict"? Was it an attempt to intimidate the Government, allied with an attempt to inflame opinion among the majority population in Northern Ireland so that they will begin to engage in acts of violence against the minority? This is the only honest interpretation which can be put on those remarks.
A spokesman for one of the paramilitary organisations said at the weekend that he regarded the Nationalist population as having spawned the IRA and that it should therefore be entitled to take the wrath of the majority community.
That was said by a spokesman for a para-military organisation. I take that as a direct attack upon a defenceless Catholic minority population.
It is not the first time that we have had this sort of thing from representatives of Unionist mentality in Northern Ireland. We have had the Orange card played before—in the 1880s, in 1912, in 1916 and in 1920, when almost the same voice using almost the same words issued the same threat to the then British Government.
One might ask whether it is impossible to reach agreement in Northern Ireland, whether the SDLP has made it impossible to reach agreement with the Protestant majority. I do not think that that is so. The Government say that they cannot accept a return to a Unionist ascendancy. I know that the word "ascendancy" sometimes makes Unionist Members angry, but in effect that is what it means. Although the old type of traditional Unionism has broken down, it would 86 still mean a one-party majority Government. The Unionists would have us believe that they wish to maintain the British tradition, but in no way, in no circumstances, can politics in Northern Ireland be equated with politics here on the island of Britain.
Hon. Members sitting on the Opposition Benches at Westminster know that it is possible after the next General Election for them to be sitting on the Government Benches. Those on the Government side equally know that if they do not do the things for which they were elected they could find themselves in Opposition. That is the healthy thing about British democracy. It provides a reminder for politicians that there is an electorate in the street which will determine on which Benches they will sit after subsequent elections.
That is not the situation in Northern Ireland. There was a Unionist Government in Northern Ireland in 1920 and there was a Unionist Government there in 1972 when Stormont was abolished. Throughout all the intervening years there was a succession of Unionist Governments. There was no need for an election in Northern Ireland. On some occasions there were more unopposed returns than there were candidates taking part. In those circumstances, democracy as we know it here in Britain was not operating.
It was because of the absence of the democratic concept that all the fires of frustration began to burn in 1968. All the timber was piled up between 1920 and 1968. The people realised that they had no redress for their grievances through the democratic process and they began to take to the streets, with the tragic results that we have seen.
The Government and the official Opposition want a power-sharing partnership in Northern Ireland. The Liberal Party wants a power-sharing administration at Stormont. We are members of the European Community and we cannot remain unaffected by its deliberations and decisions. The Council of Europe took the view that Northern Ireland could not be kept in isolation of European affairs and decisions. It believed that it would have an effect on Europe in the long term if not at present.
A committee was set up by the Political Affairs Committee of the Council of 87 Europe to examine this situation and its members included Conservative and Labour Members of this House. The committee produced a report, Document No. 3696. It carried out an investigation of all the circumstances of Northern Ireland—the onset of the present troubles and what led to them. In paragraph 80 it said:However, your Rapporteur's firm belief remains that the only acceptable way out of the present situation lies in the acceptance by all concerned of full participation in Government by the widest possible range of political forces representing the Northern Irish electorate. When a community is permanently divided by census, religion and national traditions in such a way that majority and minority are not altered but rather confirmed by successive elections, the only form of substantial democracy is that which enables both sections of the community to share the power and the burdens of government together and at the same time".That, therefore, is the conclusion of that democratic European Assembly.
I have been considering the people who support the power-sharing administration. The local Sunday News last Sunday printed the results of a poll in Northern Ireland which produced some interesting figures. According to the poll, those who favoured majority rule such as that advocated by the UUUC amounted to 28 per cent. Those who wanted a partnership across the community were 26.83 per cent. Those who wanted an emergency coalition—and I believe that they can be lumped together with those favouring a partnership—were 13.82 per cent. Those who wanted integration with the United Kingdom—the cause so dear to the heart of the right hon. Member for Down, South—totalled 8.4 per cent., a figure from which the right hon. Gentleman can take no great satisfaction. Those who wanted a continuation of direct rule were 0.81 per cent.
I know that I shall be challenged by the UUUC on this and that it will say that we should have an election to see who is right. But with the brutal atrocities which were committed in Northern Ireland last week, when passions are inflamed and when the dead have just been buried, this is no time for an election. A permanent majority was created in Northern Ireland in 1920 by the Government of Ireland Act. It also created a permanent minority. The majorities and minorities were determined by an 88 unnatural division of Ireland. Today all realistic and reasonable opinion supports the creation of political structures which will command the allegiance of everyone.
I know that other Northern Ireland Members will say that my party does not support the RUC, and I should answer that point now. I have said repeatedly in the past months that if anyone, Catholic or Protestant, was aware of the identity of anyone engaged in violence, the use of guns and intimidation, or who had committed murder, armed robbery or kneecapping, it was his duty to make that information known to the security forces. For example, those who killed the five Catholics last Sunday and those who killed the 10 Protestants less than 24 hours later have, I am confident, committed murder before and will commit it again. The people who live within those communities know that they may be the next victims.
The SDLP gives unqualified support to the security forces in trying to arrest criminals and those who are engaged in violence. In saying that, we have the support of Lord Hunt who carried out an investigation into the RUC under the auspices of the former Labour Administration. In a letter to The Times of 28th November 1975, Lord Hunt said that responsibility for security should in no circumstances be returned to Northern Ireland. He said that the police forces would never have the support of the minority community unless that community felt that it was part and parcel of the State of Northern Ireland. A State that cannot agree on the way it is to be governed is unlikely to agree on giving support to the security forces. Under the Sunningdale Agreement we were trying to create the structure to bring back confidence in the RUC.
That view is well documented by the Lord Chief Justice of England—Lord Widgery—Lord Scarman, the Compton Report and other reports which were promulgated under the former Conservative Government. The SDLP, representing the minority population through its elected representative, is saying that anyone who is engaged in violence should be made amenable to the law. In trying to search for a political solution that will bring the troubles to an end, we say that the only structures we can create are those 89 which have the support of everyone, and in such circumstances there will be no question of the SDLP's withholding its support from the police forces.
In Northern Ireland we are inclined to deal with the politics of the last atrocity. Many people were killed last Monday, many were killed on the previous day and many more will be killed before the end of this week. That is not a happy atmosphere for any political representative.
There have been many watersheds in the House and many decisions have emanated from it. I firmly support, and will never depart from, the principles which were clearly laid down by the former Conservative Prime Minister which are supported by the present Government. There can be no lasting peace in Northern Ireland while there is a majority which tries to assert its will and dominate the minority and while the majority is trying to exclude the minority from participation in the everyday affairs of the State.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would prolong the life of the Convention by one month. That is not long. But those who were engaged in the last inter-party discussions will accept that challenge. My party and I are prepared to enter into inter-party discussions tomorrow morning to see whether that is possible. There are not many weeks before 3rd February, and that time should not be wasted. I appeal to hon. Members who have influence within the UUUC to take up this challenge and to see whether, even at this eleventh hour, we can bring to an end the violence, death and destruction in Northern Ireland. If we are successful we shall perhaps be remembered as a generation of politicians who showed courage. If we fail perhaps we shall not be blamed, but if we do not try we shall deserve the condemnation of generations to come.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
I am grateful for the opportunity to make what I hope will be a brief contribution to the debate, first on the poiltical theme and then on the military theme, in particular dealing with the announcement which the Prime Minister made earlier this afternoon.
90 It is hardly necessary for me to say how strongly I support what the Secretary of State and my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench said about Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom and remaining part of the United Kingdom until its own people decide any other course and how important it is that we should keep our forces in Northern Ireland to deal with security. I have said that many times before, but I repeat it today in the knowledge that the great body of hon. Members hold exactly the same belief. I strongly support the Secretary of State in what he said.
The Secretary of State was right to remind us that this is but the first day of a lengthy debate on devolution in general as it affects the United Kingdom. I had hoped that a subject of such enormous constitutional, economic and social importance to every part of the United Kingdom would have received support from more of my colleagues than are present today. Perhaps as the week develops support will grow.
We as a Parliament will not solve the problems of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England, nor can we expect the people of those parts of the United Kingdom to solve the problems for themselves, unless we use considerable constitutional ingenuity. I do not have much sympathy with those who think only in terms of the pure Westminster system. The rest of the world, when it looks at the way in which the pure Westminster system works, does not find many sources of gratification in it. It is possible that we shall reach a somewhat ossified stage in our parliamentary life unless we can show that we are prepared to use great ingenuity in formulating constitutional arrangements—not necessarily of the same kind in each case—for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In the general debate on devolution it is right to note some lessons of devolution in relation to Northern Ireland as pointed out by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneux), although he did not point to the particular consequences to which I should point, one of which is that, if in one part of the United Kingdom one party governs continuously for half a century, that part of the United Kingdom runs a considerable risk that the system will not operate 91 satisfactorily. Perhaps we might bear that in mind in the course of our discussions.
Coming to the question of Northern Ireland, I have found a considerable sense of unreality in the debate, with the possible exception of some remarks made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). This is a dangerous state of affairs and we have to face the political as well as the military situation in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Secretary of State—for reasons which I understand—has been somewhat at fault this afternoon in not making absolutely clear the position in relation to the Convention and the Report. I understand the hon. Member for Antrim, South when he says that he is confused as to the intention of the Secretary of State in reconvening the Convention and sending back the Report to it. I have no misunderstanding about the Secretary of State's intentions, but I do not believe that he has made them plain. In fairness to our Northern Ireland friends of all parties, he should say clearly what he means by returning the Convention Report.
We have reached the position which I feared all along and foresaw in the setting up of the Convention—that there would be a headlong collision between Northern Ireland and the Westminster Parliament. That is what we have now because, stripped of everything the Secretary of State said about agreement in this and other respects, we in this House are in basic disagreement with the finding of the Convention majority that there should be a transfer of Westminster government in its pure form to Northern Ireland. That is what the Secretary of State has rejected, and he ought to have said so clearly this afternoon. I hope it will be said in the winding-up speech tonight. We have, therefore, a head-on collision between this Parliament and what the majority of the Convetnion has concluded.
Another aspect of the Report concerns the fact that this was not a constituent Assembly, elected to form a new constitution for an independent country, deciding how it would run its affairs in future. Northern Ireland is not an independent country. It is part of the United Kingdom, and therefore, as the Secretary of State has rightly said, the 92 Westminster Parliament will have the final word.
This, too, provides a lesson for our discussions on devolution. The Secretary of State has been trying to give the impression that he is saying to the people of Northern Ireland that they should settle their own future, but he is then saying, in effect, "You can do it only if you settle it in the way I want." This is a very dangerous situation for any parliament, dealing with the question of devolution, to put itself into. If there are to be limitations, they must be clearly stated right at the beginning. The Secretary of State ought to have reinforced this today, otherwise we get into a very dangerous head-on clash.
The Secretary of State emphasised the areas of agreement. Yes, there were many areas of agreement, but that agreement was dependent upon one thing—that all the major parties in Northern Ireland should take part in Government administration at all levels. Without this there is not any agreement.
This is the reality of the situation in Northern Ireland today. If the rest of the agreement is to be implemented by the hon. Member for Belfast, West and his colleagues in the other parties in Northern Ireland, it can be done only if there is that form of government. I shall not quarrel about words. If "power sharing" is unfashionable, let it be called something else, such as partnership or participation. But it does not alter the fact that at the moment there is a deep divide between the two major parties in Northern Ireland, or between the one party and the other parties, and between the communities in Northern Ireland with their religious support. That divide has somehow to be bridged.
When I say that there is, therefore, a feeling of unreality about this debate, this is what I mean. What I find intensely depressing—and so, I believe, do the great majority of the British people—is that after six years of the most appalling civil strife and continuous bloodshed, and after the recent most brutal massacre of all, the parties in Northern Ireland are not able to come together or work together for the benefit of Northern Ireland in order to help the rest of us to deal with this situation.
It is this feeling—if I may say this in a friendly way to them—that is driving 93 the majority of people, according to present indications, to say that we should pull our forces out. There comes a point at which no political body, no British Government, can withstand that feeling, and that is the danger which the people of Northern Ireland themselves are facing. Do our friends from Northern Ireland really want the British forces to be pulled out by the pressure of public opinion developing as it is at the moment? They must know how fatal it would be for them as well as for those who would lose their lives in the massacre that would undoubtedly follow. I do not see how the Republic of Ireland could possibly stand aside if this were to happen north of the border.
My view, therefore, is that surely we must try again. The Secretary of State is sending the Report back to the Convention. As I have already said, he ought to say quite clearly if he means—and I did understand this—"I can only accept a report from the Convention if it shows that the major parties in Northern Ireland will be participating together at all levels of government."
The Secretary of State is now putting in a dateline, despite what he said about not trying to hasten events. What is to happen if at the end of the month there is no agreement? I have the feeling that when the right hon. Gentleman created the Convention he just took that one step. Now he is taking a second step by recalling the Convention. We must think further ahead than one step. We have to think of what will happen if at the end of the month the parties in Northern Ireland still have this deep cleavage and are not prepared to work together. The House should be told what is the Secretary of State's alternative.
One alternative is to continue direct rule and the other is to have integration. I was much taken to task by the present Prime Minister when I said in Dublin that if this situation continued, and if the parties in Northern Ireland could not work together, the pressure for integration would grow. That pressure is already appearing. At any rate it will mean the continuation of direct rule, which I think is unsatisfactory for Northern Ireland. It removes the opportunity for the people there to have any share in running their own affairs. It also leads to a degree of irresponsibility, 94 because they do not have to carry the burden of the measures necessary in Northern Ireland. What is more, it places an enormous burden on the work of this House in trying to deal with all the detailed matters which ought to be dealt with in Belfast.
I hope that the Secretary of State is thinking further ahead than the recalling of the Convention, and that at the same time the parties in Northern Ireland will be prepared to work together.
I know that this is not the pure Westminster doctrine. My right hon. Friend the the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who was the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will recall that I took a great deal of convincing that one could have anything other than a transfer of a Westminster system. It was my right hon. Friend's persuasiveness which led me and my colleagues to the view that it was not worth trying to deal with this situation in that way.
