HL Deb 10 July 1972 vol 333 cc21-8

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of

ingly right that we should reflect our differences in the Lobby.

3.41 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 86) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided : Contents, 44 ; Not-Contents, 70.

Archibald, L. Garnsworthy, L. [Teller.] Rathcreedan, L.
Arwyn, L. Gladwyn, L. Royle, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hale, L. Sainsbury, L.
Bernstein, L. Hall, V. St. Davids, V.
Beswick, L. Henderson, L. Samuel, V.
Birk, Bs. Hereford, L. Bp. Segal, L.
Blackett, L. Hoy, L. Shackleton, L.
Brockway, L. Hughes, L. Shepherd, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Lee of Asheridge, Bs. Shinwell, L.
Burntwood, L. McLeavy, L. Slater, L.
Byers, L. Moyle, L. Summerskiil, Bs.
Champion, L. Nunburnholme, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Chorley, L. Pargiter, L. Wright of Ashton under Lyne, L.
Fiske, L. Phillips, Bs. [Teller.]
Gaitskell, Bs. Portsmouth, L. Bp. Wynne-Jones, L.
Aberdare, L. Dundee, E. Lauderdale, E.
Ailwyn, L. Eccles, V. Lothian, M.
Atholl, D. Effingham, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Auckland, L. Elles, Bs. Mansfield, E.
Balfour E. Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Mar, E.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Merrivale, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Ferrers, E. Milverton, L.
Belstead, L. Fortescue, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]
Blackford, L. Gisborough, L.
Bridgeman, V. Goschen, V. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Caccia, L. Gowrie, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Carrington, L. Greenway, L. Onslow, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Grenfell, L. Polwarth, L.
Clwyd, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Robbins, L.
Colgrain, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Colville of Culross, V. Sackville, L.
Cottesloe, L. Hatherton, L. St. Helens, L.
Cowley, E. Hood, V. Sandford, L.
Craigavon, V. Howard of Glossop, L. Strathclyde, L.
Cromartie, E. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Sudeley, L.
Daventry, V. Ilford, L. Vivian, L.
de Clifford, L. Jeilicoe, E.(L. Privy Seal.) Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Kilmarnock, L. Young, Bs.
Drumalbyn, L. Kings Norton, L. Younger of Leckie, V.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

State for Northern Ireland. The Statement reads as follows :

" I will, with permission, make a further Statement about Northern Ireland. The House will have heard that the cessation of hostilities in Northern Ireland announced by the Provisional Wing of the I.R.A., of which I told the House on Thursday, the 22nd of June, was ended by them on Sunday evening after fire had been opened on British troops. The security forces had been subjected for some time to assault short of shooting arising out of communal argument about housing, a matter that has already been the subject of anxious discussion and about which a further meeting had been arranged. It was only after the Army units had been fired on that they returned the fire. This incident has been seized on by the Provisional Wing of the I.R.A. as a reason for ending their declared truce. That truce had been discussed by me with some leaders of the Provisional Wing on the 7th July. I arranged to see them because I have, as the House will know, discussed these grievous Northern Ireland problems with representatives of many shades of opinion. Any action that I could honourably take that might save life, or avoid further damage to property, should be taken.

" The I.R.A. leaders complained that I had given nothing in return for their cessation of hostilities. They made demands that I could not accept but that I agreed to consider in case some peaceful way forward might be found.

" The House may be interested to know what these demands were.

" They called on the British Government to recognise publicly that it is the right of the whole people of Ireland, acting as a unit, to decide the future of Ireland.

" They called on the British Government immediately to declare its intention to withdraw all British Forces from Irish soil, such withdrawal to be completed on or before the first day of January, 1975. Pending such withdrawal, British Forces must be withdrawn immediately from sensitive areas.

" They called for a general amnesty for all political prisoners in Irish and British gaols; for all internees and detainees, and for all persons on the ' wanted ' list. In this they recorded their dissatisfaction that internment had not been ended in response to their initiative in declaring a suspension of offensive operations.

" Before I could even discuss these matters with my Cabinet colleagues the fragile truce was broken, as I have already set out. I deeply regret that the Provisional Wing of the I.R.A. have resorted to violence on the basis of one incident, which could have been solved peacefully. I hope that it is not too late even for the Provisional I.R.A. to think again, and for the whole Northern Ireland community to see the need for progress without violence."

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making the Statement, which I must confess I think is the most depressing of all the Statements we have had. There is little I can say, beyond that I personally think that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland showed great courage in the face of what must have been potential criticism from some members of his Party in meeting the I.R.A. Provisionals, distasteful though that must have been. If I may express an opinion, I cannot believe that the I.R.A. Provisionals for one moment, in the light of the demands they have made, intended to keep the truce. They knew that the particular proposals they made could not possibly be accepted in that form, and it appears to me that they are intending, and did intend, to seize the earliest pretext for reopening the struggle, believing that ultimately out of civil war and disaster a united Ireland might come.

My Lords, no doubt the Government will continue to keep us informed. The awful thing is that a vast number of innocent people who want peace will not have it, and our sympathy must go out to the troops. I do not think there is any useful suggestion that any of us can make to the Secretary of State for Defence as to what the Government or the Army should do at this moment. They have a dreadful problem and they have our sympathy and admiration.


