HC Deb 28 October 1976 vol 918 cc689-92
10. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will either take an independent political initiative in Northern Ireland or step up the level of activity of the security forces.

Mr. Mason

No, Sir. There is no change in our position.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom unless a majority of the population want this changed.

The Government want a devolved Government, but, as we have consistently made clear, 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." —[Official Report, 2nd July 1976; Vol. 914. c. 809.] This means a system which will command widespread support throughout the community and in which both the majority and the minority will participate.

Until there is a devolved Government, in Northern Ireland, the Government here are responsible for ensuring that Northern Ireland is governed. They will not shirk this responsibility. But the representatives of the Northern Ireland people must find agreement. This cannot be imposed. They must find a will to work together. There is no other way.

Mr. Townsend

Will the Secretary of State continue to take a positive attitude on Northern Ireland? Does he appreciate that the Government are under an obligation to try to get reconciliation and cooperation between the various warring factors in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Mason

I have been determined, since I came into office, to ensure decisive and determined direct rule. That is what we are pursuing. If the old Stormontonians feel that they can cross the divide and come together and bring forward some solution for a partnership Government, I shall be prepared to listen.

Mr. Fitt

May I take it that the Secretary of State's reply this afternoon means that there has been no change in policy since the announcement on 12th January, when the then Secretary of State, in clear and unequivocal terms, said: We must find a way in which both communities are involved in government in Northern Ireland".—[Official Report, 12th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 64.] Is that the stated position of the Government? The word "acquiesce" could create some doubt.

Mr. Mason

My hon. Friend will recognise that initially I said There is no change in our position. I also said that we would have the majority and the minority participating.

Mr. Fitt

In government?

Mr. Mason

I think that covers the position.

Incidentally, while I am on my feet, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has risen to ask a question, I should like to praise his courage. I suppose most hon. Members are aware of my hon. Friend's act some weeks ago. It was a courageous act, an example to his party and to the people in Northern Ireland, especially now that he is prepared to stand up in court and identify those who were prepared to terrorise him.

Mr. Neave

Is the Secretary of State aware that his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) is welcomed by the Opposition? It is very much in line with what we said on 12th January in the debate on the Convention Report and with what I have repeated recently in published correspondence. Our policy is for a devolved Government within the Province. Our position has not changed. Will the right hon. Gentleman continue to encourage inter-party talks so that all the options can be discussed fully, if possible in private?

Mr. Mason

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. I shall certainly encourage the parties involved. There are seven major political parties in Northern Ireland, all of which have different viewpoints on how the devolved Government should come about. There has already been reconnaissance between the SDLP and the Official Unionist Party, and I know that members of the Democratic Unionist Party are trying to get talks going. I shall encourage them and be ready to listen to their views.

Mr. Powell

Is the Secretary of State aware that the two matters mentioned in the Question are in no sense alternatives to one another and that to take a political initiative for the sake of taking a political initiative could be very harmful to the successful development of the security situation?

Mr. Mason

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The security situation at the moment has not changed. There are still 14,500 troops backing up the RUC in Northern Ireland. Those troops will remain as long as the security situation exists. I hope that all the parties in Northern Ireland will use their initiative and bring their results to me.

Mr. Litterick

In view of his initial answer, will my right hon. Friend bring forward such evidence as he has, particularly from the history of the last 52 years, to suggest that Ulster is governable as long as it remains an integral part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Mason

It is governable now and it is being governed.