If our friends in Northern Ireland are not prepared to sanction or agree to the transfer of a Westminster parliamentary system, let them work together and put a time limit on it. I would not take that course out of preference, for the reason that towards the end of the time limit all the pressures would start to come along. We should be wondering "Are we going on with this or shall we disintegrate again?" If it is necessary in order to enable people to work together at this stage, let them have a time limit and work together, even if unwillingly, until the crisis is over or for a certain number of years. Let us have a practical approach to this question and try to decide how politicians in Northern Ireland can really play their part in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
The military situation cannot, of course, be separated from the political. The Secretary of State is in a far stronger position now in dealing with terrorists than at any time during his period of office, for the reason that he has abolished, abandoned and reduced to nothing the policy of detention. This was a millstone round the neck of both Governments. We all recognise this. Nobody wanted it. Nobody liked it.
I think that my right hon. Friend who was Secretary of State for Northern 95 Ireland will agree with me that those of us who saw the political situation in Belfast when we assumed direct rule—I am talking not about the work of Departments like Agriculture and Industry but about the political and in particular the security Departments—had a very strong reason why we would never in any circumstances agree to the pure Stormont situation coming back again. I could never for one moment accept that.
Internment was introduced. I do not want to open old wounds and say again what we felt about that, but the Secretary of State has taken all the risks of doing away with internment, and, therefore, he ought to get something back. Perhaps I could suggest that to the hon. Member for Belfast, West. In fairness to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), I should say that he has always maintained that there should never have been internment, and he has been absolutely consistent in this.
The Secretary of State can now take a really strong line in dealing with terrorism in Armagh and along the border. I say specifically "along the border" because I think that the Prime Minister misunderstood my point about Operation Motorman this afternoon. The fact is that dealing with the border means dealing with terrorists in the best possible terrorist country. I was not suggesting for one moment that the techniques were the same as in Londonderry.
In the south, in Armagh, we need enough trained soldiers—people who can deal with every sort of ambush, mine and so on. In the towns the forces do not have to deal with much of that. Above all, we require the number of men who can deal effectively with the situation in the particular place in which they are operating. It is just not good enough to have them reacting to an incident. While they are reacting to an incident, the terrorists have taken the next road down and are doing exactly the same thing there, simply because there are not enough soldiers to deal with the situation.
We always realised that the force on the border was thin. Previously, the concentration of the IRA was in Belfast and Londonderry. Now it has moved to the border and anyone can see from a map the present areas of concentration. But I 96 refer to the border as a whole because, if we are successful with the forces now in Armagh, over a time I have no doubt that the IRA will move further along the border and that Fermanagh will become subject to what is now happening in Armagh.
It is a matter of the forces which can be placed at the disposal of the Secretary of State to deal with terrorism of this kind. What is more, they must have information. One of the difficulties of this past period of the so-called ceasefire is that it has been more difficult to get information when the Army has been adopting a low profile. The Prime Minister says that the Army will use this power to question along the border now, and that is right. But the Secretary of State had to keep going the idea that there was a cease-fire to get through his abolition of detention. If he had said at any time that the cease-fire had gone, it would have been politically impossible for him to have abolished detention.
The Secretary of State has taken the risk of abolishing detention. The ceasefire is obviously non-existent. The right hon. Gentleman should now take the necessary measures with the military to deal ruthlessly with terrorists. Our forces can do it if they are given the weapons. I do not agree that our troops are fighting with their hands tied behind their backs—they are not. But we have to examine which weapons could be used. Along the border, the Army should be put in a position where our troops can use weapons against terrorists who are using rockets against them. If we are not willing to arm our troops to deal with those who are prepared to stop a minibus, to line up the Protestants occupying it and to massacre them, the average citizen will have no confidence and we shall get less information.
The cratering of roads has been suggested. We tried that only to find that the craters were filled as soon as we moved to the next road. We decided that we would not use mines because of the impact on the civilian population. But I think that people are now prepared to accept them, with suitable warning notices, in order to prevent terrorists using cars on roads of this kind. These are measures which have to be reconsidered and accepted.
Some right hon. and hon. Members may have noticed what I thought was an 97 impressive article in The Guardian on 17th December. It was obviously written by a soldier with considerable experience of the border, and he may have been a fairly senior officer. The article did not blame the politicians. It put forward a constructive approach to how we should deal with terrorism of this kind on the border operating on the scale that it is at present. The proposals in that article, which I have no doubt have been put forward from official military quarters, should be considered in the light of the fact that detention has now gone and that every attempt has been made to remove discrimination and to show that the Government and the military are working fairly. Now we must concentrate our activities on the terrorists, who show themselves to be completely ruthless.
I refer finally to the Government south of the border. Relations are good. They became good under the previous Government, and I am glad to see further developments from the point of view of communications. But the resources of the Republic in terms of military personnel are very limited. We may ask them, rightly, to deal with terrorists when they slip across the border. But the resources that they have along a border of that length are very limited. We ourselves could not deal with it until the Secretary of State brought in additional forces.
The Government of the Republic have very limited resources at their command. However, we are right to ask them to play a full part in co-ordinating to the utmost the action which is taken there. At the same time we have to recognise the limitations on them, including the slowness of their legislative process and the fact that any legislation can be taken to the courts and challenged before it is implemented. Militarily, I believe that they will co-operate to the full. However, the extent to which they can act is much less than we should like, because of the limitations on resources.
I believe that the forces required to deal effectively with the border area as one military operation are considerable. But if they are taken away from Belfast or Londonderry, where they have been reduced, we shall be playing the IRA tactic to draw us to the border so that they can bomb again in Belfast and Derry. That is not possible.
98 I believe that our allies would support us by letting us move there whatever forces we wanted. They are not only bewildered but are beginning to be horrified that Britain, to which they have always looked as a place of stability, has not been able after six years to deal with what is happening in part of the United Kingdom and is still subject to attack in the heart of the capital itself. For that reason, I think that our allies would support the Government's having sufficient forces to deal with this terrorist problem, whatever the drain might be elsewhere.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for much of what he has said. He knows a great deal about the subject. He says that the fact that the urban guerrilla campaign has now given place to a rural guerrilla campaign must not cause us to permit our forces to be drawn from the cities. However, my security advisers tell me that there are two factors which they have to take into account. The first is that they are dealing with a border which in a sense is open. The other is that they are looking for 20 men. In dealing with 20 men on that border, we do not want to put in too large a number of soldiers, because that would merely be playing into the hands of the terrorists. Given the small number of people involved, it would mean a very large number of soldiers to close all the border crossings.
§ Mr. Heath
My estimate was more like 30 men. But I do not argue about that. It is a small number. However, they are genuine terrorists who are highly trained with modern weapons and with great experience.
The troubles between 1959 and 1962 were almost entirely along the border, and that tradition has continued. My argument is that we must have a sufficient number of troops moving in mobile groups to deal with this problem. The fact that the terrorists are a small number means that we have to have more people seeking them. We do not want to withdraw from Belfast or Londonderry. But I think that our allies would accept that we have to have more forces down in the border area to deal with the problem.
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
Does not my right hon. Friend agree, however, that all that he says underlines my plea 99 earlier to the Prime Minister that we need a radical readjustment of the border to make border security easier?
§ Mr. Heath
I heard my right hon. Friend's interjection to the Prime Minister, and my mind returned to my first meeting at Chequers with the Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland and of the Republic. The only previous occasion on which the three Prime Ministers met was in 1925, when they met at Chequers to consider boundary revisions. They had before them a boundary revision report. They had one meal together and took one look at the report, after which it was put away, and nothing has happened since. It may be that it should be looked at again. But I do not think that we shall make very much progress in that respect. Indeed, it would only encourage the terrorists to believe that they could achieve more by still more activities.
My fear is that the Government have waited long before dealing with the border. They waited long before they dealt with the strike in Belfast. The Secretary of State has contradicted himself slightly in that he has laid down that the Convention must have participation, but he has also said that participation failed against the strike. The plain fact is that the Executive worked well while it existed. Those who took part in it will confirm that, and certainly the Prime Minister of the Republic, myself and my colleagues at Sunningdale saw how well it was working. It was possible for that to work for a period.
However, no Government in Northern Ireland can stand up to such a strike unless they are supported by the Government at Westminster. This Government did not support them. The Unionist Government in 1969 could not stand up to the forces working in Londonderry until they came to the Westminster Government and said "Back us with the forces. Try to allow us to survive." The plea from every Northern Ireland Government to me as Prime Minister was "Allow us to survive. Give us the forces. Do what we want. Give us internment. We must somehow survive." Under devolution, no Northern Ireland Government can survive a threat of that kind whether it be a major strike, terrorism, attacks on 100 the police or anything else, unless they are backed by the Westminster Government of the day and by this Parliament. That is basic.
The Government have delayed. We hope that it will not have been for too long. What we now want is determined action, with speed and efficiency, along the border to deal with the terrorism. Let us hope that the parties in the Convention will reach agreement. I have not concealed my doubt about it any more than others have concealed theirs. Unless agreement is reached, either the Secretary of State must come in and negotiate an arrangement with them or direct rule will have to continue. Of those two alternatives I know which I prefer. I want Northern Ireland to have the greatest possible say in its own affairs.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
At one point the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said that he wished that more hon. Members would take part in this debate because of its general importance. I follow his assessment of the importance of this subject for two reasons. The first reason is its importance for the people of Northern Ireland, but the second is the need for hon. Members to justify to their constituents in all parts of the United Kingdom the use that is being made of our Armed Forces in Northern Ireland. I suggest that that aspect is now becoming extremely urgent.
I point out to any hon. Member who would be prepared to dissent from that point of view that the number of voices in this respect is growing every week. I am not suggesting that they are growing because of what some editor in the Daily Mirror has said, as was suggested by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). I am not suggesting that they are growing because of any misguided sensational journalism. I suggest that it is because of the serious concern in so many homes throughout the country about the use of large numbers of members of our Armed Forces in what seems to so many people to be a never-ending bloody political and military conflict in one part of the United Kingdom with no willingness on either side of the conflict to reach any conclusion or agreement. That is the 101 growing fear in the minds of many practically minded people. Moreover, that is another powerful reason why the debate is of maximum importance
Having given general support to the Government's policies and equal support to the previous Administration, the head of which has just addressed the House, I find it more and more difficult to repeat to my own constituents the explanations we receive for some of the policies that we are pursuing and for the hopes that are being expressed. If there were a Division tonight, I should support the Government's policy, although I have some doubts about some of the explanations being provided. I am not so sure that this situation will continue indefinitely.
I should like to refer to the assertion by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today, repeated by the Secretary of State, that they are both satisfied with the co-operation which they receive from the Government in the Republic. I do not accept those assertions. There has been a great deal of talk in this debate about what people refer to as "the border". My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said several times this afternoon that the terrorists responsible for some of the worst crimes recently made off into another State.
I challenge contradiction from any Minister when I say that the French Government would not allow over a period of so many years such a situation to continue in Belgium. I challenge any Minister to deny that the peace-loving Government of Sweden would not allow such a situation to continue for so many years across the border in Norway. Would those Governments allow what we have allowed to continue across the border in the Irish Republic? I do not believe that they would.
Ireland depends on us so for a great deal. Eighty per cent. of its foreign trade concerns Britain. We are not helpless in the face of Irish problems. I am thinking not in terms of military hot pursuit, but in terms of the general attitude of one State to another and one Government to another. The repeated statement that the Irish Army is not able to act in a certain way and that the situation is satisfactory was immediately belied by what was said by the 102 Irish Foreign Secretary, who appeared on television a few hours after the tragedy that cost the lives of 10 ordinary working people travelling in a minibus. He said that a number of people committed acts of violence, but that most of them immediately went into their homes in Northern Ireland and not into the Republic at all. Twelve hours later there was a report that the minibus was found abandoned across the border in the Irish Republic.
The House knows that I have never isolated terrorists and wrongdoers on either side. I have always been equally opposed to the Red Hand movement and to the Mafia gangsters on the Protestant side. Hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland have always respected my point of view because they knew that I was frank. I have always respected their views. It is quite clear that in such a border situation a number of people who are not heroic but who no doubt have a safe haven across a border which does not exist will commit acts of terror which they would not commit if such a situation did not exist.
I repeat what I have said before over the past three or four years: the Government must make further representations in Dublin and express the growing view of many British people that it is not enough to say that the Trish Army cannot co-operate more fully with the British Army. If we are to adhere strictly to the limitations which the border imposes, the Trish Government must pass new legislation leading to the extradition—in spite of all the political traditions against it—of murderers to this country, if the crime is committed in the United Kingdom, or the Trish Army and police must co-operate in arresting criminals and putting them on trial.
I am far from reassured by the statements of my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. I note that the new legislation before the Dail in Dublin has been passed by only a majority of two votes. Moreover, Mr. Corish, the leader of the Labour Party in opposition at present, at the last annual conference of that party had to threaten that he would break up the coalition unless his coalition partners agreed to pass the legislation through the Dail. My right hon. Friend knows that. That does not give me great confidence that there is much steam 103 behind the passing and implementation of that legislation.
I turn to the moving appeal at the conclusion of the speech by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). He said, speaking for the SDLP, that he would be quite ready—obviously, he speaks responsibly, because he is the leader of that party—to make an appeal to the other side of the political fence in his part of the country to form some sort of a working partnership. But we have a responsibility here as well. I do not overestimate our influence in having such an appeal heard by the representatives of the political forces in Northern Ireland, but if we are to make an appeal and if we are to have any standing at all, we must think of ways and means which will make it easier for the people concerned to respond to such an appeal.
The leader of the SDLP has a perfect right to make an appeal—he does it as one of the political leaders in that part of the United Kingdom—but the rest of us must be far more modest if we wish to have any part in being helpful in the present tragic situation. I suggest, therefore, that in order to be helpful, we should seek a reassurance on the border problem, coupled with a forthright policy for the pursuit of the criminal gangs who commit these terrible crimes. I believe that that might go some way to provide an additional reason to those in the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland who might be inclined to think of some immediate co-operation, making it possible for them to justify such co-operation to their own supporters.
I do not underestimate the political difficulties which those people would face. There is always an inclination to recognise the political difficulties which have to be faced in one's own political environment and to underestimate the political difficulties of others. I do not do that, but I think that we are entitled to ask for something more if we are to justify to our own constituents what is being asked of them, partcularly the parents of the many young soldiers who have to face continuing dangers in Northern Ireland. If we are to call upon them, for sound reasons, moral and political, to agree that the Army should continue its work in Northern Ireland, we are entitled to ask whether the two sides— 104 not as a long-term settlement—would come immediately together in some sort of emergency working partnership to secure life and limb for the population of Northern Ireland.