My Lords, I should like to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. This new turn of events is a tragic disappointment to all of us who want to see peace in Northern Ireland. One can only appeal to the moderates on both sides to use the maximum influence with their miltants, to try to tone down the atmosphere and to get rid of the violence. It must surely be obvious that the presence of gunmen on any side in Ireland will do nobody any good whatsoever. I can only endorse the action that the Government have taken.


My Lords, I am much obliged for the way in which both noble Lords have responded to what I agree is a very depressing Statement. I think it would be a mistake at this particular moment to come to too many conclusions. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a strong feeling among the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, whether they be Catholics or Protestants, that this violence should stop, and we must hope that the good sense of the moderates, whether they be Catholics or Protestants, will be brought to bear on the extremists.


My Lords, the noble Lord referred to a single incident which has given rise to the cessation of the cease-fire agreement. Was he referring to the efforts on the part of some homeless Catholics to occupy houses which were formerly occupied by Protestants but were vacant? If that is the incident to which the noble Lord was referring, was it not possible for those acting on behalf of his right honourable friend the Secretary of State to arrange something which might have solved that problem, if it was only a single incident which in the opinion of the noble Lord could have been solved?

May I ask the noble Lord this further question? While everybody in your Lordships' House, and all right-thinking people, will deplore what is happening in Northern Ireland, now that the Provisional I.R.A. have decided to suspend the cease-fire—if they ever intended to proceed with it; it is difficult to say and I think we should hesitate before drawing any conclusions about it—the question confronting us is, where do we go from here? How long are we to tolerate the situation where already more than 100 of our soldiers have been shot dead and a large number wounded, affecting the morale of the British Forces in Ireland? Is it not time that the United Kingdom Government should declare, firmly and unequivocally, that Ulster will be under direct rule and that whatever reforms can be implemented will be implemented at once? Is it not time to consider that as a line of policy which is worth the attention of the United Kingdom Government?


My Lords, as the noble Lord himself said, perhaps this is not the time to come to conclusions. Certainly when one looks at what might happen as a result of the breaking of the truce by the Provisional I.R.A. one can see nothing in it but misery for the Irish people.

With regard to the noble Lord's first question, the incident did relate to the housing. It was a little more complicated than the noble Lord has explained to your Lordships, because it was a question of exchanging one lot of houses for the Protestants and another lot for the Catholics. There was no reason whatever why it should not have been solved and one can only think that perhaps on the part of the Provisional I.R.A. there was no intention of letting it be solved.


My Lords, may I follow up my previous question, because I regard this as an extremely important matter? Is it not true, according to Press reports—I cannot vouch for the authenticity of Press reports, but we rely on them to a large extent—that members of Her Majesty's forces intervened to prevent these homeless Catholics from occupying the vacant houses which were formerly occupied by a Protestant section of the community? And is it not also the case, according to Press reports, that the U.D.A. having decided that if these houses were occupied they would intervene, the soldiers were compelled to take the kind of action that they in fact took?


My Lords, the situation was this. I know that this is right, but I am not quite sure what happened afterwards. Basically, the idea was to fill the vacant houses in Horn Drive, which is within the Protestant area in this estate, with Protestant families who are at present living in Catholic areas elsewhere in Belfast. This would have released houses for the displaced Catholic families at present living on the Suffolk Estate. Agreement had been sought on this basis but it was impossible to reach agreement because of the incidents that took place.


My Lords, will the noble Lord convey to his right honourable friend Mr. Whitelaw, the Secretary of State, the admiration for him, and the confidence in him, of all the people of Britain? May not the time come when the Prime Minister of Eire and the Members of Stormont all want peace, and may come together with Mr. Whitelaw to bring to Northern Ireland what everybody in this country, and what the vast majority of the people of Ireland, want?


My Lords, I most devoutly hope so, and I will certainly convey what the noble Lord has said to my right honourable friend, who will value it greatly as having come from the noble Lord.


My Lords, as a solitary Cross-Bencher, may I comment that in my judgment the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, spoke with the voice of all men of humanity and compassion at this juncture?


My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, aware of the depth of regret which all of us must feel at this development? Will he bear in mind the fact that there has been recent evidence in the Catholic areas, both of Londonderry and Belfast, that a very large proportion of the people are against any continuation of violence and want peace? Is he aware that if one could appeal to them the result would be to demonstrate and determine overwhelmingly the view that this truce shall not be broken by the Provisional I.R.A.? Could there possibly have been a worse occasion for the breaking of the truce, when at last there was an opportunity to move forward to the ending of internment, of the Special Powers Act and of the Bill of Rights, as was indicated by the Minister in another place last week?


My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships will share the views which have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. Indeed, when I said earlier that I hoped that there would be second thoughts, my hope certainly was that the vast majority of the Roman Catholics who live in these estates do not want violence and may bring pressure to bear on the Provisional I.R.A.—and that they, too, may think again and we may have a resumption of the truce.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the Advisory Council established by his right honourable friend has met and, if so, what advice they have tendered? Is there any reason to believe that the co-operation of elements which hitherto had refused to cooperate in community activities but had undertaken to co-operate will not still be forthcoming in their co-operation?


My Lords, I do not think I can answer either of those two questions, though I see no reason why it should not be so regarding the second. I cannot answer the first point because, as the noble Lord will appreciate, it is not for my Department. The Secretary of State arrived back from Northern Ireland only about three quarters of an hour ago and I have not had an opportunity to have a conversation with him. I must therefore apologise to the noble Lord for not being able to answer him.