HC Deb 13 July 1978 vol 953 cc1712-5
5. Mr. Ron Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to have further talks with the various political groupings in Northern Ireland.

11. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the talks between his Department and representatives of political parties.

Mr. Mason

As I told the House on 30th June, I have periodic meetings with local political leaders to exchange views on security policy and on economic problems, as well as to discuss possible constitutional advances.

Mr. Thomas

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the appalling tragedy of the death of the young boy on Tuesday and the soldier killed by a bomb yesterday are clear indications that these senseless killings will go on until we get a political settlement based on equal human rights? I urge the Minister—because the initiative can come only from him—to do whatever he can to bring about political talks. That is the only way that there is any glimmer of a settlement in this terrible situation.

Mr. Mason

I agree with my hon. Friend. If he follows matters in the Province closely, he will know that I have laid before the political parties in Northern Ireland a five-point plan which indicates how best we can move towards devolved administration based on the principles laid down by this House. That is, that it should be based on partnership and participation. I have taken the initiative and laid the proposals before the political parties. I can only hope that they will now seize upon those proposals, even if it necessitates changing them according to how they would like to see the Province evolve with its regional tier of administration. It is not a hard and fast blueprint that I have laid before them.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Whatever the truth of the report in The Guardian that a proposal before the national executive committee of the Labour Party for an upper tier of local government had been suppressed, are not the Government and the Opposition now agreed in supporting the enlargement of the responsibilities of local government which, indeed, is a feature of some of our current Northern Ireland legislation? Is not the best line of advance in the sphere of local government?

Mr. Mason

It depends on one's definition of local government. If it is British-style local government being imposed upon the Province of Northern Ireland based on majority rule, I fear that the minority in the Province would reject that sort of approach. Indeed, they might even make sure that it did not work. Therefore, one has to be careful about the definition. If one feels that filling the Macrory gap between district councils and Westminster is a form of local government based on the principles of partner- ship and participation, that sort of regional authority is worth examining.

Mr. Powell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all political groups in the Province which enjoy any substantial electoral support are represented in this House and are, therefore, at all times available for consultation?

Mr. Mason

I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman is placing himself as one of the leaders of one of the parties and he himself would like to have the consultations here as distinct from in the Province. But I try to keep his party as well as the other Ulster parties aware and abreast of my thinking on the future of the Province.

Mr. Fitt

Taking up the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he has had discussions with Northern Ireland political parties on the question of security, may I ask him to make it quite clear to the House that in the discussions with, at least, the SDLP, that party has had no say in security? If it was having discussions on security, it would completely disagree with some aspects of security, particularly that which is contained in the yellow card instructions at present. Is my right hon. Friend aware—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long.")—that regulation no. 2 on that card states: Never use more force than the minimum necessary to enable you to carry out your duties, and always try to handle the security position by other means rather than using firearms"? In this connection—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—can my right hon. Friend indicate now what is his opinion of the tragic killing of young John Boyle in Northern Ireland on Tuesday? Does he believe that it is necessary to have an inquiry when the whole community—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that it will be possible for the hon. Member to raise that matter under another Question. This is a Question relating to the political groupings in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Fitt

I was taking up my right hon. Friend on the question of the security discussions that he has had, Mr. Speaker. I am asking him to make it quite clear that the SDLP does not agree with the yellow card instructions, and it certainly disagrees with the way that these have been interpreted by certain members of the security forces.

Mr. Mason

I am sorry to hear what my hon. Friend says. His question relates more directly to security than to political groupings. However, the yellow card really holds back any member of the security forces from being either impulsive or too hasty in his action—

Mr. Fitt

It did not do so on Tuesday.

Mr. Mason

—but on occasions when a person has a bomb in his hand, or an Armalite rifle, the yellow card will still allow the security forces to shoot. We know that a number have already been killed or seriously maimed because they hesitated for too long.