In saying that, I do not suggest that there could be agreement in four or six weeks on a long-term constitutional settlement, solving once and for all the question whether one has an extended committee system, a partnership in power sharing or some other method through a joint Cabinet. What I ask is that the idea of an emergency Government should at least be taken up. Some members of the political majority in Belfast told me recently when I was there that they would regard that idea as sensible. I notice also that among those who organised the strike by the Protestant Workers' Council—I met practically all of them—there are some who think that a new solution ought to be attempted. I suggest that this idea might afford a possible basis for covering new ground. After all, others are looking for new solutions, and the old slogan of "Return to Stormont" cannot now be put before everything else.
I turn now to the position of the SDLP. I see that the hon. Member for Belfast, West is not in the Chamber at the moment. I can well understand that he has essential things to do elsewhere, since he is the only member of his party in this place, and I shall repeat to him personally what I am about to say in his absence, because this is the other side of the coin in what I am putting to the House.
Although everything that the hon. Member for Belfast, West said today was acceptable, including the very moving appeal which he made at the end of his speech, that does not always apply to all his colleagues. I recall that a few hours after the terrible massacres when five Catholics and then 10 Protestants died, there appeared on the television screen two Members of Parliament, one for one side of the argument and one for the other, and both were utterly unyielding. In fact, what they said led one of my hon. Friends who represents a Birmingham constituency to comment in a later television programme that he felt extremely pessimistic after those two interventions. I can only say that I agree with that judgment. Both were so unyielding in 105 the face of this terrible tragedy that one could hardly believe one's ears.
A colleague of the hon. Member for Belfast, West, whom we heard speaking so convincingly in the Chamber today, said that he did not think that the incompatibilities of the situation would be very greatly affected even by these terrible tragedies. That is simply not good enough.
Hon. Members will recall—especially those who went to Northern Ireland immediately after the outbreak of the first hostilities in the new round of conflict in 1969—that at that time the struggle was a struggle for civil rights, but, as the right hon. Member for Sidcup rightly reminded us, most of those civil rights issues have now been settled. Over several years now, we have had Governments committed to full equality in civil rights, and it is the deliberate introduction of the question of changing the border which has brought a fresh dimension into the struggle, making it so bitter and arousing the fears which are the main contributing factor in the continuing violence we have witnessed over these last years.
We are, I believe, entitled to call upon the SDLP to take political risks and to appear before its electorate and say what Conor Cruise O'Brien has said to his constituents and to the people of the Irish Republic. He had the political courage to do it, and he put it in these terms—that the activities of the IRA were the greatest enemy of civil rights and the rights of equality of the Irish minority in Northern Ireland, the greatest enemy of equality for any group on either side of the border. That is Conor Cruise O'Brien's judgment, and how true it is! I ask my friends in the SDLP to show the same political attitude and to repeat that truth again and again.
There would then be no profit in asking the hon. Member for Belfast, West difficult trick questions about whether he would make a declaration in favour of the RUC, in the hope of tripping him up. There is no profit in that. We all know that he wants the right solution and wants to make his contribution towards an emergency partnership.
I think that I have said all that I can usefully add to our short debate on this tragic situation, and I end on this 106 note. The fact that various of my right hon. and hon. Friends often openly tell the Government that they have doubts and misgivings will lead no one into a false sense of political security. My right hon. Friends in the Government know that they have great credit on these Benches, and beyond, for their Northern Ireland policy. For one thing, people recognise the burdens which they are carrying. For another, people realise that, whoever has been in office, they have in the pursuit of their policy faced more difficulties than any other team of Ministers has faced in recent years. That does not mean that people are not gravely worried and full of doubt on a number of issues.
It is essential that from time to time these worries and doubts should be raised and expressed publicly and openly, and that they should be given due weight. In that knowledge I have thought it right to voice some of them today, and I do not stand alone in believing that these criticisms are properly based. The Government must take them seriously.
There is at this moment, perhaps, no more risky policy for the Government to carry forward than their Northern Ireland policy. If they succeed, well and good. If they fail, it may not be their fault, but the tragedy will be more their responsibility than that of those who have not been in charge. However unjust the judgment of history might be, they should remember that as they approach their task.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
I wish to see the integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland maintained, and we have today commenced six days of debate on the future government of the United Kingdom. I know that, as the debate develops, many right hon. and hon. Members will express their anxieties about the integrity of the United Kingdom, and we have already heard remarks from hon. Members to that effect. Unhappily, those remarks are generally expressed in the context of Scotland or Wales. There seems to be much less concern about Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
The opening remarks of both Front Bench speakers this afternoon were 107 reassuring to some extent, because they firmly declared that Northern Ireland is, and will remain, an integral part of the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall be able to speak with that certainty in terms of all parts of the United Kingdom, but we shall not be able to do so if we proceed along the path which it seems is being charted now, namely, that the integrity of the United Kingdom depends on the sovereignty of this Parliament.
The sovereignty of this Parliament is in many respects a legal fiction. Its authority rests with the people, and without a mandate from all the people who go to make up the Kingdom its integrity is in doubt. As we apply our minds to the future pattern of government for the United Kingdom we should have before us at all times the necessity to obtain a mandate from all the peoples of the United Kingdom to maintain this unity.
In theory, that argument would say to us that if we are to maintain the union in a safe form of government there should be a common form of government, and certainly there should be the same standards of democracy, and similar institutions of government, but as this great debate opens those seem to be the very qualities that are missing from Northern Ireland. The situation is defended by saying that the needs of the different parts of the United Kingdom are different. There may be some substance in that argument, but I do not believe that that can ever detract from the basic essentials of parliamentary democracy. I shall await with interest the outcome of this great debate. It may take a long time for the outcome to be ascertained, but I know with certainty that Northern Ireland cannot await the outcome of a protracted debate.
Northern Ireland makes its position plain in this respect. There is no doubt about the desire of the great majority of citizens there to maintain the union. In making that declaration the great majority also say that the union can be maintained effectively only by a form of devolution. Indeed, the issue is not as imprecise as that because, in asking for devolution, the people of Northern Ireland are asking for it in a form that has characteristics that are more in keeping with a federal system of government than with the system of devolution 108 that is envisaged for Scotland and Wales. I shall not try to predict what the rest of the United Kingdom will say, but I believe that that is the only way forward for Northern Ireland if we want to maintain that union.
All too frequently people say to those in Northern Ireland, "If you want to maintain the union you will oblige us in this way or in that". Tragically, that is often said in a patronising way as though Northern Ireland was the only beneficiary of the union of great Britain and Northern Ireland. I remind the House that that is a dangerous simplication. It is for this Parliament to decide whether or not the union can be maintained, but let this Parliament not make the mistake of thinking that if the union is fractured Great Britain will not also be a loser. It is important to realise that if the union is fractured it will not bring about a united or settled Ireland. I do not think any responsible hon. Member can ever say that an unsettled or divided Ireland will be helpful to the safety and wellbeing of this country. If hon. Members want to protect the well-being of Great Britain even if only in a narrow, selfish way, I counsel them to have regard to securing their country's back door by ensuring stability in Northern Ireland.
The best way forward is to recognise the will of the people of the separate parts of the Kingdom. Many people are dismayed that the Ulster Convention has not charted more positively a course for the future. I share the disappointment in that respect, but I was pleased that the Secretary of State did not allow his disappointment over the outcome of the Convention to blind him to some of the real developments that have taken place. Those real developments are significant, and I believe that, with good will on both sides, they can even now produce a satisfactory outcome.
The Ulster Convention showed that all parties, irrespective of the side of the Chamber on which they sat, believed that there should be meaningful devolution to Northern Ireland in parliamentary terms. There was no equivocation about what they meant by "meaningful devolution". It was at least the same extent of devolution as existed under the 1920 Act. There may be a good deal of bickering about who supports the security forces and who does not, but in the 109 debate in the Ulster Convention all parties said that there could be no worthwhile devolution to Northern Ireland with a chance of stability, without responsibility for internal security being given to the Province. That does not mean that anyone was asking for an Ulster Parliament and Government to control Her Majesty's Government or the Armed Forces, but it was a recognition of the fact that responsibility for the internal security of Northern Ireland should be placed firmly in the hands of policing organisations in Northern Ireland. I thought it significant that all of us were agreed that that was the way forward.
It seems strange to me that we could get so far, that we could agree that there should be a devolved parliamentary institution in Northern Ireland and that it should have extensive powers—indeed perhaps more powers than were envisaged in the 1920 Act—and yet we could not take that extra step of saying how it should be done. The onus is on us in Ulster, and particularly the elected representatives of Ulster to decide how it should be done. I do not believe that anyone can do that for us. I strongly welcome the Government's decision to reconvene the Convention, albeit for only a month. If it wants to make progress, if there is a real endeavour to establish a Parliament of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, a month should be more than adequate. This is now a real test of the sincerity of all those who believe in devolution.
I feel optimistic, because this afternoon the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) reminded us of one of the most striking developments in the Ulster Convention. The SDLP, the main minority party, was able to say to the main majority grouping "We will take your proposals and examine them in detail to see whether, within those proposals, a solution can be found". Unhappily we were not able to continue that exploration in full. While I respect the words of wisdom which came from the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), I do not think he was giving full justice to the situation which developed. It is all very well to say "Let people take their chance." If one takes that sort of atti- 110 tude one must indicate to all involved one's bona fides and sincerity.
What hurt me most in the Ulster Convention was the reluctance of the majority groupings to explore every aspect of their own proposals. Those proposals are in essence a restatement of their belief in the British parliamentary institutions, the need for a strong Government and a strong Opposition, varied admirably, I thought, to enable back bench and minority participation in decision taking. Part of the normal British parliamentary practice involves from time to time, in situations of extraordinary crisis, multiparty Governments—coalition Governments. In the Ulster Unionists' policy statement on how they saw the British parliamentary system work reference was made to that aspect of British parliamentary practice. It was in that aspect that the SDLP said there could be found a germ of agreement, and we were asked to explore it.
We ran into a rather crude situation without exploration in depth, where the majority grouping said "In no circumstances, in no conditions and in no situation can we envisage the SDLP in government with the United Unionists." I do not believe that represents the thinking of the majority of Unionists in Northern Ireland. We certainly would not say that till we had ascertained what were the differences in policy.
It is worth remembering that the SDLP, in making this offer to explore the majority proposals, did something that, I thought, was very reassuring to all the people of Northern Ireland. It spelt out in quite unambiguous language that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and will remain so till such time as the majority of people in Northern Ireland should seek a change. That was something which Unionist people in Northern Ireland had been waiting for a long time to see spelt out in unambiguous language.
It did not stop there. As it spelt out this declaration of our position inside the United Kingdom, it also said "And no one shall by force or any other action seek to coerce the people of Northern Ireland into a change of mind." In other words, there was a declaration of seeking to abide by the decision of the people as expressed through the ballot box.
111 I should not—I do not think any reasonable person would—ask anyone to give up his long-term political objectives, provided those political objectives are pursued in the normal democratic way and provided that everybody respects the decision of the ballot box. Ulster has reason to feel satisfied that those who eventually aspire to a united Ireland have recognised that for the immediate future it is not on, and can never happen without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
There is only one section of our community that does not accept that position. Unfortunately, that is the section that has for years held us all to ransom in a most brutal way. That is that small group of people who give their support to Provisional IRA violence. Whatever conclusions we may ultimately arrive at, there is absolutely no political formula that will buy off Provisional IRA violence. Those who think that there is some magic political arrangement that can he made to stop this violence are deluding themselves. They are making it more difficult to arrive at a realistic decision for the better government of the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland in particular.
If I read the IRA mind correctly—and it is always a good thing to put oneself in the other chap's place—the IRA people will be saying to themselves today "Let us hope the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland cannot reach an agreement on the constitution." Indeed, if I were in their shoes I would be doing everything I could to prevent such an agreement from arising. That is exactly what they have been doing. The Ulster Convention was moving along with some prospect of hope, and, indeed, there may have been at times an unjustified atmosphere of euphoria, until the Provisional IRA struck, particularly in that horrible outrage in the Tullyallen Orange Hall. It achieved its objective. It created unrest and dismay. It created fears and uncertainties throughout the whole Province.
If we do not succeed in finding a formula for effective devolution in Northern Ireland what can we envisage? We can only envisage a continuation of IRA violence in all parts of the United Kingdom, perhaps not on the grand scale 112 of continuing action, but yet sporadically—and, because of its sporadic nature, soul destroying—with the destruction of the morale of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the people of the United Kingdom.
Those who frequently refer at this time to the possibility of withdrawal from Northern Ireland by the forces of the Crown and the political jurisdiction of the Kingdom are reacting to the IRA strategy. They believe that if there is a continuation of direct rule it is only a matter of keeping the pressure up and the Parliament and people of this nation will get weary and will write off Northern Ireland. So none of us can really draw any satisfaction from the alternative to devolution. Direct rule, no matter how democratic one may make it, will expose this Parliament and this nation to unreasonable pressures.
I believe that, despite all these weary years that we have had, it would he foolish to write off the Provisional IRA. It is still a force to be reckoned with. I do not know how one can measure its capacity to do evil, but I do know that it has a capacity to disrupt normal government and the normal way of life. While one may look back on 1975 as a year that was described as a cease-fire situation, the reality is that all through that year the IRA, in physical terms at any rate, became stronger, and in a sense gained more credibility within its own ranks. It is also right to say that, in a very meaningful way, it became weaker, because throughout Northern Ireland there was an increasing revulsion against the Provisional IRA; it was typified by an increasing flow of information to the security forces.
As we move forward to defeat the IRA we must see that the security forces are assisted in every possible way. It is not, as some have said, a numbers game. It is a question of effectiveness. As I listened to the Prime Minister this afternoon very properly paying tribute to the Army, the RUC and the respective reserves and auxiliaries, I could not help saying to myself that whatever criticisms might be made about the security policy they could never be made against the forces of the Crown. The criticisms that can be made with justification are political criticisms.
113 That being so, the way to improve the situation is to improve the political climate.
I think that I can claim a knowledge of IRA strategy and capacity second to none. Having said that, I hope not in a boastful way, I suggest that the effective way to defeat the IRA must involve a political initiative which would further isolate the IRA from the community. The Convention showed us without a shadow of doubt that with a bit of flexibility that could be done, but if that flexibility is to be nurtured and encouraged we have to know what we are talking about.
Some hon. Members, while urging us today to face the situation realistically were urging upon us a dialogue that was totally unrealistic. I would be misleading the House entirely if I said that there was any prospect of an agreement in the form of institutionalised power sharing or partnership in government. That is not the way forward. Governments can survive only so long as they command the support of the majority of the electorate. That is the hard reality of politics. And Governments who do not have that support come down one way or another. Therefore, the way forward must respect the wishes of the majority.
