HL Deb 06 June 1972 vol 331 cc159-61

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the I.R.A.-controlled areas of the Bogside and Creggan:

  1. (a) unemployment and social security benefits are still paid to the inhabitants, and if so, how much and why;
  2. (b) rates and taxes and gas and electricity bills, are still collected and if not why not.


My Lords, unemployment and social security benefits are paid at the normal rates to people in Londonderry who satisfy the statutory conditions; but deductions may be made to meet debts for rent and rates. There is no major difficulty in collecting payment for gas and electricity.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask him three short supplementary questions? Does he not think that pressure on their pockets would help to separate the gunmen and the population, and also discourage the setting up of more "No-go" areas on either side? Are the Government aware that the overwhelming majority of the population of this island are rather fed up with the idea of paying £400 million a year net for the doubtful privilege of having their sons and husbands shot? Finally, can the noble Lord give an assurance that the unfortunate British soldier, now unpopular with both sides, will not be put in a position where he will be fired at by both sides at the same time? Will the Government not forget, come hell or high water, the murder of Private Best and Marcus McCausland?


My Lords, we are well aware of the whole range of matters on which the noble Lord has touched in his supplementary questions. I can best answer what he says, and what I know many people in Britain feel, by saying that to discontinue benefits and services, as the noble Lord has suggested in his supplementary questions, would require legislation and would undoubtedly have the effect of hardening attitudes in the areas referred to. This would only play into the hands of the I.R.A.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware of the great pressure for peace now in both the Bogside and the Creggan areas, of which I was aware even on Bloody Sunday? Will Her Majesty's Government continue the efforts now being made, primarily important to our own British soldiers, not to get involved in the conflict between the two sides?


My Lords, one of the most encouraging developments is that many people who previously made it clear that they were tired of violence are now beginning to take some action to bring about peace.


My Lords, will the noble Lord clarify what he said about the payment of gas and electricity bills in the "No-go" areas? Is he saying that the bills are being paid?


My Lords, gas is supplied in the Londonderry area by a privately owned undertaking, the Londonderry Gaslight Company Limited. The gasworks are in the Bogside area. The great majority of gas consumers in the Bogside and Creggan areas are charged by means of pre-payment meters. The company reports that, although there is a somewhat higher than usual incidence of the rifling of meters, recovery of money due is proceeding without major difficulty. The electricity service in Londonderry is provided by the electricity department of the Londonderry Development Commission, which purchases bulk supplies of electricity from the Northern Ireland Joint Electricity Authority. The undertaking reports that settlement of credit accounts is continuing satisfactorily from all parts of Londonderry, although there is a certain slowness on the part of commercial consumers.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the recent response which he has received from the Roman Catholic population is very welcome to all of us? And is he also aware that he and my right honourable friend Mr. Whitelaw have our very warm support in the work they are now doing in Northern Ireland?


My Lords, I am much obliged for what my noble friend has said. I can tell him that my right honourable friend and myself are aware of and deeply value the support and good will that has been expressed by Members of your Lordships' House, Members of another place, and indeed the majority of the population of Britain in the work that we are trying to do in Northern Ireland.

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