I support unreservedly the proposals that emerged from the UUUC and the Ulster Convention. I believe that they represent a fair and proper form of government for the future. Where they fell short was their failure to secure a wider measure of acceptance in the Convention from other political groupings. It is a sad reflection that it was only the UUUC groupings that voted for the report. No other groupings did so, although they all recognised its merits. We need to consider how best we can give the other political groupings in Northern Ireland confidence in the proposals enshrined within the majority report and show a willingness to examine those proposals with a view to modifications and variations to inspire confidence.
Many people have been jumping on the bandwagon of the one glimmer of hope that emerged—a voluntary coalition. We have had talks about having a referendum on an abstract concept. That would not get us anywhere. The people of Northern Ireland would support the 114 abstract concept in a referendum, but this could never become a reality unless the political parties involved in the future Parliament were willing to enter into a coalition on agreed policies.
I sincerely hope that the elected representatives in the Ulster Convention will in the next month very seriously take note of the words uttered in the House this afternoon, and that they will also take a fresh look at the very serious situation that exists. Time is not on Northern Ireland's side, irrespective of the Kingdom as a whole. All of us utter our horror at successive murders. We console those who are seriously injured, and we look with dismay at every building that is bombed.
I do not know whether hon. Members realise what it means. I remember the Second World War and the Nazis blitzing Belfast. We perhaps had, next to Coventry, the single heaviest raid of any city in the United Kingdom. The damage was enormous; the death toll was heavy; and the number of injured even greater. All of that has been surpassed by the terrorist war that has bedevilled us for years. It is not only the destruction of buildings and property that I bemoan but I sorrow over those who have been killed. But what should disturb us all is the way in which the whole community in Northern Ireland is dying on its feet. There is political instability and growing economic decline. These are the things that matter in the long run.
The other day the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions expressed a fear that before long we could have 20 per cent. unemployment in Northern Ireland. That is a frightening figure, and one which may be approached in other parts of the United Kingdom as we face the great recession in our economy. But other parts of the United Kingdom can look forward with some confidence to overcoming the forces which have put the economy into recession. In Northern Ireland we have to combat the forces that put us into recession compounded by political instability breaking up our industrial base. Time is not on Ulster's side. I hope that within a month there will be a generous and understanding response from all the elected representatives, and that through their imagination and courage we shall be able to 115 recommend to this Parliament a form of devolution that will establish a stable and long-lasting, parliamentary constitution in Northern Ireland.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Sir Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
I have just returned to London after spending the last 10 days in Northern Ireland. Although the theme of this debate is, of course, political, no one with recent experience of the feeling in Ulster could talk about the future there without referring to the escalation of violence in the Province during the last two weeks, especially in South Armagh, where both sets of atrocities were clearly sectarian.
The truth is that for many months, almost years now, the Queen's writ has ceased to run in the border areas of County Armagh, which is now Provo country. The RUC and the Army can scarcely use the roads for fear of mines or an ambush, and many of their posts have to be supplied by helicopter. That, in a part of the United Kingdom, is a disgraceful and humiliating state of affairs. It is difficult to tell whether it stems from a lack of will or a lack of means—perhaps a bit of both—but it is clear that a far stronger political directive to the local military command plus the reinforcement which has just been moved in, including the SAS, which I welcome, could together contribute to the restoration of law and order in that part of the Province. It is now the Secretary of State's plain duty not only to order but to achieve that.
In the past 10 days I have spoken to a wide cross-section of opinion, including politicians, policemen, church leaders and social workers. Since the beginning of the troubles in 1969 I have never encountered a more universal feeling of deep depression, desperate anxiety and almost hopelessness about the escalation of violence on both sides.
It has often been said—I believe rightly—that we cannot achieve a security solution without a political settlement. I believe that it has now become almost equally true that we cannot achieve a political settlement without winning the battle against violence. That is why the IRA is stepping up its murderous campaign. It does not want a political settlement. The last thing it wants is 116 for moderation to prevail. It would be appalled if a cross-community political partnership could be brought about.
It has always surprised me that some Ulster Unionist politicians, both here and in Northern Ireland, cannot understand that in opposing all moderate solutions they are playing straight into the hands of the IRA. Despite their disclaimers, their speeches tend to invite hatred and to foment fear and so lead logically and inescapably to violent action on both sides.
I know that the Secretary of State is concerned to preserve the bipartisan policy. In terms of security he could not have expected this until his deeds began to match his words. The Prime Minister's statement indicates that they will now do so. I hope that that will be the case. Now that the Secretary of State has ended detention, he must substitute for it far tougher action against the terrorists. He could do so quite easily. His sources of information are very much improved. With the exception of South Armagh they are now rather good; and intelligence is the essence of this form of warfare.
Whatever our criticisms of the security policy—they have been considerable, and I believe rightly—there has always been a common approach towards the right political future for the Province. I believe that this must lie in partnership at the executive level, because that is the only system which could command support in both communities. The majority report does not accept that, but no other basis is workable or can be acceptable to any United Kingdom Government or to this Parliament. We therefore appear to be at an impasse, but I believe that there is still a slender prospect of compromise.
The whole atmosphere in Ulster has been altered by the initiative of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), whose constructive idea of a voluntary and temporary coalition has met an immediate response in the hearts and minds of all uncommitted and moderate-minded men and women in Northern Ireland. It has given them a glimmer of hope for the future. Significantly, it was at once accepted not only by the UNPI and the Alliance Party but by the SDLP, 117 and even by Mr. Glen Barr and many in the UDA.
Surely we can build on that sort of support that goes right across the political and religious divide. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Secretary of State to give the Unionist Party such assurances—almost any assurances that it wants—that there will be no so-called sell-out to the South, which does not want Ulster anyway, and that the integrity of Northern Ireland will be maintained.
The leaders of the SDLP have stated publicly that they will loyally work the system if they are given a share in working the system. There is no reason to doubt their good faith. Brian Faulkner told me that in the days of the Executive the SDLP Members were entirely loyal to him, to Northern Ireland and to Britain. I believe that that was the case.
What specific changes would be helpful to the Unionist Party? If it wants a Queen's representative again at Hillsborough, I cannot see that that presents any great difficulty. If it wants more Members at Westminster, that would be a small price to pay. In any case, there is a perfectly good case for it. The average electorate per seat in Northern Ireland is 86,000 whereas it is 64,000 in England and 52,000 in Scotland. The Kilbrandon Report recommended 17 Members as a fair number to represent Ulster and on the figures that would be so. If that makes Labour Party Members electorally anxious, I think they should relax. Once we take religion and the border out of Northern Ireland politics, are the Government so defeatist as to imagine that they will not win seats in a great industrial city such as Belfast? Of course they will. That is a concession that the British Government should be ready to make to the Unionists. It would be a small price to pay in order to win so great a prize as a political settlement in Ulster. I believe that such a settlement, with the tougher security measures which I hope we shall now see, offers the only real path to peace in the Province.
There was a constructive leading article in The Times on 7th January which suggested an interesting refinement of the proposal put forward by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East for a voluntary and temporary coalition. It put forward the proposal that such a coalition should 118 operate in conjunction with the United Kingdom Government with one simple and specific purpose—to eradicate terrorism in Northern Ireland. That at least is an objective common to all Ulster politicians and would enable the SDLP to give strong and unequivocal support to the RUC as well as to the Army.
I cannot help feeling that the basic position of the Ulster Unionists in opposing any coalition is unhelpful and uncompromising. I accept that they have a logical democratic argument, but it has never been possible to apply logic to the reactions of Ireland—or of women! Emotions matter much more. Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady" bewailedWhy can't a woman be more like a man?But they are not. It is just as unreal to demand that the Irish should be treated in the same way as the more logical English. I know about this on both counts because I am married to an Ulster woman.
My right hon. and hon. Friends do not ask for the rejection of the majority report. There is much in it which is sensible and acceptable. We only ask the Ulster Unionists to resume negotiations with the other parties to determine whether some way can be found which will enable men of good will in all parties to come together for the good of Northern Ireland. I believe that there is no viable alternative. Integration is hardly a possibility at a time when the Government are contemplating devolution for Scotland and Wales. To anyone who knows Ulster at all partition is totally impractical, if only because a majority of Catholics do not live in the border areas. Independence would be quite unrealistic not only on economic grounds but because it would carry a real and unacceptable risk of civil war in the Province, which would mean the death not of hundreds but of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
It would be irresponsible of any British Government to gamble in that way with the lives of the people of Ulster. The only alternative—I wish this had been spelt out in stronger terms from the Government Front Bench—to a cross-community partnership, which would include local control of the police, is the status quo—namely, the continuation indefinitely of direct rule from Westminster. If there is one thing that almost 119 everyone in Northern Ireland wants, it is devolution and an end to direct rule. That is the ace in the right hon. Gentleman's hand. In my view he should not restore Stormont with all its former powers to an exclusively Protestant Government, particularly when the leading Ministers in that Government would be much less moderate than their predecessors in the days of Lord O'Neill of the Maine. It would be a return virtually overnight to a total Protestant ascendancy with no effective safeguards for the minority community. That is something we cannot do. But, short of that, there must still be scope for negotiation.
If the people and the politicians want devolution, they must try again to seek agreement together. If they cannot agree, I see no alternative to direct rule for the foreseeable future. I very much hope that, faced with that choice—unattractive though it may seem to Ulster Unionist Members—it may be possible for the UUUC to co-operate with the other parties and together work out constructive proposals for the future peace and prosperity of the Province. There is no other way.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
I regret the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) is not present. Although I did not intervene in his speech, I felt that a number of the points he made were below his usual standard of fairness, which is normally very good.
My hon. Friend is a man for whom I have a great deal of admiration. However, in his comments about the SDLP attitude to Republican violence he did not fully appreciate what members of that party have done in standing up to threats, bullying and, indeed, physical initimidation at the hands of the Provisional IRA. That happened at times when it would have been easy for them to have gone along with the situation and to have opposed a policy in Northern Ireland which could not have been said to have pleased them. I regret my hon. Friend's comments on that situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone was less than fair or courteous in his attitude towards the Irish Government. Surely what is acceptable, particularly in 120 the present coalition Government, is the strong measures they have been taking to defeat the IRA within their own country as well as the measures they have taken recently to come to the aid of all the people in the Six Counties in efforts to stamp out the men of violence.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), and the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), speaking as a former Prime Minister, have paid tributes to the measures undertaken by the Dublin Government in face of the huge burden of their defence expenditure. We must remember that they face an even more difficult economic situation than we do, that their unemployment situation is grave and that they face considerable financial difficulties. In face of that situation it is a great step forward that they have taken on that burden in an active way. We must not fail to recognise the steps taken by the Irish Government to come to the aid of the British Army and the RUC. The Irish Government have imprisoned, in a far more Draconian way, many members of the IRA in a way that one would never have thought possible even a short time ago. Therefore, it is regrettable that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone should have taken the attitude he did in his remarks.
I turn to the statement made by the Secretary of State. He voiced the opinion of the whole country when he said that there was much that he welcomed in the Convention Report. He emphasised the degree of agreement among the differing political parties in their aims for the Six Counties. He also mentioned their willingness to seek to establish the institutions to achieve them and to aim for a strong devolved Government with powers in relation to trade and finance greater even than those that are being considered for Wales and Scotland. There has been agreement on security questions and on the procedure in regard to complaints against the police.
We look to a situation in which such a subordinate parliament will seek to model itself on a democracy which it only superficially resembles within the greater union that exists in these islands. It resembles it only superficially because in the past there has been no opportunity for 121 those who are in opposition to share in the power and decision-making. That has happened because of the accidents of history, for which today neither minority nor majority members are to blame. It had not been possible to find a system in which all sections of the community could identify themselves reasonably and hopefully with the institutions of the State.
The blueprint contained in the draft Bill included in the Report is simply a recipe for the same institutional disasters as led to the troubles in the late 1960s, leading to direct rule and the present position. I hope that partnership and participation will he the keynote of the debates in the reconvened Convention. I hope that Convention members will see that we in England, and indeed in the rest of the United Kingdom, have a positive wish to help the people of the Six Counties. They should see that we do not intend to stand aside as Simon Pure and take the attitude "Be like us". We want those people to have peace and we want the citizens there to feel secure in their homes. We believe that the best way of achieving that aim is by realising that power must be diffused within he community. There must be real participation and partnership.
These are the aims desired by all who have watched events in Ireland in the past 10 years. We must recognise that in a democracy there can be different forms of government as well as varying forms of power-sharing and decision-making. We must recognise specifically that in the Six Counties we are dealing not with a sovereign parliament but with a subordinate parliament. I accept the qualifications made by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) about a sovereign parliament, and the way in which it will wish to govern the affairs of its own Province. This is the message that must go from this House today.
There is an enormous fallacy in some of the arguments deployed in the last few days—indeed, they have been current since before the terrible events in the constituency of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker)—that we must seek to divorce political problems from security problems and treat them as separate entities so that violence can be crushed, so that all will be sweetness and light. If we are to isolate the extremists on either side it can be done only by 122 taking away their sanctuary. We do this by inspiring a feeling of security and of confidence in the majority of the population. A great part of the population in the Six Counties has no wish for violence. Like all of us, they merely want to grapple with the financial problems so as to obtain security for themselves and their families.
This is basically what we as politicians are concerned about. If we are to get that degree of security and confidence, we not only have to work upon the forces of law and order to bring the gunmen to the courts—and how right was the Prime Minister to repeat today that it is through the courts that these evil men will be dealt with—but we have also to ensure that the political institutions in the State are such that they will command the support of the majority of the people, not a majority of the majority but a majority within each of the communities. When that degree of support is present, the plug will be pulled out of the pool in which the terrorists swim. It will not be done by damming the border or by seeking a military solution, whatever that means. It will be done only by ensuring that the population as a whole can see no future, no security, no hope in the actions of the men of violence.
This can be done only if we can begin to create the degree of confidence in the institutions of the State that will produce a system acceptable to both communities. My hope is that when members of the Convention return on 3rd February they will think carefully about the enormous responsibility which rests on their shoulders. The issues have now been narrowed down. There has been a broad measure of agreement on the shape that the institutions should take. The problem now is, how are men to get them to work? We have seen in the past that there can be the most wonderful institutions on paper but that only the good will of the men involved can make them work.
There are a number of points of detail that I should like to raise and to which I hope the Minister can refer in his reply. When will the White Paper, in the form of the letter to Sir Robert Lowry, the Lord Chief Justice, be published? Second, will the White Paper contain more specifically the terms and directions 123 that the Secretary of State has in mind when he talks about partnership and participation? Third, what is to happen if, after four weeks, we get no agreement? We shall then have a period of indefinite direct rule until such time as people can come together on both sides of the community to reach agreement. But what will happen in the political vacuum which will be left?
What will be the rôle of the politicians from both communities? Without political discussion and the possibility of people having political power, there is created a vacuum into which gunmen from both sides can run. They can present themselves as the champions of their respective communities. At the same time, this will place considerable difficulties upon many able men trying to help their communities in political ways. I hope that the Secretary of State is giving consideration to that.
I listened with mounting horror and incredulity to the statements made by various politicians on radio and television this evening about their attitude to my my hon. Friend's statement today. It was an unhappy experience. One of the representatives of the paramilitary organisations said that as 1975 had been the year of the politicians 1976 would be the year of the paramilitarists. That is a horrifying statement. I hope it is something which will be borne in mind by all members of the Convention when they meet on 3rd February.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Agreeing as I do with much of what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) has said, I must qualify something that he said about the Irish Government at the beginning of his speech. I have just returned from a visit to Eire during which I went on a tour with the Irish Army and talked with Irish Cabinet Ministers. There is no doubt in my mind about the determination of the Irish Government and the Irish Army to play their part in bringing terrorism to an end. This is not an act of charity or even good neighbourliness on the part of the Irish Government, even though they seek to be good neighbours. It is an act of self-preservation. They see clearly that terrorism is now, and even 124 more so ultimately, a threat to them as it is to us.
It seemed clear to me that it was still the case that historical problems, traditions and attitudes taken some time ago were still inhibiting some practical security measures which the Irish Government could take. I think particularly of direct Army-to-Army co-operation and also of the use of the Army more extensively in searches. This is simply for manpower reasons. The Irish police do not have the manpower to carry out as many searches as could usefully be carried out in the area immediately south of the border. To say that is no disservice to a coalition Government in the South which has done a considerable amount to improve the contribution of the Republic to the fighting of terrorism. It would be dishonest if we did not say to them what we thought—that in certain responsibilities they could go further. I hope that the House will agree about that.
I ask now what the job of the Convention was and whether it has been able to discharge it. Its job was to find what provision for the Government of Northern Ireland would command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community. The Convention rightly points out that the legislation did not require it to propose any particular solution. It did not require that power sharing as of right should be included in the proposals. Nor did it require that the Irish dimension should form part of the proposals.
That is not the failure of the Convention Report. Its failure to include certain specific proposals which hon. Members, including myself, thought desirable is in no sense a shortcoming. Its failing is that it did not command the most widespread support in the Convention or in Northern Ireland as a whole. The Report is the Report of the UUUC. It was not voted for by any Catholic representative in the Convention. It was not supported by the Alliance Party or the SDLP in the Convention. What is clear is that it does not command the widest possible basis of support.
To say that is not to say that it does not contain many things with which we could agree and with which the parties I have referred to would agree. I could think of a number of proposals which would particularly commend themselves 125 to my right hon. and hon. Friends. There is the proposal for a Bill of Rights, which we see as desirable not only for Northern Ireland, but for the United Kingdom as a whole. That is something that we would warmly commend. The rejection of imposed institutional associations with the Republic is also a view that we regard as sensible and prudent. The suggestion that there must ultimately be a responsibility for security is something which—given the qualification stated by the Secretary of State about the role of the Army and the relationship between the police authority and any body responsible for it—would command our support.
The potential value of something on the lines of the committee system proposed is another. The representation of Northern Ireland at Westminster is another. It is absurd if part of the Government advances the proposition that, with devolved government, one is still entitled to a considerable excess of representation over the norm for the United Kingdom and yet, with or without devolved government, Northern Ireland is entitled to less than the norm of representation. The Government must consider whether they can reasonably allow themselves to be so divided in their counsels about devolution. There is a measure of agreement between all parties that the general lines of the devolution debates must be fairly similar for each of the countries concerned, but that there are differences which can be reasonably preserved. This is not a difference for which we can advance any logical defence.
The Government must consider carefully the more glaring inconsistencies in their approach. We are conscious of others. It is not sensible to say to Northern Ireland "You must have an electoral system which ensures a fair balance of representation", and to Scotland, "We do not mind whether the end result is totally unrepresentative". Ministers in different Departments may repose comfortably in the fact that they are not responsible for what their colleagues do, but there must be some element of collective responsibility in this matter, just as there must be in any future government of Northern Ireland.
The point of difficulty between the parties in the Convention is obvious. It is that of the formation of the Government. My view is that the initiative for 126 a voluntary coalition provides the best basis on which to proceed, but that is for the Convention and the parties in it to decide. They were unable to agree on the point, but it is the failure to agree which is significant.
I agree strongly with another point made in the Convention Report. Paragraph 154 states:Her Majesty's Government should make all haste to end the political vacuum"—we would all endorse that, because the political vacuum is one of the most dangerous things in Northern Ireland—defeat terrorism, and, recognising the political realities, restore devolved Government to Northern Ireland.There is bound to be a political vacuum unless we are able to take a decision quickly.
I have some sympathy with what the Secretary of State says about the period of four weeks. If we allow the situation to continue for much longer, there will be two dangers. First, we shall increase the IRA's belief that further violence could blow the British Government off course. The longer we continue uncertainty about the future government of Northern Ireland, the longer we shall invite the IRA to put its particularly evil form of pressure on us and increase the Protestant insecurity on which the para-militaries base themselves and from which they derive their support, and the feeling among many Loyalists that there is no certainty about their future in the United Kingdom. Those two factors contribute directly to violence.
However, I do not think that the political vacuum would be ended by the adoption of some of the policies advanced as possible alternatives to the two courses about which we are arguing—devolved government, or direct rule. Two other elements are brought into the debate. One of them is the redrawing of the boundary of Northern Ireland with the Republic, possibly assisted by polls to determine precise areas in which there was a balance of opinion. That would not solve the problem. It leaves the main part of the problem—the existence of divided, antagonistic communities in Belfast—totally unresolved and it would promote uncertainty and even intimidation in areas in which the polls would have to take place.
127 I am bitterly opposed to any suggestion that enforced population movement, or even encouraged population movement, should take place to correct the supposedly improper situation in which people find themselves on either side of the border or in the city of Belfast, where they are in a minority, or in the city of Derry, where they are in a minority. It is their capital. The Catholic inhabitants of Belfast and the Protestant inhabitants of Londonderry are entitled to be there. It is not the job of any Government to tell them to go elsewhere where some other political climate can be created for them.
I do not see British withdrawal, or the suggestion of it, as being likely to end this dangerous state of vacuum, whether it be an early withdrawal or a withdrawal over a staged period at a stated date. I do not see how we can contemplate creating something akin to Angola 20 miles off our own shores, and that is what we should be doing. There are many interests outside Northern Ireland that would be only too willing to go in with money or arms to advance one or other of the causes which would be fighting for control of a Province which we had left without legitimate law or order. That is a situation which not only we but our allies in NATO would view with horror.
One of two things can be done to end the vacuum. The most attractive undoubtedly is broadly based devolved Government, and I hope that four weeks of the life of the Convention will make that possible. However, if it does not, and if agreement is not reached, there is only one alternative, and that is to continue direct rule on the clear understanding that it becomes a reasonably long-term form of government except in the sense that the door can always be reopened if a broad enough range of opinion in Northern Ireland comes back to knock on it and say "We are ready with a basis for agreed devolved government involving a large element of the community". But under this kind of direct rule to which the British Government must commit themselves for the government of Northern Ireland for some considerable period we shall continue to have Ministers drawn almost certainly 128 from the United Kingdom parties and not from the Northern Ireland parties responsible for the running of Northern Ireland. Convention politicians will be no more.
In such a situation we cannot afford to start pretending by setting up advisory commissions or other bodies with the trappings of government which are supposed to tender advice but which carry no responsibility for consequences. That would have no place in direct rule. It would be grossly misleading.
Nor do I see that with that kind of direct rule it would be reasonable for us to re-establish local government as a basis for local power. I do not believe that government of that kind is what the ordinary people of Northern Ireland want. It is certainly not what my right hon. and hon. Friends and I want. We believe in devolution. It is part of our policy and has long been so. Direct rule is not the best way to run Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, or, for that matter, the North of England. I believe in devolution if it can be broadly based to ensure that it carries the consent and active support in the general sense of the people of the area, and that support is of the utmost importance when security considerations are at stake. Support for the security forces is one of the matters about which we are concerned. That consent must be drawn from both sides of the sectarian divide.
Whether the basis is devolved government or direct rule, Northern Ireland must have a form of government which commands community consent and which is stable. In my view, nothing less will enable us to defeat terrorism. I know which of the possibilities I prefer, but to me there are only those two. I should like to see emerge a form of widely accepted devolved government that will enable the communities of Northern Ireland together to defeat terrorism, but if the political leaders of Northern Ireland are not prepared to find a basis for it, they leave the people of Northern Ireland with no choice but to be governed directly from the Parliament at Westminster by a procedure that most of us regard as relatively inefficient and much less likely to serve their interests well than that which we have advanced.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
It sickens and saddens me that the Ulster people are scolded as being virtually responsible for the outbreak of the Provisional IRA's campaign of terror which has claimed about 1,400 lives, and for its continuance up to the present moment. Now it seems that the Ulster people are also being blamed for the political impasse which exists in Northern Ireland. This bias colours the approach to the Convention's Report and prevents it from receiving a fair hearing.
This bias is not a new approach to Irish problems. I recall what a Chancellor of the Exchequer said at the time of the great Irish famine 130 years ago. His words are strangely familiar. He said, speaking of the Irish people:What a safe and comfortable existence our rations have afforded them. They have hardly been decent while they have had their bellies full of our corn and their pockets of our money.That was in 1847, by which time hundreds of thousands of people had died of agonising hunger and fever on the roadsides and in their hovels. So much for the comfortable existence to which the then Chancellor referred. So much for their bellies being full of corn and their pockets full of money. It was a figment of the imagination of those in the corridors of Whitehall, and this same attitude towards Northern Ireland still prevails in some quarters today.
The insulting inference is drawn that Ulster people are able to enjoy internecine strife because British troops protect them from the worst consequences of a divided community. Criticising the Ulster people as being responsible for the failure of the Government to destroy terrorism is like telling the family of a girl murdered in the course of rape that she was responsible for her own untimely death because she should not have resisted the attempt. If I may carry this analogy with Northern Ireland a little further, the murderer, through the courtesy of the news media, would explain that he was not guilty of rape since he thought the girl consented, despite her protests and her struggles.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
If the hon. Member reads the newspapers and listens to political commentators on radio and television he will have heard observations of this kind from time to time. I certainly have. I am sure the hon. Member is not deaf, and no doubt he can read.
There has been and still is a fundamental misunderstanding of the root cause of our present problems. Many terrible blunders have been made by this Government and their predecessors in deciding their attitude to Northern Ireland since 1968. Whichever party has been in power, they have lent a ready ear to Republican propaganda and were brainwashed into believing that the demands of the Republican extremists were what the people wanted. I recall the demands for one man-one vote in local government in 1968 and 1969. We have moved a long way, when the cry is now for legislation for the minority in any community to have a position in Government. I know the Liberal Party, which has effective and forceful representation in this House, has great support in the country, but only a few hon. Members in this Chamber. No other party in this Parliament would say that the Liberals, by reason of the vote they received at the General Election, should have a prescriptive right to a place in Government. The present Prime Minister repudiated all thought of a coalition at a time when the country could, perhaps, have done with such a Government. He said "No" to the Liberals. If the Prime Minister with his great talents and wisdom can say "No", then surely the Ulster people, through the ballot box, can say "No" to something which is against British democratic tradition.
This Government and their predecessors have made one blunder after another over the years. The abolition of the old Stormont Parliament was one of the greatest blunders of all. It was easy to get rid of it. I was in the House on that occasion. Then it was discovered that direct rule was not a panacea for our ills and did not satisfy those who wished to incorporate Northern Ireland in an all-Ireland Socialist republic. There followed a scramble to create another form of devolved government for Northern Ireland. It was so easy to get rid 131 of Stormont, but how difficult it is to resurrect it.
Despite all the blunders made in the past, it was not a blunder for the Government to decide to allow the Ulster people to vote for a Convention which was empowered to devise a system of administration for the Province. However, it would be a blunder for the Government and the House not to seize the opportunity of the Convention Report to restore a Parliament or Assembly in Stormont on the basis of the view of the majority of the Convention. We know from past experience that there is no use setting up a Government or Executive at Stormont which does not have powerful electoral support. If that is done, there will be worse trouble, and that would be terrible for the people of Northern Ireland who have already endured seven or eight years of turmoil and death.
The establishment of an administration at Stormont on the basis of the Convention's Report would not make the present grim situation in the Province any worse. If it failed, no real harm would have been done. If it succeeded, the Government would be praised highly for their wisdom and common sense.
The House has to decide whether to take the risk of devolving majority democratic government to Northern Ireland at this time. Or is anything to be gained by waiting in the expectation of better times to come? If Government policy remains unchanged, both communities will be kept in a state of perpetual uncertainty. A further period of direct rule will not improve the situation.
There is a widespread and deeply felt desire for a restoration of powers to a local government in Northern Ireland. This Convention Report is a formal expression of that desire, and the committee system is central to the report. This would allow continuous oversight of policy developments and implementation by Opposition parties at Stormont. Ministers or heads of Departments would not be able to ignore the advice from committees and all views would be further explored in debate in the Assembly or Parliament at Stormont. The Committee structure proposed is the most sophisticated system of participation where it matters most, that has yet been put for- 132 ward in the United Kingdom. The rights of everyone in the community will be fully protected by an entrenched Bill of Rights. That is the desire of the Ulster Unionists in the Convention, and that shows their sincerity in wanting to open a new page in the history of the Province, with politicians and people working together.
The structure does not mould and shape opinion. The main thing is to get people to work together in a new system of administration, as is happening in local government and on central boards. People of all political persuasions will come together, and, in consequence, new aims and objectives will develop to dominate their thinking.
We have heard about the grave economic situation in Northern Ireland with the possibility of further serious unemployment. All our efforts should be turned towards facing and dealing with that grim prospect while we continue to combat terrorism. I feel that the practical objectives and tasks of government will replace emotion which is expressed when politicians have no system to work, when they are unable to look after their constituents, their economy or the homeless. Such practical working would displace the fanaticism which contributes towards the division of the community. If the politicians in the proposed Assembly or Parliament were slow to react to the opportunities for leading the Province forward to peace, sanity and prosperity, the people who have suffered so long from the gun and the backward-looking politicians would, no doubt, pressurise them to act sensibly and harmoniously, or get out.
What hope have the people of peace? Whatever form of government exists, whether it is direct rule or a devolved system of government, the campaign of terror will go on. There were the dreadful and appalling murders of the five innocent Catholics in their homes a week ago. They were followed by the horrific slaughter of 10 Protestant workmen. Cardinal Conway was right to describe those responsible as spitting in the face of Christ. These were not the only major deeds of horror which have been committed in the Province. I remember in 1971 when three young Scottish soldiers—two were brothers, and two were not quite 17—were taken by the Provisional IRA to the outskirts of Belfast and murdered in cold 133 blood. I remember the Abercorn Restaurant massacre, and the massacre which took place at the Oxford Street bus depot. And there are other horrific acts of terrorism. Every one of those incidents aroused anger from the people and caused the Government of the day to put more troops into Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, after a matter of weeks or months the numbers of troops were reduced until the next incident took place. I hope we may have an assurance that the number of troops in Northern Ireland will not be reduced till this campaign of terror has ended.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Like the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) I condemn atrocities, from whichever side they come. They contribute nothing to the solution of the problem.
I do not intend the slightest disrepect to other speakers in this vital debate when I say that the most interesting speech I have heard so far was that by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). I believe it held a gleam of hope for all of us. Everyone in the Chamber stirred at what he said. I believe that there was a time when the right hon. Gentleman would not have made that speech. It was courageous, yet restrained and moderate. It had within it a gleam which could become a beam at the end of the dark tunnel of terrorism, a beam which could guide the way towards democracy and peace in the Province.
The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said that he was sad that there were so few people in the Chamber. I add my voice to that sentiment. On this vital issue I would have hoped for more hon. Members to be here at least listening, if not speaking. The debate has been at such a high level on this vital issue that I hope that those speeches will be read tomorrow.
We are engaged in this debate in one of the most important and subtle exercises in political life—namely, how to arrive at a just solution of a problem without inflaming a situation already pregnant with violence, which has seen recent violence. The killing of anyone in either community is equally horrifying, and that intractable problem lingers 134 in the background. Our aim in this debate is to have in Northern Ireland one community and government by consent of all the people.
In the first few paragraphs the Report gives the historical background and context, and dismisses such ancient words as "planters" and "natives", but it was the original planters and natives who gave birth to these troubles. That historical reality still lingers in the background. The problem is so intractable just because in Northern Ireland there is not one community but two communities; yet that view is dismissed in the Report.
The community in Northern Ireland is not like the community in Great Britain. It is ridden and split by sectarian barriers which long ago disappeared from Great Britain. There should not be two communities. There should be one community. Democracy presupposes the right and opportunity of the minority to become the majority. That right is lacking in Northern Ireland, and that is the crux of all the troubles and killings. In the political parties in Great Britain there are people of all religions. There are no sectarian religious differences between the parties. Anyone who raised his voice in support of sectarian barriers would be quickly denounced by all the main parties in the Chamber.
Only if there is the opportunity for a change of office and power can people live at peace with one another. History reveals that, if there is no opportunity for the minority to become the majority, at some time, somewhere, violence will begin and will continue until democracy is established.
In Northern Ireland the swing of the pendulum mentioned in the Report does not occur. The opportunity for the pendulum to make a massive swing so that the newspapers can say that the sovereign people have registered their determination to change the Government and to give a new Government the opportunity to see what they can do does not exist. That opportunity must be established, and it can be established only by an extension of democracy from the majority community towards the minority community. After the many years in which there were killings throughout the whole of Ireland, the minority community felt dispossessed. The history of Ireland shows that to be 135 a reality, and it cannot be talked out of existence.
What made the violence begin all over again after an interval? It was precisely because there were two communities. The position is similar to that which many of us who were soldiers in India witnessed among Hindus and Muslims, who were always condemning each other. I remember in India during the war, between battles chairing a brains trust which included Hindu and Muslim officers. It was difficult to try to get them to agree among themselves. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) should not smile. He smiled many times during the progressive contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). A smile cannot change the reality of the lack of democracy in Northern Ireland. The only hope for peace is democracy.
The Convention's Report should be rejected. Its essence is a return to the old Stormont system, back to the situation which in 1968 caused all the trouble. That system has to be abandoned at all costs. I am sorry to have to introduce a note of harsh reality. As the right hon. Member for Sidcup said, there has been an air of unreality about the debate.
The compilers of the Report seem to have learned little from the past five or six tragic years. For us to accept and seem to concur with the Report would be a blow against democracy and against the sharing of power by the minority community. It would be a strengthening of the men of blood. It would mean a complete failure even to begin to solve the problems of the majority of peace-loving people of Northern Ireland—a majority of 99.99 per cent.—who want peace and friendship.
I am not sure that the movement of the SAS to Northern Ireland will solve all our problems. It may produce a kickback. It might be like pouring petrol on the fire. I hope that it will not be, but time will show.
The British people are wondering for how many more years British soldiers will have to stay in Ulster. All over our country now new voices are being raised. My own party, for instance, recently invited a speaker to talk about Northern 136 Ireland. Most of us in the Labour Party do not talk about Ireland enough, and we have had to begin to talk about it. We did not discuss Ireland at the Labour Party conference, but it entered into our minds because there was a bomb scare in the bar, and I told the Press that we should have debated Ireland.
Many people are wondering how many more soldiers will have to be sent there, and it is useless simply to say that some people are urging that the troops should be brought home. Our people are raising this question in increasing numbers. They are beginning to ask themselves whether it has done any good to send the troops to Northern Ireland. They need answers, and those answers have to be given. They are demanding proof that their sons should be sent over there, and that proof needs to be given, if it can be given.
It is being said more and more that the people of Northern Ireland are the only ones who can solve the problems of Northern Ireland, and if one disagrees with these voices, one has to give the counter-argument. More and more organisations in Britain which have never before discussed the problem of Northern Ireland are now doing so—political parties, party branches, trade unions, and so on.
Let us not think that the answer is to be found purely in terms of security measures, or the melancholy list of gaolings, even though people are now tried in court. The answer must be political, and we cannot separate the security problem from the political problem. The answer has nothing to do with terrorism, killing, bombing and shooting. It has everything to do with honest debate, with discussion, with democracy, with the breaking down of the sectarian barriers and the reaching over of hands within the community from the majority, in particular, to the minority.
I wish that the colleagues of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East would adopt more of the conciliatory line and the reality that pervaded his speech. I believe that both communities want peace, democracy and friendship, and are showing this as urgently as they can, in the hope that their political leaders will take notice of what they are saying.
137 I believe, therefore, that major discussions across sectarian and religious borders must be initiated, alongside a Bill of Rights, with the political leadership of Northern Ireland reaching across to one another, with all the people making plain that they are tired of the killing and the bombing and making plain their desire for democracy, which in the last analysis is the only answer to the problem of Northern Ireland.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I add my welcome to the words of the Secretary of State this afternoon in welcoming large sections of the Convention Report. In my view three-quarters of it, as the Secretary of State said, is acceptable, and I think that the other quarter—which will no doubt be sent back to the Convention with a report for consideration within the next four weeks—could be worked upon in order to achieve some form of unified response.
There are 29 conclusions listed in the Convention Report, together with the final recommendation that a draft Constitutional Bill should be produced by this House. I agree that the vast majority of them, as the Secretary of State said, are unexceptionable. One or two certainly need some consideration. The fourth conclusion concerns the number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament at Westminster, and it is recommended that this be increased to between 20 and 24. This would have to be considered carefully. The fifth concerns the role of a Secretary of State in relation to the devolved regions. This again would have to be considered very carefully.
The Bill set out in the Appendix to the Report would have to be the subject of fresh discussion. Parts of it are admirable, and I do not share the view of those who have criticised the majority party for including the proposal for this Bill in the Convention Report. Large sections are impeccable, though again parts of it, especially Clauses 55 and 56 concerned with policing and control over the Army, would have to be sorted out.
I find a good word to say about all 29 recommendations from the Convention except Nos. 9, 11 and 12. These are the ones relating to whether some form of acceptable power-sharing arrangement will be reached by the parties in Northern 138 Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) made a powerful intervention on this subject in the course of which he made it clear that, unless the parties in Northern Ireland cease their bickering and take this last chance to come together and to hammer out some form of agreed responsibility-sharing in a partnership Government, even if only for a limited period of three or four years to begin with, the possibility of our constituents saying that they will no longer tolerate British soldiers remaining in Northern Ireland become more and more real. Once British forces were withdrawn, the possibility of an infinite calamity affecting the whole of Ireland would become very real.
As I say, most of the recommendations of the Convention are quite agreeable to this House except for Nos. 9, 11 and 12. Recommendation No. 11 is probably the nub of the whole argument, and I feel certain that minority representation must be included in this.
I accept the views and fears of the majority party in framing these recommendations. Recommendation No. 12, for example, says that those whose attitudes reveal their opposition to the very existence of the State should not be permitted to join in the government of that State. I accept that. However, once a person is in government, whatever his views initially, responsibility has a way of making changes on people for the better. A Republican with violent ideas about the State who joins a partnership in Government may after a year or two change his views, just as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) may one day change his views on the full integration of Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom.
Earlier in the debate we heard the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) speaking about Council of Europe participation on this matter and about the fact that a Council of Europe debate will come up very shortly in Strasbourg. The hon. Gentleman read the draft resolution tabled for debate in Strasbourg towards the end of this month. It has been unanimously adopted by the Political Affairs Committee and the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe. Paragraph 8 of itBelieves that the only political settlement which is both democratic in substance and 139 likely to lead Northern Ireland out of the present economic and social crisis is the one whereby majority and minority, each respecting the aspirations of the other, effectively share the power and the burdens of government in a strong coalition Government.…".That is not a recommendation from a Labour Government which hon. Members from Northern Ireland may find suspect. It is not a recommendation from the past Conservative Administration. It is a recommendation from 17 or 18 neighbouring countries in Europe which are concerned about the situation in Northern Ireland. They offer this advice most sincerely and with the greatest possible friendship to Members of Parliament from this country, the Republic of Ireland and, no doubt, members of the Northern Ireland Convention.
§ Mr. Farr
I shall not give way to the right hon. Gentleman because my time is limited and I have undertaken to sit down to allow one of his hon. Friends to speak.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has suggested recalling the Convention for another four weeks. The points which he mentioned in his speech must be discussed, and it is hoped that some form of agreed responsibility-sharing in government can be found. There is no alternative to that but direct rule, and no alternative other than direct rule is likely to be supported in any part of this House. I hope that hon. Members from Northern Ireland who are present today will seize what I believe is an opportunity for obtaining a form of nationhood so that the people of Northern Ireland may live in harmony without the direst consequences of any other course.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
In the six and a half years since this current episode in the tragic history of Ulster began by the introduction of British troops back into the Province, we have listened to a great number of debates and many fine and courageous speeches. I am bound to say that I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) in saying that the speech by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) 140 stands out as a major contribution to the consideration by this House of our relationship with Northern Ireland.
What the right hon. Gentleman said justifies myself and other hon. Members who have taken my view—a very pessimistic view—that there is no solution to the tragedy of Northern Ireland and its continued link with Great Britain. We are entitled to say on the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon alone that we would be right to give fair wind to the Government's proposal to recall the Convention in order that the theme which the right hon. Gentleman put forward should have a chance of further examination before this House and the country have to turn their minds to other solutions to the historic entanglement of Northern Ireland with Great Britain.
As I listened to the debate, speaker after speaker seemed to suggest that if the recall of the Convention failed there would be only two alternatives confronting us and the people of Ulster—namely, complete integration of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom or the continuation of direct rule. There is, of course, a third alternative, and that is total independence for Northern Ireland. I believe it is that third solution which the British people at least would wish to adopt if they were ever given the chance so to do at a poll held within the United Kingdom as a whole. The British people would reach that decision not because they were weary of the cost or terrorism and of the outrageous murderous and inhuman activities of the Provisional IRA. Great Britain does not grow weary of that type of intimidation. Our history has proved the contrary. We do not grow weary of the economic cost to Great Britain of its continued relationship with Northern Ireland. We do not grow weary in our hearts when we see and hear of sons, brothers, husbands and relatives wearing the uniform of the British Army being murdered on the streets of Northern Ireland.
Those are not the causes of the British people growing weary of their entanglement with Northern Ireland. What the British people are weary of is the attitude of the two groups in Northern Ireland, who seem determined never to have a meeting point between them, never to be able to come to the slightest 141 understanding between the two communities which might give them the hope of living in peace and might give both them and us the hope of having a more fruitful and friendly relationship between Northern Ireland—and, indeed, Ireland as a whole—and Great Britain.
It is that attitude which the British people are sick and tired of. It is that attitude which is swelling the ranks of those in Great Britain who are demanding the complete separation of Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
We do not talk of a scuttle from Northern Ireland. If the glimmer of hope held out by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East is rejected by the Convention and by the people of Northern Ireland, we shall not scuttle from Northern Ireland. But the great weight of public opinion will make it necessary for the British Government, whether a Government of my party or of the Conservatives, to start to give proper consideration to an orderly withdrawal and transfer of sovereign power to Northern Ireland, to some form of Assembly elected in Northern Ireland.
Time is short. The only message, a simple message, which, as a Britisher, I am entitled to send to the people of Northern Ireland is this: that, unless they can themselves find a solution in virtually the next few weeks, there is no doubt that the body of opinion in this country will grow so great that the only alternative will be that of conferring total independence on them and complete separation of Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
As I rise to conclude the contribution from Northern Ireland to this debate, it would be well for the House to know that along the border tonight children prepared for bed are taken out in various cars, accompanied by dogs, and taken to cattle sheds where they have to sleep the night for fear of the knock on the door and the assassin's bullet. That should bring us down to the stern facts of what is happening tonight in Northern Ireland.
I come now to a matter which I was unable to put when the Prime Minister made his statement this afternoon. I have asked the Secretary of State to give urgent consideration to some system of 142 alarm whereby outlying houses along the border could alert the security forces when they came under attack. I realise that there is grave difficulty in such a system. I am well aware that the enemies of Ulster could use it to lure the Army to destruction. But it is something to which the Secretary of State and his advisers must apply their minds, because if the confidence of those people is so undermined at this time they will be forced to leave their homesteads and part of Northern Ireland will become depopulated. That has happened already in the garrison area of one of our counties where six farmsteads are completely deserted and the farms are lying waste.
It would be unfair of any Member of the House to suggest that the members of the UUUC who were members of the Convention did not give of their time and their energy to try to seek some solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) to say what he did in the House today, but those who were members of the Convention are aware that he paid little attention to the affairs of the Convention, and those whom today he exhorts to do various things were the very people who gave their attention to drawing up the rules and seeking to make the Convention work.
I commend to hon. Members the debates in the Convention. If they read them they will see that there was no real debate. No amendments were moved, and no opportunity was taken by those who opposed the proposals of the UUUC to debate them openly. There was a stampede to get the Report through, and we were told that we were merely a postbox. It is interesting to note that the very people who wanted the Convention closed down now want it reopened. That fact should be firmly before the House tonight.
This House will have the final say, and we understand that and are prepared to bow to the Queen in Parliament. This House has every right to criticise the politicians of Northern Ireland, every right to criticise the people of Northern Ireland and every right to tell the leaders there what it thinks should be done, but the fact remains that this House has a serious and solemn responsibility for what 143 has happened. It cannot wash its hands of decisions that it made in the past that have not helped the situation in Northern Ireland.
Many hands were ready to tear down the old Stormont. I was in the House when a former Prime Minister announced on a Friday morning that Stormont was no more. There was general jubilation among hon. Members at that announcement, and as I walked through the door of the Chamber I said to one of my parliamentary colleagues, "It is easy to pull Stormont down, but what will be put in its place?". It was generally believed by Members of this House that when Stormont fell the IRA menace would cease, but we know very well that that was the first step in the increasing IRA campaign.
I appreciate the feelings of hon. Members whose constituents are in Northern Ireland tonight. I recall telling one of my colleagues on the Government Benches about what happened on my journey from Enniskillen. I saw a young British soldier standing alone at the bend of a road. He was stopping cars and telling the drivers to dim their lights so that a soldier at a check point further up the road would not be blinded by their headlights. That young man was standing on a road in dangerous countryside—perhaps he did not realise just how dangerous it was.
I appreciate how that young boy's mother feels, and how the Member of Parliament would feel if that young boy were to lose his life, but let it be remembered that it was by a vote of this House that the Ulster men who did that job for 50 years were taken away. Some of them received about 5s a year to be members of the Ulster Special Constabulary.
I have listened to hon. Members in this House using strong condemnation of the Ulster Special Constabulary, but in all the years when the USC paraded in and controlled the roads of Ulster they did not shoot as many Roman Catholics as the British Army shot in a few hours in the city of Londonderry. That is a fact that this House should remember. I am not criticising the British Army. I am simply stating facts, and facts are facts. It is all very well to say that the British people 144 will not tolerate their boys being shot in Ulster, but let it be remembered that it was by a vote of this House that the Ulstermen who would have defended Ulster were taken away from that job, and they were maligned for doing that job.
I welcome one thing today, and that is that the Government at the moment now see the primacy of the police as the important factor in the fight against terrorism. Those words, "the primacy of the police", were used in this House. That is a movement in the right direction because it will only be through Ulstermen that this war against terrorism can be won. We need to face that fact.
Do not let any hon. Members say today that the British public are enraged about what has happened. The Ulster people too are enraged. We have all followed the funeral processions on both sides of the religious divide. We have all seen the tragedies that have been enacted in Northern Ireland. But there is something which must be said tonight, and it is this. If this House is to have the final say, if we are told that there is a parliament of Northern Ireland and that the people of Northern Ireland must acquiesce in that parliament, that principle also applies to this Parliament and the people of Northern Ireland must acquiesce in this Parliament and its decisions. How can we ask the people of Northern Ireland to have their destiny decided here, in a Chamber in which they are not fully represented, when the Government say "Until you have a devolved government and an assembly, you will never get any more representatives here at Westminster"? Surely that decision is absolutely wrong. The Government should be considering the full representation of the Ulster people in this House.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to make for Ulster a different proposition from the rest of the United Kingdom. Every time we have a debate we are told by speaker after speaker "You will continue to be part of the United Kingdom." We never say that about any other part of the United Kingdom. Why not? There is a corroding of confidence among the people of Northern Ireland in the will of this Parliament to do two things. I disagree with some of my close colleagues here, but I say it to the House tonight. There is one thing 145 that is necessary in Northern Ireland, and that is the restoration of law and order. Once law and order are restored there can be proper political debate. It is not possible to have meaningful political debate when men and women of Northern Ireland are being slaughtered. We need to apply ourselves to that great and, it seems to me, ever-increasing problem.
I should like the Government spokesman to tell us tonight that the Government now have the will and determination to deal with the terrorists, to see that terrorism is eliminated and that they will take every step possible to accomplish that great objective.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) told us that a principle in democracy is that the minority must always be able to become the majority. Let us examine that proposition for a moment or two. There are local authorities in this country that will never be Conservative and will always have a Socialist majority. There are some with a Conservative majority and with no chance of ever changing. We have missed the vital point that the Convention was not asked to consider what would be the personnel of a new government of Northern Ireland. It was asked to set up structures under which a government and parliament for the people of Northern Ireland could come into existence. The structures that we propose are structures under which a coalition government could come to the fore in Northern Ireland. The UUUC majority is not as large as it was. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East and three of his supporters have defected from the UUUC, and there are now only a few votes between us.
Let us have an election in Northern Ireland. Let us see whether there is all the support that folk say there is for this type of government. No one can tell whether there is support until we go to the ballot. The SDLP has not yet declared that it will enter into a coalition with the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) admits that, though the SDLP has said that it hails the right hon. Gentleman as a colleague. Let the Alliance Party, the Northern Ireland Labour Party, the SDLP and the Vanguard Unionist Party, not 146 forgetting the UPNI people of Mr. Faulkner, all say "We shall form a partnership government", and let them go to the country. If they win the election and have a majority in an assembly or parliament in Northern Ireland, they have the right to form such a coalition government. We shall give our consent to the formation of that government and be the opposition in the Assembly.
But when we ask "If you lose the election, what will happen?", they say "If you have a majority we shall never consent to be the opposition. We must always be members of any future government of Northern Ireland as of right." The proposal of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East is, he tells us, for a short period—maybe for three years. But that is not what the Secretary of State has said. He says that it must be permanent.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I made clear that what the Convention wanted was a permanent government, and I agree with that. But I said that there was also a way through, based on existing legislation, which might allow a constitution to evolve. There were two approaches that I put to the House.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned that. We discussed the resurrection of the 1973 constitution, which is in cold storage, and which would enable the Secretary of State to get together an Executive, present it as a coalition Government and say "Perhaps we shall not have an election. We shall have a referendum." Perhaps those people, not having had to submit themselves to the ballot box, would then form the government. That is not the way forward for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
This is important. I have said clearly that the Convention will end soon. Any new government of Northern Ireland will need an election. That is implied. The Convention will end if it meets again.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is giving us a pledge tonight that no government will take office in Northern Ireland until they are elected. I take it that the parties will submit themselves to the electorate, but under what constitution will that take 147 place? Will it be under the 1973 constitution, doctored here and there to suit various people? Let me stress that I am not afraid of the ballot box.
It has been said that almost 99.9 per cent. of the people are all for peace. Is it not surprising that the vast majority in three elections voted against the principle behind a Council of Ireland? Let us be glad that we have finished with that. We are glad that it has been buried and that a suitable obituary notice has been written for it. I hope that it will never have a resurrection.
I see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are looking at the clock. I am reminded of an elder in my own church. When he looks at his watch I know that it is time the sermon ended. That being so, I shall draw to a conclusion. The people in Northern Ireland have said "No" to having Republicans in a future Northern Ireland government except if they get there through the democratic method that I have outlined. That is where the Northern Ireland people stand. The House should not be deceived. The people of Ulster have stated their position quite clearly, and the House should heed that message.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Whatever the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and I may or may not have in common, neither of us had any part in tearing down the old Stormont. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) will forgive me for saying that.
This has been a notable and responsible debate as befits a very dangerous situation. I assure the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and other hon. Members that there is nothing disrespectful in our attitude to the Convention Report. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) endorsed three-quarters of its contents. What has exercised hon. Members on both sides of the House is to what extent the Report provides for a Governmentlikely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community in Northern Ireland".That is a reference to the phraseology in the Northern Ireland Act 1974. In 148 other words, will it provide for a suitable system of government that will work?
I come at once to the nub of the problem. It is absurd to imagine that a system of what is called institutionalised power sharing can be forced on the political majority in Northern Ireland. Of course, no party in the Convention has insisted that that should be written into a future constitution. Equally, we have no quarrel with the majority opinion thatno country should be forced to have in its Cabinet any person whose political philosophy and attitudes have revealed his opposition to the very existence of the Government of that State.Nevertheless, I cannot believe that the majority would wish to exclude honourable and able politicians of nationalist tradition who are willing to serve Ulster constitutionally and constructively from an Executive called upon to grapple with a dire emergency in the Province.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), to whose speech tribute was paid by the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved)—I hope that their encomia will do him no damage—said that if there is no agreement such as will enable devolution to take place from Westminster, those who rejoice will be the Provisional IRA, and that our object must be to isolate them from the community in Northern Ireland.
Is there, then, not a case for a temporary Ministry of all the constitutional talents, if I may put it that way, for an immediate purpose—namely, the pacification and economic revival of a Province in distress? I know that the UUUC attaches great importance, as we do, to the Westminster system of government, but there is nothing unknown to history and nothing alien to the British parliamentary system in a voluntary coalition in a warlike situation.
The Belfast Newsletter is not rated weak on the Union, so I was struck by its leading article on 1st October last. That article spoke of the overriding desire for an end to violence and for political stability. It went on to favour the inclusion ofthe minority and their leaders in running of the Stateon two conditions: first, that they should be represented in proportion to their strength in the Convention; secondly, that 149 they should co-operate with the institutions of the State, particularly the police, and that notions of political ties with the Irish Republic would be ruled out.
The same editorial in that newsletter referred to the generous proposal of parliamentary committees advocated by the UUUC, as earlier by the Ulster Unionist Party administration headed by Mr. Brian Faulkner. These would be powerful bodies, as I understand it. The hon. Member for Antrim, North was quoted in the Newsletter as having remarked that they would be able to hold up local legislation for two years, if they so wished. The leader writer went to ask what was the sense of refusing a… top level partnership on a proportionate basis to the minority group leaders, thus alienating them and then finding local measures deadlocked for two years by an SDLP-dominated sub-committee.He drew the conclusion that it would be better to appoint minority leaders to what he called "a future executive committee."
That is a view expressed by the Unionist daily newspaper and it is a view held by some distinguished Loyalists. One thing we have seen this weekend is that there is no single Loyalist point of view.
At this moment, my only comment is in the form of a plea: let nothing be done to deflect the current, running strongly in Ulster, in favour of all-out measures against all terrorists; but let everything be done to enlist the co-operation of responsible Roman Catholics in the fight against terrorism and economic collapse and to give them confidence. They have as much to lose as anybody—perhaps more—and, whether they wish or desire to admit it, they have a great stake in the link with Britain.
I doubt whether at any time since these troubles began—they have now been going on for longer than either of the World Wars—the people's detestation of terrorism and reprisal has been so universal. The heart of Ulster is sick for peace and safety. We remember the trade unionists who demonstrated against murder in Londonderry and Newry, and those Christians of different denominations and political colours who in Armagh prayed together for peace.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) devoted much of his 150 speech to the security problem. In its leading article of 7th January The Times said:Unless the security forces can get on top of the situation, the wider authority of the Government in Northern Ireland will suffer serious damage, its determination to eradicate terrorism will be suspect, and the possibilities of constructive political movement in the province will reduce from small to nil.It is hard for Ulster politicians to climb out of their political trenches and reach agreement while their constituents are being terrorised and murdered.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) said, if there is no security, there can be no political settlement. Rather will the danger grow of private armies taking the law into their own hands. So, too, will the danger of civil war increase. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), with his great authority, called for a tougher military policy. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition insisted that the action announced by the Prime Minister in his statement this afternoon must be determined and sustained. Those who say "We support our splendid troops but we object to the SAS" are objecting to the security effort being made effective. They remind me of the irresponsible attitude adopted by some Labour Members who say that they do not object to the Armed Forces, provided that they are cut to the level of impotence.
The Army would be the first to agree that the police must be enabled and equipped to do more. There is backing for the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Roman Catholic and SDLP circles. But it is muted. Ulster politicians who sometimes look south might listen to what was said by the Republican Minister of Justice, Mr. Cooney, to whom tribute was paid by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). After the South Armagh atrocities, Mr. Cooney said:People have to make up their minds: the choice is acceptance of the RUC or these massacres.The Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Sìochana are working well together. It is quite an event for the Commissioner, Mr. Garvey, to have attended a security meeting on British soil. Who would have thought a year or two ago that this could happen? Much of the credit for this welcome partnership 151 is due to the personal relations established by a remarkable Chief Constable, Sir Jamie Flanagan.
We have yet to be persuaded, however that military co-operation against the common enemy of the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom is as close and systematic as that which has been achieved between the two police forces. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) quite rightly said that such co-operation would be an act of self-preservation on the part of the Irish Government. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) called for further representations to be made in Dublin. Combined border operations, action by the Republic and the United Kingdom to deny equipment, respite or hiding place to those who have been rejected at the ballot in Northern Ireland and the Republic and who resort to the bullet and the bomb, the speedy enactment of the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Bill as a second best to extradition—that is the Irish dimension that matters today and it is an Irish dimension expressly acknowledged in paragraph 144 of the Report.
It was not a Tory but James Connolly who said that some of those snakes St. Patrick transported from holy Ireland crossed the Atlantic. Certainly at a time when preparations are being made on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States of America it is bitter to reflect that what was once acclaimed as the arsenal of democracy has become the arsenal of terror. The shots that murdered the 10 working men in South Armagh recently were fired from American-made rifles.
The Prime Minister made an impressive appeal to American newsmen to counter the skilful and pervasive IRA propaganda. Other Ministers have urged our American friends to do more to block this bloody commerce in money and arms. The Minister of State, whom we are glad to see back again, also made a notable contribution. What he said across the Atlantic was said well. Again my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) has done much on both sides of the Atlantic to expose what is treachery to the Western world. All with American contacts and audiences, 152 and particularly Irish-American contacts and audiences, can also play their part.
It is surely time that the media ceased fuelling the flames of sectarian revenge by the manner and timing of their reporting. Mr. Robert Fiske is a professional journalist of distinction. In his book on the Ulster Workers' Council strike he indicates that lives could have been saved in Northern Ireland if some reports of killings had been help up for a time and if the religion, or presumed religion, of those concerned had not been mentioned. I have made this point repeatedly, but so far there has been no response from the media.
These political thugs and protection racketeers have forfeited any title to the name of Christian. It is as though they had passed sentence of excommunication upon themselves. The hon. Member for Down, North quoted Cardinal Conway as having declared thatthey spit in the face of Christ",and Sir Robert Mark said of the Balcombe Street gang:These men are vulgar criminals, and they are going nowhere".One thing is necessary to their defeat, however, and it is that we should will it. Past flabbiness in the political direction of operations, the appeasement of the Provos in their so-called ceasefire, the shoddy "Troops out" agitation—these have encouraged the belief that, even if one cannot bomb the Loyalists into an all-Ireland Socialist republic, one can make the British quit, as though Northern Ireland were not part of the realm but another Palestine or Cyprus.
On the other hand, once it is made manifest that appeasement is over and that the cruel and calculated IRA barbarities will not obtain the craven response they look for, once Her Majesty's Government have made it clear, as they have begun to make it clear today, by their actions as well as statements, that the terrorists, in the words of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, "are going nowhere", the terrorists will have lost and we shall have won.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, the former Secretary of State, issued a discussion paper in 1972 on the future of Northern Ireland. In it he cited the three major concerns of the United Kingdom Government in 153 Ulster. The third concern was that Ulstershould not offer a base for any external threat to the security of the United Kingdom.Such a threat, not only to the United Kingdom but to the whole of the British Isles, would certainly arise if Britain withdrew her soldiers and her sovereignty. I am glad that such a dereliction was condemned by the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who answered in advance much of what was said by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon gave warning of the hideous massacres—as if enough blood had not been shed—that would ensue. They would stop neither at the Irish border nor at the shores of the Irish Sea. It is the will and the right of the vast majority of our Ulster fellow subjects, shown forth in many elections and in the border poll, to remain in the Union with Great Britain. Nor is that vast majority by any means all Protestant, as was well said by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) in what I would describe as a magnanimous as well as an able speech.
The Report quotes the Blue Book on Elections from 1929 to 1969 in Northern Ireland as giving two-fifths only of Roman Catholics as being what it calledpositively oriented towards the Republic.According to Professor Richard Rose, over many years a third of the Roman Catholics voted Unionist. As for the border poll, though estimates are not easy to make, reputable calculations have been made that, despite boycott and intimidation, 20 per cent. of the Roman Catholic electorate voted for the Union.
We rejoice that so many cherish the Union, as we do. The Union is a British strategic necessity, and so it is a matter of vital interest as well as of honour that we should uphold it without flinching.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
This debate is serious and critical, not only for Northern Ireland but for the United Kingdom as a whole. It has reflected the seriousness with which the House views the situation in Northern Ireland. With some obvious exceptions, the majority of speeches have come down very much in 154 favour of the policy being enunciated by the Government.
Two themes have run through the debate—the security situation and the political advancement that should be made in the Province. We cannot divorce one from the other. The Prime Minister made clear today the action the Government are taking and will be taking in the current situation, but unless we move to a form of political agreement the security situation will remain for ever. We have to deal with the twin aspects. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke eloquently about the problems that people are facing. If they are to be removed, apart from the security aspects we must move forward politically.
I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will read what has been said in this debate, because a great deal depends on the action which flows from the debate. We welcome the support of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and his colleagues. Though they approach the matter in a different way from the Government, basically we reach the same conclusion. We want a form of government acceptable to both communities in Northern Ireland and which can be supported by the Parliament at Westminster.
I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Abingdon said about the media and the reactions of some of the popular Press in recent days. As he knows, I have been abroad, but I have read some of the papers and have found ill-informed people making snap judgments on issues which can affect people's lives. Everybody should take this very much into account. Hon. Members have asked about security information. Information is coming in to the Government now from both communities on a scale that has never happened before. The confidential telephone is being used. People know that they can use it freely. Information is coming in and is being acted upon by the security forces. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) asked when the White Paper would be published and how this debate would affect it. I shall be saying something about the content of the White Paper—an issue raised by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—later in my speech. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State proposes to write to the 155 Chairman of the Convention very soon in the light of this debate. That letter will formally reconvene the Convention and will set out the matters that the reconvened Convention is to consider. The letter will be published as a White Paper later this week and the Government will take into account opinions expressed during this debate.
I should like to say a brief word about the economic situation in Northern Ireland and the effect that this has in relation to the problem. This issue was raised by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and other hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). There have been rumblings that people might oppose the Government and take certain sanctions. I do not know whether this is true, but if those sanctions are economic the situation in Northern Ireland, which is serious at the moment, will become catastrophic. The Province simply cannot stand it. Every day, week in and week out. I meet representatives from trade unions and employers in an endeavour to resolve a difficult economic situation which is leading to closures and unemployment. Hon. Members have been to see me this evening about specific cases. Against this background, a boycott or some similar action would be disastrous for the people they represent.
In the two years that I have been doing this job with my right hon. and hon. Friends, the Government have taken a lot of action. They have intervened in Harland and Wolff, Ben Sherman, IEL and STC, and I am at the moment having talks over the Rolls-Royce situation. All this intervention has meant tens of millions of pounds of British taxpayers' money being contributed throughout the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Orme
I am dealing with a serious point, and the hon. Member should not be trying to score simple debating points.
Loans by the Department of Commerce in 1973–74 were £30 million, in 1974–75 £44 million and in 1975–76 £50 million. Government action has maintained and created more than 10,000 jobs in the 156 last two years. Linked with that we have taken action through the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation which will be dovetailed into the National Enterprise Board to become the Northern Ireland Development Agency. All these agencies are being used to create and save jobs against the background of unemployment of up to 10 per cent.
The economic problems would exist, as hon. Members representing constituencies in the regions will acknowledge, whether or not the security and political problems were present. The Province faces a peripheral regional economic problem which must be grappled with, and it can be handled only by the central Government using its forces and resources in a helpful and constructive way.
Another major important matter is housing. Housing in Northern Ireland is among the worst in the United Kingdom, and we want to change that situation. There are ghetto areas inhabited both by Protestants and by Catholics, and if ever there were an issue on which the two communities should unite it is to get this social blight removed. They should unite to combat the problems of housing, economic policy and unemployment. These are the issues which an acceptable form of government in Northern Ireland would be able to tackle.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) made an interesting low-key speech in which he tried not to raise the temperature. However, I must say that he did not come up with any constructive suggestions for an acceptable form of government. We cannot ignore the fact that Northern Ireland is different. It is a divided community. Issues exist there which do not exist elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and unless we tackle that problem we shall not resolve it. Despite his doubts, does the hon. Member for Antrim, South, as the Leader of the UUUC in this House, support the Government and will he recommend his colleagues in Northern Ireland to attend a re-convened Convention in February?
§ Mr. Molyneaux
As a good parliamentarian, my view has always been that I would certainly urge my colleagues to operate the democratic processes and to make full use of them.
§ Mr. McNamara
Will my hon. Friend interpret that reply of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux)? I understand that one of the democratic processes is the right to say "No".
§ Mr. Molyneaux indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Orme
We shall come to that in a moment. I know that it will put the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in some trouble.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in a constructive speech emphasised the importance of partnership and said that the SDLP wanted to participate. If the Convention is reconvened and serious discussions take place, there will be a responsibility upon the SDLP to be constructive, to assist in every way possible, to follow through what my hon. Friend said about security and to move forward to the support we want for the security forces in Northern Ireland. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not take it amiss if I say to him that just as there is a responsibility on the Government and on Ulster Unionists, so there is upon the SDLP, but I think my hon. Friend's speech underlined how he felt about this.
The right hon. Member for Sidcup in a constructive and thoughtful speech suggested that my right hon. Friend had not made clear the Government's policy on the next steps and the basis of consideration of the re-convened Convention. When my right hon. Friend was explaining the Convention Report—which he discussed in some detail with all the political parties—the House was entitled to a critical and constructive analysis of what was contained in the Report, an indication of where people came together and the basic principles. The Govern- 158 ment are under no illusion—if the House accepts any move forward, any new political situation will have to be based on the broad consent of both communities in Northern Ireland. They will have to go forward together to provide a basis of political advancement, and that is the fundamental central point that the Government will be putting hack to the Convention.
We have already seen that there are people in the Convention reflecting both points of view who were prepared to discuss this matter, and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) made the point. They have not yet reached any agreement—there is a great deal of difficulty involved—but if his colleagues in the House were able to grasp this nettle, it would be the most fundamental move forward that Northern Ireland has seen for a decade.
We cannot accept anything that in any way does not represent the standards appertaining to the rest of the United Kingdom, and it is on that basis that we are putting this back to the Convention. We hope that the Convention will deal with it in that way.
As my right hon. Friend said, we want to look for a permanent solution, but if a temporary solution comes forward, I am sure that the Government and the House will examine it in some detail and give it a fair wind. If a start is made, there is no commitment to go on to a permanent basis, just as there is no commitment—unless people agree—for the Government to impose a solution. That cannot be done.
The power-sharing executive, which the right hon. Gentleman worked so hard to create, has been mentioned. The basic problem at the end of the day was that the political base was not broad enough. It did not include enough representation from the Protestant working class. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East represents Protestant working-class people in great numbers and he has had the courage to stand up and advocate this policy. So have others. I do not believe, therefore, that it is beyond the wit of man to devise a system in Northern Ireland that could take us forward, albeit on a temporary basis, and once that process has started, one would hope to see a move towards a much more constructive situation.
159 I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) for what he said about my right hon. Friends and myself and what we are trying to do. He said that he had a right to criticise, and of course he has. We have taken note of what he said about the border. We are getting increasing co-operation from the Irish Government. I refer in this context to what Mr. Cooney said the other day. There are problems and they are not all resolved. I understand that. If these points are put in a constructive manner, as my hon. Friend put them, people will naturally take note of them. We want to move forward and to be able to deal with the situation on the border, and I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that, while we may not agree with every observation he made, we shall certainly take note of his central points.
I felt that the speech of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East was not only constructive, but very courageous. I did not agree with everything he said—I do not imagine that he expected everyone in the House to do so—but he went to the kernel of the problem. What he is advocating to us in the House and to people in Northern Ireland, as well as to his friends in the UUUC, would, in effect, still provide for a majority Government in Northern Ireland, but with the full participation of the minority, who would have real rights, authority and power. That is a situation which has still to be resolved, hut here is a basis for moving forward.
I also welcome very much what the right hon. Gentleman said about the economic situation. I dealt with this when I was in the United States last week, when I tried to explain to many people in several of the cities that I visited the urgent need for investment. I urged American people, if they want to help in Northern Ireland, to invest in jobs and not in guns. The point was well taken.
They also took the point that, of the weapons captured in Northern Ireland used by the Provisional IRA, for instance, 85 per cent. were manufactured in the United States, bought with dollars, and transported to Northern Ireland. There is a growing awareness of this fact. To 160 appreciate that, one has only to instance what the American Government are doing about it. At the moment, people are being indicted for gun-running. This issue is being tackled. But when I discussed it with leading members of the American trade unions and with Mr. Ingersoll, Dr. Kissinger's number two at the State Department, all of them said "We take your point that funds coming from here are possibly being abused. We shall do all that we can to stop it." But then they went on—and not least Mr. Ingersoll at the State Department—to say "At the same time, we believe that if you are to get our co-operation the British Government will have to be seen to be acting in an even-handed manner, and there is no alternative to partnership and co-operation in Northern Ireland."
I come, then, to the basic point made in this debate, and it is an absolutely crucial political point. One Opposition Member very fairly asked about the possibility of redrawing the border. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said that many people wanted our troops out of Northern Ireland, although he did not advocate this policy himself. But it is interesting to note how, during a free debate in this House, no alternative policy has been mooted or proposed which in any way would replace the current policy of the Britsh Government. That policy is based upon getting a political settlement—not a military solution—based on justice and equality for both communities in Northern Ireland whether they be Protestant or Roman Catholic. No other suggestion has been put forward. Troops out, total integration, a united Ireland, a UDI: none of those policies stands up.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, when we see what people will sink to and the type of crime they will commit, it is clear that if we were to withdraw, as if that were a solution, we should not be withdrawing from a part of the United Kingdom because we would visit upon others the problems of Northern Ireland which are large at the moment but which would become uncontrollable.
How could we control such a situation with people living in the West of Scotland who feel about this issue and who would want to go to Northern Ireland to assist? What about the Irish 161 Republic and how it would become involved? What about Liverpool, my own city of Manchester, Birmingham and London, where there are millions of people of Irish descent who are British citizens making a major contribution to every facet of our life—political, industrial, economic and otherwise? How could we face such a situation?
I understand that some emotive statements have been made already outside this Chamber. On television tonight, a member of the para-military forces said that 1975 was the year of the politician but that 1976 would be the year of the para-military. I hope that this House will reject that philosophy. I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will reject it. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members of this House who can give political leadership will say "We intend to move forward on a constructive and political basis."
My colleagues and I have done this job for 22 months. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) did it for a similar period. It takes a toll and it brings great pressures. When my constituents ask, "Why are you doing it?", my answer is simple: I believe in social justice. I do not believe that the rule of the gun can be allowed to win in any part of the United Kingdom, from whichever side it comes. The para-military forces on the Protestant side which make these comments are no different from those on the other side who also say them and carry out these atrocities.
The news of what took place in South Armagh came through when I was in 162 the United States of America. It shocked the United States, which only 10 days earlier had experienced terrorism at La Guardia Airport. I said to the Americans on that occasion that, despite the difficulties of the situation and despite the traumas and problems with which my right hon. Friend had had to grapple over the past 22 months, with little reward, the only reward that we wanted was to see some form of peace and acceptability within Northern Ireland.
I make it clear that my right hon. Friends and I will not be intimidated by violence, by the threat of the gun, or by any illegal actions that any section of any community takes. The more action they take, the more resolute we shall become and the more resolutely we shall oppose it. I believe that there is a chance. I believe that there are opportunities.
Different points of view have been expressed and those who have expressed them tonight and who feel so strongly should oppose the Government and challenge this policy in the Lobby. If they do not, that is tacit support for what the Government are putting forward. Let the British House of Commons decide. I hope and I am sure that the House will vote for a policy based on equality and power sharing with both Northern Ireland communities in partnership. That is the policy we are advocating. That is the policy that I commend to the House this evening.
§ Mr. J. D. Dormand (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.